Welcome to The Nerd Hub’s weekly breakdown of WWE SmackDown Live with quick takeaways from the conclusion of The Superstar Shake-Up at Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, from the April 16 episode. If you smell what’s cooking, then get ready to start laying the smack down.
HEADLINE NEWS – TUESDAYS ARE ROMAN’S EMPIRE
“The Biggest Acquisition in the history of SmackDown” wound up being Roman Reigns. WWE Chairman Vince McMahon insisted on making a big announcement himself. As a result, The Big Dog thanked him with a Superman Punch to the chin. Ironically, both of the headline moves in the Superstar Shake-Up this year – AJ Styles and Reigns – have decked McMahon in recent months. Apparently, a free swing at the chairman symbolizes the McMahon seal of approval these days.
The two main brands essentially flip-flopped tent-pole acts in Reigns and Styles. Inevitably, this will invite comparisons between The Phenomenal One and The Big Dog as to who makes a bigger impact. Make no mistake about it, Reigns got put on SmackDown Live for it to be his show now. In a similar fashion as Styles, Reigns worked exclusively on RAW since the brand extension draft in 2016. Therefore, SmackDown represents a new “yard” for The Big Dog, but the roster isn’t quite as set up to highlight Reigns like Raw’s does for Styles.
However, the more important question remains: Will more fans finally start to embrace Reigns? A significant part of the crowd at WrestleMania did the wave during his match with Drew McIntyre. Furthermore, some of them booed a man trying to get his first singles match victory since beating leukemia. If a comeback from cancer can’t win people over to Reigns’ side, what can?
BEST OF THE REST: SMACKDOWN GETS CHAMPIONSHIP PEDIGREE
The Blue Brand just got Intercontinental.
Intercontinental Champion Finn Balor made his SmackDown Live debut as the first big acquisition announced on Tuesday. Consequently, United States Champion Samoa Joe will head to Monday Night RAW. In his first match on his new brand, Balor earned a victory in an entertaining match against Ali.
In addition, SmackDown added six other past champions. On the men’s side, former Cruiserweight Champion Buddy Murphy and former tag team champion Chad Gable came over as well as Elias, Lars Sullivan, Apollo Crews, and Heavy Machinery. Meanwhile, SmackDown beefed up its women’s division considerably with Liv Morgan, former RAW Women’s Champion Bayley, former six-time champion Mickie James and former NXT Women’s champions Ember Moon and Kairi Sane.
BIG WINNER: WOMEN’S DIVISION
The 2019 Superstar Shake-Up will go down as the moment SmackDown made its women’s division the greatest strength of the brand. Team Blue added four former champions to a roster that already included eight-time champion Charlotte Flair, former champions Carmella and Asuka and The IIconics, the women’s tag champs. In addition, Becky Lynch, the reigning champ of both brands, will work double-duty in the short term.
Much like RAW with its men’s tag division, SmackDown made the statement that it’s the home for women’s tag team wrestling. It started with former SmackDown General Manager Paige’s announcement that she’s managing Asuka and Kairi Sane to come for The IIconics. Additionally, Bayley, Ember Moon, Liv Morgan, and Mickie James can serve either as tag partners or singles competitors. Finally, the Fire & Desire team of Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville remained intact. So, that means SmackDown could feature five or more tag teams this year.
On the other hand, the list of singles competitors to chase Lynch for the gold also remains strong. Expect Bayley, Moon, James and possibly Sane to jump in the line of contenders with usual suspects like Flair, Carmella, and Asuka.
BIG LOSER: WWE CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDERS
We knew Kofi Kingston would not remain a champion for long when he won at WrestleMania 35, but the story was too good to ignore. It looked like his first challenger would be Drew McIntyre when he showed up on SmackDown last week in Brooklyn. However, that’s obviously not in the cards with the Scottish Psychopath staying on RAW. Then, Reigns came on the scene.
In short, Reigns will claim the WWE Championship soon. Everyone knows it. In fact, many fans are already despairing that Brock Lesnar becomes the heel to take the belt away from Kingston. As a result, it would trigger another Lesnar-Reigns feud. No matter whether you’re rooting for Reigns’ comeback story or not, you’ve got to concede that few want to see Lesnar and Reigns yet again.
Therefore, WWE must tread carefully in how it sets Reigns’ path to gold. One x-factor we haven’t heard from yet is “The New” Daniel Bryan. Admittedly, WWE ended the automatic rematch clause, but we’ve now gone a few shows without seeing the top heel in the company. Here’s hoping Bryan can make this race interesting. Otherwise, we may get Reigns-Lesnar or possibly Reigns-Randy Orton for the title soon. If that happens, fans will get their beach balls ready.
1. Kevin Owens – You know he’s going to break our hearts and go bad again, but how fun is KO as a good guy? Kudos to WWE and KO for taking a difficult situation like a New Day segment without the injured Big E and making it the best part of the show. The “Big O” survived his initiation of eating a platter of pancakes, squeezing into a cut-off shirt and hip-shaking dance routines to become an honorary New Day member. Then, he hit Rusev with a Stunner to give New Day a victory over The Bulgarian Brute, Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro. Raise your hand if you ever thought you’d see KO wearing a New Day unicorn headband. Nobody? Yeah, I didn’t expect that either.
2. Buddy Murphy – There’s a reason he wears tights that say “The Best Kept Secret.” Many people have skipped classics he’s turned in on 205 Live or in pay-per-view preshows, but now he gets a bigger stage. He’s neck-and-neck with Neville as the best Cruiserweight Champion in the WWE since they started up 205 Live. Furthermore, he’s versatile enough to have great matches with everyone on the roster from Reigns to Bryan on down to his old rival, Ali.
3. Elias – The Drifter seems like more of a SmackDown type guy anyway. His stock remains up this week because he keeps getting included in important moments of each show. In the past few weeks, he’s given us the return of the “Dr. of Thuganomics,” The Undertaker, Rey Mysterio joining RAW and Reigns joining SmackDown. I can’t wait to see who interrupts and beats him up next week.
4. Paige – It’s good to see we may start to get regular doses of the former Divas Champion on WWE TV again. Understandably, she needed to take a break to promote the Fighting with My Family movie about her path to becoming a wrestler. However, WWE handled her exit as SmackDown General Manager rather hastily and clumsily. Now, she’s in a good spot as a talker for two talented former champs in Asuka and Kairi Sane who can’t speak for themselves very well. They look like your next women’s tag team champs to me. Possibly as soon as Money in the Bank.
5. Lars Sullivan – The bulldozer of WWE’s 40-something set finally finds a home. Vince likes his monsters and it’s obvious he’s pushing the guy fans are calling Snitzky 2.0. In a roster light on big men to challenge Reigns, Sullivan seems like the next monster up to tackle the job.
1. The Death of Riott Squad – WWE continued destroying factions on Tuesday with the announcement Liv Morgan would split from Ruby Riott and Sarah Logan. Unlike Sanity, Riott Squad managed to get some TV time. However, they became the sacrificial lambs in getting then RAW Women’s Champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey over for long stretches. Furthermore, the beat-the-clock challenge for Rousey, Lynch, and Flair in which they pinned all the members of Riott Squad in a little over a minute made them look weak. As a result, like many people, WWE missed an opportunity on making these three talented women a strong heel faction.
2. The IIconics – Billie Kay and Peyton Royce achieved their dream of becoming WWE Women’s Tag Champs at WrestleMania 35 and now have inexplicably fallen off a cliff. Their first three appearances as champs include a squash victory over enhancement talent dubbed The Brooklyn Belles and losses on both RAW and SmackDown this week. On Tuesday, Royce ate a top-rope elbow from Sane for the L. I get that it’s a part of their gimmick to look weak, but I don’t think this is helping them much.
3. Carmella – The Princess of Staten Island won the WrestleMania 35 Battle Royal, so of course, she should lose her first match afterward to Flair, right? What? The WWE 50-50 booking train rolls on. What is the point of having Carmella win at WrestleMania if you’re going to squash her with The Queen? I thought the whole point of Carmella’s win would be to get her primed for a run at the title. Yet, now it just seems like it was pointless.
4. Bayley – Do you want to know how you can tell your gimmick is dead? Go to a place like Montreal where there was a live crowd and get booed as a babyface. Apparently, the Canadians aren’t huggers. They had no love for The Hugger on Tuesday, anyway. The Man recently tweeted that she’d like to slap Bayley’s head off. That feud may come, but the Montreal crowd leaves you wondering if enough people are still invested in Bayley to care.
5. Heavy Machinery – The company totally forgot about Tucker and Otis, leaving Dozovic to issue a last-minute tweet to confirm they’re on SmackDown. Even with The Usos off to RAW, the tag team division remains stacked. These two will have to contend with New Day, The Bar, Rusev & Nakamura and others. They will have an uphill battle to not fall by the wayside like Sanity, The Colons and The Good Brothers did in 2018.