By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
If you think of the iconic events which made pro wrestling what it is today, the Clash of the Champions is on the list. It wasn’t WrestleMania, but it went toe-to-toe against the big show for years, and provided big match feels for a generation.
Sting beating Ric Flair at the Clash made his career, in part because of where it happened. Just as a win on a PPV matters more than Raw does now, winning at the Clash meant more than most victories when I was growing up. So when I heard the Clash was coming to Boston, even in this watered-down form, I was excited. Then the card was unveiled, and any thought I had of driving a couple hours to see a show which meant alot to me growing up ended.
I know it’s a few weeks before a huge PPV, but this year’s Clash of Champions doesn’t even feel like a placeholder show. Yes, there will be some developments to advance stories going to the Royal Rumble next month, but this show is just bad. It’s not worth a two-hour drive, never mind three hours on TV. But what will those moments be which prove important for next month? And can any of the individual matches be good enough to make you watch them? Let’s break down the card and find out.
Zack Ryder vs. Mojo Rawley
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: No, not the Hype Bros! I mean, if those crazy kids can’t stay together, who can? Here’s what you need to know about the build to this match: it was considered so unimportant by WWE, the company had the build occur on social media. I know they want to be cool to the young folks, but if your feud doesn’t get a second of air time on TV, then you don’t have a feud. A Twitter beef is not a feud. If it were, I’d be a 16-time World Heavyweight Champion. We’ll give Zack the win because he’s the bigger name (bigger being a relative term here) and that’s more than enough thought for this one. If WWE didn’t care, why should we?
Brad’s Breakdown and Pick: Straub is really feasting on this Clash of Champions card, serving up a main dish of rage, followed by a dessert of pure comedy. This is either the best kind of Straub or the worst. You can decide. The Hype Bros had their breakup on SmackDown who knows how many weeks ago, and finally have something to show for it, without any kind of build, or the wrong kind that Straub mentioned. Nobody will tune in early for this match, but hey, at least these two do get to have a PPV payoff in some way. Mojo Rawley gets the win because he might have a future, in only the WWE’s eyes of course. That’s also mainly just because of his friendship with Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots, because there’s really no other reason to get hyped about Mojo getting a push.
Breezango vs. The Bludgeon Brothers
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: The good news is Breezango actually got rushed into a match before a pay-per-view started! So, in a shocking twist, WWE told us Breezango will be wrestling, and did so in time to try to convince someone to watch them. The days of having them thrown into a match after the PPV had started are over, and thank God because those are the worst matches both in terms of quality and business planning. If one person buys the network to see them, it’s a win. Unfortunately, there probably aren’t many more eyes than that on this one. The Bludgeon Brothers are just Harper and Rowan. In this day and age, WWE can’t just repackage people without anyone noticing. They didn’t give them totally new gimmicks, but some guys can’t be altered. This is particularly true of big men, which is why the Big Show never changed anything but his mood. A lot of people are picking them to win, but I don’t see why WWE would spend all that time on the Fashion Files only to have them get beat at the end. The pretty boys win to make all this buildup somewhat meaningful. It’s worth mentioning here that the Ascension could get involved. OK, it’s not worth mentioning, none of these people are worth time or words, but it was necessary.
Brad’s Breakdown and Pick: I thought the promo packages introducing The Bludgeon Brothers were some of the dumbest things I’ve seen in a long time. I cringed more in embarrassment than anything else, even though I believe Luke Harper can be a star if he’s given the right kind of push. He’s a huge talent in the ring. Rowan does nothing for me, but he’s perfect in this spot, teaming with Harper to make an imposing duo. Now, the Bludgeon Brothers have a really cool entrance, and even though the wrestling gear is a little off, they have been impressive and fun to watch in their short matches so far. So, Straub is wrong, as usual, when he says these guys aren’t worth our time or words, The Bludgeon Brothers definitely are worth it. As much as I loved Breezango early on, before they went deeper and deeper into the Fashion Files, which jumped the shark ages ago, I really don’t care at all about them now. The Fashion Files hopefully is done forever, because it’s just not funny anymore. Hasn’t been funny in a long time. Unfortunately, though, that means they are back to being glorified jobbers. They are here so The Bludgeon Brothers look dominate and get a win on PPV.
United States Champion Baron Corbin vs. Bobby Roode vs. Dolph Ziggler
(Triple Threat Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: Hmm, we don’t want to hurt either the champion or one of our new stars before the Royal Rumble, but we have them fighting each other. What do we do? I know! Call Ziggler! In all seriousness, Dolph is the perfect addition to this match because he can wrestle so well as to make both guys look good, but also take the loss and keep both important characters strong. Beating Ziggler is like when an up-and-coming boxer beats a faded former champion. It doesn’t mean what it once would have, but it still advances your career. Corbin gets a needed rub from Ziggler here. Roode won’t win the Rumble, but he’s a darkhorse to be around at the end, so if you have him in the final four in your pool, you might win. And if you’re doing a Royal Rumble pool, I have two questions: First, what’s wrong with you? Second, can I get in?
Brad’s Breakdown and Pick: Straub is most likely correct on his breakdown of the match, with Ziggler the likely fall guy, but when initially thinking who could win this, Ziggler’s name was the first to jump into my mind. That, of course, might be crazy, considering Ziggler hasn’t been relevant in a long time, even though the WWE tried recently with his no-gimmick gimmick. But I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he did win the title and then the three had a rematch at the Royal Rumble, although Roode would be a great guy to have in the Rumble match itself. On a side note, Roode absolutely needs to turn heel. His whole glorious routine, while great, works much better when he’s the guy getting booed, or cheered because he’s the “cool” bad guy. But anyway, there is no way Roode is getting pinned in this match. It would be way too soon to bury him when WWE doesn’t have to. It makes sense for Corbin to pin Ziggler and move on with the feud between Corbin and Roode, with Roode eventually winning. But there are four title matches on this card, and two of them should definitely have the champion retain, while the tag team title four-way could have a new champion, but there’s no reason to take the belts off the Usos just yet. So, there has to be one title change, doesn’t there? So, I’m going against my better judgment and picking Ziggler to win the US title.
SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos vs. The New Day vs. Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable vs. Rusev & Aiden English (Fatal 4-Way Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: Shelton Benjamin is back! Let’s stick him in a match with 17 other guys and make sure nothing comes of it! No? Bad plan? Darn, I thought I was ready to be a WWE booker. I suppose this could somehow be a vehicle for Benjamin, but it seems too crowded for that. So let’s pick this match by stealing one of Brad’s gimmicks, the process of elimination. The Usos and New Day would seem like the favorites, but they just wrestled each other 100 times, and we don’t need it again. New Day winning only works to have them face the Usos, which we just ruled out. The Usos can keep the belts and let a new team chase them, so they’re plausible as winners. Benjamin’s team winning could create a bit of buzz, while Rusev is, sadly, lucky to even be on the show at this point. So it’s the Usos against Benjamin and Gable. Give me the Usos in controversial fashion, setting up a showdown with Benjamin and Gable.
Brad’s Breakdown and Pick: Salty Straub might be the best Straub, although it’s harder to rag on him and his typically off-beat opinions if he’s ripping on everything in sight. It’s so un-Straub-like, meaning his heel turn on the website is complete, including him stealing my gimmick too. (Does that make me the face? Uh oh.) For this match, I’d love to see Rusev and Aiden English win, as their comedic relief has been something to look forward to on an otherwise drab and boring SmackDown Live show every week. The New Day have had their time in the title spotlight and there’s no reason to go back. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable are the next likely challengers for the Usos, and could win right here, but I don’t care one bit about them. The Usos have been great since switching their gimmick and have carried the division successfully for a while now. There’s no reason to stop that run now. Usos win.
SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair vs. Natalya (Lumberjack Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: Charlotte Flair comes from wrestling royalty and is an exceptional worker. She doesn’t deserve to be in a throwaway match like this. Natalya comes from wrestling royalty and doesn’t deserve this … because she’s terrible. But hey, we have to promote WWE Total Divas at some point during the show. Look for feuds to be enhanced outside the ring while Charlotte tries to save this dreck in the ring. These two have been going at it overseas for a while, so they should have decent chemistry built up, but it won’t help make this interesting. The only thing which could is having Carmela jump in after to try and cash in her title shot. But why would you do that when there were so many people who don’t like you around to mess with your chances? I’m sorry, I used logic again. I’ll stop. Charlotte wins and hopefully moves on.
Brad’s Breakdown and Pick: Damn, Straub, the heel in you is winning me over. Maybe we can become a tag team? Create a show called the GameDay Files? He’s right about Natalya being terrible, and while I’m ashamed to admit it, I watched the latest episode of Total Divas Wednesday night, and if there is a more jealous person than Natalya I’d love to meet them. Natalya, and I really hope it’s a character she’s playing for the show, comes off on Total Divas as a horrible person, who is jealous of every other “diva” around, especially Lana, who she torments in the episode. I don’t even know how Natalya could do that on television and not understand how terrible and jealous she comes off. Nataya can’t wrestle, has no charisma, let alone a character to portray correctly, and can’t cut a promo to save her life (the best being when she told one of the Bellas they were beautiful on the inside and out … in a heel promo mind you.) Natalya needs more help from a personality and real-life standpoint than she needs in the ring, though, which is saying something. Again, hopefully she’s playing a character, which would make it more understandable. Charlotte is so much better than Natalya it isn’t even a question, so she should win and move on to another challenger. Who that could be is anyone’s guess, as no one but Becky Lynch deserves a run as a challenger. Oh, there’s lumberjacks? Just another example of SmackDown’s writers saying, screw it, just put them all in one match and be done with it.
Randy Orton & Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn (Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan as special guest referees)
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: WWE is so close to something good here, but as is too often the case, they can’t quite put everything together. Let’s start with the insanity of Owens and Zayn being “brothers” again. The one thing WWE has done well in terms of long-term planning in the past couple of years is remembering over time how much these two hate each other. Even if they weren’t feuding at the time, whenever their paths crossed, they would just start pounding each other, providing some realism. After all, just because someone won a match, the hatred between two rivals should always be there, ready to boil over. I know these two aren’t the only ones to reunite over the years, but this one makes no sense. Zayn’s promo explaining the reunion got close to a point, but drifted off into a confusing bit about how his perceived slight by Shane McMahon caused him to remember he loves Owens. Orton playing the role of the face in distress doesn’t quite work because of his character, which is never truly a fan-favorite because he’s always on the edge of being a heel even when he’s not supposed to be. Adding Nakamura would be great if he hadn’t been so run down in recent months as to no longer feel like a top-of-the card guy. Daniel Bryan adding himself as the second ref to keep Shane in line would make perfect sense, but they did it too late to build much tension between the two. This is so close to being a good idea, but never quite got there. Still, considering the dreck on most of this show, it’s something to watch. And there is an overarching question here: Who turns on who? The obvious would be Shane on Bryan, but if Bryan can’t wrestle, what’s the point? Zayn could be pulling an extended ruse like Curt Hennig once did to the Horsemen, but I don’t think WWE has that much foresight. I’ll go with Orton turning, helping Nakamura get some heat back, and preventing the heels from being fired.
Brad’s Breakdown and Pick: This feud has been the end-all be-all on SmackDown Live even before Survivor Series and isn’t likely to end here either, as there’s no way Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn will lose and be fired from the company. Owens and Zayn are going to win, even though it’s not likely to be anywhere near a clear and decisive conclusion. The feud and handling of Owens and Zayn also proves SmackDown has lost its way, as it can’t find anything meaningful for some of these big-time players to do, so throws them together in random tag teams with Shane McMahon being the main guy across the board. Shane doesn’t even need to be on the show anymore, really, as he brings nothing to the table. Unless, of course, he’s crashing through them. SmackDown suffers as a whole as a result, as the show has really become something you can skip completely and not fret about it. The whole dynamic here will be if Daniel Bryan turns on Shane, and Nakamura and Orton in the process, allowing Owens and Zayn to keep their jobs. He probably won’t in the end, because as Straub points out, he wouldn’t be able to have a wrestling match payoff following it. There’s really no reality where Shane would help Owens and Zayn, and even though Straub says it’ll be Orton, nobody cares if he turns heel or stays face. Maybe Nakamura turns, but again, what sense does that make? In this case, maybe the easiest thing to do is go with the obvious. Bryan helps Owens and Zayn win and we’ll learn more the following Tuesday. Can’t wait.
WWE Champion AJ Styles vs. Jinder Mahal
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: You can have the best undercard in history, and if the show’s main event is no good, the show will be a disappointment. Therefore, with this main event, the Clash has no chance of being remembered as a great show. The actual work in this match won’t be awful. AJ can make anyone look good, and Mahal is passable at least. But his title run will go down as a joke, and I can’t possibly envision him winning. With that being the case, the match loses its luster right away. Even WWE’s own preview frames the match as a joke, basically saying “AJ is much better, but hey, you never know what can happen.” I suppose they could try to spice things up by giving Mahal another shocking win, but as we discussed in previous previews, the push to make inroads in India was a disaster, so there’s no reason to give him the title back. There’s also little more worth saying about this match, which is a shame. AJ wins.
Brad’s Breakdown and Pick: First, I wouldn’t be surprised if this match isn’t the main event, as the Owens and Zayn vs. Nakamura and Orton showdown just might get the final spot on the card. Especially since Shane McMahon seemingly has to be front and center on SDLive all the time now. But either way, this match really does nothing for anyone. If Styles wins, who cares? He beat Jinder Mahal. If Mahal wins, everyone is pissed and a second title reign begins after everyone killed the first one. If Styles loses, he looks terrible, not to mention will have now lost two straight times on a pay-per-view. If Mahal loses, where does he go from here? Does he have any kind of stock built up where you would care about what he’s doing if he wasn’t in the title picture? I just don’t see Mahal fighting some random guy in the middle of the card moving the needle at all. Honestly, my first thought here was if Mahal loses there’s not even a reason to keep him on the roster anymore. He’d be so downgraded there would be no reason to even have him on the show. That’s both sad and horrible and proves the Don’t Hinder Jinder experiment failed. If they want to save Mahal’s career, he’ll win this match and carry the title at least into Royal Rumble, where the winner of that match, seemingly a SDLive guy, will beat him for the title at WrestleMania. Perhaps Nakaumura. But can we all take another three or four months of Mahal as champion? Can SmackDown? If Styles wins, who steps up as his next challenger? There’s nobody even on the horizon of getting a title shot right now. This match can really go any which way and it wouldn’t surprise. But SmackDown needs a true face of the brand heading into the new year and Royal Rumble. That means Styles walks away champion.