Friday Night Smackdown

Knoxville's Bianca Belair ('13) celebrates a successful title defense against Iyo Sky during Friday Night Smackdown at Thompson-Boling Arena. Friday May 12, 2023.

On May 12, UT hosted WWE’s Friday Night Smackdown at 8 p.m. in Thompson-Boling Arena. It marks the first time Smackdown has come to UT’s campus since 2021, though Monday Night Raw did come to UT in 2022.

The dark match — the one shown before going on live TV— was The O.C. (Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, accompanied by Mia Yim) vs. The LWO (Joaquin Wilde and Cruz Del Toro, accompanied by Santos Escobar). The LWO won this match.

It was after this that the commentators for the night entered: starting with Michael Cole, then Wade Barrett. 

AJ Styles, Rey Mysterio and Edge faced off in the first televised match of the night, a Triple Threat to advance to the semifinals of the World Heavyweight Championship tournament, which will end at Night of Champions on May 27 in Saudi Arabia.

The first of many “this is awesome” chants rang through the crowd during this match, which AJ Styles ended up winning. He advanced to the semifinal match of the tournament, which happened during this show as well.

The next match of the night was the second Triple Threat to advance to the semifinals of the World Heavyweight Championship. Sheamus entered first, a resident of Nashville in his off time, so he was automatically supported by the Tennessee crowd. Bobby Lashley entered next, then Austin Theory, the current United States Champion.

The match was full of hard-hitting punches, kicks, suplexes and yes, even blood. Bobby Lashley ended up securing the win and advancing to the semifinals to go up against AJ Styles, but both Theory and Sheamus put up a hard fight.

Baron Corbin entered the ring next, facing Cameron Grimes in the latter’s debut match. Grimes won in about three seconds flat, after Corbin talked on the microphone about how he would win the match. This was just another loss under Corbin’s belt — and it won't be the last.

Roman Reigns returned tonight for the first time since WrestleMania. He announced that he and Solo Sikoa, his younger cousin, would be fighting Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn for the Undisputed Tag Team Championships at Night of Champions. This announcement was met with boos from the crowd.

“Are you kidding me? I don't want to see that,” said Hannah Moran, a senior studying finance who attended the event. 

She is not the only person to feel this way: Reigns already is the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion. He does not need two more championships around his waist (bringing his grand total up to four). The Knoxville crowd and plenty of viewers elsewhere seem to be praying for Reigns’ downfall.

The next match was for the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships. Liv Morgan and Raquel Rodriguez were the defending champions against Dakota Kai and Bayley of Damage CTRL. Liv Morgan and Raquel Rodriguez retained their titles, much to the chagrin of Bayley and Kai.

“Why is it so quiet?” Ivy Kieran, a senior majoring in English and cinema studies, asked during this match. “I expected it to be louder for the women’s matches, not quieter.”

One of the last segments of the televised show was Bianca Belair’s Championship Celebration. She is the longest reigning Raw Women’s Champion ever, surpassing Becky Lynch’s record last Saturday when she retained at Backlash. She is from Knoxville and graduated from UT in 2013. 

Unfortunately, this was not the best homecoming Belair has had since she began wrestling in WWE. Her most recent WrestleMania opponent, Asuka, joined Belair in the ring and extended her hand for Belair to shake. Once Belair was shaking Asuka’s hand, Asuka blew her signature green mist in Belair’s face. After this happened, the segment was over.

Finally, the last match of the night started. It was the semifinals of the World Heavyweight Championship tournament, and its two contenders were AJ Styles and Bobby Lashley. Styles entered first, then Lashley. Styles ended up getting the win, which means he will advance to the finals of the tournament and face Seth Rollins on May 27.

The post-show dark match was another tag team match with The Street Profits (Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins) vs. the Usos (Jimmy and Jey Uso). Ford of the Street Profits is married to UT’s favorite superstar Bianca Belair, so his team was given extra cheers today. However, this did not pay off. The Usos picked up the win, though The Street Profits kept the crowd entertained.

There was a second post-show dark match between Bianca Belair and Iyo Sky of Damage CTRL. Belair and Sky faced off at Backlash last Saturday in Puerto Rico, so this was assumed to be a rematch. Belair left her hometown with a win, which satisfied both the crowd and her family at ringside. 

Overall, Smackdown aired a successful show, with the highlight being the match between Sheamus, Lashley and Theory. It was what wrestling is all about: people fighting for a shot at gold, giving all they have and leaving everything out on the mat.

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