Live from Birmingham, Alabama, this is Smackdown Live for episode #959. Follow me on Twitter @johnreport. Please check out my WWE News updates Monday to Friday exclusively on TJRWrestling for all the relevant WWE news and my thoughts on everything going on. Thanks to Melo Man for the banner up top.
A video package aired showing the controversial finish from last week with Sami Zayn beating WWE Champion AJ Styles non-title. That result set up the Royal Rumble match with Styles defending the WWE Title against Zayn and Kevin Owens in a handicap match.
Let’s Hear From AJ Styles
The show started with Renee Young in the ring with two chairs and she introduced the WWE Champion AJ Styles. Styles got a great reaction from the crowd.
Styles was asked if the Royal Rumble handicap match was a fair decision. Styles said every time he steps foot in that ring he takes pride what he does in it. Styles said he is human and makes mistakes, but if he knew that Daniel Bryan would take his sarcastic comments seriously he wouldn’t have said what he said. Styles said there’s absolutely a chance he can lose the WWE Title, but there’s also a chance he can beat up Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, which the crowd cheered. Styles said he’ll hit them hard and fast. Styles gave them credit for being smart and they can tag in a fresh man against him.
Young pressed on further asking if Bryan’s decision was fair. Fans chanted for Styles. Styles said that it’s not fair and neither is life. Styles pointed out that Owens and Styles have non-title victories over him. Styles said separately he would face them in the same night, but it’s not smart to have a handicap match. Styles was asked if he thinks Bryan is playing favorites with Owens and Zayn. Some fans chanted “yes” for that. Styles said he didn’t know what Bryan was thinking and she asked about Shane McMahon, but Styles said he didn’t want to point fingers at anybody. Styles said he can’t allow those two idiots to take his championship from him. Styles said when he retains the title he’ll thank the high heavens because he’ll have beaten Owens and Styles in the same night in the same match.
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn interrupted the interview with Styles. Owens told the fans to give it up for AJ Styles. Owens called him the regretful AJ Styles or the remorseful AJ Styles as the fans chanted for Styles. Owens said that Styles put his foot in his mouth last week and how he’s trying to backtrack. Owens told Styles it will take a miracle for Styles to beat them 1 on 2. Owens told Styles he has no chance of walking out of their handicap match with that title. Zayn offered a “yep” in support. Owens said when the night is over, they are going to be the first ever co-WWE Champions leading to a “yep” from Zayn. Owens said that they are going to call this the Sami and Kevin Show or the Kevin and Sami Show leading to “yep” chants from both guys.
Shane McMahon, the Smackdown Commissioner, interrupted the promo. Shane said it’s not fair that Styles has to defend the WWE Title in a handicap match. Shane added that he was baffled by the two “yep clowns” getting another opportunity to become WWE Champion. Shane said that he backs the GM’s decision to have this match at the Royal Rumble for now. Shane suggested maybe they should have a Handicap Match here tonight. Shane set up Owens and Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, Randy Orton and AJ Styles in a 2 on 3 Handicap Match. Shane’s music played to end it. Owens and Zayn were mad about it while Styles was happy.
Analysis: It was a standard opening promo with a bit of a different format where they used Renee Young to interview Styles. At least it’s not the same as Styles just talking by himself. The heels showed confidence about the Royal Rumble and then Shane McMahon was there to shut them down to set up the Handicap Match later. Everybody did well. Nothing really stood out, though.
Shane was shown walking backstage with Daniel Bryan there waiting for him. Bryan had his arms crossed. Bryan congratulated Shane on making a hell of a main event tonight with the Handicap Match. Bryan shook his hand.
Coming up: Ryder vs. Rawley in the US Title tournament and Becky Lynch vs. Ruby Riott is up next.
A commercial aired for Total Divas.
Becky Lynch made her entrance to a good ovation. Lynch did a pre-match promo backstage where Lynch said she’s the woman from Smackdown Live to announce that she’s in the Royal Rumble match.
Charlotte Flair made her entrance. The announce team of Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton and Corey Graves welcomed us to the show. Naomi made her entrance as well.
Analysis: Why not save a few minutes by having Charlotte and Naomi just enter along with Lynch? We don’t need full entrances.
Ruby Riott entered with her buddies Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan.
Becky Lynch (w/Naomi & Charlotte Flair) vs. Ruby Riott (w/Liv Morgan & Sarah Logan)
Lynch took down Riott with waist lock takedowns. Lynch pulled Riott off the ropes, Riott tried an attack, but Lynch sent Riott to the floor as the show went to a break.
Back from break, Riott was in control with a leg scissors around the waist of Lynch. When Lynch got back to her feet, Riott put on the leg scissors again. Lynch broke free with a back elbow and a leaping kick off the ropes. Riott slammed Lynch down by grabbing the hair. Lynch took down Riott with a hip toss followed by an inside cradle for a nearfall. Lynch decked Riott with an uppercut followed by a running elbow, kick to the gut and suplex. Lynch hit the Bexploder suplex. Riott kicked Lynch in the ribs two times to take control again. Lynch pulled Riott down by the arm and slapped on the Disarmer submission. Riott tapped out to give Lynch the win after about seven minutes.
Winner by submission: Becky Lynch
Analysis: ** Good story to the match with Riott working over the ribs, Lynch did well in the comeback like usual and got the submission win. It would be nice if Lynch worked over the arm a bit in the match, but she’s too busy selling and it’s not a long match, so that’s how it goes. Lynch was out of action for nearly two months, which makes it no surprise that Lynch went over.
A clip aired showing that Becky Lynch found out her Mixed Match Challenge partner is going to be Sami Zayn. It was funny because Zayn was dressed like a fan.
The announcers shilled Mixed Match Challenge by running down the teams involved in the tournament. MMC starts next Tuesday on Facebook after Smackdown ends.
A commercial aired for Raw 25 on January 22. It was the same commercial that was shown on Raw this week.
The Ascension were in the ring. A clip aired of the Fashion Files segment on WWE.com where The Ascension were thrilled to have their best friends Breezango in their corner. Breezango told them they won’t be there because they are facing Rusev Day.
The Bludgeon Brothers duo of Harper and Rowan made their entrance.
The Bludgeon Brothers (Harper & Rowan) vs. The Ascension (Konnor & Viktor)
The Ascension jumped the Bludgeon Brothers early on. Harper came back with a kick to Viktor and a kick to Konnor knocked him off the apron. Rowan hit a running splash on Viktor and Harper hit a sitout Powerbomb on Viktor for the pinfall win. The match went one minute.
Winners by pinfall: The Bludgeon Brothers
Analysis: 1/2* Another easy win for The Bludgeon Brothers like all of their wins.
Post match, Graves called The Ascension a “successful tag team” even though they haven’t done much on the main roster. In NXT they were, but not on the main roster at all.
When Konnor checked on Viktor, he was attacked by the Bludgeon Brothers. Double team move by the Bludgeon Brothers where they picked up Konnor and slammed him down Chokeslam style. That move needs a name. The Bludgeon Bomb? I dunno. Just throwing it out there.
Coming up later: Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable demand justice.
Bobby Roode made his glorious entrance. He’s there to watch the Ryder vs. Rawley match up next.
Zack Ryder was in the ring for his match in the US Title tournament.
Mojo Rawley made his entrance by sprinting down to the ring. Rawley stared at the US Title at ringside. They showed images of Rawley attacking Ryder two months ago to end their team. Why images and not video? I don’t know.
US Title Tournament First Round: Mojo Rawley vs. Zack Ryder
Ryder hit a dropkick early on and Rawley bailed to the floor. Rawley back into the ring where he drove Ryder back first into the turnbuckle. Rawley pulled Ryder off the ropes for a hard landing. Rawley sent Ryder back first into the turnbuckle a few times. Roode looked on intently from ringside instead of joining the commentary team. Ryder came back with a neckbreaker. Back elbow by Ryder and corner forearms. Ryder went for the Broski Boot in the corner, but Rawley bailed to the floor. Ryder nailed Rawley with a kick. Back in the ring, Rawley with an inverted atomic drop and Rawley sent Ryder shoulder first into the steel post. Rawley with a punch to the shoulder of Ryder. Rawley ran the ropes and connected with the running forearm leading to the pinfall win for Rawley. It went about three minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Mojo Rawley
Analysis: *1/2 Easy win for Rawley as expected since the next guy in the tournament is Bobby Roode and Rawley is a heel. Ryder is going nowhere as a singles face wrestler.
The semifinals of the US Title tournament are Mojo Rawley vs. Bobby Roode and Jinder Mahal vs. Xavier Woods.
Roode went into the ring for a staredown with Rawley. Mojo just backed away while pointing at Roode’s face and Roode posed in the ring.
Jinder Mahal did a promo backstage with the Singh Brothers. Mahal bragged about how great his 2017 was. Mahal said he has his eyes on a new prize in 2018 because he’s focused on the United States Championship. Mahal said next week he faces Xavier Woods while saying that Woods and The New Day are a fad, but the Modern Day Maharajah is forever.
Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable were shown walking backstage because they are up next.
The 25 Years of Raw clip was from September 1998 when Steve Austin drove a Zamboni to the ring on Raw and nailed Vince McMahon with a clothesline. Great moment.
A clip aired from earlier in the day when Natalya found out Shinsuke Nakamura was her partner.
Let’s Hear from Gable and Benjamin
The team of Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable made their entrance. Gable’s shirt said #FreeTheTagTitles on it. Replays aired of the controversy last week where Gable pinned Jimmy Uso even though Shelton and Jey Uso were the legal men. That led to the replay, so the match restarted and The Usos retained their titles.
Gable asked if any of us know what it takes to be a winner? Gable talked about the hours of training and sacrifices. Gable wondered if anybody knew what it was like to hold the championships high if you’re willing to make the sacrifice. Benjamin said don’t think for one second just because the University of Alabama won a national championship doesn’t make the fans winners because all you did was sit on the couch and stuff your faces. Benjamin claimed that Georgia was robbed due to a bad referee call just like them losing last week due to a bad referee call.
Gable said that last week they beat The Usos and set the tag team titles free from the Usos penitentiary. The fans shut them up by chanting “Roll Tide” for Alabama. Benjamin complained about the second referee showing up to overturn the victory and Gable wondered why the referee was even in the match. Benjamin said the ref was jealous. Gable said that the ref doesn’t know what it takes to be a winner. Gable called that man a tattletale, he’s a snitch and Benjamin said where he is from snitches get stitches. Benjamin said they demand justice. Gable said they didn’t lose to The Usos last week, they lost to instant replay. Gable called “generic referee number two” to come out there right now and free the tag team titles.
Daniel Bryan, the Smackdown General Manager, went down to the ring with the crowd chanting “yes” for him. The fans chanted “Daniel Bryan” before Bryan could say a word.
Bryan said that he understands the euphoria of thinking that you won and he understands when you work hard for something and it gets taken away from you. Bryan didn’t care what they said about their opponents, but when you talk about management…and Gable said they didn’t say anything about management. Bryan pointed out that officials represent management. Bryan reminded them that the referee’s decision is final, so Benjamin said that’s right and the referee counted to three. Benjamin said last week they won that match. Bryan pointed out that they didn’t win the match because they pinned the wrong Uso brother. Bryan said the referee felt like he was doing the right thing and they stood behind him. Gable said he didn’t care what the referee felt. Benjamin told Gable to tell Bryan how he feels. Gable said that he feels maybe Bryan is taking it out on them that Shane McMahon is mad at him. Gable added that he feels they beat The Usos and they feel they are already the Tag Team Champions. Bryan wondered what else he wants from them? Gable asked if Bryan wants them to beat The Usos twice in one night.
Bryan said that’s it because at the Royal Rumble, the Usos will defend the Smackdown Tag Team Titles against Gable & Benjamin in a 2 out of 3 Falls match.
Analysis: That was the most promo time they have given to the Gable/Benjamin team. I thought they did a good job, but it went a bit long. It felt repetitive at times hearing them whine about the whole thing as long as they did. Bryan did the same thing he did last week where he took a sarcastic wrestler suggestion literally and set up the match that way. The 2/3 Falls match at the Royal Rumble should be great because those teams have awesome chemistry. There might be a title change there too.
Randy Orton was shown in the locker room when AJ Styles showed up to talk to him. Styles asked if Orton wants to talk strategy or if Orton is just going to RKO everybody and Orton said that works for him. Orton said they are on the same page tonight, but Orton said he’s winning the Royal Rumble and coming after that WWE Title at WrestleMania. Shinsuke Nakamura showed up, said “not so fast” and pointed at the WWE Title on Styles’ shoulder. Nakamura said “good talk” and left.
Analysis: I want Nakamura to win the Royal Rumble. I’m not sure if it’s going to happen, though.
Breezango vs. Rusev Day is up next.
The duo of Rusev and Aiden English were in the ring. English sang that they had an announcement to make. English said that they are in the Royal Rumble and then English said the “Rusev Rumble” match and when they do it they’ll do it on Rusev Day.
Analysis: Good to see them in the Rumble match. I’d love to see Rusev win it all, but that’s probably a stretch. At least book Rusev to go far in the match. As much as I like English, I doubt he goes far in the Rumble.
The Breezango duo made their entrance. They got barely a reaction most likely because they have been squashed by the Bludgeon Brothers for several weeks.
Rusev Day (Rusev & Aiden English) vs. Breezango (Tyler Breeze & Fandango)
Breezango hit a double team kick on English early on. English bailed to the floor and they went to break although it looked like it continued during the break, but not here in Canada.
Back from break, English had Breeze in a chinlock. Breeze managed to break free and hot tag to Fandango, who got no reaction. Chops by Fandango led to some “woo” chants followed by a back body drop by Fandango. Rusev tagged in, Fandango with a dropkick on English and Rusev decked Fandango with two kicks. Rusev with a corner splash followed by a spinning heel kick on Fandango. Fans chanted “Rusev Day” for him. Rusev tossed Breeze out of the ring. Breeze came back in and hit a dropkick that put Fandango on top for a two count. Rusev kicked Breeze out of the ring. Fandango did the ROLLUP OF DEATH~! on Rusev for the pinfall win after about six minutes.
Winners by pinfall: Breezango
Analysis: ** It was a decent tag match with a surprising result because Breezango has no heat compared to what they used to have. The Rusev Day team was building a lot of momentum and now they lose to the team that got squashed by the Bludgeon Brothers multiple times? Weird booking. Also, the match was similar to Raw where Crews & O’Neil beat Sheamus & Cesaro using the same ROLLUP OF DEATH~! finish for the upset win. Way to be creative, WWE.
Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan were in the office. Bryan said the show has been great so far and congratulated Shane on making a great main event. Shane whined about Bryan making the Styles vs. Owens/Zayn match at the Royal Rumble and giving Gable/Benjamin another Tag Team Title match. Shane asked Bryan if he’s doing okay. Bryan asked what he means. Shane said that Bryan was coming off as a little unstable. Bryan said that he could say the same about Shane and mentioned his gene pool. Shane said they will agree to disagree. Shane left.
Analysis: The tension continues. Bryan saying the show has been great so far was a big lie. He must be a heel now! Kidding about that, but it has been a bad show.
The 3 on 2 Handicap Match is up next.
The announcers went through the Royal Rumble lineup. It was noticeable that there’s no Samoa Joe pictured in the men’s Royal Rumble match even though he said on Raw he was in. Joe has a foot injury and is likely going to miss some time. The timeline on his injury isn’t officially known yet, though. The Rumble lineup is at the bottom of this post.
The intros took place for the main event. The face team of AJ Styles, Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura made their entrances individually. The announcers bickered about the decisions of Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan during the intros.
Kevin Owens and dancing Sami Zayn made their entrance. They did not look happy.
There was another commercial for Raw 25 on January 22 with the following names announced: The Godfather, Brother Love, The Boogeyman, Teddy Long, The “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase, John Laurinaitis and Sgt. Slaughter.
Analysis: The name that makes me the happiest is Brother Love because I love Bruce Prichard’s podcast and it’s great to see him back on WWE TV again.
There was another plug for the Mixed Match Challenge.
AJ Styles, Randy Orton & Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
Orton went for a RKO early, but Owens avoided it and bailed to the floor. Orton sent Owens into the barricade. Back in the ring, Owens took over on Orton with punches. Zayn got in there against Nakamura, who took out Zayn with a spin kick. Nakamura nailed a kick to the head. Styles tagged in. Zayn drove Styles into the corner and Owens tagged in. Styles with a headscissors takedown followed by a clothesline and a running forearm. Zayn pulled Owens out of the ring to save him. Zayn and Owens went up the ramp to try to lose by countout.
Shane McMahon showed up to say this isn’t happening. Shane said this match is now no countout and told the ref to restart the match.
The three faces went after Owens and Zayn on the ramp as the match continued.
Back from break, Zayn had Styles in a headlock. Owens tagged in to put a headlock on Styles. Comeback by Styles saw him nail a fireman’s carry neckbreaker on Owens. Orton got the hot tag against Zayn leading to an Orton powerslam. Orton nailed the draping DDT off the ropes. Owens saved Zayn from an RKO attempt with a steel chair to the gut. Owens attacked Nakamura and Styles with the chair. The ref called for the bell for the disqualification finish.
Owens and Zayn tried to leave. Shane McMahon showed up again to announce no disqualification. The match continued.
Styles attacked Owens and Zayn with the chair. Styles nailed Owens in the back with the chair. Owens stumbled his way to the back and Styles went after him with another chair shot to the back. That left Zayn alone at ringside against Nakamura and Orton.
Zayn tried to run away, but Orton and Nakamura tossed Zayn into the steel ring post. Nakamura whipped Zayn towards Orton, who nailed Zayn with the steel steps. Orton tossed Zayn over the announce table. Orton hit his back suplex on the announce table although he didn’t clear the table enough, so the small of Zayn’s back hit some monitor that was on the table. Back in the ring, Nakamura hit the Kinshasa knee strike. Orton picked up Zayn and hit the RKO for the pinfall win after 14 minutes.
Winners by pinfall: AJ Styles, Randy Orton & Shinsuke Nakamura
Analysis: **1/4 There was a lot of talent in this match, but this was more about the story of Shane McMahon wanting to make Owens and Zayn pay for being jerks. That’s why the story was about Styles taking out Owens with the chair while Zayn was left alone to take an ass kicking. On paper, this match had so much potential. In terms of the execution, it was a below average match that was just there to push the storyline.
The duo of Orton and Nakamura celebrated the win as Smackdown ended for this week.
Three Stars of the Show
- AJ Styles
- Kevin Owens
- Sami Zayn
4.5 out of 10
Last week: 4.5
2018 Average: 4.25
Last 5 Weeks: 7.5, 6, 4.5, 5.5, 6
It gets a 4.5 out of 10.
I thought it was a boring show like last week. I like Smackdown most of the time, but these first two weeks of the year have been poor. The in-ring action is below average and none of the promos really stood out.
The show continues to revolve around Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon too much. I like both guys, but it’s hurting the show. What’s puzzling about the whole thing is if Shane McMahon can change matches on the fly, why doesn’t he just change the Handicap Match at the Royal Rumble that Bryan made? That’s a logic hole that WWE won’t even mention even though most people watching this show likely have asked that question.
— WWE (@WWE) January 3, 2018
The next WWE PPV is the Royal Rumble on January 28 in Philadelphia. Here’s what we know so far.
Men’s Royal Rumble match with 30 competitors – The 10 names announced so far are John Cena, Finn Balor, Randy Orton, Elias, Shinsuke Nakamura, Baron Corbin, Matt Hardy, Bray Wyatt, Rusev and Aiden English.
Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar vs. Kane vs. Braun Strowman
WWE Championship: AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
Women’s Royal Rumble match with 30 competitors – The 17 names announced so far are Asuka, Natalya, Ruby Riott, Naomi, Paige, Sonya Deville, Mandy Rose, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Lana, Tamina, Mickie James, Nia Jax, Sarah Logan, Liv Morgan, Becky Lynch and Carmella.
Raw Tag Team Championships: Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan vs. Sheamus & Cesaro
Smackdown Tag Team Championships 2/3 Falls: The Usos vs. Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable
Finals of US Title tournament
That’s all for now. Go Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs.
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