By Graham "GSM" Matthews
The Authority Interrupted Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Ryback and Erick Rowan
Normally, I'm not a fan of long, drawn-out talking segments kicking off any wrestling show, but this managed to keep my attention the entire time. Rowan's promo was a bit shaky, but Bryan, Ryback and Ziggler were very good (was it really necessary for Ziggler to take a shot at CM Punk?). It was nice to hear from them on their first night back, and The Authority's interruption set the stage for the rest of the night with the Royal Rumble qualifying matches and the main event between Kane and Bryan.
Dolph Ziggler def. Intercontinental Champion Bad News Barrett to Qualify for the Royal Rumble Match (Non-title)
As much as I enjoy their matches, this was a lose-lose situation from the get-go. Obviously, Ziggler needs to be in the Rumble match, but they should have picked a better opponent for him. This was Barrett's third straight non-title loss, further making the title completely worthless. I can't believe Barrett has been back for less than a month and he's already been treated terribly. As noted, though, the match was very good and I look forward to their eventual championship rematch.
Ryback def. United States Champion Rusev to Qualify for the Royal Rumble Match (Non-title)
I was fuming when I first heard these two were squaring off on this show because it's a huge match that should be saved for a much bigger stage, preferably WrestleMania. They also shouldn't have given away as much of this match as they did. That said, the non-finish was smart in allowing Ryback to qualify for the Rumble and keep Rusev's undefeated streak alive, but why couldn't they have had Ryback face someone else? At the very least, I liked that they had Rusev escape the Shell Shock since that, too, should be saved for when they clash over the title (and Ryback wins).
Brie Bella def. Naomi
I realize this was designed to give Brie Bella some momentum going into the tag team match at the Royal Rumble. I also realize Nikki is dealing with an injury right now and that's why she isn't defending her title on Sunday, but that didn't make this match any more necessary. Of the four ladies in the match, Brie is the one I care the least about. I appreciate them actually putting effort into building this match up, but it still feels like a throwaway tag to me.
Luke Harper def. Erick Rowan
This was yet another match that made me rolls my eyes. I can't believe they turned a match that could have meant something at one point and squandered it by holding it on three different occasions without any prior build-up. Of course, they have history, but this could have been a money match down the line if WWE wasn't quick to make it meaningless. The match was fine for what it was and I guess if someone had to lose of the newly rehired Superstar, it might as well be Rowan. That said, it boggles my mind they'd have Fandango or any member of The New Day in the Rumble match over Rowan.
Daniel Bryan def. Kane in a No Disqualification Match
I don't know how much the no disqualification stipulation really added to the matchup, but it definitely made it a lot more entertaining than it would have without it. The ending outcome was never in doubt, but they worked a pretty good main event with a few nice spots mixed in. It's a shame Kane doesn't mean more, otherwise his chokeslam on Bryan would've been believable. We ended up getting the pre-Royal Rumble brawl we get every year, but it coming down to Bryan, Ziggler, Ryback, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns was interesting. Could they be this year's final five?
Usually, the pre-pay-per-view editions of SmackDown do nothing to enhance my excitement for the event, and while I can't say this did anything to make my look forward to Sunday any more than I was before (I'm already hyped), it was extremely effective in building toward the Royal Rumble. It featured the returns of Ziggler, Ryback and Rowan and there was a lot on the line in the main event as well. I enjoyed the show on the whole in that it provided solid hype for the upcoming event.