Liam Hoofe with a round-up of this week’s SmackDown Live…
AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura
Now AJ Styles has dealt with the rest of the SmackDown roster, he shifted his focus this week to his big showdown in New Orleans with Shinsuke Nakamura. AJ began the night by cutting a promo about Mania, which brought his opponent for the event down to the ring. AJ took most of the mic-time here and did an excellent job at building the duo’s encounter. Shinsuke doesn’t need to say much as the feud builds, and the WWE clearly plan on having him do that just that.
This all led to a match between AJ and Rusev, which was a really good opening match to the show. AJ picked up the victory but Rusev and Aiden attacked him afterward, which led Shinsuke to run in and make the save.
Backstage after the match, AJ told Shinsuke he didn’t need help and Shinsuke told him that he will continue to help him, to make sure he is in the best shape possible for when Shinsuke beats him at Mania. All of this was great, and having the two play into the mutual respect angle is exactly what this match-up deserves. Hopefully, they continue in this vein and don’t lay a hand on each other until WrestleMania.
After the assault by The Bludgeon Brothers at Fastlane, The New Day and The Usos were depleted on this week’s episode of SmackDown, leaving just Big E and Jimmy Uso to defend their team’s honour. The two men decided that they would put their differences aside to take down their common enemy. Of course, this didn’t work out, as the Bludgeon Brothers laid waste to them in a matter of minutes, continuing to brutally assault them after the final bell.
This was a great way of building up this feud for WrestleMania. It was something different and it really sold both the Bludgeon Brothers and the damage they did at Fastlane. With their gimmick being so silly, it’s easy to forget just how talented Harper and Rowan are in the ring, and their match at WrestleMania should be a cracker.
Some pay-off, finally
To end this week’s show, Shane McMahon came to the ring and announced that firstly, he would be taking some time off as commissioner after this week’s episode, and secondly, that Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens would be going one on one with each other at WrestleMania.
Zayn and Owens, who have been at each other’s throats for weeks, came down to the ring and revealed that, of course, they were still on the same page. The duo laid waste to McMahon, smashing him into a turnbuckle with a chair around his neck, before dragging his lifeless body backstage and powerbombing him onto some equipment.
This was a great segment, and finally, give this angle some life. Kevin and Sami are excellent heels and this is now likely going to lead to a tag team match at this year’s WrestleMania.
The Queen Vs The Empress
Asuka’s surprise appearance at the end of the Women’s title match at Fastlane was one of the show’s best moments, and the two continued to build hype for their WrestleMania match when Asuka made her debut on SmackDown this week.
Their time in the ring this week was brief, with Asuka only dropping one line, but just seeing the two share a ring is enough to get me excited for their match. Charlotte really sold the match well here and these two could potentially steal the show at WrestleMania.
Bobby Roode and Randy Orton had a solid, though not particularly spectacular match for the US title at Fastlane this past weekend, and Bobby Roode looks set to use his rematch clause to challenge for the belt once again at Mania. Except for this time, it looks as though Jinder Mahal is going to be involved in the match as well.
Jinder continued his reign of terror in the division by this week defeating Bobby Roode on SmackDown, before being laid out by an RKO from Randy Orton. Jinder and Orton have a terrible record in the ring together, a solo match between Orton and Roode, with a little better build, would be much preferred at WrestleMania.
Carmella Vs Naomi
Carmella and Naomi had a match on this week’s SmackDown and Carmella won. It was terrible. Like, seriously, really rubbish. The WWE is clearly trying to remind us that Carmella still has the briefcase so she can potentially cash in at Mania, but sadly, her run with the briefcase has really not been that great. She hasn’t particularly improved in the ring, and her character hasn’t developed much in the slightest. It’s a shame, but having her cash in on Asuka and losing at Mania is the best move right now.
Verdict: Fastlane was a surprisingly enjoyable PPV, and SmackDown continued in that vein with this week’s episode, which was the brand’s best this side of the Royal Rumble. AJ Vs Shinsuke and Charlotte Vs Asuka are set to be two of the best matches at WrestleMania, and I’m really enjoying the direction they’ve taken the tag team feud in. The Shane angle finally looks as though it is going to have some sort of pay off, meaning the whole brand can move from out of its shadow. Overall, I really enjoyed this week’s SmackDown, let’s hope they can keep this up as we continue on the road to WrestleMania.