Liam Hoofe reviews this week’s edition of SmackDown Live…
This week’s SmackDown began in a way that many modern wrestling shows don’t – with an actual wrestling match. Xavier Woods and The New Day cut a brief promo before Jinder Mahal and The Singh Brothers made their way to the ring for the US Title Semi-Final match between Woods and Mahal. The two competitors, especially Woods, have done a great job at hyping this match over the last week or so, with Woods attacking Mahal across all social media platforms. It’s easy to forget that the three New Day members all are talented as single performers sometimes. As matches go, though, this one didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Jinder was booked to dominate the majority of the bout and his slow, methodical wrestling approach is just not that entertaining. Mahal has come a long way in terms of sheer ring presence though, and he feels much more natural in this position on the card than he ever did in the main event. Woods gets in a few near falls but Mahal progresses after hitting the Khallas. One thing I do like about Jinder is that his finisher has been well protected, it’s a rarity these days. (Match Rating: ** 1/2)
We see a twitter video from Baron Corbin talking about he is going to win the Royal Rumble, the first of many of these we will see during this week’s SmackDown.
AJ Styles is being interviewed backstage about his upcoming Rumble match. AJ says he will do anything to defeat Sami and Kevin, who he begins calling ‘Kami’. He tells Renee Young that SmackDown isn’t the ‘Kami Show’, it’s the house that AJ Styles built. Amusing little promo for AJ here.
Bobby Roode Vs Mojo Rawley in the US tournament’s other semi-final is next. The two men go at it in a fairly intense encounter. Mojo is really working as a heel, what was once an annoying amount of energy is now an effective piece of heel aggression and hopefully, he sticks around this mid-card scene once the tournament is done. The match was fairly hard-hitting and Mojo got to look good, despite Roode beating him with the Glorious DDT. Again, like The Khallas, I like the fact that Roode’s finisher actually finishes matches, so kudos for that. This was a good television match overall. (Match Rating: ***)
After the match, Roode is celebrating when The Singh Brothers attack him from behind and Jinder comes out on the ramp. Jinder talks some rubbish before Roode challenges him to the US title bout tonight. The crowd pop but Mahal says no, only to turn away and be told by Daniel Bryan that yes, the US title match will be tonight’s main event.
The next Royal Rumble video is from Randy Orton, and it’s a little, well, awkward. Orton is kinda holding the camera to close to his face, like a middle-aged dad taking a selfie for his Facebook profile picture. Meh, I guess these are allowing the in-ring matches time to shine this week so I can’t complain. Orton talks about becoming the first man to win three Rumbles. Please don’t do that to us, WWE.
It’s the women’s time to shine next, and Charlotte, Becky, and Naomi are up against The Riott Squad in a 6 women tag match, again. This was a solid bout and for once, The Riott Squad actually looked fairly strong this week and they played the heel role in the match well, focusing their attention on individual wrestlers and doing it with a lot of aggression. They felt like a cohesive unit this week and they should have been booked like this from the start. The Riott Squad picked up the victory after Liv Morgan took out Naomi. This was a good match, probably one of the better matches The Riott Squad have been involved in. (Match Rating: ** 3/4)
The Usos are being interviewed backstage when Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin attack them from behind. Not really much to say about that. The feud is fine, it just hasn’t exactly enticed me in the way that The Usos feud with The New Day did.
Last video package of the night is from Shinsuke, which is equally as awkward as Randy’s. Man, I hope he wins though.
The US Title match is up to close the show. Shane and Bryan are at ringside and Shane McMahon manages to resist getting on a microphone, which instantly elevates this above any episode of SmackDown we’ve seen in the last month or so. Roode and Mahal get given quite a bit of time here and the match itself is solid. Roode is an excellent worker and as I’ve mentioned, Jinder has definitely improved between the ropes, at least from a character perspective. Jinder dominates a lot of the action but Roode does a great job of making him look good. The two go back and forth and attempt their finishers before Roode finally manages to hit the Glorious DDT for the victory. (Match Rating: ***) SmackDown closes with Roode celebrating with his title. Does this mean Ziggler will be back next week? Wouldn’t rule it out now.
Verdict: It makes for a refreshing change for a wrestling show to be solely based on the wrestling. Every match was given plenty of time here and while none of the matches were spectacular, they ranged from average to good and it was an easy 2 hours of television. The US title getting plenty of focus was nice but the Rumble videos were pretty terrible. The only real issue here is that, with the Rumble being so close, they could have done with building towards it a little more. Regardless, credit to them for giving us an out and out wrestling show for once.
Mixed Match Challenge: Sasha Banks and Finn Balor Vs Natalya and Shinsuke Nakamura
Instead of posting a separate article for just one match, I will share my thoughts on the week’s Mixed Match Challenge following my Smackdown review. The first match of the tournament was Finn Balor and Sasha Banks versus Shinsuke Nakamura and Natalya and, well, they actually pulled it off. The talent involved in this match was great and the fans really got into the bout. Seeing Finn and Shinsuke in a ring together was cool but Sasha and Natalya more than did their part. I enjoyed Sasha squaring up to Shinsuke and they didn’t go down the usual route, of the men protecting the women or the women just slapping the men, which made for a refreshing change.
Finn and Sasha picked up the victory after a really fun encounter and the crowd were really into them as a team. The duo have great chemistry in the ring and if the WWE can’t find a direction for Sasha in the coming months, I’d have no issue with her joining The Balor Club once this is finished. (Match Rating: *** 1/4) Next week- Asuka and The Miz Vs Big E and Carmella. After this match, The Miz and Asuka aired a video where they said they would be called ‘Awe-Suka’ and I can’t help but think WWE have chucked some of these teams together just so they came up with good team names for them.
What did you think of SmackDown, and The Mixed Match Challenge? Let us know in the comments below, and let Liam know on Twitter @liamhoofe