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WWE SmackDown Live preview (Jan. 2, 2018): Blue new year

Starting the new year in Orlando!

The Headliners

One of the great things about creating a top program with a bunch of moving parts is how it can be told with a variety of matches. Such has been the case with bringing WWE champion AJ Styles into Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn’s YEP Movement against commissioner Shane McMahon.

With his rivalry with Jinder Mahal over and Royal Rumble looming (a pay-per-view (PPV) whose eponymous main event makes the World title story secondary), The Phenomenal One has found himself drawn into this story. It features a lot of players with whom he has history. McMahon was his WrestleMania opponent last year, and he and KO feuded for SmackDown’s secondary belt all Summer.

One person we haven’t seen him face a lot - at least not one-on-one - is Zayn. That will change on the first episode of 2018. After a Sami distraction, and some sub-par special referee management from Shane, led to an Owens win over the champ last Tuesday, Zayn gets a non-title shot at AJ tonight.

While the champ tries to get his win back, the commish tries to prove he can call things down the middle and not - as General Manager Daniel Bryan has openly worried about - slide further toward the dark side we’ve seen from his father Vince so often over the years.

However Shane, DB or KO conduct themselves, Styles vs. Zayn should be a hell of a way to kick off the new year!

The Title Scene

It’s finally happening. After weeks of asking why The New Day and Rusev Day kept getting put in their tag team championship matches against reigning kings of the division The Usos, Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin won a Triple Threat against those other two contenders on Dec. 26. Now they get their two-on-two shot at Jimmy and Jey. Gable and Benjamin will attempt to prove their countout and non-title victories over the champs weren’t flukes, and to take one of the best divisions in the game off lock.

When Dolph Ziggler left the United States title in the ring the Tuesday after he won it at Clash of Champions, there were a ton of questions. We still have a bunch about The Show-Off’s decision and his future, but now we have a tournament to crown Dolph’s successor to focus on. After Mahal and Bobby Roode advanced a week ago, we’ll learn the identity of the other two semi-finalists tonight when Mojo Rawley and Zack Ryder present the next chapter in their rivalry, and Aiden English and Xavier Woods take their campaigns to the ring.

Women’s champ Charlotte Flair has beef with Ruby Riott and her Riott Squad... but who doesn’t? Ruby’s win over Naomi led to Flair getting involved, and eventually Natalya and The Welcoming Committee, as well. It’s only fitting with a 30 woman Rumble match coming up, I suppose.

Other stuff to keep an eye on:

- Speaking of Rumbles, who on the Team Blue roster will join Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamua for the men’s match?

- Can anyone stop Bludgeon Brothers? Or more importantly for Breezango, can anyone stop The Ascension from volunteering them for matches against Harper and Rowan?

Four weeks until Royal Rumble!

What will you be looking for on SmackDown Live tonight?

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