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With Cesaro refocused on Seth Rollins, who will step up to challenge Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship next?
It is the question the April 23 episode of SmackDown sought to answer.
Would The Head of the Table find a new contender worthy of his time and energy, or would he wait again? And what of Cesaro and Rollins, whose rivalry escalated a week ago with The Architect’s sneak attack on The Swiss Superman? What did their latest chapter include?
Throw in a title defense by new Intercontinental champion Apollo Crews and Friday’s show promised to be an eventful one on the road to WrestleMania Backlash.
What went down, who emerged with momentum on their side, and what did it mean for the top stars on the blue brand?
Find out with this recap.
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Announced for Friday’s Fox broadcast:
- Who will step up and challenge Roman Reigns next?
- Apollo Crews defends his Intercontinental Championship
Coverage begins at 8 p.m.
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Cesaro kicked off this week’s show, but before he could address the WWE Universe, “Burn It Down!” exploded over the PA system and Seth Rollins interrupted.
The egotistical heel took credit for Cesaro realizing his potential at WrestleMania, saying he was responsible for giving The Swiss Superman the greatest night of his life. He then blamed God and Mother Nature on his loss at WrestleMania, saying he would not lose to Cesaro on his best day.
The babyface laid down the challenge for a rematch, but Jey Uso interrupted, still infuriated that Cesaro thought he was worthy of a title shot against Roman Reigns. The heels worked together, surrounding the ring for an attack before Daniel Bryan returned and stood by his fellow Ring of Honor alumnus’ side.
Bryan said he came to the ring to ensure Cesaro gets what he deserves because he is the hardest worker in the room. “He hasn’t gotten one break in his career for the Universal Championship.” Bryan ran down everything that was going to happen, complete with Roman Reigns coming to the ring and joining Rollins and Uso in a three-on-two beatdown of Bryan and Cesaro.
Reigns did appear but instead bragged about his WrestleMania victory before calling Bryan and Cesaro losers and exiting the arena.
What is this, Raw?!
WWE spent 15 minutes setting up a tag team match it very easily could have announced from the very beginning. Instead, those involved sleepwalked through a promo that accomplished nothing, furthered no storylines and came no closer to determining the No. 1 contender to Reigns’ title than it was at the beginning of the show.
A rare misfire from a brand that is typically fire on the mic, particularly on the part of Reigns, who was just good on this evening.
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The predictable tag team match kicked off with Seth Rollins and Jey Uso getting the best of Cesaro and working him over in their corner. The Swiss Superman created separation and tagged Daniel Bryan into the match, the former world champion exploding into the ring and unloaded a series of Yes Kicks to the opposition.
Heading into the commercial break, though, the heels regained control with a buckle bomb from Rollins to Bryan. The gutsy Bryan fought his way back, only for Uso to cut him off with a big Samoan drop.
Bryan finally made the tag, and The Swiss Cyborg burst in, delivering right hands and uppercuts to Uso. He executed a picture-perfect springboard uppercut before Bryan wiped out Rollins on the floor with a tope suicida.
Cesaro delivered another uppercut and scaled the ropes, only to come off the top and directly into a superkick from Uso.
Back from another commercial, Cesaro went for the swing and Rollins countered into a rollup. Cesaro escaped and applied the Sharpshooter, only for Uso to break it up with a superkick to the back of the head. An angered Rollins walked out on his partner, nursing a back injury and leaving Uso to withstand a big uppercut from Cesaro and the running knee from Bryan as the babyfaces earned the hard-fought victory.
After the match, Bryan called Reigns out, while Cesaro delivered the swing to Uso. When Reigns didn’t come out, Bryan had Cesaro swing Uso again, this time taunting The Head of the Table by insinuating that he wouldn’t save Jey the way his cousin had repeatedly saved him in every championship match.
Bryan ended by saying Reigns is afraid because he knows a match with Cesaro ends with a new champion. The babyfaces stood tall to close the segment.
Bryan and Cesaro defeated Rollins and Uso
There are far worse ways to spend the first 40 minutes of SmackDown than by prominently featuring four of the best workers on the brand.
This was a fun, physical tag team match that highlighted Cesaro while showcasing both Rollins and Reigns as cowardly and selfish heels who use and abuse even their closest associates for their own benefit. Bryan was great as Cesaro’s hype man after the match, and the sheer number of swings by The Swiss Superman to Uso was incredible.
While the opening promo segment of the night was rather mundane, this was a hell of a lot of fun and really highlighted how immensely talented the top of the card is on Friday nights. Above all else, Cesaro continued to look like a legitimate star, which is the point of everything involving him at this point.
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The budding rivalry between Tamina and Nia Jax intensified this week as the second-generation competitor battled The Irresistible Force in singles action, with respective partners Natalya and Shayna Baszler watching from the floor.
Jax talked trash, and Tamina answered by taking her opponent down with a Thesz press. She looked for the bodyslam, but Baszler interfered and stopped the move. Undeterred, Tamina rocked Jax with a big boot then sent her into the barricade.
Back in the ring, failed interference from Baszler and the returning Reginald led to a distraction that allowed Tamina to score the win off a rollup.
Tamina defeated Jax
Trying to find the good in a match or segment is easier said than done sometimes, and this is one such case.
From the unnecessary drama between Baszler and the not-missed Reginald at ringside to the sloppy, disjointed action between bells, this was bad. The rushed nature, because of the lack of time, only served to drag things down further.
It would behoove WWE to book Natalya and Tamina’s tag title rematch sooner than later because the longer this feud goes, the more exposed it will be as simply not that interesting.
And please, for the love of all things good in professional rasslin, eliminate Reginald from the equation. WWE Creative’s reliance on shoehorning him into the women’s division has done nothing but harm to the programs he has appeared in, even if it is through little fault of the performer himself.
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Earlier in the broadcast, Adam Pearce informed new Intercontinental champion Apollo Crews that he would make his first title defense tonight against…Kevin Owens. Later, Big E took exception to Owens jumping the line, and while the new top contender confirmed the match should probably belong to the former champion, it doesn’t. Instead, KO would defeat Crews and win the title.
Owens outclassed Crews early in their match, but a timely distraction by the massive Commander Azeez allowed the champion to turn the tide in his favor. Crews crashed and burned on the floor, though, allowing Owens to flatten him with a swanton bomb.
Sami Zayn’s music played, breaking up the pin and taking Owens’ focus away from the titleholder entering the break.
Crews hung Owens up on the top rope and added a big clothesline for a near-fall. The champion continued to dominate the action while Zayn sat in on commentary, repeatedly claiming the title is rightfully his. Owens fought back, delivering a cannonball that earned him a count of two.
Owens and Crews traded reversals before the challenger dropped his opponent with a pop-up powerbomb for two. Owens dropped the champion on the ring apron, but a distraction by Azeez allowed Crews to score the rollup for the win.
After the bell, the massive commander dropped Owens with the Nigerian Nail, leaving KO lying after a cheap stunner to the victorious champion.
Crews defeated Owens
Another match, another distraction-leads-to-rollup finish.
It’s lazy booking, to be honest, and not something this match needed. There were enough moving pieces—with Zayn at ringside and the added element of Big E taking exception to Owens receiving the title shot—that WWE Creative could have booked a finish that protected all involved without reverting to the same tired finish we saw literally one match earlier.
It completely and utterly dragged down a match that was both fun and showcased untapped potential between Owens and Crews. Do not be surprised if WWE officials go back to it later down the road.
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Michael Cole threw to a new vignette from the returning Aleister Black, who read from a book entitled “The Dark Father.” He chastised the viewers as the enigmatic promo came to a close.
Elsewhere, Big E and Crews brawled backstage until referees broke them up.
Kayla Braxton caught up with the SmackDown tag team champions Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode. The Street Profits interrupted, and a tense staredown ensued until Bayley broke it up. The newly announced No. 1 contender talked trash on Bianca Belair.
The EST of WWE, and new SmackDown women’s champion, confronted Bayley backstage. The heel threw fake compliments at the champion before laughing them off and walking away.
It is about damn time that Aleister Black is back on WWE TV!
The seriously underutilized Black commanded the viewers’ attention in his vignette, sending an ominous message to the WWE Universe and creating genuine intrigue as to where this latest chapter will take him. “The Tales of the Dark Father” book could potentially be a nod to a new persona, and if so, there are few better choices than “The Dark Father” for the uber-talented Dutchman.
Rarely does a talent have an opportunity to rewrite the course of their career. Black does, and one can only hope those in management fully recognize his potential and allow him to realize it.
Kudos to WWE Creative for stringing together a few backstage segments/video vignettes to tell stories without necessarily overexposing the talent in actual matches. It is a formula that works in other promotions and something the company should consider using across the board moving forward.
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The rivalry between The Mysterios and Alpha Academy continued Friday, with the heels looking to extend their winning streak in duos action against the father and son tandem.
They found success early and often as Chad Gable and Otis wore down Dominik Mysterio, cutting him off from his corner and overwhelming him with their power and technical wrestling advantage. The rookie competitor fought back, created separation and tagged Rey into the match.
The arrival of the future Hall of Famer sparked a comeback for the babyfaces. Dominik stunned Gable with a sliding sunset flip powerbomb that drove the former Olympian into the guardrail. With Otis subdued at ringside after Dominik rammed him into the commentary table, Rey scaled the ropes and delivered a splash to Gable for the win.
The Mysterios defeated Alpha Academy
This was a really solid, high-energy tag team match between two teams that have feuded for what feels like forever but have quietly developed strong in-ring chemistry over that time.
There will be those who argue the team of Gable and Otis needed the win to continue to build credibility with the WWE Universe, and while there is validity to that argument, the argument can be made that Rey and Dominik needed the win to retain their own legitimacy after months of doing everything in their power to put the new team over.
Either way, it still feels like The Street Profits are the next in line to challenge for the SmackDown Tag Team Championship, raising the question: What is the endgame with these two teams? Has this all been to keep them busy?