Live from ThunderDome!
Since at least last September, Friday nights have been great for WWE fans. As it’s prone to do every few years, SmackDown’s become a critical darling. Most of the people who talk about wrestling would tell you the blue brand has been providing, at worst, two hours of reliably entertaining programming every week.
There may be a vulnerability in their storytelling armor, however. As we saw on last week’s Royal Rumble fallout episode, SmackDown isn’t quite sure how to transition out of a feud. It’s most glaring when there doesn’t seem to be a plan for wrestlers they heat up by placing them opposite one of their big stars, but there are examples lower down the card, too.
At the top, we saw it because both Rumble winners are expected to challenge for blue brand belts... but WWE wants to string out Edge and Bianca Belair’s decisions until after next Sunday’s Elimination Chamber PPV. So on Feb. 5, the previous challengers for Sasha Banks’ SmackDown Women’s championship and Roman Reigns’ Universal title, Carmella and Kevin Owens respectively, shared segment with the champs and their likely WrestleMania 37 opponents.
We don’t have an official preview for tonight yet, but it’s safe to assume that Reigns will still have an issue with KO after eating a stunner last Friday. Now that he’s tapped to The Boss and been hair-whipped by Belair, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mella blame her losses on sommelier Reginald and demand another shot at Sasha’s strap. The previous encounters between Owens & Reigns have been great, and the ones between Banks & Carmella have been good. But there’s not a lot of demand for another helping at this point, particularly when there’s almost no chance of a title change.
Given how last week went and what’s churning on the rumor mill, I’d guess untitled kayfabe authority figure Adam Pearce is about to outsmart Paul Heyman yet again and book the Tribal Chief to defend his belt in the Chamber (he already has Raw’s Drew McIntyre doing it, and he likes the WWE champ). That should kick all manner of ass. But it still leaves Owens - and Daniel Bryan, and Cesaro, and Shinsuke Nakamura - on the outside looking in when Edge makes up his mind.
Here’s hoping the SmackDown writer’s room has plans to use a Chamber match, or a quick Carmella & Reginald vs. Sasha & Bianca program, to set up a bunch of stories for ‘Mania and beyond. It would be nice to see there be more in place for KO than there was for guys like Murphy or Otis after their last big angle wrapped - or even than there was for Jey Uso, who has a seat at his cousin’s table but little direction of his own after his own great feud with Roman last year.
The blue show’s proven it can make almost anyone on its roster look like a main eventer. If it can figure out how to use them when there’s no room for them in the main event, it would have even more fans singing its praises.
The title scene
Another “what’s next?” challenge for SmackDown comes from the Intercontinental title scene. Big E retained the belt after pinning Apollo Crews in a Triple Threat that also featured Sami Zayn. While both Crews & Zayn can argue the other cost them them the match, the time is coming for E to move on to something else.
The sidelining of Street Profits seems to have SmackDown Tag Team champs Robert Roode & Dolph Ziggler idling. They debuted a new tune last Friday, and squeaked out a win over Chad Gable & Otis.
Raw’s Naomi & Lana and the winner of Sunday’s Women’s Dusty Classic await WWE Women’s Tag Team champions Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler, so the Riott Squad’s time probably isn’t now. At least they have a feud with Bayley (whose post-title trajectory is a proof SmackDown can book for life after the main event) and the services of Billie Kay (even if they don’t appreciate her) to tide them over.
Other stuff to keep an eye on
- Unless they bait and switch us again, Seth Rollins will be back to make the top of the card even more crowded. But that’s good news. Since his Rumble appearance and the teaser video for tonight indicate the new dad will still be a douchey heel, the SmackDown Savior should give Bryan, Nak and/or Cesaro someone to feud with.
- Speaking of DB and the Swiss Superman, that’s one rivalry WWE can feel free to continue. Just give them 15 minutes once a month and use the time to brainstorm other stuff.
- After eliminating him from the Rumble, last Friday Dominik Mysterio pinned King Corbin (with some help from his dad). Since some of the plans for this storyline apparently had to be scrapped, maybe we can just call it done?
Two weeks until Elimination Chamber!
What will you be looking for on SmackDown tonight?