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SmackDown recap & reactions (Dec. 8, 2023): CM Punk calls his shot

Finally, CM Punk returned to Friday Night SmackDown.

Just before Punk was set to make that return, Michael Cole sent us off to break by teasing out that we may get a hint on where he will sign tonight. Then, the very first commercial was a promo for Monday Night Raw next week, where the announcer outright said Punk will decide where he will sign when he returns to the red brand next week.

That doesn’t make Cole wrong, or invalidate his words, I just thought it was too funny to use that tease and then spoil that a decision won’t be happening on this show but instead on the other show.

Meanwhile, JBL was as complimentary of him as could be on commentary during his entrance, saying every once in a while a wrestler transcends the genre and Punk is that guy for WWE.

As for Punk, he did indeed tease out who he would sign for. He claimed he would partly leave it up to the fans and polled them based on their cheers. They were, of course, heavily in favor of SmackDown.

And then the good stuff.

Punk finally got to talk a bit about the roster and all the potentially issues he could be running into in both the near and distant future. That included acknowledging Roman Reigns but reminding everyone he’s the original Paul Heyman Guy. It also included a solid tease of a program with Kevin Owens, which he used as an opportunity to poke fun about his own issue with punching people in the face backstage.

Sorry, AEW!

Seth Rollins easily got it the worst, though, with Punk outright saying he’s not even The Man in his own household before calling out the fact that fans can sing his song because “that’s about all he’s got.” That’s not true, of course — he’s got the world heavyweight championship and is quite clearly the best chance Punk has for main eventing WrestleMania 40 next year.

And that was the other thing Punk was here to make clear — he very much wants to do like Cody Rhodes and finish the story. One of his dreams, even if he didn’t want to cop to it at various points after everything went sour, was to main event WrestleMania. Maybe he wins the Royal Rumble and books a ticket to doing just that.

There will be one hell of a match-up waiting for him if so.

Either way, this wasn’t the happy go lucky Punk who was just happy to be back home and who was cut for time. This was a bit more of the quick witted verbal killer we all know and love.

And there are just so many interesting match-ups awaiting him.

Randy Orton met with Adam Pearce, none too pleased with being forced into teaming with LA Knight, who he doesn’t even know. He was informed it’s his path to The Bloodline right now, so take it.

They formed enough of an alliance backstage, then ran into Punk, who wished them well.

Dysfunction everywhere, folks.

Except the actual main event match, Orton & Knight vs. Solo Sikoa & Jimmy Uso, featured no real dysfunction at all. There was a very slight tease of an issue early on but Knight was there when Orton needed him, and they ultimately won the match and shook hands after.

Of course, Orton is Orton so he did steal some of the glory. The finish was Knight going for the Blunt Force Trauma on Jimmy and Orton literally grabbed him up and hit him with the RKO for the pinfall. The look he gave him after was priceless.

They celebrated the victory to end the show, and fun was had by all. It’s pretty much the only way to do it with a tribute show like this, and it does indeed set up something for next week when Roman Reigns finally makes his return to television.

There’s a lot to come back to talk about.

All the rest

  • In the first of two United States Title Tournament matches, Santos Escobar defeated Dragon Lee clean in the middle of the ring, despite the fact that Dominik Mysterio was ringside. This was a strong win for Escobar and something of a strange loss for Lee, considering he’s challenging for the North American championship at an NXT premium live event literally later tonight in Bridgeport. It doesn’t say much about him as a challenger or that title when you operate like this. After the match, Dirty Dom hopped the ring and spit on Lee before walking out. A bit strange overall but the match itself was really good.
  • Cody Rhodes was given the job of being the patriotic wrestler to put over the fact that WWE does an annual “Tribute to the Troops” show because they really love the troops, and America. Regardless of a lot of other WWE issues surrounding politics through the years, it is indeed very cool they do these shows. Doing it like this, as an episode of SmackDown featuring actually meaningful matches and storyline advancement alongside the various tributes is also a welcome change. The crowd was fantastic all night too.
  • In the second of two United States title tournament matches, Bobby Lashley defeated Karrion Kross. You knew this result was coming the minute they started pushing the fact that Lashley served in the Army. There was simply no way they would book him to lose at a “Tribute to the Troops” show after drawing attention to that. If nothing else, Kross finally got back on television!
  • Asuka defeated Charlotte Flair thanks in part to an assist by Bayley, despite the fact that Damage CTRL told her to stay backstage. They keep teasing out this breakup, and then doing things like this, where Bayley ultimately tries to fall on her face and sometimes does but then, like her, sometimes screws around and actually helps out. I’m just ready for them to finally pull the trigger.

This was a fun show, and WWE did a great job balancing out a meaningful night of wrestling with tributes to the troops.

Grade: A-

Your turn.

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