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SmackDown recap & reactions (Feb. 2, 2024): The Head of the Table

The status of Tribal Chief is up in the air with a big money match-up made for the WrestleMania 40 main event on SmackDown.

This week’s episode of Friday Night SmackDown was all about decisions from all the challengers for all the top titles in the men’s and women’s divisions. The men’s side was given the main event segment and what a segment it was.

Roman Reigns hit the scene before Cody Rhodes showed up because, well, he couldn’t help but address World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins in a scathing promo that acted as one hell of a response to what his former Shield stablemate had to say on Raw this past week.

You really need to simply see it to believe it:

I’d argue that right there is some of Roman’s best work on the microphone in the entirety of his WWE career. We already knew there would be money in eventually going back to a match between the two of them but hot damn, I’m ready for that match right now.

But that’s not what we’re going to get.

No, we quickly had to turn our attention back to Rhodes and his big decision.

And he made clear right away that while Rollins made quite a few good points on Raw, he doesn’t agree with calling Roman’s title the “Hollywood title.” Call it what you want, it’s still the title Bruno Sammartino held, it’s still the most prestigious championship in the industry, and it’s still the championship he wants.

But not at WrestleMania.

Huh?

Oh.

Oh, HIM.

Yep. They’re actually doing the big pivot.

They were as smart about it as they possibly could be, with Rhodes showing up here to cut the very promo he cut making clear he does indeed intend on finishing his story, and he’s still coming for the very title Reigns holds, it just won’t be at WrestleMania 40. Which, yeah, that’s always been where we assumed it would happen but isn’t necessarily where it absolutely has to happen.

To be fair, I’m not sure how I feel about it happening anywhere else, but it’s hard to argue with making this match. And, to be clear, they still have some real explaining to do as far as Cody’s storyline motivations for this. But again, you kinda have to make this match.

The Rock’s entrance was electric, as always, and no one in the audience seemed upset at the prospect of Cody taking a back seat — at least for now — for “The Great One.” And they did the right thing by having Cody basically endorse The Rock stepping into his spot. Again, the crowd reacted positively to this. When Cody left to go his own way, leaving The Rock alone in the ring with Reigns for a big staredown to tease out what’s to come, yet again the crowd reacted with nothing but praise.

They were strongly in support of all of it, at least in Birmingham on this particular night.

This is a damn good problem for WWE to have. In this one segment, they gave us no less than three big money matchups for the top star on the roster throughout 2024. Rock at WrestleMania, Rhodes at SummerSlam, Rollins at Survivor Series? Who knows. Either way, the individual performers here were brilliant in every way.

And that staredown felt huge. Bigger than Cody finishing his story at WrestleMania huge. That feels bad, in its own way, but it is what it is. You can disagree with the booking but you have to admit this is a piece of business that must be done.


Well, it’s finally come to this.

After months of saying she would be challenging Rhea Ripley to win the women’s world championship at WrestleMania 40 after winning the Royal Rumble so Damage CTRL could hold all the gold, Bayley was tasked with making her decision official on this show. But before she could, this:

Later, she walked out and called Damage CTRL her family, giving them credit for helping her reach her goals and doing things she’s never done before. While she said all this, Iyo Sky, Kairi Sane, and Asuka were standing behind her laughing.

So she spoke on challenging Rhea Ripley for her title but quickly turned her attention to more personal matters — the group of friends she thought she had who did nothing but talk shit about her behind her back. She even learned some Japanese from it.

An emotional Bayley wanted to know what the hell happened. Ever since the Kabuki Warriors came around, Sky turned her back on her and everything changed. Sure enough, they attacked from behind. She used a damn pipe to fight them off before squaring up with Sky, without ultimately pulling the trigger.

But then she grabbed the mic and said it.

“Iyo, I’ll see you at WrestleMania.”

The breakup is finally here.

Bayley was fantastic here, not quite the true blue babyface of days gone by but a righteously vengeful scorned friend who deserves better than she was given. The crowd treated her well even before the turn. I didn’t love how long they took to get to this but it’s satisfying now that it’s finally happened.


All the rest

  • Logan Paul opened this show to — among other things, like taking some not so subtle shots at stars like CM Punk and Seth Rollins — put Kevin Owens over while also running him down. This man said KO looks like a pissed off donut. Incredible. But he also said Owens managed to make him bleed and did more damage to him than even Floyd Mayweather did. For his part, Owens showed up to say he scored a moral victory at Royal Rumble. It was worth knocking him silly. Paul claimed he outsmarted Owens because the brass knuckles were bait and KO took it. They couldn’t agree on Owens getting another title shot and instead Austin Theory showed up for a match, which turned out to be a lot of fun. Paul tried to interfere with the brass knuckles but KO once again got a hold of them, used them to take out Grayson Waller and then Theory, and won the match. He learned from the Rumble!
  • Naomi signed to SmackDown, and then Tiffany Stratton signed to SmackDown and the women’s division on the blue brand is suddenly deeper than the red brand. Stratton made her mark right away, firing off with Michin and, later on in the show, scoring her first main roster victory against her with the Prettiest Moonsault Ever. Tiffany looked good here, and the crowd responded to her well.
  • We got a damn good vignette showing Santos Escobar rallying the troops in Legado del Fantasma — including Elektra Lopez — saying they’re being entrusted to carry on the legacy of their families along with the entirety of lucha.
  • Having said that, they quickly lost a Fatal 4-Way match to Pete Dunne & Tyler Bate, who also defeated the LWO and Pretty Deadly for the right to advance to take on the winner of a Fatal 4-Way on Monday Night Raw next week to determine who will be next to challenge Judgment Day for the tag team titles at Elimination Chamber. To be fair, they’re clearly doing their best to establish British Strong Style now that Dunne is back to his Bruiserweight roots but I’d like to see more of a push for Fantasma going forward. They’ve got a damn good backstory they’ve been building out for Carrillo and Garza going back quite a while in NXT.
  • The Final Testament vs. The Suit Profits was a six-man tag team match I was looking forward to that was given a segment so short I have to wonder if it was cut for time. Having said that, it was all about establishing that B-Fab is indeed joining up with the group and will act as a counter to Scarlett Bordeaux.

This was a hugely meaningful show that set us speeding down the road to WrestleMania.

Grade: A

Your turn.

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