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WWE continued to build toward its WrestleMania Backlash premium live event Friday night on SmackDown with a show that put the brand’s top rivalries and Superstars front and center and featured a steel cage match main event.
With nowhere to run or hide, Drew McIntyre finally got his hands on Sami Zayn, this time inside a steel cage. Was The Scottish Warrior able to silence The Great Liberator before moving onto bigger and better things or did Zayn find a way to steal a win and improve his stock on Friday nights?
Did Charlotte Flair or Ronda Rousey beat the clock in their attempt to earn momentum and bragging rights entering the upcoming extravaganza and their I Quit Match for the SmackDown Women’s Championship?
Find out the answer to those questions and more with this recap of the April 29 episode.
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There was nowhere to run or hide for Sami Zayn Friday night as Drew McIntyre finally got his hands on The Great Liberator inside a steel cage at the top of the show.
Despite a start to the match that saw him bump around the squared circle as The Scottish Warrior unleashed weeks of frustration on him, Zayn found himself in control of the bout for several moments. Then came a big superplex off the top rope that sparked a comeback for the WWE champion and a victory via Claymore.
The match was a lot of fun and played to the dichotomy of the performers. Zayn was cowardly early and talked trash when he controlled the match. When McIntyre fired up, he bumped appropriately and ate the pin as most expected.
McIntyre left with momentum on his side and the clear top contender to Roman Reigns and the Universal Championship. Whether that match manifests itself amid a decided lack of a feud for The Head of the Table entering WrestleMania Backlash remains to be seen but no one on the blue brand can reasonably jump him at this point.
Where that leaves Zayn and his direction moving forward is a mystery. Whatever it is, he figures to be immensely entertaining and undeniably great while doing it.
- Drew Gulak was the special guest timekeeper for the match.
- Zayn countered another trip into the side of the cage by rapidly climbing it in an attempt to escape.
- A picture-perfect sunset flip powerbomb by Zayn turned the tide entering the break.
- The superplex off the top of the cage spot will never stop being awesome.
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A vengeful Madcap Moss repaid a sneak attack by Happy Corbin on last week’s show by interrupting Friday’s Happy Talk. He sent Corbin into the ring post and scurrying to the floor before standing tall, fired up, with an edge of intensity not previously seen out of the court jester.
It is that intensity, and the facial expressions that accompanied it, that make Moss a candidate for breakout star of the year. Now, if only he could get a name change …
After a quick commercial break, Ricochet defended his Intercontinental Championship against Shanky, who was accompanied to the squared circle by former WWE champion Jinder Mahal.
Despite interference from The Modern-Day Maharaja, The One and Only continued his recent roll by stacking Shanky up for the pinfall victory. The match was what it was: a perfectly acceptable showdown between a massive heel and an underdog babyface. It is a formula we have seen play out countless times in the world of professional wrestling, with the smaller man somehow managing to knock off the much larger opponent.
Shanky looked like a guy with potential but one that was not necessarily ready to hang with an otherworldly Ricochet. More in-ring reps in meaningful matches will help him grow. A feud with associate Mahal, teased after the bell, is not necessarily the best fit for him at this point.
C + for Happy Talk; C for Ricochet vs. Shanky:
- “… in a Dickies onesie!” Pat McAfee exclaimed as Moss, wielding a sledgehammer, attacked Corbin.
- Shanky literally heaved Ricochet clear across the ring as he overpowered the champion.
- Ricochet sported massive red welts on his chest at one point, proof of the offensive he had to overcome to successfully retain his title.
- Shanky and Mahal teased dissension after the match, hinting at a feud absolutely no one is asking for.
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After weeks of backstage promos and video packages, Raquel Rodriguez made her main roster in-ring debut by squashing Cat Cardonza (Leila Gray to indie fans) and finishing her off with her one-armed powerbomb.
The debut was fine enough but it did little to tell the audience who Rodriguez is. She smiled, a lot, but there was no indication of what her character is or why anyone should care. That will have to change or no size differential or power advantage will help her forge that all-important connection with the audience.
Following a commercial break, Adam Pearce officiated a contract signing between Raw Tag Team Champions RK-Bro and SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos.
Chaos reigned supreme as the WrestleMania Backlash opponents wasted little time brawling with each other, bringing Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns to the squared circle. The distraction allowed The Usos to get the upper hand on their rivals. Drew McIntyre made the save and came face-to-face with Reigns, teasing the most expected feud from the moment The Scottish Warrior arrived on Friday nights.
McIntyre cleared Reigns out of the ring and stood tall to close out the segment, one in which created questions about the advertised RK-Bro vs. Usos match at WrestleMania Backlash and fueled intrigue for a battle between the Tribal Chief and McIntyre.
Might a massive six-man tag team match be on the horizon, an easy out for a company that booked an ill-advised title unification match that doubles as the instruction of a Reigns-McIntyre program? As we saw in a backstage segment, Paul Heyman strongly advised Adam Pearce to make it happen.
C- for Rodriguez’s debut; B for the contract signing:
- “This one here, he’s nothing but a little bitch,” Randy Orton said of Jimmy Uso.
- McIntyre hurled Reigns across the ring.
- “What does this mean for the tag team title unification match?” Michael Cole pondered on commentary.
- “This has been a long time coming!” a fired-up McIntyre exclaimed as he stared The Tribal Chief down.
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With an impending showdown over the Women’s Tag Team Championships on the horizon, Naomi battled Shayna Baszler, with their respective partners Sasha Banks and Natalya at ringside.
A sprint of a match featured back-and-forth action from the champion and The Queen of Spades, culminating with the latter catching her aggressive opponent with a rollup for the win.
The outcome mattered not, though, as Baszler and Natalya left the champions lying, establishing dominance ahead of their as-of-yet-unannounced title bout. Given that Baszler and Natalya are a relatively new entity and less over than the champs, it makes sense that WWE Creative would find it necessary to build some heat. Based on crowd reaction, it worked.
With Butch’s whereabouts still in question, Sheamus accompanied Ridge Holland to the squared circle for a match with New Day’s Xavier Woods, who was accompanied by Kofi Kingston. Holland dominated the action but it was his hubris that proved costly as Woods scored the win against the overconfident young star with the Backwoods rollup.
Not to be one-upped, Sheamus challenged Kingston to a match immediately after. He scored the win in a match that did not need to happen, to put an end to a segment that accomplished nothing.
Why does WWE Creative feel the need to constantly put Sheamus and Holland over, never allowing them to lose or look weak? They are midcard heels who constantly get over on babyfaces and never get their comeuppance. Putting Woods through a table erases any momentum he gained by beating Holland and the 50-50 booking of the segment renders the entire thing pointless.
This was the antithesis of the segment that preceded it.
C + for the women’s tag team segment; D- for the New Day-Eastie Boys nonsense:
- “Ring the bell, Drew. You’ve stunk at everything else,” Pat McAfee said of Gulak at the timekeeper’s position.
- Natalya blindsided Naomi but Banks cleared the Queen of Harts, only to fall prey to a Sharpshooter by The Queen of Harts.
- Baszler stomped on Naomi’s arm, leaving McAfee and Michael Cole in disgust at the commentary table.
- “I miss Big E,” McAfee said. “Hell yeah,” Cole replied in a nice show of solidarity in support of the former WWE champion, who is out of action and nursing a neck injury.
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Bragging rights and momentum were at stake in the show-closing finale Friday night, a Beat the Clock I Quit Challenge that pitted “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey against Shotzi and SmackDown women’s champion Charlotte Flair against Aliyah.
Rousey set the bar at 1:41, forcing Shotzi to quit with an ankle lock. The win made Rousey look like a dominant force but continued the inexplicable devaluing of Shotzi, who really should be put in a position to benefit the show rather than occasionally emerging from obscurity to take a beating. She has too great an upside to be wasted in the manner that she has.
Aliyah, on the other hand, showed gutsiness as she beat the clock, refusing to tap out to Flair’s Figure Eight. As a result, Rousey won the competition, bragging rights on her side entering the May 8 premium live event.
The whole ordeal was fine enough for what it was but, like so much of the feud, none of it made fans care any more or less about the vendetta that exists between champion and challenger. It was a segment that existed just to exist or, at the very most, to continue the weekly humiliation of Drew Gulak.
The special timekeeper was beaten down and left lying by Flair to close the show, begging the question: why has WWE suddenly and prominently featured Gulak to the extent that it has? Might he figure into the outcome at WrestleMania Backlash or is this merely to give Rousey and Flair a tackling dummy that is not each other?
All signs point to the latter, which is really unfortunate given how talented a professional wrestler he is.
- Cole and McAfee reminded the audience of Aliyah’s historic shortest-win-ever over Natalya from a few months back to put over her success in timed matches.
- Flair blasted Gulak over the head with the timekeeper’s bell to end the show.