WWE Champion AJ Styles Interrupted Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
It's almost unbelievable that a feud involving Styles, Zayn and Owens could be so underwhelming. I say "almost" because this is WWE after all. Everyone played their roles just fine in this segment, but I feel like we've heard it all before. And the booking of this program from the get-go has been beyond lazy. Styles challenging Owens and Zayn to one-on-one matches later on in the show ahead of their Royal Rumble WWE Championship match was hardly a hook for me.
Chad Gable def. SmackDown Tag Team Champion Jey USo
Gable tends to shine in singles matches and this was no different. The Usos don't usually intrigue me when they're wrestling on their own, but this was a nice little match to allow Gable and Shelton Benjamin to continue building momentum before they get their next shot at the SmackDown Tag Team Championship at the Rumble. I'd put the belts on them, but with Gable winning here, Booking 101 dictates The Usos will retain.
Naomi def. Liv Morgan
The 50/50 booking of the women on SmackDown Live continues. For those keeping track at home, The Riott Squad won a six-woman tag team match three weeks ago, Riott then lost to Becky Lynch last week, Riott Squad won another six-woman tag team match last week, and now Naomi beat Riott Squad's Liv Morgan. And the company wonders why no one has any momentum heading into the first-ever women's Royal Rumble. The match was fine enough and not nearly as bad as it could have been, but it did nothing to get me excited about the women's Rumble. It would be nice if Lynch was thrown a bone and won it, but I know that isn't too likely.
Shinsuke Nakamura def. Baron Corbin by Disqualification
Both of these guys have been doing a whole lot of nothing since Clash of Champions last month, so I was happy they had their time to shine before they participate in the Rumble. They haven't had the strongest chemistry in the past, and the first half of this wasn't incredibly exciting, but it turned into a damn good match down the stretch. Orton's RKO was truly out of nowhere and honestly might have been one of the best I've seen him deliver. Anyone one else think he was extra fired up because he wasn't asked to be a part of Raw 25 on Monday?
United States Champion Bobby Roode and The New Day def. Jinder Mahal, Rusev and Aiden English
Before the bout, New Day announced that they will be entering the Rumble match. I like them and all, but I feel like one of them taking part in it would be enough. That's two spots too many. At any rate, this was a fun six-man tag team match while it lasted, and I was glad Roode was given some time to talk beforehand about winning the United States Championship last week. Mahal is a total afterthought at the moment, but hey, I'm not complaining.
WWE Champion AJ Styles def. Kevin Owens (Non-title)
Initially, I was stunned and slightly disappointed this was so short because I know they are capable of better, but then I remembered that Owens has been legitimately hurt for a few weeks now. Thus, keeping this as brief as possible was smart. Owens could have gotten himself intentionally disqualified and softened up Styles before Zayn faced him, but that's merely nitpicking. By the way, Owens was selling his injury during Styles vs. Zayn, otherwise Styles wouldn't have attacked him.
Sami Zayn def. WWE Champion AJ STyles (Non-title)
These two had an entertaining encounter on the first SmackDown of 2018, but like Styles and Owens, they could have done so much better. That said, I was thrilled they were allowed to go all out here and produce an above-average main event. This feud has been lacking that special something, so this was a nice treat. More importantly, Zayn won in relatively clean fashion, which was a wise booking decision to make it look like the heels have a chance of capturing the championship on Sunday.
Last week's edition of SmackDown was just a dreadful effort, and considering how ineffective Raw 25 was in building excitement for the Royal Rumble pay-per-view (though I still maintain it was a quality anniversary show), this was an improvement and a solid show on the whole. The main event is well worth seeking out, but most of the other matches were enjoyable as well.