The show starts with highlights from last week: Royal Rumble winner Randy Orton refusing to wrestler WWE Champion Bray Wyatt at Wrestlemania and kneeling before him. This leads to the announcement that there will be a 10-man battle royal tonight to determine a new challenger for Wyatt. Due to the lack of depth and current storylines, there are approximately three possible winners: John Cena, Luke Harper, and AJ Styles. Anyone other than former Wyatt Family member Luke Harper winning will be shocking.
The show proper begins with Smackdown GM Daniel Bryan’s “Flight of the Valkyries” playing. He comes out and calls Smackdown Women’s Champion Naomi out. She is walking slowly to the ring, noticeably not dancing as usual. Once in the ring, Naomi receives more insipid “You Deserve It” chants. This is the third time she’s received this chant. Thankfully, it’ll be the last.
Bryan puts her over verbally before executing the “hardest thing” he’s done as GM due to his own history of winning titles and being forced to relinquish them due to injury: ask Naomi to surrender her belt. Apparently, her injury reports show she cannot defend within the required thirty days. Even though she has likeability, Naomi stumbles through a poorly-delivered promo about how she feels because her Wrestlemania dream is probably over. She hands over the title, and Bryan hugs her.
She leaves the ring, and while going up the ramp. Alexa Bliss comes out to pretty solid heel heat. She says that the best thing Bryan can do is hand the title over to her since she was the previous champion. Bryan says that’s one idea, but he has another: she wrestles for the vacated title right now against Becky Lynch.
After the commercial break, the match has already begun. They deliver a fairly standard, short match before Alexa cheap shots Becky with a two-handed throat thrust and rolls her up, pulling the tights. Afterwards, Mickie James comes out to congratulate Alexa before she rushes the ring to blindside Becky. Becky sees it coming, fights her off, and stands tall in the ring as James flees.
Outcome: Naomi is no longer champ, Alexa is the new champ, and the Becky/Mickie James feud continues. This is surely leading to Naomi returning early from injury to take on Alexa at Wrestlemania since it is in her hometown of Orlando, which has been mentioned ad nauseam.
During the final minutes of the next few commercial breaks, the participants in the battle royal are given the opportunity to cut old school promos where they look in the camera and proclaim why they will win. The only two decent promos out of this bunch are Dean Ambrose, Baron Corbin, and Luke Harper. These promos would be a welcome return if the wrestlers knew how to deliver them and the writers knew how to write them. Admittedly, Dolph Ziggler standing in front of a green screen and then kicking a fake glass CGI wall behind him was hysterical although it’s unsure if that was the intent.
Natalya is interviewed about Nikki Bella, with whom she will have a falls-count-anywhere match later in the show. Nothing too special here except Natalya gets a good phrase in about Nikki’s “silicone insincerity.”
The Smackdown Tag Team Champions, American Alpha, get airtime two weeks in a row. They wrestle Breezango and squash them in about four minutes. It is devastating seeing how far “Prince Pretty” Tyler Breeze has fallen since debuting. He could be a solid midcarder if they would have slowly turned him into more of a self-aware Shawn Michaels-type. Nevertheless, American Alpha retain, and The Usos come out to taunt them, delivering the best promo they’ve cut in a long time – serious, a little funny, and threatening.
Outcome: The tag team division on Smackdown is further exposed for their lack of depth, and The Usos and Alpha continue to be the only thing that matters there.
Nikki is interviewed about Natalya and says things. The match is up after the commercial break.
Nikki and Natalya have a pretty intense street fight that goes about ten minutes. At one point backstage, Natalya throws Nikki into Maryse who takes a tumble. The women battle back out onto the ramp, and Nikki gets her locked in an STF. Maryse rushes from the back with a lead pipe and starts beating Nikki with it. The Miz comes out, grabs her, and drags her away to stop her from beating Nikki any further. Natalya rolls over and covers the beaten Nikki for the pin.
Outcome: Maryse interfering will certainly be leading to the rumored Cena/Nikki versus Miz/Maryse match at Wrestlemania. This means there are only two possibilities for the battle royal now, Harper and AJ.
The battle royal participants come to the ring. Despite the lack of depth mentioned earlier, the idea of the ten-man battle royal is somewhat exciting, like an old device from NWA days, especially given the prize is the chance to “main event” Wrestlemania. It’s getting annoying hearing that phrase “main event” because there is no way Wyatt and whoever his opponent ends up being are closing the show. The participants are: Harper, AJ, Cena, The Miz, Ambrose, Corbin, Kalisto, Apollo Crews, Ziggler, and Mojo Rawley.
Mojo is too hype and Corbin uses his own force against him for the first elimination. After some apron action, Ziggler eliminates Kalisto, then Crews eliminates Ziggler. Ziggler goes for a chair, his new gimmick, and while Crews is distracted, Corbin eliminates him.
The Miz gets eliminated by John Cena next. Then Ambrose uses Corbin’s momentum against him, and Corbin flies over the top rope. The angry Corbin then pulls Dean under the bottom rope and gives him the End of Days outside the ring. While this is happening, the refs are apparently distracted. This allows The Miz to reenter the ring and toss out Cena. The refs only saw Cena go over the top rope and didn’t know it was an eliminated participant that did this, so Cena is gone.
This leaves Harper, AJ, and Ambrose. The rest of the match consists of odd jockeying for position on the apron that often looks awkward and botched. Ambrose gets eliminated after Harper kicks him in the stomach and he falls off the apron. Harper performs an odd-looking suplex maneuver on AJ and they both fall off the apron together to the floor. Despite it being obvious that AJ would have had to have touched first, the refs consult and declare it a draw. The crowd boos this. Daniel Bryan comes out and declares that a match next week between the two will determine who will face Bray Wyatt at Wrestlemania. Harper gives AJ a Discus Clothesline and stands on the turnbuckles for the crowd. Bray and Randy appear on the screen, and Bray laughs to close the show.
Outcome: Nothing that expected here. The battle royal itself was a little stale with uninspired booking and awkward execution.
Corbin and Ambrose continue their feud which will lead to Wrestlemania. The Miz and Cena escapade certainly confirms the mixed tag match at ‘Mania. There was no winner of the battle royale, but the victor of next week’s Luke Harper and AJ Styles match will determine how faces Wyatt. AJ has no WM plans, but the rumor is still a match against Shane McMahon. Hopefully, there might be something else in store such as an NXT call up. But it’s probably Shane. The title match will most likely mean Wyatt/Harper/Orton somehow at Wrestlemania.
While it is disappointing for the audience to not see a winner, the decision to prolong this makes sense. Harper still needs to get a little more heat if they are going to put him in this position on the card. He’s getting a decent reaction but not an overwhelming one. Plus there is still five weeks to fill until Wrestlemania with no Smackdown PPVs so they have the luxury of twists and turns to slowly build the match-ups.
Overall, it was a mediocre episode of Smackdown, which has been rare recently. The pacing was fine for most of it, but none of the promos were particularly memorable, some storylines are already feeling old (Ziggler/Kalisto/Crews, Ambrose/Corbin), there were too many screwjob endings (Nikki/Natalya, the battle royal), and the actual matches were simply not very entertaining.