With the Royal Rumble pay-per-view just two days away, Friday's edition of SmackDown tried to lay the groundwork for the chaotic nature of the annual event with a show that featured crossovers from Raw and a 10-man tag main event.
Ultimately, the chaos may have been a little too much with the main event stemming from a pair of disqualifications as the match size grew over the final hour of the program. More important than the match itself, Braun Strowman made a surprise return to close the show, laying out many of the men in the main event and seemingly indicating that he would be competing in the Royal Rumble. Strowman had been out of action since the day after Survivor Series in November.
CBS Sports was with you all night, bringing you recaps and highlights of all the action. Read on for everything you need to know coming out of the Royal Rumble go-home edition of SmackDown.
Chaos ahead of the Royal Rumble as Braun Strowman returns
Daniel Bryan opened the show in the ring with a promo, welcoming the WWE Universe to Royal Rumble weekend and stressing the stakes of Sunday's Royal Rumble match. Bryan talked about already having main evented WrestleMania and knowing how meaningful it is and that the Rumble is his ticket to doing it again before being interrupted by Raw's AJ Styles. Styles accused Bryan of looking like he already has one foot out the door, leading Bryan to challenge Styles to a match later in the night, which Styles quickly accepted.
Daniel Bryan def. AJ Styles via disqualification after interference from Sami Zayn. The match was interrupted early by Zayn, who had earlier approached Shinsuke Nakamura backstage, asking Nakamura to have his back going forward only to be told to "go to hell." Zayn continued to circle the ring with picket signs and his documentary crew complaining about the conspiracies against him. Styles almost got the finish early with a calf crusher before Bryan got to the ropes. Big E eventually came to ringside and laid out Zayn with a clothesline and tossed him over the announce table and almost into Cesaro. This led Cesaro to attack Big E before Bryan hit Cesaro and Zayn with a suicide dive after Styles ducked out of the way. Zayn then ran in and hit Bryan from behind for the DQ. Nakamura ran in for the save, leading to a six-man brawl.
Daniel Bryan, Big E & Shinsuke Nakamura def. Cesaro, Sami Zayn & AJ Styles via disqualification after interference from The Miz & John Morrison. Predictably, the finish to the previous match led right into a six-man tag. With Cesaro and Nakamura on opposite sides, it appears their tag team is officially finished. The Miz and John Morrison, who had brawled with Big E backstage earlier, interrupted, attacking Nakamura before attacking Big E, causing another disqualification. This brought out Otis, renewing his rivalry with Miz and Morrison from months ago as he took out both men.
Sheamus, Daniel Bryan, Big E, Otis & Shinsuke Nakamura def. The Miz, John Morrison, Cesaro, AJ Styles & Sami Zayn via pinfall when Sheamus hit Zayn with a Brogue Kick. The match was now 5 vs. 4 after a second round of interference. The heel side took out all the faces outside the ring, leaving Bryan with no one to tag until Sheamus' music hit and he ran to the ring, climbed on the apron and took a tag from Bryan despite not being in the match. This led to a big run of each man in the match hitting trademark moves until Sheamus put out Zayn for the win. Miz, Morrison and Styles were attacking Sheamus, but Braun Stroman made his return, coming to the ring and running wild on the heel team to end the show.
What an absolute mess this whole situation was. Starting with Bryan vs. Styles was great, the two have put on many great matches dating back to their time on the independent scene. But it just turned into overbooked nonsense that fell into the standard pre-Royal Rumble trap of the idea that simply putting a bunch of guys in the ring is somehow meaningful or exciting ahead of a match designed to do just that. Why was Sheamus allowed to just insert himself into the match? Why play up the cross-brand invitational stuff with Styles just to let two more Raw competitors wrestle on SmackDown with Miz and Morrison? Does Strowman have a larger motivation for targeting only the heels? This was a disappointing stretch for SmackDown, a show that has been reliably very good. Grade: C-
Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens exchange final words
The advertised "war of words" between Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens was held as both men were interviewed from separate locations. Owens stated that he felt he already beat Reigns twice, but Reigns was bailed out by having his family save him. Paul Heyman spoke for Reigns, saying no one is allowed to speak of the universal champion the way Owens had, demanding reverence and respect. Reigns finally spoke, saying Owens was making excuses by talking about his family, then pressed Owens on his own family, asking Owens what kind of man his father is. Owens warned Reigns to watch the path he was traveling with his words, giving a final warning. Reigns said he's the king on the chessboard and the man around whom everything revolves before blaming Owens' family for the challenger's foolishness in not realizing that, calling Owens' father and grandfather both fools. Owens warned Reigns again that on Sunday they would not be in separate rooms, but Reigns again pushed the button, saying Owens was a disgrace to his family. Owens exploded, shouting at the screen about being the last man standing and the pride his family has in him before Reigns turned off his feed.
This was lower stakes than basically everything involving the two men for months, but still managed to deliver the goods in getting the intensity of Owens across. Reigns' aloofness during the entire segment was well delivered as it was clearly a mixture of fear and determination to push Owens to make bad decisions in their match. Owens can deliver on the microphone as a heel or face as good as anyone in the company and he helped push the segment to where it feels believable that he could pull off the upset on Sunday -- even if there is absolutely no way that is happening. Grade: B
What else happened on WWE SmackDown?
- Bianca Belair def. Bayley via pinfall after a Kiss of Death. Before the match, Bayley promised to send Belair running away before the Royal Rumble. After a good match, Belair pulled off the victory before saying post-match that the only way for her week to get better would be to win the Royal Rumble.
- King Corbin def. Dominik Mysterio via pinfall after hitting End of Days. Dominik attempted to attack Corbin from behind prior to the start of the match. Corbin still controlled much of the match outside of brief comeback spots by Dominik as Rey Mysterio watched on from the announce table. Corbin managed to outlast the brief bursts of Dominik to hit his finish. Corbin tried to attack Rey after the match, but Rey drove him into the ring post and hit a senton to lay Corbin out.