WWE SmackDown is scheduled to take place on Jan. 8 at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT live on FOX.
On this week’s episode of WWE SmackDown, there are two scheduled title matches: Big E vs. Apollo Crews in an Intercontinental Championship Open Challenge and The Street Profits vs. Dirty Dawgs (Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode) for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships. Daniel Bryan is the only SmackDown superstar thus far who is officially a participant in the Royal Rumble. It is expected that the WWE will add more SmackDown participants to the Royal Rumble matches on this episode.
Speaking of WWE Royal Rumble 2021, there are no title matches scheduled from the blue brand. Some matches that could be added are: Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens for the Universal Championship, Big E vs. Sami Zayn for the Intercontinental Championship, Sasha Banks vs. Carmella for the SmackDown Women’s Championship, and the Profits vs. Roode and Ziggler for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships.
Since there are no title matches from the blue brand scheduled for the Rumble, expect WWE to book some title matches for the upcoming pay-per-view on this episode. There won’t be too many because the two Royal Rumbles already take a huge chunk of time from the show itself. With that being said, it’s now time to preview the matches and/or segments that are already scheduled to occur on this week’s episode of WWE SmackDown.
Big E (c) vs. Apollo Crews [Intercontinental Title Open Challenge]
On last week’s episode of SmackDown, Big E and Apollo Crews defeated King Corbin and Sami Zayn in a tag team match. Soon after, Big E proposed an Intercontinental Championship Open Challenge, which Crews accepted for this week’s episode. Clearly, Crews has no chance of winning his first Intercontinental Title since the indomitable Big E had won the title only two weeks ago against Sami Zayn in the main event of SmackDown’s Christmas episode.
On top of that, Big E is on the verge of a gradually built main event push. The idea of booking him to lose his first title defense would be ill-advised, especially since he will wrestle a challenger who has had lackluster momentum for the past few months. Although an inconclusive finish between two babyfaces is possible due to some outside interference by heels (e.g. Sami Zayn and/or King Corbin), this match will hopefully showcase their impeccable in-ring abilities.
While our own Bruce Hazelwood meticulously analyzed the pros and cons of Big E’s Open Challenge, the pros outweigh the cons because Big E can use these weekly Intercontinental Championship open challenges to build himself back up as a main event player in a similar manner to how Seth Rollins did it in 2018 with the I.C. Title, while elevating the men’s division to prove his potential as a main event player in a similar manner to how John Cena did it in 2015 with the U.S. Title.
Street Profits (c) vs. Dirty Dawgs [SmackDown Tag Team Titles]
On last week’s episode of SmackDown, Robert Roode and Dolph Ziggler lived up to their tag team name of “Dirty Dawgs” by savagely attacking The Street Profits to interrupt their celebratory 2021 New Year’s Predictions and HBK-Ziggler Jokes while staking their claim for a championship rematch. Although Roode and Ziggler are considered the ‘good hands’ of the tag team division, they still have a solid chance at winning the SmackDown Tag Team Titles on this episode.
On the Dec. 18 episode of SmackDown, The Street Profits retained the SmackDown Tag Team Championships against Roode and Ziggler following a controversial finish (i.e. pulling of the tights). Due to the idea of 50/50 booking and the fact that Street Profits have held the tag team championships for nine months now, new champions will be crowned to freshen up the tag division and “hand” Roode and Ziggler the tag team titles that have eluded them for months.
Roode and Ziggler are usually renowned for stealing the show, but now is their time to actually win some gold. They are the only heels in the division with sufficient momentum to dethrone the babyface champions. Of course, their title reign will very likely be short due to WWE’s proclivity to book them as transitional champions. However, this victory would set up opportunities and fresh matchups for other babyface tag teams, such as Otis and Chad Gable as well as the Mysterios.
Who Else Will Join The Royal Rumble?
The following names will likely be announced to be in the Men’s Royal Rumble Match: Seth Rollins, Murphy, Cesaro, Shinsuke Nakamura, Otis, Chad Gable, and King Corbin. After Kevin Owens confronted Reigns and defeated Jey Uso in the main event of last week’s SmackDown, it is clear that Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens will be busy battling in a Universal Championship rematch at the PPV and will not be in the Men’s Royal Rumble Match.
The following ladies will likely be announced to be in the Women’s Royal Rumble Match: Sonya Deville, Bianca Belair, Bayley, Billie Kay, The Riott Squad (Ruby Riott and Liv Morgan), Natalya, and Tamina. After Carmella pinned Sasha Banks in a tag team match on last week’s SmackDown, it is clear that Sasha Banks and Carmella will be busy battling in a SmackDown Women’s Championship rematch at the PPV and will not be in the Women’s Royal Rumble Match.
The two picks from SmackDown that seem to be the most likely to win the Men’s and Women’s Rumbles respectively are Daniel Bryan and Bianca Belair. Bryan has a clear path to Reigns’ Universal Title at WrestleMania 37 after his exchanges with Paul Heyman on Talking Smack, matches with Jey Uso on SmackDown, and willingness to win his first battle royal in his 11 years with WWE while Belair has a destined path to Banks’ SmackDown Women’s Title at WrestleMania 37 in what would be a dream match for the ages.