Even though we got the news last week that Daniel Bryan was cleared to return to in-ring action, and Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn's attack essentially telegraphed the direction things were heading in for WrestleMania, watching Bryan officially claim his spot on the WrestleMania card was a surreal moment.
There was no physicality for Bryan on Tuesday night, one week after Owens and Zayn hit him with a battery of attacks including an apron powerbomb. But after declaring he was done with the paperwork, the meetings and even his hideous blazer or cardigan ("or whatever this is" they make him wear), which he physically cast aside, so he can finally get back to doing what he loves to do -- wrestling. Bryan made a match with simple terms; he will team up with Shane McMahon to take on Owens and Zayn at WrestleMania, and if Owens and Zayn win, they will be reinstated to the SmackDown roster.
If they lose, they will remain fired. It's hard, virtually impossible even, to imagine a future in which Owens and Zayn don't play a big part in the future of WWE, which seemingly rules out a clean loss. So what then?
#SDLive is the land of opportunity, so #KevinOwens & @SamiZayn have one more. They'll be reinstated IF they can beat the team of @shanemcmahon and @WWEDanielBryan at @WrestleMania! pic.twitter.com/lAml2hqLSA
- WWE (@WWE) March 28, 2018
The WWE announced Tuesday that McMahon had suffered an umbilical hernia because of the attack dished out by Owens and Zayn two weeks ago and, subsequently, McMahon contracted acute diverticulitis. Every indication seems to point to an actual hospitalization, although not necessarily from a storyline-based cause. What we don't know is the severity of the injury, or how well McMahon will be able to recover in less than two weeks.
If the match moves forward as announced, it will undeniably be one of the highlights of the night in New Orleans. In his first match in three years, Daniel Bryan returns to the site of his greatest triumph, and if McMahon still manages to take a crazy bump or two despite his current condition, the fans will go nuts for him as well. Adding Zayn and Owens to that equation only ups the ante.
In an odd turn of events, it's the physical condition of Shane, not Bryan, that raises the most questions about how the match will turn out. There's something to be said about all four authority figures on Raw and SmackDown being involved in matches at WrestleMania, but that's a matter for another day, once the dust has settled post-WrestleMania 34.
For now, we get to take a step back and enjoy the prospect of one of the most unlikely returns in WWE history.
"I fought for three years for my dream to compete again," Bryan said. "Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens tried to take that away from me. I don't care how many times I land on my face or I get powerbombed on the apron. Daniel Bryan is back."
Hits & misses
Crazy as it is, the blockbuster showdown between WWE champion AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura seemed like almost an afterthought in recent weeks, though it heated up on Tuesday. Guess we can chalk that up to the Daniel Bryan effect. Nakamura, who requested Styles be in his corner as backup for Nakamura's match with Shelton Benjamin, unsurprisingly walked away with the win.
Nakamura called Styles into the ring afterwards, only to tell Styles that he didn't need him there -- he only wanted Styles to get a preview of his fate for WrestleMania. After Nakamura saved Styles from a sneak-attack from Benjamin and Chad Gable, he continued his mind games with the WWE champion. Nakamura lined up to deliver a Kinshasa, only to playfully pull up just short; he patted Styles' head and repeated one short phrase -- "Knee to head". It's a battle of wills, rather than a story of good and evil, and the match should speak for itself.
Not tonight, @AJStylesOrg... #KneeToFace #WrestleMania #SDLive @ShinsukeN pic.twitter.com/cUwGeUAkva
- WWE (@WWE) March 28, 2018
Bryan wasn't the only one who locked in his WrestleMania plans on Tuesday. The superstar getting arguably the second-biggest reactions on SmackDown at the moment, Rusev, found his path to WWE's grandest stage after pinning Randy Orton in a long, mostly uninspiring tag-team match to kick off SmackDown. Rusev was awarded a spot in the United States championship match, making it a Fatal 4-Way with Orton, Bobby Roode and Jinder Mahal. After the run he's been on, and the reactions he's been getting,
Not sure why Ruby Riott keeps taking the falls, when SmackDown is truly in need of an evil counter-balance to Charlotte Flair and Asuka, but she once again took an "L" on Tuesday against Becky Lynch. Both will be part of the women's battle royal at WrestleMania. While all the participants have not yet been named, who more than Lynch would benefit from a win? She was the first SmackDown women's champion, sure, but if any of WWE's top female stars needs a moment, it's Lynch.
The Usos will defend their tag team titles against New Day and The Bludgeon Brothers, after a match between the two challenging teams dissolved into an out-and-out brawl. The Usos and The New Day have made magic together, but there's no way of knowing what adding another team to the mix will mean.
Dolph Ziggler beat Tyler Breeze as fellow Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal participant Fandango ran around the ring like a jet ski without a driver, thinking Ziggler was chasing him, with the only payoff being a postmatch superkick. That's five minutes we'll never get back.