COMMENTATORS: Michael Cole & Corey Graves
This week’s SmackDown features two championship matches, as Big E defends the Intercontinental Championship against Apollo Crews and The Street Profits defend their Tag Team gold against The Dirty Dawgs. The next #1 contender to the Universal Championship is also decided in a special Gauntlet match with a very…interesting ending.
- WWE UNIVERSAL CHAMPION: Roman Reigns
- WWE INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPION: Big E
- SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S CHAMPION: Sasha Banks
- SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS: The Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins & Montez Ford)
- Big E [c] vs. Apollo Crews for the WWE INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP (**)
- The Street Profits [c] vs. The Dirty Dawgs for the SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP (**1/2)
- #1 Contender’s Gauntlet (***1/2)
–Roman Reigns kicked off the show, flanked as usual by Paul Heyman and Jey Uso. Reigns brought up the attack on Kevin Owens last week, saying he likes Owens but he put him in a tough spot so he did what he had to do. However he refused to accept the blame for what happened, instead placing at the feet of the man who set up Owens/Jey Uso last week; WWE Official Adam Pearce. Reigns called Pearce to the ring and after showing him a video highlighting Owens getting decimated over the last two weeks on TV, Reigns told Pearce that he threw Owens into the shark tank and now he can’t provide for his family. Reigns’ anger only rose as he talked about the announced #1 contender’s Gauntlet, accusing Pearce of thinking he’s stupid and unable to make his own decision when it comes to picking opponents. Reigns grabbed Pearce by the shirt but Heyman talked him down and Reigns left things by saying that he was perfectly safe…for now.
- Reigns once again proved why he’s the top guy in WWE, killing it in this opening segment that got downright unnerving at times. I thought Reigns was going to brain Pearce right then and there but holding back at the end and cooly smiling…goddamn. Just brilliant.
Big E [c] defeated Apollo Crews via pinfall to retain the WWE INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP (6:10 or so total)
Crews took credit for Big E winning the Intercontinental Championship two weeks ago and accepted E’s open challenge for this week, leading to this match. Crews kicked it into gear early, surprising Big E with a big boot and almost getting the victory then and there. Crews continued working Big E over and connected with a middle-buckle superplex, cradling Big E for the 1…2…3! Apollo celebrated like he won the championship but after a commercial break the ref announced that it was a double pin and therefore a draw. Big E tried to offer a fist bump as no hard feelings but Crews slapped him, wanting another shot RIGHT THIS INSTANT. Big E agreed and immediately went to work throwing Crews around the ring and hitting a Warrior Splash on the apron. Crews countered an apron spear with a knee and hit a Frog Splash and later a standing moonsault, but Big E would not stay down which caused Crews to almost lose it out of frustration. But the champ would not be deterred, catching a charging Crews in the corner with a urinage and hitting the Big Ending to retain the championship definitively.
- I really liked the cliffhanger finish heading into the commercial; it reminded me of 90s WWF TV where Jeff Jarrett would “lose” the Intercontinental Championship but end up winning it back. Crews wrestled well here as well, his desperation to become championship permeating every move he connected with. He wanted to get it done and get it done quick and I respect that. Something still felt weirdly off though about the whole thing, lots of air between some of the strikes and some hiccups. Overall though I dug it. (**)
–Sonya Deville caught up with Adam Pearce backstage, taking a job as Pearce’s…assistant? Co-official? They didn’t really say for sure. Deville asked if Pearce was going to put himself in the Gauntlet tonight but Pearce denied it, mentioning he hadn’t wrestled a match in six years.
–Alyse Ashton tried to interview Bianca Belair, who declared for the Women’s Royal Rumble, but they were quickly interrupted by Bayley who also declared herself for the Rumble. Bayley joked about Belair squandering her chances and Belair clapped back by saying Bayley squandered her Women’s Championship reign.
- I could’ve listened to Bayley and Belair rag on each other all night, this rocked.
-MATCH FLO: The Dirty Dawgs attacked The Street Profits during their New Year’s segment on last week’s show, injuring Montez Ford’s leg in the process.
–Carmella was standing by with Reginald in an undisclosed location backstage. Carmella threw shade at Sasha Banks, bragging about how she pinned her last week and how she can’t touch her when it comes to raw talent. Reginald did not do any random flips though, sorry to disappoint.
Dirty Dawgs (Dolph Ziggler & Robert Roode) defeated The Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins & Montez Ford) [c] via pinfall to win the SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP (10:58 shown)
Ford initially showed no ill effects from last week’s attack but after a tope con hilo on Roode & Ziggler his knee gave out and he was unable to stand. Dawkins took over as Ford struggled to overcome the pain, connecting with a twisting forearm in the corner. He almost tagged Ford out of instinct but decided against it, wanting to give him more time to recover, and paid for it as Ziggler made the blind tag and connected with a dropkick. Ziggler grabbed a front facelock and used a Gator Roll to bring him to the heel corner, a nice bit of smart tag team wrestling. Ford finally got the tag, hitting Ziggler with a GLANCING BLOW of a backhand (even the commentators didn’t really try to sell that it connected) and a discus lariat for a two-count. Ford struggled up to the top turnbuckles, Ziggler used a distraction from Roode to send him crashing to the mat with an avalanche X-Factor but couldn’t get the pin. Ford ducked a superkick and hit one of his own, Roode broke up the pinfall attempt and got sent to the floor by Dawkins. Ziggler clipped Ford’s knee, Roode connected with a Perfect Plex but FORD STILL KICKED OUT, much to his surprise. Dirty Dawgs continued the offense, catching Ford with a Zig Zag/spinebuster combo to get the win and regain the championship.
- Good match, Ford was GREAT as the babyface in peril trying to overcome an injury to get the win but falling short in the end. I very much look forward to a Montez Ford singles run in the far-flung future. Roode & Ziggler are real committed to this Dirty Dawgs thing, as everything from their denim jackets to their in-ring gear had the logo on it but the ring announcer didn’t announce them as such. Roode & Ziggler seem fine as a team but it’s hard to get excited about it as I have absolutely no idea who would even challenge them besides the Profits. (**1/2)
Ziggler & Roode cleared Dawkins & Ford out of the ring so they could celebrate with their titles in the ring.
–Adam Pearce and Sonya Deville discussed possible challengers for the new champions until Paul Heyman interrupted. Deville saw herself out and Heyman brought up Pearce’s accomplishments pre-WWE (the “Scrap Daddy” era), then said he pulled some strings and now Pearce WOULD be competing in tonight’s gauntlet match. A gift from Roman Reigns.
–Billie Kay caught up with The Riott Squad (Ruby Riott & Liv Morgan) backstage, still ecstatic about “their” win last week. Kay wanted to make their duo an official trio but Riott politely declined. Kay started “crying” about no one wanting to team with her, Morgan relented slightly and Kay IMMEDIATELY perked up and said she’d been listening to punk rock like Blink-182 and has added mosh pit master to her resume. She ran off excited, Morgan apologized to Riott for what just happened.
- Punk Rock Billie Kay is going to RULE.
Adam Pearce defeated Rey Mysterio [w/ Dominik Mysterio], King Corbin, Daniel Bryan, & Shinsuke Nakamura to win the #1 Contender’s Gauntlet (25:05 total)
Sami Zayn came out, shadowed by a documentary crew. He claimed to be the target of a mass conspiracy and the documentary being produced will uncover it. Zayn said he was still the champion of the people and would plow through everyone to get his title shot. Rey Mysterio took advantage of a distracted Zayn, hitting a 619 and the Frog Splash for the quick victory, eliminating a shocked Zayn and moving on in the gauntlet.
Shinsuke Nakamura was next out and took control after rolling through a sliding sunset bomb on the floor and connecting with a sliding knee, almost getting the pinfall right then and there. Mysterio blocked a superplex attempt and sent him to the canvas with a headbutt, following up with a pair of seated splashes and a 619. Nakamura countered a Frog Splash with a pair of knees and locked in a Cross Armbreaker for the tapout victory.
King Corbin rushed the ring, attacking Mysterio, Dominik, and Nakamura. Nakamura connected with a series of strikes, Corbin connected with a boomerang lariat for a two-count. Corbin caught Nakamura mid-splash on the floor and rammed him back-first into the post, Nakamura fought back and connected with a flying kick for a two-count. Nakamura charged, Corbin hit the Deep Six but couldn’t get the pin. Corbin ran around the post and charged at Nakamura who supposedly hit him with a Kinshasa for the 1…2…3. Looked more like a kick to me. This was the worst “match” of the gauntlet by far.
Daniel Bryan made his way out and business picked right up as they laid into each other with stiff shots. Bryan countered the Kinshasa with a half-Crab, transitioning into an Ankle Lock but Nakamura made it to the ropes. Bryan attempted a Cross Armbreaker of his own, Nakamura blocked it so he moved to the Yes Lock instead; Nakamura tried to reach the ropes with his free arm so Bryan changed it into a double armbar submission but couldn’t catch the leg in time and Nakamura once again forced a rope break. Bryan lit Nakamura up with jabs, sending him into the corner so he could hit a pair of corner dropkicks. Bryan charged once more, Nakamura caught up with another Kinshasa for the 1…2…3! Bryan pulled Nakamura up and they shook hands.
Nakamura SHOULD have been declared the victor here but thanks to some string pulling out came a VERY reluctant Adam Pearce as the final participant, stalked to the ring by Roman Reigns, Jey Uso, and Paul Heyman. Uso slid into the ring and attacked Nakamura, Reigns joined in and laid Nakamura out with a Superman Punch. Reigns threw Pearce into the ring and Uso dropped him with a superkick; Reigns forced the ref to call for the bell, Uso placed Pearce on top of Nakamura and the ref was forced to count the 1…2…3.
- King Corbin aside, this gauntlet was pretty great. Sami Zayn getting in his own way at the start was tremendous, and Nakamura getting the big run was a nice surprise as he’s just sorta been…existing as part of a tag team for awhile. He and Bryan tore the house down for the few minutes they had, Bryan seemingly relishing the opportunity to do battle with him. But that ending…GOD I LOVED THAT ENDING. Reigns took offense at Pearce trying to decide a challenger for him so he manipulated things and forced Pearce into that role for the Royal Rumble, giving him what should be an easy title defense and also the ability to get revenge on Adam Pearce without fear of repercussions that come with attacking an official. An absolutely BRILLIANT move on Roman Reigns’ part and once I got what was going on I was ALL IN on the story. Really cool bit of business there. (***1/2)
Satisfied with the situation he created for himself, Roman Reigns ended the show holding his Universal Championship high.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Great episode of SmackDown this week, with new champions crowned and each contest having real stakes to them. The Roman Reigns/Adam Pearce story got cooler as it evolved throughout the night and Reigns’ plan was made clear, leading to an AWESOME ending and a genuinely intriguing match for the Royal Rumble. I hope it sticks because I am all about seeing Adam Pearce throw hands in a big WWE PPV match; if Hardcore Holly got to do it back in the early-2000s then Scrap Daddy deserves the shot too. Great storytelling this week, good in-ring action, the A-brand delivers again.
- MATCH OF THE NIGHT: The #1 Contender’s Gauntlet
- MOMENT OF THE NIGHT: Adam Pearce wins the Gauntlet, Roman Reigns’ master plan coming to fruition.