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Vengeance, thy name is Roman Reigns.
It is a reality that faced Adam Pearce again Friday as the WWE official signed the contract for his Universal Championship match against The Tribal Chief at Royal Rumble on January 31.
The tense in-ring promo segment headlined a SmackDown that continued the march to the annual extravaganza, with both men and women announcing their entries into the namesake matches.
What fate awaited Pearce, and who cashed their ticket to the Rumble pay-per-view?
Find out with this recap of the January 15 episode.
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Announced for Friday’s show:
- Contract signing for the Universal Championship Match at Royal Rumble
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. « Main Event » Jey Uso
- Rey Mysterio vs. King Corbin
Coverage begins at 8:00 p.m.
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Moments after Paul Heyman vowed to fix the contract for a dissatisfied Roman Reigns’ Universal Championship defense against Adam Pearce at Royal Rumble, Jey Uso hit the ring to kick off the evening’s broadcast.
« We run this show! » Uso said of him and Reigns. He warned Pearce about what awaits him at Royal Rumble and suggested WWE officials thank The Tribal Chief for their success. He declared his entry into the Men’s Royal Rumble Match and vowed to go to Raw, where he would win the WWE Championship from Drew McIntyre.
Uso said Shinsuke Nakamura should be thanking him and his family for letting him survive last week. This brought The Artist out, to his old theme music, for the first match of the night. Nakamura fanned the flames, calling Uso the puppy to Reigns’ Big Dog. He caught him with a kick ahead of the commercial break.
Uso was strong here, coming across as natural rather than scripted. He was passionate and put over the nature of his relationship with Reigns, talking up The Tribal Chief and putting his family over as the most badass entity in the sport.
Yet, the moment Nakamura appeared and confronted him, he ate a big boot to the face that silenced him.
As should any yapping heel. It worked well and set the stage for the opening match on the night.
The return of Nakamura’s old theme would suggest a babyface turn is either in the making or is already completed.
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Nakamura and Uso went back-and-forth early until Cesaro’s music played and The Swiss Cyborg made his way to the ringside area, apparently in support of his longtime tag team partner. Fueled by his partner’s presence at ringside, Nakamura launched Uso into the ring post heading into the commercial break.
The Artist controlled the match coming out of the timeout as Cesaro joined Michael Cole and Corey Graves on commentary, excusing his absence from last week’s show by claiming Tropicana Field was too big for him to get to the ring and help his partner as he was beaten down by Uso and Reigns.
Uso turned the tide in his favor, working over his opponent in the corner with a barrage of boots. Nakamura recovered and delivered a sliding German suplex, but Uso answered with a belly-to-back suplex for two.
Nakamura set up for the Kinshasa, but Uso caught him with a superkick. The top-rope splash by the former tag team champion was met with knees to the midsection. Still, Uso recovered and scored a rollup using the ropes. Charles Robinson counted to three but waived it off. The ensuing argument allowed Nakamura to deliver the Kinshasa for the pinfall victory.
Nakamura defeated Uso
The match was hurt by the poorly-placed commercial break. It hurt the flow and the viewers’ ability to really invest in it.
The effort was there, and there was definitely chemistry about it, which makes one wonder what the performers would have accomplished had the contest not been plagued by the break so early on.
Nakamura winning was the right move, though it would have been more effective clean. We have seen Jey lose in that manner in the past and recover quickly because of his spot on the card. It would have benefited The Artist more than the screwy nature of the finish.
Keep an eye on Cesaro, whose convoluted excuse for not saving Nakamura suggests there is a rift or even jealousy on his part that will spell the end of their team.
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Despite Heyman getting Pearce to sign a contract for a No Disqualification Match against Reigns at Royal Rumble, an unsatisfied Tribal Chief expressed his desire for a Last Man Standing Match and said he would sign that contract in the ring.
Interestingly enough, Apollo Crews sat in on the exchange moments after having knowledge imparted on him by the universal champion.
Back from the break, Natalya hit the ring for singles competition, Tamina in her corner. Her opponent? The Riott Squad’s Liv Morgan, accompanied by Ruby Riott and Billie Kay.
Early chain wrestling gave way to the self-proclaimed B.O.A.T. (Best of All Time) dominating the action with her strength and experience advantages. Morgan fought back, but a distraction from an overzealous Kay allowed Natalya to score the win off a schoolgirl rollup.
Natalya defeated Morgan
This was not good, nor was the execution.
Kay was the focal point, and given the emphasis on her character in recent weeks, that is fine. What was not was how convoluted the booking of the finish was.
Kay didn’t have to get in the ring, tripping and stumbling around. She could have accomplished the distraction from the floor and Natalya still could have won.
It is disappointing in some respects to The Riott Squad’s Morgan and Riott, who were building momentum for themselves as a team but are now in danger of being overshadowed in their own faction by Kay. That is through no fault of the Aussie, though, who is absolutely nailing everything she is being asked to do.
Except for the finish of this week’s match.
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A week after King Corbin sent him into the steel steps during the gauntlet match, Dominik Mysterio watched as his father Rey battled the heel in singles competition.
The bigger, stronger, more ferocious Corbin dominated the action, pummeling Mysterio for the majority of the match. Commentators Michael Cole and Corey Graves even asked Dominik how he could sit by and watch. The third-generation star cited his father’s wishes to stay out of the match.
Mysterio created separation and set up for the 619, but Corbin caught him with the Deep Six.
The action spilled to the floor, where Corbin blasted Dominik. Back in the ring, the young star attempted to defend himself, but Corbin sent Rey into his son and finished him off with End of Days for the win.
Corbin defeated Mysterio
Do the Mysterios ever win anymore?
The perpetual losers suffered a familiar fate this week as Corbin continued to build heat for himself. The eventual moment in which Dominik stands up for himself, his own man, and fights back will ultimately make him an even more viable young star.
Until then, he needs some wins to build up his resume, because right now, he looks like a perpetual loser.
The match was perfectly fine for what it was, which was an extended squash that saw Corbin steamroll Rey until he needed a distraction to score the win.
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Michael Cole threw to the ring for the debut episode of « Ding Dong Hello! » with Bayley.
The former SmackDown women’s champion introduced her first « G-U-EST, » Bianca Belair.
Belair made herself at home, stealing Bayley’s chair from her. The hostess threw to the video screen for what was supposed to be a preview of Belair’s upcoming edition of WWE Chronicle but was actually a recap of her own win over The EST a few weeks back.
Bayley insisted she is the best for having beat Belair. The back-and-forth argument between the two gave way to Bayley laying down the challenge for an obstacle course on next week’s show.
Belair eagerly accepted as the two continued their argument to close out the segment.
This was OK, but it was hardly the sort of debut talk show that was memorable in any way.
There was more bickering than actual dialogue, and the result was a messy segment that accomplished what it intended to by setting up next week’s obstacle course.
Bayley’s over-the-top heel persona was never fully allowed to shine, nor was Belair’s natural charisma.
It simply did not, but that is not to say it cannot. Bayley is too good on the mic under this current character to not make it successful.
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Daniel Bryan and Cesaro took to the squared circle for singles competition and wasted little time taking to the mat for some chain wrestling. Cesaro took a nasty bump that left him nursing the back of his head. Bryan took advantage, sailing off the top rope with a splash.
An errant kick by Bryan saw him crash into the ring post heading into the break.
Back from the commercial, Bryan and Cesaro teed off on each other with hard-hitting strikes. Bryan punted the left arm and applied the Yes Lock. Cesaro countered and applied the Sharpshooter. Bryan countered and reapplied the Yes Lock.
Cesaro narrowly forced the break, draping his foot over the bottom rope. The fight headed to the ropes, where Cesaro delivered a vertical suplex for a near-fall. The action continued, encompassing reversals and counters until Bryan set up for the running knee.
Cesaro caught him mid-run with an uppercut and finished Bryan off with the Neutralizer for the win.
Cesaro defeated Bryan
Give us all of this.
Bryan and Cesaro are master craftsmen between the ropes, and here, they turned in a beautiful match.
Counter-heavy and full of punishing strikes, it ultimately came down to Cesaro capitalizing on an opening created by a Bryan misstep and scoring a much-needed victory.
It was a defining win for The Swiss Cyborg and, hopefully, the start of things to come for the most underrated wrestler in the world.
In consecutive weeks, former world champion Bryan has been selfless, putting over both Nakamura and Cesaro in an attempt to strengthen the overall quality of the SmackDown roster. Others within the company would be wise to learn from this.
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On the same night he joined Roman Reigns in his locker room, learning under The Big Dog, Apollo Crews battled Sami Zayn in singles competition while intercontinental champion Big E watched from a sofa at ringside.
Crews overwhelmed and dominated Zayn early and often, overpowering him and proving himself worthy of another IC title opportunity.
Later, Zayn delivered an exploder suplex into the corner. Crews recovered, rolling him up and holding the tights for the win. Big E questioned the means of victory on commentary. Crews grabbed hold of the IC title and stared at it, then tossed it back to Big E before engaging in trash talk.
Crews defeated Zayn
Sami Zayn’s conspiracy gimmick is one of the best in WWE, so it is no surprise he stood out here, protesting the means by which he lost to Crews in a manner that suggests he will be making a much bigger deal about it in the weeks to come.
Speaking of Crews, he was great here as the arrogant heel, cheating to beat Zayn, then sparking a verbal confrontation with Big E as their rivalry continues to escalate.
Theirs is a feud that can elevate the IC title and one that will ultimately make a star our of Crews.
Especially if he is aligned with Reigns.
Big E defends against Crews next week in a match with significant implications on the entire title picture.
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Roman Reigns bullied and intimidated Adam Pearce into signing the contract for their Last Man Standing Match at Royal Rumble before taking his place at the head of the table. Reigns put pen to paper, apparently pleased with his actions and the way things unfolded.
« I’ve waited all night for you to do that, » Pearce said before he exited the ring and made his way up the ramp.
Feigning a knee injury, he revealed that the card is subject to change. With that, he introduced Kevin Owens, who signed the contract for the Rumble title shot.
After months of Reigns manipulating things in his favor, his overconfidence proved costly as Pearce one-upped him and put The Tribal Chief’s universal title reign in jeopardy.
Owens vs. Reigns in a Last Man Standing Match should be fantastic based on the strength of their recent encounters.
Even better will be Reigns’ response to this development on next week’s show.