I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and a grand New Year. Let’s see what this calendar year of SmackDown Live has in store for us.
It’s been 2019 for two days and I’ve already seen a grown man in a diaper
The show kicks off with the New Day, and Big E is wearing a diaper and a top hat. There truly is nowhere to go but up from that statement. The New Day talk about the arrival of the New Year, and they have an announcement to make: they will be in the Royal Rumble this year. Good to know, but did they honestly get the McMahons to sign off on the three of them going out there, in the opening segment of the show, to announce that they’re doing something that most of the rest of the roster is doing?
But then they reference Scott Steiner math and mock Brock Lesnar for probably not showing up for the upcoming WrestleMania, which are the sort of things that make me love the New Day. There’s some comedy about them apparently not being allowed to eat pancakes anymore, and Big E pulls pancakes out of his diaper and eats them, and I’m already regretting using the word “comedy” at the start of this sentence. Kofi also references the movie Bumblebee and Xavier Woods does the same thing for Bird Box. So far, the only information I’ve got out of this is that the New Day are, once again, entering the Royal Rumble.
The segment culminates in them introducing Jeff Hardy and Samoa Joe, both of whom are fighting for a spot in a Fatal Five-Way match, the winner of which will become the new number one contender for Bryan’s Championship. This feels like a PPV feud, but this is the second singles match in as many episodes of SmackDown Live.
Bell rings, and both men struggle for initial control. Joe opens with his striking game, hammering away at Jeff before countering Hardy’s attempts to grapple with a knee bar, because Samoa Joe is scary strong and weirdly fast. Jeff manages to catch the Samoan intervention-organiser with a jawbreaker, then slams one of the man’s legs into the ring post. Joe scrambles out of the ring before Jeff can go after his leg again, then rips apart an announce table to demonstrate his fury towards both Jeff Hardy and that particular announce table.
Post-break, Joe has channeled his table-related rage towards beating Jeff Hardy, and he’s got the former World Champion well in hand, barreling into him with a running back elbow. He continues to work over Jeff, twisting his neck around on the basis that he can’t win a match with a severed spine. Hardy fights back, hitting a flurry of his signature moves culminating in a Twist of Fate. Swanton Bomb connects, but Joe rolls quickly out of the ring. Fuck me: you’d better watch yourself, announce table.
Jeff tries to jump out onto Joe, but the Samoan catches him and drags him into the Coquina Clutch, holding it on until the referee’s count reaches eight. Joe heads back into the ring, and for some ungodly reason the ref begins the count at one again? Excuse you? When has that ever been the rule? Were all my cheap victories in every wrestling game I’ve ever played just made obsolete?
Jeff manages to get back into the ring at nine, or seventeen in a world with a sane referee. Joe immediately applies the Clutch again, sending Jeff off to Bedfordshire, but I’m still sulking.
Not a lot to see here. Joe is definitely the right choice, but this was a weirdly dominant non-PPV victory. 2 Stars.
I have to confess that I didn’t watch SmackDown over Christmas; I was spending time with some of my family, carefully avoiding some of my family, and fitting in a year’s worth of drinking within around three days. Hence I’m truly grateful that WWE seems to recognise that most of its viewers had better things to do and are being pretty open-handed with the recaps this week.
On that note, apparently last week Vince McMahon called AJ Styles an animal and touched his chest a lot and then slapped him in the face. That feels like at least one lawsuit, but AJ opted for the more cathartic punch right to the face. Which sounds awesome, and which was awesome, until you realise that our hero just decked a seventy-odd year old bloke.
Backstage, Vince and Shane are sitting in chairs and talking about the upcoming matches, so I guess one of the big promised changes was a Greek Chorus. AJ Styles arrives, and if this leads to him beating up Vince again, it’s already my favourite storyline of 2019. Styles says that he’s not apologising for anything, threatens to beat up an old man again, this time in front of his son, and then leaves. Goddamn love you, AJ.
Lana’s totally going to get “Rusev Day” in the divorce settlement
In the ring, Kayla Braxton introduces Rusev, the new United States Champion. About nine months later than it should have been, but I am so excited to see what the Bulgarian Brute can turn this momentum into. Kayla asks him how his reign will differ from Nakamura, and all he needs to do is say “open challenge” and this is already the best Championship reign of 2019. He promises to take on all comers, which I suppose is close enough to be going on with.
Rusev rambles about his luscious beard and how good he smells, then leads the crowd in a chant of “Rusev Day, USA” before Nakamura wills himself into being out of pure spite, beating the hell out of the new Champion. Lana jumps onto Shinsuke’s back in what will either be a singularly bad mistake or a brilliant tactical move: I could not tell you which.
Rusev then hits Shinsuke with a Machka Kick, which of course hits Lana as well. As Rusev stares in horror at exhibit A in his eventual divorce dispute, Nakamura levels him with a kick and then finishes the job with a Kinshasa. He then picks up the Championship like he’d ever do anything with it if he regained it. He leaves the ring, after which Rusev checks on Lana, presumably begging her not to leave him. What’s he supposed to do, go back to Summer Rae?
This can only end with Corey Graves tearing off Jimmy Uso’s face and wearing it
Apparently Jimmy Uso is being molested by Absolution, begging the question of why they don’t just go for Jey instead, thus avoiding the risk of being kicked to death by Naomi. Between Vince getting smacked around by his employees and this sexual harassment, you have to wonder how many lawyers are retained by WWE and their superstars.
So of course Naomi is taking on Mandy Rose tonight, because there’s a mature way to deal with personal disputes and then there’s the way you do it if you’re a professional wrestler. Mandy and Sonya arrive, and Mandy is wearing an Usos t-shirt in a form of psychological warfare. But then it turns out that Sonya is fighting Naomi instead and…did Naomi just not check that before heading out there? Because those two women have very contrasting fighting styles; Sonya’s actually a threat.
Naomi manages to smack DeVille into the mat, but a distraction from Mandy almost costs her in the opening seconds. Naomi regains control with her powerful strikes, but a second distraction allows Sonya to hammer a knee right into Naomi’s face, applying a headlock. Naomi, however, is unstoppable; a springboard kick to DeVille’s face puts the Absolution member down, and then Mandy gets on the microphone and shows everyone a photo of herself in a towel that she’d sent Jimmy earlier. Corey Graves gives up trying to subtly pleasure himself under the announce table and begins humping Tom Phillips in a sexual frenzy.
Sonya hits some sort of suplex/spinebuster to finish Naomi following the distraction, picking up the win.
It’s all about the drama, I know, but Sonya looked like she needed every distraction possible here to beat Naomi, when a few weeks back she was giving Asuka an uphill struggle. Hopefully her stock doesn’t drop here. 2 Stars.
Of course Cena waited until semi-retirement to add another Move of Doom
John Cena’s here, now with 200 percent more hair. He says that it’s been a crazy year for him, recapping some of the highs and lows. He gets a nice pop for mentioning writing a children’s book, which is a lovely moment, and says that he still feels ready for action. Considering what he looks like with his shirt off, I truly believe that.
Cena says he doesn’t yet know why he’s here, but he’s sure that if he stands out here long enough, he’s sure that someone’s music will play and they’ll come out and call him a part-timer. And it’s…Becky Lynch’s music? Well, shit: bring it on. Tom Phillips is astonished at the nerve of this woman for coming out here to address a male colleague in a way that doesn’t sound sexist at all.
Becky asks Cena how it feels, clarifying that she meant how it feels to be standing in the ring with The Man. She says that she overtook everyone in WWE in 2018, and that Cena no longer represents what the company is: that’s her role now. And then she gets in a Nikki Bella pop, because why not be a dick?
And then Andrade “Cien” Almas and Zelina Vega show up, and Vega says that both Cena and Lynch are old news and former Champions: hardly the new start that the McMahons promised. Bless: she believed anything that the McMahons told her. Vega introduces Almas, saying that this is their year.
Cena calls Zelina “young lady” and then mocks Almas by saying that he bets Becky could beat him up. Yikes. He then proposes a mixed match challenge right here, right now, and it looks like Almas and Vega are up for it! Following a commercial break, the match is about to start. Becky insists upon starting first, latching onto Zelina with a headlock before dropping her with a shoulder block and a calf kick. Vega tags in Almas, and Becky decides to stick around and take him on too, because Becky Lynch is a national treasure.
The ref finally forces Becky to tag out with what looked like basic pleading, and she does so via a hard slap to John’s chest. Almas counters Cena throwing him into the ropes, applying a headlock which Cena reverses. Andrade manages to stagger him with some strikes, going for another headlock. Something something, Randy Orton has an erection. Cena escapes, but a distraction from Vega allows Andrade to back him into a corner and Zelina to kick him in the face.
Cena hits Andrade with a suplex, which is the most dynamic offence he’s had in this match, but Almas levels him with a clothesline, then hits him with the running knees in the corner. He continues to smack Cena around in a match that seems to be doing no favours for anyone, then hits his backflip/moonsault, preventing Cena from tagging out and working him over on the ropes with some assistance from Zelina.
Andrade goes for the double knees again, but this time Cena rolls out of the way. He reaches Becky, bringing both Lynch and Vega into the match. Becky runs right out Zelina, hammering away at her smaller opponent before hurling her across the ring with a Bexploder. She heads up to the top, nailing Vega with a front dropkick. She wants the Dis-arm-her, but Almas makes the save, dragging Vega out of harm’s way.
Andrade turns right into a volley of shoulder blocks from Cena, who goes into the
Five Six Moves of Doom. Becky shoves him out of the ring, almost gets rolled up by Vega but applies the Dis-arm-her, winning the match.
Cena looked really bad in here, though I guess it has been some time. This seemed like a waste of Almas too, but at least Becky got to benefit? 2 Stars.
Becky rejects a handshake from Cena, and this is cathartic as fuck as someone who had to sit through the LOLCENAWINS era.
Backstage, the Miz has gone all in on this whole tag team thing with Shane, and is now talking about matching outfits. If it gets him out of that sports jersey and sneakers, I’m all in favour. We get some comedy with a lot photographs of Shane photoshopped into different outfits…or maybe not photoshopped…
Shane eventually leaves because…well, Jesus: you would, wouldn’t you?
Backstage, Asuka is meeting up with NXT father figure Triple H. Bless him: his kids are all growing up. She says that she’s ready to fight anyone at Royal Rumble, and Charlotte, Carmella, Becky arrive like they’ve all attached separate trackers to Triple H, arguing their case. Trips says they’ll take this under advisement and then skedaddles, leaving the trio to glare at each other.
Mustafa Ali is amazing and must be protected
Main event time, and the various hopeful contenders make their way to the ring before standing around and glaring at each other. Randy Orton has so many headlocks to give. Everyone brawls, with the ring clearing to leave Styles and Orton to smack at each other. Ali drags Styles out of the ring, pays for it, and finds himself left in the ring with Randy, nailing him with a facebuster before being disposed of by Joe, who eats a seated senton from Mysterio.
Styles intercepts Rey, whipping the smaller man hard into the corner before Mysterio sends him out of the ring. The Master of the 619 looks to dive out onto AJ, but gets blindsided with a powerslam from Orton, who takes a kick from Ali, who eats a belly-to-belly from Joe, who takes a reverse DDT from Styles! The match heads into a break with everyone down, and when we come back, Randy Orton is stomping on AJ.
Mysterio interrupts the curbstomp party, eating an uppercut for his troubles. Styles disposes of Orton, hurls Mysterio out of the ring before tussling with Ali. Orton and Joe suddenly drag Styles out of the ring, with Orton dropping AJ on the ring apron before Joe slams Styles right through a table. As the dust settles, Joe and Orton stare each other down, but the intriguing scenario is interrupted as Ali and Rey dive out onto both of them.
Now it’s Mustafa and Rey’s turn to stare each other down, and they both get into the ring, shaking hands in order to make this a gentlemen’s high-flying contest. Mysterio counters a roll-up, with Ali able to land on his feet following Rey’s hurricanrana! Mysterio won’t be stymied, however, and his second hurricanrana successfully takes Ali over. Both men end up on the top rope, with Mysterio shoving Ali to the mat…but Mustafa lands on his feet from a backflip, racing back up to meet Mysterio before bringing him down with the Spanish Fly! Joe breaks the pin up, punishing Mustafa with some hard knees before missing a charge into the corner and eating a satellite DDT from the Cruiserweight!
The 054 doesn’t connect, and Joe locks in the Coquina Clutch; Ali reaches the ropes, but with no disqualifications there’s no reason for Joe to break the hold! And then Mysterio slams a 619 right into his face before catching Ali with another! Orton disposes of Rey before nailing Ali with an RKO, only for Rey to break up the pin with a leg drop before hitting a third 619 to Orton!
Samoa Joe grabs Rey on the apron, only for Mysterio to catch him with a hurricanrana, spilling the pair of them across the outside! Meanwhile, Styles hits a springboard 450 splash to Orton, getting the win!
Great match; everyone had a moment to shine, with Ali shining the brightest. Definitely the match of the night. 3 Stars.
Tags: AJ Styles, Asuka, Becky Lynch, Carmella, charlotte, Daniel Bryan, Jeff Hardy, John Cena, Lana, Mandy Rose, Mustafa Ali, naomi, Rey Mysterio, rusev, Samoa Joe, Shane McMahon, smackdown live, Sonya Deville, The Bar, the usos, VInce McMahon, WWE