There was only one way I could round off my Spotlights for Wrestlemania 34. And that is with the most hotly anticipated return the wrestling world has seen for many a year. We haven’t seen him in the ring for three years, but he’s back for Wrestlemania. I couldn’t not cover it, it’s the in-ring comeback of Daniel Bryan, as he teams with Shane McMahon to take on Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn!
So there’s been a lot of conflict leading up to this. And I don’t mean conflict between the faces and the heels, that would be obvious. But for months now, Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan have been in a battle of wills over the direction SmackDown should take. And most of the time, those disagreements were over Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, who themselves have been fighting with each other again in the last couple of months.
Basically, this all stems back to SummerSlam in August last year. Shane McMahon was the special guest referee for Kevin Owens’ United States Championship match against AJ Styles. KO lost the match, and his attention turned from getting his title back to blaming Shane for the loss.
That led to Owens attacking Shane, attacking Vince, and the apparent “culmination” of their feud at Hell In A Cell. There Shane was a maniac again and attempted to murder KO by jumping off the cell and through Owens through the announce table. But instead we got one of the more shocking heel turns WWE has managed to pull off, as Sami Zayn saved Owens and threw him on top of Shane, giving KO the win and reuniting the perennial “former best friends” Owens and Zayn.
Zayn and Owens have a magic together. We knew that, from their time on the indies as opponents and teammates, and from their rivalry through NXT to WWE. But what I really didn’t see coming was Zayn being so good as a heel. He turned everything that made him likeable and turned it up way past 11, making him insufferable.
And then, strangely, Daniel Bryan seemed to side with them. The ultimate underdog, the most popular superstar WWE has had in the last five years, started making decisions in favour of Owens and Zayn. It was necessary from a story perspective, because if we were to believe Shane really hated them that much he could just have fired them, but Bryan’s batting for them gave us a reason that they were being kept around.
So we got to Clash of Champions in December, and Zayn and Owens faced the team of Randy Orton & Shinsuke Nakamura, with both Bryan and Shane as the special referees and the stipulation that if KO and Zayn lost, they were fired. Due to various shenanigans, Owens and Zayn won. And they both got a WWE Championship opportunity at the Royal Rumble in a handicap match.
AJ Styles retained against the odds, but Bryan decided to give KO and Zayn another opportunity at Fastlane, this time in a triple threat match. Of course, it would end up becoming a six pack challenge, but in the build up to Fastlane, Owens and Zayn’s relationship would become fractured. They each blamed each other for the loss at the Rumble, and they set out to prove that they were the better man.
Of course, Styles would again retain the WWE Title, and the whole Shane/Zayn/Owens debacle was left without a resolution. Or so it seemed. On the SmackDown following Fastlane, Shane McMahon acknowledged that he had been targeting Owens and Zayn with his decision making, and announced he would be taking a leave of absence. But first he made Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn for Wrestlemania.
For some reason, this did not sit well with Owens and Zayn, who had still been blaming each other for not winning the WWE Championship. They decided to attack the outgoing commissioner, sending a strong leaving message.
To Daniel Bryan. This attack opened his eyes. As far as he was concerned, Owens and Zayn had won. They wanted rid of Shane McMahon – check. Bryan had their backs – check. They had a prominent singles match at Wrestlemania – check. But they still attacked their boss. The sheer needlessness of the attack led to Bryan making the decision that Owens and Zayn needed to be fired, for their own good.
Obviously I’m missing one very important step. That afternoon, WWE announced that Daniel Bryan had been cleared to return to in-ring competition. That’s crucial, because it would make Owens and Zayn’s reaction to being fired possible.
And so here we are. Bryan would come out the next week and announce that since he and Shane wanted SmackDown to be the land of opportunity, he was giving the fired pair one last opportunity. At Wrestlemania, it would be Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn vs Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan, with the former team’s jobs on the line.
It was fantastic to see Bryan kicking Owens and Zayn to hell and back the night his medical clearance was announced, and it will be fantastic to see Bryan back full time. His return may be the most highly anticipated part of Wrestlemania.
It is interesting to note that despite Owens and Zayn having their fair share of fans, when they’ve been going up against Daniel Bryan they have been booed out of the building. This is in stark contrast to Raw, where Roman Reigns just can’t get over even against a departing Brock Lesnar. Maybe this is proof that when going up against a true babyface, even the best heels can get a strong negative reaction.
So going forward, Daniel Bryan will be wrestling. He’s even been announced for the Greatest Royal Rumble event at the end of this month. You’d presume that means that he won’t be SmackDown’s general manager. I reckon he will stay on Tuesday nights as probably their top star, helping to ease the loss of AJ Styles to Raw that I’m fully expecting.
But I also cannot for the life of me see Owens and Zayn leaving. It’s possible they go to Raw, but it’s an easy first two rivalries back for Bryan to face Owens and Zayn. That raises the question – does Daniel Bryan lose his first match back in three years?
That seems incredibly counter productive on paper. The obvious option is that Shane takes the fall, especially considering he’s apparently suffering from legitimate diverticulitis. But it still doesn’t really feel right that Bryan loses his first match back. It could be the safe option mind, WWE will be monitoring Bryan every single time he steps into the ring in case there is any indication of a recurrence of his injury. On the off chance there are bad signs after his first full match, it might be the better option to have him lose and not have a storyline cut off before it gets going.
But let’s face it, it really doesn’t matter what the outcome is. That Bryan is getting back into the ring at all is a victory. If they lose, it might make Owens and Zayn mega heels. But the story is that Daniel Bryan is wrestling in WWE again. Win or lose, it is going to be a special moment when his music hits, and I fully expect it to be the biggest ovation of the night. It’s happening, it’s really happening. And we should enjoy it for as long as we can, because anything Bryan does from now on is a bonus. Think Shawn Michaels from 2002 on. This is a new lease of life for the Yes Movement.