(pictures below via WWE.com)
The NEEEEWWWWW WWE World champ is out to kick off this week’s SmackDown. Roman Reigns does the “love me or hate me” shtick before the new number 1 contender, AJ Styles, interrupts. He congratulates Reigns on becoming WWE champion before letting him know that he’s coming for the title. Roman responds but he almost literally repeats what AJ just said. He tells AJ that he’s beaten a lot of guys but he hasn’t beaten Roman before dropping the mic. This is the best version of Reigns so far, as he certainly has every reason to assume this bit of arrogance that is beginning to seep through. Whether he goes full-on heel or not, I like that they’ve finally addressed the crowd’s reaction to Roman through his “not a good guy, not a bad guy” and have adjusted his character accordingly. It’s definitely not perfected yet but it’s good to see the change regardless. As for AJ, he’s taken to his role in WWE quite nicely and has honestly exceeded my early expectations. Although I think him not going over at ‘Mania was still a misstep, he’s found himself in a fantastic position and has been made into a big deal to the WWE Universe. I’m not counting on him to become champion at Payback however but he certainly provides a most interesting opponent for Reigns’ first feud post-WrestleMania.
Recap of Vince McMahon inexplicably giving Shane McMahon control over RAW before we get a graphic for tonight’s main event; AJ Styles & Cesaro vs Kevin Owens & Chris Jericho! Nice.
The Lucha Dragons make their way out for tag action. Their opponents this week are the debuting Vaudevillains. Not much of a reaction for English & Gotch from the SmackDown crowd. Dragons control early and hit a monkey flip/450 splash combo! Sin Cara clotheslines English to the outside and goes for a tope suicida but Gotch cuts him off with a running knee. Vaudevillains in control as Mauro breaks down “bartitsu” for us. Learn something new every day! Sin Cara fights his way to Kalisto and he cleans house. Kalisto gets a cover after an offensive flurry but English breaks it up. Sin Cara takes him out and hits the tope suicida the second time around. Cara tries to get back in but Gotch hits a baseball slide. Kalisto goes for Salida del Sol on Gotch but English comes in to block it. Whirling Dervish connects and The Vaudevillains pick up the win in their debut! Solid debut against what was probably the ideal opposition as they make the jump from NXT to SmackDown.
WINNERS: The Vaudevillains via pinfall
Video package of Zack Ryder’s big win at WrestleMania and his disappointing loss to The Miz the following night on RAW. Ryder looks to reclaim the Intercontinental title later on tonight.
Summer Rae is standing in the ring as we come back from break, as she’s set to square off with Natalya. The reigning WWE Women’s champion, Charlotte, sits at the announce table along with the ‘Nature Boy’. Nattie is in a groove to start the match until Summer gets a drop toehold into the second rope. She sends Nattie to the floor and hits a snap suplex. Summer finds herself in control and gets a spinning heel kick for a near fall. She goes for a second kick but Natalya trips her and gets the sharpshooter for the win! A great point was brought up during the match and its one that I had going back to Monday; why is Nattie in the title picture right now? Charlotte just beat her clean as a sheet about a month or so ago, why would we buy her as a viable threat? I’m sure it’s just something for Charlotte to do before we get the feud with Sasha but come on.
WINNER: Natalya via submission
More highlights from RAW, this time focusing on that great main event and AJ Styles becoming number one contender to Roman Reigns’ WWE title.
Zack Ryder is here and the look on his face tells the story, as he’s here to try and reclaim the IC title from The Miz. Maryse is out to introduce her husband and to remind us that Miz has really won in life. My goodness. We get a DEAN DOUGLAS reference when Mauro gives us stats on shortest IC title reigns. I honestly did not think that this would be a feud for a secondary title…well, ever. I ain’t mad at it though. Ryder brings the offense early and hits a missile dropkick from the apron to the floor! Imagine not liking Zack Ryder in 2016. Ryder goes up top but gets yanked off by The Miz, who follows with a big kick to the face. Ryder breaks out of a camel clutch but gets caught with a neckbreaker. Miz maintains control until Zack counters a vertical suplex into a neckbreaker. Second rope rana attempt countered into a sitout powerbomb by Miz for 2! Kneeling DDT gets another near fall! These guys are working hard, I dig it. Miz looks for the Skull Crushing Finale but it’s blocked. Eye of the Hurricane by Ryder gets 2. Zack goes for the Broski Boot but Miz bails. Wrecking ball dropkick (as coined by Ranallo) connects and Zack hits the Broski Boot outside! He tosses Miz in and hits the ELBRO drop for a near fall! Ryder is FIRED UP and beats Miz down in the corner. Off camera, Maryse removes one of the turnbuckle covers in the opposite corner and the distraction allows Miz time to hit the Skull Crushing Finale! Great match. This is the best Miz has looked in recent memory and everyone who follows me on Twitter knows how I feel about Ryder after his recent run on the C shows.
WINNER and still Intercontinental champion: The Miz via pinfall
The Social Outcasts are here now, unfortunately. One of them is to face Apollo Crews this evening and decide on who it will be in the most time-honored of traditions; rock, paper, scissors. Curtis Axel chops them all with an imaginary “axe” and does his “YIIIII” thing before jumping in the ring. My God, just let this guy go. He can’t even be bothered with ring gear anymore, as he looks like the epitome of “fuck it” with his cargo shorts on. Crews dominates the match outside of a small flurry from Axel. Spinout powerbomb finishes this very quickly.
WINNER: Apollo Crews via pinfall
Recap of Baron Corbin’s first two nights on the main roster. Winning the Andre the Giant battle royal and dropping Dolph Ziggler on the floor with End of Days isn’t a bad way to make an impact. Rich Brennan tries interviewing Baron but he’s having none of that. He keeps his words brief, letting us in on the fact that the “end of days is already here”.
Photo stills from the excellent women’s championship match from WrestleMania are shown before Renee Young brings in Becky Lynch for an interview. She’s sporting a nice black eye but remains optimistic about getting back in the title hunt. Emma interrupts and the two exchange words. Give me this match, please.
Dean Ambrose is here, fresh off a disappointing WrestleMania appearance. Speaking of disappointment, his opponent this week is Tyler Breeze. I mean, is Breeze’s current standing really from asking to leave a show early a few months back. Remember the utter glee we felt about our beleaguered supermodel about 8 months ago when he was battling JUSHIN LIGER in Brooklyn? Seems ages ago, that. Ambrose attacks at the bell but Breeze comes back with an enziguri. He follows up with a dropkick but Dean fires back with whatever they’re calling his rebound clothesline this week. Dirty Deeds by Ambrose and that’s it!
WINNER: Dean Ambrose via pinfall
Chris Jericho’s music hits before Dean can exit the ringside area and Dean stares him down as they pass on the ramp. If they’re planting seeds for a feud, I’d be more than okay with these two going head to head. Main event time is up next after the commercial break!
Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens vs Cesaro & AJ Styles
Styles & Y2J start. Style with a dropkick and in comes Cesaro. It’s so damn good to have him back. They get the best of Jericho, causing him to roll to the floor as we go to break. Coming back, Styles & Cesaro are still in control of Jericho. Y2J is able to finally get to his corner and tag Owens but their advantage is brief. Uppercut train by Cesaro! Cesaro tries the giant swing on both guys but is unsuccessful. Jericho sends Cesaro to the floor and KO sends him into the announce table, turning the tide of the match. Those dirty Canadian heels work over Cesaro for a few minutes until he hits SWISS DEATH on Jericho! Hot tag to AJ is thwarted by Y2J, as Styles gets pulled off the apron. Owens is in but he misses the corner cannonball and in comes AJ! He hits the ushigoroshi on Jericho and a sitout facebuster on Owens for 2. He looks for the springboard reverse DDT but misses; a superkick from Owens does not. Styles fires back with a Pele kick before going to the apron. He goes for the Phenomenal Forearm but Y2J shoves him off. Package powerbomb by Owens gets 2. Cesaro hits a big running uppercut to Jericho on the outside. Owens looks to finish off Styles but out comes the injured Sami Zayn! Referees and officials are trying to hold him back and the distraction allows AJ to rollup Owens for the win! Fun match that continued to get better & better as it went along. Great follow up to the main event from Monday.
WINNERS: Cesaro & AJ Styles via pinfall
Post-match, the Zayn and KO fight at ringside as officials try and separate them. Jamie BY GOD Noble is out there and I must say, he hooks in a pretty deep half chicken wing on Zayn. Sami is here, thirsty for revenge and looking to quench that thirst. Owens sends Sami careening into the steps and we go off the air with everyone trying to hold off Kevin Owens.
Really solid show this week. Zack Ryder and The Miz had a great match and the main event was just as good. SmackDown this week really highlighted guys who could be the immediate future, outside of Jericho. Imagine a main event scene built around Styles, Owens, Ambrose, Cesaro and a few others in pursuit of Roman Reigns and his WWE title, threatening to dismantle the empire that he is just beginning to build for himself. It’s an opportunity to put a fresh cast of characters at the top of the card and reignite interest. Now, I seem to find myself awfully optimistic about things post-WM every year and am generally finding myself let down for the most part. But for now, WWE has me cautiously excited for what could be in 2016.