This is it... April 3 in Nashville is SmackDown LIVE’s last big chance to turn up the volume and get folks excited for their matches at WrestleMania 34. Here’s what they’re offering up:
Partly due to a nagging (reportedly knee) injury that WWE champion AJ Styles is dealing with, partially because both he and his ‘Mania opponent, Royal Rumble winner Shinsuke Nakamura, are babyfaces, the build to their match this weekend in New Orleans has been short on fireworks.
Instead, WWE’s relied on the excitement they saw and heard from fans in Chicago at Money in the Bank last summer. The two men are popular enough due largely to their reputations as great wrestlers, they had a match which hardcore wrestling fans loved in New Japan a couple years back before they came to The ‘E. Let them fight.
That story continues right to the end, as on the ‘go home’ show, Shinsuke and AJ will be teamed up to face Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin. Like Nakamura and Styles, Benjamin and Gable are gifted performers WWE sees value in but doesn’t necessarily see the need to do a whole lot more than what they’re already doing with them.
They’ve been the perfect fit for Nak and AJ’s angle, as wins over the players from a mid-card tag team are never in doubt, but can look impressive while The Artist and The Phenomenal One posture and the announcers wonder if Shin is in the champ’s head.
A week after Nakamura defeated Benjamin, then saved Styles from a two-on-one beatdown before punking him by teasing his finisher, they’ll team up for a good old-fashioned “reluctant partnership between pay-per-view (PPV) opponents” match against Chad and Shelt-y.
Is it enough? Probably, as the excitement from MitB will be there regardless, and there’s plenty of other stuff on the card for April 8 to generate interest.
Could it have been something more? We’ll probably never know.
The Title Scene
WWE made the interesting decision to keep Asuka on Raw even after she challenged Charlotte Flair for the blue brand’s Women’s title. SmackDown’s champ being sidelined by what was said to be dental surgery last Tuesday meant their feud was completely off the show for a week. The Queen is back, looking to avenge her loss to Natalya before heading to Mixed Match Challenge for a ‘Mania preview when she and Bobby Roode face The Empress and The Miz in the finals. What a weird way to lead into what could have been a huge match...
Speaking of Roode, his quest to regain the United States championship from Randy Orton picked up another obstacle when Rusev pinned The Viper and got added to the match at The Showcase of The Immortals. Tonight, The Bulgarian Brute goes one-on-one with the other man in Sunday’s Fatal 4Way, Jinder Mahal.
After tag team champs The Usos crashed Bludgeon Brothers bout against The New Day last week as Rowan was grabbing the hammers for he and Harper to use on Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston and Big E, General Manager Daniel Bryan made their title match a Triple Threat. Rumors say it may add another stipulation before the weekend... stay tuned.
Other stuff to keep an eye on:
- SmackDown’s true main event angle doesn’t involve any of the belts, and we should get another big helping of hype for Bryan’s return bout tonight. DB’s partner Shane McMahon will be on hand to address his status following hospitalization for diverticulitis and an umbilical hernia that WWE has sold as resulting from Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn’s attack on him from back before The GM was cleared to wrestle. With KO and Sami’s jobs on the line and Bryan’s storybook comeback, what else could possibly be done to sell this match?
- Becky Lynch and Dolph Ziggler got to position themselves as front runners for the pre-show battle royals a week ago. Who else will join the fray and try to make a statement tonight?
- If you’re wondering about last minute Undertaker news... no, Free Agent John Cena isn’t advertised for Nashville.
It’s the WrestleMania 34 ‘go home’ show!
What will you be looking for on SmackDown Live tonight?