What to do with Kevin Owens? Hmmm.
In lieu of firing KO and partner Sami Zayn for their actions two days earlier at Survivor Series, when they interfered and turned their backs on Team Blue in the five-on-five elimination match, Daniel Bryan informed the mischief-makers there was going to be a different kind of punishment later Tuesday -- lumberjack-like punishment.
Yes, Owens and Zayn were going to battle the New Day in the main event at SmackDown Live in Houston with essentially the rest of the roster surrounding the ring to ensure the heels could not escape to the locker room. It was a good plan -- a fun one, in fact.
What ultimately ensued, though, was a sequence of chaotic moments that did little to advance the Owens saga in any notable way. The match itself was entertaining, especially when Zayn attempted to bolt to the backstage area, only for 15 or so of his closest enemies to catch him and toss him back into the ring.
But that's where the narrative more or less stopped and gave way to a series of ancillary incidents. With Zayn again on the outside of the ring, Baron Corbin attempted to slug him, only to miss and nail Bobby Roode instead. That triggered an all-out melee as the entire SmackDown squad filtering into the ring battle royal style.
Somehow Zayn took advantage of the chaos and rolled up Kofi Kingston for the win. From there, the bedlam devolved into even more anarchy as Rusev and Aiden English, both of whom were confronted by Owens earlier in the show in an attempt to have his back, came to the heels' defense. Still, as quickly as they appeared, Rusev and English had vanished.
Owens, too, managed to escape, leaving Zayn alone in the ring, only to get manhandled by the New Day, including a devastating Midnight Hour from Xavier Woods that mercifully ended the in-ring disarray.
Moments later, Owens had begun to plead with Bryan backstage to keep his job. While the cowardly direction leading up to the confrontation was apropos of a bona fide bad guy, the fact that Owens had so earnestly thanked, and ultimately capitulated, to the GM for allowing him to remain employed was anything but what his character had become. There was nothing snarky from Owens -- no quips, no threats, no posturing, no gamesmanship.
Instead, Owens had fallen to his knees and begged. The guy who would never subjugate himself in any sincere manner had suddenly become chicken-hearted and at the mercy of a more powerful figure.
While Owens doesn't own a title at the moment, he is no doubt the king of insubordination. That's how he rolls; that's how he thrives. Outside of his rekindled relationship with Zayn, Owens has no one he can call a friend. But what KO has always had going for him was a defiant, disobedient side that defined the depths of his villainous role.
What is Owens' next punishment? Hardly a date at the unemployment line, but one with Randy Orton next week.
Don't mistake us, there's nothing wrong with a feud against Orton, who remains one of the top performers in the business. But since losing his latest WWE championship earlier in the year, he has kind of become glorified filler material. Orton is hardly the next step in advancing the Owens angle. This looks little more than a heat-less challenge. The problem, though, is that while Orton might not be the logical next step for KO, it's hard to say what is.
The lumberjack match was an entertaining stipulation, but it was also a whole lot of chaos without much payoff. It's as if the Survivor Series obstruction never happened, especially considering Shane McMahon -- who opened the show with an emotional promo berating Owens and Zayn for their "megalomaniac" behavior and delusion in thinking they're best stars in the WWE -- wasn't even around for the main event. What started out as a promising conceit Tuesday fell pretty flat amid the overbooked discord.
So what to do with KO? Suddenly it seems like a much more complicated question.
Hits & misses
Apparently, someone thinks the women's division(s) need an overall adjustment. After Paige, along with Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, unexpectedly invaded Monday Night Raw, Liv Morgan, Ruby Riot and Sarah Logan surprised and attacked Naomi and Becky Lynch backstage Tuesday. Later in the show, they interfered and abruptly ended the women's championship match between Charlotte and Natalya. For SmackDown specifically, it needed a dose of new talent. The current stable was stale at best, and storylines have scarcely progressed since the "Superstar Shakeup" in April. But here's hoping the NXT trio is more than just another faction and weeks' worth of three-on-three matches. SmackDown needs to generate visceral heat between its now wealth of competitors.
Has Natalya's time as a women's contender for the championship finally come to a close after the aforementioned infiltration by the NXT trio cost her a shot to regain the title? It would appear so, and if that's true, kudos to Natalya for reigning atop the division as long as she did. Her in-ring work and super snarky words made her a legit heel -- someone who stepped out of her longtime mid-card existence and embraced her leadership role.
Listening to AJ Styles talk smack with Jinder Mahal two days after he put on one of the best performances of the year against Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series couldn't have been more anticlimactic. There's just no buzz, no excitement. Just a lot of meh. But then again, what new, dynamic feuds are there for Styles on the SmackDown roster at the moment? Hmmm. Shinsuke Namakura is the obvious choice, but that's going to wait until the Royal Rumble at the earliest. Perhaps even WrestleMania if the creative team decides to build the feud in a more methodical manner. It's really nothing against Mahal, who proved to be a worthy champ. But Brock is an impossible act to follow.
Not surprisingly, great action from Shelton Benjamin and Jey Uso in a one-on-one bout that the babyface won after a devastating paydirt finisher. There was some discussion on the broadcast how Benjamin and then partner Charlie Haas had an interaction with the current SmackDown champs when they were first starting out in the business. Benjamin was already a veteran, which shows just how much staying power he has. Now the question is: How much longer until he and partner Chad Gable successfully take the tag-team belts from the Usos? Clash of Champions, perhaps?
Impressive debut from the Bludgeon Brothers, who showed they might be as dangerous as they said they were going to be in their chilling promos. Luke Harper and Erick Rowan manhandled the Hype Bros in the 120 seconds they were actually in the ring, but if there was a downside, that Greek warrior attire they had going on was hard to take serious. Perhaps the Fashion Police can help when they return next week.