Welcome to the SmackDown! we have all been waiting for. After over five years on the Syfy Network, WWE’s secondary show is moving to the big time sharing the USA Network with RAW. As we have seen in the past, WWE will often use a big move like this to repackage a show and make it an “A” show, at least for a short time. This time, we can only hope for it to be no different. We also have the first SmackDown! with world renowned Boxing, MMA and Wrestling play by play man Mauro Ranallo adding an instant dose of credibility to the show. Anyone who has heard him call the matches for New Japan on AXS should know this alone is worth tuning in. After all the big news surrounding WWE this week involving the NJPW talent acquisitions and the injury to John Cena blowing up the wrestling community, all eyes are on WWE and now is the time to strike. With the opportunity WWE has with this show, it was surprising to see the preview for SmackDown! being and Intercontinental Championship match with champion Dean Ambrose defending against Kevin Owens and a Diva’s Championship match with Charlotte defending against Becky Lynch. While there is never any reason to complain about a show with two title matches, I may have expected more from a show being the first of the year and a big network move. Regardless, we are sure to get some excitement out of tonight’s show. Mauro Ranallo, Jerry “The King” Lawler and Byron Saxton are on commentary.
Promo Time: John Cena
After we get the introduction of Mauro Ranallo saying “the boyhood dream has come true for yours truly”, John Cena hits the ring. Described as the “heart and soul of the WWE” Cena does his best to hype that SmackDown! is now on the USA Network and that there needs to be a United States Championship match tonight. It is just like any other Cena promo, except thankfully a lot shorter. He gives a big introduction to Alberto Del Rio, which is a little strange. Typically we would see the heel just hit the ring. Del Rio in his normal bad promo tone tells Cena he is trying to weasel his way to a title match he does not deserve. The crowd reaction to all of this is lackluster to say the least. Even with Cena publicly announcing his injury on Twitter, they are still not acknowledging it on television. Del Rio says he will fight, just not Cena, so Cena introduced Kalisto for the match. Cena doing the “Lucha Lucha” arms with Kalisto only makes me think would be one hell of a storyline for the shoulder injury.
Alberto Del Rio vs. Kalisto
Kalisto attacks Del Rio to kick off the match, and Del Rio quickly retreats to the outside to regroup as we head to commercial. Once again, we have the breakdown of flow coming in from the break as now Del Rio is in control in the ring. Kalisto is hung up in the ropes as Del Rio beats on him. Del Rio continues the assault getting Kalisto in the Tree of Woe. Del Rio goes for a shoulder charge and Kalisto lifts himself up and performs a seated senton off the top. Kalisto goes for a hurricanrana but is caught and powerbombed by Del Rio for the two count. Del Rio hits a DDT and heads outside to taunt Cena. They are still putting fuel on this feud even knowing this may be Cena’s last televised appearance for some time to come. This is what happens when your roster begins to look like Swiss cheese. After throwing Kalisto into the barricade outside, he gets him back in the ring to set up for the cross arm breaker. Del Rio still focusing his attention on Cena and described by Ranallo as “giving Kalisto valuable time” gets the arm-breaker reversed by Kalisto into a hurricanrana pinning combination for the win. Decent action and a great rub for Kalisto while Sin Cara is out. Having the last boost from Cena for the show was a good idea and gave a good match ending.
Final Rating: **
We have JoJo interviewing Becky Lynch backstage about her upcoming Diva’s Championship match. She refers to Charlotte as her “former best friend”, says there is no more explanation, just vindication and she will be taking the Diva’s title. Becky’s promo's definitely seemed better when they are one on one.
Miz:TV: Royal Rumble Edition
After the break, we are treated to a Royal Rumble edition of Miz TV, oh joy. Miz speaks briefly before The New Day hit the ring with Xavier Woods saying “not sorry for the interruption.” The New Day begin go off about Chris Jericho from their interaction on RAW, but soon into it, Dolph Ziggler hits the ring. Let me just say, Ziggler's hair should have a review all its own...woah. Goldust is out right behind Ziggler and Neville to follow. Neville just asks Miz to cancel the show and never speak again. R-Truth hits the ring in this parade of the rosters “B” list. Truth asks everyone to step aside as he is answering Del Rios U.S. open challenge. This gimmick may be the only thing Truth is good at anymore, but he does it spot on. He's told there is no open challenge, so he asks what the entry fee is for the Rumble. Miz tells him there is no entry fee but if he gives Truth a dollar, will he buy a clue? New Day finds this amusing. Truth attacks Miz as we head to commercial.
The Miz & New Day vs. Dolph Ziggler, Goldust, Neville and R-Truth
Back from the break and the brawl has turned into an eight-man tag match. This is a pretty standard tag match for SmackDown! with the only purpose being to get once again a bunch of guys in the ring that are going to be in the Royal Rumble Match. Lawler mentions that Neville “is the only guy who can see his ears without a mirror.” If this is a sign of Lawler becoming the heel, I welcome it greatly. My interest in this match is lost almost the moment it began. New Day performs the trombone backed whip into the corner, and Miz begins to dance. New Day look at him with blank stares. Woods gets Neville in a Cobra Clutch which Ranallo states “Sgt. Slaughter would be pleased by that move. He is already topping JBL with references that make sense. The match breaks down, and The Miz held by Goldust and Truth gets super kicked by Ziggler for the pin. Almost immediately after the bell, Ziggler hits Truth with a superkick and starts throwing everyone over the top rope for the “every man for themselves” reference at the Rumble. This match was a time filler and back Rumble promo.
Final Rating: *
Charlotte and Ric Flair are backstage for an interview. Ric described Charlotte as like Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan with everyone trying to leech off of her. Quickly Charlotte’s music hits and they head to the ring.
WWE Diva’s Championship
Charlotte (c) vs. Becky Lynch
“Former best friends turned bitter enemies going to battle for the Diva’s Championship,” says Ranallo. Whether it is the way he uses the words or his voice in general, this guy is already making everything sound better on this show. Charlotte gets a decent amount of boos for her entrance showing the heel turn is beginning to take. Ranallo also mentions that he use to call Becky’s matches in his native British Columbia when she was 18, but Lawler said she is in the WWE now and that's all that matters. I’m sure Vince loved that one. Also some more heelish dialogue from Lawler. The beginning of this match has some good back and forth action with it not taking long for Ric to get involved. Becky hit Charlotte with a springboard sidekick to the floor, and as Becky went after her, Ric stood between them. Charlotte takes dominating control after this. Lawler is spending a lot of this time explaining how well he knows Ric Flair and how you can’t trust him. Becky begins her comeback picking up Charlotte in and electric chair and dropping her on the turnbuckle like a snake eyes. You can hear this match getting the hype in Ranallo’s voice. After a more back and forth, Becky lands the cross arm breaker, but Charlotte picks her up for the pin attempt. Becky almost immediately turns it into the Disarmer, but Flair reaches up and puts Charlotte’s foot on the rope. Becky releases the hold thinking she has won the match as Charlotte rolls her up for the three count. This was a decent match, and they left it open for the feud to continue.
Final Rating: **1/2
We get a clip of a WWE.com interview with Roman Reigns where he says the McMahon Family “is trying to burn me down, but all it is doing is firing me up.” This would be there a not-so-clever way to get Roman on the show.
Backstage, Renee Young does a quick interview with Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose. Ambrose mentions how Kevin Owens calls himself a prize fighter, looks down at the Intercontinental Championship and says “this is a prize, so let's fight Owens fight.” Good line from Ambrose.
WWE Intercontinental Championship
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Kevin Owens
This championship match kicks off quick with Owens heading to the outside to regroup before the break. Again in this show, we come back to action in progress with Owens chopping Ambrose in the corner. After a little more back and forth and a one count after an elbow drop by Ambrose, they head to the outside. The action outside was great with Ambrose giving Owens a side-Russian leg sweep in the barricade where Owens hit the back of his head incredibly hard. Back in the ring, we get more back and forth with both men getting all their quick spots in. Owens get thrown out of the ring with Ambrose diving after him giving Ranallo his first close call with action as Owens is thrown over the announce table. The fight carries on over the barricade into the crowd, and the referee quickly reaches his ten count for a double count out to end the official match. As they reach the entrance stage, again Ranallo does a fantastic job of not only hyping the two men but the Intercontinental Championship saying “this is what the WWE Intercontinental Championship means to these two warriors.” Can we get this type of commentary on every show, please?!?! Another great Ranallo-ism (yes, this show inspired me to coin that phrase) is Kevin Owens being thrown into the WWE logo on the stage and Maruo saying “that was brought to you by the letter W.” The fight is finally making its way off the side of the stage where the two men hit each other with laptops and guardrails and end up on equipment boxes. They brawl with both falling off together going through a table to end the brawl and the show. The match itself was sadly a pretty standard SmackDown! main event just as everything else on the show has been, but the brawl afterwards I enjoyed rather well.
Final Rating: **3/4
THE SMACKDOWN! RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Mauro Ranallo. It was great to hear someone call the action and do it so perfectly. How soon can we get him to RAW?
Least Entertaining: The eight-man “Rumble preview” tag match. Only good thing was the humor.
Quote of the Night: “Revenge is a dish best served with a side of the elbow.” - Mauro Ranallo when Dean Ambrose gives an elbow drop to Kevin Owens on the announce table.
Match of the Night: Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens. Great actions besides the double DQ ending.
Summary: With this being one of the most anticipated SmackDown! shows that I can remember, it was disappointing how it came off as just any other SmackDown!. Mauro Ranallo was fantastic and the main highlight of tonight. Besides the six-man tag match, the matches were decent, but if this is WWE’s way of hyping up and presenting a show on a new network, they failed miserably. This may be due to the massive roster problems they are currently having, but after watching this first SmackDown! of the new year, this week we are presented the same thing we are every week; a second rate WWE “B” show.