I think Smackdown Live has been a superior show to Raw since the WWE brand split last July. They have done a better job in elevating performers, putting on consistently better matches, delivering memorable promos that feel more real than a typical wrestling promo and have the advantage of less filler since it’s two hours compared to three. While it doesn’t get as many viewers as Raw, it usually hits around 85 percent of the Raw audience. So that’s good, considering most fans are conditioned to watching wrestling on Mondays while Tuesdays are a newer thing for us.

A big advantage for Smackdown is that it’s two hours with a run time from 8 p.m. ET to 10 p.m. On Raw, they run from 8 p.m. ET to 11:10 p.m. and if the show is bad, I find myself dozing off because of how boring it can be at times. Both shows will stay that way for the foreseeable future because of TV contracts.

This is my first WWE Smackdown Live reaction article here on The Comeback. I have been writing regular wrestling columns and Raw reviews here for well over a year. When I pitched my editors to do a weekly Smackdown column, they were receptive. I want to thank you for the support to allow me to add this column to what I’m already doing. That means three per week from me here on The Comeback. Thanks for reading.

I was going to try a different format for Smackdown, but I like what I do when I write about Raw, so I’m going to keep the format for this as well.

Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt set up a WWE Title match while competing in a tag team main event

The show began with new WWE Champion Randy Orton walking out to the ring to mostly cheers with some boos sprinkled in too. Orton is a 13-time World Champion, which is the fourth all-time after John Cena, Ric Flair and Triple H. Orton bragged about how he got into Bray Wyatt’s head in the build-up to their match and he finished him off with a RKO to take his title as well.

Wyatt appeared on the video screen, mentioning that he’s got a rematch coming since he’s the former WWE Champion. Wyatt challenged Orton to a “House of Horrors” match while not specifying what that is. Orton admitted he had no idea what kind of match that is, but he accepted the challenge. Since Orton is the face, it made sense for him to accept. Heels are the ones who don’t accept things like that.

After Wyatt’s promo, he appeared in the ring and brawled with Orton. It led to Orton hitting a few moves, but he was stopped by Erick Rowan, a Wyatt Family member who returned to television after missing about seven months due to shoulder surgery. Orton was saved by Luke Harper, a former Wyatt Family member who was in a face role.

That opening altercation set up a tag match with Orton teaming with Harper against Wyatt and Rowan. When the match was set up, my feeling was it would either be Rowan getting pinned to take the loss for his team or Harper re-joining the Wyatt Family. They went with the Rowan getting pinned route. I like Harper as a face and as his own man because he’s a great worker, but I still think there’s going to come a point where he rejoins the Wyatt Family. Perhaps that will happen when Orton defends the title against Wyatt and Harper ends up helping Wyatt win the gold.

This match ended after the lights went out, Wyatt went from inside the ring to crawling up the aisle (good speed by him) and poor Rowan was left to eat superkick from Harper followed by a RKO from Orton. Wyatt didn’t seem bothered by the loss at all as he laughed in the aisle.

I liked the promo and the main event tag. It showed that Wyatt isn’t affected by wins or losses like some wrestlers. All he cares about is messing with people’s minds. Even though they lost the tag, he was laughing because he knows he gets a title shot in a House of Horrors match. Also, they didn’t go with the “roof cam showing the beetles in the ring” thing they did three times at WrestleMania, so that’s a positive as well.

Shinsuke Nakamura interrupted The Miz and Maryse to make his Smackdown debut

The Miz and Maryse did their fantastic John Cena and Nikki Bella (future Cena) parody in front of the Orlando crowd. The fans loved them as Miz mocked the way Cena walks, talks and shows his affection for his fiancée. Maryse had a giant fake ring on her left hand to mock the new engagement ring that Nikki has. I’m a huge fan of their parodies. I think they did fantastic work in building up their match leading into WrestleMania, even though the match was a disappointment.

If you’re wondering about John and Nikki, both of them are expected to be off television for an extended period of time. Cena is filming a movie soon while Nikki needs to take time off because of her neck injury causing her pain.

Miz and Maryse were about to leave the ring, but the lights went out and a spotlight shined on violinist Lee England Jr. The crowd went crazy because England was playing the theme song of Shinsuke Nakamura, who is a former two-time NXT Champion and the guy who fans most wanted to see on the main roster.

When Nakamura emerged on the stage, the crowd hummed along with his catchy theme song and he looked very happy to be there. As Nakamura got into the ring, Miz and Maryse were shown not looking pleased that he took the attention away from them. As Nakamura entered the ring, Miz left with his wife and Nakamura did his elaborate entrance much to the delight of the crowd. When the music stopped, the crowd chanted “Nakamura” for him while he posed for them. The music started again and he danced around some more to end the segment.

I’ve seen Nakamura in person at the NXT Takeover event in Toronto last November. It’s the coolest entrance in wrestling (along with Bobby Roode) and just a small taste of what this guy can do in the ring. I never thought I would sing along with 15,000 people while people played the violin, but it’s a special entrance and he’s an outstanding wrestling.

I thought that maybe Miz would get in his face, ask him what he was doing, try to throw a punch and have Nakamura kick him, but they didn’t do that. Perhaps they are saving a confrontation for next week. Less is more in this case. What this did was simply tell the fans that Nakamura is going to be on Smackdown and if you want to see more, tune in next week.

I hope Miz stays on Smackdown because he’d be the perfect first opponent for Nakamura on the main roster. That will be an awesome feud if they go with it.

Later in the evening, Nakamura beat Dolph Ziggler in a match for the live crowd that wasn’t shown on camera. 

This Week’s Smackdown Live Matches

Naomi defeated Alexa Bliss to retain the Smackdown Women’s Title

Bliss earned the title shot because she was the former champion, so she was given a rematch. Doing a title match as the first match of the night is a smart way to get the crowd into the action early.

Naomi has really impressed me during the last few months because she has improved a lot in terms of doing the little things right. By that, I mean she sold the right knee injury very well from start to finish. When wrestlers have a leg injury, sometimes they don’t sell the moves the entire match. She did it well. Bliss also attacked the knee a lot, which added to the story and made fans sympathetic to Naomi. I liked the finish with Naomi teasing a springboard moonsault, but Bliss stopped it, so Naomi applied her head/arm submission for the win. Good match that was given enough time at 11 minutes.

Tye Dillinger defeated Curt Hawkins

Curt Hawkins was in the ring making an open challenge to anybody who wanted to face him. Tye Dillinger — the “Perfect Ten” from NXT — answered the call to a thunderous reaction from the crowd. Loud “ten” chants for him. Dillinger finished him off in about two minutes with the Tyebreaker for the win. Easy to put over a new guy in front of a hot crowd.

I hope Dillinger gets a solid push, but it’s certainly not a guarantee. We’ve seen a lot of NXT guys get called up only to see them have no impact on the main roster. Tyler Breeze and Apollo Crews come to mind. I’m very happy for Dillinger because he’s been wrestling for 15 years. He signed with WWE over a decade ago, got released after a few years, returned to NXT a few years ago and finally got that main roster call up here. Being at the Royal Rumble was awesome for him as well, but this is even better. I’m genuinely happy for my fellow Canadian Dillinger.

Baron Corbin defeated Dean Ambrose in a Street Fight

I thought this was the best match on Raw or Smackdown this week. They worked at a very fast pace for about 10 minutes with plenty of big moves. Corbin and Ambrose used chairs, tables and even a leather strap. This was the kind of match that fans love because the action is intense. There weren’t rest holds or moments where people lost interest. It felt like a fight. Corbin put Ambrose through a table that was up against the turnbuckle and Ambrose came back with an elbow drop off the turnbuckle through a table on the floor. Ambrose went for a top rope move, Corbin tripped him up, which crotched Ambrose and Corbin hit the End of Days to win.

It was a non-title match, which makes sense because Ambrose beat him at WrestleMania. The win by Corbin likely means they will do another Intercontinental Title match, which probably means Corbin will win the title in that match. I thought he would win it at WrestleMania, but it didn’t happen.

Other Key Items From Smackdown

AJ Styles may have turned face by shaking Shane McMahon’s hand

Shane McMahon, the Commissioner of Smackdown, entered the ring to address the “Superstar Shake-up” that Vince McMahon announced on Monday. Shane didn’t provide any information because WWE wants to keep it vague for some reason. The promo was designed to set up an appearance from AJ Styles, who interrupted Shane’s speech.

Styles had a visible black eye around his left eye. I’m not sure when it happened during his WrestleMania match with Shane, but it looked nasty. Styles received a lot of cheers from the crowd, even though he’s a heel. Styles said Smackdown Live is the house that he built, which is true because he’s the main reason it’s the better show. Styles told Shane he wants to stay on Smackdown. Styles said he owed Shane something while pointing at his eye as a tease for another fight. Instead, Styles extended a hand, Shane shook it and the crowd cheered at the sign of respect. Styles teased a punch, but he was just joking as the segment ended.

I think it’s very possible that Styles gets moved to Raw during the Superstar Shake-up next week. He’s the best performer in the company and would provide an immediate boost to a Raw brand that needs it. If he stays where he is, that’s perfectly fine too.

I think Styles will be a face whether he’s on Raw or Smackdown, which is fine with me. He’s great in either role.

Looking Ahead to WWE Backlash

The next Smackdown pay-per-view is Backlash in Chicago on Sunday, May 21. There is a lot of time to build up to that show, so no matches have been announced yet. The Orton-Wyatt “House of Horrors” match could be at that event. No definitive word on that yet.

In Closing

I enjoyed Smackdown a lot this week, just like Raw. The debuts of Nakamura and Dillinger were well done. I thought the Corbin/Ambrose match was outstanding while the women’s title and tag main event matches were both good to watch. AJ Styles acting like a face is a nice change for him because the fans love him, so might as well embrace that. It was a typical good Smackdown where every segment seemed to mean something and there was nothing on the show that felt like a waste of time.

One of the biggest negatives of Smackdown in the last few months is that they have ignored the tag team division too often. A few weeks ago, The Usos beat American Alpha in a great match to win the titles. However, since that time there has been a lack of focus on the tag division and they were the only titles not defended at WrestleMania. I hope the creative team can get the tag division back on track soon.

I thought WrestleMania was an average show, but Raw and Smackdown were both above average thanks in part to the hot crowds and debuts of several big names.

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back next week with more.

About John Canton

John has been writing about WWE online since the late 1990s. He joined The Comeback/Awful Announcing team in 2015. Follow John Canton on Twitter @johnreport or email him at mrjohncanton@gmail.com with any comments or questions. For more of his wrestling opinions, visit his website at TJRWrestling.net. Cheap pop!