Just two weeks out from Survivor Series, one of the biggest PPV shows of the year, and WWE is making all kinds of changes.
Apparently Vince McMahon or someone in creative wasn't satisfied with the direction heading into the show, and they have decided to pivot on several matches at the last minute. This kind of movement on a PPV show this close to its air date is nearly unprecedented in WWE history.
We saw the first big change happen on Monday night as Cesaro and Sheamus defeated Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose for RAW's tag team title belts, setting up a match with the Usos.
And we could see even more changes come next week as SmackDown will have two championships on the line: Natalya vs. Charlotte and Corbin vs. Sin Cara. Title changes next week could drastically change the Survivor Series card once more.
It's been a whirlwind couple of days in WWE, so what did we learn coming out of SmackDown on Tuesday night? Here are our five thoughts on the show.
There's no way to look at Styles winning the title from Mahal other than the company went ice cold on the prospect of Mahal facing Lesnar at Survivor Series. Clearly they did not feel the match was anywhere big enough to main event the show, so they pivoted to what amounts to a dream match between Styles and Lesnar. And really, how could they pass up the Phenomenal One vs. the Beast Incarnate?
Given the fact that substantial television time was used to build toward Lesnar/Mahal, there's absolutely no other reason why a last minute change would have been made unless the company was really down on where they felt interest level was for that match. And they were right, it did not seem to have a whole lot of interest among the fans.
There were some rumors that Mahal's reported shoulder injury could have prompted a title change, but he hasn't wrestled on SmackDown in several weeks and no tape was evident on him during the match Tuesday evening (which he had been wearing on television and at house shows when his shoulder was bothering him the most).
In reality, Styles has always been the best choice for the champion of the blue brand. He moves a ton of merchandise, he's one of the best performers in the company, and the crowd absolutely loves him. A match-up between he and Lesnar is way, way bigger than a match between Mahal and Lesnar, so kudos to WWE for making the last minute switch.
With a tour of India coming up in early December, the question is going to be whether or not WWE puts the belt back on Mahal in short order. I could definitely see them having Mahal win the belt in India, marking the second time the WWE's top prize has changed hands outside of North America (Tuesday was the first).
Would that be the correct decision? I think not. Keep the belt on Styles until we get to a match-up between him and Nakamura. Please.
This show could have been even crazier, shaking up Survivor Series even more, had the Usos dropped the tag titles to Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable. That (rightfully) did not happen.
The Usos taking on The Bar is going to be a great match, and the prospect of a long feud between the Usos and Gable/Benjamin is enticing. They are set to have some really great matches for a long time, and WWE should extend this by having Gable and Benjamin chase for a while rather than giving them the gold this quickly.
The Usos have been the standard bearers of the tag division on SmackDown for quite some time now, and they deserve to represent the brand as their champions at Survivor Series. I'm sure Gable and Benjamin will get the straps eventually; I mean, it's not like there's many other choices in the tag division.
Rusev wrestled Randy Orton for a chance to join Team SmackDown. This match was originally supposed to involve AJ Styles before they pivoted on the WWE title.
Once again, Orton inexplicably defeated Rusev. Truthfully, which one of these wrestlers has more upside moving forward? Here's a hint, it's not the guy from St. Louis. It's been frustrating to see a talent like Rusev continue to be under utilized.
Rusev became frustrated throughout the match at his inability to pin Orton, leading of course to Orton hitting his RKO out of nowhere and getting the pinfall. The announcers pointed out that this meant there is still an opening for Team SmackDown at Survivor Series.
That opening was quickly filled on Wednesday morning, as WWE's social media announced that John Cena would be the final member of the team.
They had to have known that Cena was going to wrestle during SmackDown, so why didn't they announce it during the show? Just like the Styles/Mahal match being announced out of nowhere last week on social media, they did the same thing for Cena's return. Feels like it would have been a bigger deal if they did the Cena announcement during the broadcast.
SmackDown opened with a Shane McMahon in-ring promo that was, shall we say, a bit awkward. There were noticeable cuts and sound edits throughout, particularly when McMahon announced that Daniel Bryan would return next week. Clearly, the live crowd was going to boo this since they missed out on seeing him, but there was a fairly obvious edit with cheers piped in during the taped broadcast.
This lead to the New Day coming out celebrating their invasion of RAW. The crowd turned on them for costing Rollins and Ambrose the belts, chanting "New Day Sucks." Not sure if a heel turn was the intended result here, but the crowd clearly was not pleased with them.
Following an awkward dancing segment between New Day and Shane, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens walked out on the ramp and ran down Shane's dancing.
I have a feeling this GIF will be very useful. pic.twitter.com/xzr4RVIuM7— TDE Wrestling (@totaldivaseps) November 8, 2017
New Day bashed them in return (calling Sami a character out of the 1930s), but they noticeably did not defend Shane's dancing.
Shane explained away the fact that Sami and Owens aren't part of Team SmackDown by saying they lack brand loyalty and walk around like they own the place. That's true, but I sure hope they are still part of the show in some important fashion.
Sami was given a match against Kofi Kingston immediately following this segment, a match that Zayn promptly lost. So where are two of the brand's best performers headed at Survivor Series? That remains to be seen.
Two things related to the women's division: this could have been the end of James Ellsworth and we could get another title change next week.
Ellsworth wrestled Becky Lynch in the first intergender WWE match in many years. In the end, he lost to the Dis-Arm-Her (him?) and embarassed Carmella in the process. This prompted Carmella to superkick him after the match, turning on him once again and perhaps spelling the end for his present WWE run? We'll have to wait and see.
Elsewhere, they announced that Charlotte will be challenging Natalya for the SmackDown women's title next week.
Charlotte vs. Natalya is very intriguing, as a Charlotte vs. Alexa Bliss bout might be more appealing than a Bliss vs. Natalya match in the near future but could also be saved for a bigger stage (WrestleMania?) down the line. Bliss and Charlotte are easily the two most over characters in the women's division at this point and a potential match would be huge.
With Charlotte getting a lot of publicity of late with the release of her book and the 30 for 30 documentary on her father premiering this week, WWE may look to capitalize on that attention and make a championship change next week.