I suppose I should take a break from my classic Royal Rumble watching on the WWE Network and YouTube to watch the current product. Am I the only one that watches one thing on YouTube and then, three hours later, realizes that they’ve probably been watching too much? And half of that was probably just Edge’s return on loop. The Royal Rumble might be my favourite PPV of the year, even beyond WrestleMania. I just adore the concept of the main match. Feuds all come together, people debut, and we get surprise returns too. It’s just so much joy in one match. I can’t wait to see what we get this year but we’ve got a few more stops before we get there. I think Roman Reigns might be in a bad mood for some reason…

The Big Dog And The Bitch

Once again, we kicked off the show with the Tribal Chief but the vibe this week was a lot different to in other weeks. Usually Roman and Paul Heyman have the swagger and confidence of a team that are ruling the island and pulling all the strings. Yet last week, Adam Pearce managed to switch things around on the champ and now he’s stuck wrestling Kevin Owens at Royal Rumble. That is not cool with the Big Dog as he really believes that he’s the one that should be making all the decisions on SmackDown rather than having to listen to any authority figure. I’m not sure he’s really watched the show over the years but hey, he’s entitled to his opinion. I don’t think he would’ve got on too well with Teddy Long.

Reigns wasn’t impressed with Pearce faking injuries to get out of fighting him, especially when he’s fought through so much over the years and still turned up to work as much as he could. You can hate the guy but you can’t question his work ethic, so maybe Adam should lace up his boots and fight Roman. Pearce didn’t agree though and came out to tell them to shut up basically, yet somehow Heyman got involved and ended up making a match between himself and Scrap Daddy. It’s not quite the match I was dreaming of, but I’m sure Meltzer will give it seven stars. Kenny Omega’s got nothing on Paul Heyman.

Asuka & Charlotte Flair (c) vs Ruby Riott & Liv Morgan (w/ Billie Kay)

The champs are here! Nice to see Asuka get around a bit, and I’m not one to complain about too much Charlotte Flair even if the rest of the Internet is. I still think she’s talented enough to be in the spot she’s in. Riott and Morgan have been working hard recently, mostly to try and fight against Billie’s attempts to help them, but maybe this week could be the time where it all comes together and the ‘new’ Riott Squad finally finds a way to succeed. As a side note, as much as I do enjoy Billie’s antics on a weekly basis, I do miss her teaming with Peyton Royce and I feel like Peyton’s definitely missing her by her side.

Knowing Charlotte, I just keep waiting for her to turn on Asuka but we’ll see how long that takes. At the moment they’re a pretty formidable team and Ruby and Liv are going to have to do a lot better to come up to that level. Mostly trying to get Billie to behave herself really. This was a solid match with both teams looking decent but the real story here was obviously whether Kay could prove herself as a valuable part of the Squad and the answer was no. She caused a distraction at the worst time, cost her team the victory and managed to piss them off even more in the process. Not the best week for Billie but at least she’s managed to get both Ruby and Liv in the Royal Rumble match, so that’s something I suppose.

Rumble Hype

I like how Daniel Bryan comes out in suits and yet is still ready to throw down at any moment. He just doesn’t care about wrestling in fancy shoes or anything like that. It feels a bit more realistic than guys just randomly hanging out in their gear. Bryan took to the ring this week to deliver a heartfelt promo about his love for the Royal Rumble which basically encapsulated everything I feel about it. The surprises and the endless potential of each countdown not knowing who’s going to come out. I’m right there with you, Bryan. The leader of the Yes Movement has never won a Rumble though so he’s more focused than ever, but Cesaro came out and wasn’t really that interested because he beat Daniel last week and has far more momentum. I am all in on a Cesaro singles push, even if he ducked a challenge from Bryan this week and instead offered an open challenge which was answered by…

Cesaro vs Dolph Ziggler

Dolph Ziggler. Dolph Ziggler? Come on, you’re just trolling me. No need for that. You get me all excited about another Cesaro match and then you give me Ziggler. In all fairness, both guys really suit each other with their in-ring styles and while they didn’t get very long, they both delivered a pretty intense and impressive short match with a Neutralizer victory for Cesaro. By design, it was just to showcase Cesaro and give him another step up before the Rumble, so in that way, it definitely worked. Poor Ziggler though – you’d think the tag champ deserved a little more respect but apparently not. I laughed when he said he’d had so much Rumble experience but then that just means he’s lost so many times. Not sure that’s something to brag about.

Sasha Banks (c) vs Reginald

Reginald! Someone’s definitely reading my reviews if they’re giving me a Cesaro match followed by a Reginald match. This is like all my dreams come true. What a talented man he is with all his flips and things. Now, this wasn’t exactly the classic it could’ve been but it was a nice way to show what Reginald is capable of while allowing Sasha to upset Carmella by beating up her sommelier. I do hope he got paid extra for this match although I’m not sure if he’s hired directly by Carmella or by WWE. I wonder if he has insurance? Anyway, Banks managed to overcome her biggest challenge yet by getting Reginald to tap out, but he had a great showing here and bigger things are in his future.

Intercontinental Championship Match – Big E (c) vs Apollo Crews

A running theme through SmackDown this week was Sami Zayn handcuffed to the barrier at ringside because he’d come out earlier in the night in protest against the travesty that occurred last week. Crews and his newfound mean streak managed to cheat him out of a title match. Poor Zayn keeps trying to document all these bad things that are happening to him, whether it’s from WWE management or talent or anyone else. Can one man really be so unlucky? Apparently so. I fear for poor Sami at the Rumble. Someone will probably throw him out when he’s not ready yet.

With the superstars either ignoring him or making unamused faces at him all night, Zayn was simply waiting for his opportunity to make an impact. We all know how smart he is even if he’s not exactly a likeable character. Both Big E and Crews were focused on each other, both delivering intense and hard-hitting moves to gain that championship, and yet we were all left talking about Sami. He removed his handcuffs, stormed the ring and delivered a Helluva Kick to Apollo Crews in the corner. That’s what you get for messing with Sami. Maybe he robbed us of a classic match but it did involve Crews so I don’t feel like we missed out on much.

Overcoming Hurdles

No match this week for Bayley and Bianca Belair, but instead an obstacle course set up by the former women’s champion. As an added bonus Chad Gable was there to help with a fireman’s carry portion of the course where the contestants would have to carry him. Michael Cole was there as host but quickly got dismissed by Bayley, who took the course in quite the questionable fashion but seemed confident in her time. Overconfident some would say, especially against a mega athlete like Bianca, but DING DONG she had some tricks up her sleeves.

She changed up the course and even had Belair carrying Otis instead of Gable, but Bianca still managed to win. This infuriated Bayley who threw a basketball at her foe and left her on the ground. This feud definitely isn’t over.

Dominik Mysterio vs King Corbin

It’s about time they got back to Dominik actually wrestling. Even if it has to be against Corbin. The Mysterios have been living in a strange limbo of sorts since their storyline with Seth Rollins came to an end. Where’s Buddy Murphy? Why hasn’t Dominik been wrestling? I have so many questions and none of them are really answered by a match with King Corbin, but hopefully, it’s the start of something better. Backstage, before the match, he had a chat with his dad and I’m not quite sure they’re on the same page which is concerning if they’re after the tag titles this year.

Corbin seems to be stuck in a similar position of not really doing much lately but that doesn’t concern me quite so much. He’s a character that will benefit from not being over-exposed. He looked dominant this week against Dominik and picked up the win in a very short match after the End of Days. Dominik clearly doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does and it’ll be interesting to see if he’s willing to listen to his dad or if there’s going to be a conflict there. I hope they can grow together as they could make a formidable team.

Main Event – Paul Heyman vs Adam Pearce

That felt even weirder to write than whenever I was putting Roman Reigns vs Adam Pearce. Part of me really wants to see Pearce have the opportunity to wrestle a proper match in WWE one day, but I get how this is all part of the storyline development, and it’s working perfectly. Pearce was standing in the ring looking in decent shape and ready to get his hands on the walrus when Heyman tripped up on the steps and injured himself. Seriously how unlucky is that? First Pearce gets injured last week and now Heyman this week? Oh wait.. of course, the card is subject to change and out comes Roman Reigns to replace his Special Counsel in the match. Suddenly we’re all back in Roman’s yard.

With no bell ringing, Reigns simply hit a Superman punch and looked to destroy Pearce, finally getting his chance to get his hands on him properly. Adam got one punch in, but Roman retaliated with a very low kick and then took him through the ThunderDome to a familiar high spot, ready to deliver the same fate he did to Kevin Owens. Reigns thought he had managed to keep KO out of the building but a suspicious-looking character in a hoody ran out and saved Pearce, revealing himself to be Reigns’ Royal Rumble opponent. Owens took it to Roman, delivering a stunner and a pop-up powerbomb through the announcers’ table. With Heyman looking on, Kevin truly showed that he’ll keep fighting and the mind games and manipulation aren’t as one-sided as the Universal Champion had hoped.

The best of SmackDown

  • Kevin Owens – he never backs down and he keeps on fighting.
  • Sasha Banks – continuing her winning streak even against Reginald.
  • Sami Zayn – he’s smarter than all of us.
  • Asuka and Charlotte – champs being champs.
  • Bianca Belair – she carried Otis!

The worst of SmackDown

  • Cesaro – don’t give him a mic.
  • Paul Heyman – I can’t believe he didn’t wrestle.
  • Dominik Mysterio – he really needs to listen to his dad.
  • Dolph Ziggler – he lost and he’s just annoying really.

In summary…

A Cesaro match. A Reginald match. Obviously, I’m going to declare this one of the best SmackDown episodes of all time. Beyond my favourites, there was some great character and storyline development all over the place really. It would’ve been nice to see Nakamura again but I’ll let that one slide. A nice easy watch that builds a number of feuds towards the Royal Rumble PPV and it’ll be interesting to see who turns up there and who’ll be heading on that Road to WrestleMania. I bet Michael Cole can’t want to say that. I hope that sign is ready for pointing at.

All images and videos courtesy of WWE