It’s the final stop before Royal Rumble for SmackDown. Yet there still feels like the blue brand hasn’t had much in the way of attention as it pertains to the men’s Rumble match. The hope was that this would change on the latest episode, especially with the announcement of a Rey Mysterio-Andrade Two Out Of Three Falls match that had the potential to be incredible, following their memorable battle last week.
Becky Lynch Promo
SmackDown started in much the same way as last week’s edition did, with “The Man” Becky Lynch coming to the ring and speaking her mind (noting how her goal is to main event WrestleMania), and with Asuka interrupting her speech. This time, before The Empress could say a word, Charlotte Flair interrupted them both and emphasised her general superiority, as well as vowing to win the women’s Rumble match. Asuka then attacked Becky, and the two brawled all over ringside, leading to Becky pounding Asuka over and beyond the announcer’s table (though the UK feed annoyingly went dark during this scrap). The two also continued fighting backstage, which adds to the feeling of chaos within WWE’s women’s ranks right now.
Naomi vs. Mandy Rose
On a similar note, Naomi and Mandy Rose have been at each other’s throats in recent weeks, with Mandy getting under Naomi’s skin by trying to woo her husband Jimmy Uso. They finally clashed here, with Naomi charging down the aisle and knocking Sonya Deville aside en route to getting her hands on Mandy. It’s been an interesting rivalry, and so a babyface victory here would have probably meant the end of the feud. Which is why it was a good sign that Rose picked up the win, thanks to a distraction from Sonya that led to Naomi being driven into the post. No doubt, Naomi will get full retribution for Mandy’s actions, but not just yet.
The Miz vs. Cesaro
Ahead of The Miz and Shane McMahon facing The Bar at Royal Rumble for the SmackDown Tag Team Titles, here we had Miz and Cesaro squaring off one-on-one. Last week, Miz managed to pin Sheamus (in trousers, no less), but here the Swiss Superman proved to be too much for the Awesome One. Or at least that’s what he and Sheamus will say, but it was interference from the Celtic Warrior that contributed to the result, despite Shane McMahon’s presence at ringside. Afterwards, Shane beat up both members of The Bar (you read that right), and planned to elbow drop Cesaro through the announcer’s table, but Sheamus shoved him off the top rope onto the barricade. Sheamus then brutally Brogue Kicked Shane, and he and Cesaro slammed Shane onto Miz through the same desk. I’m expecting Miz and Shane to capture the titles on Sunday, though I continue to believe that we’re going to see Miz and Shane collide themselves come WrestleMania.
AJ Styles-Vince McMahon-Daniel Bryan Segment
Mr. McMahon had vowed to host a face-to-face debate between champion and challenger in the WWE Title bout at Royal Rumble. AJ Styles was happy to oblige (and seemed friendly enough with Vince despite decking him on Christmas night), but Bryan chose to remain stationed at ringside, believing that he was being set up. Continuously slating AJ and the fans for their lifestyles and choice of diets, Bryan even turned his attention to Vince himself, criticising him for the choices that he and similarly-aged, wealthy people make. A non-plussed Vince demanded that Bryan just get in the ring, but Styles made things easier by choosing to attack Bryan at ringside. Tossing him into the squared circle, AJ planned to unleash a Phenomenal Forearm, but Bryan tried to shove Vince in the way. AJ noticed and stopped short, but left himself open for a Running Knee by Bryan, who may be the hottest character in the company right now.
Backstage, R-Truth and Carmella discussed their own chances of winning the Royal Rumble, and the potential title matches they may end up having at WrestleMania. As Truth wandered off, Carmella bumped into Charlotte, who reminded the Princess Of Staten Island about her abilities. Charlotte certainly seems to be the favourite to win the women’s Rumble; however, even though she is not entered and is competing in a separate title match, Becky Lynch still remains the preferred choice to triumph in the 30-woman battle. WWE would be wise to hold the women’s Rumble before the title matches involving Ronda Rousey and Asuka, in order to provide a more unpredictable atmosphere on a night that is all about surprises.
Samoa Joe vs. Mustafa Ali
Earlier in the show, we had a pre-taped promo from Ali, where he explained that he had seen a look in Samoa Joe’s eyes the previous week (where Joe attacked Mustafa before their scheduled bout) which told him that Joe was afraid, but that a look in his own eyes emphasised to others that he could defeat Joe. In this match, Joe largely controlled the offence against the lighter underdog, but Mustafa more than held his own with some dynamic aerial offence, doing his very best to keep Joe at bay. In the end, Joe managed to overcome the challenger of his unfancied opponent with the Coquina Clutch, but Mustafa is likely to continue building momentum, especially if these are only the early stages of a full-on feud with Joe.
The New Day explained to Kayla Braxton how the Rumble match will not divide their loyalties (“If one member of New Day wins, we all win!”). After a brief interruption by Tony Chimel of all people (who Big E told to go and find Edge), Kofi Kingston expressed concern that he may not have a dramatic way to escape being eliminated this year, only to have a brainwave that will remain secret for now. Hmm …
Two Out Of Three Falls Match
Rey Mysterio vs. Andrade
This contest was eagerly-anticipated, and they managed to live up to expectations with another excellent match. I won’t be able to cover everything that happened in this one, but I must mention Andrade’s standing sit-out powerbomb off the top rope for a stunning first fall, Rey hitting another explosive Canadian Destroyer for the two, and each man exchanging bigger and bigger moves in an attempt to claim victory. Rey even brought back the West Coast Pop, as well as managing to slide under the bottom rope and sunset flip Andrade into the barricade. Unfortunately, though, we didn’t get a clear-cut winner, as Samoa Joe interfered to attack Rey and then Andrade (Mysterio still gets the victory via disqualification, though). Joe explained that he was going to win the Royal Rumble no matter what … only to taste an RKO from out of nowhere by Randy Orton, who posed (to wild cheers, despite his status as a ruthless heel) to close the evening.
Between Raw and SmackDown, there was plenty of excitement this week to promote Royal Rumble. In terms of in-ring action, Rey vs. Andrade was the match of the week so far, as they put on yet another belting encounter. Elsewhere, I’m intrigued as to who will challenge Daniel Bryan beyond the Rumble (since I don’t envision AJ regaining his title this Sunday), as well as wondering whether we’ll get any swerves to go with the surprise entries in the Rumble matches. Add to that the continuation of the Miz/Shane tandem, other fun storylines carrying on, and the first-class chemistry between Mysterio and Andrade (which could culminate at WrestleMania; they could kick off the biggest show of the year with a bang), and overall one can only come away from SmackDown feeling positive, both about the episode itself and about potential developments as we begin the Road To WrestleMania.