Powell’s WWE Clash of Champions Hit List: AJ Styles vs. Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura and Randy Orton with Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan as special referees, four-way Smackdown Tag Title match

By Jason Powell

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WWE Clash of Champions Hits

AJ Styles vs. Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship: A quality main event title defense for Styles. Corey Graves laid it on thick on commentary by repeatedly raving about Mahal’s work. And while Graves’s gushing felt forced, the truth is that Mahal has taken a step forward. The WWE Championship run elevated Mahal, yet it was also a burden in that it seemed like viewers were so desperate to see him lose the title that he never had a chance to click. I believe fans would be more open to the idea of Mahal as a credible secondary champion and I came away suspecting that Dolph Ziggler will be a transitional U.S. Champion with the idea being to put the belt on Mahal as a way for him to bounce back after losing the feud to Styles. Meanwhile, who is next in line for a shot at the WWE Championship? It doesn’t seem like WWE has been grooming anyone for that role. Could they go with Daniel Bryan booking Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a Triple Threat at the Royal Rumble? Heck, even Shane McMahon could book the match with the idea that he believes they will turn on one another as they both selfishly put the title above their friendship. If they go this route, they better have a creative finish that doesn’t hurt the heels when they lose the match.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura and Randy Orton with Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan as special referees: The two referees gimmick took some getting used to, but they ended up doing a good job of coming up with some creative spots for them. I felt bad for Nakamura and Orton in that they felt like the least important people in the ring with the spotlight being on Shane, Bryan, and their relationships with Owens and Zayn. The finish was well done in that Shane refusing to make the three count in favor of Owens and Zayn seemed almost reasonable given his recent history with the duo. More importantly, that spot gave Bryan justification to make the fast count in favor of Owens and Zayn, as it felt like he was making up for Shane screwing them out of the win. I had no desire to see Shane or Bryan turn heel, and the alternative of Orton or Nakamura turning heel was even less desirable. So they come out of the match with Shane and Bryan as babyfaces who simply disagree with one another. The question now is whether they will continue to disagree until they have a meltdown or if the company will simply end their drama and go in a new direction.

The Usos vs. Rusev and Aiden English vs. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable vs. New Day for the Smackdown Tag Titles: Two things stood out in this match and neither involved the Usos retaining the tag titles. One, Rusev is very over with the live crowd to the point that it’s time to consider featuring him as a babyface. Two, Gable had a breakout performance and deserves better than he’s been given from the creative team since he’s been called up to the main roster. The match itself was entertaining and I was happy to see the Usos retain to bring some level of stability to the tag titles rather than making it a game of hot potato.

Baron Corbin vs. Bobby Roode vs. Dolph Ziggler in a Triple Threat for the U.S. Championship: A strong opening match. The finish was excellent with Corbin setting up for the End of Days only to have Ziggler hit him with a Zigzag from behind. The match received lackluster storyline support going in, but the wrestlers did a really nice job and the crowd was certainly receptive. The Glorious gimmick continues to feel too one dimensional to work long term, but there’s no denying that the live crowd was hot for Roode. Ziggler going over was surprising and my guess remains that he’s a transitional champion. Dot Net Member “William Van Landingham III” asked me if Corbin could be next in line for a WWE Title shot given that he has a recent win over Styles. While I can’t rule it out, my guess is that they would not have had him take the pin in this match if they intend to move him into the WWE Championship challenger slot. That said, the Royal Rumble match sells the Royal Rumble, so the company could certainly get away with a Styles vs. Corbin one-off match on the January show.

Bludgeon Brothers vs. Fandango and Tyler Breeze: Another squash style win for Luke Harper and Erick Rowan. They are in a better place than they were as singles wrestlers, but this gimmick also has a one-dimensional feel and could have a short shelf life if they’re not given better promo material and some semblance of character development. As it stands, they are two guys who recite forgettable lines about destruction.

Mojo Rawley vs. Zack Ryder: A minor Hit for heel Rawley winning the Kickoff Show match. They delivered a decent pre-show match and Rawley showed good intensity. However, it felt like he could have been wrestling in a WWE Performance Center ring as he made little attempt to work the crowd for heat. In fact, if you just turned on the show and hadn’t been following the recent storyline developments, you may have had a hard time telling which wrestler was the heel.

Overall show: A slightly passable grade for the overall show despite the lopsided Hit count. The creative build never sold me on Jinder Mahal being a threat to regain the championship (his loss to Triple H in India didn’t help matters), and they got too comedic with the build to other matches. For instance, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn did a spoof of the Occupy Raw segment and clowned around on the go-home show. The segment was good for some laughs and it would have fit fine on one of the other shows leading up to Clash of Champions, but the go-home show should have been about selling the big stipulation rather than seeking laughs. Smackdown is at its best when the show takes itself seriously and that wasn’t the case heading into this event. Fortunately, the wrestlers took their jobs seriously and delivered good performances at Clash of Champions that helped make up for the half-hearted build.

WWE Clash of Champions Misses

Charlotte vs. Natalya in a lumberjack match for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: WWE finally got around to telling the story of Charlotte’s title reign being in jeopardy due to the lopsided heel vs. babyface count of the lumberjacks. Aside from Natalya sucking up to the lumberjacks on Smackdown, it felt like they realized on the day of the show that they only had one babyface lumberjack. Perhaps things would have been different if they had played that up more in advance along with Carmella being a threat to cash in. As it was, it didn’t seem like anyone bought into the idea of Natalya regaining the championship. The match was decent, but the match screamed “get all the women on the show.” There is plenty of talent in the division and creative just isn’t getting as much out of the women as they should be. I have no idea what they were going for with the Natalya post match promo. Jake Barnett pointed out in our Dot Net Members’ audio review that the promo was very similar to the one Natalya gave when she first turned heel. This one came off like a retirement threat so I guess we’ll wait and see what the follow up plan is.

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