With the Royal Rumble more than a month away and the next Smackdown Live pay-per-view being even further down the line than that, it became clear Tuesday night that the blue brand is taking its time.
Although a pair of new No. 1 contenders was crowned during this week's episode, it didn't feel like there was a major sense of urgency from Smackdown Live.
It felt like Smackdown Live was slowing down the pace a bit with the intention of quickening it when the time is right.
Before I go deeper into my analysis of the program, here are the full match results from the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.:
- Carmella def. Natalya
- Tag Team battle royal – The Hype Bros def. American Alpha, The Ascension. The Vaudevillains, Heath Slater/Rhyno & Breezango
- WWE Smackdown Women's championship – Becky Lynch def. Alexa Bliss via count-out
- Fatal four-way elimination – Dolph Ziggler def. Dean Ambrose, Luke Harper & The Miz
Ziggler to face AJ Styles Dec. 27
James Ellsworth was scheduled to face Styles for the WWE World championship on this week's show, but the match was postponed until a later date, as he apparently had a nasty cold and was sent home by Smackdown Live authority figures Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan.
In reality, it was probably because Styles isn't quite ready to return to the ring after suffering an ankle injury at the TLC pay-per-view.
With the current No. 1 contender under the weather, Smackdown Live went ahead and crowned a new one in the form of Ziggler.
Ziggler earned the spot after he defeated Ambrose, The Miz and Harper in a fatal four-way elimination match and will face Styles for the championship on the final Smackdown Live of 2016 Dec. 27.
The match itself was very good and made up for a lack of quality in-ring action on this week's show.
The way it came together was pretty good as well, especially with Harper being thrown into the mix. It was kind of surprising to see Harper assert himself into the title picture, but it definitely didn't feel out of place, as he is more than worthy of being involved.
He also got a chance to shine during the main event and only loss because Ziggler super kicked him right into dirty deeds from Ambrose. Despite the loss, Harper probably cemented himself a spot in the WWE World title picture.
As for Ziggler and Styles, the match should be fantastic. I see no reason why these two shouldn't have one of the best matches Smackdown Live has produced all year unless WWE attempts to get overly creative by inserting shenanigans.
Hype Bros to face The Wyatt Family
The other No. 1 contenders crowned on this show were The Hype Bros, as they defeated all of the Smackdown Live tag teams — sans The Usos — in a battle royal.
This seemed like a very good time to put American Alpha in a prominent position, but it looks as though WWE is attempting to make Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt a monstrous team.
In order for the monster to grow it has to be fed and I don't see a reason why Jason Jordan and Chad Gable should be on the menu. However, The Hype Bros seem like a very good option to feed to Orton and Wyatt to give them another title defense.
Yes, American Alpha has done a lot of nothing since being drafted to the main roster and it has quelled their momentum quite a bit, but I guess WWE believes it can re-heat the tandem at some point to make their eventual ascension to the top of the tag team division meaningful.
But even the best-laid plans of WWE can often go awry, and that may happen again when it comes to The Hype Bros.
WWE announced after Smackdown Live that Zack Ryder suffered a knee injury at the end of Tuesday's battle royal and is scheduled to undergo an MRI Wednesday to find out the extent of the injury.
"We think he injured his kneecap or his patella," WWE's Dr. Chris Robinson said to WWE.com. "We think it popped out and then popped back in, so we're just going to do an MRI to make sure that there is not cartilage damage or some tendon tearing, stuff like that." Hopefully there's not and it'll be a shorter rehab period. If there is, there's a different road we might have to go down that may take longer to get him to recover."
That does not sound like very good news for Mr. Ryder and it would be bad news for Smackdown Live on multiple levels.
If Ryder's injury is serious, it may squash any plans of the tag team title match against Orton and Wyatt. If that happens, it may force American Alpha to face Orton and Wyatt a lot sooner than WWE had intended.
One half of The Hype Bros being out of commission also hurts the tag team depth on Smackdown Live, which is not all that deep to begin with.
Also, what about Ryder's tag team partner, Mojo Rawley? I would venture to guess that Rawley made it to the main roster because he was teaming with Ryder. He has had a lot more success overall with Ryder than he did on his own.
But if Ryder isn't around, where does that leave him?
Bliss fakes an injury
The new Smackdown Women's champion was forced to compete in an impromptu title match against Lynch Tuesday, but appeared to feign an injury to get out of it.
Bliss acted as if she injured her knee and limped around the ring before being counted out. She was clearly being a heel and faking the injury, but even played it up on Talkin' Smack after the show.
Bryan did not seemed convinced that the injury was legitimate, even questioning why she hadn't seen the trainer at that point.
With all of that said, it does not look like we have seen the final chapter in the Bliss-Lynch story just yet.