If verbal sparring were a contact sport, the final SmackDown before WrestleMania would have been a heck of a show.
Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon barked at their bitter rivals, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, whom they will face Sunday in New Orleans. AJ Styles had a stern warning for Shinsuke Nakamura, who himself turned up the wrath, while Charlotte Flair and Asuka exchanged a few terse words before getting on with their night.
Whether you like it or not, that is a go-home show M.O. in a nutshell. Perhaps they're not action-packed performances, but it's a necessary marketing ploy, especially when the payoff is just days away at the biggest event of the year. But wouldn't it be nice if we could bypass three-quarters of the rhetoric and fast forward to Sunday? The heat, the feuds, the stipulations -- it feels like the build to WrestleMania has been going on since January.
On Tuesday, the star attractions for Sunday's showdown in New Orleans took center stage at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. Bryan and McMahon opened the show, in essence to remind everyone of the shopping list of transgressions by their WrestleMania opponents. If you didn't know by now, there might not be enough real estate on the Internet to go through them all.
As importantly, Bryan and McMahon used the stage to clear the air between themselves. The SmackDown bosses have been at odds with each other for months, and until recently, with little explanation as to why.
Bryan conceded the strain was his wrongdoing. He'd been manipulated by Owens and Zayn, both of whom Bryan has known for 15 years while they simultaneously made their way up the wrestling ranks. And when McMahon wanted to reprimand the heels, Bryan gave them the benefit of the doubt too many times.
Of course, Bryan was also the victim of a heinous attack by KO and Zayn two weeks ago. So perhaps the general manager was feeling a guilty for ever believing in them anyway.
Whatever the rationale, Bryan sees Owens and Zayn for who they are. Thus, his mea culpa ahead of WrestleMania has us at least believing he and McMahon are all good.
As the segment came to a close, Bryan refused to shake McMahon's hand. What, after all that effort that went into rehabilitating their friendship? Nope, a handshake wouldn't do it. He wanted a hug.
That's what he got.
- WWE (@WWE) April 4, 2018
"Thank you for reinstating Kevin Owns and Sami Zayn," McMahon said. "It gives us an opportunity to rid ourselves of two cancers. After WrestleMania, they will never be seen on SmackDown again."
That's because if Owens and Zayn lose, they're permanently fired.
Later in the show, Owens and Zayn turned up the verbal assault even more, when they impulsively made their way from the crowd and onto the announcer's table. It got personal at that point.
Zayn apologized to Bryan's wife, Brie Bella, and daughter, Birdie, for what he and Owens were going to do to the GM. "Our dream is to obliterate you, and that's when Kevin Owens and I will have our WrestleMania moment."
Lots of words, little action. Now let's hope Bryan, McMahon, Owens and Zayn are as good with their firsts and legs Sunday as they have been with their mouths.
Styles, Nakamura and a battle of mind games
It was an action-packed bout that was overshadowed by the dubious tag-team work of the babyfaces. Nakamura tagged in Styles by patting him on the head, while Styles refused to tag in Nakamura as the match came to a close, instead opting to end it himself with a Phenomenal Forearm on Gable.
Afterward, Styles and Nakamura, who will battle Sunday for the belt, stood face to face before Benjamin attacked Nakamura from behind. Styles looked on but was in no hurry to help save his upcoming WrestleMania foe. When he finally decided to take action, he faked a Phenomenal Forearm on Nakamura, only to pat him on the head.
- WWE (@WWE) April 4, 2018
A week ago, Nakamura pretended to knock Styles out with a Kinshasa before pulling up short and rubbing his upcoming opponent's noggin.
If that wasn't enough, earlier Tuesday, Nakamura also called out Styles for being too emotional. It seems the battle of minds is at a dead heat as WrestleMania approaches, which only elevates the anticipation of their championship match.
Is it Sunday yet?
Hits and misses
Kind of an abrupt, awkward ending, when Charlotte Flair and Asuka stood face to face in the ring, heaving a few acrimonious barbs at each other. Flair, who had fended off Natalya and another failed cash-in attempt by Carmella on Tuesday, listened as Asuka shouted "The Queen will bow down to The Empress." Charlotte swiped away the mic and retorted, "I'm ready; the question is, are you ready?" and walked out of the ring. That was it. Sunday should be a whole lot better.
Nice to see Rusev get a clean win over Jinder Mahal. Of course, Bobby Roode and Randy Orton both made their way to the ring for some fisticuffs ahead of their Fatal 4-way for the United States championship. Judging by the Nashville fans' reaction to the hoopla, it seems as though the only acceptable outcome Sunday is a Rusev Day celebration. Now let's just hope the creative team is listening.
Baron Corbin went all Baron Corbin on an eight-person tag-team match, which was more or less an Andre the Giant Battle Royal tune-up. Corbin, who won the event two years ago, stared at the trophy, which was perched just outside the ring, after he pinned Fandango and held up two fingers. Hard to argue the Lone Wolf is not the favorite to win again.