Nearly a month after All Elite Wrestling’s most recent trip to the Chicago area (highlighted by THAT CM Punk/Maxwell Jacob Friedman promo segment), it was WWE’s turn to visit the Windy City for this week’s WWE SmackDown.
Given Roman Reigns’ conspicuous absence from last week’s show (and the usual star power vacuum that accompanies it), WWE centered the episode around “The Tribal Chief’s” return and what the ramifications would be for Paul Heyman’s lack of loyalty as Reigns’ special counsel.
Of course, there were other things on the show worth discussing, both good and bad. For now, let’s talk about the good.
These are the three things that went right on the Dec. 17 episode of SmackDown.
Honorable Mention: Heels don’t get heat on Naomi- The latest chapter in the Naomi/Sonya Deville saga showed how bereft WWE is for ideas to keep this feud going, but at least the last few segments haven’t ended with HEAT, so that’s a point in this segment’s favor.
Honorable Mention: Viking Raiders beat Jinder Mahal and Shanky- Sure, fans had to wait over 13 minutes for the between the Viking Raiders making their entrance and the opening bell sounding, but it was nice seeing Erik and Ivar pick up a decisive win. Hopefully, this means the former Raw and NXT Tag Champs will return to title contention sooner than later.
Roman Reigns fires and attacks Paul Heyman
After weeks of teasing, the Roman Reigns/Paul Heyman conflict finally reached a culmination of sorts during SmackDown’s closing segment. Yes, it was another long, drawn-out chit-chat on this alleged wrestling show, Reigns and Heyman’s chemistry once again mined something compelling out of the repetitive format we’ve seen from WWE over the last two decades.
Unlike about 97 percent of segments that resemble a high school play, this felt like how a real interaction between a suspicious employer and a duplicitous employee, and Reign’s and Heyman’s respective facial expressions helped further sell that dynamic.
In the end, Reigns fired Heyman and punctuated the dismissal with a Superman punch, which then led to Brock Lesnar coming out and laying out the entire Bloodline. It remains to be seen whether everything with Heyman and Reigns turns out to be a ruse, but in this moment, the split was quality television.
Sasha Banks and Toni Storm vs. Shotzi and Charlotte Flair
In an odd twist, SmackDown opened with a wrestling match instead of a talking segment, and it wasn’t even one of those instances where wrestler’s come out for a match and talk for 15 minutes before it starts.
Better yet, it was a match that featured three world-class workers (Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, and Toni Storm) and one good one (Shotzi). Thus, these ladies got plenty of time to work, and while there were a couple of rough spots, they kept the audience engaged with quality in-ring action.
As for the finish — Storm pinning Flair with an O’Connor roll — it would’ve been better to have Storm win with her finisher given how weak she’s been booked, but at least WWE did the right thing here and tried to make her feel like somewhat of a threat to the SmackDown Women’s Champion.
Announcing a IC Title top contender’s gauntlet match
It’s about time WWE remembered that Shinsuke Nakamura is the Intercontinental Champion and decided to book a match to determine the next number one contender for his title. Nakamura has held that championship since August, but hasn’t defended the belt on television since Sept. 24.
Since that successful retention over Apollo Crews, WWE has dedicated more time to pushing Nakamura’s guitarist, Rick Boogs, than to giving the New Japan Pro Wrestling legend a chance to build a memorable IC Title reign.
Hopefully, this 12-man gauntlet match will help turn things around, but that will depend on who wins and becomes number one contender.