With just over two weeks to go until the biggest show of the year, this week’s episode was essentially playing catch up in getting things ready for WrestleMania. Rushed booking and last minute changes have been rampant when it comes to this, but the silver lining is that we’re likely to still get a quality event out of it. One of the biggest focuses has been the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match, and the challenger for that title kicked off SmackDown.
The last remnant of The Shield echoed into the arena as Roman Reigns emerges onto the stage, and not through the crowd. This is only the second time Reigns has opted against his crowd entrance, and it speaks to a pattern that may confirm his standard of entering through the crowd has been nixed. Probably a good choice, considering the kind of reaction he’s getting. If you watched SmackDown, it sounded like he had a mixed reaction not unlike one you’d hear for John Cena. Not quite as loud, but about the same sound.
Live videos have been making the rounds of Reigns actually being booed out of the building, and WWE has frantically been claiming copyright infringement to get them taken down. It’s a sad sign that they still refuse to acknowledge the way the crowd has treated him. Reigns made his way to the ring and cut a short, solid promo. Had he droned on for much longer, it could’ve gotten bad quickly.
It still felt a bit forced, but there were signs WWE may be considering a full heel turn. Reigns spoke in the promo about rubbing a potential victory in the face of Triple H, and doing these things “because [he] can.” That feels heel, and it gives me hope. He leaves the ring to another mixed, likely edited, crowd reaction.
There is a brief recap of the AJ Styles and Chris Jericho feud, which transitions into a backstage interview between Styles and Renee Young. It’s not long before they are interrupted by Intercontinental Champion Kevin Owens, who immediately starts comparing AJ’s complaints about friendship and being stabbed in the back to ones he’s heard from Sami Zayn. It’s a great back and forth, and AJ then makes clear that the two of them have a match later that night, drawing a big pop from the crowd. Owens leaves with one final quip, saying “you guys have the same haircut” Styles and Renee Young.
Next up we get a solid match that seems essentially meaningless. Dolph Ziggler, aka Mr. Mid-Card, against The Miz, aka Mr. Does Anyone Remember Wrestlemania 27. It’s a decent contest, and finishes with Dolph catching the ropes to escape the figure-four leglock and nailing Miz with a stiff superkick for the pinfall victory.
Shortly after we get another recap, this one of Ryback’s win over Sin Cara on Raw and his challenge for the United States Championship. They show the WWE.com exclusive of Kalisto being interviewed by Michael Cole and officially accepting the challenge. I’m sure these two will produce a mediocre match, but it’s hard to care about it at all because of the bland build and poor booking of Ryback.
You guessed it, time for another recap. This one is of the exchange between Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar on Raw, which then transitions into a shot from “earlier today” of Dean Ambrose overlooking Cincinnati, his home town and their location for SmackDown. As always, a good hype promo by Ambrose about his past and building to his match against Brock Lesnar.
Next out is Bubba Ray Dudley, accompanied by D-Von, to take on Goldust in a one on one match. There is a huge pop for Goldust’s entrance, and possibly one of the biggest of the night. While this match isn’t filled with big spots, it’s a short and sweet clinic in psychology as Bubba is pouring on the attitude and getting the heel heat for it. Meanwhile, the crowd stays behind Goldust throughout the match.
Bubba hits a stiff boot and manages to pick up the win, and seconds later D-Von is in for the post-match beatdown. R-Truth comes out to make the save for his strange bedfellows tag partner, only to get a beat-down as well. Finally, the second save is made by the Uso’s as they storm the ring and go for super-kicks on both Dudley Boys. Bubba and D-Von duck and roll out of the ring to retreat up the ramp, leaving the Uso’s looking strong in the ring to hype the match at Mania between the Uso’s and Dudleys.
Bubba Ray out, accompanied by D-Von, to take on Goldust. Apparently it’s the “first time ever” which is really friggin hard to believe. Huge pop for Goldust’s entrance. Bubba with good heel heat, calling Goldust a freak and comparing him to the Usos. While it wasn’t full of high-spots, this short and sweet match is a clinic in ring psychology as Bubba gets huge heel heat and Goldust has the crowd hyped. D-Von and Bubba go to beat down Goldust, and R-Truth makes the save only to get knocked down. Finally, Uso’s make the second save and a brawl ensues. Dudleyz dodge superkicks and escape as the commentary hypes Dudleyz/Usos’s at Mania.
Next up we get what is one of the highlights of the night, the Face to Face to Face between Diva’s Champion Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks. Charlotte is out first with daddy dearest, Two-Time Hall of Famer Ric Flair, at her side. Charlotte starts to appear sincere and talks about her longtime friendship with Becky and Sasha, but the crowd isn’t buying it and keeps booing her. Becky Lynch quickly interrupts to a big pop and begins a back and forth with Charlotte in the ring. As Charlotte cuts her off, both are interrupted by Sasha Banks who receives the biggest pop of the three of them.
Charlotte begins the promo by talking about the Horsewomen, ignoring the elephant in the room that there were four and Bayley is still in NXT. She begins to apologize to Becky and Sasha, then swerves and apologizes to Ric for ever thinking Becky or Sasha were worthy of being called Horsewomen. With the groundwork laid, the three women continue a back and forth promo that is one of the best moments of the night and stays believable the whole time. Sasha finally points out that she’s actually been undefeated since her main roster debut, and that she is the one who defeated Charlotte for the NXT Women’s Championship.
Becky begins to argue with Sasha and they look to be about to brawl before quickly turning their attention to Charlotte and attacking her. Charlotte gets a Bexploder Suplex and a Backstabber for her troubles and rolls out to flee up the ramp. The crowd pops big for these two moves and shows how invested they are in what will easily be the best women’s match at WrestleMania in over a decade. Keep in mind, the Diva’s Championship has only ever been defended at ‘Mania once in a battle royal. Before that, the last one on one or triple threat was nine years ago at WrestleMania 23 between Melina and Ashley…and it was a lumberJill match.
Next out we get the most over trio in the WWE as The New Day (Rocks!) is out to cut another hilarious segment. This one focuses on the League of Nations, promoting Booty O’s, and tossing out “hot garbage” that shows how the League of Nations is Booty. With the crowd firmly behind them, they are finally interrupted by the League of Nations who get a significant amount of heel heat. This is good news, because all they’ve gotten lately is sort of a bored negative reaction, rather than real heat. King Barrett is out to take on Kofi Kingston one on one.
The match is a great bit of action, ultimately leading to interference making the difference. Del Rio gets on the apron, but Woods hops up to keep him at bay. As this drags away the referee’s attention, Rusev slips in for a stiff kick to Kofi to knock him down. Big E goes after Rusev, Woods goes after them, but Del Rio and Sheamus keep them out of it as Barrett goes for the pin. Kofi manages to kick out, and scoops Barrett into a quick roll-up for the pinfall victory and scurries out of the ring and up the ramp with the rest of New Day.
Shortly after, we get another “earlier in the day” segment with Dean Ambrose now drinking at a local pub for St. Patrick’s Day. It’s more good stuff, followed by a lengthy Raw Rebound about the closing moments with Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, and The Undertaker from Monday. With that time killed, they return from commercial break to find the Social Outcasts seated on the apron bickering about who is going to win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Not much time passes before Ambrose’s music hit and the crowd loves it as he comes down the ramp with a kendo stick and cleans takes out each member of the Social Outcasts. Ambrose finishes his night with a final in ring promo hyping the crowd, announcing Brock Lesnar will be on SmackDown next week, and officially calling him out.
The end of the night sees our main event of Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles finally take place. The match is an absolute clinic, and if you enjoy good wrestling it’s worth your time. Highlights include a tease for a Styles Clash, though it’s countered by Owens. Also, AJ hits the Ushigoroshi, which if you don’t know is basically the Attitude Adjustment but they land neck first on AJ’s knee. It’s properly called Mauro Ranallo, and immediately mocked by Lawler who asks who named it the “fushi go gushi roshi.”
The answer would be Hirooki Goto, which Rannallo quickly points out. If you didn’t already know, Goto is a 13-year NJPW veteran who is a 2-time IWGP Intercontinental Champion and won his second against NXT’s newest signee, Shinsuke Nakamura. The contest between AJ and Owens is a great tease for the inevitable Match of the Year candidate these two will have some day. This clash ends abruptly as Jericho’s music hits and it’s enough to distract AJ Styles. That brief moment allows Owens to plant him with a Pop-Up Powerbomb for the pinfall victory. A surprisingly good night of mid-card build ends with Jericho echoing the crowd he despises, muttering “AJ Styles” over and over again as SmackDown goes off the air.