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  • WWE’s Clash of Champions brought a solid night of wrestling, but what were the night's biggest takeaways? Plus, what should we make of that XFL report?
By Justin Barrasso
December 18, 2017

BOSTON — WWE’s Clash of Champions presented a card of seven matches, including four with a title on the line.

Although the show, which took place at Boston’s TD Garden, did not generate much anticipation, fans were treated to a solid night of wrestling courtesy of a very talented roster.

The biggest takeaways from the Clash of Champions were AJ Styles successfully defending his title against Jinder Mahal, which effectively removes Mahal from the world title picture; Dolph Ziggler winning gold in the U.S. title match and an unpredictable finish in the Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn-Randy Orton/Shinsuke Nakamura match.

Here are the results:

• Mojo Rawley pinned Zack Ryder on the pre-show

• Dolph Ziggler won the United States championship by defeating Baron Corbin and Bobby Roode in a triple threat match

• The Usos retained the SmackDown tag titles by defeating Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin, The New Day and the team of Rusev and Aiden English

• Charlotte forced Natalya Neidhart to submit in a defense of the SmackDown women’s title

• The Bludgeon Brothers decimated Breezango

• Courtesy of a fast count by guest referee Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn defeated Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura.

• AJ Styles successfully defended the WWE championship by defeating Jinder Mahal to close out the show

With Christmas only one week away, here is a naughty and nice list of winners and losers from the Clash of Champions:

WINNER: The XFL

Clash of Champions ran against the NFL’s Sunday Night Football on NBC, and football was also on the mind of many wrestling fans this weekend after Brad Shepard’s tweet on Saturday that Vince McMahon is reportedly considering bringing back the XFL.

The breaking news caused WWE to issue a statement to Deadspin, which announced that McMahon has formed a new company in Alpha Entertainment to “explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscapes, including professional football.”

Sports Illustrated has learned that McMahon’s Alpha Entertainment is self-funded. McMahon, who is well-aware that the UFC sold for $4 billion in 2016, knows that the fight conglomerate sold at such an exorbitant price due to anticipated profits off its television rights. WWE will soon be negotiating offers for its own television rights in 2019, and the leak of the XFL potentially resurfacing—especially in a climate where the NFL has lost some of its popularity—is a brilliant leverage play from McMahon.

Even though Alpha Entertainment is an unknown entity, it is no secret that McMahon turned a wrestling company into an organization worth over an estimated two billion dollars. No one knows exactly what Alpha Entertainment is or will be, but McMahon has already generated buzz for his new company.

In this writer’s estimation, McMahon is leveraging the XFL, plus any and all other Alpha Entertainment projects, into his next round of negotiations for his television rights in 2019. Whomever acquires the WWE television rights would then, presumably, receive the first right of refusal for any other McMahon-created project, which would include a potential return of the XFL.

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LOSER: Shane McMahon

Even the most ardent Shane McMahon fan will have a hard time defending Shane-O-Mac in his storyline feud with Daniel Bryan. Despite McMahon’s popularity, he is the unfavorable spot of being placed against Bryan, who remains the most popular star in the company.

Bryan delivered a fast count to end the tag match in the semi-main event, which saw Sami Zayn pin Randy Orton, but he had justification to do so. Zayn had Orton defeated moments earlier in the match, yet McMahon’s personal vendetta against Owens and Zayn made him refuse to count to three. The story was well-told, as Bryan kept his integrity in a controversial finish.

WINNERS: Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

With the win in their tag team match, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn can move forward from their storyline of living in constant danger of being fired from WWE.

Despite serving as the slowest-paced match, the tag team encounter produced the card’s most compelling finish. Owens and Zayn now need to move as far away as possible from Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura. A transition into a feud with The Usos over the tag team titles would be a great way to keep Owens and Zayn relevant while never too far away from the world title picture.

LOSER: Jinder Mahal

Is Jinder Mahal’s run as a top-tier heel over? Clash of Champions appeared to be the final nail in Mahal’s coffin as a headliner. His 170-day title reign was severely hurt by a lack of clean finishes and the absence of a single compelling feud.

While Mahal wore the title, a credible, viable heel in Rusev—who continues to successfully reinvent himself—cannot get a sniff of the world title picture. How did Rusev end up in this spot after riding into WrestleMania 31 atop a tank? With the right backing, Rusev could challenge Styles, but he should have been in Mahal’s spot all along.

Mahal’s work with Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura and now AJ Styles has highlighted that he is not in the upper-echelon of workers in the WWE. Although his chiseled look is impressive, Mahal clearly cannot keep up in the ring with Styles. A move into the U.S. title picture could help him avoid a trip to WWE oblivion.

WINNER: AJ Styles

Styles successfully defended the WWE championship in Boston, proving again that he is the most elite wrestler currently active in the entire industry.

In addition to spotlighting his greatness, Styles’s match with Mahal also raised another question: why does Styles wrestle so often?

Brock Lesnar remains a marquee attraction because he is not overexposed. Styles, on the other hand, is constantly battling overexposure. We are slowly becoming numb to his litany of incredible moves and matches because we see them so often. WWE would be wise to limit Styles’s in-ring exposure during its build to the Royal Rumble.

LOSER: Randy Orton

The Viper’s matches offer very little sizzle, and he somehow needs a return to the intensity of his WrestleMania 30 feud with Daniel Bryan.

Is it wishful thinking to infer that is exactly what WWE is building toward?

Bryan’s fast count cost Orton his match, and Orton is unquestionably one of Bryan’s greatest rivals in WWE. Orton defeated Bryan for the WWE championship by cashing in his Money in the Bank contract at the 2013 SummerSlam, and Bryan won Orton’s title at WrestleMania 30 when he made Batista tap out to the Yes Lock in a triple-threat match.

A feud between Bryan and Orton would draw big business for WWE in 2018, especially with WrestleMania returning to New Orleans.

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WINNER: Dolph Ziggler and Bobby Roode

WWE did not whiff when presented with an opportunity to show that Bobby Roode is far more than simply an entrance song, and also added some much-needed credibility to Dolph Ziggler by having the match’s underdog capture the U.S. title.

The match was laid out perfectly, with a live crowd eager for a Roode victory. The chase for gold now continues for Roode. Is it possible to keep him away from Ziggler long enough to extend the feud until WrestleMania?

On second thought, they’ll probably fight this Tuesday on SmackDown...

LOSER: Mojo Rawley

Similar to the recent villain-like actions of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, Mojo Rawley, who is a friend of Gronk’s, also turned heel.

Rawley turned on former Hype Bros. tag partner Zack Ryder, who is one of the company’s most likeable talents yet rarely receives any love on-camera.

WWE has decided to back Rawley in the feud against Ryder, despite the fact that Ryder has more far more charisma. The company continues to try in vain to manufacture interest in a wrestling underdog, like what happened organically with Daniel Bryan, when Ryder is perfect for the role.

WINNER: Shinsuke Nakamura

There is a slight chance—perhaps only a glimmer—that Shinsuke Nakamura fights AJ Styles at WrestleMania for the WWE title.

Nakamura was an afterthought in the finish of his tag match at Clash of Champions, and so much of the fire behind his push burned out when he was used as fodder for Jinder Mahal this past summer.

Yet the (slight) hope exists that Styles and Nakamura will headline WrestleMania for the WWE championship, despite the fact that the booking indicates otherwise. Nevertheless, as long as Styles is wearing the belt and Nakamura is in the Rumble, a chance for the dream matchup at WrestleMania is still alive.

LOSER: Long-term, well-developed storylines

The lack of storyline continuity was on display at Clash of Champions.

The Clash’s most in-depth storyline was from the Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn feud with Shane McMahon. Beyond a title rematch, the Styles/Mahal encounter offered no detailed story arc, and the tag team and U.S. title matches were jumbled with multiple opponents. The women’s title match was no different, as there was no real intensity behind the Charlotte/Nattie Neidhart feud.

WWE storytelling is in a holding pattern, waiting for January’s Royal Rumble to build to its most significant show of the year at WrestleMania.

Unfortunately, the most highlighted part of Clash of Champions was the overexposure of WWE’s product. The action throughout the night was good, but the card served primarily as a placeholder for the Rumble.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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