SmackDown General Manager Daniel Bryan announced a United States Championship Tournament
Bryan declared that because Ziggler fell off the face of the earth and no one has heard from him, he has been stripped of the star-spangled prize. Basically, WWE is pulling a CM Punk with him circa 2011. Anyways, he was interrupted by Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin, The New Day, and Rusev and Aiden English with each tandem staking their claim at a SmackDown Tag Team Championship match. Everyone involved in the segment was entertaining, and it tied nicely into the No. 1 Contender's match.
Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin def. The New Day and Rusev & Aiden English in a SmackDown Tag Team Championship No. 1 Contender's Triple Threat Match
SmackDown's tag team division is killing it at the moment and these three teams maintained that momentum by putting together a terrific match. The pace was non-stop from start to finish and the crowd was engaged in the exciting action, but they were especially behind Rusev. If WWE was smart, they would listen to their audience and push him as a singles star coming out of this, but I'm not getting my hopes up. By the way, Gable and Benjamin appear to be full-fledged heels by this point.
The Bludgeon Brothers def. Breezango by Disqualification
This was every bit as much of a squash as their Clash of Champions encounter, which is exactly what it should have been. I'm still not sold on The Bludgeon Brothers' gimmick, but their dominance in the ring speaks for itself. The finish was interesting with The Ascension saving Breezango and getting the babyfaces disqualified. Despite that, they said Breezango will challenge The Bludgeon Brothers again on next week's show.
Naomi def. Ruby Riott
Well, this really wasn't much of a match at all at only one minute long. Don't get me wrong, I was glad Riott went over, but a former SmackDown Women's Champion in Naomi losing so quickly was slightly surprising, even if it was due to interference. Charlotte Flair attempted to make the save afterward but was also disposed of by The Riott Squad. She has felt like a total afterthought since coming to SmackDown Live, unfortunately. I would have gone with Becky Lynch taking it to the faction instead of the remaining heels (are we just going to forget Natalya's weird promo from Clash of Champions never happened?), but none of it matters since the focus is entirely on the upcoming women's Royal Rumble match.
Bobby Roode def. Baron Corbin in a United States Championship Tournament First Round Match
I almost fell asleep watching Roode and Corbin do battle one-on-one a few weeks back on SmackDown, but this was a vast improvement over that encounter because both men seemed to bring a newfound intensity to the table. Roode being hugely over with the Chicago crowd helped as well and he was the right man to go over. I can certainly see him making it to the finals and possibly taking home the title (or continuing to chase it). This also closed out what has been a fairly disappointing 2017 for Corbin.
Jinder Mahal def. Tye Dillinger in a United States Championship First Round Match
Mahal is at home in the United States Championship picture. Hell, this is where he should have been before he became WWE Champion, but it's better late than never, I suppose. Meanwhile, Dillinger hasn't appeared on WWE TV in months, so no one took him as a serious threat against Mahal. The match was decent enough and Mahal will advance, but I'd love for Dillinger to get some character development in the new year.
Kevin Owens def. WWE Champion AJ Styles (Non-title)
Bryan noted earlier in the evening that this was one of WWE's most ruthless rivalries of 2017, but this match suffered from the issue their other outings did: it was saddled with interference. Sami Zayn making his presence felt from ringside was expected, but Shane McMahon essentially costing Styles the victory was ridiculous. I really wish we could get a main program on SmackDown that wasn't all about authority figures. As for the match itself, it was well-wrestled up until the overbooked finish.
Similar to Raw, the commercial-free first hour of Raw was a refreshing change of pace. It'd be cool if USA Network did stuff like that more often. At any rate, this was a solid show with a few fun matchups and somewhat of a clear direction with 2018 right around the corner. The tag titles will be defended next Tuesday night and the U.S. Championship tourney will roll on, so those are two reasons to tune in, along with Owens likely demanding a WWE title match as well.
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