We’re on the other side now: the other side of a Fastlane that didn’t shit the bed anywhere near as much as everyone was afraid as it was going to. And now we’re on the Road to WrestleMania, gripping tight to the bumper of Vince McMahon’s psychotic wrestling machine. It won’t be a steady, straight road either: for every AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, there’ll be a Ronda Rousey/Stephanie McMahon clusterfuck; for every Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka, there’ll be anything that Jinder Mahal gets the opportunity to wipe his vein-corrugated ass with.
Buckle up, SmackDown fans. This is where the week gets weird.
Tom, Byron and Corey rattle through each and every event that happened on Sunday night before promising a huge announcement by Shane McMahon, most likely that he’s going to declare Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn some kind of subspecies of humanity in a stark and ghoulish argument for eugenics.
Rusev will take as much brain damage as necessary to remain relevant
The show starts with AJ Styles, who on Sunday night beat four other men and Baron Corbin to retain his Championship both by being phenomenal and by being one half of the most perfect WrestleMania match that even WWE isn’t self-aggrandising enough to call off.
Styles embarks on the traditional recitation of ‘shit I did on Sunday night’. He tells us all that when we get knocked down, we’ve got to get back up because that’s what’s in the script. He says that he’s not forgotten where he came from, reminiscing on times when AJ Styles coming to the WWE, being WWE Champion and defending the title at WrestleMania were all pipe dreams. The crowd chants “you deserve it”: the wrestling equivalent of a pat on the head from the hordes that will back Shinsuke Nakamura come Mania.
Styles says that he earned it rather than deserved it, so fuck your kind chants, WWE Universe. He talks about his upcoming contest with Shinsuke, calling it a dream match. He says that they’re very similar, except he got a big impractical belt for his efforts in smacking bitches around.
Nakamura makes his entrance, writhing and twisting his way to the ring like a worm on a hook as AJ watches carefully in case Shinsuke actually has a seizure and he doesn’t notice. The crowd start chanting for Nakamura, save for some people who believe in little things like “loyalty”. Shinsuke says that everyone likes both of them, except for that veiny prat Jinder Mahal and the psychopath known as Randy Orton. He tells Styles that he respects him, but at WrestleMania he’s going to pile concussion after crippling concussion into his face until he becomes WWE Champion. And then Rusev arrives and we cut to a break, which is a jarring change of pace if you ask me.
After a break, which is a hell of a long time to keep Rusev’s music playing, AJ Styles is apparently facing the big Bulgarian in singles action. Both men lock up, and Rusev tosses Styles across the ring like he’s a child: Rusev hates children but likes how easy they are to toss. Shinsuke Nakamura is watching, clearly keen to get an idea of how AJ Styles fights someone completely unlike him in every way.
Styles kicks Rusev’s injured leg before getting run the fuck over by a shoulder tackle. Now the crowd are chanting for Rusev Day, which is a sad statement on the transient nature of support from the WWE Universe. I guess when you watch people constantly flip between ethical conduct that presumably confers sainthood on you to the general moral level of Doctor Fu Manchu (though significantly less racist), you’re going to get jaded
Rusev decks Styles with a right hand before burying a big Bulgarian knee into his stomach. Styles fights back, but Rusev has the advantage of just being a lot stronger than him. AJ does manage to knock him on his ass with a dropkick and clothesline him out of the ring; a forearm to the outside gives Rusev the old tweeting-birds-around-the-head treatment and then Styles tries to suplex him, because they didn’t give him that belt for critical thinking.
Rusev hits AJ right in the throat, which is way more dangerous than a shot to the nutsack and yet is not a cause for a DQ. A spinebuster puts AJ down for a two-count and then we head to a commercial so Styles can check if his legs still work. When we come back, Rusev wants a superplex, but only from the second rope: he’s not a savage. Styles avoids the big move and starts smacking Rusev around like he’s Shane McMahon and AJ wants a WrestleMania match.
A flying clothesline staggers Rusev, but Styles keeps embarking on his Sisyphean quest to lift Rusev: apparently for no other reason than bragging rights. Rusev tries to cave in his skull with a kick, because AJ’s got to learn about weight differentiation somehow and WWE’s tried everything except physical abuse. Styles manages to dodge a charge and stun Rusev with a kick of his own; he finally gets the big man up for the ushigoroshi, but manages to injure his knee in the process: Jesus fucking wept.
Now AJ wants a Styles Clash, because the true folly of man is his inability to fucking learn something. Rusev tries to turn it into the Accolade, but Styles turns that into a Calf Crusher. English dives into the ring with an urgency which suggests that Rusev’s knee is made of spiderwebs and paperclips, thus giving AJ the win by DQ.
Fun match, and it’s nice to have Rusev being displayed as a future contender down the line; the DQ loss rather than a tap-out seems to hint at such. 2.5 Stars.
Aiden English beats on Styles as Nakamura watches, fully erect. Both Rusev and English start putting the boots to the Champ, but then Shinsuke decides to satisfy his bloodlust rather than his arousal. He stuns English with a kick and then kills Rusev with a Kinshasa: a message to Styles that he can switch the WWE Champion’s brain off at WrestleMania if he wants to.
We take a look back at still photographs of Harper and Rowan formally submitting their applications for contendership to the WWE Tag Team Champions for consideration. Backstage, Big E is walking around randomly until Dasha pounces for an interview. She asks him about the goddamn prison beating he and his friends took on Sunday, and Big E says that the Bludgeon Brothers took what could have been a pleasant and casual felonious assault to a very ugly place, and now he wants revenge.
Jimmy or Jey Uso show up, and apparently the other one is out of action with the rest of the New Day. He likes what Big E’s selling, and proposes that the two of them join forces to murder a couple of hillbillies.
Apparently WWE is putting Kid Rock in the Celebrity Wing of the Hall of Fame. It’s a hell of a statement to make about Kid Rock that I consider this a trashy move even from something like the WWE.
Backstage, AJ Styles is limping and gripping his shoulder because how else will you know that he’s hurt? He finds Nakamura and tells him that he didn’t need his help: he was getting his ass kicked just fine all by himself. Shinsuke tells him that he looked like he needed a hand, and that he’s going to keep him healthy all the way to WrestleMania: Shinsuke Nakamura has the cold, calculating mind of a serial killer.
I fucking love the Tag Team Division
Jimmy Uso (so, it’s Jimmy Uso who’s mostly okay) makes his entrance, followed by a Big E so serious that he’s re-added “Langston” to his name. The Bludgeon brothers show up with their robes made of garbage and their phallic-symbol hammers. Big E and Jimmy decide that they don’t need to stand here and watch this, so head out of the ring and start beating the fuck out of them.
The Bludgeon Brothers look pissed, whilst Jimmy and Big E grab a pair of chairs on the basis that they might as well get in all the shots they can. Harper and Rowan pick up their hammers, and it would have made way more sense for Big E and Jimmy to grab those instead. Or not, because they’re plastic and rubber props.
The Bludgeoners get in the ring, during which time Jimmy and E don’t take advantage of the opening and smash them with their chairs: honour amongst dummies, I guess. The ref gets out of there, because being in the splash area of this is going to be enough to kill him.
Harper and Rowan are able to disarm Big E and Jimmy with their hammers, which isn’t something I’ve ever seen before, and apparently we’re still having a match: referee’s really fixed on doing this thing. Big E goes right after Harper once the bell rings, kicking the hobo shit out of him. Harper catches him with a side slam, then Rowan splashes on him before mouthing off to Uso.
Rowan bodyslams Big E and steps on him. I’m not going to say that this is definitely a race thing, but in my experience when Americans look and dress like the Bludgeon Brothers, there are probably some race-related issues going on under the surface. Big E manages to escape and tag in the Champ; Jimmy’s able to keep the Hammer Friends reeling until he runs right into a big boot by Harper. Rowan hurls Big E into the steel steps, then they slam Jimmy to win.
That was goddamn perfectly handled. Big E and Jimmy looked strong in the face of an unstoppable force, with the excuse that they’re not each other’s partners. The Bludgeon Brothers’ savagery is a delight: this is all going great. 4 Stars.
We take a look back at Shane going full McMahon from Fastlane. He really wants himself a WrestleMania match, and I guess we can just be thankful he’s not putting heads through car windows or crushing people under a forklift, because there has been a fucking precedent set regarding that sort of thing.
Renee Young is backstage with Sami Zayn, and she asks him who he blames for his failure, like a goddamn therapist. He says he blames Shane, but also blames Kevin Owens for causing McMahon’s obsession with the pair of them. He says that he paid the price of being guilty by association, and that he’ll never do so again: the consequences will never be the same.
Orton vs. Asuka vs. Charlotte at WrestleMania
Here’s Charlotte Flair, who on Sunday night managed to beat the last member of the Riott Squad and in the process probably buried the final bit of their morale in a shallow grave. She says that she’s excited and honoured for the opportunity to have her neck snapped and her blood drank by Asuka, and wanted to be here in the ring when the Women’s Royal Rumble Winner made her SmackDown debut.
Asuka arrives, wearing a coat even more elaborate than Charlotte’s: there’s some psychological wargames for you. Charlotte welcomes her and says she’s always asked what would happen if the Queen went one-on-one with the Empress. She says she wanted Asuka to pick her; she wanted the challenge of facing her at WrestleMania, even though she’s never faced anyone like Asuka. But then, she says, Asuka’s never faced anyone like her before either. She promises to end Asuka’s streak at WrestleMania, which really reminds me of someone I can’t quite remember.
Asuka says that she chose Charlotte because she wanted a challenge too. She tells Charlotte that Asuka bows down to no-one, and no-one’s ready for her. Charlotte seems super into it, and then Randy Orton shows up. A few months ago, I’d take this as an indication that he was going to enter a feud with these two. And hell: I’d watch that programme.
Ever think you’d miss 3MB?
When we get back, it turns out that Asuka’s not challenging for the United States Championship – goddamn cowards in the back – and Randy’s in the ring alone. He says he’s been called a lot of things in his career, half of which probably came from me, but never US Champion before. He declares himself the newest Grand Slam Champion, and says that Roode proved that he was a hell of a competitor and earned Randy’s respect.
Orton says that the title is his now, and he’s taking it to WrestleMania. Bobby Roode’s music kicks in, and I need a cigarette and a scotch after watching and listening to that. Once I’ve cleaned myself up and have restarted the tape, Roode is in the ring and has a microphone. He congratulates Orton and says that he’s going to invoke his right to a rematch at WrestleMania blah blah take his title back blah blah grandest stage blah glorious blah.
Jinder Mahal arrives to crap all over anything that doesn’t already reek of his failure. He mocks Orton for taking so long to be US Champion, which is hypocritical as hell from a guy who’s had one title reign and it’s one that 100% of the WWE Universe would happily have expunged from the record. He promises to beat Bobby Roode tonight, thereby proving or accomplishing something that’s not immediately clear to the rest of us.
The bell rings and, short of a wildfire nuclear strike, nothing is going to stop us from watching Jinder Mahal try to be relevant again. A commercial break bravely tries to spare us from the worst of it, but the match is still going on when we come back. Jinder has a kind of cobra clutch on Roode, then literally runs headfirst into him, dazing himself.
Bobby is sent off the ropes and starts laying Jinder out with clotheslines before hitting a neckbreaker: the one time I’d love for that move’s name to be accurate. A flying clothesline puts Jinder down, and Roode tries for a Glorious DDT in a desperate attempt to get this over with. A blockbuster to Mahal gets a two count, but Jinder sends Roode out of the ring and then boots him right in the noggin when he comes back in. A Khallas attempt is countered, as is a Glorious DDT, and Jinder catches Roode with an elbow.
Mahal eats a spinebuster, kicking out at the last second. Sunil Singh manages to distract Roode, which allows Mahal to crotch Jinder on the top rope. A Khallas allows Mahal to win.
This wasn’t bad, but I am so apathetic towards anything involving Jinder Mahal it’s like the man is literally giving me depression. 2 Stars.
Randy RKOs Jinder immediately afterwards, which is what I call a silver lining.
Kevin Owens is walking around backstage with the facial expression of someone who’s just watched a Jinder Mahal match: mournful and with a sense that there is something terribly wrong with the world in general and humanity specifically. Renee wills herself into being by her sheer desire to innocently needle this man with questions. Owens blows his top the second Sami Zayn is mentioned: he says that everything Zayn is he owes to him, and says that Sami could never have won the match fairly in the first place. He blames Shane McMahon, questioning why the man was even at ringside at Fastlane if not to screw Zayn and Owens.
We get the announcement of the Fabulous Moolah Memorial Battle Royal, which hopefully will mean a hell of a lot more than the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal because…well, less said about that the better.
Apparently slapping and hair-pulling are wrestling moves now
Here’s Naomi, dancing and just wrecking her knees on that entrance ramp. She’s facing Carmella, who has recently stunned everyone by being in some way an effective competitor. Except she’s just wrecked that by announcing her entry into the Battle Royal, and then ensured she won’t cash in her Money in the Bank at WrestleMania by implying that she might.
Carmella and Naomi lock up, with Naomi shoving a shrieking Staten Island Princess into the corner. Carmella kicks Naomi in the stomach and then starts tossing her around before pulling her hair: you can’t have everything. In fact, quite a bit of her offence involves pulling hair: like, more than fifty percent of it.
Naomi finally catches Carmella with a dive out of the corner, and…now she starts hair-pulling. Carmella slaps her, and Naomi slaps her back and I think I just heard the Women’s Revolution die. Naomi manages to slam a knee into Carmella’s face, which is at least real offence, but Carmella manages to foil a springboard attempt and roll Naomi up.
This was terrible, but it made up for it a little by being short. 1 Star.
That was crucifixion-levels of uncomfortable
Here comes the money, though for a guy whose song is about how rich he is, Shane really spends a lot of time dressed like a waiter at a classier-than-average dive bar. Shane says that he’s had a lot of issues with Zayn and Owens, but plans never to apologise for that as long as he lives, forever and ever, amen. He offers up Owens beating the piss out of Vince as his reasoning, which kind of falls apart when you remember we’ve cheered for that old prick to die under the vicious blows of a much younger man.
Shane says that he’s aware that he’s occasionally maybe acted a little out of character in this whole feud, and states that he plans to take an indefinite leave of absence as commissioner. But first, he plans to make a WrestleMania match: Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn. Shane’s music starts, hinting that there was no plan for the remaining six minutes of the show, but then Owens comes out to save it.
Owens congratulates Shane on his retirement, and just starts on running down Sami Zayn before the man, the myth, the ginger himself emerges to confront Shane. He accuses McMahon of just making this match because of how much the crowd is going to love it. That dastardly smart business operator. Shane says that he doesn’t get why they’re getting so pissy about getting a WrestleMania match: John Cena’s been damn near killing himself to get on the card; Braun Strowman entered a tag team battle royale by his darn self.
Owens and Sami start beating Shane up, which has got to be a fireable offence. Or, like, a poverty-level financial punishment. Shane actually starts fighting back, beating up Zayn, but the numbers game and the fact that Sami and Kevin are actual professional wrestlers kind of tips the advantage over to them. Zayn hits a Helluva Kick, then Owens finishes it with a Pop-Up Powerbomb. And then they start beating up the referees!
On the outside, Zayn grabs a chair and he and Owens guillotine Shane into the ring post. Jesus, this is quite disturbing. And, like, no-one in the back is going to come out and help him? Like, Nakamura? Styles? Orton? Asuka?
Christ, Owens just powerbombed Shane on steel equipment. Props to Shane: the noises he’s making are horrifying. What a dark fucking ending to SmackDown: holy shit.
Tags: AJ Styles, Asuka, Bludgeon Brothers, Bobby Roode, byron saxton, charlotte flair, Corey Graves, Daniel Bryan, Fastlane, Jinder Mahal, Kevin Owens, Randy Orton, sami zayn, Shane McMahon, shinsuke nakamura, smackdown live, The New Day, the usos, Tom Phillips, wrestlemania, WWE