Still recovering and in physical pain from a stratospheric flying elbow gone bad a little more than two weeks ago, McMahon had orchestrated a near-perfect ambush of Monday Night Raw in the first of what promises to be weeks' worth of invasions ahead of Survivor Series.
Successful as that was for McMahon and his team, his bigger win was less evident, but equally as impressive. Unlike the night before on Raw in which so many storylines seemed to come to a sudden halt, the writers of SmackDown delivered a lesson in spinning multiple machinations forward into once cohesive narrative.
McMahon's first problem was Sami Zayn.
The one-time straight-laced guy -- always willing to play the role of sacrificial lamb for the greater good -- discovered his dark side at Hell in a Cell, which was a decision that cost McMahon a certain win and then sent him straight to the hospital. How would the commish handle that headache?
Then there's the more recent "under siege" movement McMahon spearheaded, which was intended to decimate the red brand's entire roster. Was revenge coming? Yes, it was a lot to digest.
This is a unique, perhaps awkward, time of year in the WWE. It's a time when discord can blossom into complete dysfunction. By and large, logical storytelling and the continuance of any current chronologies are essentially put on hold for what is essentially the company's version of a meaningless all-star game. So in the middle of what could be considered the swerve of the year in Zayn, McMahon had to split his attention with the show's latest heel and a potential Raw retaliation -- two plots that you you'd think work together as well as Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley.
But give McMahon credit. On Tuesday, he not only addressed the Zayn situation, but seamlessly wove the fallout into the upcoming Raw-SmackDown battle at Survivor Series.
Zayn, again, was strong in his new role, showing off a more abrasive, annoying persona without a complete mean-spirited overhaul. He still danced and smiled on his way to the ring -- his way of gloating -- and stood toe-to-toe with McMahon. While Zayn did say that if we were standing there as a competitor, he would take out the commissioner in one second, his first priority was to ensure that he and Kevin Owens would be part of Team SmackDown and Survivor Series so they could, you know, carry the squad on their shoulders.
Have at it, McMahon responded to Zayn, but only if he can find a way to beat Randy Orton.
Zayn's plan didn't exactly work out. In the main event of the night, and even with the inevitable interference from Owens, it was Orton who found himself standing tall as the show came to a close. With the ref's back to the action as he berated Owens for coming to the ring, Orton struck a low blow to Zayn, a paralyzing shot that allowed Orton to deliver a match-ending RKO.
It was not exactly the way Zayn and Owens wanted things to unfold Tuesday. The question now is what kind of role will this duo have at next month's pay-per-view. Hard to imagine they'll be featured in anything less than the main event given their recent reunion and push into the spotlight.
It shouldn't go unnoticed that the result aside, Zayn and Orton had tremendous chemistry in the ring. This is exactly the kind of opponent the athletically gifted Orton in particular needs, especially after months of battling the likes of Bray Wyatt, Jinder Mahal and Rusev, opponents who are much slower.
With the win, Orton was named SmackDown's first participant in the traditional five-on-five elimination match at Survivor Series. But the bigger winner of the night was McMahon, who gave us a lesson in telling a story the right way. Take note, Monday Night Raw.
Hits and misses
As good as Zayn and Orton were, next week's match between Owens and Shinsuke Nakamura, where the winner will earn a spot on the Survivor Series team, could be even better. There might not be two more diametrically opposite personalities in the business, but their fast-paced, no-nonsense approach in the ring will no doubt deliver.
Stop us if we've written this before, but another Fatal 5-Way for the women of SmackDown? This time, the quintet was battling for the right to be named captain of the blue brand's team at Survivor Series. OK, great, but what, exactly, does the captain do? Order the team jerseys? Spearhead a popcorn fundraiser at the local YMCA? Whatever it is, congrats are in order for winner Becky Lynch, who is finally regaining momentum after a summer-long hiatus from the spotlight.
Great chemistry between Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable in a convincing win against The New Day, though it was interesting the match ended with a heel-like kick to the back of Xavier Woods' head by Benjamin. While they likely will remain faces, at least through their feud with The Usos, the challengers do lack any semblance of charisma. Perhaps a villainous path down the road isn't the worst idea.
Of all the current matches on the Survivor Series card, the one most likely to not have a clear-cut winner seems to be Jinder Mahal-Brock Lesnar. The WWE has meticulously built the less-established Mahal into an overpowering, insurmountable behemoth, and losing to Lesnar would take away any credibility. On the contrary, Lesnar is Lesnar, and that needs no further explanation. He can't take out Braun Strowman with one F-5 and then fall to Mahal. On Tuesday, Mahal, who was booted from ringside during Sunil Singh's hasty loss to AJ Styles, retorted to comments from Paul Heyman a night earlier, calling Lesnar's advocate a used car salesman, among other things. However you feel about the upcoming match, the verbal barking between the two camps so far has been stellar.
Please, oh please, let us never get another glimpse of James Ellsworth's dirty underwear again. In the latest edition of Fashion Files, this one labeled "Fashion Dogs" for its spoof on "Reservoir Dogs," the missing Ellsworth is tied up in a chair, thanks to Breezango and The Ascension. When Carmella finally comes in to find her de facto lost puppy and her precious briefcase, she opens it up to find not her contract for a free shot at the women's title, but a discolored pair of drawers. Ewww.
An angry Baron Corbin is a solid Baron Corbin. Even with a title around his waist, the Lone Wolf hasn't lost his irascible side as we saw in a brutal beatdown of Sin Cara that resulted in a disqualification. As his moniker and temper suggest, it's hard to imagine Corbin ever working alongside anyone else ever in this business. Well ... with the exception of helping his entire roster apprehend Raw GM Kurt Angle the night before that is.