The long haul continues as we head into this week’s sure to be lackluster episode of SmackDown!. At least, the show has some consistency even if it is sub-par matches with no real progression in storylines. I hate to hammer on SmackDown! so hard, but WWE is making it so easy. The expectations at the beginning of the year were for SmackDown! to show up on the USA Network rejuvenated as an A show, but after a month of the same B rate content for our viewing pleasure, my faith has been lost. I still keep that shred of hope from week to week that we will see improvements and this week is no different. Previewed for tonight, we have a Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel with Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns, a United States Championship defense by Kalisto and AJ Styles making his first appearance on SmackDown!. Between the title match and AJ Styles being in the ring, we have hope for a decent show this evening. We are in Tampa, FL with Mauro Ranallo, Jerry “ The King” Lawler and Byron Saxton are on commentary.
Promo Time: The New Day
After and incredibly long show opening that recapped events from the Royal Rumble and the fallout on RAW, The New Day are out for a promo. By saying “With a historic week in our rearview mirror, we are jumping on the expressway to Fastlane”, Ranallo proves he can make any situation, as bad as it may be, sound intriguing. The New Day start into their usual flurry of nonsense complaining about what The Rock did to them on RAW. New Day promos use to be such an exciting part of the show, but now that they are given a segment on every show, it has become stale quickly. I never thought I would be saying this, but thankfully The Miz interrupts The New Day. Miz says he was also insulted by The Rock on Monday and before he gets much further, The Usos head down the ramp. The Uso’s new “Woah!” is way worse than anything New Day and Miz brought to the table. After some verbal back and forth, The Usos bring out Titus O'Neil and Dolph Ziggler and a brawl breaks out. We head to commercial and are sure to have an eight man tag match when we get back.
The New Day & The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler, Titus O’Neil & The Usos
When we get back from break, we have Xavier Woods and Jey Uso in to start the eight-man tag match. Much of the match is a standard eight-man tag match with everyone getting in for a few small spots. Big E gives Jimmy Uso a massive overhead belly to belly suplex that lands Jimmy legs first into the turnbuckles. While Xavier takes a break playing trombone, Ranallo says “has anyone ever asked Xavier what he did with the money his parents gave him for trombone lessons?”...comic gold. After a little more of a beat down on Jimmy, he gets the hot tag to Titus O'Neil, who then proceeds to do what he does best; running everyone over and hitting anything that moves. At this point, the match breaks down with everyone hitting the ring. The Uso’s perform a duel over the top dive onto Big E and Kofi on the outside followed by Ziggler hitting the Zig Zag on Woods sending him out of the ring. The Miz comes up behind Ziggler trying for the Skull Crushing Finale, but Ziggler reverses hitting Miz with a super kick sending him into the waiting arms of Titus O’Neil. Titus hits the Clash of the Titus for the victory. Fairly standard at eight man tag matches go, but it was not awful and had a decent finish.
Final Rating: **
WWE United States Championship
Kalisto (c) vs. Neville
Excitement ran through me when I saw Kalisto against Neville for tonight and a championship match at that. Let’s just hope WWE’s resident high flyers have a match as good as it sounds. Just a thought as Neville makes his entrance, but exactly how long is someone referred to as “Slammy Award winning”? Ranallo says this match has shades of The Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask. What an incredible reference making me thankful Maruo is here. The start of this match is just as expected with lots of high flying moves executed as quickly as possible. They end up on the outside where Kalisto goes for a hurricanrana but is caught by Neville. Neville then attempts to run Kalisto into the barricade, but at the last second Kalisto completes the hurricanrana sending Neville into the barricade. After a near double count out, both men are down on the mat as we head to commercial. Coming back in from the break, Kalisto springboards from the apron and is caught into a sitdown powerbomb by Neville for the near fall. It’s strange that Neville almost looks like the powerhouse in this match. Both men end up on the top turnbuckle and Kalisto hits a hurricanrana that sends Neville insanely high into the air and to the mat. After a little more back and forth, Neville goes for a belly to back suplex, but as he lifts Kalisto in the air, Kalisto grabs hold for the reversal into the Salida del Sol for the win. Excellent match loaded with action and a great finish. Reminded me of a cruiserweight match from the Monday night war days.
Final Rating: ***
Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel
I’ve come to the conclusion that Jericho no longer owns any shirts, just jackets and vests. Must be a rock star thing. Jericho briefly talks about his match with AJ Styles on RAW keeping the fire for a rematch alive and then introduces Dean Ambrose. Ambrose comes down with some sort of flower house plant which is sure to produce some comedy. Roman Reigns comes in right after. While talking about Roman Reigns, it is here that I notice Lawler laying on his new heel persona on commentary. I like how he has made it a transition over the past few weeks and not just flipped his character immediately. This shows the veteran talent of Lawler and his thought for the story. Ambrose starts by saying he brought Jericho a little gift. He didn’t know if it was because of budget cuts, but the Highlight Reel set could use a little “jazzing up”. Jericho emphasizes how good of friends Ambrose and Reigns are, but now they are going into battle. Seeing Roman and Dean have mic time side by side shows the contrast betweens Dean's talent for it and Roman’s forced delivery, even though it is getting better. Jericho asks what they are going to do when the bell rings at Fastlane and point at Roman without hesitation Dean say “I’m going to punch him right in the mouth”. They then discuss Brock with Roman telling Dean Brock is the real deal and Dean brushing it off saying he is the ironman of WWE. Dean makes it clear that technically he doesn’t have to beat Brock; he just has to beat Roman. At this point, the lights go out and the Wyatt Family appears on the stage. Bray rambles his standard apocalyptic nonsense with Roman responding “we don’t know what your talking about”. Bray challenges Reigns, Ambrose and Jericho to a match later on tonight against him and two of his guys.
AJ Styles vs. Curtis Axel
After an excellent showing at the Rumble and decent match with Chris Jericho on RAW, we now have our first appearance of AJ Styles on SmackDown!. We start with the Social Outcasts in the ring all getting in their quick mic time. Bo says “ my best friends year long run in the Royal Rumble match has finally come to an end” and they all hug Curtis Axel. Axel pushing them away saying “364 days, 3 minutes and 24 seconds.” Axel calls out AJ who even with the smaller SmackDown! crowd still gets a huge pop. After some average offense by Axel, AJ nails him with a Pele kick from the second rope in the corner. This looked awesome! A little more back and forth and the Social Outcasts begin attempted interference. Styles brushes them all off with ease and hits a diving front roll over the top to the outside on Slater and Bo. Styles springboards from the apron back in the ring, but is caught by Axel. Axel attempts a Perfect Plex, but Styles counters and hits another Pele kick. I love this move because no one else uses it except Finn Balor in NXT. AJ picks up Axel and hits him with the first Styles Clash since his arrival in WWE for the win. The fans went nuts for the finisher.
Final Rating: *3/4
Charlotte vs. Natalya
We get a rare televised match here from Natalya taking on Diva’s champion Charlotte. At the beginning in an inset promo, Natalya says she is back. Last time I checked she was already back and still had hardly any matches...we will see. These two had an amazing match in NXT, but obviously, that means nothing when up on the main roster. Ranallo calls Charlotte “the dirtiest diva in the game” referencing her father, Ric. The match starts off slow with some back and forth and an abdominal stretch trade off. Natalya ends up on the outside and is distracted by Flair on her way back into the ring. Charlotte chop blocks Natalya’s knee and quickly puts her in the figure eight for the tap-out victory. In pure heel fashion, Charlotte puts Natalya in the figure four after the match. Becky Lynch runs down to break it up, and Charlotte quickly retreats. This was a quick and effective match showcasing Charlotte’s heel persona, but I am left confused about who is feuding. Is it Becky and Charlotte? Wait, I thought it was now Charlotte and Sasha. Only time will tell when it comes to the Diva’s division.
Final Rating: *1/4
Here we get another segment with Goldust trying to convince R-Truth to be his tag team partner and form “The Golden Truth”. This is the same segment we have seen on every show between these to, except this time they are stretching to go for a run. Cheap comedy at best.
The Wyatt Family vs. Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose & Chris Jericho
It looks like the Wyatt family will be represented by Bray, Erick Rowan and Luke Harper with Braun Strowman on the outside. I am honestly sick and tired of these matches. The half-assed television main event where they stick a bunch of the top guys in a six-man tag match that will go nowhere and be forgotten before it is even over. I had a lot of hope for this show after having a good title match and a few decent contests in between, but before this match even starts my interest level hits rock bottom. Well, let’s get through this. The main part of the match we have a standard WWE multi-man tag match (much like the one that opened the show) with everyone getting their time in, a beat down of the baby faces and a hot tag. Strowman eventually gets involved for the disqualification and the Wyatts begin the beat down on Roman, Ambrose, and Jericho. It was nice to hear Ranallo give the official match decision which is often ignored by other lead announcers. Not long into the brawl, none other than The Big Show makes his way down to the ring. Yes, you heard me right, The Big Show. He has a stare down center ring with Strowman before they Wyatts attack him. Everyone comes back in the ring and the baby faces clean house and stand tall as the show goes off the air. All I got from this is that we may see an upcoming match between The Big Show and Braun Strowman....oh joy.
Final Rating: *
THE SMACKDOWN! RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Kalisto and Neville
Least Entertaining: The main event tag match. I feel like I have seen this hundreds of times.
Match of the Night: Neville vs. Kalisto for the United States Championship. Great action, not drawn out and a good finish.
Summary: I have to say, this episode of SmackDown! was better than most. While it still didn’t live up to “great show” standards by any means, it had its moments of entertainment. The Kalisto vs. Neville match was a very good championship match that gave us high flying action from start to finish. Also, any time that AJ Styles is on television for the near future is fan-pleasing gold. The show killer for me is the main event. How many times do we have to see this? I am so tired of time filling, get everyone out there crap matches that have hardly any entertainment value or progression to a storyline. I understand that the injuries of late have left WWE in a tight spot, but I’m sure that twenty or so writers can come up with something more creative than this. Again, this show had its high points compared to most SmackDown! episodes, but it’s the low points that really kill it.