Few could have predicted that Sami Zayn would have been the person to make the biggest impact at Sunday's Hell in a Cell pay-per-view, especially considering he wasn't even on the card. But after spending the bulk of his last two years on the main roster in a relative purgatory, Zayn made his biggest declarative statement by helping the one man on earth no one would ever expect him to save.
The fates of Zayn and Kevin Owens have been inextricably tied together since long before each joined WWE. They came up together in the same independent organization in Montreal and enjoyed their greatest successes for companies like Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerilla together, be it as a team or on opposite sides of the ring.
Of all the outcomes that could have happened Sunday, this was one of that could lead to the most potential chaos over the next few months. With no pay-per-views to come for SmackDown until Survivor Series in November, the next six weeks should be a fascinating opportunity to explore any of dozens of potential directions for the long-feuding friends.
This kind of unpredictability is especially important because of the status of the WWE championship, and the unlikelihood of Jinder Mahal losing it at any point before the Royal Rumble. There were moments of doubt, and arguments to be made about Shinsuke Nakamura winning it at Hell in a Cell, but with a publicity tour of India in the coming week and highly publicized live events to come in December, the WWE's big push behind Mahal seems unlikely to end before that window.
With the Owens-Zayn partnership, nearly everything else is in play. Depending on the level of their friendship and relationship -- which could fall anywhere on the spectrum from begrudging allies to thick as thieves -- they should serve as agents of chaos to the rest of the roster.
Depending on how long Shane McMahon is on the shelf, there's an obvious narrative to delve into there as well. Could it be a full-on war between this duo and the McMahon family going into Survivor Series, especially considering the moment between Owens and Stephanie McMahon following Owens' attack on Vince McMahon? Will Triple H get involved?
Tuesday's show should be very indicative of the direction things are heading, though it could also be a slow burn towards a reunion. Zayn, just a few weeks ago, professed his desire to "do things the right way" in confronting Owens about his shortcuts to the top. Whether it was one too many powerbombs onto the ring apron, or Shane's insistence on taking opportunities Zayn himself had coveted, SmackDown has once again become must-watch TV as the journey towards Survivor Series continues.
While this story should dominate WWE programming over the next month and more, there's plenty to digest about the rest of the Hell in a Cell results as well.
-- Nakamura needs to find something big to do, and quick. He may get one last shot at Mahal and the WWE championship because of the Singh brothers' interference in Sunday's match, but another loss would add a truly devastating post-script to a rivalry that has done him absolutely no favors. Both title matches between Mahal and Nakamura have been ambitious, but largely fallen flat. As Nakamura looks to establish himself as a true top talent and a character worth investing in, he needs to find a rivalry and an opportunity he can sink his teeth into, and come out as a winner.
Much like Asuka, he was built up as a virtually indestructible machine until the tail end of his run in NXT. If he goes through much more of what he's dealt with against Mahal, the shine's going to come off in a hurry.
-- On a night where so much was already going on, it wasn't a bad idea to push off the final outcome between Natalya and Charlotte Flair. A DQ finish on a pay-per-view is always going to be unsatisfying, but it served the three-headed goal of making Natalya look like the cowardly heel taking the easy way out, keeping Charlotte as a straightforward babyface who could very easily have won and preventing a clear situation for Carmella to cash in her Money in the Bank contract. Whether it's at Survivor Series or, fingers crossed, a last-minute decision to broadcast the upcoming Starrcade show in North Carolina, Charlotte and Natalya will get a proper stage for a match that will mean a lot to the future of the women's division on SmackDown.
-- The Usos struck another blow in their long-term war with The New Day, and there's at least one more chapter to be written. With the new champs having held the SmackDown tag titles three times, with five overall reigns, they're the only team with the pedigree (outside of The Hardy Boyz on Raw) to compare to what New Day has done. These two teams took lofty expectations and blew things out of the water to kick off the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view. This rivalry will eventually have to end, or at least get put on ice, but for now, there's a lot to look forward to in another match to come.
-- Dillinger's late addition to the United States championship match made a title change a heavy possibility. It was a good showing for all three competitors in the match, but certainly another masterclass from Styles, who was in peak form throughout. Styles and Corbin will run it back, and Dillinger may stay involved, but a Styles versus Nakamura showdown, with a title involved or not, seems a no-brainer in terms of a rivalry that could greatly benefit both superstars.
-- Rusev is on thin ice, and like Bray Wyatt on Raw, rarely ends up on the right side of a feud. Whether this clash with Randy Orton carries on or not, it's hard to say what direction either will end up in going forward.
-- Bobby Roode and Dolph Ziggler could have a much better match than the one they put on at Hell in a Cell, not to say that that match was particularly bad. If they don't get at least one shot to go 15 to 18 minutes on either SmackDown or a pay-per-view, that would be rated as a severe disappointment.
-- The writing's on the wall for the Hype Bros, unless they let their partnership slowly fade to nothing. Considering where they were prior to Zack Ryder's latest injury, and that just six months ago Mojo Rawley won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, their current status is disappointing. Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin, on the other hand, seem ready to make a push of their own up the tag team ladder on SmackDown.
-- And what of the forgotten superstars of SmackDown, who didn't play a role on Sunday?
But for all of the other superstars wallowing around without much of a direction, the one that continues to be the biggest head-scratcher is Luke Harper. He was a natural fit for the WWE championship match at WrestleMania this year and would have undoubtedly made it a lot better, but since the Superstar Shakeup and Wyatt's departure, he's barely made an impact. He has the skill set and the size to do something truly special, and whether that means changing his look or putting the right person opposite him, Harper is too special a talent to let go to waste.