WWE SmackDown Results: Winners, Grades, Reaction and Highlights from January 31
Tuesday marked the first SmackDown Live after Royal Rumble, and the brand immediately set about building the card for the upcoming Elimination Chamber pay-per-view.
The participants in that show's main event WWE Championship match were revealed and then proceeded to interact throughout the evening.
Champions were also in action, as new WWE champion John Cena teamed with Luke Harper to battle Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton, and intercontinental champion Dean Ambrose squared off with AJ Styles in the night's marquee match.
Add to it some women's action featuring Becky Lynch, Naomi, women's champion Alexa Bliss and Mickie James and the first hint of a tag team division in weeks, and you have a focused product presented by a brand all too often overshadowed by its Monday night counterpart.
How did each match and segment grade out Tuesday night?
Let's take a look.
John Cena Addresses the WWE Universe
Just moments after Shane McMahon revealed the five Superstars who will join him inside the Elimination Chamber in just under two weeks (Dean Ambrose, The Miz, Bray Wyatt, AJ Styles and Baron Corbin), John Cena hit the ring to kick off this week's show.
He cut a generic promo before Wyatt and Randy Orton interrupted.
The Reaper of Souls vowed to leave the Chamber with the WWE Championship and enter SmackDown Live into the era of Wyatts.
Orton warned Cena that, even if he makes it to WrestleMania with the title, he will set the championship free and end the vicious cycle that exists between them.
As the devious duo headed toward the squared circle, stalking after its prey, the lights went out again, and Luke Harper appeared. He joined Cena in fending off the tandem and set up a tag team match in the process.
This was about as generic a promo as it gets.
Cena did nothing to encourage excitement for his 16th reign, and he didn't even tap into the historic nature of his latest run. Instead, he went through his greatest hits before the interruption.
Even with the usually compelling Wyatt involved, the segment never hit the next level. The result was a one-dimensional introduction to the new champion and a nonsensically accepting Cena, ready to toss aside all common sense and past history and team with Harper.
John Cena and Luke Harper vs. Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton
The story of the opening contest was Luke Harper and whether longtime leader Bray Wyatt still had any control over him.
For the better part of the match, the former intercontinental champion showed zero hesitancy in pummeling Randy Orton and drawing a big ovation from fans. When he came face-to-face with Wyatt, though, he tagged John Cena in to the match, seemingly unwilling to come to blows with the man in whom he invested his trust.
Late in the match, Harper teased delivering Sister Abigail to Wyatt, only to flatten Orton with a big boot. Wyatt planted his former minion with his own rendition of Sister Abigail before Orton planted Cena with an RKO to score the clean pinfall victory.
Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt defeated John Cena and Luke Harper.
As a match, this was barely above average. As a piece of storytelling, though, it was fantastic.
Harper's allegiance to The Wyatt Family, in its current state, may be broken, but his loyalty to Wyatt grips him against his better judgment. Even when he had the opportunity to stick it to Wyatt by executing his own finishing move against him—both at Royal Rumble and on SmackDown Live—he hesitated just long enough to make it impossible.
Orton pinning Cena cleanly was a surprise, even if both are icons of this era. The later revelation by commentator Mauro Ranallo that the faces of the Ruthless Aggression Era would do battle on next week's show all but gives away the fact that they will not be competing against each other at WrestleMania 33.
Carmella vs. Delilah Dawson
James Ellsworth accompanied Carmella for her match with unknown Delilah Dawson, giving her an introduction fit for a queen.
Once the match started, Dawson proved a spunkier opponent than The Princess of Staten Island expected, catching her off guard on several occasions.
Just as Ranallo dropped a Blue Meanie reference on JBL, Ellsworth tripped Dawson up, allowing Carmella to apply her Code of Silence submission for the win.
Carmella defeated Delilah Dawson.
There are a lot of fans and critics alike who may groan at the Carmella-James Ellsworth pairing, but it has the potential to make for some entertaining television if WWE Creative can keep the act grounded rather than letting it become too over the top.
Ellsworth was solid as he delivered his intro, and Carmella celebrating like she was solely responsible for the win was a pure heel move. If she can manipulate Ellsworth into continued cheating, she could conceivably win the SmackDown Women's Championship in a way that allows her to become the division's lead heel.
Or the act could outlive its sell-by date and do more harm than good.
It is a fine line to walk.
Kalisto vs. Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler squared off with Kalisto on SmackDown Live.
The two Superstars have battled on a seemingly weekly basis since Ziggler's heel turn a month ago. The Showoff dominated the contest, outclassing the former United States champion just one week after beating him in 46 seconds.
Kalisto appeared close to mounting a comeback late, but a distraction by the official, who was trying to clear the action from the corner, allowed Ziggler to shove his opponent away and blast him with a superkick for the pinfall victory.
After the match, Ziggler continued his attack until Apollo Crews hit the ring and chased him through the crowd.
Dolph Ziggler defeated Kalisto.
OK, we get it—Ziggler is superior to Kalisto.
Can we move on to something a little more interesting? Sure, a feud with Crews may not be the most earth-shattering, but it would get him away from the extended squashes of a character who has not been significantly over in a year.
Even feuding with Crews is a step back for Ziggler, who was one of the faces of the show early in the brand extension but whose newfound aggression and intensity have somehow hurt more than help.
Naomi and Becky Lynch vs. Alexa Bliss and Mickie James
Naomi pinned Alexa Bliss at Royal Rumble. Becky Lynch continues to have trouble with both Bliss and the returning Mickie James.
Tuesday, Naomi and Lynch battled Bliss and James in tag team action.
Lynch was forced into the babyface-in-peril role as she was isolated from her partner. A late hot tag to Naomi, though, saw the glow-loving heroine explode into the match. The heels attempted to shut her offense down by double-teaming her, but Lynch tackled James to the outside.
Naomi pinned Bliss off a split-legged moonsault, improving her record to 2-0 against the women's champion.
Naomi and Becky Lynch defeated Alexa Bliss and Mickie James.
The match was shorter, but it accomplished what it intended.
Naomi is the clear No. 1 contender, pinning Bliss in back-to-back matches. Unfortunately, until she is allowed to express herself verbally, all the flashy offense in the world will not help her get over with fans to the extent Bayley, Sasha Banks and Lynch are.
Speaking of Lynch, she remains on track for a showdown with James somewhere in the near future.
Tag Team Brawl
During a backstage promo, American Alpha frustratingly issued an open challenge to any team that wants to step up and challenge it for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships.
Every team in the division hitting the ring and a massive brawl ensuing.
Breezango, The Ascension, The Vaudevillains, The Usos and Heath Slater and Rhyno rushed the squared circle and engaged in a massive pull-apart brawl that accomplished nothing other than reminding the SmackDown faithful that, yes, the blue brand actually does have a tag team division.
For everything SmackDown Live has done right since last July, the mishandling of American Alpha continues to baffle.
A young team with incredible talent and a proven track record of superb wrestling matches, Chad Gable and Jason Jordan should be the faces of the brand. Instead, a lack of credible challengers and inconsistent character development have left them as somewhat of an afterthought, something that should never have happened.
Dean Ambrose vs. AJ Styles
Just in case you were not already tired of Dean Ambrose vs. AJ Styles, the current intercontinental champion battled the former WWE champion in Tuesday's main event.
The Miz and Baron Corbin, two of the men who will join Ambrose and Styles inside the Elimination Chamber in just under two weeks, sat in on commentary for the bout.
A late-match distraction by Corbin and The Miz, who were arguing at ringside, preventing the referee from counting a pin for Ambrose, led to The Lunatic Fringe wiping them both out on the arena floor. Back inside the squared circle, Styles capitalized on the distraction, catching Ambrose with the Styles Clash for the win.
After the match, The Miz attacked Ambrose with a Skull-Crushing Finale, but Corbin followed up by annihilating the former IC champion with End of Days. He followed up with the same move on Ambrose and stood tall to close out the show.
AJ Styles defeated Dean Ambrose.
Ambrose and Styles always have strong in-ring chemistry, so it is no surprise they delivered another entertaining main event.
What was surprising was how strongly Corbin was put over to close out the show. If one did not know any better, it would appear as though SmackDown Live is positioning him to be the dark-horse candidate in the Elimination Chamber match.
While it's unlikely he wins the WWE title, Corbin's sudden rise does suggest management has big plans for The Lone Wolf at and beyond WrestleMania.