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WWE SmackDown preview (Jan. 15, 2021): Return of the King


WWE SmackDown returns tonight (Jan. 15) from Tropicana Field in Tampa, Florida. They are building towards the Royal Rumble pay-per-view (PPV) on Jan. 31.

The Headliner

Last week’s gauntlet match held quite the surprise.

I’m actually not referring to authority figure Adam Pearce winning it against his will, setting him up to face Roman Reigns for the Universal title at the Royal Rumble. That’s surprising, but it was something they started planting seeds for. By the end of the night, that was a possible result.

What was more shocking was that SmackDown used this gauntlet match to reposition Shinsuke Nakamura as a serious threat as a singles competitor.

It feels like ages since Shinsuke Nakamura was a big deal. Prior to last week, I perceived Nakamura as a midcard talent (because of how he had been booked) and had to remind myself that he once had a marquee title match at WrestleMania. He’s spent the last year as mainly a tag act. As a singles guy, it’s been two and a half year since he was someone towards the top of the card.

That’s why it was so surprising to see creative use this gauntlet match to remind us that the King of Strong Style is actually a threat to win any match he’s in. Nak defeated Rey Mysterio, King Corbin, and Daniel Bryan before being screwed out of the victory by Jey Uso and Roman Reigns.

Tonight, Shinsuke will face Jey Uso looking for a measure of revenge. But with the way last week was put together, the final impression was that Nakamura was screwed out of a Universal title shot against Roman Reigns at a Big 4 PPV. The logical conclusion would be for the Japanese star to eventually get that opportunity.

Maybe it will actually happen at the Royal Rumble. It’ll be hard to believe they go through with Adam Pearce vs. Roman Reigns one on one given that to most fans, Pearce is an unknown backstage authority figure. So perhaps Shinsuke Nakamura finds his way into that match instead. Or Kevin Owens, who is still dealing with a devastating SPINAL CONTUSION, may be able to miraculously recover to face the Head of the Table.

Roman is scheduled to intimidate Pearce more tonight, which should give us a hint of what’s to come. If it’s not going to be Adam, they’ll likely let us known that sooner than later so they can advertised the actual, more exciting title match.

Whether or not Nakamura gets the nod, SmackDown shouldn’t just forget what they did here. Let’s get a run of Shinsuke as a serious contender for a little while. Then do Cesaro next.

The title scene:

Sasha Banks was not on SmackDown last week, though they did hype the fact that Sports Illustrated named her the top wrestler of the 2020. When she does return, Carmella will be waiting to try to take that SmackDown Women’s championship off her.

Big E successfully defended his Intercontinental championship against Apollo last week. The first match ended in a double pin, but a slap to the face convinced E to defend it again, this time leading to a legit victory. Paul Heyman tried to light a fire under Apollo after the loss so we’ll see if he is going to come for the champ with a more ‘take no prisoners’ attitude.

The Dirty Dawgs (a name commentary did not use for Robert Roode & Dolph Ziggler last week, probably because it’s terrible) beat the Street Profits to become SmackDown tag team champions. I expect the Profits to get another go when Montez Ford’s kayfabe leg injury heals.

The Riott Squad may have inadvertently added Billie Kay to their ranks. Let’s see if that’s a help or hinderance in their goal to become Women’s tag team champions.

Other things to keep an eye on:

- Where’s the Mysterio family? Rey made an appearance in the gauntlet match last week, but what about his son Dominik? Or his future son-in-law Murphy? They all disappeared when Seth left. Rey will be in action against King Corbin tonight. Maybe we’ll see the rest of the family as well.

- Speaking of, Seth Rollins was advertised to return a couple weeks ago, but that never happened. That means we should be seeing the Messiah sooner than later though.

- Daddy Sonya Deville is now Adam Pearce’s assistant, but I have a suspicion she’s going to use the position to get revenge on her enemies. And I respect that.

What will you be looking for when SmackDown returns tonight at 8 PM ET on Fox?

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