With the first-round contests completed, there are only three matches and four Superstars remaining in the tournament to crown a new intercontinental champion on SmackDown.
AJ Styles will face Elias in one semifinal after they beat Shinsuke Nakamura and King Corbin, respectively, in the first round of the bracket. On the other side, Daniel Bryan defeated Drew Gulak, and Jeff Hardy took down Sheamus to set up their semifinal clash.
Regardless of what combination of Superstars wins in the semis, there is no shortage of intriguing matchups on tap for the final round.
As the Intercontinental Championship tournament progresses, here is a breakdown of what to expect the rest of the way.
AJ Styles vs. Elias
Of the two semifinal matches, Styles beating Elias seems like the most obvious result on the surface since The Phenomenal One just arrived to SmackDown from Raw as part of a trade.
He likes to call SmackDown "The House That AJ Styles Built," and a loss to Elias would be an instant knock to his credibility.
Styles is a multitime world champion who can certainly beat Elias on his own from a storyline perspective, but there is an added element that makes him an even bigger favorite. Elias is still embroiled in a rivalry with Corbin, and there is a decent chance The Lone Wolf will involve himself in this match in some way.
When it was initially announced that Styles was in the tournament, the announcers explained that he wanted to be part of it in order to win one of the only major titles he has yet to hold during his successful run in WWE.
The Phenomenal One is far from a lock to win the IC crown, but anything short of an appearance in the finals would come across as a major failure, especially against a far less experienced and accomplished Superstar such as Elias.
There is value in Styles giving Elias a quality match and making him look good throughout, but any result other than a win for the two-time WWE titleholder would be shocking.
Daniel Bryan vs. Jeff Hardy
The other semifinal between Bryan vs. Hardy is a rare face vs. face matchup, which usually only happens under special circumstances.
Both men would be quality opponents for Styles in the finals, but all signs point toward Bryan being the winner. Unlike Hardy, he isn't currently part of a separate storyline, and his focus is entirely on winning the IC title.
Meanwhile, The Charismatic Enigma has been feuding with Sheamus ever since his return due to his rival taking issue with the video packages WWE played to hype up Hardy. That led to a heated first-round tournament match last week that was won by Hardy with a pinning combination.
Sheamus was furious over the loss, and there is little doubt he will be out for revenge in the form of either distracting Hardy during the match or perhaps even attacking him beforehand in order to hurt his chances of advancing.
In addition to those factors, Bryan has made it clear during the tournament thus far that the IC title is of the utmost importance to him. After beating Gulak in the first round, he cut a passionate promo about wanting to get the title back after being forced to relinquish it due to injury shortly after WrestleMania 31.
Bryan wants to bring prestige back to the Intercontinental Championship, and a win over Hardy will bring him one step closer to doing so.
AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan
As exciting as a new, never-before-seen match in the finals would be, Styles vs. Bryan with the Intercontinental Championship hanging in the balance just feels right.
For years, the intercontinental belt was viewed as the workhorse title in WWE. Many of the best in-ring workers in the history of the company have held it before going on to win the WWE Championship, which is a big reason why fans hold it in such high regard.
The title has lost much of that prestige in recent years since it hasn't often been placed on a pedestal save for some fleeting moments, including reigns by The Miz and Seth Rollins. Given how popular and skilled both Bryan and Styles are, though, they have a chance to change the perception.
The first major step toward making the IC title feel important again is a classic match to determine the winner. With Bryan and Styles, that is all but guaranteed. They feuded over the WWE Championship in the months preceding WrestleMania 35 last year, and their matches always delivered.
Now, the roles are reversed with Bryan as the babyface and Styles as the heel, so a tournament final match would feel fresh and different while also drawing from the history they have with one another.
Either Superstar would be a great representative of the title and go a long way toward making it a big deal again, but Bryan stands out as the one who truly wants to bring it back to prominence from a real-life perspective.
Bryan talked about defending the title every week if he wins it, so look for him to beat Styles and then have a series of great matches against a number of different Superstars on SmackDown in an effort to elevate himself, his opponents and the title in one fell swoop.
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