WWE’s Tuesday night program, SmackDown Live, has entered into a bit of a transition period in closing out 2016. While the programs between Alexa Bliss and Becky Lynch, and Nikki Bella and Carmella will likely continue, the majority of the matches at this past Sunday’s TLC pay-per-view represented the culmination of those feuds.
AJ Styles is the WWE World Champion on SmackDown as he retained in what was likely the final bout in his rivalry with Dean Ambrose. The Miz also retained his Intercontinental Championship in a ladder match to put an exclamation on his feud with Dolph Ziggler. Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt are SmackDown’s new tag team champions, but a quick dispatch of Heath Slater and Rhyno two nights after TLC is a clear indicator that that program has already run its course.
American Alpha figures to be next in line for tag team gold, or least as challengers to the new Wyatt Family. Even Baron Corbin will be moving on from his angle with Kalisto as, he too, won a rematch over the lucha star on the SmackDown that followed TLC.
When the Royal Rumble finally rolls around on January 29, it will have been 55 days since SmackDown superstars performed on a pay-per-view. RAW’s exclusive, Roadblock, comes our way on December 18, but the blue brand will certainly have ample amount of time to build new storylines and it appears that’s exactly what they’re doing.
For many of the SmackDown stars, their storyline will center around competing in the actual Royal Rumble match. But titles will still need to be defended at the event, and according to a report from Ringside News, the SmackDown creative team is building around two new marquee feuds.
As noted, AJ Styles remains the WWE World Champion in what has been a phenomenal rookie year in the WWE after shining in Japan and with TNA for years. An ankle injury suffered during his TLC match with Ambrose prevented him from defending his championship against James Ellsworth two days later, but he is expected to have the match soon, if not next week on SmackDown at the earliest. Styles is scheduled to retain again before officially moving on to his next challenger.
Preliminary discussions had the Undertaker issuing a challenge to Styles and his title, but they’ve held off for the time being due to the Deadman’s slow recovery from recent hip surgery. The new plan, unless the Undertaker is ready to wrestle by January 29, is to have John Cena return and reignite his program with Styles, setting up their championship match at the Royal Rumble. Cena is set to return the day after Christmas at a WWE live event in NYC and then most likely be back on tv the following day.
Either way, it appears Styles’ reign won’t last longer than February at the latest.
The idea behind the Undertaker challenging – and then defeating – AJ was to set up a title match between Taker and Cena at WrestleMania with Cena vying for a record-tying 16th world title reign. By pushing back The Phenom’s return to competition, Cena will now likely capture the championship away from Styles and then defend it against the Undertaker in what could be a title vs career match. However they get there, John Cena vs The Undertaker is a certainty for WrestleMania as of this moment.
The other top feud on SmackDown will focus on The Miz and Dean Ambrose battling over the Intercontinental Championship. Like Styles, Ambrose still has some unfinished business with James Ellsworth, but once that storyline is wrapped up, Ambrose will turn his attention back to The Miz in what will be the second biggest program on the blue brand.
Ambrose had an IC title match with The Miz this past week on SmackDown, but interference from Ellsworth cost him the victory. The main event match took the place of the bout that was supposed to occur between Styles and Ellsworth, but Ambrose will have another chance at the IC championship as head into the new year.
[Featured Image by WWE]