By Steven Flora
The disunity between Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan came to the forefront during AJ Styles' main event showdown against Sami Zayn, leading to a huge Royal Rumble WWE Title Match announcement. Elsewhere, Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable finally got their two-on-two opportunity at SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos.
Daniel Bryan makes a monumental match for the Royal Rumble
Non-Title Match: Sami Zayn def. WWE Champion A.J. Styles
With Kevin Owens in Zayn’s corner, Shane McMahon in Styles’ corner and Bryan seemingly in a neutral corner, Zayn and Styles faced off in a thrilling main event.
With an odd aura surrounding the contest due to the three men lurking at ringside, Styles and Zayn engaged in combat. In the match’s pivotal moments, KO attempted to interject himself into the contest after the referee took a tumble. This caused Shane to get physical with Owens, then prompted the official to throw KO out from ringside. However, he was one-upped by Bryan, who then suggested that Shane-O-Mac should also be ejected. This distraction caused Styles to get caught with a pinpoint Helluva Kick from Zayn, which resulted in another controversial victory for The “Yep!” Movement. Winner: Sami Zayn.
After the contest, Styles was so worked up that he, in frustration, challenged both Owens and Zayn to a 2-on-1 Handicap Match. Surprisingly, Bryan then got on the microphone and declared that exact match would happen … at the Royal Rumble … for the WWE Title.
Side Note: Boy this was messy. You can see they're building to a program between Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon, but in doing so they're using Styles, Zayn & Owens as pawns in their little game. It does stifle the main event scene on SmackDown, nonetheless I feel they are out-performing Raw in this particular category.
SmackDown Live 2018 - Welcome to The Uso Penitentiary
SmackDown Tag Team Championship Match: The Usos (c) def. Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin to retain the tag team titles
After weeks of tit-for-tat and a key non-title pinfall victory by Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable, the explosive tandem finally got their first two-on-two opportunity at the SmackDown Tag Team Titles against The Usos. The incredibly action-packed contest saw momentum shift back and forth several times. It appeared Benjamin & Gable had picked up the victory when Benjamin pinned Jimmy 1-2-3 after he and Gable executed a vicious double team maneuver. However, it was soon revealed that Jey was actually the legal man, and thus, the match was restarted.
With a new lease on life, Jimmy & Jey recovered, weathering Benjamin & Gable’s storm and superkicking both Superstars into oblivion and getting the win after a big splash. Winner: The Usos (c).
Side Note: I thought this match was great, even giving everyone false hope Gable & Benjamin actually won the titles. WWE may have anticipated both Gable & Benjamin to win the titles but thought it was too soon to pull the trigger hence the false finish. Both tag teams work well together and no doubt the return match will be just as good.
It's RUSEEEEEEV … wait no it's A NEW DAY!
Xavier Woods def. Aiden English in the first round of the United States Championship Tournament
With the war between The New Day and Rusev Day still raging, Xavier Woods and Aiden English squared off in the first round of the US Championship Tournament. And as Big E & Kofi Kingston as well as Rusev patrolled ringside, the two Superstars battled boldly with a spot in the semifinals of the tournament hanging in the balance.
In the height of the action, Woods was able to block a major high-risk maneuver attempt by English, allowing him to connect with his top rope elbow to set up a clash against Jinder Mahal in the next round. Winner: Xavier Woods
Side Note: There was absolutely no need for English to lose. The New Day have nothing to gain from this but for someone like English, who barely wins matches let alone titles, he deserved this and it was just poor booking on creative's part this week.
Riott Squad meet the Lass Kicker
The Riott Squad def. Natalya, Carmella & Tamina
After getting the better of The Riott Squad in a wild brawl last week, Natalya, Carmella & Tamina looked to continue the momentum by defeating the squadron in Six-Woman Tag Team action tonight on Team Blue.
With the animosity simmering between the two sides, the action was intense. After a hard-fought battle, The Riott Squad prevailed when Sarah Logan hit Tamina with a brutal double knee out of a handstand for the win. Winner: The Riott Squad.
After the contest, Ruby Riott declared Liv Morgan and Logan for the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble Match. However, The Riott Squad’s good vibes were quickly diminished when SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair hit the scene. The Queen informed the deadly trio that a dose of reality was coming their way and then introduced Naomi and the returning Becky Lynch (who The Riott Squad ruthlessly assaulted in the backstage area on their first night on Team Blue, causing her to miss several weeks). Together, the three Superstars charged The Riott Squad and swiftly took them out.
Lesson learned? Play with straight fire, and you’re gonna get burned.
Side Note: AH! It's always good to see Becky Lynch and finally the Riott Squad get their just desserts. This feud is similar to the Raw feud with Absolution & the rest of the division for one reason, the Women's Royal Rumble. I get they want to make this Women's Royal Rumble a big deal, but I feel they are ignoring the women’s champions on the respective brands.
Other Notable Moments
The frostiness between Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan continues: Following another controversial situation involving McMahon inadvertently costing Styles his match against Owens last week on Team Blue, Shane-O-Mac made a point to apologize to Styles during the opening moments of SmackDown. With Bryan also in the ring, Shane declared he would be in The Phenomenal One’s corner for tonight’s match between Styles and Zayn. With that out in the open, The “Yes!” Man responded by stating he would not only allow Owens to be at ringside, but he too would be at ringside.
The Bludgeon Brothers vs. Breezango ended in a no contest: After being volunteered by their “best friends” The Ascension last week, Breezango once again faced off against The Bludgeon Brothers. Tyler Breeze & Fandango were once again overmatched and attacked by Harper & Rowan before the bell ever rang. However, when the bludgeoning on Breezango seemed as though it wasn’t going to end, Konnor & Viktor looked to help out their Fashion Files cohorts. Unfortunately for The Ascension, they too were overpowered, and Harper & Rowan took them out as well, making a bold statement to the rest of the Team Blue tag teams in the process.
Overall SmackDown Live Rating: C
Things to look forward to next week
How will A.J. Styles react to Daniel Bryan making the WWE Championship match at the Royal Rumble a 2-on-1 handicap match?
Will we see a rematch between The Usos & Gable & Benjamin?
Who will enter the Men's & Women's Royal Rumble?
What's next for SmackDown Live in 2018?