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Just 48 hours before WrestleMania Backlash, Universal champion Roman Reigns and Cesaro sought to establish momentum on a jam-packed go-home edition of SmackDown.
Their ongoing feud headlined a show that also featured the women’s tag team titles up for grabs as Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler defended against familiar foes Natalya and Tamina.
Who emerged with those titles and what final message did Cesaro send Reigns ahead of their clash Sunday on Peacock?
Find out with this recap of Friday’s Fox broadcast.
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Announced for Friday’s show is:
- Women’s Tag Team Championship Match: Natalya and Tamina vs. Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler (with Reginald)
Coverage begins at 8 p.m.
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Jey Uso kicked off Friday’s show, one week after his brother Jimmy returned to the show. He said his brother disrespected The Head of the Table, Roman Reigns, and tonight they have to settle some family business.
He introduced Reigns, who was clearly dismayed by the events of last week, both with regards to Uso and his WrestleMania Backlash opponent, Cesaro. The champion admitted to liking Cesaro and respecting him as a wrestler.
Reigns, though, is so much more than a wrestler. He reiterated that Cesaro has had zero world championship matches while he has had 39, according to Paul Heyman.
The Head of the Table turned his attention to Jimmy, who entered the ThunderDome sporting a tank top stating, “nobody’s bitch.”
Jimmy told his brother to jump on the right team, to which Jey implored him to get on the same page with the family and Reigns. He insinuated that the champion would not retain his title against The Swiss Superman Sunday on pay-per-view.
An irate Reigns said he is The Head of the Table because he is who he is and the Usos are who they are. He puts food on the family’s table and carries the burden of the company. He told Jimmy that, if he thinks he can be the top dog, go ahead and beat Cesaro tonight.
The top contender emerged from the locker room and accepted the match with Jimmy, then vowed to dethrone Reigns at WrestleMania Backlash.
Reigns’ perfect existence is now muddied with the return of Jimmy and the result is the very real possibility that Cesaro will defeat the distracted Head of the Table to capture the Universal Championship.
Just when it looked like Jimmy may have touched a nerve and forced the normally calm, cool, and collected Reigns to let his emotions get the best of him, The Tribal Chief went right ahead and manipulated the situation to his favor.
We will have to see if things turn out in Roman’s favor by night’s end but this was another example of why his character is one of the coolest, most engaging and compelling in the industry right now.
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Women’s tag team champions Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax found out early in Friday’s match against Tamina and Natalya that their path to a successful title retention did not include Reginald, who was booted from ringside by the referee.
Back from the commercial break, Natalya created separation and tagged in Tamina, who was vying for the first major title of her decade-long WWE career. The second-generation star headbutted Jax off the ropes, preventing a superplex attempt.
As Baszler attempted to interfere, Natalya delivered a big German suplex on the floor. Back inside, Jax dropped The Queen of Harts with a Samoan Drop, only to fall victim to a Superfly Splash from Tamina. Three seconds later, there were new champions in the women’s division.
Tamina and Natalya defeated Jax and Baszler to win the titles
Tamina and Natalya have chased the titles since prior to WrestleMania and absolutely deserved the chance to run with them. Their win here puts an end to a much longer-than-necessary run for Baszler and Jax, allows those two wrestlers to go their separate ways, and breathes new life into a women’s tag team division that desperately needs it.
That Tamina has been with the company for a decade, has been in and around title programs before, and never held championship gold is somewhat stunning considering some of those who did during that span.
The emotion she showed, the tears in Natalya’s eyes as she spoke up for her tag team partner, and the energy in Pat McAfee’s voice as he called the action helped elevate this one’s significance and made it feel like a genuinely significant moment.
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Apollo Crews and Commander Azeez hit the ring for a special medal of honor ceremony.
After several moments of Crews rambling, Big E appeared on the video screen. He said their issues will not be settled until Crews feels his power. Sami Zayn interrupted the proceedings, reminded Crews they have a bone to pick because he is holding Zayn’s title. This brought out Kevin Owens.
The four Superstars brawled until Big E stood tall, staring down the retreating Crews and Azeez.
This was more of the same as WWE Creative continued to plant the seeds for a Fatal 4-Way Match for the Intercontinental Championship between Owens, Zayn, Big E, and Crews.
Such a match will be damn good when it inevitably happens but this marks the third or fourth week in a row that it felt very much like WWE carbon-copied the booking from the week before, lazily meandering from show to show without really giving fans a reason to care about the program besides all four guys staking claims to the gold.
The talent deserves better, as do the fans.
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A week after they were originally supposed to do battle, Rey Mysterio and Dolph Ziggler squared off in a preview of Sunday’s SmackDown Tag Team Championship Match pitting Mysterio and son Domink against Ziggler and Robert Roode.
Ziggler dominated the match coming out of the commercial break but Mysterio caught him with a DDT to create separation. Rey caught him with a big kick to the chest but Ziggler downed him with a snap powerslam.
Everything Mysterio threw at Ziggler, The Showoff countered or thwarted, refusing to allow Rey to muster any offensive momentum.
The future Hall of Fame didn’t need it, as it turned out, because he caught Ziggler with an inside cradle for the pinfall victory.
After the break, Ziggler and Roode approached the Mysterios and told Dominik not to “crawl out of his crib” Sunday because they would retain the titles.
Mysterio defeated Ziggler
Mysterio and Ziggler can have a strong match on their worst nights. Their in-ring chemistry is as strong in 2021 as it was when they feuded over the Intercontinental Championship in the summer of 2009. Their match Friday night was solid and got better as it went on.
Mysterio winning seems to set up the heels to retain, if only because WWE booking is typically 50-50.
That is hardly the outcome one would hope for given the time and energy that has gone into this rather lengthy feud, but it would not at all be surprising if WWE is waiting for fans to return to the stands before it crowns the father-son tandem.
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Ahead of her SmackDown Women’s Championship defense Sunday, Bianca Belair made her way to the ring to address the WWE Universe.
Belair told Bayley she’s just bitter because she was getting thrown down the ramp by The Bella Twins at WrestleMania while the champ was headlining against Sasha Banks and winning gold.
Before she could say much, Bayley interrupted and said she sees a bit of herself in Belair and that story doesn’t end well. She’s going to end The EST for good this Sunday.
This was very much a placeholder segment, the last interaction between champion and challenger ahead of their match Sunday.
It was fine for what it was, and Bayley referring to Belair as a lot like herself an eternity ago was a great touch. Had that been the theme of the feud, instead of the one-dimensional program we have seen unfold in recent weeks, the hype for Sunday’s match would be infinitely greater than it has been.
As it is, the match is nowhere near as hot as it should be.
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A week after King Corbin pinned Shinsuke Nakamura in a big 10-Man Tag Team Match, the two did battle in a match billed as a battle between royalty: the King of the Ring and the King of Strong Style.
After a few minutes of back-and-forth, Nakamura caught Corbin with an armbar. The heels shifted his body weight, pinned Nakamura’s shoulders to the mat, and escaped with the win.
Following the bell, Nakamura rocked Corbin with a kick to the head, then a Kinshasa. With his foe down, Nakamura grabbed his crown and put it on his own head, much to the dismay of Pat McAfee on commentary. He stood tall to close out the segment.
Corbin defeated Nakamura
Nakamura and Corbin have feuded before, way back in 2017. They didn’t have a great deal of chemistry then and it has not improved much at all since.
Not that it had the opportunity to as this was a largely nondescript match that was every bit as much about the babyface stealing the heel’s crown as it was any athletic competition.
All of it seemed to point to some sort of feud for the crown and considering the lack of anything better for them to participate in, there are worse options. It is, though, disappointing to see where Nakamura is now in comparison to where he was a few years back, when he won the Royal Rumble and was part of a high-profile WrestleMania match.
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Aleister Black returned with another lesson, a story from his father about being forged of steel against a man made of ash. He said he would not tell the meaning because the audience is made up not of participants, but spectators.
Cesaro and Jimmy Uso headlined the night’s show back in the ThunderDome, the former landing a big suplex that showed off his power advantage while Uso rocked him with an enzuigiri. Cesaro ducked a superkick and delivered a big uppercut. A blind charge into the corner saw Cesaro crash shoulder-first into a ring power and Uso deliver a tope suicida entering the break.
Back from the break, Cesaro escaped Uso’s grasp and rocked him with a barrage of body shots, an uppercut and a big clothesline for two. Cesaro tried for a Neutralizer but Uso escaped. The Swiss Superman tried for a springboard but Uso flattened him with a superkick.
As the action intensified, Roman Reigns arrived and attacked Cesaro, drawing a disqualification. Uso told Reigns it’s always about him, that he had Cesaro where he wanted him. The cousins bickered on the ramp while Cesaro attacked Jey back in the ring.
Cesaro nearly got the best of Reigns until Jey made the save. Reigns bailed to the floor, leaving Jey to eat a Neutralizer as champion and challenger stared each other down to close out the show. Cesaro stood tall to close out the show.
Cesaro defeated Jimmy Uso via disqualification
Cesaro and Uso had a damn fun match down the stretch, brought to a sudden end by the interference of Reigns. The dynamic between Jimmy and Reigns ahead of WrestleMania Backlash is explosive and is making for one of the best stories in all of wrestling.
Is Uso willing to set aside his own aspirations of dominating tag team wrestling with his brother to recognize what is best for the family and help Reigns win Sunday or will his own independence prove the downfall of The Head of the Table?
That we are asking that question proves the effectiveness of the storytelling.
Cesaro is on the hottest run of his career and if the storyline can continue to be this compelling, he will survive what is sure to be a loss Sunday on Peacock. That is, if he remains in the title picture.