By Chuck Carroll
The WWE Clash of Champions card features the return of Daniel Bryan to a match for the first time since his retirement. No, he’s not wrestling. But it is a gigantic step forward for the former champion, whose concussion history forced a premature retirement, to be in the ring as a referee.
Bryan has been adamant that he will wrestle again one day. Will it be in WWE? That is up to the company doctor to decide. For now, we’re being teased with that possibility, as the seeds have been planted for a feud with SmackDown Live commissioner Shane McMahon. The commish was already set to referee the tag match featuring Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn when Bryan inserted himself as the second referee in the interest of fairness.
The card also features an interesting women’s championship lumberjack match between Charlotte Flair and Natalya, with all eyes on the destructive trio of Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan outside the ring.
For the men, AJ Styles will defend the WWE Championship against Jinder Mahal with the Singh Brothers sure to play a role.
Clash of Champions marks WWE’s final pay-per-view of 2017, and every one of the blue brand’s championships will be on the line. After this, we have to wait until January 28 for the Royal Rumble. Hopefully WWE will end the year on a high note.
It’s time to make the WWE Clash of Champions predictions. As always, Rolling Stone’s Aaron Oster and TV Insider’s Scott Fishman are joining me. Oster’s domination continued at Survivor Series, where he went a perfect 8-0 to pretty much lock up the pick title for the year. Meanwhile, Scott and I already have a New Year’s resolution to redeem ourselves.
Randy Orton & Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan as guest referees
Chuck: This match has two huge plots to follow. First, if Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn lose, they’re fired from not just SmackDown, but all of WWE. Second, Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan’s simmering feud will get a little hotter as they both guest referee this match. WWE is teasing that Bryan is backing Owens and Zayn while McMahon is firmly in Orton and Nakamura’s corner. The best way to accomplish everything is to have McMahon try to screw Owens and Zayn out of a win. Bryan then, in the impartial interest of fairness, will make sure that doesn’t happen. Pick: Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
Aaron: There is no way that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are getting fired, particularly now that the Yep shirts are instantly going to become the biggest merch movers in the company. Yet, it’s too obvious that Daniel Bryan ends up helping them, right? Granted, sometimes the obvious thing is what’s best for storylines. I can’t shake the feeling though that this isn’t going to go down exactly how people expect. Pick: Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
Scott: With Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon both serving as referees, one is bound to make a difference in this match. I’m going with Bryan because it would be natural for him to align with Owens and Zayn. Perhaps, Bryan can accidentally cost Orton and Nakamura the match if they don’t want to go full heel. But they seem to be going in the direction of Bryan versus McMahon in some setting. Whether it means in the ring or not remains to be seen. Pick: Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
AJ Styles (c) vs. Jinder Mahal
Chuck: Jinder Mahal left AJ Styles laying on Tuesday’s go-home show, which tells you everything you need to know about this match. Styles will retain with some shenanigans from The Singh Brothers. I’ve slowly warmed to having Jinder as a credible contender on SmackDown and am hopeful that he won’t fade into oblivion following this match. It would be a shame to lose all of the momentum built this year. Pick: AJ Styles
Aaron: I know some people think that AJ only held the title so he can face Brock and could drop it back here. What happened with the shows in India, with them having to combine the shows and then having Jinder lose in his home country, illustrates a lack of faith in him. So, I have AJ retaining here. That being said, it’s not a huge lock that he goes into Mania as champ like many believe. Pick: AJ Styles
Scott: There really isn’t anything to be gained at this point having Styles lose the championship to Jinder Mahal. Although they could be squeezing the rivalry for all its worth into the Royal Rumble if they do a non-finish. With WWE’s tour of India concluded and Triple H defeating Mahal at the live event, that is very telling heading into this match. Pick: AJ Styles
SmackDown Women’s Championship – Lumberjack Match
Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Natalya
Chuck: Every time these two wrestle it is must-see TV. Their chemistry in the ring is something that cannot be taught. But this isn’t the pure match we’re accustomed to seeing them in. Every woman on the roster will gather outside the ring and serve as a lumberjack. So, I am making a bold prediction on this one. Both Charlotte and Nattie are laid out by Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan. I can see a scenario where Carmella capitalizes and cashes in her Money In The Bank. But for this match… Pick: Charlotte (then Carmella)
Aaron: I can’t figure out what’s happening with the Riot Squad. They show up unheralded as mirror images of Absolution, get taken out by Naomi singlehandedly, and just don’t look strong right now. This match is more about them than the match itself. The question is just how it plays out with them as lumberjacks. I’ll say Charlotte retains, but it could end up being a no-contest. Pick: Charlotte
Scott: With Ruby Riott essentially having Charlotte’s number, there seems to be a program in the making involving her and the current champion. For that reason, I’m going with Charlotte retaining the gold against Natalya. There is also Carmella lurking, which means you can never rule out a cash-in. Pick: Charlotte
>>MORE: From the world of Pro Wrestling
SmackDown Tag Team Championship Fatal 4-Way Match
The Usos (c) vs. The New Day vs. Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable vs. Rusev & Aiden English
Chuck: SmackDown’s tag division is still dominated by The Usos and The New Day. Rusev and Aiden English are gaining ground, but do you want them carrying the titles into the new year? Probably not. The same goes for Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable. So that narrows the choice down to two teams, and I do believe we’ll see the titles change hands. Plus, you have to figure New Day will have some fun ringing in the new year with gold around their waist. Pick: The New Day
Aaron: Who are the winners here? All of us, because we get to celebrate Rusev Day! But, as much as he should win, he won’t. The Usos continue their reign here, with a chance of Benjamin and Gable getting a short run, especially if The Bludgeon Brothers are entering the scene. Pick: The Usos
Scott: As much as I would like to see Rusev and Aiden English celebrate Rusev Day with a championship, I’m choosing Usos to retain. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable would make for a fun upset. I’d love to see it, but it’s doubtful. At the same time, New Day doesn’t need the gold to be over, and neither do the Usos. But there is a potential feud against the Bludgeon Brothers that I can see happening, with the Usos turning back into fan favorites. Pick: The Usos
United States Championship – Triple Threat Match
Baron Corbin (c) vs. Bobby Roode vs. Dolph Ziggler
Chuck: Baron Corbin is getting better with each passing month. I’m still not sold that he’s connected with the audience enough to be a longterm holder of any title. The wise move would be to move the strap, and I’d like to see Bobby Roode get his due here. It’s also a possibility that the title will change hands again before the Royal Rumble, given there’s more than a month between now and then. Pick: Bobby Roode
Aaron: Baron Corbin asked a good question during this build: why is Ziggler in this match? And why has Ziggler gone back to having an entrance? I assume it’s so Ziggler can eat a pin, but it could go either way as far as who wins. My gut says that if Roode were going to win, he would have pinned Corbin. So I’ll say Corbin retains. Pick: Baron Corbin
Scott: The triple threat stipulation allows for Roode to win the match and keep Corbin looking strong by not taking the pin. The company remains high on the “Glorious One,” and I believe winning gold is the next step in his ascension. Pick: Bobby Roode
Breezango vs. The Bludgeon Brothers
Chuck: How great was the one jobber’s scream in the match against Harper and Rowan on SmackDown? The shriek was legendary. He won’t become the next James Ellsworth, but his high-pitch legacy will live on. As for this match… Picks: The Bludgeon Brothers
Aaron: Bludgeon Brothers win, and props to Juan Francisco de Coronado for winning the week with that epic scream on Tuesday. Pick: The Bludgeon Brothers
Scott: The Bludgeon Brothers have been dominant, and I see that continuing against Breezango. At the same time, I can see the Ascension trying to lend a helping hand. Don’t think this one will last long, in any case. Pick: The Bludgeon Brothers
Zack Ryder vs. Mojo Rawley
Chuck: The split of the Hype Bros has been coming for months. Prior to Zack Ryder’s return from injury, Mojo Rawley was coming into his own as a singles competitor and is now positioned to pick up where he left off. His stock can rise quickly, which is why it’s puzzling this match was relegated to the kickoff show. Frankly, Breezango vs. Bludgeon Brothers should be here instead. Pick: Mojo Rawley
Aaron: I hope the Hype Bros breakup actually serves a purpose and there’s a plan for one of these two. And my gut says if there’s a plan for one of them, it’s for Mojo. I do have doubts that there’s an actual plan though. Pick: Mojo Rawley
Scott: The breakup of the Hype Bros was needed for both Ryder and Rawley. Rawley won the Andre the Giant Battle Royal at WrestleMania and can use a win over Ryder to cement his singles run. At the same time, I wouldn’t mind seeing Ryder team up with his former Edgehead partner Curt Hawkins at some point. Pick: Mojo Rawley
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.