Following a fairly lackluster edition of WWE SmackDown Live last week, and with less than two weeks to go until Clash of Champions, this week's show was broadcast live on Tuesday evening from San Diego, California.
Did SmackDown ramp up the excitement again after an off week last Tuesday?
Let's dive right into the five things we learned from this week's broadcast.
The ongoing story between Randy Orton and Zayn/Owens continued this week. Following Orton's loss to Kevin Owens last week (following interference from Zayn), the duo was out this week to brag about their victory.
It turned into the pair running down Shane McMahon and Orton, especially Orton for being used by Shane (and Stephanie in the past). Following several minutes of jokes and cockiness, Orton came in and hit an RKO out of nowhere on Owens as Zayn was outside the ring.
This prompted Shane McMahon to come out and set up a match for later in the night between Zayn and Orton, with Kevin Owens handcuffed at ringside. He also announced that Zayn and Owens would take on Randy Orton and a partner of his choosing at Clash of Champions.
It didn't take a genius to figure out who that partner would be (hint, he had been absent from SmackDown for three weeks), and that mystery was officially revealed following the main event. Which brings us to...
Shinsuke Nakamura returned to make the save following the main event, coming to the aid of Randy Orton.
Nakamura's return was great to see, as the show notably felt weak last Tuesday (and the week before) without his presence. His return makes it quite obvious that he will be teaming with Orton to take on Zayn and Owens at the PPV.
This was basically confirmed by Shane McMahon in a backstage segment following the main event. He announced that he (McMahon) will be the special referee for the tag team match at Clash of Champions and said there will be a stipulation that Owens and Zayn will be fired from WWE if they are not victorious.
So, we should expect McMahon to end up swerving everyone and joining Owens and Zayn following the PPV, right?
The tag team division isn't the only place receiving a makeover as the Riott Squad (Ruby Riot, Liv Morgan, and Sarah Logan) continue to make their presence felt in the SmackDown women's division.
They interrupted a backstage segment between Daniel Bryan, Carmella, and Lana. Carmella was lamenting that she wanted to get the title shot at Clash of Champions, with Bryan saying she could be if she hands over her contract. Lana thought Tamina should get the title shot.
The Riott Squad interrupted, with Ruby saying she deserves the match since she has already defeated Charlotte. She speculated that she doesn't look the part (tattoos). Then, Liv mentioned that Bryan favors brunettes (Brie...but isn't Ruby a brunette?) and shouldn't have prejudice against blondes like her, except noting it's okay to be prejudice against lana. Sarah said Daniel is prejudice against Southerners. She wanted to know if Bryan ever tasted live game, but the delivery was off and it was awkward.
Bryan got frustrated and made the Clash of Champions bout a lumberjack match to satisfy everyone.
Later in the night, Charlotte defeated Tamina with all of the other ladies at ringside (including Natalya on commentary). The Riott Squad came out and it turned into a big brawl.
Rusev and Aiden English, a tag team who we initially reported weeks ago were set to receive a push, have now started their ascent. And no, not just because Rusev got a sweet new t-shirt.
The pair are feuding with the New Day now, and they received a clean victory over the former tag team champions this week on SmackDown when Rusev pinned Kofi Kingston. It's likely something that will continue for several weeks, while allowing the Usos and Benjamin/Gable to feud.
This is great for Rusev and English because a feud with New Day is virtually always assured of television time. Plus, it could establish them long term as tag title threats (in addition to the Bludgeon Brothers, who were again awesome this week).
The tag division has needed something fresh for a long time, so pushing English and Rusev at the same time that Harper and Rowan are receiving so much attention and focus is great to see.
Bobby Roode, one of NXT's top stars of the last year, is yet another main roster call-up who has failed to find his way largely due to weak positioning on the card and booking. His initial feud with Dolph Ziggler where he failed to look dominant for weeks and weeks only established him firmly as a mid-card talent, and that's where he has (sadly) remained.
Roode took on U.S. champion Baron Corbin this week in a match that could have been pretty good if given time. Instead, it went about three minutes until Ziggler (who was doing guest commentary) interrupted the match, gave both men the Zig Zag, and it ended in a no contest. The crowd absolutely hated it.
It served the purpose of furthering the story that Ziggler has now been added to the Corbin vs. Roode match at Clash of Champions, making it a triple threat.