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LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT
JANUARY 1, 2021
TAMPA, FL AT WWE THUNDERDOME IN TROPICANA FIELD
AIRED LIVE ON FOX NETWORK
Announcers: Michael Cole, Corey Graves
-The show opened with a memorial graphic for Jon Huber (Brodie Lee/Luke Harper.)
-A video package featuring highlights from Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens at TLC and on last week’s Smackdown aired.
-“Happy New Year, everybody,” Michael Cole said over a wide shot of the roof of the screen above the ring. He talked up the “critically acclaimed WWE Thunderdome” and the first show of the year.
-Roman Reigns’ music hit and he emerged from the back, flanked by Jey Uso and Paul Heyman. Cole said that he’s still Universal champion thanks to his cousin, Jey Uso. Corey Graves pushed back, saying it’s not just because of Jey. Graves said Reigns broke viewership records on last week’s Smackdown.
“As the face of the WWE, allow me to start by saying, happy new year,” Reigns began. He said 2020 was a tough year, but when you’re the head of the table and tribal chief, you make it work. He smirked back toward Jey Uso. Reigns said he’s been wearing a gold glove because everything he touches turns to greatness.
Reigns said he took Paul Heyman, who was discarded, and saved him. He called Paul the most “genuine and honest man” he’s ever done business with. Heyman bowed at him, appreciatively. Reigns turned to Jey and said his cousin is a prime example of what he can do. He said that since Jey listened to him and came to understand him, it wound up being the best year of Jey’s career.
“You’ve always been main event Uso,” Roman told Jey. He said while everyone else was asking “which one”, he knew Jey would knock it out of the park. Kevin Owens’ music cut Roman off. Reigns asked to have the music turned off. “Nobody cares, nobody wants to see you!” Reigns said. He called Owens a roach that won’t go away. Roman said tonight is about his family, and called Owens selfish for interrupting.
Owens said it should be embarrassing to see him out here, because it means they failed to get rid of him. “Me standing here makes it clear that the Big Dog is long gone and he’s been replaced by a little bitch,” Owens retorted. He agreed with Reigns, saying tonight is about cousin Jey. Kevin said he’s there to fight Jey Uso. He said he’s not asking, but telling whoever he needs to tell that he’s going to fight Jey Uso. “When I’m done with your cousin, your family will have nothing to celebrate.” Owens tossed the mic and left. Reigns looked on with disgust.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Solid segment. Reigns seems to grow more comfortable with this role every week. I’m not sure how much longer they can carry this Owens angle, but I’m still enjoying his involvement and I think it would be fitting to get him a nice win, or at least a big moment against Jey Uso later tonight.)
-The Progressive Match Flo covered Big E capturing the Intercontinental title on last week’s show.
Big E headed to the ring, slapping the Intercontinental title around his waste and sporting a “BRODIE” arm band. Cole said he’d face King Corbin after the break.
King Corbin was already on his way to the ring when the show returned from break. Big E sat spread eagle in the corner. Sami Zayn had joined Cole and Graves on commentary.
(1) BIG E vs. KING CORBIN (w/ Steve Cutler & Wesley Blake)
Big E and King Corbin locked up in the center of the ring. King Corbin powered Big E into the corner but quickly broke the hold. Corbin tried to give E a shoulder tackle, but E shrugged him off and swiveled his hips. Big E dropped Corbin with a tackle of his own and launched into a gator roll, in honor of Brodie Lee. E gave a loud “yeah yeah yeah!” yell as he returned to his feet.
Corbin regained control with a pair of punches and an uppercut. He tossed Big E into the middle rope and then pounded at the back of his neck and head. Corbin tossed E off the ropes and hit a quick spinning back elbow. He covered, but only scored a one count. Big E recovered and tossed Corbin to the apron, but Corbin caught him with a quick knee.
Corbin went his ’round the ring clothesline, but Big E cut him off with a Big Ending and covered him. Sami Zayn broke up the count, causing the disqualification.
WINNER: Big E in 3:00 by disqualification
Steve Cutler and Wesley Blake hit the ring to attack Sami Zayn and Big E. Apollo Crews’ music hit and he rushed to the ring. Crews military pressed Zayn outside while Blake and Cutler regrouped with Corbin.
(LeClair’s Analysis: I wish they’d just give Big E the clean win here. Corbin is not worth protecting, especially at this stage of the game. Big E getting a clean win over Corbin in a mere 3 minutes would have sent a clear message that they’re taking Big E’s singles run seriously. Also, I just wish we could get some clean finish consistency.)
(2) BIG E & APOLLO CREWS vs. SAMI ZAYN & KING CORBIN
This impromptu match was already in progress when the show returned. Cole confirmed that Adam Pearce set it up during the break. Apollo Crews took Sami Zayn down with a dropkick and covered him for a two count. Zayn caught Crews with a back elbow and tagged in King Corbin, who circled the ring with Crews. He offered a test of strength, but wound up kicking Crews in the gut.
Corbin dropped Crews with a stiff right hand. Sami Zayn tagged himself in. Zayn tossed Crews to the outside and tagged Corbin back in. Corbin distracted the referee while Blake and Cutler attacked Crews at ringside. Zayn tagged in again, and tossed Crews out for a second time, hoping Blake and Cutler would attack again. He grew frustrated when they’d only listen to Corbin.
Crews returned to the ring and tired to tag Big E, but Zayn cut him off. Crews managed to counter into a big power slam. Both men made tags. Big E caught Corbin with a quick pair of over head belly to belly suplexes. Corbin went for a running clothesline, but Big E ducked it and hit a third. He followed up with the running splash. Big E clapped Corbin to his feet and set up for the Big Ending. Corbin ducked it, shot Big E off the ropes, and connected with Deep Six for a near fall.
Sami Zayn continued to argue with Blake and Cutler on the outside. Big E tagged in Apollo Crews and caught Corbin with a quick kick. Corbin stumbled into Zayn, who tagged himself in. Crews backed Corbin into the corner. Zayn went for a Heluva Kick, but Crews ducked. Zayn pulled back just before kicking Corbin. The two began to argue. Blake and Cutler hopped onto the apron. Corbin decided to leave.
Apollo Crews caught Zayn with a step up enziguri, followed by a sit-out power bomb for a three count.
WINNERS: Big E & Apollo Crews in 6:00
(LeClair’s Analysis: Fine match, and I like the fact that there’s at least an attempt being made to bring Apollo Crews back into relevancy. Crews is a guy who has been the victim of a lot of start and stop pushes, so while I won’t hold my breath that this will be the time he sticks, I’m happy to see some fresh faces in rotation. With that being said, I again would’ve preferred some real emphasis on Big E here. This match seemed centered around getting Crews over, not the new Intercontinental champion.)
-Kevin Owens approached Adam Pearce backstage, who hung up a phone call saying “you know what that means.” Owens demanded a match with Jey Uso. “I need this to happen,” Owens said. Pearce said he can’t do it and offered Owens a match against anyone else. Owens chose Roman Reigns. Pearce shot him down. KO said if Pearce were in his spot, he’d be doing the same thing. Pearce finally relented, giving Owens the match against Uso.
-Big E and Apollo Crews chatted backstage while walking down a hallway. Kayla Braxton rushed in. She asked what we can expect from Big E as Intercontinental champion. He said he’s had fans celebrating with him from Rome to Rochester, and “little Amandas and Nolans” come up to him all excited, from a distance. Big E said, like the 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs, he plans to be a fighting champion. Big E issued an open challenge for next week’s Smackdown.
Apollo Crews returned. “Consider that challenge already accepted,” Crews declared. He said he helped E win the title, and he may not be so lucky next week when he doesn’t have his back. Crews laughed. Big E laughed uproariously. Kayla looked concerned.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Great little quiet tribute to Brodie Lee here. Big E is great, and he did this in his own way.)
-The Riott Squad were already in the ring when the show returned to ringside. Billie Kay followed. Cole and Graves wondered who she might choose as her partner. Tamina entered. Natalya also came out They left Billie Kay behind. Kay joined them, suddenly in a managerial role.
(3) THE RIOTT SQUAD (Ruby Riott & Liv Morgan) vs. NATALYA & TAMINA (w/ Billie Kay)
Natalya began the match with Liv Morgan. Nattie hit a quick clothesline, but was then rolled up by Morgan for a two count. Billie Kay argued with Tamina from ringside. Liv Morgan tagged in Ruby Riott. Natalya tagged in Tamina. Riott fired off punches, but Tamina shook them off. She dumped Riott to the mat with a big uppercut.
Tamina tossed Riott to the corner. Ruby knocked Natalya off the apron and shot forward, blasting past Tamina and tagged in Liv Morgan. Liv pounced on Tamina and peppered her with quick punches. Liv tagged out again. Billie Kay switched sides, now apparently managing the Riott Squad. Tamina hit Ruby with a quick kick after Liv tagged in. Liv rolled up Tamina for a three count.
WINNERS: The Riott Squad in 3:00
Billie Kay tried to celebrate with the Riott Squad, but they just walked away from her.
(LeClair’s Analysis: This was bad. Really bad. I don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish with Billie Kay, but it’s not working, and this was probably the worst example of it yet. Ruby Riott is a talented wrestler, but booking her in matches like this isn’t going to get her over. There’s just nothing working for any of these women right now.)
-Sasha Banks headed to the ring. Cole talked her up as being Female Superstar of the Year. Graves said she’s lived up to her promises and removed the doubt that once existed about her being champion. Cole said Banks would team with Bianca Belair to take on Bayley and Carmella after the break.
(4) SASHA BANKS & BIANCA BELAIR vs. BAYLEY & CARMELLA (w/ Reginald)
Bianca Belair began the match with Carmella. Carmella grabbed a waist lock, but Belair quickly powered out of it and ripped Carmella to the mat. Carmella invited a test of strength, which Belair won with ease. Carmella quickly tagged in Bayley. Bayley charged, but Bianca tossed her to the outside. Carmella returned and suffered the same fate.
Banks went for the Meteora on the outside after tagging in, but Bayley ducked. Bianca helped hoist Banks off the apron, allowing her to drop Bayley with a cross body. She tossed her back in the ring for a cover and a two count. Cole sent the show to commercial.
Bayley had Bianca Belair on the mat when the show returned from break. Bianca rolled through an offensive attempt from Bayley, but Bayley still caught her with a clothesline. Bayley worked Belair’s arm into the middle rope and broke the hold just before the count of five. Cole said Bayley is fixated on the left arm of Belair because Carmella kicked it during the break.
Bayley tagged in Carmella, who covered Belair for a quick two count. ‘Mella posted Belair in the corner and continued to work over the arm. She tagged in Bayley again. Bayley rolled up Belair for a two count. Bayley smothered her tag attempt and went for a suplex, but Belair blocked it and hit one of her own. Bianca tried to reach Banks, but Carmella managed to tag in and cut Belair off.
Carmella shoved Banks off the apron and caught Belair in a small package for a two count. ‘Mella kicked Belair in the stomach. “I’m the best, not you!” she yelled. Belair nearly hit a body slam with one arm, but Carmella wiggled out of it. Belair stumbled into Banks and made the tag.
Sasha Banks drove her knee into Carmella’s face then sent her to the corner. She hit double knees, then a running dropkick in the corner. Banks hit a running knee and covered, but Bayley broke up the count. Bianca Belair returned to toss Bayley to the outside. Belair tossed her hair to Banks, but Bayley grabbed it instead. Belair wound up whipping Bayley into the steel steps and then giving her a suplex on the floor outside.
In the ring, Carmella caught Banks with a super kick. Banks retreated to the corner. Carmella went for the Bronco Buster, but Banks moved out of the way and immediately rolled into the Bank Statement. Reginald pulled Carmella to safety and then got in the ring. Banks approached, but he flipped out of the ring. Reginald got on the apron. Banks tried to punch him, but Reginald back flipped off the apron and landed on his feet.
Reginald leapt on the apron again. Banks punched him. Carmella caught Sasha with a face buster for a three count.
WINNERS: Bayley & Carmella in 10:00
(LeClair’s Analysis: Solid enough match, but I’m not big on Belair and Banks losing here. I’m especially not big on Banks getting pinned by Carmella, even in a tag match. I really, really dislike this method of setting up challengers – especially in feuds that are already established, and, quite honestly, probably shouldn’t be continuing. I get that the division is thin and the worthy challengers are thinner, but working with Carmella hasn’t done Banks any favors, and I don’t exactly think it’s elevated Carmella all that much either.)
-Roman Reigns looked on at a monitor backstage with Jey Uso and Paul Heyman. Reigns said that whoever made the match between Owens and Jey doesn’t appreciate him. “Find out who doesn’t appreciate me,” Reigns said to Jey and Paul.
-The Street Profits headed to the ring. Graves sent the show to commercial.
-Sonya Deville walked down a hallway backstage. Several wrestlers gasped as they saw her walk by. Corey Graves said Deville has officially been reinstated.
-Back in the ring, The Street Profits stood behind a couple of covered objects for the “Smoke-Tacular New Year Celebration.” Angelo Dawkins said 202 needs to get stepping. Montez Ford claimed it wasn’t all bad, because the Street Profits became tag team champions and won two Slammy awards – breakout star of the year, and tag team of the year.
Dawkins said it’s time to hit the Universe with a big reveal. He pulled back a black sheet to reveal a drum set. Dawkins played a beat for Ford, who said it’s time for 2021 predictions. He said the shirt they made for Sami Zayn would become a best seller on WWE Shop.
Ford yelled “you get a prediction” ad nauseum, a la Oprah. Ford said his next prediction is that Dolph Ziggler will earn his new nickname, “the Heartache Kid.” Suddenly, Robert Roode attacked Dawkins from behind. Ziggler hit the ring and gave Dawkins a super kick. He held up Ford and allowed Roode to punch him. Roode grabbed a steel chair and cracked it over Dawkins’ back.
Ziggler set Ford up in the corner of the ring and held him in place. Roode bracket the chair into Montez’ leg. Roode hit him with the chair a second and third time. Dawkins came to his aid, but the damage was done. Ziggler and Roode backed away, smiling. Graves said it was a statement.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Thank goodness for Roode and Ziggler. Look, I like the Street Profits a lot, but this was just annoying. Ford and Dawkins are at their best when they’re in the ring, or directly hyping a feud. When they’re left to their own devices to just be generic hype men for the company, the week’s show, or other wrestlers, they quickly overstay their welcome and that’s exactly what happened here. Not only did Roode & Ziggler’s attack put an end to the segment, it also gave some actual consequences to feud in the tag team division, something that hasn’t happened in quite some time.)
-Roode and Ziggler were shown walking backstage when they were approached by Kayla Braxton. She asked why the committed such a vicious and unprovoked attack. Ziggler said it was vicious, but it wasn’t unprovoked. Roode said it’s always fun and games with the Street Profits. “Are you having fun now?” Roode barked. He said the Profits have something they want, and deserve.
Ziggler said he’s tired of Dawkins and Ford flaunting the titles and Slammy’s in their faces. He said he and Roode are pros and aces, and demanded a match for the Smackdown tag team titles. “We won’t stop until we get what we want,” he concluded.
(LeClair’s Analysis: I liked this. A serious Roode and Ziggler acting and being booked like credible threats is a welcome addition to a floundering tag team division. I hope they get something out of this angle. Ziggler was a little too yell-y, as usual, but he was believable enough to make this work, and was sufficiently grounded by Roode’s performance too.)
-Daniel Bryan headed to the ring, with Otis and Chad Gable. Cole said Bryan has been learning from Chad Gable and wanted to team with Otis, and then talked about Bryan declaring himself for the Royal Rumble. Corey Graves said this is Bryan’s effort to help Otis along after naming him as someone he thinks has a big future in WWE. Bryan led Otis and Gable in a “yes” chant. Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura headed to the ring.
(5) DANIEL BRYAN & OTIS (w/ Chad Gable) vs. CESARO & SHINSUKE NAKAMURA
Cesaro began the match with Daniel Bryan and quickly caught him in a headlock takeover. Bryan rolled to his feet and got dropped with a shoulder tackle. Bryan quickly shot up, but Cesaro tagged in Shinsuke Nakamura. Bryan grabbed Nakamura and worked him over with a waist lock. Nakamura struggled free after a few moments and tagged Cesaro back in.
Bryan knocked Cesaro off the apron before he could get in the ring. Bryan dove through the middle rope, but Cesaro caught him in mid-air, tossed him up and hit him with an uppercut. Suddenly, Otis appeared on the edge of the screen, giving chase to Cesaro. The show quickly went to break.
Nakamura kicked Bryan repeatedly on the mat when the show returned from commercial. He tossed Bryan over the top rope to the floor and Cesaro quickly dumped Bryan into the announcers desk. He tagged in, tossed Bryan inside, and grabbed a grounded headlock. Bryan worked to his feet but Cesaro gave him a big slam and covered him for a two count. He tossed Bryan over the top rope again. Cole and Graves said that would be an elimination in the Royal Rumble.
Cesaro tagged in Nakamura. Shinsuke covered Bryan for another two count. He hoisted Bryan onto the top turnbuckle and delivered a wind-up kick to the head. Bryan tried to toss Bryan outside again, but Bryan turned it around and tossed Nakamura. Bryan crawled to make a tag. Nakamura tagged in Cesaro, but not before Bryan reached Otis.
Otis gave Cesaro an overhead capture and release suplex. Cesaro bounced to his feed and Otis hit him with a stiff clothesline. Cesaro retreated to the corner. Otis hit a running splash. Otis set up and hit the Caterpillar followed by the elbow. He covered, but Nakamura broke up the pin at a two count. Otis tossed Nakamura to the outside.
Otis went for the middle rope splash on Cesaro, but Cesaro moved. He managed to tag in Nakamura. Nakamura set up for the Kinshasa, but Otis caught him and pancaked him. Otis tagged Bryan back in. Bryan leapt over Nakamura with a sunset flip pin for a two count. Nakamura whipped Bryan, but Bryan flipped over him. Nakamura locked in a cross armbar, but Otis broke it up.
Nakamura and Cesaro kicked Otis out of the ring. Bryan hit Cesaro with a running knee, sending him to the outside. Nakamura tried to roll Bryan up, but Bryan rolled through it into the Yes Lock for a quick tap out.
WINNERS: Daniel Bryan & Otis in 9:00
(LeClair’s Analysis: Fun, albeit forgettable match. It’s sort of sad that Nakamura and Cesaro have been reduced to this role, but it’s hard to see them emerging from beyond it at this point. I like the focus on Bryan leading into the Rumble, but this whole thing seems a little too goofy to actually make him a serious contender. Generally speaking, Bryan can get away with most anything without losing credibility, that’s not the problem. I’d just hate to see the only wrestler getting a Royal Rumble journey story be someone who they clearly don’t want us to see as a credible potential winner.)
-Roman Reigns sat with Jey Uso backstage. Paul Heyman delivered the news about Adam Pearce making the match. Reigns shook his head. “He just doesn’t get it, does he?” Reigns told Jey to go show everyone why he’s main event Uso.
-Kevin Owens headed to the ring. Cole said “main event Uso” will have to contend with “never say die” Kevin Owens. KO awaited Jey in the ring as the show went to break.
Owens stared Jey Uso as he sauntered to the ring following the commercial. Graves said the Head of the Table ordered that Jey take care of Owens tonight.
(6) KEVIN OWENS vs. JEY USO
Kevin Owens pounced on Jey Uso as soon as the bell rang. Jey rolled through it and fired off shots of his own, but Owens quickly regained control and whipped Jey into the corner. Owens stomped away at Jey, who rolled to the outside in retreat. Owens followed him, caught him with a running clothesline, and then hit a senton on the floor.
Owens shot Jey back in the ring and hit another senton, following up with a cover for a two count. Owens isolated Jey’s previously injured leg. He hung it up in the middle rope and stomped at the inside of Jey’s knee. Jeu rolled around the ring in pain. Jey caught Kevin with a punch, and Owens returned it. He dropped Jey by the leg again.
Jey rolled toward the apron. Owens grabbed the injured leg and slammed it repeatedly on the edge of the ring. “I told you you’re gonna pay, and the worst part is, it’s not even your god damn fault!” Owens exclaimed. KO stalked Jey as he dragged himself around the ring. Jey caught Owens with a pair of desperation uppercuts. Owens cut him off again with a kick and went for a stunner. Uso blocked it and hit a super kick. Owens rolled to the outside.
Jey charged and leapt off the steel steps. Owens caught Jey in the air with a super kick, then tossed Jey clear over the announcers desk. Owens yelled for Roman Reigns to come out as the show went to break.
Kevin Owens and Jey Uso struggled to gain the upper hand on the top turnbuckle when the show returned from break. Jey managed to shove Owens to the mat. He went for the frog splash, but Owens moved. Jey landed on his feet and came up hobbling, selling the injured leg. He walked right into a stunner from Owens, who covered him for a three count.
WINNER: Kevin Owens in 7:00
Owens yelled for Roman Reigns again. He gave Jey another stunner. Owens rolled to the outside and grabbed Corey Graves’ headset. “Roman, come take care of your family, you bitch.” He grabbed a pair of handcuffs from underneath the ring. Owens handcuffed Jey to the ropes and gave him a super kick. Owens went back to work on Jey’s leg. Owens continued to call for Roman as he stomped at Jey’s leg. Graves said Roman answers to no one.
owens mounted Jey and punched him mercilessly. He unlocked the handcuffs from the ropes and handcuffed Jey’s hands together. “I’ll bring him to you,” Owens said. He tossed Jey to the outside. Uso tried to escape, but Owens caught up to him. Owens set Jey up on a production crate near the LED boards and climbed up onto the walkway between the two fan boards in the lower level.
Suddenly, Roman Reigns attacked Owens from behind. he slammed KO’s head into the LED boards. Jey Uso climbed up to meet his cousin, still handcuffed. They found two chairs and beat Owens senselessly with them. Reigns choked Owens with the chair. “You should’ve just left!” Reigns screamed. Jey choked Owens with the handcuff chain. Reigns drove the chair into Owens’ gut.
Jey gave Owens a super kick and KO wandered toward the ledge of the lower level. Reigns slammed KO’s head into the LED boards repeatedly. Reigns grabbed Owens by the face. “This is my company, now you know.” Reigns tossed Owens off the staging, through the production tables Jey had been placed on earlier. Reigns and Jey looked down at Owens as the show went off the air.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Not much to the match itself. Owens beat the hell out of Jey, who sold a leg injury for the entire first portion of the match. The second portion, following the commercial break, went under a minute. All told, we only saw a few minutes of an lea ready short match-up. There was, of course, a reason. This wasn’t about the match, but about the post-match beat down. Owens went off in Jey, and I thought they really bordered on starting to garner some sympathy for Uso. Just when you thought they might be going a little too far, though, Reigns showed up and played his dastardly role brilliantly. The final spot could be seen coming from a mile away but it still worked. This was the first time they’ve really used the set of the Thunderdome as a weapon, so there was some novelty to it. I hope that they don’t go back to it regularly now that they’ve broken the seal. While I thought they’d told all the story they could with this feud, it seems impossible to not go back to the well one more time now. I just don’t know how this works out for Kevin Owens, since it seems like a forgone conclusion that Reigns would win again.)
FINAL THOUGHTS: This was a marked step backward over last week’s excellent showing. Like last week, they went heavy on the wrestling. Unlike last week, though, there wasn’t really much of anything memorable in the ring. Even worse, the lack of consistency and general sloppiness of mid-card, women’s and tag team booking seemed to return to form this week. There were highlights – Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode (hopefully) transitioning into a serious contender ship role could breathe some life in the tag team division. Daniel Bryan’s Royal Rumble journey, while goofy, gives me some hope that they’re going to tell this stories with other contenders. As usual, Roman Reigns, Jey Uso, and Kevin Owens excelled with their allotted time and continue to be the best thing WWE has to offer.
A quick note, I was also struck by Big E’s touching, unique, and personal tribute to Brodie Lee, the only real mention of him on tonight’s show outside of the opening memorial graphic. WWE’s tributes obviously wouldn’t hold a candle to what AEW provided this week, but I do applaud them for allowing wrestlers to honor him in their own way should they choose to do so. On a personal note, I’d like to extend my deepest condolences to the Huber family, and all of the wrestlers mourning the loss of a truly incredibly talent, and evidently, even better person. Despite the immense sadness surrounding his death, it’s been a true joy reading the stories, sharing my own, and seeing countless wonderful images and videos paying tribute. It’s special to see the wrestling community unite, especially in tragedy. Brodie Lee forever.