Question 1: Starting with the main event scene, is AJ Styles being underutilized? Or is the Wyatt Family compelling enough to excuse him stepping to the side for this one?
CHAFFIOTTE: Yes, but also yes. Although the Wyatt Family story makes me feel like I perhaps slipped into a 4-week coma and missed a whole bunch of story in between the Rumble and now, it is also some of the best that WWE has put on in a while. Bray Wyatt was long overdue for a championship. It strikes me as a long way to go to get back to the same place, but now that Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt are set for the (so-called) main event, it’s hard not to be excited for it. At the same time, AJ Styles is easily the best wrestler in the world today, and he doesn't necessarily have another 10 years left in the tank. He absolutely deserves to main event WrestleMania within the next few years.
So it’s not going to be this year, fine, but his spot should be high on the card. I have no doubt that he can put out a great match against Shane McMahon, honestly, AJ Styles could put on a great match with a phone book, but that’s not really the point. AJ is a walking dream match, there are so many people I'd love to see him fight at Mania, Shane probably doesn't even make the top ten. I completely concede that Shane's best work is when he’s getting to be a wrestler, but this feud is built around his spot as an authority figure which is mediocre at best. He comes off apathetic in this role, and it makes me nervous the story surrounding this match will be a snooze fest. They have a few more weeks to untagle this and prove me wrong
PARKHURST: AJ is absolutely being underused, but I'm also enthralled by The Wyatt "Family" angle. Like it was said above, Wyatt was long overdue for WWE gold. I wasn't necessarily looking forward to Bray vs. Randy and I was truly hoping that Harper would be thrown in the mix to really make it look more interesting, but even without Harper being in the running this has been better than I could have ever expected. Bray and Randy are both on fire with their recent performance and especially promos, and I'm really hoping this will be a great match. Unfortunately, I don't know if it's capable of being five stars without having Harper in there, but it should be a great main event for SmackDown.
Now, AJ Styles... Shane? Really? Of all people you choose Shane McMahon? AJ Styles is a guy you can put against anyone and have an amazing match, but that doesn't mean you should abuse that by feeding him to Shane. Shane is a great competitor and athlete, but there's several different roads you could've gone down here. Undertaker should’ve stayed on SmackDown and have been AJ's opponent. AJ is the closest thing to Shawn Michaels we will have for a long time, and I know it's not the same Taker from WrestleMania 25 & 26 but surely you guys remember those 5-star matches right?
WIGGINS: While I wholeheartedly agree that AJ Styles deserves a main event match at WrestleMania after the year he has had in WWE, I don’t feel a feud with Shane McMahon is underutilizing him. In fact, it demonstrates how much WWE values Styles that they want him to carry Shane to an eye-catching match. And in my mind he's not taking a back seat in the slightest - he has main evented recent episodes of SmackDown, and in the latest episode the biggest story was his assault of McMahon and his subsequent firing. No matter where he’s being positioned on the card, AJ Styles is still center stage.
Styles will be back in the WWE Championship picture soon, but I now believe it was the right decision to go with Bray Wyatt vs Randy Orton instead. The build up gives me hope that this will unlock a more sadistic, twisted and violent edge in both stars that will carry them beyond WrestleMania, and lead to a classic encounter. Maybe that is being too hopeful considering how many stop-start pushes Wyatt has endured in his career, but the focus seems to be on making him a legitimate main event star. With so much intrigue going into this match and the outcome truly uncertain, I think this has the makings of a great flagship match for SmackDown.
Question 2: Next, the women. Who do you see as the most credible champion in the division right now and do they have a shot at walking out of Orlando with it?
CHAFFIOTTE: This is not the answer I'd expect to be giving, but after the past six months, it has to be Alexa Bliss. I say that as both a big fan of Becky Lynch and Nikki Bella, and someone who has really come to enjoy Mickie's work despite not growing up with her. Alexa should be comical as a champion, she’s been at this for 3 years, but she has that crazy fast learning curve, is stunningly good on the mic, and her expressions enhance every segment she's in. Although it felt a little silly when they first did it, now that’s exactly where the belt belongs.
At the same time, I don't think she'll be who the belt leaves with. Alexa was a stop-gap given yet another knee injury, this time on 8-day champion Naomi. WWE seems itching to move it along to whoever is next in line. That’s the million dollar question and there are a lot of viable contenders. The obvious choices, Mickie James or Becky Lynch would be safe and fine. A more interesting route is to use the "all available women" stipulation to their advantage. It seemed suspiciously worded from the get-go and there’s a definite possibility that Naomi is cleared in time to make it to WrestleMania or Auska is called up as a surprise entrant. Either one should go onto win the gold.
PARKHURST: I mean, it has to be Alexa Bliss right? Becky has been great as per usual, but Alexa has been on fire since they decided to give her the belt. At the brand split, I thought SmackDowns women’s division was far worse than Raws just based solely off name value. But, the tables have certainly turned as everyone on SmackDown side of things has stepped up. Nikki Bella's return helped immensely, Natty has been better than I expected, Naomi is an obvious step up than she was as a Funkadactyl, and Mickie James only strengthens it.
As for who walks out of Orlando, it won’t be Alexa Bliss. Alexa was just a placeholder after Naomi suffered another injury. Now, just like Jordan said above, the "all available women" thing throws my prediction off kilter a bit. I want to say it's going to be Mickie James as she's been the new surprising push after her turn on Alexa. But I'm leaving the door open for Naomi to make a surprising return thanks to the unique stipulation, and if that’s the case then Naomi is regaining her title.
WIGGINS: I have been very impressed with the overall booking of SmackDown's Women's Division since the Brand Split. Without the supposed MVPs of Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Bayley, they have been able to forge a highly competitive and intriguing division, elevating virtually every female superstar to a level they probably wouldn’t have reached if the division had stayed together. Alexa Bliss is my MVP due to her outstanding promo skills, amazing facials and constantly improving ringwork. But she is surrounded by three of the greatest female technicians in WWE history in Becky Lynch, Natalya and Mickie James, meaning her position is far from secure.
In these kinds of multi-person matches, the goal should be to either cement the champion as top of the tree, leading to a new star dethroning them, or for the title to change hands without them looking especially weak. I would be more than happy to see Alexa Bliss retain, and I'd be happy with any of the main roster SmackDown women to win the belt, and I'm including both Carmella and Eva Marie in that equation. Just as long as it isn’t a returning 'legend' like Kelly Kelly then I'll be satisfied with the outcome.
However, I do really hope a certain Japanese sensation inserts herself in the match to capture the gold and grab the division by the throat...
Question 3: Finally, the Tag Team Championships, are those still a thing? Where did WWE go wrong and how can they solve it moving forward?
CHAFFIOTTE: While watching SmackDown this week, I honestly got a little confused for a moment when American Alpha came out. That's how misused the tag teams have been. It's actually a common problem between both brands and may stem from the division being too small to split, but that’s a story for another time. They made a few crucial errors early on. First, much as I love AA, they weren’t the right guys. The Revival would've been perfect to come into the division and wreak some havoc on established teams. American Alpha's appeal was their dynamic and how far they'd come together, all of which was lost in the shuffle of the new Tag Team belts. If they had stayed on NXT for a while, they could have a really interesting story going of underdog face Tag Teams, American Alpha, DIY, and TM61 (prior to Shane Throne’s injury) all going up against the big dog heels in Authors of Pain. Meanwhile, the Top Guys could believably run through the division with their classic heel Tag Team tactics. The Wyatt's run was far too short, especially given how dominant of a stable they had potential to be. Meanwhile, teams are floundering, barely able to get on TV nonetheless stay memorable.
I think the key here lies with those other teams. American Alpha need a good, healthy feud, and it seems like NXT call ups might be a little ways away. AA should demand some respect around here and be met with jeers from two of the most underutilized teams on the roster, Breezango. Both those guys can go, Tyler Breeze's work in NXT proves he's mid-card champion caliber and Fandango has been plagued with terrible gimmicks for so long. Winning the belts off of American Alpha at WrestleMania and then being put to the test by heels who are way better at heeling than they are (the Revival) would be huge for them and I believe they can carry the spot. Instead, I worry we'll get yet another multi-team Tag match up on the preshow and we will continue not to care about SmackDown’s Tag division.
PARKHURST: My my my how far the Alphas have fallen. American Alpha was on fire coming from NXT in the draft, but now they are basically part-timers on SmackDown while only making appearances on Talking Smack after the show on the network from time to time. This division on SmackDown as a whole needs revamped. I think the lack of AA is simply because they have zero competition. None at all. With The Wyatt Family split, and Ryder injury they have no teams that are proven competition. You could argue The Ascension, but let's be real.. no. Now, that doesn't mean they should've been left off TV for so long. They should've been steamrolling every team available. From SmackDown roster tag teams to local guys. Let them prove their dominance, and then have The Revival take them on at WrestleMania winning the tag belts. They’re the only team that can, pun intended, revive the SmackDown tag team scene.
WIGGINS: I started watching SmackDown in late 2002, and one of the reasons behind my love of wrestling was its Tag Team division. Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit, Edge & Rey Mysterio, Los Guerreros - classics every time they stepped in the ring. Those days feel like a long, long, long way away right now.
It baffles me that NXT can produce one of the greatest tag team matches in all time (in my humble opinion) in The Revival vs DIY, but SmackDown can't even make a good story about their titles. American Alpha are great in the ring, but they've hardly had any opportunities to develop their characters either in the ring or backstage. They were rushed to the belts before they had the chance to become empathetic characters with the audience. The Usos were mismanaged after their impactful heel turn, Heath Slater & Rhyno fell off the Earth after they lost the titles, and the rest of the division is frankly a joke.
The lack of viable competition for American Alpha and the Usos means the division is about as stagnant as it possibly could be right now, and no one is going to buy into a massive win streak for The Ascension, The Vaudevillains or Breezango. SmackDown needs both The Revival and DIY to breathe life and energy into the division. Not only will they produce outstanding matches on a regular basis, but their selling and impeccable psychology means they are the last hope of making the other joke teams look somewhat legitimate.
Those are our thoughts on the issue, but where do you stand?
Let us know your answers to these questions in the comments below!