Live from Nashville, Tennessee, this is Smackdown Live for episode #971. Follow me on Twitter @johnreport. Thanks to Melo Man for the banner up top.

The show began with Daniel Bryan, the Smackdown General Manager, making his entrance while the crowd chanted “yes” for him and cheered loudly for him like usual.

Let’s Hear From Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon

Bryan stood in the ring as the crowd chanted “Daniel Bryan” for him. Bryan welcomed the crowd to Smackdown Live and he introduced the Commissioner of Smackdown Live, Shane McMahon.

Shane McMahon made his entrance. The announce team of Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton and Corey Graves welcomed us to the show. It was Shane’s first time on Smackdown since the attack by Owens and Zayn three weeks ago.

Shane put over the crowd for being “live” tonight. Shane said that Bryan is a role model because he has fought and clawed his way to return to something that he believes in, which is competing in the ring. Shane congratulated Bryan for being medically cleared to do what he loves and what we all love to watch him do, which led to “yes” chants.

Shane said he couldn’t be more excited about Bryan’s return. Shane talked about how he’s had a rough three weeks because he was hospitalized with diverticulitis, staff infection and an umbilical hernia courtesy of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. Shane said he’s also been medically cleared. Was he ever really injured? I don’t think so. Shane said they will give it everything they have and that’s their promise this Sunday at WrestleMania.

Bryan spoke about how there is something he needs to address as a man and the General Manager of Smackdown Live. Some fans were chanting “what” like idiots while Bryan talked about the mistakes he made in the last six months due to his friendship with Sami and Kevin over the last 15 years. Bryan told Shane he was right all along about them, so he truly and deeply apologizes to him. Shane admitted he knows he can be a little hot headed and possibly stubborn. Bryan joked saying: “A McMahon stubborn? No?” Shane just stood there as if he forgot his line or he was waiting for Bryan to continue.

Bryan said he’s learned a lot of over the years and when a tag team or partners have their differences, there is really only one way to resolve it. Fans chanted “hug it out” for that. Shane said that he’s sorry to Bryan because ever since Kevin Owens injured his dad, he has been hot headed towards Bryan. Some fans booed that as Shane wanted a handshake. Maybe that was the line that Shane was supposed to say a minute earlier. Bryan told him he just shook his hands two minutes ago. Bryan said Nashville doesn’t want them to shake hands. Bryan asked them if they wanted to see Daniel and Shane “hug it out?” Fans chanted “yes” for that with Shane saying he’s not much of a hugger, but he appreciates it. Bryan and Shane hugged. The crowd cheered.

Shane said that the hug worked, so they are on the same page now. Bryan said them being on the same page is bad news for Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. Bryan said they’ll get payback for everything they have done. Shane said he’s looking forward to teaming up with Bryan and after WrestleMania, Sami and Kevin will not be seen in a Smackdown Live arena again. Bryan asked the crowd if they are ready to see Bryan and Shane beat the holy hell out of Sami and Kevin at WrestleMania. That led to the “yes” chants and the segment ended.

Analysis: It was a solid promo to open the show with Bryan and Shane settling their past issues for the common cause of wanting to beat Sami and Kevin at WrestleMania. Since the stipulation at WrestleMania is that Sami and Kevin must win to get their jobs back, I’m probably going to pick them to win with Shane turning heel on Bryan. It’s time to turn Shane heel because his face run has been boring. It also stacks the deck against Bryan, which is a story we know that WWE loves to do, so that’s where I think it’s going. I’ll get into it more when I write the preview later in the week.

Charlotte Flair, the Smackdown Women’s Champion, made her entrance. She is back after missing last week due to swelling after dental surgery. There was a split screen commercial showing a video about the Rousey/Angle vs. Stephanie/Triple H tag team match at WrestleMania.

The graphic reminded us that Charlotte defends the Smackdown Women’s Title against Asuka at WrestleMania on Sunday.

Natalya made her entrance. She beat Charlotte two weeks ago, so you can tell where this match result is going.

(Commercial)

Charlotte Flair vs. Natalya

This is not for Charlotte’s Smackdown Women’s Title.

Charlotte got a rollup for a two count early on. Natalya came back with a suplex followed by a side headlock. Charlotte got back to their feet and they did a double shoulder block, so the match was even again. Charlotte grabbed a headlock. Charlotte came back with another rollup. Charlotte stomped on Natalya in the corner followed by another two count. Charlotte did her move where she wraps her legs around the upper body of Natalya and flipped her around the ring. Natalya bailed to the floor. Charlotte went after her with a kick to the gut and two chops, but Natalya came back by shoving Charlotte into the ring post as the show went to break.

(Commercial)

Back from break, Natalya slapped on an abdominal stretch. Charlotte turned it into an abdominal stretch of her own. Natalya whipped Charlotte to the apron, Charlotte landed on her feet and kicked Natalya down. Charlotte went up top with Natalya slamming her off. That was a Ric Flair tribute sequence by Charlotte. Natalya slapped on a surfboard submission that she said on Twitter was a tribute to her late uncle Davey Boy Smith. Charlotte powered out of the hold. Charlotte several chops, neckbreaker and a running kick that knocked Natalya down. Delayed cover by Charlotte got a two count. Natalya jumped on Charlotte’s back, Charlotte ran across the ring and dropped to her butt to knock Natalya down. Charlotte went up top, she jumped off with the moonsault and Natalya got her knees up to block it. They did a double clothesline spot that knocked both women down. Carmella’s music hit as she ran down to the ring with the Money in the Bank briefcase along with a referee. Natalya rolled out of the ring. Charlotte kicked the briefcase out of the ring. Charlotte kicked Carmella down and out of the ring. Natalya back in with a rollup for two. Charlotte slapped on the Figure Eight submission to win the match after 13 minutes.

Winner by submission: Charlotte Flair

Analysis: **1/2 Good match as usual from them. They have wrestled so many times that it’s tough to come up with something fresh, but they are always able to put on a competitive match due to their rich history together. Charlotte getting the win made sense since she is in the title match on Sunday while Natalya is not. The spot with Carmella was a nice spot to do, but it made Carmella look like a loser like when they did it two weeks ago.

Charlotte celebrated with the Smackdown Women’s Title when Asuka’s music hit. Asuka got in the ring with Charlotte just five days before their WrestleMania match.

Asuka did a promo saying that at WrestleMania, the queen will bow down to the empress because…Charlotte took the microphone from her. Charlotte said she’s ready. Charlotte asked Asuka if she is ready. They both stared at the WrestleMania sign. They stared at eachother and that ended it.

Analysis: A quick promo to provide some final hype for their WrestleMania match. I think the build to their match could have been a lot better because there was not much to it in the last month. However, it doesn’t matter that much because they are going to have an awesome match on Sunday. I’m definitely picking Asuka to win.

AJ Styles was backstage talking about what Shinsuke Nakamura did last week when he teased the Kinshasa and tapped Styles on the head. Styles said that his emotions are not his weakness, they are a strength. Styles said he is the WWE Champion, they are far from the Tokyo Dome, this is a dream match and the reality is he’s going to beat Shinsuke Nakamura.

Coming up later: Styles and Nakamura vs. Gable and Benjamin.

A video about the Bryan/Shane vs. Owens/Zayn WrestleMania match is up next.

(Commercial)

The WrestleMania video aired. I’m getting sick of this song. It’s not bad. I’m just tired of hearing it so much. Anyway, five more days until WrestleMania from when Smackdown aired. It’s on Sunday.

The announcers set up the video package for the big tag team match at WrestleMania: Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.

The video package about the feud was excellent as usual. The video packages are a strength of WWE. They focused on Bryan announcing his return to the ring two weeks ago talking about how when you fight for your dreams, your dreams will fight for you. The video showed all the history between these guys over the last seven months when Owens attacked Vince McMahon, Zayn helped Owens beat Shane at Hell in a Cell and they cost Smackdown at Survivor Series. Meanwhile, Bryan did actions that favored Sami and Kevin at various times. It showed Owens and Zayn attacking Shane McMahon three weeks ago, so Daniel Bryan fired Owens and Zayn. That led to Owens and Zayn attacking Bryan. Last week on Smackdown, Bryan set up the WrestleMania match.

Bobby Roode made his glorious entrance to join commentary for the next match.

(Commercial)

Roode was shown at the commentary table for the next match.

Sunil Singh did an introduction for Jinder Mahal with Mahal making his entrance to not much of a reaction. Roode talked about how this will be the most glorious WrestleMania in history.

Aiden English had a special “Happy Rusev Day” microphone. English sang the introduction of Rusev while noting that today is…and the fans chanted “Rusev Day.” Then English said “Rusev Day.” Rusev made his entrance to mostly cheers.

The WrestleMania match is Randy Orton vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Bobby Roode vs. Rusev for the US Title.

Rusev (w/Aiden English) vs. Jinder Mahal (w/Sunil Singh)

The wrestlers locked up as Orton was watching on a TV backstage. Rusev took down Mahal, but Mahal escaped to the floor to avoid the Accolade attempt as the show went to break.

(Commercial)

Back from break, Mahal connected with a jumping knee to the face. Roode said he’s anxious and ready for WrestleMania while noting it was the biggest night of his career. Mahal with a neckbreaker followed by a knee drop. Mahal slapped on an armbar while fans chanted “Rusev Day” for Rusev. The match continued with Mahal slapping on another chinlock while a commercial aired for WrestleMania previewing the Reigns/Lesnar match. Rusev started his comeback with punches followed by two kicks to the chest. Rusev hit a back splash and a spin kick on Mahal for a two count while the WrestleMania video continued to air. The video stopped with Rusev setting up for the Accolade, but Mahal got to the ropes to avoid it. Mahal nailed a standing side kick for a two count. Rusev hit a knee to the gut followed by a roundhouse kick to the head. Singh was on the apron, so Rusev kicked him down. Mahal got a rollup for two. Rusev with punches followed by a Machka Kick for the pinfall win after about nine minutes of action.

Winner by pinfall: Rusev

Analysis: **1/4 It was a solid match that was done to give Rusev more momentum going into the US Title match after he got a big win last week as well. The finish could have been better because it came out of nowhere a bit too much. I would have had Mahal get a better nearfall or two to make it seem like he might win.

Rusev celebrated the win. As he was standing in the ring, Randy Orton appeared out of nowhere and dropped Rusev with a RKO out of nowhere. English attacked Orton from behind. English set up on the middle rope, so Roode shoved him off and Orton hit a RKO on English to take him out. Orton and Roode had a staredown in the ring with Roode handing Orton the US Title that belongs to Orton while fans chanted “Rusev Day.” They stared at the WrestleMania sign and then stared at eachother as Orton’s music played to end it.

Analysis: I am probably picking Rusev to win at WrestleMania especially since he was dropped for a RKO. It might even be Jinder Mahal since he just got beat on this show. That’s how WWE tends to book these things. Anyway, I’ll have more thoughts in the preview on Friday.

Shinsuke Nakamura did a brief sit-down interview. Nakamura said Styles is right if he thinks Nakamura is playing games, but Nakamura takes it very seriously. Nakamura said he came to America for one reason…WrestleMania. Nakamura said he didn’t take Styles lightly, he said he knows him well and he knows Styles is very emotional, so he will make a mistake and when he does, Nakamura becomes WWE Champion with the knee to face.

Still to come: Styles and Nakamura vs. Gable and Benjamin.

(Commercial)

There was a Hungry for Mania moment brought to us by Snickers. It showed highlights of Shawn Michaels beating Ric Flair at WrestleMania 24 (read my review here) in 2008 to retire Flair. It was a very emotional match with the “I’m sorry, I love you” moment as Michaels superkicked Flair and pinned him to win. It was Flair’s last WWE match, but he did wrestle elsewhere after that.

Promos aired for the Mixed Match Challenge Finals: Charlotte Flair and Bobby Roode vs. Asuka and The Miz. I’ll have a review up on TJRWrestling at some point on Wednesday.

The New Day trio of Big E, Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston were backstage talking about how WrestleMania is free for new subscribers. They made the point to mention you can watch on any device. The Usos walked in carrying the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. The Usos welcomed them to The Usos penitentiary. The Bludgeon Brothers showed up behind them with their mallets. Harper smashed the camera or at least that was the idea and that ended it.

Analysis: Those three teams should have a good match at WrestleMania. It would have been nice if it was a Ladder Match or TLC or something to allow them to stand out more.

A bunch of midcarders were in the ring for a tag match to set up the Andre the Giant battle royal at WrestleMania on the Kickoff Show.

Mojo Rawley, Dolph Ziggler, Primo and Baron Corbin vs. Zack Ryder, Fandango, Tyler Breeze and Tye Dillinger

Ryder nailed a missile dropkick on Rawley early on. All eight guys went into the ring at the same time, so that led to a break.

(Commercial)

Back from break, the heels were in control as they worked over Dillinger. Rawley sent Dillinger into the turnbuckle and wanted a Spear, but Dillinger avoided him. Fandango tagged in against Primo with punches followed by two clotheslines. Fandango hit a sitout suplex for a two count as Ziggler broke out the pin. Ryder with a clothesline that sent Ziggler over the top to the floor. Fandango sent Corbin out of the ring. Ryder with a Rough Ryder on Rawley, Primo clothesline sent Ryder out of the ring, Dillinger sent Primo out of the ring and Ziggler with a hurricanrana that sent Dillinger out of the ring. Breeze with a superkick that sent Ziggler out of the ring. Corbin launched Breeze over the top and onto the other wrestlers on the floor. Fandango rollup on Corbin for two. Corbin hit End of Days on Fandango to get the win for his team after six minutes.

Winners by pinfall: Mojo Rawley, Dolph Ziggler, Primo and Baron Corbin

Analysis: *3/4 It was just a match to get midcard wrestlers on the show to try to make people care about the Andre Battle Royal at WrestleMania. Corbin getting the win was the obvious decision since he is the most pushed guy of everybody in the match except maybe Ziggler.

The announcers went over the WrestleMania lineup. The full card is listed at the bottom of this post.

Styles and Nakamura vs. Gable and Benjamin is up next.

A commercial aired for the Andre the Giant documentary that debuts on HBO next Tuesday April 10 at 10pmET. That should be awesome.

(Commercial)

There was a cell phone promo from the duo of Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin talking about the main event with the dreaded WORDS ON THE SCREEN during the promo.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn showed up in their street clothes with Owens wearing a KO-Mania III shirt. They stood on the announce table, so the WrestleMania sign was in the camera shot the entire time. Owens said even though they are fired it is still the Sami and Kevin Show. Owens said that WrestleMania will still be the Sami and Kevin Show. Zayn said they need to apologize to some people, but not to Daniel Bryan. Zayn said they need to apologize to Brie and Bryan’s daughter Birdie because of what they do to Bryan at WrestleMania. Zayn said that all their love and support won’t be enough to put Bryan back together. As they spoke, the WrestleMania sign was in the background. They mocked Bryan for his inspirational “fight for your dreams” speech. They bragged about how they are going to obliterate Bryan and Shane. Owens said that will be their WrestleMania moment. Zayn said it doesn’t matter if you boo because they (Sami and Kevin) deserve it speaking of their moment.

Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan were shown watching on TV backstage. They walked off together.

Owens continued saying that on Sunday, he’s going to send Shane back to Titan Tower to cry on his daddy’s lap and see the scar that Owens put on Vince’s forehead. Owens said that once again Shane will fail. Owens’ microphone shut off along with Sami’s, so they left through the crowd while security guys showed up at ringside. Owens and Zayn went up the stairs.

Shane and Daniel appeared on the stage. Bryan asked the camera guys to get cameras on these guys as they stood in the crowd. Bryan told the fans to get their cameras on Zayn and Owens because this is the very last time we will see Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens on Smackdown Live. Shane started singing “na na na na hey hey goodbye” with the crowd joining in. Owens and Zayn left up the stairs. Bryan’s music played to end it.

Analysis: It was a solid promo segment that was done to add some more heat to the big tag match at WrestleMania. It is one of my favorite matches at WrestleMania this year, so I’m glad Owens and Zayn were given a chance to talk before the match. If we’re being picky I could complain that two fired guys shouldn’t be on the show, but I think the explanation is that Shane and Daniel wanted to let them speak before cutting their microphones off.

Still to come is Styles and Nakamura vs. Gable and Benjamin.

(Commercial)

The announcers shilled all the content that’s coming during WrestleMania week.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable made their entrance for the main event. There was not much of a reaction for them. People know their roles in this match.

Shinsuke Nakamura made his entrance to a big ovation like usual. AJ Styles, the WWE Champion, was up next as Nakamura’s partner in this match and his opponent at WrestleMania on Sunday.

AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

Nakamura and Gable did some mat wrestling early on. Gable tripped up Nakamura and slapped on an armbar. Nakamura applied an armbar, fans chanted “AJ Styles” and Nakamura tagged in Styles by tapping him on the head. Styles argued with him about it. Gable and Benjamin took advantage by attacking both guys. Gable stomped away on Styles in the corner as the show went to break two minutes into the match.

(Commercial)

The match returned with Styles hitting a kick on Gable and then tagging in Nakamura against Benjamin. Running kick by Nakamura on Benjamin, kick to the back of Gable and an enziguri kick on Benjamin. Gable tagged in, Nakamura didn’t see it and Benjamin hit a knee on Nakamura for two. Gable hit a moonsault off the top onto Nakamura for a two count. That was a great sequence. As Gable slapped on an armbar, a split screen showed a preview clip of Asuka and Charlotte Flair leading into their WrestleMania match. Back to the match, Gable hit a bridging German Suplex on Nakamura on two. Benjamin slapped on an armbar on Nakamura. Benjamin grounded Nakamura with a chinlock. Nakamura got back to his feet, knee to the ribs, Benjamin avoided a kick and Benjamin hit a spin kick on Nakamura. When Benjamin charged in, Nakamura countered with a jumping side kick that knocked Benjamin down. Styles got the hot tag against Gable with punches as well as a clothesline and a Pele Kick on Benjamin as well. Gable with an inside cradle got two. Styles hit the fireman’s carry into a neckbreaker. Styles stared at Nakamura. Styles jumped to the apron and hit a Phenomenal Forearm right in front of Nakamura leading to the pinfall by Styles on Gable. It went about 12 minutes.

Winners by pinfall: AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura

Analysis: *** It was a good tag match by four terrific in-ring performers. The result of the match was no surprise, which hurt the match since the fans didn’t react much to Gable and Benjamin on offense. It was just a match that was done to give Nakamura and Styles a test heading into their WrestleMania match on Sunday. I liked the finish with Styles staring at Nakamura followed by the Phenomenal Forearm that was a message to Nakamura about what might happen at WrestleMania.

Post match, Styles got the WWE Championship and held it up in the air. Nakamura stood in the ring while Styles was on the floor, so Benjamin attacked Nakamura from behind. Nakamura fought off Benjamin with knees and kicks that sent Benjamin out of the ring. Styles jumped off the top rope looking like he was going for a forearm, but Nakamura crouched down to avoid it. Styles stopped himself. Styles patted Nakamura on the head. That was a payback for last week when Nakamura teased a Kinshasa and then did the tap on the head.

A replay aired of Styles hitting the incredible Phenomenal Forearm to win the match as well as the tease of a forearm on Nakamura after the match.

The show ended with Styles and Nakamura staring at eachother as a final moment between the two men that will clash for the WWE Championship on Sunday.

Analysis: The build to Nakamura vs. Styles has been typical of what WWE does to set up face vs. face matches where it’s a case of one guy trying to outdo the other. I’m excited about this match on Sunday and I’m definitely picking Nakamura to leave WrestleMania as the WWE Champion.

 

Three Stars of the Show

1. AJ Styles

2. Shinsuke Nakamura

3. (tie) Charlotte Flair

3. (tie) Natalya

 

The Scoreboard

6.5 out of 10

Last week: 6.5

2018 Average: 6.04

Last 5 Weeks: 6.5, 7, 5.5, 6, 6.5

2018 High: 7.5 (January 23)

2018 Low: 4.5 (January 2 and January 9)

 

Final Thoughts

It gets a 6.5 out of 10.

The show was slightly better than my average score of the year due to some good matches most of the night, the opening promo was fine and I liked the appearance from Owens/Zayn as well. The lack of great heels on Smackdown does hurt a bit, but I expect some turns coming at WrestleMania as well.

I’ll have plenty of more thoughts in the WrestleMania preview that will be posted on Friday.

The next WWE PPV is WrestleMania 34 on April 8. Here’s the lineup.

Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns

WWE Championship: AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

Triple H and Stephanie McMahon vs. Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey

Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon vs. Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens (If Zayn/Owens lose they are still fired, but if they win they get their jobs back.)

Smackdown Women’s Championship: Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka

Intercontinental Championship: The Miz vs. Finn Balor vs. Seth Rollins

United States Championship: Randy Orton vs. Bobby Roode vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Rusev

Raw Tag Team Championships: Sheamus & Cesaro vs. Braun Strowman and ???

Raw Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss vs. Nia Jax

Smackdown Tag Team Championships: The Usos vs. The Bludgeon Brothers vs. The New Day

Andre the Giant Men’s Battle Royal (Kickoff Match)

WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal (Kickoff Match)

Cruiserweight Championship: Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali (Kickoff Match)

John Cena vs. The Undertaker? (Maybe.)

That’s all for now. Go Toronto Raptors, Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Blue Jays.

My contact info is below. Thanks for reading.

John Canton

Email mrjohncanton@gmail.com

Twitter @johnreport

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