SmackDown General Manager Daniel Bryan and SmackDown Commissioner Shane McMahon Interrupted WWE Champion AJ Styles
I saw Styles opening SmackDown as a great way to kick off the new year for the blue brand... and then Bryan and Shane came out. I foolishly thought there would be a renewed focus on the WWE Championship, but instead, it continues to be all about the authority figures. Bryan and Shane announced they would be ringside for the Styles vs. Sami Zayn main event later in the night, virtually guaranteeing fans there would be shenanigans. Ugh.
Smackdown Tag Team Champions The Usos def. Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin
These two teams work very well together, so it was no surprise that this was another entertaining encounter from them. I completely bought into the false finish with Gable and Benjamin briefly winning the titles before the bout was restarted, and I can't believe that hadn't been done with The Usos. Yes, it is odd that a replay was shown when that was never the case with The Bella Twins despite the many times they got away with Twin Magic, but WWE always does things like this when it's convenient for them, no matter how illogical it may seem.
Breezango vs. The Bludgeon Brothers Went to a No Contest
Although it looked like The Ascension would face The Bludgeon Brothers this week after their interaction last week, they instead challenged The Bludgeon Brothers to a match on Breezango's behalf. Well, the matchup never got started because The Bludgeon Brothers attacked Breezango before the bell rang. The Bludgeon Brothers also quickly dominated The Ascension when they attempted to make the save, and considering they have been enhancement talent for three years, that was exactly what should have happened.
Xavier Woods def. Aiden English in a United States championship Tournament first Round Match
We don't see The New Day in one-on-one competition too often, so it's always refreshing when they branch off into the singles ranks. I really like the idea of New Day doing something with the United States Championship, because if nothing else, it gives them a break from the tag title picture. English deserves credit for getting himself over lately through his partnership with Rusev, but Woods winning made the most sense. The match itself was decent, though I think people tend to forget just how good Woods is when he's showcased like he was here.
The Riott Squad def. Tamina, Natalya and Carmella
I typically don't like heel vs. heel matches, but this was a logical follow-up to the heel trio fending off The Riott Squad last week. This wasn't a total train wreck, and that's probably the best thing I can say about it because I couldn't have cared less otherwise. The Riott Squad have certainly lost a little luster since coming to SmackDown over a month ago, but at least they won here. Ruby Riott announced afterward that Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan would be joining her in the women's Royal Rumble match (no shocker there), and then Charlotte Flair, Naomi and the returning Becky Lynch brawled with them.
Sami Zayn def. WWE Champion AJ Styles (Non-title)
I have no doubt Styles and Zayn could rip it up against each other, but Bryan, Shane and Kevin Owens standing at ringside throughout was definitely distracting and took away from the in-ring action. It was an enjoyable outing on the whole, but you could see the finish coming from a mile away. I figured we would get a Triple Threat match for the WWE title at the Royal Rumble with Styles, Owens and Zayn, not a Handicap matchup, so we'll see how that shakes out.
While there were a few notable names missing from this show (Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode and Jinder Mahal come to mind), I appreciated how this was a fairly focused edition of SmackDown Live with the U.S. title tourney progressing, more Superstars announcing their entry in the Rumble matches, the WWE Championship match being made official for the pay-per-view, and a treat of a tag title match to boot. It was far from a must-see show, but all things considered, it was certainly solid.