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WWE SmackDown preview (Oct. 15, 2021): The Friday Night War is here

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SmackDown airs tonight (Oct. 15) live from the Toyota Arena in Ontario, California. This is the go-home show for Crown Jewel on October 21.

WWE has a Friday night war to win

I normally try to leave AEW out of the SmackDown preview articles, but in many ways tonight is all about the Friday night war that WWE created when they decided to go with a “Supersized” edition of SmackDown to oppose Rampage.

The Major League Baseball playoffs are kind of a big deal and get precedence on the FOX network tonight. That means WWE SmackDown is bumped to cable on FS1. In an attempt to directly compete against and beat AEW Rampage in that space, Vince McMahon decided to add 30 minutes to SmackDown’s runtime, creating a 2.5 hour broadcast that will overlap with the first half hour of AEW Rampage from 10 pm ET to 10:30 pm ET. On top of that, WWE will have no commercials during that time. It sounds like a replay of SmackDown will then begin to air on FS1 as soon as the show ends, to ensure Rampage runs opposed by WWE for the entire hour.

Considering how the Wednesday night war completely blew up in WWE’s face, they should be cautious about trying to regularly add content on FS1 opposite Rampage. But for one night when the regular SmackDown broadcast is on FS1 anyway, SmackDown is in a strong position to win this battle. They have a loaded card which features Brock Lesnar, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Roman Reigns, arguably the four biggest stars in the company.

Rampage is countering with CM Punk, Chris Jericho, Junior Dos Santos, Jorge Masvidal, and Ruby Soho. This was AEW’s original lineup before we even knew a Friday night war was coming. Since that news came to light, AEW’s strategy is to rally their hardcore fans by leaning into the Friday night war narrative and adding a pre-show on YouTube that includes a dream match of Bryan Danielson vs. Minoru Suzuki.

That’s all well and good, but Rampage likely needs more of AEW’s top stars to win the night. For example, CM Punk is a big deal, but a no stakes match pitting him against low card Matt Sydal is not. If that’s the match AEW runs opposite SmackDown, more wrestling fans will likely be interested in watching Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks or Brock Lesnar confronting Roman Reigns. If AEW instead relies on Junior Dos Santos’ pro wrestling debut to win the war, well, I think they’ll be disappointed to see just how little wrestling fans currently care about the former UFC champion.

It’s not really about the most viewers, however. It’s all about winning that key demo, and AEW’s younger audience has proven resilient in that regard. Rampage’s metrics have been trending down for several weeks, though, and combined with stiff competition from MLB playoffs on FOX, and commercial free “Supersized SmackDown” on FS1, I don’t see this one working out so well for AEW. SmackDown should be able to win this battle. And if the numbers turn out to heavily favor WWE, well they might just do it again in two weeks (Oct. 29) when SmackDown is back on FS1 thanks to the World Series.

Now with the WWE vs. AEW portion of this preview out of the way, let’s get back to the usual routine of just focusing on WWE’s content for tonight.

The title scene

This is the final episode of SmackDown before the Crown Jewel pay-per-view on Thurs., Oct. 21. The main event of that WrestleMania-like card is a Universal championship match between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar. The Beast is in the building tonight, so WWE will hopefully have something more explosive planned than a tug of war over the title. Their story largely revolves around testing Paul Heyman’s allegiance to the Tribal Chief. Lesnar has been planting the seeds of doubt (about Heyman’s loyalty) in Roman’s mind ever since he returned to WWE two months ago, and that will likely continue tonight.

Becky Lynch is scheduled to defend the SmackDown women’s championship against Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks in a triple threat match at Crown Jewel. Tonight’s card gives us two thirds of that match, with Lynch taking on Banks in a non-title singles match. This feels like a classic case where WWE is going to book a non-finish, which is a perception that WWE should be trying to undo.

The Usos are the SmackDown tag team champions and don’t have a match lined up for Crown Jewel. They’ll probably be there to take whatever beating Brock Lesnar prefers to dish out to Roman Reigns tonight.

The Intercontinental champion Shinsuke Nakamura was left out of the King of the Ring tournament for some reason, so he graciously relinquished his crown as the one true king of WWE. Hopefully that won’t stop him and Rick Boogs from rocking out with Pat McAfee on the commentary desk each week.

Rhea Ripley and Nikki A.S.H. are the only women’s team left in WWE following the draft. The new rosters don’t go into effect for one more week, but it appears that WWE has already moved on from the teams of Shotzi & Nox, and Tamina & Natalya. The women’s tag team titles are going nowhere for now, until WWE decides it’s time to enhance the stories of Lynch, Banks, Belair, and Charlotte Flair by adding secondary gold to the mix.

Other stuff to keep an eye on

- The King of the Ring tournament continues tonight with Finn Balor vs. Sami Zayn in a semifinals match. Zayn is probably banned from Saudi Arabia, so the winner here seems obvious.

- The Queen’s Crown tournament also continues tonight with Zelina Vega and Carmella facing each other in a semifinals match. Are you taking the over or under on this match lasting exactly three minutes? That’s the sort of frustrating question that needs to be asked given the current sad state of WWE’s women’s division underneath the main event level.

- Sonya Deville’s long-awaited return to the ring is advertised for tonight when she wrestles against Naomi. There’s good reason to expect a swerve from the untrustworthy heel authority figure. Will Sonya call up a replacement from NXT, or will she simply change her mind about allowing Naomi to finally wrestle for the blue brand?

- Edge and Seth Rollins will try to end one another inside Hell in a Cell at Crown Jewel. Last week’s segment putting that match together felt like a proper go-home angle, so it’s not clear what’s left for Edge and Rollins to do tonight. But whatever they do will probably be very good.

- Happy Corbin and his new henchman Madcap Moss have humiliated Kevin Owens on four consecutive episodes of SmackDown. Owens will be separated from Corbin when the new rosters go into effect next week, so tonight is his final chance for revenge (unless KO feels like using a brand-to-brand invitation or one of WWE’s other dozen ways to effortlessly break the roster rules).

- Last week we were informed by MACE that nobody on SmackDown can match his “disposition to dominate”. What other forced unnatural verbiage will the WWE writers have for him to recite tonight?

What will you be looking for on SmackDown tonight?