With WrestleMania XXIX now only about a month away, each and every piece of WWE programming is of the utmost importance.
On the heels of a strong Old School Raw, the WWE needs to put forth an effective episode of SmackDown in order to keep the momentum heading in the right direction.
The main storyline on the blue brand continues to be the World Heavyweight Championship feud between Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger.
The two of them were involved in a tussle on Raw in the backstage area and they have continued to poke and prod at each other. Their feud hasn't quite reached its climax yet, but the slow burn has been entertaining thus far.
In addition to the world title scene, the WWE still has to do a ton of preparation for the WrestleMania undercard. That means superstars such as Randy Orton, Sheamus, Big Show, Ryback, Mark Henry, Antonio Cesaro, Wade Barrett and The Shield need to be given some direction.
Also, Fandango is once again scheduled to make his in-ring debut, but will he actually go through with it?
Here are the top five things that you should be cognizant of while watching this week's edition of WWE SmackDown.
The rivalry between World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger has been in full force for the past few weeks and it figures to continue on SmackDown.
The WWE has done a good job conserving its energy when it comes to this feud so far as it hasn't given away anything big yet. Del Rio and Swagger have had a couple encounters; however, they haven't really gotten physically involved with a couple brief exceptions, including a backstage fight on Monday.
Maybe some fans are getting bored with this program, but I don't have an issue with the way it has been handled.
Since the WWE essentially has two months to play with between Elimination Chamber and WrestleMania, it has had to be creative with how it handles Del Rio and Swagger. Had they gone full bore from day one of their feud, then there would be nothing left for them to do at this point.
The desire to see them mix it up still exists, so the WWE has done a pretty good job.
Also, I'm sure Zeb Colter has a lot more to say over the next month. He has cut some great promos already, but there is no telling what type of content he has yet to unleash. The WWE can create a little side feud between Colter and Ricardo Rodriguez as well.
Ricardo has been instrumental in helping Del Rio keep the world title for as long as he has, so I wouldn't mind seeing Colter get into a confrontation as a bit of a sideshow.
Del Rio has largely dominated the feud to this point as he has gotten the better of Swagger in any physical confrontations while also getting the last word in on the mic.
With that in mind, the WWE will eventually have to allow Swagger to stand tall. It may not happen this week, but it's a matter of time before it does. They have to look like equals heading into WrestleMania and I'm sure the writers will figure out a way to make that happen.
The WWE has been hyping Fandango through a series of vignettes for what feels like decades at this point.
In actuality, it has only been several months, but that is a long time to tout a superstar without them making their debut. At least things have finally progressed to the point where Fandango is appearing on television. He was interviewed by Matt Striker on SmackDown last week and was supposed to make his in-ring debut, but he declined.
Fandango was set to face Kofi Kingston on Raw, but he once again refused.
The reasoning behind Fandango's reluctance to wrestle has stemmed from the notion that nobody can say his name correctly. Striker apparently failed last week on SmackDown, and I suppose Justin Roberts did so as well on Raw.
The WWE is obviously deliberately delaying his debut, but I'm not really sure why. It is commonplace for the WWE to introduce new talent immediately following WrestleMania, though, just as it did last year with Tensai.
With that in mind, the WWE could very well carry on with this gimmick for another month. Perhaps the goal is to get Fandango a ton of heat with the crowd in hopes that he can be more than a mid-card heel, but I'm not sure that's going to work. He will undoubtedly get heat if he continues down this path, but the heat will be based on the fact that the fans simply want him to go away.
That's a lot different from the heat that is produced when fans want to see a heel get pummeled.
Hopefully the WWE has a plan for Fandango, but I doubt that's the case. It seems more likely that the creative team has no clue what to do, and that is why things have been delayed for so long. I thought that Brodus Clay's re-debut took forever, but that has nothing on Fandango. Johnny Curtis is a pretty talented guy who can make an outside-the-box gimmick work, but the WWE needs to give him the tools and the forum necessary to do so.
The Shield has been one of the most dominant forces in the WWE since debuting at Survivor Series and nobody has been able to slow down the promising triumvirate yet.
Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns have run roughshod over the WWE, but they may soon meet their match. The Shield hasn't discriminated much in terms of who it has attacked over the past few months, but lately it has focused its attention on Randy Orton, Sheamus and Big Show in particular.
Although the WWE does seem to be struggling with how it should handle The Shield, the group has a lot of momentum right now. They picked up a clean win over the all-star team of John Cena, Ryback and Sheamus at Elimination Chamber and they followed that up by beating Chris Jericho, Ryback and Sheamus the next night.
The Shield also beat Ryback and Team Hell No at Tables, Ladders & Chairs, so Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns have unblemished records in the WWE right now.
As good as The Shield has been, it doesn't appear as though the trio has much direction.
The Shield has made life miserable for both Orton and Sheamus for the past several weeks and recently got involved with Big Show as well. Big Show knocked out Reigns last week on SmackDown, so The Shield retaliated by attacking Big Show following Monday's episode of Raw.
That would seem to indicate that the dysfunctional team of Orton, Sheamus and Big Show will contest The Shield at WrestleMania.
The team obviously doesn't make much sense as Ryback should be in Big Show's spot since he has taken the brunt of The Shield's punishment. Ryback has seemingly moved on to Mark Henry, though.
If nothing else, the bad blood between Orton, Sheamus and Big Show should create for some interesting moments over the next month as the road to WrestleMania continues.
Just a few short months ago, Ryback was arguably the hottest thing going in the WWE.
His meteoric rise to superstardom was due mostly to him winning squash matches on SmackDown. Those victories made him so popular that he was thrust into the main event scene as he faced CM Punk for the WWE Championship at Hell in a Cell.
Ryback lost that match due to interference from Brad Maddox and he has lost every pay-per-view match he has had since then, so he has certainly fallen off.
The biggest bee in Ryback's bonnet has been The Shield as the group has ruined his plans on multiple occasions. The Shield prevented Ryback from beating CM Punk for the WWE Championship twice and it also beat Ryback at both TLC and Elimination Chamber.
The crowd still seems to respond quite positively to Ryback despite his recent struggles, but there is no question that he has fallen off considerably compared to where he was heading into Survivor Series.
Although Ryback should logically set his sights on taking out The Shield, a feud with Mark Henry is now on the horizon.
Following Ryback's victory over Antonio Cesaro on Raw, he and Henry crossed paths. They didn't get involved in a physical confrontation, but they stared each other down in what was obviously a harbinger of things to come. It can be argued that Ryback has really fallen off the map, but I'm actually excited about this feud as Ryback and Henry are arguably the two toughest customers in the entire WWE.
The quality of their WrestleMania match from an in-ring perspective won't be anything to write home about, but the raw power that both men possess makes things intriguing to say the least.
The WWE will definitely try to delay physical contact between them as long as possible in order to build anticipation, so I doubt that they'll mix it up on SmackDown. With that said, hopefully they have another moment like they did on Monday that furthers the possibility of a rivalry.
The WWE struggling to book its midcard superstars effectively isn't exactly a new dilemma, but things have truly spiraled out of control as of late.
Back when Antonio Cesaro won the United States Championship at SummerSlam and The Miz was holding the Intercontinental Championship at the same time, I was hopeful that the WWE would finally restore some of the prestige that the midcard titles have lost.
It's now several months later and there are no signs of progress on that front.
Cesaro has had a very long U.S. title reign, but he has essentially become the WWE's midcard punching bag. It seems like he is almost always losing to either Randy Orton or Ryback. He did pick up a win over The Miz last week, but victories are suddenly few and far between.
This week's episode of Main Event truly displayed how poorly Cesaro has been treated as he lost cleanly to Sin Cara for no apparent reason.
Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett has been treated even worse, though.
He puts over main event and midcard face talent on a regular basis like Cesaro as well, but I can't recall his last victory of importance. Barrett hasn't even had a true feud since winning the title from Kofi Kingston unless you count the little program he had with Bo Dallas, which has since been dropped.
The WWE is more interesting in using Barrett to promote Dead Man Down than making Barrett look like a dangerous and legitimate champion.
As of right now, it's anyone's guess what the WWE will do with the mid-card title scene at WrestleMania. I suppose Cesaro and The Miz are still feuding and could have another match at 'Mania, but Miz didn't even seem to care about Sin Cara beating Cesaro on Main Event.
Barrett is simply a lost cause at this point thanks to the WWE's abhorrent booking, so he probably won't even be on the card unless he's placed on the pre-show. The WWE has really botched the midcard titles as of late, but maybe things can be fixed to some degree over the next month.