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Yes, Owens & Zayn prevailed in a match where their WWE careers were on the line, but the bout didn’t come down so much to their opponents — Shinsuke Nakamura & Randy Orton — as it did to an explosive disagreement between match’s the two Special Guest Referees, SmackDown LIVE Commissioner Shane McMahon and General Manager Daniel Bryan.
Some history: Shane had been a vocal proponent of firing Zayn & Owens ever since they cost Team SmackDown the deciding match at Survivor Series, which led him to put their careers at stake and declare himself the match’s guest ref. As Owens warned that Shane would never allow him to win, Bryan named himself the second referee in a bid to protect the “integrity” of SmackDown LIVE. That potential difference of philosophy came to the forefront almost instantly, when some early friction between the two refs led Bryan to draw an imaginary line in the sand, with him and Shane each claiming a territory in the ring to officiate.
It should be mentioned that Owens & Zayn mounted a pretty solid game plan against The Viper and The King of Strong Style, but their animosity toward the refs provided their opponents ample opportunity to take advantage. Nakamura unleashed a blistering torrent of knees onto KO, but it was a triangle from The King of Strong Style that brought the refs back into each other’s orbit when Bryan counted Nakamura’s shoulders in a pinfall attempt, much to Shane’s chagrin.
All the officiating in the world, however, couldn’t stop the wild brawl outside the ring, which concluded with Owens splashing The King of Strong Style through one of the ringside announce tables. With Nakamura dispatched, Orton planted Zayn with an RKO, and an ecstatic Shane went to make the pinfall, but Owens bum-rushed Bryan on top of Shane as he made the count. Orton and Shane surrounded an apologetic Bryan as Zayn struck, instigating a series of back-and-forth rollups that ended with Sami seemingly holding Orton down successfully … only McMahon outright refused to count to three.
With Owens’ fears validated and Bryan red-faced with rage, the two figureheads of SmackDown LIVE went nose-to-nose and appeared inches away from coming to blows (Bryan audibly called Shane “a disgrace”) before Shane threw up his hands and turned his back. Unfortunately for him, Zayn picked that exact moment to attempt another rollup on Orton, and Bryan notched a lightning-fast three-count (in Shane’s territory, for what it’s worth) that saved two jobs. What happens to Bryan’s own job, ironically, is now very much in question, but Shane probably should have seen this coming: Daniel Bryan has never been one to back down from a McMahon.