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The penultimate stop on the road to Saturday's WWE Royal Rumble was headlined by one last confrontation between Seth Rollins and Universal champion Roman Reigns and the culmination of a rivalry between Naomi and Sonya Deville that began last September.
The January 28 episode of SmackDown set the stage for one of WWE's most significant premium live events.
What went down when the company's top stars hit the Fox airwaves, and who left with momentum on their side?
Find out now with this recap of Friday's explosive broadcast.
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SmackDown women's champion Charlotte Flair kicked off the night's show and bragged that she has done something Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs cannot do: bring the city a championship.
Flair discussed the unpredictability of the Royal Rumble match, putting over the elements of the contest that make it one of the most popular on the WWE schedule.
Shayna Baszler interrupted the proceedings, coming face-to-face with The Queen. She vowed to snap Flair like a twig if it comes down to it Saturday night. Aliyah interrupted next, followed by Natalya, then by Shotzi.
The bickering and arguing came to an end with the surprise return of Sasha Banks. "The Boss is back baby, and I'm ready to Rumble."
Banks stunned Flair with a slap before a brawl broke out between the women in the ring. Eliminations ensued, culminating with The Boss sending Flair to the floor.
This was a fun little preview of the Rumble with major news in the form of Banks' return.
Not only did it play up the Banks-Flair tension that will likely rear its head in the Rumble match itself, it also reintroduced Baszler and Shotzi, who have inexplicably been stuck in witness protection for the better part of months.
A fun, inoffensive way to start the show with a bigtime entrant into Saturday's women's Royal Rumble, this was the perfect way to kick off a go-home episode.
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In a rematch of the Day 1 Kickoff Show, Sheamus partnered with the returning Ridge Holland to battle Cesaro and Ricochet in tag team action.
Despite a hot start from the babyfaces, Holland and Sheamus seized control of the bout during the commercial break, downing Ricochet and cutting him off from The Swiss Superman.
Cesaro tagged in, finally, and unloaded on the competition. He wiped Sheamus out at ringside with a running European uppercut. Back inside, Sheamus escaped a crossbody, but Cesaro rolled him up for two. Sheamus rocked Ricochet with a jumping knee, and Cesaro made him pay, driving him to the mat.
He teased the Cesaro Swing to his former tag team partner, but Holland entered the ring and headbutted the babyface, using the protective mask. He added the Northern Grit for the pinfall victory.
Sheamus and Holland defeated Cesaro and Ricochet
A good, solid tag team match featuring three of the best wrestlers under the WWE umbrella and a young star in Holland who will benefit exponentially from working alongside them.
The heels winning was an interesting choice given how many times The Celtic Warrior and his protege have beaten Cesaro and Ricochet, but SmackDown officials clearly see them as a big part of the brand moving forward. Perhaps in the Intercontinental Championship scene, as foils for Shinsuke Nakamura and Rick Boogs?
Whatever the case may be, Sheamus has been on a hell of a low-key roll, winning his last three televised matches. The first? A two-on-one victory over tonight's opponents.
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Prior to her showdown with Naomi, WWE official Sonya Deville was caught backstage attempting to order referee Dan Engler to help her in stealing a win from the former SmackDown women's champion.
Deville stalled early, then took advantage by grounding Naomi and working her over on the mat. She added some stiff kicks to the chest and midsection of her opponent. Naomi responded with a big dropkick that sent her to the floor.
The Pride Fighter recovered, sucking Naomi in and driving her to the arena floor entering the commercial break. Deville controlled during the break, continuing to target the head and neck of her opponent.
Naomi kipped up and mounted a comeback, delivering a stunning kick and a crossbody for two. A running bulldog ended with Deville sending the babyface face-first into the turnbuckle. The heel delivered a suplex into a side effect that earned her a two-count of her own.
Naomi delivered a Bubba Bomb for another near-fall as the action intensified. The former champion finally delivered the Rear View and added a split-legged moonsault for the pinfall victory. Deville made her way to the back, expressing anger over the official's unwillingness to spin the match in her favor.
After the match, the victor cut a celebratory promo. An infuriated Deville reappeared and entered herself in the Royal Rumble match.
Naomi defeated Deville
When you take into consideration that Deville had not wrestled a televised match since August of 2020, this was better than expected.
The chemistry was solid, Deville looked fantastic, and Naomi is a superb babyface. If there was one negative, it was that the crowd in Kansas City let the performers down. Maybe it's because the creative team waited too long to deliver the match, or that the Banks surprise earlier in the show burned them out, but the showdown definitely earned a hotter reaction than what it got here.
Deville booking herself in the Rumble is such a great reactionary heel move. The only way it gets better is if she is directly responsible for costing Naomi an opportunity at a title match.
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Sami Zayn introduced the WWE Universe to InZayn, repackaging his Jackass ripoff into a live podcast. His first guests? Former WWE champion Jinder Mahal and Shanky. Instead of letting his guests get a word in, Zayn talked about them and obsessed over Johnny Knoxville.
Rick Boogs interrupted, ushering in the arrival of Intercontinental champion Shinsuke Nakamura. The babyfaces stood tall as the show headed to break.
Back from the commercial, Boogs and Nakamura battled Mahal and Shanky in tag team action.
Boogs overcame a united front by the heels, clearing Mahal from the ring with a Polish Hammer, then delivering one to the much-larger Shanky that stunned him. An awe-inspiring Boogs Cruise to the massive heel earned his team the victory.
Boogs and Nakamura defeated Shanky and Mahal
Was Nakamura dinged in this one?
Sure, there is always the likelihood that Boogs was booked to shine late, but it was somewhat surprising the IC champion did not join him inside the squared circle for the post-match celebration. Considering he just returned from injury, hopefully The Artist was simply allowing his musical sidekick to shine on his own.
As for InZayn, the podcast is a great idea for the loudmouth heel and an excellent way to highlight his mic skills in a relatively fresh setting.
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The rivalry between New Day, Madcap Moss and Happy Corbin wrote its latest chapter Friday night when the latter two battled former WWE champions Kofi Kingston and Big E in tag team action.
Corbin and Moss isolated Kingston and worked him over until Big E tagged in and exploded into the match.
The New Day weathered a late offensive by the heels and finished Corbin off with Midnight Hour as Big E and Kingston reunited for a hard-fought victory.
New Day defeated Corbin and Moss
Man, watching Big E and Kingston team together again is so fun. It has been so long that it was easy to forget how well-oiled a machine they are when they partner. Their chemistry is off-the-charts, dare I say even better than that of Kingston and Woods.
The speed and agility of Kingston, combined with Big E's power-based offense, mesh so well together that when they hit their stride, it is difficult to imagine a team better than them.
Including The Usos.
A win over Corbin and Moss may set them up for another showdown with Jimmy and Jey before all is said and done.
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Seth Rollins and Universal champion Roman Reigns brought the final SmackDown before the Royal Rumble to a close with an in-ring face-to-face.
Rollins brought up beating Reigns before, including one that sent him packing for a "30-day vacay."
From there, he brought up the chair shot that ended The Shield, to which The Tribal Chief's demeanor changed. Dismayed and pissed off, Reigns told his former tag team title-winning partner that he never forgave him for what he did to "us" and revealed his hatred for Rollins.
The Head of the Table tried for the Superman Punch, but Rollins evaded and bailed to the floor. The purple-clad joker ended the show laughing maniacally as Reigns watched from the ring.
This was the best of the face-to-face segments between these two, with the emphasis of it being the breakup of The Shield. It really is disappointing that we did not get to that topic more in the weeks leading into the Rumble, but Reigns' reaction to it and the manner in which Rollins was able to use his emotions against him was a great bit of booking.
It also sets up the story of their Universal Championship match Saturday night.
The line about Reigns' "30-day vacay," a reference to the Wellness Policy suspension that occurred shortly after Rollins defeated him back in 2016, was savage and added an even sharper edge to the proceedings.