- Presented LIVE on the USA Network, we're less than three weeks away from WrestleMania 34 (or as I will say in a wise-guy tone, "WrestleMania: Fleur-de-lis"). Last week on Smackdown Live, Shane McMahon announced he would be taking a leave of absence from his position, only to be brutally assaulted moments later by the wonder-friends Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Other than that, I cannot possibly think of anything else that could happen on this week's episode that would be worth covering.
- Show opens with highlights from the February 8th, 2016 episode of Monday Night Raw, where Daniel Bryan announced his forced retirement from in-ring competition. Earlier today, it was announced that Daniel Bryan has been medically cleared to return, blowing up social media at around 3:30 this afternoon.
- Daniel Bryan comes out, because why the hell not? It almost feels like a dream. For how long have we tracked his attempts at getting cleared, only to be turned down? I think most people assumed it would never happen under WWE's watch. The crowd can't seem to make up their minds on what to chant before settling into a loud "Daniel Bryan" chant. Bryan brings attention to last week's incident and lets us know that Owens and Zayn aren't here yet, so he'll talk about something else. Bryan says two years ago, being forced to retire was the hardest day of his life. He's tried to remain grateful for what he has and accomplished, even in times of depression and anger. He has an amazing family, friends, and the best fans. He has an amazing, beautiful wife, and when he was angry, she came to him to let him know that he needs to fight for his dreams. He saw specialist after specialist as the crowd chants "Thank You Brie." Daniel Bryan fights for his dreams, and that's what he had to do. When he got depressed, he wasn't just grateful, he decided to fight. When he was angry, and wanted to quit, instead of walking out, you fight, because you have to fight for your dreams, and if you fight for your dreams, your dreams will fight for you. WWE sent him to the best neurologists around the country, and all of them have said he is cleared. There was a time that being cleared in a WWE ring seemed impossible, but now it's real, and he's got a lot of thanks to say. He thanks the WWE and the doctors for giving him the opportunity to be re-evaluated, everyone in attendance and watching at home for supporting him for the last two years, and last but not least, he thanks his wife Brie. He says nobody will understand how much she has supported him, and he is incredibly grateful. He doesn't know when or where he'll get back in the ring (people point to the damn sign and chant "WrestleMania"). He doesn't know about WrestleMania, but will Daniel Bryan compete in a WWE ring again? ("Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!")
- Charles Robinson stops Daniel Bryan's walk backstage to shake his hand. Dolph Ziggler shows up to say he can't wait to beat him.
We come back from commercial, with Nakamura trapped in a chin-lock. Amazing how that seems to be the spot that we always return from commercial with. He escapes with elbows to the midsection. Whip to the ropes and he hits a flying boot. Nakamura with kicks to the chest, followed by a boot to the back of the head. Shinsuke with Good Vibrations Variant #2 in the corner. He hits the running knee strike to the midsection, but Rusev counters the Kinshasa with a leg sweep. Nakamura slips out of an Accolade attempt but gets caught with a roundhouse kick for a near-fall. Rusev misses the Macha-Kick and gets caught with a cross arm-breaker. Rusev tries to stack him up but Nakamura counters into a pinning combination for three at 7:53 (including one break). Post-match, Rusev and English attack Nakamura, and Styles takes his sweet time teasing helping Shinsuke. The help isn't needed, as he makes his own save. Decent for the four minutes we got to watch.
- Hype video for the recently announced match between Charlotte Flair and Asuka for the Smackdown Women's Title. It's Queen vs. Empress, Streak vs. Title at WrestleMania 34. Natalya walks in on Charlotte, calling her out for being scared. Charlotte downplays it and says she's excited for the biggest challenge she's ever had. Natalya says Asuka is undefeated because she hasn't faced her yet (get in line). Charlotte says Natalya won't face her at WrestleMania, but she can face her tonight.
- A.J. Styles comes across Shinsuke Nakamura backstage. Nakamura says he didn't need A.J.'s help, and wants to tell him something else, but Styles cuts him off to say "you're going to beat me at WrestleMania?" Shinsuke says he should have more confidence... and yes, he will beat him at WrestleMania.
We return from commercial, and this time it's an abdominal stretch being utilized. No matter the hold, the babyface escapes. Charlotte counters a back slide with a dropkick. Charlotte slams her own knee against the canvas and gets stomped down in the corner. Natalya runs over the back of Charlotte, but Charlotte nips up and hits her with a clothesline. The replay shows the timing issues with the spot, so next time, don't show the replay. Charlotte with the big chops and an exploder suplex. Charlotte counters the discus clothesline with a big boot. Natalya slips out of the Figure-Eight and hides in the corner. Charlotte with a back breaker and sends her crashing face-first into the turnbuckle. Natalya straddles Charlotte across the top rope and hits a spinning Liger-Bomb for a near-fall. Natalya with the Sharpshooter, but Charlotte crawls to the ropes to force the break. Natalya with the discus clothesline for another two-count. Charlotte with a small package (out of nowhere) for two. Natalya counters the Figure-Eight a second time, sending Charlotte to the floor. She makes the mistake of following and gets clipped with a spear. Back inside, Charlotte gets the Figure-Four, but they end up out of the ring. They fight for position on the top rope, with Natalya taking Charlotte over with a Super-Plex. Suddenly, Carmella rushes to ringside with a referee and teases cashing in, but Charlotte lays her out with a big boot. Natalya with a surprise roll-up for three at 14:12 (including one break), making Natalya 1-72 against Charlotte in their all-time series. Good TV match with a questionable finish.
- The Usos come out to give us a recap of what has taken place over the last week-and-a-half, where the Bludgeon Brothers laid waste to the Usos and New Day at Fastlane, then picked at the remains the following Tuesday on Smackdown Live. The Bludgeon Brothers didn't get the job done, because they're still here, and they won't back down, because all they know how to do is go hard, survive, and be the best tag team the WWE has ever seen.
- Jinder Mahal comes out to promote the newly announced United States Title Match at WrestleMania, with Randy Orton defending and Bobby Roode also challenging. At least it's not a Six-Pack Challenge. I won't lie, Mahal is probably the #1 reason I gave up on recapping Smackdown Live every week. Mahal calls everyone in attendance hypocrites. He's sacrificed everything to be on the biggest stage in wrestling. He restored glory to the WWE Championship and made Smackdown Live the premiere show. Funny, everything he just said was a lie. Bobby Roode quickly (but not quickly enough) interrupts. Roode says respect is a two-way street, and Mahal doesn't deserve anything more than to be beaten at WrestleMania. Orton interrupts Roode's catchphrase and might as well just hit a pair of RKO's to send us into the next segment. Orton doesn't have many words for Mahal, telling him he sucks. Mahal sacrifices Singh (Sunil, but does it matter which one it is?) to the Viper and he gets planted with a DDT. Orton sets up for an RKO, but Roode hits the Glorious DDT on Singh. They tease their finishers on each other, but neither hits.
- Daniel Bryan is on the phone and is informed of the arrival of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. For showing up this late for work, they deserve being suspended! We return to the ring for the Main Event segment, and we still must address what took place last week. Owens and Zayn come out, showing no effort in hiding their jubilation. Owens says they had no plans to be here, but the news of Bryan's return convinced them to show-up. They would've arrived sooner, but got pulled over by Walker, Texas Ranger. Zayn says Bryan had their back since Day 1, and says his medical clearance is an example of good things happening to good people. The sucking up continues, then we see a replay of last week's attack. Daniel Bryan says they crossed the line last week. When Shane McMahon said he lived vicariously through them, he was right. What he doesn't understand is that they got the best of Shane, got a match at WrestleMania, and Shane even stepped down before they assaulted him. Bryan talks about being fired twice before and coming back a better man. He lets both know that they're fired. It doesn't mean they're gone forever, just that they're gone for now. After shaking hands, Owens lays Bryan out with a forearm and Zayn mounts him with a series of rights. Bryan sweeps Zayn's legs, but Owens quickly pulls him off. Bryan backs him into the corner with Yes Kicks and takes Zayn over with a suplex. Bryan runs wild with corner dropkicks (watch the landing!). Zayn is cleared from the ring, leaving Owens in the ring to take the Yes-Kicks again. Zayn makes the save again, holding Bryan in place for a Super-Kick from Owens. Zayn with the Helluva Kick, and Owens with the Pop-Up Powerbomb across the ring apron to cap things off.
Final Thoughts: The big story of the night is the return of Daniel Bryan as an in-ring competitor. As for the build to WrestleMania, it was kind of all over the place. I don't see the appeal of jobbing Charlotte, especially in a slip on a banana peel moment, to hype her match against Asuka. Styles vs. Nakamura should be a great match, but there's nothing behind the match as far as a compelling storyline is concerned. The wrestling was mostly OK, but you'd think more focus would be made on putting on the best product to hype the biggest show of the year.