WWE promised a contender for Roman Reigns' title at Royal Rumble would be determined in a gauntlet match on Friday night's episode of SmackDown. While a few options in the match seemed like obvious options to face Reigns at the end of the match, the winner would come from seemingly out of nowhere when WWE official Adam Pearce won the match.
Pearce was entered into the match by Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman as payback for Pearce's actions in booking a match between Jey Uso and Kevin Owens one week prior. In the end, Reigns and Uso made sure Pearce would win, lining him up to face the consequences of going against the wishes of The Tribal Chief at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view event.
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Adam Pearce earns a title shot at Royal Rumble
Roman Reigns, Jey Uso and Paul Heyman opened the show with Reigns cutting a promo in the ring. He discussed the attack on Kevin Owens on last week's show, saying he didn't want anything bad to happen to Owens, but Owens put his back against the wall. Reigns loves the whole roster, he said, and he cares about everybody, but now Owens doesn't have the chance to come to work anymore because of Adam Pearce. Reigns called Pearce to the ring and forced him to watch a recap of his decision to make last week's match between Uso and Owens. Reigns' anger intensified over Pearce's decision to book a gauntlet match rather than allowing the champion to pick his own challenger. Reigns seemed ready to attack Pearce but stopped and told Pearce that "for right now" he is safe. Pearce continued working with Sonya Deville through the night on making matches before Heyman interrupted the two to tell Pearce that he had pulled strings and had Pearce entered into the gauntlet match at the request of Reigns.
Adam Pearce def. Rey Mysterio, Sami Zayn, King Corbin, Daniel Bryan and Shinsuke Nakamura to earn a universal title shot at the Royal Rumble. Mysterio and Zayn started the match, with Mysterio quickly eliminating Zayn with a frog splash after a lengthy tirade by Zayn about having to be one of the first two in the match. Mysterio was bounced from the match when Nakamura locked him in an armbar. Corban was out next, attacking Dominik and Rey Mysterio despite Rey having just been eliminated. Nakamura eliminated Corbin with a Kinshasa. Bryan hit the ring next and seemed like he was on his way to submitting Nakamura with a Yes Lock, but Nakamura came back to score the pin after another Kinshasa. Reigns came to the ring as Pearce was about to enter the match. Reigns and Uso attacked Nakamura, setting the table for Pearce. After Pearce entered the ring, Uso laid him out with a superkick, Reigns said to ring the bell and Uso placed Pearce on top of Nakamura for the three count. Cementing Pearce as Reigns' Royal Rumble challenger.
Well, it's a safe bet that nobody saw this coming. Adam Pearce is a former five-time NWA champion as well as a former PWG champion. He was a tremendous performer in his heyday, but has not had a match since 2014. If given the opportunity to actually go with Reigns, the Royal Rumble match could be very good. Or, it could be an easy night's work for Reigns. Either way, pulling off a surprise move like this is impressive. And it's an interesting enough situation that it's hard not to call it a win. It certainly didn't hurt that the gauntlet match delivered on solid action before the finish. Grade: B+
Two title matches, one title change
Intercontinental Championship -- Big E (c) def. Apollo Crews via pinfall to retain the championship. The match, barely given time to build any momentum, initially ended when Crews hit a superplex and tied up Big E's legs while the referee counted to three while it appeared both men had their shoulders on the mat. After a commercial break, that was the confirmed result, meaning Big E would retain. Crews demanded the match start again, slapping Big E in the process. The champ agreed to restart the match and won with the Big Ending.
SmackDown Tag Team Championship -- Dolph Ziggler & Robert Roode def. The Street Profits (c) via pinfall to win the titles. Ziggler and Roode focused on the knee of Montez Ford. They had injured the leg in an attack last week. Ford hit a flip dive over the top rope to the outside and collapsed, holding the knee after hitting the ground. Angelo Dawkins tried to remain in the ring as long as possible, hesitating to tag the injured Ford. Ford eventually got the hot tag and was in control until the leg and the numbers caught up. Things heated up with a lengthy series of near falls for both teams before Ziggler and Roode hit a combination Zig Zag and spinebuster for the win and the titles.
The intercontinental title match was a bit disappointing. The odd fake-out on the first finish was unnecessary, and even if they're using it as a step to turn Crews heel, it could have been done a lot better. Hopefully Big E can settle into a title reign that helps continue to elevate him as a singles star. It's hard to see much of a positive in switching the tag titles. Ziggler and Roode are a fine heel team in a division that needs stable teams, but they aren't exciting champions. It was also a minor issue in the match that Ford only sold the leg injury when convenient, otherwise exploding and moving normally when getting his moves in. Grade: C
What else happened on WWE SmackDown?
- Bayley and Bianca Belair argued briefly backstage after both women declared themselves for the Royal Rumble.
- Carmella cut a backstage promo, discussing how good it felt to pin Sasha Banks last week. She went on to tell Banks that it's alright, because things come more naturally to some people.
- Billie Kay tried to get the Riott Squad to accept her as a new member. When they declined, she began crying. Liv Morgan tried to comfort her, which Kay took as accepting her request before running off.