For all intents and purposes, Friday's edition of Smackdown was the blue brand's go-home show for next weekend's WrestleMania.

With a series of events scheduled to begin in Miami next week, Monday's Raw will be the last show taped before the big night next Sunday. That means there will not be a new episode of Smackdown next week.

At least not a regular show. In recent years, WWE has used those final hours of television to highlight the WrestleMania week festivities and build final hype for the show.

With all that in mind, it was interesting to see a Smackdown episode filled with contestants in the 12-man tag team battle of the general managers and people not even booked into WrestleMania feuds at this point.

Team Teddy Long members R-Truth, Zack Ryder and The Great Khali faced off with Mark Henry, Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler, respectively. Each team would earn one definitive win, and a countout victory by Khali would push the show's outing into Team Long's favor.

Outside of those three matches, AJ faced Brie Bella and Brodus Clay returned to action against Heath Slater. There have been teases of AJ receiving a divas title match after WrestleMania, so it's actually a good thing to see her push beginning now, rather than one week before her title match.

The remaining matches on the show featured Big Show and Kane facing each other in a rematch from Monday's Raw and a high-caliber main event between WWE Champion CM Punk and Sheamus and World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan and The Miz.

At first glance, the line-up for Smackdown seems weak for the go-home show for WrestleMania, advancing only three feuds for the biggest event of the year - the general managers showdown, the Intercontinental Championship bout and the World Heavyweight Championship match.

But as addressed last week , this year's WrestleMania isn't about Smackdown - and that's not necessarily a bad thing. While Raw is being crowded with the top-tier talent, a whole other crop of superstars are being granted the opportunity to shine on Smackdown and to develop their characters.

While Friday's Smackdown may not have set the world on fire as far as go-home shows go, the show successfully added fuel to the three Smackdown-based matches at WrestleMania, as well as the cross-brand battle between Randy Orton and Kane.

Next week's show should be a fun look at some of the WrestleMania activities and it won't sacrifice too much to forego another episode of Smackdown. Monday's Raw will be the final stop on the Road to WrestleMania.


Quick Hits

  • The main event tag match was good, as is to be expected with the four current and former world champions in the ring. From the beginning, Miz was clearly there to take the fall, but all four put in a solid effort. The match build toward Bryan vs. Sheamus at WreslteMania, gave more tease to Bryan vs. Punk and helped further Miz's losing streak angle. What more can you ask for in a match like this?
  • AJ being allowed time on the microphone to open the show was great on a number of levels. First, it allowed her the chance to develop her character more. Second, it made Bryan look like the controlling and manipulative man he has become. It wouldn't be surprising to see AJ help Bryan retain the world title at WrestleMania to set up a true "golden couple" angle as she chases the Divas Championship, but of course, she'd only be doing what was best for her man. Regardless, WWE has allowed women like AJ and Eve time to develop personas, which is more than we've seen from the divas division in years.

As for AJ's match with Brie Bella, it was probably one of the better divas matches we've seen recently. This mini-feud with the Bellas, who used to long for Bryan, has been good for AJ. Seeing her use submission moves shows that Bryan has been working with and coaching her, which fits with their story. Also, Bryan once again stealing AJ's thunder during the post-match celebration was great. Anyone who still says this man has no charisma is obviously blind. For those "in the know," it's also funny seeing Bryan's on-screen girlfriend mix it up with his real-life beau.

  • Zack Ryder and Jack Swagger put together a fun match that got a decent amount of time for television. Neither of these guys will likely ever find their way to the top of the card - or back there, in Swagger's case - but they have potential to have strong careers as midcard talents. This match worked better than the other two Team Long vs. Team Laurinaitis contests on the show.
  • The match between R-Truth and Henry was nothing special. As I've said before, the fact Henry was made to make so weak in recent months does him no favors when being, once again, presented as a monster. He made quick work of R-Truth, giving Team Laurinaitis the first win of the night.
  • The third bout in the Long vs. Laurinaitis series, Khali vs. Ziggler, was by far the trash segment of the night. The "match" didn't even go three minutes and ended with a screwjob finish when Laurinaitis called for the bell as Ziggler had the sleeper hold locked in. Long restarted the match and the giant won by countout. Kofi Kingston and Santino Marella emerged and threw Ziggler back into the ring, where he ate a Khali chop.
  • Kane and Big Show's rematch seemed a little better than their Raw bout, but it was still a plodding affair. The concept of two big men beating each other senseless may still sound appealing in the creative boardroom, but more often than not, the end product is anything but. Both these men have earned their spots and are living legends, but the combination just isn't clicking, especially in these short matches.
  • Brodus Clay had a match with Heath Slater. I still support the Funkasaurus, but at this point, there isn't much to say about his matches that hasn't already been said. After WrestleMania, WWE either needs to do something with Clay or just put an end to this experiment.
  • Yokozuna was announced as the latest inductee in the Hall of Fame class for this year. While I didn't watch wrestling during that era, there is no questioning the big man's legacy and deserving nature of this honor. It's a shame to see wrestlers be inducted post-humously when they died young, but at least he's being honored and maybe a new generation of fans will learn about him.
  • I had the opportunity to conduct a phone interview with Sheamus this afternoon. Check back to the blog next week to read his thoughts on being bumped from last year's WrestleMania, his turn from villain to fan favorite, his thoughts on the European World of Sport style of wrestling and whether he's on Team Cena or Team Rock at WrestleMania.

Match Rundown

Mark Henry d. R-Truth

AJ d. Brie Bella

Zack Ryder d. Jack Swagger

Big Show d. Kane by disqualification

Brodus Clay d. Heath Slater

The Great Khali d. Dolph Ziggler by countout

CM Punk and Sheamus d. Daniel Bryan and The Miz

My Take

As I wrote in the intro, when one looks at this as "the go-home Smackdown to WrestleMania," it comes across looking like a weak show on paper. But when looking at the grander scale, it was a show that fit several deserving people on television, further stories for next weekend's pay-per-view and continued developing and planting seeds for what may blossom through the spring and summer, after the dust of WrestleMania has sailed. I found tonight's Smackdown to be enjoyable, and the Khali match was the only garbage and wasted space. But is anyone really surprised by that?

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