Written By: Mark Armstrong
(Read the original version on Pro Wrestling Journal at http://prowrestlingjournal.com/index.php/2018/04/18/wwe-smackdown-review-analysis-17-04-2018/.)
Following on from last night’s Raw came part two of the Superstar Shake-Up on SmackDown. Plenty of names have moved over to Raw: Jinder Mahal (along with Sunil Singh), The Riott Squad, Breezango, Natalya, Dolph Ziggler, Baron Corbin and Bobby Roode were revealed during the show, with Mojo Rawley, Zack Ryder, Mike Kanellis, Chad Gable and The Ascension’s trades announced on social media. That doesn’t include the “fired” Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn moving over as well.
Obviously, then, SmackDown had some gaps on its roster to fill during tonight’s episode. Beforehand, I had assumed that it would mostly be heels that would be transferring to Tuesday nights, given how many villains had switched 24 hours earlier. Elias and Alexa Bliss seemed like prime candidates, as well as Mickie James and possibly Absolution. It also seemed certain that either Seth Rollins, as Intercontinental Champion, or Jeff Hardy, the new United States Champion, would also be crossing brands. Oh, and The Miz’ switch had already been announced on Raw, primarily to set up a red-hot feud with Daniel Bryan. Would these predictions come true, and who else would find a new home on SmackDown tonight?
AJ Styles Promo
AJ Styles opened the show, held in Providence, Rhode Island, to discuss his issues with Shinsuke Nakamura. Styles noted how you learn about somebody from their failures, and how Nakamura failed in their match at WrestleMania 34. Noting that “Shinsuke’s not just an artist, he’s a con artist”, AJ also noted how Shinsuke spoiled the dream match between Styles and Daniel Bryan from last week via his interference. Looking for a fight, Styles called out Nakamura for a fight, only to be interrupted by Aiden English and Rusev.
English noted that Nakamura was on vacation and so he couldn’t fight AJ here, but Rusev would be up for the challenge, which Styles accepted. The match quickly began … and just as quickly ended, as English ran in to break up an early Calf Crusher on Rusev. A post-match two-on-one beatdown was halted by Daniel Bryan, who helped AJ to clear the ring.
Backstage, Paige informed Shane McMahon that the main event would be AJ/Bryan vs. Rusev Day. Cue some Teddy Long dancing impersonations by both; after all, this would be a “TAG TEAM MATCH, PLAYA!”
Shelton Benjamin vs. ?
A tweet appeared on-screen with Benjamin providing encouraging words for Chad Gable, who moved to Raw the previous night. In a pre-match promo, though, Shelton stated that his Twitter had been hacked, and that he wouldn’t say anything like that. Noting that he never needed Gable but Gable needed him (which presumably means that Chad will be a babyface on Raw), Shelton then talked about his own future, and his wishes to earn a title opportunity against an opponent who would provide “real competition”. Randy Orton answered the call … only for Jeff Hardy to become SmackDown’s newest acquisition and to serve as Benjamin’s real opponent. Orton didn’t look too impressed.
Hardy’s appearance drew a big pop in Providence, though Benjamin hit the first big move when he sent Hardy to the ringside floor hard. Benjamin continued to overwhelm Hardy throughout the break, and Jeff was selling a knee injury which we weren’t privy to seeing, as the assault took place during the commercial (for this viewer in the UK, anyway). Hardy fought back, and after an attempted Whisper In The Wind was met with a high Benjamin knee, Hardy hit his spectacular aerial attack on the second try. A Dragon Whip by Shelton got a two-count, but his momentum was fleeting, as Jeff hit a Twist Of Fate and a Swanton Bomb for his second win as many nights.
Hardy was triumphant, then, in his first SmackDown match for almost nine years. Given the glare by Orton beforehand, it seems that we’ll be seeing Jeff vs. Randy in the coming weeks (though Jinder Mahal will get a rematch with Hardy for the U.S. Championship first at the Greatest Royal Rumble). This was a short but entertaining match, and for Benjamin’s sake, I hope we get to see a rematch; a feud between these two could be pretty special.
In the latest selfie-style promo, we heard from The Miz, who revealed that he wasn’t in Providence after all. Instead, he was in Los Angeles with Maryse and their new daughter Monroe Sky. Miz said he would make his SmackDown return on next week’s show. Huh.
It was revealed that Absolution (Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose) had come over to SmackDown, as I had predicted.
Jey Uso vs. Luke Harper
This served as a mini-preview of the SmackDown Tag Team Championship showdown between The Bludgeon Brothers and The Usos on April 27 (what are the odds of us getting Jimmy Uso vs. Erick Rowan next week?). The offence was back-and-forth early on, though Rowan and Jimmy quickly got involved from ringside. A Discus Clothesline by Harper ensured a rapid-fire pinfall victory. Afterwards, Rowan drilled Jimmy again on the floor, and rammed him into the steel stairs. Both Brothers drove Jey into the ring apron. But a teased double mallet attack was prevented by Naomi, who stuck up for her husband Jimmy. Harper and Rowan walked away, satisfied with the damage they had already caused.
Sin Cara vs. Samoa Joe
Sin Cara made his first appearance on SmackDown in months, but the bigger surprise was seeing Samoa Joe being moved over from Raw. Cara got some decent offence in early on, ensuring that it wouldn’t be the complete squash that I automatically assumed. An attempted springboard reverse elbow was blocked by Joe, who then took brutal control of the contest with a hard knee to the face. The Coquina Clutch ensured the win for Joe in another short match. Looks like the Roman vs. Joe feud won’t be a long-term thing, after all.
Post-match, Joe criticised SmackDown’s reputation as the Land Of Opportunity, calling it the “Land Of Hand-outs”. Needless to say, Joe vowed that he would receive the major opportunities on the blue brand, which includes taking down Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton and WWE Champion AJ Styles. He also again emphasised what he would do to Roman Reigns at Backlash, potentially ruling as Intercontinental Champion and Universal Champion after May 6 (who else forgot that Joe was in the IC Title Ladder match at Greatest Royal Rumble?).
Incidentally, SmackDown’s roster now boasts AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, Shinsuke Nakamura, Randy Orton, Jeff Hardy and Samoa Joe. Damn!
A promo video aired announcing that Sanity will soon be coming to SmackDown from NXT (sans Nikki Cross, apparently).
Backstage, Daniel Bryan stated that he helped AJ Styles earlier on because he respected him, and noted that while he was waiting to be medically cleared, he made a list of people he wanted to face (a shot at Cody Rhodes, perhaps?). AJ Styles was at the top of the list, because as Bryan put it, “he’s the best”. Bryan’s promo was cut short by Big Cass, returning after a long injury lay-off.
As you might imagine, this was Carmella’s celebration of her capturing the SmackDown Women’s Championship from Charlotte last week. Telling the fans that they didn’t believe in her before she successfully cashed in Money In The Bank, so they shouldn’t jump on the bandwagon now, Carmella noted how she waited for the right moment to use her MITB opportunity, echoing the sentiments of most former winners. After introducing her own video tribute, Carmella was interrupted by Charlotte, who brought up the original assistance of James Ellsworth (“the chinless freak”), and the help from The IIconics (why does this name have two I’s?) last week which paved the way for her title win.
Just as Charlotte seemed set to challenge Carmella to a rematch for her former title, The IIconics – Billie Kay and Peyton Royce – showed up to criticise Charlotte for blaming others that she was no longer SmackDown Women’s Champion. This fired up The Queen, who attempted to take down her new enemies from Australia, but was overwhelmed pretty quickly. Becky Lynch turned up to defend her tea-sipping friend, which could only lead to one thing (especially on SmackDown) …
Charlotte vs. Billie Kay
Okay, so I was expecting a tag team match. Instead, it was Charlotte vs. Billie Kay with Becky and Peyton remaining in their respective corners; Carmella was sat by the commentary desk, though she didn’t say a word. After being chopped at ringside, Billie looked to take control, grounding The Queen with punches and a shoulder stretch (during which time Corey Graves accused Byron Saxton of hypocrisy for slating Caremlla’s cash-in while approving of similar MITB moments in the past). Charlotte tried to fight back, only to take a shot from Royce while Kay held the referee’s attention.
Charlotte finally regained control with a high knee and several chops, and nailing Billie with a knee to the back of the head. As fans in Providence began chanting for performers not linked to this match whatsoever (I could hear chants for The Undertaker and Chris Jericho), Charlotte struck with a big boot, leading to the Figure-Eight for the submission victory. Carmella struck Charlotte with her championship, and she teamed up with Peyton to leave Charlotte and Becky laying. At least, until Asuka made her first appearance since WrestleMania 34 (no mention of her undefeated streak ending), and The Empress helped the faces to dismantle The IIconics; Carmella wisely retreated. Asuka’s late save was the only high point of a presentation which unnecessarily stretched across three segments.
A video aired for SmackDown’s next arrivals, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, followed by another selfie promo for The Bar, Sheamus and Cesaro, also switching brands. R-Truth then returned (having had a long injury-instigated lay-off of his own) in a backstage segment with The New Day and Tye Dillinger. Truth humorously thought he’d been switched to Raw. Tye: “Do you think he’ll be okay?” Big E: “No, no.”
The arrivals continued with the announcement of Andrade “Cien” Almas and Zelina Vega coming to SmackDown. Never mind Raw and SmackDown, will anybody be left on NXT after the events of the last two weeks?
AJ Styles & Daniel Bryan vs. Rusev Day
AJ getting an entrance before the break, Rusev Day coming out during the break, and Daniel Bryan getting an entrance after the break speaks volumes. Bryan was over huge, as usual. (By the way, can you believe that it has only been four weeks since Bryan was finally medically cleared to return to action?) Bryan worked over English’s left arm to begin with, followed by a leg snatch into a surfboard stretch, which was the base for an axe handle by Styles. A gutbuster by AJ brought Rusev into the fray, but both Rusev and Aiden momentarily found themselves caught in their opponents’ signature submission holds.
The heels (assuming that Aiden and Rusev are still on the dark side, which is difficult to determine) finally took control during the break, with English attempting to slow AJ down, and sending him flying with a huge back body drop. Rusev tagged in and trapped the WWE Champion with a bearhug, as Bryan looked for the hot tag. English tagged back in to unleash further damage onto Styles, but AJ would finally recover to hit English with a Pele Kick, which led to the big tag for Bryan. Cue the high-octane offence by Bryan, to the usual – and loud – “Yes!” chants. English broke up an attempted Yes Lock on Rusev, though Daniel soon struck him with the Running Knee. But out of nowhere, Shinsuke Nakamura low blowed AJ (who was on the apron) from the floor. As Bryan looked to see what had happened, Big Cass drilled Bryan with a big boot for the DQ. Maybe we’re not getting the Bryan-Miz feud as quickly as we had expected?
Renee Young tried to get a word with Nakamura after the match. Shinsuke: “No speak English.”
The roster moves made via the Shake-Up were intriguing on the whole. I was surprised that Elias didn’t swap shows, and I was very surprised that Alexa Bliss didn’t make the jump. That’s not to say the trade-offs were disappointing, though. Samoa Joe is SmackDown’s biggest catch, with Jeff Hardy being a close second. Big Cass is clearly headed for a major push. Call-ups for Sanity and Andrade “Cien” Almas provide a fresh layer to the show, and the remaining switches should boost the brand’s tag team and women’s divisions. Overall, the Superstar Shake-Up sets up plenty of intriguing scenarios for the coming months on both shows.
As for this episode of SmackDown in general: despite the excitement of the Shake-Up, this felt a bit “meh” at times. The Carmella-Charlotte-IIconics portion of the show dragged on, and the lack of a proper appearance by The Miz was disappointing. SmackDown seems to be heading in the right direction – AJ-Shinsuke, Bryan-Miz and Hardy-Orton all have real potential – but it looks like it will be next week’s edition which will truly mark the beginning of the next new era for the blue brand. A fun show, then, but a shade inferior to last night’s Raw.