For the last 9 months, I’ve valiantly covered single-brand PPV’s and tonight, that all ends. The Fastlane to WrestleMania is very much reaching its climax and with that comes some issues. Sadly, there’s a limit on how unpredictable the product can really be at this time of year and that’s only emphasized SmackDown’s recent problems. The result? A PPV card with a seemingly clear ceiling and one that on paper, doesn't look exactly must-watch. However, there’s a lot more talent on this roster than the television product often shows so with that being said, I’m quietly optimistic.
DISCLAIMER: any wild predictions I make that you disagree with will likely be proven completely wrong in the coming weeks, months and years anyway so don’t worry too much. Basically, take everything you read from this point forward with a grain of salt as its credibility is preposterously low.
The Fashion Police & Tye Dillinger vs. America’s Greatest Alpha Tag Team
After some really considered build-up, it’s finally time for our pre-show match and boy am I excited. Some amateur wrestling comedy got us started before the babyfaces took control and quickly cleared the ring. Our pre-show break followed and all of a sudden, Shelton was now working Breeze over. The heels then controlled him for a brief period until Dillinger came in for a big hot tag. He run wild before AGATT turned things around and looked to hit their finish.
Tye fought it off though and things chaotically broke down, eventually resulting in Dillinger pinning Mojo with a Tye Breaker. Completely inoffensive, completely forgettable 6-man tag. No big deal though as that’s what this was, just a match to give the pre-show some wrestling. Now look for Mojo to randomly get revenge on Tye this Tuesday, all before predicting he’ll win the Andre Battle Royal ONE MORE TIME.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Rusev
Considering Nakamura’s recent in-ring showings (good but somewhat plodding), this feels like a smart choice for opener. Both guys are over with this crowd and did some back and forth stuff early before Rusev opted to regroup on the outside. Nakamura soon followed him out though and they briefly brawled. Rusev then cut Shinsuke off and slammed him into the barricade and apron. This was all rather smart content early as it neatly established Rusev as the heel regardless of the crowd’s love for him.
Rusev then dictated the action, though he had to avoid Shinsuke’s slick heel hook to do so. Nonetheless, Nakamura eventually did make a comeback, hitting all of his knees and kicks until Rusev countered and regained control. The Machka kick missed and a strike exchange followed. Shinsuke’s Kinshasa is also avoided though and so is Rusev’s Accolade attempt as Nakamura again came out on top. Once again, Rusev had the Kinshasa well-scouted either way, catching Shinsuke with an incredible superkick counter for 2.
If there’s one thing Rusev is truly elite at, it’s his selling after a false finish and that showed here as he looked absolutely dejected at his opponent’s resilience. Desperate, Rusev went for The Accolade one more time but Shinsuke escaped and got the win, hitting Kinshasa twice to cap off a very good match. The hot crowd obviously helped but the action was super strong all the same and they did a great job of making a Rusev win seem feasible, especially down the stretch. Really good start to this show!
United States Championship
Randy Orton vs. Bobby Roode (C)
If you’ve ever read a Report Card of mine before, you’ll know what’s coming next. More on that later though. We got started here with traditional big match antics, shoulder tackles and taunts etc. This then developed into the classic spot of attempting your finisher early which forces your opponent to powder, all whilst showing caution on his face. Jinder Mahal is watching along backstage and this visual allowed me to relax a little, rightly assuming it ruled out a direct Jinder interference.
Regardless, Orton soon gained control, hanging Roode over the top rope in an attack on the champ’s ribs. Orton worked him over from there before Roode flurried, rebounding with a clothesline and more. He then looked for his DDT too but Orton countered into a roll-up and hit his power-slam to turn the tide. Roode fired back though, avoiding the draping DDT and hitting a blockbuster for 2. Randall soon cut him off again either way, finally hitting the aforementioned DDT.
He then did one of the most Randy Orton things I’ve ever seen, staring at the Mania sign and getting mildly fired up as the crowd suddenly made a ton of noise. Why? No idea but this is simply what Orton does at this point. Roode countered his RKO though and after kicking out of another quick Orton roll-up, clotheslined the challenger out to the floor. He followed him out though and paid the price, getting slammed into the barricade for 2.
Orton then set Roode up top but Bobby countered and hit a sunset flip-delayed powerbomb for another false finish. He’d now got a little obsessed with aerial attacks though and it cost him, this time via superplex. Roode rallied nonetheless, hitting his AA spinebuster to halt Orton’s momentum. That previously mentioned aerial obsession then ended Roode’s night though as Randy caught him out of the air with an RKO for a tremendous finish.
So here’s the deal: many of you will be absolutely befuddled by my thoughts on this match but that’s pro wrestling for you. I found this to be a refreshingly gritty affair, well-worked with enough physicality to keep it compelling for me personally. I love how both these guys are more understated with their selling and such too as it makes their work feel different to me, more realistic and grounded. I completely understand if you found this boring but it was a match almost designed directly for me and as you’d expect, I very much enjoyed it.
Following the match, Jinder Mahal came out and was understandably very fired up. He attacked Orton but Roode made the save, DDT’ing Mahal before also laying out Orton in a moment of anger that may be a precursor to his eventual heel turn. Cool.
A Ronda Rousey video package came next and after it a backstage segment between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.
Naomi & Becky Lynch vs. Carmella vs. Natalya
Tough spot for these women but they get off to a good start, with the babyfaces having a super fun initial shine. Naomi was on fire early but a Carmella distraction prevented her Split-Legged Moonsault, allowing Natalya to power-bomb Naomi for 2. She then helped us all by soon tagging out without too much shouted taunting. Carmella showed some really nice aggression here in the heat segment, getting quite spiteful with Naomi as they isolated her in the corner.
The work in this portion was generally good in fact, as the heels continued to cut Naomi off before a tag could be made. Eventually she made it though and Becky run wild until Naomi came back in. Things then became rather messy but it concluded the way all SmackDown matches do: with Becky being pinned in the middle. Some things never change. Carmella was the correct winner though here to be fair, she looked good and needs some momentum as soon as possible.
Overall, this started well and quickly faded but was fine as a whole, nothing too much to analyze either way.
SmackDown Tag Team Championship
New Day vs. The Usos (C)
For me personally, no tag team rivalry in WWE history compares to this one and though I was initially hesitant, recent promo segments have got me excited for this latest chapter. Some trash talk got us started and brawling soon followed until The Usos gained early control in a big way, flooring Woods with a sweet superkick. They then mocked ‘the unicorn stampede,’ and strung together some tandem offense before Woods fired up and brought Kofi back in. He run his usual hot tag, thwarted an Uso counter and then did his own take on the running ‘hip attack.’
Jimmy then cut him off though and repaid the favor, hitting the ‘boom drop’ as a prelude to Midnight Hour which garnered a strong reaction. In case it was unclear, this feud is very much at the “stealing move” phase and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Woods soon returned either way, nailing a flurry of superkicks whilst Kofi hit a big splash for 2. They then looked for Double Uce but The Usos sent them to the floor before hitting stereo dives to the outside.
With all men floored, The Bludgeon Brothers arrived and caused a DQ finish. Whilst I understand why it likely upset people, that’s the exact reason I have no issue with this finish. Harper and Rowan robbed the fans of a fitting finish and that’s solid heat for these guys….it’s just a shame Columbus wanted tables rather than justice. Seriously though, this finish makes sense for me and though it limits the match’s overall quality, the work was so good that I still found it to be a tremendous watch.
The Bludgeon Brothers’ attack was a legitimately violent one, as Harper and Rowan laid everyone out including a horrific steel-step powerbomb on Woods. This made them look frankly terrifying, it’s just a shame that it failed to garner much heat. Well executed nonetheless.
SmackDown Women’s Championship
Ruby Riott vs. Charlotte (C)
This match got going with no one at ringside and both went for their finish early until Logan and Liv quickly arrived. That distracted Charlotte which allowed Ruby to take control and hit the Riott Kick. Charlotte kicked out and this got such little response that it actually hurt me. I get the idea but for a variety of reasons, I’m not sure people buy that finish yet as is, let alone a minute into the match. Naomi and Becky then turned up to stop any interference but in-ring, Riott maintained control.
Even if this crowd wasn't initially with them, both women were working hard here and Riott’s mannerisms were particularly magnificent. She hit a cool senton too and then worked a strangle hold to ground the action. Her trash talk and nastiness here was quite delightful as she continued to dictate the action until a 2nd senton attempt was countered. Charlotte then came back with a draping neckbreaker and after being sent to the floor, caught Ruby’s suicide dive to slam her, setting up a barricade moonsault.
Ruby soon turned things around again though, hitting a hurricanrana and laying in some nice chops that only fired Charlotte up. All four women at ringside were then sent to the back and before long, Charlotte built momentum and got the win via the figure eight leg-lock. I really appreciated the way these two women worked this match and found Ruby to be especially enjoyable but it lacked the physical spite to ever really reach the next level for me. It just wasn't quite crisp enough to really hook me but they told a nice story nonetheless. Good match.
Following the match, Asuka arrived to a big pop and with a point, challenged Charlotte for WrestleMania. This should be a tremendous match and this crowd seemed very excited for it, good stuff.
John Cena vs. Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. AJ Styles (C)
Main event time and Shane McMahon is here…this makes me very sad. The match itself started hot though, with Cena immediately AA’ing everyone until only AJ Styles remained. This allowed for a big stare-down and some back and forth action until everyone returned to team up on Cena. They all then began to brawl, spilling to the floor and all sorts. A wild sequence followed that my notes fail to capture but basically, a whole bunch of cool moves scored for everyone.
Things then settled briefly as Cena hit his standard sequence, hitting a double five knuckle shuffle on Dolph and Sami. Ziggler countered his following AA though, hitting a cool looking Famouser for 2. Cena then reversed Dolph’s superkick too, locking in the STF to force an AJ save. Styles then hit the clash but Sami made the save before Corbin returned, running wild on everyone. He and Ziggler then brawled into the crowd until Corbin tossed him into the hockey glass.
The remaining four men then fought amongst each other as Cena AA’d Styles through the announce table before Sami and Zayn took him out also. The ‘friends’ were now left alone but after laying down as he’d promised, Zayn attempted a quick roll-up as they quickly began to brawl wildly. Their fighting then took them to the floor and that resulted in KO inadvertently superkicking Shane. Zayn then hit Owens with his big DDT but caught a superkick himself as he went for the Helluva Kick.
Ziggler then returned to eat a Pop-Up Powerbomb but Shane pulled out the referee in anger. He then did the same to Zayn after he hit a Helluva Kick on Owens. Corbin then flurried with steel steps but was eventually AA’d on top of them. Ziggler made a save but his superkick did nothing to Cena who simply AA’d him in response. Kevin then came back in and hit a pop-up powerbomb on Cena before AJ came in with the Phenomenal Forearm to retain his title.
Look, there’s a limit to how much I can be impacted by 6-man matches but considering the match type, this couldn't have been better. It was exactly what it needed to be: exciting and dynamic from the very first bell. In fact, though it hurts me to admit it this was a good choice for AJ’s final title defense as it made an upset more believable. The false finishes were dramatic simply due to the amount of them and I suppose that’s a credit to this polarizing decision-making.
To be clear, my grade here isn’t an endorsement of this match as one of the year’s finest. Instead this is just me being fair in saying that all things considered, this achieved everything anyone could’ve possibly hoped for. The perfect 6-pack challenge, whatever that means.
For all of the complaints about SmackDown’s TV product, this PPV over delivered for me personally in a big way. Other than the women’s tag which was admittedly nothing to complain about, I really enjoyed everything on this show. There was a nice variety too with more traditional matches building a neat platform for that chaotic, enthralling main event. The other title matches also entertained me a ton and the Nakamura – Rusev opener over delivered too. SmackDown needed a good show here and thankfully, that’s what they got. Good stuff!