Randy Orton def. Luke Harper
Even after all these years, I still feel Harper is fairly underrated as an athlete and this match proved that. Harper and Orton have teased tension for months, essentially since Orton aligned with The Wyatt Family, so this was a very good match between them and I love how the show opened with the match that had been hyped up a week in advance. I won't jump to conclusions just yet in saying that Bray Wyatt laying out Harper afterward means he's been exiled from the Family, but it could very well lead to that in the near future.
SmackDown Women's Champion Alexa Bliss and Mickie James Attacked Becky Lynch
I can understand the argument from fans that bringing James back to the main roster as a heel from the get-go was a mistake because she's a natural babyface, but she put those doubts to rest by cutting an excellent promo here. And I absolutely love her motivation for attacking Lynch: she felt she was pushed aside by the "women's revolution." Lynch thrives when she's up against the odds, so the Bliss and Lynch partnership makes sense. I also like the addition of the six-woman tag team match to the Royal Rumble card as it pushes back the two rivalries involved until the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view.
Mojo Rawley Won a Battle Royal to Qualify For the Royal Rumble Match
Honestly, why couldn't this bout have taken place on a house show? It wasn't a completely meaningless match with the winner earning entry into the Royal Rumble match, but there really wasn't a single notable name a part of this Battle Royal, so it was pretty throwaway and lacked suspense. Even Heath Slater and Rhyno, who were among SmackDown's hottest acts a few short months ago, looked like losers here. Rawley was a strange choice because he has largely been left off television since Zack Ryder went down with an injury.
WWE Champion AJ Styles Called Out John Cena
What more can be said about the exceptional verbal exchanges these two have had that hasn't already been said? Cena is always awesome when in serious mode, and Styles continues to amaze me with how far he's come on the mic since his TNA days. They top each other every time they engage in a war of words and this segment was no different. My money has been on Cena winning the belt for the last month, but could we see a scenario where Styles retains the title via nefarious means to keep the rivalry running?
Dolph Ziggler def. Kalisto
Ziggler as a heel has been a breath of fresh air thus far, but in order to complete the character overhaul, he needs to ditch the tired ring attire and entrance theme. He scored his first victory here in seemingly forever, which was a step in the right direction, but they could have had a far better bout with more time. I fear Ziggler's heel turn might have come at an inappropriate time as we approach WrestleMania 33, where he'll likely end up in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal or something along those lines.
Naomi vs. Natalya Went to a No Contest
It's good to see Naomi back in action after such a long layoff due to injury. I don't buy her as a legitimate threat to the SmackDown Women's Championship right now, but perhaps she can be built up to that point with enough credible wins over time. This was an effective way of reintroducing her back into the mix and planting the seeds for a Lynch vs. Naomi feud so her participation in Sunday's Royal Rumble match doesn't come across as random.
Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose def. The Miz in a Lumberkack Match
Typically, I'm not the biggest fan of Lumberjack matches, but with the right components, they can be fun. Thankfully, Miz and Ambrose have terrific chemistry together, though they did feel somewhat limited in terms of what they could do with everyone around ringside. Baron Corbin interfering normally would have resulted in a disqualification, so I was surprised the match didn't end there, but I assume we'll be seeing much more of Ambrose and Corbin sooner rather than later now that Ambrose's rivalry with Miz is apparently over.
I thought last week's edition of SmackDown Live was a bit more concentrated and concise, but this was still a solid episode with plenty of hype for the Royal Rumble. The Carmella and James Ellsworth shopping segments didn't do much for me, and the Battle Royal was forgettable, but the storyline progression with the women was well done, the main event was entertaining, and Cena and Styles once again had a fantastic face-off, so it's hard to call this anything but an enjoyable episode. There's a few feuds in place at the moment that should carry us through Elimination Chamber, which will take place two weeks following the Rumble. Until then, let's get ready to Rumble!