March 28, 2011
Final Smackdown show before WrestleMania goes off without a hitch
By MATT BISHOP - SLAM! Wrestling
EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Smackdown brand's last stop on the Road to WrestleMania came Sunday at Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University. The show, headlined by a tag team match that saw Edge and Rey Mysterio face Alberto Del Rio and Cody Rhodes, was an exciting time for all fans and a lesson in how great professional wrestling can be.
A month ago, the Smackdown brand ran a house show in Toledo, Ohio, a 2-hour drive south of East Lansing. Having attended that show, too, this event was on a completely different level. The show in Toledo was by far the most boring wrestling show I've been too. While Toledo was dull for much of the night, the East Lansing show had fans hopping from the opening moments and featured much better matches than were seen in Toledo.
The show opened with a 10-man battle royal with the winner facing new Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett later in the show. The match, which featured Brodus Clay, Jack Swagger, Percy Watson, Tyler Reks, Mark Henry (apparently on loan from the Raw brand), Christian, Kofi Kingston, Chris Masters, Trent Barreta and Drew McIntyre, got the fans rolling.
The match came down to Clay, Henry, Kingston and Swagger. Of course, the two big men, Clay and Henry, went at it and Henry got the best of it, dumping Clay. But immediately after, Swagger came in from behind and dumped Henry, leaving only Swagger and Kingston. After a brief back-and-forth, Kingston was able to get Swagger high in the air and over the ropes to the floor, earning a shot at the title.
NXT Season 3 veterans Kaitlyn and AJ are now on the road, as Kaitlyn teamed with Layla to face AJ and Beth Phoenix.
In a longer-than-usual Divas match obviously designed to get the rookies ring time, the end came when Phoenix went to press slam AJ onto Layla, but Kaitlyn grabbed Phoenix's foot, sending AJ crashing to the mat. Layla then hit her with a neckbreaker and picked up the win.
McIntyre was out next and he was not happy. He cut an anti-America promo and promised his opponent, NXT Season 2 vet Watson, would feel his pain over not being on the WrestleMania card.
Well, things didn't go as planned for McIntyre as he succumbed to a backslide from "Showtime," as Watson picked up the upset win. Although McIntyre lost the battle, he won the war as he laid out Watson with the Future Shock DDT after the match.
The next contest saw Jack Swagger dominate Chris Masters. The match was all Swagger minus a brief comeback from Masters. He went for the Masterlock but Swagger ran him into the corner, dropped down and applied the ankle lock, forcing Masters to tap.
What turned out to be the match of the night for many fans was next as The Corre's Justin Gabriel and Heath Slater defended their WWE Tag Team Championships against Kane and The Big Show.
Kane and Show were wildly popular with the crowd and used it to their advantage, running wild in the early going. Slater by far got the worst of it, as Big Show gave his a variation of the Stink Face in the corner and lit him up with his "Shh!" chops, making Slater's chest very red.
Slater and Gabriel took over, though, controlling Kane by going after his legs, but he eventually got the tag to Big Show. He came in and got the edge, eventually calling for the choke slam. That's when Ezekiel Jackson ran in to save his stablemates, attacking Show for the disqualification.
After the match, though, Kane and Show sent Jackson to the mat, hit stereo choke slams on Slater and Gabriel and then Jackson got a double choke slam for his troubles.
At that point, it was time for intermission to allow the crowd to regroup following a very heated match. Following the break, fan favorite Christian returned to face Clay.
Clay seems like he can be something in this business. He's got a unique look and a good big man style. Working with someone the calibre of Christian on the road isn't going to hurt either. After Clay took most of the match, Christian moved out of the way of a big splash as Clay hit his head on the post. Christian took advantage and hit a tornado DDT and picked up the win.
The co-main event of the evening was contested for the Intercontinental Championship between Barrett and Kingston. Kingston threw everything he had at Barrett but just could not pick up the win.
The finish of the match was very well done, as the ending sequence had the fans on the edge of their seats. Kingston was rolling, hitting the high cross and then the Boom Drop. He called for the Trouble in Paradise but Barrett ducked under the kick and caught him on his shoulders, looking for Wasteland but Kingston slipped out and hit the SOS for a near fall. Kingston then went for a tornado DDT but Barrett crotched him on the top rope in the middle of the move, picked him up off the rope and hit Wasteland to retain the title.
The main event of the evening was something else. It saw Edge team with Mysterio to face Del Rio and Rhodes. Of course, Edge faces Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship and Rhodes meets Mysterio at WrestleMania.
The objective of this match was very, very clear: Don't get hurt.
It was amazing how they crafted this in a way where everyone went home satisfied. The ring entrances started at 7:05. They didn't actually start wrestling until 7:28. I turned to the person I was with and said, "I bet this doesn't go for more than five minutes." Sure enough, when Rhodes was pinned following a 619 and a spear, it was 7:33.
This was just a true spectacle through-and-through. Larry Zbyszko would've been proud of the amount of stalling in this match. Del Rio started things off with a promo about how it is his destiny to win the title at WrestleMania. Then he went to the outside, grabbed a pro-Mysterio sign from someone at ringside and proceeded to rip it into a pieces, throwing it in the air for everyone to see.
Then Del Rio got into an on-and-off argument with a ringside fan. Del Rio made eating motions and told him "no more food for you" and then mocked the man's gut. With all four men at ringside, the crowd started chanting "spear." Rhodes grabbed the mic and informed him if they think they're seeing a spear of 619 tonight, they really are as stupid as they look.
In addition to picking on the ringside fans, Del Rio also took aim at ring announcer Tony Chimel. He slapped him with a latex glove and then put it on his head. Later, he took his scarf and tied it around his mouth. Luckily, Edge made the save, untying the scarf and then naturally blowing his nose and wiping his rear with it before throwing it back at Del Rio.
Once the two teams looked ready to go, Del Rio and Rhodes stalled some more. Del Rio repeatedly slid under the bottom rope to avoid wrestling with Edge. Then Del Rio slapped Rhodes in. Edge gave the tag to Mysterio and Rhodes proceeded to take Del Rio's level of stalling to a new level. When Mysterio went after him, he bailed from the ring and ran into the crowd. Twice.
This was such a high level of shenanigans it had to be seen to be believed. Once the match started, it was very basic. The finish saw Del Rio go from the floor to the apron but Mysterio shoved Rhodes into him. Rhodes found himself on the second rope, prone for the 619. Mysterio hit it and Rhodes staggered to his feet right in time for the match-ending spear.
On the night, the most popular wrestlers were The Big Show, Mysterio and Edge. Kane, as always, got a big pop, as well. Del Rio got the most heat and nobody else was even in the same stratosphere.
There is not a number high enough for how many more times enjoyable this show was than the one in Toledo. Every match had redeeming qualities and the wrestlers made it fun for everyone in the crowd. A great effort.