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WWE SmackDown preview (Jan. 14, 2022): The roster is a huge mess

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SmackDown airs tonight (Jan. 14) with a live show from the Chi Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska. This is the second SmackDown episode during the four week build towards Royal Rumble on January 29.

The SmackDown roster is a huge mess

The SmackDown roster is in shambles right now due to a combination of injuries, bad booking, and releases.

Drew McIntyre, Sasha Banks, King Woods, and Shinsuke Nakamura are all sidelined with injuries. These four wrestlers rank among the strongest booked characters on the show, outside of The Bloodline, which leaves the SmackDown roster without any viable or interesting contenders for most of the titles.

There is no viable threat to Universal champion Roman Reigns on the roster. Sheamus, Kofi Kingston, and Happy Corbin are the top three SmackDown wrestlers available to match up with the Tribal Chief, but anybody who has been paying attention to the show knows none of them stand a chance against the Head of the Table. Rather than bump one of them up to the main event level with Roman, WWE made the smart decision to bring Seth Rollins over from Raw.

Seth will challenge Reigns for the title at Royal Rumble. There’s a lot of history between these two men going back to their Shield days, and Seth at least has a chance to win the match. Rollins is expected to appear on SmackDown tonight, where he’ll surely remind us all of just how much success he’s had against Roman in singles competition.

Moving on to the tag team division, The Usos are the SmackDown tag team champions, and they put the New Day down for good last week. The top three SmackDown teams available to step up to the champs now include Happy Corbin & Madcap Moss, Los Lotharios, and the Viking Raiders. The problem with this group of teams is the heel matchups (Corbin/Moss, Lotharios) don’t make for interesting television opposite the Usos, whereas the babyface team (Viking Raiders) just jobbed out to Corbin and Moss last week.

Injuries to Woods, Nakamura, and Ridge Holland take some other teams out of the mix. Hit Row isn’t available either, because WWE released the entire faction shortly after last October’s draft.

Looking further down the roster, WWE can certainly patch something together. There are interesting wrestlers hanging around such as Ricochet, Mansoor, Mustafa Ali, and Cesaro. The problem, of course, is that they have all been booked into the ground. Ricochet and Cesaro in particular just lost what was effectively a handicap match against Sheamus at Day 1. Mansoor and Mustafa Ali rarely get to appear on television. All of these babyfaces are a bunch of losers, including the Viking Raiders, and it’s an issue that is now biting WWE in the ass.

The women’s division doesn’t fare much better. Charlotte Flair is the SmackDown women’s champion. The SmackDown wrestlers available to challenge her include Naomi, Xia Li, Aliyah, Natalya, Shotzi, and Shayna Baszler. Li has already disappeared from television after making her debut appearance last month. Charlotte beat Naomi last week. Shayna Baszler is an ineffective henchwoman for Sonya Deville, hasn’t won a televised match in over two months, and hasn’t really sniffed singles gold since WrestleMania 36 in 2020. Aliyah never gets television time. Shotzi and Natalya are mid-card heels and don’t match up well against a heel champ.

The situation is bad enough where Flair had to insert herself into the women’s Royal Rumble match, even though she is the champion and it doesn’t really make sense for her to be in that match. Just like with Rollins, this was probably the best decision WWE could have made given the underwhelming state of the division; it’s very believable that Flair wants to dominate the field and choose her own WrestleMania opponent. Flair still needs things to do on SmackDown television, though, and it’s not clear how she will pass the time given she is surrounded by a roster that is not at her level.

The bottom line is that the SmackDown roster is a huge mess right now, and it’s going to take more than just Seth Rollins appearing on tonight’s episode to fix many of these glaring problems.

Other stuff to keep an eye on

- Brock Lesnar is not advertised for tonight’s episode of SmackDown. It looks like Seth, Roman, and Shanky will have to carry the load.

- Sami Zayn is the number one contender to Nakamura’s Intercontinental title. Nakamura is dealing with a hand injury, so Zayn spent last week jobbing to Rick Boogs and getting tossed out of the ring by Johnny Knoxville. That’s not exactly the best way to get fans hyped up to see a future championship match between Zayn and Nakamura. But Zayn is basically a comedy guy, so he exists to be made into a fool.

- Sonya Deville continued messing with Naomi last week, this time screwing her over in a match against Flair. The story between Sonya and Naomi started out hot but has been dragging for a while.

- Sheamus has declared for the Royal Rumble match. There are plenty of babyface jabronis on the roster who can eat his Brogue kicks as he prepares for the big match.

- Is Xia Li ever going to wrestle on television? Her main roster debut match should come against Natalya, if WWE decides it’s worth putting on television.

What will you be looking for on SmackDown tonight?