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The February 19 edition of Friday Night SmackDown was the final show before WWE Elimination Chamber 2021, and that made it one of the more important nights on the Road to WrestleMania 37.
In the main event, the six men who would fight inside the Elimination Chamber to earn a shot at Roman Reigns would battle. Kevin Owens teamed up with Daniel Bryan and Cesaro to fight Jey Uso, King Corbin and Sami Zayn.
Edge wanted to make a statement before Elimination Chamber, and he announced he would open SmackDown. With two Elimination Chamber matches determining the future champions of red and blue brands, The Rated-R Superstar had a major decision to make.
Bayley invited Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler for the second-ever edition of “Ding Dong, Hello!” The WWE women’s tag team champions had many future challengers, including Lana and Naomi as well as Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez, but SmackDown’s Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks also had beef with the champions.
This show had work to do in building up WWE Elimination Chamber. Everyone was sure to have their eyes on this big night.
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Edge talked about his future at WWE WrestleMania and the choice he still has to make. Roman Reigns interrupted to make clear that he was the main event and deserved to be the main event. As The Rated-R Superstar and The Head of the Table got close, Sami Zayn arrived.
The Master Strategist refused to be disrespected, only to take a superkick from Jey Uso. Reigns walked up to Edge and whispered in his ear before walking away.
Backstage, Edge caught up with Kevin Owens, showing his respect to KO for continuing to fight hard. He told Owens he was rooting for him. King Corbin tried to tell Edge to keep out of his kingdom, but The Rated-R Superstar was not impressed.
The Rated-R Superstar put over Cesaro after The Swiss Cyborg’s interview talking about Seth Rollins. Daniel Bryan asked Edge to choose him if The Planet’s Champion defeated Reigns on Sunday.
Edge continues to tease a decision without delivering. However, this worked because it was more about Reigns trying to convince The Rated-R Superstar to choose him. The two were truly intense facing off, selling the likely WrestleMania dynamic.
Zayn is entertaining every time out. However, it made little sense for him to get involved in the segment. He had a tag team match later in the night and would not have wanted to get injured. Playing his hand early served no purpose to his strategy for WWE Elimination Chamber.
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Big E joined commentary on his own couch, complaining about Apollo Crews demanding another shot. Crews ruined the WWE intercontinental champion’s TV dinner by throwing Shinsuke Nakamura into the champ. This nearly set off Big E, but he managed to calm himself and continue his foot soak.
Crews thought he had The Artist’s number, but Nakamura caught the young star in a small package to win. Afterward, Crews lost it, attacking The Artist. Big E got in the way, but that only convinced Crews to attack Big E, including dropping steel steps from the ring to the floor on to the champion.
The intercontinental champion had to be stretchered out of the ring following the attack.
Nakamura def. Crews by pinfall.
Crews vs. Nakamura was a fine match with limited story behind it. While The Artist still looked to be working at a higher level, he did not click with Crews as well as he has with other recent opponents. However, this was ultimately about the aftermath.
Crews’ brutal assault of Big E was special. It felt like a turning point where his character was finally realized. Big E set him off by telling him to “go back to catering,” and it is clear that Crews is done playing in the background. He finally feels ready to dethrone Big E.
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Seth Rollins arrived as Big E was being stretchered to the back. He sympathized with Big E’s pain and betrayal. He wanted everyone to accept his vision, lodging a formal legal complaint against WWE for ruining his return.
He particularly warned Cesaro that he would feel the wrath of The Messiah every time he stepped into a ring.
Rollins has absolutely nailed his role as the cocky cult leader, and it is fascinating to watch his evolution. His rhetoric is reminiscent of televangelists and even the 45th president. It works really well now that he has no help to back him up. It sells his delusion.
It is great to see that WWE is fully embracing a rivalry between Rollins and Cesaro. The two can be great together, and this is an opportunity to keep The Swiss Cyborg a major force on SmackDown after likely losing in the Elimination Chamber.
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Tamina looked dominant throughout in this contest, but The Riott Squad managed to isolate Natalya, nearly taking the win. Billie Kay arrived to provide the distraction that set up Liv Morgan to walk into a spin-out side slam by Tamina to win.
Natalya and Tamina took out Kay after the match to make clear they were not looking for a third member.
Tamina and Natalya def. Riott Squad by pinfall.
This was an ugly match from the outset. It was only a couple minutes long, but Tamina did not seem to be working at the same pace as Morgan. Natalya was clearly rushing with the limited time, and the Kay appearance was so frustratingly telegraphed.
Kay is entertaining. The Riott Squad can be a solid tag team for WWE. However, this story is not working. It is time to find someone else for Kay to work with. Natalya and Tamina don’t exactly cut it.
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Bayley introduced her guests Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler. The WWE women’s tag team champions immediately started trash talking Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair, which surprisingly sent Reginald to the ring. He spoke up for both The Boss and The EST as better than the tag team champions.
Banks arrived to remind Reginald she could speak for herself, and Belair took exception to Reginald and Banks’ comments about her. Reggie convinced them to work together, setting up a surprise six-person tag team match.
After the heels isolated Banks to beat her down, Reginald had to tag in. Against The Irresistible Force, Reginald could not make a dent until The Boss and The EST dropkicked Reginald on top of Jax to take a surprise pinfall.
Carmella questioned Reginald, telling her sommelier to do the right thing. She yelled at him for giving her a bad glass of wine.
Reginald, Banks and Belair def. Jax, Baszler and Bayley by pinfall.
This was an odd segment, especially because of the involvement of Reginald. In just a couple months, he has gone from being the help for Carmella to having an odd infatuation with Banks. It made no sense for him to get involved without The Untouchable One inserting herself in the action.
WWE has avoided intergender matches almost entirely in WWE, yet Reginald is just thrown into random women’s matches. This would make sense in other wrestling promotions, but WWE has seemingly set up a divide that it is breaking without explanation.
Bayley was the best part of all of this. She makes every inch of her talk show set work. She sold the insanity with her frustration.
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As Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode watched on commentary with solo cups, this looked to be a friendly competition between two developing teams until Otis snapped. He attacked Rey Mysterio until the referee called for the bell.
Chad Gable encouraged the aggression, setting up Otis to hit a diving splash on Rey with Dominik Mysterio already out of the way. Dominik had to help his father to the back, wheezing in pain.
Rey and Dominik def. Alpha Academy by disqualification.
This could have been executed better, especially with more time, but it served its purpose. Gable and Otis have not fully worked so far because it’s unclear where the partnership is going. Gable just seemed to be headed for a beatdown when Otis saw through him.
It has now moved in a more interesting direction. Otis is truly learning from Gable. He’s clearly in better shape, and his attitude is evolving as well. The two can be a good tag team if they can work in sync, and that adds an interesting team to the division.
It is a shame, though, that Heavy Machinery was broken up just so that Otis could team with Gable. Tucker has more or less been discarded.
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Just before the match, Daniel Bryan and Cesaro questioned whether Kevin Owens would turn on them like he had all his past partners. Edge joined commentary to scout the potential competition.
Cesaro showed off early, swinging Sami Zayn and King Corbin for minutes. Jey Uso grabbed The Swiss Cyborg and threw him over the announce table. Paul Heyman arrived to join commentary to go back and forth with The Rated-R Superstar.
The Master Strategist gladly talked trash as Cesaro got beat down but was silenced by the hot tag from Daniel Bryan. Kevin Owens slipped outside to take out Corbin with a cannonball off the apron.
Zayn hit a Blue Thunder Bomb then went to the top rope. However, that was The Master Strategist’s last mistake. Bryan caught him with a superplex into the Yes Lock for a quick tap out by Zayn to preserve his health.
Everyone in the match went after each other after the bell until Uso speared Edge followed by Reigns catching The Rated-R Superstar with a spear of his own.
Bryan, Cesaro and Owens def. Zayn, Corbin and Uso by pinfall.
This was far from the level of impact that we got on Monday Night Raw with the gauntlet match. However, it was a solid match thanks to Cesaro. He did the heavy-lifting in this contest physically, showing out in a big way, before the others got in the big moments at the end.
The action did look a little too choreographed at times, especially given the wrestlers involved. It all built to Bryan gaining some momentum that was immediately overshadowed by Edge and Reigns building their rivalry past the wrestlers in the Elimination Chamber.
While WWE should be building toward WrestleMania, it was a mistake to let the go-home show end with a moment that was not about the immediate pay-per-view. This makes it all too clear that Reigns will retain.