SmackDown Live Results: Settling into a holding pattern heading into Royal Rumble

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn pledged to be the first ever co-WWE champions if they defeat AJ Styles at the Royal Rumble. Courtesy of WWE

It's more or less like any other chronology you read or watch. There is a setup, a plot, a lot of filler material in between and a conclusion.

The WWE m.o. mostly follows suit when it comes to creating stories -- with an added twist here, a hair-raising swerve there and a few chapters that can often seem out of order. Nonetheless, the company is trying to tell a decent, cogent narrative.

With just more than two weeks to go before the Royal Rumble, we find ourselves settling into the "a lot of filler material in between" element in the overall presentation. Specifically, we're referring to Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, AJ Styles and the two referees head-honchos of SmackDown Live, Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan.

A week ago, we wrote about the mass confusion with these sizeable personalities making impetuous, eye-raising decisions. On Tuesday night, the continuation of those decisions finally mellowed out. In other words, the latest edition of SmackDown appeared as little more than an attempt to ensure the Bryan-McMahon & Co. saga doesn't lose any momentum before a potentially whammy of a payoff at the first pay-per-view of 2018.

In a rare proper interview to kick off SmackDown, Renee Young sat down with the WWE champion Styles to discuss the growing disorder and seemingly unfair decision-making recently. How does Styles feel about the upcoming handicap match between him and Owens-Zayn? A fair question. And a fair answer.

I can lose the title, for sure, Styles said, or I could "kick the crap out of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens." Yes, those seem like logical conclusions come Rumble time.

KO and Zayn eventually made their way to the ring to announce that after they win the WWE title, they will become the first-ever co-champs. Hey, the company has allowed all three men in the New Day as tag-team titlists, so why not Owens and Zayn? No matter, Owens' promise was by and large the top takeaway from a show that Tuesday could be considered quality filler time.

In the opening segment, McMahon eventually made his way to the ring to announce a handicap match of his own later that night, with the two heels taking on Styles, Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura. Fun stuff, for sure, but certainly not a matchup put in place to advance the current storyline in any significant way.

As the five men battled, Owens and Zayn finally surrendered -- at least they thought they had -- and began to walk back down the aisle to the locker room. Not so fast, said McMahon, who made his way back into the ringside area to declare this match a no-disqualification bout. The five men went back to work, only for Owens to crunch Owens with a steel chair, a move surely intended to get him disqualified.

Predictably, Shane O'Mac picked up his mic again and -- you guessed it -- made the main event a no-countout, no-disqualification, anything-goes match. Or as Corey Graves said, "hot garbage."

Ultimately, the good guys took advantage of Zayn, with Nakamura nailing him with a Kinshasa and Orton landing an RKO to secure the win. Again, this was an entertaining match, perhaps even a worthy main event, especially when you consider that outside of naming The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin co-referees or bringing in a steel cage, it doesn't seem there is much else the creative team can do to the upcoming handicap match at the Royal Rumble.

How this will play out is anyone's guess. With so many variables and potential twists, the Rumble is unquestionably can't-miss TV. For now, we just have to be patient and enjoy these middle chapters until the performers make their way to the grand stage in Philadelphia in what hopefully will be a blockbuster conclusion.

Hits & misses

  • It's nothing new for performers who have missed weeks, if not months to come back with a vengeance, but for Becky Lynch, her time away to shoot a movie was exactly what she needed to resume her mantle as a legit threat in the women's division. Lynch beat Ruby Riott by making her tap Tuesday night, and in doing so, it made the idea the she could win the Royal Rumble that much more realistic. Lynch against her former friend-turned-enemy-turned-friend again Charlotte Flair feels WrestleMania worthy. That's assuming Ronda Rousey doesn't show up.

  • OK, Bludgeon Brothers, we get it. You can royally maim your opponents, as The Ascension found out again on Tuesday. But enough of the slow build -- it's time for Luke Harper and Erick Rowan to go all Braun Strowman on us and demand a title match, or at least a battle against worthy competition with a winning pedigree. Perhaps The New Day? That'd be a barnburner, no doubt.

  • Mojo Rawley is who we thought he was -- a high-energy, maniacal performer whose spirited routine compensates for his lack of in-ring polish. Look no further than his match-ending flying forehand punch -- a poor man's superman punch -- against former partner Zack Ryder in the final opening-round match of the United States championship tournament. Still, Rawley, the most recent Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal winner, deserves to finally build off that momentum, even if the odds of him beating Bobby Roode in the tournament semifinals are somewhere between zero and ... zero percent.

  • Really dig the edge Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin are starting to show. They were a team without a personality since joining forces, but they showed an ability to draw legit heel heat by antagonizing the Birmingham, Alabama, crowd with taunts of Monday night's "lucky" outcome in the College Football Playoff National Championship game -- one decided, according to Benjamin, because of poor officiating, exactly as their tag team title match last Tuesday.

  • Just not understanding why (why!) the decision-makers keep finding ways for Rusev and Aiden English to lose. They have rebuilt themselves in a way no one thought was possible. For so long, both were afterthoughts. On Tuesday, they fell to another team that never benefited from their own fleeting moment of stardom in Breezango. C'mon, creative team -- Rusev Day isn't going to last forever. Or is it?