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Live from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this is Smackdown Live for episode #970. Follow me on Twitter @johnreport. Thanks to Melo Man for the banner up top.

There was a shot of the crowd in Pittsburgh and then the announce team of Tom Phillips, Corey Graves and Byron Saxton welcomed us to the show. They set up a video package.

The video package aired from last week’s memorable Smackdown with Daniel Bryan announcing that he was cleared to resume his career as a wrestler. Later in the night, Bryan fired Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens for the attack they did on Shane McMahon the week prior. That led to Zayn and Owens destroying Bryan to end last week’s show. Coming up later is Daniel Bryan.

Bobby Roode made his glorious entrance. Randy Orton, the United States Champion, joined Roode as his tag team partner for this match. The WrestleMania match is Orton defending the US Title vs. Roode and Mahal in a triple threat match.

Jinder Mahal made his entrance with his buddy Sunil Singh by his side. Sunil had a neckbrace on along with a sling on his right arm. Mahal said that Sunil was injured, so Mahal said he has traded his tiger of a partner for a lion…Rusev with Aiden English. Happy Rusev Day to all! Graves was really over the top in putting over Rusev, which is great.

Analysis: Good decision by the creative team to include Rusev in this match instead of Sunil Singh.

Bobby Roode and Randy Orton vs. Jinder Mahal and Rusev (w/Sunil Singh and Aiden English)

Mahal started with Roode with Roode getting a hip toss followed by an atomic drop and a blockbuster off the middle rope for a two count. Singh went on the apron, so Orton pulled him off the apron and sent him into the barricade. It turns out Singh was faking the injury after all. Heels lie. What a shock! They went to break there.

(Commercial)

Back from break, Orton hit a dropkick on Rusev and brought in Roode leading to a Roode dropkick on Orton, so Orton tagged himself back in. Orton worked over Orton a bit, but Rusev came back with a roundhouse kick to the head for two. Mahal worked over Orton with multiple knee drops. Rusev got back in the ring with a suplex on Orton. Mahal slapped on a headlock on Orton, which Orton countered with a belly to back suplex. Roode tagged in with a neckbreaker on Mahal and he knocked Rusev off the apron. Roode jumped off the top with a clothesline on Mahal. The crowd chanted “glorious” for him as he set up the DDT, Mahal avoided it and Roode hit a spinebuster for two as Rusev broke up the pin. Mahal came back with a kick to Roode’s face for a two count. They went to break there.

(Commercial)

Back from break, the heels were still in control of Roode with Mahal applying a chinlock. Roode broke free leading to Mahal hitting a running knee for two.  Rusev tagged in with gutwrench suplex on Roode. Mahal slapped on another chinlock on Roode. When Roode broke free, Orton tagged himself in and Roode hit a forearm on Mahal. Orton told Roode to get out as Rusev tagged in and Orton hit a powerslam on Rusev. Orton hit the draping DDT off the ropes on Rusev. Mahal went back in the ring, he punched Roode, who landed on Orton to cause some problems between Orton and Roode. Clothesline by Roode on Mahal sent Mahal out of the ring. Orton turned Roode around, so Roode shoved him and Orton hit a RKO on Roode. Rusev recovered, Orton turned around and Rusev nailed a Machka Kick on Orton and pinned him to win the match. It went 18 minutes.

Winners by pinfall: Rusev and Jinder Mahal

Analysis: *** It was a good tag team match that was given more time than most TV tag matches. I thought that it went too long because if they shaved off five minutes it would have been a better match. Sometimes a tag match can drag if it goes as long as they went here. The result was interesting with Rusev getting the pin on the US Champion Orton. The last few minutes were great with the miscommunication spot from Roode and Orton leading to Rusev capitalizing with the Machka Kick to beat Orton. I like the way they set that up that finish to put over Rusev in a big way.

Post match, Rusev and Mahal celebrated the big win. Replays aired of the key spot with Roode landing on Orton, which Orton thought was an intentional move by Roode.

Analysis: My immediate thought was that this would mean Rusev would join the US Title match at WrestleMania to make it a Fatal 4-Way and later in the show that’s what happened. It’s the right decision. Putting the US Title on Rusev again seems like the right move and it could lead to him finally being booked as a face that the fans want to cheer.

Still to come is Nakamura vs. Benjamin, we’ll hear from Daniel Bryan and The New Day vs. Bludgeon Brothers.

(Commercial)

Mahal was shown backstage with Singh walking down a hallway where they met up with Rusev and English. Mahal thanked him for being his partner. Mahal said he wants Rusev and his guest to attend Mahal’s Punjabi celebration when he wins the title while also adding that he’ll get Rusev front row tickets to WrestleMania. Rusev said he has something better. Rusev said he’s going to find Daniel Bryan and turn the triple threat match into a Fatal 4-Way. English added it will be RusevMania. Mahal wasn’t happy about that as Rusev left.

Analysis: Win a match and get added to a match. That’s the way things work on Smackdown where they love to add wrestlers to matches.

AJ Styles was in the locker room when Shinsuke Nakamura walked up to him. Nakamura asked if he was okay. Nakamura claimed that Styles lost his confidence and Styles said he had no confidence issues. Nakamura said he wants Styles in his corner for his match later and said he needs him in his corner. Styles said he’ll be out there because he doesn’t want anything to get in the way of this dream match. Nakamura left.

Analysis: The build to their WrestleMania match has been about wanting to show the other guy that there are no confidence issues and that both guys will be at their best.

Becky Lynch entered to a good ovation from the crowd as the announcers plugged the women’s battle royal at WrestleMania. Ruby Riott entered with her buddies Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan.

(Commercial)

The match began after the break.

Becky Lynch vs. Ruby Riott (w/Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan)

Lynch with a running dropkick leading to Riott bailing to the floor. Lynch went after her, but Riott tripped up Lynch on the apron to take control of the match. Riott drove Lynch back first into the apron and tossed her into the barricade. Back in the ring, Riott pulled back on Lynch’s arms in a submission spot and when Lynch got back up, Riott hit a clothesline for two. Logan hit Lynch with a cheap forearm. Lynch got some momentum after whipping Riott into the turnbuckle and hit a leaping forearm. Riott got a backslide pin for two. Lynch came back with clotheslines and a leaping kick. Lynch knocked down Riott with a forearm. Logan distracted, so Riott used her feet to send Lynch face first into the turnbuckle. Riott pinned with her feet on the ropes, but the ref Mike Chioda saw it and stopped the count. Morgan was on the apron, so Lynch sent Riott into her to knock her down. Lynch went for her submission, Riott fought it off for a pin attempt, so Lynch flipped Riott over into a cradle pin and that was enough to win the match. It went about six minutes.

Winner by pinfall: Becky Lynch

Analysis: **1/2 Good work for the time given. Lynch managed to overcome the interference from the Riott Squad and found a way to win. These two had good chemistry with Riott continuing to impress me as a heel while Lynch is one of the best women’s wrestlers in WWE. I don’t want to say Lynch is underrated because I think we all know how good she is, but she hasn’t been given enough of a spotlight since her buddy Charlotte got to Smackdown last year. That happens because you can’t push everybody at once.

Post match, Logan and Morgan tried to attack Lynch, but Lynch fought them off. Lynch tossed Morgan over the top to the floor. Lynch also tossed Logan over the top to the floor just like she might do in the battle royal match at WrestleMania in less than two weeks. Lynch celebrated.

Daniel Bryan was shown walking backstage because he’s up next.

(Commercial)

A commercial aired for next Monday’s Raw: Finn Balor vs. Seth Rollins, the Angle/Rousey vs. Triple H/Stephanie face off and John Cena still wants an answer from The Undertaker.

Let’s Hear From Daniel Bryan

Daniel Bryan, the Smackdown General Manager, made his entrance to a loud reaction like usual with the “yes” chants. Bryan was wearing jeans, a new Daniel Bryan shirt and a jacket. Fans chanted “Daniel Bryan” before he could say a word. Awesome reaction.

Bryan stood on the stage. Bryan said he loves being in Pittsburgh leading to “yes” chants. Bryan said last week was one of the greatest moments of his career because after so long he finally got the news that he was waiting for – that he was cleared. Bryan said that he can now continue doing what he has loved to do for over 16 years. Bryan talked about the support that he has gotten from the fans…leading to another “Daniel Bryan” chant.

Bryan said he has a job to do as the General Manager of Smackdown Live. Bryan said they have said it a thousand times that Smackdown Live is the Land of Opportunity. Bryan said he proposes to give Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens one more opportunity, but just one. Fans chanted “no” for that.

Bryan said this is his proposal: Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens face Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania. Loud “yes” chants for that. Bryan said due to complications from Sami and Kevin’s attack, Shane has been hospitalized, but Bryan has good reason to believe that he will be ready to go. Bryan added that if Shane and Daniel win then Sami and Kevin remain fired. Bryan said that if Shane and Daniel lose then Sami and Kevin will be reinstated to Smackdown Live.

Bryan spoke about opportunities and he’s had people ask him why he’s given Sami and Kevin so many opportunities. Bryan said he’s given them opportunities because they are two of the greatest performers of this generation, he has known them for 15 years, they struggled together and when he needed a place to stay, they gave him a bed. Bryan said they fought together. Bryan said they have given them opportunities because that is his job as General Manager. Bryan said that as General Manager he’s supposed to sit in board meetings, fill out paperwork, wear blazers or whatever it is that he is wearing, but he’s sick of meetings, sick of paperwork and sick of wearing these blazers. Bryan threw the blazer off.

Bryan talked about how he fought for three years to go back in there to wrestle. Bryan said that Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens tried to take that away from him. Bryan didn’t care how many times they kick him in the face or Powerbomb him on the apron because Daniel Bryan is back and he will fight at WrestleMania. Loud “yes” chants. Bryan talked about how as a role model there are things he shouldn’t say and as a GM representing Smackdown Live, but this is not Daniel Bryan the underdog or the General Manager. Bryan said this is the Daniel Bryan that fights for his dreams that will knock down any wall put in front of him. Bryan said this is the Daniel Bryan that’s going to kick Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens at WrestleMania and at WrestleMania he’s going to kick their ass! Bryan’s music played as the crowd exploded in “yes” chants again.

Analysis: That was an incredible promo from Bryan. As I have written in the past, he has become of the best promo guys in the company because he knows his character and has had a fire lit under him now that he’s able to wrestle again. As for WrestleMania, that’s a huge match as expected. Who wins? I think Sami and Kevin would need to win so they are back on the show regularly, which could mean that Shane turns heel on Bryan because there’s no reason to believe that WWE would turn Bryan heel when he’s the ultimate babyface in the company. I also don’t know if Bryan losing his first match back is the right call. With all of that said, stipulations don’t seem to matter that much and we all know Sami/Kevin aren’t really fired, so they will be back post-WrestleMania in some way whether that’s on Raw or if the new Smackdown GM (assuming Bryan is removed since he’s a wrestler again) ends up hiring them back. I really think Bryan and Shane should win, but it’s not a lock.

There was a cell phone promo from Shelton Benjamin with Chad Gable by his side. I was distracted by the dreaded WORDS ON THE SCREEN while he was talking.

The New Day vs. The Bludgeon Brothers is up next.

(Commercial)

Promos aired for the Mixed Match Challenge with Finn Balor and Sasha Banks facing Bobby Roode and a partner (Becky Lynch) to replace Charlotte Flair, who missed this week’s show due to a dental operation.

WrestleMania announcement was made for the US Title with Randy Orton defending against Bobby Roode, Jinder Mahal and Rusev, who was just added to the match.

Analysis: I’m picking Rusev at this point, but that opinion may change in the next two weeks.

The New Day trio of Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods made their entrance to a big ovation like usual. They tossed pancakes into the crowd.

The New Day did a promo that included all three of them pointing at the WrestleMania. Big E talked about the highway on the road to WrestleMania. Kingston said that the road to WrestleMania was bludgeoned to trash by no good pieces of trash while adding that the pieces of trash they are talking about are who…the Bludgeon Brothers. Woods said that the problem with the Bludgeon Brothers is they left The New Day the ability to walk, so they are going to go through the Bludgeon Brothers to get back on the road to WrestleMania to reclaim their Tag Team Championships. It ended with the “New Day Rocks” chant.

The Bludgeon Brothers duo of Harper and Rowan entered for the tag team match.

(Commercial)

The match was joined in progress.

The Bludgeon Brothers – Harper and Rowan vs. The New Day – Xavier Woods and Big E (w/Kofi Kingston)

Rowan with a backbreaker on Woods early in the match. Harper got in there, Woods came back with a kick and a forearm to stun him. Rowan sent Kingston into Big E, who was standing on the apron. Harper with a running elbow to the back of Woods followed by a kick to the face. Rowan sent Big E into the ring. Rowan grabbed the mallets, but The Usos ran out there to attack Rowan. The ref called for the bell. It was only about two minutes of action.

Match Result: No Contest

Analysis: No point in rating it because it was not really a match. It was more of an angle to continue the story between these three teams.

The Usos attacked Rowan outside the ring. The three New day guys worked together with Kingston hitting a dropkick that sent Harper out of the ring. Rowan and Harper went into the ring with the mallets as The New Day and Usos left the ring to get away from them.

Analysis: It’s clearly setting up a triple threat match at WrestleMania without officially announcing it yet, but you know it’s coming just based on how WWE builds these matches.

A tweet from Sami Zayn was shown accepting the challenge made by Daniel Bryan for the tag team match at WrestleMania. It’s on: Bryan and Shane McMahon vs. Zayn and Kevin Owens.

The announcers talked about Shane McMahon noting he was discharged from a hospital after dealing with diverticulitis, which was legit and not a storyline.

The announce team went over most of the WrestleMania matches. I have a full listing of the matches at the bottom of this post.

Still to come is Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Shelton Benjamin.

(Commercial)

The WrestleMania commercial aired noting WrestleMania was just 12 days away as of Tuesday.

A video package aired about Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair and Asuka leading to their WrestleMania match.

Analysis: Charlotte missed this week’s Smackdown because she had dental surgery last Wednesday and was off live events this weekend. The swelling was bad, so she was kept off TV this week and stayed home. Charlotte was originally going to face Natalya on this show. Charlotte noted on Twitter she was fine and will be back next week.

Tyler Breeze and Fandango made their entrance for a Breeze match against Dolph Ziggler, who got to make his entrance on television, so congrats to him. All three men are in the battle royal at WrestleMania.

Dolph Ziggler vs. Tyler Breeze (w/Fandango)

The bell rang and Fandango went on the apron to do some dancing. Ziggler stomped on Breeze followed by a dropkick. The announcers tried to put over the WrestleMania battle royal as a big deal even though fans know it is not a big deal. Breeze with a catapult that sent Ziggler into the turnbuckle. Ziggler left the ring, he ran away from Breeze and Fandango thought that Ziggler was running after him, so Fandango was running around the ring like an idiot. Nice comedy spot. They went back into the ring with Breeze hitting a leaping kick to the head. Fandango was still running around the ring. Breeze was distracted by it. Ziggler and Breeze each got a rollup. Breeze missed a corner attack and Ziggler hit the Zig Zag for the pinfall win. It went two minutes.

Winner by pinfall: Dolph Ziggler

Analysis: * A quick comedy match to put over Ziggler while trying to make fans think that the Andre the Giant battle royal is a big deal at WrestleMania. Considering how this match was a joke, I don’t think WWE knows how to effectively sell the battle royal as a big deal.

Post match, Ziggler walked up to the Andre statue outside the ring. Ziggler went over to Fandango and decked him with a superkick.

Nakamura vs. Benjamin is up next.

(Commercial)

A WrestleMania moment video was shown for WrestleMania 3’s classic match where Ricky Steamboat beat Randy Savage.

A new match officially announced for WrestleMania: The Usos vs. The New Day vs. The Bludgeon Brothers for the Smackdown Tag Team Championships.

Analysis: I think the Bludgeon Brothers might win the titles there. I’m not sure about it because I expect a lot of other title changes, so perhaps WWE will want The Usos to retain the gold.

Shinsuke Nakamura made his entrance to a big ovation with the fans chanting along with his song. Nakamura will challenge AJ Styles for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. Speaking of Styles, he made his entrance to be in Nakamura’s corner.

Shelton Benjamin entered for the main event with his tag team partner Chad Gable by his side.

Shinsuke Nakamura (w/AJ Styles) vs. Shelton Benjamin (w/Chad Gable)

Nakamura worked over Benjamin with knees. Nakamura stomped on Benjamin while he was against the turnbuckle, so Benjamin bailed to the floor as the show went to break.

(Commercial)

They returned to action with Benjamin grounding Nakamura with a headlock. Nakamura got back to his feet leading to a running kick to the head. Nakamura with a kick to the back of the head, running knee in the corner and the knee lift against the turnbuckle. Gable jumped on the apron, so Styles pulled Gable off and Gable went face first into the ring apron. Benjamin avoided an attack, running knee and a sweet bridging Northern Lights suplex got two for Benjamin. Nakamura came back with an armbar submission leading to a triangle choke, but Benjamin powered out of it. Nakamura locked in the triangle choke again and Benjamin picked him up to get out of it. Spin kick by Benjamin sent Nakamura into the turnbuckle. Nakamura came back with a knee attack off the middle ropes. Nakamura with the Kinshasa running knee attack for the pinfall win after about nine minutes.

Winner by pinfall: Shinsuke Nakamura

Analysis: **3/4 A good match with Nakamura getting the obvious win. The problem with a match like this is that nobody watching it would think that Benjamin had any chance of winning, so when Benjamin got his offense there wasn’t much of a response to it. I liked the sequence of moves with Nakamura going for submissions leading to Benjamin finding ways to counter due to his skills as a technical wrestler. Also, Styles played a role by watching Nakamura’s back when he knocked Gable off the apron.

Replays aired of the match.

Nakamura told Styles to get in the ring with him. Nakamura thanked him for being in his corner and said that he never needed his help. Nakamura told him that he only wanted him to see how Nakamura will beat him at WrestleMania. Styles said he’s playing mind games with him, right? Styles told him that he won’t be playing any games at WrestleMania while noting it’s not just a dream match for the fans, it’s a dream match for him too. Styles said it’s a dream match because the fans know they will tear the house down and put on a clinic. Styles said that outside of him, Nakamura is considered the best, but when he walks in as WWE Champion and defeats Nakamura then it proves that Styles is the best because this is the house that AJ Styles built. Nakamura told Styles he’ll beat him at WrestleMania because he’s too emotional. Nakamura’s music played to end it as Nakamura left.

Gable and Benjamin attacked Styles from behind, so Nakamura went back into the ring. Nakamura hit a reverse Exploder Suplex on Gable. Nakamura hit Benjamin with a kick to knock him out of the ring. Styles was staggered. Nakamura charged like he was going for a Kinshasa, but then he stopped himself. Nakamura said: “Knee to face.” Nakamura tapped him on the head and left.

Analysis: It was some friendly trash talk from Nakamura and Styles leading into their WrestleMania match. This is following the usual pattern of a face vs. face big time match where WWE wants both guys to be cheered going into it, so they don’t want to have either guy get booed for their actions. Nakamura’s point was that Styles gets too emotional while he (Nakamura) knows how to stay calm, so that’s why he is going to win the title.

I’m picking Nakamura to win the WWE Title at WrestleMania. I think the main reason is because Styles has had a long reign, so it’s time to drop it even though I’m a huge Styles fan. I also believe Styles will get moved to Raw in the Superstar Shakeup in late April or early May whenever it happens, which is why Nakamura winning seems like the right prediction.

 

Three Stars of the Show

  1. Daniel Bryan
  2. Rusev
  3. Shinsuke Nakamura

 

The Scoreboard

6.5 out of 10

Last week: 7

2018 Average: 6

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

It felt like a slightly above average edition of Smackdown this week. The best part was Daniel Bryan’s promo because he was fired up about his return to the ring and setting up the WrestleMania match. Owens and Zayn were missed, but it’s understandable that they were not on since they were storyline fired last week.

In terms of matches, I thought the opening tag was fine although it was too long and Nakamura vs. Benjamin was good considering nobody thought Benjamin was going to win, which hurts the match a bit.

The build to the WrestleMania matches was good. Rusev winning to earn a spot in the US Title match is cool with me while we finally learned of the Tag Team Title match being official as well.

The next WWE PPV is WrestleMania 34 on April 8. Here’s what we know so far.

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

WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal

Cruiserweight Championship: Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali

The only thing missing is John Cena vs. The Undertaker.

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

Personal Facebook and TJRWrestling on Facebook

 

 

 

 

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