As we head into Royal Rumble ’17 this Sunday, Smackdown Live has it’s go-home episode, live from the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio. Last night, Monday Night Raw concluded with The Undertaker going face to face to face with Brock Lesnar and Goldberg, with Sami Zayn beating Seth Rollins to take Rollins’ spot in this Sunday’s Rumble, and Raw‘s final announced entrants were revealed. Let’s see how Smackdown Live finalizes the battlefield, with Raw featuring 13 entrants compared to Smackdown Live‘s 7 of the 21 announced competitors (Undertaker appears to be a floating entity, devoid of brand loyalty) for the 30-man Royal Rumble.
Before the show began, WWE.com ran an exclusive where we saw Nikki Bella attacked in the production truck area by Natalya, who’s mad she’s not pictured on any of the trucks.
First Match: Randy Orton vs Luke Harper
Bray Wyatt leads his two family members down to the ring and we immediately go to a quick bell and the two big horses go at it.
With Wyatt watching at the base of the ramp in his rocking chair, Orton and Harper quickly went outside the ring and the two beat the living hell out of each other, with Orton slamming Harper off tables and barricades. Harper lands a heavy boot and both are down and out.
Wyatt walks over and tosses both men in the ring so neither would get couldn’t out. Not showing any favouritism early, Wyatt wants these two to beat the differences out of each other.
The two rise and trade holds in the center of the ring, before Orton gets Harper up to the top turnbuckle, hitting Harper with the Superplex. Orton is doing this a lot lately, as Ranallo reminds us every week it’s in tribute to his dad, Cowboy ‘Ace’ Bob Orton, Jr., whose finishing move it was back in the day.
Harper kicks out and has a bit of a comeback, landing a Michinoku Driver on Orton, but Orton kicks out. Orton goes for the RKO, but Harper counters into a roll-up pin, but again only two. Outside, Bray grins at his two boys.
With Orton on the ground, Harper circles him and then sets him up for a power bomb, but Orton escapes and goes for a quick pin attempt. Harper kicks out and goes for the Discus Lariat, but is caught in an RKO out of nowhere and Orton picks up the 1-2-3.
Winner: Randy Orton with the pinfall victory after an RKO on Luke Harper.
Wyatt offers his hand to Harper to help him up, then lands him in a Sister Abigail. Wyatt and Orton leave Harper out in the ring.
SmackBack: Solid opening match and it teased some great moments. One thing this match did was make me suddenly realize how much I wanted to see a Randy Orton vs. Luke Harper feud, something that had never entered my mind until before this match started. They matched up well and neither was afraid to get physical. Interesting to see if the Sister Abigail was just a final punishment for Harper from Wyatt or if it means Luke has been given the boot from the Family. I’m hoping for the former, as Harper may get lost in the shuffle if he returns to a singles run. He’s so close right now though. A slight tweak may actually make him a bigger star. Either way, it added intrigue to the dissension of the Wyatt Family.
In-Ring Segment: Mickie James
Renee Young is out in the ring, interviewing Mickie James, to explain why she attacked Becky Lynch under a mask.
James reads of her pedigree, saying that she was angry that the new stars of the Women’s Division are acting like arrogant girls who think they are the first real female athletes in the WWE. She’s angry they don’t recognize the accomplishments of women like her before them. The only one who does is Alexa Bliss. Bliss is one of James’ biggest fans.
Becky Lynch’s music hits and she rushes the ring, tackling Mickie in the middle of the ring. James scrambles out and runs to the outside and hops a barricade. As Lynch jumps over after her, she’s blindsided by Alexa Bliss. Bliss and James throw Becky over the top and throw her back in the ring.
Bliss lands a Twisted Bliss moonsault on Becky, then James and Alexa leave Becky lying in the ring.
SmackBack: Coming back with the bitter veteran upset with the Women’s Revolution was a bit predictable, but that’s not to say it can’t still be fun. James showed that she’s miles ahead of every woman on the roster on the mic (except maybe Charlotte) and her presence made the segment feel more legit. Oddly enough, despite the announcers referring to Mickie as Bliss’ sidekick, Mickie’s presence was so strong it felt like Alexa was the underling to James. Mickie and Becky will be a good feud, as Becky finally gets a match against someone with superior skills than her. Nothing against Charlotte or Alexa, but Becky has worked longer and harder than either of them – she can do more than she’s capable of with them. Natalya is arguably better, but her style is different. James will push Becky to the limits and let us see more of what’s she’s capable of. This should be a fun ride, but it’ll be interesting to see if Alexa moves on to her next challenger, of if James vs Becky only results in one match before Lynch returns to Bliss and the title.
Second Match: Battle Royale to Enter The Royal Rumble (Heath Slater, Rhyno, The Vaudevillains, The Ascension, Mojo Rawley, Curt Hawkins, Breezango)
Baron Corbin joins on the commentary, as we see everyone in the ring to start.
The Vaudevillains are eliminated in seconds (what did they DO? Jeebus!). Looks like it’s pretty much all the remaining tag teams of Smackdown Live minus American Alpha and the Usos duking it out for a spot in the Rumble.
A lot of atrociousness until it comes down to Tyler Breeze and Fandango in the final three with Mojo Rawley. Breezango teams up on Mojo, but Rawley dodges a Superkick from Breeze that eliminates Fandango, then tosses Breeze to earn a spot into his first ever WWE Royal Rumble.
Winner: Mojo Rawley eliminates Tyler Breeze last to win the Battle Royale.
SmackBack: While Rawley has come along in spades since he debuted in NXT, I’m not sure I’m that excited for his inclusion in the Rumble. I suppose everyone can’t be a huge name, but somehow it feels a little deflated. Slater or Rhyno seemed like bigger fan favourites for the Rumble, but maybe Rawley gets a few decent toss outs to look good and help develop his character on Smackdown. This match may mean more for down the line, but it was a bit of a bathroom break in the context of just one show. Mojo is Rumble entrant #22 out of 30, and Smackdown Live’s 8th participant (compared to Raw’s thirteen, plus the independent Undertaker).
In-Ring Segment: AJ Styles
AJ comes to the ring and he remains quiet as the crowd of the Huntington Center chants “AJ Styles!”. AJ finally talks and says he has to get something off his chest. He brings the official Royal Rumble poster up on the Titantron and asks where is WWE Champion AJ Styles? Why is he way in the back? He thanks Shane McMahon for showing his WWE Champion some respect. He then immediately calls out John Cena.
Cena’s music kicks off and out he comes with his 14th new T-Shirt design of 2017. He runs down to the ring and plays to the crowd before turning his attention to AJ.
Styles cuts him off saying no one wants to hear his Rah-Rah speeches. He runs down Cena once again complaining that he doesn’t get the same respect as the WWE Champion that John Cena gets for simply being John Cena.
Cena cuts him off and fires back with his attack on the indie circuit and how he was built for the WWE not the indie scene. He just earns every day and shuts every mouth.
Third Match: Dolph Ziggler vs. Kalisto
A new and focused Dolph Ziggler lay the waste on Kalisto quick and early and wins easily.
Winner: Dolph Ziggler by pinfall over Kalisto, following a Superkick.
After the match, Ziggler goes for a chair outside, but JBL, still angry over Ziggler’s attack last week on Jerry Lawler, gets up to confront him.
Out of nowhere, Apollo Crews attacks Ziggler, who scrambles up the ramp. Apollo tends to Kalisto in the ring.
SmackBack: Dolph Ziggler’s new crueller intentions continue to manifest and it appears we’re heading towards an Apollo Crews vs Ziggler feud. Something new and both men are athletic as hell.
Fourth Match: Naomi vs. Natalya
Nice to see Naomi back after being on the injury shelf for the past few months. One of WWE’s most underutilized talents.
We discover Natalya is not coming out because her and Nikki are fighting backstage again. Naomi grabs the mic and says she didn’t come back to not fight. So she issues an open challenge to anyone in the back.
Winner: No contest. Match doesn’t even start.
Alexa Bliss’ music hits and she says she isn’t here to answer her challenge. In fact, who is she again?
Naomi tells her she’s the next champion and Alexa gets riled up and accepts. Just not now.
SmackBack: Looks like WWE is connecting the dots from Alexa and Naomi’s original clashes as part of the main event as the Women’s championship picture was being set up before Naomi went down. We called this feud back in December. Ecstatic they continued through with it.
Main Event: WWE Intercontinental Title Match: Dean Ambrose (c) vs. The Miz (w/ Maryse) in a Lumberjack Match
Pretty much all of the Smackdown Live male performers from tonight’s show are acting as lumberjacks, along with American Alpha.
A lot of going back and forth with some near flirts with lumberjack madness. At one point, the heels pulled Ambrose out when he went for his Lunatic Lariat off the ropes.
Miz lands a short DDT on Ambrose coming back in the ring, but only a two count.
With Ambrose on his knees, The Miz continues to mock Daniel Bryan with his knee kicks, following by his running kick. Ambrose fights back, taking care of some interfering heel lumberjacks, taking Miz down in a move of desperation.
Miz is thrown to the ringside, and as the heels help Miz up, Ambrose flies through the ropes and takes them all out. He tosses Miz back in, but as Ambrose climbs back in, Maryse holds his leg. As he breaks free, Miz takes him out and gets a two and half count. He throws Ambrose in the corner and continues his Daniel Bryan corner kicks.
He gets over confident and on his last run is thrown out the ring, where the faces start to beat on the Miz. Ambrose goes to the top turnbuckle and lands on everyone, taking out everyone on the floor.
The two make their way to the ring and begin to take turns with roll ups, before Ambrose lands a massive Lariat on Miz. As the ref starts counting, Baron Corbin breaks up the count and starts to beat on Ambrose. The entire lumberjack crew enter and the ring is a Battle Royale.
Finally the ring clears and the Miz tries to take advantage of a beaten Ambrose, but Dean kicks out at the last second. He lands a Dirty Deeds quickly and gets the pin, 1-2-3.
Winner and STILL WWE Intercontinental Champion: Dean Ambrose, by pinfall, following a Dirty Deeds DDT
SmackBack: Much like last week, it started weak but picked up steam quickly. By the end, the action was all over, with another huge leap from Ambrose, who retains. The Miz’ constant mimicry of Daniel Bryan certains seems to indicate some kind of feud with Bryan, but unless it’s been a year long swerve, the likelihood of Bryan actually competing seems remote. Perhaps Bryan brings an indie darling in as his gladiator in this fight?
Overall, not a super eventful Smackdown Live, but it carried the narrative into Royal Rumble. Only Mojo Rawley added to the Rumble from Smackdown tonight, but at 23 entrants, that leaves seven surprises for Sunday. The most important part of the night was the return of Naomi entering into the title picture with the beginning of a feud with Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss. Solid promo from Cena and Styles once again, another fun match from Ambrose and The Miz, plus a surprisingly solid opener from Orton and Harper that exceeded expectations (more from what WWE would allow than what we knew they could do). If anything, tonight’s episode actually made me want to watch next week’s Smackdown Live rather than hype the Rumble, but when it’s one of the Big Four, it’s not a bad idea to maintain groundwork beyond the joint venture events.