This week's SmackDown continued to build towards Fastlane, building on the relationships between the competitors in the WWE title Fatal Five-way match with a pair of big singles matches. The main event had WWE Champion AJ Styles going one on one with Baron Corbin, whilst Kevin Owens found himself opposite Dolph Ziggler. But how did it all go down in Phoenix, Arizona? Lets take a look!
Baron Corbin and Kevin Owens interrupted AJ Styles' interview
This week's main story included a lot of characters and took up around half of the show, beginning with Renee Young's interview with WWE Champion AJ Styles being interrupted by Baron Corbin and then Kevin Owens. This was going okay, not great, but okay, until Styles made a quip about Owens having a boil lanced off his back. The boil turned out to be some kind of metaphor for Sami Zayn and resulted in an audience grown from the Phoenix audience. Seriously, whoever wrote that line should be fired. It made Styles look like a goof, made even worse by the fact it was clear that the Phenomenal One wasn't at all behind the line. The rest of the segment included Styles discussing the dangers of a five-way match to his title run, Corbin claiming he could beat AJ (and indeed he did back on the 10th October SmackDown) and Owens both continuing his never-ending feud with Shane McMahon and burying Zayn for his loss to Dolph Ziggler last week. Eventually, McMahon did what Owens had been complaining about by placing him in a match with Ziggler that would happen immediately, whilst also booking Styles vs. Corbin as the main event. What should have been a simple segment ended up being a complete mess, because of awful dialogue and an awkward payoff.
Kevin Owens def. Dolph Ziggler // Pinfall
Kevin Owens got back to winning ways for the first time since Boxing Day with a Sami Zayn-aided victory over Dolph Ziggler in what turned out to be the match of the show. Whilst Owens match with Baron Corbin last week had struggled because of it being unclear who was the heel, this match just kept the action coming so there was very little time to even worry about such a situation. Indeed, the back and forth nature of the match was felt more like an all-face contest, as the two started hot and kept going, with no one hitting more than two moves in a row. Phoenix was hot for this, pretty much throughout, surely helped by it being the first bout of the evening, popping for small things like Owens missing a senton, with the competitors lifting their game for a handful of very good alternating sequences. Whilst a sequence out of the corner that concluded with a Fameasser near fall felt like the peak, the highlight would come moments later after Owens blocked a ZigZag by grabbing the ropes, Ziggler countered a superkick with one of his own, which was in-turn blocked by Owens, who sent the Show Off into the ropes for a Pop-Up Powerbomb, with Ziggler escaping and hitting a ZigZag for a strong false finish. It was a shame to see Zayn heading out to result in the finish (which was vicious superkick to the back of the head from Owens), but the ending did open up a number of interesting questions regarding Owens and Zayn's relationship going forward, whilst also giving Ziggler an out for the loss. A backstage segment later on the show saw Zayn promise that he would lay down for KO in at Fastlane.
"The Phenomenal" AJ Styles def. Baron Corbin // Pinfall
A solid main event saw AJ Styles pick up a straight-forward victory over Baron Corbin with a Phenomenal Forearm, before Corbin made the save for Styles after Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn headed to ringside. An interesting development for Corbin, for sure, but the match was another case of Corbin not quite looking ready for a spot at the top of the card. Whilst the match was held back by only going around ten minutes, it still felt like Corbin was lacking that special something needed in order to be a top star for the company. I'm not quite sure what it is that Corbin lacks in the ring, because he has a number of interesting signature sequences, like the Big Bossman spot on the outside and Deep Six (which might be my favourite move in WWE right now), but the whole package is certainly not coming together at the moment. What we did have here though was another example of why AJ Styles is considered the best in WWE right now (Seth Rollins put a big claim to that crown together on RAW, however) as the Phenomenal One excelled opposite the larger man. The spot where Styles got threw over the announce table, only to land on his feet, leap over the table and nail a Phenomenal Forearm to a kneeling Corbin was superb stuff, which the commentary sold for the spectacular moment that it was.
With the post-match attack and subsequent Corbin save hinting that the Lone Wolf could be due a babyface turn, perhaps that could be the missing piece of the puzzle for Baron, who has clearly worked hard on his in-ring work over the last 12 to 18 months.
Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan & Liv Morgan def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch & Naomi // Pinfall
The never-ending, never-evolving feud between The Riott Squad and SmackDown's top female stars unsurprisingly continued this week, with Ruby Riott able to give her team their third win in a row, after pinning Becky Lynch with a Riott Kick. Whilst I'm still waiting for any kind of development in this feud, there was a lot to like in this one, particularly at the beginning and the end. Naomi's face shine concluding with a slingshot crossbody on Riott and Sarah Logan before Liv Morgan sent Naomi into the steps had a lot of energy and also began a pattern where Morgan actually looked like the star of the Riott Squad. The final two or three minutes were also lots of fun, with a pair of hot tags from Lynch and Charlotte Flair, leading into a strong one in, one out strikes fest and then a quality near fall for the face team with Morgan making the save for Riott after a lengthy period trapped in Lynch's Disarmer submission. It was a shame then that Logan ended up looking completely out of her depth. Her selling looked awkward and her offence looked sloppy and considering she was given a solid amount of time in the middle of the bout, it felt like she ended up completely fumbling the ball that she was given. This comes after a disappointing effort with Flair last week and I'm beginning to wonder where the hype surrounding her came from in the first place.
Later in the show, Flair and Riott both cut handheld promos challenging each other to a match at Fastlane, with it being confirmed that the SmackDown Women's Championship will be on the line on 11th March moments later.
SmackDown Tag Team Championship #1 Contendership // Big E & Xavier Woods def. Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable // Pinfall
After a good outing last week, The New Day's beating Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable this week with questionable tactics after a short match ended up being the show's biggest disappointment. Five minutes of television wasn't enough for these two teams to tell a satisfying match and instead they went for a relatively generic tag bout, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but any regular watch would expect more. The one bright point was a superb sequence off of Big E's hot tag, as he went back an forth with Gable, as they blocked belly to belly suplex and did a ridiculous backslide trade before Gable actually came out on top, nailing a belly to belly on the former Intercontinental Champion. The finish seemed to suggest that New Day turning heel as Kofi Kingston popped up on the apron to distract the referee as Benjamin had Big E pinned after a Powebomb/diving clothesline combination, before Xavier Woods was able to take advantage and pin Benjamin with a Shining Wizard. Turning New Day would make logical sense if they're to face The Usos again for the tag belts, after a lengthy feud with the Usos as heels earlier in the year.
After the match, Harper & Rowan, the Bludgeon Brothers had a stare down with the New Day, before picking up a fun squash match victory over Eduardo Especiale & Norville Rogers.
Jinder Mahal outsmarted Bobby Roode and Randy Orton...again
Jinder Mahal continued to stir the pot between United States Champion Bobby Roode and Randy Orton in a segment, where a number of good ideas where hidden by a lame SmackDown Top 10 gimmick. Basically, Mahal said he had a secret about Roode, which turned out to be that he didn't include Orton in his SmackDown Top 10 list (but hilariously included Zack Ryder, who hasn't won a match since June). Who gives a fuck? The stuff about Roode wanting to become the new "Legend Killer" and having no respect for Orton's legacy is actually pretty damn cool, whilst having Jinder involved as the spoiler to help prolonge a feud towards WrestleMania is also another solid idea. The segment actually did more to help build up Mahal than his five and half month WWE title run, as whilst his promo wasn't the strongest, he ended up being the only man left standing. This was after a beautifully produced moment saw Mahal sneak back into the ring to hit Roode with the Khallas, with Roode's Glorious Domination theme still playing after the US Champ had left Orton laying with a Glorious DDT.
Later in the show, Shane McMahon booked Bobby Roode vs. Randy Orton for the United States Champion at Fastlane after having another argument with Daniel Bryan, which considering Jinder Mahal had just laid out the pair of them for the second week in a row made little to no sense.
Also this week
- A hype package looking at Shinsuke Nakamura and his victory in the 2018 Royal Rumble match.
- Roman Reigns and Mark Henry, alongside Noelle Trent (Director of Interpretations, Collections and Education at the National Civil Rights Museum) discussed the Lunch Counter Sit-ins as part of Black History Month.
- Apollo & Nia Jax and Charlotte Flair & Bobby Roode cut promos to promote Mixed Match Challenge, which airs directly after SmackDown on Facebook Watch.
ATPW Scale Rating // 4.29 out of 10
Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale