SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
JOE FRESHENS UP THE TITLE PICTURE…
Recap: Midway through the show, AJ Styles came to the ring for an interview with Renee Young. She recapped how Paige had made Sunday’s title match no disqualification. AJ recapped the multiple low blows he has received from Nakamura.
Renee stated that Shinsuke Nakamura was demanding an apology from AJ, claiming AJ’s attack outside the ring led to Friday’s double count out finish. AJ angrily predicted his victory over Shinsuke on Sunday. Just as AJ exclaimed that Shinsuke would have to come to the ring if he wanted an apology, Samoa Joe came to the ring.
Joe told AJ that he was focused on the wrong match on Sunday, and that AJ should be more worried about what Joe would be doing to Roman Reigns. Joe told AJ that after he was done “putting the big dog to sleep”, he was coming for the WWE Title.
Shinsuke Nakamura’s music then hit. As Joe squared up for Nakamura on the ramp, Nakamura snuck into the ring and hit AJ with a surprise low blow. Shinsuke then teased a Kinshasa on AJ, pulled back, and then hit a real one.
Evaluation: Even thought this hasn’t been a long feud, the multiple unsatisfying finishes have unfortunately made AJ-Shinsuke already seem tired. The entire mood perked up when Joe entered the screen, as he’s been great on the mic recently and really freshened things up.
Forecast: At the beginning of the AJ-Shinsuke feud, I was hoping for a series of a few classic matches. My expectations have been tempered, however, by the finishes in the first two matches and Shinsuke still not being the Shinsuke from NJPW or NXT. I could be proven wrong with a great match on Sunday, but at this point I wouldn’t bank on it. My prediction here is that AJ retains, and we move on to an AJ-Joe feud.
PAINT BY NUMBERS FOR THE US TITLE…
Recap: The show opened with a MizTV segment. Miz’s guest was Jeff Hardy, who he brought down for an interview. Miz recapped Jeff Hardy “stealing” Randy Orton’s match with Shelton Benjamin two weeks ago, and then introduced Orton as a second surprise guest.
With both Orton and Hardy on set Miz attempted to sow discontent between the two. Orton refused to bite, however, not blaming Hardy for taking his match two weeks ago and reminding Miz that he had done the same to Hardy last week. Orton said that he and Hardy had no issues.
Shelton Benjamin then interrupted. Shelton made a claim to a US Title shot based on his prior victory over Orton. Orton then attacked Benjamin, and Jeff Hardy took out Miz with a Whisper in the Wind.
After the commercial break, we came into a tag match in progress. Orton and Hardy were facing Miz and Shelton. We were informed by the announcers that the match had been set by Paige during the break.
During the match, the announcers repeatedly put over Seth Rollins, presumably to push anticipation for the intershow match between Miz and Rollins on Sunday.
The match ended with Orton hitting a double draping DDT on the heels followed by a tag to Hardy, who pinned Shelton after a Swanton Bomb. After the match, Orton predictably hit an “RKO Out of Nowhere” on Hardy.
Evaluation: At one point, Miz brought up Orton’s Number 9 ranking on the SmackDown Top 10 List several months ago. The Top 10 List, which hasn’t been updated since, was essentially a short term gimmick that Jinder Mahal used to try and sow discontent between Orton and Bobby Roode at the time. At the time, the angle seemed ridiculous. It was therefore nice to hear Orton completely bury the list tonight as being meaningless.
Randy Orton seems as if he has been competing for the US Title forever, and as a result I’ve totally lost interest. His programs are exactly the same; this tag match with the heels followed by the “surprise” RKO to Jeff Hardy is exactly the type of thing that would’ve happened in his last feud with Bobby Roode.
Forecast: Jeff Hardy just won the title, so I would guess that Orton is being used Sunday to put him over and get a strong start to his reign. After Backlash, I’m less sure about where they go. I would hope they move on from Orton, as Orton essentially has the same US Title feud with everyone. It would be nice to see Shelton Benjamin get the next US Title match, as it would at least be fresh.
CASS CONTINUES HAPRING ON HEIGHT…
Recap: Early in the show, the announcers mentioned that Daniel Bryan was not medically cleared to be at the arena due to broken blood vessels in his chest after the Greatest Royal Rumble.
In the middle of the show, Big Cass came out for a promo. He told the crowd he was better than them due to being from New York. He then continued to mock Daniel Bryan for his height, stating he was small and weak just like people in the crowd.
Cass then called out Bryan, and Bryan’s music hit. Instead of Bryan appearing, however, a little person dressed and Daniel Bryan came to the ring. After some height insults, Cass introduced the impersonator as being a Montreal native, to cheers from the crowd. As he soaked up the positive crowd reaction, Cass took him out with a big boot.
Evaluation: Cass again looked more comfortable on the mic than he was before his injury. The promo itself was nothing particularly special however, and relied upon cheap heat from attacking a smaller local native.
There was notably no interaction between Cass and Miz.
Forecast: As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, I’m not big on the idea of Cass being paired with Miz. The Miz-Bryan feud has huge fan interest built over the years, and adding Cass can only detract from it. Based upon the two being apart tonight, as well as the very generic build to the Cass-Bryan match based solely on Bryan’s height, my hope is that Bryan-Cass is simply a one match feud to get Bryan through Backlash.
Paige’s opening announcement that Shane McMahon was not present due to his injuries on Friday and that AJ-Shinsuke would be no-DQ was perfect for an on-air authority figure. She played it totally straight without becoming a part of the story herself (even if the rationale for the no-DQ stipulation was odd)….
Lana’s return to being paired with Rusev is welcome. She was completely lost without him, and was a great part of his act previously. The crowd popped for her, and it opens up the storyline leading to the breakup of Rusev and Aiden English….
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: TOP 3 DEVELOPMENTS – SMACKDOWN 4/24: Miz-Cass-Bryan Triangle, Carmella’s First Defense, a New Bullet Club Configuration