The WWE needed an injection of creativity earlier this year and not just because WrestleMania received largely sub-par reviews. USA Network executives were breathing down the company’s neck because of stagnating and/or declining ratings on SmackDown. The WWE’s secondary program had mostly become a Thursday night (eventually the show moved to Friday nights) placeholder with little to write home about in regards to storyline advancement.
Vince McMahon felt the pressure and responded by rehashing the brand extension concept and shifting SmackDown to Tuesday nights and producing it live. Vince divided the rosters and the writing teams in an effort to create competition from within.
SmackDown was viewed as the most appealing show based on opportunity and the brand new figureheads that would be running Tuesday nights in Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan. SmackDown became SmackDown Live and maintained an edge over its Monday night counterpart by continuing in its two-hour format opposed to RAW’s ambitious three hours.
While opportunities have abounded, it remains clear that SmackDown continually deals with issues of depth. On the first episode after the brand extension draft, the entire roster descended down to the ring, and it was clear from the jump that reinforcements were needed. Carmella, Alexa Bliss, Mojo Rawley and American Alpha all got promoted from NXT, but it still wasn’t enough. Look for more call-ups in early 2017.
It hasn’t helped that veteran superstars like John Cena, Randy Orton, and Kane have worked lighter schedules at some point in the five months since the brand split. But fortunately, AJ Styles has clearly emerged as a megastar on SmackDown after debuting in January at the Royal Rumble. And that’s exactly what SmackDown(and RAW) is building to now. The 2017 Royal Rumble on January 29 in San Antonio is nearly here.
In the modern era of weekly programming, eight weeks is a long time to build towards a pay-per-view, but that’s exactly the gap between SmackDown’s most recent brand-exclusive event, TLC, and the Royal Rumble. The brand has had to book mini-feuds sprinkled in with their long-term storylines in order to maintain sufficient viewership while not giving anything away.
But next week, WWE officials have decided to stack the SmackDown card in what will be the final episode in 2016 for the blue brand. Daily Wrestling News points out that at least three of SmackDown’s championships will be on the line in addition to the return of the original face that runs the place.
John Cena is set to make his return to SmackDown Live next week, as several vignettes have promoted his return on all WWE mediums and programming over the last few weeks. Cena has not appeared on WWE television since his triple threat WWE Championship match against AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose at No Mercy in October. It will certainly be interesting to see where he fits in with rumored programs with Styles and the Undertaker on the horizon.
As noted, next week’s SmackDown will also feature three championship matches as the company tries to generate interest and boost ratings for its final show of the year. Alexa Bliss puts her SmackDown Women’s Championship on the line against Becky Lynch. The Wyatt Family will defend their SmackDown Tag Team Championships in a fatal four way match against American Alpha, The Usos and Heath Slater and Rhyno.
The main event of the evening will feature Styles putting his WWE Championship up for grabs against Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin in a triple threat match. So far, The Miz will not be defending his Intercontinental Championship, but his feud with Dean Ambrose certainly intensified on this week’s SmackDown. Renee Young ended up slapping The Miz for telling the world that she’s the one who’s obsessed with Ambrose because they sleep together.
SmackDown was much edgier than any recent broadcast of its own, or of RAW. Aside from that segment, Natalya also called Nikki Bella a bi*** twice after revealing that it was her that pulled the attack at Survivor Series. We’ll see if that continues as they build towards the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania.
[Featured Image by WWE]