Seven weeks ago, Dolph Ziggler strolled out of the backstage area with the United States championship he'd recently won at Clash of Champions and, after an acrimonious rant of feeling overlooked and disrespected, placed his belt on the ground and walked away.
No explanation, no justification. Ziggler wasn't injured, as far as we know, so the scuttlebutt became that much more pervasive as to his mysterious decision. By all measures, he was done with the WWE. Why else cede such a coveted title?
But in a surprise appearance just over three weeks ago, Ziggler re-emerged on the WWE scene, becoming the 30th entrant into the Royal Rumble. A one-off showing? Apparently not.
On Tuesday, days after SmackDown Live commissioner Shane McMahon announced Ziggler would be back in a match with huge ramifications, he closed the show with his hands raised in victory after defeating Sami Zayn to earn a spot in a now-Fatal 5-way battle for the WWE championship in the upcoming Fastlane pay-per-view. A pretty decent effort for a guy who has been shelved as long as Ziggler.
So where was he all this time? Why not clue in the discerning audience?
Make no mistake, this is not a Dolph Ziggler issue. This is a SmackDown storytelling problem.
For all its tremendous athletes and high-profile stars, the show has done a shoddy job of creating any semblance of cohesive narratives. We made it perfectly clear last week that the Kevin Owens-Zayn-authority angle has exceeded its shelf life, and that is just the beginning.
Ziggler, who was beat down by Owens and Zayn to open Tuesday's show, was still healthy enough to return later in the night and win an eminently physical match against Zayn. Good on him, but don't you think the WWE universe is wondering why Ziggler left the title in the middle of the ring late last year, seemingly riding off to the next phase of his life? Give us something -- anything.
For all the effort the creative team has put into producing compelling adventures, it's frustrating that we're constantly left with these cliffhanger-esque endings. While we're at it, we should also note the McMahon-Daniel Bryan saga did not make any headway Tuesday -- not that we want to belabor that issue at the moment.
In many respects, the reticence from Ziggler and the inability to move most of SmackDown's chronicles forward was disappointing, but there was a good amount of silver lining that shouldn't get overlooked. The action Tuesday was top notch.
When the show opened, Ziggler and the opponent he was originally supposed to face for inclusion into Fastlane's championship match, Baron Corbin, were both blindsided and brutalized by Owens and Zayn, ending any hope that battle would happen. Corbin never had a chance to make it out of the backstage area, while Ziggler found himself outmanned by the nefarious duo. But Bryan, who has appeared to side with KO and Zayn for weeks, would have none of it. The SmackDown GM instead demanded Owens would fight Corbin and Zayn would face Ziggler later in the night.
- WWE (@WWE) February 14, 2018
The respective matches were intense, fast-paced and physical, with Corbin and Ziggler eventually prevailing and earning a spot in a Fatal 5-way Fastlane showdown for the WWE title on March 11.
The fallout from the hoopla to open the show Tuesday led to refreshing matchups between the quartet of heels. Owens and Corbin had never met in a one-on-one match, while in their lone battle four years ago on a Friday night SmackDown, Ziggler unpended Zayn.
Perhaps we'll get some sort of explanation from Ziggler next week, but based on the jagged storytelling on SmackDown in recent months, we're certainly not banking on it. But, really, who needs lip service and streamlined narratives when SmackDown can produce the level of matches it did Tuesday night? Ultimately, that is why we tune in.
Hits and misses
Speaking of solid action, the Charlotte Flair-Sarah Logan encounter was extremely well-executed. Because she's a part of the Riott Squad triumvirate, it's been difficult to gauge what kind of talent Logan is as a standalone performer, but despite losing, she has both the physical and technical chops that will hopefully make her a long-term priority for the creative team.
Very frustrating to see Jinder Mahal get involved in what could have been a tremendous rivalry between Unites States champion Bobby Roode and Randy Orton. There are plenty of other opportunities out there for the Maharaja in the short term, so let Roode and Orton do their thing, please.
No Rusev Day? The blasphemy. Yes, he and Lana teamed up for a mixed-match challenge later that night, but still the SmackDown audience was missing the biggest reason to cheer during the show.
Give me some more New Day versus Chad Gable-Shelton Benjamin. What a fantastic showing, highlighted by Gable's super-human German suplex on Big E. Imagine if those two were given the liberty for some one-on-one matches? No question that would make everyone forget about Rusev, if only for a few moments.