While SmackDown is generally considered to be the WWE's "B" show, there is no question that this week's edition is a must-see event. It isn't often that The Rock appears on the blue brand, but the WWE Champion will do precisely that as he hypes his WrestleMania XXIX match against John Cena.
The Rock figures to draw plenty of fringe viewers who don't necessarily watch SmackDown regularly. But there should be plenty in place for the diehard fans as well. The biggest segment announced ahead of time is a weightlifting competition between Mark Henry and Ryback. Since Henry and Ryback are considered the two strongest men in the WWE, it should be an extremely interesting exhibition.
There are plenty of other feuds going on as well that are likely to heat up with WrestleMania drawing ever closer. Jack Swagger has made life miserable for Alberto Del Rio and Ricardo Rodriguez as of late, so Del Rio is probably in the mood for revenge.
Also, Chris Jericho and Fandango have been going at it for the past week and are now scheduled to face each other at WrestleMania, meaning their program will be advanced on SmackDown, too.
Here are the top five things that you should keep an eye on while watching this week's episode of SmackDown. The first slide does contain spoilers, so if you're not interested in knowing what happened, skip ahead to the next slide for spoiler-free previews.
The Rock appearing on WWE programming is always special, but seeing him on SmackDown is such a rare occurrence that fans absolutely must go out of their way to watch the show this week.
The Rock has actually shown up on the blue brand a couple times during his current run with the company and he always manages to pull off something entertaining. This week will be no different.
It's extremely difficult to upstage The Rock, but it seems like just as many fans are talking about the return of John Laurinaitis.
The Rock cut a promo at the SmackDown tapings this week in front of a raucous Hershey, Penn., crowd before being interrupted by the former general manager of both Raw and SmackDown. Laurinaitis claimed that past nemesis Teddy Long said he could address the crowd, so he decided to do just that.
Laurinaitis claimed that he wanted The Rock to beat John Cena just as badly as The Rock wants to retain his title. It was Cena who got Laurinaitis fired as he defeated Big Show in a steel cage match last year with Laurinaitis' general-manager status on the line.
The Rock feigned interest in joining forces with Big Johnny as Laurinaitis expressed interest in accompanying The Rock to the ring at WrestleMania XXIX.
As Laurinaitis went to shake The Rock's hand, however, The Rock hit Big Johnny with a spinebuster and followed it with a People's Elbow. I'm sure the fans went wild and The Rock gained plenty of momentum with WrestleMania approaching.
I was never a fan of Laurinaitis, but I'm certainly interested to see if there are any long-term plans for him or if this was simply a one-off appearance meant to generate heat and garner The Rock some major face pops.
Mark Henry has been a professional wrestler for a very long time, but before that he was an elite weightlifter who competed in the Olympics. Henry isn't called "The World's Strongest Man" for nothing.
He's set many lifting records while also competing in and winning strongman competitions. Henry hasn't lifted competitively in years, but he will have a chance to put his power on display on SmackDown as he and Ryback take part in a weightlifting exhibition.
The competition was announced Monday night. While it's obvious that something more is going to happen, I'm sure there are many fans who are intrigued by the segment.
Whenever this type of thing happens it seems to degenerate into a brawl. Whether it's a pose down, an arm-wrestling contest or a weightlifting competition, things always start out normally, but the heel tends to fly off the handle when he's about to lose.
My guess is that Henry will display impressive power and then attack Ryback before he can attempt to match.
It's an interesting situation because the WWE wants to make Ryback look as strong as possible, but it probably wouldn't be a good move to have him show up Henry since that would make "The World's Strongest Man" look like a fraud. The writers have to toe the line, so a brawl of some kind is the way to go.
I'm not overly excited about the WrestleMania undercard as a whole, but I have really enjoyed this feud so far.
It hasn't been groundbreaking, but you don't see these kinds of strength vs. strength feuds much anymore. Neither Henry nor Ryback are great in the ring, but they are both intimidating and will create a great atmosphere heading into WrestleMania.
It seems like the feud between Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger has been going on for an eternity, and when you compare it to the other matches on the WrestleMania card, it practically has.
Jack Swagger became No. 1 contender for Del Rio's World Heavyweight Championship by winning at Elimination Chamber, and the two of them have been embroiled in a bitter rivalry ever since. It has heated up even more over the past week as Swagger has targeted Ricardo Rodriguez.
Ricardo has been a vital element in Del Rio's title reign thus far by constantly assisting his friend. Swagger may have evened the playing field when he "broke" Ricardo's ankle last week by putting him in the ankle lock.
Despite Ricardo's injury, he decided to accompany Del Rio to the ring for his match against Antonio Cesaro on Raw. This proved to be a big mistake as Swagger jumped him and further damaged his ankle.
Del Rio stopped Swagger before long and sent the self-professed real American running, but the damage was already done. Del Rio has been extremely protective of Ricardo since turning face, so he'll obviously be looking for revenge between now and WrestleMania.
I'm not sure if it will happen on the upcoming episode of SmackDown, but I fully expect Del Rio to employ the eye-for-an-eye theory by putting Zeb Colter in the Cross Armbreaker during one of Swagger's matches.
While this angle isn't considered to be among WrestleMania's main-event matches, it has been built better than most and the result is quite unpredictable. Swagger and Colter are definitely over as heels right now and Del Rio continues to gain crowd support. Along with Mark Henry vs. Ryback, this is definitely the undercard feud to watch.
Whether fans like it or not, Chris Jericho will face Fandango at WrestleMania XXIX.
Their feud began quite innocently last week as Jericho made fun of Fandango's name during a backstage interview on Raw. Fandango then proceeded to interfere in Jericho's match with Jack Swagger on SmackDown. Jericho got redemption on SmackDown, but Fandango came back and jumped Y2J following his win over Dolph Ziggler.
Jericho revealed later in the night that he spoke with Vickie Guerrero and got her to make a match between himself and Fandango at WrestleMania.
I can't say I'm particularly happy about it since I wanted to see a Jericho vs. Ziggler match, which could have easily stolen the show. That hope was lost though when Ziggler and Big E Langston were put in a Tag Team Championship match against Team Hell No.
Now that Jericho vs. Fandango is imminent, I'm hopeful that the WWE finds a way to make the fans care about their makeshift rivalry.
Y2J is obviously among the best on the mic and in the ring, so if the WWE truly believes that Fandango can be a star, then I suppose that Jericho is the right guy for him to face.
As for Fandango himself, I have always viewed him as a talented performer, even when he was Johnny Curtis. I'm just not sure how far he can go with the Fandango gimmick. If he manages to become a fixture in the mid-card, though, that wouldn't be the worst thing for the WWE.
Fandango still hasn't wrestled in a match and at this point I hope that he doesn't compete before WrestleMania. The creative team has somehow managed to delay his return for this long, so there is no point in giving it away on SmackDown.
I doubt that anyone is going to order the pay-per-view for the sole purpose of seeing Fandango's debut, but it is probably intriguing to some. If Fandango manages to beat Jericho in his first match, then that could potentially do wonders for him moving forward.
The Shield has wreaked havoc on the WWE locker room since debuting at Survivor Series, but it appears as though Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns have finally met their match.
The new team of Randy Orton, Sheamus and Big Show is officially united and ready to face The Shield at WrestleMania. Orton, Sheamus and Big Show have obviously had their differences, but they have a common enemy and seem focused on ending The Shield's reign of terror.
Orton and Sheamus initially chose Ryback as their WrestleMania partner, but Ryback got involved with Mark Henry and was forced into a match against him instead.
Big Show lobbied to become part of the team, but Orton and Sheamus were understandably reluctant. Big Show proved his worth on Raw, though, as he saved Sheamus and Orton from a Shield attack and then helped them clean house against The Shield later in the night.
The trio appeared to be united as they patted each other on the back and stared at the WrestleMania sign while The Shield retreated.
Orton, Sheamus and Big Show have been getting the better of The Shield quite often lately, so it will be interesting to see if that can continue. The Shield managed to defeat the team of Sheamus, Ryback and John Cena at Elimination Chamber, so they obviously have some tricks up their sleeves when it comes to dispatching Orton, Sheamus and Big Show.
The Shield will probably stand tall this week or next and they will almost certainly win at WrestleMania. The group hasn't lost yet as a team and it wouldn't make sense for their first loss to come at 'Mania. As great as Orton, Sheamus and Big Show seem to be together, there is still built-up turmoil that promises to explode at WrestleMania or perhaps even before it.