It seems totally illogical for this year’s Clash of Champions to be a SmackDown exclusive event.
“It’s the only night where all championships are on the line!” howled a commentator at some point over the last fortnight, completely forgetting a whole other side of belts on the red brand.
It’s a small point, nitpicking to be sure, but these things can test the patience when they are so gloriously and factually incorrect.
But Clash of Champions won’t live or die on semantics alone. It needs to show its audience just why the event is worthy of the moniker.
This year’s instalment presents itself as a mixed bag; an insight into the WWE Creative hivemind in which throwing every possible permutation of encounter at the wall until it sticks is the order of the day.
There is the still the matter of the go-home show to be broadcast this coming Tuesday, which may find one or two matches being added to the card.
That being said, there’s a lot to unpack for the final PPV of 2017, so let’s get cracking.
WWE Championship Match
AJ Styles (c) vs Jinder Mahal
Remember ECW One Night Stand 2006 and that fan hanging from the balcony with that now-infamous sign, If Cena Wins We Riot?
Remember how seething the ECW crowd – not a group known for making everything about themselves of course – was? Well, it might not be in the same league but if Jinder Mahal comes away with the title on Sunday then let’s all just hope Boston’s TD Garden have some excellent fireproofing.
It won’t come to that of course, but there’s a horrible sense of seen-it-done-before inevitability that will find AJ Styles, the most deserving of world champions, victim of yet another screwy finish in which the Singh Bros distract and pester long enough for him to fall victim to the Khallas.
Like, can this please not happen?
The Jinder Project fulfilled its aims. It has reignited interest in the brand in a neglected overseas market, he generated real heat at times and even with his in-ring limitations and a career total win/loss record that would make anyone blush, he certainly looks the part.
But common sense has to prevail this time. A long run with the WWE Championship really will cement Styles as one of the all-time greats.
This feud is clearly the secondary storyline for both SmackDown Live and the pay-per-view, and the WWE Championship needs a touch of prestige to force fans to care about it fully.
Prediction: AJ Styles, but we all really fear a swerve.
Randy Orton & Shinsuke Nakamura vs Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
Special Guest Referee: Shane McMahon If Owens and Zayn lose, they are fired from WWE.
On-screen firings in WWE are like death in comic books. It means very little since both can be reversed or ignored very easily.
Owens and Zayn find their careers on the line at Clash of Champions thus presenting two outcomes:
1. Owens and Zayn win, because they’re obviously not going to be fired in any sense of the word. 2. Orton and Nakamura win, but Owens and Zayn come back one week later and negate the point of this match.
Pointless stipulations aside, the five competitors will no doubt give a blood and thunder effort, and that’s kind of the point. The combined pedigree of both teams is enough to draw, so just let them do their thing with no creative Sword of Damocles swinging over their heads.
The build up to Sunday’s bout has been exemplary. Owens is forever in fine fettle as the cowardly, damaged but dangerous portent of doom; like a school bully whose parents have just divorced. Zayn is the perfect foil as his sidekick, picking off the scraps and causing mayhem. Frankly, it’s nice to see our Sami active and involved again, since it looked like he was about to become another forgotten man of WWE.
Their opponents need little introduction, as a 14-time WWE World Champion and IWGP legend tend to be well known enough already. On Sunday they will most likely be the fall guys the advance Owens and Zayn.
McMahon, as he ever is when inserted into matches, will be the pivot in this encounter. Perhaps a heel turn is on the cards, even though it would make absolutely no sense. Heel turn it is then.
Prediction: Owens and Zayn via some heelish antics.
United States Championship Match
Baron Corbin (c) vs Bobby Roode vs Dolph Ziggler
What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a Ziggler? Is it a Zigglerrrr?
Yes indeed, Rudolph The Buried Reindeer is back just in time for Christmas with another title shot earned by whining and moaning and interfering until he gets his way.
All of this business about deserving opportunities and feeling hard done by reminds me too much of myself, and so it’s a little too close to home.
Personal trauma and bitterness aside, this triple threat bout pitches three wrestlers with three distinct styles against one another.
A straight fight between Corbin and Roode would head straight toward an inconclusive finish. Both are in the midst of pushes and neither can afford to lose to the other. That and taking the title from Corbin so soon with the embarrassment of losing his MITB cash-in still fresh in the mind would kill his WWE career for good.
So expect Mr Zig Zag to take the fall once more here. Poor guy. Still, he can always come back and claim he deserves another chance, right?
Prediction: Baron Corbin retains, before heading back to the House of Commons to debate Theresa May.
SmackDown Tag Team Championship Match
The Usos (c) vs Aiden English & Rusev vs Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin vs The New Day
Here’s one from the Kitchen Sink School of Booking for you. It’s a minor criticism aimed unfairly at the match that is most likely going to steal the show.
The long-running feud between the Usos and New Day has seen the two blue straps pass between the warring teams on four occasions, and this eight-man hellrumble is the proverbial grenade in the bunker, which would be proverbial also.
The choices are clear: keep the belts (sorry Vince) on Jimmy and Jay and move them on to a programme with Gable and Benjamin or just give them to English and Rusev just for the sheer bloody hell of it. I know which I would prefer.
The New Day and Usos are at the absolute top of their game if their performances this calendar year are anything to go by. Expect the usual brilliant cavalcade of acrobatics and landings that make you wince. We’re all still feeling that powerbomb to the outside the Usos delivered to Kofi Kingston.
But still, give them to English and Rusev anyway.
Prediction: The Usososososos.
SmackDown Women’s Championship Lumberjack Match
Charlotte (c) vs Natalya
At least they’re not calling it a Lumberjill Match. You can’t have a women’s revolution in your company if you spend your time patting them on the head.
The women’s division has really ramped up the aggression in the last couple of weeks, what with the return of Paige and the filing in of all manner of bruisers from NXT making their way up into the big(ger) leagues. A Lumberjack Match is a petri dish of aggravation and acrimony and so the planets appear to have aligned.
Whoever wins will probably have to contend with Paige and/or any or all of the recent arrivals trying to lay claim to the title. Add to that the possibility of Carmella finally cashing in her title shot and we have another contender for Match Of The Night.
Prediction:Charlotte, and then possibly Carmella.
Breezango vs The Bludgeon Brothers
And so the months of buildup and laughs generated by the Fashion Files it’s going to end in a total squash for Breezango.
With the Bludgeon Brothers – a repackaged Luke Harper and Erik Rowan – obviously on the cusp of a push and with the quick work they made of the local talent on Tuesday night, don’t expect their opponents to be in the mix for too long.
For Breezango, it’s a shame their acclaimed segments are being given such a limp send-off but the gimmick had long run its course. It’s time for the Bludgeon Brothers to grab some of the spotlight for themselves.
Prediction:Bludgeon Brothers in around 109 seconds.
Zack Ryder vs Mojo Rawley
After the Fashion Files comes the Who Cares File and as you can see with this bout, it’s a binder full to the brim.
Former tag partners Ryder and Rawley face-off against one another since breaking up a few weeks ago; Rawley attacking Ryder after a defeat at the presumably hammer-shaped hands of the Bludgeon Brothers.
Mojo Rawley will most likely pick up the win here. As the man who instigated the breakup, Rawley has to go over to justify the narrative taking place.
Prediction:Mojo Rawley, before both return to relative obscurity again.