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WWE SmackDown preview (Jan. 29, 2021): More seasoning

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The Headliner

With not much announced for the blue brand’s Royal Rumble go home show, let’s talk about a member of the SmackDown roster many are speculating could win the Rumble itself... Intercontinental champion Big E.

There are mixed signals on Friday night’s lone New Day member. Paul Heyman’s been hyping him up on Talking Smack, at the same time he encourages Apollo Crews to take him down. The interest of the Tribal Chief’s special counsel definitely gives the appearance E is in the mix for a shot at Roman Reigns somewhere down the line. Why not at WrestleMania 37?

Well, for one reason, because E himself has hinted he wants that kind of spot to be “earned” with fan support similar to what Daniel Bryan received in 2014, or Kofi Kingston two years ago, carrying him into the match. Big E is a popular figure, but I don’t know that we’re there yet. As he himself has said though, it’s really hard to tell without live crowds.

If his currently rivalry with Crews and Sami Zayn were farther along, Sunday’s Rumble might feel like the right time to officially make E a ‘Mania main eventer. But other than Heyman telling us how great he is, I’m not sure there’s much momentum there yet. His reign is barely a month old, and he hasn’t exactly spent that month clearing out the division. Last week’s defense against Apollo, which ended in a disqualification when Zayn attacked both men, pretty much sums up Large Epsilon’s second IC title run.

Especially in comparison to Daniel Bryan or Edge’s “this might be my last chance” narratives, E’s Rumble story also isn’t as compelling. At this point, a signature performance would serve E almost as well as a win. Have him last 30+ minutes and eliminate a lot of dudes before Sami sneakily sends him over the top rope.

Which isn’t to say he’d be out of the mix for the blue belt in Tampa come April. Especially if it isn’t the conspiracy-minded Zayn who throws him out of the Rumble, but a Heyman-inspired Crews. If the idea that Paul and Roman are worried about E migrates over from Talking Smack to SmackDown? That’s the YES Movement or KofiMania-esque story that could push E to the main event.

Having worked to ensure he couldn’t win the Rumble, the Head of the Table pulls strings to continue to keep Big E away from him. Their treachery can cost him his current title. Stacking the deck in the Elimination Chamber by entering Crews and Jey Uso makes it an even bigger mountain for E to climb. Hell, maybe this happens after Bryan is taken out by Roman’s crew, making the former Mr. Langston the last hope for SmackDown’s babyfaces to stop Reigns.

That, more than a somewhat surprising Rumble win, is a great story that should make E a bigger star.

But it’s probably just the kind of fantasy booking preview writers have to do when nothing’s announced for the show in advance.

The title scene

The closest thing we have to an announced segment features the Universal champ and the man he’ll face in a Last Man Standing match at Sunday’s PPV, Kevin Owens. KO snuck into the Tropicana Field last Friday to save Adam Pearce from a set-up and Pop-Up Powerbomb Roman through the announce table. We’ll see what the response to that is tonight when each man makes “one last stand”.

In exchange for a shot at her impressively acrobatic sommelier Reginald, Sasha Banks was supposed to grant Carmella another shot at the SmackDown Women’s championship, right? That was my understanding, and I assumed it would happen at Royal Rumble on Jan. 31. But they still don’t have it listed for Sunday’s card, so... [shrug emoji]

When they’re not being used as fodder for the very welcome Bryan/Cesaro rivalry that’s going on, SmackDown Tag Team titleholders Robert Roode & Dolph Ziggler seem to be lobbying Dolph’s old friend Sonya Deville to keep Street Profits from getting a rematch for the belts.

They’re probably too focused on their own rematch with Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler on Sunday, but WWE Women’s Tag Team champs Charlotte Flair & Asuka could show up on SmackDown tonight. They picked up a win here last Friday, after a kind-hearted and well-meaning Billie Kay accidentally distracted the referee while Ruby Riott pinned the Raw Women’s champ. Whether or not, the Empress & the Queen show up, hopefully Riott & Liv Morgan are shamed for the horrible way they treated Billie.

Other stuff to keep an eye on

- Bianca Belair is on a serious roll, wowing the world by carrying Otis during her Obstacle Course win over Bayley, then inspiring us with her story as it was captured on Chronicle. Now The EST gets to pay the Role Model back for her post-loss attack.

- He had some momentum going and made an abrupt face turn, but it’s still not clear how or if WWE will follow-up Shinsuke Nakamura’s impressive gauntlet run and win over Uso from a few weeks back.

- We’re still waiting to see who Rey Mysterio will bring in as back-up against King Corbin. Dominik proved he couldn’t handle Corbin on his own last week.

- There are lots of spots open in both of Sunday’s Rumble matches, and still only five officially announced bouts on the card.

It’s the Royal Rumble go home show!

What will you be looking for on SmackDown tonight?