The pre-Elimination Chamber episode of SmackDown promised a gauntlet match to determine who would be the final entrant in the WWE Championship Chamber match, though the big story heading into this show concerned the Raw Women’s Championship situation at WrestleMania. Becky Lynch, who had been suspended for refusing to see her doctor, did indeed see her doctor and get cleared to face Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania 35. The caveat was that she had to apologise to Stephanie McMahon and Triple H for attacking each of them last week. After agonising over her decision all night (since The Man’s pride makes this easier said than done), she decided that it would be best to simply say that she was sorry … only for Vince McMahon to announce that Lynch would now be suspended for 60 days, and be replaced against Rousey by Charlotte Flair!
Charlotte Flair Promo
Given the fan reaction to this announcement (which I’ll cover in a moment), it was only fitting that SmackDown open with The Queen, who played it up fantastically as a heel. I actually expected the reaction to her segment to be more hostile, though she still received the expected boos as she proclaimed that she would go on to defeat Ronda at WrestleMania, though she would also be sat in the front row for Rousey vs. Ruby Riott at Elimination Chamber just in case she has a new Mania opponent. She also emphasised her superiority, and made her disdain for Becky clear, partly by again sarcastically chanting her name.
As for the storyline as a whole: it’s clear what the final destination will be, as Charlotte being inserted into the match provides one more larger roadblock for Becky to overcome. Which makes me confused as to why so many fans have taken it so personally when it’s obvious that Lynch will find a way to be in that match at Mania, and most likely have her hand raised in victory. Charlotte has been a bigger thorn in Becky’s side over the past few months than Rousey has, and the whole premise for Lynch undergoing an attitude adjustment in the first place was because Charlotte took her moment of glory away at SummerSlam. Becky’s sudden surge in popularity was unexpected, but in the bigger picture, Ronda vs. Charlotte was always the plan for WrestleMania, and really it is Becky who has been added to the bout, rather than Charlotte taking Lynch’s spot. You may say that Ronda vs. Becky is the money match, but until Nia Jax crushed Lynch’s face, that feud would have been blown off at Survivor Series, because Ronda vs. Charlotte was the clear plan all along, as evidenced by the DQ finish when Flair replaced The Irish Lass-Kicker against Rousey at Survivors.
Even if we ignore that Becky won a Royal Rumble that she was never officially entered into in order to earn her spot, I find it baffling that some (that section of the fan-base who know everything and know how to book better than WWE, remember) are throwing their toys in the air about Charlotte being involved, akin to a six-year-old who is told that his friend is coming with them to the funfair, and he’ll still be able to go, but he pouts “I just want it to be me!” If they do just run Ronda vs. Charlotte at Mania then I would be extremely surprised, but considering the fact that the story will almost definitely end with Becky raising the Raw Women’s Championship at WrestleMania, this may be the biggest overreaction to a plot development that I have seen in a long time. Leaving Becky off the Mania card is akin to WWE not using Daniel Bryan whatsoever at WM XXX; it’s simply not going to happen, and the sooner that some “smart marks” realise that instant gratification and long-term storytelling are two completely different things, and that they’ll get the outcome that they want with a bit of patience, the better.
Naomi & Carmella vs. The IIconics vs. Sonya Deville & Mandy Rose
WWE ran this match last week, and here we had a rematch. The key difference here was that the losing squad would have to join Bayley and Sasha Banks by being the first entrants in the Women’s Tag Team Championship Chamber match on Sunday. Naomi and Carmella grafted (as much as they could to save their energy for the big match this weekend), while The IIconics wisely kept a distance; why participate heavily in a contest that has little to gain by winning, but a lot to lose by, erm, losing? And it was Deville and Rose who were beaten, after Naomi finally got some revenge over Mandy with her split-legged moonsault, meaning that the former Absolution members will kick off the Chamber clash against The Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection. Post-match, Billie Kay and Peyton Royce attacked Naomi and Carmella, leaving them laying. As for who will win the Women’s Tag Titles? I can’t see any of the SmackDown squads coming out on top, simply because it would be more appealing for either Bayley & Sasha or Nia Jax & Tamina to win. I’m predicting that Nia & Tamina win the titles, thus setting up a bigger title win for Bayley & Sasha at WrestleMania.
McMiz TV w/ The Usos
This segment was announced last week, and it was interesting how Shane, who at one point was untrustworthy of Miz and wanted to maintain his decorum around him, has now flung himself totally into the idea of teaming with The Awesome One, almost copying his mannerisms to a level that would make Damien Mizdow proud. Jimmy and Jey showed up, and the two initially exchanged friendly banter, before the tone became more serious, with the attempted home-wrecker Mandy Rose being brought up in the process. It all ended with The Usos flattening the reigning SmackDown Tag Team Champions with superkicks, raising hopes that they might capture the titles on Sunday.
Gauntlet to determine the last entrant in the WWE Championship Elimination Chamber Match
Daniel Bryan vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Jeff Hardy vs. Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton
A year on from the famous Raw gauntlet match that lasted for more than 90 minutes in total (and not coincidentally since it’s Elimination Chamber season), we had its spiritual sequel with a SmackDown gauntlet covering the entire second half of the programme. The key thread this time was Kofi Kingston, the New Day member selected to replace the injured Mustafa Ali, and the veteran more than made the most of his opportunity here, never mind on Sunday. Opening the match alongside reigning WWE Champion Daniel Bryan, this was a long stretch that began with slow, more methodical wrestling that led to a fair amount of groundwork and strikes, with Bryan taking the logical route of reducing the pace for a match that had the potential (and did) to go on for ages. But the assumption that the reigning titleholder would at least capture the first fall was incorrect, as Kingston caught Bryan with Trouble In Paradise to upset the WWE Champion!
This section of the match alone lasted nearly 25 minutes, so Kofi had essentially completed a night’s work already before Jeff Hardy arrived as the third participant. A few years ago, this might have been a very exciting and fast-paced pairing, but at this point and in this context, it was just okay. Hardy missed a Swanton Bomb (and I still cringe whenever Hardy misses that move, because he surely only has so many Swantons left in a body that has taken all sorts of punishment down the years), and Kofi eventually saw him off with the SOS to claim a second win. Samoa Joe as the fourth man out was the last opponent Kingston needed at this point, given Joe’s appetite for causing destruction and physical harm, yet Kofi even managed to pin him, thus beating more than half of the field that he has to battle inside the Chamber. Joe’s response was to attack Kofi and trap him in a Coquina Clutch at ringside.
AJ Styles, being the white-meat babyface (despite him clocking Vince backstage a few weeks ago), broke up the Clutch and fought Joe away, and made it clear that he didn’t want to have to fight Kofi here, since Kingston had not only wrestled over 45 minutes by this point but was now selling a real beating from Joe. Kofi answered by insisting that he battle on, shouting that he’d had been in WWE for 11 years and “I’ve waited too damn long for my opportunity!” Kingston bravely fought on, and had Styles in real danger on more than one occasion, but in the end the contest caught up with him, and AJ tapped Kingston out to the Calf Crusher. Big E and Xavier Woods led Kofi backstage to a rousing ovation, as the music for the final wrestler, Randy Orton, hit. Cue an RKO from out of nowhere as Orton crept up on Styles (who was looking towards the entrance way), and pinned AJ in a matter of seconds, thus winning a match with one move that had seen one of its participants wrestle for close to an hour. The show went off the air almost immediately, and had Orton’s contribution occurred 30 seconds later, chances are that the TV audience would have missed it.
This was a strong main event, as well as being a logical way to fill TV time. The star was obviously Kofi, who gave it his all in his most high-profile singles showing since 2009/2010. The odds of Kingston actually winning the WWE Title inside the Chamber are low, though another major showing there could see him earn a championship shot against Daniel Bryan at Fast Lane, the last PPV before WrestleMania. Then again, maybe WWE will have seen enough from him to give him a shot on the grand stage of Mania, especially since there is no obvious challenger for SmackDown’s big prize at WM right now. Or maybe he just loses inside a few minutes in the Chamber and reverts to tag team duties like nothing happened. We’ll have to wait and see.
Whereas last week’s episode had little to offer aside from Becky Lynch’s contribution, this week’s SD (without Becky physically appearing) was an improvement, albeit with a format that could not be used every week, since it’s unreasonable to expect a one-hour match every Tuesday night. This made me want to see the WWE Title Chamber match more than I did beforehand, so it achieved that goal, while also taking Kofi from replacement to worthy contender for Bryan’s championship. Charlotte’s promo was just what was required, as we await the next plot twist that many fans apparently are unable or unwilling to wait for. That we haven’t seen new U.S. Champion R-Truth for two weeks, and we haven’t seen SD Women’s Champion Asuka at all since the Rumble, is confusing, but to have a main event that long means leaving more faces off the show than usual, and I’m sure they will be back next week. Overall, this was good stuff from the SmackDown crew, and not for the first time.