Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
In just over a week, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) will hold its annual Clash of Champions pay-per-view. While having changed names throughout its sixteen-year history, from Vengeance (from 2001-2007), to Night of Champions (2007-2015), and finally Clash of Champions (2016-present), the event has retained its primary feature – that is, all the championships of the featured shows will be defended (hence the name). Having featured unforgettable moments like World Championship Wrestling’s (WCW) icon Sting fighting for the WWE World Championship in 2014 and Chris Jericho winning the WWF Undisputed Championship against both Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock in 2001, this year’s Clash looks to be no different, with titles and vicious rivalries fueling the event. For those wishing to follow the event without needing to sit down and watch several weeks’ worth of SmackDown Live (the featured brand for this year’s pay-per-view), here’s a quick breakdown of the headline matches for Clash of Champions.
Two Best Friends, Versus One Furious Commissioner
The past few weeks have not been good ones for Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. Best friends since childhood, the two became archenemies in WWE’s developmental brand NXT, and carried that feud onto the main roster with their fights headlining pay-per-views for both Monday Night RAW and SmackDown. For Owens, the fall from grace has been remarkable – winning RAW’s top championship and the United States Championship (SmackDown’s secondary title) within the span of a year, he’s struggled since, failing to capitalize on his opportunities. Repeatedly demanding title matches from SmackDown Commissioner Shane McMahon and finally being denied, he antagonized and attacked Shane, leading to the two having a Hell In A Cell match in October of this year. On the verge of winning, Shane was cost the match, and Kevin Owens was saved by the last person anyone expected – Sami Zayn. On the SmackDown following the event, Zayn explained himself, claiming he finally realized that Shane was a heartless, cruel GM that didn’t care for anyone, and that he now understood exactly what Owens had been preaching all along. So, for the first time since 2014, the two former best friends were reunited. For the next month leading up to Survivor Series, the two feuded with McMahon, but failed to make Team SmackDown as they both lost their qualifying matches. At Survivor Series, they cost team SmackDown the match, attacking Shane. With that, Shane finally snapped, threatening to fire the two week after week, though SmackDown GM Daniel Bryan managed to soothe him by throwing Zayn and Owens into difficult matches. Even with the matches, though, Shane wasn’t satisfied, and he went after the two unruly superstars with a fury. After the tag-team match was announced for Clash of Champions – Zayn and Owens versus SmackDown’s top stars Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura – McMahon declared himself the special guest referee, and added another stipulation: if Zayn and Owens didn’t win, they’d be fired from the WWE. Hard justice or abuse of power? This one might just be a case of “history is written by the winners”.
MATCH: (Tag Team) Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn vs. Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura – Special Guest Referee Shane McMahon, if Orton and Nakamura win, Owens and Zayn are fired.
A Phenomenal One, Versus A Prince
For those who might have watched wrestling in around 2010 or so, the name Jinder Mahal wouldn’t mean much. Back then, Mahal was the manager for the Great Khali, later becoming embroiled in a series of pointless feuds before finally getting stuck with 3MB, a stable that was formed to essentially get beaten up by everybody else. Leaving in 2014, most people thought they had seen the last of Jinder in the WWE, but he returned in 2016, though to a mostly lukewarm reception. It was a complete surprise, then, when after this year’s WrestleMania, Mahal suddenly was thrown into the title picture, defeating several superstars, and flaunting The Singh Brothers (Samir and Sunil) as his security detail. It was even more shocking when, thanks to some help from the Singhs, Mahal toppled “The Viper” Randy Orton for the WWE Championship which he retained in subsequent title defenses. After fending off Japanese sensation Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin in their attempts at the title, Mahal, along with the Singhs, looked unstoppable, even challenging RAW’s world champion Brock Lesnar to a match at Survivor Series. Constantly deriding the United States and anyone who didn’t speak his “native language of Punjabi”, the self proclaimed “Modern Day Maharaja” Jinder was certainly talking the talk, but he seemed to be walking the walk as well. Unfortunately for Mahal, his constant derisions of the U.S. drew the ire of a certain all-American superstar, A.J. Styles. Styles, a former WWE World Champion and United States Champion, styled (pun absolutely intended) himself a Southerner born and raised, and upon hearing Jinder’s ramblings, decided to shut him up by taking what mattered most: the WWE Championship. After a series of confrontations between the two, they finally had a title match in the United Kingdom, where Styles toppled Mahal as champion, becoming the first WWE superstar in history to win a championship outside North America. Mahal, declaring he would invoke his title rematch clause at Clash of Champions, has constantly attacked Styles before and after matches. Refusing to square off with Styles before then, though, he’s also had to watch as the self-proclaimed “Phenomenal One” dismantles Mahal’s grunts. Will “The Modern Day Maharaja” reclaim his title, or will the Southern superstar shut him up once and for all?
MATCH: (WWE World Championship) A.J. Styles (c) vs. Jinder Mahal (w/ The Singh Brothers)
Two Royal Families, Two Queens, One Crown
Whenever famous wrestling families are mentioned, before anyone else, two main names come to mind – Hart and Flair. The Harts may be as legendary as they come, led by perhaps the greatest technical wrestler of all time, Bret Hart, while the Hart Dungeon was known as one of the greatest wrestling schools in the world. Though the family’s dominance in WWE has largely dissipated since their heyday in the 1990s and 2000s, one stalwart still remains for them: the “Queen of Harts” Natalya, who has captured several championships throughout her time in the WWE Women’s Division. With a similar moveset, entrance, relentless drive to win, and self-proclamation as the “Best There Is, Best There Was, and Best There Ever Will Be”, Natalya seems to be following in her uncle’s steps quite well. On the other side, though perhaps with not nearly as long a lineage, the Flairs are just as well-known, if not more so, because of one man: “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Embodying the excesses of American wealth and carrying himself with the air of a king, Ric dominated wrestling throughout the 1980s and 1990s, rising to the same level of popularity as wrestling immortals Hulk Hogan and Dusty Rhodes. His trademark “WOOO” is still known around the world today, and his faction, The Four Horsemen, helped to forever change the landscape of teams and stables in wrestling. Now, all of 30 years later, those same words, can be used exactly the same way to describe his daughter, Charlotte Flair. Charlotte has had both the fanciful attires and colorful personalities of her father, with the elite wrestling talent to match. She is one of, if not the most, popular female wrestlers of all time. Her Four Horsewomen faction in NXT along Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Becky Lynch are largely credited with spurring the Women’s Revolution, and proving once and for all to wrestling audiences that women could wrestle just as well as their male counterparts could. With both women having won the Women’s Championship before, Charlotte’s title defense against Natalya won’t be the first time the families have clashed, and most certainly won’t be the last. Even so, watching to see which of these two storied families comes out on top will never get old.
MATCH: (WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship) Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Natalya Neidhart
Many other storylines and matches will culminate at Clash of Champions, but describing them all would likely take the rest of the semester. Luckily, there’s an easier way to see how they turn out – just tune into the event on 12/17, sit down, and enjoy some fantastic wrestling.