Owens and Zayn get another title shot as SmackDown deals with 'Daniel Bryan problem'

Shane McMahon and AJ Styles called Daniel Bryan out over his preferential treatment of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, but there have yet to be any consequences to Bryan's decisions or a clear way for the story to end in a satisfying way. Courtesy of WWE

We're just going to say it. And it's not going to be a popular sentiment.

The presence of Daniel Bryan is starting to become a pretty big source of frustration on SmackDown Live. The show's general manager, Bryan yet again failed to explain why he has seemingly sided with Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn for so long.

We've asked ourselves the same question since early December of last year when Bryan began advocating for opportunity after opportunity for Owens and Zayn, with the hope that some sort of resolution or meaningful justification was coming. But it hasn't.

On Tuesday, Shane McMahon kicked off SmackDown asking the same question in a promo that had as much a Dr. Phil vibe as it did scripted performance. (You changed the WWE landscape forever with "Yes" movement," he said as Bryan stood motionless in the ring. "I Don't want [Owens and Zayn] to manipulate you anymore.") McMahon strongly believes KO and Zayn have had their fair share of whacks at the WWE title, all of which have failed. So why, Daniel, do you reward them with even more liberty to go for gold when that opportunity has passed?

Ahead of the scheduled main-event battle between the reunited friends (with the winner going on to face AJ Styles for the WWE title at Fastlane), McMahon wondered aloud whether Bryan was living vicariously through Owens and Zayn, given the GM is unable to perform in the ring. Bryan never really got a chance to answer the question when Styles' music hit.

The WWE champion picked up the mic and expressed his irritation at the preferential treatment the two SmackDown heels have been getting for so long.

"I travel all over world to compete and defend my title," Styles said. "I can deal with the [logistical] issues, and I can deal with being away from my family. I'm built for the grind. I can deal with that. But I can't deal with management obsessing over Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn."

Yes, yes, yes. He's exactly right. The problem is, there seems to be no payoff built into the script. And if there is, it had better be good, because the Bryan-McMahon adversarial angle is moving at a painfully glacial pace.

On Tuesday, McMahon asked the appropriate questions, with Bryan retorting with less-than-satisfactory answers as to why he is handing Owens and Zayn so many chances. By the end of the show, none of our concerns were explained, not even remotely.

The bewildering tension has overshadowed some terrific matches, none more so than the stirring finale Tuesday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Owens and Zayn duked it out in a high-paced, high-energy bout rife with superkicks, helluva kicks, frog splashes and blue thunderbombs.

As the match wound down, Styles, who was at ringside and getting an earful from Zayn, interfered, triggering the referee to call for the bell, abruptly ending the match. But Bryan appeared from backstage, voicing his displeasure in the conclusion. You're both winners, he said to Owens and Zayn, and your reward ... a triple-threat battle against Styles at Fastlane for the title.

Ho-hum. What a disappointing decision, and not just for Styles. Owens and Zayn are coming off a unique two-on-one match against Styles at the Royal Rumble. So never mind the sheer fact that Owens and Zayn don't deserve a chance, but the idea of a triple-threat conceit is anticlimactic by comparison. Yes, the WWE creative team appears enamored with the idea of overstuffing superstars into the ring, but the stipulation of a third wheel so often detracts from what could be a special mano-a-mano moment.

The irony amid the chaos and confusion is that Owens and Zayn have a deep chemistry and, like they did Tuesday, regularly put on fantastic performances. Near the conclusion of their match, the fans chanted "this is awesome" in unison to the two foremost heels on SmackDown.

It was. That's all we needed.

Instead, the never-ending hoopla between Owens, Zayn and Styles goes on -- with no thanks to Daniel Bryan.

Hits & misses

  • Loved that McMahon, who was preaching how much he listens to the fans' wishes in his opening soliloquy, recognized "Rusev Day" chants from the crowd. That said, it was disappointing that later in the show Rusev lost again, this time to Bobby Roode for the United States championship. Granted, it might be a little too early to take the belt away from Roode, but the creative team needs to figure out how to give the audience what it wants more than anything: a celebration with Rusev.

  • A trio of RKOs by Randy Orton to Roode, Aiden English and Rusev following the U.S. title match was a smart way for The Viper to stay relevant. How about Orton taking the title from Roode at Fastlane and then dropping it to Rusev at WrestleMania? Book it!

  • Charlotte Flair appears to be on a mission to take down the Riott Squad one by one after they nearly cost her the SmackDown women's championship. She started with Liv Morgan on Tuesday, but you have to wonder what the plans are for Flair as the apex of the WWE year approaches. She really has no visceral heat with anyone. Outside of a potential mammoth showdown against Ronda Rousey, who is big enough on the SmackDown roster to compete with Flair on the WrestleMania stage?

  • Hey, The Bludgeon Brothers beat unnamed jobber dudes. Go figure. Once again, though, as they were walking back to the locker room, they had a stare-down with The Usos. It's just a matter of time.

  • From The Usos to The Ascension. How the mighty have fallen. We're talking about Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable, of course. Really confounding decision to leave them looking so fallible at the Royal Rumble. They are one exciting, cohesive team worthy of much more than a win over Viktor and Konnor.

  • Funny backstage moment when The New Day wished neither Zayn nor Owens would win Tuesday night (and hey, look what happened). Xavier Woods: "Hopefully they fight forever." Big E: "Yeah, in traffic."