Tonight’s WWE Smackdown looks stacked, and that’s even without Roman Reigns announced (and they usually announce his appearances). According to the WWE promotional material, we’ve got CM Punk showing up, and a tag team match between the recently-returned Randy Orton and the Megastar LA Knight versus Bloodline members Solo Sikoa and Jimmy Uso. I could see Paul Heyman interacting with both of those segments.

If that wasn’t enough, Cody Rhodes is scheduled to make an appearance, presumably to speak to the Tribute to the Troops theme the show has. Plus we’ve got the first two matches in the United States Championship Elimination Tournament, and Charlotte Flair versus Asuka. So will it deliver? Let’s find out.

The December 8, 2023 WWE Smackdown is in the Amica Mutual Pavilion in Providence, Rhode Island, and here are my thoughts:

  • We started off with America The Beautiful, performed by The War and Treaty. I’m not a music reviewer, but they sounded great. We also found out that John Bradshaw Layfield was back on commentary. He started Tribute to the Troops years ago, so it made sense, but he’s also one of the best heel commentators ever, so this should be fun.
  • Wrestling-wise, we started with the first tournament match, Dragon Lee versus Santos Escobar, with Dirty Dominik Mysterio at ringside. Mysterio, we found out, will defend his NXT North American Championship against Lee tomorrow night at NXT Deadl1ne.
  • This was a hard-fought match, but a fast one. Lee had some good offense, but Escobar won with a Phantom Driver quicker than he did at Survivor Series, and without Dom interfering. Mysterio did get into the ring, and spat on Lee after the match. I think the result was probably always an Escobar win, but the match and aftermath was pivoted to focus on the NXT PLE tomorrow night.
Dominik Mysterio stands over Dragon Lee on WWE Smackdown December 8 2023
  • I like how JBL was able to pivot from the man who started Tribute to the Troops, to the perfect heel commentator we know him as, without missing a beat, even praising Dom and comparing him to Gandhi. Total pro.
  • I absolutely loved Randy Orton’s comment that the extra $50K in the fine he paid to Nick Aldis for giving him the RKO last week was for “next time”.
  • Cody Rhodes did exactly what, I think, we all expected him to do: put over the troops and the show made in tribute to them. No real angles here, but the American Nightmare was the perfect choice for this, as was John Cena for the narration of the video Cody threw to.
  • It looks like they’re putting Bobby Lashley’s heel push on the side, at least for another week. Bringing up his army past, not only on commentary, but during his ring introduction, too.
  • Haven’t seen Karion Kross for a while, and neither had the next commentary special guest Brad Nessler who calls the Army Navy College Football game every year. I like how he did a bit of research before calling a WWE match.
  • The match was good, but real quick. And the crowd was clearly behind Lashley. He soon finished off Kross with a spear and celebrated with The Street Profits, who weren’t at ringside, and the crowd. Did you know Montez Ford was a US Marine? I didn’t, but we all do now. Lashley wasn’t the only one whose heel push was on hold.
Bobby Lashley celebrates with The Street Profits after defeating Karion Kross on WWE Smackdown December 8 2023
  • Lashley will face Escobar, one of the most hated heels going these days, in the semi-final. So it looks like his heel push will be on hold for the third time. I don’t see why this Hurt Business 2.0 faction can’t be a babyface one. Maybe scheduling is forcing them into a better reality. A babyface Lashley versus Logan Paul for the United States Championship could be interesting.
  • As CM Punk said himself, we got his promo right at the 9 o’clock hour, instead of with just ten minutes left in the show for it and his entrance. He was Prime Time Punk, or as he called himself, Spicy Punk. He was most definitely not, as some had accused him of being in his RAW comeback promo, PG Punk. While I did think that promo was perfect, I was clearly in the minority online. I love how Punk made the reaction to that promo the impetus for the style this one would take. While I’m sure this promo was planned to sound like it did all along, adding that bit of realism into it was a nice touch.
CM Punk cuts a fiery return promo on WWE Smackdown December 8 2023
  • Punk went through a who’s who of potential opponents and allies, mentioning them all by name, except for Seth Rollins. That, of course, leads me, and probably everyone else, to believe that Rollins will be his first opponent. Maybe after the Royal Rumble, or maybe at it, despite his hinting at being in the Rumble match itself. While Rollins is the obvious choice, this promo proved that Punk really could go anywhere, and was the proverbial wrench in everyone’s plans, namely HHH’s. WWE was going solid, but adding Punk into the mix makes things really unpredictable, and exciting.
  • The crowd was with him throughout, and knew exactly who he was talking about, except, of course, when he took that dig at AEW, and disguised it as a reference to Kevin Owens. It’s not that this Tribute to the Troops crowd doesn’t know about AEW, some of them may have watched Punk there. It’s that they don’t read the proverbial dirt sheets, or have the time to take part in the Internet Wrestling Community. They sang Rollins’ song when Punk just hinted at him. With an AEW backstage reference, crickets.
  • Punk’s backstage encounter with KO following the promo, after he almost knocked on The Bloodline’s door but thought better of it, could have been WWE’s way of making it clear, to any litigious entities, that, as far as they are concerned, Punk really was talking about KO. I’m no legal expert, but it did seem like they were covering all bases.
  • It’s nice to see Zelina Vega and Mia Yim coming out to attack Iyo Sky, Kairi Sane, and Dakota Kai before the match. Now that we’re not forgetting things that happened months, or even years ago, I’m happy that we’re also remembering stuff that happened two weeks ago, like Damage CTRL taking out Yim and Vega backstage ahead of WarGames. We also got the assist from Bianca Belair and Shotzi, but there involvement was expected.
  • As for the match, it was good while it lasted, but far from what you might expect from two former WrestleMaina Main Eventer against each other. This seemed mainly to set up Bayley successfully interfering, and saving Asuka, thereby preventing Charlotte from climbing the ladder and facing Iyo for the WWE Women’s Championship again. Of course, that may not have been the original plan.
Bayley interferes to break the Figure-Eight Leglock Charlotte Flair is applying to Asuka on WWE Smackdown December 8 2023
  • It looks like Charlotte was really injured during the match, and it was probably cut short because of it. This is terrible timing, if the injury turns out to be serious. I wish the Queen a speedy recovery.
  • I love how we got more Punk backstage, interacting first with Cody, then walking by Orton and Knight, and wishing them good luck in their match.
  • Randy Orton and LA Knight versus Solo Sikoa and Jimmy Uso was a good match, and a solid Main Event for the show. It mainly told the story of tension between the two really over babyfaces, and answered the classic wrestling question “Can they coexist?”. Spoiler alert: They could. There was a bit of disagreement at the beginning, but them they were working together, with hot tags for each of them that really popped the crowd. After hitting Solo with a BFT, Knight was going to do the same to Uso, but let Orton have the honors and give him an RKO instead for the win. Then we got the mutual respect celebration. One more legend putting Knight over.
Randy Orton gives Jimmy Uso an RKO as LA Knight watches from the ropes on WWE Smackdown December 8 2023

So this show did deliver the stars. A couple of the matches were a little short, the Asuka versus Charlotte match was probably planned to be more than it was, and the Main Event did what it needed to. The backstage segments were great, and while Heyman didn’t seem to be there, he was definitely part of at least one of the angles. But it was that spicy Punk promo that stole, and elevated, this Smackdown.

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