WWE SmackDown Live Results and Recap: A sudden shift disrupts an otherwise hot SmackDown Live (January 2, 2018)
The Blue brand is firing in all cylinders, but is the Shane vs. Daniel story about to go off the rails?
Nothing in this world is certain except for three things: death, taxes, and the fact that if one weekly WWE main roster show is struggling, the other is usually thriving. Just a few months back SmackDown Live felt like a slog to sit through, its biggest stars stuck in a rut and seemingly no sense of direction for the rest of the card. During that time Raw was lighting it up with main event feuds involving The Shield, Braun Strowman, The Miz, and The Bar, while roping in Kurt Angle for a return to in-ring action. Now though, the pendulum has swung the other way. Raw is stumbling towards a Royal Rumble with Kane, of all people, in the main event. On the Blue side of things, SmackDown Live feels alive and electric, bolstered by a deep tag team division, intricate storytelling in the main event, and the emergence of midcard stars that feel meaningful to the show as a whole.
The simple fact is that SmackDown Live is, through and through, the more compelling show by a fair margin at the moment. The show feels structured and coherent in a way that Raw doesn’t. On top of that, the depth of talent is being used properly, even within the two-hour format. The lone exception is the women’s division. It’s the one area where SmackDown Live is really struggling, much like its Red counterpart. There’s no momentum, no sense of identity within that division, a fact that’s all the more disappointing when you consider WWE is on the verge of its first ever women’s Royal Rumble match.
Are we getting Team B.A.D. next?
The issue with the women’s division remains, I believe, fairly straightforward: there’s no individual stories being told. The show keeps throwing multiple women together for no reason whatsoever, and that lack of character motivation is derailing. Natalya seemingly turned her back on the WWE universe after losing at Clash of Champions, and yet now she’s back with the Welcoming Committee. Why? What’s that story? SmackDown Live isn’t interested in explaining. That kind of lazy storytelling extends to the episode itself, as the Riott Squad goes up against the Welcoming Committee, because WWE doesn’t seem to understand that having two heel factions face off is one of the least compelling things you can do. Forcing me to choose between cheering for Natalya and Tamina, or Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan should be a punishable offence. It’s cool that Becky Lynch is back and all, but again, the division is just split into three factions—sound familiar?—and none of them has any sort of compelling motivation for what they’re doing.
There’s nothing better than SmackDown’s tag team division
That debacle is really the only truly troublesome part of the show—though there’s a confusing main event moment that has me worried—as the rest of SmackDown Live revels in its compelling stories. The most fun has to be the continuing battle between New Day and Rusev Day. WWE giving those guys plenty of time and space to do their thing, both in comedic segments and in the ring, is like handing out pancakes for free: everybody wins. Seriously, every single segment with those five performers is gold. I wish Aiden English and Xavier Woods’ United States Championship Tournament match got a little more time, but it’s hard to argue with the consistent character progression we’re getting. Crowds warming up to Rusev and Aiden English was a wonderful way to end 2017, and I hope SmackDown Live has big plans for them this year.
Elsewhere in the tag team division, things get a little Dusty. The tag team championship match between The Usos and Gable and Benjamin initially sees the latter snag the gold, but video review confirms that both men involved in the pin were illegal, and the match is restarted. The Usos have been the tag team of the last 12 months, and using them to give Benjamin and Gable a bigger spot has really paid off. Gable and Benjamin don’t win the titles tonight, but they once again prove they’re damn close to doing so. That’s an encouraging sign for the division as a whole, as multiple teams are making a name for themselves, even as Breezango continues to fade when removed from the contained universe of the Fashion Files.
Is WWE seriously considering turning Daniel Bryan heel?
Outside of Roman Reigns consistently throwing down classic matches on Raw, SmackDown Live has the two best things in main roster WWE at the moment: a well-developed and incredibly talented tag team division, and a main event scene that’s wonderfully complex. With that said, this week’s episode feels like a swerve in some ways. Perhaps it’s only my own expectations being subverted, but for quite some time now it seemed like SmackDown Live was slowly turning Shane McMahon heel, setting him up for a clash with Daniel Bryan in the future, while letting the story of Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and AJ Styles play out removed from all of that.
That’s not that case after Daniel Bryan announces that AJ Styles will be defending his WWE Championship against both Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a handicap match at the Royal Rumble. It’s a baffling development. Hasn’t the idea all along been that Shane’s talks of “favouritism” were misguided at best and malicious and hypocritical at worst? Hasn’t the idea been that Daniel Bryan, despite the obnoxiousness and heel tendencies of Owens and Zayn, was still operating from a morally superior ground? The announcement of the handicap match throws that all into question; it’s evident in the hesitant way the Orlando crowd joins in with the YES chant to close the show. Nobody is sure how to feel about all of this, and that’s a major problem when you’re only a few weeks away from a major PPV that’s meant to clarify stories before WrestleMania.
- Does anybody know if Baron Crobin is ready? I’m unclear on this point.
- If you didn’t pop for Chad Gable going for the finisher and getting hit with a superkick, you’re dead inside.
- I remain disappointed by the use of Breezango in the ring.
- “Let me do it this time.” Rusev is a true best friend.
- On that note, I love that SmackDown Live is now the show of best friends who are supposedly heels just because they care about each other.
- Jinder seems the likely choice, but I really hope we get Xavier Woods vs. Bobby Roode for the United States Championship at the Rumble. I start to nod off just thinking about Jinder and Roode working a match together.
- Byron Saxton, the character, is currently insufferable.
The Usos (c) defeated Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable (SmackDown Live Tag Team Championship match); Xavier Woods defeated Aiden English (United States Championship Tournament match); The Riott Squad defeated The Welcoming Committee; Sami Zayn defeated AJ Styles.