By Steven Flora
Shinsuke Nakamura took on Shelton Benjamin in the main event of SmackDown Live, with WWE Champion AJ Styles in The King of Strong Style’s corner at the Royal Rumble Winner’s behest. Elsewhere, SmackDown General Manager Daniel Bryan laid down a once unthinkable challenge to Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn for WrestleMania.
Nakamura continues his dominance heading into WrestleMania
Shinsuke Nakamura def. Shelton Benjamin
In a first-time-ever battle between two of SmackDown Live’s most athletic and hardest-hitting Superstars, Shinsuke Nakamura took on Shelton Benjamin. The Phenomenal One made good on his word to be in The Artist’s corner in the interest of protecting their WWE Title Match at WrestleMania 34. Benjamin, of course, had his partner Chad Gable by his side, adding extra wrinkles to the match.
Benjamin brought it to WWE’s Rockstar, not backing down in the face of Nakamura’s onslaught, but The King of Strong Style reigned supreme, defeating Benjamin with a stinging Kinshasa for the win as Styles kept Gable at bay.
After the match, Shinsuke grabbed a microphone and made it clear he never needed Styles in his corner tonight. More words were exchanged, but Benjamin & Gable suddenly attacked Styles from behind as WWE’s Rockstar was exiting. Nakamura was quick to come to The Phenomenal One’s aid and fend off both Shelton & Chad, clearing them from the ring. However, with them now gone, Nakamura noticed the battered Styles was staggering to his feet. The Artist began gearing up to clobber AJ with a Kinshasa, but he stopped short.
Nakamura once again let The Phenomenal One know what awaits him at WrestleMania: “Knee. To. Face.” Shinsuke then delivered a sly smile and patted Styles on the head before exiting, letting Styles know that one Kinshasa may be all it takes on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
Side Note: Nakamura is getting much better at his promos, and it's not even how he says what he says, it's how he does it. The little pat on the head was a stroke of genius and you can tell he's getting inside the head of the greatest wrestler in the world today. This will be an all time classic and I'm grateful to see it for my own eyes in two weeks.
Daniel Bryan wants Owens & Zayn at WrestleMania
After being savagely attacked by Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn last week, an act which spoiled the announcement that he was now cleared to return to in-ring competition, Daniel Bryan hit the scene with a blockbuster announcement.
Despite SmackDown Commissioner Shane McMahon currently suffering from a case of acute diverticulitis due to being brutalized by KO & Zayn, Bryan proclaimed he believes Shane-O-Mac will be ready to compete at WrestleMania. With that in mind, The “Yes!” Man challenged Owens & Zayn to a tag team match against him and Shane at The Show of Shows. If Bryan & Shane win, then KO & Sami would still be fired, but the Commissioner and General Manager would get their retaliation. However, if Owens & Zayn win, they would get their jobs back on the blue brand.
An impassioned Bryan then made it clear he was heading to WrestleMania with one goal in mind: Pulverizing The “Yep!” Movement.
Side Note: WOW! so much passion, so much energy, this is what was needed from superstars of today that Bryan could deliver so effortlessly. This was about Owens & Zayn's dominance over the SmackDown roster, however, Bryan's return to the ring will overshadow this completely. YES.
Rusev turns the U.S. Title match into a Fatal-Four Way at WrestleMania
Jinder Mahal & Rusev def. Randy Orton & Bobby Roode
Side Note: Rusev deserves being added to the US title match at WrestleMania and I have a sneaky feeling he'll win this like Ryder won the Intercontinental title at WrestleMania two years earlier. The only downfall is Rusev might compete on the pre show, but who cares? Rusev deserves this. It's HIS time.
Other Notable Moments:
Becky Lynch def. Ruby Riott: Lynch and Riott aimed to make a statement just 12 days before each competes in the first-ever WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal. Due to the presence of Riott Squad members Liv Morgan & Sarah Logan at ringside, Lynch appeared to be at a distinct disadvantage, but The Irish Lass Kicker refused to be deterred, and after weathering several interference attempts by Logan and Morgan, she took down the always-game Ruby, catching her with a surprise rollup for the win. After the match, The Riott Squad attempted to make Lynch regret her victory with a blindside attack, but she gave them a sample of what they’d have to watch out for at WrestleMania when she threw them over the top rope.
The New Day vs. The Bludgeon Brothers ended in calamity: The New Day returned to to face off against The Bludgeon Brothers for the first time ever. It was also the first time the complete contingent of The New Day was at full strength since Harper & Rowan brutally attacked them and The Usos at Fastlane. The New Day were back to being as positive as ever, wanting their crack at Harper & Rowan, but The Bludgeon Brothers brutalized The New Day throughout most of the contest. However, when SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos arrived and pounced on Rowan before he could enter the squared circle with his mallet, it seemed the odds were no longer in Harper & Rowan’s favor. Unfortunately for The Usos and The New Day, they could not exactly coexist, and The Bludgeon Brothers reclaimed their mallets and used them to force all five Superstars to flee … at least for now.
Dolph Ziggler def. Tyler Breeze: With The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal less than two weeks away, two of the newest Superstars to declare for the contest (both did so earlier in the day), Dolph Ziggler and Tyler Breeze, squared off. Breeze brought a high-paced offense to the contest, showing he could be as strong a candidate as anyone to win the annual over-the-top rope melee, but The Showoff put the record scratch on Breeze’s chances when he toppled him with a picture-perfect Zig Zag for the win before also laying out Fandango at ringside with a ruthless superkick.
Overall SmackDown Live Rating: D
Things to look forward to next week
How will Owens & Zayn react to Daniel Bryan's WrestleMania challenge?
Has Nakamura finally gotten inside the head of A.J. Styles?
The Revival of Rusev Day???
Is Charlotte ready to face the undefeated Asuka?
Can The Usos withstand the threat from both The Bludgeon Brothers & New Day at WrestleMania?