By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose Challenged Kevin Owens to a Last Man Standing Match at Royal Rumble
Needless to say, I'm rarely a fan of talking segments kicking off a wrestling show, but I liked the idea of Ambrose's big announcement starting SmackDown. I couldn't tell you the last time we had a Last Man Standing match over the Intercontinental Championship (or if it has ever been done at all), so it came across like a major deal. Sheamus and Owens inserting their two cents before Neville made the save was pretty paint-by-numbers albeit logical in effectively setting up the night's main event tag team match. Besides, everyone's promos were standard, so this was a solid segment.
The Dudley Boyz def. The Wyatt Family in a Tables Match
The fact we had a Tables match on SmackDown alone was a cool hook for the Thursday night program. As the commentators mentioned, it had been four years since a Tables match was held on SmackDown, despite there not being any real reason behind this one other than the two teams having feuded for the past month or so. It was a fun match while it lasted and if anyone can have an entertaining Tables match, it's The Dudley Boyz. Their victory took me by surprise since they rarely win these days, but The Wyatt Family were able to get their heat back afterward with the post-match attack that came off very well.
The Social Outcasts def. Zack Ryder, Goldust, Jack Swagger and Damien Sandow
I couldn't care less about anyone in this match except for the fact that Sandow is finally back. All right, so I'm partially intrigued by The Social Outcasts, and after how much attention they've received in the past week and a half, it was obvious they were winning here. Regardless, Mauro Ranallo's shocking call of their "upset" win was great. They might find success if they can keep up their winning ways, but we'll see how long it lasts. By the way, is there any chance that the group of Ryder, Goldust, Swagger and Sandow can be called The Social Outcasts 2.0?
Alberto Del Rio def. Kalisto to Win the United States Championship
In their third match in the last week, Del Rio and Kalisto delivered a quick-paced, highly competitive contest with the momentum constantly shifting between them throughout. Kalisto once again was made to look like an equal to Del Rio and the crowd bought into the nearfalls down the stretch. Yes, I was disappointed to see Kalisto drop the star-spangled prize so soon, but I'm not fuming over it for a number of reasons. Firstly, it marked our first title change on SmackDown in over three years (though I would have had Kalisto win it on SmackDown to begin with). Secondly, he was protected in defeat because King Barrett aided Del Rio at ringside. And thirdly, he'll get the belt back at some point. I'm not a fan of short title reigns, but I'll reserve further judgement until we see where this leads.
Becky Lynch def. Brie Bella
Although the match wasn't much of note because it barely went longer than a few minutes, I appreciated how there was meaning behind it. Lynch cost Brie Bella a chance to take on the Divas Champion on Raw, so Brie wanted revenge in the form of a match with Lynch. Amazing how such simple booking works, right? They made the most of the time they were allotted, but what's important is that the story at large in the Divas division was well furthered with Lynch's pre-match promo discussing her on-going rivalry with Charlotte. Is it a stretch to say it's the best main roster women's feud we have had in years?
Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose and Neville def. Kevin Owens and Sheamus by Disqualification
All four competitors have had issues with each other in recent weeks, so that made the match more meaningful along with the enjoyable in-ring action. They found good chemistry together and contested an above-average tag team main event. That said, I did find it strange that after being a part of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship picture for almost two months, Sheamus is already back to being a midcard player, but truth be told, that's where he belongs right now. Ambrose and Owens continue to have an engaging program that I can't wait to see conclude at the Royal Rumble (not because I want to see it end, but the Last Man Standing match should be awesome).
For the second week in a row, I was impressed by WWE's renewed focus on SmackDown. It's not yet on the level of Raw and I don't know if it ever will be, but it's slowly starting to feel more and more important by the week. Mauro Ranallo was once again excellent on commentary and he brings such a freshness to the show that enhances my viewing experience as a fan. The Tables match and title change made this a more noteworthy edition of SmackDown than usual, so I recommend giving it a watch when you get the chance.