This time last week, we thought AJ Styles would be competing in a match to get on Smackdown's Survivor Series team. One week later, he's the new WWE champion after cleanly beating Jinder Mahal in Manchester, England.
Last Thursday, Shane McMahon tweeted that AJ Styles, instead of competing for a spot on the team, would receive a title shot against Jinder Mahal on this week's Smackdown.
While this raised some questions, many assumed this would be simply a way to keep the Styles/Mahal feud going as we go through the Survivor Series build. Or maybe even a way to build Mahal on his way to Lesnar.
However, WWE got to Manchester, and the two had a strong back-and-forth match. The Singh Brothers got involved a bit, but AJ Styles was able to quickly neutralize them. Even after being hit with the Khallas, Styles was able to get to the rope. Finally, he was able to hit a Phenomenal Forearm, and pinned Mahal cleanly in the middle of the ring to become two-time WWE champion.
This is clearly a sudden shift by the WWE. While the Survivor Series match was billed as the two champions going against each other, the promos and storylines have been about Lesnar and Mahal. The fact that both were champions was almost secondary.
If this had been the plan, the promos involved would have taken on a very different tone. So something changed. It could be as simple as a sudden desire to define the UK shows as important shows on the calendar. It could be that something happened to Jinder Mahal that necessitated him being pulled from Survivor Series. Most likely the reasoning will come out in the next several days.
No matter the reason though, this clearly puts Survivor Series in a different light. No matter what people thought about Jinder's title reign, Lesnar vs. Mahal is not the most exciting match. Lesnar vs. AJ Styles? Yeah, that's way more exciting.
Suddenly we have the beast vs. the best wrestler on the planet in a dream match for wrestling fans. It's a match that you can truly bill as the marquee match of Survivor Series. You have to wish that it was given more time, but it's also a match that you don't really need to build that much, because it's Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles.
And above this all, AJ Styles is now a two-time champ. In his years in TNA, or even New Japan, people watched AJ Styles and wondered what he could do in WWE. Even in most fans' wildest dreams, becoming a two time champ wasn't on the table. So to see this is amazing. AJ Styles is truly becoming “the champ who runs the camp,” and now wrestling fans get a true dream match in Houston.
>>The other big shift on Smackdown was a shift in a long-term policy. Becky Lynch and James Ellsworth had a match, reversing course on the long-term ban on inter-gender matches. The match itself isn't surprising, as this match had been teased for close to six months now.
However, to have it so suddenly after going so long without a match is certainly surprising. We'll have to see if the ban on male vs. woman violence is now completely lifted, or if this was a one-time thing for the international crowd.
>>Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable beat The Usos via count out in a tag title match. This clearly elevates Benjamin and Gable, and gives the Usos a clear direction coming out of Survivor Series.
>>Randy Orton beat Rusev in a match where Rusev would have joined Team Smackdown if he had won.
>>Kofi Kingston beat Sami Zayn. This came after Shane celebrated with the New Day, over The New Day's actions on RAW costing The Shield the titles, to start the show.