The last WWE television show of 2016 aired last night (Dec. 27, 2016) when SmackDown Live hit Rosemont, Illinois. Billed as the "Wild Card Finals," three titles were defended and a certain superstar returned with a bang. For full results and the live blog from the exceptional Reverend Kain, click here.
John Cena in the Allstate Arena is always an experience, and last night was no different. When a loud "CM Punk" chant kicked up, Cena was the second person in two nights to quickly shut it down—mockingly asking, "You're going to have to be louder, are you chanting Cena sucks?"
The Former Face That Runs the Place announced that he was far from done in the WWE, despite a very subpar year in 2016. (An argument he continued advancing on Talking Smack.) He stated that despite it not being his year, he was challenging the winner of last night's WWE Championship triple threat match to a fight at Royal Rumble:
I know what you’re thinking, you can’t do that.
But I just did. Why?
Because I’m John Cena. Recognize.
The other two championship matches on the card were a little bit sloppy, but boy did this main event WWE championship triple threat match between AJ Styles, Baron Corbin, and Dolph Ziggler make up for all of that.
Corbin, as Kevin Tierney noted on this site recently, has had a big breakout since the brand split. Tonight, though, was the performance that cemented him as a main event player. It's not exactly a surprise that a guy who can make power moves look really impressive—and Corbin's combination of awesome strikes and huge impact moves fits the bill here—came across as a world beater in a match with bumpers like Styles and Ziggler, but even still—this was something else.
In a free-flowing, action-packed contest, Corbin established dominance early. Styles and Ziggler were forced to make a temporary alliance to knock the big man to the outside, but still it appeared The Lone Wolf had the upper hand. That is, until Ziggler and Styles forced Corbin onto the announce table (following both a Phenomenal Forearm AND Superkick) and hit him with a tandem maneuver of an elbow drop from Ziggler and senton from Styles.
Corbin lay dead for an extended period of time, and seemed to have actually missed his cue to reappear in the match. Styles was hit by a superkick, and it seemed apparent Corbin was to break up Ziggler's attempted three count. But he only made it partway back into the ring—luckily, Styles had the presence of mind to raise a shoulder.
The biggest spot in the match—and one of the best spots of the whole year—was a combination End of Days on Styles and ZigZag on Corbin (again, GIF thanks to @totaldivaseps).
END OF ZIG-ZAG pic.twitter.com/rCeCGZnBRi— TDE Wrestling (@totaldivaseps) December 28, 2016
Styles rolled out of the ring, dead as a doornail, while Ziggler attempted to finish Corbin off with a top rope assault. Instead, he was crotched for his troubles, and then ran into an End of Days.
But the champion, ever aware, immediately popped up and hit Corbin with a Phenomenal Forearm. In a very clever move that makes Corbin look even better, Styles pinned Ziggler—off Corbin's finisher.
AJ, however, couldn't celebrate in peace. In a move that the champion called on Talking Smack an act of "big leaguing," Cena reappeared to confront the man who beat him at both Money in the Bank and SummerSlam and lay down the marker for their third match, now scheduled for January 29 in the Alamodome. Cena offered his hand in congratulations—as he is want to do—and Styles first pointed at the title, then laid it down between himself and Cena, and finally grasped his rival's hand. The crowd was absolutely electric for the whole scene—this was a hell of a moment, in a hell of a story.
There is one possible gripe here, though. Given the reaction in Rosemont, the quality of their two prior bouts, and the insane starpower on display, it's hard to imagine that this shouldn't be the main event—but at WrestleMania, not the Royal Rumble. If Cena-Undertaker is indeed the plan, the Dead Man better have one hell of a performance left in him to top what should be the rightful main event program.
Alpha shock the world
Much consternation has been spilled about the fact that American Alpha—who were labeled by Daniel Bryan as "the best tag team in NXT" during the brand split draft—were in a holding pattern of sorts on Tuesday nights. Sure, Heath Slater and Rhyno were the hot hand, and paying off that story was the right move for the tag team division—but aren't Alpha the stars you want to make? When is their time coming? Now the Wyatt Family are champions and looking unstoppable, and when will ...
This was a clever play by the blue brand—reactions for Alpha during the last few months haven't been all that hot, but that was surely not going to be the case in a place like Rosemont's Allstate Arena. A crowd familiar with Chad Gable and Jason Jordan's NXT work was absolutely the right place to start their push—and the shock factor helps draw in casual viewers who might not be aware of the pair's resume. (The pair also got some serious shine during the match, with Gable in particular throwing out really impressive looking suplexes on much larger men, and hitting an awesome somersault dive on Harper—over Jordan!—on the outside. It's also noteworthy that Alpha pinned Randy Orton—a twelve time world champion—in the center of the ring.)
Miscommunication between Orton and Luke Harper led to the Family's downfall, as Orton accidentally hit Harper off the apron when he was thrown down from attempting a superplex on Gable. This gave the opening for Gable to hit a big dropkick, forcing Orton into the opposite corner.
Everything had been going so swimmingly for the new Wyatts, with Orton and Harper finally getting along. But it's easy to be chummy when things are going well—now that they've lost the titles, will Bray Wyatt be able to keep his group together?
Other great little bit story bits here included further teasing a Slater/Rhyno breakup angle, and having The Usos attack Alpha after their elimination both made Alpha look extra strong in overcoming to win the gold, and set up a program between the two teams going forward.
A four-way match that sets up at least four possible storylines (Slater/Rhyno, Alpha/Wyatt rematch, Wyatt tension, Alpha/Usos) and helps launch an act in a big way has to be considered a huge success.
Becky's title hopes canned by ... La Luchadora?
Becky Lynch got another chance to regain the SmackDown Live Women's Championship in the suburbs of the Windy City, but came up short due to ... wait, what?
It's not a big surprise that Alexa Bliss retained, but the manner in which she did was rather shocking. Lynch's alter ego from last week, La Luchadora, appeared toward the end of the match, which utterly confused literally everyone. She proceeded to rip the padding off turnbuckle on the second rope, and while the referee was attending to Bliss' utterly mangled arm, smashed Becky's head into the steel. Bliss capitalized, hitting a DDT for the pinfall victory.
Speaking of that mangled arm:
Goodness gracious. pic.twitter.com/0YyB5fmXOo— TDE Wrestling (@totaldivaseps) December 28, 2016
Well, that's wonderfully disgusting. A wonderful use of Bliss' apparent double-jointedness, but still horrifying to see.
When asked post-match who she thought her masked savior was, Lexi sarcastically suggested it was Sasha Banks—and then when the interviewer said the figure was clearly larger than Banks, put forth that it was perhaps Nia Jax instead.
Already the guessing games have begun, though it's entirely possible that the person in the costume tonight was merely a stand in for the person (maybe!) actually playing the role.
It should be noted that this angle has distracted from the fact that, again, SmackDown's women's division have yet to put on a match that has made viewers sit up and say, "Wow."
In ring quality in its women's division is the one big advantage the Raw brand has over SmackDown. Certainly, the weekly build for Lynch and Bliss blows away the muddling, incoherent structure of something like the Sasha and Charlotte feud (or, indeed, the developing Bayley-Charlotte feud). But Banks and Flair were out here putting on a classic series of matches, and SmackDown has not come remotely close to reaching that level.
Partly it's due to the nature of the rosters. Becky Lynch is an exceptional worker, certainly, but has been very deliberately kept away from the only other woman on the roster who might be able to stand with her in terms of wrestling skill. And while Alexa is a spectacular promo and immense with character work, the current champion is far from the finished product in the ring.
Adding another extremely talented worker (and talker) in the division, capable of playing both face and heel, could go a long way toward fixing that issue—no matter if it's an old hand or a hotshot rookie.
All the rest
As expected, there was follow up from last week's incident between The Miz and Renee Young, with The Miz initially refusing to be interviewed by Dasha Fuentes backstage, saying he would only speak to Renee. When Young later ventured to The Miz' locker room, she awkwardly asked a generic question about what was in store for The Miz in 2017.
While The Miz gave his answer to Renee, she was very clearly seen to be looking over The Miz' shoulder at something or someone. When the camera panned back, lo and behold, Dean Ambrose in a black "security" shirt was waiting to strike. And strike he did, first the Intercontinental Champion and then the security backup, before making an "all clear" announcement on the security's radio.
Turns out the first thing on The A Lister's 2017 plate is an Intercontinental Championship defense against Ambrose—next week, on SmackDown Live.
James Ellsworth is a beaten man—but Carmella is his rescuer, taking the destroyed chinless man under her wing (literally). Does she really think he's "uniquely attractive" though?
Nikki Bella has something to say to Natalya—but she's going to say it to her face, not in some backstage interview.
Special shout out to JBL, who was excellent standing in for General Manager Daniel Bryan on Talking Smack.
Angles being launched, stars being made, easy 4.5 star matches. Decent.
It can't have been that good a show, though, considering no references were made to Becky Lynch's pineapple can mishaps. A seriously missed opportunity, that.