Here’s what you’ll get for your Friday night WWE entertainment: a solid build for everyone with a championship shot at the Royal Rumble, plus a good balance of wrestling, talking, and comedy. It’s like somebody finally found an old SmackDown episode template and suggested they use it this week.

First up: it looks like Jimmy and Jey Uso passed the audition last week when they opened up SmackDown with some funny antics in the ring, because they’re back in the spotlight this week. Mind you, they’re just here to introduce their record-breaking, Universal Championship-toting cousin Roman Reigns, who has just surpassed Brock Lesnar’s previous record as champ of 504 days (Reigns now stands at 508).

Reigns enters the ring and gets to enjoy a video looking back at his successful title defenses before Seth Rollins, his opponent at the Royal Rumble, interrupts with his own agenda. Rollins drops some interesting tidbits, saying that Reigns, in a “very meta” way, has never been responsible for his own success, what with everything having been handed to him in his career. He also name-drops Jon Moxley (not, of note, Dean Ambrose) in regards to how he and Seth always held Reigns up in The Shield days.

Finally, Rollins heaps praise on the Uso brothers, but hopes they won’t be involved in the title match at the Rumble. Seth suggests that he finds a partner to face the SmackDown tag champs tonight and, if he and his partner win, the Usos will be banned from ringside next Saturday. Jey suggests that nobody would be willing to partner with Rollins anyway, but out struts Kevin Owens. Hey, this must be the one night a year the fans get to see Raw and SmackDown wrestlers go head-to-head! Wait, sorry, that’s Survivor Series. I keep making that mistake.

Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins do NOT shop at the same ring gear outlet. Photo: WWE

It sounds like an interesting main event match, until the WWE does what they often do and go one step too far to make the stakes believable. Reigns ups the ante and says that if Owens and Rollins lose, then Rollins loses his title shot at the Rumble. That ain’t happening, so we already know how the main event tonight is going to go.

Madcap Moss (w/ Happy Corbin) VS. Sir Kofi Kingston (w/ Big E Langston)

Hey, this must be the one night a year the fans get to see Raw and SmackDown wrestlers go head-to-head! Wait, sorry, that’s Survivor Series. I keep making that mistake. Anyway, Langston is here to back Kofi up since King Woods is out with an injury.

Moss is rocking a shorts, no-shirt, suspenders look that you sure don’t see very often. He starts off feeling good about himself, knocking Kingston down with a shoulder drive. Kofi retaliates with a dropkick and a Boom Drop and is thinking of an early Trouble in Paradise, but Corbin jumps up on the apron and distracts Kingston long enough to let Moss attack from behind. The fight spills to the floor where Langston and Corbin get into it, ending with the Happy man thrown into the steps.

After a commercial break, a spinebuster by Moss may have hurt Kingston, sure, but it also knocked one of Moss’ suspenders loose, so call that one a draw. Kingston dodges a charging Moss who runs right into the corner, then takes chops, a dropkick, and a hurricanrana for a near-fall. As Moss muscles Kingston around, Pat McAfee continues to drop hints about how Moss is surely getting tired of being Corbin’s jester. The inevitable face-turn from Moss gets nearer.

Kingston sports the classic face of getting gooned while Moss deals with his wardrobe malfunction. Photo: WWE

Not tonight though — tonight, Moss runs into a Trouble in Paradise that was legitimately out of nowhere, though Michael Cole declined to point that out, and that’s the match.

Winner by pinfall: Sir Kofi Kingston

For what it’s worth, Big E does not seem himself tonight. No posturing, no goofy faces, just all-business as he delivers a Big Ending to Moss after the match.

Before the next match, the camera picks up Summer Rae ahead of her return to in-ring WWE competition at the Royal Rumble. She’s looking like a slightly happier Eva Marie with red hair and a wave to her hometown Nashville crowd. Oh, by the way: she’s introduced as a “WWE legend”. So, there’s that.

Aliyah VS. Natalya

It’s a rematch from last week, and everybody should just be hoping for a match that lasts longer than 3 seconds here. Aliyah keeps trying roll-ups while Natalya simply knocks her down with a discus clothesline — but it’s not enough for a three-count. After kicking out of yet another roll-up, Natalya throws Aliyah down into the corner and beats on her until the referee counts to five and calls for the bell.

Winner via disqualification: Aliyah

Oddly, Natalya seems surprised when the announcer calls the win for Aliyah, as if a three-time Guiness World Record-holding wrestler didn’t know the rules. She gets upset and continues the beatdown which means, I suppose, that Aliyah needs a protector because out comes Xia Li who quickly rids the ring of Natalya.

Los Lotharios (Angel & Humberto) VS. The Viking Raiders (Erik & Ivar)

Humberto and Ivar open this warm-up match for the Raiders ahead of their title match against the Usos at the Rumble. Actually, quick tags by both teams sees Angel the recipient of a body slam of Ivar by Erik, and then Erik a kick to the head from the apron by Angel. Ivar gets back in and splats Angel with a diving splash, then kicks Humberto silly. Erik tags in blindly and Humberto experiences The Viking Experience to help make the Raiders look good going into next Saturday.

Winners via pinfall: The Viking Raiders

Naomi VS. Charlotte Flair (champion) – Championship Contender’s Match

Time for your weekly reminder that Championship Contender’s matches are dumb. It’s like passing an exam in school for a chance to take the exam. Also dumb, at least as far as Naomi is concerned, is Sonya Deville arriving in the ring and taking the referee’s shirt away from Charles Robinson and putting it on herself. The bell rings and Naomi gets in Sonya’s face, allowing Charlotte to cheap shot the challenger with a right hand.

Charlotte earns the nepotism achievement by delivering chops to Naomi, who responds with a kick to the head. When the challenger tries to follow with a hurricanrana, Charlotte traps her in a Boston Crab that she starts to turn into a figure-four — except Naomi kicks her away and send her right into Deville who goes flying out of the ring.

While Deville recuperates, Naomi hits a Rear View on Charlotte and has her pinned for several seconds, but with no official count. Charlotte gets another family legacy achievement with a chop block and then a figure-four on Naomi, and Deville calls for the bell before Naomi even has a chance to tap.

Winner via pinfall: Charlotte Flair

Deville mocks Naomi as a crybaby while Charlotte escapes with an easy win. Photo: WWE

We’re one hour into the show and have already equalled the number of matches from last week as Kayla Braxton has the first backstage interview of the night, and it’s with Rollins and Owens. Kevin says that he’s helping out tonight because the Usos were the ones that prevented him from becoming Universal Champion, so he’s here to make sure that won’t happen to his best friend Rollins.

It’s time for In-Zayn! Sami Zayn is in the ring for his stunt spectacular, reminding the audience that his new nemesis Johnny Knoxville got his start by posting videos of himself testing self-defence tools on himself (true!), so Sami will do the same tonight.

He begins with a cattle prod, which happens to come with a loud buzzer sound when used just so the slower fans will know what’s happening. Sami ups the voltage for a second go, which he doesn’t enjoy any more than the first one, when Knoxville comes out to check on the equipment that Sami’s using. Johnny informs the audience that it was turned off and he uses the now live prod on Sami — but it still makes the electric buzzing sound? So, it was on before, too? The sense of the segment is thus defeated by the sound effects.

Knoxville throws Zayn over the top rope to close out the bit.

Backstage we go, where Adam Pearce is meeting with Eric Bischoff when Deville arrives in the office. Pearce says he and Eric were talking about her and Naomi, and he’s decided to suggest to upper management that Naomi and Deville have a match next week. Again, more nonsense: this means that neither Pearce nor Deville have the power to make a match on their own? But the Usos and Seth Rollins do?

Before the next match, we see the extended advertisement for the upcoming WWE 2K22 video game, whose biggest challenge will presumably be keeping up with game updates to remove released WWE personnel. It looks fine, and will have to be better than 2K20, but hopefully they find the happy medium between realism in the ring and arcade-style fighting like they had in 2K Battlegrounds.

Hey, look! There’s a new “MyGM Mode”, where you can be Adam Pearce or Sonya Deville and probably suggest matches to upper management!

Sheamus (w/ Ridge Holland) VS. Ricochet

Right after the bell, Sheamus runs a boot into Ricochet’s gut and drops him with a one-handed Irish Curce backbreaker. Ricochet kicks out of the pinning attempt and kicks his own way back into match, including what was less of a kick and more of a running up Sheamus like he was a wall and backflipping away.

Just including this picture since my description may not have done the trick. Photo: WWE

Sheamus ties Ricochet up for the Ten Beats of the Bodhran, and I guess he’s lucky he didn’t have the ref from the Natalya/Aliyah match monitoring this one. Michael Cole rather forcibly drops Kid Rock’s name into the commentary (he is apparently in attendance tonight but not camera-worthy, I guess) saying in regards to Sheamus that, as Kid Rock would say, “It’s not cocky if you back it up”. McAfee follows with these wise words: “Kid Rock has certainly said a lot of things”. Well and vaguely said, Pat.

Back to the action with Sheamus on the floor, Ricochet dives through the ropes with a suicide dive on his mind, but Sheamus meets him with a high knee. Sheamus tosses Ricochet back into the ring and lets him stand up before delivering a Brogue Kick for the win.

Winner via pinfall: Sheamus

Backstage again, Rick Boogs and Shinsuke Nakamura are wandering backstage when another hometown-ish hero stops them to make conversation: it’s Jeff Jarrett. He compliments Boogs’ guitar work after Rick happily spells out Jeff’s name for him.

The Usos (Jimmy & Jey) VS. Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens

Seth starts off with Jimmy, getting a couple of near-falls and sending Jimmy to the floor for a moment to collect his thoughts. Getting back in, the Usos start double-teaming and keeping Rollins in their corner with boots. Seth fights his way over to his own corner where they do a sort of Unicorn Stampede on Jimmy together. The tables turn again and Rollins finds himself stuck in the opposite corner.

Cole makes a big deal, as has Rollins, about how Reigns has never beaten Seth in a big match. This Royal Rumble title match seems to have all the makings of yet another statement match for Reigns, allowing him to exorcize another past demon and stack his résumé.

Rollins pops out of the corner and clotheslines a charging Jimmy before tagging in Owens, who sentons and cannonballs Jimmy to great cheers. He tries a top-rope senton but Jimmy raises his knees and then superkicks Owens through the ropes to the floor.

Back from a break, Roman Reigns is happy as he watches from his backstage office, nodding along as the Usos continue their very basic double-team offence on Owens in the corner. McAfee calls Reigns the “greatest champion in the history of the business” — not SmackDown, not even just WWE. The business.

Rollins gets a hot tag and sends both Usos to the floor and then charges up a suicide dive that barely caught the brothers as he almost rolled right over top of them. Back in the ring, Rollins block a superkick from Jey and instead hoists him up for a powerbomb or buckle bomb, but Jey sneaks in a tag and wriggles out of the hold, then helps Jimmy hit a pop-up Samoan Drop on Rollins for a two-count.

All four end up in the ring for a spell, with Owens getting a two-count on Jimmy following a pop-up powerbomb, then it’s a tag to Rollins and superkicks all around. Finally, Rollins lands a stomp on Jimmy which would presumably have given him and Owens the win, but Reigns slips into the ring with a Superman Punch on Seth to ensure that anyway.

Winners via disqualification: Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens

Reigns stalks his way angrily back up the ramp, while Rollins has a good laugh in the ring knowing that the Usos are now banned from ringside for the championship match at the Royal Rumble.



SmackDown, Jan 21st, 2022

It’s still not Shakespeare, but something is stirring on SmackDown. It would have been a terrific one-hour show, but it was still a pretty good regulation-time episode. As long as those responsible for the improved product aren’t suddenly fired, things are looking up for Friday night.