The last week in WWE programming featured championship clashes, the continuation of heated rivalries and the ascension of young stars into prominent roles on both Raw and SmackDown Live.
The result? Two engaging episodes of the company's longest-running television shows.
With the blue brand's Clash of Champions right around the corner, and the flagship continuing its steady build to the new year, which was able to captivate fans and win this week's battle for brand supremacy?
The feud between intercontinental champion Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe encompassed Monday's broadcast.
The Samoan Submission Machine interrupted the opening promo between The Big Dog and potential contender Jason Jordan. After Reigns dispatched of general manager Kurt Angle's illegitimate son, Joe's failed sneak attack fueled him to make his presence felt later in the night.
Joe would interfere in the red-hot Raw Tag Team Championship match pitting Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins against Sheamus and Cesaro, costing Reigns' Shield teammates the victory and titles.
With universal champion Brock Lesnar not on the show, the IC title has taken on greater significance. Joe is presented as a badass on Reigns' level, capable of hanging with Lesnar and similar unstoppable forces. He is the perfect foil for Reigns while WWE Creative begins its build-up to Royal Rumble in January.
The intensity Joe and Reigns bring to their performances, not to mention the quality of their previous bouts, is enough to generate genuine interest in their rivalry.
Paige's victory over Sasha Banks and the proceeding beatdown of The Boss by Absolution was the most logical next step in the trio's reign of terror over the Raw women's division. The match itself was a dream bout of sorts, even if it failed to reach the overall quality one would hope from two performers of their quality.
No development from Monday's show, though, was more significant or drew greater reaction than the arrival of WOKEN Matt Hardy.
The descent into madness began with a series of losses and escalated with a defeat at the hands of Bray Wyatt last week. Monday night, he debuted his new persona, interrupting a Wyatt promo and sentencing The Eater of Worlds to deletion.
With a report from Justin Barrasso of Sports Illustrated suggesting Vince McMahon supports the character and will give Hardy "creative license," expect more wild, crazy, ridiculous and entertaining developments from the future Hall of Famer in the weeks and months to come.
Daniel Bryan has seen McMahon family members hold talent down because of personal vendettas in the past. Hell, he was one of them. A so-called "B+ player" whose ability to carry WWE on his back was called into question by The Authority, he overcame the roadblocks they put in his path to become the most beloved wrestler on the roster.
He is watching another McMahon hold down two Superstars not groomed for wrestling success, who probably never should have made it to WWE, in Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. The look on Bryan's face as SmackDown went off the air Tuesday night, one of distrust and disdain for the decisions made by the commissioner, suggests the leader of the Yes Movement may no longer be ok with standing back and accepting decisions made by his superior.
McMahon's announcement that he will be the guest referee for the match between the team of Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Owens and Zayn stacked the odds against the heels. Making matters more difficult for them was the revelation that, if they lose the match, both Zayn and Owens are fired from WWE.
Theirs is the central story on SmackDown, more prominent even than the WWE Championship rivalry between AJ Styles and Jinder Mahal, and with good reason. Owens and Zayn are an engaging heel duo and their on-screen chemistry with McMahon makes for entertaining television.
Sprinkle in Bryan's involvement, and it is a layered program in ways the WWE title feud is not.
It was Rusev Day Tueday night as The Bulgarian Brute and his sinister tag team partner Aiden English defeated The New Day. Not only did they pick up a clean victory, they generated a loud response from fans, and to cap it all off, they were added to the SmackDown Tag Team Championship match at Clash of Champions.
The duo, seemingly thrown together to give them something to do at a time of creative bankruptcy, has made the most of it and is in a great place heading into the December 17 pay-per-view extravaganza.
Dolph Ziggler is a Superstar who has had an inauspicious 2017 but Tuesday night, he was booked strongly heading into what may be his final pay-per-view event as a contracted WWE Superstar.
The Showoff not only reminded United States champion Baron Corbin and Bobby Roode of his many accomplishments in WWE, he laid both men out later in the show, standing tall and sending a message to his Clash of Champions opponents.
It was a bit of booking that was essential in establishing Ziggler as a legitimate threat to the opposition following months that had him more closely resembling Noam Dar than a former world champion.
Finn Balor wrestled Bo Dallas in a match that meant nothing Monday night.
There was no rhyme or reason for it existing. It was a throwaway match featuring the first universal champion Balor, who cannot seem to catch a break with a writing team disinterested in presenting him as the Superstar he is.
Charismatic, explosive and cool, Balor should be headlining.
Instead, he squares off with the least credible Miz lackey in a forgettable match whose long-reaching effects are nonexistent.
There is a greater sense of urgency within the SmackDown brand thanks to the upcoming Clash of Champions pay-per-view and that always breeds a better television product.
By no means is this a blowout victory, though.
Raw continues to develop stories that are interesting. Even the ongoing program between heavyweights Braun Strowman and Kane has been well-done to this point.
Yet, the intrigue surrounding Bryan and his place in the story involving Owens, Zayn and McMahon is an example what SmackDown can deliver when it wants to.
The blue brand takes this week.
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