It would be only natural to be down on WWE this week after five members of Retribution "revealed" themselves in what may go down with the Gobbeldy Gooker and The Shockmaster in terms of botched execution and absolute disappointment. But there's a pay-per-view at hand, and Clash of Champions seems to be about almost anything but a crop of high-potential talents being weighed down by a poorly written "Mad Max" knockoff.
All nine titles that regularly appear on Raw and SmackDown are on the line, and if you'll excuse the big Retribution-sized cloud hanging over everything, there's a lot to like. Most of it boils down to well-executed, simple storytelling. Cousins who have fought since they were kids bringing it to a bigger stage. Fresh title challengers. Rivalries with solid momentum behind them thanks to weeks and months of solid writing and strong performances.
WWE seems to be on a string of strong pay-per-views with inconsistent TV programming in between, and Clash of Champions is trending in the same direction. And here's why Sunday will be no different.
Universal championship: Roman Reigns (c) vs. Jey Uso
What's to like: In a matter of weeks, Jey Uso went from a tag team wrestler with an injured brother/partner and no direction forward, to a compelling Universal title challenger for his cousin Roman Reigns. After the earliest days of the Reigns-Paul Heyman partnership pointing to an absolute about-face for the previously kind-hearted Reigns, his interactions with Uso have seemingly softened Reigns' turn towards darkness. Reigns has done a spectacular job of leaning into nuance, with his smiling facade falling away only in brief moments when Uso's joy and ambition crosses a line for him.
Where it could go wrong: It's hard to see a way this could go astray. No one believes that Jey Uso is going to walk out of Clash of Champions with the title in hand, but he has raised his stock in what has been his first real opportunity as a singles performer in his decade with the WWE. Whether it's Reigns dropping the hammer down on Uso on Sunday or a tenuous, slowly shifted balance that carries on beyond Clash of Champions, it'll be hard to screw up what's quickly become the most interesting story on WWE TV.
Prediction: Reigns wins, and then removes any doubt to where his motivations and future lie with a postmatch encore to the violence.
Ambulance match for the WWE championship: Drew McIntyre (c) vs. Randy Orton
What's to like: Drew McIntyre, Randy Orton, Sasha Banks and Bayley have been the MVPs of WWE since the pandemic began in March. Each has performed admirably in impossible conditions, and the chemistry that McIntyre and Orton have shown since directly crossing paths is undeniable. After a surprising match won by McIntyre in which no finishing maneuvers were successfully executed, the tension has continued to build in the lead-up to Sunday.
Where it could go wrong: The story has meandered a bit in recent weeks, largely due to the cumbersome way that Keith Lee was folded into the mix. Lee got a clean win in a surprisingly short match with Orton at Payback, but he has essentially been a story device for McIntyre and Orton to build up tension. A tease of Lee potentially taking Orton's place at Clash of Champions was never explained very well. And if Lee gets involved on Sunday, it could further muddy the waters.
Prediction: McIntyre has been nigh indestructible to this point in his WWE title reign, with few signs of true peril. The Ambulance match stipulation appears to be a way in which McIntyre could lose the title without being pinned. It's been more than three years since Orton has been a world champion, and with the amount of attention being paid to Orton nearing Ric Flair's record number of world title reigns in recent months, Orton will leave Clash of Champions as a 14-time world champion.
SmackDown women's championship: Bayley (c) vs. Nikki Cross
What's to like: There's certainly a history between Bayley and Nikki Cross, but this matchup will be significantly different. Bayley has cast Sasha Banks aside, and Cross is dealing with her tag team partner Alexa Bliss falling further and further under the influence of "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt. Bayley has successfully defended her SmackDown women's championship against Cross four times (once in a handicap match) over the past two years, and Bayley and Banks won the women's tag team titles from Bliss and Cross back in May.
Where it could go wrong: The rivalry between Bayley and Banks is still in its earliest stages of blossoming into an all-out war. It's personal enough that it doesn't necessarily need the title to be involved, but taking some time to sell the seriousness of Banks' injuries at Bayley's hands in recent weeks would seemingly preclude her involvement. Cross is certainly worthy of a title reign, but the timing just doesn't seem quite right.
Prediction: After weeks of slipping in and out of a fugue state at any mention of "The Fiend," Bliss completes her descent into madness and outright causes Cross to lose the match. Bayley turns her focus back towards Banks.
Raw women's championship: Asuka (c) vs. Zelina Vega
What's to like: It's good to see fresh faces in title contention. Zelina Vega has said "enough" with the bickering of Andrade and Angel Garza and struck out on her own. Asuka has taken on all comers, and happily welcomed a new challenger into the mix after a sharp smack to the face.
Where it could go wrong: This match being tabbed for the kickoff show feels wrong, but on a card in which every match is a title match, it's tough to see which is the odd one out. If it gets a little extra time due to the unenviable position on the card, it would take some of the sting out.
Prediction: Asuka wins. No one has yet proved to be ready for Asuka.
Ladder match for the Intercontinental championship: Jeff Hardy (c) vs. Sami Zayn (c) vs. AJ Styles
What's to like: With Sami Zayn's return as the "true" Intercontinental champion, the energy surrounding the title, which was already getting interesting between AJ Styles and Jeff Hardy, has hit a new level entirely.
Where it could go wrong: It's a ladder match, so pure chaos abounds, but barring something catastrophically going awry, this has all the makings of a show-stealer.
Prediction: There isn't a bad outcome in the bunch, but it would make Zayn perfectly insufferable if he pulled down the title (or titles, if they go the Razor Ramon-Shawn Michaels WrestleMania X route) and backed up all of his trash talk.
United States championship: Bobby Lashley (c) vs. Apollo Crews
What's to like: Apollo Crews and Cedric Alexander, in particular, have benefited from clashing with The Hurt Business. Now that Alexander has joined up with MVP, Shelton Benjamin and Bobby Lashley, the conflict has only gotten deeper.
Where it could go wrong: Just weeks removed from bolstering their numbers with Alexander, The Hurt Business is doing tremendous work and stood as the first true challengers to the chaos sewed by Retribution. Lashley losing the title would be premature and could hurt the group's overall cause.
Prediction: Lashley retains. Retribution may rear their heads again as well.
Women's tag team championships: Shayna Baszler & Nia Jax (c) vs. The Riott Squad
What's to like: In the year and a half since its inception, the women's tag team titles were seemingly circulated around within a small segment of the Raw and SmackDown rosters, and too closely tied into either the story surrounding either the Raw or SmackDown women's champion at the time. Now it has its own story.
Where it could go wrong: The Riott Squad, which never should have broken up in the first place with the momentum that was behind them, is in the precarious state between reuniting and fully establishing themselves as a strong team. A loss here could be devastating.
Prediction: Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler seemed destined to clash one-on-one. With the titles quickly snatched from their shoulders by The Riott Squad, they'll return to their natural state as enemies.
Raw tag team championships: The Street Profits (c) vs. Andrade & Angel Garza
What's to like: If you've seen a bad match between these four, please point me in the direction of that footage, because I don't believe it.
Where it could go wrong: Something has to give. We can only see this match so many times without a title change.
Prediction: While it seemed as though Zelina Vega was the only force holding Andrade and Garza together, her departure is a cold splash of water in the face, and they finally succeed in winning the titles in her absence. When her own title challenge falls short, and Vega comes back to try to mend fences, it will be too late.
SmackDown tag team championships: Cesaro & Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. The Lucha House Party
What's to like: Lots of flips, and other good lucha things.
Where it could go wrong: Cesaro has continued his trend in making teams with seemingly haphazardly collected partners work far beyond what anyone could have expected. He and Shinsuke Nakamura are starting to cook, and unless one of them is destined for a big move as a singles performer, now is not the time to break them up.
Prediction: The tension of Kalisto's return leads to chaos and a failed title challenge. Kalisto ultimately moves to strike out on his own.