Live from Orlando, Florida this is Smackdown Live for episode #958. Follow me on Twitter @johnreport. Please check out my WWE News updates Monday to Friday exclusively on TJRWrestling for all the relevant WWE news and my thoughts on everything going on. Thanks to Melo Man for the banner up top.
The show began with a recap of last week’s Smackdown when Kevin Owens beat WWE Champion AJ Styles in a non-title match thanks to a distraction from Sami Zayn and also Shane McMahon, who Styles wasn’t pleased with.
Coming up is Styles vs. Zayn non-title and The Usos vs. Gable/Benjamin for the SD Tag Team Titles.
Let’s Hear From AJ Styles
AJ Styles made his entrance to a big ovation with the WWE Title around his waist. Styles wished us a Happy New Year, a welcome to the first Smackdown Live and the house that AJ Styles built. Loud “AJ Styles” chant for the champ.
Styles said it’s a new year with a new chance for new beginnings. Styles talked about how he’s sure there are superstars on Raw and Smackdown making New Year’s Resolutions about going all the way in the Royal Rumble match. Styles talked about his resolution where he will carry the WWE Championship to WrestleMania and walk out of the main event still the WWE Champion. Styles added that his second New Year’s Resolution is to beat Sami Zayn tonight.
Styles wondered if the same man that allowed Zayn in Kevin Owens’ corner will also allow Owens in Zayn’s corner. Zayn said that same man said he would answer that right here tonight.
Daniel Bryan, Smackdown’s General Manager, made his entrance to a big ovation from the crowd along with the “yes” chants. Before Bryan could say anything, Shane McMahon’s music hit.
Shane McMahon, Smackdown’s Commissioner, joined Styles and Bryan in the ring. Shane shook the hands of Bryan and Styles.
Shane said he had the best intentions last week when he came down to the ring as the crowd chanted “Shane O Mac” for him. Then they chanted for Daniel Bryan. Shane said he asked the referee to eject Sami Zayn during the match last week. Shane talked about how we would rather see a matchup determined by ability rather than distractions and interference. Shane added that his presence may have led to AJ’s defeat, so Shane apologized to him. Styles was cool with it.
Shane noted that for several months, people think that Shane has legitimate issues with Owens and Zayn. Shane said he believes Bryan has a kinship with Owens and Zayn. Shane wondered why Bryan would let Zayn come down to ringside last week. Shane asked Bryan if he is turning the “Yes Movement” into the “Yep Movement.” Bryan tried to talk, but Shane cut him off. Shane said that if Kevin Owens is going to be in Sami Zayn’s corner, then Shane is going to be at ringside during the match too.
Bryan told Shane that’s not what he was thinking, but if Shane will be there then they might as well have Kevin Owens there too. Bryan added that if Shane and Owens are at ringside then Bryan will be at ringside too. Shane said they’ll start 2018 with a bang and Bryan led the crowd in “yes” chants.
Analysis: It was a typical opening segment where they reminded us of what happened last week and then announced the three guys at ringside for the main event. That could have been done in about one minute, but WWE is incapable of making things brief, so it took about 13 minutes to get through it all. I like all three guys, but it’s not like that was some big announcement that needed that much time.
The announce team of Tom Phillips, Corey Graves and Byron Saxton welcomed us to the show. They talked about matches to come including Aiden English vs. Xavier Woods in the US Title tournament. Tag Team title match is up next.
Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin made their entrance. They are now heels although it was not a major turn.
The Usos made their entrance as the Smackdown Tag Team Champions. They are now faces. Jimmy started with a promo talking about how Gable and Benjamin had a New Year’s Resolution about being SD Tag Team Champions. Jey said they are soon to be the three-time tag team of the year, the boys that have been down since day one, that grind 365 days of the year, the five-time tag team champions and they welcomed us to the Uso Penitentiary.
Smackdown Tag Team Championships: The Usos (Jimmy & Jey) vs. Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin
Jimmy started with Benjamin. Jimmy nailed a punch, but Benjamin came back with a suplex off the top rope. Gable nailed a moonsault on Jimmy for a two count as Jey made the save. Break time although I think it aired during the commercial in the US, but not here in Canada because we get commercials.
Back from break, Jimmy broke free of Gable and Jey got the hot tag. Jey sent Benjamin to the floor and Jey hit a dive to take out Benjamin. Jey sent Gable out of the ring and hit a dive over the top to take out Gable as well. Benjamin pulled Jey out of the ring and threw him into the barricade. Benjamin with a knee to the face of Jimmy to block an attack to the floor. Benjamin held up Jimmy in a Powerbomb position and Gable with the top rope clothesline for the pinfall win. New Tag Team Champions. It only went about six minutes.
Winners but not official: Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable
Another ref ran down to the ring. A replay aired of what happened. The referee told the ring announcer that the legal men were not in the ring, so the restarted the match. Gable and Benjamin were mad about it as the show went to break.
Analysis: That’s a Dusty Finish named after Dusty Rhodes because it’s the kind of finish he would book often where the result was reversed. It’s not that common in WWE, so I don’t mind it.
Smackdown Tag Team Championships: The Usos (Jimmy & Jey) vs. Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin – Part 2
The match restarted with Jey hitting Benjamin with a Samoan Drop. Gable provided a distraction. Benjamin with a rollup on Jey for a two count. Benjamin with a Spinebuster. Gable went for a double team move off the top, but Jimmy was waiting and nailed a superkick. Jey and Jimmy nailed a double superkick on Benjamin. Jey went up top and hit a Superfly Splash on Benjamin to win the match after two minutes.
Winners by pinfall: The Usos
Analysis: **1/2 That rating is for the whole thing. It was a big angle to set up the story of The Usos retaining their titles leading to Gable and Benjamin having something legitimate to complain about in the future. I thought a title change was possible, but I don’t mind seeing The Usos still as champions. It would have been nice if they just had a competitive match for 13 minutes and had The Usos retain, but I don’t mind that angle that much since it is rare to see in WWE. The complaint is that replays are ignored for nearly every match, yet in this match they went to replay. Plenty of heels win by cheating and results are not reversed, so why now? Don’t expect WWE to answer that. It’s just how they booked this segment.
Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens were shown walking backstage when Renee Young showed up to interview them. Owens pointed out differences from last week compared to today. Owens said last week he beat AJ Styles and tonight, Sami Zayn will beat AJ Styles. Zayn said that Shane McMahon is accusing Daniel Bryan for having favoritism, but Zayn noted that Bryan is being a good GM. Owens said that his best friend Zayn is going to destroy the house that AJ Styles built brick by brick and beats the WWE Champion. Zayn ended it with a “yep.” They left.
Analysis: An entertaining promo from the Sami and Kevin Show like usual.
Later: Tamina, Natalya & Carmella vs. Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan & Liv Morgan. Up next is Breezango vs. Bludgeon Brothers again.
A commercial aired for Raw 25 on January 22.
The Breezango duo were in the ring for their tag team match. They face The Bludgeon Brothers again.
The bell didn’t even ring as The Bludgeon Brothers attacked. Rowan nailed a splash on Breeze. Harper with a corner splash on Fandango and cross body attack by Rowan on Fandango.
The Ascension ran down to the ring. Konnor was knocked off the apron. Bludgeon Brothers did their double team slam on Viktor to end it.
Analysis: A quick segment to put over The Bludgeon Brothers. It’s not much of a storyline they have going on although they are being booked strong every week.
There was a shot in the locker room with Xavier Woods joined by New Day buddies Big E and Kofi Kingston beside him. Woods was blindfolded because they had a gift. Woods predicted a 2018 tray of pancakes while noting he had Lasik eye operation so that’s why he could see. Woods noted that if he wins the US Title they are all US Champions. They wanted Woods to blow out a candle to make a wish. Rusev and Aiden English showed up with English said he wishes every day was Rusev Day. English said he’s going to pin Woods and move on to become US Champion. Rusev complained about their gear, the fluffy pancakes and Rusev blew out the candle. Woods was mad because it was his wish.
Analysis: It was not as good as some of their other segments together. There wasn’t much to it.
Mojo Rawley did a quick promo talking about beating Zack Ryder next week in the US Title tournament.
Analysis: They wrestled in the dark match with Rawley winning and was going to be on this show, but it got bumped to next week.
Rusev and Aiden English were in the ring. The “Rusev Day” chants were strong. Rusev sang about how English is going to bring a victory to Rusev Day.
Analysis: The singing wasn’t that great, but he tried. Rusev is awesome.
Xavier Woods entered with Big E, Kofi Kingston and some pancakes as well.
US Title Tournament: Xavier Woods (w/Kofi Kingston & Big E) vs. Aiden English (w/Rusev)
The action spilled to the floor early on with English sending Woods into the steel steps. The trio of Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers were watching on a TV backstage because Mahal gets the winner of this match. English slapped on a chinlock. Woods with an arm drag followed by a superkick. Both guys were down selling. Woods took control with chops, English with a kick to the gut and Woods slammed English off his shoulders with a double knee to the back for a two count. Nice move. Woods got a rollup for two, English rolled up for two of his own. English put Woods on his shoulders and hit a sitout slam for a two count. They did a spot on the turnbuckle where Woods hit a back body drop out of the corner. Woods walked the ropes and hit a flying elbow drop for the pinfall win after six minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Xavier Woods
Analysis: **1/2 That was a fun match with some believable nearfalls for both guys. I liked the big moves that each guy hit to nearly win the match. Since neither guy wins a lot of singles matches, the crowd bought into it well. Woods winning made sense since he makes more sense against the heel Mahal next round.
Woods moves on to face Jinder Mahal in the semifinals.
Post match, Woods celebrated the win with Kingston while Big E threw pancakes at the announcers.
Natalya, Carmella, Tamina and Lana were interviewed by Dasha Fuentes in the interview area. Natalya talked about how they were feeling pretty good after taking out The Riott Squad last week. Natalya noted that the Welcoming Committee was there before The Riott Squad. Carmella, Lana and Tamina each offered their take with Tamina only saying “and that was foolish.” Natalya ended with some more trash talk.
Analysis: Way to give Tamina just four words. Good strategy. Can Lana dump the Russian accent? It’s kinda pointless when they air Total Divas commercials all the time with her talking in her normal voice. I know it doesn’t matter either way. I’m just saying things like that should matter.
There was a shot of NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone at ringside. HE’s got a white beard now. You may remember him in wrestling from doing some big matches in WCW about 20 years ago.
The foursome of Natalya, Carmella, Tamina and Lana made their entrance. A clip aired from last week when those four women got the advantage against The Riott Squad.
Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan of The Riott Squad made their entrance with all three of them wearing their new t-shirt.
Natalya, Tamina & Carmella (w/Lana) vs. Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan & Sara Logan
Natalya started with Morgan with Morgan ducking a clothesline and then Natalya connected with her Discus Clothesline. Morgan bailed to the floor to avoid the Sharpshooter as the show went to break here.
The match returned with Logan slapping on a chinlock on Carmella. Logan knocked Natalya off the apron, but Tamina got the hot tag. Tamina nailed a clothesline and a superkick. Tamina with a Samoan Drop on Morgan. Tamina slowly went to the top rope, but Riott distracted the ref and Morgan shoved Tamina off the top rope. Logan with a knee to the back of Tamina’s head for the pinfall win after five minutes.
Winners by pinfall: Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan & Sara Logan
Analysis: *1/2 They tried hard, but it was a below average match. Tamina was on fire after the hot tag and then was beat easily after getting shoved off the top rope followed by the Logan finishing move. The Riott Squad trio continues to be booked very strong.
Ruby Riott did a post match promo saying people in Orlando believe in magic, but it’s phony like all of you. Riott said people pretend like they are happy, but deep down you’re all miserable. Riott said we all need a dose of reality and said that the Riott Squad is real. Riott said their destruction is real and their success is real. Riott said that’s why Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan are officially entering the Royal Rumble.
Charlotte Flair, the Smackdown Women’s Champion, interrupted. Big ovation for Charlotte. Charlotte did not have the title with her. Lots of “woo” chants from the crowd.
Charlotte congratulated The Riott Squad on their victory and said that was quite the speech. Charlotte said she is a dreamer and like everybody there she believes in the power and magic of her dreams. Charlotte said find something you’re passionate about and your world can change. Charlotte offered to giver her a dose of reality noting that actions have consequences. Charlotte introduced them to somebody that wants to teach all three of them a lesson.
Naomi joined Charlotte on the stage. Charlotte introduced them to somebody that wants to make them pay for their actions.
It’s Becky Lynch making her return after taking a month off to film The Marine and she was out with an injury angle at the hands of the Riott Squad.
The faces went down to the ring to start a brawl at ringside. They went into the ring with Charlotte nailing Logan with a boot and Naomi with a springboard kick on Morgan. Lynch hit a Bexploder Suplex on Ruby Riott and a Bexploder for Morgan as well.
Analysis: The crowd was into it with the faces kicking ass. Good to see Becky back. She is one of my favorite women in the company. I felt like she wasn’t used as well in 2017 compared to 2016, so hopefully in 2018 Lynch will get more of a chance to remind everybody how great she is.
Styles vs. Zayn is up next.
There was a tweet from John Cena that was shown with Cena saying he’ll be in the Royal Rumble match.
The announcers went over the Royal Rumble lineup with Phillips the robot talking like Cole the robot saying that it will be the greatest Royal Rumble ever.
Baron Corbin did a promo talking about how he can’t wait to be a part of the Royal Rumble match and he can’t wait to main event WrestleMania.
Analysis: Corbin should do well in the Rumble perhaps as the guy that eliminates the most people. I can also see him making it to the final four because WWE may want to make him look good, but they also seem to change the course with Corbin often, so it’s hard to say.
AJ Styles, the WWE Champion, made his entrance for the main event.
The intros took place for Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon. The show went to break there.
A video aired about The Miz returning to Raw on Monday.
Sami Zayn made his entrance to his song with Kevin Owens joining him. The heel Sami entrance theatrics are fantastic. Replays aired of what happened last week with Owens beating Zayn. Don’t cut away during Sami’s great dance moves. That’s one of the best parts of the show.
Analysis: If the entrances and commercials didn’t take about ten minutes they could have started the match earlier to get even more time. It’s starting with about 15 minutes left.
AJ Styles vs. Sami Zayn (w/Kevin Owens)
This is not for Styles’ WWE Championship.
Styles was aggressive early on with a dropkick. Zayn came back with a back body drop where Styles got a lot of height taking the move. Zayn ran the ropes and Styles nailed a perfect dropkick leading to Zayn rolling out of the ring. Owens got close to Zayn, so Shane told Owens to back it up and Bryan tried to separate them. Styles rolled Zayn back in the ring, which led to Zayn taking control with a kick to the ribs. Zayn with a Fisherman’s Buster suplex for a two count.
Back from break, Zayn was in control with a chinlock. The fans were mostly chanting for Styles, but some were chanting for Zayn too. Styles came back with a serious of strikes, a hard clothesline and a running forearm. Styles nailed a forearm in the corner followed by a gutbuster (knee to the ribs) for a two count. Styles with an elbow to the face, but Zayn draped Styles’ throat on the top to create some space. Zayn up top didn’t work because Styles tripped up Zayn on the top. Styles with the fireman’s carry into the neckbreaker for a two count. Zayn avoided a Styles Clash attempt and hit a Blue Thunder Bomb for a two count. Love that move. One of the best nearfall spots in WWE. Zayn went for the Helluva Kick, but Styles charged at him leading to a Calf Crusher submission. Zayn crawled his way to the bottom rope to break the hold. Zayn nailed Styles with forearms to the face, Styles came back with forearms and a Pele Kick from Styles sent Zayn into the corner. Zayn sent Styles onto the ring apron, Styles with another forearm and Styles went for a springboard attack, but Zayn avoided it. The ref Mike Chioda tried to avoid contact, which led to Chioda going to the floor. Styles got a rollup for two and while that was going on, Owens prevented Chioda from going back in the ring. Shane shoved Owens down. The ref ejected Owens. Bryan did a promo telling Shane to leave with Owens. Styles knocked Owens off the apron. Zayn capitalized with the Helluva Kick and pinned Styles to win the match after 14 minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Sami Zayn
Analysis: ***1/4 Pretty good match from arguably the two best in-ring performers on Smackdown. I liked the way it was booked with Styles on offense for most of it, Zayn got in some cheap shots and had that believable spot with the Blue Thunder Bomb for a nearfall. Styles nearly won with the Calf Crusher too. Zayn winning was expected because Owens won last week, so it was just a matter of how they set it up. I’m not a huge fan of Bryan cutting a promo during the match to tell Shane to leave and that set up the ending, but it does play into the story that Bryan might be helping Kevin and Sami every week. At least Sami won with the kick instead of a rollup.
Replays aired of the finish.
Styles grabbed the microphone after the match was over. Owens and Zayn were in the aisle while Bryan and Shane were still on the floor outside the ring. Styles told Shane and Bryan to stop bickering like children. Styles suggested a handicap match against Owens and Zayn almost in a sarcastic way. Bryan said that’s what they’ll do because Styles will defend the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a Handicap Match. Saxton complained about how Styles wasn’t serious about what he said. Bryan led the crowd in “yes” chants to end it.
Analysis: I expected a triple threat between them, but not a handicap match. That’s rare to see a handicap match for a major championship on a PPV. I assume that WWE went away from the triple threat idea because the Universal Championship match is a triple threat. I’m a huge fan of Styles, Owens and Zayn as my three favorite guys on Smackdown, so any of them leaving as WWE Champion is fine with me. I think it will be Styles that finds a way to win, but it’s far from a sure thing.
There’s also the story of Bryan doing something to support Zayn and Owens again by giving them a Handicap Match for a WWE Title shot. The next few weeks should continue to build the rift between Bryan and McMahon as the guys running the show.
Three Stars of the Show
1. AJ Styles
2. Sami Zayn
3. (tie) Xavier Woods
3. (tie) Aiden English
4.5 out of 10
Last week: 7.5
Last 5 Weeks: 7.5, 6, 4.5, 5.5, 6
It gets a 4.5 out of 10.
I thought it was a below average show this week with several poor matches where they cared more about booking cheap finishes than putting on entertaining matches. The opening promo felt like filler too.
I’m sure WWE will claim that the show was controversial with the screwy finish to the Tag Team Title match and the main event, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a great show.
— WWE (@WWE) January 3, 2018
The next WWE PPV is the Royal Rumble on January 28 in Philadelphia. Here’s what we know so far.
Men’s Royal Rumble match with 30 competitors – The names announced so far are John Cena, Finn Balor, Randy Orton, Elias, Baron Corbin and Shinsuke Nakamura.
Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar vs. Kane vs. Braun Strowman
WWE Championship: AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
Women’s Royal Rumble match with 30 competitors – The names announced so far are Asuka, Natalya, Tamina, Lana, Carmella, Ruby Riott, Naomi, Paige, Sonya Deville, Mandy Rose, Sasha Banks, Liv Morgan, Sarah Logan and Bayley.
Finals of US Championship Tournament
That’s all for now. Go Los Angeles Rams, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs.
My contact info is below. Thanks for reading.