It’s Wednesday, which means I’ve finally dragged myself out of bed and am watching SmackDown with a cup of coffee and a growing sense of excitement before WrestleMania. Call me a bright-eyed naive young fool, but I’m really looking forward to this one: things seem to be falling into place quite nicely.
And last week, Shane McMahon got the shit kicked out of him in an extended beating which served to highlight the fact that no-one likes him enough to help him. Only we get shown a tape of Daniel Bryan announcing that he’s cleared to wrestle again, so fuck you, Shane: bigger things are happening right now. Seriously, though: we just got fucking Daniel Bryan back on the active roster. Dreams do come true.
Thank You, Brie
And of course the show kicks off with Bryan himself, still dressed as a manager. Oh God, please just let this show be Daniel Bryan’s last day. Let him make ludicrously terrible decisions because he’s quitting at the end of the day. Let’s just do Daniel Bryan’s Day Off.
The crowd chants a tonne of different stuff, which is just confusing enough that it could be a part of the Necronomicon. Bryan thanks the crowd, and then announces that Owens and Zayn aren’t here yet to receive a righteous bollocking. So let’s forget about that and focus on someone who’s really healthy: and that’s Daniel Bryan. He talks about the gratitude he had which helped him through the past two years: gratitude for his family, friends, fans and wife. Apparently Brie’s not a part of what Bryan calls his family, which must be pretty fucked up for her.
Bryan credits Brie with encouraging him to fight for what he loved and to see all the specialists. That gets her a “thank you, Brie” chant, which is impressively quick work by the crowd. Dan says that his wife pushed him to not just be grateful any more, but to fight for his dreams. This whole speech is just shot through with raw emotion: it’s nice to see something this heartfelt that’s not someone’s retirement. Bryan says that he’s finally been cleared by every neurologist he’s been to see, and that he’s full of gratitude for everyone who’s helped him: his fans, the doctors, the WWE and Brie Bella more than anyone else.
Bryan says he’s not sure when or where he’ll get back in the ring, and then stares at the WrestleMania sign. It means nothing if he doesn’t point at it. He admits that he doesn’t know if it’s possible, but he promises that he’ll be back in the ring. The crowd chants “YES” and Bryan exits with a smile.
Backstage, Bryan is walking around looking for Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. He asks Little Naitch where he is, then gets welcomed back by Dolph, who says he can’t wait to beat him. Oh Ziggler: it’s weird that you don’t know how this works yet.
AJ Styles is kind of a dick
Meanwhile, Rusev is in the ring, and this is going to be a Fastlane rematch with Shinsuke Nakamura. Styles is at ringside, and it’ll be interesting to see what he’s capable of with that supposed knee injury of his.
Bell rings and Rusev grapples the wrist. Shinsuke somersaults, grasping Rusev’s arm and the two of them tussle. They lock up again, Rusev aware that too many of Nakamura’s kicks will put him to sleep past WrestleMania. Nakamura finally baits Rusev into charging at him, and the two of them engage into a kick-and-slugfest before hurling him into the corner. Shinsuke runs off the ropes but gets knocked the fuck down by the meaty calves of Rusev.
When we come back, Rusev misses a clothesline to Shinsuke and receives a size “fuck you” boot right in the jaw. Nakamura sends some kicks into Rusev’s chest, then another to face. Good Vibrations rocks Rusev in the corner, then he gets a knee right in the stomach. Rusev manages to avoid the Kinshasa, looks for the Accolade and then settles for smashing a kick into Nakamura’s skull. Rusev tries for a Machka Kick, gets caught in an armbar which Shinsuke turns into a pin: Shinsuke wins!
Very quick match, which hopefully puts an end to Rusev being this feud’s whipping boy. I liked the ending, but the rest was more or less a rehash of Fastlane. 2.5 Stars.
Aiden “Death-Wish” English jumps Nakamura, then he and Rusev lay a beating on him like they’re unaware of narrative convention. AJ very slowly starts getting up, but before he can lethargically interfere, Shinsuke manages to deck both English and Rusev and give Styles a cheeky grin.
We see a promo for the Asuka/Charlotte fight, and Charlotte is watching backstage in the locker room. Wait, we have cameras in the women’s locker room now? Anyway, Natalya comes up to do the only thing she’s apparently good for now: shit-stirring. This all boils down to Natalya getting a match against Charlotte, which it’s kind of hard to complain about. I’ll work on it.
Backstage, Shinsuke and AJ run into each other, and Nakamura continues to troll Styles. I love this silly Japanese bastard.
Best of luck in your future endeavours, Tye
Oh dear, Baron Corbin is heading to the ring and Tye Dillinger’s been jobber-entranced: Tye’s fucking dead. Dillinger starts off with a waistlock, working Corbin over before the Lone Wolf rips his damn face off. Dillinger is able to frustrate Baron a little bit before a punch to the jaw takes away every last shred of his momentum. Dillinger dodges a clothesline, booting Corbin in the face and sending him out of the ring.
Dillinger continues to get the better of Corbin on the outside, but back in the ring he leaps into what was probably supposed to be the End of Days, but he fucks it up and gets tossed through the ropes. The announce team tries to cover for him, but Tye isn’t going to be on TV for while. Baron Corbin wins with another End of Days, thus earning a promotion: he’s now Viscount Corbin.
This was a weird mess. 1 Star.
Jesus Christ, Carmella
And with Daniel Bryan walking around, presumably suplexing everyone and everything he can get his hands out just because he medically can, Charlotte and Natalya were able to just make their match official.
Bell rings, and both competitors move in slowly before locking up. Natalya seizes Charlotte’s arm and with it the advantage, but Charlotte quickly reverses it and grins at Natalya. They re-engage, exchanging holds and counters on their feet and down on the mat. Natalya goes for a quick roll-up, with Charlotte kicking out at two.
Waistlock takeover dumps Natalya on the mat, and Charlotte stays on her. Natalya manages to kick the Champ in the stomach, but Charlotte is able to wrest control of the match away from her and take Neidhart over and over with her legs. Natalya rallies, but Charlotte seems to be on just another level tonight, stunning her opponent and kicking her right out of the ring into a commercial break.
During the ads, Natalya somehow took the advantage and has Charlotte in an abdominal stretch; Charlotte breaks free and hits Natalya with a knee to the face. Natalya is able to dodge an attack to her knee from Charlotte and dump the Women’s Champion in the corner before stomping away at her. Natalya runs the ropes, but Charlotte kips up and clotheslines the fuck out of her.
Natalya runs into some chops right to the bosom. Charlotte hits an exploder suplex, but the Queen of Hearts is able to drag her face-first into the corner from down on the mat. Nat looks for the Luke Harper clothesline, but gets booted right in the face. She escapes a Figure Eight attempt, crawling into the corner before dodging a charge from the Champ; Charlotte’s able to catch her with a backbreaker regardless!
Charlotte wants a moonsault; Natalya catches her on the ropes and hits the Batista Bomb for two. Nat locks her in the Sharpshooter, but Charlotte quickly reaches the ropes. Never one to waste momentum, Natalya catapults Charlotte into the ropes and then lays her out with a Discus Clothesline; the Champ kicks out! Charlotte rolls up Natalya, then attempts the Figure Eight before getting kicked out of the ring. Natalya pursues, and eats a spear! Back in the ring, Charlotte applies a Figure Four, but Natalya rolls to the ropes; Charlotte drags herself out of the ring and keeps the hold applied on the apron!
Charlotte’s forced to break the hold, then heads up to the second rope. Charlotte tries to fight her off, but takes a superplex from the top courtesy of Natalya. Both women are down…and that’s Carmella’s music! No, get the fuck out of there! Carmella hands the briefcase over, but Charlotte is able to kick her in the face and knock her out of the ring! Natalya rolls up Charlotte, and she gets her!
Awesome match, and that tiny possibility of Carmella cashing in genuinely worked in terms of heightening tension. And this gives Charlotte something to do approaching WrestleMania. 4 Stars.
And yet we can’t get Bray Wyatt to work properly
Here come the Usos, and tonight Jimmy Uso will be taking on Luke Harper. But first, they want to address the events of Fastlane. They talk about how much their match with the New Day meant: the winners got to go to WrestleMania as the Tag Team Champions. They say the Bludgeon Brothers were out to hurt them and that Jey’s still injured, but they’re still here and don’t plan on backing down. They lay down a challenge in a fired-up fashion, and it’s great to see how far the Usos have come talk-wise.
Jesus, so the match started during the break and Harper is fucking Jimmy the fuck up on the outside. Back in the ring, the beating from Hillbilly Jim’s bastard kid continues, with Jimmy getting chopped about in the corner. He fights back with chops of his own, backing Harper up before he’s tossed into the corner and eats an uppercut.
Harper charges into Jimmy, flattening him. A running big boot attempt is dodged by Jimmy, and the Uso takes advantage on the outside. Jimmy wants a running dive, but Rowan stands on the apron, stopping him in his tracks like a big scary man wearing a sheep mask. Harper hoists Jimmy in a full nelson, and in the process the Uso is able to kick Rowan off the apron, blasting a distracted Harper with an enzuigiri.
Rowan tries to get into the ring, and with the ref distracted both Jey and Jimmy pound Harper with superkicks, but Harper kicks out! The Bludgeon Brother goes for a powerbomb, but Jimmy slips out of it and heads up to the top turnbuckle; Harper sweeps Jimmy’s legs out and smashes his face off the ring post. Oh, Jimmy’s fucked. A Discus Clothesline puts him down: the same move that failed to beat Charlotte Flair earlier. Think about that.
Again, satisfyingly brutal. It was smart to give Harper a challenge on his way to victory, and I cannot wait for the WrestleMania match. 3 Stars.
Urgh to all of this
Jinder Mahal is in the ring with one of his dope suits and one of his open-shirted assistants. He says that everyone who boos him is a Hippogriff. He says he’s sacrificed everything to get to WrestleMania. Ew, someone got Jinder Mahal in my WrestleMania. He’s pissed that we disrespect him when he’s trying to hone his craft and be the best wrestler he can. I refuse to feel bad about that: some people can’t put on a good match to save their lives.
Bobby Roode and his amazing theme tune interrupt, and Roode says that Jinder’s the only Hippogriff around here. He does the usual “respect is a two-way street” speech, and promises to beat Mahal in the centre of the ring and win back his title. Orton interrupts, and I’m amazed he even remembered to bring the Championship with him. Jinder’s barely into his sarcastic scorn before Orton tells him just to shut up.
Randy says that Jinder could never win without help, and that he sucks. God, this is some stirring stuff. Mahal hurls Samir Singh at Orton and Roode, and they beat on him like the heroes they are. Orton hits a Vintage DDT and sets up the RKO, but Roode hits the Glorious DDT instead before trying to catch Orton with it. Randy almost manages to reverse it into an RKO, but Roode counters and the two stand at a stalemate. Jinder watches from the outside, and then points to the sign. Get that fucking finger down, Mahal: I don’t want you at WrestleMania.
Remember when the Riott Squad were a threat?
So, this is a tag team match where all four participants were jobber entranced. It’s like a list of reasons why no-one should care. Anyway, Becky and Naomi are teaming up to take on the two members of the Riott Squad who aren’t Ruby Riott.
Naomi is driven into the corner by Logan, and Liv Morgan tags in. Naomi kicks both of them away, and Morgan dodges some kicks to the head before Naomi just catches her. The announce team talks about the women’s battle royal, now no longer named after some bitch who drugged and pimped out women. We’re told to “look at the success of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal” and…has there been any? You get a big trophy that you stop carrying around, and then nothing comes of it.
Becky tags in, laying a volley of strikes on Morgan before her smaller opponent kicks her away and smashes her face off the turnbuckle. Logan tags in and starts straight-up mauling Becky. Becky throws Logan off her, but gets dump-tackled onto the mat. Lynch throws Sarah out of the ring and crawls to Naomi, but Logan gets there ahead of Becky, knocking Naomi off the top rope.
Logan tries to throw Becky across the ring, but Becky locks in the Disarmer! Liv tries to interfere, but Naomi catches her with the Rear View! Logan taps out.
I’m glad Becky got a win, This was short and accomplished nothing at all. These tag team matches just smack of being a holding pattern, and it’s lazy. 2 Stars.
Backstage, Bryan gets told that Owens and Zayn have arrived. I get that Lesnar can just not show up if he wants to, but surely regular employees have to show up on time. And, you know, not assault your boss.
You’d think someone would have at least helped Bryan out
When we come back, Bryan is in the ring, pissed that he’s still having to do this responsible management shit. He tells Owens and Zayn to get to the ring. Both men arrive, and they immediately congratulate Bryan on being an active competitor again. They think about how he’s always been their biggest advocate, and how they’re thrilled that he’s able to do what he loves again.
Bryan cuts through the BS, and shows the footage of Shane McMahon’s horrific beating. Fair play to him: Shane really got up there for the Pop-Up Powerbomb. Not bad for someone who’s not an active competitor. Owens and Zayn laugh about it, and admit that whilst they may have got carried away, Shane totes deserve it.
Bryan says that the two of them are acting like this isn’t a big deal, but he’s declaring it the biggest deal ever. He says that the two of them are incredible performers, and that he absolutely has been living vicariously through them whilst he’s not been able to wrestle. But what they just pulled had to be something like felonious assault, and it was after they’d won: they’d got a WrestleMania match and Shane had quit. Bryan says he just can’t understand why they did it.
Bryan seems to be working up to firing Zayn and Owens…and he actually does it, the absolute madman. Well, fuck goes that WrestleMania match. You know, if any of this was real. Bryan apologises, which is like the one thing you’re probably not in the mood for hearing when you get fired, and then offers a handshake. Jesus, Daniel, why not go for a thumbs-up while you’re at it.
Sami shakes his hand, as does Kevin, and then they start beating the shit out of him. Yeah, Kurt Angle was smart enough to have US Marshals around just to tell Reigns that Lesnar wasn’t there. Bryan fires back and actually gets a bunch of hits in, looking fucking mental, and then starts kicking the shit out of Owens before Zayn dives on him and starts working him over. Owens superkicks him, and then Sami hits the Helluva Kick. They hit the apron powerbomb to Bryan, so I guess we know what the WrestleMania match is now.
The crowd chants “you’re still fired”, and they have been on point with the chants tonight. Bryan’s stretchered out, and does this mean we get Teddy Long back? Because I’m always up for getting Teddy Long back.