The first SmackDown Live of 2018 and the second show for the WWE was a mediocre one. With some good moments, the show often felt like it was in a holding pattern with the exception of one more match to move the U.S. Title tournament along.
In a different segment, after seemingly crowing new tag champ in Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable, the tag team title contest ended in controversy. The main event should have been a match diehard wrestling flams were clamoring for, but the amount of interference and sideline drama that existed means fans will need to wait to see the match between AJ Styles and Sami Zayn everyone truly deserves.
Here are your winners and losers for SmackDown Live on January 2, 2018.
Loser: Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin
They had the titles, then they lost the titles. It was a different idea that hasn't been done in a WWE storyline in a while, but there were likely a number of fans who would have loved to see Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable keep the belts. They've been on top of their game as of late and potentially deserved a bit win.
Instead, a cheap rule, one that the company often ignores, was used to reverse the referee's decision and Gable and Benjamin felt cheated out of their win.
Winner: Bludgeon Brothers
They absolutely demolished both Breezango and The Ascension. The match never officially started and the video snippet was cut off early as the team attacked their opponents and eliminated them before they count mount any sort of offensive.
It's a stark contrast to the earlier Usos and Benjamin and Gable match that teased the titles going back and forth. When the Bludgeon Brothers finally get a title shot, it seems clear the WWE wants everyone to know they'll win the belts without much trouble.
Loser: Daniel Bryan
There was always a reason to justify Daniel Bryan's actions up until this edition of SmackDown Live. Now, by making a handicap match between Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens versus AJ Styles, he's intentionally screwing over Styles in favor of his ROH alumn and it's the kind of move only a heel character would make. Is that what the WWE wants us to think is going on?
We're cool with trying to send Shane McMahon to the back or keeping his nose out of things, and if that helps Zayn win the match, so be it, but if the WWE is hinting there is a side of collusion and they want it to be obvious, it doesn't make sense for Bryan to pander to the crowd with "Yes" chants. There is a risk here that WWE over complicates things and that might be happening now.
He's so clearly a fan favorite that the WWE needs to take advantage of his momentum. Having him sing a tune might have been a step in the right direction and his song was hilarious. The whole segment before Aiden English lost in a very obvious outcome had a nice change of pace to the typical Aiden English and Rusev schtick.
It was nice to see Rusev not in the match so that a loss wasn't going on his record. How WWE takes things from here should be interesting to watch.
Loser: Sami Zayn Versus AJ Styles
This should have been the type of match that, if built properly, could headline a major pay-per-view. Instead, fans got a messy cluster-bomb of a finish with Zayn sneaking out a victory and Styles being upset he's not getting a fair fight.
The storyline logic made sense up until Bryan announced a handicap match. All that said, fans are waiting for the day Zayn and Styles really get to have a one-on-one match that is for the ages. It's in both competitors to do so, but the WWE needs to just get out of the way.
Winner: Xavier Woods
It likely won't last long because he's set to square off against Jinder Mahal and the foregone conclusion is that Mahal gets the win, but to see Woods get the spotlight for a couple weeks is great. He's actually taking advantage of this opportunity by having a great match, showing his skills as a single's competitor and proving he's more than a ringside piece in the New Day.
Losers: The Welcoming Committee
You can expect over the next couple weeks angles with the women that will try to get as many of them on television at one time as possible. As the WWE gears itself up for the Royal Rumble, they need to keep every female roster member front and center. That still isn't an excuse to make a new faction, have them wrestle and not only lose their first match but be tossed aside for a hotter angle in a returning Becky Lynch.
That's what happened with the group of Natalya, Lana, Tamina, and Carmella. It wasn't great writing and it quickly showed the fans that none of those four women are a serious threat to win the Rumble.