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The January 8 edition of Friday Night SmackDown felt like part two of the blue brand’s celebration of the new year. With a couple important title matches and major moments to come in building toward WWE Royal Rumble, this had a chance to be a huge show.
Kevin Owens pushed himself too far in the war with Roman Reigns, and The Head of The Table alongside Jey Uso made sure he was badly injured. This left the door for the announcement of a huge gauntlet match.
Sami Zayn, Daniel Bryan, Rey Mysterio, Shinsuke Nakamura and King Corbin would face off to determine the No. 1 contender to the WWE universal champion, facing him at WWE Royal Rumble.
Big E promised to be a fighting champion, and that began with the announcement he would defend his WWE Intercontinental Championship against the man that helped him defeat Sami Zayn and King Corbin last week, Apollo Crews.
The Street Profits also continued their rivalry with Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode by putting their titles on the line once again. The heels had used every trick in the book already and fallen short, but this was the time to pull out their best secret tricks.
SmackDown has started out strong, but the show is only building toward a brighter future. The roster needs to continue relying on young impressive rising stars to thrive in 2021.
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Roman Reigns gave respect to Kevin Owens for fighting with ambition. He blamed Adam Pearce for KO’s injuries due to sanctioned the match between Owens and Jey Uso. The Head of The Table showed Pearce a video package of what led to KO’s injuries.
Reigns ran down the authority figure for putting an injured Owens in harm’s way. He got in Pearce’s face for not showing him the respect he deserved by allowing him to pick his next challenger rather than waiting on a gauntlet match.
Pearce could not defend himself as The Head of The Table approached him, wondering if he was being called stupid. Reigns backed off just barely but left Pearce with a lasting threat.
While it would have made more sense to involve the members of the gauntlet match in this segment, Reigns carried it all the same. His fierce attitude toward Pearce was difficult to ignore and set up the quiet potential of a one-off match between The Head of The Table and the veteran independent wrestler.
Casual WWE fans likely have no idea who Pearce is, but the five-time NWA world heavyweight champion could certainly sell an underdog rivalry with Reigns. It is all up to if he can be cleared for action this late in his career. The possibility of the story is limitless.
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Apollo Crews came after Big E from the outset and looked to be the better man throughout. He threw around the WWE intercontinental champion with ease. After a massive superplex, the two locked legs for a double pinfall, causing the match to end in a draw.
Crews demanded the title and slapped his friend in the face. This convinced Big E to restart the match. An angry champion went after Crews until he got caught with a knee to the face.
A spinebuster and frog splash nearly took the win, but Big E refused to stay down. E battled back with force, wearing down his challenger with the stretch muffler and planted him with the Big Ending to win.
Big E vs. Crews goes to a draw; E def. Crews by pinfall in the restart to retain the WWE Intercontinental Championship.
Odd booking and a lack of time let down an impressive and energetic sprint between two motivated performers. Big E and Crews were all in to make this work, and they gave fans an impressive physical war of strength and speed. A rematch should get at least five more minutes.
Crews teased a heel turn after slapping his friend in the face out of frustration. It would be too early to turn him, but Crews could make a splash if this is finally what sets him up to thrive on SmackDown.
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Bianca Belair announced her entrance into the Royal Rumble followed by an interruption by Bayley, who decided to enter the match and eliminate The EST on her way to a new reign. Carmella bragged backstage about defeating Sasha Banks, making clear she is still more talented than The Legit Boss.
Dolph Ziggler survived an early flurry from Montez Ford by going after his injured left leg then Robert Roode did the same. Ford still refused to slow down, hitting a somersault plancha on the heels that clearly did some damage to his leg as he was struggling to stand.
Angelo Dawkins realized he was going to have to fight alone for a while as Ford recovered, and the heels gladly turned the match into a handicap beatdown. Ford got the hot tag and had to get physical rather than explosive, which worked for a while including a discus lariat.
The Showoff planted Ford with a facebuster off the top rope to stop him in his tracks. Dawkins made a crucial save but could not get to the tag as Ziggler knocked the bigger man off the apron. While Ford kicked out a fisherman buster, he was down for the count after a spinebuster/Zig Zag combination.
As Dawkins looked after his injured partner, the newly crowned champions attacked The Street Profits from behind.
Ziggler and Roode def. Profits by pinfall to become the new SmackDown tag team champions.
This was the absolute best these teams have looked together. Ford as always was the star of the show but in a very different way. He sold like a champion to make clear that this was never a fair fight. Fans had already seen that The Profits were better, so it was important to make clear how different this was.
Ziggler and Roode needed to win this match. If they lost after everything, the duo might as well have broken up. Hopefully, WWE finally commits to the teams for a while. The Profits held tag team gold for much of the last year, so it will be fun to see them back in hunt mode.
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Backstage, Pearce talked to his new assistant Sonya Deville, who questioned if the authority figure would enter himself into the gauntlet match after Reigns threatened him. Paul Heyman told Pearce that he was in the gauntlet match. Billie Kay talked to The Riott Squad about joining the group.
Sami Zayn brought out a special camera crew to film a documentary that expose the conspiracy against him. He stepped into the ring and immediately took a 619 into a splash to be the first eliminated by Rey Mysterio. Shinsuke Nakamura made Mysterio tap out to an armbar.
King Corbin attacked everyone on his way to the ring, sneak attacking The Artist. The King used that edge to dominate Nakamura, but his opponent refused to quit even after the Deep Six. He caught Corbin returning to the ring with a Kinshasa to eliminate him.
Bryan knew that he had an advantage and ground down Nakamura in his third straight fight of the night. A technical war between these veterans ensued where Bryan seemed to have the fight in the bag until Nakamura caught him running with the Kinshasa for a shocking elimination.
Pearce came out reluctantly with Roman Reigns, Jey Uso and Heyman encouraging him. Uso attacked The Artist with The Head of The Table. Reigns then knocked out Pearce and draped him over Nakamura to win.
Pearce wins the gauntlet by last elimination Nakamura to become the new No. 1 contender to the WWE Universal Championship.
This match had a few interesting stories along the way. Nakamura felt like the odd man out in this contest, but he stole the show with one of his best performances in WWE. He and Corbin looked great together, and it was fun to see The Planet’s Champion and The Artist at it again.
By the end of this performance from Nakamura, The Artist looked as good as he ever has. He was made as a top face on the blue brand. Even if he “lost”, it is clear that Nakamura is now set as a future top challenger to the WWE universal champion.
Pearce is a veteran performer getting potentially his one big break. He has worked well as an authority figure, and this may be the reward for his work in that role as well as training in the Performance Center. The story is set to make him the biggest underdog possible for The Head of The Table.