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WWE SmackDown Live preview (Jan. 1, 2019): Rusev Year

SmackDown returns to Pittsburgh, or they did on Saturday night so they could tape the action we’ll see New Year’s Day on USA Network. In fact, you can find out what they taped by clicking here- but where’s the fun in that?

The Headliners

WWE’s done an admirable job of making these not-live holiday shows feel fresher than your average pre-tape. In some cases, that’s been accomplished with backstage scenes spoiler-proofed by not showing them to the live audience. Such was the case with the announcement of the new Women’s Tag Titles, John Cena’s return to television and another Vince McMahon segment we’ll discuss more in a moment.

In the case of the Christmas Day SmackDown, it was also done by giving the audience a big moment for a fan favorite they’ll want to see with their own eyes even if they know it’s happening in advance. Last week, it was Rusev’s United States championship win. The Jan. 1 edition of the blue brand has another such moment, but if you’ve somehow remained spoiler-free on it despite the videos and quotes circulating around the wrestle web, we won’t ruin it here. Suffice to say, it sounds Badlass.

Back to our immigrant hero - Rusev is holding the red, white and blue belt for the third time in his career. but his first time as a babyface. Early indications are that he and his ravishing wife Lana, will lean on his real-life backstory as a man who moved from Bulgaria to America in hopes of fulfilling his dream of becoming a pro wrestler.

Sounds great! Then what?

WWE’s been pretty vocal about having done away with automatic championship rematches, which would also seem to leave the previous champ, Shinsuke Nakamura, with questions about his kayfabe future. Even without another showdown with Nak, there’s a crowded field of potential challengers like Andrade Almas, Rey Mysterio, Samoa Joe and others. More could be coming courtesy of the previously announced NXT call-ups. But that was true when Shinsuke had the belt, and weeks of television would go by without an appearance during his reign.

WWE’s teasing a celebration from the new champ in their official preview for this show, so that’s one storytelling trope they’re not giving up in 2019. Who will crash the party and set up Rusev’s first feud as champ? And will they be able to help keep the belt from drifting off into obscurity the way it did for much of 2018?

The Title Scene

A week after trashing Christmas, and Truthy Claus, will WWE champ Daniel Bryan have any resolutions for the new year. Besides single-handedly saving the planet, we mean? He better watch out for AJ Styles. The Phenomenal One already burned through his contractual rematch before the McMahons got rid of them. But Vince made it his mission to keep the Phenomenal One fired up last week, and he could be coming for Capt. Planet. Bryan may also have to deal with a challenge from his old Total Bellas housemate, too. Seeing as Mr. McMah is calling Cena “The Greatest of All-Time” now, he’ll probably want him to get that 17th World title.

After working a brutal TLC match and filming a match for the Dec. 18 show, Women’s titleholder Asuka got a much deserved episode off on Dec. 25. But with confusion over her next challenger in the wake of the inadvertantly announced showdown with Becky Lynch for Royal Rumble, today would be a good time to book the Empress of Tomorrow into a bout wth someone.

Five time tag team champions Cesaro & Sheamus seem to have put their frequent rivals The New Day and The Usos in their rear view. Don’t look now, though. The Best In The World are officially a thing, and Miz Shane McMahon may be looking for some belts to go with that trophy.

Other stuff to keep an eye on:

- Speaking of rear views and one half of the Usos, Naomi really didn’t appreciate Mandy Rose’s latest flirtation with her husband Jimmy. Will we finally get the TV singles match between the GLOW and the Golden Goddess tonight?

- Big E, Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods may not be in the tag title mix right now, but they still throw a heck of a party. They’ll be hosting a New Year’s Celebration tonight.

- If he doesn’t find himself in the WWE title picture, could AJ find himself suspended or even FIRED? VKM wanted to fire him up, sure. But I don’t know that he wanted him to punch him in the face and scream like a lunatic.

Four weeks until Royal Rumble!

What will you be looking for on SmackDown Live tonight?

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