Live from Washington, DC, this is Smackdown Live for episode #961. Follow me on Twitter @johnreport. Thanks to Melo Man for the banner up top.
The show began with Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn making their entrance together for a promo. They challenge AJ Styles at the Royal Rumble in a 2 on 1 Handicap Match. The announcers for the show are Tom Phillips, Corey Graves and Byron Saxton as usual.
Let’s Hear from Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
Owens started off saying what you have in front of you is the future of WWE, not the parade of retirees like you saw on Raw’s 25th Anniversary. Owens got the crowd riled up by trying to get them to show some support for the future co-WWE Champion Sami Zayn. That led to Zayn telling them to show some support for Owens. The promo moved on to Owens ranting about Shane McMahon making things difficult against them as they proved that AJ Styles has no chance of walking out of the Royal Rumble with the WWE Title. Owens said they are the absolute best competitors on Smackdown Live. Owens claimed that if they couldn't overcome the odds in a 2 on 3 match then Styles has no chance of defending his WWE Title. Fans chanted "AJ Styles."
Zayn said they are going to beat AJ Styles, they will take his championship and become the first ever co-WWE Champions. Zayn said just to add insult to injury, after they take Styles' title they are going to hurt him. They did the "yep" chants to annoy the crowd. AJ Styles' music interrupted them.
Styles got a great ovation like usual. Styles stood on the ramp with the WWE Championship around his waist and he paused for a bit while the crowd chanted his name. Styles asked if he heard "Kami" correctly and asked if they said they would beat him on Sunday. Styles said how about this? "Nope." Styles said "Nope" to them being co-WWE Champions and "Nope" to hurting him on Sunday. The crowd joined in. Styles talked about how they have been annoying people with the "Yep Movement" for months. Owens told Styles when they win the WWE Title, Styles will hear "yep" everywhere and Zayn told Styles he'll even hear it from his own family.
Styles told them to shut their "yep holes" and Styles reminded them that they are fighting somebody that is phenomenal. Styles said he will make sure they will never be the co-WWE Champions. Styles said this isn't the "Kami" show, it's the house that AJ Styles built.
Owens said that Styles is phenomenal and predictable. Zayn said that he knew Styles would come out there to do his macho, tough guy act. Owens told Styles he sounds so ignorant thinking he was going to beat them. Owens said that "ignorance is the official language of Washington, DC" which drew boos from the crowd. Zayn pointed out that ignorance got Styles into this pickle after all. Owens asked for a reminder of what Styles said a few weeks ago, so Zayn said let's roll the footage.
The clip aired from three weeks ago with Styles saying "why don't you just make it a handicap match?" That led to Daniel Bryan booking the Handicap Match at the Royal Rumble.
Owens spoke about how Styles thought those were empty words, but when somebody did make the match, Styles immediately tried to backtrack and weasel his way out of it. Zayn said now Styles actually has to be a man because he is being forced by an actual authority figure with actual convictions, named Daniel Bryan, that is making Styles live up to his word. Zayn asked Styles if he's going to be true to his word. Styles asked what he was talking about. More footage.
There was a clip from Styles saying "I will fight both of them in the same night." Owens said it's not for the championship, but how about it Styles vs. Owens one on one and then immediately after it's Styles vs. Zayn. Fans cheered that idea and chanted "yes."
Daniel Bryan, the Smackdown General Manager, made his entrance on the ramp beside Styles. Bryan said enough is enough and gave Sami/Kevin credit for being two of the best superstars to be in the ring. Bryan said he had faith in AJ Styles, but Styles cut him off. Styles said that he didn't want Bryan to advocate for him and he didn't know if Bryan was in bed with those two dirtbags. Styles said if those two think they can beat him in back to back matches, Styles said they should find out. Styles told them they are on. Styles' music hit and he left.
Analysis: It was a typical 15-minute talking segment to set up some matches for later. I thought it dragged a bit even though I like everybody involved in the segment. Styles, Owens and Zayn are my favorite guys on the show (along with Nakamura), so I'm all for having them in the main event spot. I just don't know if they really needed 15 minutes to set that up. It could have been done a lot more efficiently.
Six man tag coming up later and Jey Uso vs. Chad Gable is next.
Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan were in their office. Shane mentioned Bryan sanctioning Styles facing Zayn and Owens back to back, which led to Bryan saying that he wasn't going to sanction the match and that Styles took the match. Bryan asked Shane if he was questioning if Styles had the ability to defend himself. Shane said that's not whose ability he was questioning. Fans let out an "ooohhh" reaction as Shane left.
Analysis: It was Shane taking a shot at Bryan's ability to run the show.
Jey Uso (Jimmy Uso) vs. Chad Gable (w/Shelton Benjamin)
Gable took down Jey with a waistlock takedown. Gable tripped up Jey and nailed him with forearms to the face. Jey broke free by running around the ring and using the momentum of Gable to send him out of the ring. Jey nailed a punch that sent Gable out of the ring as the show went to break.
Back from break, Gable was in control with a bridging Northern Lights Suplex for a two count. Gable went up for a moonsault, Jey moved and Jey nailed a spin kick that sent Gable to the floor. Jey went for a running dive, but Gable hit a forearm to block it. Jey with a hip toss that sent Gable over the top to the floor. Jey nailed a suicide dive through the ropes to take out Gable on the floor. Jey nailed a Samoan Drop. Gable tried a German Suplex, Jey fought out of it and Gable nailed a rolling forward kick. Gable nailed a rolling German Suplex into a bridging pin for the win. It went about eight minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Chad Gable
Analysis: **3/4 Good match with some cool moves from both guys. Gable is so creative with his offense and every time I see him in a singles match he impresses me. The finishing sequence looked awesome first with the rolling kick and then the bridging German Suplex to win. It was a clean win for Gable, which could mean The Usos retain the titles at the Royal Rumble. I'm not sure what my prediction is at this point, but I am looking forward to their tag team title match.
Shinsuke Nakamura was interviewed by Renee Young backstage. Nakamura said when he sees somebody in the Royal Rumble, he'll put his knee in their face. Next guy he sees, knee to the face. Baron Corbin interrupted Nakamura. Corbin said he didn't care about the people because they don't pay his bills. Corbin said his resume speaks for itself and he's not hype, he's results. Corbin asked Nakamura what he's done. Nakamura said it's not what he's done, it's what he'll do at the Royal Rumble. Nakamura said "let's Rumble tonight."
Analysis: Nakamura and Corbin haven't done a lot this year, so it's smart to put them in a match together.
Naomi made her entrance for a match against Liv Morgan.
Tye Dillinger did a cell phone promo saying he was officially entering the Royal Rumble match while noting he was in last year’s Rumble match.
Analysis: He’s not going to win, but nice to see him get some screen time.
Naomi vs. Liv Morgan (w/Sarah Logan & Ruby Riott)
They locked up with Graves saying that Morgan was “spunky and unusual, but very dangerous” in the ring. That’s pretty ridiculous, but that’s what announcers are supposed to do. They did a backslide pinning sequence. Morgan ducked a clothesline and several kicks until Naomi caught her with a kick to the head. Morgan took control by sending Naomi into the turnbuckle. Morgan with a double foot stomp to the back of Naomi for a two count. Morgan slapped on a weak looking chinlock as Natalya, Lana and Carmella walked down to the ring. Becky Lynch walked out also as Morgan nailed a clothesline. Naomi with a kick while on the apron and Naomi hit a sunset flip into a cover for the win after three minutes of action.
Winner by pinfall: Naomi
Analysis: * A quick match to put over Naomi ahead of the Royal Rumble. It’s smart not to put Morgan in a longer match because she’s still limited in there. The finish was a bit flat since sunset flips don’t win matches that often, but I can understand wanting to end it quickly.
Post match, Riott and Morgan attacked Naomi from behind. Lynch went into the ring to save Naomi. Logan dumped Naomi out of the ring. Lynch sent Logan over the top to the floor. Natalya clothesline on Lynch. Lana nailed Riott with a kick. Natalya picked up Lana and dumped her over the top to the floor. Carmella kick on Morgan. Natalya and Carmella sent Morgan out of the ring. Natalya with a clothesline on Carmella. Lynch and Naomi were in the ring, so Lynch tried to toss Naomi out, but Naomi held on.
Charlotte Flair’s music hit as the Smackdown Women’s Champion appeared on the stage. Charlotte said she loved Becky doing something fierce like that. Charlotte said that friendships don’t really matter when you’re trying to face the queen at WrestleMania. Charlotte said good luck to all of you, but good luck especially to the winner.
Analysis: Nice job of doing some spots to preview the Royal Rumble. One of my complaints about Raw this week was that they didn’t do enough to tease the men’s or women’s Royal Rumble match other than Asuka’s moment. I had some concerns about some of the women being able to bump over the top to the floor, but Logan, Lana and Morgan all did a good enough job of it.
Nakamura vs. Corbin is up next.
Shinsuke Nakamura made his entrance to a good ovation. Baron Corbin was up next. Both men are in the Royal Rumble match.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin
Nakamura worked over Corbin with a knee in the corner. They left the ring briefly, but Nakamura went back in the ring with his “come on” hand gesture. Corbin drew Nakamura outside the ring, punched him and sent Nakamura throat first into the steel connecting the turnbuckle to the ring post.
Back from break, Corbin was in control with a chin lock. Nakamura fought back with punches and a leaping kick to the chest. Nakamura nailed Corbin with kicks to the chest followed by a roundhouse kick to the head. Running knee to the ribs by Nakamura and an uppercut knee lift by Nakamura to Corbin led to a two count. Nakamura with a front suplex. Nakamura charged in, but Corbin caught him and hit the Deep Six slam for the two count. That was a great nearfall on a move that never wins for Corbin, but it always looks good. Nakamura tried an attack off the ropes, but Corbin ducked out, did his run to the floor and run back in for a stiff clothesline leading to a two count. Nakamura slapped on an armbar. Corbin fought out of it, but Nakamura came back with a spinning left kick to the head. Nakamura set up for the finish, but Randy Orton showed up with a RKO OUTTA NOWHERE! The crowd was going wild for it as the ref called for the bell for the disqualification finish. It went about ten minutes.
Winner by disqualification: Shinsuke Nakamura
After the bell rang, Corbin went after Orton, but Orton avoided it and Orton nailed a RKO to drop Corbin. The pop for those RKO’s was really loud.
Analysis: *** That finish came out of nowhere. Yeah, I went there. Good match up until Orton’s surprise appearance. Listen to the crowd. They were so hot for Orton showing up with the RKO that nobody was really expecting. I don’t mind the DQ at all because Orton showing up to RKO a friend of his in Nakamura is a smart way to get people excited about the Rumble match. It teases Nakamura battling Orton in the Rumble, hopefully at the end of it with Nakamura winning.
Orton celebrated the RKO with the crowd going wild for him.
There was a video package about the 25th Anniversary of Raw. Check out my review here in case you missed it.
Analysis: Remember when Smackdown hated Raw? It was only two months ago leading up to Survivor Series. Oh well. I don’t mind seeing the video package on Smackdown since it was a big accomplishment for Raw.
Still to come: Styles vs. Owens and Styles vs. Zayn.
Up next is a six-man tag match with Bobby Roode and New Day vs. Mahal, Rusev and English.
The New Day trio made their entrance with some fresh pancakes for the crowd. Big E said that they were a part of history for the 25th Anniversary of Raw and Kofi Kingston said they’ll be part of history because all three of them are entering the Royal Rumble match. Xavier Woods noted their partner beat two men to become the new WWE United States Champion.
Bobby Roode, the new United States Champion, made his glorious entrance to a nice ovation. Shoutout to the fan with the “All Hail King Haku” sign. New Day were dancing along to Roode’s song. That’s hilarious when they do that.
Roode thanked New Day for the wonderful introduction and Roode said that he can’t think of a better place to debut as the new US Champion in the nation’s capital Washington, DC. Roode said that his goal is to be the best US Champion in history, but he knows it won’t be an easy task. Roode said his reign will be glorious. The New Day guys said other words instead, but the crowd chanted “glorious” with him.
Jinder Mahal made his entrance with Sunil Singh. No Samir Singh because he tore his ACL and had major knee surgery that will keep him out for 6-9 months. The announcers didn’t mention it, but that’s what happened.
Rusev and Aiden English were cheered with Graves wishing everybody a Happy Rusev Day. Fans chanted “Rusev Day” as they went to a break.
Jinder Mahal, Rusev & Aiden English (w/Sunil Singh) vs. Bobby Roode, Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods (w/Big E)
They started during the break with the heels working over Kingston with Rusev applying a bearhug. Rusev knee to the ribs of Kingston. Rusev with a splash on Kingston in the corner. Rusev missed a corner splash and Kingston hit a bulldog to knock him down. Roode got the tag against English with clotheslines and a neckbreaker. Roode with a boot to the face followed by the Blockbuster off the ropes. Mahal into the ring and Roode nailed him with a Spinebuster. Rusev kick to the head on Roode and English with a rollup on Roode for two. Kingston with an elbow smash off the top onto Rusev. Kingston nailed a trust fall dive over the top to take out the heels on the floor. Woods with a blind tag, kick to English and Roode hit a spinebuster. Woods up top, he walked the ropes and hit a flying elbow drop on English for the pinfall win after four minutes.
Winners by pinfall: Bobby Roode, Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods
Analysis: **1/2 It was a fun match for the time given with some good moments. It’s one of those matches where they left you wanting more, but they were only afforded a few minutes and worked hard to make the most of their time. The faces winning was the right call. I thought it would be Roode, but nothing wrong with Woods being put over like that. I wonder if Rusev will have a moment in the Rumble where he acts more like a face because the crowd wants to cheer him, yet WWE still books him like a heel.
The announcers went over the Royal Rumble lineup. I’ve got the full card at the bottom of this post.
AJ Styles, the WWE Champion, made his entrance for the first of his two non-title matches.
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn made their entrance.
Shane McMahon, Smackdown’s Commissioner, appeared on the ramp. Shane said that if Zayn tries to interfere in the match tonight, he will be out of the Royal Rumble WWE Title match because he will be fired on the spot tonight. The same goes for Owens. Shane said if they do interfere, will it be the last thing they do on Smackdown live? “Yep.” They went to break there.
Analysis: If I want to be picky then I could point out that it makes no sense that Shane threatens to fire and change matches all the time, yet he’s fine with the setup for the Royal Rumble title match.
The bell rang after the break.
AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens
This is not for Styles’ WWE Championship.
Styles connected with a dropkick early on. Styles missed a corner splash and Owens nailed a clothesline. Owens missed a cannonball against the turnbuckle because Styles moved. Owens was favoring his left leg. Styles kicked the left leg of Owens. Styles slapped on the Calf Crusher on Owens and Owens tapped out. It went one minute.
Winner by submission: AJ Styles
Analysis: 1/2* That was quicker than I thought. Owens has missed house shows the last couple of weeks because of what is apparently a minor back injury, so putting him in a short match should keep him fresh heading into Sunday’s match.
The ref tried to pull Styles off, so Zayn ran into the ring to punch Styles. Owens rolled out of the ring favoring his left leg. Zayn worked over Styles with more punches and the referee told Zayn to stay back.
Styles tried to get back to his feet, but Zayn stomped away on Styles to prevent Styles from getting back up. Zayn pulled Styles out of the ring and whipped Styles knee first into the steel steps. There was a shot of Bryan and McMahon watching backstage doing absolutely nothing about it. The ref pulled Zayn off Styles as the show went to break.
Analysis: The story is about Zayn weakening Styles before the match as a heel tactic. I liked Zayn’s aggressiveness.
Back from break, Styles said he was okay to start the match and the bell rang.
AJ Styles vs. Sami Zayn
This is not for Styles’ WWE Championship.
Zayn attacked Styles with punches to start the match. Owens was still outside the ring favoring his left leg as trainers finally tended to him outside the ring. Zayn worked over Styles with chops as more medical personnel worked on Owens on the floor. Zayn slapped on a chinlock on Styles. When Styles got back to his feet, Styles nailed Zayn with punches and a back fist to the head. Styles nailed a running forearm to knock down Zayn. Styles hit a leaping clothesline in the corner. Styles sent Zayn over the top to the floor near where Owens was seated on the floor. Styles jumped over the top with a forearm to Zayn’s face. Styles looked at the fallen Owens on the floor and kicked him followed by punches. Zayn took advantage of that with a running clothesline on the floor.
Back from break, Zayn was in control with a chinlock while Owens was still out on the floor. Zayn went up top for a move, but Styles stopped him and Styles hit a hurricanrana off the top to regain control while Bryan and McMahon were shown watching backstage. Styles and Zayn traded forearms until Styles caught him with a fireman’s carry neckbreaker (I miss Mauro Ranallo yelling “Ushigoroshi” for it) for a two count. Tom Phillips just says “neckbreaker” for it. Zayn came back with an incredible Tornado DDT off the ropes. That looked great. Styles came back with a boot to the face. Styles jumped off the ropes, Zayn moved and Styles nailed him with a Pele Kick to the head for a two count. Zayn came back with a Michinoku Driver for a two count.
Zayn wanted a superplex, but Styles slipped out and sent Zayn into the turnbuckle. Styles went for the Styles Clash. Zayn went to the floor to get away, so Styles nailed a knee to the face while on the apron. Owens was on the stretcher, so Styles dumped the stretcher over with Owens crashing to the floor hard. When Styles got back in the ring, Zayn hit the Helluva Kick. Zayn hit the Blue Thunder Bomb and pinned Styles to win the match after 16 minutes. The Blue Thunder Bomb won a match! Yep! Yep! Yep!
Winner by pinfall: Sami Zayn
Analysis: ***1/2 Very good match by two of the best in-ring performers in WWE. That’s what I want to see in a TV main event. I know they can’t do it like that every week, but I enjoyed it a lot. The finish was clean enough because Styles was busy worrying about Owens on the stretcher. Zayn looked great in getting the win with the Blue Thunder Bomb. It’s so nice to see Zayn win with that move because I’ve been writing for years that it would be a better finisher than the Helluva Kick. Using the Helluva Kick to set up the BTB is a better scenario to win a match. Styles was great the entire match on the defensive and also getting in a lot of his cool offense. I really think if Styles and Zayn got 20-25 minutes in a singles match on a PPV they could have the WWE Match of the Year if it was booked the right way. I hope it happens. Styles has lost non-title several times with losses against Owens and Zayn each previously and now this loss to Zayn. It's been too much, but when we're talking about great performers like these guys it doesn't bother me that much. It's still an annoying WWE booking thing that they need to do less often.
Replays aired of the key moments of the match with Styles taking his eye off Zayn because he was busy dumping the stretcher that had Owens on it.
The show ended with Zayn and Owens standing together over a fallen Styles.
Analysis: It sets things up well for Royal Rumble. Styles just lost to Zayn. Will he lose again at the Rumble? I doubt it. I’m picking Styles to retain. As much as I like Kevin and Sami, I’d rather see Styles go into WrestleMania as the WWE Champion. Kevin and Sami are doing great, though. Each of them should be main eventers for years to come as well.
Full Royal Rumble PPV predictions are coming on Friday.
Three Stars of the Show
- Sami Zayn
- AJ Styles
- Kevin Owens
7.5 out of 10
Last week: 5.5
2018 Average: 5.5
Last 5 Weeks: 5.5, 4.5, 4.5, 7.5, 6, 4.5
It gets a 7.5 out of 10.
Best Smackdown of the year so far after the first three weeks were just average stuff.
Smackdown featured my three favorite guys on the show (Styles, Zayn and Owens) for about an hour. That’s half the show. As a fan of theirs, I enjoyed the show a lot.
The other matches on the show were pretty good too, especially Nakamura/Corbin and Gable/Jey. The six-man tag was also entertaining to the watch. The women’s match was the only one that might be considered bad, but I thought the post match angle was well done.
It was a fun show to watch and easy to write about too. Good job Smackdown.
— WWE (@WWE) January 24, 2018
The next WWE PPV is the Royal Rumble on January 28. Here’s what we know so far.
Men’s Royal Rumble match with 30 competitors – The names announced so far are John Cena, Finn Balor, Randy Orton, Elias, Shinsuke Nakamura, Baron Corbin, Matt Hardy, Bray Wyatt, Rusev, Aiden English, Apollo Crews, Titus O’Neil, The Miz, Tye Dillinger, Big E, Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods and more.
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 names announced so far are Asuka, Natalya, Ruby Riott, Naomi, 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
There’s nothing announced for the Kickoff Show at this point.
That’s all for now. Go Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs.
My contact info is below. Thanks for reading.