The December 22, 2023 WWE Smackdown was not live. In fact, it was recorded right after last week’s Smackdown went off the air. WWE normally does this when there’s a Premium Live Event the next night halfway across the world, but this time it was for the simple, though surprisingly revolutionary under HHH idea of letting wrestlers, on-air talent, and crews, spend the holidays at home with their families. And I’m all for that.

The real question with these type of shows, for the viewer, is will they be good, or just filler. On one hand, you can be pretty sure no titles will change hands, or anyone will do a major face or heel turn. And there also probably won’t be any surprise comebacks, as The Internet will leak that. On the other hand, it’s a good way to get Roman Reigns for two weeks in a row

We’re back in the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin, so let’s see how this one stacks up. Here are my thoughts:

  • Nice set change: there are now Christmas trees, and a full-on holiday feeling. This helps the live audience to suspend their disbelief, and accept that what they had just seen really was “last week”.
  • AJ Styles starts things off, and is soon joined by LA Knight and Randy, all after the same thing: Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns at the Royal Rumble. Knight, honestly, made the best argument, as he was never taken out by The Bloodline.
Randy Orton and LA Knight confront AJ Styles in the ring on WWE Smackdown December 22 2023
  • Nick Aldis put them in a triple threat match to see who faces Roman at the Royal Rumble. This works both in storyline, but also as a way to tell who is more over with the crowd, and who isn’t. By the sounds of that segment, Knight is the most over, Orton is still massively popular, as long as he doesn’t attack Knight out of nowhere, and Styles may just fully turn heel.
  • I like that Smackdown has its own Day 1 called New Year’s Revolution, where we will get that aforementioned triple threat match, and by the looks of it, some other solid bouts. It’s part of New Year’s Knockout Week, which is essentially special PLE-esque episodes of RAW, NXT and Smackdown. Airing Best-Of shows (not NXT, that’s still live), then coming back the next week with a bang, might seem like a pretty basic concept, but it’s the first time WWE is trying it in recent memory, so we’ll see if HHH was right.
  • They’re all on the tank now? I thought they were phasing that out of Shotzi’s presentatiom with her new look and alignment, but now we have her, along with Zelina Vega, Mia Yim, and Bianca frickin’ Belair all riding the Taking Care of Business Tank to the ring, as Bianca’s music plays.
  • The Holiday Havoc Match was just the kind of wacky WWE holiday cheer needed to kick off the in-ring action. I love Shotzi opening a present and finding a chair, while Kairi Sane got a garbage can lid in hers. Santa was clearly watching WarGames. Bayley and Iyo Sky using a table as a weapon in a very unconventional way, and then doing a dance with Dakota Kai cheering them on. Bianca Belair can do it all, including wielding a Candy Cane Kendo Stick and attacking people with presents. Asuka got her mist spot in on Zelina Vega, who looked the most wrecked after the match. We got Shotzi coming off the top rope and dropkicking Iyo Sky, with a gift box on her head, off Belair’s shoulders. Shotzi looked quite good, and so did Mia Yim, when she hit a Senton and put Iyo through a table for the win. And now that she’s pinned the WWE Women’s Champion, she gets a title shot at New Year’s Revolution.
Shotzi dropkicks WWE Women’s Champion Iyo Sky, with a gift box on her head, off Bianca Belair’s shoulders on WWE Smackdown December 22 2023
  • Alba Fyre and Isla Dawn are back! They weren’t well-received Christmas presents for The Kabuki Warriors and the rest of Damage CTRL, but they’re great presents for those of us, like me, who have been waiting for them to return. I thought they were going to be mixed into the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships picture, and they still might, if Asuka and Kairi take them, as I expect them to.
  • Corey Graves is really on fire tonight, and in this match in particular. Bringing the deep cuts like Yukon Cornelius and the Island of Misfit Toys was solid. Having a bit of fun at Kevin Patrick’s expense with the Rudolph and It’s A Wonderful Life references was funny, even when Michael Cole joined in. And that old pie remark was a nice touch.
  • We go from top-notch goofy sports entertainment, to a solid, and fast-paced wrestling match. Dragon Lee defending his NXT North American Championship against Butch didn’t really have any story behind it. What it did have were Hurricanranas off the apron, powerbombs, and German suplexes. Also, there was Butch’s joint manipulation, which is still the hardest thing for me to watch, and I watched the Attitude Era. It concluded with Lee escaping The Bitter End, and then winning with Operation Dragon. A solid contest, with both competitors shaking hands after it was over.
Dragon Lee shakes hands with Butch after defeating him to retain the NXT North American Championship on WWE Smackdown December 22 2023
  • I think, on this show, Roman Reigns finally met his match. No, not in the ring, that’s still to come. But when it comes to speaking low and making passive aggressive threats, the Tribal Chief is pretty evenly matched with Smackdown General Manager Nick Aldis. I’m not sure where this will lead, but it was real fun to watch.
  • Kevin Owens advanced in the United States Championship Number One Contender Tournament with a win over NXT’s Carmelo Hayes. I was pretty sure that would happen. I’m glad that it wasn’t an easy victory, Hayes really made KO earn it. It was a good match, and Hayes blocked a blocked a Pop Up Powerbomb near the end, so Owens had to hit him with another, then a Swanton, and then the Stunner to advance to the finals. Melo, as people who watch NXT on a regular basis, looked strong on the Main Roster, and will be back. And WWE has been telegraphing KO versus Logan Paul at the Rumble since even before this tournament started. And after the bell, Owens helped Hayes up, which is as good as a handshake, which we had just done after the previous match.
Kevin Owens lands a Senton on Carmelo Hayes during their United States Championship Number One Contender Tournament Match on WWE Smackdown December 22 2023
  • At least they’re addressing the fact that when Styles was last on Smackdown, he was with The OC. Pretty sure that faction is done, but they didn’t forget about it, which is nice.
  • Okay maybe the Karion Kross and Scarlett creepy video thing is going somewhere this time. It looks like the recently announced to return Authors of Pain were in the shadows of tonight’s video with Paul Ellering. A five-person stable could make Kross interesting again.
  • I’m pretty sure WWE isn’t pushing Bobby Lashley, and his faction with The Street Profits, as heels anymore. They’re just too likeable. That knowledge, combined with the KO victory, made it almost certain to me that Santos Escobar would advance to the next round, and probably through some sort of cheating and/or interference. I was close. Lashley dominated for most of the match, but then a masked man showed up, and the announcers played it like some fan had jumped the gate. Graves even saying “Why are we shooting this?”. Then another masked man joined him, and they took out Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford at ringside. This distracted Lashley, which allowed Escobar to roll him up for the win. So it was a distraction victory. The two masked men revealed themselves to be Angel Garza and Humberto Carrillo, so Santos has a new heel faction.
Bobby Lashley about to apply the Hurt Lock on Santos Escobar during their United States Championship Number One Contender Tournament match on WWE Smackdown December 22 2023
  • I’m thinking maybe that Santos’ new faction may feud with Lashley and the Profits, at least until Rey Mysterio is good to go again, and the LWO once again becomes a thing. I’m also pretty sure that Owens wins in the tournament finals, as Escobar versus Logan Paul just wouldn’t make sense. Who would the crowd cheer for? I get that there are shades of grey now, but not with Logan Paul and Santos Escobar. They are currently heels, through and through.
  • Pretty Deadly’s encounter with Butch backstage led to Nick Aldis making a match for New Year’s Revolution with Enton Prince and Kit Wilson facing Butch and a mystery partner. There is speculation online that Butch may revert to being Pete Dunne, and get a partner from his past. Of course, the partner could just be Seamus. We’ll find out in two weeks.
  • The Main Event of AJ Styles versus Solo Sikoa was good while it lasted. It was back and forth, with Samoan Drops, Pele Kicks, and more. Styles evaded the dreaded Samoan Spike, hit an Enzeguri, and then the Phenomenal Forearm and was poised to win, when Roman Regins jumps in and attacks Styles, causing a disqualification. It’s interesting to note that Roman will save Solo from a pinfall victory, but seems to always let Jimmy Uso lose before running in.
AJ Styles hitting the Phenomenal Forearm on Solo Sikoa on WWE Smackdown December 22 2023
  • Of course, the aftermath was the real main event, as it was an angle to further set up for New Year’s Revolution. We got Randy Orton, and then LA Knight jumping in. Not to help Styles, really, as he had demanded that they both not show up. Moreover, it was to take on The Bloodline (Solo had woken back up, and Jimmy Uso had entered). Eventually, they pushed The Bloodline out of the ring to where Paul Heyman had entered, carrying Roman’s title, and the Tribal Chief wisely told his group not to head back in, as Knight, Styles, and Orton were now all fighting each other. And Smackdown went off the air without a resolution.
LA Knight takes on Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns and Solo Sikoa after The Bloodline attacked AJ Styles and Randy Orton on WWE Smackdown December 22 2023

Like Monday’s RAW was for Day 1, this Smackdown was a solid Go Home show for New Year’s Revolution, aka the Smackdown airing in two weeks. It may have been pre-recorded, but it felt like a live Holiday episode. And it concluded Smackdown for 2023, and the WWE’s televised Main Roster for the year (I was wrong in my RAW review, NXT does have a live show next week).

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

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