Hi everyone. It’s the final show before WrestleMania, so expect the unexpected and for everyone to be super-careful so they don’t get injured right before the big payday. I’m your SmackDown Live reviewer, David Spain, and let’s dive into the last SmackDown of the wrestling year.
Now Kane’s going to want his hug
The show kicks itself off with Daniel Bryan, who embodies about seventy percent of SmackDown Live‘s goodwill. The crowd are certainly into him; he gets a standing ovation and a long chant before he even picks up the microphone. Bryan doesn’t waste time, asking us all to welcome Shane McMahon (otherwise known as the guy whose fault this whole situation basically is).
Shane arrives, and apparently the audience is pretty into him too. Sucks that these two are probably going to lose the WrestleMania match, and that it’ll probably be because of McMahon. Him and Bryan make nice, like a couple who’ve decided not to fight in front of the kids anymore, and Shane congratulates Bryan for getting to be an active competitor and no longer being able to question his decisions.
Shane recounts his struggles with diverticulitis and a staph infection, which I’m surprised he doesn’t lay at Owens’ and Sami’s door. He says he’s psyched to be Bryan’s partner, and knows that they’re going to give it everything they’ve got. Bryan agrees, but says he needs to do something both as a man and as the GM of SmackDown Live. Those two categories really narrow it down: he’s left with putting someone in a match with the Undertaker or scheduling a tag team match, holla holla holla.
Bryan says that he was wrong about Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, which is less understandable when you remember that Owens beat the shit out of a seventy-odd year old. Shane says that no apology is necessary, and apologises himself. It seems like things are going well, and then Bryan hints at hugging it out. Give this man every title in the WWE and a couple from Ring of Honor too. Shane teases the handshake, but that don’t impress Bryan much; he’s getting his damn hug. All we need now is for Bayley to show up as a hug coordinator or hug instructor and this is the greatest episode of SmackDown since that Brock Lesnar/Kurt Angle Iron Man one.
Well, Nashville just popped to two men hugging, and it’s fantastic.
Bryan makes his anime-esque declaration of vengeance, and Shane says that he’s very happy that Sami and Kevin are back, because now he finally gets to deal with the pair of them. They’re on the same page, the crowd’s into it and this was a fun opening segment.
Charlotte Flair’s music starts, and is she coming out here to ask why the hell Asuka’s not been on SmackDown Live thus far? Because that is something I’d like to know more about.
Ah no: Charlotte’s here to gain revenge on on Natalya for the tainted win the Hart received two weeks ago. Well, I’m always up for this match, and it’s a great warm-up for Charlotte as she gets ready for the Empress of Tomorrow.
Someone should have locked Carmella in a damn crate before this match
Nat makes her way to the ring, and we’re underway: some mat wrestling to start before Charlotte mocks Natty with a strut. Natalya takes Charlotte to the mat; Charlotte wrestles her way free once again, and the Women’s Champ tries to catch a distracted Natalya with a roll-up! Not sure whether that was meant to mimic Natalya’s way of winning from a fortnight before or to show that Charlotte will do whatever it takes to win, but either way it was something different.
Natalya seizes the advantage, taking Charlotte over with headlocks. Charlotte tosses Natalya off the ropes and they collide with stereo shoulder tackles. The Champ takes control now, sticking to a very technical style rather than going for big moves: makes sense. Charlotte goes for another roll-up; Natalya barely kicks out and Charlotte latches on a facelock.
Charlotte is all over Natalya, hurling her into the corner and stomping all over her. Alley-oop out of the corner, otherwise known as the move you never pick in wrestling games, and then Charlotte smashes Natalya’s head off the mat a bunch of times because you can’t kick out if you’re concussed or dead. She rolls over with Natalya still trapped by her legs, and Neidhart rolls out of the ring, wondering if Carmella might try for a cash-in again. Charlotte follows Nat out to continue the bloodsport on the outside, but a misstep sends Charlotte both into the ring post and a commercial break.
When we come back, Charlotte has just countered an abdominal stretch from Natalya and applied her own; Nat doesn’t bother with an elegant reversal, instead opting to throw Charlotte across the ring by her hair. Charlotte gets whipped into a corner, elevates herself out onto the apron and catches Natalya with a knee. She heads up to the top rope, but Nat’s not having her go for high-risk moves right before ‘Mania, and quickly brings her back down to the mat.
Nat locks Charlotte into the Mexican Surfboard; Charlotte manages to pull her arms back and some-crazy-how manages to almost stand fully up on Nat’s knees: Christ. The Champ chops away at Natalya, hitting her as fast as she can and from every angle. Natalya goes for a sleeper hold, but Charlotte just dumps her opponent down on the mat. She goes for a moonsault, because fuck being totally healthy before WrestleMania. Natalya gets the knees up and the two of them end up clotheslining each other.
Suddenly, Carmella’s music plays! Damn it: there should have been snipers posted for this very eventuality! That bitch is trying to ruin WrestleMania! The referees should refuse to let it happen! Think of what we stand to lose! Charlotte kicks the briefcase out of the ring and stares down Carmella, before booting her right in the face and sending her out of the ring! Natalya goes for the roll-up again, but Charlotte kicks out and locks in the Figure Eight! Natalya taps out!
Great match, and the second instance of Carmella showing up added a fair bit of tension too: there’s always the worry that WWE might pull the trigger on this sort of thing, even when the barrel of the gun is currently in their mouth. 3.5 Stars.
Alright, now get the fuck out of there, Charlotte. Don’t show up for the Mixed Match Challenge either; I don’t give a fuck.
Asuka’s music plays, and it’s damn nice of her to actually show up on this show. If she could just quickly cripple Carmella before she tries something stupid again, that’d be great.
Asuka gets a microphone and tells Charlotte that at WrestleMania the Queen will bow down to the Empress. Backstage, Shinsuke Nakamura just Kinshasa’d a television. Charlotte grabs the microphone, and asks whether Asuka is ready for WrestleMania. They turn to look at the sign, and then stare each other down. Bit awkward, but considering Charlotte is extremely out of breath and English is Asuka’s at-least second language, you couldn’t expect gold.
We get a look at a backstage interview with AJ Styles about Shinsuke playing mindgames and calling him emotional. The basic takeaway from it all is that AJ’s going to win because Nakamura’s taking him too lightly.
I can’t tell where Rusev’s chin stops and Rusev’s beard begins
But now it’s time to get GLORIOUS. Bobby Roode is here, and I’m feeling a lot better disposed to this US Championship storyline now that Rusev’s a part of this match. And it’ll be Rusev in action tonight, taking on Jinder Mahal.
Sunil Singh shows up, both singing and taking shots at Aiden English: man knows how to get some heat. Jinder shows up, but before he gets too far Aiden English shows up to defend the glorious name of Aiden English. He introduces Rusev, and we are about to see two big men beat the fuck out of each other: it’s what wrestling’s all about.
Bell rings and both big men lock up, tussling in a corner. The ref gets between them before Jinder smacks Rusev away from him. Rusev looks for the Accolade straight away; Mahal scoots the fuck away from it out of the ring. When we come back, Jinder is trying to apply a hold to Rusev with the added difficulty of Rusev continuously punching him. Jinder is able to club Rusev to the ground and keeps stomping on the big Bulgarian.
Neckbreaker rocks Rusev, then Jinder hits a high knee. He does his best to keep Rusev on the defensive, wrapping the Bulgarian’s arm around the ring rope before clamping a hold on his shoulder. Rusev fires back, managing to take Jinder down with a spinning kick. He wants the Accolade, but Jinder’s not really up for it and manages to get away before kicking Rusev right in the mush.
Rusev shoves Mahal away, then roundhouse kicks him right the fuck in the head. He wants the the Machka Kick, but gets distracted enough by Sunil Singh that Jinder is able to almost pin him with a roll-up. Rusev recovers, and a Machka Kick to Mahal gives him the win.
This was what it was always fated to be: mediocre. I guess I have to applaud WWE’s economy for putting their most boring wrestlers in one match, but they’d just better break out some weapons and go for a tonne of high spots, because otherwise this is going to be a low point of WrestleMania. 2 Stars.
Randy Orton then RKOs Rusev, and if you’re surprised by that then I hope you’re enjoying your first episode of WWE programming. English starts stomping Orton, and put him in the damn Fatal Four-Way. He heads up to the top rope, but Roode gets up from commentary and shoves English into an RKO.
Roode and Orton have a tense moment where Roode fakes hanging onto the US Championship, but they instead have a moment of mutual respect. I’d say that this is when you’d not expect an RKO, but you absolutely would. I certainly do.
Footage from an interview with Shinsuke Nakamura. He’s counting on Styles to get too emotional and to make a single mistake: then Nakamura will become the WWE Champion with a knee to the face.
The New Day’s backstage, doing a little promo for WrestleMania being free to new subscribers to the WWE Network. I’d not mention it usually, but they start putting their hands down each other’s pants, and if you miss that then you’re a fool.
The Usos then show up for some fighting talk but also to advertise. I don’t know if I’d be pissed or overjoyed if Harper and Rowan arrived to plug the Network too and…oh, there they are. But they just smash a camera rather than engaging in capitalism. I’ll take it.
I want the last four minutes of my life back
Aw man, can you say ‘worthless segment’? Because this is an eight-man tag team match with all the people not cool enough to be on the main card of WrestleMania, and I will be giving it the bare minimum of coverage unless someone puts their hands down someone else’s pants. Just to say: this is the first time any of us have seen Zack Ryder, Primo Colon or Mojo Rawley and at least a few of us had forgotten they’d ever existed. At least Corbin and Ziggler are there to remind you that you’re watching WWE.
I’d say that I’d cover the highlights but…well, I’m sure you can draw your own conclusions from any match where the commentators describe Primo Colon as “very impressive”. Baron Corbin wins with the End of Days, and manages to look disgusted with himself in the process.
Urgh. 0.5 Stars.
Corbin tries to indicate that he’ll win the Andre Battle Royal twice, but it just looks like he’s making an obscene British gesture to tiny statue Andre.
Oh dear Christ, Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin persist in talking with graphical accompaniment. They seem to think that they have the vaguest fart of a chance against Nakamura and Styles in their tag team match tonight, which would be cute if it wasn’t for – you guessed it – those motherfucking graphics.
Who could have seen this coming except for the people who scheduled it?
And suddenly at ringside, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn have jumped out of the crowd! My God, it’s like they were never even fired in the first place! Remember when being fired meant that Triple H literally got to live in your house? Whereas now, Kevin Owens has literally been made a new t-shirt that I’ll bet wweshop.com is already selling.
Basically, Kev and Sam are here to speak their minds as long as that doesn’t include the sort of subject matter that will lose WWE sponsors. They apologise to Bryan’s wife and kid, because they’re going to beat up Bryan…like they already have and would have done anyway because these are men who fight for a living.
Shane and Bryan are watching from backstage, and apparently they’re heading out to ringside. Meanwhile, Owens is ripping into Shane before his microphone goes dead. Owens and Zayn head out via the crowd, because once they shut off your microphone it’s time to give up immediately and go home.
Bryan and Shane come out, and Daniel tells the cameramen to get a camera on Zayn and Owens, like they weren’t already being recorded, and asks that the audience turn on their phones. Jesus, Bryan: people only turn their phones off anymore so that they can switch them back on to see if that’s fixed whatever’s wrong with it.
Bryan states that this is historic: the last time they’ll see Zayn and Owens on SmackDown Live. And then Shane leads the WWE Universe in the traditional “Goodbye” song, which is like watching your Dad try to be cool (or, as my father persists in calling it, “hep”).
Gable and Benjamin are just happy they don’t have to face the Bludgeon Brothers
Here’s Gable and Benjamin, who had to fill in for Rusev in this role once he got involved in his own storyline. Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles follow. Bell rings, and Shinsuke starts things off against Chad Gable. Gable wrestles Nakamura to the mat, keeping him grounded. Shinsuke shoves him away and nearly murders Chad with a kick that Gable just avoids.
Nakamura goes to work on the arm, but Gable outwrestles him with ease. Nakamura counters a hold on his own arm, and tags Styles in with a pat on the head. Styles looks pissed, and Gable and Benjamin decide that their survival depends upon using this distraction. There’s a commercial break, and when we come back, AJ Styles has just kicked Gable oops upside his head.
Styles crawls to the corner, tagging in Shinsuke, who unloads on both Gable and Benjamin with kicks. A running knee to the ribs strikes, but a tag from Gable which went unseen allows Benjamin to unload a knee right into Nakamura’s face, after which Gable hits him with a moonsault for a near-fall. Gable works on the arm of Nakamura before tagging in Shelton. Benjamin pummels Shinsuke before wrapping him in a sleeper hold.
Nakamura fights back, but catches a dragon whip right to the face. Shelton charges, but it’s a little premature: he runs right into a hard kick from Shinsuke, who gets the tag to Styles! Gable get flattened by a flurry; Benjamin eats a Pele Kick which sends him out of the ring. Styles gets rolled up by Gable, but kicks out and rocks him with an ushiguroshi! AJ takes a moment to look at Nakamura, then approaches him. He climbs out onto the apron, right next to Shinsuke, and locks eyes with him before hitting the Phenomenal Forearm from that spot to Gable. AJ Styles gets the win for his team.
Not a huge amount of storytelling but for that last moment and the pat on the head. Nice to see Shelton and Gable have a part in the last main event pre-Mania, but they need to head right back into the Tag Team Title conversation now the Bludgeon Brothers are there too. 3 Stars.
Styles and Nakamura exchange a couple of looks before AJ heads out of the ring to collect his belt. Styles and Nakamura keep their eyes on each other, which unfortunately allows Benjamin to jump Shinsuke, getting a hit or two in before Nakamura annihilates him.
Meanwhile, Styles has headed back to the apron, waiting for Nakamura to turn around. When Shinsuke does, Styles launches himself at him before pulling back at the last second as Nakamura flinches. Nakamura grins, but it would be hysterical if he then kicked Styles right in the face. AJ pats Nakamura on the head, which takes care of the grin as Styles leaves the ring.
Well, that’s all there is before the PPV. Hope everyone has an awesome WrestleMania viewing: I’ll see you in the Rasslin’ Roundtable and the Trashy Picks!