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Credit: WWE.com

The authority figures were as much the stars of Tuesday’s WWE SmackDown as AJ Styles. Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon’s tension remained the blue brand’s central narrative, overshadowing the WWE Championship scene.

In addition to a United States Championship tournament and Styles’ starring in a handicap match, fans in Birmingham, Alabama, saw a lot of bickering between Bryan and McMahon. Something big continues to brew between SmackDown’s general manager and commissioner en route to the Royal Rumble pay-per-view. The road there, though, has been underwhelming.

As a result, the show’s undercard was its strength.

Becky Lynch returned to action. Mojo Rawley and Zack Ryder both looked to get closer to the U.S. title. And the spotlight shone on the tag team division.

What matches wowed? What stories dragged? Read on for a breakdown of Tuesday’s SmackDown as we dive into those questions.

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Renee Young interviewed Styles in the ring.

The champ talked about going up against both Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens at the Royal Rumble. He said that Bryan’s decision wasn’t fair, but he accepted it. Young pressed him, trying to get him to comment on Bryan’s job as general manager.

KO and Zayn sauntered out to interrupt. The heels promised Styles wouldn’t leave the Royal Rumble PPV with the WWE title.

McMahon came out and booked a handicap match featuring Shinsuke Nakamura, Randy Orton and Styles against Owens and Zayn. Bryan looked on disapprovingly at him backstage.

             

Memorable Moments and Quotes

  • “Is there a chance I can beat the crap out of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn? Absolutely.”—Styles.
  • “The house that AJ Styles built just got some uninvited guests.”—Corey Graves.
  • McMahon calls Owens and Zayn “yep clowns.”

            

Grade

C+

            

Analysis

The interview format worked well for Styles, giving the segment an added dimension. Plus, any additional airtime for Young is a positive.

This story has dragged, however. The main event scene has been repetitive in recent weeks. And aside from some more hints of a Bryan turn, there wasn’t much of note here.

It may well be worth it if the payoff is big enough, but this has been quite the slow-burn angle.

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Becky Lynch had Charlotte Flair and Naomi in her corner as she clashed with Ruby Riott, whose crew lurked at ringside.

As soon as the bell rang, Lynch pounced on her opponent. Distractions from Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan weren’t enough to knock her off her game.

Riott, though, was able to slow things down and punish Lynch with submission holds. The Irish Lass Kicker then battled back. She trapped Riott in the Dis-Arm-Her, and the heel couldn’t escape.

                 

Result

Lynch wins via submission.

                

Memorable Moments and Quotes

  • “I’m the last SmackDown woman to declare for the Royal Rumble, which is no coincidence because I’m going to be the last woman standing.”—Lynch.
  • Lynch nails Riott with a flurry of forearms to the face.

              

Grade

B-

         

Analysis

This was a slow-paced match, but Lynch and Riott had excellent chemistry together. A future series between them promises to be mighty good.

It’s odd that The Riott Squad hasn’t been booked to be more dominant. And Logan and Morgan barely made an impact. The allies at ringside were mere window dressing.

Perhaps WWE is saving its scenes of chaos for the Royal Rumble.

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Breezango bailed on being in The Ascension’s corner.

That left Konnor and Viktor on their own against The Bludgeon Brothers. Their aggression didn’t pay off. Harper and Rowan wiped them out in mere seconds.

After the bell, Konnor tried to attend to his partner but suffered a beatdown for his troubles.

         

Result

The Bludgeon Brothers win via pinfall.

         

Memorable Moments and Quotes

  • “Here comes the reckoning!”—Graves.

        

Grade

D+

           

Analysis

WWE remains all-in on The Bludgeon Brothers. They didn’t just dominate the former NXT champs, they swallowed them whole in a single bite.

The defeat may lead to some tension between The Ascension and Breezango, which would be a fun story to explore. As for Harper and Rowan, they need longer bouts, even if they are one-sided. The audience needs to see more of their destructive power to fully buy in.

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Bobby Roode watched the action from ringside.

Ryder frustrated Rawley early on, but the bigger man overpowered his former friend. Between barking at his opponent, Rawley flung him around the ring.

Despite that, for a moment, it looked like Ryder had a chance. A running forearm from Rawley proved him wrong, however.

Roode stared Rawley down afterward.

              

Result

Rawley wins via pinfall to advance in the U.S. title tournament.

               

Memorable Moments and Quotes

  • Ryder counters a suplex into a neckbreaker.
  • Rawley smashes Ryder into the ring post.

            

Grade

B-

             

Analysis

Rawley again defeated Ryder in short order. The action was solid but not a real showcase for either man. SmackDown simply has to dole out more airtime for Rawley. His match with Roode should be a longer, more dramatic affair.

Rawley’s presence continues to grow, and his heel character has been one of the best surprises on SmackDown of late.

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In response to the referee’s reversal of their would-be SmackDown Tag Team Championship win last week, Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin came out to the ring to voice their frustrations.

Gable talked about sacrificing to achieve a goal. Benjamin blamed bad officiating for the loss. They demanded to see the referee, but Bryan stepped out instead.

The GM stood behind the referee’s decisions even as Gable and Benjamin harassed him. He booked a 2-out-of-3 Falls match between them and The Usos at the Royal Rumble.

          

Memorable Moments and Quotes

  • Gable wears a “Free the tag titles” T-shirt.
  • “Just because the University of Alabama won a national championship, that doesn’t make you winners.”—Benjamin.
  • “We lost to instant replay.”—Gable.

         

Grade

B+

          

Analysis

Gable’s personality is beginning to burst out. He was funny and magnetic here.

His and Benjamin’s logic holds up to the point that it’s hard to root against them. Bryan’s rigidness about the situation hinted at his apparent ongoing shift into heel status. He’s giving off a go-ahead-and-fire-me vibe out there.

The 2-out-of-3 Falls stipulation will make sure that tag title bout is one of the PPV’s best.

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Credit: WWE.com

Aiden English declared his and Rusev’s entry in the Royal Rumble via song.

Once the action began, Rusev beat down Tyler Breeze. He and English took turns punishing The Gorgeous One.

Fandango rallied back, but The Lion of Bulgaria overpowered him, too. A series of kicks left the dancer stunned. The Fashion Police, though, upset Rusev Day thanks to a schoolboy pin.

           

Result

Breezango wins via pinfall.

          

Memorable Moments and Quotes

  • English calls the Royal Rumble the “Rusev Rumble” match.
  • Rusev blasts Breeze off the ring apron into the announce table.
  • “So, is Rusev Day canceled?”—Byron Saxton.

        

Grade

C-

       

Analysis

Another loss for the popular Rusev Day hampered the bout. There continue to be flashes of this team charging up the ranks, taking advantage of the buzz around it. And then it falls, playing someone else’s stepping stone.

Rusev looked terrific as a steamrolling force mid-match, but that won’t be what fans talk about thanks to the result.

WWE doesn’t appear to have a plan for Rusev and English. They look adrift in the lower midcard despite getting themselves over.

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Credit: WWE.com

Backstage, Orton made it clear he has his eyes on the WWE Championship. Bryan and McMahon later argued about how each man has been running the show. Shane-O-Mac went as far as to call his peer’s decisions erratic and irresponsible.

In the ring, The Viper found himself in trouble in the heels’ corner. He managed to gain the advantage, and he and his partners batted Zayn around.

The heels looked to retreat once they ran into trouble, but McMahon made sure that didn’t happen. He made it a no count-out contest.

KO soon nailed Orton with a steel chair, forcing the referee to end the bout. McMahon stepped out once again to restart it as a No Disqualification match.

The babyfaces chased down their foes. A Kinshasa from Nakamura and an RKO from Orton put Zayn out of his misery.

            

Result

Orton, Nakamura and Styles win via pinfall.

             

Memorable Moments and Quotes

  • “I’m coming after that title at WrestleMania.”—Orton to Styles.
  • “It’s our show! It’s our title!”—Owens.
  • Styles smashes Owens with a steel chair on the entrance ramp.
  • Orton suplexes Zayn into the announce table.

            

Grade

C

             

Analysis

The SmackDown main event scene feels like it’s on autopilot.

This was the kind of clash you might see headline a house show. It was fun in spots but largely inconsequential. Lots of McMahon and multiple restarts prevented this from having much momentum.

Owens and Zayn don’t look like legit threats heading into their match against Styles. And the heels suffering’ their comeuppance at this point makes it hard to invest moving forward.

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