John: Welcome to the TJRWrestling WWE Clash of Champions preview featuring the Smackdown crew. The show takes place this Sunday, December 17 at the TD Garden in Boston.
The theme of the show is that every Smackdown title will be on the line. There are only four of them compared to five on Raw (hello cruiserweights), so it’s not that much of a stretch to have every title on the line at a PPV event. It’s not like the average viewer is going to be excited to see a title match considering how many title matches there are and how often we see title matches even on television. What I’m getting at is there really isn’t much of a hook to this show. It feels very basic.
Joining me for the preview are Kurt Zamora and Mike Holland with no Matthew Phillips because work is too busy. Thanks to all three of them for making it through the year of PPV previews with me.
(Note: All graphics are from WWE.com. The banner up top is courtesy of our friend Melo Man.)
Zack Ryder vs. Mojo Rawley (Kickoff Show)
Kurt: It’s the most excited I’ve ever been for a kickoff show match. The breakup for the Hype Bros has been needed since Ryder came back from major knee surgery. It’s interesting how his injury completely changed the dynamic of the Smackdown tag division. Had he never been hurt, the Hype Bros become tag champions instead of American Alpha. Who knows what happens after that? I felt like Ryder needed to be the heel in this breakup, but perhaps WWE saw how a heel turn for someone like Ziggler did nothing for him, because no one wants to boo him, and felt the same about Ryder. Mojo’s offense is quite limiting and I don’t know that the crowd would get behind him enough to make this storyline work, so they went with Mojo being the heel.
I really hope now is the time to do SOMETHING with Ryder’s career again. He’s worked his ass off to get in the best shape of his career, he’s always been a great story that’s easy to get behind, and he can have a really good match when given the chance. As I said, Mojo is limiting in the ring and I don’t think is ready for any type of major spot so the right move is to help grow the babyface side of things (which they desperately need) and give Ryder some momentum.
Prediction: Zack Ryder
Mike: If you were to encapsulate the current issues with WWE right now, this match would be a heck of a place to start. Lost in the ginormous rush to supersize each and every main event is the long-heralded (and vastly underappreciated) historical fact that midcard feuds carry professional wrestling. While they may lack the sizzle of the main course, truly excellent shows must feature other things to care about and whet your appetite. You’d think a long-standing tag team breaking apart at its foundation would constitute such a feud. And you’d be one hundred percent wrong, as the former Hype Bros stay hype on the dreaded kickoff show.
I’ve been crystal clear from the gate that the Hype thing was not for me. It doesn’t have to be for me to work, though, and it did its job well enough, particularly in NXT. The major issue here is that it’s very clear to all involved that WWE has no interest in continuing the pretense of Zack Ryder being relevant. He’s also not sympathetic enough for me to get behind, and Mean Mojo is pretty much the same as Normal Mojo. Grating and nonsensical. If there’s a match no one sees, did it happen?
Winner: Mojo Rawley
John: It would be nice if WWE’s creative team cared about this match as much as my friends above because at least both of them put some thought into this. Ryder wasn’t even on the last two Smackdowns after Rawley attacked him three weeks ago. Shouldn’t a face get a chance to speak on TV about how he wants revenge against his buddy that turned on him? Comments on Twitter aren’t the same. It makes Ryder look like a loser. It also tells us how little WWE cares about this feud because they don’t give them a chance to further their storyline. I wish both wrestlers luck, but I think this will be a boring match in front of a dead crowd. Newly turned heel Rawley should get the win.
Winner: Mojo Rawley
Breezango (Tyler Breeze & Fandango) vs. The Bludgeon Brothers (Harper & Rowan)
Kurt: I went over 200 words on the kickoff show, so I’m going to make up for it by making this short and sweet. This should’ve been the kickoff match and this will go less than two minutes.
Prediction: Bludgeon Brothers
Mike: Remember when Harper and Rowan brutalized every opponent standing in their way, rarely communicating but giving off an odd and dangerous vibe that made them singularly unique and interesting? It was a simple time, long before WWE had utterly destroyed a crazy good thing in the Wyatt Family and when wrestlers were still allowed to have first names. While the slapdash and constant twists and turns in their allegiance to Bray and each other have made about as much sense as most of their promos, you can at least look fondly back and content yourself with the knowledge that The Bludgeon Brothers are exactly the same gimmick with Ascension thrift store hand-me-downs and a brutal name. Who says you can’t go home again? Someone that never left.
Breezango gets credit from me for finding a way to make sure each episode of SmackDown contains at least some intentional humor, and they now occupy that fleeting space of comedy magic that everyone from Santino to Hornswoggle can attest leads to low oxygen but decent staying power. If you think this match will be at all competitive, you might think the Fashion Files segments are leading somewhere. Or that a Chia Pet is a great gift.
Winners: The Bludgeon Brothers
John: This should be an easy win for the Bludgeon Brothers, which I don’t mind because they’re an entertaining team that look better in their new look. I hope Breezango gets a better chance to show what they can do in 2018. With a solid push, they could thrive as a face tag team. Booking them like a joke team or guys that only appear backstage isn’t going to get them anywhere.
Winners: The Bludgeon Brothers
United States Championship: Baron Corbin vs. Bobby Roode vs. Dolph Ziggler
Kurt: I hate matches like this where it’s so blatantly obvious someone is in the match just to take the pinfall. Ziggler wasn’t doing much of anything besides losing matches (a fact he was not shy at all talking about on Edge & Christian’s podcast) and then gets a US Title opportunity out of nowhere. I think Corbin vs. Roode could be an entertaining feud on its own since both are so different from one another but perhaps that’s being saved for Royal Rumble. Corbin is still looking for that elusive great match and maybe with a couple workers like Roode and Ziggler, this could be that, but I don’t know that they’ll get enough time to do so.
Prediction: Baron Corbin retains
Mike: Finally we get a champion clashing! It’s like part of the 12 Days of Christmas, sandwiched snugly between leaping lords and pipers piping. The bad news is that said champion is Baron Corbin, whose matches make me want to chug bean sprout shakes while applying sandpaper to my eyeballs. If the point of Corbin at this point is that he’s so awful in the ring it helps his loudmouth heel character, well played! If the point is that there isn’t a point and he’s just another plodding big man given way too much time per week at the expense of those less fortunate, well…that’s about what I’d expect. Bah humbug.
This match is like setting up an obvious punchline. Bobby Roode just flew in from NXT and boy, are his arms tired. Waiter, is there a Dolph in my Ziggler? Roode’s not unseating Corbin yet, because the Lone Wolf is having too much fun pwning social media, but having him eat the pin would be silly. Enter the answer in the form of Dolph Ziggler, who simultaneously gets credit from me for being refreshingly honest about his status and loses said credit for not pulling a Cody. Knock, knock. Who’s there? Status quo.
Winner (and STILL United States Champion): Baron Corbin
John: Here’s another match with a poor storyline. It looked like it would be Corbin vs. Roode until they added Ziggler, which has led to any regular WWE viewer to realize that Ziggler’s there to take the pin. I don’t think Roode is going to win this soon after starting a feud with Corbin. It should be a win for Corbin possibly after Roode hits his finisher on Ziggler. It’s one of WWE’s favorite finishes to do in a three-way match. Corbin should retain.
Winner: Baron Corbin
Fatal 4-Way Smackdown Tag Team Championships: The Usos vs. The New Day vs. Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin vs. Rusev & Aiden English
Rules for this match from WWE.com: “There will be four Superstars in the ring at all times until there’s a pinfall or a submission and each competitor is only able to tag their partner.”
Kurt: Who in WWE loves the Fatal 4 Way match so much? NXT had one at War Games, they’re leading to one in a couple weeks to determine a new #1 contender, and then we have this one. This is the best match on the card by a mile. So much great talent and I hope they get the time necessary to make this a classic. I’m not sure how I feel about the Usos turning babyface, at least that’s how it comes across especially if you saw Tribute to the Troops. I know they’ve been on fire recently and it happens in wrestling where when you’re so good as a heel, you just naturally become a face. However, I think they had more to accomplish as a heel duo. That shows you the lack of babyface talent for the roster as a whole.
This is by far the hardest match to predict as I think three of the four teams have a case for winning this match. Gable & Benjamin are the outliers, as I just am not buying into them as a team. Rusev and English are magic together and I’ve been thoroughly entertained by them so I wouldn’t mind seeing them as champions and seeing how much further they can go with Rusev Day material as champions. Ultimately, though, I don’t foresee a title change.
Prediction: The Usos retain
Mike: Long-time readers know I like to dispense with the simplest things first, and here they are: Tag team wrestling is the best thing going on SmackDown right now, and it has been for a while. This match will be very good at minimum, and has the potential to ace of the evening before all is said and done. Despite the loud protestations that The Usos and The New Day were done feuding after their series of incredible matches this year, they made like The Eagles and watched hell freeze over. We’re the better for it, because frankly that feud can last forever and it’s just fine with me.
What’s not to love about Aiden English and Rusev? Think having an oddball pairing isn’t fantastic wrestling television? From Kozlov/Santino to Bryan/Kane to Yoko and Owen to Booker & Goldy, it’s a high I can’t ever quit. They also beat both Usos and New Day in recent weeks, so they have zero chance. To me, this match exists purely to get recently turned Gable and Benjamin to create some potential magic with a series against TND. Plus, when matches are this complicated, I just go champions retain.
Winners (and STILL Smackdown Tag Team Champions): The Usos
John: This match could have been great if the rules were different. They are doing a fatal 4-way style match where the first fall wins while four guys are in the ring. If it was an elimination style match they could have had a 20-minute classic with plenty of drama featuring four teams that know how to have a great match. By doing the “first fall wins” stipulation, it just means there will be a barrage of pin attempts, then one of the other guys breaks it up and it will feel repetitive. The format is a bad idea.
The Usos could win because they’re good as the champions, plus it appears they’re a face team again. Benjamin and Gable would have more credibility as a team if they won. English and Rusev are entertaining to watch, but after beating New Day and Usos in back to back weeks I doubt they have a shot.
I’ll go with New Day for the win. I’m picking a title change just because it’s been over two months since The Usos won the titles. We all know WWE loves booking Tag Team Title changes this year on both shows, so why not one more? The most likely finish is having New Day win by pinning English, which would set up yet another New Day vs. Usos title match. I don’t mind because they had one of the best feuds of the year.
Winners and New Tag Team Champions: The New Day
Smackdown Women’s Championship Lumberjack Match: Charlotte Flair vs. Natalya
Kurt: It’s unfortunate that these two haven’t been able to have the straight up classic that they had in NXT that put Charlotte on the map. This match will be much more about the women surrounding the ring that it will be the women inside, and that’s a bummer. There’s so much I could say about the Riott Squad (well God Damn Pal, there’s got to be TWO T’s!), but the majority of it isn’t good and it would take more than 200 words, so I digress.
I understand the alliance the Smackdown women have created against the Riott Squad, but at some point the heels have to look out for themselves above anything else and that’s why I think this is the perfect time for Carmella to cash in the MITB briefcase. There’s clearly going to be chaos at some point, either during the match or after the match, and Carmella can use that chaos to her advantage, cash in the briefcase and while everyone is focused on everything else, catch Charlotte by surprise and win the title.
Prediction: Charlotte retains, but Carmella cashes in Money in the Bank successfully to win Smackdown Women’s Title
Mike: What to do when you’ve introduced a bunch of new talent into a flailing division that has featured some decent action but way more overstuffed roster-busting matches? Why, have a lumberjack match of course! How else could we shoehorn an entire division into a show where almost all the championship matches have multiple contenders involved? I am appreciative that at least that isn’t being called a Lumberjill match. I am thoroughly unappreciative that WWE still has yet to discover that gimmicks can’t and won’t overtake two talented people, men or women, going out there and kicking ass for our enjoyment.
The dynamic of the Riott Squad looms large over this match, but will end up being as irrelevant as the extra “t” bestowed to Ruby to ensure that nobody accuses WWE creative of condoning actual public mayhem or hilarity. Natalya will not be unseating Charlotte, because frankly what’s the point? The real story of this match is what isn’t being said and therefore is very much being screamed. Carmella is running out of time to cash in her briefcase, and interestingly has largely remained on the sidelines while the Squad beat down most of the division. That’s by design, natch.
Winner: Charlotte Flair. Carmella cashes in MITB briefcase and becomes NEW Smackdown Women’s Champion
John: This is probably the last Charlotte vs. Natalya match for a long time since this feud has been going on for a while. Their chemistry is good and I usually enjoy their matches. Unfortunately for this match there’s a lot of attention on The Riott Squad, so I think Natalya will be treated like an afterthought. Charlotte is going to retain the title and I think The Riott Squad will beat up all the girls after the match. That will pave the way for Ruby Riott to step up as the next challenger to Charlotte.
I don’t think Carmella will cash in Money in the Bank. Both of my buddies predicted it above. I’d rather see Charlotte hold the title for a few months at least. Carmella just isn’t that interesting to me.
Winner: Charlotte Flair
WWE Championship:AJ Styles vs. Jinder Mahal
Kurt: Once the India show came and went with Jinder doing the J-O-B to Triple H, and that being the place it made sense to get the title back on Jinder, this match has no interest to me since it’s clear they’ve moved on from the Jinder experiment. If there was any chance of him retaining the title, they would’ve had him defeat HHH and used that as momentum heading into this match. Instead, it happened with not so much as a whimper, and now there’s this title match that excites no one.
I was a fan of Jinder as champion, just because I understood why they did it and I wasn’t going to be a hypocrite and ask for change but then when they gave me change, say that’s not the change I wanted. However, now that it’s seemingly over, I think we can all agree the experiment was a failure. They couldn’t sell out the shows in India, HHH was far more over than he was at the shows, and the Network subscriptions in that part of the world haven’t jumped. I don’t expect him to go to the bottom of the barrel after this, but I easily can see this being Jinder’s last main event. Meanwhile, AJ’s path from here is quite cloudy with multiple potential challengers.
Prediction: AJ Style retains
Mike: I can’t imagine there is anyone left strutting this orb of ours who still doesn’t believe that AJ Styles is the best worker in the company, but if those couple naysayers insist on stubbornly refusing to budge, I present the final argument to end all final arguments: AJ carried Jinder Mahal to a thoroughly watchable match, and likely Jinder’s best in-ring performance since his return. Does that mean I want to watch another one? Absolutely not, but it remains another defining characteristic in AJ’s unparalleled legacy since joining up with WWE.
Mahal’s reign was doomed from the start, and even some well-done chicanery by the omnipresent Singh Brothers doesn’t come close to convincing me that this is any kind of main event. How do you leave the strap on Jinder throughout all the hue and cry, not to mention some of the worst title matches of any wrestling promotion in this calendar year, just to randomly take it away from him BEFORE the long-awaited tour of India? It’s like they do some of this stuff just to screw with everyone. I admire the idea, but it’s not a great way to run a company.
I’m not sure what the future holds for Mahal, but I’m quite sure it’s not a victory this Sunday. The sooner this feud ends, the sooner I can pretend writing about him in the main event preview after preview was just a nightmare. If this is what the Ghost of Christmas Future is showing me, I better get that fatted goose to the Cratchit house post haste.
Winner (and STILL WWE Champion): AJ Styles
John: It doesn’t feel like a big match. Mahal gets his rematch, Styles finds a way to survive after the constant interference of the Singh Brothers, maybe Styles kicks out of The Khallas at some point and then Styles goes on to retain his title. There’s absolutely no reason for Mahal to win the title when his six-month reign as champion didn’t excite anybody, nor did it improve WWE business in any way. Styles is the best and most popular wrestler on Smackdown. They took the title off him before WrestleMania. Don’t do it this year. Keep the gold on Styles until at least WrestleMania. He deserves it.
Winner: AJ Styles
Randy Orton & Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens (Shane McMahon & Daniel Bryan are both referees)
(Stipulation: If Zayn & Owens lose they are fired from WWE per the orders of Shane McMahon)
Kurt: It’s sad that the biggest draw for this PPV is a match we’ve seen on Smackdown already. This reeks of a TV main event. I think it’ll be entertaining and I’m sure we’re getting some sort of big swerve at the end, but it just shows the lack of creativity in booking right now.
I was torn on how this would play out until WWE Shop came out with the “Yep! Yep! Yep!” shirt that KO and Zayn wore this past week. I think Daniel Bryan turning heel and aligning with these two, as it would’ve been something vastly different than we’ve seen from Daniel in quite some time, intrigued a lot of us. However, once that shirt came out, it became painfully obvious to me that A. Owens and Zayn aren’t getting fired since you’re putting out new merchandise for them, and B. Shane is going to be the one turning heel and they’ll be using this as a way to mock Daniel going forward.
I can literally feel everyone’s eyes rolling at the thought of another McMahon heel turn, but there again is that lack of creativity. Shane helps KO and Zayn win the match. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Triple Threat match at Royal Rumble where Shane stacks the decks against AJ and puts him against both KO and Zayn.
Prediction: Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn with the help of Shane McMahon
Mike: The bad part about a stipulation so obvious is that there’s really no way to avoid painting yourself into a corner. The good part about doing it while running a billion-dollar wrestling company is that every stipulation is written on toilet paper anyhow. Of all the matches on the card, this has the best build in my view. The increasingly evident friction between Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan, smartly played up to capitalize on the very real desire Bryan has to return to the ring whether WWE medical personnel opt to clear him or not, has slowly burned to the point where both men have pivotal roles in a match where their actions, intended or otherwise, could spell the end for Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. We know there is no chance those two don’t remain on the blue brand, so the only thing to answer is how we get to that conclusion. The fact that there are quite a few roads to traverse down to achieve that objective is a credit to WWE.
The patently obvious is generally a good place to look, and that would point to Daniel Bryan preventing Shane from exerting his version of justice on his adversaries and therefore aligning himself with one hell of an indy heel stable. It’s also entirely possible that there is a fox in the henhouse, with either Orton or Nakamura pulling the shocker and screwing over Shane O Mac. Of the two, Nakamura seems nearly impossible to do at this juncture or perhaps ever. Orton could easily flip heel, and would be the better for it, but the only payoff for that is the Viper matching up with Shane, and that lacks the pizazz you’d want for a Rumble build.
What I prefer and expect is the dreaded swerve, in which it’s actually Shane McMahon who prevents his apparent foes from facing termination by allowing his growing divide with Bryan to swallow him whole. Smackdown has always been presented as the land of opportunity, but it’s the McMahon family who determines those opportunities. Bryan’s constant positive fan reaction is all the more reason to let Shane pull a Sami and throw his lot in with Smackdown’s chief miscreant. Whether it leads to a “YES!” moment for all of us is a wish and prayer, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun to imagine that it does.
Winners: Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens (assisted by Referee McMahon)
John: This is the best booked match on the card because of how much TV time they have been given to set it up. It’s also a repetitive match because they did it on Smackdown already. Tag team matches aren’t that exciting when you’ve already seen the match before. At least the addition of Shane and Daniel as referees will spice things up a bit.
I think the finish will see heel Shane come back after nearly two years in the face role. McMahons are good as heels. They know it. We know it. There will likely be something where Bryan is about to count the pin after a Orton RKO and Shane might pull Bryan out of the ring or attack Orton. That can set up Sami or Kevin to hit a finisher to win. I guess it could be against Nakamura too.
The heel turn from Shane McMahon is so obvious now that all three of us are predicting it. I’m sure a lot of you reading this felt that way before you read this preview too. It’s another example of being veteran WWE viewers that know what’s coming after years of this stuff. On Smackdown, they tried to pain the picture of Daniel Bryan possibly helping Zayn and Owens win, but when they push something that hard it usually means nothing. All that arguing Bryan was doing with announcer Byron Saxton was trying to throw off the audience.
Another option that would work is Orton turning on Nakamura and then Bryan would count the pin because it’s the right thing to do. That would set up Orton as a heel against Shane and Daniel, but Orton is fine in the face role.
There doesn’t have to be a heel turn. There could be some sort of miscommunication from Shane and Daniel, which leads to Sami and Kevin winning as a fluke. The heel turn can happen at Royal Rumble next month or a later date. I just think the most obvious route is for Shane to turn, so that’s what I’m going with.
Winners: Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens
Match I’m Looking Forward To The Most
Kurt: Ryder vs. Mojo. Judge me, I don’t care.
Mike: The tag match with the two refs will be setting the stage for storylines to come, so I’ll take that for intrigue’s sake.
John: Zayn/Owens vs. Orton/Nakamura because of the possible twists and turns.
Match I Care About The Least
Kurt: Bludgeon Bros vs Breezango.
Mike: I can’t say AJ/Jinder because it’s an AJ match, so Mojo/Ryder. WWE clearly doesn’t care either.
John: Rawley vs. Ryder. Of the title matches, the US Title match is least interesting.
Kurt: I’m hopeful it’s the tag title match. That much talent needs a lot of time.
Mike: I’ll go the Fatal 4-way. Match of the night and should get plenty of time.
John: If the tag title match was elimination style I’d pick that, but it’s not so I’ll go with Styles vs. Mahal getting around 20 minutes.
Kurt: Bludgeon Bros vs. Breezango.
Mike: The Bludgeon Bros will win in nanoseconds.
John: Bludgeon Brothers vs. Breezango.
Excitement Level on a Scale of 1-10 (1 being low, 10 being high)
Kurt: 4. I feel they put more effort into Starrcade than they did Clash of Champions.
Mike: This is a 4 at best for me. Nothing to write home about, and most of the championship matches feel oddly lackluster. I’m sure WWE thinks the McMahon versus Bryan drama will carry the day, but I’m not nearly so sure. It’s unfortunate that a roster so deep has a show so one-dimensional.
John: I’ll be the high man in our group here and go with a 4.5, which is not good. It’s hard to get that excited about this card. I don’t think it’s a talent issue. It’s more of a creative issue because the stories going into these matches just aren’t that interesting.
Mike: It’s no surprise that in an event named Clash of Champions, I’m only picking one champion to lose. (And that champion won’t be losing to her actual challenger, but rather the briefcase holder after the match.) This feels very much like treading water before finding something a heck of a lot more interesting to do. There is always the possibility that a couple of these matches end up being much better than they look on paper, but I sense the unfortunate trend continuing of WWE trying to make a couple matches feel bigger at the expense of the rest of the card. Hard to get excited about this one.
John: The Smackdown roster has a lot of talent, but I feel like WWE’s creative team let them down. There just aren’t very many interesting storylines going into this show, so that’s going to hurt the quality of the show. You can do better, WWE.
That’s all for us. Thanks to the crew for joining me once again. I will write a live review of the show on TJRWrestling.net on Sunday night because my interest in the NFL’s Cowboys vs. Raiders is low, so check it out during the show or after it’s over.
Kurt – @KTankTMB
Mike – @DharmanRockwell
John – @johnreport
If you want to send an email, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org as well. Thanks for reading.