RECOMMENDED NEW PODCAST - EX-WWE CREATIVE TEAM MEMBER DISHES ON BACKSTAGE WWE OPERATIONS...
(Search "wade keller" to subscribe in podcast app)
BRYAN’S FIRST TWO FEUDS TAKE SHAPE…
Recap: The show began with AJ Styles in the ring. He stated that one can learn a lot about a man in failure, and that we learned a lot about Shinsuke Nakamura in his failure to win the title. He referred to Shinsuke as not just an artist, but also a con artist.
AJ said that while he started last week focused on retribution, he decided to let it go when he learned he’d have a dream match against Daniel Bryan. Because Shinsuke ruined that dream match as well, however, he vowed to not leave the ring until he had his confrontation with Shinsuke.
Aiden English and Rusev then appeared, informing AJ that Shinsuke wasn’t in the arena. English cut a heel promo, but still encouraged positive chants from the crowd. English issued a challenge to AJ, which he accepted.
The match began right away. AJ almost immediately caught Rusev in a calf crusher. English then interfered, causing a DQ. As Rusev and English beat down AJ, Daniel Bryan ran down the ramp to make the save.
Backstage, Paige set a tag match for the main event, with Bryan and AJ facing Rusev and English.
Later backstage, Daniel Bryan told Renee that he helped AJ Styles because he respected him. He stated he had a list of potential matches to help motivate him while he was injured, and AJ was on that list. The interview was interrupted by a returning Big Cass, who mocked his height.
During the main event, Shinsuke snuck to the ring to hit AJ with a low blow while AJ stood on the apron. While Bryan was turned around to see what was happening, Big Cass appeared in the ring to hit Daniel Bryan with a boot, ending the match in DQ.
Renee attempted to interview Shinsuke after the match, but like last week Shinsuke claimed to not speak English.
Evaluation: Rusev now seems to be in Elias territory, booked as a heel but still blatantly playing for positive crowd reactions. Worse than that, he’s losing constantly. He looked totally outclassed by AJ tonight, getting caught in the calf crusher immediately after their match began. Considering he’ll be losing to the Undertaker next Friday, things won’t get any better.
I like the emphasis on the mutual respect between AJ and Daniel Bryan. Considering Bryan’s next two feuds will be with midcarders, this angle helps keep Daniel Bryan in viewers’ minds as a main eventer so that he can re-ascend to that level after finishing with Miz and Cass.
Forecast: From Bryan’s tweets last night and Miz’ promo tonight, it appears that Bryan’s next substantial feud will be with the Miz. This makes sense, as that rivalry has been brewing for over a year and the fans seem anxious to see it.
In the meantime, however, Bryan needs a match for Backlash with minimal time for a build. Cass will likely fill that slot. After disposing of Cass, Bryan can then begin a proper longer build for a match with Miz.
Rusev will almost certainly lose to Undertaker in Saudi Arabia, and AJ and Shinsuke’s feud should continue for multiple matches.
THE US TITLE RETURNS…
Recap: Shelton Benjamin came to the ring for a promo. Referencing positive comments he had made on Twitter the night before after Chad Gable was drafted to Raw, he stated that his Twitter account had been hacked, and that he had carried Gable the whole time they were a tag team.
Benjamin went on to state that he is owed opportunities, and had spoken to Paige to secure some competition. Randy Orton then came down the ramp as if he was Benjamin’s next opponent. Orton was interrupted, however, by the entrance of Jeff Hardy bringing the US Title with him to SmackDown.
Benjamin then had a match with Jeff Hardy for the US Title. The crowd was into it. It was a solid, fairly lengthy television match (although part of it was on commercial split screen). Jeff won with a Swonton Bomb.
Evaluation: Shelton Benjamin was fairly good on the mic tonight. He also looked pretty solid in the ring.
Splitting up Jeff and Matt Hardy is a pretty clear indicator that WWE wants the Woken Universe to be isolated to Matt. Between splitting up the two and Michael Cole’s constant burying of the whole Woken angle, it appears WWE doesn’t consider it to be an angle worthy of even including a US Champion.
Forecast: Since in his first night as a singles competitor Shelton Benjamin looked strong in a US Title opportunity, my wishful forecast is that Chad Gable will get a similar strong start on Raw next week. Gable is one of WWE’s most talented in ring competitors, and also has strong mic skills. Up until now, however, he hasn’t been booked seriously at any level.
Jeff Hardy being on SmackDown virtually assures that he’ll retain the title at the Greatest Royal Rumble (if there was any doubt), since it’s unlikely that both midcard belts would be on the same show. It is possible that Jinder Mahal could bring the US Title to Raw while Samoa Joe wins the Intercontinental Title and brings it back to SmackDown, but that would be a lot of rapid title changes, even for WWE.
SAMOA JOE VOWS TO BRING ALL THE TITLES…
Recap: Samoa Joe appeared as a new SmackDown acquisition, and came to the ring for a match with Sin Cara. Predictably, it was a squash.
After the match, Joe cut an intense promo similar to the past two weeks. He buried the entire SmackDown roster, threatening AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, and Randy Orton. He then vowed to bring the Intercontinental Title to SmackDown after his match in Saudi Arabia. He also buried Roman Reigns again, stating that if by some miracle Reigns could defeat Lesnar next Friday, he would bring the Universal Title to SmackDown after Backlash as well.
Evaluation: Tonight continued the theme of the past two weeks for Joe, which has basically been making him look like a force of nature threatening to tear through everyone. Joe was again very effective.
Forecast: The move to SmackDown would seem to indicate that Joe isn’t winning the IC Title next Friday in Saudi Arabia. It would also seem to indicate that the match with Reigns at Backlash will be a short term feud just to get Reigns through to the next thing. WWE allegedly paid a lot of money for dates on Brock’s short term extension, so it’s possible that Joe was just being used the past two weeks as a surrogate hype man for Lesnar to avoid having to pay Lesnar to show up himself.
Now that Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose are on SmackDown, it will be interesting to see if their former alliance with Paige becomes an angle….
Hopefully the move of Gallows and Anderson to SmackDown will serve as a reboot to make them more of a serious team and less comic relief….
The former NXT Champions are now all called up, as Drew McIntire debuted on Raw last night, and Andrade Almas was announced as coming to SmackDown tonight….
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: TOP 3 DEVELOPMENTS – SMACKDOWN 4/10: Paige is the New GM, Carmella is the New Champ, Bryan Returns to Singles Action