WWE SmackDown has built its entire product around Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens for more than five months, and it was a complete waste of time. Until this week.
At the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view on October 8, 2017, Zayn turned heel by costing Shane McMahon his HIAC match against Owens and realigning with his best friend. The shocking move to turn the very likable Zayn babyface was initially met with excitement about the prospects of where it might be headed, but nearly half a year later, the feud has largely been a never-ending cycle of nothing that obviously never had a clear end goal in mind.
And the show's ratings have reflected that.
SmackDown viewership was down for six straight weeks to begin 2018 and dropped off by another 100,000 viewers last week, despite that show being the 'go-home' to Fastlane episode. According to Google Trends search data, fan interest in SmackDown also dropped to an average 'interest over time' score of 29 just last month, marking the lowest average score for the blue brand at any point since 2004.
Of course, no one is putting all the blame on Owens and Zayn for that noticeable dip in interest and TV ratings. Instead, fans have been quick to point out that the lackluster booking by the creative team has stuck stars like Owens, Zayn, Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon in a meaningless and directionless feud that clearly was not planned out in advance. In fact, freelance writer Brad Shepard (h/t Ringside News) recently had the following to say about the SmackDown product: 'A source in WWE told me that basically everyone that works there knows it's not good.'
The poor booking has really affected the entire SmackDown roster, but no one there has felt that effect more than Owens and Zayn. Though both world class performers, they've been overexposed with far too much TV time that, coinciding with very little in the way of actual storyline development, has turned SmackDown from a wrestling show that was once very good to one that is almost impossible to watch at times.
Overall, SmackDown's ratings and viewership have held up well over the last year, but the recent downturn in viewership can largely be attributed to the show's unceasing obsession with prioritizing a badly booked Owens/Zayn storyline over anything and everything else that happens on the blue brand. There really had not been any storyline advancement for this rivalry over the last couple of months as it seemed to be just a case of WWE consistently doing a 360 with Owens, Zayn, Bryan and Shane and ending up right back where it started.
That was until this week's episode of SmackDown when the creative team finally gave Owens and Zayn some real character development and an angle that they can sink their teeth into as they laid a world class beatdown on Shane. The latest report had indicated that Zayn and Owens would be relegated to the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, a meaningless match typically reserved for midcard and lower card workers who are without a substantial feud during WrestleMania season.
But it's finally clear that Owens and Zayn could have a much bigger match at WrestleMania 34, one that could make all the bad that's com along with this rivalry, well, finally worth it.
It seems that WWE indeed will not put Zayn and Owens, the latter of which actually seemed to be developing into a decent draw over the last couple of years, in a pre-show battle royal that will be viewed by significantly fewer fans than the actual WrestleMania show will be. That should quell fears that the main storyline that has dominated SmackDown for such an extended period is not important enough to get a spot on the WrestleMania card.
That should also hold off on the disappointment for fans of Owens and Zayn, two guys who have worked tremendously hard to get their characters over during this storyline, and ideally, it would help WWE realize that focusing so heavily on two stars for such a long time is a recipe for disaster. During that span, WWE has overlooked potential top stars like Rusev and taken away critical TV time from the Usos when they have developed into top merchandise movers and would have benefited tremendously from getting that extra exposure.
Alas, Owens and Zayn were booked to be the centerpieces of the entire SmackDown brand for the better part of the year, and the storyline that has overshadowed the rest of the roster finally appears to be on the verge of getting its long overdue climax. That should pave the way for this lengthy angle to end and for Owens and Zayn to potentially go their separate ways after WrestleMania 34.
Either way, it's about time SmackDown did something with Owens and Zayn to make things interesting for the first time since this rivalry started nearly six months ago.