Kevin Owens is one Randy Orton RKO away from losing his spot on the WWE roster.
At WWE Clash of Champions on Dec. 17, KO will team with Sami Zayn with both men's livelihoods on the line. Should the pay-per-view bout unfold more favorably for him, though, the former universal champ could again be the star of SmackDown's central narrative. Orton, meanwhile, has to be hoping for a shake-up to his character.
Once the stars stopped spinning in Owens' head after an RKO on Tuesday's SmackDown he found out he will battle to keep his job at the upcoming event.
Owens and Zayn will meet Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura in tag team action. The blue brand's commissioner, Shane McMahon, will be the bout's ref. And a loss will spell the end of the heels' time in WWE.
Suddenly, there is a long list of ways the PPV can end for both Owens and Orton. KO can end up the leader of a stable. Orton could walk out of Boston's TD Garden a changed man. We may also see a show-stealer as 2017 comes to a close.
The buzz for Clash of Champions is minimal. The event features a pair of rematches, a Triple Threat U.S. title bout with zero momentum and a general lack of electricity.
Star power will be down after a stretch of PPVs that saw John Cena, Kurt Angle and Triple H take the stage.
And at first glance, Owens and Zayn vs. Nakamura and Orton feels like a SmackDown main event, not a PPV showdown. The addition of McMahon as ref and the high stakes involved change that. But still, few are betting on this to rival 2017's best bouts.
After all, it will be a part of a C-level PPV during WWE's historically slowest period.
Owens and Orton would, of course, both love to overtake all expectations and deliver a barnburner.
KO's last PPV saw him face Breezango in a pre-show contest. Orton hasn't had a great run of matches in large part due to being held down by a feud with Jinder Mahal. For both men, going into Boston and tearing down the house would be a tremendous way to cap off the year.
The Big Reveal
The subplots will be plentiful as Owens and Zayn head into the ring.
Their issues with McMahon promise to boil over with him as the referee for their Clash of Champions bout. Bryan has grown seemingly impatient and frustrated with the commissioner. Plus, Owens and Zayn will be fighting for their livelihoods.
WWE Creative will have ample options heading into the bout.
Owens will be best off if the script has him and Zayn deliver something huge amid all the chaos. Zayn found a loophole when he was banned from ringside two weeks ago. He and KO used wire cutters to get free Owens from a pair of handcuffs. The craftiness keeps on coming.
And Matt Wilansky of ESPN.com believes the duo isn't done. "Something tells me they're saving their latest and greatest plot for the final major event of 2017," he wrote.
Even more than a quality match, Owens has to hope to be at the center of Clash of Champions' biggest story. That could mean Bryan turning on McMahon to aid them, he and Zayn expanding their group or some out-of-left-field development.
Owens and Zayn were the talk of Hell in a Cell. Should the chips fall the right way, the same will be true after Clash of Champions.
A Darker Viper
Win or lose, Orton will be best off ending his night at Clash of Champions by laying out his own partner.
Whether The Apex Predator joins forces with Owens and Zayn or branches out on his own, a heel turn is an ideal way for him to go. It's a natural role for the sneering, stalking grappler. And his babyface run has been bland, to be kind.
Orton himself wants a change in character.
He spoke about wanting to turn heel on E&C's Pod of Awesomeness (h/t Gaurav Kadam of Sportskeeda) in September. "I'm sick of this babyface thing, that's for sure," Orton said.
The Clash of Champions match itself isn't all that significant for him. However, it could prove to be a catalyst for what's next for him.
The Viper will be in a much better position for 2018 success should he rediscover his villainous side against Owens and Zayn.
Read more Pro Wrestling news on BleacherReport.com