By Steven Flora
With their WWE Title Match at WrestleMania now official, WWE Champion AJ Styles & Shinsuke Nakamura teamed up against Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn on SmackDown. The one rub? Owens & Zayn were informed beforehand they would be squaring off against one another next week, with the opportunity to be the challenger for Styles’ WWE Championship at Fastlane on the line.
"Yep Movement" comes to a halt as WrestleMania opponents unite
WWE Champion A.J. Styles & Shinsuke Nakamura def. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
This dream tag team match proved to be as unpredictable as it was exciting, as Styles & Nakamura joined forces to face off against Owens & Zayn in Team Blue’s thrilling main event. However, a major wrench was thrown into the situation earlier in the evening when SmackDown General Manager Daniel Bryan announced that Owens would square off against Zayn next week, and the winner would challenge Styles for the WWE Championship at the next SmackDown pay-per-view, Fastlane.
It appeared Owens & Zayn had put their looming showdown next week in the back of their minds when the opening bell rang for their monumental clash with Styles & Nakamura. However, the looming contest couldn’t be forgotten for long, as Owens angered Zayn, prompting Zayn to briefly leave Owens by his lonesome. Zayn returned, but the dissension between the two “Yep!” Movement members remained apparent, causing Zayn to leave for a second time!
With Sami gone, Owens could not overcome the numbers game and fell to Nakamura’s pinpoint Kinshasa. Winner: WWE Champion A.J. Styles & Shinsuke Nakamura.
Side Note: I think they pulled the trigger a bit too early with this potential break-up. They only got back together at Hell in a Cell and to tease a break-up so early, seems like they're almost giving up on the duo. I hope that's not the case, but Nakamura & Styles worked well together considering they're facing each other for the richest prize in sports and entertainment.
Carmella attempts to cash-in on The Queen
SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair joined Renee Young in the ring and reflected on being ringside for the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble Match, as well as sharing the ring with Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss, Royal Rumble Winner Asuka and sports icon “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey at the conclusion of the event.
The Queen’s primary concern was deciphering who she would be squaring off against at WrestleMania, as the women of Raw and SmackDown await Asuka’s decision. She was soon interrupted by Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan & Sarah Logan. Charlotte was at first able to clear the ring of the trio, but the numbers game soon caught up to her, and she was left down by the unrelenting group.
Just when it seemed like the insanity had ceased, Carmella rushed out to the ring with her Money in the Bank contract, clearly ready to cash in on The Queen. The Princess of Staten Island handed her briefcase to an official and charged at Charlotte, but The Queen maneuvered out of the way, and the F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S Superstar clobbered the official instead, sending him careening out of the ring. Princess Mella screamed at the referee to get up, but by then, Charlotte had staggered back to her feet, and Ms. Money in the Bank thought better of cashing in her contract … at least for now.
Side Note: They had to tease a cash-in, seeing as though that didn't work with Corbin! Carmella will win the title but she's got a couple of months till then so she'll have plenty opportunity to cash in.
United States title to be defended on RUSEV DAY!
Rusev def. Kofi Kingston, Zack Ryder and Jinder Mahal to earn a United States Title opportunity
With Bobby Roode’s United States Title reign now in full swing, a quartet of Team Blue’s finest squared off in a Fatal-4 Way Match to determine who would get the next opportunity at The Glorious One for the prestigious championship. Roode sat in on commentary as Rusev, Kofi Kingston, Zack Ryder and Jinder Mahal pushed one another to their limits as they all tried to earn the coveted title opportunity.
A chaotic opening saw Ryder and Kofi whipping out high-risk maneuvers on top of the remaining New Day members, while Aiden English and Sunil Singh caused a ruckus at ringside. Xavier Woods, Big E, English and Singh were soon ejected from the ringside area, paving the way for an even playing field.
Rusev showed off tremendous agility at the end, evading his opponents’ best shots and seamlessly locking Kofi in The Accolade for the tapout victory. Winner: Rusev.
Side Note: Most deserving winner by far. Rusev deserves this after the months and months spent honing the "Rusev Day" gimmick and it's nice to see him given an opportunity at a title. Even if he doesn't win, Roode vs Rusev will be a grueling and physical matchup.
Other Notable Moments:
The Usos put SmackDown’s Tag Team division on blast: Fresh off their hard-fought clean sweep victory over Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match at the Royal Rumble event, The Usos stood tall on SmackDown and reminded the WWE Universe they have tag team gold in their blood. They reinforced they were the baddest team on the planet and would welcome any challengers into The Uso Penitentiary. With those big claims spoken, Jimmy & Jey took off, but they soon found themselves staring down the arriving Bludgeon Brothers. Harper & Rowan, who were in action next, did not even look at The Usos on their way to the ring, but they certainly gained the attention of the SmackDown Tag Team Champions.
Tye Dillinger vs. Baron Corbin: With Corbin and Dillinger both frustrated over what happened to them in the Men’s Royal Rumble Match,, the two exchanged heated words in the backstage area before agreeing to a match on SmackDown. Each looking to right the ship, The Perfect 10 and The Lone Wolf picked up right where they left off during their intense rivalry in summer 2017. Dillinger gave Corbin his best, rattling off a ton of offense that had his opponent reeling, but Corbin survived, connecting with the devastating End of Days for the victory. Winner: Baron Corbin.
Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable def. Breezango: After a tense exchange earlier in the night, Benjamin & Gable took on Breezango after The Ascension egged on Fandango & Tyler Breeze to accept the match. Still frustrated by their loss to The Usos in the SmackDown Tag Team Championship Match at Royal Rumble, Benjamin & Gable were locked in, weathering The Fashion Police’s unique offense and defeating them with their top-rope Powerbomb/Bulldog combo, despite The Ascension cheering Breeze & Fandango on from afar. Winner: Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable.
Overall SmackDown Live Rating: C
Things to look forward to next week
How will the #1 contenders match between Zayn & Owens go down next week?
What's next for Jinder Mahal?
Who will win the U.S. Title match … Roode or Rusev?
When will the Bludgeon Brothers go after the SmackDown Live Tag Team Titles?