Shinsuke Nakamura vs Rusev w/ Aiden English
Aiden English kicked off the show after apparently getting his voice back. He comes out and does a Rusev Day rap that I thought would fall flat, but the crowd erupted for their cue to sing “Rusev Day!”. This was a good choice to start the pay-per-view with as the crowd was very interested in a match involving two of their favorite superstars. Going into this match, Rusev had become weary of the Kinshasa. He knew what it did to English and was actively avoiding it all match. Nakamura got a good heel hook to injure Rusev, but the Bulgarian Brute made the ropes and evened up the momentum.
The cautious approach Rusev took paid off as he countered a Kinshasa with a devastating Macha Kick. Nakamura bounced back though and landed the Kinshasa on the back of Rusev’s neck. He followed that with another immediate Kinshasa, but this time he charged his finisher from the corner of the ring. This sequence looked brutal, but it’s only a taste of what we’ll see at WrestleMania. Both superstars are extremely over right now and they both did their job in this match. I worried that it would disappoint the WWE Universe’s expectations, but it ended up being a solid match.
Shinsuke Nakamura def. Rusev via pinfall (3 ¼ Stars)
US Championship: Bobby Roode vs Randy Orton
Bobby Roode and Randy Orton are both great wrestlers, but this match was not their best. It started slow and didn’t pick up until the finish. Each man took some attacks and then stepped outside the ring to compose himself. In other words, the match didn’t flow causing it to look a bit awkward at times. The spots themselves were good, even great at times, but the length it took for each one to develop wasn’t worth the thrill. Each spot seemed designed to give them a chance to rest. Roode took a Blockbuster onto the top rope leaving him with injured ribs. The Glorious won rallied and went for a corner dive off the turnbuckle but was met with an RKO. Shockingly, Roode didn’t kick out of the pin in time to save his title from changing hands.
Jinder Mahal came marching down to the ring to attack the new champion, but he was blindsided by Roode who hit a Glorious DDT on him. Orton seemed to think Roode was his savior, but he soon received a Glorious DDT of his own. This looks like a triple threat match for the title at ‘Mania and it was a way to get Randy the only belt he hasn’t won. I know they were looking for a way to get in a ladder match at the big show, so they could easily use that gimmick with these three. The title change was the only thrilling part of this match though, so hopefully, they get better in the ring together before April 8th.
Randy Orton def. Bobby Roode via pinfall (2 ½ stars)
Naomi and Becky Lynch vs Natalya and Carmella
This match got tossed together in the go-home episode of SmackDown last Tuesday. With that in mind, it wasn’t that bad of a match. The main problem was there was no real story going into this. Naomi and Becky had been helping Charlotte and Natalya and Carmella had been absent from television. Not much to be said about the actual match as it was decently worked and filled time.
Natalya distracted Lynch with Carmella’s Money in the Bank briefcase and Carmella hit a superkick for the pin. Lynch getting pinned clean by Carmella is confusing because Carmella didn’t cash-in her briefcase. If they wanted to build her up and then have her fail during her cash-in that’d be fine, but she’s left in the same position she’s been in for months and Becky has another loss. Even Carmella seemed shocked as she repeated “I won?!” in disbelief to herself after the match.
Natalya and Carmella def. Becky Lynch and Naomi via pinfall (3 stars)
SmackDown Tag Team Championship: The New Day vs The Usos
How do you book a match that we’ve seen three times and keep the fans feeling like they’re seeing something new? You have them steal each other’s move-set, of course! Seeing the Usos hit the Midnight Hour and the New Day landing the Usos’ signature superkicks was awesome for the WWE Universe. For all, we know they could’ve reused an old script and just flipped roles. That really is a testament to how good these two tag teams are, especially when they face each other.
Once the New Day was forced ringside the Usos hit a double Uso Dive to take out all three members of the New Day. As all five men lay on the mat recovering the Bludgeon Brothers’ music played, and they came marching towards the ring. This match was non-stop action before Harper and Rowan got involved, so adding them to the mix created total chaos. The Bludgeon Brothers manhandled both teams and ending their attack with a double powerbomb of Woods onto the steel steps. Woods looked legitimately hurt, but they called his injury an upper thoracic contusion which means a back bruise. This looks like it will play into a triple threat tag match at WrestleMania.
No Contest (3 ¾ Stars)
SmackDown Women’s Championship: Charlotte vs Ruby Riott
Ruby Riott looked really good in this match. So good, she may have overshadowed Charlotte’s performance. Charlotte also was great, but her sells made Riott look stronger. Flair was beat up by the end of the match, proving that Riott is indeed the top female heel for the blue brand. Experience guided Flair to the victory in this match as she forced the leader of the Riott Squad to tap in the Figure Eight following a Spear.
After the match, Asuka came out and danced her way to the ring. She confronted Charlotte in the ring and pointed the WrestleMania sign, signaling her opponent selection for the biggest show of the year. A cash-in fake out might have been better here, but it still worked just the same. Charlotte vs Asuka will be a truly great match between two high caliber superstars (regardless of gender). For the first time since being called up to the main roster, Asuka’s winning streak seems in legitimate danger.
Charlotte def. Ruby Riott via submission (3 ¾ Stars)
WWE Championship Six Pack Challenge: AJ Styles vs John Cena vs Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn vs Baron Corbin vs Dolph Ziggler
There was some really good storytelling in this match, which is rare for the WWE Creative team in such a loaded match. Lately, the biggest problem for SmackDown has been the overcomplication of simple storylines. There were four prominent storylines during this match, so we’ll break it down that way:
Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin had nothing to do in this match.
For the majority of the bout, they spent time running in and out of the ring taking big bumps as justification for their long absences. Late in the match, Corbin exploded and looked monstrous. This is what the WWE has been trying to sell Corbin as for a while now, but it might be the first time he looked the part of a superstar that could dominate a match. Corbin and Ziggler got into it and moved ringside. Their night ended with Corbin slamming Ziggler against the safety glass in the crowd, leaving them both down and out for the rest of the match.
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn had obvious tension from the start of the pay-per-view.
Owens was mentally taxed with trying to predict how Sami would behave after Zayn turned on him on SmackDown and then reassured him that he would still lay down for the pin at FastLane. While Owens approached the ring during his entrance, Zayn came out early and skipped on by him. KO was clearly confused and upset by this, but Sami played it off like a world class heel.
Towards the end of the match, Zayn and Owens found themselves alone in the ring. Sami laid down for KO, but Owens didn’t fall for it and instead attacked him. The two moved outside the ring and a missed kick by Owens took out Shane McMahon. Zayn hit a diving DDT through the corner of the ring to prompt “This is Awesome” chants from the crowd. Owens got back in the ring and managed to hit a pop-up powerbomb on Ziggler to win the match, but a furious McMahon pulled the ref out of the ring. Zayn hit a Helluva Kick on Owens and had the victory right after, but Shane again interfered by dragging Sami out of the ring. This is obviously setting up a program at ‘Mania but the build still has a few weeks to make the match even better.
John Cena has no path to WrestleMania
To say that the biggest star in the company for the last ten years won’t be on a show that lasts six hours is laughable. Cena was never going to win this match, but they made him look very competitive. The first spot of the match was each man running at Cena and taking an AA. It was a bit corny, but Cena’s strength is still undeniable. Most of the match he was fighting Styles, but eventually, he got ganged up on. He returned for the finish but was hit with a pop-up powerbomb by Owens before KO got pinned. Cena’s biggest spot was probably when he put AJ through the announce table leaving the Phenomenal One incapacitated for most of the second half of the match.
Even though he lost, Cena will still make it to ‘Mania. It just might take a visit from Undertaker on an upcoming RAW.
AJ Styles had to stop five other men from stealing his belt.
Styles broke up several pins at the beginning of the match to save his belt, but the Cena spot through the table left him knocked out ringside. He came back after KO hit his finisher on Cena and knocked out Owens with a Phenomenal Forearm. I often say that any match with Styles is great because he makes everyone look so good. Put him in a match with five other guys and five other guys are going to look greater than they are. This match was an exceptional main event and it likely wouldn’t have been without AJ.
With Styles retaining his belt, we’ll get the Nakamura dream match at WrestleMania. Even though it should be the main event it won’t be billed that way. Styles consistently proves he can steal the show, like he did last ‘Mania, so the WWE should use the fact that it’s being treated as a lesser match as part of the angle. In other words, Nakamura and Styles should tease a really great match while Vince tries to get people to buy into Rousey and Reigns. Then, they make good on their promise and tear down the house.
AJ Styles retains the WWE Championship via pinfall (4 ¼ Stars)