So, TLC didn’t suck. Women’s Championship triple threat went on last; Finn got a win and Baron Corbin’s out of a job. Not much to complain about, really, so let’s move right on with the show.
The McMahons are running things together, but we’ve still just got Shane
We start off backstage, with Shane McMahon trying to gain the roster’s attention. He’s willing to stand there all day until they listen; it’s their own time they’re wasting. Shane references RAW, which kicks off the kind of furore typically reserved for the storming of the Bastille. Shane doggedly moves forward, promising the McMahon Family “Fresh Start” Guarantee. He says that they need to create the best possible product for the WWE Universe, like SmackDown hasn’t been putting on some quality shows over the last few months.
Oh Jesus: just spotted the Shining Stars. Are they there to be executed as a means of drawing a line under the dark days of the immediate past? Because that’s the sort of thing that shows you’re really committing to a change of policy.
Alas, no guillotines for the Diego or…the other one. Instead, Shane brings Paige up there to thank her for all her…do we want to say hard work? Because her job seems really simple, and she still manages to fuck it up a fair bit. Miz managed to contract two indie wrestlers and perform and impromptu match without her even noticing, for God’s sake.
And then the segment ends. Not even one “can you dig it”. The quality of public speaking continues to decline.
I’m not sure if Ronda Rousey is more or less likely than Brock Lesnar to show up on SmackDown
We cut to the arena itself, and Becky Lynch makes her entrance. The commentators recap Ronda Rousey being the deciding factor in the TLC match as Becky gets a microphone, and she says that she doesn’t give a damn who runs the show: she’s the man and she doesn’t do well with meetings. She demands that the McMahons hand her Rousey, berating Ronda for getting involved in the title decision without even bothering to fight her.
Charlotte arrives, and she must have really booked it from that backstage meeting to make it out here. She tells Becky that if anyone has a claim on Rousey then it’s her, so Becky can get in line. Lynch and Flair exchange barbs, which is going to do wonders for resolving this issue, and then Asuka shows up, title around waist.
Asuka rubs her victory in both their faces, and both women start arguing about who’s beaten who before Vince McMahon’s music hits. I’m still uncomfortable seeing him around attractive women, and I’m grateful he only goes to the bottom of the entrance ramp, not into the ring itself. He wishes the WWE Universe “happy holidays”, congratulates Asuka and then lambasts Becky and Charlotte for making excuses and complaining about interference in a TLC match. He tells them if they have a problem, then they can take it up with Ronda, and then asks Asuka if she’d like to defend her title tonight.
And the surprise opponent is Naomi! Makes sense: former Champion without being a major threat. She mocks Charlotte and Becky for being has-beens, and Vince starts the match.
So much for that fledgling tag team
Post-break, the match is just kicking off. Naomi works Asuka’s arm, but the Empress of Tomorrow struggles back, the two of them exchanging holds and reversals until both women try to hit a dropkick, colliding. Both women are still struggling for control, but a Bubba Bomb from Naomi lets her gain the advantage. Asuka won’t be put down, however, and she goes right after Naomi’s arm.
A counter to Naomi’s leapfrog attempt sees Asuka kick her challenger in the stomach, and both women ascend to the top rope, with Asuka applying a submission on the top, but a side Russian leg sweep allows Naomi to bring them both down to the mat as we go to the break. When we come back, Asuka’s scored with a missile dropkick to the back of Naomi’s head, knocking the challenger from the ring. Asuka pursues, punishing the downed Naomi with kicks.
Asuka tries to throw Naomi into the barricade, but Naomi is able to field it, landing on the barricade and coming back at Asuka with a kick. Both women barely beat the count back into the ring, but reach their feet and start smacking away at each other. Naomi seems to win the slugfest, but Asuka counters her charge with a knee straight to the face. Naomi responds in kind, then goes for the split-legged moonsault; Asuka gets the knees up and applies the Asuka Lock!
Naomi reaches her feet, Asuka still on her back. She rolls through, almost pinning the Champ, but Asuka applies the hold again. There’s a flurry of counters and reversals, but suddenly Naomi strikes with the Rear View, Asuka only just kicking out! Naomi heads out onto the ring apron, but launches herself right into a Codebreaker! Naomi kicks out, but Asuka applies the Asuka Lock once again, forcing a quick tap.
Pleasantly surprised to see that this could go without interference. This was a great move: Naomi looked like a real contender without any need for weeks of build-up, whilst Asuka could start her reign off with a decisive defence. 3 Stars.
Meanwhile, the Miz is outside the McMahon Family dressing room: there’s a lot to unpack in those last four words. He knocks and Vince answers, mocking Miz’s manner of knocking and all that it proclaims about his apparent heterosexuality. Ah, old people.
Miz wants to see Shane, but Vince will be damned if his son and heir is going to spend any more time mixing with the rabble. Miz, in a fit of being a total dumbass, decides to ask Vince’s help in salvaging his relationship with young Shane. Oh God, they’re actually making this a gay joke. I was genuinely kidding.
Vince comes up with a counter-offer: if Miz can win a tag team match tonight, then he’ll give the matter some thought.
Oh, holy shit: Mustafa Ali and AJ Styles are teaming up against Daniel Bryan and Andrade “Cien” Almas later. Dreams do come true, and they’re a magical combination of ROH, NJPW, 205 Live and NXT talent.
Rusev and Lana are backstage, being interviewed. Rusev is really gunning for that United States Championship, because holding that did wonders for his career last time. Rusev’s doing a lot of comedy in these segments, which is not his strong suit, and that’s why breaking up Rusev Day was a really rash move.
Joe is sorry not sorry
Here’s Jeff Hardy, who’s apparently here to receive an apology from Samoa Joe. There’s something so adorably optimistic about that expectation, but then I assume Jeff started his drug habit with a similar sense of optimism so maybe it’s time to grow up.
Jeff says that Joe’s tried to get under his skin with comments about his past. He says that he knows he’s made some mistakes, but that was then, this is now and he’s changed now: honest. He says that he’s here to hear an apology, so Joe had better get out there.
Joe arrives, and he says that he’s sorry for not actually apologising. So…is that actually still an apology? I’m already confused. But Samoa Joe’s here for an intervention, because there’s no point in being a dick unless you’re willing to go the whole nine yards with it. Jeff says that he’s sick of this and he’s sick of Joe. He says that Samoa Joe attacks people to cover up his own insecurities, and then mocks Joe for never winning a Championship in WWE.
Joe considers this before immediately attacking Jeff. But Hardy obviously saw this coming, hitting Joe with a Twist of Fate before exiting the ring.
Seriously, though: Corey Graves is going to snap one day
Here’s the Miz, ready for a tag team match with a mystery partner. Bless the crowd for their CM Punk chant. But the Miz’s partner is Mandy Rose, and David Otunga has to deal with the unfortunate reality of being sat a table with a man who is masturbating with all of the focused frenzy of a gorilla on viagra.
And their opponents are the winners of the Mixed Match Challenge Season 2: Carmella and R-Truth. Way to throw away the number 30 entrant in both Royal Rumbles, though it’s still better than giving it to Jinder Mahal. And R-Truth mistakes Mandy Rose for Maryse which is…I guess sort of racist?
Carmella and Mandy kick things off, with Carmella hitting a big headscissors and a dropkick before Rose tags out. Miz and Truth come in, and the A-Lister gets clotheslined out of the ring before Carmella and Truth declare a dance break. Truth drags Carmella out of the way of a kick from Rose, but Miz surprises him with a Skull-Crushing Finale for the win.
This was dumb, but it was also quick. I’m also amused on a juvenile level by Corey Grave’s desire to do the sex with Mandy Rose; don’t try to change me. 1.5 Stars.
Be honest: you forgot that half of these teams existed
Here are the Usos, and they’re here to challenge the Bar for the titles. But the Bar don’t answer the call; instead, Gallows and Anderson make their presence known. The Good Brothers claim that they’ve been overlooked and on the sidelines for too long.
The Usos say that if they want to step up, they’re welcome to get in the ring. Gallows and Anderson do just that, and a referee comes out to make the match official before the commercial break. Following the break, Anderson has Jimmy Uso in a headlock, then tags in Gallows, keeping Jimmy away from his twin. Gallows decks Jimmy with a a kicks and a bunch of elbows before reapplying a headlock. Somewhere, Randy Orton’s got a vintage erection.
Jimmy ducks a charge from Gallows, and both Jey and Anderson charge into the ring, with the Uso taking control with a Samoan Drop. Karl dodges the Wrecking Ball and hits a neckbreaker before tagging in Gallows. Both men go for the Boot of Doom, but Jimmy trips Anderson up, stopping the double-team. Gallows hits Jimmy with a sit-out chokeslam for a near-fall.
Jimmy tags out, and both Usos leap at Gallows, who catches them. He’s kicked out of the ring, with Anderson getting a blind tag, and Jey tries to dive onto Gallows before Anderson catches him with a boot to the head out of nowhere, knocking the Uso into a commercial break.
When we come Jack, Jey has just hit Gallows with a superkick, and Jimmy almost catches him with a crossbody from the top. Gallows manages to tag out to Anderson, who tries to bring Jimmy down from the top rope; Jimmy counters, superkicking first Gallows, then Anderson, and then heads up to the top rope for the splash.
Suddenly, the Bar’s music hits and Cesaro and Sheamus emerge. Jimmy is distracted for a moment, but hits the splash regardless. Before he can get the pin, SAnitY attacks, ending the match with a DQ.
A good match which mostly took place during the commercials. 2.5 Stars.
The Bar seem confused by the appearance from SAnitY, who are going after both Gallows and Anderson and the Usos, making short work of the four of them. They have a bit of tension with Sheamus and Cesaro, but don’t try anything. Right afterwards, the Bar head into the ring to clean up the scraps.
We get a segment of Shinsuke mocking Rusev for being on Total Divas. I’d happily watch an episode of Total Divas if Nakamura guest-starred.
So…just give Mustafa Ali the Cruiserweight Championship
Here’s Daniel Bryan, ready for his tag team match, but first he picks up a microphone and says that he killed the Yes Movement and destroyed the House that AJ Styles Built. He says that he’s creating a Brave New World, making a total of one classic literary reference on this show. More environmental talk that somehow manages to make Bryan the bad guy, and this descends into him yelling “SHAME” at the crowds, which isn’t the way to make anyone listen to you. He does, however, quote Isaac Asimov, bringing the show’s total of classic literary references up to two. He also makes a negative comment about GMOs that hugely undercuts his whole pro-environment spiel, as GMO crops help sustain agriculture and there’s never really been a good reason to be anti-GMO. Then again, this is the country that votes for Trump and against nationalised healthcare, so it’s in character for him to be wrong.
Anyway, this goes on for a bit and then Andrade “Cien” Almas shows up, then Mustafa Ali and AJ Styles. We go to a break, and when we come back, Bryan’s just tagged out to Almas. Andrade goes after Styles, managing to keep him off-balance with his elegant offence then beating him down in the corner. AJ slides out of a bodyslam attempt, nailing Almas with a dropkick. He tags in Mustafa Ali and just kiss, you two.
But rather than kissing Almas and making it a very Merry Christmas for everyone involved, Ali jumps off the top rope and hits Andrade with a pair of boots. What’s the point of having two ridiculously good-looking people in one match if they’re not going to make out whilst shirtless? Ali hits Almas with a flurry, but El Idolo is able to bull him into the corner, tagging in the WWE Champion. Bryan hammers away at Mustafa before applying an abdominal stretch, far away from Ali’s corner.
Mustafa escapes with a hip toss, but Bryan quickly tags in Almas, who prevents Ali from tagging out. Some stinging chops to Ali’s chest put the Cruiserweight down, but when Bryan tags in, he’s met with a kick to the face and facebuster that sends him out of the ring. Ali goes for a dive, but his way is blocked by Andrade and Zelina posing in front of him. Ali apparently doesn’t have time for this, so nails Almas with a dropkick, possibly landing on Zelina in the process, the lucky devil.
Whilst Vega yells at Ali, Styles helps the Cruiserweight launch himself over her and the ropes, taking out Bryan and Almas on the outside. After a commercial break, Bryan and Almas have regained control, working the leg of Ali and making frequent tags in and out. Bryan unleashes the Yes Kicks on Ali, but Mustafa regains his feet, smacking away at the WWE Champ before Bryan catches him with a clothesline, then locking him in a horrifying-looking dragon sleeper. Ali reaches the ropes, mercifully breaking the hold.
Andrade slaps away at Ali again before dropping him face-first on the mat, but Ali counters a powerbomb attempt…only for Almas to turn him inside out with a clothesline. Andrade goes for the moonsault, but Ali dodges one and gets the knees up for the second! He crawls over to Styles, finally managing to make the tag!
Styles and Bryan both enter the match, with AJ blasting away at Bryan. A suplex turns into a neckbreaker, with Bryan kicking out at two. AJ goes for the Phenomenal Forearm, which Bryan dodges, but Styles manages to lock in the Calf Crusher. Almas breaks up the submission, but Styles fights out of the Hammerlock DDT, sending Andrade out of the ring, where Ali takes him out with a hurricanrana.
Styles dodges a running dropkick; Bryan counters a Styles Clash, levelling AJ with a kick. He runs into a boot, takes a moonsault reverse DDT and then Styles tags in Ali. A huge tornado DDT puts Bryan down, but Almas catches Ali before he can perform the 054. Mustafa knocks him back down to the mat, where Styles nails him with the Phenomenal Forearm. Ali hits the 054, and he beats Daniel Bryan!
Never would have called that, but I am absolutely here for it. On his second week on SmackDown, Mustafa Ali goddamn beat Daniel Bryan clean. The match was great too, which was all but guaranteed by those involved. 3 Stars
Tags: AJ Styles, Andrade "Cien" Almas, Asuka, Becky Lynch, charlotte flair, Daniel Bryan, Gallows and Anderson, Jeff Hardy, Mustafa Ali, naomi, Paige, Randy Orton, royal rumble, rusev, Samoa Joe, Shane McMahon, shinsuke nakamura, The Bar, The Miz, The New Day, The Uso's, TLC, WWE SmackDown Live