And it’s back to normal for the WWE, or as normal as anything gets on that show. I’m your SmackDown correspondent or reviewer or whatever I should call myself, and this is the first installment of SmackDown Live following WrestleMania which was…well, good. Really good. Great, in some places. Some well done emotional moments, a few surprises and the return of Daniel Bryan. Did everything else make up for the Lesnar/Reigns main event? Christ, no: by the sixth F5 I was laughing hysterically into my wineglass because Jesus Christ, who booked that match?
Anyway, it’s a new year in the wrestling calendar. And that means new faces, new story-lines and, I’m sure, some surprises on this side of WrestleMania too. So Happy New WrestleYear, Happy Rusev Day, and let’s watch some SmackDown.
This is her house
The show starts with Shane McMahon, and could not be more sure that he’d said that he was stepping back from the whole management deal because, you know, the months-long situation which led to a fucking WrestleMania match between him and his goddamn employees. And you can add diverticulitis and a staph infection to things that Shane won’t sell for, along with that helicopter crash.
Shane thanks the crowd for their cheers and for making WrestleMania what it was (I assume he’s overlooking the “this is awful” chants from a point in the night I can’t quite remember). He then turns the conversation to the return of Bryan, which produces thousands of simultaneous orgasms from the crowd. Shane admits that Bryan is literally the only reason they won the match, and says that he’s accepted Dan’s resignation from management and has given the job to Paige. Well, goddamn: good for her. It’s also possible that WWE’s checking whether the SmackDown GM position is able to heal wrestlers from their ills, like some sort of employment Holy Grail.
Paige says that she retired last night on RAW, and she says that Shane was waiting for her behind the curtain when she left the stage, which comes off as a little Phantom of the Opera-esque from Shane O’Mac, but apparently things are all good. The crowd chants that this is Paige’s house, and it is handy that she’s got such a suitable catchphrase for her new role of laying down the law.
Paige says she wants to make tonight truly special for every single person in the crowd: they all get to team with Braun Strowman. Yeah, no: it’s about Daniel Bryan. Paige says he’s not competed on free TV for over three years, and she feels it’s high time he starts earning his keep again. The crowd chants for Rusev, but Paige teases for a little bit and they start chanting for Styles. Man, we’ve got so many great matches to see in our future. But we’re getting the Styles/Bryan one tonight! Great first decision from the new GM: please don’t get into fights with the employees, Paige.
The match that never gets dull
Here come the Usos, and they must be pissed. At WrestleMania, they lost the Tag Team Championships to the Bludgeon Brothers without even getting pinned, so I can only imagine they’ve got some issues to work out with the New Day tonight. The New Day arrive, and there’s a real lack of contrition on their part. Maybe for them this was more about taking the Championships off the New Day than actually possessing them. It’s difficult to look sober and reflective in the wake of a devastating loss when you’re giving someone in the crowd the ol’ pancake bukkake.
Bell rings, and Xavier and whichever Uso it is (twins: they all look the same to me) get to it. Uso takes Woods down, gets elevated over the ropes but Jey (on the outside) gets a blind tag and stays on Xavier. Big E tags in and wraps his big meaty arms around Jey in a way that lets the Uso know that he’s safe and valued and loved before he hurls him across the fucking ring, almost killing Charles Robinson.
Woods tags in and he fucking lifts Big E before letting him splash onto Jey. Good God, Woods is strong. Unicorn Stampede runs all over Jey before Woods hits a big old dropkick to the face. During the break I get distracted from the match because there’s a trailer for Super Troopers 2 and this is all I’ve wanted since first seeing the last one. Also, Planet Fitness: if you have to call yourself a “judgement-free zone” then there’s clearly some shit going on you’re trying to get ahead of.
After the break, Big E misses a splash on the apron. I’m torn, because that looks like it hurt like a motherfucker, but it also seems like the kind of thing you’re doing if you’re subtly trying to kill someone during a wrestling match. Jey manages to tag in Jimmy as Woods gets into the match too, and the Uso starts smacking New Day members around like they made him lose the fucking Tag Team Championships before diving out onto Big E.
Woods tries to catch Jey on the apron, but runs right into a forearm. He still manages to boot Jey in the face before attempting the Honor Roll, which Jey manages to turn into a Samoan Drop for two. The Usos both enter the ring, looking for a double team, but Woods manages to tornado DDT Jey before Big E spears Jimmy out of the ring! Woods hits a leg drop, but Jey kicks out.
Woods rips off Jey’s shirt, like he’s Marlon Brando in like half the films Brando did (that seems like a conservative estimate as to how many of Brando’s films have involved him playing a character who rapes or molests a woman). He keeps smacking Jey in the ribs, gets caught with a forearm before returning the favour: Jey then forearms Woods again before Xavier smacks him in the gut. A superkick connects to Woods’ tum-tum, and Big E and Jimmy tag in.
Woods and Big E hit a backbreaker to Jimmy which almost gets them the win. Big E tags Xavier in and sends him up to the top for the Midnight Hour, but Jey pulls his brother off E’s shoulders, superkicking him out of the ring! Woods dropkicks Jey from the top rope, almost gets beat by a roll-up from Jimmy, rolling him up in turn before running into a superkick. Samoan Splash connects, and the Usos have a date with the Bludgeon Brothers.
God, I love the Usos. And the New Day, though I was pulling for the Usos here. Whatever happens with the Bludgeon Brothers is going to be tremendous, and it’s because of the kind of talent on display here. 4 Stars.
And the Bludgeon Brothers show up, with their creepy look a little ruined by those shiny, shiny Tag Team Championships. And Harper gets an awesome skull mask that actually makes him look like a demon, but Rowan is still using the fucking steampunk sheep mask? No accounting for taste from psychotic probable-murderers, I guess.
Seems like a lot of Make-A-Wish Kids wished to beat up John Cena for a commercial. After what happened at WrestleMania, I can absolutely buy that.
We see a clip of Naomi with her “Not Named After A Manipulative Pimp Bitch Anymore” trophy, and Dasha asks her how she feels about having drag that big bastard everyone. And Natalya shows up to be…just so annoying. It’s like WWE had a big list of negative stereotypes of women drawn up on a whiteboard and decided that that’s what Natalya’s character would be.
The worst part is it’s still better than that farting gimmick.
Naomi challenges her to a match, because punching Natalya in the face is something I assume everyone in the back aspires to.
Good God, that trophy looks stupid
And that match is now, so Naomi dances her way out to the ring. Natalya joins her and they lock up, having a brief exchange of holds before Natty shoves Naomi the face. Naomi takes exception, kicking her and then hitting her with a hurricanrana. She props Natalya up on the ropes before smashing her into the mat with a leg drop, but the Queen of Harts escapes into the commercial break.
When we come back, Natalya has seized control of the match, keeping Naomi under control with an abdominal stretch. A snap suplex keeps Naomi grounded, and then Nat applies another stretch. Naomi slams elbows into Natalya’s leg to escape, then flips out of a back suplex and hits Natalya with a wheelbarrow stunner. Naomi tries to recover as Nat reels from the big move.
Naomi laces Natalya with kicks from every direction and to every body part. Natalya guts it out, hitting a Batista Bomb for two. If only she’d done the thumbs-up-thumbs-down. Natalya decides it’s time to end things with a Sharpshooter; Naomi shoves her away but suffers a Discus Clothesline as a result. Naomi manages to fend off Natalya for long enough to smash a kick into her head, then land a split-legged moonsault to win.
Most matches with Naomi have some great spots, and it’d be nice to see her use this victory and the Battle Royal to force her way into the Championship conversation. 2.5 Stars.
And Naomi celebrates next to her big uterus trophy. If you told me the person who came up with that trophy also booked the Lesnar/Reigns match, I’d not be surprised.
Backstage, Renee Young is trying to talk to Shinsuke Nakamura about why he was such a dick to AJ Styles’ dick on Sunday night. Nakamura says he’s not sure what came over him and apologises in the least sincere manner possible. Renee accuses him of being disingenuous, which is a big word for a wrestling show, and demands the truth.
Nakamura says “Sorry: no speak English”, which I think tops out Sunday for dickish behaviour.
Never forget that this moment rightfully belongs to James Ellsworth
Here’s Charlotte Flair, who along with AJ Styles can probably just declare themselves Gods now and who have probably caused the WWE to investigate some kind of Frankenstein-inspired experiment to create viable number one contenders for the both of them.
Charlotte says that she had the hardest match of her life at WrestleMania and that she left everything in the ring. She says that there was something special about that night, and now she’s going to try to somehow capture that feeling again: like a junkie in search of a bigger high. I feel like the obvious answer is to fight Brock Lensar.
Oh damn: here come Peyton Royce and Billie Kay! Cue the enthusiastic NXT chants. Billie and Peyton mock Charlotte’s quest to make magic, promising to make her title disappear. They say her match with Asuka was good, but not iconic. They continue to mock Charlotte for giving thanks, earning themselves an “iconic” chant. Peyton tells Charlotte that they’re the future, and apparently Charlotte has decided that she didn’t get where she is today without assaulting people who annoy her, and she starts hammering both of them.
The numbers game quickly catches up with Charlotte, and Billie and Peyton manage to contain her with a Shades of Kay before hurling her over the announce table, and then back over again. The beating continues on the outside as the two NXT arrivals hurl Charlotte into the ring post and the steel steps, before double-powerbombing her on the outside.
Billie and Peyton shove Charlotte back into the ring before a bunch of referees finally realise what’s been going on and make them back off.
And cue Carmella’s music.
Carmella sprints past Billie and Peyton, corralling a referee en route, and cashes in the Money in the Bank contract! The bell rings, Carmella hits the superkick, and we have a new SmackDown Women’s Champion!
Carmella stays resolutely heel during her celebration, including trash-talking Charlotte, but the audience are thrilled for her anyway.
Whatever Jinder Mahal’s a part of is always somehow terrible
Jinder Mahal is ready to watch the number one contender’s match for his United States Championship, and in true US Title fashion the only people involved are the ones who were fighting for it at WrestleMania. This belt really does seem cursed: everything about it and its feuds are boring as hell.
Roode, Orton and Rusev make their way to the ring, and a commercial break starts immediately: good call. When we come back, Orton has an RKO attempt countered and Rusev bulls into the match, stomping the shit out of Roode. Rusev runs into a pair of knees and eats a Blockbuster before Randy breaks up the pin and tosses Bobby.
A roundhouse kick smashes into Orton’s skull, sending him out of the ring. Rusev pursues Randy, smashing his head off the announce table. He tries again, but Orton back suplexes him onto the table instead. Roode arrives, throwing Orton back in the ring and working him over. He hits a neckbreaker, heads to the top rope and takes him out with a flying clothesline.
Roode stalks Randy, who counters the DDT with a roll-up. Orton clotheslines Roode all over the shop, then hits him with a powerslam. Bobby counters the Vintage DDT, but gets hung up on the top rope. Rusev suplexes him onto the announce table and heads into the ring after Roode. He lays Roode out with a bunch of kicks, then hits him with a terrifying-looking spinning heel kick. The Machka Kick connects, and Rusev wants the Accolade. He locks it in, but Randy breaks up the submission and tosses Rusev into the steel post.
An RKO strikes and Randy Orton wins. Oh wow: this match again. Golly gee: I can’t wait.
Unless they’re giving Rusev another Championship (any of which would honestly be preferable to the United States Championship) then what the fuck is this for? Who wants this match? Orton’s a Grand Slam winner now; he doesn’t need the belt and he absolutely doesn’t need another worthless match with Jinder Mahal. 1 Star.
Speaking of matches no-one wants, we’re doing Roman/Brock again, despite the extremely clear hatred of the last match these two had. Again: not sure who this is for, but I really doubt we’re going to see a lot of improvement and I’m certain that this is going to do nothing to change people’s perception of Roman Reigns.
The saddest thing is, WWE actually has footage of Roman being loved by crowds. It was when he fucked up Triple H like a total badass, then beat up Vince the following night. WWE has proved they can make Roman palatable, and now simply refuse to do so. The mind boggles.
Man, Dasha really scooped Renee here: she’s got an interview with Carmella. The new Women’s Champ says that when a Queen overstays her welcome, there’s always a Princess waiting to end her reign. Speaking as someone from a country who has a constitutional monarchy: not in any way how a succession works.
Carmella teases getting emotional, saying that she has someone she needs to thank. She could have said “James Ellsworth” and got the biggest pop ever, but she reveals that she was talking about her. Gal knows how to heel. When Dasha asks about Peyton and Billie, Carmella seems supremely unconcerned and simply moonwalks away.
Backstage, Renee Young catches up with Styles. He doesn’t seem to give much of a damn about Shinsuke one way or another, and especially not now that he has the chance to face Daniel Bryan.
Ain’t that a kick in the crotch?
Here’s Daniel Bryan, finally back where he belongs. AJ Styles follows him, and while I have a hard time believing that this match will end without shenanigans, it’s awesome that we’re getting a taste of this.
Both men lock up, struggling for position before Styles takes Bryan down with a waistlock takeover; Bryan escapes with a twist of the arm and they circle each other before Styles latches on a headlock. Daniel shoots him off the ropes, takes a shoulder tackle and AJ dodges his backdrop attempt, taking him to the mat for a pin attempt. Bryan kips up into a bridge, struggling with AJ in a test of strength before hitting a kick to the arm.
Bryan continues to unleash the kicks before wrenching the arm, not relenting or even letting go of the limb. When AJ escapes Bryan hits him with some uppercuts before Styles sends him right out of the ring with a dropkick. AJ follows him with a forearm as we go to a commercial break.
When we come back, Bryan takes Styles down with a running elbow. A running dropkick to the corner rocks AJ, and then Bryan sends a volley of kicks into Styles’ chest. Styles catches the last one, hitting Bryan with a dragon screw. Styles doesn’t let him rest, hitting a leaping clothesline into the corner. Bryan is whipped into the opposite corner, manages to flip over Styles’ head, but seems to have hurt his knee from the dragon screw and is unable to capitalise.
AJ moonsaults out of the corner into an inverted DDT for two. Styles takes his time getting up, and that allows Bryan to catch him with a couple of punches. AJ tags the knee with a kick and hits Bryan with a flurry, but Daniel catches him with a butterfly suplex that he turns into an armbar! Styles turns Bryan over, escapes the hold, and applies the Calf Crusher in the centre of the ring!
Bryan turns AJ over now, and he’s going for the Yes Lock! Styles almost gets with the win with a roll-up, ducks a kick and hits Bryan with a Pele Kick, and turns him inside out with a clothesline! Now AJ wants the Phenomenal Forearm, but Bryan catches him with a kick out of the air! Another kick to the head puts Styles down, and Bryan waits for AJ to get back on his feet. Styles turns the Running Knee into the Calf Crusher, but then lifts Bryan up into the Styles Clash! Bryan counters, and he gets the Yes Lock!
Styles gets his feet on the bottom rope early, forcing a break. Bryan sets AJ up in the Tree of Woe and starts kicking the fuck out of him, every blow hurting his own limb. He follows AJ to the top, trying to back suplex him out of the corner, but Styles twists in mid-fall and lands on top of Bryan! Both men are down, and suddenly Shinsuke Nakamura slides into the ring!
Fantastic match, with a lot more potential hinted at before the interference. Can’t wait until the eventual PPV. 4 Stars.
Nakamura hits a Kinshasa to the back of Bryan’s head, then goes right after Styles with another low blow! Styles tries to drag himself back to his feet, and a Kinshasa puts him right back down.
Not the right moment, but Shinsuke’s leather vest is some kind of awesome.
Nakamura pulls Styles back up for a second low blow, and it’s really beginning to look like he doesn’t want AJ to reproduce. If I was Styles, I’d be freezing some sperm just in case.
And that is the moral of this episode.