Even when considering that WWE decided to end 2017 with glorified WWE Network special Clash of Champions, things could have been much, much worse for the company's standalone SmackDown show.
This card featured the classic December PPV feel of, "oh shit, we have another show before the Royal Rumble? Might as well keep these long-thought dead feuds going for another show we used to charge $40 for."
See: Bobby Roode-Dolph Ziggler, Charlotte-Natalya, New Day-Usos and Shane-KO.
To catch everyone up real quick:
- Mojo beat Zack Ryder in the obligatory tag-team split match on the pre-show. Hopefully this new character direction can create something more for the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal winner, and hopefully Ryder can keep a spot on TV without him. Match was OK, Mojo hit a nice running forearm in the corner with his patented enthusiasm.
- Bobby Roode, Dolph and Baron Corbin opened the actual show with the triple threat for the United States Championship. It was a solid match, but really won me and the Boston crowd over with its great ending sequence. Baron and Bobby practiced throwing each other out of the ring for nearfalls while Dolph eventually snuck behind Baron to deliver a Zig Zag on top of an End of Days to Roode. Good stuff, really interesting finish to see Dolph take the championship.
- The Usos vs The New Day vs Aiden English and Rusev vs Gable and Benjamin was a sloppy fucking disaster until the go-home sequence. I always fall for the "OOOOO, so many guys involved in this match" crazy appeal when these show up on a PPV card. I should know not to expect greatness as nearly every wrestling creative mind typically hates triple threat or fatal-four-way tag matches due to the pure insanity of trying to plan these out. I will give credit to Chad Gable for German suplexing everyone to death and then selling the shit out of a Uso Superkick-splash ending combo. Solid end, shit beginning and middle. Usos retain. Rusev and English are over AF right now, so watch out for that, no joke.
- Charlotte vs Natalya for the Women's Championship was exactly what I expected and, you know what, I hate Lumberjack matches more than freaking anything. Charlotte retained in a confusing match that was put together to highlight the Riott Squad that did nothing to highlight the Riott Squad. After the match, Natalya delivered a promo hinting at retiring or walking away from the WWE.
If you're going to book a cluster fuck of a drawn-out championship feud, then at least make sure to follow through on the reason you booked this Sunday Night Heat gimmick main event in the first place.
- Breezango vs the Bludgeon Brothers was a fun little squash match. No idea what's happening for either of these teams but am glad to see them all on TV and with slots on PPVs. Luke Harper remains an underrated beast that deserves more than **inaudible shouting** ... Bludgeon Bros. win.
- Nakamura and Orton vs KO and Zayn with Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan as special referees delivered as an awesome entertaining match that started surprisingly slow. Ignoring all of the bullshit dialogue between Bryan and Shane, this worked out perfectly in the end. Once KO and Zayn killed the stagnant Nakamura, things really picked up between the two refs screwing each other and the two teams over. KO shoves Bryan on Shane midcount, Shane purposefully stops his hand from counting 1-2-3 like it was the Survivor Series 1998 and finally Bryan wins it for KO and Zayn, and their jobs, with a fast. Good and fun stuff for a feud that will definitely keep moving forward with the KO/Sami/two GM dynamic.
- AJ Styles vs Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship was about as exciting as a match that we all knew the outcome to could be. Jinder has been stepping up his in-ring game in the last month, unfortunately after his title run ended, with the aid of Styles making him look like a world-beater. As Maffew pointed out in his thoughts on the show, WWE's HD cameras did not do Jinder's acne or mysteriously sagging pecs any favors. Click here to check that out, not a great look for someone being called out by others in the business for steroid use. I'm not claiming or pointing to anything, just pointing out what others are saying and what WWE's cameras showed us last night. It was a fun match that Jinder was largely in control of but eventually tapped out to the Calf Crusher.
Looking ahead to the Royal Rumble in late-January and I don't have the slightest idea of what to expect from the Blue Brand. Shane, Bryan and KO/Sami are sure to dominate the TV storylines while we wait and see what is next for Styles and the WWE Championship.
As I hinted on the Geeks talk Wrestling podcast previewing the show, I feel this is a great opportunity to put Baron in a Rumble title match one-off before finding a higher spot on the WrestleMania card. Daniel Bryan still did not get physical besides taking a bump on Shane, so expect those teasers to start to really ramp up.
Even with this weak PPV, SmackDown has an endless list of options in front of it between what happened here and the fact that John Cena is probably still on that roster. SmackDown itself has a lot of questions moving forward as they are starting to get a lot of funny looks regarding the movement of people like Nakamura (once thought as the WWE main roster Cena replacement by many), Roode (once in the perfect role as shit heel now stuck in awkward 2005 Randy Orton, Corbin, eventually returning Becky Lynch, Randy Orton and even Carmella as that briefcase becomes teasingly superglued to her hand.
That's what makes this time of the year so interesting and memorable is the fact that we typically come in with stale later summer, early fall feuds and dumpster truck loads of ifs, whens and maybes.
There are a handful of guys, on both shows, that fall into the category of "man, he could really use a Rumble win." I'll focus more on SmackDown for this post, as it was a SmackDown show and I'll discuss Brock, Raw and more Rumble on the next That's So Braven podcast, but I'll highlight Braun Strowman, Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Samoa Joe, Bray Wyatt and Asuka (just for fun if there's a women's Royal rumble) as those on that list as Monday Night Raw has more guys that find themselves on this list, for me.
As for SmackDown:
- Randy Orton: Never fucking count out Randy Orton.
- Jinder Mahal: Were you watching the last six-months? I would also say what I just said for Randy for Jinder, in this moment in time, at least.
- Shinsuke Nakamura: Tell me you have an idea for this international superstar? Stop calling him the artist, return his entrance theme visuals from NXT, give him the Rumble and us the AJ-Nakamura match the fans have been calling for. I don't understand the clean losses to Jinder, even with the India Tour in mind, and I think it's time for WWE to right those wrongs. This is a superstar and just as Finn Balor on Raw, deserves a shot and higher spot on the crowd.
Only a couple of guys fit the criteria for, "book a main card match day of as a replacement and we'll come out looking like heroes for this match (see Finn vs AJ)", and Nakamura is on that elite list. I don't want to say WWE is wasting him, because there is still time, but they have not done him, his fans or his future any favors by the booking since Backlash. If the King of Strong Style does not win the Royal Rumble, look for him to make the switch to Raw and be paired with the likes of Samoa Joe and Finn Balor again.
- Bobby Roode needs both a heel turn and a strong showing in the Rumble after Survivor Series and Clash of Champions.