By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Byron Saxton Interviewed Daniel Bryan
While I would have appreciated them going straight into the first match, it was nice to hear from Bryan and not The Authority in the opening segment for once. He made his intentions to win the Royal Rumble clear, providing more hype for the Rumble match than anyone else in the last few weeks. He's a clear candidate to win and his promo was solid. It was also cool (and somewhat scary) to hear him acknowledge his history with Kane that dates back to the summer of 2012. Have they really been feuding that long?
Daniel Bryan def. Kane by Disqualification
As noted before, these two have clashed countless times over the last three years, but anything involving Bryan is going to feel fresh right now because he hasn't been in the ring for nearly nine months. That said, Bryan hasn't missed a step. Kane isn't an ideal first opponent for him, but it was Kane who put him out of commission (in storyline) in the first place, so it was understandable. The non-finish helped set up the six-man tag team match for later in the night.
The Miz, Damien Mizdow and Alicia Fox def. WWE Tag Team Champions The Usos and Naomi
Mixed tag team matches aren't done too often these days in WWE, so this felt slightly special. Everyone involved had a nice outing and the heels going over was the right move. I can't say I'm excited to see Miz and Mizdow vs. Usos for the twin titles yet again, but it's a good addition to the Royal Rumble card since it's in desperate need of more matches. I also assume that will be the night we finally see Miz and Mizdow split up, whether it be in that match or in the Rumble itself.
Seth Rollins Interrupted Paul Heyman
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Rollins is highly underrated on the microphone. He's come a long way as a character since his heel turn last June, but he's especially progressed in terms of promo skills. Him holding his own on the mic against one of the best in the business in Heyman was proof of that. There was a lot of great back-and-forth here that was a logical follow-up to the events of Monday, but it also planted some interesting seeds for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match at the Royal Rumble. My anticipation continues to grow for the title match and adding Rollins to the mix was the best thing they could have done.
Natalya def. Divas Champion Nikki Bella (Non-title)
Obviously, this was done to set up Natalya as a challenger to the Divas Championship at the Royal Rumble, but the trading of the victories between the Divas is accomplishing nothing. The matches aren't bad at all, but they're not being given enough time to be memorable. Paige beat Nikki last week, but lost to Brie on Monday, so is she still considered a contender for the title? The Divas Championship picture is so convoluted right now and these random matches aren't doing anything to help their case.
Intercontinental Champion Bad News Barrett def. Sin Cara
I laughed when Michael Cole said on commentary that these two had prior issues with each other dating back to earlier in Barrett's career. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't remember a single time these two have ever had a problem with each other in storyline. The match was fine for what it was, but it was difficult to care because Sin Cara is an enhancement talent and you knew he wasn't going to win. It would have made more sense for Kofi Kingston to be in that role than Sin Cara. Having Barrett lose to Cara in the first place is still mind boggling to me.
Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns def. Seth Rollins, Big Show and Kane
Although it was cool to see Bryan teaming up with Ambrose and Reigns for the first time ever, the match itself wasn't anything out of the ordinary. I liked how it was given a substantial amount of time, but it was formulaic for the most part. The final few minutes were fun and the crowd was hot for Bryan's offense. I'm not enthralled with another rematch between Bryan and Kane next week, but it was encouraging to see them actually advertise something for the blue brand a week out. I can't remember the last time they did that.
This was an average show on the whole and a solid re-debut on Thursday nights. I really liked the new opening, graphics and theme, and even the commentators were more bearable than usual. This is the perfect time for WWE to actually start taking SmackDown seriously. I don't expect them to make it what it once was, but hopefully it doesn't feel as much like Raw-lite going forward. Bryan's in-ring return made this show newsworthy and everything else was decent enough to make this a good first show on the new night.
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