Clash of Champions was the final WWE pay-per-view of 2017, with all four of the SmackDown-based titles on the line in Boston. But the biggest lingering question of all centered around the fate of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, who would be fired if they lost to Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura, with Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan as the special guest referees.
Matt Wilansky recapped the action as it happened, with match ratings and more from ESPN Stats & Information's Sean Coyle. This story was updated in real time.
(c) - Indicates defending champion
WWE championship: AJ Styles (c) def. Jinder Mahal via submission
It was almost a footnote coming into Clash of Champions, even though it was for the WWE championship. Despite AJ Styles being one of the most popular performers in the company (not to mention his incredible performance against Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series), and Jinder Mahal proving how worthy of a champ he was for a good part of the year, the penultimate match and the two-ref tango stole all of the headlines.
While we may have overlooked this match, Styles did not. As soon as the bell rang, he took it to Mahal, beating and working on his left leg. But Mahal would counter by picking up Styles and throwing him neck first into the ropes, smashing him into the barricade and then over it, into the announcers area. Later, Mahal again tossed his foe into the announcers table -- with the champ's ribs taking the brunt of the fall. Mahal was showing the ruthless side that led him to the WWE title earlier this year, and each man was determined to prove he deserved to go on last at this final pay-per-view of the year.
Taking advantage of Styles' injured ribs Mahal continued his onslaught, and as the announcers accurately pointed out, Mahal's cronies had nothing to do with the beatdown. Styles, though, regained some momentum, but only temporarily, as Mahal caught him with a gut-buster. That was quickly countered by a Styles electric chair drop from the second rope, followed by a well-timed neck-breaker.
As the match wore on, both performers were exhausted and ailing, leaving every bit of themselves out there in the ring; there was an almost Darwinian feel to it. Both men slogged and tried to do anything and everything to win, including a smash and a vicious superkick from Mahal on Styles that gave the Modern Day Maharaja a two-and-a-half count.
A 450 splash gained Styles some of the momentum back, but finally, the Singh brothers got involved by disrupting the proceedings by trying to drag Mahal out of the ring by his feet. They paid dearly as they received a flying forearm and a Styles Clash for their troubles, but the Singh brothers nearly earned Mahal the victory as he set up and executed a Khallas. It was one of the more nuanced and well-executed moments of the match, as Styles rolled toward the ropes to set up for a rope-break, forcing Mahal to take the time to roll Styles to the middle, and that gave the champion just enough time to kick out of Mahal's finishing move.
The momentum swung once more as he rolled directly into a calf-crusher. Mahal resisted for almost a full minute and nearly got to the ropes for a break before Styles rolled through once more, forcing Mahal to tap out.
Styles prevailed, but this was an all-out battle. For a match that was seemingly an afterthought on paper, it exceeded any expectations and brought 2017 to a fitting end, at least as far as pay-per-view action goes. That was especially true for Mahal, who no doubt has increased his repertoire of in-ring maneuvers.
In the end, this was about AJ Styles, who will almost certainly end the year the way he began it -- with championship gold wrapped around his waist. The future is wide open as far as who will challenge Styles next, and SmackDown is all the better for it.
Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens def. Randy Orton & Shinsuke Nakamura via pinfall
There were so many questions heading into this tag team match. Did Daniel Bryan have ulterior motives? Was he merely a man of reason, who unilaterally named himself as the second guest referee in the tag-team match to ensure Shane McMahon called this match down the middle?
The truth is, no one really had any inkling of how things would play out, and how everything would be handled if Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn were to lose. They'd be out of the WWE altogether, but those sorts of sentences rarely seem to stick in the world of pro wrestling.
McMahon and Bryan made their way to the ring individually, and everything seemed cordial between the two as the match began, with Bryan acting as peacemaker as the commissioner and KO barked at one another.
This match, at least in the beginning, was all about the refs and how they would call things. Orton and Zayn slowly battled and there was a little confusion between the men in pinstripes, possibly setting the tone for more discord. It took something away from the action itself, to be sure, but certainly delivered as we got deeper and deeper into the match.
When Owens made his way into the ring, he ran over to Nakamura and began pummeling him with punches, only to see both refs break it up. But from there, Bryan and McMahon were clearly not on the same page, as they both began to call a pinfall out of sync, leading to a few words between the two. Everyone was confused -- even the announcing team.
The secondary storyline was the in-ring action, which was slow, perhaps as a way to keep the attention on the refs. Orton had a great spot, dropping Zayn onto the top rope before Zayn kicked out; he then tagged in Owens.
Finally, the pace of the match began to pick up once Nakamura was tagged in, as he took it to KO with a series of devastating kicks and then smothered Owens in the corner, wrapping it all up with a roundhouse kick to Owens. The two-counts kept going back and forth, as McMahon and Bryan seemed to find a happy middle ground to allow the match to flow smoothly.
Zayn eventually made his way into the ring and landed a sweet blue thunder bomb on Nakamura, which almost won him the match. Now it was Orton's turn to tag in, as he started to dismantle Zayn piece by piece -- notably connecting with a picture-perfect superplex. But the action spilled to the outside of the ring, where all six performers ultimately came together.
The referees did little to control the action as Owens jumped from one announcers table to another, where Nakamura lay, and crushed both the Japanese star and the table with a frog splash. It was the beginning of some real tension.
Just a few minutes later, Orton hit an RKO on Zayn and McMahon triumphantly went to make a three-count to send Zayn and Owens home without a job, only for Owens to bump Bryan into McMahon to break up the sure win. McMahon was livid, and Bryan could only put his hand over his face in embarrassment.
Soon after, McMahon refused to call a three-count as Zayn rolled up Orton, which would have awarded Zayn and Owens the win. Bryan was exasperated, and in retaliation, just moments later, took advantage of Zayn having rolled up Orton again by fast-counting the pin, giving Zayn and Owens the win.
The end result was total confusion, total anarchy and fiery tension between Bryan and McMahon. There was no questioning the intrigue here, but what's the play? Can Bryan step in and actually participate in some kind of physicality? Will McMahon drop the hammer on Bryan as GM for keeping him from jettisoning the combined destructive forces of Zayn and Owens?
Zayn and Owens won the match and saved their jobs, but we were left with a lot more questions than when the match began. Stay tuned, we suppose. Because this storyline seems like it will linger for quite some time -- and the answers will start to become clearer once Tuesday night rolls around.
- WWE (@WWE) December 18, 2017
Bludgeon Brothers def. Breezango via pinfall
It's been a while since Luke Harper and Erick Rowan have performed as a duo at a pay-per-view -- over three years, to be exact, at Battleground 2014. At that show, they opened the pay-per-view with a show-stealing match against The Usos. Their return match as a team at Clash of Champions was a much different story.
The situation was different, of course. In 2014, they were pursuing tag team gold. This time around, their goal was to establish dominance as the returning Bludgeon Brothers. That's exactly what they did.
Harper and Tyler Breeze started the match and Harper dropped him with a right hand immediately. After a tag to Rowan, Breeze snuck in an enziguri, tagged in Fandango and they went to work on Rowan as the action spilled to the outside -- but the Bludgeon Brothers did what they have done since their return to the WWE by annihilating their opponents in short order.
After slamming Breeze facefirst into the ring apron, they set their eyes on Fandango in the ring and after a series of power moves, they hit their double-spinebuster slam and scored the pinfall victory.
Afterwards, the imposing duo had a message for the audience and the locker room:
"The future holds more bludgeoning, more pain, more fear. The end of the beginning. The beginning of the end. Harper. Rowan. Bludgeon Brothers!"
Complete with a slap from Harper to Rowan, there wasn't much in the way of subtlety -- but it got the job done.
Lumberjack match for the SmackDown women's championship: Charlotte Flair (c) def. Natalya via submission
In a similar fashion to how things had played out all year, the final major women's match of the year for SmackDown Live was bound to end in chaotic fashion, no matter what the eventual outcome might be. Putting the rest of the division around the ring as lumberjacks would only exacerbate the situation.
This wasn't just about Natalya and Charlotte Flair for the women's title. This was about the entire roster -- babyfaces, heels and the new super-heels, the Riott Squad, all of whom would surround the ring in a lumberjack match. Strange alliances could and did form, swerves were on the menu, and let's not forget about the briefcase for a free shot at the title, which was nearly cashed in by Carmella.
As the match started, Natalya thrust Flair into through the ropes, allowing her to get ambushed by a swarm of women anxiously waiting outside the ring. Flair got back into the ring, and again, Natalya tossed Flair outside, and every woman except Naomi kicked and stomped the champ.
Once back in the ring yet again, Flair caught Natalya with a series of slaps, but her momentum was short-lived as she was kicked outside the ring, and again everyone on the outside took liberties until Naomi broke up the ambush with a splash from the top rope.
Natalya continued to take advantage of the numbers game, putting Flair into a sharpshooter and seemingly setting herself up for an easy submission win that would earn her back her title. But as tensions between the two conflicting groups boiled over an all-out melee broke out inside the ring, which allowed, for a moment, the possibility of a Carmella cash-in. But the chaos ultimately swallowed up that shot as well, and anarchy persevered -- culminating as Flair hit a moonsault from the top rope to the outside.
Once order was restored, Natalya nearly locked in another sharpshooter, only for Flair to finally pull through -- connecting with a Figure 8 on Natalya that forced her to tap out. Just like that, and even in utter chaos, the match ended in a rather predictable fashion, even if the path was a little bit crooked.
In a postmatch interview inside the ring, Natalya said, "I have given the WWE universe some best matches they have ever seen. I have carried the entire division for 10 years. And all of you treated me with nothing but disrespect. The WWE wants to turn their back on me. The women want to turn their back on me. Well, now I am turning my back on all of you."
Could this be the end of Natalya on SmackDown, or in the WWE? Or just another Total Divas angle. We're sure to find out more on Tuesday.
- WWE (@WWE) December 18, 2017
SmackDown tag team championships: The Usos (c) def. The New Day, Aiden English & Rusev and Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable via pinfall
The Usos, the SmackDown tag team champions, and The New Day have dominated the tag team landscape on Tuesday nights for the majority of 2017. In fact, heading into tonight's matchup, one of those two teams has been tag team champions for 271 straight days. During that time, they have alternated title reigns four different times.
Sunday's playing field was a bit different, though, as two up-and-coming teams joined the fray in the form of Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable, and Rusev & Aiden English, with each team looking to capture tag team gold (or silver, in this case) for the first time as a team.
With the stipulation in place that four guys would be in the ring instead of two, and the members of each team could tag only their own partners into the match, we were in for something different. The action kicked off with Kofi Kingston, English, Gable and Jey Uso. The groups traded early roll-up attempts, all for two counts, but it didn't take long for things to break down as all eight participants in the match made their way into the ring to battle it out.
That set us up for the first of many high-risk attempts, as Kingston was launched by Big E over the top rope onto some of their opponents, and Jey Uso followed suit on the rest on the other side of the ring.
Eventually things slowed down a bit and The New Day took control, but not for too long before Rusev assaulted Kofi with a stiff roundhouse kick and the "Rusev Day" chants began from a raucous Boston crowd. With four people allowed in the match at a time, action progressed as though there were two matches going on at once. Benjamin and Gable isolated Kingston in the corner, while the pairing of Rusev and English slowly worked on The Usos, allowing the participants to catch their breath a bit after a high-octane opening.
Kingston eventually broke loose by way of a standing spinning heel kick to the jaw of Gable, but it was short-lived -- Gable took control once again. The perseverance of Kingston presented itself, though, as he was able to hit an aerial stomp maneuver onto English, who was also in the ring, and that allowed Kingston to tag in Big E. He, along with nearly every superstar in the match, took Uso superkicks to the face as the champs took control.
Benjamin and Gable put a stop to that for a moment or two and appeared ready to make a push. Gable looked like a man on a mission as he locked in a Texas Cloverleaf on Jey Uso. But English made his way back in to the ring and almost stole the bout as he slammed Gable for the two-count. Rusev then stormed back into the ring and put Gable in an Accolade that likely would have won him and English the title, if not for Big E coming in to break things up. Big E also briefly found himself in an Accolade before Gable came back in to break things up.
A few moments later, Gable nearly suplexed his way to a victory against a couple of opponents, but it would be no avail as The Usos showed why they are the best tag team in the business and teamed up, landing a flurry of moves capped off with a top-rope splash on Gable to retain the titles.
Even with the odds stacked against them, having three other teams coming after their championships, The Usos prevailed, maintaining their push as the premier team within the division. As 2018 sits on the immediate horizon, who will be the next team to step up?
United States championship: Dolph Ziggler def. Baron Corbin (c) and Bobby Roode via pinfall
Both Baron Corbin and Bobby Roode have been in need of a legitimate rival for weeks, and probably longer. So when the tension began between the two, it was hardly unexpected and carried a ton of potential.
Roode had hardly battled anyone considered top level on SmackDown, while Corbin was duking it out with Sin Cara in a beef that outkicked what most of us thought it could be -- but still, Sin Cara did not have the same allure as Roode.
Everything about a Roode-Corbin clash made sense, until it didn't. Seemingly last minute, and for no apparent reason, Dolph Ziggler was thrust into the situation, making it a triple threat for the United States championship at Clash of Champions. In a recent podcast and conversation with ESPN.com, Ziggler did allude to the fact he could be leaving WWE soon. We thought, then, that perhaps this was all one final showing -- though, judging by the result, maybe not.
In what seemed a surprising move on the surface, this match kicked off Clash of Champions Sunday. From the outset, Roode and Ziggler formed a brief alliance to beat down Corbin, who was ultimately thrown over the barricade. Once Corbin regained his equilibrium, he showed Roode and Ziggler why he was the United States champ, methodically attacking his two opponents both inside and outside the ring.
Roode finally found his strength, and with Ziggler out of the ring, he took it to "The Lone Wolf", including a blockbuster from the second rope. But Corbin rebounded quickly and nailed Roode with a deep six for the two-count, followed by the spot of the match just moments later when Corbin impossibly lifted both his foes from atop the top turnbuckle and tossed them to the ring with a pomerbomb-superplex combo.
Then things really picked up amid "this is awesome chants" at the TD Garden. In a matter of what seemed like only a minute, Roode hit Ziggler with a spine-buster, only for Ziggler to counter with a DDT that earned him a two-count. Roode then caught Ziggler in a slingshot, followed by a Glorious DDT that would have won Roode the match -- only to see Corbin, who had the wherewithal from outside the ring, pull Roode off Ziggler, saving his day. But the relief would be only temporarily.
As Corbin was going for the End of Days on Roode, Ziggler simultaneously converted a zig zag on Corbin, who then rolled over, to pick up the unlikely pinfall win.
What an absolute shocker! Ziggler never did anything specifically to truly earn his shot at the title, per se, but here he is, the United States champ, which begs the question -- what's next? Ziggler has made it clear that his time in the WWE could be coming to an end. He has hardly been a factor in the biggest storylines. Perhaps this is one last ride with gold wrapped around his waist until he calls it quits? Or maybe this was all a ruse to make us believe he was uninterested.
Regardless, Ziggler had gone 0-6 in pay-per-views this year prior to Sunday night, but he leaves Boston as a champ. What a start to the final big event of 2017.
Clash of Champions Kickoff: Mojo Rawley def. Zack Ryder via pinfall
Mojo Rawley defeated Zack Ryder during the Clash of Champions Kickoff Show, finishing things off with a running forearm to the corner. There were flashes during a fun, but quick match, but Rawley did his best work this week in cutting a scathing promo on his former Hype Bros compatriot.