I always find myself getting pretty antsy at this time of the year. The Road to WrestleMania always feels so damn long. I can’t help but want to skip straight from the Royal Rumble to WrestleMania but hey, life isn’t that kind. Plus maybe we’d miss some decent feud-building along the way, although a lot of the time it feels like there’s a struggle to actually fill the time between the big shows. Sorry, I’m not allowed to say Big Show anymore am I? Paul Wight. Anyway, we’ve got Fastlane to get through first before any WrestleMania talk so let’s get speedy.

No More Mr Nice Guy

SmackDown opened this week with a rare sight – Michael Cole in the ring. It’s nice to know that he still has legs. As we’re gearing up for WrestleMania, maybe Cole is getting ready to lace up those boots one more time and deliver another classic, like he did with Jerry Lawler. I say classic but I actually mean match that I hope to never see again. Thankfully it looks like Cole has no plans on wrestling again and he’ll be leaving it to the pros like Daniel Bryan. With the ThunderDome Yes chants in full effect, Bryan made his way down to the ring to address his recent struggles with Universal Champion Roman Reigns and especially Jey Uso.

It’s common knowledge that Bryan has been involved behind the scenes, helping the other guys and trying to find out better ways of using them. But the crowds still love him and still want him to succeed and he’s finally seeing that he wants success for himself too. The main event this week will be a Cage Match against Jey and if he wins then he gets a proper title shot at Fastlane. Obviously, Roman and co had to come out and interrupt, arguing a bit and then Jey tried to jump Bryan again but Daniel was too quick this week and caught him and threw him out. Maybe, just maybe, this is going to be the Yes Movement’s night for a change.

King Corbin vs Montez Ford

Originally it seemed like we were going to get the Street Profits taking on the King and Sami Zayn but Corbin was having none of it. He’s done playing nice with Sami and he’s going to show him how it’s done in singles instead. Ford stepped up for his team and I think he’s got a bright future as a singles star so it’s a nice preview of what we’ll hopefully see in a few years time. Only it didn’t go as well as his tag matches do, as after a short match he got distracted by Zayn and after an End Of Days ended up taking the loss. Damnit.

Angelo Dawkins was definitely not happy about it, which led quickly to…

Sami Zayn vs Angelo Dawkins

Would it be a clean sweep for Sami and Corbin against the former tag champs or would Zayn fall victim to the conspiracies once again? I think we all know the answer to that. I’m starting to think the documentary crew is more of a hindrance than anything, and I think Sami is thinking the same thing. He was putting up a valiant fight against Dawkins when he noticed Ford talking to the camera crew and suddenly he was hit with a roll-up and three seconds later he lost. Oh, Sami. Incredibly unhappy with the loss, he decided to beat up one of the crew members and I just hope he hasn’t lost any footage due to his anger issues.

Dominik Mysterio vs Chad Gable

Now, this should be a damn good match. I’m not sure who needs the win more really. Dominik hasn’t exactly had the most success recently, and Chad seems to only win when Otis is in the ring, so it’s interesting to see him leading by example and getting in the ring by himself – even though he did have Otis at ringside, much like Dominik had his dad – bad ribs and all. Rey might want to work with his son but lately, it’s just brought him a whole load of pain really. They certainly don’t feel anywhere near those tag titles.

Chad had a good solid showing this week with some moves very reminiscent of Kurt Angle and I mean that in a good way. I just wish he was able to capture the success that Angle has in his career. Unfortunately, despite being motivated, it wasn’t Chad’s night but instead the younger Mysterio managed to pick up the pinfall victory. Maybe even more important, Rey hit a seated senton onto Otis on the announce table to get a small moment of revenge. I can’t help but think there’s far more to come from these four guys. Otis needs to give some tips to Chad on how to win.

Bianca Belair vs Shayna Baszler

Oh yes, I’m going to have to rant again for a little while here. You know me. So this whole Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks rivalry, feud, whatever you want to call it. There’s nothing to it. They’ve got no idea how to carry the feud through to WrestleMania and they’re completely wasting both talents by having them mess around with Baszler and Nia Jax and having them compete for the titles again at Fastlane. Just why? Shine the spotlight on Belair and Banks, like they deserve. Both women are more than capable of pulling off their own storyline over weeks without having to do all this distracting nonsense – and yes, as much as I love Reginald, I’m throwing him in there too as an unnecessary part.

Anyway, it is what it is, and here we are with two former NXT talents. I still shake my head every so often at what Baszler is on the main roster but hey, it’s been worse. At least, she’s getting used. Obviously, we all know both women could have a great match together but that’s not happening. Instead, it’s the tale of Reginald coming out to support Bianca and Sasha, all that messy business outside the ring, and thankfully Belair managing to defeat Baszler regardless. But why? Unless you’re adding Reginald to the title match, or having Sasha turn heel and align herself with him.. where is this going?

Murphy vs Cesaro

Does anyone remember Murphy? Where has he been? Has he just been dropped from the Mysterio family now? Poor guy. He doesn’t seem to have a girlfriend anymore or a Messiah or anything so he just doesn’t work now? That’s not fair. I guess he did better than his former buddy Blake though. Where’s he these days? And whatever happened to Alexa Bliss? At least, Cesaro’s career seems to be on the up again, although he can’t escape the gaze of Seth Rollins who sat at ringside again this week to watch. I think he’s up to something.

Imagine the classic that Murphy and Cesaro could have. Then forget about it because that’s not what happened. This was all about Cesaro showing his dominance to Rollins. Sure, Murphy got a couple of moves in, but once Cesaro got on the uppercut train and then put his opponent in The Swing, it was inevitable that Murphy would tap out once the Sharpshooter was locked in. With some fake smiling and clapping from Seth, I think we’re on the slow burner to WrestleMania with these two and that’s okay. I wonder if Murphy will have a bigger part to play or not. I hope he gets something to do somewhere as he deserves more than to just fade away again.

The Real Apollo

With a funked-up entrance theme, and flanked by two Nigerian guards, Apollo appears to be a completely new man now. Or, according to him, the old and real Apollo instead of pretending to be something he’s not just to please everyone else. Whatever it is, it’s definitely working for him. Yes, he’s pretty much done a reverse Kofi Kingston with that accent, but the power and confidence that oozes from him now is something he was sorely lacking. This week he had a short but sweet in-ring appearance to remind Big E that he’s coming for him and his title, and it feels crazy to say it but I’m actually okay with that rematch again now. Bring it on.

Steel Cage Match – Daniel Bryan vs Jey Uso

I’m not sure who let the announcers out from the desk this week but first Cole and then Corey Graves. He gave a quick run-down of the rules of a steel cage match and just made it all sound a bit scary really. Now I’m not a huge fan of cage matches but remember Bryan sitting on top of that cage years ago surrounded by thousands of Yes chants? Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. And here we are again with a hugely important cage match for Bryan but with Jey Uso standing in his way, not wanting to let Daniel get another shot at cousin Roman. I do love a bit of main-event Jey Uso but it would’ve been fun to see Paul Heyman step up instead.

Naturally, both Reigns and Heyman were watching at ringside with high expectations. Roman doesn’t expect to defend his title at Fastlane but it was in the hands of Jey. Both men delivered a really competitive match and a great main event for this week’s SmackDown. Uso looked to have the upper hand on occasions but it was the fiery babyface Bryan who eventually hit a butterfly superplex, rolled into the Yes Lock and ignored any attempt by Jey to break the hold by holding the ropes – no such thing in a cage match! Daniel got the tap out win and now gets to face Roman for the title in a proper defence. Now that’s a match that’s worth tuning in for. As we left SmackDown this week both Reigns and Heyman looked entirely disappointed, and I think Jey might be in trouble next week.

The Best of SmackDown

  • Daniel Bryan – his never say die attitude wins again
  • Bianca Belair – another great win despite Reginald
  • Cesaro – showing Seth Rollins what he’s made of
  • Apollo Crews – the newfound confidence is working wonders
  • Dominik Mysterio – a much-needed win to get back on track

The Worst of SmackDown

  • Reginald – sorry but he needs to move out of Sasha and Bianca’s way
  • Chad Gable – he needs to teach himself how to win
  • Murphy – he deserves better
  • Sami Zayn – far too distracted by his documentary crew
  • Bayley – starting to worry she’ll have nothing at WrestleMania

In Summary…

Well, we all got what we wanted – a real title match between Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan. Where they go from there is a mystery, especially considering a lot of this WrestleMania story is about Edge. Unless they’re going for a triple threat or something, it’s just a strange route to build up Reigns and Edge really isn’t it? Although obviously, they’re not against confusing build-ups – just see Banks, Belair and Reginald. At least we know that Reigns and Bryan will put on a must-see match. The Road to WrestleMania is definitely a strange one this year for sure.

All images and videos courtesy of WWE