Last Friday, the WWE sent out an alert stating that Randy Orton would face AJ Styles to decide the No. 1 contender for the heavyweight title at WrestleMania.
While it was not terribly surprising that the creative brass would ultimately go in this direction, it was another turbulent twist in a tale that a week earlier already had Styles written in to face Bray Wyatt in Orlando's main event on April 2.
But that decision was short-lived. Styles, whose overall body of work has been consistently stellar since joining the WWE, was placed into a match Tuesday night against Orton to decide Wyatt's opponent ... again.
We've long known that storylines don't shake out in the seamless manner we'd like, and that the path from A-Z isn't always a logical one. That was never more clear than the opening segment of the show when the two SmackDown Live authorities, Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan, tried to justify weeks of abrupt changes.
To review: In January, Orton won the Royal Rumble, gaining an automatic entry into WrestleMania's main event. Soon after, Orton pledged his allegiance to Wyatt, claiming he wasn't worthy of fighting his master, before turning on him last week in a demonic fire-burning, soul-crushing promo. Bryan called it a "methodical plan," which in this case seems like a euphemism for mass confusion. All along, Styles was being strung along in this wild ride.
The bottom line is that the decision-makers finally got their act together, and WrestleMania will have a stronger, more attractive, card now that the pre-Orlando shenanigans are playing out.
In Tuesday night's main event, Orton and Styles put on a high-energy show in front of an equally hyper Indianapolis crowd. The outcome, while ending the way many expected with Orton eventually pinning Styles, means Wyatt is again scheduled to face his former master at WrestleMania.
The reality is that as valuable as Styles has been, he's in need of a fresh direction. One of the downsides of the brand split -- and this goes for everyone -- is that there are fewer options to build compelling angles on a week-to-week basis. All indications now suggest Styles will focus on a growing dispute with McMahon -- a plot that was further validated by a heated discussion backstage on "Talking Smack" between the two -- which will likely culminate on the grandest stage of the year.
What should not be overlooked amid Tuesday's aim to give WrestleMania some clarity was the match itself between Styles and Orton. While it was not, as JBL deadpanned, "the greatest main event in SmackDown history," it was up there, and the two performers put on a spirited show with as good an ending as you'll see. After Styles faked a 450 splash, he went for it again but missed, only to find himself the victim of a vicious RKO moments later.
Take a new look at #TheViper's @WrestleMania-clinching #SDLive victory over @AJStylesOrg through the lens of our slow-motion camera! pic.twitter.com/oh38YABBnP
- WWE (@WWE) March 8, 2017
It goes without saying, Styles makes everyone around him better, but Orton is a five-tool athlete himself. That may have been overlooked lately, especially with his character more involved in sinister Wyatt Family drama than showcasing what he can still do, even after more than 15 years toiling in the WWE ring.
If there was a downside to the WrestleMania's main event and its outcome, it's that Luke Harper was but a distant memory. All that work to make him a main player, and now it looks as if he will be relegated to something along the lines of an Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
Keep talking, Alexa Bliss, keep talking
Seriously, is there anyone this side of Chris Jericho who is more talented at mouthing off than current women's champion Alexa Bliss? Here are just a few zingers from her very funny promo as she condescendingly explained why each of the following weren't worthy of being her WrestleMania opponent:
Naomi: "She's home right now feeling the ow."
Nikki Bella: "She's actually in the training room right now getting nursed back to health by her square-chinned superman."
Carmella: "She's off taking care of her chinless troll under some creepy bridge."
Becky Lynch: "It's definitely not going to be Chucky."
Natalya: "Natty, did you get into some catnip, because there's no way you're getting a title shot."
The entertaining segment was a means to finalize the WrestleMania card, as most spots were this week on Raw and SmackDown, but this one also left some interesting possibilities. Bryan announced Bliss wouldn't be taking on one, not two, not even three opponents, but every available woman on the roster. Glancing at the inventory, there could be as many as eight opponents for Bliss. And who knows what new (and old) faces we'll see given that it will be the climax of the season.
What we don't know is what kind of match it will be (battle royal, gauntlet, elimination), but really, as long as Bliss doesn't lose her gift of gab, the title around her waist is secondary.
Hits and misses
After an enjoyable promo, the tag team match between Bliss and Mickie James, and Lynch and Natalya seemed more or less trivial. Although the multiple betrayals -- Natalya turned on Lynch and, less predictably, James nailing Bliss with a Mick Kick, established a decisive point: It's every woman for herself, and trust no one for the next few weeks.
A week after a candid, seemingly authentic, segment with The Miz to kick off SmackDown, watching John Cena (and partner Nikki Bella) relegated to a mixed-gender match against James Ellsworth and Carmella had more of a parody feel Tuesday night. However, it did set the table for a match against Miz and Maryse at WrestleMania. Still, it's odd to think Cena, a 16-time champ, won't be part of anything even closely resembling a main event in Orlando.
Seriously, what's become of Dean Ambrose? Am I the only one who keeps forgetting he actually holds a title? It's been nine weeks since he took the Intercontinental championship from The Miz, and now he's engaging in hokey segments with Curt Hawkins and spending more time trying to hone his comedic skills than engaging in memorable in-ring encounters. The ensuing backstage brawl with Baron Corbin was violent with pipes and forklifts, but without any ambient reaction from the crowd, the segment came across as flat. There's little question the title needs to change hands when Ambrose and Corbin take on each other at WrestleMania.