WWE kicks off the road to WrestleMania this Sunday with easily the most fun event of the year, the Royal Rumble. But before we get to sit down and enjoy two massive 30-person battle royals there’s still an episode of SmackDown to get through. The go-home shows before Royal Rumble and WrestleMania are both historically great TV. Is that true in 2021? We can’t speak for Mania just yet, but we sure can tell you all about how things stand going into Rumble.
AIPT’s very own JJ Travers and Brendan Lee are here to break down the most important pieces of the SmackDown for you: Roman Reigns bullying Kevin Owens and his Dad, the biggest win of Bianca Belair’s career, the crazy amount of talent residing in or around the IC title, Big E’s never ending hilarity, and more.
Brendan: Rumble season is coming to a furious conclusion, and we’ve got a returning champion here RIGHT. NOW. Welcome back to the House That JVD Built, JJ. You ready for a good time Sunday night, brother?
JJ: I’m ready to gamble money, possibly end up with another wrestling tattoo, and punch my ticket to the show of shows. OH HELL YEAH!
Brendan: Last night’s edition of Smackdown was a very…interesting exercise in go-home booking for my favorite WWE PPV of the year. I think I found a passable way to write up what happened in the header. I still have a billion questions.
Was that one big match? Is Sonya Deville trying to fundamentally break the role of WWE GM on her first night? Was that one use of the brand-to-brand invitational privileges or did we just use all three until next quarter? Does any of this matter? JJ, Did you enjoy the Inception-level main event?
JJ: The main event went just as I expected when the match was first announced; Sheamus wound up getting a clean pin during Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles. Fella, etc.
Brendan: It’s hard not to feel a little burned that we weren’t gifted another hour-long instant classic from Styles and Bryan. I get the point of the booking, but I could watch those dudes fight forever.
JJ: I was texting Pat about it this morning, brand-to-brand b*llsh*t aside, I will always happily watch a Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles match. But man, I felt like I was going through the ringer with that one.
First and foremost, it irked me to no end that two GOATs are in the ring and meanwhile Michael Cole and Corey Graves are talking about literally everything but the match. Yes, the match evolved into a go-home moment for Rumble that made sense and felt appropriate given the circumstances, but before any of the nonsense even started those two weren’t doing their jobs. I love Cesaro and agree, he’s a wrestling purist, but maybe we can ask him about the match and the two future HoFers putting on a clinic, instead of listening to three jabronis argue about utter nonsense on commentary.
Brendan: Cesaro’s re-emergence as a legitimate top of the card singles’ wrestler has been one of the pleasant surprises of 2021 for me. He’s had several excellent matches on SmackDown already this year, cut some hysterically deadpan improvised promos, and did a decent job of humoring Graves and Cole with their nonsense last night. But you are 100% correct, dude. Let’s ask the Wrestling Purist about the action in the ring. Since he’s more or less a top 5 guy on the SmackDown roster, has worked with both Styles and Bryan hundreds of times over a decade plus, and has forgotten more holds than Graves ever learned, it would have been a refreshing change of pace.
This might be blasphemy against our Tribal Chief, but the IC Title picture on SmackDown is the best division and booking that WWE is executing at the moment. As a credible champion, Big E potentially could face Cesaro, Shinsuke Nakamura, Sami Zayn, and maybe Daniel Bryan (pending the results Sunday night). Apollo Crews is lurking in the background. All of these guys are doing some of the best work of their careers. What a stacked division. It’s exactly how WWE should be putting it’s abundant talent all over both shows.
JJ: Not blasphemy at all. When the main event evolved into a six-man match, the ring was filled with some of the most talented people in wrestling. SmackDown is stacked and the talent gap between the Blue Brand and Raw is impossible not to notice. They could easily flex any of the dudes from the IC title picture to a program with Roman and I’d happily watch it every week without complaint.
Utterly forgettable Dominic Mysterio and King Corbin match aside, this was a pretty awesome go-home show. I put my one big complaint out there already and that’s really all I got. SmackDown is top to bottom the best show WWE is producing right now.
Brendan: I’ll back that take and support it with another example.
When we kicked off the show with Bianca Belair against Bayley, I immediately groaned. My show notes literally said, “It feels way too soon to give us this match. I don’t understand WWE booking sometimes.” I’m happy to be proved wrong. A clean win over Bayley and the effusive post-match interview gives us two clear paths for Sunday night. Either Bianca survives the field and Bayley’s best effort to win the Rumble and set up a WrestleMania program with Sasha Banks, or Bayley is going to cost her that moment and add layers of heat to this storyline. We win either way.
— WWE on FOX (@WWEonFOX) January 30, 2021
JJ: Bayley yelling “I’m not jealous Michael!” made me spit my coffee. I won’t dig up ground that’s been covered long ago, but her transformation from a weak heel character to one of the best heels in wrestling has been such a treat to watch.
Bianca Belair should not win the Royal Rumble. Now before everyone gets their pitchforks, hear me out. There’s zero question in my mind that she’s a future champion, likely in 2021, and her value to the company is obvious. Belair will almost definitely become a great champion. But that takes time and patience. I don’t see any reason to rush this and I think the EST of WWE will benefit much more by having a little more time in the oven feuding with one of the GOATs of women’s wrestling, than she would be getting put in the main event before she’s ready.
Brendan: I’m excited for either outcome, but a little nervous about what happens with Sasha in the title picture if Bianca doesn’t win on Sunday. Can’t believe I’m about to say write this right now, but I trust SmackDown writers to figure it out.
For the record, my spit-take moment from last night was watching Sonya Deville trying not to break character while Big E let her know that he had a $1.00 off coupon from Arby’s with her name on it. High comedy.
JJ: HAHAHA. I just popped big all over again. Big E is precious cargo to be protected at all costs.
Are you ready to talk about Kalisto calling Sasha Banks a “sexy mamacita” before strolling away, or should we dive into Bad Bunny performing at Royal Rumble with the FIVE TIME, FIVE TIME, FIVE TIME, FIVE TIME, FIVE TIME WCW Champion, the BOOKA MAN?! (I’m legitimately excited for Booker T in any capacity.)
Brendan: Let’s go with the other throwaway segment from last night. You know, Kevin Owens just improvising all over Roman Reigns’ yard/island of relevancy, disrespecting Paul Heyman, and cutting a Dusty Rhodes level promo to finish his segment? It’s hard for me to believe that we’re just getting around to talking about this moment, but it was a fully loaded show.
Last week, I suggested that WWE should have featured more direct interactions between Reigns and Owens because they are both super strong on the mic and Owens has a history of being able to drop genuinely great, off-the-cuff lines. Cutting off Heyman and asking Roman “You gonna let him rehash the same crap he used for other people?” was brutal. That’s what I was talking about. Somehow, Reigns came back over the top and absolutely unnerved KO, then drew out that very emotional reaction. Nice moment for both guys.
JJ: If we’re being honest, Roman’s promo basically boiled down to “Haha your Dad sucks!” But I’m perfectly okay with that, because in addition to being super juvenile and hilarious in its simplicity, it was also exactly what you said; two of WWE’s strongest promos going at it. When you sit back and think about this feud and moments like last night, it’s still a bit mind blowing. If you told anyone two years ago that Roman Reigns would be tearing apart the entire roster on the microphone and leading Kevin Owens through a promo segment, I think those folks would have been justified for laughing in your face.
— WWE on FOX (@WWEonFOX) January 30, 2021
Brendan: It’s super subtle, but Reigns basically ending the Zoom call and his screen going black while Owens is pouring his heart out about how much his family means to him and helps fuel his motivation for their title match was brilliant. He’s even winning when he doesn’t talk.
JJ: I fully expect Reigns to win on Sunday, and frankly I’ll be pissed if he doesn’t. But just because the outcome is basically signed, sealed, and delivered, it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the journey. Plus, we get to watch Reigns bully people and their Dad’s along the way.
Brendan: If I was a betting man, I would put a large sum of money on Jimmy Uso figuring pretty heavily in this outcome. Frankly, I’m all for it because it would be wonderful if they could prop up the tag division. Imagine a world where The Dirty Dogs are just hanging out in catering, like they were tonight? I want to live there.
JJ: I expect we’ll find out Sunday amongst profuse pointing at the WrestleMania sign, fake crowd countdowns, and a big group of good brothers screaming in a Zoom call together. Too sweet me.
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