This week’s WWE Smackdown featured John Cena back in action as a tag team with Kevin Owens against Roman Reigns and Sami Zayn in the main event.
I had plans last night at a surprise birthday party, so I missed this show live on Friday. I’m up here on Saturday morning on New Year’s Eve writing about it. The WWE Johnny Awards are coming later today too. Happy New Year, my friends.
The commentary team of Michael Cole and Wade Barrett welcomed us to Smackdown with a sold out crowd in Tampa. They hyped up the main event.
Let’s Hear from Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt made his entrance with the lamp. The fans cheered him as usual. They showed highlights of last week when Bray attacked a “cameraman” (indy wrestler) with a Mandible Claw. Bray thinks that he’s a good person, but when he looks back on what he’s done, he doesn’t regret much. Bray talked about how he regretted a cameraman in cold blood and he didn’t deserve that. Bray said if he’s watching this…here comes LA Knight, which also meant that the lights were back on.
LA Knight mocked Bray for apologizing to a cameraman. Knight asked what happened to Bray because he can’t even finish a sentence and he takes it out on a poor cameraman. Knight trashed Wyatt for paying a goon to wear an Uncle Howdy outfit. Knight said that Wyatt was still responsible and it was time to pay the check. Knight told Wyatt he used to be something and used to be a force while the fans shouted “you suck” at Knight, who told them to pipe down. Knight told Wyatt that all he’s proven himself to be is a broke down loser and a fraud. Knight said that the Royal Rumble is coming up, it’s his first and he’s going to make it a special one. Knight told Wyatt he’s going to put his ass out of his misery.
Wyatt: “You little idiot.” Wyatt asked Knight who does he think he’s talking to? Wyatt says he could have ended this whenever he wanted to. Wyatt said it’s time to remind Knight and the world how cruel he can be when he feels like it. The fans cheered. Wyatt said if we’re talking Royal Rumble, he accepts.
A video started playing with some creepy images of Bray Wyatt’s past along with Uncle Howdy saying things like: “Revel in what you are.” That led to Uncle Howdy making his entrance as he slowly walked out to the ring to some ominous music while the lights were out.
Uncle Howdy got into the ring with Wyatt and Knight. Howdy is not a tall man. He’s shorter than Wyatt is. Howdy looked at Wyatt (while the lights were out) and he gave Wyatt the Sister Abigail neckbreaker to send Wyatt into the mat. Knight left the ring asking: “What is going on?” Uncle Howdy left the ring and put on his hat as he walked away. The lights were dark for that too.
Analysis: The mysterious Uncle Howdy attacking Wyatt isn’t something I expected to see, but that’s what we got this week. I think the popular theory is that Bo Dallas (Bray’s bother) is Uncle Howdy, but it’s not like that has been confirmed, nor is it obvious watching the show. Most people probably assumed that Howdy would go after Knight. Instead, he went after Wyatt. I think it will be a story where Howdy will want Wyatt to go the “dark side” so to speak, so he’s trying to bring that out of Bray. Just my guess anyway.
Sami Zayn was shown walking backstage and he knocked on The Bloodline’s door. Paul Heyman walked out to hug Zayn asking about his Hannukah while Zayn said it was about as good as his Ramadan. Heyman asked what Zayn wanted and Zayn said he wanted to talk to The Tribal Chief about some strategy. Heyman said how much he and Reigns liked what Zayn said last week on Smackdown. Heyman mentioned when they’re in the ring together and the whole crowd chanting “Sami, Sami, Sami” is not the right optic. Zayn asked if he said something. Heyman asked if he has to? Heyman said that that “life on the island of relevancy is staying three steps ahead at all times.” Heyman said no more delay tactics and let Zayn into the room while Heyman laughed about it.
Analysis: There is another sign of The Bloodline turning on Zayn soon because Reigns isn’t happy about the fan reactions that Zayn has been getting. Heyman also saying that “life on the island of relevancy is staying three steps ahead at all times” is another tease of a turn coming soon.
Sheamus made his entrance with Butch & Ridge Holland to let us know that The Brawling Brutes were ready for Fight Night. Cole mentioned Sheamus’ 2023 goal was to win the Intercontinental Title for the first time since he’s won everything else there is to win in WWE. Solo Sikoa was joined by his brothers, the WWE Tag Team Champions The Usos (Jimmy & Jey Uso). Cole mentioned Don West passing away with a nice tribute saying he made a true “impact” on the wrestling business. Well done by WWE paying tribute to the former TNA/Impact Wrestling announcer.
Solo Sikoa (w/Jimmy & Jey Uso) vs. Sheamus (w/Butch & Ridge Holland)
Sheamus and Solo each took turns hitting shoulder tackles. Solo with an uppercut. Sheamus tried a hiptoss, Solo blocked it and hit a clothesline. Solo sent Sheamus into the turnbuckle, Sheamus got two boots up and hit a clothesline that sent Solo over the top to the floor. Solo was angry about it as he grabbed a chair, but The Usos calmed their brother down.
Solo was in full control with a chinlock as Sheamus broke free and charged at Solo, who hit a Samoan Drop. Sheamus was against the corner, Solo took a long time to charge at him, so that led to Sheamus hitting a running clothesline. Sheamus with punches, then a kick to the gut and a powerslam. Sheamus gave Solo the ten beats (forearms) on the apron with the fans chanting along with it, but Sheamus did more than ten. Sheamus charged for a Brogue Kick, Solo came back with a superkick and Sheamus came back with a jumping knee for a two count. Solo with a headbutt, but Sheamus came back with the Irish Curse backbreaker. Sheamus applied the Cloverleaf submission, Solo was near the rope and Sheamus pulled Solo away from it a bit. Jey grabbed the rope, the referee yelled at Jey and Jimmy pulled Solo under the rope to break the hold. Jimmy superkicked Butch on the floor while both Usos attacked Butch. Sheamus jumped off the top of the ring post onto both Usos on the floor. Solo grabbed Sheamus by the arm and pulled him into the ring post. Solo gave Sheamus a uranage on the apron. Back in the ring, Solo gave Umaga the Samoan Spike (thumb to the chest) for the pinfall.
Winner by pinfall: Solo Sikoa
Analysis: ***1/2 A really good match between two tough guys wrestling a physical match. Solo picked up a win to continue his positive momentum. They are booking Solo very strong all the time. The Usos provided an assist by saving Solo from a submission and causing Sheamus to jump on them on the floor, which led to Solo hitting a couple of moves leading to the big win. I like Solo using the Samoan Spike like uncle Umaga, but I think he should still do the Spinning Solo slam as his finisher.
Post match, The Usos went after Sheamus with stomps. They knocked Butch and Holland off the apron. Solo put a chair around the neck of Sheamus against the turnbuckle. Drew McIntyre made the save for his best friend Sheamus. Drew kicked Jey and headbutted Jimmy when he got into the ring. Drew ducked a clothesline by Solo and gave Solo a clothesline over the top to the floor. Drew hit a Claymore Kick on Jimmy. Butch & Ridge were back up standing beside Drew & Sheamus in the ring.
Analysis: That was the perfect spot to bring back Drew after being off for most of the month with an injury to his eardrum. It wasn’t a major injury, but he was taken off the road for a few weeks because of it. Drew & Sheamus as opponents was always fun to watch although I really like seeing the best friends together too. This sets up The Usos vs. Drew & Sheamus for WWE Tag Team Titles next week, which was announced later in the show.
There was a Progressive Match Flo replay shown of Ronda Rousey and Shayna Baszler causing chaos over the last two months. Raquel Rodriguez won a Gauntlet Match to earn a title match this week. That Rousey-Rodriguez match was next.
Raquel Rodriguez made her entrance with a white bandage on her left elbow to sell the worked injury that she has been dealing with for the last two months. Ronda Rousey was up next as the Smackdown Women’s Champion with Shayna Baszler by her side. Ring announcer Samantha Irvin did the championship introduction.
Smackdown Women’s Championship: Ronda Rousey (w/Shayna Baszler) vs. Raquel Rodriguez
Rousey went after the left arm right away and then she did a slap to the face. Raquel got some momentum going with a spinning slam for two. Rousey went to the floor, so Raquel press slammed Rousey back into the ring. Raquel tossed Rousey across the ring along with two corner splashes. Raquel charged, Rousey ducked and Raquel’s left shoulder hit the ring post.
Rousey was in control as she pulled on Raquel’s left arm against the ropes. Rousey grounded Raquel in a submission pulling on the right arm while holding onto a leg as well. Raquel came back with punches, but Rousey did a step-up punch to the face. Rousey caught the leg leading to an overhead suplex for two. Rousey grounded Raquel with a submission again, but Raquel was back up with a Samoan Drop. Raquel hit a couple of clothesline followed by a lefty clothesline using her injured arm. Raquel went for a spinning slam, but Rousey blocked it by grabbing the left arm in a submission. Raquel managed to apply a Boston Crab-like submission, but Rousey countered it into an Ankle Lock submission. Raquel kicked Rousey away leading to a flapjack into the mat. Rousey avoided a power move, Rousey grabbed the arm and they tumbled to the floor. Raquel slammed Rousey back first onto the ring apron leading to a break.
Raquel was in control with a delayed vertical suplex for a two count. Rousey went back to the left arm by pulling on it to drive Raquel into the mat, which led to Raquel applying an armbar on the left arm. Raquel rolled through leading to a fallaway slam. Raquel went for a power move again, but Rousey jumped onto her back with a sleeper hold. Raquel managed to get out of it by running towards the turnbuckle leading to Rousey bumping into the turnbuckle. Nice sell by Rousey there. Raquel kicked Rousey down followed, by Raquel knocking Baszler off the apron. Raquel hit a spinning elbow off the apron while Baszler had Rousey’s foot on the bottom rope. He saw it and asked: “Did you touch her?” Yeah, you saw it. Anyway, Baszler was not ejected. Raquel set Rousey up on the top rope, but Rousey managed to get out of it while pulling on Raquel’s left arm. When they bumped into the ring, Rousey continued to apply the armbar, so Raquel tapped out to give Rousey the win after 16 minutes.
Winner by submission: Ronda Rousey
Analysis: ***1/2 A long match that was great by the end as Rousey worked over Raquel’s left arm repeatedly throughout the match. I liked the story of the match. They have a lot of chemistry together as we have seen in the past, so they built off that with a longer match. While I doubt most people thought Raquel could win here, it was a competitive match and the fact that it went so long helped the story about if Raquel could survive with her arm injury.
Charlotte Flair made her return while Ronda Rousey was about to do a promo. Charlotte made her return with some new-looking gear while there was a modification to her theme song a bit too. Cole screamed about how great it was to see Charlotte Flair back. It’s been over seven months since Charlotte had a match at WrestleMania Backlash when Rousey beat Flair for the SD Women’s Title. Big reaction for Flair.
Ronda Rousey asked Charlotte Flair how her elbow was feeling. Rousey assumed she wanted to challenge for the title at the Royal Rumble. Charlotte said she was challenging Ronda for a match tonight. The fans wanted it with “yes” chants. Rousey put the title down in front of Flair saying that she is “feeling spicy” while Baszler tried to tell Rousey not to do it. Rousey gave the title to referee Dan Engler and to start the match.
Analysis: Welcome back to Charlotte Flair. I didn’t expect a title match here, but here we go. I think it was a way to tell the audience that anything can happen at any time, which is the kind of TV show that wrestling fans like.
Smackdown Women’s Championship: Ronda Rousey (w/Shayna Baszler) vs. Charlotte Flair
Charlotte with a running boot on Rousey for a two count. Charlotte kicked Baszler off the apron to the floor. Charlotte hit a Spear, but Rousey rolled through into an armbar on the right arm. Charlotte rolled through with a ROLLUP OF DEATH~! along with Charlotte grabbing the tights for the win! It went about 40 seconds.
Winner by pinfall: Charlotte Flair
Analysis: 1/2* A shocking result leading to a title change. Rousey is booked strongly all the time, so losing like this it gives her an out since she went nearly 20 minutes before this and took a match she didn’t have to take, yet she did. Charlotte grabbing the tights is classic Flair since she’s the daughter of Ric Flair, who always cheated to win. I doubt many people went into this show expecting a title change, so it gives the audience a memorable moment on the last Smackdown of the year.
Charlotte Flair is now a 14-time Women’s Champion in WWE. Charlotte went into the crowd with her Smackdown Women’s Title and she shouted: “I’m home!” Charlotte held up the title in the aisle while the pyro went off behind her. Cole: “The Queen is back on her throne.” Her father Ric Flair was backstage, but they did not bring him out for this.
Analysis: That was clearly a babyface celebration for Flair, so at least for now she’s a babyface instead of the heel role that she has been in for most of her career. It will be interesting to see how she’s booked with Triple H calling the shots. I think he’ll use her smarter than Vince McMahon did, which became far too repetitive over the years. I like her as a performer. I just think the character she was doing previously wasn’t that interesting in the last few years.
The Bloodline was shown in the dressing room with Roman Reigns and Sami Zayn sitting in front while The Usos, Solo Sikoa and Paul Heyman were in the background. Zayn told Reigns that those kids don’t know how good they’ve got it with Reigns saying he was trying to give his family everything that he had growing up. Zayn wanted to make sure they’re on the same page about this stuff. Sami asked Reigns if he was bothered by the crowd chanting “Sami” while they were out there. Reigns said “God no” and “why would it?” Reigns said that the way that Sami was locked in, how could they pay attention to anything else? Reigns said that it’s going to be a great night. Sami said it will be a great night for them.
Analysis: Everything appears to be okay with the group. For now.
They replayed what happened before the break with Charlotte Flair becoming the 14-time Women’s Champion in WWE.
There was a replay shown of Rey Mysterio calling the cops on his son Dominik Mysterio and Rhea Ripley. This was shown on WWE’s social media channels on Christmas Eve. That led to Dominik getting arrested because he shoved Rey. It also led to Rey’s wife Angie slapping Ripley in the face. On a funny note regarding that story, WWE is also selling a Dominik Mysterio arrest shirt.
They showed Hit Row in the locker room with The New Day along with Maximum Male Models, Madcap Moss and Ricochet. They all joked with Top Dolla stumbling on his dive over the top rope. Ricochet said it proves that what he does isn’t easy and Dolla shoved Ricochet. They were separated.
Analysis: At least they followed up on the Top Dolla dive botch from last week, which got a lot of negative attention.
Imperium made their entrance.
They replayed LA Knight and Bray Wyatt agreeing to a match at the Royal Rumble. Uncle Howdy went into the ring and gave Wyatt the Sister Abigail neckbreaker.
It was officially announced that Bray Wyatt will face LA Knight at the Royal Rumble in the Pitch Black Match sponsored by Mountain Dew.
Analysis: This was reported a few weeks ago, so now it’s official. We don’t know much about what a Pitch Black Match is at this point, but I assume it’s something with the lights off for the most part.
Let’s Hear from Imperium
The Imperium trio of Intercontinental Champion GUNTHER, Ludwig Kaiser and Giovanni Vinci were in the ring for a promo. Kaiser said that 2022 was the year of the ring general…which is GUNTHER. Vinci said that GUNTHER is the most dominant Intercontinental Champion in history and no man in history will take the title from him.
A video package aired showing highlights of GUNTHER beating opponents like Shinsuke Nakamura, Rey Mysterio, Sheamus and Ricochet.
Before GUNTER could speak, Braun Strowman’s music hit and he marched down to the ring. Braun noted that he wasn’t in the video because Gunther hasn’t beaten him. Braun said maybe there isn’t another man on Smackdown that can beat GUNTHER, but what about a monster? GUNTHER went to leave, so Strowman said he was telling him he wanted a title match. Strowman cleared Vinci and Kaiser out of the ring. GUNTHER tried a chop, Strowman caught it and Strowman hit a clothesline. GUNTER went to the floor. Strowman ran around the ring with Braun running over Kaiser & Vinci, but GUNTHER managed to send Braun into the barricade, which broke the barricade. GUNTHER hit Braun with the steel chair a few times and Kaiser/Vinci sent Strowman into the steel steps. GUNTHER kicked Strowman in the left arm. GUNTHER went applied a devastating armbar to Strowman’s left arm. Officials tried to break it up, but Imperium kept some of them from doing it. Ricochet made the save with the steel chair while Imperium retreated.
Analysis: I thought it was a very good segment in terms of advancing the story by making Braun Strowman look dominant for most of it, but then Imperium managed to come back and GUNTHER weakened Strowman with that armbar. I like how this was done.
Roman Reigns, Sami Zayn and The Bloodline were shown walking backstage for the main event up next.
In two weeks on Smackdown, Gunther defends the Intercontinental Title against Braun Strowman.
Next week on Smackdown:
* The Usos defend the WWE Tag Team Titles vs. Drew McIntyre & Sheamus. Since Drew & Sheamus beat The Usos before WarGames in a non-title match, they get a title match next week because Drew was unable to wrestle when they were originally going to get a rematch.
* Ricochet vs. Top Dolla in a Royal Rumble qualifying match.
Kevin Owens entered for the main event first. John Cena was full of energy thanking the fans for allowing him to do this for the last 20 years. Cena has a bald spot as part of his look with Cole saying Cena was the greatest of all time. Other than the bald spot, Cena looks pretty much the same as he’s always looked. The pop for Cena was pretty huge while Owens got a nice ovation as usual.
The Bloodline was next led by the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns and Sami Zayn. They were joined by Jimmy & Jey Uso, Solo Sikoa and the “Special Counsel” Paul Heyman as well. Cole noted that Reigns has held the championship for 852 days. That would be the Universal Championship. The WWE Championship reign has been nearly nine months. Big reaction for The Bloodline as usual. Shoutout to ring announcer Samantha Irvin always doing a great introduction for everybody, but she absolutely kills it for The Bloodline too. Cole talked about the long friendship of Owens and Zayn with Cole wondering if Zayn can just ignore his 20-year history with Owens. The Bloodline went into the ring for their posing as the pyro went off. Cole put it over huge as a massive main event that’s maybe the match of the year and it is next.
Analysis: It had a big fight feel. With that said, it’s a tag team match with nothing on the line, so I wouldn’t call it a match of the year type of match. Cena’s presence certainly helped a lot in terms of star power, obviously.
John Cena & Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns & Sami Zayn (Jimmy Uso, Jey Uso, Solo Sikoa & Paul Heyman)
By wrestling in this match, Cena has competed in at least one match in WWE every year for 20 straight years. Zayn avoided Owens, jumped over him and hit a clothesline. Owens ran over Zayn with a back elbow followed by a senton. Zayn drove KO’s neck into the top rope, but KO suplexed Zayn onto the top rope so that Zayn’s ribs hit the rope. Owens ripped Zayn for embarrassing himself in front of the Tribal Chief. Zayn had some blood from his nose while Reigns called for the tag leading to Reigns entering the match while the fans chanted “Cena” for Big Match John. I guess it wasn’t time to bring Cena in because Reigns hit Owens with a clothesline followed by a uranage slam. They went to a break.
They came back with about five minutes left in the match. Zayn was in control of Owens with a Dragon Suplex-style move, but Owens popped back up to his feet with a clothesline. Reigns attacked Cena on the apron and threw him into the barricade to prevent the tag. Zayn knocked Cena down with a Helluva Kick on the floor. Zayn charged at Owens, who hit a superkick. Owens was ready to tag out, but Cena was laid out on the floor. Owens with a superkick on Zayn followed by a Popup Powerbomb. Reigns broke up the pin attempt followed by punches on Owens. Reigns went for the Superman Punch, Owens ducked it and Owens hit a superkick. Owens went up top and hit a Frog Splash for two. Owens went for the popup again, but Reigns punched him with a Superman Punch. Reigns went for a Spear, Owens moved and Reigns hit the ring post. I don’t know why, but referee Jessika Carr was shouting “don’t move” at Reigns to tell him to stay down during the hot tag spot. I don’t know if it needs to be yelled like that. We could hear Carr yell “two minutes” and then she told the guys to tag. Cena got the tag against Zayn with Cena hitting the two shoulder tackles along with a spinning slam. Cena taunted Reigns with the “you can’t see” hand gesture and Cena did the spinning slam to Reigns. Owens tagged in with the referee shouting “1:20” at them with another time cue. Cena and Owens each did a Five Knuckle Shuffle fist drop on their opponents. Cena gave Reigns the Attitude Adjustment leading to Reigns rolling out of the ring. Owens hit Zayn with a Stunner and pinned him. It went 11 minutes.
Winners by pinfall: John Cena & Kevin Owens
Analysis: ***1/4 A good match with the most obvious result of Owens pinning Zayn. I would have liked to see a finish where Zayn messes up and Reigns gets pinned, but WWE loves keeping Reigns strong all the time, so he doesn’t get beat like that. Since Owens is going to be against Reigns at Royal Rumble, it makes sense for Owens to get a win to keep his positive momentum going while poor Zayn losing could lead to problems within The Bloodline. Cena was good while he was in there even though it was brief since he just did a few of his classic moves. He didn’t do too much, but handled himself well for a guy that hasn’t had a match in over a year. More time for the match would have been nice, but otherwise, I liked it a lot.
John Cena and Kevin Owens celebrated the win in the ring while Zayn, Reigns and the rest of The Bloodline were down on the floor. Reigns looked frustrated about the loss. That was it.
Analysis: They didn’t make a big deal out of Zayn losing the match. Nothing big like Reigns yelling at him or something like that. Perhaps they’ll have Reigns be angry next week, but for now, the result wasn’t really pushed as a big loss.
Three Stars of the Show
1. Kevin Owens & John Cena
2. Ronda Rousey/Raquel Rodriguez
3. Roman Reigns, Sami Zayn, Solo Sikoa & Sheamus
8.25 out of 10
Last week: 7
I thought it was an excellent Smackdown this week. It was great seeing John Cena back in action even though he was barely in the match while his bald spot has gotten a lot bigger, so that was a bit weird to look at. The tag match between Kevin Owens & Cena beating Roman Reigns & Sami Zayn was pretty good. More time would have been nice and hearing the referee give out time cues too loudly didn’t help, but other than that, I liked it. The fallout with Reigns potentially being mad at Zayn for losing could be interesting next week.
Charlotte Flair is back and got the Smackdown Women’s Title back thanks to a ROLLUP OF DEATH~! with tights. I get that some people don’t like her and seeing her win the title again is going to lead to groans, but I like her more than Ronda Rousey. It’s also Charlotte’s first time being booked by Triple on the main roster, so maybe it will be more interesting than in the past. I have faith in the booker. The Raw women’s division is clearly deeper although having Charlotte back helps SD at least in terms of depth. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Ronda Rousey and Raquel Rodriguez had a terrific match before Flair returned.
The Bray Wyatt-LA Knight segment with Uncle Howdy attacking Wyatt at the end was very interesting. When Wyatt speaks, the fans are so invested. They hang on every word and react to everything in a big way. Uncle Howdy is probably Bo Dallas, but we don’t know that for sure.
There were only three matches this week, but they all felt like a big deal and were all very good. The non-wrestling segments, including GUNTHER-Braun Strowman continuing that rivalry, all were booked well too. That Paul Heyman-Sami Zayn backstage segment also dropped some hints that the turn against Zayn was coming soon as well. I liked how this show was booked. Also, really nice to hear Michael Cole pay tribute to the late, great Don West and the “impact” he made on pro wrestling. Loved hearing that.
Thanks for reading. Please check out my reviews of every WWE PPV ever listed in order. Go Los Angeles Rams, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs. My contact info is below.