The road to TLC is getting shorter by the day, and this week's edition of SmackDown marks one of the WWE's final opportunities to prepare for the December pay-per-view. Most of the build has been occurring on Raw, but the blue brand has plenty of secondary angles going on at the moment.
Chief among them is the World heavyweight championship feud between Big Show and Sheamus. The two have already faced each other at both Hell in a Cell and Survivor Series, so TLC will essentially be the stage for their rubber match. Before that happens, though, the two combatants will continue to build up to it.
Also, with WWE champion CM Punk being removed from the TLC card due to surgery to repair cartilage tears in his knee, TLC has been thrown for a loop. The main event will now pit Ryback, Kane and Daniel Bryan against The Shield. We're likely to hear much more about that on Raw, but perhaps the anticipation will begin to mount on the blue brand.
Here are the top five things that you should be on the lookout for while watching this week's edition of SmackDown.
Although the Big Show vs. Sheamus feud may be starting to lose steam, it still figures to take center stage on SmackDown this week. Big Show defeated Sheamus for the World heavyweight championship at Hell in a Cell, but Sheamus scored a disqualification win at Survivor Series, so TLC may very well mark their final bout against each other.
The matches themselves have been excellent, which is somewhat of a surprise considering you normally know what you're going to get out of Big Show, but their encounters on Raw and SmackDown have been lacking lately. Neither man is great on the mic and most of their promos have involved them yelling at each other while holding a chair. The match quality is about the only thing holding my interest right now.
With that said, the creative team has done a nice job of keeping them on equal footing throughout the program thus far. While both of them have put little jabs in, they're essentially locked in a stalemate. Most expect Big Show to win at TLC and end the feud, but it wouldn't be a total shock if Sheamus regained the title either.
This week's SmackDown will feature one of their final face-to-face encounters before TLC, so the writers need to pick and choose who they want to make look strong. My guess is that they'll be built as equals, with one of them coming out on top next week on Raw and the other doing so on SmackDown. This feud has been as even as it gets and it should continue to be that way.
For the past couple of weeks, The Shield has been wreaking havoc on WWE programming. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns made their WWE debut at Survivor Series when they interfered in the main event Triple Threat match by putting Ryback through the announce table.
Since then, they have targeted many of the company's other top stars as well.
The Shield made its biggest impact on Raw this week as it took out Kane, Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton and The Miz over the course of the show. The group was ultimately chased off by Ryback, which resulted in Ryback putting WWE champion CM Punk through a table. Punk had emergency surgery to repair cartilage damage in his knee the next day, so the TLC main event has been changed completely.
Rather than Ryback challenging Punk for the title in a TLC match, Ryback will team with Kane and Bryan against Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns in the first ever TLC match that can be won only by pinfall or submission.
It's unfortunate that Punk won't be able to compete, but I'm excited to see the three youngsters make their in-ring debut in the main event of a pay-per-view.
In an effort to build toward that match, it will be interesting to see if anything happens on SmackDown this week. The Shield hasn't yet made its presence felt on the blue brand, but now would be a good time to make it happen. At the very least, there is likely to be plenty of conversation on SmackDown regarding the revised main event.
Many wrestling fans were taken by surprise on Tuesday when the WWE announced that WWE champion CM Punk had to undergo emergency knee surgery.
According to WWE.com, the surgery—which was performed by famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews—was merely a scope meant to repair a piece of torn meniscus. The surgery went as planned, but Punk will not be able to defend his title at TLC.
The WWE is blaming Punk's injury on Ryback as he put him through a table on Monday, but that is simply to make Ryback look strong. Truth be told, Punk has been favoring his knee noticeably in recent weeks and there is no question that it was a preexisting condition. With that in mind, Punk and the WWE have likely been planning the surgery for a couple of weeks at the very least.
Although the recovery time from arthroscopic knee surgery is much faster than other types of surgery, no timetable has been released for Punk's return. The WWE obviously didn't want to take any chances as it left him off the TLC card, but with the Royal Rumble taking place at the end of January, he should have ample time to recover and face The Rock.
The WWE may try to remain vague about Punk's progress throughout the process, but perhaps we'll receive a bit more information on SmackDown. When John Cena was recovering from his elbow injury, the WWE did provide recovery updates. However, no two situations are treated alike.
After The Miz's actions on Monday night, it would appear as though he is now officially a face. The Miz had been teetering on the border of heel and face for a few weeks, but he called out WWE champion CM Punk on Raw and goaded him into taking a lie detector test.
He asked Punk whether he was involved with Brad Maddox and The Shield, but that prompted The Shield to attack The Miz and crash the polygraph session.
Now that The Miz has the crowd firmly behind him, the WWE has a decision to make with regards to what to do with him next. The issue is that he can't be elevated to the man-event scene immediately as Punk is out of commission for the time being and Big Show's World heavyweight championship is being contested by Sheamus.
With that in mind, The Miz will have to engage in some type of upper-midcard feud.
There are two clear upper-midcard heels with nothing going on right now and they are Alberto Del Rio and Damien Sandow. The Miz doesn't exactly have an issue with either of them, but pitting him against one of them would help accelerate his face transition.
The worst thing that the WWE can do is turn him face and then leave him off the TLC card because he needs to build off the momentum he has gained.
Along with John Cena, The Miz has the potential to be one of the top faces in the company, because he has all the tools necessary to succeed. He is constantly improving in the ring, he's fantastic on the mic, he has natural charisma and he is one of the WWE's most active superstars in outside endeavors like appearing on talk shows, making charitable contributions and even starring in movies.
Hopefully the WWE takes a step in the right direction with The Miz's character on SmackDown this week.
In a somewhat rare occurrence, the WWE has already settled most of the TLC card with more than a week left to go prior to the event.
Generally speaking, the WWE usually saves at least a few matches to be announced in the days prior to a pay-per-view, but there isn't a ton of space remaining. If the WWE desires to add more depth to the card, though, there are several capable superstars who are without a match currently.
The Miz, Randy Orton, Damien Sandow and Alberto Del Rio are all in a state of flux. The Miz just turned face and is looking for his first major feud, Orton and Del Rio just finished up a program with each other and Sandow was suddenly thrust back into the singles scene as his tag partner, Cody Rhodes, is injured.
None of them are involved in a storyline right now, but they should all be wrestling at TLC.
The most logical move would be to pit The Miz against Del Rio and Orton against Sandow. Of those four guys, The Miz and Sandow need to go over most, and the likes of Orton and Del Rio wouldn't be damaged much by losses. The WWE would have to create some patchwork feuds, but it isn't as if that hasn't happened before.
Also, I'm not quite sure what's going on with the Divas title. Eve has no discernible feud to speak of, so she may not even defend the belt. The only angle that is currently taking place in the Divas division is A.J.'s feud with Tamina. Perhaps we'll see something like A.J. and Kaitlyn against Eve and Tamina, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Divas title isn't on the line.