March 11th 2018
-From Columbus, OH. This is expected to be the final Smackdown-only pay-per-view for the foreseeable future as all events after Wrestlemania 34 will be dual branded.
-Our hosts are Corey Graves (yay!), Tom Phillips (yay?), and Byron Saxton (yay…).
Rusev (with Aiden English) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Hard to predict a winner here, as Nakamura is heading into a WWE title match at Wrestlemania and Rusev is begging for a ‘Mania match on social media. Rusev gets the honor of making Nakamura look good before his big match, but he’s getting some pretty vocal crowd support due to the “Rusev Day” phenomenon. The opening minutes give Shinsuke to show off his athleticism against the larger Rusev. Nakamura’s taunting sends Rusev to ringside to refresh himself. An English distraction allows Rusev to take control by targeting the lower back in the heat sequence. The match slows down to the point where I start thinking about how much I don’t like Rusev’s short haircut or how much I wish Aiden English had a better spot. Nakamura mounts a comeback consisting of mostly kicking. The Green Smiley Shirt Fan who is at every major show looks bored. Rusev gets a nearfall from a super kick to the head and they trade kicks and block their signature holds in rapid fire fashion. Shinsuke stupidly runs smack into a super kick for a nearfall that several fans fell for. Shinsuke sneaks out of the Accolade and nails a pair of Kinshasas for the win at 14:26. Considering this is the first wrestling match I’ve watched in about two months, I thought I would enjoy this more. This was pretty boring and they did not match up well together at all, **.
Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura
United States Championship:
Bobby Roode © vs. Randy Orton
Orton is beyond stale at this point, so contending for a secondary title seems fitting for him at this stage in his career. Roode’s act requires a championship of some kind to be effective, so I’m glad he quickly found himself as U.S. Champion. They start off with some good old fashioned grappling, but I’m distracted by the fact it looks as though Roode fell asleep in a tanning bed. The announcers fawn over how great Randy is for hitting a back elbow, and I get flashbacks to Jim Ross salivating over him in his 2002 Raw debut. They seem to be telling a story that Roodie is somewhat out out of his league here and has to rise to the occasion. Meanwhile, Jinder Mahal is watching backstage on the ridiculously staged monitor. Roode takes control of the match with Orton-like offense, and I can’t tell if the crowd is dead or if I just have the volume too low (because my baby is sleeping). Roode can’t hit the glorious DDT and Orton makes a comeback (also with Orton-like offense… if you can’t tell, I’m not enjoying this). Roode hits a blockbuster for 2, and the fact that they’re teasing the finish is giving me hope that it’s almost over. I’m wrong and the match continues, with Orton backdropping Roode onto the guard rail. Roode then counters with a back drop in the ring, but Orton manages a superplex (that somewhat wakes the crowd up). Roode’s spinebuster gets 2 but he then gets distracted by the Wrestlemania sign. Roode then stupidly leaps off the turnbuckles into an RKO Out of Nowhere and loses at 19:28. The crowd pops, but I’m feeling like I don’t need to see any more Randy Orton matches, like, ever again. This match totally belongs in in the month of March as it was way too long, I couldn’t wait for it to end, and it was ice cold when I was expecting some heat, **.
Winner and new United States Champion: Randy Orton
-Recent WWE Champion Jinder Mahal storms the ring, as now he’s apparently obsessed with becoming the U.S. Champion. This would have been a great direction for Mahal, you know, 11 months ago before they randomly decided he just HAD to get a world title run. Jinder attacks Orton but Roode storms the ring and puts them both down with Glorious DDT’s. Ah ha, no one gets over!
Naomi and Becky Lynch vs. Carmella and Natalya
Carmella is still carrying the Money in the Bank briefcase she last summer, as rumor has it that no one backstage knows what to do with her at this point. These four women are basically treading water on their journey to the not-Fabulous Moolah Memorial battle royal at Wrestlemania. They keep a brisk pace in the early going, just kind of hitting spots, but at least it isn’t boring. Natalya catching Naomi with a powerbomb is particularly enjoyable. Naomi gets caught in the heel corner, and Carmella and Natalya seem to be having a good time hurting her. I appreciate the little touches, such as Carmella dragging Naomi by the hair and Natalya telling the referee to shut up. Also, I find myself feeling sorry for Naomi, so kudos to her for being an effective face in peril. Lynch gets the hot tag and unleashes her Irish fury on poor Nattie. Carmella stops Becky with a jawbreaker, but Naomi tags herself in and kicks Carmella into position for a Lynch flying leg drop. Natalya makes the save and the match totally breaks down. The chaos results with Carmella super kicking Lynch for the win at 8:52. Whoa, match of the show thus far, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, **½.
Winners: Carmella and Natalya
Smackdown Tag Team Championship:
Jimmy and Jey Uso © vs. The New Day (Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods, with Big E)
These guys had a highly regarded feud last summer, but this match feels like a bit like reheated pizza: doesn’t mean that it can’t be delicious, but still leftovers. Woods and an Uso trade some serious smack talk and they trade wild punches. Woods quickly finds himself stuck in Uso territory, and is selling like we’re 10 minutes in, though it’s been less than two minutes. Kofi gets a hot tag at 2:15, so I guess we’re short on time. The match breaks down before the 4 minute mark, making me feel as though I clicked a 2x button or something. It’s all finishers and nearfalls for about four straight minutes, which sounds awesome in theory, but somehow manages to be boring. The Usos wipe out the New Day with dives and the Bludgeon Brothers show up to ruin the fun, weidling hilariously fake looking Thor hammers. The Brothers attack both teams and the match is thrown out at 8:41. Pretty much nothing about this match worked, and it just served to set up a three-way rivalry for a likely Wrestlemania kick-off match, *½.
-Renee Young interviews WWE Champion AJ Styles backstage about his six pack challenge tonight, and he’s not intimidated by his odds of victory tonight. He loses his thought when Shinsuke Nakamura interrupts. Shinsuke hopes AJ will win, but gets told off. There does not seem to be be much meat to this feud.
Smackdown Women’s Championship:
Charlotte Flair © vs. Ruby Riott (with the Riott Squad)
The wrestler formerly known as Heidi Lovelace is performing in the semi-main event of a WWE pay-per-view. I love how full of surprises my wrestling fandom has been. They pace themselves like they are having a main event, complete with a feeling out process. Ruby impressively uses the ropes to clothesline Charlotte, but the announcers are all ho-hum about it (not as great as an Orton back elbow, I guess). Charlotte smashes Ruby into the barricade like a total bad-ass, but is distracted by the Riott Squad, and it’s time for the heat sequence. Naomi and Beckky Lynch run in to even the odds, but the damage has already been done. Ruby looks for rolling suplexes, but Charlotte counters with a slingshot suplex. Ruby retains control, hitting a senton off the turnbuckles. Ruby gets the heel MVP of the night award for keeping the heat sequence interesting with a straight jacket submission, but her second senton attempt is countered. Charlotte goes to the top rope and gets knocked to the floor, but counters Riott’s dive and (barely) connects with a standing moonsault off the barricade. Ruby comes back with a top rope head scissors. Charlotte plays an excellent bad-ass babyface and fires away with chops. Ruby manages some sort of leg sweep and the Riott Squad threaten to get involved, but the referee tosses Naomi and Becky for trying to help. The ref isn’t as dumb as he looks and tosses the Riott Squad too. Charlotte is pissed and outmaneuvers Ruby, whipping her over the shoulders into the turnbuckles. Ruby succumbs to the Figure Four at 13:45. Charlotte looked great here and delivered a heroic performance and the match of the night thus far, ***¼.
Winner and still Smackdown Women’s Champion: Charlotte Flair
-Royal Rumble winner, Asuka, is here! She struts to the ring and makes it clear that she’s coming after Charlotte’s title at Wrestlemania! I’m actually pretty jazzed to see this!
-Smackdown GM Shane McMahon comes to ringside to witness the main event first-hand. There’s absolutely no possibility that he becomes physically involved in the match, no sir.
AJ Styles © vs. John Cena vs. Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens
Six pack challenges are fine and all, but this one feels a tad underwhelming coming two weeks after an Elimination Chamber pay-per-view. There’s a story that Sami Zayn would be willing to lay down and let Kevin Owens pin him for the title, so that’s hanging over AJ’s head. Cena immediately hits everyone (except AJ) with Attitude Adjustments and is happy to rekindle his feud with AJ in a one on one setting. Really, at this point they should just ship all the losers out back and let this continue as a singles contest. AJ has the wherewithal to not get caught in an AA, so that’s why he’s the champion. Cena avoids the Styles Clash, but all his victims wake up at once and mob him. Cena gets dumped, and the others brawl chaotically. They employ the ladder match strategy of having two guys trade moves in the ring while everyone else rests/makes saves. I am looking for AJ to control the match like a champion and not be treated like another guy in a booking style where everything is random and someone happens to win. This sort of happens, as in between frantic nearfalls, AJ gets to trade strong styles blows with rivals, such as Owens. Cena wakes up and rekindles his love of making Ziggler look like a total mid-card joke, but this time Dolph counters an AA with a Fame-asser! AJ continues to look a step above everyone as he saves Dolph from the STF. the spot-fest continues at a rapid fire pace, and you know it’s awesome when there are moments where it seems like Baron Corbin or Dolph Ziggler could become WWE Champion and it would be alright! In fact, Corbin puts Ziggler through a fiberglass barricade in the stands, a novel differentiation from the normal spot. Meanwhile, after lots of scuffling, Cena puts Styles through an announce table with an AA! This leaves Cena alone against Zayn and Owens, who find themselves in a situation where Zayn could indeed lay down for his friend. Zayn, almost begrudgingly, lays down, but then lures Owens into a roll-up! ZAYN AND OWENS START BRAWLING! Owens avoids a powerbomb on the apron with a backdrop! Sami, still not a babyface, talks some smack at Shane, and inadvertently causes him to get superkicked by Owens. Sami dives through the turnbuckles for a DDT on Owens. I am so confused right now, but I’m loving this. Dolph interrupts but eats a pop-up powerbomb, but Shane stops the ref from counting to 3. Owens is irate and is an easy victim for a Helluva kick, but Shane prevents Sami’s 3 count as well. With everyone down, Shane takes a seat. Corbin returns wielding the ring steps and destroys everyone, except Cena, lol, who AA”s him onto them. It’s time for rapid fire finishers, until AJ pops back and finishes Owens with the springboard clothesline at 21:55! The out-of-nowhere finish kind of hurt, but this was a fantastic main event full of twist, turns, and cool moments. The best part is that AJ Styles was actually positioned well, so the spots didn’t feel random, but somewhat organic. This almost saves the show, ****½.
Winner and still WWE Champion: AJ Styles
Final Thoughts: I am relieved that for the time being, Smackdown-only pay-per-views are once again a thing of the past. I’ll admit Fastlane 2018 wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the Smackdown offerings from 2004-2007, and then 2017, but this was a really flat show until the last two matches came along to salvage things. An outstanding main event leaves me in a good enough mood to avoid the dreaded “Thumbs Down” branding, so we’ll say “Thumbs in the Middle.” I sure picked a doozy of a show to end my long review hiatus.