- Smackdown Live Episode #911 is coming from the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, TX. Mauro Ranallo, John "Bradshaw" Layfield, and David Otunga are calling all the action, with Tom Phillips adding whatever voodoo it is that he does for the non-matches. We’re just days removed from the Royal Rumble, and yet only 12 days away from the Elimination Chamber. You know, maybe they might have too many Network Specials these days. Back to the Rumble, Smackdown’s highlights were John Cena winning his record-tying 16th World Title from A.J. Styles and Randy Orton winning his 2nd Royal Rumble Match (last time was in 2009).
- A.J. Styles is backstage watching the highlights of the Royal Rumble, looking unhappy. Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan are there to announce Styles gets his rematch... but for now, he will be in the Elimination Chamber Match for the WWE Championship. Along with him and Cena, it will be Bray Wyatt, Baron Corbin, The Miz, and Dean Ambrose competing inside the structure. Ambrose shows up to bring up ancient history (James Ellsworth costing him the title at TLC) and wants to settle things one-on-one. Shane and Daniel agree and book Ambrose vs. Styles for tonight.
- John Cena comes out to celebrate his Championship victory. We get the obligatory dueling chants. He says he was wrong about A.J. Styles. He’s not just a guy from Atlanta, he’s an elite level WWE Superstar who brought out the best in him. Cena says Smackdown is the place to be, and he’s the man to beat, so if you want some, come get some. Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton interrupt. Wyatt mocks Cena’s "The Champ is here" line. The more things chance, the more they stay the same. Wyatt predicts victory in the Elimination Chamber. Is this the first true (singles) Championship opportunity for Bray Wyatt, not counting the Rumble in 2016? I can’t recall any others. Orton says if Cena somehow survives the Chamber, Orton will be there at WrestleMania to end the vicious cycle. They approach the ring, but Cena has an unlikely ally in LUKE HARPER, standing by his side to keep Orton and Wyatt at bay, causing Wyatt and Orton to retreat. Shane McMahon comes out to announce a Tag Team Match... NEXT.
We come back from commercial with Wyatt coming off the ropes with a senton for two. Orton with the draping DDT. He sets up for the RKO, but Cena blocks and lays him out with a diving clothesline. Wyatt tags in and bypasses Cena to get in Harper’s face, again. Cena rolls away from another senton, but gets caught by Orton with a snap Power-Slam for two. Cena comes back with shoulder tackles and a back suplex. Five-Knuckle Shuffle. Orton escapes the AA and hits a back breaker. Harper comes in and lays into Orton. Wyatt goes for Sister Abigail, but Harper counters. Harper goes for it, but intercepts Orton with a big boot. Wyatt hits Harper with Sister Abigail, and Orton saves Wyatt, hitting Cena with an RKO for the three count at 8:11 (shown). ** More about moving the angle between Harper, Wyatt, and Orton than putting on a great match, but still entertaining.
- Dasha Fuentes is backstage with Becky Lynch and Naomi. They’re scheduled to face Alexa Bliss and Mickie James later in the night. It’s basically a rematch from the Rumble Kick-Off Show, except Nikki Bella and Natalya aren’t involved.
We return from commercial, with Becky fighting out of a chin-lock, but Bliss throws her down by the hair. James with choking in the corner. Becky rallies with rights, but Mickie remains in control. She takes Becky over with the spinning head scissors for two. Lynch fights out of another chin-lock, but her has is just too fun to pull, I guess. Naomi finally gets the hot tag and hits a springboard body press. She knocks James off the apron and hits a somersault clothesline on Bliss. Naomi with the jumping in place kicks and short-rana for two. Becky tackles James out of the ring, and Naomi nails Bliss with an enzuigiri. Split-legged moonsault gets three at 7:59 (shown). **1/2 There was a little too much resting, and a few spots looked bad with the camera angles used. To no surprise, later in the night on Talking Smack, it was announced that Naomi would challenge Alexa Bliss for the Women’s Title at Elimination Chamber.
- Dasha Fuentes is with American Alpha. Would’ve been nice to see them at the Royal Rumble, but what’s next for American Alpha? They say nobody is stepping up and accuse the Smackdown Tag Team Division of being scared. They’re coming out to the ring to issue an open challenge.
American Alpha come out to issue their Open Challenge. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since they just mentioned it in the last segment. The crowd doesn’t seem to know who they are, barely responding. That’s never a good sign. Jimmy and Jey Uso come out to accept the challenge, and did we even get a blow-off to that angle?! Wait, they’re not the only team to want to answer the challenge. The Ascension, The Vaudevillains (they’d job in 30-seconds), Breezango, and Heath Slater and Rhyno come out to accept it as well. You know what this means... TAG TEAM TURMOIL AT ELIMINATION CHAMBER. When the entire division is JTTS, I guess you have to do what you have to do to make a match that means something, especially when the division has grown cold over the last month with it barely being featured on television in the build to the Royal Rumble.
- Natalya, accompanied by two hired goons, is backstage to have a chat with Daniel Bryan. Nikki Bella shows up, too. They bicker back and forth, drowning out Daniel Bryan, and it’s (eventually) announced that they’ll have a match at the Elimination Chamber. Natalya seems upset about that ruling. All she wanted was new merchandise!
- Next week, John Cena faces Randy Orton. 1,000 Times in a Lifetime!
We return from commercial, with Ambrose climbing the ropes. Styles straddles him across the turnbuckle and connects with a pump-handle into a back breaker for two. Styles with a slam and jumping knee drop for two. Styles with a jumping clothesline in the corner. MVP of this match has to be the Miz. His commentary is not just stealing the spotlight, but it’s doing a great job of promoting the upcoming Elimination Chamber better than anyone else could. Ambrose avoids another clothesline. Styles blocks Dirty Deeds, but not a swinging neck-breaker. Ambrose with forearms and a big clothesline. He sets Styles up across the top turnbuckle. Styles slips between his legs, Ambrose slips off the shoulders of Styles, and rolls him up for two. Ambrose blocks the Phenomenal Forearm, knocking Styles to the floor. Styles interrupts a tope suicida with a forearm. They go through a ridiculous number of counters to each other’s signature spots until Ambrose plants Styles with a modified suplex into a slam for a near fall. Ambrose catches Styles and goes for a side-winding slam, but Styles cradles him for two. Styles with the Ushigoroshi for two. They do another sequence of counters with pin attempts. Styles with the Pele and Ambrose bounces off the ropes with the Lunatic Lariat. Styles rolls to the floor, and Ambrose follows with the top rope elbow. Corbin and Miz start brawling at ringside, distracting the referee, so Ambrose knocks Corbin over the table with a tope suicida and wipes out the Miz. Styles catches him back in the ring with a boot, and the Styles Clash finishes at 15:08 (shown). ***1/4 Good match, but the commentary definitely took away from it for the sake of selling the network special next Sunday. Things started slow, but the last 5-minutes took an average match and made it pretty good (for television).
Final Thoughts: With the Royal Rumble in the rear-view mirror, it’s time that the focus is more about showcasing the entire roster instead of the select few deemed important enough for a cross-brand PPV. The Elimination Chamber is a short-term solution to reshuffle the big players, but the undercard is where all the focus was on this week. The Tag Team Division is desperately in need of revival (no pun intended). The women clearly have direction, with the short-term being Lynch/James and Bliss/Naomi. Who knows where things go for Natalya and Nikki after Elimination Chamber. Apollo Crews and Dolph Ziggler continue to tease having a match down the line, but it’s a matter of when and will the crowd care. With so much happening, there’s a lot to be unsure about since all the low-key players haven’t been featured well since TLC. The quality of the show is there, but crowd responses could lead to poor decisions in the not-so-distant future.