LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT 2/28: Alt perspective, detailed coverage of John Cena’s return, Goldberg’s next opponent, Elimination Chamber developments, more

By Brandon LeClair, PWTorch contributor



In this episode of Wrestling Night in America, PWTorch columnist Greg Parks breaks down both nights of WrestleMania with callers and emailers. Topics include the quality of the Firefly Funhouse match, the decision to put Charlotte over Rhea Ripley, the potential of wrestlers getting more creative freedom in the current environment, and more.
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LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT
FEBRUARY 28, 2020
BOSTON, MA AT TD GARDEN
AIRED LIVE ON FOX NETWORK

Announcers: Michael Cole, Corey Graves

-The show opened cold on a wide shot of TD Garden in Boston. Michael Cole welcomed the audience to the show. Greg Hamilton introduced the new Universal Champion, Goldberg.

Goldberg’s music played and he marched to the ring as Michael Cole recapped the events of Super Showdown in Saudi Arabia. Goldberg held up the Universal title and looked around the crowd before slinging the title over his shoulder and grabbing a microphone. The crowd broke into boos as his music faded out.

Goldberg said it’s not about who is last, it’s about who is next. He threw down the microphone. The crowd continued to pelt him with boos. Roman Reigns’ music hit and he walked onto the stage. Reigns walked down the ramp and stopped at the bottom to stare Goldberg down. Cole said he “thinks he knows why Roman is out here.”

Reigns paced around the ring, keeping his eyes squarely on Goldberg. He stepped up to Goldberg, said, “I’m next” and dropped the microphone. Reigns’ music played. Cole said it was a “goosebumps” moment. Graves said the matchup could shake WWE to its core.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Short and to the point. Goldberg received a strongly negative reaction, which was to be expected, and what I’d expect going forward as WWE continues to hit big markets en route to WrestleMania. Reigns’ reaction was initially strong, but the crowd didn’t seem particularly electric at the thought of a match between he and Goldberg. I think WWE is grossly overestimating the die-hard’s audience overall interest in seeing these two wrestle, or see Goldberg wrestle period, for that matter.)

-Michael Cole turned his focus to John Cena, saying they’d be showing highlights from his career throughout the night. The first clip aired before the show went to commercial.

-After the break, Bayley was in the ring, jawing at the crowd. Naomi headed to the ring. Cole and Graves said Naomi could earn another title opportunity with a win tonight.

(1) BAYLEY vs. NAOMI

Bayley leaned through the ropes as soon as the bell rang, asking for a microphone. She told the referee to hold Naomi back. Bayley said she shouldn’t have to compete “in front of these little idiots.” She said she came for one reason, then introduced a “future Grammy winning artist”, Sasha Banks.

Sasha’s music played and she headed to the ring. Bayley attacked Naomi from behind while she was distracted by Sasha’s entrance. Bayley fired punches at Naomi. Naomi quickly recovered and dropped Bayley with a dropkick. She followed it up with a rear view, quickly covering Bayley. Sasha Banks immediately broke up the pinball, causing a disqualification.

WINNER: Naomi in 2:00 by disqualification

Lacey Evans music hit and she rushed the ring to aid Naomi. The four women began brawling as the official tried to restore order. Greg Hamilton announced the match would be restarted as a tag team match.

(2) BAYLEY & SASHA BANKS vs. NAOMI & LACEY EVANS

Bayley and Sasha quickly retreated to the outside. Naomi and Lacey Evans launched tandem dives over the top rope to take them down. Michael Cole sent the show to commercial.

Sasha slammed Naomi to the mat as the show returned from break. She quickly tagged in Bayley for a double team hip toss. Bayley covered Naomi for a two count, then continued to work her over and talk trash. Sasha caught Naomi with a kick while Bayley distracted the referee. Naomi reached for a tag, but Bayley dragged her back to the corner and tagged in Sasha.

Sasha connected with double knees in the corner. Banks continued to work over the arms and neck of Naomi. Naomi battled back with a kick, but Sasha quickly cut off her tag attempt and cornered her. She tagged in Bayley, who continued the assault. Bayley and Banks continued to trade tags, occasionally jawing with fans and toying with Lacey Evans. Banks knocked Evans off the apron.

Naomi caught Sasha with an enziguri and made a desperation tag to Lacey, who had returned to the corner. Evans took down a freshly tagged Bayley and hit her with a second rope elbow, followed by a quick kick. Evans followed up with a headstand bronco buster in the corner, then tagged in Naomi, who hit a diving cross body. Sasha Banks ran in the ring and hit Naomi with a Backstabber.

Evans tossed Banks to the outside and the two battled on the floor. In the ring, Naomi rolled up Bayley from behind and scored a quick three count.

WINNERS: Naomi & Lacey Evans in 9:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: Slow, plodding match with the heels dominating Naomi for the vast majority. This tag formula is exhaustingly overdone  In general, I dislike the singles match devolving into a tag match due to interference trope, and it felt glaringly obvious from the start here. Banks and Bayley seem to lose most of their tag matches, and Bayley is often pinned in non title action, which doesn’t serve her lackluster run well at all. The Smackdown women’s division seems rather lost.)

-Backstage, New Day were down walking down a hallway. They ran into New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator, Josh McDaniels, and gave him a quick fist bump. Then, they happened upon Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode. Cole said they’d face each other next.

-Robert Roode headed to the ring with Dolph Ziggler at his side. Cole and Graves discussed Ziggler’s budding relationship with Mandy Rose and her ongoing saga with Otis. Big E’s voice filled the arena and he and Kofi danced onto the stage. Kofi Kingston tossed out pancakes to the crowd as Big E gyrated.

(3) ROBERT ROODE (w/ Dolph Ziggler) vs. KOFI KINGSTON (w/ Big E)

Roode and Kingston locked up in the center of the ring. Roode quickly took control and grounded Kofi for a two count. He cornered Kofi, delivered a chop, and then whipped him into the opposing corner. Roode went for a monkey flip, but Kofi landed on his feet and took him down with a dropkick.

Kofi worked over Roode’s arm. Roode battled back with elbows to the back of Kofi’s neck. Roode applied a headlock. Kofi broke free, then leapfrogged a number of charges from Roode. Kofi dropped Roode with a jumping elbow. Dolph Ziggler climbed the steps, distracting the referee. Meanwhile, on the outside, Robert Roode threw himself into the steel steps in front of Big E. The referee thought E tossed Roode, and tossed him from ringside. Cole sent the show to commercial as Big E backpedaled, protesting the referee’s decision.

Roode had Kingston downed in a headlock when the show returned from break. Cole and Graves recapped Big E’s ejection. Kofi broke free of the hold. The camera cut backstage to show Mandy Rose watching the match on a screen. In the ring, Roode tossed Kofi toward the corner, but Kofi bounced off the turnbuckle and caught Roode with a cross body.

Robert Roode rolled to the apron. Kofi followed. Roode gave Kofi a guillotine, then covered him for a two count. Kofi blocked a duplex attempt, but Roode maintained control, delivering a blow to the back of the neck and then completing the suplex. Roode tried for a knee drop from the middle rope, but Kofi rolled out of the way. Kingston caught Roode with a springboard chop, followed by a big dropkick and leaping clothesline. Kofi hit the Boom Drop then set up for Trouble in Paradise. Roode ducked it, but Kofi hit another cross body for a near fall.

Kofi went for an SOS, but Roode countered into a Full Nelson slam for a near fall of his own.  Roode set Kofi up on the top turnbuckle, but Kofi knocked Roode off. He dove, but Roode ducked and slammed Kofi with a spine buster for another near fall. Roode set up for Glorious DDT. Kofi blocked it and hit the SOS. Ziggler put Roode’s foot on the ropes before a count of three. Kofi, distracted by Ziggler, was rolled up by Roode for a three count.

WINNER: Robert Roode in 11:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: The bulk of the match was fine, but the usual babyface distraction finish is grossly overused. It’s disheartening to see how far Kofi Kingston has fallen. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s hard to believe, at this point, that this is the same character that was competing in hugely over gauntlet matches and en route to a WWE title win at WrestleMania just a year ago.)

The camera immediately cut to the back, showing Sonya telling Mandy that “her man looks happy.” In a different locker room, Otis sat sulking in front of the TV. Tucker walked in and sat with him. He told Otis that it’s time to let Mandy go. He suggested that they get Otis back in front of the crowd next week, with people who would never choose Dolph Ziggler over him. Otis agreed.

Back in the arena, Cole and Graves teased a contract signing between Braun Strowman and Shinsuke Nakamura coming up next.

-After the break, Renee Young was in the ring ready for the contract signing. She introduced Shinsuke Nakamura. Cole threw to a recap of last week’s “symphony of destruction” match.

Renee Young introduced Braun Strowman, who came to the ring in jeans with his hair undone. Graves said he must have found a new barber. Renee said everyone has had an opportunity to review the details of the contract. She invited Shinsuke to sign. Sami Zayn interrupted.

Sami told Strowman to sit down. Braun tossed the chair out of the ring instead. Sami said he wanted to review the language of the contract again, because they’ve been prone to mistreatment lately. “It’s a travesty of justice,” Sami said. He told Strowman that Nakamura was unable to enjoy his own birthday last week because of the staples he had to have put in his head.

Strowman told Zayn to shut up. He said he doesn’t care what’s in the contract because he knows he has to face “all three of you damn clowns anyway.” Strowman signed the paper. Zayn said he heard Strowman say he’s willing to face all three of them. Sami had both Cesaro and Nakamura sign the contract, then signed it himself. He handed it to Renee and said it would now be a 3-on-1 handicap match.

Strowman moved the table out of the way. Strowman asked Zayn what made him think they’d make it to Elimination Chamber. He took down Cesaro and Nakamura, then went after Zayn. The three men quickly overcame Strowman, though, allowing Zayn to hit a Helluva Kick. Nakamura followed up with a Kinshasa. Nakamura and Cesaro repositioned the table, then lifted Strowman into a double suplex position. Zayn hit a running kick to send Braun crashing through the table.

(LeClair’s Analysis: This feud was, at one point, rather entertaining, but it’s certainly run its course now that we’ve seen on countless occasions that, even in 3-on-1 situations, Zayn and company stand absolutely no chance against Strowman. Even tonight, Strowman popped up almost immediately after being driven through the table. It seems like a foregone conclusion that Strowman just blasts through all three men with relative ease at Elimination Chamber.)

-Cole and Graves recapped the opening segment with Goldberg and Roman Reigns. Cole confirmed that Reigns will indeed face Goldberg for the Universal title at WrestleMania.

(LeClair’s Analysis: They sure didn’t take long confirming this one. Apparently, unlike most major titles in the company, one can just declare himself next in line for a world title shot without any real explanation.)

-Daniel Bryan’s music hit and he headed to the ring. Cole said he’d be in action after the break.

(4) DANIEL BRYAN vs. CURTIS AXEL

The bell rang as soon as the show returned from break. Drew Gulak had joined Cole and Graves on commentary. Curtis Axel quickly took control and sent Bryan into the corner, firing away punches and then dropping him to the mat. He put Bryan in a brief arm hold, but Bryan battled free.

Axel tossed Bryan into the ropes and hung him up in the ropes. Cole and Graves talked about Gulak’s declaration of “holes” in Bryan’s game. Gulak began coaching Axel. Bryan took control, shoving Axel into the corner and hitting a series of micks to the chest. Axel fought out and tossed Bryan to the floor.

Axel retrieved Bryan and tossed him into the ring post. Bryan rolled into the ring. Axel whipped Bryan toward the ropes, but Bryan countered and hit a running clothesline. Axel rose to his knees and Bryan began delivering the “yes” kicks. Axel ducked the final one, but Bryan quickly transitioned into the Labelle Lock. Axel broke free and rolled Bryan up for a two count. Axel took Bryan down and went for a Perfect Plex. Bryan countered into the Labelle Lock. Axel quickly tapped out.

WINNER: Daniel Bryan in 4:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: Axel was given a bit too much here, in my opinion. He dominated the majority of the match and Bryan really only hit a few moves before getting the submission in the end. I’m not sure what the plan is here, but Drew Gulak has not been featured as a winner nearly enough to be involved in any sort of major angle with Bryan. Hopefully there are bigger things in store here, especially for WrestleMania.)

-Cole teased John Cena’s return after another career highlight.

-The Mia and John Morrison were shown participating in a photo shoot backstage with their newly won Tag Team titles. Graves said they’d be in the arena next.

-After the break, The Mia and John Morrison headed to the ring. Cole tossed to Progressive “Match Flo” recapping their title win yesterday at Super Showdown.

Miz asked why the crowd wasn’t giving them a “you deserve it” chant. A small one broke out. Miz compared he and Morrison to some of Hollywood’s best sequels. He said they did exactly what they set out to do. They broke into their new chant. The crowd booed, but some participated.

Morrison asked for a victory song. The Miz’s music played. They held up the titles. At ringside, a referee was giving Greg Hamilton instructions. Hamilton announced that Miz and Morrison will be defending the tag team titles against New Day, Heavy Machinery, Lucia House Party, Dolph Ziggler & Robert Roode, and The Usos in an Elimination Chamber match.

The Usos’ music hit and they hopped onto the stage. Cole said they’d face Miz and Morrison after the break.

(5) THE MIZ & JOHN MORRISON vs. THE USOS (Jimmy & Jey)

Jey Uso and John Morrison began the match. They traded quick counters and takedowns. Morrison caught Jey with an elbow to the jaw then tagged in The Miz. Jey quickly battled back and tagged in Jimmy Uso. Miz sent Jimmy to the corner and Morrison caught him with a quick kick. Miz planted Jimmy with a DDT for a two count.

Morrison tagged himself in off of a slingshot by Miz. Miz caught Jimmy with a cheapshot from the outside. Morrison maintained control for a bit, then tagged Miz back in. Miz hit Jimmy with a running boot, then played to the crowd. Miz drove his knee into Jimmy’s back and applied a chin lock. Jimmy broke free with an arm drag. Miz tagged Morrison in. Jimmy tossed Miz from the ring.

Morrison tried to attack Jimmy, but Jimmy caught him with an enziguri. Jimmy tried to make a tag, but Miz ripped Jey off the ropes. Morrison dropped Jimmy and covered for a two count. Cole sent the show to commercial.

Jimmy reached Jey for a tag when the show returned from break. He dropped Miz with a pair of clotheslines and followed up with a Samoan Drop for a two count. Miz battled back, attempting a Skull Crushing Finale. Jey fought free. Morrison tagged himself in. He hit Jey with a spine buster for a two count, broken up by Jimmy Uso.

Jimmy and Miz spilled to the outside John Morrison attacked Jey and sent him to the corner. Jimmy Uso hopped in the ring and dove through the middle rope onto Miz. Jey tried for a top rope splash on Morrison, but John got his knees up. Jey and Morrison continued to battle. Jey got Morrison on the top turnbuckle. Morrison turned the tides and knocked Jey to the mat. He set up for Starship Pain, but Jimmy caught him with a kick to the face from the apron.

Jimmy climbed to the top rope. Miz jumped onto the apron, but Jey gave him a super kick. Jimmy hit Morrison with sunset piledriver off the top rope. Jey immediately hit a splash from the opposite corner for a three count.

WINNERS: The Usos in 12:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: Miz and Morrison’s title celebration was a big awkward and lackluster, as was the way in which they opted to announce the Elimination Chamber match. This is the problem with having no one at all to act as a liaison to WWE management, and where having a William Regal type figure would greatly benefit Smackdown. The match was solid, as one would expect with these four. The finish was excellent, and I’m surprised the Usos got that move approved. In general, though, I dislike seeing the brand new tag team champions lose cleanly immediately after winning the titles last night. No one in this division seems to have any real momentum, because they all keep trading wins back and forth.)

-John Cena’s music hit after a long silence in the arena following the commercial break. Cena headed to the ring in his old lime green shirt to a huge ovation.

The crowd erupted into a huge “Cena” chant. Cena said they had his heart beating out of his chest. Cena thanked the crowd for the reaction. He said it’s WrestleMania season, so it’s time to answer the question “what am I doing at WrestleMania?”

Cena said he knows his role has changed, but he is and always will be a WWE Superstar. Cena asked the question again. He said he’s doing something different. Cena said he knows how hard WWE Superstars work just to get one WrestleMania moment. He said he prides himself in listening to the “biggest Superstar of all,” the fans.

Cena said he knows the fans sometimes feel like “they” don’t listen to them. He said he knows the fans are passionate about the future of the company. Cena said he is too. Cena said he’s going to do the right thing. “This year, WrestleMania should go on without John Cena.” The crowd booed. “I hear you,” Cena said, “this is not goodbye.”

Cena said WrestleMania spots should be earned, not demanded. Cena said he doesn’t know when he’ll be back next, but he wanted to make his announcement at home in Boston. Cena seemed a little choked up. The crowd broke into another Cena chant. He thanked the crowd and dropped the mic, leaving the ring. He saluted the arena at the top of the ramp.

Suddenly, the lights cut out one by one and The Fiend’s electrical noise filled the arena. The crowd erupted. When the lights returned, Cena looked over his shoulder to see The Fiend standing behind him. The Fiend pointed at the WrestleMania sign. Cena looked at it, then around at the crowd. Cena tipped his hat in approval. The lights cut out and Bray’s laughter played throughout the arena. The show faded to black.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Cena seemed legitimately choked up and a little flustered by the reaction. In general, I think the “I’m going to let the younger generation take my spot” was a novel idea, but they sort of blew it up with The Fiend’s appearance. It’s not as though The Fiend did anything. He just showed up behind Cena and pointed to the sign, and suddenly, Cena’s convictions went straight out the window. I’m not sure this was the most effective way of setting up this match, and to me, it was a rather lazy attempt, especially when you consider the alternative hade The Fiend still had the title coming into this feud. Nevertheless, Cena has his match, and Bray Wyatt has a chance to rebound following the disastrous loss to Goldberg.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: Aside from the noteworthy announcements of Smackdown’s two headlining matches for WrestleMania (neither of which, to me, are particularly interesting), this felt like a show filled largely with tired wrestlers coming off a long flight from Saudi Arabia with uneventful creative that felt a bit like it was meandering toward Elimination Chamber.

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