WWE truly delivered during a holiday week despite taping episodes of both Raw and SmackDown ahead of time. Never was that more apparent than the final 10 minutes of Tuesday night’s show when we not only got a major title change but a prerecorded attack that no one could have seen coming. The “new era” of WWE may well be getting off to a better start than most of us expected, particularly after a rough announcement last Monday night.
Thanks to Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, Daniel Bryan, Mustafa Ali, the Good Brothers, Rusev, Samoa Joe and more, Tuesday night’s show was action-packed and interesting from start-to-finish. Let’s take a look at what went down during the Christmas Day episode of SmackDown.
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AJ Styles finally cracks … on Vince McMahon
In a backstage segment that closed the show, AJ Styles was shown walking around with nothing to do after being off television the entire night. He walked through an open door and was approached by WWE chairman Vince McMahon, who challenged Styles to tell him about himself. Styles repeated the standard lines about being the Phenomenal One, a two-time WWE champion and the man who made SmackDown “the house that AJ Styles built.” But McMahon was not having it, demanding to know who the real AJ Styles is in an epic promo that we have not seen from McMahon in quite some time.
“I’ve seen superstars come and go. They come in here, win their championships and earn their money and then they become complacent and they just go on. I know that’s not you because, whether you like it or not, we’re a lot alike. You got a black hole in your heart, and I know it. I also know you’ve got a tremendous soul, and you can’t let it go. You’re afraid what’s going to happen here if you can’t control all that,” McMahon began.
“… That’s what you have. I want to see it because, you see, if you harness all of that, you will brutalize that locker room. You will terrorize anyone who steps in front of you in that squared circle. That’s what will happen. I know it. But there’s an animal in there. That animal is begging to get out. That animal is eating you alive. You don’t want it to come out. I want to see it. I want to see that animal; oh yeah. I want to see it, AJ. I want to see it. I’m going to see it.”
With that, McMahon slapped Styles across the face. Styles, who was filling with rage during McMahon’s promo then snapped. First, he socked McMahon across the face, sending him crashing to the floor. Styles then let out an animistic scream as WWE producers rushed from the nearby area to pull Styles away.
Well, that was unexpected. It is a bit of a crutch that WWE feels the need to turn its babyfaces into tweeners or bad-asses in order to really get them over, but the truth is that Styles has been getting extremely stale in his role over the last year-plus. This was a welcome moment for Styles akin to the one that got Kevin Owens major heat when he head-butted McMahon back in Sept. 2017. After a couple not-so-solid nights of delivering key lines both in the ring and in prerecorded segments, McMahon totally delivered here. Styles was great as well. A win in every way. Grade: A+
The Miz, Shane McMahon officially join forces
McMahon was the scheduled guest on the Christmas edition of “Miz TV,” and of course, Miz pleaded his case for McMahon to join him as a tag team partner seeing as they’re both considered the best in the world. After listing his successes, Miz mentioned that he’s never heard his dad say he’s “proud” of him, but his dad loves McMahon because he’s without fear. Miz wants to prove his dad right — that they would be the “best tag team in the world” if they team up together — and noted that since it’s the new era in WWE (a phrase McMahon used earlier in the segment), it should be up to the fans to decide.
The fan reaction was mixed at first, but McMahon eventually stood up from his chair and agreed to partner with Miz. “You better not screw me, or there’s going to be major consequences, but let’s try this,” McMahon said. The two raised the World Cup trophy together as the crowd chanted “Yes!” for their new union.
While I enjoy both Miz and McMahon individually, there’s just something about this that seems exceedingly forced — basically WWE coming up with something for these two to do over the next couple of months while they await their WrestleMania 35 storylines. It makes no sense for Miz and McMahon to team up while WWE is promising new and under-used superstars will be getting opportunities, and SmackDown’s tag team division is one of those where they have attempted to use some fresh faces already with the Good Brothers and SAnitY. Are those teams all going to be sacrificed now for a McMahon-Miz title run? The positive out of this segment is that Miz did a good job selling why he actually wants this partnership, but still, it fell a bit flat. Grade: C
… and new United States champion
United States Championship — Rusev def. Shinsuke Nakamura (c) via pinfall to win the title: Rusev cut another half-comedic promo on Nakamura before the match began. The two put on some great action early in the match, and Rusev got some great momentum in the middle of the bout with a fall away slam and spin kick that woke up a tired crowd that had already sat through five hours of tapings. Nakamura rolled outside of the ring and regained the upper hand, dropping a knee across the back of Rusev’s neck on the ring apron and nailing him with a knee to the face from the second rope. But as Nakamura setup for Kinshasa, Rusev countered his running start with a Machka Kick for a 2.8 count.
Rusev then attempted the Accolade, which Nakamura countered into a triangle submission that nearly tapped Rusev out. Instead, Rusev lifted Nakamura up for a powerbomb. Another knee to the neck gave Nakamura another near fall as the crowd began chanting, “This is Awesome.” Nakamura again readied for Kinshasa, but Rusev dodged it and Nakamura dodged the Machka Kick in kind. Rusev hit Nakamura with a massive clothesline, nailed the champion with the Machka Kick and won the title for the third time in his career.
The title change was necessary here if only to remind fans that it existed. WWE thought putting the title on Nakamura would satiate fans after he failed time and again to win the WWE championship from Styles, but that did not happen due to the company’s decision to stop booking Nakamura on TV and pay-per-views. Consider that Nakamura held the title for over six months and defended it just seven times on TV and not on a true PPV since SummerSlam in August. Anyway, the match between these two was fantastic, and Rusev got a clean win — on Rusev Day, mind you — with an arena of fans legitimately chanting for his victory. A good moment for Rusev, and a good move by WWE to end a couple quality Christmas shows. Grade: A
What else happened on SmackDown?
- Daniel Bryan works as the Grinch all night: Santa R-Truth & Carm-elf-a opened the show only to be interrupted by the heel WWE champion, who called Truth’s career a joke. Truth, who has the No. 30 spot in the Royal Rumble, mentioned the possible chance to face Bryan at WrestleMania (if he’s still the champion), but Bryan soon dropped Truth, putting him in the LeBell Lock before leaving the ring to boos. Later on backstage, Mustafa Ali was being congratulated by his former 205 Live peers and Shelton Benjamin following a big win only to be attacked by Bryan twice from behind. Bryan screamed that Ali “doesn’t deserve” to be on SmackDown two weeks after Ali took Bryan to the limit one-on-one and one week after he pinned the WWE champion in a tag team match.The heel antics of Bryan, plus his continued heel meltdown, have been welcome developments for his character.
- Good Brothers & The Usos def. SAnitY & The Bar via pinfall: The renewed momentum continues for Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson as they earned the victory for their team with the Magic Killer on Cesaro. New Day were out on commentary for this one dressed in Santa costumes, and after the bout, they threw pancakes to the crowd while Xavier Woods played Francesca for everyone.
- Mustafa Ali def. Andrade “Cien” Almas via pinfall: Ali certainly seems to have a really bright future on the main roster. The former 205 Live star got the pin on Almas following his 054. It was an enjoyable spotfest of a match between the two. It’s clear WWE is pushing Ali right now, but it’s tough to see it come at the expense of Almas.
- Samoa Joe def. Jeff Hardy via disqualification: Before the match, Joe expressed his concern for Hardy, noting that he’s likely become Hardy’s new addiction and he was going to cure his opponent. During this back-and-forth match, Joe rolled out of the ring to avoid being hit with Whisper in the Wind. Hardy attacked Joe on the floor and delivered non-stop knees and kicks to the face, forcing the referee to call for the DQ. After the match, Hardy went for a Twist of Fate on the announce desk, but Joe countered that into a Coquina Clutch; he had to be pried off Hardy.
- Mandy Rose makes a play for Jimmy Uso: Backstage celebrating their eight-man tag team win earlier in the night, The Usos ran into Rose and Sonya Deville, who were standing by the mistletoe. Rose propositioned Jimmy, only for Naomi to suddenly show up and go after the potential homewrecker. Jimmy and Naomi then kissed under the mistletoe.