A solid show that progressed some angles efficiently, but it was lacking a big standout match and some segments predictably sagged.
Obviously, our WWE SmackDown results for January 1, 2021, contain massive spoilers. 205 Live aired afterward, and you can check out our thoughts on that show by clicking these words.
Hello, one and all – welcome to a new year, and to yet another new avenue of coverage for us here at Ready Steady Cut. From now on you’ll be able to find all your WWE results, recaps, reactions, and longwinded, irritated analyses on these hallowed pages, so look out for that. In the meantime look down for our round-up of the first SmackDown of the year.
With the Royal Rumble PPV slated for the end of January, thus beginning the Road to WrestleMania, WWE is looking to solidify some on-going rivalries and drum up some new ones in time for that significant milestone. We have the continuing feud between Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens, the beginning of Big E’s Intercontinental Championship reign, and some men’s and women’s tag team action to get through, so without further ado, here’s the WWE SmackDown results for January 1, 2021.
As ever, the opening – after another tasteful tribute to the late Jon Huber – set up the main event in a way that was probably more long-winded than it needed to be. A helpful recap of last week’s Steel Cage match, during which Jey Uso dutifully interfered, was useful and set up the angle – Owens is tired of all the shenanigans, but wants to set up a match with Jey, not with Roman, just to keep things fresh.
As I said, this went on too long. But Reigns turned in a solid heel promo and Owens did reliably good work as the likable everyman thoroughly fed up with being ganged up on and having to listening to gloating about it afterward.
Big E vs. Baron Corbin, plus guests!
The first actual match of the episode was supposedly a singles affair between newly-crowned IC Champ Big E, with Sami Zayn on commentary at ringside. But after a relatively even exchange of power moves, Wesley Blake and Steve Cutler, also present, joined Sami Zayn in an attack on Big E that Apollo Crews arrived to break up. Thankfully, rather than just playing up the angle, this led straight into a tag team match, with E and Crews teaming up again Zayn and Corbin.
Even though Crews ultimately secured the pin after Zayn’s mouth pushed his new allies away, this whole match was really a showcase for Big E and a way to start off his reign solidly. In a backstage segment, also with Crews, he boldly announces that, as a fighting champion, he’ll be issuing an open challenge next week, and Crews jokes that he’ll be answering it. I’d be fine with that.
The Riott Squad vs. Tamina and Natalya
This was a classic example of an angle overpowering a match, but the problem was that the angle didn’t really make any sense. Billie Kay was slated to compete against Liv Morgan and Ruby Riott with a mystery partner who turned out to be Tamina, but then Natalya just arrived to team with Tamina instead and Billie Kay spent the entire match at ringside, flipping her allegiance and then taking a great deal of unearned credit when Morgan was able to pin Tamina on the back of a distraction. The Riott Squad being pushed for a tag title shot is obviously the point here, but Kay third-wheeling without much utility doesn’t really help with that.
Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair vs. Bayley and Carmella
In yet more tag team action, the women impressed in what might have been the most technically impressive match of the show. It was very solid work from everyone and I’m glad it got given enough time to really let the in-ring story be told; Banks and the technically near-perfect upstart in Belair had the match all but won until some interference from Carmella’s “sommelier” Reginald, who got his own opportunity to show off some athleticism. The distraction was enough for Mella to hit her finisher and get a pin over Banks, which obviously gives her a good angle for a title rematch down the line.
Daniel Bryan and Otis vs. Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura
Fun fact: I didn’t actually notice that SmackDown aired four back-to-back tag team matches until writing this, which goes to show that there was enough of a difference between them to justify that decision, even though, seriously, four in a row is a lot. But this was a decent one. Daniel Bryan and Cesaro are endlessly great technical workers, Otis is certainly a character, and Nakamura is really good at getting used to put people over (anyone else remember when he was Shinsuke Nakamura, for Pete’s sake?).
I must admit, though, I don’t find any of the Otis, Bryan, and Gable “humor” to be funny at all, and when there’s so much actual potential for a legitimate stable – Chad Gable, lest we forget, is extremely good – it just feels like a waste to be doing dopey backstage segments. At least the work was here.
Kevin Owens vs. Jey Uso
There was some really solid storytelling in the main event, at least, which mercifully wasn’t a tag match but a one-on-one between Kevin Owens and Jey Uso… until it wasn’t. The story here is that Owens would have rightly beaten Reigns several times over if it wasn’t for Uso’s interference, and since he knows that the interference is going to keep happening, he decides to badly beat up Uso instead to prove a point that Reigns isn’t there for his cousin in the same way that his cousin is there for him. (Side note: I’m loving the backstage segments of Reigns sat contemplatively in comfy leather chairs like a mob boss, sending Paul Heyman on errands. More of that, please.)
To that end, I really thought the angle here was going to be that Reigns didn’t turn up to bail out Uso, and instead led Owens continue to batter him, probably facilitating an eventual face-turn angle for Jey. But not quite. Owens going on the attack was really convincing all the way through and went on for just long enough that it looked like my theory was correct, at which point Reigns appeared out of nowhere to club Owens from behind and the cousins put a minutes-long beating on him, eventually tossing him through a table from about ten feet up.
This is a very good feud between two of the company’s top stars, and I’m more than happy for it to keep going, although you have to wonder what direction it’s going to take now that Owens’ plan backfired so badly. He came across very strong during the match itself, but if that didn’t work, what will? I guess we’ll see. Overall, though, it was a strong way to end a decent show that could have used a real standout technical match to really fill that repetitive tag-heavy middle period. But you can’t have everything, even in 2021.
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