Tampa, FL played host to the latest episode of WWE SmackDown. AJ Styles made his debut on the blue brand, Kalisto and Neville wrestled a thriller for the United States Championship and, ahead of their clash at Fastlane, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns were on the same side against the Wyatt Family. It’s the SmackDown Report…
New Day opened the show, following a seemingly endless recap of Raw, and trashed The Rock for the comments he made on Monday. For some reason, the Miz then turned up and cut a promo with New Day. This eventually brought out Rock’s cousins The Usos, who were soon joined by Titus O’Neil and Dolph Ziggler for a bizarre impromptu tag bout.
1. New Day and Miz vs. Usos, Dolph Ziggler and Titus O’Neil
This was a very standard tag team match, featuring the usual issue of there being far too many bodies in the ring. It was also hurt by the fact that we’ve seen New Day vs. The Usos on countless occasions over the past month. Big E, however, continues to be an absolute force of nature and elevates the action every time he gets in the ring. After the inevitable breakdown of order, Miz fell victim to a Ziggler superkick and Clash of the Titus to lose the match for the tag champs. It’s time for the tag team champions to start winning on television because, as of right now, their lengthy title reign still looks like something of a joke, regardless of how entertaining they are.
2. United States Championship: Kalisto (c) vs. Neville
On paper, this could have been a classic of a match. Kalisto and Neville are WWE’s two most impressive high-flyers, with the former in particular the first natural successor to Rey Mysterio. The match got out of the gate quickly, with some impressive acrobatic exchanges, culminating in a nasty hurricanrana to Neville against the barricade. A subsequent ad break really hurt the momentum of the match, but the highspots came thick and fast. Kalisto was able to retain his title after countering a deadlift German suplex into Salida Del Sol. There was a respectful handshake after the match but, if WWE is looking for a dance partner for Kalisto from now until WrestleMania, they could do a lot worse than The Man That Gravity Forgot.
3. Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel
Chris Jericho, in classy fashion, put over AJ Styles at the start of this segment, congratulating the WWE newbie for his victory on Raw. He introduced Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose as his guests ahead of their triple threat match, also involving Brock Lesnar, at Fastlane. The banter was initially friendly, but began to take a more aggressive and competitive turn when Reigns began to warn a cocksure Ambrose not to underestimate the sheer destructive power of Lesnar. This was a compelling tease of trouble in paradise between the brothers and arms that could work towards an interesting dynamic at Fastlane. Just as things were about to get serious, The Wyatt Family appeared on the ramp. There was some brief back and forth, before Wyatt challenged the three men in the ring to a six-man tag team match in the SmackDown main event.
4. AJ Styles vs. Curtis Axel
The Social Outcasts cut a brief promo before the match, in which they trashed AJ Styles for putting an end to Curtis Axel’s year-long run in the Royal Rumble. When the Phenomenal One arrived, he was surprisingly pushed a little by Axel, who controlled huge parts of the match due to interference from his buddies at ringside. Eventually, though, Axel fell victim to the Styles Clash. It’s good to see Styles being booked as a top star and it’s equally nice that he has retained the finisher that gives him real edge.
5. Charlotte vs. Natalya
Given the chemistry these two women showed when they clashed at the first NXT TakeOver event in 2014, it was little surprise that this was a solid match, despite the limited amount of time the competitors were given. They fought a technically sound, submission-based battle in which Nattie was forced on several occasions to fend off interference from Ric Flair at ringside. It was this interference that allowed Charlotte to lock in the Figure Eight. Nattie tried to fight it off, but eventually tapped out to the champion. She applied the hold again after the bell, but Becky Lynch surged into the ring to make the save. It’s encouraging to see Lynch continuing to be involved with Charlotte, as it seemed likely that she would be sidelined following the return of Sasha Banks.
There was another strange segment in which Goldust joined R-Truth for a run and again tried to recruit him as a tag team partner. This could be a really fun use of two of WWE’s best comedy performers.
6. The Wyatt Family vs. Chris Jericho, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns
For all of the solid work WWE has done with SmackDown since its move to the USA Network, they have completely failed to put together convincing main events. The same issue plagued them here, with six talented performers being asked to work a hopelessly generic six-man match in which no one was really given the chance to shine. Very little was made of the fact that Chris Jericho was actually working a bout on SmackDown and Bray Wyatt looked rather toothless. The match ultimately came to a disappointing end when Braun Strowman illegally got involved. A post-bell beatdown ensued, which was interrupted by Big Show, who teased tension with Strowman, pointing to what will almost certainly be the worst match on the Fastlane card. He then teamed up with Reigns, Ambrose and Jericho to force the Wyatts to the back. It seems Show and Reigns have forgotten that they spent most of 2014 and indeed 2015 trying to kick the bejeezus out of each other.
Other than the distinctly flat main event, this was yet another successful episode of SmackDown. Fewer segments than usual allowed the show to breathe and some of the in-ring action really delivered. It seems as if a lot of the roster is in a holding pattern waiting for their WrestleMania feud, so WWE’s next step needs to be to step away from the main event picture for a while in order to set some balls rolling elsewhere on the card.
Tom Beasley – Follow me on Twitter for movies, wrestling and jokes about David Cameron.