After a very memorable episode of Raw, which included some highly-welcome positive news from Roman Reigns and the return of Batista, it was easy to assume that SmackDown would be forgettable in comparison. Wrong!
Fast Lane Contract Signing
WWE had advertised that we would get a contract signing for the Daniel Bryan-Kofi Kingston WWE Championship match at Fast Lane. Shane and Stephanie McMahon were on hand, as we were shown highlights of Kofi’s 11-year WWE career, and then he and The New Day came out with more positivity than ever before, celebrating that Kingston was finally getting his opportunity. But not so fast: as he was about to sign on the dotted line, Vince McMahon’s music played. The Chairman had bad news for Kofi: in his mind, Kingston hadn’t earned his opportunity (Shane chose him, to be fair), and decided that he would be replaced by a more marketable name … the returning Kevin Owens! This was a major shocker, but while Owens resurfacing to face Bryan for the title was big news, the larger focus for the show was on Kingston losing out on an opportunity he had waited so long for. In the bigger picture, this may be the best thing that could happen for Kofi, because it means he is suddenly the red-hot favourite to end up getting his title shot – and maybe even a title win – at WrestleMania 35. But we will see.
In the meantime, KO suggested to Shane and Stephanie that he team with Kofi against Bryan and Rowan in the main event. Meanwhile, the commentators debated the situation throughout the night; Corey Graves humorously said that “Kofi screwed Kofi”, which was amusing because Kingston had literally done nothing to warrant being removed (unlike Becky Lynch, who in storyline had attacked The Authority before Vince replaced her in a similar situation).
Cesaro vs. Johnny Gargano – Or Maybe Not
We were told that Johnny Gargano would be appearing for the second straight week to face Cesaro, following Johnny and Tommaso Ciampa’s victory over The Bar last week. Instead, Sheamus joined Cesaro in the ring, and we were privy to another big surprise: the reunion of The Hardy Boyz!
The Hardy Boyz vs. The Bar
Matt Hardy’s future had been the topic of much speculation online in recent months, and his injury concerns appeared to have effectively brought an end to his career. But here he was (and no longer Woken, though we did get some Delete spots), teaming with Jeff against two familiar foes from their underrated 2017 rivalry. This was a good match; nothing that will make any Best-Of DVDs, but an enjoyable scrap nonetheless. And in their home state of North Carolina, Brothers Matt and Jeff triumphed with the usual Twist Of Fate/Swanton Bomb combo on Sheamus. Very interesting to see The Hardyz reunited, and looking pretty good in the process. That Matt (and Owens for that matter) has both jumped to SmackDown without any explanation should be par for the course at a time when nearly a dozen NXT acts are roaming both shows, with the most recent batch of fresh faces still attached to the yellow-and-black brand.
Next up, R-Truth came to the ring with Carmella and said that he wanted to replicate his childhood hero, John Cena (ahem) by issuing a United States Championship Open Challenge. Andrade walked out to answer the call, but was knocked over by Rey Mysterio along the way, given their recent struggles. The upshot of it all was a three-way match for the gold, right now!
United States Championship Triple Threat Match
R-Truth (C) vs. Andrade vs. Rey Mysterio
Andrade and Rey delivered the goods, and alongside Truth – who can definitely still go when required – we were treated to a thrilling three-way encounter here. Mysterio and Andrade provided the daring high spots that we have come to expect from both, while Truth channelled Cena again with a Five-Knuckle Shuffle. I thought we might have gotten a title change here (especially given the wealth of unpredictability across the board this week), but instead Truth managed to roll Rey up for the pinfall win to keep hold of the belt in his first SD appearance since winning the thing. Afterwards, Andrade knocked down Rey and the two fought a little more; Fast Lane seems likely to wrap up their hostilities, but nobody would complain if their feud stretched all the way to WrestleMania.
We then had a video on The Honky Tonk Man’s much-deserved Hall Of Fame induction. They showed footage of Honky, Greg Valentine and Jimmy Hart being driven into WrestleMania VI via a pink Cadillac, with Diamond Dallas Page as the driver. Twenty-nine years on, all are (or will be) Hall Of Famers, though the fact that the man behind the wheel – DDP – got there before one of the guys in the car is darkly comical.
By that, I mean the Queen Of WWE, not the host city for this episode of SmackDown. Charlotte did what she does best, and that is brag about her superiority, in the midst of the chaos that has seen Becky Lynch and, for now at least, Ronda Rousey removed from the Raw Women’s Championship equation for Mania. Charlotte closed her speech by vowing to appear on Raw next week to be awarded the seemingly-vacant title. I’m really enjoying this storyline, partly because we are getting many twists that are keeping us guessing, which should result in the eventual WrestleMania encounter feeling massive.
Aleister Black & Ricochet vs. Shinsuke Nakamura & Rusev
Remember when Nakamura’s entrance was one of the highlights of the show? Here, we didn’t even see him and Rusev arrive. Cynicism aside, this was okay; not as good as Black & Ricochet vs. The Revival on Raw, but it was worthwhile nonetheless. I have no idea where WWE are going with the Shinsuke/Rusev combo, other than probably splitting them up when the Superstar Shake-Up occurs in April, but the futures look bright for the NXT call-ups. Black Mass again decided the contest here, as Black rocked Shin with his devastating kick for the win.
Backstage, AJ Styles discussed how he plans to get out of the slump that he has been in recently, only to be confronted briefly by Randy Orton, with whom there have been some minor run-ins as of late. A PPV contest is inevitable; whether it occurs on March 10 or April 7 remains to be seen.
Lacey Evans once again came out to do the Grampa Simpson, and will most likely do so until after WrestleMania. Also, we were shown highlights of the Roman Reigns segment from Raw, which was great news all-round. We were told that we’d hear from The Usos, ahead of their rematch against The Miz and Shane at Fast Lane, but such a promo never aired. We never saw Asuka either, meaning that her only SD appearance over the past five weeks was her defeat to Mandy Rose last week. Damn.
Kevin Owens & Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan & Rowan
We were actually getting two returns here: KO in his first match since October, and Rowan’s first televised effort since August. This was a decent match, though nothing to brag to your friends about. The big stories were Kofi maintaining his professionalism in the wake of huge disappointment, and Owens proving that he was indeed a worthy opponent for Bryan. KO (in the babyface role) managed to do this: though his sit-out Pop-Up Powerbomb did not put Daniel away, a Stone Cold Stunner did (at least Austin’s big finish worked), and so KO has some momentum ahead of a major clash with Bryan at Fast Lane. As for Kofi: as hinted earlier, it seems the seeds are being planted for him to get his big chance on a grander stage, where he might make his dream come true. Not bad for somebody who wasn’t even being considered for a singles push as recently as three weeks ago.
This was a great episode of SmackDown. The wrestling was fine, though we have seen better from the blue brand. But this was all about the excitement generated by key storyline developments on the increasingly-exciting Road To WrestleMania, along with two very different yet equally welcome returns. I began by noting how this week’s Raw was superb, but SmackDown came very close to matching it, making it a highly enjoyable two nights of wrestling television.