WWE SmackDown Live's central story is a burning house in need of dousing, and it's now set to add kindling in the form of either Dolph Ziggler or Baron Corbin.
The fight for the WWE Championship has been a debacle of late. SmackDown's authority figures, Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan, have overshadowed the other players in this drama. An unending discord between the show's two bosses has dragged on, with no clear endpoint in sight.
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are saddled with subpar scripts. And whoever has been in charge of WWE champ AJ Styles' lines needs to take a leave of absence.
But solutions to these problems aren't on their way. Instead, WWE is throwing another set of spices into the soup and hoping for the best.
McMahon announced the winner of Ziggler and Corbin's match on the next episode of SmackDown will be added to the WWE title match at the Fastlane pay-per-view on March 11:
Shane McMahon @shanemcmahon
An unexpected end to #SDLive with a triple threat match made for #WWEFastlane...I’m going to make a bit more interesting. Next week: @BaronCorbinWWE vs. @HEELZiggler. The winner is added to the match and makes it a #Fatal4Way for the @WWE title.2018-2-8 15:01:07
That's far from what this narrative needed. The Showoff or The Lone Wolf joining the fray won't make the McMahon-Bryan tension feel like it has more of a point. It won't add clarity to a cluttered tale.
That these two Superstars are suddenly in the WWE title picture at all is a head-scratcher.
Ziggler abandoned the brand a few weeks back, yet the commissioner is going to reward him with the opportunity of a lifetime. Corbin, meanwhile, is 1-6 in his last seven contests, per CageMatch.net. That's apparently good enough to now be one victory away from contending for the WWE Championship.
Will be @HEELZiggler or @BaronCorbinWWE who joins the @WWE Championship match at #WWEFastlane to make it a #Fatal4Way against @AJStylesOrg @FightOwensFight & @SamiZayn?! https://t.co/TPgRPKo5YG2018-2-9 13:00:36
It's odd, too, that neither man is on SmackDown's Top 10 list.
Bryan revealed the first rankings on Tuesday. These are designed to decide who nets future opportunities. Yet, two guys not on the list are set for a shot at the brand's ultimate prize.
It all feels random, haphazard, bewildering.
Real Sport 101 columnist Kyle Fowle's comments about the situation ring true:
Kyle Fowle @kylefowle
I reiterate: there is too much happening in the SDLive main event scene! https://t.co/EmbtsS0PdL2018-2-8 15:57:10
Wrestling is often best at its simplest when it's a violent stageplay that leans on themes of redemption or revenge. That's not what WWE is doing on Tuesday nights lately. The SmackDown main-event scene is a jumble of elements that simply don't work together.
Owens and Zayn trumpet their "Yep!" movement, a cheap facsimile of Bryan's anti-authority revolution from years back. Styles tries to get "Kami," his nickname for his enemies, to catch on.
And the characters' alignments are all off.
It's hard to know who to root for when villains KO and Zayn continue to make logical points about how management has mistreated them and how referees continue to ruin their chances at championship gold.
Bryan and McMahon have played favorites and made seemingly random decisions. They are not tyrants the audience wants to see fall, nor are they well-meaning executives fans can get behind. They are instead two bickering men who are hard to care about.
It's all bogging down the show, as ESPN.com's Matt Wilansky noted:
WWE on ESPN @WWEonESPN
SmackDown got bogged down by the ongoing Shane McMahon vs. Daniel Bryan rivalry that still doesn't seem to have a clear path forward, and a handicap WWE championship match was the result: https://t.co/cFUEti7cjZ https://t.co/E2kSKWsZ772018-1-3 16:00:14
Styles, Zayn and Owens have become pawns in the general manager and commissioner's game of chess. Styles isn't the star of the show despite being the top titleholder. It's the authority figures who are on center stage week in and week out.
And now adding another heel to the mix isn't going to improve things; it's going to further muddy the waters.