It’s time for WWE SmackDown’s recent additions to get settled in their new home.
Following the Superstar Shake-up last week, the blue brand now boasts Charlotte Flair, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Lana on its roster. Last Tuesday was about welcoming those stars. This week will center on carving out their paths on SmackDown.
Flair is destined to chase after the SmackDown Women’s Championship. Owens is poised to collide with WWE’s top in-ring performer. And Lana is ditching her old act for a burlesque dancer gimmick.
SmackDown won’t have to rush its stories. The brand’s next pay-per-view is a long ways away. Backlash won’t unfold until May 21.
Before then, Flair, Owens and the rest of the fresh roster members are headed to Louisville, Kentucky. The Gateway to the South will host the new-look SmackDown and early chapters in the build toward Backlash.
Backstage news, social media updates and storyline analysis provide an early look at what to expect when SmackDown airs on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on USA Network.
News, Potential Spoilers
Shelton Benjamin isn’t joining the blue brand after all.
The former intercontinental champion was headed to SmackDown last fall until shoulder surgery derailed that plan. He’s now healed up and wrestling in Chile, Dallas and elsewhere for various promotions.
For those unsure of what they meant in regard to his WWE comeback, Benjamin cleared up his contract status on Twitter:
Shelton J. Benjamin @Sheltyb803
@MFSteveHere @TheSonOfMuta @JoyOfBearding Let me clear this up now. I am not signed to @WWE. I never signed due to injury. While that could change, as of 4-16-2017 I am a free agent
4/16/2017, 9:45:53 PM
John Cena and Nikki Bella won’t be around for a long while. Dave Meltzer reported on Figure Four Online that they “aren’t scheduled for months.”
Kofi Kingston may be out of sight, as well. According to PWInsider (h/t Marc Middleton of Wrestling Inc), there have been discussions about delaying The New Day’s SmackDown debut until Kingston recovers from ankle surgery.
That not only leaves Big E and Xavier Woods in limbo, it means the SmackDown tag team division won’t reach its full strength anytime soon.
The Mojo Rawley train is chugging ahead.
WWE has made a clear effort to get the energetic powerhouse momentum. He blasted past Jinder Mahal on the most recent edition of SmackDown to continue a hot streak.
Per CageMatch.net, Rawley is now 4-0 in one-on-one matches on the blue brand. He’s 6-2 on both TV and PPVs in 2017, including two Battle Royal wins. Look for him to keep moving up the ladder.
Erick Rowan occupies a far different tier than Rawley.
He failed to defeat Randy Orton last Tuesday. That’s par for the course with him, though. As seen on CageMatch.net, Rowan is winless in his last six matches on SmackDown.
Superstar Shake-Up Aftereffects
AJ Styles is the No. 1 contender for the United States Championship. After winning a Triple Threat match last week, he now awaits the winner of Owens vs. Chris Jericho at Payback on April 30.
The Phenomenal One is likely to cross paths with Owens before then, making it clear how badly he wants that U.S. title.
It’s surprising to see Styles slide down from the WWE Championship picture. He’s bound to elevate the U.S. title scene, however.
Animosity promises to grow between Shinsuke Nakamura and Dolph Ziggler in Derby City.
The King of Strong Style met Ziggler last Tuesday in a confrontation that ended with the heel skittering out of the ring. Ziggler failed to land a superkick on Nakamura. He would later trash talk the Japanese newcomer on Talking Smack.
A Backlash bout appears to be in the works between them.
The women’s division is unrecognizable after the Superstar Shake-up last week. Alexa Bliss and Mickie James are now members of Raw. Flair and Tamina both joined SmackDown.
Superstars like @iLikeSamiZayn @JinderMahal @MsCharlotteWWE & more are hungrier than ever after being SHAKEN UP to #SDLive! https://t.co/1UuIVpCQlo
4/14/2017, 6:00:39 AM
A repacked Lana is headed to the blue brand, too.
Flair makes the most sense as the top challenger to Naomi’s crown. She has a championship pedigree and would be a great foil for the likable champion. The Queen can and should be one of SmackDown’s top stars, building on what she did on Raw for the past year.
Zayn has to have high hopes, as well.
The Underdog from the Underground moved over to SmackDown during the shake-up. And he has a shot at big-time glory ahead of him.
Zayn, Rawley, Luke Harper, Rowan, Mahal and Ziggler will all compete in a No. 1 Contender’s Six-Pack Challenge on Tuesday, per Bobby Melok of WWE.com. The winner will earn a future WWE Championship match.
In that field, Zayn is no dark horse. He’ll be facing a collection of midcarders.
SmackDown is referred to as the land of opportunity. We’re about to find out how true that is for the likes of Zayn, Rawley and others.