From the look of it, this promises to be a stacked SmackDown. They’re really hotshotting the road to WrestleMania, if you ask me. The Rock’s scheduled to appear and answer Cody Rhodes’ challenge made at Elimination Chamber. Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns is supposed to be there as well, and Dakota Kai returns to action.

On March 1st, 2024, WWE SmackDown was in the Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona. It’s sold out, 15,000 plus, and these are my thoughts:

  • For me and many others, SmackDown effectively started earlier in the day when The Rock released a 21-minute video on Instagram and X/Twitter. This was a fourth-wall-breaking masterpiece, if you ask me. He addressed what he had actually said to Cody Rhodes backstage before Cody made his announcement. He really blurred the lines by including videos of podcasters attacking him and responding to them, and also by playing board member Dwayne Johnson when he addressed Seth Rollins, threatening to take his title away. I definitely recommend watching this.
  • And if you’re thinking that this was to replace some of his time on the show, you would be sorely mistaken. We start with a five-minute Elimination Chamber recap. And then Roman Reigns’ music hits. Roman, Paul Heyman, Solo Sikoa, and Jimmy Uso head to the ring. And we were 10 minutes into the show before Roman spoke a word.
  • And of course, the first thing he did, in fact, the only thing he did for a while, was ask Glendale, and then Phoenix and then Glendale again, to acknowledge him. Not liking the response, he said that they were leaving until Paul Heyman convinced him to stay because The Rock was coming out after these messages. I think this is a really strong insight into Roman’s character’s frame of mind.
Roman Reigns after asking the Glendale, Arizona crowd to acknowledge him, as Solo Sikoa raises the finger in the background on WWE Smackdown March 1 2024
  • Yes, Roman was annoyed at Glendale, specifically this crowd, for not acknowledging him, but that’s never really stopped him before. I think he was really thinking about how The Rock seems to be taking more of the spotlight from him, and that will definitely come into play later.
  • After the commercial break, The Rock comes out as promised. The crowd pops as expected, because he’s The Rock. But then they realize that, wait, he’s a bad guy. He’s about to insult us. So they start booing. He acknowledges the booing, and then he goes into a somewhat risque diatribe about how Phoenix, which is 10 miles from Glendale, is both the cocaine and methamphetamine capital of the U.S., a fact which I believe is true. This allowed him to refer to the Desert Diamond Arena as a giant crack den with popcorn, and he also talked about crackhead Karens wanting his 22 inches, specifying that he meant his muscles. There was a lot of this.
The Rock joins The Bloodline in the ring on WWE Smackdown March 1 2024
  • He addressed Cody Rhodes’ challenge with an emphatic “no”, but offered a counter-proposal: a tag match on Night One of WrestleMania with Cody and World Heavyweight Champion Seth “Freakin” Rollins versus Roman and Rock. If Cody and Seth win, the next night The Bloodline would be barred from ringside and WrestleMania during Cody and Roman’s Undisputed WWE Universal Championship Match. But if Rock and Roman win, the Night Two Main Event would be Bloodline Rules.
  • TBH, I’m hoping for Bloodline Rules, because while it means Rock, Jimmy, and Paul can cheat, and Solo can sing the National Anthem (thanks Rock for that idea), it also means the entire babyface locker room, or certain key players, can interfere too. Like an all-out war. If Cody wins under those circumstances, his victory is even bigger than it would be if it was just in a normal one-on-one match. Of course, him beating Roman Reigns one-on-one with no interference would show that maybe he should have won last year. I still prefer the latter option, but both sound interesting.
  • And just when you thought that it was over, Roman cuts The Rock off as he was concluding the promo, interrupting one of his catchphrases. Long pause. He asks The Rock to acknowledge him. The Rock does. They hug. Rock makes another crack remark. And that’s the end of the segment.
Roman Reigns stops The Rock from closing the segment on WWE Smackdown March 1 2024
  • Now that was a really slimmed down version of that segment that left out some key parts, like the HHH chants from the crowd after The Rock said no one in the back could stop him. Also some funny bits like the crowd chanting for Solo to sing, presumably. We were 45 minutes into the show when it ended. Yes, they went long. I’m wondering if it actually was the crowd slowing him down or if he was slowing down intentionally or if Roman just took too long. Definitely, these are characters that are allowed to breathe on the air. And it’s a good thing the segment went the length that it did. It was an epic promo, which had a lot of meaning because now The Rock has acknowledged Roman. Whether that’s going to be true or not in the future, we don’t know. But it was definitely a seminal moment in one of the hottest periods of wrestling, which Rock also acknowledged in the promo. But maybe they should have planned for that better when programming the rest of the show.
  • Immediately following this, we got a funny bit with Randy Orton, Austin Theory, and Grayson Waller backstage setting up the Main Event between Orton and Theory for later, but the next match, or rather the first match, had to enter during the commercial break. Meaning Naomi, who has probably one of the coolest entrances going, had to do it only for the live crowd. This follows Elimination Chamber, where she had her entrance in the daylight. It’s a shame that of all the entrances to cut, it was hers. The match got shorter, too. It started, continued through one commercial break, and ended. Not the full two segments it was planned for.
  • It was a really well-fought match from both participants, despite its time. A lot of back and forth. Eventually, Stratton cheats, gets an eye rake, and then hits The Prettiest Moonsault Ever for the victory.
Naomi dropkicks Tiffany Stratton on WWE Smackdown March 1 2024
  • But what really got me is Stratton’s clearly still the heel, but like in Perth, the audience was definitely behind her in Arizona. It was definitely Tiffy Time in Glendale, so to speak. I’m wondering if they’re maybe going to make her a babyface, since the Australian crowd wasn’t just a one-off. If they end up going with these two at WrestleMania, that could be good too. Naomi is a former champion and Stratton is brand new, but I think she definitely deserves a spot in primetime.
  • And then it was time for some development in arguably the biggest SmackDown story minus save for The Rock and The Bloodline: Damage CTRL. Dakota Kai returns to action as Bayley’s tag team partner against the Kabuki Warriors, Asuka and Kairi Sane, with WWE Women’s Champion Io Sky in their corner. Will Dakota be loyal to Bayley? I really didn’t think so, and it didn’t take long for her to turn.
  • The first part of the match mainly saw Bayley fighting Asuka while Kairi pulled some sneaky moves like yanking Bayley off the ropes, and preventing a hot tag to Dakota. I’m not sure if this match got cut for time, but I don’t think so, as the turn seemed to happen at exactly the right time.
  • When it was time for the proper hot tag, Dakota of course jumped off the apron. Bayley, realizing the fix was in, went after Dakota. And then the other members of Damage CTRL came in. The match was ruled a no contest. And it was a beatdown on Bayley, especially when the Kabuki Warriors held her back so Dakota could slap her. It was, of course, sad. But we knew this was going to happen. And I’m glad they did it sooner rather than later.
Dakota Kai slaps Bayley as The Kabuki Warriors (Asuka and Kairi Sane) hold her on WWE Smackdown March 1 2024
  • Subsequently backstage we saw Damage CTRL pass by Jade Cargill who gave them a really nasty look, and apparently posted later on social media that what they did wasn’t right. I’m thinking maybe we get Jade, and let’s say Bianca Belair challenging The Kabuki Warriors for the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania. That would be perfect because it would get the women’s tag titles properly defended at Mania for a change, give Cargill a match on the Show of Shows, and it would get Belair into another title match at Mania, which seems to just make sense. It would just be good all around. Book it, Hunter!
  • And then Bron Breakker hit a really nice spear on Zion Quinn and pinned him. I’m not sure if this squash match was supposed to be so short, but it definitely was supposed to be a squash match. They’re turning Bron into a monster, which is good. Hopefully he’ll fight a competitive opponent soon.
Bronn Breakker spearing Xyon Quinn on WWE Smackdown March 1 2024
  • We get another video of Legado del Fantasma talking in the bar, but this time Santos Escobar brings up Rey Mysterio. Hmmm, I wonder why (no, I didn’t at the time, more of an in retrospect thing).
  • It was time for the Street Fight between Santos Escobar and Carlito. It was a fun match. Typical street fight stuff. Lots of kendo sticks. I like how Corey Graves even asked why there’s always kendo sticks under the ring. Like he doesn’t know that that’s where they’re grown and where they live. The crowd wanted tables, and Carlito was happy to deliver by pulling one out. But, of course, Santos stopped him. There was a funny spot where Santos even took Carlito’s apple. It went back and forth until Angel and Humberto had Carlito down, and took care of the LWO’s Joaquin Wilde and Cruz Del Toro when they tried to help.
Santos Escobar lunges at Carlito during their Street Fight on WWE Smackdown March 1 2024
  • Who comes in for the save? None other than Ray Mysterio. I loved how he came in on crutches, making everyone think he was still injured. And then when the Legado members approached him, he started using those crutches as weapons. We then got a great ending sequence: the backstabber from Carlito got Escobar in the 619 position, Del Toro and Wilde took out Humberto and Angel, Rey delivered the 619, proving he’s back in match form, which is great because WrestleMania is just around the corner, and then they put Escobar through the table for the win.
A returning Rey Mysterio hits Santos Escobar with the 619 on WWE Smackdown March 1 2024
  • It was a really great end of the match, and on any other SmackDown without The Rock, the return of Rey Mysterio would definitely be the takeaway story. I’m not sure if we’re going for Mysterio versus Escobar at Mania or a multi-man match, but I’m very excited to see them included on the card.
  • Then we got Nick Aldis telling New Catch Republic (I have to accept that name, live with it, Jason) that he’s not sure if he can get them on WrestleMania, but him and Adam Pearce do have something in mind for the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championships. I wonder if they’re going to split the belts. I kind of hope they don’t. I think they should just merge them into two belts rather than four belts, or at least make nicer belts. If they split them, as long as they do it in the right way, it could make sense. And it would give more teams on Raw and on SmackDown a chance to earn titles. Though, of course, it might diminish the importance of said titles.
  • The better part of this backstage segment was when Aldis gets distracted by LA Knight still looking for AJ Styles. I love Knight’s comment talking about how Styles flew across the world just to interfere in the matchwh, which honestly seems ridiculous when they’re at an international PLE, but you just accept it. Nice to see Knight acknowledged it.
  • I really liked that we got to see Logan Paul’s cell phone video. showing how he stayed in the cage after being eliminated at Elimination Chamber, and that the officials hadn’t forgotten about him. He kept telling the referee that he couldn’t move until he ends up moving and taking out Randy Orton, then telling the referee that he tricked him. It at least explains why he was down for that entire time, and still in the cage.
  • And speaking of Logan Paul, we all know that Randy Orton and Paul are probably going to be fighting at WrestleMania. But I think Kevin Owens might be in the mix, too. His inclusion as the special commentator for the Randy Orton-Austin Theory match wasn’t by accident. More on that later.
  • The match that pitted Orton against Theory with Grayson Waller in his corner was a fun one. And it’s interesting to note that Randy Orton’s WWE 2K24 score is 91 and Austin Theory’s is 72. That seems like a bit of a mismatch. And this match did seem like a bit of a mismatch too.
  • Theory did start off in control of the match, but Randy Orton quickly took over. KO made an interesting comment on commentary about how the fact that Austin Theory is oiled up helps him and makes things very slippery. There’s a spot on the announce table, to everyone’s delight, as Orton doesn’t put Theory through it, but slams him onto it. Eventually, Orton gets the hanging DDT and is about to go for the RKO, but Theory stops him and even gets a two count. But eventually, as Theory is powering up, Orton hits an RKO out of nowhere, midair almost, and wins.
Randy Orton hits Austin Theory with an RKO on WWE Smackdown March 1 2024
  • After the bell, the heels try to take the numbers advantage, but Owens quickly evens things up. He hits a stunner on Theory. Waller misses a stunner, but then gets hit with an RKO. Owens and Orton fist bump as the show goes off the air. I think that ending, also some of the things Owens said on commentary during the match, like the fact that he has no problem with Randy Orton having eliminated him, lead me to believe that Logan Paul might be facing Orton and Owens at Mania, or possibly there’s some tag match or a multi-man match for the United States Championship. I don’t think KO is out of the Logan Paul picture just yet, and I’m sure that Randy Orton’s now in it. It was a good main event for the show, and it does set up some greater possibilities for WrestleMania.
Kevin Owens and Randy Orton fist bump after Orton defeats Austin Theory on WWE Smackdown March 1 2024
  • Before concluding, I’d like to point out that viewers in the US during the Rock and Roman segment had the screen blacked out several times. This was because Rocky Die” sign in the crowd. I saw people online asking why didn’t WWE simply take the sign from the audience member. There was no censorship for me watching in Canada on SportsNet Plus, which is the WWE network feed, meaning that it was FOX, not the WWE blacking out the screen. They probably didn’t realize the network would censor it, seeing it as a tribute to what made The Rock a star originally. It’s interesting that the promotion and the network weren’t in sync on this. Also “Crackhead Karens” is okay for FOX, but “Die Rocky Die” isn’t.

So, on a night that saw Dakota Kai’s heartbreaking but expected turn, the hint that Jade Cargill might get involved in the Damage CTRL mix, the triumphant return of Rey Mysterio, and Tiffany Stratton surprisingly getting crowd support once again, the big story, the one that everyone’s talking about, is that The Rock acknowledged Roman Reigns. Plus the fact that, if Cody Rhodes and Seth Rollins agree, we’re getting a huge tag match Mania Night One. This truly is a monumental Smackdown. I wonder what’s going to happen on RAW, and next Friday. As I said earlier, they’re clearly hot shotting the shows on the road to WrestleMania.

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