Shinsuke Nakamura def. Rusev
Color me pleasantly surprised. I was afraid this was going to be a nothing Smackdown match that would just result in Rusev losing a non-competitive match, but I actually sort of dug this back and forth affair. I was a huge fan of the mind games played by both men to start, with Nakamura taunting and Rusev responding by leaving the ring not once, but twice. That’s the psychology I like to see. The actual match was a great, hard-hitting affair that made both men look strong. We all knew coming into this match that Shinsuke was winning to build momentum towards WrestleMania, but what was important for him was to win competitive matches against top guys in order to build credibility and not have some of the vintage half-assed matches he has on Smackdown.
Nakamura works well when you’re able to match his physicality, and Rusev was more than up to the task. He had some really nice looking kicks and some solid near-falls that were actually believable, in spite of what the odds said. While I wouldn’t have chosen Rusev to be Shinsuke’s opponent, simply because of how over his act his with the crowd right now, he did look strong in defeat, so I suppose that’s about as good a consolation as it can get. Overall, this was a strong, solid start to the PPV and it was pleasantly competitive and entertaining from start to finish. Let’s see if the momentum can be sustained. ***1/2
Randy Orton def. Bobby Roode (C) – United States Championship
With the limited undercard, and didn’t think this match was going to get the time that it did. That said, I was actually sort of digging it. Orton appeared as though he had a little extra pep in his step for tonight. Must be something in the Columbus water. Usually, Orton just plods around and doesn’t really get motivated, but here, he looked a bit more energetic here. I also liked that Roode matched his energy. The feeling out process to begin the match was solid to build up for what would happen in the end, and the two spent the entire match trying to best each other and avoid each other’s finishers.
Out of all the matches on the card, this one was the most unpredictable because there was no clear-cut indicator leaning strongly one way or the other. I was always thought that Jinder was going to interfere in the match because he was in the middle of everything, but it ultimately proved to be after the match. I liked the ending sequence especially because both men nearly hit their finishers and they both countered them very well. However, it will never cease to amaze me how many times an opponent of Orton’s will just instinctively go to the top rope and dive HEAD-FIRST as if they’ve never seen Orton do an RKO in mid-air before. Like, what are they planning to do? A diving chest headbutt? A mid-air shoulder block? Like, there’s literally no reasonable offensive move you could make on Orton there and if Roode did his homework he knew he shouldn’t have done that. Regardless, I did like the energy and flow of the match quite a bit, and it was a performance I believe both men needed badly. ***1/4
Natayla and Carmella def. Becky Lynch and Naomi
I mean, it was a Smackdown match. What more were you expecting? The only thing I’ll say is that Naomi looked like a big piece of Starbust before the match. It started well and physical enough, but then the match and the heat behind it gradually faded, and so, too, did the match. I got nothin. Ms. MITB actually won a match. Let’s go wild. *3/4
The Usos (C) vs. The New Day – Smackdown Tag Team Championship: NO CONTEST
I knew things weren’t going to down as well as I thought because we didn’t get the Xavier/Big E combination that has been killing it in the New Day/Usos rivalry. What we got from these two teams before the oversold jumping of The Bludgeon Brothers was basically Smackdown-esque. There was some good back and forth and some solid tag team psychology between the two teams, but ultimately, it didn’t last to the point where we’d be able to get invested in it due to the abrupt finish. The finish to this match was what I expected for the US Title match. I didn’t think this match deserved to go to a no-finish, but I get why they did it. Only thing is, the match wasn’t long enough to reach a high point and it sort of just stopped abruptly. Nothing much to go on here, and it looks like we are getting more multi-tag team action at WrestleMania. **1/4
Charlotte (C) def. Ruby Riott – Smackdown Women’s Championship
Does someone remember what the last great Charlotte match was? It seems like she’s been in a rut ever since her feud with Sasha over a year ago ended. My goodness, this match wasn’t bad but I am so sick and tired of watching the same Charlotte that was putting up four-star matches on RAW in her sleep go through average matches on PPV and on Smackdown week after week. I don’t know if it’s her opponents or whatever, but she’s too gifted an athlete for me to keep saying, “Well, that was a match. It wasn’t bad.” I should be saying, “Wow, Charlotte is freaking awesome! See that corkscrew off the top rope?” This match, like I just said, was fine. The start with the Riott Squad trying to interfere was expected and I don’t know why Naomi and Becky just waited in the back as if they weren’t going to try something fishy. Might as well have been there from the start.
However, what I believe hurt the match was not only the overbooked interference spots towards the end but the predictability. Did anyone for one second in this match actually think Ruby had a chance here? Even with the Riott Squad and even with all of the extracurriculars, was there even a hint of doubt that Charlotte would win and Asuka would show up to challenge her afterward? Thought not. The match was what I thought it was gonna be. Just a match. Nothing bad. But, it was just there. **1/2
AJ Styles (C) def. John Cena, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler – WWE Championship Six Pack Challenge