LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT 1/22: Alt perspective, detailed coverage of Big E vs. Crews for the IC title, Bayley & Belair’s Obstacle Course challenge, more

By Brandon LeClair, PWTorch contributor


SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...

LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT
JANUARY 22, 2021
ORLANDO, FL IN WWE THUNDERDOME AT TROPICANA FIELD
AIRED LIVE ON FOX NETWORK

Announcers: Michael Cole, Corey Graves

-The show opened with a recap of last week’s events involving Roman Reigns, Adam Pearce, and Kevin Owens.

-Thunder crashed over a wide shot of the Thunderdome’s enormous video rig over the ring and Michael Cole welcomed the audience to the show. Roman Reign’s music quickly hit.

Michael Cole talked about Paul Heyman’s words for Kevin Owens on last week’s Talking Smack as the Universal Champion headed to the ring with Paul at his side. Cole wondered what must be going on in Reigns’s head, surmising he must be about to explode with rage.

Reigns stood stoically in the ring as he was pelted by robotic “you suck” chants. Reigns said he heard that Kevin Owens planned to deliver a message tonight. “You’re not gonna see Kevin Owens tonight, because I said so.” Reigns smirked. He turned his focus to last week. He brought up the phrase Adam Pearce used – card subject to change. “Real clever boys,” Reigns said. He said that that’s how losers and people too scared to come to their jobs think.

“I show up to my appearances, I put in work.” Reigns said it took his own health being at risk during a pandemic to keep him away. Roman wondered what it’d be like if he started saying his various body parts hurt. “I don’t think anyone would doubt it because of how much work I put in.” Reigns said it all hurts – both elbows, both knees, and his ankles, which have been bad since college. Roman said his back hurts, too, from carrying the whole company for years now. Roman wondered what happens if he can’t make the Royal Rumble because his back hurts.

Adam Pearce interrupted, “this is too much,” he said. Reigns shrugged it off. Pearce said the situation is out of control. Roman said he knows who is in control. He said what’s out of control is putting Kevin Owens back in the Universal title picture. Reigns told Pearce that he favors Owens, and that’s out of control. “You’re Kevin Owens’ bitch,” Reigns said.

Reigns said he can’t stand the fact that Adam Pearce complained about his body hurting, despite not having wrestled in years. “You’re standing next to the thoroughbred of the WWE,” Reigns barked. He said he busts his ass while Pearce just whines, complains, and moans. “No wonder you never made it to WWE.” Paul Heyman laughed.

Pearce said he can take the intimidation from Reigns, but he won’t take it from Paul. Reigns smiled. “Paul, he’s disrespecting you,” Roman said, “and if he disrespects you, that means you’re disrespecting me.” Roman told Paul to take care of it. Heyman began berating Pearce, saying he’s from New York and is willing to whip ass for disrespecting the tribal chief. Heyman recommended a match between he and Adam Pearce tonight. He offered his hand, saying a verbal agreement is binding in the state of Florida. Pearce accepted. Reigns got in Pearce’s face. “Just understand this,” he said, “by the end of the night, you’re gonna get your ass kicked.” Reigns and Heyman left.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Look, I can’t say I’m excited to see any type of match between Paul Heyman and Adam Pearce, but this segment was expertly crafted. Reigns was supremely effective, hitting all the right tones and cadences. Pearce played his role straight and true, and Heyman was the effectively instigated by Reigns to put himself in a situation that, on the surface looks perilous, but will likely end up benefiting the champion in a nefarious way. Great stuff.)

-Sami Zayn was shown walking down the ramp, personal camera crew in tow. He carried a sign that said “#JusticeforSami” and proceeded to handcuff himself to the ringside barrier as the show went to commercial.

-Sami Zayn was rambling from ringside when the show returned from break. He declared himself for the Royal Rumble, then began complaining about his loss to Apollo Crews on last week’s show. He was quickly cut off by Asuka’s music.

Asuka walked onto the stage, quickly followed by Charlotte Flair. Michael Cole made sure to point out that, as Women’s tag team champions, Asuka and Charlotte Flair are free to show up on Smackdown as they please. The Riott Squad were already in the ring with Billie Kay at their side.

(1) THE RIOTT SQUAD (Ruby Riott & Liv Morgan w/ Billie Kay) vs. ASUKA & CHARLOTTE FLAIR

The camera cut to the back to show Natalya and Tamina watching on a monitor backstage just as the match began. Back in the Thunderdome, Charlotte Flair grabbed a headlock on Ruby Riott, walked her to her corner and tagged in Asuka. Asuka quickly dropped Ruby and then applied a headlock of her own. Asuka repeated Flair’s sequence step for step, tagging back out.

Flair dropped Riott and watched as Ruby reached desperately for Liv Morgan. Billie Kay briefly distracted Charlotte long enough for Liv Morgan to tag in. Flair tossed Riott from the ring and grabbed Kay by the hair. Liv caught Flair with a quick kick, then a cross body from the top rope for a quick two count. Cole sent the show to commercial.

Charlotte slammed Morgan’s head into the turnbuckle as the show returned from break. Billie Kay hammed it up at ringside, clapping emphatically. Morgan managed to stumble into the corner and tag in Ruby Riott. Ruby set up for, and executed an headscissor slam into the turnbuckle. She tagged in Morgan, who covered Flair but couldn’t secure a one count.

The Riott Squad traded tags again. They tried to double team Flair, but Charlotte took them both out with a flurry of chops. Charlotte hit Liv with a fallaway slam, then a quick backbreaker. She tagged in Asuka. Asuka hit Morgan with a sliding knee for a two count, broken up by Ruby Riott.

Morgan recovered and went for a step up enziguri, but Asuka caught the leg and rolled her into an ankle lock. She pulled Morgan to her feet and hit a snap German suplex. Asuka tried to apply the Asuka lock, but Morgan fell backward into the corner, allowing Ruby to take herself in.

Billie Kay leapt onto the apron. Riott rolled up Asuka and would have secured a three count if not for the distraction. Asuka hit a quick codebreaker and tagged in Charlotte, who followed up with Natural Selection for a three count.

WINNERS: Asuka & Charlotte Flair in 9:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: Weird match. It feels like it’s been forever since Charlotte and Asuka have really been involved with each other – their tag team title reign has been uneventful and awkward, to say the least. It felt particularly strange to bring them over to Smackdown to face a team who more or less just perennially loses. What did they do to earn a match with the champions? More importantly, is it really a good idea to have Ruby Riott clearly have Asuka beat, foiled only by Riott’s own inept manager? Asuka just lost to Alexa Bliss on Raw, she’s hardly a character that can afford the appearance of losing to Ruby Riott just days later, especially when being a double champion. Just messy, shoddy women’s division booking, as usual.)

-Cole and Graves talked up Sasha Banks vs. Reginald, as well as the obstacle course challenge between Bayley and Bianca Belair. The show went to commercial.

-Ruby Riott and Liv Morgan commiserated over their loss backstage. Billie Kay rushed in, apologizing profusely. She said she didn’t mean to cost them their opportunity. Riott and Morgan said perhaps she should add that skill to her resume. Billie said, as an apology, she talked to Sonya Deville and got both Liv and Ruby entered into the Royal Rumble. Liv and Ruby said that Billie doesn’t seem to get it, but that the Riott Squad was much better when it was just the two of them. They left Billie, who seemed to be on the verge of tears.

-Daniel Bryan’s music hit and he “yes’ed” his way past Sami Zayn, who was still handcuffed to the ringside barrier. Bryan was dressed in a dress shirt and sport coat. He posed on the top rope and grabbed a microphone.

Bryan said that talking about the Royal Rumble gives him chills down his spine and makes the hair on his arms stand up. He said it’s hard to explain why. He said the uncertainty and exhilaration of it all is thrilling. Bryan said it makes him feel alive to compete in one of the most challenging, grueling, uncertain matches WWE has to offer. He talked about the opportunity of facing the champion of his choosing in the main event of WrestleMania.

“I’m very proud of my career,” Bryan said. He talked about never winning the Royal Rumble and said he feels like it’s one of the few things he has left to accomplish. Cesaro’s music cut him off. Cesaro said he thought he beat some sense into Bryan. “You’re not winning the Royal Rumble, I am,” Cesaro said declaratively. Bryan interrupted. He said he’s been thinking about losing to Cesaro, and he’d like to fight him again right now.

Cesaro declined. He said he’s sick and tired of proving himself week after week. “I already beat you, Bryan.” Cesaro said Bryan isn’t even dressed for the occasion. He extended an open challenge to anyone else in the back already declared for the Royal Rumble. Dolph Ziggler’s music hit.

Ziggler said he’s been in the second most Royal Rumbles of any current WWE Superstar. He said no one can match his stamina. “Ask anybody,” Ziggler said flippantly. He told Bryan that it isn’t 2014 anymore and to “scoot on away.” Ziggler said he plans to win the Rumble to get paid. He accepted Cesaro’s challenge. Cole sent the show to break.

(2) CESARO vs. DOLPH ZIGGLER

The match was already underway when the show returned from break. Daniel Bryan had joined Michael Cole and Corey Graves on commentary. Cesaro and Dolph Ziggler rolled through some quick chain wrestling holds and traded brief, unsuccessful covers.

Cesaro broke the stalemate with a big uppercut. He grabbed Ziggler’s legs and initiated the Cesaro swing. After more than a dozen rotations, Cesaro covered Ziggler for a two count. Cole asked Bryan if he’d ever been put in the swing. Bryan reminded him that he wrestled Cesaro just last week.

Ziggler rolled Cesaro up for a two count. Cesaro turned it into a cover of his own for another two count. The two count trade off continued for multiple sequences. Ziggler broke it by trying a superkick, but Cesaro blocked it. Ziggler caught Cesaro with the ZigZag instead, but failed to immediately make the cover. He eventually hooked the leg, but Cesaro kicked out at two.

Cesaro tried to lift Ziggler up for a stalling suplex, but Ziggler gave him a knee to the face. Cesaro grabbed Ziggler and caught him with the Neutralizer, covering him for a three count.

WINNER: Cesaro in 3:00 (incomplete)

(LeClair’s Analysis: We didn’t get to see much of this, but what we did see was entertaining enough. Strange segment as a whole. Bryan has certainly been the most vocal about winning the Rumble match, but as I’ve noted for the last several weeks, the booking seems to suggest he shouldn’t be taken that seriously as a contender. Guess we’ll find out! In any case, I like the renewed attention being given to Cesaro, and love the idea of him getting another clean win over a notable name. On the flip side, though, I question having Dolph Ziggler lose a match cleanly in three minutes just two weeks after winning the Smackdown tag team titles.)

-Cole and Graves tossed to a recap of Reginald being challenged by Sasha Banks on last week’s Smackdown.

-Sasha Banks headed to the ring, laughing at Sami Zayn as she passed his demonstration. Cole said she’d face Reginald after the break.

Out of the break, Cole continued to talk about Banks’ upcoming “unique” matchup. Carmella’s music hit and she headed to the ring with Reginald. Carmella took a seat at the announcers desk while assistants rushed to pull out her chair and serve her champagne on ice.

(3) SASHA BANKS vs. REGINALD (w/ Carmella)

The bell rang as the second hour of the show began. Reginald begged off, then pulled a rose from his coat pocket, offering it to Sasha Banks. He asked for a kiss on the cheek, but Sasha smacked him across the face. She went for a quick top rope arm drag, but Reginald landed on his feet. Carmella left the table to enjoy her champagne.

Reginald grabbed a waist lock on Banks, but Sasha quickly broke it and tossed Reginald to the outside. Reginald landed on his feet again. Banks tried to toss him toward Carmella, but he caught himself before hitting her. Back in the ring, Reginald continued to thwart Banks’ offense. Sasha finally managed to hit a bulldog for a two count.

Banks went for a kick but her knee gave out. Reginald scooped her up, but Sasha managed to tip back into the ropes. She dove, but Reginald caught her in power slam position. Banks rolled through and sent Reginald to the outside. Sasha climbed onto the apron and hit the Meteora to the outside. She got in Carmella’s face before tossing Reginald back in the ring.

Banks set up for the Bank Statement, but Reginald rolled through it. Sasha hit a double knee again, then transitioned into a tilt-a-whirl, locking Reginald in the Bank Statement on the way down. He tapped quickly.

WINNER: Sasha Banks in 4:00

Sasha tossed Reginald to the outside. He landed at Carmella’s feet. Banks and Carmella traded words as Sasha’s music played. Cole and Graves talked up Reginald’s performance.

(LeClair’s Analysis: A little too cute. Reginald appears to be a great athlete who threw himself around and helped Banks create a lot of movement. Some of the stuff looked cool, but most of it just looked choreographed. It’s notable that we got an inter-gender match in WWE at all these days, but this was hardly a situation where we saw a man and woman sharing offense. It was closer to a dance routine than a wrestling match. The Carmella character continues to be sufficient, if not a little derivative. Banks continues her need for a better opponent.)

-Backstage, Paul Heyman hovered over Roman Reigns’ oversized leather chair as Reigns sat in it, stewing. Reigns said that he gave Paul the microphone to rip Pearce to shreds verbally, not challenge him to a match. “Be a man, handle your business,” Roman said. He told Paul that because he ran his mouth, he’s got to go out there and back it up so as not to embarrass the tribal chief. He stood up and left the room, leaving Heyman stunned.

-The Progressive Match Flo recapped the developing story between Big E and Apollo Crews.

-Big E was thrusting toward Sami Zayn when the show returned from break. Apollo Crews was already in the ring for their Intercontinental title match.

(4) BIG E (c) vs. APOLLO CREWS – WWE Intercontinental title match

Apollo Crews charged at Big E right out of the gate, just like in their first encounter. Big E caught him and hit a big overhead belly-to-belly. Crews rolled onto the apron, allowing Big E to connect with his signature splash. Crews rolled back in the ring and struggled to his feet. He caught Big E with a surprise enziguri, then a huge standing moonsault. Crews covered for a quick two count.

Big E wandered to his feet and got caught with a German suplex. Crews held the waist lock, but E elbowed out of it and retreated to the corner. Crews came at him, but Big E planted him with a Uranagi. He covered Crews for a two count. Apollo rolled to the outside. Big E gave chase.

Crews managed to regain control on the outside and got Big E back inside by a count of eight. He headed to the top turnbuckle, but Big E cut him off. E set up for a superplex, but Crews blocked it. He hit a flurry of headbutts, knocking E to the mat. At ringside, Sami Zayn unlocked his handcuffs and started heading toward the ring.

Crews continued work over E in the ring. Before long, Zayn ran in and gave Crews a Heluva kick out of nowhere. The referee called for the bell. Zayn hit Big E with a Heluva kick as well.

WINNER: No contest in 4:00, Big E retains the Intercontinental title

Zayn yelled at Crews and Big E from the ramp as both men struggled to regain their composure.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Not terribly surprising. Zayn is heavily involved in this angle, and while I really do want to see E and Crews get some time to fully display the chemistry they very clearly have, I like the fact that they’re keeping Zayn involved in the title picture.)

-Back at the announcers desk, Cole and Graves said that they’ve heard Roman Reigns has left the building. Cole tossed to a pre-recorded video from Kevin Owens.

-Kevin Owens filmed himself from the drivers seat of his vehicle. He said when he showed up to the stadium, he was informed that Roman Reigns pulled some strings to keep him from getting in. Owens said it’s okay, because he won’t have anywhere to hide at the Royal Rumble. Owens talked about his tattoos, and how important they are to him. He said while he has his wife and kids’ names on his arms, the most important tattoos are those of his two grandfathers on his knuckles. He said they’re his biggest fans, and his biggest regret is that they didn’t get to see him compete in WWE.

Owens said he watched them fight his whole life, and that’s why he never stops fighting. “That’s why, Roman, at the Royal Rumble, I’ll be the last man standing.” Owens sighed with confidence as the show went to break.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Simple, but great promo from Kevin Owens. Like Daniel Bryan, Owens just gets how to hype a match. He gets the little nuances, he gets how to make it seem real, he gets how to get you invested. Great stuff.)

-Michael Cole and Corey Graves talked about the men and women’s Royal Rumble matches.

-Backstage, the Street Profits stumbled upon Sonya Deville conversing with Dolph Ziggler. They parted ways and the Profits stepped in, offering Sonya a fruit basket to congratulate her on her new gig. Ford said before they give it to her, though, they have business to discuss. He said it’s been two weeks since they lost the Smackdown tag team titles to Ziggler and Roode, and they’d like their rematch.

Deville ran down the Profits accomplishments and said, with that in mind, they absolutely deserve a rematch. She said that Ford is still nursing a leg injury, and if he were to compete and get injured again, that would hurt Smackdown. She suggested they hang out, hype Smackdown, and give some other tag teams a chance. “Then, when you’re fully healed, we’ll get you your rematch,” Deville promised. The Profits accepted and gave her the fruit basket.

-Production hands wheeled in props and set up the ringside area for the upcoming obstacle course between Bayley and Bianca Belair. Cole said he had to go get ready to host the competition as the show went to break.

-Michael Cole stood atop the ramp the introduce the obstacle course. He welcomed Bianca Belair, then Bayley, to the stage. The two women lined up near a massive tire. Bayley took Cole’s mic and said it’s her show. She told Bianca that American Ninja Warrior has nothing on her obstacle course.

Bayley ran down the challenges in the course – flipping a massive tire, leaping over hurdles, climbing a rope wall, participating in a full body drill with Chad Gable, and then making a basket. Bayley said she’d go first. Once she reached the wooden hurdles, she went around them instead of clearing them. She carried Chard Gable across the line, missed her first basket attempt, but sank the second for a final time of 1:12.

Bayley asked to have the course “EST-ed” for Bianca. Production came in with higher hurdles. Bianca cleared them with ease, reaching Gable in about twenty seconds. Gable informed her she’d have to carry Otis, not him. Belair did it, again with ease. Bayley tried to play defense at the basketball challenge, but Belair easily skirted around her and dunked the ball, completing the challenge with 17 seconds to spare.

Belair tossed the ball to Bayley, who began to walk away, dejected. She quickly spun around and tossed the ball into Belair’s stomach. Bayley slammed Bianca into the ring, then tossed her, shoulder first, right into the steel frame of the basketball hoop. Belair clutched her arm and shoulder in pain. Bayley left angrily.

(LeClair’s Analysis: I’m glad this was quick. While a little hokey, it was an effective way to further the feud and show just how incredible an athlete Belair truly is. She’s still a little rough around the edges, but when she puts it all together, she’s going to be a force to reckon with. Bayley is a great foil for her to work with right now, and this has produced mostly positive results for both of them.)

-Backstage, Rey Mysterio hyped up his son, Dominick. Dominick said he’s prepared. Rey told him to promise that if anything goes wrong, they’ll do it his way next time. Dominick agreed. Cole said he’d face King Corbin after the break.

-King Corbin was already in the ring when the show returned from commercial. Dominick Mysterio followed.

(5) KING CORBIN vs. DOMINICK MYSTERIO

King Corbin and Dominick Mysterio locked up in the center. Corbin quickly backed Mysterio into the corner, but Dominick managed to duck out quickly and take Corbin down. Corbin rolled to the outside. Dominick leapt over the ropes to meet him, but Corbin side stepped it then hit a vicious clothesline.

Corbin dumped Mysterio back in the ring, tossed him to the corner and delivered a number of body blows. Corbin whipped Dominick to the opposite corner. He smiled as Mysterio collapsed to the mat. Corbin went for End of Days, but Dominick flipped through it and kicked Corbin below the knee. Dominick went for a 619, but Corbin moved, then quickly hit the End of Days for an easy three count.

WINNER: King Corbin in 2:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: Not much to this one. Dominick got a couple of impressive flashes, but Corbin made quick, easy work out of him. If Dominick is going to be on the main roster, this is sort of how it has to be for the foreseeable future. It’s just hard to take him all that seriously at this stage of his career. Given the particular attention paid to the idea of doing it Dominick’s way versus Rey’s way, though, you can bet that this angle is just getting started and that Rey’s more nefarious method of combat with Corbin is likely to prove more successful for the father and son duo.)

-Paul Heyman walked frantically backstage, still in his suit and tie. Cole said that Heyman would have to face Adam Pearce after the break.

-Adam Pearce was already in the ring when the show returned from break. Cole tossed to a clip from last week’s show, highlighting Pearce’s trick on Reigns and company.

Following the clip, Paul Heyman walked to the ring, taping his fists while still in his suit. Heyman tripped on his way up the steps and fell to the floor. The referee came to his aid, but Paul said he was okay. He tried to climb the steps, but collapsed again. Paul pulled himself to the barrier. “You know what they say?” he looked to Pearce, “card subject to change.” Roman Reigns’ music hit.

Reigns headed to the ring as Paul stood up, fixing his tie. Roman slid in the ring and immediately dropped Pearce with a Superman punch. Pearce rolled to the outside. Reigns followed. Pearce caught Roman with a right hand, briefly stunning him. Roman shook it off, tossed Pearce into the steel steps and then over the barricade. Reigns went around to meet him.

Pearce struggled to steady himself, tripping over the massive LED fan boards. Reigns walked him toward the same area he tossed Owens from weeks ago. He tossed Pearce onto the structure, but a hooded man appeared and attacked Reigns. It was Kevin Owens.

Owens and Reigns traded punches, spilling back to ringside. Reigns tossed Owens into the ring and went for a Superman punch, but Owens kicked him in the gut and hit him with a stunner. Reigns rolled to the outside, clutching his neck. Owens gave chase. He tossed Reigns into the carrier and pounded on his back Officials poured from the back to pull Owens away.

Owens broke through the cavalcade to drive his knee into Reigns’ stomach once more. Reigns choked and coughed, using the barricade to pull himself to his feet. Reigns used the ring to skirt around the officials and reach Reigns again. He gave him another stunner. Owens dragged Reigns toward the table and gave him a huge pop-up power bomb through the announcer’s desk. Cole said Owens is the last man standing tonight, but will that be the case at the Rumble?

Owens grabbed the steel steps, trying to continue the attack. The referees managed to pull it from his hands. Owens stood over a fallen Reigns as the show went off the air.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Hell of a segment. It was clear from the get-go that they had something up their sleeve for this main event segment, and it paid off. While I would’ve realistically liked to have seen Pearce be savvy enough to know that Reigns and Heyman would go tit-for-tat with Pearce’s tactics, the end result was too effective to really nitpick. Owens needed this. After losing to Reigns a few times yet still getting another title match, it was important to give him a big moment to reset the stakes and present him as a real, credible threat. Reigns sold it fantastically, Owens was energized and violent. Everyone involved just keeps knocking this out of the park.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: A bit of a strange show. As usual, the next chapter in the Roman Reigns saga was excellent, and that alone makes Smackdown worth tuning into on a weekly basis. I thought the obstacle course challenge between Bayley and Belair was silly but effective, especially for the story they’re trying to tell. Tonight’s wrestling left a lot to be desired, and the show, as a whole, felt a little scatterbrained. While I continue to enjoy the attention being paid to potential contenders for the men’s Rumble match, I question the lack of attention being paid to the women’s counterpart. Furthermore, there were a few conspicuous absences tonight. Hardly a mention of Jey Uso, Shinsuke Nakamura, or Robert Roode, all three of whom have played relatively large roles on Smackdown as of late, or at least, in the case of Roode, had their partner featured on the show.

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