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Smackdown Live matches may steal show at Royal Rumble

Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan share a heated exchange backstage during Smackdown Live.  As the Royal Rumble approaches can these two continue to coexist?

Smackdown Live rolls through Birmingham, AL this week as fans crave an explanations for last week’s title match announcement for the Royal Rumble.  We now know that AJ Styles will defend his WWE Championship against both Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.

Both the Smackdown Live’s general manager and commissioner continue to make matches independent of each other in an apparent communication breakdown.  Meanwhile various Royal Rumble stipulations and implications are revealed.

Would Shane McMahon allow Daniel Bryan to get away with making such a one-sided call?  How does AJ Styles plan to retain his WWE Championship against two main event competitors who both have previous wins over him?

The Interview

In an opening interview with Renee Young, AJ Styles refused to make excuses or the fuel drama between his employers.  Instead he proclaimed that he would defeat his two Royal Rumble opponents and remain WWE champion.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn interrupted and once again proved that their mic game is still strong.  Shane McMahon entered the fray and sanctioned his own handicap match for main event of the evening.  Before Owens and Zayn have the advantage at the Royal Rumble thanks to Daniel Bryan, they must contend with AJ Styles, Randy Orton and Shinske Nakamura.

After making the match McMahon was greeted backstage by Bryan in an awkward but seemingly positive interaction.  Bryan congratulated McMahon on creating a great main event.  this appeared to be a jab at McMahon who in making the match may have been playing off of Bryan’s match made the previous week.

Time would tell.

Riott Squad Continue To Flounder

Corey Graves makes a strong case for the Riott Squad and the chaos they have created on Smackdown Live.  In a short period of time they have made their mark on the roster.  Unfortunately this did not translate into success for the Ruby Riott in her singles match with Becky Lynch.

Although Riott is looking better with each week she continues to come up short.  She had the upper hand for most of the match but ultimately submitted when Lynch applied her arm bar.  Even when the Riott Squad win a match they are immediately pummeled and retreat to the locker room.  Once again it would be better to have them dominate, be hated and then eventually get their comeuppance in the Women’s Royal Rumble

There was no post match brawl in this case which is odd considering there were many female stars at ringside during the match, all of whom are supposed to be enemies.

The Bludgeon Brothers Ascend

I enjoyed this quick squash match.

The Ascension came into the match with a game plan and ambushed Harper immediately after the opening bell rang.  For a brief moment it felt as if Konnor and Viktor would be the team that would finally put up a fight against the Bludgeon Brothers.  Harper quickly rallied and Rowan quickly helped powerbomb Victor for a pinfall victory.

The Bludgeon Brothers are pulling their gimmick off.  Small things like the stiff slap to the face Harper gives Rowan before their double team corner attack perpetuate the stoic viciousness of the team.  Cries for mercy from the opposing teams are met with blank stares from dead eyes.

Their first real feud will hopefully catapult this team to a higher status and allow them to develop the gimmick further.

Rawley’s Time To Shine

Mojo Rawley put on an impassioned match against Zack Ryder, ultimately emerging victorious.  The months of frustration with his losing record and a failed tag team run were on full display as Rawley relentlessly attacked Ryder while vocalizing his disdain for his former partner.

Time is all Rawley needs.

We all know the angle he is playing but he has had little air time to convey his strongest attribute: his emotion.  I m now more invested in the Rawley character just in time for his upcoming match with Bobby Roode.  After the match Roode confronted Rawley in a stare down.  The magic of tournaments is not to be discounted.

The upcoming match up would be a throw away without this story telling and the promise of the United States Championship on the line.  The addition of this drama is necessary in that I believe Rawley will defeat Roode.  The Glorious One would be better served in the Royal Rumble match and Rawley would be elevated in a United States Championship match.

Free The Titles

Benjamin and Gable cut a great heel promo as they continue to showcase not only are they great wrestlers but they know it as well.  Cleverly weaving the NCAA National Championship game into their promo the duo called out the management for sloppy officiating.  Daniel Bryan came out to address the team.

It is important to note that Daniel Bryan acted very managerial here.

The insubordination of Gable and Benjamin prompted Bryan to add an additional stipulation to their upcoming Smackdown Live tag team title match at the Royal Rumble.  Yet again Daniel Bryan used the words of a superstar against them.  As Gable suggested during his promo, the team would have to defeat the Usos in a two out of three falls match.

This is yet another spur of the moment decision for Daniel Bryan.

I do not believe WWE creative will spend time on subtle plot development here but it would be interesting to see Bryan slowly becoming power mad and later on realizing he has become the authority he once fought at Wrestlemania 30.

The Rusev Rumble

Rusev and English announced their participation in the Royal Rumble match and dubbed it the “Rusev Rumble” before taking on Breezango in tag team competition.

Breezango were tricky enough to score a roll up victory over their opponents.  After the match Rusev was visibly distraught as English struggled to determine how to approach his mentor.

There was little going on here but this was a solid match and Breezango needed a win after suffering several recent losses.

Main Event

The main event was largely Shane McMahon’s response to the handicap match Daniel Bryan made last week.  Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn were obviously placed in a disadvantageous situation which certainly hinted at management once again inserting itself into the match at some point.

Just as Orton, Styles and Nakamura gained the upper hand, Zayn and Owens would either get counted out or get themselves disqualified.  With each tactic Shane McMahon would appear and change the rules of the match to facilitate its continuation.  Shane’s goal here is to punish Zayn and Owens for their continued existence on Smackdown Live.

By the end of the battle the superstars were participating in a no disqualification match as Styles immediately began wailing on Owens with a steel chair.  Meanwhile Nakamura and Orton picked apart Sami Zayn.  In a house show finish the good guys prevailed as Orton pinned Zayn.

The Slowest Of Burns

Much of this week’s episode of Smackdown Live was devoted to much needed setup ahead of the Royal Rumble.  Although the stakes have not increased the motives behind the participants are clearly defined and strengthened.  Chad and Gable were robbed of their championship moment. Mojo Rawley is attempting to prove he belongs on the main roster.  AJ Styles is using an unfair situation to prove he is the best ever.

Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon had quite possibly their most intense backstage moment tonight.  The most biting words and accusations yet were delivered against each other in a calm, professional demeanor. Their interaction reminded Vince McMahon’s on camera business persona as he would advise his enemies of their pending demise in an intense yet formal tone.

McMahon and Bryan have a classic, passive aggressive workplace relationship at this point which as bound to spill over into hostile.

The latest call to pit AJ Styles against both Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens is the most brazen slap in the face to McMahon.  Once more Bryan did nothing to explain his logic or back down from his decision.  The outcome of the handicap match for the WWE Championship will determine whether or not Bryan was right to book that match and will set into motion events leading to a showdown with McMahon in some capacity.

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