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Smackdown: The deep breath before the plunge
By DAVE HILLHOUSE -- SLAM! Wrestling


Tonight, from Atlanta, GA, the objective of the show is to set the stage for Sunday; there are only two matches, although the Intercontinental Championship is up for grabs in one of them. Plus, the WWE gets to roll out what has always been one of its greatest strengths: the promotional video.

Match #1 – Kofi Kingston vs. Wade Barrett (C) – for the Intercontinental Championship

Kingston is clearly motivated to win his IC title back, trying to get the jump on the champion at the bell, but Barrett stuns him with a kick to the jaw that sends Kingston to the floor. Pulling him back into the ring, Barrett drives Kingston to the mat with a slam born from an abdominal stretch. The momentum swings the other way as Kingston scales the ropes and connects with a cross-body, but Barrett regains control with a strong kick as Kingston was in mid-Trouble in Paradise. Kingston then sneaks out of a Wasteland attempt, and Kingston follows with a successful TIP. As Barrett lays prone for the pin, The Corre arrives to break it up and save the title for him.

Winner via disqualification: Kofi Kingston (Title does not change hands)

The rest of The Corre’s opponents, Santino Marella, Kane, and Big Show rush down and clear the ring. Backstage, Matt Striker gets a few words from Cody Rhodes, who brings us up to speed on the “Eye for an Eye” history between himself and Rey Mysterio, vowing a beat-down on Sunday.

Todd Grisham is in the Georgia World Congress Centre with The Bella Twins to preview Sunday’s card. Triple H vs. The Undertaker gets its lengthiest promotion yet, perhaps tipping off that it will close out Sunday’s show. Next up is Randy Orton vs. CM Punk, and it’s nice to see that they’re playing up their encounter from two years ago, even though they have become very different characters since then.

After this, Grisham and the Bellas talk up the Hall of Fame inductees, with the focus on The Road Warriors and Paul Ellering, and it’s becoming clear to me that new matches will be at a premium on tonight’s show.

After a replay of much of Jerry Lawler’s match against Jack Swagger from last Monday, Jerry Lawler comes out to address the crowd – with Michael Cole having taken to the hills. Lawler makes a good case for how much of a jerk Cole has been recently, and promises to shut his mouth at Wrestlemania.

We get highlights from the Wrestlemania press conference from New York on Wednesday, in which the first three names that Stephanie McMahon drops are The Rock, Steve Austin, and The Undertaker – feels like old times, doesn’t it?

Speaking of old times, Grisham and the Bellas take us back to Raw again to watch The Undertaker, Triple H, and HBK have their chat. Then, we are privy to The Miz’s appearance on Conan, where he fulfilled the standard role of a wrestler on a talk show – mostly yelling and pretending to scrap with the host.

For those still undecided on whether they should order Wrestlemania, a review of Snooki’s appearance on Raw is presented as incentive; Edge and Del Rio’s story is recounted as well.

Match #2 – Cody Rhodes vs. Chris Masters

Rhodes emerges in plain blank trunks instead of the dress pants, and his new, rougher-sounding entrance theme. Masters, of course, doesn’t stand a chance here, and the match itself is even upstaged by Michael Cole walking back down to his Cole Mine. The Masterpiece does connect with two drops: one Samoan and one Reverse Atomic, but he can’t grip on the Masterlock and falls prey to Cross Rhodes.

Winner via pinfall: Cody Rhodes

Rey Mysterio charges the ring and, though he fails to land a knee-braced 619, he succeeds in pointing at the Wrestlemania sign to remind Rhodes of their imminent encounter.

Grisham and the Bellas close out the show by introducing the re-run of Cena and The Rock jawing it out from Raw, and that will do it for what felt like a real old-school preview show. Next week: Wrestlemania fall-out!

Dave Hillhouse is a screenwriter and teacher, and looks forward to the WWE’s New Year’s Day on Monday.