SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura kick-off the build to WrestleMania 34 dream match
Recap: The WWE Champion, AJ Styles, kicked off SmackDown Live this week with a passionate promo about his road through Fastlane and into the championship match at WrestleMania. He said that the odds were against him and that at times within the Fastlane match he doubted whether or not he would win. He then emphatically stated that he found a way to be victorious and that he was still the WWE Champion. This prompted his WrestleMania 34 opponent, Shinsuke Nakamura, to head to the ring. In the ring, Nakamura told AJ that it was his dream to win the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. Both Styles and Nakamura were interrupted by Aiden English and Rusev ahead of AJ’s match with Rusev to kickoff the show. After the match, Rusev and English doubled-teamed Styles with an attack as Nakamura looked on. After a moment of hesitation, Nakamura made the save and cleared the ring. Later in the night, Nakamura and Styles confronted each other with AJ telling Nakamura that he didn’t need his help. Nakamura concluded their interaction by telling Styles that it appeared like he did and that he would win at WrestleMania with a “knee to face.”
Evaluation: For a first step down their road to WrestleMania, this worked just fine. Seeds of dissension were planted between both stars that will ultimately sprout into bigger issues as their match gets closer. That said, there is much more they can do with this story that can grow the seeds bigger. Styles and Nakamura have history that could and should be exploited. Time will tell, but this feud will feel watered down if the audience doesn’t get that historical framework.
Forecast: More of the same. Look for the story to continue to be built around the competitive instincts of both Nakamura and Styles. In addition, Styles comes off as a huge star and because Nakamura is around him, he automatically gets elevated to a higher level. Going forward, its important for WWE to further frame Nakamura as a big star on his own during this build up.
Charlotte and Asuka go face to face
Recap: At WWE Fastlane, Asuka made her WrestleMania intentions known when she confronted Charlotte after she successfully defended the SmackDown Women’s Championship against Ruby Riott. Charlotte took to the ring this week and welcomed Asuka to SmackDown. Charlotte said that she wanted to be the first person to welcome Asuka to the brand and that as she’s traveled the world she’s always asked about what a match would be like with Asuka. Asuka thanked her and Charlotte proceeded to tell the audience that Asuka was the type of opponent she was looking for in a WrestleMania match. Charlotte then told Asuka that she’s unlike any other competitor in the WWE and that she will end the streak. Asuka chimed back by saying that she chose Charlotte for WrestleMania because she likes a challenge and that “nobody is ready for Asuka.”
Evaluation: This interaction between two babyface stars was very similar to the one earlier in the night between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura. Both women put the other over with praise and then oozed competitive fire by saying they would win the match and cement their legacies at WrestleMania. This worked better than AJ/Nakamura because both are simply defined better and are truly on the same plane. Where Nakamura is striving to be on AJ’s level, Charlotte and Asuka are both already there.
Forecast: This type of interaction is all that’s needed to move this feud forward. Like Nakamura and Styles, the match sells itself. Asuka is limited on the mic so Charlotte will undoubtedly do the heavy lifting in terms of promo work as the feud moves toward WrestleMania. Expect limited physical interaction between the two outside of a potential tag team match to further the story and plant competitive jealousy along the way.
Waters get muddied between Shane McMahon, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn
Recap: A major drawing factor for this particular show was a WrestleMania announcement from Shane McMahon. In the main event segment, Shane walked to the ring and not only indefinitely resigned as Commissioner, but he announced Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens at WrestleMania. This prompted Kevin Owens to hit the ring. He clearly was happy that Shane was stepping down as Commissioner but also made a point to say that he could easily beat Sami Zayn at WrestleMania. Sure enough, Zayn came out next and echoed Owens’s thoughts on Shane. From there, Zayn and Owens laid a beating of epic proportions on Shane McMahon. They connected with their finishers and then dragged him into the backstage area for a pop-up powerbomb on a set of ladders.
Evaluation: Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn got some really nice heat during the Shane beating. That said, the entire thing made no sense which has been an unfortunate personality of SmackDown Live for a while now. As of Sunday night, Owens and Zayn had it out physically in the ring and were far away from being on the same page. On this show, they used that story and continued with it in backstage interviews to grow tension between Owens and Zayn; presumbly ahead of the WrestleMania announcement. Then in the final segment, they scraped all of that and attacked Shane together as one cohesive unit. Plus, the way Corey Graves sold the attack was that the entire thing was planned from the start. This is where the enormous Andre The Giant sized holes show up in the story. Questions: Was this not part of the plan during their match at Fastlane? If it was, why wouldn’t have Zayn really laid down for Owens like he said? Do they not want a WrestleMania match? Those are three very important questions and if they need to be asked and discussed, the story isn’t churning on the right track. This has held up SmackDown long enough and WrestleMania can’t come soon enough so it can end.
Forecast: Look for Shane McMahon to make a match involving himself, Owens, and Zayn. Now that he isn’t the Commissioner anymore, he’ll feel free to do so without any corporate or management chains holding him back. With Bryan returning to the show next week, certainly he will be involved in the latest development in this saga as WrestleMania looms on the horizon.