Before we kick off the show, Video Control shows highlights of Dean Ambrose getting a shoeing from Triple H on RAW. Are WWE really going to pull a big switcheroo on theirWrestleMania booking? There’s certainly a hint in the air that they might. If they do decide to go ahead with Roman Reigns facing Hunter in the main event, then WWE will be showing that they have learned nothing from the past two years. We’re in Atlanta, Georgia, and hosts are the excellent Maura Ranallo, the bland and largely pointless Byron Saxton, and a now-heel Jerry Lawler. More on that later.
Promo Time: Dean Ambrose
Dean is battered and bruised not only from his beating at the hands of Triple H, but also from a recent leathering from Brock Lesnar. Despite being barely able to move, Ambrose threatens to mess up the ‘Mania booking by winning the title from Triple H at the Roadblock Network Special. He wonders who he might then have to defend against at ‘Mania. Will it be his scheduled opponent, Lesnar? The winner of the number one contender’s triple threat match, Reigns? Or will Hunter evoke his rematch clause? Perhaps, he suggests, they should throw all four of them in a cage. That gets my vote. I wonder if he was testing audience response for that possibility? Anyhow, he gets interrupted by Kevin Owens, who points out that all Ambrose has achieved recently is to get beat up, while Owens himself has no credible contender for his Intercontinental Championship. Owens goes for the cheap shot, but Ambrose evades having seen it coming on the big screen! The gauntlet is laid down for tonight’s main event.
The Usos vs. League of Nations (Sheamus & Rusev)
The L.O.N. are a terrible faction, but at least they look as if they’ve been having fun recently, especially since introducing their half-Rimmer hand salute thing. With Lawler calling an Uso punch a cheap shot, this might be an appropriate juncture to bring up his inexplicable switch to a heel commentator in the last few months. It’s some of the worst announce desk work in WWE’s history. His run as a fawning face commentator over the past decade or so has been bad enough, but there has been no justification offered as to why he’s suddenly changed which locker room he supports. He backs up nothing that he says; instead, he just simply puts the faces down because he’s heel and no more. Listening to him just makes me want to stick on old WWF programming so that I can admire the work of the all-time great heel announcers such as Bobby Heenan and Jesse Ventura. Perhaps Lawler could benefit from doing the same? The match is actually much better than I’d anticipated, considering that it’s two members of a faction that I find boring against a tag team that I find boring. Rusev is a hoot in this one, too, teasing Jey (or is it Jimmy? Who cares?) with “tag your brother,” while preventing him from doing so. Usos get on top, but the numbers game is too much, with Sheamus finishing with the Brogue Kick. I think I could enjoy the L.O.N. if they stick to having a blast in the mid card. Except Sheamus. Never Sheamus.
Final Rating: **1/2
Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz
A rematch from RAW, where the jinxed Ziggler lost to Miz in something like ninety seconds. Naturally, Dolph gets his win back in similarly quick fashion via a backslide, despite having zero prior offence. Fifty-fifty booking with Miz: how Ziggler’s star has plummeted. Ranallo makes the quip that Miz could star in Gone in Sixty Seconds. I can’t find my copy of that film, but it was definitely here a minute ago.
Final Rating: DUD
Backstage, R Truth is in catering. He sees Goldust, whom he offended on RAW, and tries to make peace by completely flip-flopping on his attitude towards their potential as a tag team. Expect Golden Truth to be beating The Ascension and Social Outcasts within a fortnight before being relegated to Superstars. A sad-sack Goldust is particularly forlorn, expecting Truth to smash the plate of food in his face, so he reclaims the power and does it to himself. “Who’s the idiot now?” he asks. “Who’s the bigger idiot? That’s the better question,” says Lawler with the best sentence he’s spoken in over ten years.
Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks
There was no clear winner of their match on RAW, so they go again to determine the number one contender for Charlotte’s Divas Championship. The opening mat exchanges are exceptionally good, and the two ladies have great chemistry from working with and against each other on NXT. They put together what I dare say is one of the best women’s match on either RAW or SmackDown! since their call up to the main roster. The counters, reversals, and switches are all crisply executed, and the play on the fact that they know each other well. Of course, there has to be some sort of outside involvement, and it comes in the form of Charlotte taking her senile dad out for ringside stroll. Ric’s wearing a suit with slippers and no socks. I start to get even more concerned for his mental health when he gets out of his seat and starts some kind of dance and wooing routine that is reminiscent of Zoidberg’s mating ritual in front of the two competitors. Charlotte waffles them both for the DQ, leaving the number one contender spot still to be decided. This was heading toward a four-star TV match before the outside interference.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Video Control takes us to a RAW Exclusive, which is just a repeat of Bubba Ray vs. Jey Uso. That match has already been covered, but I want to bring up here how annoying I find these “RAW Exclusives.” There’s too many on the show, which takes away time that could be used to get the likes of Tyler Breeze or Damian Sandow back on TV. In this episode ofSmackDown! there is the aforementioned Dudley-Uso encounter, a full repeat of Ryback vs. Adam Rose, and Undertaker’s return. Fortunately, I watched a recorded version of the show, so I was able to skip through all this, but I think SmackDown! should be penalized star ratings for the amount of content that is just repeats of the crappy bits of RAW.
We then get a short VT for Luke Harper. Is he going solo again? I love Harper.
Backstage, Renee Young gets a word with Charlotte. She claims that neither Becky or Sasha (or, Sosha, as she pronounces it) deserves a shot at her title. Renee has breaking news, though: it’s going to be the triple threat match that everyone wants to see at WrestleMania. The only way to top that would be to throw Bayley into the mix.
Kofi Kingston vs. AJ Styles
A singles match ahead of the New Day vs. Y2AJ (horrible name, on a par with Jeri-Show) title match on next week’s RAW. Before the match, New Day get their customary promo.Xavier Woods addresses the League of Booty (I was hoping that their suggested feud had been quietly scrapped. Sadly not), while Kofi can’t get over the “scrumpdiddlyumptios delicious taste of Booty-O cereal.” Big E runs down “Trashlanta,” as does the native Woods.
AJ plants Kofi with a beauty of a dropkick early on, then makes a grab for Francesca II, with the distraction ultimately being enough for New Day to take advantage of the numbers game. Kofi one-ups Big E on the one-man Unicorn Stampede by actually getting in and out of the ring as if simulating multiple stampers! It’s the little touches. Kingston actually looks good against AJ. It’s not a match that I instantly thought of as potentially decent when AJ first signed on, but it could be quite the gem if given enough time to develop. Xavier and Big E try to get involved again after AJ plants Kofi with the Pelé kick, so the referee ejects them from ringside. They don’t even get to the aisle before AJ finishes with a springboard forearm. Fun little match.
Final Rating: ***
Video Control takes us to the Wyatt Family lair, where Bray talks in mythical riddles. At one point I think he might be referencing Dante’s vision of hell, but I can’t be sure. Without directly saying so, he’s challenging Brock Lesnar to a match at Roadblock. I think.
Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose
There’s been a few a matches between these two already, but unlike the usual effects of WWE overkill, I still want to see more. The basic story being told here is that Ambrose is battered and bruised, while Owens is a violent bastard who wants to capitalize on Dean’s injuries. It’s the perfect set up for the aggressive Owens. Ambrose, of course, doesn’t care how much he gets beat up because he’s just that crazy. As much as I love him, and I do, I sometimes wish he’d tone down the histrionics, though I’ve no doubt that his antics are a directive from above his head. There’s no subtlety when it comes to WWE characterization. Owens is in control for the most part, but gets caught out when he stops to mouth off at Ranallo and again when he tries to clear the announce desk in preparation to plant Ambrose through it. After a few counters of each other’s signature moves, Dean wins clean with Dirty Deeds. It makes Ambrose look strong going into his title match at Roadblock, which I guess was the point, but I am a little disappointed that Owens had to job cleanly. The curse of the Intercontinental Championship strikes again. This is one match that might’ve benefited from a DQ finish: for example, Owens could have attacked Ambrose with a chair, thus worsening and adding to his injuries ahead of Roadblock.
Final Rating: ***
THE SMACKDOWN RECAP
Most Entertaining: Kofi Kingston
Least Entertaining: Let’s split it four ways between Ziggler, Miz, Truth, and Goldust
Match of the Night: Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks
Summary: The primary goal was to keep Ambrose ticking over as a potential upset for the Heavyweight Championship at Roadblock, which was by and large achieved with the opening promo and his victory over Kevin Owens in the main event. I actually enjoyed four matches on this broadcast, where normally I feel lucky to have liked that many in a whole month. It’s still advisable to watch the show pre-recorded, though, so that you can skip through the RAW recapping and crappy filler.