While the build toward WWE's final pay-per-view card of 2017 was nothing short of pedestrian, Sunday's Clash of Champions card delivered above expectations as a whole. AJ Styles exited his second full-time year in WWE as the company's top champion following an exciting main event against Jinder Mahal, and a pair of multi-person matches that opened the card produced drama and energy in front of a hot Boston crowd.
But the biggest reveal coming out of Sunday was also the most anticipated storyline coming in as Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon proved unable to coexist as referees. In the end, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens retained employment and a strong cliffhanger was created heading into Tuesday's SmackDown Live episode regarding whether Bryan's actions were that of a heel turn or simply the blue brand's general manager standing up for what's right.
Either way, it has our attention as the slow build toward WrestleMania 34 continues.
Big fan of WWE? Be sure to subscribe to my podcast In This Corner with Brian Campbell where I break down everything you need to know each week.
2017 WWE Clash of Champions results, grades
Mojo Rawley def. Zack Ryder via pinfall (Kickoff Show): Rawley continued to build his intriguing heel persona in this grudge match following the implosion of the Hype Bros. Rawley talked trash throughout - "Where is your killer instinct, huh?" - while handing out a deliberate beating. Ryder rallied late but his pin attempt following a pair of Broski Boots came up short when Rawley put his leg on the ropes. Mojo followed with a chop block and running forearm to get the pin. Grade: C+
United States Championship -- Dolph Ziggler def. Baron Corbin (c) [via pinfall] and Bobby Roode to win the title: This one really heated up late, earning "this is awe-some" chants from the Boston faithful while setting a strong tone for the evening. Near falls and late interference became the norm, including an apparent Roode pin on Ziggler broken up by Corbin pulling Roode out of the ring from behind. In the end, Corbin's attempt for an End of Days on Roode was simultaneously interrupted by a ZigZag from Ziggler in a hot finish that set up the pin. After the match, Corbin cut a promo on Ziggler backstage saying, "I didn't squander anything, I was cheated" before throwing a garbage can. Grade: B
Two refs too many? General manager Daniel Bryan was shown backstage asking a referee jersey that looked like it was made for Earthquake be returned for a smaller size. Commissioner Shane McMahon then walked up and gave Bryan the business for inserting himself into the main event as a second referee. The two then agreed they would figure out how to call the match together as both desire to be in the ring simultaneously.
Tag Team Championship -- The Usos (c) def. Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin [via pinfall], The New Day and Rusev & Aiden English to retain the titles in a Fatal 4-Way Match: For as hectic and messy as this match was throughout with four (and sometimes eight) men in the ring at once, it sure was fun. A series of strong performances late from the likes of Chad Gable and Rusev helped save matters overall. The Usos ultimately prevailed in opportunist fashion after a series of failed rallies from all three of the challenging teams. Gable's tour de force of rolling German suplexes on three different opponents came to an end when Jimmy Uso hit him with a pair of superkicks. Jey Uso followed with a splash off the top rope for the 1-2-3. Grade: B
Women's Championship -- Charlotte Flair (c) def. Natalya via submission to retain the title in a Lumberjack Match: Talk about a hot mess of a match with psychology all over the place. The lone bright spot was Carmella's tease toward a cash in of her Money in the Bank briefcase as Natalya laid prone in the ring, but she was intercepted by Ruby Riott. As expected, the lumberjacks played a key role in constantly beating Flair outside the ring (while acting as the cushion for Naomi's springboard splash and Charlotte's moonsault). After chaos took over outside the ring late, Flair countered a sharpshooter attempt to apply her Figure Eight for the tapout win. Afterwards, Natalya fought back tears as she berated the audience for disrespecting her. The promo felt like a heel turn, and the fact that it was delivered by someone who was already a heel summed up the lacking quality of this match. Grade: D+
Backstage -- The Singh Brothers: The duo cut a promo stating that Jinder Mahal is so poised to win back his WWE championship from AJ Styles that he doesn't even need their help in doing so. Asked by Dasha Fuentes whether that means they won't join him at ringside, the brothers said she will have to see for herself.
The Bludgeon Brothers def. Breezango via pinfall: The Harper and Rowan squash tour continued as it took them mere minutes to beat down Breezango outside the ring before hitting their finisher on Fandango. After the match, both heels repeated the short promo they deliver each week on SmackDown promising carnage. Grade: D
Backstage -- Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn: The best friends promised that "The Sami and Kevin Show" isn't getting canceled anytime soon and that the "Yep! Movement" would continue. After being challenged by Fuentes about what happens if they do end up losing and get fired, the two heels gave dirty looks and walked away.
Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn def. Randy Orton & Shinsuke Nakamura via pinfall: McMahon and Bryan were both special guest referees. If Owens & Zayn lost, they would be fired from WWE. The majority of the time in this match was spent building up the storyline, which made it feel long and sometimes dragging match. Luckily, the story -- in this case -- was a good one as the frustration between dueling referees McMahon and Bryan slowly increased. With their counts not in sync and each playing favorites, McMahon decided to draw an imaginary line in the center of the ring so they didn't bunch. It's a strategy, of course, that went out the window late.
In a match largely dominated by rest holds, Owens delivered the best spot when he hit a running frogsplash on the announce table on Nakamura. Shortly after, Orton hit a DDT and RKO on Zayn inside the ring but McMahon's pin count was interrupted after Owens pushed Bryan into him. McMahon got revenge when he refused to finish his count on Zayn's roll up of Orton. Tempers flared as Bryan and McMahon argued and pushed each other. The finish came when Zayn blocked an RKO and rolled up Orton, allowing Bryan to count a quick three before a diving McMahon could break it up. With the victory, Zayn and Owens had their jobs saved. Consider this an uneventful match with a great story that, while told a bit clunky down the stretch, still set the table perfectly for what's to come next. Grade: B
WWE Championship -- AJ Styles (c) def. Jinder Mahal via submission to retain the title: For a feud that had grown stale and seemingly went on for a month too long, Styles and Mahal saved their best for last. In fact, Mahal put for the finest effort of his main event run. In a match that was booked similar to Styles' classic with Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series, Mahal physically dominated throughout the first half. But Styles' eventual rally brought dramatic near falls and a slowly built electricity from the crowd. The Singh Brothers made their presence felt late by saving Mahal from a three count after Styles hit a springboard 450 splash. That's when chaos ensued. After Styles made both brothers pay outside the ring with a Phenomenal Forearm and Styles Clash, he was forced to kick out of a pin attempt seconds later when Mahal hit The Khallas. The finish came when Mahal tried to mock the Styles Clash finisher but A.J. reversed out of the it into a calf crusher and forced the former champion to tap in the center of the ring.
Styles was at his best here, helping lift Mahal to a great match. Considering how much he has delivered to close the year -- producing top shelf pay-per-view matches against Finn Balor and Lesnar in losses -- it was also good to see him win a big match again. While Mahal's experiment as champion produced a few bright spots and sure elevated him, seeing Styles enter 2018 with WWE's top championship marks a return to much-needed sanity for the blue brand. Grade: B+