Sunday, at the Royal Rumble, the WWE World Championship will be defended in a handicap match. The champion, AJ Styles, will be challenged by Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. The match is a continuation of one of the longest running storylines in the WWE today. The feud between Shane McMahon and Kevin Owens has taken on many forms, now including Sami Zayn, the champ, and General Manager Daniel Bryan. Can Owens and Zayn defeat AJ? And if they do, who walks out champion?
The power struggle for control of SmackDown Live has been building for months now. Though this is one of the biggest pay-per-views of the year, I can’t imagine this being the end of the feud. The story has been built around the idea of Shane McMahon being an unjust leader, but Daniel Bryan has been swinging the odds in the other direction. In many cases, storylines involving authority figures feel dated or contrived. Kudos go out to the talent involved and writing staff for keeping this one interesting.
At Clash Of Champions, the tag match featuring Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn teaming up against Shinsuke Nakamura and Randy Orton with Shane and Daniel Bryan as special guest referees felt different from the Rumble match. Nakamura and Orton felt like an afterthought. By adding AJ Styles and the title belt into the mix, the matchups remain fresh. With the addition of the story, it also revitalizes a matchup we saw on several occasions last year (Styles vs Owens).
At this point, Styles is the only person who can be considered well-intentioned. The champion only wants to defend his title. After voicing his frustration with the tactics of Owens and Zayn, Styles had his words used against him. This has become a recurring theme with Styles in the build to this match. This culminated at SmackDown Live this past Tuesday, when Styles needed to take on Owens followed by Zayn. As we have seen over the course of this story, dating back to the very beginning, Owens has remained one step ahead. What’s more, he has been able to justify his actions every step of the way. Because of this, Shane has become a less and less sympathetic figure.
As things have escalated between McMahon and Owens, Daniel Bryan has been positioned as the voice of reason. In many scenarios, this has set him up to be aligned with Owens and Zayn. The problem with that, of course, is that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are downright annoying. Now everyone in the feud exists in a shade of grey. When Zayn came out to help Owens avoid McMahon’s leap off of the Hell In A Cell, he was cheating. He also hurt his boss. Owens has always been a bit Machiavellian in his actions, so no need to specify his grey areas. McMahon and Owens both go about their business in controversial ways, to say the least.
Now that AJ Styles is involved, there is someone you don’t have to question cheering for. And that feels good. Can AJ Styles overcome the odds and beat both Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn? On a show where there are many potentially deflating winners, this match will not disappoint. AJ Styles will walk out of the Wells Fargo Center champion.