Fans tuned into SmackDown expecting to find out who would challenge Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania. They didn't get that answer though, after a confusing sequence that led us back to an ageless question in wrestling: What do you do when the competitors mess up?
The battle royal came down to the final two of Luke Harper and AJ Styles. They had a pretty good back and forth for a while, and it came down to the final sequence. As the two battled close to the ropes, Styles ended up getting knocked to the apron. Harper tried to eliminate him, but Styles was able to counter it, knocking Harper out to the apron on the other side of the ringpost.
As the two jockeyed for position, Harper was able to get leverage, and literally drag AJ over the turnbuckles, and as he fell off balance, both tumbled to the floor. Here's where it got interesting. Despite an intentionally bad camera angle, it was clear that Harper had the match won. Styles went down and barring a gravity-defying act, he hit the ground first. Yet, the refs all said they couldn't see who hit first. Eventually Daniel Bryan came out, said that the match was a draw, and Harper and Styles would have a match next week to determine the No. 1 contender for WrestleMania.
Look, botches happen sometimes. It's a fact of wrestling. Sometimes even the finish gets messed up. And when it does, WWE has to decide what to do on the fly. And, like in most cases, there wasn't a totally obvious choice here. On the one hand, it's pretty clear to anyone who watched that Styles touched first. To have the commentators, the refs who were right there and Daniel Bryan all say that they have no idea who touched first makes everyone involved look like an idiot.
Mick Foley even made light of this on Twitter, as he needled his counterparts on SmackDown. On the other hand, they had built this so the story wouldn't reach its peak til next week. Harper probably could use that extra week of build, and a big moment to cement his status if he's going to win the title shot. And if Styles is going to lose, it doesn't hurt to get one more needle in to set him over the edge. But it's hard to take it seriously after that finish.
So did they make the right call? That's up to you to decide. But it's a constant reminder that with a live show, it's that much harder to get things right.
The rest of SmackDown:
>> The rest of the battle royal served as a paint-by-numbers to get to WrestleMania. It all went down very well. Dean Ambrose eliminated Baron Corbin, and Corbin attacked Ambrose again, most likely to set that match up at WrestleMania. Cena eliminated Miz, and Miz snuck in again and threw Cena out to help establish that likely tag match. Dolph Ziggler, Apollo Crew and Kalisto are all still interacting. There was nothing fancy about it, but it did a good job of establishing where SmackDown was going for the next five weeks before WrestleMania.
>> Naomi, unfortunately, had to relinquish her women's title to start the show. It was a bitter moment, made especially tough as she handed the belt over to Daniel Bryan, who knows the feeling all too well. It's interesting because we still don't have any real reports about what her injury is. She was wearing a knee brace, so we know it's something with her knee, but there has been no report about torn ligaments or anything else. But it's serious enough that they knew she wouldn't be ready by WrestleMania, so they pulled the trigger on the belt. Alexa Bliss was given a shot to regain the title against Becky Lynch, and she succeeded, though it wasn't without some controversy. She rolled up Becky and grabbed the tights to earn the pin. After the match, as Becky looked on in disbelief, Mickie James came in and attacked. It wouldn't surprise me if all three of these women were involved at WrestleMania.
>> In the other women's match, Natalya ended up beating Nikki Bella after a wild match. They used the falls count anywhere, No DQ stipulation liberally, fighting all around ringside and even to the back. There they used weapons, and a mirror was even shattered. But the most important moment was when, once again, Nikki Bella got thrown into Maryse. This would become important as they fought back toward the ring. As Nikki locked Natalya into the STF, Maryse came out with a lead pipe, and hit Nikki several times. Eventually Miz would come out and pull Maryse off, but the damage was done and Natalya got the win. This is clearly going to set up the heavily-rumored mixed tag match between the power couples.
>> American Alpha beat Tyler Breeze and Fandango. After the match, the Usos came out through the crowd, though stayed by the barrier instead of entering the ring. From there, the Usos cut one of the better promos they've ever cut, challenging American Alpha, and promising that they'll take the titles.