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LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT
JANUARY 29, 2021
ORLANDO, FL IN WWE THUNDERDOME AT TROPICANA FIELD
AIRED LIVE ON FOX NETWORK
Announcers: Michael Cole, Corey Graves
-The show opened on a sweeping shot of a massive CGI “YES!” imposed over the entrance ramp. Daniel Bryan was already posing on the turnbuckle as his music played. Michael Cole welcomed the audience to the show as Greg Hamilton introduced Bryan.
Daniel Bryan welcomed the virtual audience to Friday Night Smackdown, and to Royal Rumble weekend. Bryan said they’re just “two sleeps away”, something his daughter likes to say. He said he’s proud of all he’s done in his career, but there’s one mountain he has yet to claim – winning the Royal Rumble match.
Bryan talked about the opportunity to main event WrestleMania again against either the WWE or Universal champion. “Nobody knows how life-changing of an event it is to be in the main event of WrestleMania than I do,” Bryan exclaimed. He said he plans to go through 29 other men to win the Rumble. “Here’s the honest truth,” Bryan turned somber, “I don’t know how many more WrestleMania moments I have left.”
Bryan said he’s ready for everything thanks to his training with Chad Gable and Otis. He said he doesn’t care if he enters are number one or number thirty. He talked up the excitement of the Rumble match – friends becoming temporary enemies, bitter enemies working together. A.J. Styles music cut Bryan off.
Styles said he’s going to win the Rumble by eliminating 29 other guys. Bryan smirked. “I’m glad to see you, but you’re a Raw Superstar, so, what are you doing here?” Bryan asked. Styles scoffed, calling Smackdown the house that A.J. Styles built. Omos mentioned the Superstar Invitational. Styles admonished Bryan for not knowing the rules. He called himself the gate-keeper for Raw. He said he’s been crushing the hopes and dreams of other Rumble hopefuls. “You don’t look ready,” Styles said to Bryan.
A.J. said Bryan looks like he’s got one for out the door with his sports coats. He wondered if Bryan was angling to become GM again. Bryan laughed it off, “I don’t have one foot out the door in anything, especially something I love as much as this.” He challenged Styles to a match tonight. A.J. said he’d love to get one more warm up. He shoved Bryan to the mat.
Bryan shrugged it off and began to stand, but Omos quickly stepped in his path. Bryan stood anyway, refusing to back down. He said that if Styles is a real man with guts, he’ll face him without Omos later. Styles smiled. “With or without Omas, I’m still gonna kick your ass,” Bryan said. He dropped the mic and led a “yes” chant as Styles left the ring in frustration.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Bryan was asked to more or less cut the same promo he cut last week before eventually being interrupted again. It was a nice surprise to see Styles under the now rarely used Superstar Invitational rule. While I’m not a big fan of it in general, I’m not hugely critical of it here. Bryan and Styles have both been featured heavily as one of their respective brand’s biggest contenders, so showcasing them in what should be a great match up on the go-home show before the Rumble is, at least for me, an acceptable use of the brand crossover rule, if there is one.)
-Michael Cole and Corey Graves set the table for the show from ringside, focusing particularly on the rivalry between Bianca Belair and Bayley. They tossed to the Progressive Match Flo, covering the obstacle course challenge from last week’s show.
-Backstage, Kayla Braxton interviewed Bayley. She began to asked about the obstacle course, but Bayley cut her off, opting to highlight the post-course attack. Bayley said, in all seriousness, she watched Bianca’s chronicle and was moved. Bayley said she plans to be Bianca’s biggest challenge, and after she beats her, she can crawl back into the “darkest hole of her life.”
-Bianca Belair headed to the ring. Cole teased her match with Bayley, coming up after the break.
Bayley was already in the ring when the show returned from commercial. Cole and Graves talked up the women’s Royal Rumble match.
(1) BIANCA BELAIR vs. BAYLEY
Bianca Belair and Bayley locked up in the center. Belair quickly overpowered Bayley, backing her in to the corner but breaking quickly and the referee’s request. The two women locked up again. Bayley briefly hooked the arm, but Belair fought free and gave Bayley a quick body slam.
Bayley grabbed a rear waist lock and then threw a punch to the back of the neck. Belair stumbled, but regained her composure and connected with a quick snap suplex. Bayley rolled to the apron to regroup. Upon returning, Bayley kicked at Belair’s leg after teasing a lock up. She hit a quick sliding clothesline and covered for a two count.
Bayley stalked Belair, then drove her shoulder into the mat. Cole said Bayley is determined to work on the shoulder she injured last week. Bayley pulled at Belair’s ponytail, yelling “ding-dong!” Belair caught Bayley with a big right hand, then leapfrogged Bayley and bulldozed her into the corner. Belair stayed on the offensive as Bayley tried to retreat to the apron. Belair caught Bayley with a dropkick, then kipped up. Bayley rolled to the outside. Cole sent the show to break.
Belair caught Bayley in mid-air when the show returned from break. She tossed her overhead for a nice looking overhead suplex, then covered her for a two count. Bianca drove her shoulder into Bayley’s mid-section, folding her into the turnbuckle. Bayley recovered, though, pulling herself onto the top turnbuckle by hooking Belair’s injured arm. Bayley leapt off the ropes and slammed Belair’s arm into the mat.
Bianca pulled herself up, but Bayley caught her with a well placed knee to the face. Bayley headed to the top rope and hit a diving elbow on standing Belair, covering for a near fall. Bayley hoked Belair’s arm and cradled her for a another two count. She rolled into a jacknife cover, but Belair bridged her and powered to her feet. Bianca hit a quick right hand, then went for a Glam Slam. Belair’s arm gave out, allowing Bayley to slide to the mat and attack.
Bayley tried to send Belair to the corner, but Bianca countered, scooped Bayley and managed to hit the Kiss of Death for a three count.
WINNER: Bianca Belair in 11:00
Kayla Braxton met Bianca Belair at the top of the stage. She praised Bianca’s performance and talked up her Chronicle special on WWE Network. Belair said Bayley has been trying to make her apologize for being herself, but she would never do it. Belair said Bayley has never been her role model, but there’s no one better for her to prove herself against. Belair became emotional, calling in the biggest win of her career. She said she isn’t stopping there, because winning the Royal Rumble match would be even bigger than beating Bayley.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Solid match, and the right call. Bayley got the better of Belair in the first encounter, and the last laugh in last week’s obstacle course despite a strong showing by Belair, so it was important for Belair to get a clean win tonight. Bianca should be one to watch come Sunday. She’s got momentum, she’s a fresh face and she’s been relatively well protected by WWE’s standards. She’s also got the injury angle, which gives her a good story to overcome. Solid promo, too. There wasn’t anything groundbreaking here, but it felt real and genuinely emotional and I’ll take that over fancy scripts any day.)
-Backstage, Cesaro approached A.J. Styles and Omos. They began talking in private.
-King Corbin headed to the ring. Dominick Mysterio attacked him from behind. Referees tried to pull him away as the show went to break with Cole saying they’d face off next.
(2) KING CORBIN vs. DOMINICK MYSTERIO
The bell rang as soon as the show returned from break. Rey Mysterio had joined Cole and Graves on commentary. Dominick Mysterio flew out of the blocks with a flurry of punches on Corbin. He managed to hit a quick springboard knee that sent Corbin rolling to the outside. Dominick dove over the top rope onto Mysterio, sending Corbin reeling.
Corbin utilized the referee’s count to regroup and trash talk Rey. When he finally returned to the ring, he quickly countered Dominick and hit a pair of high angle back body drops. Corbin continued jawing at Mysterio while he slowed down the pace with Dominick in the ring. Corbin planted a hard right between the eyes of Dominick. Dom rose wearily and Corbin tossed him to the corner.
King Corbin rushed at Dom, who sidestepped Corbin. Corbin posted himself on the turnbuckle and collapsed. Dom hit a quick springboard splash for a two count, then tripped Corbin into the ropes. Dominick went for the 619, but Corbin caught his legs and ripped him away from the ropes. Dominick managed to hang on in a head-scissor and send Corbin toward the corner. Corbin countered again, dumping Dominick very awkwardly into the ropes.
Dominick shook off the rough spot and hit a tornado DDT for a two count. Corbin recovered, guillotined Dominick off the ropes and hit the End of Days for a three count.
WINNER: King Corbin in 5:00
Corbin went for Rey Mysterio as soon as the match was over. Rey used Corbin’s own momentum to send him flying into the ring post. He tossed him into the steel steps and went to tend to his son.
(LeClair’s Analysis: I’m curious as to what they’re going for here with Dominick. He’s losing every match, which is sort of exactly what should happen. The matches aren’t great, either. There were a couple of cool spots tonight, but one or two that looked a little wonky or even dangerous. I’m just not sure there’s much interest here, in Dominick, or in Corbin, or even Rey Mysterio, who feels greatly diminished following his long-running program with Seth Rollins. I get that this is just a lower mid-card story that they can expand upon in the Rumble match, but it feels like it’s going nowhere fast.)
-Backstage, Big E offered Sonya Deville a dollar and an Arby’s coupon in exchange for his Royal Rumble number. The Miz and John Morrison wandered on screen. Big E asked why they’re brining their “Monday Night Raw stench” to his show. Miz said things could get interesting during the confrontation between Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens. He held up his Money in the Bank briefcase.
Miz and Morrison wound up getting into an argument with Big E over the Rumble. It quickly devolved into fists, with Big E getting the better of both men. Officials rushed into the scene to break things up as the show went to commercial.
-Kalisto happened upon Sasha Banks as she walked backstage. He gave her a hug and she continued on. She ran into Reginald, who handed her a bottle of wine on behalf of Carmella. “She asked me to pick the perfect bottle of wine to pair with losing your championship,” he said. Banks took the wine and circled Reginald, flirtatiously. She lured Reginald in, then quickly shrugged him off, asking him for a suggestion for the best wine for Carmella to drink with a broken jaw. She returned the bottle of wine. “You look like you could use a drink,” she said as she walked away.
-Cole and Graves tossed to a video package highlighting the rivalry between Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens. Following the video, they showed a split screen of Reigns and Owens in separate locker rooms being mic’ed up for their segment, coming up after the break.
-Sami Zayn approached Shinsuke Nakamura backstage following the break. He seemed unsettled, referring to Raw wrestlers showing up as signs of a conspiracy. He said he once liberated Shinsuke Nakamura, and now he needs a favor in return. “WWE management is out to get me,” Zayn said. He said since Cesaro is off on his own, he needs some help.
Zayn said all of Nakamura’s best moments in WWE have been because of him. He asked if he could count on Shinsuke to watch his back. Nakamura told Zayn to go to hell.
-Cole and Graves set the stage for their side-by-side interview with Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns. They addressed Owens first. Owens said there’s nothing Roman can do to keep him from standing up again and again and again. Reigns looked on, bored.
Paul Heyman took the lead, telling Owens to treat the champion with reverence and respect. Owens asked Roman if he’s going to allow Heyman to reuse all his old lines and phrases. Roman laughed him off. He asked Owens what kind of man his father is. Owens said he’s a great man. Roman nodded. “Is he a smart man?” he asked.
“He’s a very smart man,” Kevin said. He told Reigns to heed his prior advice and think carefully about what he’s about to say next. Reigns told Owens he’s trying to understand why KO can’t seen to understand his own limitations. He said he assumes it must be because his father never taught him. “You’re a pawn,” Reigns said, “I’m the king of this board and everything revolves around me.” He said Owens is ill-equipped and inferior and can never have the Universal title.
“It’s not your fault, man,” Reigns patronized Owens. “I blame your family.” He called Owens a fool, and Owens’ father a fool, and his grandfather a fool. Owens took a breath. He said he knows what he’s trying to do. He mentioned the tattoos on his knuckles again, saying his grandfathers meant everything to him. “On Sunday, we’re not gonna be in separate rooms,” Owens said. Reigns shook his head. “He still doesn’t understand,” Roman sighed.
Reigns said he hopes Owens understands someday what a disgrace he is to his family. He told Owens he should acknowledge him. Owens said his family would only want him to acknowledge Roman as a delusional jackass who surrounds himself with yes men. KO called Roman a community-theater act who is nothing but an insecure bully. He got red in the face, screaming that his family would be proud of him and promising to be the last man standing. Reigns’ screen went black. Owens calmed himself, then stormed off screen.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Great stuff. It’s funny that Owens used the community theater line against Reigns, because there have been plenty of acts that could’ve rightfully been assigned that insult over the years in WWE, but Roman Reigns’ current character certainly is not one of them. Even still, Owens was great. He’s natural, he’s charismatic, he’s likable, and he’s the antithesis for everything Roman Reigns’ character is right now. For his part, Reigns continued to knock it out of the park. These two should have a great one on Sunday.)
-Daniel Bryan headed to the ring, followed by A.J. Styles. Initially, Cole commented on the fact that Styles appeared to be going it alone, but Omos appeared behind Styles after a few moment.s Styles hesitated, gave Omos a fist bump and sent him to the back. Cole sent the show to break as he emphasized the “one on one.”
-Out of the break, they aired a hype package for Drew McIntyre vs. Goldberg.
(3) DANIEL BRYAN vs. A.J. STYLES
The bell rang immediately following the video package. Cole and Graves welcomed Cesaro the commentary table. A.J. Styles and Daniel Bryan immediately locked up and worked through a series of quick chain wrestling holds and leverage counters. Bryan gave Styles a quick monkey toss, bridged into a mount and then tried to lock in an arm hold. Styles quickly fought to the ropes for a break.
Bryan went to work on Styles’ arm. He torqued it, then tossed Styles to the corner. Bryan quickly down Styles, then stepped on his hand, immediately dropped his body weight into the arm and wrenching it into a hold. Styles powered to his feet and backed Bryan in the corner to force a break. He grabbed a headlock, shot Bryan off the ropes and dropped him with a shoulder tackle.
DB recovered quickly. He caught Styles with a stiff kick to the mid-section then went right back to the arm work. Styles got his hands up in Bryan’s face and eyes to gain some distance, then rolled Bryan over his knee. Styles went for a suplex, but Bryan blocked it and hit one of his own then headed to the top rope. Sami Zayn’s music hit. Zayn walked onto the stage, carrying his picket signs.
Styles managed to dump Styles off the turnbuckle to the outside, then slammed him into the steel steps. Zayn continued to walk toward the action. Cole sent the show to break.
A.J. Styles stomped away at Daniel Bryan in the corner as the show returned from break. Sami Zayn had made his way to ringside, waving his picket signs. Bryan managed to flip over the turnbuckle and drop Styles into the corner, setting up for the running kicks. He hit one, then transitioned into the corner Yes kicks. Bryan lifted Styles to the top turnbuckle and hit a top rope ‘rana for a near fall.
Sami Zayn stuck his “#JusticeforSami” sign in Cole’s face, saying he won’t be silenced. In the ring, Styles hit a dragon leg sweep on Bryan to buy himself time to recover. Styles shook out his arm and grabbed at his lower back as he tied Bryan up in the corner and went to work on the leg. Styles kicked Bryan’s thigh. Bryan crumpled to the mat. Styles pounced, applying the Calf Crusher in the center of the ring. Bryan crawled valiantly on his elbows, eventually reaching the ropes and forcing a break.
Bryan managed to catch Styles with a kick and sent him flying to the apron. Styles elbowed Bryan and went for the Phenomenal Forearm, but Bryan caught his arm, hit a butterfly suplex and transitioned into the Yes Lock. Styles used his legs to slide toward the ropes. He got his bottom foot on the ropes, breaking the hold. Big E’s music hit and he headed to ringside with a smile plastered across his face.
Big E removed his coat, then unhooked the Intercontinental title from his waist. He placed them on the steel steps and dropped Sami Zayn with a clothesline. Cesaro attacked Big E. Daniel Bryan dove through the ropes onto Zayn and Cesaro. A.J. Styles jumped outside to grab Bryan and toss him into the ring. Sami Zayn followed, attacking Bryan and causing the referee to call for the bell.
WINNER: No contest in 11:00
Shinsuke Nakamura’s music hit and he joined the fray. A brawl ensued, with Nakamura being pushed into Cesaro, adding to the chaos. The babyfaces cleared the ring of the heels as the show went to break.
(LeClair’s Analysis: I presume this leads to a six man tag match following the break? Certainly seems to lend itself to that cliche. What we got of Styles and Bryan was good, and I really wish they’d have just played it straight. We’ve seen this match a couple of times, but never in a scenario that really allowed them to go all out. It’s never felt quite as big as it should. On a positive note, though, I’m glad to see such attention being paid to multiple competitors in the Rumble match, and to see commentary trying to make viable cases for each of them.)
(4) DANIEL BRYAN & BIG E & SHINSUKE NAKAMURA vs. A.J. STYLES & CESARO & SAMI ZAYN
The bell appeared to ring as soon as the show returned from break, but it looked like we joined the action already in progress. Cesaro had sent Shinsuke Nakamura into the corner and charged at him. Nakamura sidestepped, got Cesaro hung up in the ropes and hit his quick sliding German suplex. Nakamura covered for a two count as Cole tried to figure out exactly who was teaming with who.
Graves touted “healthy competition” in the wake of the Royal Rumble with regard to Nakamura and Cesaro wrestling on opposite teams. Nakamura tagged in Big E while Cesaro tagged in Sami Zayn. Big E leap frogged Sami and caught him with a back elbow for a cover and a two count.
Big E tagged in Bryan, who threw a pair of kicks into the stomach of Zayn and then tagged Big E back in. E and Bryan hit a double hip toss. Big E covered for a two count. E worked over Zayn’s arm for a moment, then tagged in Bryan. Bryan hit a double axe handle from the top rope. Zayn recovered with a kick to Bryan’s face, followed by a chop block. Zayn tagged in A.J. Styles.
Styles dragged Bryan toward the turnbuckle and slammed his knee against the ring post repeatedly. “Bryan’s in trouble!” Cole exclaimed as he sent the show to commercial.
Cesaro initiated a swing on Bryan as the show returned from break. He quickly transitioned into a single leg crab. Cesaro broke the hold to tag in Styles, who continued to manipulate Bryan’s leg and knee. Styles tagged in Sami Zayn, who mocked Big E and Nakamura while firing a few punches toward Bryan. Sami lifted Bryan onto the top turnbuckle and set up for a superplex. Bryan blocked it and Zayn a headbutt, knocking him to the mat. Bryan hit a missile dropkick, immediately grabbing at his knee in pain.
Bryan managed to tag in Big E. Zayn tagged in Nakamura. E gave both Cesaro and Styles big overhead belly to belly suplexes. Cesaro recovered, dodged a clothesline from Big E and hit a massive springboard uppercut, covering for a near fall. Cesaro set up for the Neutralizer, but Big E powered out and hit a Uranagi for a near fall of his own. Big E set up for the Big Ending. The Miz’s music hit and he and John Morrison headed to the ring. They attacked Shinsuke Nakamura on the outside, then rushed the ring to attack Big E.
WINNERS: No contest in 10:00
Morrison and Miz continued to beat down Big E. Otis’ music hit and he rushed the ring, making short work of Miz and Morrison. He tossed them both around with big capture suplexes. Otis followed up with the Caterpillar elbow on both Miz and Morrison. The show went to commercial abruptly.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Yikes. Not a fan of this. I know WWE loves to have their big brawl chaos scene going into the Royal Rumble, but I really dislike the idea of having two back to back non-finishes involving the same guys, especially when each match goes ten or more minutes. I don’t like watching matches that lead to senseless brawls. If you want to book a senseless brawl, just do it. Don’t make a several minute match without a finish tag along, too. Knowing WWE, we’ll come back from break with another, bigger tag match.)
(5) DANIEL BRYAN & BIG E & SHINSUKE NAKAMURA & OTIS vs. A.J. STYLES & CESARO & SAMI ZAYN & THE MIZ & JOHN MORRISON
The bell sounded immediately with The Miz and Daniel Bryan in the ring. Cole was even more confused. Graves said Sonya Deville made the match during the break. It took them a couple of moments to realize that it was, in fact, a 5-on-4 handicap match. The Miz quickly dropped Bryan and went to work on his leg. Miz stomped at it mercilessly then tossed Bryan to the outside.
Miz followed Bryan to the floor an drove his knee into the announcers desk. He tossed Bryan back in the ring at the count of six, then applied the Figure Four. Bryan grabbed at Miz’s hair and threw a flurry of right hands to break the hold. Miz tagged in Sami Zayn, who immediately hit Bryan with a Blue Thunder Bomb for a near fall.
Zayn tagged in Cesaro. Cesaro dropped and elbow and covered for two, then hit a stalling suplex for another two count. Cesaro tagged in John Morrison. Morrison mounted Bryan and hit him with a string of elbows before tagging in The Miz. Morrison held Bryan open while Miz drove his boot into Bryan’s gut.
Miz tagged in Styles, who continued to beat Bryan down. Bryan managed to duck a clothesline and throw himself at Styles, but A.J. had the same idea, causing a stalemate. The heels immediately left their apron to attack the babyfaces in their corner, rendering Bryan alone and unable to tag. Styles tagged in Sami Zayn. Sheamus’ music hit. He leapt on the apron and Bryan tagged him in.
Sheamus clean house, dropping Zayn with ease, then catching The Miz with a knee. Morrison stepped on the apron, but Sheamus took him down. Zayn jumped Sheamus, but Sheamus fought him off and hit the Irish Curse. Sheamus turned Zayn over into the cloverleaf. Morrison kicked Sheamus in the back of the head. Otis hit the ring and gave Morrison a sit out slam.
Cesaro rushed in and double stomped Otis. Big E took Cesaro out with the Big Ending. The Miz hit Big E with the Skull Crushing Finale. Shinsuke Nakamura kicked The Miz in the face. Sami Zayn hit Nakamura with a Blue Thunder Bomb. Zayn set up for the Heluva Kick, but Sheamus caught him with the Brogue Kick and covered him for a three count.
WINNERS: Sheamus, Daniel Bryan, Shinsuke Nakamura, Big E, & Otis in 5:00
The Miz and John Morrison attacked Sheamus as soon as the bell rang. The kicked him to the outside. Braun Strowman’s music hit and he marched to the ring. Strowman flattened Zayn, then gave Cesaro a chokeslam. He powerslammed Sami, then Cesaro. Miz and Morrison escaped up the ramp. Strowman tossed Cesaro clear across the ring, then gave him another power slam. Strowman stood tall as show went off the air.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Chaotic mess. I’ve already said my peace about this kind of booking after the second tag match. I get that they needed to fill time. I get that they needed to showcase a bunch of names. I even get that they wanted to bring in some Raw talent to sell all the major names in the match on the go-home show, not just the Smackdown guys. I just think this came off as a lazy, uninspired, cliche way to do it. The action was good for what it was, but it felt inconsequential. As for Strowman, I think they’d have been better served saving that surprise for the Rumble.)
FINAL THOUGHTS: This wasn’t a great show. The back forty or so minutes, spent trying to build the men’s Rumble match, felt uninspired, lazy, and cliche. Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens were great, but their time on the show was relatively limited. I was pleased with Bayley and Bianca Belair’s match, and Belair’s post-match promo and am optimistic about her outing in the Rumble match, despite being quite disappointed with how that one has been built going into the weekend. Like this week’s Raw, Smackdown fell short of putting an exciting stamp on the go-home edition of TV before one of the biggest events of the year. Even still, I think there is a sufficient amount of intrigue surrounding the outcome of the men’s Rumble match and it certainly feels like there are more potential winners than usual. I’m very much looking forward to the show this weekend, even if this week’s TV didn’t do much to inspire confidence or add any intrigue.