With two championship matches scheduled for the night, WWE SmackDown seemed like must-watch programming on Friday Night. An epic clash between universal champion Roman Reigns and challenger Daniel Bryan proved that to be true, closing the show with the best match of the year to be shown on weekly television.
Reigns was ultimately able to survive the battle with Bryan, scoring a submission to retain his championship and launch Bryan from the SmackDown locker room. It was the actions of Reigns after the match, however, that may have the biggest effect on the future of the brand.
CBS Sports was with you all night, bringing you results and highlights from the ThunderDome inside Yuengling Center.
Roman Reigns survives war with Daniel Bryan
Universal Championship -- Roman Reigns (c) def. Daniel Bryan via submission to retain the title. The bulk of the show featured hype for the match, with prediction videos from a large chunk of the locker room. There were also several hype videos for the match, with the match and the hype taking up nearly the full final hour of the show. Reigns also debuted new entrance music for the match. The two engaged in a thrilling back-and-forth match that saw a series of convincing false finishes, including Bryan hitting a running knee and locking in the Yes Lock multiple times. Reigns eventually snapped, brutalizing Bryan with powerbombs and ground and pound before finishing the match with a guillotine choke, switching to his left arm after Bryan had damaged the champion's right arm throughout the bout.
After the match, Reigns grabbed a chair and went to continue his assault when Cesaro ran in and blitzed Reigns with a series of European uppercuts. Jey Uso then took out Cesaro with a superkick before dragging him into the ring and tying him up in the ropes, forcing him to look on as Reigns hit Bryan with a con-chair-to before the show went off the air.
This was a brilliant match, truly, and a very rare occasion to see an epic championship match on weekly television. When Bryan is given the opportunity to do his thing, he still has every tool to be one of the best in-ring competitors in the world, and Reigns can certainly hold his own. The little touches in the match were also wonderful, including Reigns not being able to finish the match with a guillotine with his right arm and switching to use his left to get the finish the next time he used the hold. The post-match with Cesaro being forced to look on as his friend took the con-chair-to drives momentum for Reigns vs. Cesaro as well as pushing Reigns to new levels as a heel. Grade: A+
Big E robbed of United States title against Apollo Crews
Intercontinental Championship -- Big E def. Apollo Crews via disqualification. Before the match, Big E cut a passionate promo about winning back his "baby" in the intercontinental championship. E got off to a fast start, using his power to overwhelm Crews early. Crews was able to fight back, hitting E with a suplex from the ring apron to the floor. Crews kept up the high-octane offense, hitting a springboard moonsault to the outside, but found himself again on the defensive after being caught with a Big E belly-to-belly suplex. The momentum continued to swing wildly before Big E kicked out of a Crews frog splash before hitting the Big Ending. Before the three count, Big E was pulled from the ring by Commander Azeez for the disqualification, which allowed Crews to retain his title.
After the match, Kevin Owens ran in to save Big E, but was taken out when Sami Zayn also ran in and hit him with a Helluva Kick. After further attacks on Big E, Zayn began eyeing the intercontinental championship but handed it over to Crews. Despite begging off, Zayn found himself on the receiving end of a Nigerian Nail from Azeez.
Doing a DQ finish is predictable booking. This feud has been built to have more time, even with the addition of Owens and Zayn. It's not a satisfying result, but it is old school in its structuring. Zayn failing to weasel his way out of situations is always going to be entertaining. Grade: C+
What else happened on WWE SmackDown?
- The Street Profits & Bianca Belair def. Robert Roode, Dolph Ziggler & Bayley via pinfall when Montez Ford hit Roode with a frog splash. A brawl broke out between Bayley and Belair before the match, the two meet for Belair's SmackDown women's title at WrestleMania Backlash.
- Tamina & Natalya def. Shayna Baszler & Nia Jax via pinfall when Tamina hit Baszler with a splash. Before the match, Tamina and Natalya attacked the women's tag champions backstage.
- Aleister Black read from "Tales From The Dark Father," talking about his time in high school in another strange pre-recorded video segment.