Tonight’s episode of Smackdown Live comes from Detroit, Michigan, where the WWE is holding it’s final event at the legendary Joe Louis Arena before it makes way for the new Little Cesaro Arena…er…Little Caesar’s Arena.
WWE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH: AJ Styles (c) vs. James Ellsworth
We start out right away with WWE World Champion AJ Styles coming down to the ring to face his challenger, The Chin That Gets The Pin, James Ellsworth. Styles gets a huge face reaction from the faithful in Motown.
Match starts off with Ellsworth doing some pugilist dances before getting thrown in the corner by Styles. Styles turns his back and turns to catch a No Chin Music from Ellsworth, then clothesline him to the mat. He goes for the pin, and just like that, the match is over.
Your winner, and STILL WWE Champion, AJ Styles.
Styles goes back to the prone Ellsworth, throwing him from the ring, then slamming him onto the announce table. He pulls him back up, rips off his shirt then slams him face first into the ring steps. I can’t tell if the crowd is chanting “Styles” or “Kill” but they definitely seem to be in AJ’s camp tonight on this situation.
A couple more brutalities on the underside of the ring and the crowd begins to chant “We Want Ambrose” but it doesn’t last long. AJ starts to walk up the ramp smiling, before turning around and storming back to an unconscious Ellsworth. A snap suplex into the barrier and he enters the ring to spread his arms and gloat.
As EMTs come down with a stretcher, AJ apologizes to the fans for having to witness that, but says that he’s had it coming for months. And now he can move on to more important things like…nothing, he has it all! He’s already got the WWE Championship.
Cue Dolph Ziggler‘s music, who comes down to congratulate AJ on his win, but reminds him he’s next in line for a Championship match against Styles. The two bicker about recent win-loss records, when they’re interrupted by the music of Baron Corbin.
Corbin tells them both that he deserves to be facing AJ for the title. Ziggler reminds him that he earned the opportunity for this match – Corbin replies that it’s only because he wasn’t involved. Corbin says “So next week – “, then sucker punches Ziggler in the face, as AJ leaves the ring. Corbin stands over a fallen Ziggler, as AJ walks up the ramp to COMMERCIAL!
SmackBack: A quick and painless end to the Ellsworth run, with Styles moving firmly on to Ziggler, and possibly Corbin, in the coming months. One scenario could be Styles facing Ziggler before moving onto the rumoured match against Undertaker at Royal Rumble. Either way, they’re trying to squeeze Corbin into the main event picture, which is at least a better third wheel option that Ellsworth was. Maybe.
Backstage, Smackdown Live Commissioner Daniel Bryan is trying to calm down Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler demands to face Baron Corbin tonight. Bryan says if he does, then he puts his #1 Contendership and match versus AJ Styles next Tuesday for the WWE Championship on the line. Ziggler accepts.
WWE INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP: The Miz (c) w/ Maryse vs. Apollo Crews
Looks like the segment last week on Smackdown Live and the match on Tribute to the Troops is actually starting a storyline. Nice to see Apollo Crews immediately put into the mid-card strong, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can carry the momentum. He’s definitely got the athletics and tools, but his personality is still a bit lacking – he could have benefited from a longer stay in NXT.
The two lock up quick and trade some holds and moves early, with even The Miz trying to show off a bit more of his athletic ability than usual. Crews take advantage first, ejecting The Miz then landing an Asai moonsault on The Miz from the ring apron.
He gets the Miz back in, then heads up to the top ropes and goes for a cross body block, but only gets a 2-count on the pin attempt. The Miz quickly rolls out the ring to console with COMMERCIAL
Back from the break and Crews is still in control. Crews is dominating far too much. It’s becoming painfully obvious that while they’re letting him showcase his stuff, Miz will win with a Maryse interference.
The Miz counters a charge with an elbow and Miz takes control. Maryse comes up to the ring and the ref immediately runs over and ejects Maryse from the ring area.
Crews recovers and lands a beautiful German Suplex but only gets a two count. Crews goes for another suplex but Miz counters with an eye rake into the Skull Crushing Finale for the win.
Your winner and STILL Intercontinental Champion, The Miz.
Renee Young comes out to interview Miz and asks him about his obsession with Dean Ambrose. The Miz counters with “My obsession? Don’t you mean YOUR obsession. After all, you’re the one sleeping with him.” Young slaps him in the face and storms from the ring. The Miz laughs and slowly leaves the ring.
SmackBack: Crews got a good look and refresher for the fans who may not remember him. He’s had some decent matches, but something just isn’t there yet for him. When he finds it though, he’s going to be a STAR. The Miz carries on in his brilliant year as IC champion and one of the best heel characters in recent history. Breaking the wall to the WWE Universe about Renee Young’s real life relationship with Ambrose had an Attitude Era edginess feel to it, but it’s probably got more to do with the relationship now public on Total Divas than an intentional shocker. Either way, it played well and got the desired effect. This just made the angle more interesting, as now it will Miz and Maryse versus Ambrose and Young. This could be a big fun story for the IC title, something that’s been missing of late.
IN-RING SEGMENT: NATALYA, NIKKI BELLA & CARMELLA
Natalya is in the ring and she calls out Nikki Bella to apologize. Nikki’s music hits and she comes down to the ring. Before they can talk, Carmella comes down, saying she wants to be front row for this talk. Carmella pokes fun at Cena helping her career and her silicone leaking into her brain. Natalya cuts her off but Carmella says a bunch of things that Natalya said to her in confidence. Natalya admits she said it, but that Carmella is a snitch.
Nikki asks Natalya if she attacked her. Natalya turns to Carmella and attacks her, running her up the ramp and slamming her into the Christmas ornaments. She then comes down to face Nikki and says “Alright, I did it you bitch!” She begins to shoot on Nikki about her preferential treatment and how Nattie comes from wrestling royalty. Just as the crowd starts cheering for Natalya, she turns on them as well. She berates Nikki before leaving her in shock in the middle of the ring.
SmackBack: That may have been the best promo Natalya has ever done as a heel. She’s a natural face, but something about her being Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart’s daughter made you want her to be a great heel. But it always felt a little forced. Well, she found it tonight. The crowd was behind her for the most of it too, which is a good sign that she’s also got something that can be tapped into later for a face turn with this more confident character. It probably didn’t hurt being right next door to Windsor, Ontario, Canada. There’s probably several thousand Canadians in there who are going to cheer for Neidhart simply because to them, she actually is wrestling royalty. Hell, I’d love to see them recreate the Hart Foundation vs DX angle, with Natalya and Nikki, where Nattie is a face in Canada and heel in US and vice versa.
Daniel Bryan is on the phone, when Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss comes in. Bryan says that her punishment for faking the injury last week, she’ll face Becky Lynch next week for the title. And she’s also going to be wrestling tonight. She storms off saying she’ll make an example of who she has to face.
Ambrose’s music hits and Dean Ambrose comes to the center of the ring. The announce staff are all wondering how the revelation by The Miz earlier may sit in Ambrose’s head, as the Wyatt Family Orton Remix hits and the three members of the Wyatt Family make their way to the ring.
DEAN AMBROSE vs. LUKE HARPER w/ Bray Wyatt & Randy Orton
The match starts off with Harper dominating Ambrose, both inside and out the ring. Harper is frighteningly good at his character. While he’s got Bruiser Brody-isms, I think it’s often unfair that he’s compared that closely. He’s got his own thing going on as well.
Ambrose attempts a comeback, but it’s stopped quickly and Harper lawn darts Ambrose into the turnpost and then out the ring. Harper goes out to follow, but Ambrose goes in and attacks him when he enters. Ambrose jumps to the top of the ringpost and launches a cross body onto Bray and Randy, taking them both out.
Ambrose gets back in the ring but Harper welcomes him with a huge sitdown powerbomb, but only a 2-count. The two trade some holds before Ambrose small packages Harper for the 3 count.
Randy and Bray hit the ring, and beat Ambrose down. Wyatt and Orton pull off the Sister Abigail-RKO combo move they unveiled a few weeks back, and the three stand tall over a slumbering lunatic, with gold in their hands.
SmackBack: The insertion of Luke Harper into last week’s Fatal Four Way makes a bit more sense. Harper was in there to go after Ambrose, who appears to be another target of the Wyatt Family.
With Ambrose struggling to stand up in the middle of the ring, The Miz’ music hits and he comes down to the ring. He enters quickly and lands a Skull Crushing Finale on Ambrose, before kissing Maryse with the belt in the air.
SmackBack: Couples angle is officially a go I would say. Harper got a good rub from that match, Wyatt Family came out strong, and Ambrose gets his next feud. While it’s not for the WWE Championship, Miz’ run as IC Champ has been a far more entertaining title to watch the past year anyway. Something a little more “fun” may actually be a good cleanse for Ambrose.
ALEXA BLISS vs. LA LUCHADORA (Non-Title Match)
Bliss is out for her punishment match, versus a woman completely covered in a full body luchador costume. I really hope it’s a swerve, because it feels too obvious that it’s Becky under that mask. But hey, it’s still fun. The match goes back and forth and soon La Luchadora catches Bliss in an armlock that turns into the Dis-Arm-Her, and Bliss taps out. La Luchadora goes crazy, running around the ring, before climbing back in the ring and removing her mask to reveal it’s Becky Lynch.
Backstage, Ryan Phillipe (the actor) is walking around looking Randy Orton. He bumps into Mojo Rawley and asks him if he’s seen Randy Orton. Curt Hawkins comes and says Philippe was better in the Funky Bunch. Mojo goes to defend Phillipe and Hawkins says he’ll face him in the ring with Cruel Intentions.
SmackBack: The reveal was a little predictable, but still a fun match. Alexa looked frightened for the first time tonight and it added a bit to her character. Becky is a lot of fun to the live crowd and it showed tonight. Zack Ryder recently Tweeted he thought Mojo Rawley should tag with his old partner Hawkins, so maybe this is all part of new feud – Smackdown’s version of Cesaro and Sheamus.
— Zack Ryder (@ZackRyder) December 16, 2016
Back from commercial, and Hawkins and Mojo are ready to square off, as Philippe joins the commentary team. Hawkins has a few bursts of offence, before Mojo over powers him. Hawkins recovers quick and grounds Rawley. He’s working a lot of rest holds. I assume it’s to not distract the announce team talking exclusively about Philippe’s televsion show Shooter, which Randy Orton guests on apparently.
— WWE (@WWE) December 21, 2016
Mojo takes over and starts a series of brutal looking ring tosses, Stinger splashes and football blocks. He finally finishes off Hawkins with a stiff forearm smash and it’s lights out for Hawkins. 1-2-3.
Rawley brings Philippe into the ring to pose and COMMERCIAL
SmackBack: I find it hard to believe all those Hawkins hype vignettes (no pun intended) where to feed into Mojo Rawley decimating him. It seems more likely that this small feud will indeed lead to Hawkins and Mojo tagging together in Ryder’s absence – which appears to be 4-6 months. Gotta say, Mojo looked vicious in there tonight. Hawkins could actually be a good mentor for Mojo if this is the path they’re going.
Backstage, Charly Caruso tries to interview James Ellsworth, who is covered in bandages and severely beaten. Carmella comes out and tells Charly to leave Ellsworth alone and stop exploiting him. She takes him by the arm and leads him away, telling him everything will be okay…
— WWE (@WWE) December 21, 2016
WINNER FACES WWE CHAMPION AJ STYLES NEXT TUESDAY NIGHT: Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin
Ziggler comes down to the ring first, ready to face Baron Corbin with his title match opportunity next week on the line. This is the first time Corbin and Ziggler have hooked up since their underrated feud from early in the year – a feud that Corbin bested Ziggler in, following their Money In The Bank blow-off this past June. Ziggler is going into this facing a foe he hasn’t come out ahead with.
Corbin comes down next, going straight to the ring. As the two get ready to square off, WWE Champion AJ Styles comes down to the ring and joins the broadcast team for this main event match-up.
Corbin takes over early and shows signs of the same dominance he showed in winning their first feud in the late spring/early summer. He takes Ziggler outside, slams him off the apron and throws him back in for a 2-count.
Ziggler starts a small comeback, but Corbin reverses an Irish whip attempt into a savage looking throw into the ringpost that leaves Ziggler crushed in the corner. Corbin pounces and tries to drag him back in the ring, but Ziggler holds on to the ropes, with the ref calling for the hold to be let go. Corbin pulls him and throws him sternum first into the other corner, but still only a two-count.
Once again, Ziggler mounts a short comeback, but Corbin overpowers him once again, keeping Ziggler contained in the corner. Ziggler tries to sneak out, but Corbin catches him and rams him shoulder first into the metal ring post. Corbin then goes out to the floor and then runs an elbow in Ziggler, still stuck in the ringpost.
— WWE (@WWE) December 21, 2016
AJ looks on with concern and COMMERCIAL
Back from commercial and Corbin continues to relentlessly assault Ziggler. Every one or two punches Ziggler gets in, Corbin gets in a lariat or slam. Corbin has gotten better on the main roster. He’s not there quite yet, but he’s playing his character with confidence and it’s starting to pay off. His chemistry with Ziggler is quite good – in many ways it’s like matches between Shawn Michaels and Diesel from the early 90’s.
Ziggler mounts a comeback at the ropes, catching Corbin in a neckbreaker off the second rope. He quickly lands a ZigZag and gets a 2.8 count. Wow, that was close. Some rough and tumble between the two and Corbin lands a HUGE Deep Six on Ziggler, that gets nearly as close a count. Corbin is pissed.
He takes Ziggler outside and slams him into the barrier, rolls back in the ring to restart the count out, then continues to attack Ziggler with the environment. Corbin turns around and launches Ziggler into AJ Styles at the announce table. He goes to pull out Ziggler, who catches him with a Superkick. The bell rings, and both are counted out.
Ziggler is suddenly dropped by AJ Styles, who smashes Ziggler in the back with a chair, then turns the chair on Corbin, who is just recovering from Ziggler’s Superkick.
Daniel Bryan’s music hits and Bryan comes out and announces that next week’s WWE Championship match will now be a Triple Threat, with AJ Styles now facing both Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin.
SmackBack: Solid episode. The blips were too small to worry about and some good stories moving out. Ellsworth has joined someone else storyline, Miz and Ambrose are starting something exciting, Natalya delivers her finest performance as a heel, the Wyatt’s dominate, and Corbin shows he’s getting quite good at this. At least it’s something different, which feels nice. Unlike Raw, which felt like it was awkward holding pattern mode until Royal Rumble, Smackdown Live felt like it was starting some new chapters for some different characters.