Two days after Royal Rumble, SmackDown Live dealt with the fallout last night (Jan. 31, 2017), in Corpus Christi, Texas. Only two weeks away from Elimination Chamber, the blue brand welcomed a new WWE Champion and the Rumble winner. For full results and the live blog from the exceptional Reverend Kain, click here.
Cena vs. Orton ... for now
Unfortunately for “The Man,” he’s not just facing “a guy” at the Royal Rumble, but the WWE Champion AJ Styles. And Cena’s reluctance to adapt to the new era means that he won’t be walking out of San Antonio having tied Ric Flair’s record of 16 world championships.
John Cena will not win his 16th world championship until he earns it. And his arrogance and disdain for a man who has pinned him three times shows that he has not, in fact, earned it, as his new t-shirt so readily suggests.
But what everybody else knows, and what John Cena still does not, is that he cannot beat AJ Styles—until he evolves. He will learn this harsh lesson, again, Sunday.
Well, that aged extremely poorly.
John Cena celebrated his 16th WWE Championship by noting that it was not at all time to “pop the champagne,” as he is forced to defend his title in the Elimination Chamber in only two weeks. (It was announced to start the show that the competitors will be Cena, AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Baron Corbin, The Miz, and Bray Wyatt.)
Cena laid down his usual, “You want some, come get some” proclamation, and was confronted by The Wyatt Family. Bray Wyatt said that he would win the championship in two weeks, and Randy Orton noted that even if that didn’t happen, he would take it from Cena at WrestleMania. Either way, as Bray said, “The Wyatts are going to set that championship free.” The pair walked to the ring, and appeared ready to attack the champion, but were stopped when Luke Harper teleported into the ring beside Cena. Shockingly, Harper backed Cena instead of his old brothers, and Shane appeared to set the unlikely, impromptu tag team match.
Unsurprisingly in a match filled with good storytellers, the contest delivered both good work and exceptional narrative beats. Particularly of note was Luke Harper—who, for the last six months now, has proved himself time and again as the heartbeat of the entire angle—initially refusing to fight Wyatt, instead opting to tag out. But as the contest continued, Wyatt’s continued partnership with Orton antagonized Harper to the point of attempting a Sister Abigail on his former brother. A distraction from Orton saved the patriarch, who instead delivered Sister Abigail to Harper.
Cena climbed into the ring and attempted to put Wyatt on his shoulders for an Attitude Adjustment, but Orton shoved his leader off the WWE champion and hit an RKO for the victory over his current WrestleMania opponent.
Next week, for the first ever time on SmackDown Live, John Cena and Randy Orton will face off one-on-one. The subtext of the match is more than amusing: “Hey WWE Universe, FYI, we’re not actually running the main event of WrestleMania on TV a month before WrestleMania.” And Orton’s line on Talking Smack about the slated Cena-Orton main event was perfectly knowing: “I think the fans want it, even if they don’t know it.”
Let us say a few words in memory of AJ Styles’ WWE career. The burial is complete, for he lost to John Cena Sunday night in one of the greatest matches in WWE history. Even worse, Cena had the gall to say this last night:
Part about being a man is admitting that you were wrong. AJ Styles, I’m sorry. I was wrong about you. You are not just a guy from Atlanta. AJ Styles is an elite level WWE superstar who brings out the absolute best in me. AJ Styles’ performance at Royal Rumble is what this championship is all about.
Six feet under. (Though it was refreshing to hear that out of Cena, given that the combination of last week’s promo and his championship victory Sunday did make Styles seem a bit of a geek.)
Styles complained to Commissioner Shane McMahon that he wasn’t receiving a one-on-one rematch, but instead was only getting a multi-man option at Elimination Chamber. Shane was unmoved by the argument, which ... sigh.
Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose approached Styles and said that they still had unsettled business to attend to now that James Ellsworth was well out of the picture.
The two squared off in the main event, in a really fun match that was amplified by The Miz (and Maryse) sitting on commentary. The A-Lister accomplished quite a feat of both selling the ongoing ring action (“trying to copy my kicks?” when Styles hit Ambrose with the Yes! kicks) while simultaneously ethering David Otunga. Partway through the match, Baron Corbin also showed up and made his way to the announcers desk. (At one point the camera showed all seven people assembled, which was simply a hilariously absurd visual.)
Miz and Corbin sniped at each other throughout much of the match, and it was inevitable that the pair would come to blows. Finally The Lone Wolf had enough and attacked Miz, but the altercation distracted the referee from Ambrose scoring a visual pin on Styles after a big elbow drop. Ambrose, angered, hit Corbin with a suicide dive, but when he reentered the ring Styles had recovered and was able to hit the Intercontinental Champion with a Styles Clash for the victory.
As Styles walked off, The Miz hit Ambrose with a Skull Crushing Finale, but couldn’t bask in his attack for very long, as he turned around right into an End of Days from Corbin. For good measure, Big Banter then hit Ambrose with another End of Days before pointing at Styles up the ramp.
With the plethora of interlaying, ongoing stories, and the caliber of the workers in the Chamber, the main event in Phoenix has a chance to be something really, truly special.
Naomi and Becky Lynch defeated SmackDown Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss and Mickie James in a very good, decently long tag team match. The big story here is Naomi: both for scoring another pin on Bliss with her new split-legged moonsault finisher, and for putting on an absolutely dynamite hot tag sequence that even managed to animate Corpus Christi. With her recent work and infectious energy, she’s more than earned a title shot.
But the WWE universe also were privy to both the bad and good of Alexa Bliss during the match, in rapid succession. The bad was when she somehow completely missed both ends of insult to injury (though she did at least sell the miss on the backend, and it immediately led to double tags, so that may have been a miscommunication between her and Naomi) in rather glaring fashion. But then she followed it up a few minutes later by snarkily, visibly counting along with the referee when he was giving her a five count to break a hold.
Hey kids! Let's all learn to count with your pal, @AlexaBliss_WWE! 1️⃣ 2️⃣ 3️⃣ 4️⃣ pic.twitter.com/X9muW0BybT— TDE Wrestling (@totaldivaseps) February 1, 2017
Due to her two pins on the champion in two days, GM Daniel Bryan announced on Talking Smack that Naomi would indeed face Bliss for the SmackDown Live Women’s Championship at Elimination Chamber. This will be a big test for both competitors, to see if Bliss can raise her game in the ring, and whether Naomi can shepherd the champion through a decent match.
Tag team turm ... zzzzzzzz
American Alpha let it be known in a backstage interview that they were none too pleased about being mostly forgotten since winning their SmackDown Live Tag Team Championships. (It’s encouraging that this is used in story, rather than merely brushed over.) This was decent work, with Chad Gable’s blind swings of his title—nearly taking Jason Jordan’s head off—reminiscent of their goofy best down in NXT.
They decided to lay down an open challenge to the division, for anyone to come at the current top guys of Tuesday nights. The Usos first appeared... then The Ascension... then The Vaudevillains... then Breezango... then Heath Slater and Rhyno. Everyone started to brawl, and the show cut to commercial.
When the show came back ... everyone was still in the ring brawling. Literally nothing had happened in the interim time span. The crowd was dead silent, even for notoriously quiet Corpus Christi. The assembled Superstars continued brawling for what seemed like 18 minutes but was probably under 90 seconds, and eventually Alpha “stood tall”—but with Slater and Rhyno still in the ring! The champions’ music played, and everyone just seemed confused.
JBL, on commentary, exclaimed: “That was fun. It didn’t solve anything, we still don’t have a number one contender, but that was fun.”
If only it was fun.
On Talking Smack, Alpha again hit on the note of being overlooked and said they were ready to step up. GM Daniel Bryan announced that because of last night’s events, a tag team turmoil championship match was set for Elimination Chamber. Gable, confident as ever, said that they wanted to be the first team in—they were that hungry to prove themselves.
It’s hard to fault Alpha here, but seeing everyone else stroll to the ring really showed the weakness in the division. Monday Night Raw continued its trend of landing every single former singles NXT Champion in history (male or female) last night—but SmackDown Live has every former NXT Tag Team Champion (save Sin Cara, but the Lucha Dragons were split during the draft).
Let’s hope that trend receives yet another data point in the very near future. Because last night’s segment was real bad.
The people rejoiced when the Talking Smack graphic went up during SmackDown Live—Daniel Bryan has returned. Tonight’s episode wasn’t the greatest of all time, but the level of energy and enthusiasm he brings to the show is simply a requirement for its continued success. Please never leave us, Dan.
All the rest
GM Daniel Bryan invited Nikki Bella and Natalya (who had hired her own personal security) into his office to inform them both that he was making a match between the two for Elimination Chamber. Unfortunately, they were too busy yelling at each other to hear the GM, until Bryan loudly shouted, “ENOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUGH.”
There seems a very good chance that there will indeed be three women’s matches at Elimination Chamber: Nikki-Natalya, the title bout between Alexa Bliss and Naomi, and a quite possible Becky Lynch-Mickie James contest.
Carmella defeated Delilah Dawson with the Code of Silence, thanks to interference from James Ellsworth. Carmella has done quite a bit of good character work since her heel turn, but the name of her finisher might as well be the unofficial crowd motto for her music cue. Ellsworth actually seems to be dragging her act down—we’ve lost the insanity that made her interesting when feuding with Nikki Bella, and instead it has been replaced by a half-hearted manipulation of a jobber. Last week’s ridiculous shopping segment was a hoot—this, not so much.
Dolph Ziggler pinned Kalisto in another short match. Afterward, he attempted to take Kalisto’s mask off before Apollo Crews scurried to the ring to make the save.
Ziggler’s heel turn is going realllll swimmingly.
The blue brand last night boasted three really strong TV matches—but TV matches aren’t really the focal point of this brand. The lack of any knockout promo or brawl, combined with a Worst Segment of the Year candidate, and two other duds, made last night’s SmackDown Live one of its tamest showings since the first week of the brand split.
Also, please never run Corpus Christi again. That crowd is dead.