On 7th November 2017, WWE aired the 951st episode of SmackDown on the USA Network, taped earlier in the day at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, Greater Manchester. The show featured Shane McMahon kicking off the show with The New Day leading to Kofi Kingston facing Sami Zayn, Jinder Mahal defending the WWE Championship against AJ Styles, as well as appearances from Randy Orton, Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable, Becky Lynch, Rusev and The Usos...but was it any good? Let's take a look!
Shane McMahon & The New Day Kicked Off SmackDown // 12:36 //
Kofi Kingston def. Sami Zayn via pinfall // 6:27 //
The opening segment had similar vibes to the one that kicked off RAW on Monday with Shane McMahon basically doing house work for the brand, covering a number of bases. McMahon ran down the card for the show, which got some good reactions, but when he moved to Survivor Series and his "issues" with RAW General Manager Kurt Angle, McMahon felt a little forced and ended up doing a half-arsed job of selling the hackneyed brand rivalry. McMahon also not understanding why the crowd booed when he said Daniel Bryan would return next week showed a real disconnect with the fanbase and how they enjoy the product. Once the New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods) arrived though things began to pick up, bringing some much needed energy, as they ran down the red brand for doing nothing following two invasions of their brand. The trio also did a great job when interrupted by Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, with their being signs of chemistry between the two units with Kingston getting over the idea that Zayn looks like a paper boy as Big E gave it the big ones as well. Whilst a tag team match would've made more sense, McMahon booked a match between Kingston and Zayn.
A short, but fun first-time clash as Kofi Kingston got creative and pulled out a number of great spots. The Dreadlock Dynamo controlled much of the action shown on screen, with Zayn still settling into playing an antagonist, spending lots of time out on the floor, stalling with Kevin Owens. The standout moment was a dive to the floor from Kingston that is difficult to describe, but essentially saw him get momentum by grabbing and bouncing on the top rope, before flipping over and hitting a senton. The match is probably worth checking out for that moment alone! The final few moments of back and forth saw the two connect well inside the ring, with a slick near fall for Zayn after he ducked a Trouble in Paradise attempt and quickly hit a Blue Thunder Bomb. The two dodged a number of strike attempts in the closing stages, including Kingston blocking a Helluva Kick, although Kofi winning with a springboard crossbody ended up feeling a little flat. Whether Owens was supposed to break up the fall before the three count for a DQ finish, I'm not sure, but it didn't feel like the ending to the match.
After the bell, Kevin Owens jumped Kofi Kingston, with Big E & Xavier Woods quickly running him off.
WWE Championship Match // AJ Styles def. Jinder Mahal (C) via pinfall // 12:32
AJ Styles and Jinder Mahal cut promos directly to the camera, putting themselves over ahead of their WWE Championship clash. Later, in an interview with Renee Young, cut a promo about eating AJ Styles, I think. AJ Styles would also have an interview with Young, discussing portion control, before launching into a passionate speech about being the hardest worker on the roster.
WWE have been coming to the United Kingdom since 1989 and this was the first ever WWE Championship change in this country. In fact, when AJ Styles downed Jinder Mahal with a Phenomenal Forearm it was the first WWE Championship change outside of the USA since 2006, only the seventh non-US title change and the first time the belt had changed hands outside of North America. That's a great bit of history for the Manchester Arena. That being said, had the match been of the standard of some of Mahal's other title defences, then I'm not sure the win would've had the same level of impact that it did here. Ironically, this was the best match of Mahal's title run. It took a while to get going, with Styles spending a while in a couple of weardowns but Manchester was hyped enough that it didn't end up mattering. At times the action was scrappy, but the right storyline notes were hit and the crowd was hooked for moments like Styles locking in the Calf Crusher repeatedly (unfortunately not later sold by Mahal), Styles kicking out of a Khallas in a false finish that mimicked the finish of most of Mahal's title defences and then the match-winning Phenomenal Forearm. In triumphing, where Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura have both failed and having a watchable main event with Mahal, AJ Styles proved that he's the best professional wrestler in WWE and a match with Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series is tantalising prospect (if we get a motivated Beast Incarnante)
Becky Lynch def. James Ellsworth via submission // 5:56
James Ellsworth reminded Becky Lynch that they were in Manchester, not Womanchester, ahead of their Intergender bout, with Lynch replying by telling Ellsworth he had no balls.
WWE did an Intergender match! 2017 is mad. You know what? It wasn't half bad either! There'll be people who hated it just for just being intergender or having comedy elements, but screw those wankers, this was a blast. It told a good, solid story, with Ellsworth playing the cocky, yet outmatched villain, until he realised he wasn't as good at fighting as he thought he was, tried to concede with an unwanted hug and ended up almost losing an arm in the Disarm-her. Inside that it was full of cute moments like Lynch rolling Ellsworth around, Ellsworth doing dorky things and then Lynch seemingly focusing on his balls with an atomic drop. It was a little long for what it was, but Manchester was hot for both acts and seemed to adore the story, lapping up Ellsworth's daft comedy and coming alive for Lynch in a way that hasn't happened for the Irish Lass Kicker for a while.
Carmella nailed Ellsworth with a superkick, seemingly signalling the end of their alliance.
Randy Orton def. Rusev via pinfall // 3:29
Aiden English sang Rusev to the sing, bringing out the big hit, It's Rusev Day.
After the early attempts at the RKO and Machka Kick, this bout devolved into nothingness, before Randy Orton pulled out a flash victory with an RKO to keep Rusev off the SmackDown Men's Survivor Series team. What this means for Rusev going forward I'm not sure, although the logical move would be to turn him face and batter Aiden English, celebrate Rusev day and show more of his real personality that shines on Total Divas.
Tag Team Championships // Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable def. The Usos (Jey Uso & Jimmy Uso) (C) via countount // 2:49
The Usos cut a prom on the way to the ring, calling Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable "American Alpha Part 2", before welcoming them to Uso Peneteniary with a couple of right hands.
Chad Gable attacked Jey Uso's knee at ringside with a chop block, ducked under the ring and then Shelton Benjamin watched as the referee counted Jey out, ending up looking dumb as fuck for not rolling Jey in the ring and taking the Tag Team titles.
Another forest-based vignette from the Bludgeon Brothers (Erick Rowan & Luke Harper) aired, as we await their debut. Somewhat weirdly, we also got a behind the scenes look at Damnation, which features Luke Harper, as creator Toby Tost and star Killian Scott (Love/Hate) put the former Intercontinental Champion over.
Shane McMahon booked Natalya vs. Charlotte Flair for 952 with the Women's Championship on the line.
AJ Styles vs. Jinder Mahal //
Kofi Kingston's crazy dive //
Becky Lynch vs. James Ellsworth //