By: Keila Cash
Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana
· SmackDown Live kicked off with AJ Styles talking about overcoming the odds in order to walk into WrestleMania WWE Champion. Styles’ road to New Orleans hit some speed bumps, but he managed to navigate the waters to ensure that his dream match against Shinsuke Nakamura came true. The fans started up the always annoying “You Deserve It” chant, but The Phenomenal One said that he earned it which makes him even more likable. He respected Nakamura and admitted that their respective paths to WWE were similar, but the similarities came to an end because Styles was the Champ.
· Nakamura came out and shared the same sentiment, but vowed to make his dream come true at Mania by kneeing Styles in the face in order to become WWE Champion. Styles and Nakamura went face-to-face, but Rusev and Aiden English made their way to the ring to put the kibosh on any physical confrontation as the opening segment came to an end.
· This was a good way to start the show. Styles was the humble babyface thankful for everything he’s earned in order to reach the pinnacle of WWE while Nakamura is ready to knock him off his perch at WrestleMania. This is a lock to be a great match, but there needs to more tension between both men to ensure that this bout lives up to the hype next month. The creative team doesn’t have to do anything batshit crazy, but I expect tempers to boil over sooner or later.
· AJ Styles defeated Rusev via disqualification when Aiden English saved Rusev from tapping out the Calf Crusher. Before the DQ finish, Styles and Rusev were having a good match that featured hard-hitting action throughout. Rusev has had an impressive week in the ring despite eating a couple of high profile losses. Hopefully, this is leading up to an Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal victory at WrestleMania because Rusev Day is going to be one of the most over things on the PPV. If not, my faith in WWE will take another kick to the gut.
· English and Rusev double-teamed Styles while Shinsuke Nakamura sat at ringside watching the beat down unfold as if he didn’t have a care in the world. Nakamura stood up, but he still took his time getting in the ring before making the save. He laid out the heels as Styles recovered in the corner. Nakamura bid his Mania opponent adieu as the segment came to an end.
· As I mentioned earlier, the Mutual Admiration Society between Styles and Nakamura can only last for so long. This was a nice way to build tension between them without going too over the top. Let’s hope WWE keeps it simple because overcomplicating things might water down the hype for this dream match at WM.
· The Bludgeon Brothers defeated Jimmy Uso and Big E when Rowan pinned Jimmy Uso with the double chokeslam in a solid match. Jimmy and Big E put up a good fight, but Harper and Rowan were too much to handle on this night.
· Harper added insult to injury when he charged into the barricade while Big E was leaning against it. Rowan did further damage when he laid out E with a cross body before the duo headed backstage with their mallets in tow. This was another impressive performance by two of the baddest men on SD Live. Rowan and Harper are in the thick of the Tag Team Title chase heading into WrestleMania, but the field is crowded as The Usos still want to keep the division on lockdown while The New Day attempts to become five-time Tag Team Champs. I smell a Triple Threat Match in NOLA. Just a hunch…
· Charlotte and Asuka exchanged words about being the best heading into their SmackDown Women’s Championship match at WrestleMania. It was a nice repartee that wasn’t over scripted in nature. How refreshing!
· Jinder Mahal defeated Bobby Roode with the Khallas thanks to an assist from Sunil Singh. Singh climbed on the ring apron to distract Roode, but The Glorious One shoved him against the ring post before heading to the top rope. However, the diversion gave Mahal enough time to knock Roode off the turnbuckle which set up the finish moments later.
· Mahal didn’t get a chance to celebrate the win because Randy Orton laid him out with an RKO. This is another Triple Threat Match in the making because all three men have an outstanding beef over the idiotic SD Live Top Ten List and United States Championship. This is the weakest feud heading into WrestleMania, but the work rate should be fine considering the talent involved.
· Carmella defeated Naomi with a rollup in a decent match. Carmella channeled her inner Liv Morgan by becoming a windmill dodging Naomi’s kicks until she got kneed in the face. Naomi went for the Springboard Enzuigiri, but Carmella kicked her off the middle rope and yanked her hair first onto the mat to pick up the win. Ms. Money the Bank is on a winning streak heading into the heart of WrestleMania season. Color me pleasantly surprised.
· Shane McMahon announced that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence as SD Live Commissioner, but he made sure to make a WrestleMania announcement before saying farewell. McMahon booked Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a one-on-one match at WrestleMania as a way to stick it to his long time enemies. Owens was happy to defeat his best friend at the grandest stage of them all, but he could do that at any time. Zayn felt the same way about Owens before focusing his attention on Shane for sucking up to the fans because they wanted to see him and KO rip each other apart at Mania. Zayn decided to give Shane-O-Mac a parting gift by attacking him from behind.
· Owens joined in on the beat down as they attacked up Shane despite the Commish putting up a good fight. Zayn nailed Shane with the Helluva Kick before Owens finished him off with a Popup Powerbomb.
· WWE officials tried to break things up, but Owens attacked them as well which should lead to a fine or suspension. Zayn grabbed a steel chair from the timekeeper’s area and wrapped it around Shane’s neck before slamming him into the ring post in a sick spot. KO and Zayn dragged Shane backstage and did even more damage as Owens dropped him with another Powerbomb onto a metal grate as Shane gasped for air.
· One of the refs managed to shoo Owens and Zayn away as SD Live went off the air with medical personnel tending to Shane.
· This was a great way to end the show. Shane McMahon got his ass kicked and I expect some crazy ass match at WrestleMania involving him, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn. It will be an unorthodox match because it’s two-on-one but it should be very interesting, to say the least.
· A part of me thinks Daniel Bryan is secretly giddy about his boss getting destroyed by his former Ring of Honor buddies. Bryan’s reaction to what happened should make for some good television next week. Will he be pissed off or elated that he doesn’t have to answer to a McMahon anymore? This storyline has been simmering since late last year. Will the big reveal finally happen with three weeks to go until WrestleMania? We shall find out soon enough.
· Overall, I thought tonight’s episode of SmackDown Live was decent at best. The shoe was bookended by major segments taking place at the top and bottom of each hour. From that respect, WWE hit a home run promoting the major title matches on the SD Live side of the WrestleMania card. The Shane McMahon-Kevin Owens-Sami Zayn saga is this year’s obligatory blood feud which gives them special billing because their storyline has the most longevity despite things hitting a lull in terms of excitement over the past couple of months.
· The rest of the show featured so-so wrestling with AJ Styles vs. Rusev winning match of the night honors despite the disqualification finish. The rest of the in-ring action was middling which watered down the crowd heat in Indianapolis during the second hour. Things got better during the main event segment, but the creative team needs to put together a cohesive two-hour program during the height of WrestleMania season. Every week should be must-see TV. There were glimmers of that tonight, but WWE has to push through the noise and deliver the goods over the next three weeks. Let’s hope they can get the job done. Fingers crossed!
On that note, this wraps up another edition of The SmackDown Files. I hope you enjoyed it and I will be back next week with a brand new installment of The Raw Exposé. See you later, boys and girl!