SmackDown Live Results: It's AJ Styles against the world

AJ Styles will defend the WWE championship against the team of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens at the Royal Rumble. Courtesy WWE

You can't ask for much more out of a "go-home" show than to provide excitement and uncertainty going to a pay per view event. When that event is the Royal Rumble, being able to keep the crowded guessing as to what could possibly happen even more ideal. The Rumble, moreso than any other event on the WWE calendar, capitalizes on the unknown.

But that isn't just with the 30-person Royal Rumbles (plural this year). SmackDown Live ended this week with the situation surrounding AJ Styles' WWE championship up in the air, and how commissioner Shane McMahon and general manager Daniel Bryan will fit into the whole situation.

Will there be a turn? A double turn? Will this be the moment that Bryan is finally turned loose, finally cleared to return to in-ring competition? Surely this event will start the run to the WrestleMania feuds for the two on-camera leaders, along with three of the biggest stars on SmackDown in Styles, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.

Speaking of Zayn, his transformation from afterthought near the bottom of the roster to a legitimate threat to become (co)-WWE champion took another big step forward when he was able to pin the champion for the second time in four weeks.

The main event this week was one that AJ Styles asked for, and Bryan so "kindly" obliged, giving Styles first a match with Owens, then with Zayn.

The match with Owens ended abruptly, an Owens leg injury from a missed cannonball transition into a Calf Crusher that caused an insta-tap. Zayn was next up, and showed a physical, no-nonsense side in taking the advantage through most of the match.

Whenever Styles would take the upper hand, he would be distracted by Owens, who remained outside the ring getting treatment on his leg, despite being banned from ringside by McMahon. Owens himself never got involved, saving a possibly termination, but remained a distraction to Styles.

Styles blurred the edges of his character on Tuesday.

His attacks on an injured Owens could've planted the seeds for a heel turn at the Rumble. Or it could've signified that the numbers game has gotten in his head or that he might feel like he's "one against the world."

With direct opposition from Owens and Zayn, and indirect coming from McMahon and Bryan, whether due to being an evil authority figure, or a side effect from trying to provide balance from the other authority figure, it's clear he's in a strange chaos-filled situation.

But that's just part of the drama. The actual Royal Rumble is up in the air as well.

This is one of the more wide-open Rumble fields in recent memory. It's helped by having both a WWE and Universal championship that the winner can challenge for. When you compare this Rumble to some in years past when it seemed like the Rumble was the blowoff to a single feud and the result was, at best, a coin flip. This field seems to have one of the larger pools of potential winners.

There are still 10-plus spots available in both the men's and women's rumbles, and it's a move of pure genius. Why announce the field fillers now when it would just be a list of names without any chance of victory? Why not have a third of the spots the Rumble have you holding your breath? Sure, it could just be Goldust or a one-time only NXT call-up, but it's better to have the mystery.

A few spots were accounted for Tuesday, three of them going to the New Day. While the New Day has the slimmest of chances, having all three of them raises the possibility of a really fun spot, let's call it the Kofi Kingston spot.

Raw's 25th Anniversary show didn't allow for the chance to fully promote the Rumble, but SmackDown's two hours, along with WWE's "less is more" booking, puts fans in a great spot going into Sunday.

Hits and misses

  • Chad Gable continues to impress the more in-ring time he's given. He was the standout performer at the Fatal Four-Way match at Clash of Champions, and his broke out a new cartwheel leg drop/kick to go with his roll-through German suplex to pick up a win over Jey Uso.

  • There's RKO's out of nowhere, but Randy Orton catching Shinsuke Nakamura running in for a Kinshasa was an RKO out of oblivion.

  • Nakamura had a fun match in what was a fun-paced SmackDown. His turning a Deep Six attempt into an armbar was a great, smooth reversal. Nakamura is hopefully turning it up in conjunction with getting a big spot at WrestleMania.

  • Speaking of fun sequences, Liv Morgan ducking from three straight roundhouse kick attempts, only to get all of a strike to the chest, somewhat made up for an odd, abrupt ending to the match.