For the “first time ever,” SmackDown Live presented the monumental match of WWE Champion John Cena vs. Randy Orton last night (Feb. 7, 2017), in Seattle. With Elimination Chamber only five days away, the blue brand once again put on a dynamite go home show. For full results and the live blog from the exceptional Reverend Kain, click here.
Stepping out of the shadow
Last night’s main event pitted WWE Champion John Cena vs. Royal Rumble winner Randy Orton. (It was really good, too!)
And the biggest moment of the match involved neither of them.
Bray Wyatt, who was sitting ringside, entered the fray after a ref bump. Orton, who had immediately tapped to the STF after the ref went down, joined the attack. Though Cena was able to avoid an RKO, clotheslining Orton instead, he was hit with Sister Abigail.
This brought former Wyatt brother Luke Harper to the ring. Harper and Wyatt stared each other down, Harper visibly psyching himself up, actually shaking, before Wyatt motioned for him to leave.
Harper took one step away, then rotated in smooth fashion to land a discuss lariat on his former mentor.
The crowd went bananas.
This was a moment that’s been building for months, and months, and months, until finally—finally!—the right time came about.
And it was downright perfect.
Orton snuck up behind Harper, and attempted to hit an RKO. Instead, Harper shoved him into the path of an onrushing Cena, who immediately hit Orton with a second AA and pinned him—the ref coming to just in time. The WWE Champion looked at his savior, utterly bemused, before celebrating his hard-fought victory.
Earlier in the night, Harper had cut a promo in his own little backstage Wyatt gimmick room, saying that Orton stole his family, that he was a liar, and he would not merely cut the Viper’s head off, but make him suffer. He will get his opportunity this Sunday when he faces Orton at Elimination Chamber.
Double the fun
What do you get when you put four strong promos in a “dual” contract signing?
An excellent segment, turns out.
Mickie James continues to ace her character of “returning veteran who oh yeah has always been psychotic and now has an extra bone to pick,” telling Becky Lynch that she would prove Sunday she “not only created the women’s revolution, but I created you.”
Lynch responded to this by continuing to be just the most wonderful, visibly saying, “You’re not my mom.” She then noted that she would “walk through” James at Elimination Chamber, and would slap her “back into the past.”
Cue SmackDown Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss, who simply couldn’t even with Becky. She belittled the former champion, saying the only thing running through her veins wasn’t “straight fire” but “toxic, cheap, orange hair dye.” The champ then just happened to remember about her actual opponent, mockingly saying, “I’m SORRY! Oh my God, Naomi, I completely forgot about you! It’s totally fine, because I’ll beat you on Sunday.” She then promptly signed the contract.
Bliss’ casual dismissal of Naomi is both so perfectly in character and so perfectly in her wheelhouse.
Naomi would get the last laugh, though, reminding her that she has pinned the champion twice recently, and that she would snatch her bald in Phoenix—meaning that she would walk into her hometown of Orlando, at WrestleMania, as the SmackDown Women’s Champion. She warned Lexi that she better be ready to feel the glow—and then kicked the champion upside the head with a roundhouse kick out of nowhere.
I love Becky and Mickie's reactions. pic.twitter.com/FeNLKo4W5F— TDE Wrestling (@totaldivaseps) February 8, 2017
The brawl was on, and eventually the faces stood tall after a Naomi suicide dive took out both heels, who scampered to safety.
Three women’s matches on one pay-per-view card is impressive. But for that to happen twice in a row? That’s a big deal. But the blue brand should go even further, and keep all of the women’s matches on the main card—because all of them absolutely deserve to be on it.
Hopefully the SmackDown women’s division can have its breakout night in Phoenix—because all eyes are on them.
Making Baron Corbin look strong
Home state hero and SmackDown Live General Manager Daniel Bryan kicked us off in Seattle and received a rapturous ovation. He noted that the last time he was in Seattle on a WWE show, he announced his retirement. Bryan began to touch on the primary note he hit last year of gratefulness, but was rudely interrupted by—who else?—The Miz. The two bantered back and forth, with Miz at one point simply unable to continue his promo over the electric crowd noise. (It almost seemed if he had longer comments planned but cut them short, because he never would have gotten through all of them given the crowd’s enormously hostile response.)
Baron Corbin was next out, and The Miz quickly offered up the idea of an alliance between the two. The Lone Wolf shot this down (he’s a lone wolf, after all) and threatened to take Miz out right then and there. The former 6-time Intercontinental Champion asked Bryan, “Are you going to let him talk that way to me?”
Bryan sarcastically responded, “Oh no, Baron, please don’t punch Miz in the face, that would be terrible.” Before that could occur, current Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose made his way to the ring.
The Lunatic Fringe was on good form, telling Miz he looked like a shoe and calling Corbin a tall drink of water, before warning the pair that the Elimination Chamber suited a guy like him.
Finally, former WWE Champion AJ Styles showed up, saying he would reclaim his title. The assembled Superstars continued bickering, when Bryan decided to make an impromptu Fatal Four-Way match—to take place immediately.
The ensuing match started somewhat slow, but eventually picked up and delivered in a big way. Throughout the match, Miz, Ambrose, and Styles all bumped huge for Corbin punches, giving the relative newcomer a lot of shine. Styles seemed to have the match wrapped up when he hit Miz with a Phenomenal Forearm, but Maryse had the presence of mind to pull The A Lister to safety. A clearly annoyed Styles walked right into an End of Days—and was pinned by Big Banter.
This is a big statement win for Corbin, who is assuredly not walking out with the title Sunday. Much like his elimination of Braun Strowman at Royal Rumble, last night was another example of WWE continuing to make Corbin look a real threat without needing to put any titles on him. That’s a hallmark of very intelligent booking.
(And for anyone worried about Styles being pinned, go watch John Cena’s appearance on Talking Smack.)
The lost division
So, SmackDown, you’re not perfect. In fact, we need to talk.
You need to do better with your tag team division.
It’s a bit odd that the main storyline note for American Alpha, the tag team champions of the brand, is “We have been completely ignored.” Tonight we got something resembling a preview of the tag team championship turmoil match slated for Sunday, with the heels emerging triumphant in a 12-person tag match when Viktor pinned Rhyno after a high knee from the top rope.
Their reactions haven’t been as consistent of late, but Seattle was red, red hot for Beauty and The Man Beast. If only SmackDown could get Alpha that cheered! (They really need to give the pair more talking time backstage, as that’s where their goofy charm comes out best.)
It’s hard to say what to do here. The blue brand isn’t loaded with extra time to hand out, and literally half the division are jobbers (though Breezango, who teamed with the faces last night, are at least fun jobbers). In fact, the only time the division has gotten serious play was when the Wyatt Family stooped into the muck for a brief period.
The tag team divisions are clearly the lowest priorities on both brands. But as seen in 2016 down in NXT, with the right talent and dedication it can consistently steal the show. It just doesn’t seem like it’ll get that dedication on the main roster.
All the rest
Nikki Bella and Natalya were simultaneously interviewed from separate locations—since whenever they’re around each other they inevitably come to blows. Many of the usual notes were hit (though Natalya added that, were she single, John Cena would be with her, not Nikki), before Nikki simply had enough and walked off.
Later, on Talking Smack, Nikki was a featured guest but was quickly interrupted by, of course, Natalya. The two immediately resorted to fisticuffs, but Natalya got the upper hand—and made it count, as The Queen of Harts smashed Nicole’s face into the glass panel underside of the desk.
Feels like this is a perfect match for some sort of no disqualification stipulation—and huge credit should go out to both creative and Nikki (and her opponents) for consistently making her feuds wildly heated—though we’ll have to settle for a fiery regular match.
Apollo Crews rolled up Dolph Ziggler in a very short match. Afterward, Ziggler attacked and then went back to his newly-traditional chair assault (it’s truly amusing that Ziggler has the same “Eureka!” moment every time). Kalisto came out to stop the attack, but only ended up eating several chair shots himself.
When Ziggler was confronted by Daniel Bryan backstage, he boasted that he could beat Crews or Kalisto whenever (even though he literally just lost to Crews)—and because he is not very smart, he suggested to his general manager that hell, he could even beat them together.
Lo and behold, Bryan made a handicap match for Ziggler vs. Crews and Kalisto for Sunday.
It’s a bummer that most of the talking time for this feud has gone to Ziggler, who is what he is, rather than a guy like Crews, who remains pretty much undefined.
Daniel Bryan once again suggested that James Ellsworth is well endowed on Talking Smack, completely breaking Renee Young. Please never leave us again, Daniel.
Last night we saw the benefits of running continuous, coherent stories. It’s only 10 days removed from a major show, but since SmackDown’s stories have been playing out for much longer periods of time, there’s no cooldown effect. There’s no viewer fatigue or cynicism because programs aren’t being randomly put together. Everything connects to what happened before.
Most importantly, it means we get moments like Harper finally summoning the nerve to lay hands on his old mentor. That was truly special.
If the job of a go home show is to make the viewer more excited for the pay-per-view, well, consider this mission accomplished. Exceptional stuff from the blue brand last night.
(Lord, if only the tag division was good!)