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Hey there everyone, so 2023 in the wrestling world continues to be a massive downer. I’m not sure if Smackdown tonight can alter that, but let’s take a look at what’s in store for us. The big draw tonight is the contract signing between Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens for their title match at the Royal Rumble for the Undisputed WWE Universal title. Roman has done a lot to try and keep Owens from making it to this moment, and he might feel that his uWu title is in jeopardy. But hey, it’s just a contract signing right? I’m sure nothing bad will happen. The Rumble is coming up in just a couple of weeks so they need to get some more heat on this match if possible. As for the of the card, there’s a tournament going on to crown challengers to the Usos tag team titles and we’ll get two matches for it tonight. First we’ll get Butch and Ridge Holland taking on Ludwig Kaiser and Giovanni Vinci, and it’d be nice to see Kaiser and Vinci get some momentum. We all know Gunther is the man in Imperium, but Kaiser and Vinci shouldn’t be afterthoughts. Our other tag team match will see the Banger Bros (if Vince knew what the internet was I’d swear this was his idea) of Sheamus and Drew McIntyre taking on the Viking Raiders. That one has some potential, if they let Erik and Ivar cut loose they could have a good hard hitting match with Sheamus and Drew. As for the rest of it, Poochie will probably turn up, there’s the ongoing drama with Sami Zayn and his relationship with the Bloodline, and we’re probably due a bunch of people declaring for the Rumble. Anyway that’s the preamble, let’s get to the action.

Up first, a recap of Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens from last week culminating with the beat down by the Usos and Solo Sikoa on Owens.

In the back we see the Bloodline arrive at the arena, Sami offers a fist bump to Roman after sharing some hand shakes with Jimmy and Jey Uso, but Roman just looks at him and walks off. Sami’s face after that is darn good.

To the ring for our first match, it’s Drew and Sheamus taking on the Viking Raiders.

Match #1 – Tag Team Match: Sheamus and Drew McIntyre vs. Viking Raiders (Erik and Ivar) w/ Valhalla

At the start Cole expresses sympathies and condolences to the family of Jay Briscoe. The Vikings jump at the bell, and we get brawling. Erik and Sheamus in the ring while Ivar and Drew brawl on the floor. Drew gets slammed into the ring steps, then Sheamus tosses Erik into the barricade. Back in the ring Sheamus goes to beat the Bodhran on Ivar, but Erik cuts him off only to take those blows instead. Sheamus goes for an avalanche White Noise but Ivar cuts him off and Erik throws him out of the ring. Ivar then crushes Sheamus against the barricade with a cross body to send us to break.

Erik hits a backpack Stunner as we come back to action. Both Erik and Ivar have “Dem Boys” black armbands on, not surprising as War Machine and the Briscoes worked together plenty of times. Sheamus fights out of a chin lock and starts trading elbows with Erik. Erik slams Sheamus down then tags in Ivar. Strike from Ivar then he tags Erik back in. Again Sheamus tries to fight back, he lands a knee then an Irish Curse and both men are down. Both men tag out and Drew gets to run wild for a bit. Drew with a belly to belly on Erik, then a couple of neckbreakers. Ivar fights off a Future Shock but Drew catches him with a Michinoku Driver for a 2 count. Drew lifts Ivar but he slips free and hits the Big Sit out of the corner. Erik tags in and Drew takes some tandem offense. Ivar tags back in, he climbs the ropes but Drew cuts him off with strikes. Drew and Ivar fight on the ropes, Drew wants a superplex, but Erik cuts him off and drops Drew into the tree of woe. Sheamus up and fights with Erik, he hits a White Noise as Drew sits up and tosses Ivar off the ropes to the mat and everyone is down as we head to break.

We come back to Ivar clubbing down Drew in the corner. Drew comes out of the corner with a clothesline and looks to fire up, hitting a Future Shock then kips up. Drew wants the Claymore, but Ivar counters him with a wheel kick and both men drop. Both men tag out, and here comes Sheamus and Erik to beat the crap out of each other. A hockey fight breaks out, but Sheamus catches Erik with a tilt a whirl slam then sets for the Brogue Kick only for Valhalla to distract him. Erik hits an exploder suplex and tags in Ivar. Ivar climbs, and the flying sofa crushes Sheamus for a near fall. Sheamus starts trying to fight both men, but the numbers catch up. Sheamus lands a knee, Drew Claymore’s Erik and Sheamus then hits a Brogue Kick on Ivar to get the win.

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OFFICIAL RESULT: Sheamus and Drew McIntyre won

Rating: 3.5 stars

Slightly generous 3.5, the commercial breaks hurt the flow but the physicality was on point from all of them. Shame that the Vikings are constantly in this position where we’re told they matter but they never get any sustained momentum.

In the back Paul Heyman and Roman Reigns are talking when Sami up. Sami wants to talk, Roman tells him to sit. Sami wants to know everything is cool, Roman saw how Sami looked last week and he knows Sami is trying to cover things up. Roman wants Sami to tell the truth, Sami claims everything is fine but Roman demands the truth. Sami is disappointed in last week, he felt pride at being able to carry the weight and take care of Kevin Owens when everyone showed up, and he didn’t know the plan and felt a little slighted. For a split second he might have, he doesn’t know. Roman tells Sami to get out. He’s not going to do this every week, just get out. It blows his mind that the honorary uce needs to hear the Tribal Chief’s game plan. Since when did Roman need Sami’s approval. He tells Sami to get out again, go find Owens or something, just get out. Heyman shoos Sami away. The acting from all three men was on point here.

In the back LA Knight walks, he’ll be in action after this break.

Raquel Rodriguez talks to the camera in the back, she plans on winning the Royal Rumble. OK then.

Back to the ring, here comes LA Knight. The Bray Wyatt upside down moth flicks though his tron graphics a few times. Apparently still no update on the rules for the Pitch Black match, other than anything goes and you can win via pinfall or submission. Knight grabs a mic, he wants someone to figure out what’s going on. Knight knows who he is, he’s LA Knight yeah! He’s the guy who’s going to make Bray rethink his entire comeback at the Rumble. While Bray has been living on past glory Knight promises those mean nothing to him.

Match #2: LA Knight vs. Greg Jones

Knight backs Jones into the corner, but we get a flash of the Bray videos. Jones attacks as Knight is distracted, then Knight cuts him off with a clothesline. The BFT follows and Knight gets the pin.

OFFICIAL RESULT: LA Knight won

Rating: Romanesco squash

Purely perfunctory match, this was all about the stuff around it.

Post match the Firefly Funhouse graphic plays, including the intro and we’re back at the funhouse. The puppets slowly seem to wake up and shake off the dust, happy to be back. Bray in his hosting outfit is fixing the door, he welcomes us back to the Firefly funhouse. There’s dust everywhere but they’re working on it. Bray has missed us all so much, he can’t wait to have fun with his friends again. Ramblin’ Rabbit thinks Knight is cool and wants to invite him to the funhouse. He calls Knight the Miz but with muscles. Bray wonders what kind of brain damaged person names their kid Los Angeles Knight, the poor kid never had a chance. It’s normal that Rabbit is afraid of the dark, the dark is where bad things lurk, things that want to eat you. You really should be scared of the dark. Uncle Howdy’s feed breaks in, he told us all this would happen. All you needed was a little push. Bray hopes we’re satisfied, that we understand. We’re the ones who opened the door, and whatever comes through it, that’s Knight’s problem. See you at the Rumble. I can dig this, I was worried we’d draw out Bray going through some prior iterations but if we get through them before the match then Bray debuting the full new version of himself at the Rumble makes sense. Also, seriously, LA Knight is holding up his end of things in a big way and he deserves some serious kudos. Anyway that sends us to break.

Post break Hit Row is wasting time getting to the ring, to even less reaction than last week.

Match #3 – Tag Team Match: Hit Row (Top Dolla and Ashante the Adonis) w/ B-Fab vs. Los Lotharios (Angel and Humberto)

Humberto and Ashante start us off, we get a ton of camera cuts for some reason as Humberto gets an arm wringer and tags in Angel. There must be an issue with the hard cam. Drop kick from Ashante, then he tags in Dolla. Dolla tosses Angel out of the ring, then follows him and yells at commentary before chopping Angel. Back in the ring Angel lands some back elbows, then pulls out of his pants and dives to tag out. Ashante tags in as well and Humberto runs wild on him for a bit. Dolla gets drop kicked out of the ring then Angel and Humberto hit stereo suicide dives. Back in the ring B-Fab ties up Humberto allowing Ashante to grab a school boy and get the pin.

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OFFICIAL RESULT: Hit Row won

Rating: DUD

Well that sucked, fake boos and all.

Another video hyping up Cody Rhodes and his return at the Rumble, this one focuses on his rehab but he’s definitely coming back at the Rumble

After this break, something involving Charlotte Flair. Joy.

In the back Braun Strowman talks to the camera, he’s going to be in the Rumble. OK then.

Back to the ring, here comes Charlotte Flair, to almost embarrassingly obviously sweetened audio. As Poochie heads to the ring we get a recap of the stupid pull apart brawl between Charlotte and Sonya Deville last week. Charlotte talks, God help us. She wonders what Sonya Deville’s problem is, and tells Sonya she doesn’t need to whine or cheap shot, just approach her woman to woman and say it. No sign of Sonya, but more fake crowd noise. OK, here comes Sonya to even more fake reactions. Sonya has a mic and stays on the entrance ramp, she doesn’t care about the local city. Cheapest of cheap heat. Sonya walks to the ring, she cares about getting what she deserves a title opportunity. Finally getting in the ring Sonya tells Charlotte to get off of her high horse, because Sonya is a star. Every time she talks we listen. Sure. Last week it took six people to pull them apart, God this is rambling and going no where. Charlotte knows Sonya is a star, she’s always told her that, but Sonya is implying the others aren’t. What does Sonya have that the others don’t? (Ruthless. . . aggression!)Well it seems Sonya is just the entitled one here to Charlotte, she lost, tapping out. The small “You tapped out” chant from the crowd isn’t synced up with the fake one. Charlotte tells Sonya to get in the Rumble if she wants a title shot, but if all she wants is a fight they can do it now. Sonya declines. There’s nothin in it for her to fight tonight, unless Charlotte wants to put her title on the line. Adam Pearce interrupts this, he made himself clear, and Sonya cheap shots Charlotte then runs away. Well that was death.

In the back Roman talks with Heyman again. Roman still can’t believe Sami. Heyman has never liked Sami, but he supports Roman’s vision for the Island of Relevancy. He tries to see things from the perspective of the special counsel, as the wise man. And as Roman’s wise man, for Roman’s ruthless consideration, might it not be better to keep Sami Zayn close given the upcoming match with Kevin Owens? Roman considers as we head to break.

Lacey Evans is still being rebuilt.

To the ring, here come the Brawling Brutes.

Match #4 – Tag Team Match: The Brawling Brutes (Ridge Holland and Butch) vs. Imperium (Ludwig Kaiser and Giovanni Vinci)

Vinci and Ridge start us off, Ridge lands a hip toss then tags in Butch to attack the arm. Blind tag from Kaiser who hits a gutwrench facebuster. Butch goes for the fingers of Kaiser, the stomps on the arm of Kaiser then looks for a kimura but Vinci tags in for a springboard cross body then Kaiser follows up with a punt kick. Imperium pose as we head to break.

We come back to Butch making a hot tag to Ridge. Ridge lands a clothesline to Kaiser, then another one and a corner avalanche, then another one. Powerslam from Ridge, who’s exhausted his safe moves now. Vinci comes in and Ridge lifts them both up for a double back drop. Butch tags in, moonsaults onto Vinci on the floor then kicks Kaiser. Butch up top, but Vinci shoves Ridge into the ring steps, which he seems to forget to sell. Kaiser with an O’Connor Roll, but Butch transitions into an ankle lock, then a flying armbar attempt. Butch looks to extend the arm but Kaiser rolls free and tags in Vinci for a double springboard moonsault onto Butch for a 2 count. The set for the Imperial Bomb, but Ridge knocks Kaiser off the ropes and Butch hits a Frankensteiner for a 2 count. Butch with chops to Vinci, then Vinci starts returning them. Diving tornado DDT from Butch and both men are down. Ridge and Kaiser tag in, Ridge eats some strikes from Kaiser then lands a headbutt and a belly to belly suplex. You’d really think he’d have retired that. Vinci attacks Butch on the ropes, Butch with kicks to Kaiser and Vinci but Kaiser kicks him into Vinci’s brainbuster on the floor. Vinci tags in, Ridge takes an Imperial Bomb and we’re done.

OFFICIAL RESULT: Imperium won

Rating: 3 stars

Ridge still can’t really put together a match, Butch is doing a ton of work in these matches to keep them interesting. But Butch and Imperium alone is worth watching.

In the back sad Sami Zayn is approached by Heyman. Heyman says Roman wants to see Sami now. Sami nods as we head to break.

Shayna Baszler is in the back talking to a camera. She wants you to consider how you can win the Rumble with any kind of serious joint damage. She’s in the Rumble. OK then.

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A video hype job for RAW’s 30th anniversary this coming Monday. 30 years, man that’s a long time. There have been serious up and downs along the way. That leads to commentary hyping up RAW 30.

In the back Karrion Kross and Scarlett talk, in one week Kross will be stepping into the ring with Rey Mysterio. Normally he gets excited before a fight, but not so much this time. El Rey can’t figure out if he wants to be a family man or if he wants to be the greatest of all time. You can’t be both in this business. Kross is going to take him out, then take out everyone else in the Rumble match. Time is running out for everyone. Tick tock. Simple and effective, Kross using his normal speaking voice is much better than his attempts at being scary most of the time and it worked here.

To the ring, another tag team match, Legado del Fantasma head to the ring and send us to break.

Post break Zelina has technically joined commentary.

Match #5 – Tag Team Match: Legado del Fantasma (Cruz del Toro and Joaquin Wilde) w/ Santos Escobar and Zelina Vega vs. Maximum Male Models (Mace and Mansoor) w/ Maxxine Dupri

Mansoor and Wilde get us going, Zelina is in the Rumble as is Santos. Manhattan Drop from Mansoor, then Wilde counters with a jumping attack. Mace sends Cruz out of the ring, then he and Mansoor pose. Santos looks to fire up Cruz and Wilde. Drop kicks from Cruz and Wilde, then send Mansoor out of the ring, then Cruz dives onto him and nearly wipes out into the barricade. Wilde dives onto Mace then tags in Cruz. Double suplex to Mansoor, then an assisted splash but Mace breaks up the pin. Mace tags in, lands a side kick then a kick to Cruz. Wilde winds up on the shoulders of Mace, then Mansoor tags in but their tandem finish is interrupted. Cruz tags in, we get some house cleaning then a kick assisted Russian leg sweep to Mansoor and we’re done.

OFFICIAL RESULT: Legado del Fantasma

Rating: 2 stars

Well that happened. I appreciate that they’ve made it clear which teams matter in this little tournament.

In the back Roman talks with Sami, he says he’s got a temper and that’s why he puts people around him to help manage and counsel his anger. Roman wasn’t hearing Sami, Sami just wanted communication, to be part of the team, and calls Sami a perfectionist. You’ve got to think about all the details along the way, it’s why he and Sami get along. Sami thanks Roman for understanding, and this means the world to Sami. Roman expects the same amount of love and loyalty that he gives out, Sami says everyone loves him, and says all of this is nothing without Roman. Sami will always put what’s best for the Bloodline first, anything Roman needs just tell him and he will do it. Roman says he needs Sami to find the Usos and make sure everything is ready for them to leave after the show, he’s going to the ring with Heyman and Solo to sign the contract and then they’re out. Sami offers a fist bump as he leaves, Roman says he owes Sami one of those, then gives him the fist bump. Heyman praises Roman’s handling of that as we head to break.

Post break commentary runs down the card for next week, Drew and Sheamus vs. Hit Row shouldn’t take long, while Legado del Fantasma vs. Imperium could be pretty awesome.

To the ring, which is set up for the contract signing. Here comes Roman Reigns with Heyman and Solo Sikoa in tow. Roman sits at the head of the table, as he is want to do, and puts his feet up while waiting on Kevin Owens. Owens jumps Solo from behind and we’ve got a brawl. Owens with a Stunner to Roman then a super kick to Solo. Jimmy and Jey show up, and we get more brawling with Owens getting the better of things landing super kicks on the floor. Owens shoves Jimmy into the ring steps. Back in the ring Owens powerbombs Roman through the table as Heyman acts like his daughter was just hit by a car. Owens stares down Heyman, Heyman begs for his life but Owens just takes the contract from him and signs it. Sami up finally, Owens just smirks at him, tosses him the contract then heads out. Owens stares down the Bloodline from the crowd while the Bloodline try to regroup as we end the episode.