We’re well along the Road to Wrestlemania, but the destination is still hazy, especially on the Smackdown side of things.
John Cena is the WWE Champion. Randy Orton is the #1 Contender. But there’s no way they’re facing off at Wrestlemania. So somebody’s taking the title from Cena tonight. And the most likely candidate is someone who’s never held singles gold in WWE, Bray Wyatt.
Which leaves Cena without an opponent for Wrestlemania. Same with AJ Styles. They’ve faced off in multiple classics already, could we be in store for another round at Wrestlemania?
Mickey vs Becky
Unlike a certain Cewsh Reviews personality, I’m happy that Mickey is back. This fledgling division could use a credible veteran name who gets a reaction and can put over the younger women.
This was a solid opener. Mickey working on the arm was surprising reversal on what you would expect. Nothing too special here, Becky goes over in a bit of a surprise. But right decision to have the younger talent go over the veteran.
Rating: **. Solid opener.
Apollo Crews & Kalisto vs. Dolph Ziggler
Don’t often see a handicap match where the heel is the one at the disadvantage. Ziggler’s heel turn is a welcome change as he had gotten stale as a face. Face team doesn’t have much going for it. Crews has zero momentum after almost a year on the main roster, shouldn’t have been called up at all. Kalisto and the Cruiserweight division both need each other.
Dolph is suddenly smart as a heel and attacks Kalisto during the entrance. Then him and Crews have a pretty generic match until Kalisto does a Willis Reed and limps to the ring. And then Dolph gets pinned. Huh. Post-match angle was cool, although the crowd cheered Dolph because wrestling is broken.
Rating: ½*. Yeah, not much going for that one.
Tag Team Turmoil Match
Smackdown tag division is really flat and this match reflects that. Two serious teams in American Alpha and the Usos and four jokes. This division could really use The Revival.
Only highlight of the early going is that Rhyno looks awesome with mutton chops. I enjoy Usos as heels, they’ve made a dramatic shift since turning. Comparatively, Dolph still has the same music and attire.
Alpha comes in and has a good match with Usos that ends too soon. So this is building to Alpha vs. Ascension? It’s too late to get Ascension over. That ship has 100% sailed. They try to make it seem like Ascension are going to win, but nobody buys it.
Rating: *1/2. Meh. Didn’t do much for me. Just filler.
Nikki Bella vs. Natalya
This feud has been ridiculously over the top. I’ve mostly enjoyed Nattie’s heel antics. They did a really dumb segment on Talking Smack where Natalya kicked the shit out of Nikki. That wasn’t the dumb part, the dumb part was that the next guy to be interviewed was John Cena and they showed him the clip and he was just like “Oh, that’s too bad” and then went through with the interview like nothing was up. Just bad writing, Cena interview should have happened before the attack or not at all.
This is a blood feud, but this ends up being a normal wrestling match. Holds, take downs. Lame stuff, shit psychology. This should be a wild brawl.
And then after a few minutes they suddenly start fighting like they should have been from the beginning. And then we end in a count out. Well, that was strange.
Rating: 1/2*. Yeah, that sucked.
Randy Orton vs. Luke Harper
I dig a Luke Harper singles run. I think he can really get over as a singles wrestler if they push him. Great look, ton of charisma, awesome in the ring. Total package right there. Just give him an opportunity.
I was expecting good things from this match, but it blew away my expectations. Harper is a stud and Orton is one of the best in the world when he’s motivated. Both guys brought the intensity here. Fighting on the floor, dives out of the ring, everything felt meaningful. Tons of hard shots from both guys.
Liked the finish, Orton hits the RKO out of nowhere after blocking Harper’s Discus Lariat. Absolutely awesome match. Can’t praise it enough.
Rating: ****1/4. Hell of a match, show stealer, Match of the Year candidate.
Smackdown Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Naomi
Pretty good intensity from there two early. Going at it harder than Natalya and Nikki did earlier.
Naomi with the surprising/unsurprising win (surprising because there doesn’t seem to be a clear reason for it, unsurprising because this is what the betting odds said would happen). Got a great reaction though, and I liked her emotional promo after winning. Post-match promo should probably be more common.
Rating: **. That was a fine match. Nothing more or less. Curious what the plan is for Naomi as champion.
Elimination Chamber Match for WWE Championship: John Cena (c) vs. AJ Styles vs. Baron Corbin vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz
I like the new Elimination Chamber. It being taller allows more room for guys to climb and do moves off the pods. The look is sleek and modern. And the pads on the outside are easier on the guys and allow them to do more stuff on the floor.
Loved the choice of Cena and Styles starting. Top two guys in the match get a chance to continue their rivalry.
This was mostly straightforward: Each new guy out of the pod would come in hot and beat up everyone in the match. That repeated itself with each new entrant.
I liked the way they booked the eliminations. Corbin flukily gets eliminated with a roll-up, gets his heat back smashing Ambrose. Miz sneaks in like a dick to pin Ambrose once Corbin is gone. Ambrose is protected, Miz gets heat.
One thing that surprised me was that Miz didn’t do a sore loser spot after being pinned by Cena. Obviously that spot had been done a lot on this show, but if Cena vs. Miz (or some variation) is the match for Wrestlemania this would have been a logical time to get it started.
There were too many big moves and bumps to list here. Everybody was dishing out big offense. Bray took out Cena with Sister Abigail to a big reaction. A few minutes of AJ vs. Bray ends with another Sister Abigail and Bray Wyatt is the new WWE Champion. Well-deserved. Feels like they missed the optimal moment for him a few years ago, but I’m still happy he’s the champion.
Rating: ***1/2. Thought that was quite good. A few of the eliminations could have been built to better, but the booking was overall logical.
Overall: A good show on the whole. Couple really good matches in the Chamber and Orton vs. Harper. Undercard wasn’t necessarily memorable but was at least inoffensive. I’m not necessarily thrilled with what’s shaping up for Wrestlemania, but Smackdown has been a strong show since the split so I’m interested in how they build to it.