AJ Styles vs. Sami Zayn: Latest Rumors and Preview for WWE SmackDown Jan. 2

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterJanuary 2, 2018

Credit: WWE.com

On the first WWE SmackDown of 2018, AJ Styles will be focused on payback. The WWE champion is set to take on a thorn in his side named Sami Zayn, per WWE.com.

The non-title bout comes a week after Zayn cost Styles a match. The dance-happy heel did everything he could to grate on and distract The Phenomenal One when he faced Kevin Owens. It all worked as planned, as KO stole a win over Styles.

Styles can now start the year off with some cathartic violence and a bounce-back victory.

Elsewhere on SmackDown, a tag team title match is on the docket, the tournament to crown a new United States champ will roll on and all eyes will be on Tye Dillinger, who may be in the midst of a character makeover. The Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, will host it all.

The following is a preview of Tuesday's SmackDown, looking at the card and the buzz around the brand before it airs at 8 p.m. ET on USA Network.

        

News, Rumors

Dillinger could be the next SmackDown star to turn heel. WWE seems to be at least toying with the idea.

Raj Giri noted during Dillinger's match against Sin Cara at a house show in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the former NXT star "kept telling the crowd that they weren't allowed to chant '10' because none of them were perfect 10s except for himself."

Becky Lynch is likely to show up after missing several weeks to shoot a movie. PWInsider's Mike Johnson reported: "Lynch is being figured into creative plans on the SmackDown brand for early January."

          

SmackDown Streaks

Charlotte Flair heads into 2018 on top of the women's division.

The Queen won the SmackDown women's title in November and is in the midst of a five-match winning streak, per CageMatch.net. Flair has also 11-4 in her last 15 bouts.

Expect more of the same as she begins to build momentum for whatever WrestleMania showdown the company has planned for her.

On the opposite side of the booking spectrum, Baron Corbin's push appears to be dying down. Even before he dropped the United States title to Dolph Ziggler at Clash of Champions his record wasn't that of a dominant star. 

Per CageMatch.net, The Lone Wolf lost his last four matches of 2017. That included a first-round exit in the U.S. title tourney, meaning he won't be reclaiming his crown anytime soon. His future remains murky as other stars climb past him on the SmackDown ladder.

2018 Kicks Off

Two matches remain in the first round of the United States Championship tournament, as seen on WWE.com: Xavier Woods vs. Aiden English and Zack Ryder vs. Mojo Rawley.

Woods and English have collided during a burgeoning feud between The New Day and Rusev and English. And now only one of them can join Jinder Mahal and Bobby Roode in the second round.

Ryder and Rawley were tag team partners until late 2017. Frustration led Rawley to turn heel, though, and attack his own ally. Rawley won their first clash. The stakes will be higher for the rematch.

As for the SmackDown tag team title picture, The Usos will have to fend off one of the blue brand's hottest teams: Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable, per WWE.com. The suplexing stars have been on a hot streak of late including a win last week in a Triple Threat match to become the new No. 1 contenders.

Benjamin and Gable are now a three-count away from beginning the year as champions, as they will take on The Usos in a title match in Orlando.

When Zayn clashes with Styles, however, the action will be of the non-title variety.

Last Tuesday, The Phenomenal One fell to Owens. Zayn's interference played a clear part in that result. He has increasingly become a pest for Styles and the rest of SmackDown. Styles will now get a chance to swat him—unless KO gets involved, of course.

AJ Styles will take on Sami Zayn on Tuesday's SmackDown.
AJ Styles will take on Sami Zayn on Tuesday's SmackDown.Credit: WWE.com

There is sure to be drama between Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon, as well. SmackDown's general manager and commissioner have bickered and bristled with each other for weeks now. Something is obviously brewing between them, though it's not clear where it's leading.

That's also true of the story of Zayn and Owens' issues with SmackDown authority, but Tuesday night promises to offer some clues to that end. The heels' pushback against the brand's brass is sure to be a major part of the show.

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