This week’s WWE Smackdown was Tribute to the Troops with CM Punk, plus Randy Orton & LA Knight facing Jimmy Uso & Solo Sikoa.
There are some years when Tribute to the Troops is its own show where that’s the only thing that they do. This year it looks like a regular Smackdown, but there are some Tribute to the Troops aspects to it as well.
The song “God Bless America” was performed by The War and Treaty, who are a man and woman named Michael Trotter Jr. and his wife Tanya Trotter. They did a great job. It was a packed house with plenty of military service men and women in the crowd.
The commentary team was Michael Cole, Kevin Patrick & WWE Hall of Famer John Bradshaw Layfield, who filled in on commentary since he came up with the Tribute to the Troops concept.
Dominik Mysterio, the NXT North American Champion, was at ringside to watch the next match since he’s against Dragon Lee at NXT Deadline on Saturday.
United States Championship Contender’s Tournament – Quarterfinals: Santos Escobar vs. Dragon Lee
They announced it as the United States Championship Tournament, but there is already a champion Logan Paul. It’s a tournament to find the next challenger, so it’s a contender’s tournament.
Escobar was in control early on with a neckbreaker off the ropes. Lee sent Escobar to the apron. Lee jumped over the top rope, but Escobar caught him and hit a Powerbomb on the apron. That led to a break.
Lee delivered punches to Escobar followed by a forearm smash and clothesline. Escobar was against the turnbuckle, so Lee superkicked him. Lee hit a running dropkick on Escobar for a two count. Lee hit a German Suplex. Lee ran off the ropes, but Escobar was back up with a superkick for two. Lee countered a move leading to a rollup for two. Lee came back with a sitout Powerbomb for a two count. Lee hit a running knee that knocked Escobar out of the ring to the floor right in front of Dominik. Lee pointed at Dominik, who didn’t do anything. Lee went up top, Escobar tripped him up and Escobar hit a Phantom Driver for the pinfall win after nine minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Santos Escobar
Analysis: **3/4 It was just an average match featuring two guys who are capable of having a great match if they got more time. Lee was on offense with a few cool moves, then he went up top and Escobar finished him off easily. I thought it could have used more time and more nearfalls to make it more interesting.
Santos Escobar moves on to the semifinals to face the Bobby Lashley-Karrion Kross winner.
After the match, Dominik Mysterio went into the ring and taunted Lee with the NXT North American Title. Dominik left while Lee was down on the mat.
There was a video showing the end of last week’s Smackdown when Randy Orton chose to sign with Smackdown instead of Raw because Orton wants to go after The Bloodline. They included highlights of the May 20, 2022 edition of Smackdown when The Bloodline attacked Orton as well. Orton had a message for Paul Heyman to tell Roman Reigns: “Daddy’s back!” Orton even gave SD GM Nick Aldis an RKO to end it too.
They showed Smackdown GM Nick Aldis in his office when Randy Orton showed up for a chat. Orton handed Aldis a cheque that was a fine for hitting Aldis for the RKO. Orton wasn’t sure about teaming up with LA Knight since he didn’t know him. Aldis said that Knight has issues with The Bloodline too, so Aldis wants to see Orton & Knight team up against Jimmy & Solo. Orton was okay with it. Nick said that the fine was $50,000 and this check was for $100,000. Orton said, “Oh that’s for next time.” Nice. Orton left.
Cody Rhodes was up next.
There were images shown from past WWE Tribute to the Troops shows.
Let’s Hear from Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes made his entrance in a show even though he’s a Raw guy. Cody was in a suit. The fans popped loudly for him while doing the “WHOA-OH” parts of his song.
Cody asked: “What do you want to talk about?” The fans popped for that. Cody reminded us that this is Tribute to the Troops, so the troops made a lot of noise. Cody mentioned it was its 21st year. Cody said on behalf of WWE they would like to say thanks to the service men and women in attendance here tonight and all those at home watching around the world.
A video aired about WWE’s Tribute to the Troops history. There were clips shown from a lot of shows over the last 21 years featuring WWE legend John Cena. It showed John Cena greeting troops and Cena thanked the troops for what they do.
The U.S. Army Drill Team appeared by the entrance as three guys appeared. Two guys had guns as they flipped them around. They turned around and walked to the back.
Analysis: It was a simple way to pay tribute to the troops, which is what this show is about in addition to all the action. The video focused heavily on John Cena rather than the company as a whole since Cena spoke so well
They showed CBS Sports announcer Brad Nessler on commentary since he calls the Army-Navy college football on CBS on Saturday night. Nessler stayed on commentary for the next match.
Bobby Lashley made his entrance for singles action. Lashley was announced as a former US Army Sergeant and he saluted the crowd. They showed a pre-match video featuring Lashley talking about what the army meant to him. That match is next.
A video aired from Montez Ford saying he was part of the US Marine Corps from 2008 to 2012 right out of high school. Ford thanked the troops and said Happy Holidays.
United States Championship Contender’s Tournament – Quarterfinals: Bobby Lashley vs. Karrion Kross (w/Scarlett)
It has been a while since Kross has had a match on Smackdown. Kross attacked with punches. Lashley caught Kross going for a submission, but Kross got out of it. Kross nailed Lashley with an elbow smash to the face to knock Lashley out of the ring. Lashley came back with a clothesline on Kross on the floor. Lashley hit a corner clothesline along with a belly-to-belly suplex. Lashley clotheslined Kross out of the ring leading to a break.
Kross hit a running clothesline along with another forearm to the face. Kross hit an overhead suplex. Lashley tried to come back, but Kross hit a superkick. Lashley caught Kross leading to a flatliner. The fans chanted “Bobby” for Lashley as Lashley hit a couple of clotheslines and a neckbreaker. Lashley hit a delayed vertical suplex. Lashley charged, Kross got a knee up to block, but Lashley came back with a huge spinebuster. Lashley hit a Spear that crushed Kross and Lashley covered for the pinfall. It went about eight minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Bobby Lashley
Analysis: **1/2 It was just an average match with Lashley getting the dominant win. Kross got some offense in the first half, but then Lashley came back and dominated the match. Lashley has been heelish in the past. However, he was in pure babyface mode here with the troops on hand and supporting him a lot.
The win means that Lashley will face Santos Escobar in the tournament semifinals.
After the match, Bobby Lashley was congratulated by The Street Profits duo of Montez Ford & Angelo Dawkins.
Damage CTRL was backstage with Bayley talking to Iyo Sky, Asuka, Kairi Sane & Dakota Kai. Bayley apologized for last week and said she would stay backstage for Asuka’s match. Kai said that Bayley should stay back, but the other women would be there to support Asuka. They left Bayley alone backstage.
CM Punk was up next.
This Monday on Raw: CM Punk decides if he will sign with Raw or Smackdown. Plus, Drew McIntyre faces Jey Uso and Cody Rhodes vs. Shinsuke Nakamura as well.
There were images shown of past WWE Tribute to the Troops shows.
Let’s Hear from CM Punk
Look in my eyes, what do you see…it’s CM Punk back on Smackdown for the first time in about ten years. Punk was wearing his brand new “Hell Froze Over” shirt as the fans popped big for him. Punk had a close look at a fan’s WWE World Title and stared into the camera. That was a nice tease of his future rivalry with Seth Rollins. Punk got a huge ovation from the crowd while fans chanted “CM Punk” loudly for him.
CM Punk said he’s at the top of the 9 p.m. hour so he won’t get his time cut and if you want to chant then you go ahead and chant. That led to more “CM Punk” chants. Punk said that Adam Pearce is trying to sign him to Monday Night Raw and Punk said he thinks they were louder on Raw, so the fans booed. Punk was asked where is he going to sign? Punk said he’s partly going to leave it up to the fans. Punk asked if they wanted him to be a Monday Night Raw superstar and the fans booed. Punk asked if they want him to be Friday Night Smackdown exclusive? The fans cheered. Punk asked if they want him to throw 29 superstars over the top rope and point at a sign and main event WrestleMania? The fans chanted “CM Punk” for that.
CM Punk said that an old friend who welcomed him back home with open arms famously came out here and asks “What do you guys want to talk about?” He was obviously talking about Cody Rhodes Punk said some people don’t like the happy-go-lucky CM Punk that loves the fans and he’s happy to be back home. CM Punk said it was time to be the spicy CM Punk that you all know and love.
Punk said it’s not what do you want to talk about? It’s who do you want him to talk about? Punk mentioned Cody Rhodes while saying he can tell you some stories. Punk suggested he could talk about somebody who is not here and somebody who is never here. Punk mentioned Roman Reigns. Punk said he acknowledged Roman Reigns and congratulated him on all his success, but don’t forget who the OG “Paul Heyman Guy” is. Punk said that Heyman was his “Wise Man” first. Punk mentioned that Roman’s cousins are here. Punk doesn’t know Solo Sikoa, but he’s familiar with Jimmy Uso and he gave a shoutout to “Main Event” Jey Uso on Raw. Punk wondered if he wanted to go to Raw to hang out with Jey Uso or scrap with Jimmy Uso on Smackdown. Punk said if he scraps with Jimmy, he has a lot of cousins – endless Samoans. Punk wondered if he could trust a guy who he has a history with who hears voices in his head like Randy Orton. Punk said it would be entertaining to team with him. Punk mentioned he would tag with LA Knight. Punk said a fan mentioned Kevin Owens, so maybe he could tag with or fight Owens. Punk said that Owens is a bit prickly and said that they’re probably too much alike. Punk referred to being a guy who randomly punches people backstage and said that you just can’t be doing stuff like that because that’s insane. The fan chanted “CM Punk” again.
Analysis: There’s a reference to CM Punk having two backstage fights in AEW. I was waiting for that one. I don’t think he really referenced AEW in his first promo on Raw, but he did it here.
CM Punk said that even JBL was happy to see him. Punk mentioned everybody has welcomed him back with open arms, except for that one guy. Punk said that he is not going to put any stock into what he has to say and it’s because he is not even The Man in his own household. The fans sang Seth’s song. Punk said that all he has is that song and they should keep it up, so the fans kept singing it for a bit. It’s important to note that Punk didn’t mention Seth by name, but that’s obviously who he was talking about.
Punk said that we’ll find out where he signs on Monday’s Raw. Punk said he’ll talk to Nick Aldis, Shawn Michaels of NXT and Raw’s Adam Pearce. Punk said he’ll make his decision on Monday in the city where he walked out of this place. Punk said that everybody is talking about finishing their story. Punk said that he’s going to begin his journey to finish his story and that means one thing…main eventing WrestleMania.
Analysis: I thought it was a great promo. It was a lot better than his Raw promo was because he got more time. There was a lot there. I liked the shots he took at Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins as future opponents. That line he did for Rollins about how he’s not even The Man in his own house was great since that is Becky Lynch’s nickname. The Kevin Owens bit led to Punk mentioning his backstage fighting since Owens has punched heels like Austin Theory & Grayson Waller backstage recently, so it allowed Punk to mention his AEW fights. It seemed like the point of the promo was to have Punk say that he was going to be in the Royal Rumble although he didn’t officially declare. The other thing was that Punk said he would decide what brand he would sign with, so that’s a big reason for people to tune into Raw. I assume Punk will sign with Raw since Smackdown got Randy Orton and they will probably want to push the Punk-Rollins story on Raw in the new year.
On WWE’s YouTube channel, they posted CM Punk’s whole promo, so check that out if you missed it.
Charlotte Flair made her entrance for singles action.
CM Punk was shown walking backstage. He saw The Bloodline’s dressing room door and almost knocked on it, but he didn’t do it. Kevin Owens walked up to Punk, so Punk asked if he saw Nick Aldis’ locker room. Owens said, “Nope” and Punk sarcastically said, “Thanks for the help.” Owens, who had a cast/wrap on his right hand, left and Punk kept on walking.
Analysis: That was an interesting interaction to show that not everybody is welcoming CM Punk back to WWE.
Asuka made her entrance with her friends Iyo Sky and Kairi Sane. Mia Yim and Zelina Vega attacked them. Bianca Belair and Shotzi arrived at the entrance area, so they fought with Sky and Sane as well. Dakota Kai isn’t cleared for contact, but I think she left to the back.
Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka
Flair hit a belly-to-back suplex. Flair did a cartwheel into a clothesline. Flair kicked Asuka on the floor. Flair went for chops on the floor, but Asuka moved and Flair chopped the ring post. Asuka hit a running kick to knock Flair down on the floor. Asuka went after Flair, who hit a belly-to-back suplex onto the top of the barricade. Flair went up top and jumped off with a moonsault where she hit Asuka with just the back of her left arm. It’s not that impressive when you barely make contact.
The match returned with Asuka in control with kicks to the chest along with a side kick. Asuka charged, Flair caught her with a backbreaker and Flair hit a neckbreaker that sent Flair into the turnbuckle. Cole talked about Flair taking some nasty bump before the break and Flair looked like her left knee was hurt. The referee Charles Robinson was talking to Flair to make sure she was okay. Flair went for the Figure Eight submission, Bayley showed up at ringside and pulled Flair’s arms to stop it. Bayley was on the apron, so Flair decked Bayley with a forearm. Asuka rolled up Flair with the ROLLUP OF DEATH~! for the pinfall win. It went about seven minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Asuka
Analysis: ** This was not the usual great Charlotte-Asuka match. You could tell something went wrong with Flair being barely able to move on her left leg and the referee Charles Robinson was checking on her a lot. It looked like they talked to each other to set up the finish quickly and it ended rather suddenly.
Here is a video of Charlotte Flair dealing with her knee injury as she got helped to the back.
Charlotte Flair being helped get to backstage 🙏
— Wrestle Ops (@WrestleOps) December 9, 2023
They showed CM Punk in the office with Smackdown GM Nick Aldis. Nick said that it was great talking to him, he handed Punk some papers and told Punk to call him if he had any questions as Nick left. Cody Rhodes walked in saying that for CM Punk to finish his story, he had to win the Royal Rumble. Punk said yeah. Cody said that’s interesting. Cody said it was good to have him back and they shook hands.
Analysis: I think it’s fair to say Cody Rhodes and CM Punk are Men’s Royal Rumble match favorites. I think we get Cody against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania on night two and CM Punk against Seth Rollins on night one, so one of them will win the Royal Rumble while the other guy wins Elimination Chamber or finds another way to get to their title match.
A video aired about Captain Florent Groberg, who received a Medal of Honor in 2015 for his time in the army. Four soldiers died when he was in the war, but he saved the lives of many others. Groberg’s wife talked about how he has had over 40 surgeries since then and Groberg talked about continuing to live his life.
There were more photos shown of past WWE Tribute to the Troops shows.
The War and Treaty were shown at ringside watching the show. They performed God Bless America earlier in the night.
Randy Orton and LA Knight were backstage. CM Punk walked up to them saying, “Good luck, boys.” Orton asked Knight if he was ready for tonight and Knight just said “yeah” before leaving.
Solo Sikoa and Jimmy Uso entered for tag team action. Solo has boots on, so he’s no longer wrestling barefoot. That’s a good decision on his part.
Next week on Smackdown:
* Roman Reigns returns
* Grayson Waller vs. NXT Superstar to be named in US Title Contender’s Tournament
* Kevin Owens vs. Grayson Waller in the US Title Contender’s Tournament
Analysis: They are taping two episodes next week because December 22 is a night off for the WWE crew. That means Reigns could be on two weeks of Smackdown shows. I think we’ll see the Reigns-Orton rivalry kick off next week.
LA Knight made his entrance first for the babyface team. Randy Orton got a huge ovation from the fans. Good reaction for Knight too, but definitely louder for Orton.
Randy Orton & LA Knight vs. Solo Sikoa & Jimmy Uso
Orton worked over Jimmy to start and then Knight tagged in. Knight hit an elbow smash along with a dropkick, but Orton tagged himself in and Knight argued with Orton a bit. Solo tagged in for the first time, had a staredown with Orton and Jimmy hit a double axhandle to Orton in the back. The referee made Jimmy leave the ring as the show went to break.
Jimmy had Orton on the mat with a headlock, so Orton hit a belly-to-back suplex. Solo tagged in against Knight, who threw punches while the fans chanted “yeah” and Knight hit a neckbreaker. Knight stomped on Solo repeatedly followed by a running knee smash. Jimmy tried a cheap shot, Knight knocked him down on the apron and Solo capitalized with a belly-to-belly side slam. Solo set up Knight against the ropes and Jimmy got in a cheap shot punch. Solo hit a suplex on Knight for two. Solo decked Knight with an uppercut punch. Solo hit the running hip attack against the turnbuckle. Jimmy tagged in with a chop. Solo was back in as the brothers delivered a hard whip that sent Knight into the turnbuckle. Solo went for a running hip attack, but Knight moved and Solo hit the turnbuckle. Knight got a boot up and hit a bulldog off the middle turnbuckle. Orton tagged in against Jimmy with two clotheslines while Knight kicked Jimmy on the floor. Orton hit a snap powerslam. They left the ring so Orton slammed Jimmy face first into the commentary table hood. Orton hit a belly-to-back suplex on the commentary table. The fans chanted “Randy” as Orton hit the draping DDT that Cole calls “Vintage Randy Orton” all the time. Solo was back in and he hit Orton with a forearm to the back. Solo punched Orton a few times. Knight was back in to drop Solo with a DDT. Knight went for the BFT on Jimmy, but Orton spun Jimmy around and Orton and Orton hit an RKO for the pinfall win after 12 minutes.
Winners by pinfall: Randy Orton & LA Knight
Analysis: ***1/4 It was pretty much what you would expect from a main event tag team match like that with the babyfaces getting the big win on the Tribute to the Troops show. It’s not like the heels are going to win a main event like that. We know Solo Sikoa is usually protected, so having Jimmy eat the pin was what I expected going into the match. There were some moments where Orton/Knight weren’t getting along smoothly, but it ended up working out okay for them.
After the match, Orton went up to Knight and shook hands with him while also raising their hands together. Orton and Knight celebrated on the turnbuckles. That was the end of the show.
Analysis: I think that was Randy Orton’s way of showing that he’s on the same page with LA Knight even though they had a few spots where it appeared there might be issues. I think it’s a case of two guys with big egos being on the same team.
Three Stars of the Show
- CM Punk – I enjoyed that promo.
- Randy Orton & LA Knight
- Bobby Lashley/Santos Escobar
7.25 out of 10
Last week: 7
2023 Average: 7.22
Final Thoughts on WWE Smackdown
I thought it was a pretty good show, but I wouldn’t call it great. Smackdown is always in the 7 out of 10 range for me lately and I think Raw is better. Raw has the extra hour, so the match quality is a lot better. This show had shorter matches due to the Tribute to the Troops moments as well. I liked how they mixed in regular action along with the troops. The Randy Orton & LA Knight team worked well together with Jimmy Uso & in the main event. Solo is finally wrestling in shoes, so that’s a good thing to see as well.
The CM Punk promo was the best part of the show, in my opinion. Punk’s promo was better than his Raw promo in part because he had more time since it was in the middle of the show. Punk mentioned Roman Reigns, trashed Seth Rollins, spoke about wanting to main event WrestleMania, and generally seemed like he had a great time out there. Punk even referenced his backstage fights in AEW, but the crowd barely reacted to it while I’m sure other cities would have strong reactions. I also liked the backstage interactions that Punk had with Cody Rhodes & Kevin Owens. It’s nice to have respect shown along with a tease of conflict too.
It looked like Charlotte Flair hurt her left knee in the match with Asuka because, after the injury, they went right to the finish. Flair was also helped to the back after the match. Charlotte has been very durable during her WWE career and has avoided major injuries, so I hope she’s able to come back soon.
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