On paper, Clash of Champions is a great idea. Requiring each of your champions to defend their title is an immediate way to inject some stakes into whatever stories you're telling. Ideally, the title defense adds some weight to feuds that are already reaching a fever pitch of hatred. This is where Clash of Champions being good on paper suddenly turns into Clash of Champions being a bit of a mess in execution. It comes down to this, and if you've been reading my reviews for awhile you've probably heard this point before: championships are merely storytelling devices, and cannot single-handedly make a feud meaningful. Does a championship inherently make a match more important? Within kayfabe, it absolutely does. But the more important question is, does the feud do enough to get to the point where a title defense is the only option?
Championships don't make feuds
In other words, title defenses are a way of settling scores, and that means that there, well, needs to be a scored to be settled! Championship matches aren't distinguished from other matches because of the title, but because of what that title means to the superstars vying for it. The title itself is of no value if the story isn't built on something substantial, and right now there's hardly any reason to think that the superstars on SmackDown Live want to win championships. I think this is true in varying degrees, and it's led to a underwhelming build to Clash of Champions.
Unfortunately, SmackDown's go-home show doesn't really do much to bolster the stagnating feuds. In fact, this week's episode is basically a carbon copy of last week's, right down to the Bludgeon Brothers destroying some jobbers to Bobby Roode getting the interference/DQ spot that Ziggler occupied last week. The fact that SmackDown can barely muster up something more dynamic for its go-home show only undrscores just how undercooked the current stories are. Essentially, SmackDown Live is being carried by a fun tag team division and an intricate bit of Authority business that ties in Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Everywhere else, the show is struggling.
Styles and Corbin are stuck in neutral
Look, as talented as AJ Styles is, he's still strapped with a repetitive feud with Jinder Mahal. Jinder was the WWE Champion for six months, and in that time we saw every possible iteration of the character and the matches he can wrestle. There's no real story left to tell with Jinder, and that shows in the promos. Styles and Mahal are cutting promos on vague ideas about what it means to be champion, but there's no heat. It's a placeholder feud until the WWE Championship can (hopefully) be part of something bigger heading into the Royal Rumble.
The United States Championship is in a similar spot. Scratch that, it's in a worse spot, because there's nobody like AJ Styles to elevate what little meaningful material is actually there. I have no idea why Baron Corbin, Dolph Ziggler, and Bobby Roode are fighting other than the fact that they keep interfering in each other's matches. There's been no attempt to tell a story. Instead, WWE's chosen to simply put them in a match and assume that's enough storytelling to keep us invested. Match interference happens all the time, and now suddenly SmackDown Live expects us to think that it's leading to Corbin, Roode, and Ziggler truly hating one another. What a mess.
An easy fix for the Women's division
The women's division is in slightly better shape, though Sunday's title match hasn't been the focus of the show at all. That might be for the best, because Natalya vs. Charlotte has certainly run its course, but the division in general is still struggling to find its identity. The Riott Squad are fine, but they'll have a tough time becoming much else when WWE insists on telling the exact same story with them and Absolution. What's baffling is that SmackDown seems to be ignoring what's right in front of them. When Naomi returns this week, she does so to a huge babyface pop. Add to that the purest babyface Becky Lynch, the dynamism of Charlotte, and a half-decent selection of heels, and it becomes clear that SmackDown should be telling individual stories rather than trying to jam everyone into an angle that's exactly the same as the one on Raw.
At the very least though, SmackDown's go-home show gave us three memorable segments to cling to: There's Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens starting the YEP! Movement, and Daniel Bryan taking on the role of the referee to all but guarantee some glorious schmozziness on Sunday. There's the tag team division continuing to deepen its understanding of the characters, adding a layer of intrigue to Sunday's match, which is primed to be the best of the night. And then there's a jobber's pure scream of terror as he gets powerbombed by the Bludgeon Brothers. These moments are truly inspired bits of pro wrestling storytelling; it's a shame the rest of the show is so complacent.
- Here's the jobber screaming. Watch it again and again.
- I have no idea what that opening segment was, other than more culturally and racially broad nonsense, which is the usual when it comes to how Jinder-centric segments are written.
- You know it's a WWE go-home show when the first two matches end via DQ.
- "The YES Movement was never about me." Daniel Bryan utters one line and gets me to well up.
- Big E should wear aprons more often. What a stud.
Charlotte defeated Ruby Riott via DQ; Dolph Ziggler defeated Baron Corbin via DQ; The Bludgeon Brothers defeated Two More Jobbers; Rusev and Aiden English defeated The Usos; Kevin Owens defeated Shinsuke Nakamura.