Winners: Mojo Rawley, Dolph Ziggler, The Usos, Charlotte Flair, The Bludgeon Brothers, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, and AJ Styles.
The long-teased break-up of one of SmackDown! Live’s few tag teams finally came to a head and ended with a solid win for Mojo Rawley. Zack Ryder performed in exactly the role he has been pigeon-holed into, a sympathetic punching bag for bigger, better guys. If they’re serious about pushing Mojo, though, who’s heel role appears to be heading down the same path as Baron Corbin’s, they need to make some changes to his music, look, and attitude. Also, he could actually benefit from the odd tendency by the WWE to take away people’s first names and just go by Rawley going forward.
The triple threat for the United States Championship ended up being surprisingly good, with some back-and-forth from all three guys and a near constant barrage of hard hitting, fast paced moves, and near falls. In the end, Dolph Ziggler managed to counter the End of Days into the Zig-Zag and…win the championship. Well, that was unexpected, given that Ziggler’s losing streak has lasted what feels like a full two years now. Considering that Corbin never really got a chance to do much with the belt, I guess it makes some sense and it casts Bobby Roode as the chaser of the belt but is all that really worth shutting up Ziggler’s vocal complaining about his position? Surely it would be better to actually put some effort into rebuilding the guy?
The four team match for the SmackDown! Live Tag Team Championships was contested with a representative from each team in the ring at all times, making it even more of a clusterfuck than it appeared to be on paper. After a rough start, it actually ended up being quite entertaining though, with Rusev and Aiden English really showcasing their strengths and establishing themselves as a tag team. The match ended when Chad Gable starts throwing German Suplxes at everyone in sight, only to get hit with the Superkick and Uso Splash. As much as I dislike the Usos (or, I guess, to be more fair, would like to see new teams and new blood get a chance with feuds and the belts), this was the right decision as I feel that this match was too thrown together to switch the belts. Hopefully the WWE build up the challengers and switch the belts in an intense, entertaining match later down the line (as long as they don’t drop the straps to the New Day again).
In a massively questionable piece of booking, basically all of the lumberjills for the SmackDown! Live Women’s Championship match turned out to be heels, leaving Charlotte Flair at a bit of a disadvantage as they constantly attacked her as the match wore on. However, Charlotte channelled her inner Sasha Banks and fought through those odds to retain the belt after a Figure Eight. Afterwards, Natalya bitched on the mic and cried about her loss, hinting that she is quitting the business; right, she just gets the biggest push of her career and now she wants to quit?
The Bludegon Brothers then absolutely squashed Breezango. I mean, yeah, sure but…hasn’t this match been teased and built up for months now? I guess it makes sense, though, as the Bludgeon Brothers have been squashed guys all over the place since returning to the roster and I’m sure these guys will have a rematch/feud going forward and have plenty of chances for a more competitive match. I really hope that they can maintain the momentum though and not get absolutely buried like the Ascension have been.
Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan then put on a two man drama about who can call a tag team match with the least bias and the difficulty of balancing ego, pride, and fairness. Oh, and also, some of what should be considered SmackDown! Live’s top stars put on a mediocre tag team match made all the more frustrating because the entire spotlight and story was on Shane and Bryan’s bickering. It all came to a head when Shane stops counting the pin fall when Sami Zayn had Randy Orton pinned to the mat, leading to a shoving match between Shane and Bryan. When Sami then rolled Orton back up, Bryan fast counts the pin to save Sami and Kevin Owens’ jobs but the damage to this match was done; it must suck to be Owens and constantly have your momentum and push be stalled by all these McMahon shenanigans. It doesn’t make it better that it’s “fan favourite” Shane, people; it’s still an annoying McMahon getting involved in stuff they should be staying the hell away from.
Finally, despite their recent failed deception, the Singh Brothers ended up accompanying Jinder Mahal to the ring for his big rematch against AJ Styles. Styles worked the knee to start with before Jinder began an assault on his ribs by battering him around the ringside area. This slows AJ down as he has to sell the injury but did little to stop his high-flying offense, or keep him from kicking out of the Khallas. Surprisingly, Mahal tried to hit the Avalanche Styles Clash on AJ, only for Styles to roll through and lock him into the Calf Crusher to retain the belt. This was probably the best match in Jinder’s career, especially in his entire title reign and, honestly, the bulk of the thanks goes to AJ for selling Mahal’s onslaught like a chant and making him look strong and credible. It doesn’t take away from the fact that Mahal’s moveset is still quite limited and the crowd doesn’t care too much about seeing him wrestle, but it does show that AJ can drag an entertaining match out of anybody.
Kurt Angle opens the show to address the no contest from last week’s main event, only for Braun Strowman, Kane, and Brock Lesnar to all arrive and circle each other in the ring. Hilariously, Angle announces that Lesnar will defend the Universal Championship against both Kane and Strowman at Royal Rumble and then wisely bails, leaving the three monsters to brawl with each other. The prospect of seeing Kane in a championship match in 2017 is about as appealing as Kane in a championship match in 2016 in that he really shouldn’t be involved in the title scene; as much as I love Kane, his presence isn’t really adding to this match and I would have preferred to see him and Strowman face off in some kind of gimmick match while Lesnar took on Finn Balor but, apparently, Balor isn’t over enough.
Jason Jordan once again makes a challenge to Samoa Joe and, instead, has to face Seth Rollins, with the winner going on to face Joe later on. Jordan continued to hone his new heel persona and amateur wrestling gimmick in his match with Rollins, who brought out an entertaining, no-nonsense side of Jordan that is a massive step in the right direction for him. Jordan lost the match when Rollins hit THE KNEE~!! but looked like a real star all throughout. If he does eventually face Joe, he’s probably going to lose that match too, though; the sad fact is that Jordan is very quickly getting lost in the shuffle on Raw. His initial storyline fizzled out pretty quickly, his feud with the Miz never went anywhere, and now he’s just another talented guy looking good but going nowhere. He needs to get this stuff out of the way and course-correct back towards the Intercontinental Championship scene as soon as he can.
As expected, given his back-to-back wins in the last couple of weeks, Finn Balor took on both Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas. Honestly, I know this was two against one, but it was Dallas and Axel, two guys who are just goons to take the bullet for the Miz, and they got in way too much against the former Universal Champion. In fact, they only lost the match because they refused to stop beating on Finn, causing Hideo Itami to finally make his main roster debut and save Finn’s ass. This immediately led to a tag team match between the four, which Balor and Itami won in dominating fashion, sharing a hearty handshake afterwards. This was a great way to debut Itami and put some stock into a cruiserweight but why should Balor need help against the Miz-tourage? He should have a guy in his corner when he face the Miz, sure, but in a regular setting against Miz’s goons? I think not. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Finn either end up floundering in a nothing tag team with Itami or even bumped to the cruiserweight division in the near future.
After weeks of multi-man chaos, we finally get a number one contender’s match between Cedric Alexander and Drew Gulak, with Enzo Amore assaulting the senses on commentary. Unfortunately, given that Gulak has been showcasing some real personality and potential, Cedric got the win here but it does make some sense; Cedric is a pretty hot performer and should, hopefully, be able to carry Enzo to a decent match while Gulak works on his inevitable face turn. Oh, also, this match went about as long as the multi-man cruiserweight matches, lending further weight to my argument that six-man tag team matches need longer than twelve minutes to be good.
Asuka weathered a brief bit of offense from Alicia Fox before tapping her out like a bitch. This was swiftly followed by a six-man tag team match pitting Sheamus, Cesaro, and Samoa Joe against Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Jason Jordan. Apparently Roman Reigns got the night off this week; also, no one likes Jordan so he doesn’t get the honorary Shield entrance or attire. Just as the match really started picking up speed, Ambrose ended up selling an arm injury so badly that the doctors had to come out, which indirectly led to Rollins getting hit with the Brogue Kick and pinned. Later, as Ambrose is being attended to, the heels jump him and crush his arm some more; apparently, he is suffering with a bit of a triceps injury at the moment, which would suck if it keeps him away from WrestleMania but the heels really took advantage of it to look strong. I quite like the idea of Sheamus, Cesaro, and Joe forming a permanent threesome as they all work and look really well together and the addition of Joe would help to keep the never-ending feud between the Shield and Sheamus and Cesaro fresh, I guess.
Speaking of fresh, the Revival are finally back in action, taking on and making short work of Heath Slater and Rhyno. Remember them? Remember when they were actually a big deal? After they lose Angle threatens them and tells them to step up or else…didn’t we just see something like this with the Hype Bros? Even if Rhyno and Slater split up, I doubt anyone would care too much about anything they would do as Rhyno is played out and Slater is a career jobber. Maybe 205 Live?
Paige, Mandy Rose, and Sonya Deville continue their momentum from recent weeks by getting themselves disqualified in a six-woman tag team match against Mickie James, Sasha Banks, and Bayley. It all breaks down as the entire Raw women’s roster comes out for a big old brawl, only to part like the red sea when her majesty Stephanie McMahon comes out to steal the spotlight and announce the historic first-ever women’s Royal Rumble match. Sure, it’s long overdue and a great idea, but did Stephanie really have to be the centre of attention and did they really have to beat us over the head with how historic the announcement is? I can’t think of a better way to make the announcement as it still doesn’t make me care about women’s wrestling but having non-wrestlers be the focus of anything is always a negative for me.
Speaking of which, Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon open the show to hash out their issues from Clash of Champions. Bryan brings his A-game, ranting about how he fought for years against people who did what was “best for business” and that he did the fast count to save Shane from turning into Mr. Mahon. Surprisingly, Shane doesn’t rise to Bryan’s suggestion that he be fired and, instead, says he trusts him and they part on, apparently good terms. This was a really good segment, especially on Bryan’s part, but what is it leading to? Is Bryan going to get back into the ring? Is one of them going to turn? Is it really too much to ask that we not have authority figures dominate every show all the time?
Remember when Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable pinned the Usos and appeared to be next in line for a shot at their belts until it all descended into the chaos of a four-way tag team match? Well, we’re apparently back on track to that as of this week as Shelton and Gable pinned the champions after a pretty decent match; I was sceptical of the Shelton/Gable team up to start with but they have really started to gel together as a solid tag team. I feel like both could be doing more but they’re an exciting, new team so I’ll take this over another win from the New Day.
Charlotte Flair comes out to talk about the women’s Royal Rumble match; apparently the SmackDown! Live girls will be involved and, if one of them wins, will get to face Charlotte at WrestleMania. That makes way more sense than the Money in the Bank ladder matches being exclusive to SmackDown! Live. Anyway, this led into her teaming with Naomi against Sarah Logan and Ruby Riott in a successful effort, which seems to undermine the recent aggressive push of the Riott Squad but whatever.
Dolph Ziggler then gloated about his big championship win, having a go at the crowd and everyone listening for not believing in him and showing a montage of his greatest career moments. He then dropped the belt and walked away, like a cry-baby. I really don’t think I get Ziggler’s new gimmick; he whines and complains, still gets championship matches, and actually bloody wins a match and a belt and he still complains? Did he actually relinquish the belt or was it just symbolic? And, more importantly, why isn’t Baron Corbin still the champion or Bobby Roode the new champion? I like Ziggler, I really do, but what is this? Seriously, get him a bitter, angry tag team partner and put him in the tag team division; at least that’s something new for him to do.
SmackDown! Live’s newest tag team, Rusev and Aiden English, put two feet firmly in the tag team division by taking on the New Day. I mean, they didn’t win and it was mostly a comedy match, but at least they appear to be a legitimate tag team now?
The main event this week saw AJ Styles team up with Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura against Jinder Mahal, Sami Zayn, and Kevin Owens. The initial, almost inevitable brawl eventually died down so an actual fun match could take place full of big moves and spots. The Singh Brothers eventually got involved for another big brawl that led to Orton hitting the RKO on Mahal, Styles taking out Owens with the Phenomenal Forearm, and Nakamura smashing Zayn in the face with the Kinshasa for the victory. Orton and Nakamura sure are teaming up a lot lately but it’s hard to really trust Orton to have anyone’s back for long so I half expect him to turn heel sometime between now and WrestleMania and either deny us Nakamura vs. AJ or insert himself into that match like an unwanted third child.