As the talented Reneé Young announces Shinsuke Nakamura to a huge pop, it’s clear immediately that Smackdown is consistently in a different league than RAW.
Shinsuke Nakamura and Dolph Ziggler interview-off
Ziggler interrupts Nakamura’s interview before he even speaks. Then takes over the interview letting Nakamura utter one word of English before translating the “Japanese” for the audience, claiming Nakamura was a huge Ziggler fan.
Ziggler went on to compare Nakamura to Michael Jackson and called him a petty, overrated freak.
Nakamura took the mic and delivered his first lines to the Smackdown crowd, asking Dolph what his problem was. He returned the favor of cutting Ziggler off and ‘translated’ it into Japanese ending with ‘Jackass’. Ziggler strikes him and goes for a superkick but Naka reverses it into a killer inverted suplex. He sets up for the Kinchasa but Ziggler runs off, leaving Nakamura to stand tall
WWE’s plan with Nakamura seems to be keeping him from TV matches and hype him from the perspective of the casual fan who has never heard of him. Letting Ziggler do most of the speaking and call him a freak is an interesting angle that rang true, but there’s been very little mention of his strong style or huge success around the world. It reminded of older WWE who would take successful wrestlers outside of their company and give them a new name, completely wiping their past instead of celebrating it.
AJ Styles vs Baron Corbin (Kevin Owens on commentary)
Corbin comes out with a spiffy entrance (after winning the Andre Battle Royal this could be signs of further investment in him by the WWE).
Corbin and Styles tell a great big man vs smaller wrestler story reminiscent of Diesel and Bret Hart. Styles can make anyone look great but Corbin has a believable ferocity and fantastic agility that make these matchups interesting three weeks in.
Corbin hits a devastating chokeslam into a knee-breaker and I still can’t figure out how they do that safely.
He dominates most of the match until Styles counters a superplex by slipping through the big man’s legs and hitting a falling enziguri. They trade off until Styles gets the upperhand but Owens goes for the distraction. Styles boots the ‘New Face of America’ and counters a powerbomb into a roll-up for the win. Owens races in to lay a beating on Styles somewhat co-operatively with Corbin.
Sami Zayn’s music hits, Owens flees the ring, and Zayn take on Corbin, hitting him with a running boot, but Owens hits him from behind and then delivers a pop-up powerbomb to beaten down Styles. He raises his belt in the ring, and the crowd boos.
Normally I wouldn’t be excited to see the same two in the ring for the third week running, but Styles and Corbin have great chemistry. It’s still awkward having to juggle the pre and post Superstar Shakeup feuds as Owens must hype up his Jericho match and his next opponent at the same time. Owens and Styles should eventually be another classic and Corbin has a bright future. I just hope the WWE can slow things down across the board.
Charlotte backstage interview
Charlotte finishes the interviewer’s question like a great heel should and goes on to talk about how she held the Women’s Championship four times and that her ‘drive for five’ will be completed tonight.
American Alpha vs The Colons – ‘Beat the Clock’ match
Four teams compete in two matches, racing to set the best time and win the no.1 contenders spot. Bryzango and the Ascension will compete next.
American Alpha take control early, displaying their wrestling prowess, a textbook dropkick, and their Steiner Brother ring gear.
The Colons take control after Primo saves Epico from the corner. They’re bouncing off the ropes like vintage Rockers, but oddly using heelish rest holds in a match all about winning fast.
The Colons go for their finish, delaying it as Jason Jordan was late to make the save. Jordan eventually gets there and AA hits their finish for the win at 5:17
This was a great match concept but felt a bit wasted here. If teams were ever going to pull off a ridiculous spot-fest and use the frequent tags to stay fresh, this was the time. I like Colons, but constantly slowing the match down felt at odds with the concept.
It’s great to see WWE putting extra attention towards helping the weaker Smackdown tag division.
Rusev video segment
Rusev says he doesn’t like Daniel Bryan, Shane McMahon, and doesn’t agree with the Superstar Shakeup. He said he’ll only come wrestle if he gets a Championship match at Money in the Bank, ‘otherwise’, he’ll go back to Bulgaria.
Nice to see WWE planning so far ahead, and also for putting Rusev in the World title picture (I assume). The Smackdown roster is currently flip-flopped as Styles and Owens fight for the U.S Title in the bigger (and better) matches, while Orton is stuck with ex-jobber Jinder Mahal for the World belt. Rusev could spruce up the top division or even win the MITB to start a long push.
Becky Lynch interview
Lynch says she has a complex relationship with Charlotte, doesn’t approve of her methods, but appreciates that she gets results.
Mean girls Natty, Carmella, Tamina, and Ellsworth ask if she’s with or against them. Becky takes it quite seriously as they walk away.
Randy Orton vs Erik Rowan – No DQ
Orton comes out to his lame-ass WCW sounding generic theme and the crowd goes mild. Production shows multiple shots of kids imitating Orton, which is hilarious after his odd comments in a public interview to a child about riding ‘sperm’ at Wrestlemania.
Rowan gets in the first offense before they trade-off and take things outside. Orton side-suplexes Rowan into the table but Rowan gives the crowd what they want by bringing in a kendo stick and setting up a table outside.
Rowan attempts to suplex Orton from the ring to the table, but Orton counters and we get a sloppy exchange as Rowan tries to look dazed on the apron, holding on to one rope until Orton finally knocks him down into the table. Using a kendo stick made it tough to deliver any kind of impact and Rowan looked confused about when he should teeter and fall down.
They finish up the match and Orton grabs the mic. He states again that he doesn’t know what a House of Horrors match is (neither do we) but for ‘some reason’ he might find out on Sunday (the reason is that you’ll be in the match).
While we’re wondering why Orton is blabbing, it becomes clear when Mahal’s music hits for a promo of his own. He’s wearing a beige suit and black turban and cutting a promo straight out of the Gulf War, talking about looking different, having more wealth/class/culture etc. Mahal is trying hard, but it feels too fast and he can never quite find the camera.
Mahal cuts a second promo in Punjabi and the rumor of WWE pushing him to appeal to the Indian market stops feeling like a rumor. He cheap-shots Orton but old man Viper gets the upper-hand, going for a mid-rope DDT.
The Bollywood Boys run-in and all three beat down the man who rode sperm to WrestleMania.
Mahal steals the belt and after the commercial break we see him poking out the sunroof of a stretch limousine like it’s his first time in Vegas.
The rumor that Orton was given this recent title run as compensation for keeping a concussion scandal private dances through my head as I wonder why the World Champion is a boring veteran and his chief competition has been a jobber for years. Post-Superstar Shakeup has been a holding pattern as the writers dance around McMahon’s whimsical demands and attempt to get their house in order. Until then, we’ll have awkward moments like this.
Another Lana dancing video
Breezango vs The Ascension
The Ascension try to look as tough as possible while Breezango execute their flamboyant entrance.
The Ascension take control early and go for three pin counts in a row. Oddly, Breeze kicks out at two every time (wouldn’t he kick out immediately after already proving he was conscious enough?).
Breezango pick up a quick win just a few minutes in. Beat the Clock is a great new idea and could have been milked for much more drama.
Breezango are talented and Smackdown needs another talented team to legitimize their tag division. It seems odd to set up the Beat the Clock stipulation and then have the second match end in a fraction of the time required. Perhaps they ran long and needed to cut a few minutes?
Naomi (Champion) vs Charlotte
The champion enters first, breaking wrestling etiquette.
Charlotte starts by giving Naomi a whoo-in-the-face. They go back and forth until Charlotte ends up on the outside, hilariously telling the ref ‘get her off of me’ in the royally dismissive way she can. WWE then interrupts the main event with ads, even taking up valuable time with an ad of their own.
We come back to see Charlotte in control and Naomi attempting the face comeback before getting cut off for more Flair control.
The match was solid, but the Natty/Tamina/Carmellsworth backstage plotline came to a head as they ran in to beat up both competitors. They spent extra time beating down Flair as the crowd softly chanted for Becky.
In backstage interviews, we twice heard face wrestlers talk positively about Charlotte. The heel run-in focused mostly on her, which would suggest WWE trying to get sympathy for Flair. I’m sure we’ll see Becky, Flair, and Naomi team up next week to take on the ‘welcoming committee’ and an eventual Flair/Naomi PPV match, but the storyline here feels murky.
Smackdown would do well to have the mean girls faction become a strong force, elevating all three to give Charlotte and Becky some more competition. Naomi is talented but feels like a placeholder champion at this point. Rushing to give Flair the belt would be a mistake as we’ve seen that too often and it’ll kill any Naomi momentum going forward.
Although I doubt much will come from Natty’s new group, I’d love to be proved wrong.
Having Styles and Flair on the show is guaranteed watchable and the rest of the matches were solid. The tag and women’s division is getting unique attention and I hope WWE continues to thoughtfully book these budding story threads into meaningful conclusions. The Nakamura tease could be done better, but as long as they avoid making him a comedy act, I’ll be happy.