Smackdown has been firing on all cylinders lately. Come to think of it, so has WWE in general. With all these returning stars, and new stories, you can almost forget that Roman Reigns hasn’t appeared in a WWE ring, or been personally in the mix since Crown Jewel.

Well, the Tribal Chief is back tonight, December 15, 2023, as WWE Smackdown takes over the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Here are my thoughts:

  • And we’re starting with Roman right out of the gate. He’s still got the same swagger. Paul Heyman was his usual overly toady self. Brings back recent memories.
  • I think it was obvious that Roman was giving the promotion to Solo Sikoa, but Jimmy Uso sold his excitement and disappointment like the pro performer that he is. He’s still not at a level of heal comparable to his brother’s babyface run, but he’s getting there.
The Bloodline (l-r) Solo Sikoa, Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns, Jimmy Uso, and Paul Heyman on WWE Smackdown December 15 2023
  • The ad break just after Randy Orton entered was quite oddly placed, to say the least.
  • Orton is massively over with the crowd, and his promo on Roman and The Bloodline was good. The failed RKO attempt on Reigns (or the RKO tease), followed by the line about Roman shitting himself was funny. It was a good segment that is clearly setting up Orton versus Reigns at the Royal Rumble. What it hasn’t done yet, for me at least, is make me believe that Randy has a chance of winning.
Randy Orton tries (and fails) to hit the ROK on Roman Reigns, with Solo Sikoa ready to jump in, during a promo on WWE Smackdown December 15 2023
  • This was the best I’ve seen Grayson Waller in the ring. He works very well with Carmelo Hayes, even pulling off a nice looking move that the announcers admitted they didn’t have a name for yet. I understand the two of them clashed in NXT, so were familiar with each other, which explains their chemistry here As someone who doesn’t watch NXT regularly, I know that Carmelo Hayes is a big deal, and I can see why in this match. Not only did he hold his own, he won clean with his finisher, Nothing But Net, and advanced in the tournament. I don’t think he’ll take the United States Championship this time, or even face Logan Paul for the strap, but this is clearly the start of a Main Roster push for him.
Carmelo Hayes kicks Grayson Waller during the United States Championship Number One Contenders’ Tournament on WWE Smackdown December 15 2023
  • I liked Orton and LA Knight backstage, as it’s setting up some tension between babyfaces that may play into the Rumble Main Event (assuming it’s Roman versus Randy). It’s not quite the level of interest Sami Zayn being outside of the ring brought when Roman fought Kevin Owens at last year’s Rumble, but it could turn into a fun spoke in the wheel.
  • Speaking of Kevin Owens Austin Theory, it was a really good match, that continued to tell the Owens hand injury storyline from last week beautifully. KO pulled off a really nice Frog Splash and Swanton Bomb, but failed at a Popup Powerbomb due to the injury Theory got some nice moves in, too, like the Seated Springboard Spanish Fly. I thought Owens had it won after the Cannonball, but he was unable to execute the follow-up Stunner, once again due to the injury. As Theory looked poised to win, Owens accidentally turned the injury, and in particular the cast he was wearing because of it, into an advantage. He knocked Theory out with Haymaker punch, with the cast, for the win. Not only was this a nice way to continue telling the injury storym it also and also gave Michael Cole a chance to reference Logan Paul’s famous “one lucky punch”. Great work, all around.
Kevin Owens celebrates after defeating Austin Theory in the United States Championship Number One Contender Tournament on WWE Smackdown December 15 2023
  • The look Roman gave Jimmy backstage when he said “Yeet!”, and Jimmy’s response, were priceless. I miss these Bloodline segments.
  • Okay, it’s the Karion Cross and Scarlett re-launch video promo, take, what is it, four or five? Let’s hope it works this time.
  • KO’s backstage interaction with Hayes was a good way to make Carmelo look strong, with the right attitute, going into a match that I’m pretty sure he’s not going to win. As long as he comes close, his Main Roster push will be a sure thing.
  • Charlotte Flair’s out with a knee injury for nine months? Damn. Lousy timing. And ouch. I hope she recovers quicker than expected, and feels better soon.
  • So Damage CTRL is united, and Bayley is still the leader. At least that’s how it looked in their promo. And their plan makes sense. Iyo Sky remains the WWE Women’s Champion, Kairi Sane and Asuka reform The Kabuki Warriors (cool) and go after the Undisputed WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships, Dakota Kai manages from the sidelines, and Bayley tries to win the Royal Rumble and goes after Rhea Ripley’s Women’s World Championship at WrestleMania. I can see that happening, though I’m pretty sure Bayley won’t beat Rhea, especially if she’s still a heel. Maybe things happen as planned, Bayley wins the Rumble, but the rest of them turn on her, and she goes for Iyo’s belt at Mania instead. For now, though, I’m happy Damage CTRL is on the same page.
  • Damage CTRL’s plan got off to a good start, ultimately, with The Kabuki Warriors picking up the win over Zelina Vega and Mia Yim. Of course, before the match, Yim and Vega attacked Asuka and Sane in the aisle as they were making their entrance. That defiinitely set the pace for things to come. It was fast-paced to say the least, and a solid match. Of course the Warriors won after Dakota Kai distracted the ref, and Bayley yanked Yim off the ropes, so by cheating. I am glad, though, that it was Kairi who got the pin, following an InSANE Elbow, rather than Asuka after her head kick. The Empress of Tomorrow has plenty of victories, whereas this is Sane’s first after returning to WWE.
Zelina Vega and Mia Yim attack The Kabuki Warriors (Asuka and Kairi Sane) in the entranceway before their match on WWE Smackdown December 15 2023
  • It’s good to see Vega and Yim in this pairing. Or in action in general. I’m sure Vega will be back in the LWO picture soon enough, but it looks like The OC isn’t a thing for now (see the end of this review).
  • The Santos Escobar video promo, and the following Bobby Lashley live backstage promo accompanied by the Street Profits, perfectly laid out exactly who the babyface and heel would be in this supposed heel versus heel match next week. Santos is one of the best rising heels out there, and Lashley and the Profits are just fun to watch. I still think KO will win this tournament, but I could see Lashley against Paul for the title, too.
  • The Main Event was a good showcase of Jimmy Uso as a heel. He it quick moves, then ducked out of the ring before Randy Orton could pay him back, so to speak. Orton did get to acquaint Uso with the announce table a couple of times via suplexes, to the absolute joy of the crowd. Solo Sikoa coming out to help his brother would ultimately backfire when LA Knight came out to take care of Solo. Uso was the one distracted, and Orton was able to take advantage and hit an RKO for the win, and an even bigger crowd reaction.
Randy Orton punches Jimmy Uso during their match on WWE Smackdown December 15 2023
  • The real surprises, and storytelling, happened after the match. First Roman came back, which you could anticipate, but was still good storytelling. He took out LA Knight for a minute, then went after Orton, and soon enough The Bloodline had Orton and Knight down in the ring. Then, AJ Styles returned out of nowhere, which was a huge surprise. He hit Reigns with a Phenomenal Forearm, which, given his now being there, was expected, but then dropped LA Knight with a clothesline as the three babyfaces stood in the ring looking at The Bloodline outside of it, which, most definitely, was not. This had me confused for a moment, but then it occurred to me that a previously predictable Rumble Main Event just got a whole lot more interesting.
The returning AJ Styles clothslines LA Knight as Randy Orton continues to stare down The Bloodline on WWE Smackdown December 15 2023
  • While I know I’m not the only one to point this out, both Randy and AJ clearly hit the gym in their respective absences. Those guys are jacked.

Yes, Roman Reigns is back, and while they are setting up for him and Randy Orton at the Royal Rumble, the storyline surrounding them isn’t as predictable as I thought it would be. Also, I like what they’re doing with DamageCTRL, and the US Title Number One Contender Tournament is proving more interesting than expected. A solid show.

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