Ahead of the Royal Rumble, WWE Needs to Make SmackDown Feel More Special

The gap between Raw and SD was very apparent coming off a loaded Raw 25 show ...

Here we are, just five days from the Royal Rumble, and the last SmackDown Live before the pay-per-view on Sunday felt a little flat. Granted, it would have been hard for SmackDown to live up to the hype of Raw 25 — as disappointing as that show was — but there were several times on SmackDown where the show felt like it was cemented as the “B” show.

For example, Monday’s Raw was highlighted by returning stars and then a big show-closing angle with Braun Strowman, Kane (really?) and Brock Lesnar. SmackDown featured a lackluster women’s match, a very generic singles match to highlight a tag-team feud and then some other miscellaneous pieces.

Given the returning star power on Raw, it would have been impossible for SmackDown to match that. Raw generated one of its highest ratings in years Monday night.

SmackDown suffers from less hype. The match quality I’d actually argue is better, for the most part, but Raw has been and will always be booked as the “A” show. That stands out more in situations like pay-per-views, where both Raw and and SmackDown have matches, and Raw‘s just feel more important. 

Ad – content continues below

Chad Gable beat Jey Uso

This was a good win for Gable, but a singles match isn’t doing anything to help out this tag team feud. WWE put Gable and Shelton Benjamin together, and they’re a good mix, but there wasn’t enough spent on developing their characters. American Alpha worked because they were developed as characters properly in NXT. There was no development with Gable and Benjamin, and I think people are having trouble emotionally investing in their happenings on the show. Their personalities also don’t seem strong enough to be heels, and the Usos aren’t particularly vulnerable as babyfaces.

Naomi beat Liv Morgan

Ewww, not a very good match. If this is what WWE had in mind as a final build for the history Women’s Royal Rumble this Sunday, then good luck to them. That’s not about to get anyone excited. Overall, I’d say the build to what’s supposed to be something historic like this has felt awfully lackluster. 

Shinsuke Nakamura beat Baron Corbin

I’m officially scared. Randy Orton appeared out of nowhere (because that’s how Randy Orton always appears!) and RKO’ed Nakamura to end the match via disqualification. What’s scary is that the announcers were really putting over the Royal Rumble during the match, and Orton’s appearance felt like an exclamation point to that Rumble hype. I do NOT want to see Randy Orton win the Royal Rumble on Sunday … Repeat: I do NOT want to see Randy Orton win the Royal Rumble!

Ad – content continues below

As for the match itself, it really wasn’t bad. Nakamura and Corbin had some stinkers this past summer, but this match was fine and you can tell they’ve worked out some of the kinks. The finish was exciting, but I’m personally not a fan of wrestlers abruptly ending matches through interference without any negative reaction. It was exciting, the ending, but shouldn’t one of the announcers be upset that the interference didn’t allow us to see an actual conclusion? I’d like to see that wrinkle worked in more.

New Day & Bobby Roode beat Jinder Mahal & Rusev Day

Even when they pair Rusev Day with Jinder Mahal, Rusev and Aiden English get cheered.

Say what you want, but the crowd loves Rusev Day. I can’t tell why, to be honest with you, but that doesn’t matter. If the people are into them, the people are into them.

This match should also help Bobby Roode, who feels like he’s spinning his tires a little bit. Roode being able to celebrate with an act like New Day, which is always a central part of SmackDown, made Roode feel a little more important (even if the celebration was a goofy one, because it’s New Day).

AJ Styles beat Kevin Owens

Ad – content continues below

Wow, this was essentially a squash match with Styles picking up the win in under two minutes, and it was a clean finish. Styles kicked Owens in the leg and applied the Calf Crusher, to which Owens rather quickly tapped out.

After the bell, Styles would refuse to release the hold and it resulted in paramedics looking at Owens throughout the next Styles match with Sami Zayn. I thought that Owens did a really great job selling his leg after AJ wouldn’t relinquish the hold. 

Sami Zayn beat AJ Styles

This was a much longer match — almost 20 minutes — that ended when AJ went to the outside to follow Zayn, and then knocked over the gurney that Owens was being wheeled out on. Honestly, AJ was acting a little heelish in the match, first now letting go of Owens and then knocking him off the stretch. But, the anti-hero is still a hero, right?

After AJ went back in the ring, Zayn clipped him with a Heluva Kick and then a Blue Thunder Bomb for the win. Owens crawled in the ring and celebrated with Zayn.

The whole sequence — both matches — were a lot of fun and a great way to end the show. Styles acting semi-heelish on the heels isn’t a big deal, but Styles acting dumb and getting caught is a big deal, and that’s happening a little too often for my taste. On top of Styles acting heelish on the heels, it’s a little strange that the two heels want to be co-WWE champions. Heels are usually selfish, aren’t they?

Ad – content continues below