The Universal Champion put the title on the line in a bid to get rid of the Leader of the Yes Movement, and the plan played out at the end of an epic main event which will go down as one of the blue brand’s greatest.
Both men were on fine form as Reigns eventually won with the guillotine and went to add insult to injury before Cesaro saved the day.
The company did a stellar job of building up to this match without overexposing the competitors, with top stars appearing throughout the night to hype the bout.
From The Miz, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods to Booker T, Seth Rollins and Shinsuke Nakamura, the talking heads making their predictions were a great way to lay out the importance of the main event.
Backstage, Paul Heyman was at his absolute best as he delivered an epic promo punctuated by Yes chants as he did a great job building up Bryan’s chances during a passionate recap of his career, retirement and resurgence.
However, as his monologue hit its crescendo, the special counsel for the Tribal Chief insisted the challenger wouldn’t be able to defeat Reigns tonight to save his SmackDown career and reclaim the world title.
Everything was set for a classic, with the Tribal Chief’s new theme music only adding to the big match feel.
Of course, as soon as they got between the ropes they more than delivered too, showing up off their obvious chemistry and getting plenty of time to their things.
From Reigns reversing a high hurricarana into a powerbomb from the middle rope to a great near fall after a running knee, they built the drama perfectly from start to finish.
The work on Roman’s arm throughout to weaken him for the Yes Lock was a very welcome thread too, and this is the kind of match which makes the prospect of Bryan stopping as a full-time wrestler all the more disappointing.
It was a clean win for the champ as he retained, and his attempts for a post-match beat down were almost thwarted by Cesaro who was on fire as he tried to save his friend.
During a frantic ending, Jey Uso halted the cavalry and the Swiss Superman was tied up in ropes and had to watch on as Reigns destroyed Bryan with a con-chair-to.
Apollo Crews escapes with the title, Bianca Belair teams with Street Profits and Aleister Black delivers another strong message
The usual show-opening, revolving door promo segment had added fire tonight, with the Dirty Dawgs interrupting SmackDown Women’s Champion Bianca Belair only for Street Profits to make their presence felt after they started to run their mouths.
Bayley came out too, and we had ourselves a six-person tag team match which had a great level of energy and turned into a great clash with some fun moments (including a hair whip from the EST of WWE on Bobby Roode) en route to a win for the babyfaces.
Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler weren’t in the mood to talk backstage, and they got laid out by Natalya and Tamina before the four women met in the ring for a WrestleMania 37 rematch, albeit without the tag team gold on the line.
It was another fun sprint – much closer to their ‘Mania clash than recent SmackDown matches – with the veterans picking up the win over the champs.
Aleister Black was back again this week for another sinister vignette reading from Tales of the Dark Father, this time focused on ‘reality’ and his high school experience, with the father himself looming over.
Elsewhere in the night, Rey and Dominik Mysterio cut a decent and inoffensive promo making it clear they want to become the first father/son pair to win tag team gold in WWE.
Back in the ring, was time for another WrestleMania rematch as Big E – who was at his typically brilliant and passionate best on the mic backstage beforehand – taking on Intercontinental Champion Apollo Crews.
The pair have worked well together over the past few months and delivered again here, with the New Day challenger winning via disqualification when Commander Azeez saved Crews and the title after a Big Ending looked to have secured the victory.
Kevin Owens raced down to attack Azeez after the bell, only for Sami Zayn to take out his longtime friend and rival – but things took an interacting turn when he was given the title to pass to the champ.
Brilliantly, he looked totally enamoured with the championship but eventually handed it over to avoid any awkwardness – but he still fell to the Nigerian Nail all the same.
WWE SmackDown results and grades
Bianca Belair and the Street Profits defeated Bayley and the Dirty Dawgs (B)
Tamina and Natalya beat Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler (B-)
IC Title: Big E defeated Apollo Crews (c) via DQ when Commander Azeez got involved
Universal Title (if Bryan loses he’s banished from SmackDown): Roman Reigns (c) beat Daniel Bryan (A)
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