Even though the Royal Rumble has come and gone, there will be no rest for the weary on SmackDown this week, as Elimination Chamber is just a couple weeks away. The WWE likes to leave plenty of time to build toward WrestleMania, so the Chamber build will suffer, as it will happen at a frantic pace.
The ball already got rolling on Raw, and it was announced that The Rock would defend the WWE Championship against CM Punk in a Royal Rumble rematch. That would seem to indicate that a Chamber match will almost certainly take place on the SmackDown side involving the World Heavyweight Championship, so that is something worth watching this week.
Also, many of the mid-card storylines play out on SmackDown, so the likes of Team Hell No, Wade Barrett and Antonio Cesaro figure to be featured prominently. There isn't much time for angles to be developed for the mid-card titles, meaning that it's contingent upon the SmackDown writers to get things rolling quickly.
If that isn't enough, a fairly significant superstar reportedly makes his return to the blue brand this week, and it could very well shake up the world title scene.
Read more about that and everything else that you should be keeping an eye on while soaking in this week's edition of SmackDown.
After defeating Big Show, once again, in a Last Man Standing match at the Royal Rumble, Alberto Del Rio is still the World Heavyweight Champion—but his brief reign could be in danger.
With Elimination Chamber coming up and now Chamber match in sight for Raw, the world title may be put on the line in the demonic structure. If that isn't the case, then the No. 1 contendership will be up for grabs, at the very least.
Whatever the case, I don't see Del Rio's title run lasting much longer. If he doesn't lose it in the Chamber, then Dolph Ziggler is likely to cash in his Money in the Bank contract by WrestleMania at the latest. If Del Rio has to defend his belt in a Chamber match, then the likely combatants will be Big Show, Sheamus, Randy Orton and two more superstars. Those last two spots could go to a number of different guys, including Antonio Cesaro, Chris Jericho, Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, Daniel Bryan, Kane, The Miz, The Great Khali, Kofi Kingston, Wade Barrett and others.
Failing that, Del Rio would defend the title against Big Show in another singles match. The odds point to him retaining in that scenario, but a Ziggler cash-in would be a very real possibility as well. If nothing else, the World Heavyweight Championship scene is extremely interesting right now because there are a ton of potential contenders and it's truly impossible to say how things are going to play out.
If I had to guess, my money would be on Ziggler successfully cashing in on Del Rio at Elimination Chamber, with Jericho earning the No. 1 contender spot. That would set up a triple threat at WrestleMania, since Del Rio would be entitled to a rematch. The benefit to that is making it seem like the deck is stacked against Ziggler, but finding a way to win the match would make him look like a strong, legitimate champion.
Jack Swagger hasn't been seen on WWE programming in nearly five months after he announced that he would be taking some extended time off after a loss to Sheamus on Sept. 3. Swagger has wrestled on the house show circuit since then, but there was never any movement in regards to putting him back on television. His drought will come to an end this week, however, as Swagger will make his triumphant return on SmackDown.
According to the SmackDown preview on WrestleNewz.com, Swagger will interrupt the first segment of the night while Booker T is announcing that there will be a No. 1 contender's Chamber match at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view. Swagger will announce his intention to enter the match, but Booker T will insist that he has to impress him, just like everyone else who is lobbying to be placed in the match.
Swagger will then proceed to defeat Kofi Kingston, so it appears as though the WWE finally has some plans for The All-American American. Prior to being taken off of TV, Swagger had endured a three-month losing streak and developed into a punchline. It was truly unfortunate because Swagger once had a ton of promise. He is a former Money in the Bank winner and a former World Heavyweight Champion, but his credibility was destroyed when the creative team did an awful job booking his title run.
He had mixed success after dropping the belt, but he has never really been the same. Since Swagger beat Kingston, I'm assuming that he's still a heel, but I'll have to see the show first to know for sure. Provided Swagger is allowed to display his wrestling and athletic ability, he should be fine, but a face turn could be a good idea in terms of freshening up his character.
The odd couple known as Team Hell No has had its ups and downs since winning the Tag Team Championships at Night of Champions, but Kane and Daniel Bryan continue to hold on to the copper belts. After graduating from Dr. Shelby's anger management class, it seemed like there was a pretty good chance that they would drop the titles to Team Rhodes Scholars at the Royal Rumble, but they managed to retain them yet again.
Despite that, Kane and Bryan had some issues in the Rumble match itself. Bryan eliminated Kane from behind and then Bryan was knocked outside the ring and into Kane's arms. Bryan pleaded with Kane to put him back in the ring, but Kane opted to drop him on the floor instead, and D-Bry was officially eliminated. It seemed like that could be the beginning of the end for Team Hell No, but they banded together, yet again, on Raw, as they defeated the even more dysfunctional team of Dolph Ziggler and Chris Jericho.
With Elimination Chamber approaching, and with WrestleMania getting closer as well, it will be interesting to see if they continue to hold the titles. There is no doubt that Team Hell No has succeeded in making the tag-team division relevant again, so Kane and Bryan definitely have a role to play in that regard. At the same time, they're ultimately singles competitors and could have a great feud and match against each other at WrestleMania.
Due to the fact that they kept the titles at the Royal Rumble, I have to believe that the odd couple will reconcile and hold the belts heading into WrestleMania, at the very least. The tag division is much better now than it has been in a long time, but disbanding Team Hell No would leave it with a lack of star power, so Kane and Bryan remaining together as a unit will be better for the depth of WWE's card.
Wade Barrett has been the Intercontinental Champion for the past few weeks after beating Kofi Kingston, but he has yet to defend his title against a new challenger. It looked as though that would be solved on Main Event with the Intercontinental Cup tournament. The tourney was supposed to involve eight superstars with the winner becoming the No. 1 contender for Barrett's title, but it was nixed and the WWE has decided to go in a different direction.
It certainly seems odd that the WWE would advertise a tournament one week only to cancel it the next, but it's obvious that things changed quickly. Barrett got involved with NXT rookie Bo Dallas in the Royal Rumble match, as Dallas earned the right to compete in it by winning a separate tournament. Dallas turned in an impressive showing, as he lasted over 21 minutes and shockingly eliminated Barrett. The IC Champion got his revenge, however, by pulling Dallas out of the ring and hitting him with a Bull Hammer Elbow.
Barrett then sought to teach Dallas a lesson on Raw, but Dallas pulled a major upset by beating him in a singles match. It seems to me that the WWE decided to give Dallas a major push at the last minute, and that is why the Intercontinental Cup was scrapped. Although I was looking forward to the tournament, the likely participants didn't make much sense, so I'm definitely interested to see how Dallas is handled moving forward.
I can understand why Barrett fans might be a little disheartened with the way he has been used lately, but I haven't had an issue with it. Barrett is likely to face Dallas at Elimination Chamber and I highly doubt that Dallas will be given the title. He has already been legitimized by performing well against Barrett twice, and hanging in there in a tough losing effort at the next pay-per-view will be enough to put him on the path to success.
After just a couple months in the WWE, The Shield is already at a crossroads. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns have impressed and captivated many fans since debuting at Survivor Series, but it is now time for them to take the next step. The Shield has attacked many of the WWE's top superstars, with several of their attacks benefiting former WWE Champion CM Punk. It was said that their motive was to stop injustice, but a video confirmed that Paul Heyman had paid them off.
The WWE now has to tread carefully with The Shield. If things are left at that and The Shield is simply motivated by money, then the group will lose much of its mystique. If monetary gain is just one of many reasons for their actions, though, they will remain interesting. I personally didn't have a big problem with Heyman paying them off because it explained The Shield's affinity for helping Punk, but it left plenty of other things unexplained.
Taking out Ryback and The Rock obviously helped Punk, but The Shield's attacks on Team Hell No, Sheamus, Randy Orton and others had nothing to do with Punk. My hope is that The Shield ultimately explains its actions by admitting that money was the initial reason for their actions, but they eventually came to realize how much injustice there truly was in the WWE, so they decided to go on a crusade of their own.
What the WWE needs to do is have The Shield attack some superstars who are unrelated to Punk in the coming weeks. Taking out Sheamus or Orton, or both, on SmackDown would make sense, as they have been primary targets as of late and there wouldn't seem to be any money to be made by beating them down. Some fans are down on The Shield after Monday, but I feel strongly that there is more to the group than money.