So the wrestling world got a bit riled up this week. And justifiably so. Having the likes of Bray Wyatt, Ricochet, and AJ Styles defeated so quickly in Saudi Arabia is extremely aggravating for those who invest time in watching the current crop of talent and want to watch them succeed.
But with that said, there’s a way to take all this frustration and turn it into something special. And for that to happen...well, we’re going to be relying on John Cena.
Cena was back in the building to end this episode of SmackDown, and he got to show off his acting chops while announcing what he’ll be up to at WrestleMania. His energy was through the roof as he hit the ring and hyped up his hometown crowd, basking in their adulation for the first time in a long while. And that basking made sense once he got down to the nitty gritty of his announcement: he wanted to sit out WrestleMania this year.
His voice got a bit strangled as he talked about it, and he explained that he believes WrestleMania spots are too special to go to someone who just asks for one. He broke the fourth wall here a bit to say that while it feels like the folks backstage don’t “hear” the crowd at times, Cena does and he agrees with us on that point. It felt like a nod to the outrage from Super Showdown and just...ugh. I have thoughts on that that I’ll save for the end.
Cena’s awesome at telling a story, but there was one huge problem that’ll need to be explained moving forward. He announced that he wasn’t going to compete, defended his position, and left...only for the Fiend to knockout the lights, appear behind Cena on the ramp, and point to the WrestleMania sign.
And y’all...Cena was so quick to agree to the match. He flipped on a dime. Is it because he was being asked instead of asking? Is it because he feels like he’s wronged Wyatt in the past and owes him? This shit matters because it goes back to my ultimate point about Wyatt’s defeat in Saudi Arabia: WWE has to give us something special from his loss, or the loss wasn’t worth it from a fan’s perspective. We need something that matches the character development that we saw from Wyatt when he first introduced the Firefly Fun House. This loss needs to propel that development and turn into something awesome.
So John? Bring those acting skills you’ve worked hard to cultivate. Bring the clout, the passion, and everything else you can to this feud. Because if this feud ends up being lackluster, that little fourth wall nod is meaningless.
No pressure, Champ.
That emotion I talked about from the Saudi Arabia show was in full effect as the show kicked off with our new Universal Champion Goldberg. Boston booed the champion with gusto, and WWE really needs to lean into that moving forward or this feud could go sideways in a hurry.
As for Goldberg’s promo, it was brief. He had that arrogant smirk and told the crowd that it’s not about who’s last, but who’s next. Queue Roman Reigns’ music.
It’s honestly hilarious that this feud got made in even less words than the Wyatt/Goldberg match. Reigns came down to cheers - which is great! - and circled the champ before boldly claiming that he’s next. And...that’s it!
This feud...man. WWE, this feud is the most delicate one you’ve got going right now. I could really see the crowd turning on this whole thing if WWE does poorly with either it or Bray Wyatt moving forward. I think they have to avoid the whole “part timer” arguments that Reigns et al. have made in the past about Lesnar. I also think Goldberg needs to be the most arrogant jerk of all time in the lead up. Have him go Spear and injure Pete Dunne on NXT because he hates Matt Riddle, wants to cost the guy opportunities, and...just because he can. Have him be a jerk with impunity and show off that “I’mma sit in my garage and get a title match because I’m Goldberg” energy.
And then have Roman Reigns murder his face at WrestleMania.
Naomi, Lacey Evans def. Bayley, Sasha Banks - Graves said on commentary that Banks’ absence really helped Bayley as a champion by showing that she can stand on her own which...y’know. Mileage may vary on that point. But with that said, it seems notable that Bayley starts losing right as Banks returns.
Are we headed to Bayley vs. Banks?
Bobby Roode def. Kofi Kingston - Roode was out here pulling an Eddie Guerrero to get Big E booted from ringside. Ziggler helped him too, and Roode pulled off the win with a roll up.
And if you needed any more proof, Kofi’s back to “just a dude” status. What a damn shame.
Braun Strowman’s gonna fight all three - The way Sami Zayn giddily jumped on Strowman’s “I’m gonna fight all three of you anyway” line and had it added to the contract signing was awesome. The nearly inevitable outcome where Strowman obliterates Cesaro, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Zayn will be less awesome.
Daniel Bryan def. Curtis Axel - Man, this Coach Gulak thing has legs. It could end up being really fun, and what a freaking shock that Bryan’s involved in something fun. Daniel, if you ever want to open your own promotion, I think I’d probably be a fan of everything you booked.
The Usos def. Miz and Morrison - The new champs are going to have to defend their titles in the Elimination Chamber. That’s the most notable thing about this segment other than that wonderfully disgusting avalanche flip piledriver/splash combo. Break that one out in the Chamber, Usos.
This felt like the first episode of SmackDown that has actually mattered in like a month. I’m...extremely skeptical of how well these Goldberg/Reigns and Cena/Wyatt feuds are going to go, but there’s at least a pathway towards those being fun. Other than that, we got an assemblance of average-to-good lower card stuff.