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WWE SmackDown preview (Mar. 13, 2020): No challengers

WWE SmackDown returns tonight from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. They are building towards WrestleMania 36 (who’s future is very uncertain) which is still scheduled for April 5.

The Headliner

Listen, we all know what the headliner is.

The real story here, and everywhere, is the novel coronavirus. It’s affecting everyone in one way or another and that includes our entertainment. Very necessary precautions have resulted in shutting down, postponing, and altering so many of our entertainment institutions that we take for granted. Not even WWE and the historic stubbornness of Vince McMahon is immune to that. They’re airing SmackDown tonight from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando in front of an empty crowd instead of the Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit like had been planned.

But while we’ve talked about that plenty and will continue to (can find some stories here and here), I’m going to step back and use this preview space to focus on the booking of the show and not the world around it. The show will still happen tonight, so we’ll take a few moments to get lost in something we all love to do: Complain about booking! So let’s do that!

The SmackDown women’s division is in tough shape.

It’s not the talent. They have the talent. But they haven’t booked the division well at all. That’s no more evident now when we’re heading into WrestleMania and don’t have a suitable challenger for Bayley’s SmackDown Women’s championship.

Since winning the title, Bayley has beaten Lacey Evans multiple times. Carmella was quickly defeated. There was a hope when Naomi returned that they’d set her up for the next big challenger but she was quickly beaten too!

That doesn’t leave many options for a legit challenger for Bayley at WrestleMania... you know, their biggest show of the year. The fact that the challenger isn’t somewhat evident just weeks away from the big event shows they screwed up along the way.

Alexa Bliss is the only babyface standing that could slot into that role. But she’s more looking to be involved in a tag team championship match. There’s always Bayley’s bff Sasha Banks, but there’s not enough time to tell that story.

That’s why they had to bring Paige in tonight. Now she’s not there to wrestle. She’s more likely there to represent someone who is. Maybe someone like Nia Jax, who word is has been cleared to wrestle. Or maybe she manages up one of the women who Bayley has knocked down. Or maybe they do what they always do in these situations and just book all the women in the match because they couldn’t have been bothered to actually craft a decent story for it.

We’ll likely have a good idea after tonight what the plan is since Paige is going to be the one to put it in place.

The title scene:

Bill Goldberg isn’t announced for tonight so Roman Reigns will have to do all the lifting to represent the Universal title feud tonight.

Sami Zayn has done the unthinkable and wrested the Intercontinental championship away from Braun Strowman. Yes, he needed two other men to do the work, but he got the job done. And it’s about damn time he holds a title in WWE. But I assume he’s still going to have to deal with a man who wants him to get these (thoroughly washed) hands.

Miz and Morrison (Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho!) successfully retained the SmackDown tag team championships inside the Elimination Chamber. Who’s going to step up to challenge next? Is it Heavy Machinery who had such a strong showing during last week’s gauntlet match? Or a perennial champ like the Usos?

Given Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross actually called out the Women’s tag team champions, it’s actually possible we see the Kabuki Warriors on SmackDown tonight!

Other things to keep an eye on:

- We may not get to see John Cena as Dominic Toretto’s evil brother for another year. But we get to see him tonight to respond to Bray Wyatt’s Firefly Fun House from last week. While the set up to this match left some, including myself, disappointed, Bray bringing up all their history last week seemed to get this back on the right track.

- Jeff Hardy is set to return! No word what he’ll be doing though. If Braun isn’t ready to get his title back just yet, Jeff vs. Sami is a match I’d be interested in.

- It’ll be a bit odd seeing SmackDown come from the PC. NXT aired from the PC two nights ago (not due to COVID but because Full Sail was prior booked), and that looked OK. But they had fans that night. There won’t be any tonight.

SmackDown will be airing at its same time at 8 PM ET on Fox. It’ll be weird seeing it from a small area with no crowd, but it’s the right move to help slow the spread of this virus.

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