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LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT
JANUARY 8, 2021
ORLANDO, FL IN WWE THUNDERDOME AT TROPICANA FIELD
AIRED LIVE ON FOX NETWORK
Announcers: Michael Cole, Corey Graves
-The show opened with a wide shot of the Thunderdome inside Tropicana Field. Michael Cole welcomed the audience by saying they have two two titles matches on tap tonight.
-Roman Reigns’ music hit and his massive AR statue filled the stage. Reigns sauntered onto the stage, flanked by Jey Uso and Paul Heyman. Reigns held up the Universal title and smirked as pyro filled the Thunderdome. Cole said that Reigns sent Kevin Owens to hospital last week, and tonight he’ll find out his next opponent for the Universal title. Corey Graves ran down the gauntlet match to determine his number one contender. Michael Cole went over the rules of a gauntlet match.
As Reigns climbed slowly up the ring steps, Graves said that he and Cole are “taking up space on the island of relevance, courtesy of the head of the table.” Paul Heyman retrieved a microphone and handed it carefully to Roman, at his request. “A lot of talk about last week and what we did to KO,” Reigns began. He said he likes Kevin Owens. “I respect someone as ambitious as Kevin Owens.” Reigns called Owens a cockroach and said he never wanted anything bad to happen to him. Roman said Owens put him in a tough spot and he “had to do what he had to do.”
Roman said that’s the thing about being the locker room leader – he has to care about everyone. He said he’s putting food on everyone’s table, and now Kevin Owens doesn’t have that opportunity anymore. “People are trying to blame me, Paul,” Roman looked to Heyman. Reigns said there is someone to blame – WWE official Adam Pearce. He asked Adam to come to the ring.
Paul Heyman began barking orders to the time keeper and production hand at ringside. After a few moments, Adam Pearce walked to the ring. He got in the ring reluctantly. “Roman, what can I do for you?” Pearce asked. Reigns smiled. He told Pearce to watch the video package. He told the truck to run it. The video covered Pearce’s involvement in setting up Owens’ match with Jey Uso on last week’s show.
Pearce asked Reigns and company what they want him to say. “I want you to be a man and take responsibility,” Reigns said flippantly. He said he was done with Owens and wanted to move forward. He said KO asked his “old friend Adam” for a favor. Reigns said Pearce should’ve cared about Owens’ well-being and made the right choice for him. Pearce tried to interject, but Reigns quickly shut him down. “Check the stats, we do our job, Adam.”
Reigns said Pearce is supposed to be managing the talent and making good decisions. Instead, Reigns claimed, Pearce tossed Owens back in the deep end of the shark tank. “Now he can’t provide for his family,” Reigns surmised, “you did that.” Reigns said he was willing to give Adam a chance, but he went and booked a gauntlet match to determine his next challenger. “Like I can’t make the decision for myself, like I’m inadequate at my job.”
Pearce said he’s just trying to do his job. Reigns asked for a round of applause, which Jey gave. Reigns said it’s starting to sound like Pearce thinks he’s stupid. “Is that what you’re saying? Am I stupid?” Pearce grew impatient. Reigns said if Pearce isn’t stupid, and he’s not calling Vince McMahon stupid, then he must be calling him stupid. “That means you don’t respect me,” Reigns said. He said there’s consequences for that and grabbed Pearce by the collar. Pearce took a step back. Paul intervened to calm Reigns down.
Roman gathered himself, fixed Pearce’s collar, and stepped away. “My mistake,” he said, “maybe nobody in this ring is stupid, and right now, you’re perfectly safe.” Reigns gave Pearce and uncomfortable smile and nod and left the ring. Graves said though Pearce looks calm, there’s certainly inner turmoil.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Man, this was great. Roman Reigns grows even more confident in this role week to week. The arrogance, the self-serving, grandiose god-complex and all consuming ego is so much fun to watch when you have someone this good at it executing at this high of a level. Pearce was sufficiently diplomatic and acted as the on-screen authority figure WWE needs. Excellent segment, all the way around.)
-Cole and Graves teased the Intercontinental title match between Big E and Apollo Crews, coming up next.
-Apollo Crews was already in the ring when the show returned from break. Big E was already stepping through the ropes.
(1) BIG E (c) vs. APOLLO CREWS – WWE Intercontinental title match
Apollo Crews dropped Big E immediately with a running dropkick. He quickly covered Big E for a two count. Graves sold the moment as a big near fall. Apollo shot to the top rope quickly, but Big E side stepped his leap attempted and followed up with a big shoulder tackle. Apollo rolled toward the apron. Big E set him up and gave him the big apron splash.
E returned to the ring to break the referee’s count quickly. He scooped up Apollo for a back drop, but Crews rolled through it and hit a pair of clotheslines. Crews backed Big E into the corner and hit a running splash. Big E wandered out of the corner. Crews grabbed a waist lock and hit a trio of German suplexes, covering for a near fall.
Big E rolled to the outside. Crews leapt over the ropes onto the apron and hit a springboard moonsault to the outside. He tossed E into the ring and covered for only a one count. Crews set E up on the top turnbuckle and connected with a superplex. Both men simultaneously lifted their legs to catch each other in a pin. The referee counted to three. Apollo celebrated, but the show went to commercial in utter confusion at the 4:00 minute mark of the match.
Out of the break, they replayed the finish of the match, showing that both men’s shoulders were down for a count of three. In the ring, the referee explained that both men’s shoulders were, in fact, down, which means the match is a draw. In a draw, the title stays with the champion. He handed the title to Big E.
WINNER: Big E by draw in 4:00 to retain the Intercontinental title
Apollo grew frustrated. Big E offered a fist bump. “I don’t make the rules,” he said. Crews paced, getting angrier. E tried to diffuse the situation, but Crews slapped him. Big E told the referee to ring the bell.
(2) BIG E (c) vs. APOLLO CREWS – WWE Intercontinental title match
Big E quickly hit Apollo Crews with a belly-to-belly suplex. Crews shot up and E hit a second, then a third. He hit the big running splash and set up for the Big Ending. Crews slid down his back and caught Big E with a knee to the head. Crews climbed to the top rope and hit E with a big splash from the top rope for a near fall.
Crews scooped E to his feet and lifted him into a military press. Big E slipped out of it, but Crews managed to roll him up for a two count. Crews caught Big E with a kick to the jaw, followed by a spinebuster for another two count. Crews hit a standing moonsault and covered yet again. Big E managed to kick out. Crews screamed in frustration.
Both men returned to their feet. Big E rolled Crews up, but Crews flipped through it. Big E converted the rolle up into the stretch muffler submission. Crews quickly broke free and hit an enziguri. Crews set up for the spin-out power bomb, but Big E powered out of it and fell to the corner. Crews charged, but E caught him with the Uranagi. Big E hit the Big Ending for a three count.
WINNER: Big E in 3:00 to retain the Intercontinental title
Big E stood over Crews, saying, “respect to you, but don’t play with me.”
(LeClair’s Analysis: Some good and bad here. These two have GREAT chemistry, and it was apparent the moment the bell rang. Crews was given a lot. More than I would’ve expected, but probably the right amount if they want to actually make something of the guy, finally. I could’ve done without the double count finish, but I’m glad they eventually restarted the match and gave E the clean win. I was disappointed, though, to see Big E simply willing to accept the initial result of a draw. As the big, up-and-coming babyface and valiant fighting champion, he should’ve been the one to say he didn’t want to win that way. It shouldn’t have taken a slap from Crews to necessitate a rematch. E should’ve demanded it.)
-Backstage, the camera caught Adam Pearce in the middle of a phone call. He ended the call when Sonya Deville walked into frame. Pearce said he heard they’re going to be working together. Sonya said it’s been a tough year but she wants to put it behind her. She said she’s grateful for the opportunity to learn and help Adam. Deville insinuated that Pearce would be wrestling Roman Reigns tonight. Pearce pushed back, saying he hadn’t wrestled in over six years and he’s not even sure he could beat a referee, let alone Roman.
-Out of the break, Alyse Ashton welcomed Bianca Belair to the backstage interview set. She said Belair has declared herself for the Royal Rumble match. Before Belair could speak, Bayley jumped on screen, literally jumping Bianca. Bayley asked Belair to remind her how many people she eliminated last year. Bayley said she was too busy being the longest reigning Smackdown women’s champion to be in the Rumble last year.
Bayley said even if Belair won, she’d go on to squander her title opportunity. “Because you suck,” Bayley concluded. Belair laughed at the fact that Bayley is no longer champion. “I guess we can say you took your title reign and squandered it.” Belair snapped at Bayley and left.
-Cole and Graves tossed to Progressive’s Match Flo, covering the budding rivalry between the Street Profits and Dolph Ziggler & Robert Roode.
-The Street Profits headed to the ring. Cole said they’d defend their tag team titles after the break.
-Backstage, Carmella sipped champagne while Tommy stood behind her. She congratulated Sasha Banks on winning Sports Illustrated’s 2020 Superstar of the year award. Carmella said Banks is ambitious, but ambition can’t beat raw talent. “When it comes to talent, you can’t touch me,” she concluded.
-Back in the Thunderdome, the Street Profits danced in the ring, awaiting their opponents. Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode headed to the ring, sporting matching leather jackets with jean vests.
(3) THE STREET PROFITS (c, Angelo Dawkins & Montez Ford) vs. DOLPH ZIGGLER & ROBERT ROODE – Smackdown Tag Team title match
Angelo Dawkins began the match with Dolph Ziggler. The two immediately went for opposing waist locks and tack overs. Dawkins eventually got the better of Ziggler, gave him a shoulder tackle and then a dropkick on the rebound. Dawkins covered Ziggler for a quick two count, then tagged in Montez Ford.
The Profits hit a quick double shoulder tackle, then Dawkins back dropped Ford onto Ziggler. Ford covered for a two count. Ziggler quickly recovered and managed to wrestle Ford to the corner. Robert Roode tagged in. Ziggler and Roode utilized their entire count to stomp away at Ford in tandem. Roode dumped Ford in the corner, but Ford fought back with a flurry of punches. Roode kicked at Ford’s injured leg in desperation and Montez dropped to the mat.
Ford managed to dump Roode over the top rope shortly after. Ziggler ran into the ring but Ford dumped him over the top as well. Montez hit a diving swanton over the top rope, onto Roode and Ziggler below. Ford tried to bounce to his feet, but his leg gave out on him. Dawkins came to his aid as the show went to break.
Angelo Dawkins stomped away at Robert Roode in the corner when the show returned from break. Montez Ford walked gingerly on the injured leg on the outside. Dawkins gave Roode and overhead throw, then hit a loose bulldog for a near fall. Ford managed to pull himself onto the apron, but showed hesitation to tag into the match.
Roode managed to sneak away from Dawkins long enough to tag in Ziggler, who immediately took control. Ziggler ripped at Dawkins’ eyes, waiting to be admonished by the referee. With sufficient distraction, Roode sucker punched Dawkins from the outside. Ziggler grabbed a wrenching headlock and gator rolled toward Roode. Ziggler raked the eyes, transitioned to an arm bar and tagged in Roode.
Robert Roode connected with a neckbreaker and scored a two count. Dawkins reached for Ford, who stretched for a tag. Roode cut him off and mocked him. Roode whipped Angelo to the corner and tagged in Ziggler. Ziggler went for a bronco buster, but Dawkins moved and tossed Roode to the outside. Dawkins crawled toward Ford. Ziggler crawled in pursuit. Robert Roode pulled Ford off the apron. Ford fought him off. Dawkins reached his man.
Montez Ford dropped Ziggler, then caught Robert Roode with a backdrop. Ziggler flipped over a backdrop attempt but Ford hit him with a spinning clothesline for a two count. Ford tried to climb the ropes, but couldn’t get his footing. Roode tried to interfere, but Ford managed to fight him off. Ziggler leapt to the top rope and caught Ford with a face buster. Ziggler covered for a near fall.
Dolph set up for a super kick. He charged, but Ford hit one of his own, collapsing on Ziggler. Robert Roode saved the count. Dawkins dumped Roode to the outside and returned to the apron. Roode joined Dawkins on his side of the apron and the two traded punches. Ziggler knocked Dawkins to the floor. Ford rolled up Ziggler for a two count, but Ziggler cut Ford off at the knee and tagged in Roode. Roode hit a Fisherman suplex for a near fall.
Roode set up Ford for the Glorious DDT. Ford fought out of it and hit an enziguri. Roode stumbled into Ziggler and made the tag. Roode lifted Ford for the spinebuster and Ziggler brought him down with the ZigZag, covering Montez for the three count.
WINNERS: Robert Roode & Dolph Ziggler in 15:00, new Smackdown Tag Team Champions
Ziggler and Roode escaped the ring with titles in hand. Angelo Dawkins returned to the ring to help Montez to his feet. Ziggler and Roode ran back to the ring and attacked the Profits from behind. “Now hit out music,” Ziggler said. He and Roode celebrated in opposing corners.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Really good match. Fast and furious pace in the final minutes. These four guys were fully committed to telling the story of Montez Ford’s leg injury and incorporating it into nearly spot in this match. It worked. Ford looked like a valiant, fighting champion who did his absolute best but just fell short to the dastardly heels who injured him in the first place. Said dastardly heels technically won the titles cleanly, but it was made clear that the Profits were not up to par because of what the challengers had done last week. For his part, Angelo Dawkins looked like a great friend and partner who accepted the burden and responsibility of trying to defend the titles with a partner at less than 100%, then immediately showed immense concern for Ford after the match, even though they’d just lost the titles. The tag team division is often a total mess, but this was well-booked, and well-wrestled from top to bottom.)
-Backstage, Sonya Deville and Adam Pearce discussed potential opponents for the new Smackdown Tag Team Champions. Paul Heyman walked on screen, stopping them cold. Heyman offered his hand. “Nice to meet you, I’m Paul Heyman.” Paul said he was the reasonable one in the ring tonight. He told Pearce that he looks at him with great respect and admiration.
“I know your accomplishments and why you were picked for this job,” Heyman said, “but this wasn’t your dream.” Heyman said Pearce wanted to be the WWE Champion. Heyman said he’s not without influence. “I pulled a few strings.” Paul told Pearce that he’s now in the gauntlet match, thanks to the tribal chief, Roman Reigns. “I am so happy for, and proud of you,” Paul said. He smiled, “it’s a pleasure doing business with you.”
-Cole and Graves teased the Gauntlet match, featuring Daniel Bryan, Sami Zayn, Rey Mysterio, Shinsuke Nakamura, King Corbin, and now, Adam Pearce. They said it begins next.
-Billie Kay approached The Riott Squad backstage following a clip of their run-in on last week’s show. Billie asked to make their partnership official. Riott and Morgan turned her down, nicely. Billie began crying, saying 2021 was supposed to be her year. “It’s not that we don’t want you,” Liv said. That was Kay’s cue. She immediately cut the whimpering and grew excited. She said she can be punk, and she’s been listening to “Blink 1-8-2.” She even added “mosh pitting” to her resume.
-Greg Hamilton introduced the Gauntlet match. Rey Mysterio entered first, followed by Sami Zayn. Zayn had a microphone, and a separate camera crew.
Zayn asked for a moment to speak his peace. He said he demanded to be in the match, and WWE management obliged. Zayn objected to being in the first match. “What a coincidence,” Zayn said. He said the truth is, it’s not a coincidence, but a massive conspiracy targeting him. Zayn said that’s why he’s got his own camera crew. “These are unbiased documentarians,” Zayn claimed, “they’re here to expose the conspiracy that cost me my Intercontinental championship.” Zayn said even though he no longer possesses the hardware, he’s still the champion of the people.
Zayn said he’s going to beat Mysterio, and then everyone else. “Sami Zayn is undeniable,” he concluded.
(4a) REY MYSTERIO (w/ Dominick Mysterio) vs. SAMI ZAYN – #1 Contender’s gauntlet match
Rey Mysterio caught Sami Zayn with a basement dropkick, sending Zayn falling into the ropes. Mysterio hit the 619, leapt to the top rope and hit a frog splash for a quick three count.
WINNER: Rey Mysterio in <1:00
(4b) REY MYSTERIO (w/ Dominick Mysterio) vs. SHINSUKE NAKAMURA – #1 Contender’s gauntlet match
The bell rang as soon as the show returned from break. Rey Mysterio and Shinsuke Nakamura circled each other. Nakamura grabbed a headlock. Mysterio broke free and shot Shinsuke off the ropes, but Nakamura caught him with a shoulder tackle. Mysterio popped up and caught Nakamura in a sunset roll up for a one count. Mysterio rolled to his feet and kicked Nakamura in the face.
Nakamura rolled to the apron. Mysterio rolled through the ropes and caught Shinsuke with a sunset flip bomb. Nakamura rolled right to his feet and gave Mysterio a sliding knee to the face. He quickly dumped Rey into the ring and covered him for a two count. Nakamura shoved Rey to the corner and stuck his boot in Mysterio’s neck. Nakamura circled the ring confidently, then kicked Mysterio in the jaw. He covered for another two count.
Shinsuke hit a quick snapmare, followed by double knees to the chest for another two count. Nakamura dragged Mysterio to his feet, walked him to the corner and set him up on the top rope. Shinsuke set up for a superplex, but Rey blocked it with punches to the ribs. Mysterio knocked Nakamura to the mat with a headbutt, then dove onto him. Mysterio hit a rolling bulldog for a two count.
Mysterio headed to the apron and leapt for a headscissor DDT, but Nakamura nearly dropped him, but managed to recover and reset into a power bomb position. Mysterio rolled through it and tripped Nakamura into the ropes. He hit the 619 and climbed to the top rope. Mysterio went for the frog splash, but Nakamura got his knees up. Shinsuke rolled into an arm bar and secured a quick tap out win.
WINNER: Shinsuke Nakamura in 5:00
King Corbin immediately slammed Dominick Mysterio into the steel steps at ringside following the bell. He hopped in the ring and tossed Nakamura into the ring post, then grabbed Rey Mysterio. Corbin gave Mysterio a choke slam into the corner. Mysterio’s body bounced back into Corbin’s hand, so he gave him a full choke slam to the mat. “Apparently Corbin is next,” Cole said. The show went to break.
(4c) SHINSUKE NAKAMURA vs. KING CORBIN (w/ Wesley Blake & Steve Cutler) – #1 Contender’s gauntlet match
The match was already in progress when the show returned from break. Corbin worked over Nakamura’s head and neck area. Shinsuke tried to fight back, but Corbin planted him with a clothesline and covered for a two count. Corbin dumped Nakamura into the corner and charged, but Nakamura managed to move, sending Corbin shoulder first into the post. Corbin rolled to the outside.
Nakamura leapt off the apron to meet King Corbin, but Corbin caught him and slammed him into the ring post. He slid Nakamura back in the ring and covered him for a two count. Corbin argued with the referee, then set Nakamura up for a suplex. Nakamura slid down the back and caught Corbin with a spin kick. Nakamura put together a string of kicks, eventually taking Corbin off his feet. He lifted himself to the middle rope and connected with a leaping side kick for a two count.
Shinsuke set up for the Kinshasa, but wound up getting caught with Deep Six. Corbin covered for a near fall. Corbin tried to grab Nakamura, but Shinsuke wrangled him into a triangle choke. Corbin deadlifted him and hit a power bomb. Corbin attempted his ’round the ring post clothesline, but Nakamura hit him with the Kinshasa for a three count.
WINNER: Shinsuke Nakamura in 5:00 (joined in progress)
Daniel Bryan headed to the ring. Nakamura struck his “c’mon” pose as Graves remarked on the potential of the match-up. The show went to break.
(4d) SHINSUKE NAKAMURA vs. DANIEL BRYAN – #1 Contender’s gauntlet match
Daniel Bryan hit Shinsuke Nakamura with a running kick right out of the gate. Nakamura returned the favor with a kick to the face. Bryan tossed Nakamura to the outside and dove onto him through the middle rope, then quickly tossed him back inside. Bryan climbed to the top rope and leapt, but Nakamura caught him with a kick to the mid-section.
Shinsuke sized Bryan up and hit him with the reverse exploder suplex. He set up for the Kinshasa. Bryan ducked it and rolled the leg into a half crab. Bryan sat back deep in the hold. Nakamura started to gain leverage, so Bryan transitioned into an ankle lock. Nakamura worked to his feet, so Bryan hit him with a bridging German suplex for a near fall.
Nakamura rose to his knees. Bryan opened up the Yes Kicks. Nakamura slumped to his knees, trying to cover up. Bryan refused to let up, but Shinsuke managed to duck the final kick and sweep Bryan into armbar position. Shinsuke couldn’t get his hands clasped, which allowed Bryan to roll through into an armbar attempt of his own. Nakamura also held firm. Bryan transitioned into a Yes Lock. Nakamura tried desperately to pull Bryan’s hands apart. Bryan sensed the shift and repositioned the hold, trying to grab the leg the avoid a rope break. Nakamura draped his leg on the bottom rope just in time, breaking the hold.
Bryan kicked Nakamura in the chest and then hyperextended the arm over his own shoulder. Bryan placed Shinsuke on the top turnbuckle, but slipped off the top rope when he went to set up a move. Nakamura caught him with a leaping knee from the top rope and covered for a near fall.
Shinsuke began driving his knee into Bryan’s mid-section. He set up for the Kinshasa again, but Bryan ducked it and went for a kick of his own. Nakamura blocked it and rolled into another armbar attempt. Bryan countered it into a roll up for a two count. Both men struggled slowly to their feet and traded kicks to the thighs. Bryan peppered Nakamura with chops and kicks and backed him into the corner, hitting a roundhouse kick to the face.Bryan hit two corner to corner dropkicks, but Nakamura exploded out on the third and connected with the Kinshasa, covering Bryan for a three count.
WINNER: Shinsuke Nakamura in 6:00
Nakamura collapsed to his knees following a quick celebration. Daniel Bryan returned to his feet and helped Nakamura up. They shook hands. Roman Reigns’ music hit and he walked onto stage with Paul Heyman and Jey Uso. Nakamura turned to watch them arrive. Graves realized that only Adam Pearce is the only remaining gauntlet entrant.
Out of the break, Reigns and company continued to stare down Shinsuke Nakamura. Adam Pearce reluctantly emerged from the back, walking to the ring and cautiously looking behind him as the champion, Uso, and Heyman followed. Jey Uso got in the ring to stand toe to toe with Nakamura.
Jey Uso sucker punched Nakamura. Roman Reigns quickly joined in. Jey hit a super kick, and Reigns followed up with a Superman punch. Jey quickly climbed to the top rope and hit a big splash. Reigns rolled out of the ring and put his hand on Pearce’s shoulder. “This is my show,” Reigns said, “now do your job.” He tossed Pearce in the ring.
Jey and Roman surrounded Pearce. Jey gave Pearce a super kick. Reigns asked for the bell to be rung.
(4e) SHINSUKE NAKAMURA vs. ADAM PEARCE – #1 Contender’s gauntlet match
Jey Uso dragged Adam Pearce onto Shinsuke Nakamura and the referee counted to three.
WINNER: Adam Pearce in <1:00
Roman Reigns held up the Universal title as his music played. Cole and Graves came to terms with the results of the match as the show went off the air.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Whoa. Lots to talk about here. While I’m not terribly excited about the idea of Adam Pearce getting a Universal title shot, I’m so enamored by the storytelling with Roman Reigns, Jey Uso, and Paul Heyman that I have little double that they’ll make this work, and make it must-see television. There’s plenty more to discuss here, though. Shinsuke Nakamura was put in the spotlight heavily tonight, in a way I certainly would’ve have expected a few months ago, let alone a few weeks ago. He and Cesaro have sort of been the designated jobbers of the Smackdown tag division for a while. But hey, if you want to rehabilitate a guy in short order, have an effective turn, and quickly put sympathy on your new babyface, a successful stint in a gauntlet match is certainly a strong way to do it.)
FINAL THOUGHTS: Really strong outing following last week’s weaker effort. Wrestlers seemed highly motivated in their work, and the results were largely positive. I thought the Tag Team title match was strong, and the multi-layered storytelling in the main event gauntlet match was carefully built around the closing moments. WWE successfully began the restoration project of Shinsuke Nakamura, while continuing to put over Roman Reigns, who wasn’t even in the match. For more detailed analysis, tune in to the Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Post Show tonight on Blog Talk Radio, where I’ll be joining PWTorch’s Zack Heydorn to talk everything Smackdown.