The Superstar Shake-Up continued on SmackDown, following an eventful Raw which saw plenty of roster moves, along with the wrestling social media community proving to be as childish as ever due to their distress over a simple name change. What would SD bring us? Well, Vince McMahon was slated to announce SmackDown’s biggest ever signing. Sounds like a good basis for a show to me!
The KO Show w/ The New Day
At last, a talk show which didn’t end in violence! As with Raw, SD was held in Montreal, the hometown of Kevin Owens, which meant a massive pop for him. KO brought out Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods, but the WWE Champion and his trombone-playing friend were missing a member: Big E, who is unfortunately now on the shelf with a knee injury. Xavier seemed almost as upset that 80% of his pals from Up Up Down Down are now on Raw, and he audibly appealed for Tyler Breeze to move over. Owens noted that Kofi and Woods were scheduled to wrestle Rusev and Shinsuke Nakamura later on, but he suggested that he could fill Big E’s place in The New Day, becoming The Big K and then The Big O! Cue some dancing, trialling of T-shirts and unicorn horns, and a lot of enthusiastic Montreal fans. The implication was that Owens would be in their corner, though a backstage discussion between Shinsuke, Rusev and Cesaro (minus Sheamus) meant a six-man tag was made later on.
Finn Balor vs. Ali
The segment ended with the introduction of Finn Balor, who is now on SD, and has brought the Intercontinental Championship with him. Presumably, this means that Samoa Joe will take the United States crown to Raw, though we may have to wait until next week for that shift. Finn’s opponent here was Ali, and though he has become an overlooked member of the SD crew rather quickly, his efforts remain of a high standard. Indeed, this was a very good back-and-forth match with a slow start building up to a crescendo of big moves towards the finish line. Balor eventually caught Ali with the Coup De Grace for the pinfall, and they shook hands afterwards. I don’t see this happening, but if this did lead to an Ali heel turn and a feud with Finn for the IC crown, I wouldn’t complain.
Backstage, we had segments book-ending the start of the next match, as Owens continued his New Day initiation by attempting to break Big E’s record of eating the most pancakes. He managed to do so, despite apparently never eating a pancake before.
Carmella vs. Charlotte Flair
This was a decent showcase of both ladies, with Carmella having more credibility than she did when feuding with Flair a year ago because they now sit on opposite sides of the face/heel barrier, and because Carmella recently won the Women’s Battle Royal at WrestleMania. Nevertheless, it was impossible to envision that Charlotte would lose here, and so that proved as she claimed a submission victory with the Figure-Eight. Flair seemed pretty cheery considering that we last saw her lose the Mania main event without taking the fall. Post-match, Lars Sullivan pounded R-Truth, despite Truth’s attempts at fighting back, and Lars even teased attacking Carmella (who supposedly suffered a knee injury from Flair) before she was helped away.
Becky Lynch Promo
This was very similar to her other promos since Mania; Lynch discussed how having two titles makes her a target, and that she’d be ready for anybody. Cue Ember Moon and then Bayley, both of whom had been switched from Raw (the latter was heavily booed, for some reason). They were all interrupted by The IIconics, who said that their titles were better than Becky’s, but then Billie Kay and Peyton Royce were interrupted by Paige. The former SmackDown General Manager noted that she had a team to unveil as her new clientele, based on what she said last week. Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville came out believing that we were getting a reunion of Absolution, but Paige instead introduced Asuka and, officially arriving on the main roster from NXT, Kairi Sane. Cue a huge brawl leading to an eight-woman tag team match, playa!
Ember Moon, Bayley, Asuka & Kairi Sane vs. The IIconics, Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville
This match was what it was: a basic exhibition to establish a suddenly-strong SmackDown women’s division, as well as emphasising that Asuka and Sane, with Paige at their side, are coming for The IIconics and their Women’s Tag Team Championships. The finish saw the usual sequence where everybody trades big moves, culminating in Kairi hitting Peyton with the In-Sane Elbow for the three-count. We later learned that Mickie James and Liv Morgan had also been traded from Raw, which means that Becky Two Belts and The IIconics now have a ton of competition for their titles.
Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods & Kevin Owens vs. Rusev, Shinsuke Nakamura & Cesaro
After pre-taped interviews from both The Hardy Boyz and Buddy Murphy, with the latter confirming that he was coming to SD from 205 Live, it was time for Kevin Owens to really step into Big E’s shoes by doing his pre-entrance verbal intro (“DON’T YOU DARE BE SOUR!”). Oh, and we had a match as well. I’m not sure where Sheamus was (might he be going to Raw, thus bringing The Bar to an abrupt end?), but it was neat to see Cesaro in a singles role again (granted, this was a six-man tag, but it reminded me of what The Swiss Superman can do when he goes it alone nonetheless). Otherwise, this felt like a bit of a filler match, and it ended with Rusev taking a Stunner from the hometown Prizefighter. I don’t see this happening, but if this did lead to an Owens heel turn and … wait, I’ve already said this. Either way, Kofi vs. KO could be a slow-burning storyline culminating in a title match. Or maybe it won’t, though with Daniel Bryan absent again (the silence on his injury status is a bit concerning) and Randy Orton not on the show, plus with Samoa Joe presumably heading to Raw, does SD have an alternative direction right now?
Vince McMahon Promo
It was then time for Mr. McMahon to introduce what he described as the biggest signing in SmackDown history, and he loaded it up with gushing praise. I thought he might have been referring to Drew McIntyre in a symmetrical rerun of his 2009 speech, but instead he brought out Elias. The Drifter thanked Vince for his kind words, but then came Roman Reigns! The Big Dog loaded up Elias with a Superman Punch and even struck Vince with one (in Montreal, no less), before returning to the ring to Spear Elias. SD has lost a fair few names in the Shake-Up, but gaining Roman Reigns makes a massive difference. My prediction is that Roman will dethrone whoever ends up dethroning Kofi Kingston as WWE Champion; will they save Roman’s next big title win until WrestleMania 36?
This was a productive and unpredictable edition of SmackDown, mainly due to the Shake-Up. Next week is when we will begin to see the true fall-out of the roster switches but, with the Fox deal now less than six months away, WWE has essentially put the places in place for its “team” when its most important TV contract ever begins in the fall, with Roman leading the way in terms of name value. Indeed, it’s going to be a particularly interesting time to follow SmackDown now.