It was the penultimate SmackDown Live before Fastlane as John Cena made his return to the show in an attempt to work out his Road to WrestleMania. That road would lead him to a main event match with WWE Champion AJ Styles, with the opportunity to be added to the WWE Championship match at 11th March PPV. But how did it all go down in Los Angeles? Lets take a look!
Commentary - Corey Graves, Byron Saxton, Tom Phillips & Kevin Owens.
Ring Announcer - Greg Hamilton
Interviewers - Renee Young
Daniel Bryan gave John Cena an opportunity
The opening segment was nothing special, but managed to move from point A to point B relatively quickly, whilst continuing to develop the issues between Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan. Basically, John Cena wanted in on the WWE title match at Fastlane, McMahon said some things about the Land of Opportunity but didn't seem too interested in putting Cena in the match, but then Bryan interrupted and booked Cena vs. AJ Styles in the main event, with Cena being added to the WWE title match if he could beat the WWE Champion. There's not really much else to talk about, Cena came across as a little entitled and there was nowhere near the same feel that his promo gave off on RAW, but we got a rematch of last year's best WWE match, so it's hard to complain that much.
John Cena def. AJ Styles // Pinfall
Was this ever going to anything but great? Especially, considering it was on television and not PPV. After a high impact contest, John Cena walked out with a spot in a six-pack challenge at Fastlane after pinning the WWE Champion with an high-angle variant of the Attitude Adjustment, having escaped a Calf Crusher moments earlier. Whilst the early part of the match that included Cena hitting a tornado DDT that lead to Styles head connected with Cena's hip bone had me a little worried about where the match was heading, but a sequence that saw the two trade near falls with Styles coming close with an Ushigoroshi and a Rack Bomb and Cena almost getting pins with a TKO stunner and sitout electric chair front drop saw things begin to pick up. In an interesting piece of booking both men hit their finishers for two counts during the break with Styles kicking out of an Attitude Adjustment and Cena a Styles Clash, this meant that as soon as the show came back from the break it hooked in the audience, letting us know this wasn't a regular TV bout, whilst also making sure that Los Angeles was hot once SmackDown was back on air. Whilst the match wasn't as rich as their Royal Rumble match last year, there was a tonne of gorgeous action after the break, including Styles rolling into a pin whilst still hooked in the STF, Cena trying an failing to do the wrist control AA (he's obviously been watching a lot of Kazuchika Okada lately) and a really well-done countout spot after Styles had originally broke the count, only to get AA'ed through the announce table with Cena more than happy to take the countout victory this time round, which was a lovely bit of storytelling. The result leaves us with a ridiculously stacked six man scramble match at Fastlane, with Cena now joining Styles, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin in the main event.
After the match - Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Baron Corbin blindsided John Cena & AJ Styles, with Dolph Ziggler initially coming down for the save, before taking a swing at Styles and getting an Attitude Adjustment from Cena for his trouble.
Baron Corbin def. Sami Zayn // Pinfall
The show's semi-main saw Baron Corbin level his series of matches with Sami Zayn at two a piece, after a clean victory with the End of Days. This was a solid outing for the pair, as Corbin begins to look more and more comfortable in his current spot and whilst I'm still waiting for his breakout singles match, it feels like it's getting closer and closer everytime he steps in the ring with competitors like Zayn. The pair did struggle to hold the crowd at times, with a "Rusev Day" chant moments after coming back from the ad break (which was split screened and mostly sleeper holds), which may have been down to both men being heels, even if Corbin was positioned as the bouts psuedo-babyface after Zayn weirdly slapped the Lone Wolf's chest in the corner before stalling. There was a few added elements for the viewers at home, that both hurt and improved the viewing experience. This included a funny turn by Kevin Owens on commentary, who repeatedly ripped into Corbin, which included the line "Corbin, if you're looking for your hairline, its on top of your head", as well as a number of weird cutaways to Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan, as they discussed Bryan's decision to allow Owens to appear on commentary, with no real consequence. What did have consequence and may have been the highlight of the bout (expect perhaps for a quality sequence into Corbin's Big Bossman lariat) was Dolph Ziggler jumping to barricade to nail a superkick on Owens, that looked vicious and got a nice pop from LA, with the high impact moment leading directly into Corbin's victory as the intriguing interplay between competitors in the WWE title match at Fastlane continued.
After the match - Dolph Ziggler nailed Baron Corbin with a ZigZag - Daniel Bryan asked if he could go home to see his wife and daughter, Shane McMahon allowed this - Shane McMahon caught up with Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, telling them to go after Daniel Bryan because "Brie doesn't like when [they're] late for dinner" - Dolph Ziggler cut a handheld promo putting himself over ahead of the Fastlane WWE title match
The New Day and The Usos renewed their rivalry, before The Bludgeon Brothers interrupted
Before the segment - Actor Josh Duhamel appeared to promote his new TV show, Unsolved, in a fun backstage interaction with Breezango and The New Day.
Fuck, I loved this segment. Both teams bought their A-game on the microphone and completely changed my mind about wanting to see them feud again, because after this these teams can feud for the rest of time and I don't think I'd mind. New Day did some stuff where Kofi Kingston would repeatedly have to spritz Big E's crotch with water, which was odd, but actually lead pretty well into what SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos had to say, as they ripped on The New Day for being a comedy act and liking bright colours, comparing them to the old, face-paint wearing Jimmy & Jey. The stuff with the tag champs discussing never having appeared as a team on WrestleMania was very strong, with a real feeling of frustration and determination, that is easy to relate to and easy to get behind. After the year that these lads have had, they deserve a spot on the biggest show of the year. The New Day seemed closer to the heel turn that was teased during their match with Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable last week when Big E teed off on the twins with a couple of stingy zingers, including "We hosted WrestleMania when the two of you were in the back eating catering" and "We didn't get here because of our Daddies", whether they go full villain before Fastlane is yet to be seen, as The Bludgeon Brothers hit the ring with their styrofoam mallets and both teams bailed. The interruption felt a little unnecessary but I suppose creative needed a way to end the segment without the teams coming to blows.
Shinsuke Nakamura def. Aiden English // Pinfall
Before the match - Aiden English and Rusev went to see Shane McMahon about not being on the show for the last few week's with English ending up booked in a match against Shinsuke Nakamura. - English sang a song about being the only true Artiste of WWE, before telling Los Angeles they didn't deserve to celebrate Rusev Day, which, of course, got loud "Rusev Day" chants anyway.
Shinsuke Nakamura got a straight-forward victory in his first TV match in almost a month, pinning Aiden English in a filler bout. Whilst the action was fine and highlighted by a nice diving crossbody roll through, the only thing the match really had going for it was Rusev's interference on the outside, with the crowd being loudly split between Nakkers and RuRu producing a couple of cool duelling chants that lifted the action. Nakamura controlled most of the match, with Rusev interfering on a couple of occasions, including a nice looking roundhouse kick on the outside, but for a match that was so clearly a forgone conclusion it felt unnecessarily long and didn't feature anything that would've made it feel like anything other than an excuse to get Nakamura back on TV somehow. A match with Rusev at Fastlane would give Shinsuke a good warm-up bout for WrestleMania, but with only one show left before the PPV it comes across as incredibly rushed, as the booking of Nakamura post-Royal Rumble win has been less than inspiring.
Ruby Riott def. Naomi // Pinfall
The only women's bout on the show and the one that felt like it had the least focus was Ruby Riott's victory over Naomi, with the Riott Kick. The match itself was alright, with a number of moments where Naomi showed glimmers of the promise we've occasionally seen out of her over the last few years. The sequence where both missed roundhouse kicks at pace, before connecting at the same time was well-timed and easily the highlight of a match that felt like it never got the chance to get going. Riott's victory appeared to come out of nowhere as she deflected a running bulldog that sent Naomi into the top turnbuckle before connecting with the overhead wind-up kick for the win, this would seem to be a way of building up the move for the title match with Charlotte Flair at Fastlane, but didn't come across well on television.
Also This Week
- Noelle Trent from the National Civil Rights Museum was joined by Titus O'Neil, Mark Henry and Alexa Bliss to discuss the Freedom Rides as part of Black History Month.
- Highlights of The Festival of Friendship with Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens from the 13th February 2017 episode of RAW aired for some reason.
ATPW Scale Rating - 5.29 out of 10
Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale