WWE SmackDown originated from Las Vegas, Nev. Check WWE.com for video clips of the broadcast. Dubbed "Sin City SmackDown," the premise of the broadcast was built around random gimmick matches.
With the "Road to WrestleMania" opening in about a week, the WWE needed to continue pushing a surprisingly effective World Champion, build towards the Royal Rumble pay-per-view and keep various competitors relevant as well.
Let's see how they did.
- Opening Segment. Daniel Bryan opened the show with a good promo that continued to sell his heel turn. Bryan is a master of faux emotional responses and is putting himself over nicely as an intelligent manipulator. Daniel's promo cemented a nice transition from "up and comer" to legit main eventer when he pleaded with Big Show to do the right thing "for once in his life." It was short, but effective none the less.
- Rhodes vs. Gabriel. The setup for the match was a little annoying. Once the match got rolling, the two put on a solid enough effort for a TV match. Both men showed a surprisingly technical acumen in the early going. Once it switched gears, the two resorted to their signature maneuvers. Gabriel eating the CrossRhodes for the clean pin was a nice ending. Fun match where both men looked good.
- PPV Sell. The WWE's been doing well with the Royal Rumble highlight videos to underscore the importance of the eponymous match. While some folks might question the lack of an overall hard sell to the pay-per-view, I don't really see this as an issue given it's traditionally good buy rates and this year's open questions about who will win the Royal Rumble match.
- Sheamus vs. Barrett. I need to establish two things. I love watching Barrett and Sheamus brawl. I also like bodies flying through tables. The match itself was solid enough without going into pay-per-view territory with the gimmick type.
The Superplex tease was a nice spot. The ending was appropriate to give Barrett credibility while protecting Sheamus. Good TV match. The post match segment where Sheamus put Mahal through a table was nicely done as well.
- Hunico vs. DiBiase. Flag matches rarely happen in the WWE, so seeing it on TV makes for a unique experience. The silly premise for the feud set aside, the match itself was filled with some solid spots. Very short, but it did what needed to do. DiBiase getting the victory was appropriate to further the feud with Hunico.
- Raw Rebound segment. The video production team must have gotten free Starbuck's coffee for that one. Simply epic stuff from them that made a great promo feel like the stuff of legends.
- The Drew McIntyre Saga. It's nice to see a talent like Drew get some sort of angle on one of the "A" shows. The fact the creative team is giving it some sort of importance is interesting. Any time on TV on either Raw or SmackDown is valuable real estate for any wrestler in the company.
The match itself is really inconsequential as most comedy matches tend to be. Santino and Drew showed some nice genre savvy in the match, particularly with Santino using the crowd's cheers to locate Drew in the ring. Regardless, consider that Drew McIntyre went from fodder on SuperStars to time on SmackDown. That speaks volumes.
- Bryan vs. Henry. Lumberjack matches are another one of those unique matches we don't see too much in the WWE. There was some small bits of storytelling that helped, particularly with Bryan getting a bit testy with the other talent at ring side.
Beyond that, the match itself was a standard Big Man vs. Small Man affair while the Lumberjacks didn't really become a factor until the end where the match devolved into chaos. Bryan slithering his way out of the morass of humanity was a great shot. Solid enough affair for TV and a nice setup for the World Heavyweight Championship match at Royal Rumble.
- Announcing. While I was finishing up this review, something occurred to me. Michael Cole wasn't annoying tonight. He messed up one fact with Gabriel, but he wasn't really noticeably awful. Cole, Booker and Mathews had a good dynamic tonight that made the flow of the program that much better.
- The Usos vs. Epico and Primo. Tornado Tag matches are fun. This was to establish Primo and Epico as the champions. There were a few fun spots, but it was too short to really accomplish anything beyond the intended premise. This would have been better had The Usos been treated as anything but cannon fodder during their tenure in the WWE.
- Mahal push. It strikes me as curious how they've been building Mahal. He got a victory over Alex Riley on Superstars but they won't establish him as any sort of threat to Sheamus. It's the usual course for the WWE, but it seems an especially glaring error here.
It seems that the WWE is simply using this as a placeholder feud to give Sheamus something to do until the build to Elimination Chamber and WrestleMania. For the audience to buy Jinder as a threat, they need to treat him as one.
- Backstage segments. Usually, I give the segments a passing grade because they are needed to establish continuity in the program. But they felt out of place tonight. I suppose it isn't too surprising given the random nature of tonight's show. Still though, it is what it is.
- Dance Off. Wow, that was a waste of time. Vickie's involvement wasn't really too funny and even Regal making the save didn't help matters. Something about Clay's gimmick is really annoying to me and the "Are you a Funky Chicken?" was as groan worthy as Sheamus losing to Hornswoggle last month. The fact I made it through the segment was actually a test of will.
Daniel Bryan's beard is so very epic.
Hornswoggle's canned heat is about as bad a can of spoiled Spam.
I hope Cody never turns face. He has that perfect generic babyface look and it would kill his career.
Cole misquoting of facts is annoying.
Epico and Primo's theme seems to be a remix of a Bossa Nova beat I had on an electronic keyboard when I was a kid.
Once the novelty of Clay's gimmick wears off, he will grow very thin with the crowd very quickly. I get why folks like him, but I predict this will adoration will go south quickly.
If Barrett ever makes a face turn, he really will need some pyro.
DiBiase's nose is as impressive as Triple H's schnoz.
I mark for McIntyre.
Santino is the smartest wrestler on SmackDown.
The WWE cranked the volume up on Henry's heat. Same for Bryan.
The small "Dan-iel Bry-an" chants reminded me of this.
They did a nice setup for the World Heavyweight Title match at Royal Rumble
Final Grade: B
This was another solid affair for the Blue brand. Where Raw has it's highs and lows, SmackDown continues to deliver a good show week in and week out.
The lack of Tag Teams in the WWE is really telling since Evan got his 60 day vacation and the backstage segments didn't really do much for me. But Bryan continues to establish himself as a top star in the WWE and a couple of solid matches always help matters. Overall, this was a good show.