SmackDown Live opened the new year with a bang last night (Jan. 3, 2017) in Jacksonville, Florida. The Intercontinental Championship was on the line, and AJ Styles and John Cena were slated to sign the contract for their championship match at Royal Rumble. For full results and the live blog from the exceptional Reverend Kain, click here.
The Conspiracy Against The Miz
What a way to ring in the new year. Dean Ambrose is your new Intercontinental Champion. And somehow that’s not the lead story in this angle.
Look. AJ Styles is great. Incredible. Phenomenal even.
But there’s no professional wrestler alive that has been on the run The Miz has since his first appearance on Talking Smack. He’s consistently putting on exceptional TV matches (and continuously raising his game in pay-per-view matches as well) and cutting Promo of the Year contenders seemingly every week at this rate.
But this definitely wasn’t all Miz—it was also one of Ambrose’s best matches in recent memory, with a newfound fire in his rhythm and vitriol in his offense. It overtly came across that Ambrose felt Miz and Maryse had wronged both himself and Renee Young, and he was for damn sure not going to let it slide. He told Dasha Fuentes that he was going to take the one thing away from The Miz that he cherished most dearly—and he backed up his words.
Unsurprisingly, Maryse continually made her presence felt, first distracting Ambrose on the outside and allowing Miz to hit a big wrecking ball dropkick to take the advantage, and then later stalling the challenger when he was set to hit a top rope elbow drop, allowing Miz a chance to dodge and hit a Skull Crushing Finale for a close nearfall.
Ambrose, recognizing what was about to happen, pleaded with the referee not to throw the match out and then physically grabbed the ref’s arm to stop him from calling for the bell. Instead, he suggested to have Maryse thrown out, which the official obliged with. But while Ambrose was celebrating and the referee was dealing with Maryse, The Miz snuck up behind Dean and smacked him with the Intercontinental Championship, and fell on him for the pin.
One. Two. … KICKOUT?!?!
Ambrose was not dead yet, much to Miz’ consternation. The A Lister pulled Ambrose to his feet, ready to finish the job with another Skull Crushing Finale—but Ambrose shifted, twisted and turned, hit Dirty Deeds, and won his second Intercontinental Championship.
Daniel Bryan noted on Talking Smack that Maryse was being fined $5,000 for “physically attacking a non in-ring talent” when she slapped Young earlier in the night, and it was this slight that sent The Miz over the edge. (Maryse had also slapped Ambrose in the show’s opening segment, as well.)
Apoplectic is about the most apt word to describe the former champion’s fury—actually, words can’t properly do it justice. Just go watch it on the WWE Network. Or watch it again if you already have.
There’s a conspiracy afoot, and it’s all to bring The Miz down. Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose, WWE, the fans, false journalists like Renee Young. EVERYONE!
John Cena... has been?
So, AJ Styles and John Cena had a contract signing for their championship match at the Royal Rumble.
It was pretty good.
Styles initially tried to buddy-buddy with General Manager Daniel Bryan, claiming Cena wasn’t like “guys like us.” But Bryan noted that SmackDown Live was on a roll and needed to put its best feet forward to keep its momentum up against Monday Night Raw, and left the ring to the two superstars. Styles using Cena’s comments last week on Talking Smack—when he retroactively walked back, years later, inflammatory statements he had made about The Rock not being committed to WWE—was a nice but obvious tact. “No John, you were right.” The WWE Champion went on to suggest that John Cena “has been” a great star for WWE, but put special attention to those two words: “has been.”
Remarkably, an audible “has been” chant started up in Jacksonville. Directed at John Cena.
Fans are really, really buying what Styles is selling right now.
Styles told Cena that “when it comes to Hollywood, you will never be as good as The Rock. And when it comes to this ring, you will never be as good as A.J. STYLES.”
Cena, as only he can, rallied vim and vigor for a return salvo about his passion for WWE and how it would lead him to victory at Royal Rumble—because Styles was like any other past guy who would come to “realize on their best day, they couldn’t never. be. me.”
There really is no replacement for John Cena. There simply can’t be. The guy is too good at what he does, and WWE needs to recognize that they need to find a new way going forward rather than trying to fit square pegs into round holes.
Baron Corbin, who defeated Dolph Ziggler earlier in the night, interrupted and told both men that he was going to win the Royal Rumble later this month and defeat whichever of them at WrestleMania for the WWE Championship.
Cena said that he was excited Corbin was there to throw down, because he knew AJ wasn’t going to—which immediately earned him an enziguri to the back of the head from Styles. Is Cena still underestimating The Phenomenal One, despite being pinned three times last year by his Royal Rumble opponent?
Corbin’s aggression earned him a TV match with Cena next week, which is a sign of how high the company is on The Lone Wolf. He again made bold claims on Talking Smack, saying that both Cena’s and Styles’ time was up, and now has a huge opportunity next week to prove himself in a very big spot.
(Corbin’s claim on Talking Smack that he was the reason for the ratings spike last week was great, correctly noting that AJ Styles had been in the main event plenty of times before and SmackDown had never won the ratings battle with Raw—but it did last week, with Corbin in the main event. In fact, everyone wanted to take credit for the ratings last night, including Styles, Corbin, The Miz, and even Bryan later on Talking Smack claiming it as a group effort. They’re really pushing this angle hard.)
Straight Fire toasted by dos La Luchadoras
Former SmackDown Live Women’s Champion Becky Lynch got her hands on her alter ego La Luchadora, but ended up receiving more than she bargained for. Lynch dominated the brief match, but it turned after the “purple head” as JBL calls her slipped under the ring, only to rapidly appear on the other side. With both the referee and Lynch distracted, La Luchadora attacked from behind, and attempted to hit, well, Twisted Bliss from the top rope. Unfortunately for the masked woman, she came up very much empty, and Bliss immediately locked on the Disarmer for the submission win.
Becky was not done yet though, as she needed to know just who her attacker was. She unmasked her opponent, only to find that it was—surprise!—SmackDown Live Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss. But how could it have been Bliss last week, given that she was facing Becky in the match that La Luchadora interfered during?
The answer was immediately revealed, as the other La Luchadora slipped out from under the ring behind Becky and attacked, allowing Bliss to put her rival down with a DDT.
The plot thickens! Who has Bliss recruited to the cause of tormenting poor Becky Lynch?
Dolph Ziggler’s not going to take it anymore.
After putting up yet another valiant effort against Baron Corbin, Ziggler was reacquainted with the End of Days. Dolph’s string of poor form finally caught up to him—even when he laid it all on the line and came up with the goods against The Miz at No Mercy, it was only a temporary respite from his litany of failures.
He just kept losing, and losing, and losing.
After Corbin went for some extracurriculars after the match, Kalisto rushed out to make the save. (Corbin’s reaction was a massive eye roll, which was completely on point.) But Ziggler was none too thrilled with his savior, flooring the two-time United States Champion with a superkick.
“I DON’T NEED YOU! I DON’T NEED ANYONE! I NEVER NEEDED ANYONE!”
Broken, angry Ziggler opens up a lot of avenues, and having Apollo Crews come to the defense of Kalisto backstage is a really good use of Crews. It’s a really easy way to get Crews some babyface credibility, and given that he’s working with a fresh heel Ziggler ensures that there will be interest in the program—especially when the angry veteran is dropping lines like, “Mind your own business, mark.”
All the rest
American Alpha defeated Breezango in a squash. But after the match, they were told not to celebrate too long by the Wyatt Family, who announced from their usual denizen in the catacombs of the arena that they were coming for their titles next week. Bray Wyatt walked off camera, and Randy Orton gave the signature, “RUN”—which Luke Harper was none too pleased about.
This Wyatt story has been built over several months, and is just now kicking into overdrive. It’s lowkey one of the best angles going in WWE.
Daniel Bryan on Talking Smack strongly suggested that it should be the main event next week, which is a welcome call. Title matches on weekly television should always main event—it’s a small gesture, but helps give credibility to every championship.
Carmella defeated Aliyah (!) in a short match—thanks to an assist from James Ellsworth. The Chinless Wonder, who JBL again relentlessly castigated on commentary, had earlier been seen completely flabbergasted when attempting to speak to The Princess of Staten Island backstage. He was so flustered that he gave her a gift—the shirt off his own back, literally. For a split second, Carm was disgusted, before instantly again showering him with praise—even inviting him for ringside to watch her match.
Unsurprisingly, when Aliyah looked to be gaining momentum, Ellsworth grabbed her foot with the referee’s back turned, allowing Carmella time to hit a superkick and then a clever drop toehold into The Code of Silence for the submission victory.
Carmellsworth is a really intelligent use of the two talents. Carmella will never be the greatest worker in the world, but is a very good talker and has her character down cold. Ellsworth, meanwhile, wonderfully plays the bumbling idiot who’s in way over his head.
Aliyah wasn’t given much to do here but impressed nonetheless. She’s a ways away from the main roster, but improving all the time.
Nikki Bella got the opportunity to confront an unrepentant Natalya, who again claimed that Nikki got everything because of her looks. When Nikki correctly noted that Natalya was an obvious legacy case, Natalya poisoned the well even further, suggesting that Nikki had exchanged sexual favors with Bret Hart in return for a positive tweet. 2paw’s owner then said that Nikki’s beauty would fade, and that when it did, John would leave her—and she would die alone.
Such slander would not be tolerated by Ms. Bella, who flattened Natalya with a massive Bellahammer. The two will square off next week on SmackDown Live.
It’s worth noting that the blue brand effectively used nine (!) women in four (!) separate storylines last night.
2017 started the way 2016 ended for SmackDown Live: with another home run. It’s unlikely the blue brand will win the ratings war for a second week in a row, but boy does it ever deserve it after last night.