- Taped on March 23rd in Los Angeles, immediately after Monday Night Raw (because doing another show on Tuesday is out of the question, I guess). Michael Cole and Jerry “The King” Lawler are calling all the action, unless otherwise noted. Looking at the non-spoiler match list, we might as well call this “The SmackDown to WrestleMania.” Kind of like those old “March to WrestleMania” specials that would air in the Prime Time Wrestling slot, and a few times as USA Specials when Monday Night Raw took over?
- Renee Young and Byron Saxton are live from WWE Axxess (or whatever they call it). We throw it to clips from ESPN and Brock Lesnar announcing his intentions to re-sign with WWE and say goodbye to the world of competitive fighting. This just made the WWE World Championship Match about 100% more exciting, just because there is an actual element of doubt now in what the outcome will be.
- Hype video for the Reigns vs. Lesnar Championship Match. They hype up Reigns’ family ties, his dominance at the 2013 Survivor Series and the 2014 and 2015 Royal Rumble matches. That segues into hype of Brock Lesnar and how indestructible he is, complete with Paul Heyman promo work spliced in for added impact. The actual build has been so-so (at best), but WWE and their magic making department in video production makes it sound like a match worth watching.
- Young and Saxton shame non-WWE Network subscribers for willingly paying $65 instead of the low, low price of $9.99.
- Hype video for the Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match. Thanks for reminding us how awesome the IC Title used to mean to WWE, but the last decade plus has been less kind. Seriously, how many times since WrestleMania 18 has the IC Title been defended at WrestleMania? 3? 4? The IC Champion has consistently been booked as lowly as the US Champion, doing more jobs than most people featured on TV, and typically used as a geek. I want to see the Title brought back to being a prestigious Championship, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
- Earlier this week on Monday Night Raw, A.J. Lee accidentally cost Paige her match with Divas Champion Nikki Bella, so the two mismatched partners ended up in a catfight because WWE has no idea. Seriously, they’re putting on Championship matches to build to a non-title Tag Team Match? Who’s in charge, Russo?
- Hype video for the United States Championship Match between Rusev and John Cena. This has probably been the strongest built match for Mania 31, and probably the second-most anticipated for me. Just like the Intercontinental Title, the U.S. Championship has suffered greatly from “after-thought” booking, with the title typically ignored or the Champion jobbed out. This has changed with Rusev, but even as lately as last year, Dean Ambrose was buried as a non-defending Champion, because… why? WWE doesn’t know how to write a script?
- Hype video for Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins. I guess they’re fighting over being the face of, and the future, of WWE? Now here is a prime example of over-thinking things. Instead of just bring Randy Orton back, pissed off at being fed to Seth Rollins, and seeking revenge, they do this needless storyline where Orton is “playing mind games” until he could get Seth in a vulnerable position, and then reveal how he was playing him the whole time, despite showing up at Fast Lane and kicking the ass of every one of the Authority’s goons.
- After almost 50-minutes, we return to the arena with the arrival of A.J. Lee. What happened on Raw was a misunderstanding, and wants to know whether or not Paige will be by her side at WrestleMania against the Bellas. The Bellas quickly interrupt, both holding microphones. I guess I should be happy they are treating the Divas with a bit more respect and giving them promo time, but the Bellas are so wooden with their delivery, it’s like nails on a chalk board.
- Hype video for the “dream match” between Triple H and Sting. I’m excited as hell to see the match, because it’s Sting in a WWE ring, but I don’t think anyone ever really cared to see Sting vs. Triple H. The only true dream match was with the Undertaker, but could you imagine the booking of a match where between two people, they only made a combined 2 appearances over a 3-month span? I’ll give WWE credit, they handled Sting and his appearances wells. His mic’ work has been limited and to the point, and he sure as heck know show to work a crowd. I just hope we don’t see kick-wham-Pedigree after waiting 14 years.
- Hype video for the puzzling Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt match. Who knows what will come of this, or what to expect. Undertaker hasn’t appeared on WWE television since losing to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XXX, meaning Bray Wyatt has been feuding via promos against an invisible opponent. This match has the most question marks around it, because of the lack of the Streak, and not knowing what the future holds for the Undertaker. Should be interesting, at least.
We return from commercial break, with John Cena taking Wyatt down with a back suplex. Five Knuckle Shuffle connects, but Wyatt clips out of the AA and bounces off the ropes with his signature body dive. Show plants Cena with a slam. Kane continues putting the boots to him while the faces have a conversation about the upcoming MLB season and how much of a douche Pablo Sandoval is. Cena and Rollins trade rights. Rollins escapes an AA, hits a super-kick, and follows with an Asai DDT for a near fall. I wanted to call it Sliced Bread #2, but how many people remember Brian Kendrick? Wyatt with a back splash for two. Cena avoids the second attempt but Rollins prevents a tag with a sleeper hold. Cena manages to create separation (Cole’s words), but again can’t make the tag. Show heads to the second rope, missing a Vader-Bomb. WHY is he doing that spot, at his age, and with his bulk? Daniel Bryan FINALLY gets the hot tag. He dropkicks Wyatt and Kane off the apron. He avoids a charge from Rollins and bounces off the ropes with a clothesline. Running dropkick to the corner, followed by a hurricanrana from the top rope. Bryan with Yes-Kicks until interruption from Mercury and Noble. Rollins with an enziguri, and its tag out time to Big Show. Reigns runs in with the Superman Punch! Wyatt goes for Sister Abigail, but Reigns escapes and hits the Spear! Kane goes for a Chokeslam, but he slips out of that too, and hits another Spear! Henry with an avalanche to Big Show, followed by an AA from Cena! Bryan sets up in the corner and the running knee finishes at 19:31. *** Lackluster segment when Mark Henry was getting worked over, but the rest was perfectly fine 8-Man Tag Team action. Reigns opened the match dominating everyone, Cena did a good heat segment getting worked on by all the heels, and the hot tag to Bryan with an exciting finish to send the fans home happy.
Final Thoughts: It was the go home episode of Smackdown for WrestleMania, so it was expected to see a bunch of highlight packages and hype videos to really get everyone excited for the show. With the exception of one key match, I actually am looking forward to it. I’ve gone in cold to other shows, most notably WrestleMania X-Seven, and was blown away by the greatest show ever, so maybe they will deliver a strong, memorable event. As for this episode, a match to open and a match to close, and both were just teasers for WrestleMania 31. Buy WrestleMania 31… via the WWE Network, for only $9.99.