The January 23rd, 2018 episode of WWE SmackDown Live aired from the Capital One Arena in Washington, DC. It was the final episode of SmackDown before the Royal Rumble this Sunday. Here are 5 takeaways from this week’s show:

AJ Styles Accepted Owens & Zayn’s Challenge

SmackDown kicked off with Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn coming down to the ring. Owens and Zayn will face WWE Champion AJ Styles in a Handicap match this Sunday at the Royal Rumble. If Owens and Zayn win, they will become co-champions.

Owens stated that he and Zayn were the future of the WWE and poked fun of the retirees that showed up last night on RAW. Owens described the Yep Movement of staring in the face of tyranny and persevering no matter the odds. Owens and Zayn claimed that they were best competitors on SmackDown Live and vowed to win the WWE Championship at Royal Rumble.

The crowd started to chant “AJ Styles!” as Zayn said that they were going to hurt AJ Styles after they took his title this Sunday. Owens and Zayn started a “yep!” chant but were quickly interrupted by AJ Styles. AJ came down to the entrance ramp as the crowd chanted his name.

AJ started a “nope!” chant in response to Owens and Zayn claiming that they are going to capture the WWE Championship Sunday. AJ added that they are not just facing anyone, they are facing someone that is phenomenal. Owens called Styles and the crowd ignorant and Zayn stated that it was Styles’ ignorance that got him into this pickle in the first place.

Owens and Zayn rolled footage of Styles asking for it to be a Handicap match. Owens and Zayn praised Daniel Bryan for making the match and forcing AJ Styles to live up to his word. Owens and Zayn then rolled another clip of AJ Styles stating that he would face Owens and Zayn in the same night. Owens asked Styles to live up to his words and face them both back-to-back tonight.

SmackDown GM Daniel Bryan came down to the entrance ramp and stood next to AJ Styles. Bryan stated that Owens and Zayn were right about being two of the greatest Superstars to ever be in the ring. Bryan added that he has all the faith in the world that Styles can win the Handicap match on Sunday. Styles interrupted and said that he didn’t know if Bryan was in bed with those two dirtbags (in reference to Owens & Zayn) and then accepted their challenge. Styles will face Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in back-to-back matches later tonight.

SmackDown GM Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon were shown backstage. Shane was pissed off because he thought Bryan put AJ Styles in the two matches. Bryan said that he wasn’t going to sanction the matches tonight but AJ Styles accepted them on his own. Daniel asked Shane if he was questioning AJ Styles’ ability to defend himself tonight. Shane replied “no Daniel, that is not whose ability I am questioning” and walked away.

Daniel Bryan was about to say that the two matches wouldn’t be happening tonight, but AJ interrupted him and accepted the challenge. Styles’ pride got in the way and even if he wins tonight, it is likely that he will be heading into Sunday at less than 100%. There is clearly still a divide between Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan. This storyline has been going on for some time now, so hopefully the payoff is worth it.

Chad Gable Picked Up An Impressive Victory Over Jey Uso

Chad Gable faced Jey Uso tonight on SmackDown. The Usos will defend their SmackDown Tag Team Championships this Sunday at the Royal Rumble in a 2 out of 3 Falls match against Gable & Benjamin.

Gable planted Jey on the mat and then picked him back up and drove him to the corner. Jey tried to escape but knocked him back down to the mat and clubbed him across the face. Gable kept his arms wrapped around Jey’s chest as Jey started running around the ring. Chad wound up losing his grip and tumbled out of the ring as SmackDown went to a commercial break.

When SmackDown returned, Gable missed with a Moonsault but recovered and landed on his feet. Jey Uso booted Gable out of the ring and went for a Suicide Dive but Gable punched him in the face. Gable charged at Jey but Jey ducked and Gable fell out of the ring. Jey then leaped out of the ring and landed on top of Gable.

Back in the ring, Jey went for a Splash but Gable got out of the way. Jey planted Gable with a Samoan Drop and went for a Bronco Buster but Gable caught him. Gable connected with a rolling kick and then rolled through and planted Jey Uso with a German Suplex for the pinfall victory.

Benjamin and Gable now head into their match for the Tag Team Championships this Sunday with some momentum. Both of these teams are capable of putting on an awesome match and I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do at the Royal Rumble.

Randy Orton Attacked Nakamura & Corbin

Randy Orton

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Shinsuke Nakamura was interviewed backstage by Renee Young. Renee asked what Shinsuke’s strategy in the Royal Rumble. Nakamura’s strategy was to knee everyone in the face. Baron Corbin interrupted and stated that Nakamura has accomplished nothing in WWE but gets away with it because the crowd cares about him. Corbin added that he doesn’t give a damn what the crowd thinks and they can keep their pathetic opinions to themselves. Nakamura said it is not about what he has done, it is about what he is going to do at the Royal Rumble. Nakamura and Corbin faced off against each other later on SmackDown.

Corbin and Nakamura locked up to start off the match. Corbin used his strength to get the upper hand for a moment but Nakamura escaped and dared Corbin to charge at him. Nakamura kneed Corbin in the face and then stomped on him in the corner. Corbin rolled out of the ring to regroup and Shinsuke followed him. Corbin threw Nakamura back in the ring and Shinsuke once again challenged him to charge at him.

Corbin began walking up the entrance ramp and Nakamura once again chased after him. Corbin punched Nakamura in the throat and then launched him throat-first into the ring ropes as SmackDown went to a break.

Nakamura dropped Corbin with a boot to the chest when SmackDown returned. Shinsuke draped Corbin across the top rope and connected with a knee strike to Corbin’s ribs for a two count. Nakamura went for the Kinshasa but Corbin countered into the Deep Six for a two count. Corbin then leveled Nakamura with a massive Clothesline and went for another cover but once again Shinsuke kicked out. Corbin pounded the canvas in frustration after Nakamura kicked out.

Corbin went for the End of Days but Nakamura reversed it into an Arm Bar. Corbin escaped but Shinsuke connected with a kick. Nakamura went for the Kinshasa once again but Randy Orton came out of nowhere and hit him with an RKO. Orton then planted Corbin with an RKO and posed on the turnbuckle.

This was a cool moment, but I can’t imagine the anger that would spread throughout the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia if Orton won the Royal Rumble again this Sunday. It wouldn’t reach Roman Reigns level outrage, but it would be up there. People tolerated Orton winning it last year simply because he wasn’t Roman Reigns. I doubt that would work again this year.

New Day Will Be In The Royal Rumble

Big E, Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston announced that they will all be in the Royal Rumble. Bobby Roode made his way down to the ring as the New Day played air instruments and Xavier Woods sang along to his theme. Roode grabbed a microphone and stated that he couldn’t think of a better place to debut as the new United States Champion than Washington, D.C. Roode added that his reign as US Champ was going to be absolutely glorious. New Day (Woods & Kingston) and Roode then battled Mahal and Rusev Day in a 6-man tag match.

Rusev beatdown Kofi Kingston to start off the match and took a break to blast Woods off the ring apron. Kofi connected with a Bulldog and both Superstars fell to the canvas. Kofi tagged in Roode and Aiden English was tagged in as well. Roode connected with a Neckbreaker and then kneed Mahal off the apron. Roode hit English with a Blockbuster and then planted Mahal with a Spinebuster. Rusev booted Roode in the head and English went for a roll-up but Roode kicked out.

Kofi knocked Rusev out of the ring and then leaped onto both Rusev and Mahal outside the ring. Roode planted English with a Spinebuster and tagged in Woods. Xavier climbed to the top rope and delivered an Elbow Drop for the pinfall victory.

Owens & Zayn Got The Last Laugh Before Royal Rumble

AJ Styles faced Kevin Owens in the first of his back-to-back matches. Sami Zayn tried to accompany Owens to the ring but Shane McMahon came down to the entrance ramp. Shane said that if either Sami or Owens interfere in each other’s matches tonight, they will be fired on the spot.

Owens controlled the match early and knocked Styles to the mat with a Clothesline. OWens went for a Cannonball but AJ got out of the way. Owens banged his knee into the middle turnbuckle and Styles quickly applied the Calf Crusher for the submission victory. Styles wouldn’t let go of the Calf Crusher after the match ended and Sami Zayn sprinted to the ring and punched AJ in the face a couple of times.

Sami quickly checked on Owens and then went back to beating down AJ Styles. Sami launched AJ into the steel steps outside the ring as Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon looked on from the back as SmackDown went to a break.

When SmackDown returned, the match between Zayn and AJ officially started. Sami continued to punch AJ in the face as Owens was being attended to by WWE’s medical staff on the entrance ramp.

Zayn connected with a chop to Styles’ chest and then smacked him in the face. Zayn hit AJ with a Clothesline for a two count and followed it up with a Chin Lock in the middle of the ring. AJ finally was able to battle back and knocked Owens to the mat with a forearm.

AJ launched Zayn out of the ring and leaped onto him and hit another forearm to Sami’s face. AJ threw Zayn back into the ring and then Styles attacked Owens as he was still being looked at by WWE doctors. Zayn leveled AJ with a Clothesline outside the ring as SmackDown went to a commercial break.

Zayn was still in control when SmackDown returned and connected with another punch to Styles’ face. AJ planted Sami with a Hurricanrana and bought himself some time to regroup. AJ and Sami traded chops and then AJ connected with a Neckbreaker. Sami battled back and went for the Helluva Kick but AJ blocked it and connected with a Pele Kick for a two count.

Sami connected with a Michinoku Driver for a two count. Zayn perched AJ up on the top turnbuckle and went for a Superplex but AJ wiggled free and slammed Sami face-first into the top turnbuckle.

AJ connected with a knee to Zayn’s face outside the ring and then threw Sami back into the ring. Owens was on the stretcher and AJ flipped it over. AJ got back into the ring and walked right into a Helluva Kick. Sami followed it up with an awesome Blue Thunder Bomb for the pinfall victory. Owens and Zayn celebrated in the ring as SmackDown went off the air.

Owens and Zayn got the last laugh heading into the Royal Rumble PPV this Sunday. AJ Styles already had an uphill battle in front of him before he competed in two matches tonight. Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon continue to be at the center of this storyline and I’m expecting them to somehow involved in the Handicap match on Sunday.