After Smackdown broke the ice with the first brand-exclusive PPV, Backlash, a couple of weeks ago, the ball was firmly in Raw’s court to deliver on the blue brand’s decent showing with their first exclusive show, Clash of Champions. Heading into the PPV, the card was certainly stacked with a bunch of matches that could definitely deliver from a in-ring perspective, lending a certain optimism to Clash of Champions going into Sunday night. Unfortunately, it turns out that it wasn’t the quality of the wrestling that we should have been worried about, as WWE delivered up a Pay Per View full of good matches marred by horrible writing, and result was a show that felt less like the start of a new era, and more like a mediocre episode of their weekly television product.
10. Credit Where Credit Is Due
Before we start tearing this show a new one, let’s give all the credit in the world to the wrestlers, who went out there and wrestled some matches that were, at worst, very good, occasionally going way too far above and beyond the call to pop the crowd. The failures of this show do not hang on the shoulders of the men and women who performed at Clash of Champions, because they all put on PPV-quality performances. We just wanted to make sure we acknowledged that hard work, because we are wrestling fans, and great wrestling is a large part of why we watch the show in the first place. However, in nearly every case, the matches at Clash of Champions were consistently undercut by half-assed, questionable, and occasionally downright nonsensical booking both in the weeks leading up to the show, and at the PPV itself. It’s unlikely that the best wrestling matches on the planet could have overcome that sort of handicap, and unfortunately, the wrestlers of the Raw brand simply couldn’t manage a miracle.
9. But They’ve Got A New Shirt!
We love The New Day, because they’re an act that somehow managed to get some sort of control over their own creative direction and proceeded to run wild with an entertaining freedom that hasn’t been seen in a long time in WWE. The New Day is all that stuff from the Attitude Era about “turning your real personality up to 11”, and it absolutely worked. But after four hundred days as Tag Team Champions and over a year as WWE’s most visible tag team, even the best act needs a break so they can freshen up the act. It doesn’t help that right around the time they became beloved faces, their promos became more about selling boxes of cereal than the truly original stuff they used to deliver on a weekly basis, but again, sometimes you just need time to refresh the creative juices. That’s why we originally picked Gallows and Anderson at the team to take the titles from New Day, as a credible monster team (and pretty much the last heel team left that New Day hasn’t already beaten repeatedly) that could dominate the division and move the spotlight off New Day, at least for a while. Instead, New Day won convincingly in just over five minutes, and now we’re asking “Who’s left?”
8. The One Thing Going Right
While there were signs of nerves from the new Cruiserweight champion and some obvious instructions from WWE to slow things down from the relatively unbridled freedom of the Cruiserweight Classic, the PPV debut of the new Cruiserweight division had all of the signs of something that WWE is actually committed to having succeed. By changing the entire look of the segment (right down to the ring ropes, in fact), WWE basically set the Cruiserweights apart from the rest of the roster, which is a decision we have to agree with, at least during the initial stages of the division’s growth. By giving the division its own separate look and roster that doesn’t intermingle with the relative giants of the roster, you avoid things like the temptation to have, say, Braun Strowman squash a couple of them on a mid-winter episode of Raw. It can also help avoid the feeling of moving, say, Neville to the division as a “demotion”, and more as a lateral move. We’re not saying the Cruiserweights and Heavyweights can’t verbally interact on Raw, or that Cruiserweights can’t move out of their niche into bigger and better things, but until and unless the division is established, we would never have them wrestle outside of their weight class.
7. Killing Themselves For No Reason
You really have to feel for both Cesaro and Sheamus, because it’s clear at this point that the Creative team has literally nothing for them. How else would you explain their feud, which took two matches to set up a seven match series that is quite obviously going to have an eighth match to decide things? Nothing exemplifies Raw’s current state of “good wrestling, but no story” like the unending series of matches between the Swiss Superman and the Celtic Warrior. Sure, the matches have been, at worst, decent, but we’ve seen so many in such a short period of time that there’s no impetus to care about anything going on. And yes, there’s a “championship opportunity” on the line, but the more they repeat that incredibly vague line, the more we become certain that it’s not going to be for the belt everyone wants it to be for. And to top it all off, the finish to their Clash of Champions match was the worst sort of booking, as the match was just sort of stopped after a simple clothesline over the barricade was apparently enough to incapacitate both men. We would have at least bought that finish if they’d done it after Cesaro attempted to break his own neck on a suicide dive attempt, but either way it was a bad ending to a reasonably hot match that clearly angered the live audience. Honestly, if you’re going to do a “No Contest” finish, wouldn’t it have made more sense to have the fight spill all over the arena in an incredible brawl until the ref finally gives up trying to get them back into the ring?
6. Sami Zayn Doesn’t Matter
Coming off a restless crowd thanks to the terrible finish of Cesaro-Sheamus, Sami Zayn was in a perfect position. As a never-say-die underdog babyface, Zayn is the right sort of wrestler to send out there to give the fans someone to cheer for after they were just disappointed by the previous match. And since it’s a completely meaningless match with no stakes, it’s an easy win for Zayn to give the guy some badly-needed momentum after WWE did absolutely nothing with his “career-defining” win over Kevin Owens at Battleground. So, of course, he lost, and not only that, he lost to an abrupt, out-of-nowhere finish that left an audience wondering where the hot ending the match was clearly supposd to have had disappeared to, to a guy who absolutely didn’t need the win. Instead of building up a guy who has a legitimate claim to a Universal Title shot (he did beat the current champion in Owens’ last PPV singles match), or at least trying to protect him somewhat, Zayn just lost, straight up, robbing him of any momentum or direction for the future. We fully expect WWE to come up with some vague reason why Zayn and Jericho should continue feuding, but at this point, Zayn already lost! WWE can tell us that “wins and losses don’t matter” all they want, but it turns out, how and when you win and lose actually does matter somewhat when it comes to making credible stars. The only possible bright spot is, the last guy to lose a feud to Jericho that everyone thought he should absolutely win is the WWE World Champion right now, so maybe there’s hope?
5. The Weight Of Expectations
We’ll count ourselves among the many people who overhyped the Women’s Title match at Clash of Champions, but to be fair, it was hard to blame us based on past accomplishments. The fact of the matter is that Triple Threat matches are hard for even the best wrestlers to pull off, so it was somewhat naive to expect Bayley, Sasha, and Charlotte to be able to top the match from WrestleMania 32. The effort was certainly there, but the execution, as usually happens in multi-person matches, was occasionally lacking, and the result was a match that was good, but not great, and certainly not the blowaway performance we were hoping for. But that’s actually okay, because “good, not great” is still miles and miles better than what we’d have expected from a women’s match in WWE just over a year ago, and the fact that three of the best wrestlers in the division didn’t have a Match of the Year candidate is disappointing, but not the end of the world. It was a mediocre matches by the high standards the women themselves have set, but it was still one of the best on the show, and that’s not bad. Now, when WWE runs out of combinations of Charlotte, Sasha, and Bayley and have to address the fact that a six-woman division is nowhere near big enough, that’s when we’ll really see about the future of the women’s wrestling in the company.
4. Change We Don’t Believe In
As seems to be a tradition on these shows where every title is on the line, the PPV might as well have been titled “Clash of Champions Retain”, as four out of the five title matches saw the champions hold onto their belts. And then there was this match, where Roman Reigns continued to be treated like the biggest babyface in all of WWE by everyone who isn’t actually watching the show. When WWE’s crack video editing team can’t find a version of events leading up to the match that doesn’t make Reigns look like a jerk, some questions need to seriously start being asked about why this guy is getting pushed as a hero while boos rain down around him. The biggest laugh of the evening came when Michael Cole claimed that Reigns had faced adversity throughout his WWE career, leading many people to question exactly what adversity the guy who literally got everything he asked for handed to him by the Raw GM just a week ago, and has made a career out of receiving repeated title shots for inexplicable reasons, regardless of fan reactions, has possibly faced? But apparently winning the US Title will finally set Reigns on the path to becoming a legend (by the way, the Raw announce team was particularly unbearable during this match), unlike the 3 World title runs, the 2-year sustained push, or the consecutive WrestleMania main events, so hey, at least he’s not in the main event picture. Technically.
3. Seth Rollins Isn’t A Good Guy Yet
The problem with the main event of Clash of Champions is that it didn’t feel like a main event. Kevin Owens is the heeliest heel that ever heeled, and we’ve got no complaints about him at all. However, the issue is that Seth Rollins is stuck in this weird character limbo ,where WWE bled off all the face heat he garnered during his emotional return from a serious knee injury, then suddenly reversed course and decided he was a good guy now, only they haven’t really booked him any differently. Rollins hasn’t had that actual face turn moment that kind of has to happen when somebody has spent the last several years playing the dirtiest, most despicable heel in the company. Triple H screwing him over wasn’t that moment, because it didn’t make him a good guy, it made him a bad guy who whines about getting screwed, even though he’s correct. Even at Clash of Champions, Rollins still didn’t get that moment, because he was once again defined by things the bad guys (in this case, Jericho, Owens, and Stephanie) did to him, not any heroic actions on his part. As a result, the audience is stuck between sort of wanting to cheer for Rollins and not really being given any reason to do so.
2. In Case You Didn’t Already Know
Hey, you know how there was the huge part of the main event storyline that revolved around the Raw GM and Commissioner, about whether Triple H and Stephanie were working together behind Mick Foley’s back, even though Stephanie claimed she didn’t know about Triple H’s plot to give the Universal Title to Kevin Owens and hasn’t even talked to him in a month? Well, thanks to a special post-Clash of Champions fallout video that was posted on WWE’s YouTube channel, you can watch Triple H meet up with Stephanie, fresh off clearly screwing over Seth Rollins while pretending not to, as the happy couple leaves the arena together in a limo. Personally, we’d probably actually televise that big reveal, but we don’t run a multi-million dollar wrestling organization (besides, they’ll just show it on Raw anyway and pretend that’s just as good). Anyway, to the shock of absolutely nobody, it looks like Stephanie is a bad person who was working with her husband all along, The Authority is happy and healthy, and everything on Raw is back to the way it was for the last several years. Yay.
1. Smackdown Wins
Despite having a much smaller roster and barely enough matches to stretch Backlash to over 2 and a half hours, while Raw stacked Clash of Champions with huge matches and even went ten minutes into an overrun, the sheer ineptness of Raw’s booking decisions, especially when compared to the tight storylines and ideas that Smackdown has been running with since the brand split (things like having feuds actually pay off, giving everyone something to do, making titles worth something, and spotlighting underutilized stars instead of sticking with the same old group), makes the battle of the first two brand-exclusive PPVs an easy win for the blue side. In fact, the disparity in quality is so large, it’s hard to believe that the same company is running both shows. To call Clash of Champions the equivalent of a barely passably-booked episode of Raw would be far too generous, and with Monday Night Football already taking a chunk of viewers and tonight’s Presidential Debate expected to give Raw possibly its lowest rating in history, this is not a time when their Pay Per Views can afford to be mediocre. The alleged war between Raw and Smackdown is far from over, but at this point, it isn’t even close to a fair fight.