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WWE SmackDown Live preview (Jan. 8, 2019): Challengers

WWE heads to Jacksonville on Jan. 8... anybody know if anything else wrestling-related is happening in northeastern Florida tonight?

The Headliners

This was set-up to be the biggest splash of the McMahon’s new era. Back to live with a couple matches with big championship implications announced in advance, and free of competition from a major live sporting event.

Then a member of the company’s Hall of Fame decided he needed to talk to the American people about a construction project he’s been trying to get bankrolled, and all bets are off. The first hour of SmackDown will still have a chance to spike a number before the President goes live, but it’s probably not what the council of McMahons were hoping for.

Still, those matches they booked over the weekend should put a couple hopes & theories about WWE in 2019 to the test. Namely, will new talent be featured in stories which utilize different tropes? Or will it be the same faces in cliche set-ups?

Shane McMahon may have done away with the automatic championship rematch clause, but the “beat the champs, earn a title shot” rule appears to still be in effect. We’ll see it on this show when a couple of teams who faced each other a lot in 2018 hit the ring. Nobody’s complaining about more matches between tag team champions The Bar & The Usos. Those pretty reliably rule. But it’s not exactly a fresh match-up, and if played the way they’ve played it so many times in the past, it’ll lead to a rematch.

Or... a team like SAnitY that finally returned to television over their holiday pre-tapes could do something agent of chaos might and crash the party. A debuting team like NXT’s Heavy Machinery could show up and point some of these things out, lobbying for a chance to get in the mix. Those Good Brothers Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson used a Magic Killer to ensure their tream ensure a win over the champs & Eric Young’s squad last week... should they get “beat the champs, earn a title shot” consideration, or be pissed that they didn’t?

There are ways to do things differently, is all I’m saying. And whether a Cesaro & Sheamus vs. Jimmy & Jey non-title match for a championship opportunity goes the way we’ve seen it go so many times before or not may tell us how different this new era will be.

The Title Scene

Jan. 8’s other big match, the Triple Threat between Carmella, Becky Lynch & Charlotte Flair to determine who will challenge Women’s titleholder Asuka at Royal Rumble later this month, isn’t exactly the same old, same old. Even if it goes the somewhat expected route (Lynch & Flair destroy each other, Mella steals a pin and finally does the pay-per-view (PPV) job for the Empress in Phoenix while The Man & The Queen go on to the Rumble match and however a WrestleMania date with Ronda Rousey is going to play out for one or both of them), there are still a number of open questions. Such as... will Carmella pull double duty if she wins and still used her Mixed Match Challenge won #30 spot in Royal Rumble if she wins tonight?

According to the official preview for this episode, the men’s singles belts will be sticking to tried and true formulas tonight. Now that a pep talk/fight with Vince has unleashed the “Real” AJ Styles, he’ll confront WWE champ Daniel Bryan ahead of their rematch on Jan. 27. The Phenomenal One is coming off a Fatal 5Way win that earned him another shot at Bryan. DB is coming off... beating up R-Truth. Hey! Truthy Claus is #30 in the men’s Rumble. He’s a threat to the New Daniel Bryan.

His celebration was ruined by the man he belt for the title, so it looks like Rusev’s United States championship reign will start off with more feuding with Shinsuke Nakamura. As long as the rematch isn’t contractually obligated, it’s okay - right, Shane?

Other stuff to keep an eye on:

- Speaking of Shane O’Mac, his partnership with The Miz is official. But I doubt his commitment to Sparkle Motion The Best In The World tag team. We need to see this duo in action, and preferably in costume.

- One of the men who came up short in last week’s main event declared for the men’s Rumble. Will Rey Mysterio, Mustafa Ali & Randy Orton join Samoa Joe (and Jeff Hardy, and New Day), or will the Viper be fixated on the man who pinned him on New Year’s Day... one AJ Styles?

- There are plenty of open spots on the women’s side, too. And Naomi will probably be willing to enter the match to get her hands on Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville after weeks of the Golden Goddess flirting with her husband, and Deville using that to pin her last week.

Three weeks until Royal Rumble!

What will you be looking for on SmackDown Live tonight?

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