The WWE publicity for tonight’s Smackdown reminded me that we were going to get the contract signing for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship Fatal Four-Way match at the Royal Rumble. I figured we would start with it, there would be some back-and-forth, the contract would get signed, someone would go through a table, and we’d bring the story back at the end of the show. Instead, the contract signing, or rather Champion Roman Reigns refusing, at first, to sign the contract became a throughline for the show.

WWE Smackdown was in the sold out State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. Here are my thoughts:

  • Solo Sikoa’s warning seemed very ominous and mysterious. He’ll handle it? What does that mean?
  • Starting with Smackdown General Manager Nick Aldis alone in the ring, and having AJ Styles, Randy Orton, and LA Knight make their entrances separately was a smart idea. Not only added to the spectacle, but was a good way to gage crowd reactions, and confirm what they are thinking about how over all the stars are.
Smackdown General Manager Nick Aldis introducing the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship Fatal Four-Way Match Contract Signing at the start of WWE Smackdown January 19 2024
  • Orton clearly got the biggest pop, as well as “Ramdy! Ramdy!” chants during the segment. Knight got a good reaction, too, walking out, but a better one when he started challenging Heyman, and then Styles on the mic. As for Styles, this was near his hometown, so he didn’t get booed, despite being on a Drew McIntyre-esque quasi heel run. He wasn’t cheered that loudly, either. Of course, the Atlanta crowd probably knew that they were going to get hometown hero Cody Rhodes in a dark match after the show.
  • I continue to love Paul Heyman’s interplay with Nick Aldis. The GM threatening to vacate the title, and the Wiseman turning back around may have been a bit predictable, but it didn’t feel that way, as very few who aren’t active in-ring challengers have had the guts to confront The Bloodline in such a way as Aldis does.
  • Heyman’s knowingly in vain attempt to pop the Atlanta crowd by saying they wouldn’t be on board with Aldis’ plan was downright hilarious.
  • Of course, his plan to get Roman’s challengers taking each other out worked…almost. He forgot about the Viper still in the ring, which led to a fun, crowd-pleasing end to the segment. This was a fun way to kick off Smackdown.
AL Styles and LA Knight fighting up the entranceway as Nick Aldis and officials try to separate them on WWE Smackdown January 19 2024
  • The LWO versus Legado del Fantasma was a good showcase for both teams. Joaquin Wilde pulled off a move mid-match that the announcers didn’t even have a name for, but wow! Humberto Carrillo almost got the win by taking advantage of Carlito’s disdain for Santos Escobar in general, and specifically his not having tagged into the match, but but Cruz Del Toro jumped in for the save.
  • Eventually, Escobar stole one for his team by not really fighting, and then eventually coming in with a blind tag and rolling up Carlito after he hit the Backstabber on Humberto, leaving Wilde, del Toro, Carlito, and Zelina Vega looking shocked at what had just happened.
Carlito hits the Backstabber on Humberto Carrillo on WWE Smackdown January 19 2024
  • This was a short, but exciting match, with good storytelling. I think Carlito works as the leader for the LWO, at least until Rey Mysterio returns.
  • Pretty Deadly saying they’re ready to beat Tyler Bate and Butch, and emphasizing the Butch part, was, for me at least, a total giveaway of what was to follow. But it was still fun to watch.
  • Pete Dunne is back! And he got a huge pop from the crowd, so it must not just be the Internet Wrestling Community that was looking forward to this moment.
  • It wasn’t just a name change, but a true character change. Dunne is a fighter, a “bruiserweight”, real tough and aggressive inside the ring. Butch was more of a bar fight guy who wrestled when he had to. I like this new character direction for him, as well as this new push for Bate as his partner.
  • I didn’t know that British Strong Style was the tag team name last week, but now I do.
  • One thing Dunne carried over from Butch (or had as Dunne in NXT, I don’t know) is the finger thing. The Joint Manipulation. It’s pretty much the one thing in WWE that is, for me, hard to watch. It just makes me squeamish. And I’ve watched the Attitude Era.
Pete Dunne kicks Elton Prince on WWE Smackdown January 19 2024
  • And of course Pete Dunn gets to win. Bate looked strong, too, and Elton Prince and Kit Wilson have a built-in excuse for why they didn’t win.
  • While I like Seamus, The Brawling Brutes never really impressed me. British Strong Style, and Pete Dunne, though, are, I think, a team to watch.
  • The 9pm in-ring promo, aka The KO Show on this particular night, had the right level of crowd-pleasing realness from Kevin Owens, especially when he mentioned the things he was not allowed to say. Logan Paul brought the perfect amount of heel dickishness to the ring, and the exchange even brought in a bit of past shared history. The ensuing cast-less fight helped build their Royal Rumble match for the United States Championship even more. Good job in adding to the story, so it’s not just the result of a tournament.
United States Champion Logan Paul is the guest on the KO show, and has a promo exchange with Kevin Owens on WWE Smackdown January 19 2024
  • I like The Unholy Union as a team name for Alba Fyre and Isla Dawn, but mainly I’m happy that they have a tag team name. Not that Fyre and Dawn wouldn’t have been a cool team name, but this is better. It seems like the Smackdown teams are going that route, whereas on RAW, it’s all this person and that person. Just doesn’t feel like a unit. I mean couldn’t Undisputed WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions Kayden Carter and Katana Chance give themselves a team name that has something to do with partying? Even the Smackdown team that is part of Damage CTRL is called The Kabuki Warriors. Why do the RAW-centric men’s tag champs just go by their individual names or their faction’s name? Even The Rock and Mick Foley were The Rock and Sock Connection, and they were both huge singles stars. But I digress…
  • I like The Unholy Union’s look, entrance, and overall style, as well as their in-ring work. I’m glad that they are in the tag title picture, too. Though I’m not sure that this being their first title shot was a good idea.
Alba Fyre and Isla Dawn enter as The Unholy Union on WWE Smackdown January 19 2024
  • I think that Fyre and Dawn could be great spooky, stylized babyfaces, in the style of Bray Wyatt or The Undertaker (not saying they’re close to any of those levels yet, but in the style of could work). I loved their video about putting a curse on the titles, and was looking forward to their match with Chelsea Green and Piper Niven, which never happened. I was also looking forward to their match against The Kabuki Warriors for the titles, which may still happen. Them challenging babyface Carter and Chance, not so much.
  • The match itself was short. Not much offense from the challengers, and a quick Keg Stand sealed the victory. I’ll admit that Carter and Chance are starting to grow on me, but I’m well aware that this match was about giving them a chance to impress on Smackdown at least once, before returning to lose to The Kabuki Warriors in a match this match set up. I’m still convinced that they are transitional champions, because Green and Niven losing directly to Asuka and Kairi Sane would be awkward. I only hope that The Unholy Union chasing The Kabuki Warriors for the titles will be given a decent amount of build (assuming it still happens, which I hope it will).
  • I still did enjoy this match for one reason: Bayley on commentary, flanked by the other members of Damage CTRL: Sane, Asuka, Dakota Kai, and WWE Women’s Champion Iyo Sky. The visual of all five of them alone speaks to a unity that we all think will be broken soon.
Damage CTRL (l-r) Kairi Sane, Asuka, Dakota Kai, WWE Women’s Champion Iyo Sky at ringside and Bayley sitting at the commentary table on WWE Smackdown January 19 2024
  • Bayley’s a great talker, but her interplay with Kevin Patrick was not up to Michael Cole levels of petty bickering. Still, he’s getting there, and if anyone can help, it’s the (for now) Damage CTRL leader.
  • This match did accomplish its main goal of setting up a title match for next week with Carter and Chance defending against The Kabuki Warriors. They probably could have done that through management, and without The Unholy Union losing so quickly, but having Asuka and Sane get in the champs’ faces was a better setup.
  • Glad they’re running back the Austin Theory Carmelo Hayes match on the Smackdown before the Royal Rumble (next week), and giving it pretty much the same setup as last time, with Grayson Waller agreeing on Theory’s behalf. I was glad they were bringing Hayes to the Main Roster, and this was a good way to do it, despite the unfortunate outcome of the match (let’s call that Take One).
  • Near the start of the Semi-Main Event, the crowd started chanting “Let’s go Styles/LA Knight”, so they weren’t ready to abandon their almost hometown guy just yet, though they did “Yeah!” along as Knight rammed Styles’ head into the announce table.
  • When I noticed the time it was, it became clear that this newly added match wouldn’t finish, and would lead directly into the pre-publicized Main Event of Solo Sikoa versus Randy Orton. The show doing announcements for next week’s show before it started should have been a giveaway.
  • And that’s exactly what happened. Jimmy Uso was the distraction, then Solo took out both Knight and Styles, and called Orton out.
Solo Sikoa takes out LA Knight with a surprise attack during his match with AJ Styles on WWE Smackdown January 19 2024
  • Solo was living up to his promise of taking care of things, and even started off the Orton match aggressively. That wouldn’t last. After Jimmy Uso showed back up, only for LA Knight to wake up and deal with him, it was all Randy. There was a spot on the announce table, a failed Samoan Spike attempt, and then Orton hit the RKO for the win.
  • I know that people are wondering if losses like this mean WWE have lost faith in Solo, and have stopped the push that following his taking John Cena out. It most definitely does not. He took out two top stars, and only got taken out by another top star and on-fire returned legend. He is still comes across quite strong.
Randy Orton hits the RKO on Solo Sikoa during their match on WWE Smackdown January 19 2024
  • Of course that’s not how the show ended. It’s not really about Solo or Jimmy. It’s about the Royal Rumble Main Event, and the still not fully signed contract. So we got Orton hitting the RKO on both Knight and Styles, then Reigns finally coming to ringside and momentarily knocking out Orton with the Superman Punch. That could very well be a preview of what’s going to happen in the Fatal Four-Way. So is Orton coming back and hitting the RKO on the Tribal Chief. And in between the two possible outcomes, Roman finally signed the contract and dropped it, in front of Aldis, who was at ringside for the match. A real nice bookend to the show.
Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns hits Randy Orton with a Superman Punch before signing the contract on WWE Smackdown January 19 2024

RAW is doing a great job of hyping up the Men’s Royal Rumble Match, while Smackdown is focused on the other two big men’s matches at the Premium Live Event – the Main Event and the United States Championship Match. Promotion for the Women’s Royal Rumble Match seems evenly split between both brands. It’s this solid split in focus that is making both shows interesting, and really hyping a PLE that always hypes itself.

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