SHINSUKE NAKAMURA vs. RUSEV (w/Aiden English) - 6.5/10
English was given a very elaborate song for tonight but performed it well. The match started off very slow and dull (by design to try to get heat on Rusev for stalling), but picked up towards the end. Unfortunately, it was pretty much doomed from the beginning because no one was ever going to buy the idea that Rusev had a shot of winning. I think it would have been better if they had used the TV to build up a Nia vs. Asuka stipulation for this match where if Rusev won he would be added to the WrestleMania main event.
WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Bobby Roode(c) vs. Randy Orton- 8/10
Two guys having a nice long struggle and just trying to hit their finisher to win the wrestling match. This is what I want out of a championship match! Randy picked up the win and made this fin feel like it really was a big deal for him, despite how ridiculous it is that the announcers are claiming that it's the only title in WWE that he hasn't won when he hasn't won either the SD tag belts or the Universal Title.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. Jinder comes out and attacks Randy but Orton makes the save and lays Jinder out with a DDT. Then he does the same to Orton.
RONDA ROUSEY VIDEO PACKAGE- dude... this is a f*cking PPV! Do they really think there is anyone who is either paying for a PPV or subscribed to the WWE Network who hasn't seen the stuff they've done with Ronda? This is infuriating. I pay them money so I can watch wrestling matches, not their own commercials.
OWENS & ZAYN ARGUE BACKSTAGE - So once again they're teasing that we're going to see a f*ck finish in the main event. I'm so excited.
BECKY LYNCH & NAOMI vs. NATALYA & CARMELLA - 6.25/10
Corey Graves just made reference to TEDDY HART on a WWE PPV. Naomi was sloppy at times, but other than that this, was a surprisingly good match when you consider how little Nattie and Becky did together (and how little Becky really did at all). Naomi was the babyface in peril and played the match mostly well, while Carmella definitely shows signs of improving in the ring, which means that she might soon be able to actually justify her roster spot rather than just being dead weight, so that's good, too.
NEW DAY ANNOUNCEMENT ABOUT THE KIDS CHOICE AWARDS - Once again: THIS IS A PPV! This sh*t took up entirely too much time. We are almost halfway through the show now and we've only seen three matches.
WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Usos(c) vs. The New Day (w/Big E.) - 6/10
These two teams were having a very good and, quite frankly, un-WWE match where it was all based around them using their opponents' moves against them... and then the f*cking Bludgeon Brothers had to come out and ruin it with a double DQ. Do we really need a three-way (and YET ANOTHER Usos vs. New Day match-up) at WrestleMania? Why couldn't The Usos just win clean and then they could build towards a smaller but determined underdogs vs. big scary monster heels match at Mania? Even more frustratingly, I'm certain that the reason they have decided to go with the three-way at WrestleMania is because it allows them to fit more people on the card... which, of course, completely works against the key concept in John Cena's storyline.
This beating went on for WAY too long without anyone coming out to stop it. The fans cared so much about these two babyface teams that they chanted "WE WANT TABLES!" Harper and Rowan almost used those big ridiculous hammers they carry to the ring, but of course never touched anyone with the actual heads of the hammers. Woods did a stretch-job after being powerbombed onto the stairs. This was extremely frustrating.
RENEE YOUNG INTERVIEWS AJ STYLES - AJ cut a promo saying he would win tonight. Nakamura once again showed up to be a dick, but this time AJ finally went off on him. Hooray!
WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN'S TITLE MATCH:
Charlotte Flair(c) vs. Ruby Riott - 7/10
They started with some good exchanges. Then the rest of the Riott Squad came out of the crowd to distract Charlotte and let Ruby take over. A few moments later, when Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan were about to attack Charlotte on the outside while Ruby had the referee distracted, Becky Lynch and Naomi came out to provide backup for Charlotte. In other words, THE SAME EXACT SH*T WE'VE SEEN FOR MONTHS.
Charlotte and Ruby then proceeded to have a great match in which they pretty much ignored the other four until the time came for them to get ejected from ringside. Charlotte won clean, so she has basically cleaned out the division now, meaning that her only possible WrestleMania opponent is...
ASUKA SHOWS UP TO CHALLENGE CHARLOTTE - I really don't like this. First of all, if you were going to do this match all along, what was the point of having Asuka beat Alexa back in January and then having nothing come of it? Secondly, as others pointed out during the initial segment where the women's Elimination Chamber match was announced, having Asuka wait to see who wins the chamber match, then going and picking Charlotte makes it look like Asuka is scared of Alexa. It also means that whoever Alexa winds up facing at Mania (which basically has to be Nia because Nia is the only one Alexa didn't just beat) will wind up going into WrestleMania having lost most of her recent matches, making her look like an unworthy challengers. And fourth, Asuka is a Raw wrestler. Why is she allowed to be here on a Smackdown show? Based on his own logic from the Survivor Series build, you'd think that seeing a Raw wrestler backstage would have Shane sh*tting a brick and panicking and raising an army to fight an invasion. But I'm probably not supposed to remember that, am I? If you're going to do this, you should have Asuka make the announcement on Raw so that her showing up on Smackdown the next day makes sense.
SIX-PACK CHALLENGE FOR THE WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
AJ Styles(c) vs. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens vs. John Cena vs. Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler- 8.25/10
Zayn's entrance cut off Owens to show the dissension between them. The match itself started off with Owens, Zayn, Dolph, and Corbin all taking a turn to run right at Cena and get hit with an AA. They looked like total dorks. After Cena and AJ had a good sequence together, everyone all worked together and just beat the sh*t out of Cena. That made me laugh, which probably wasn't how they wanted me to react to it.
The story of this match was general chaos, with a brief interlude for the Owens/Zayn/Shane stuff, which I'll get to in a moment. The rest of the match did a great job at capturing that chaotic feel, and had the excepted big, exciting moves. It was not without its faults, though. Cena pinning Corbin on top of the steps that were inside the ring was dumb. There is a case for it using the Jericho/Triple H pin on top of Hell in a Cell as a precedent, but it's pretty spurious. There is no case, however, for letting Cena continue to do that ugly double-Five Knuckle Shuffle. It looks HORRENDOUS. I can understand some of the guys who are lower on the card being afraid to nix it if he suggests it in the back, but hasn't, like, Hunter or Orton ever told him that it just looks f*cking stupid?
Anyway... Owens, Zayn, and Shane.
The first bit of this was the spot with Zayn lying down for Owens. I thought the execution on this was good, but that the announcers really dropped the ball in explaining what was really going on. The reason Zayn took so long to actually lie down was that, in his heart, he really didn't want to do it, and the reason Owens didn't immediately rush over to cover him was because he didn't trust Zayn. I think Corey Graves got that last part in after the fact, but not having that commentary probably hurt this match for most people because they were wondering why Sami was taking so long to lie down and why Owens wasn't rushing to cover him if we were to believe that this was all their evil plan.
What should have hurt this for everyone was Shane McMahon, who is supposed to be a babyface enforcer of fairness, seeing two heels- and not just any heels but heels that he personally ha a grudge against- who are ostensibly going to have a PPV main event for the WWE World Heavyweight Title be decided by one guy just lying down for the other... and he just sits there and doesn't do a damn thing about it.
It turned out that Owens was right not to trust Zayn, as when he bent down to pin him Sami caught Owens in a small package and tried to pin him, which led to them fighting each other, which should logically lead to them breaking up and now beginning to feud with each other YET AGAIN. I can appreciate the idea of the two guys who hate each other so much that they never get over it, these two have been feuding from the moment Owens arrived in NXT, with the exception of time when Zayn was out injured and these past few months when they were on the same side. I'm just kind of sick and tired of seeing these guys feud right now, and they are a great and relatively fresh act as a team, so why break them up?
Their brawling led to a spot where Zayn knocked Owens down, and then went over to go yell at Shane, really for no reason other than to have Shane get in Zayn's face in order to set up a spot where Owens tried to kick Zayn but Zayn ducks and he hit Shane instead. This, in turn, set up a later spot where Owens had the match won but Shane pulled the referee out of the ring. Even though it seems pretty silly to me that Shane didn't understand that Owens didn't mean to kick him, I will give this match the benefit of the doubt and allow this to be the reason why Shane screwed Owens. What happened next was that Owens was distracted by Shane, resulting in Zayn hitting him with the Helluva Kick and pinning him... and Shane then screwing Zayn out of the win as well. What reason does Shane have to do this other than that he doesn't like the guy? And if he just doesn't like him, why didn't he interfere to stop Zayn (and Owens, for that matter) at earlier points where they seemed to have things won? There is no way to come out of this with Shane looking like a babyface... but that's been true for most of this feud and that hasn't stopped WWE from trying it.
Owens and Zayn sitting slumped on the floor and staring at each other in frustration and defeat was a great visual, but unfortunately the only reason we saw it was because they wanted to show us Shane McMahon walked between them, stopping briefly to look at each of them with a smug expression on his face, and then walking off like the world's biggest douchebag. And what does this build to? Owens vs. Zayn and Shane doing nothing? Owens vs. Zayn vs. Shane? I certainly don't want to see that second one, and while I'm sure the first one will be great, I've already seen it pretty much constantly since the beginning of 2010.
The other real problem that this match had was that I don't think anyone really believed that there was a snowball's chance in hell of AJ losing. Every last drop of build has been to AJ vs. Nakamura, even to the point where all Nakamura has done on TV since winning the Rumble is go up to AJ and tell him he's going to beat him at WrestleMania, and, quite frankly, we know they're not going to put the belt on anyone else in this match right now, as Cena's storyline's inevitable conclusion requires him to lose here while Owens doesn't need it because he's involved with Shane. All of the false-finishes certainly contributed to the story of the match, but I don't think anyone really bit on any of the false finishes that weren't AJ's.
Overall, I think the best way to describe this show is one that exceeded expectations, and yet was still hampered by the build to it in order to really feel like a great show. The booking left very few options open for believable finishes, and when they did try for something surprising (like in the tag title match), it hurt rather than helped. We've got some direction for WrestleMania now, but I really can't say that I'm actually excited for it.