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What we learned from WWE Clash of Champions 2016

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Despite the name, this RAW-exclusive event wasn’t just about the championships, but that only helped power an entertaining show.

Seth Rollins reacts to being cheated out of a victory at Clash of Champions

RAW had its first brand-exclusive pay-per-view event on Sunday, and a whole lot went down. Not every decision at Clash of Champions was a winner, but the matches were generally entertaining and helped progress the many stories going on during Monday nights.

Unlike SmackDown’s intentionally short card over three hours, RAW stacked Clash of Champions from top to bottom, so let’s dive in.

Kickoff Match: Nia Jax defeats Alicia Fox

Nia Jax faced her first real test — meaning, she took on a wrestler who wasn’t just local talent waiting to be squashed. Alicia Fox might have gotten in more offense than said local talent, but the result was the same, with Jax looking unstoppable yet again.

What we learned: Even a former champion and established veteran won’t be enough to stop Jax, who seems to be on a collision course with the Women’s Championship scene on RAW. She might not get there soon, not when she’s still new to the main roster and there are plenty of non-championship wrestlers for her to feud with in the meantime as she has with Alicia Fox, but you can see the path she’s on with each dominating encounter.

RAW Tag Team Championship Match: The New Day (c) defeat The Club

This was a quality match that told a good story, with The Club — Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson — continuing to isolate members of The New Day in order to more effectively beat them down and negate the 3-on-2 advantage always present in their matches. Well, it told a good story until The New Day came back and won — why did the face faction break the rules in order to retain their championships again?

At SummerSlam, Big E interfered to cause a disqualification in order to keep Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston from dropping the belts to The Club. This was defensible because Big E had been taken out of action by Gallows and Anderson weeks before, and this was his revenge even if it was against the rules. This time, though, Xavier Woods jumped in to change the outcome of the match by bonking Anderson on the head with his trombone, and New Day benefited from this cheating.

So, we’re now left with a situation where The New Day are the good guys, in terms of their presentation outside the ring and all the merchandise they move. In the ring, though, they’re cheating to win, and to what end? To keep going in circles with The Club? To eventually create sympathy for the team that’s supposed to be the bad guys?

What we learned: Frustration, mostly. What’s the goal of this feud? Why the insistence on keeping New Day from growing and evolving, moving on from the tag team championships? Why can’t The Club win the belts, even though they’ve been clearly superior in these head-to-head matchups to the point that New Day is cheating to win? There’s a consistency and logic missing in this feud that’s bringing down the overall quality of it, and that’s a shame.

WWE Cruiserweight Championship Match: T.J. Perkins (c) defeats Brian Kendrick

Perkins won the Cruiserweight Classic, and was therefore named the inaugural WWE Cruiserweight champ. Brian Kendrick won a Fatal Four Way on RAW to earn the No. 1 contender slot. The result? A match that the Cruiserweight Classic didn’t give us, since these two never reached each other in the bracket, one in which submissions played a huge part and eventually allowed Perkins to retain in his first defense.

What we learned: This feud isn’t over, and wasn’t just a rushed attempt to get a match lined up in time for Clash of Champions, where every title is defended. Perkins won a lengthy back-and-forth affair, but Kendrick let him know with a cheap shot that this isn’t the only time the two will be facing each other. Given how well this match went, that’s not a bad thing at all.

Best-of-Seven Finale: Cesaro vs. Sheamus ends in No Contest

This decision was super annoying in the moment, as Cesaro and Sheamus have already faced each other six times previously in this series — and a couple of times before that, too — and beat the absolute hell out of each other in this supposedly definitive contest. With a little time to think, though, this just helped show how far these two are willing to go to defeat the other, even at the risk of hurting themselves just to prove they’re the superior wrestler, and also managed to show us just how closely matched Cesaro and Sheamus are.

What we learned: This series, meant to hand out a championship opportunity, is not yet concluded. How RAW general manager Mick Foley, who began this series in the first place, goes about figuring out which wrestler is worthy of said championship opportunity is unknown, but it’s something that should get us all to tune in on Monday — maybe they’ll even sort it out then with some more hard-hitting fighting.

Chris Jericho defeats Sami Zayn

Jericho didn’t outright cheat to take out Sami Zayn — instead, he used a variety of veteran rule-bending and a desperation suckering-in of Zayn in order to hit him with a Codebreaker and end the match. It all makes sense, too, given what we know about Zayn: He often has to face a challenge, fail to overcome it, and then learn from the experience in order to give his successes that much more power when they come. A feud with Jericho, self-professed best friend of Zayn’s blood rival, Kevin Owens, is no different.

What we learned: Jericho has still got it, and not just on the mic. Zayn was oh so close to winning on multiple occasions, but couldn’t get it done, not with Jericho’s wily veteran tactics in the way. Maybe Zayn will take what he learned from this match and apply it in a rematch, one that he can win, putting him one step closer to a showdown with current WWE Universal Champion, Kevin Owens.

RAW Women’s Championship Triple Threat: Charlotte (c) defeats Sasha Banks and Bayley

There were plenty of disappointed fans since Charlotte retained, but that disappointment just means this story is working. This time around, Dana Brooke interfered just right in the match in order to help her mentor slash emotional abuser hold on to her championship, and unlike when Dana’s interference created an opening for Bayley to pin the champ, here it caused Bayley to be pinned.

This was a lengthy, tense match, the kind of women’s bout you never would have believed WWE would allow to be on their pay-per-views just a couple of years ago. It’s also the kind of match that helps you believe rumors that say WWE is thinking of having a women’s match headline a pay-per-view at some point.

What we learned: Sasha wasn’t pinned, so she’ll likely still fight for the chance to take on Charlotte in a singles match, just like she was supposed to before Mick Foley made this a triple threat. She’ll have to do something about Dana Brooke first, though, because if she’s at ringside, then Charlotte is going to have a much easier time keeping her undefeated streak in championship matches at pay-per-views alive.

United States Championship Match: Roman Reigns defeats Rusev (c)

Roman Reigns defeated Rusev after Lana was ejected from ringside by the ref for interfering, and we now have a new United States champ because of it. One thing that’s fascinating about this decision is that now, all three former members of The Shield have been US champs — Dean Ambrose won the belt when The Shield still existed, Seth Rollins was United States Champion while he was also WWE champ, and now Reigns has the storied belt.

After years of being tossed aside and forgotten about, between the three Shield members — who have also all been WWE Champion — as well as John Cena and Rusev, this mid-card belt is feeling a lot more like a single step below the main event instead of well down the ladder.

What we learned: Rusev isn’t going to be the United States Champion forever :-(

WWE Universal Championship Match: Kevin Owens (c) defeats Seth Rollins

Seth Rollins has gone full babyface, and it is glorious. He’s brought back all his high-flying offense except for the Phoenix Splash -- we’ll get there, y’all, we’ll get there. He’s taking on multiple heels at the same time and still succeeding. To top it all off, he’s now got a McMahon helping to defeat him, even if she’s in a position to say that it was all just a misunderstanding. We all saw the sly smile on your face when the new ref you brought out immediately counted three on Rollins, Steph.

What we learned: WWE has long and subtly been telling a story with Rollins where his work as a heel has always been used to make up for a lack of confidence in himself. The reason he distanced himself from Reigns and Ambrose and The Shield is to give himself an edge he felt he needed. The reason he was so terrible to them for so long afterward is because he needed to believe that he was the reason for the group’s success, and that he was capable of doing everything on his own. The whole time, he had help, whether it was Kane or J&J Security or even Jon f’n Stewart interfering on his behalf in key moments.

After working his ass off to return from a horrible knee injury, Rollins spent the summer slowly growing more at ease with the idea of Dean Ambrose as a capable, successful wrestler even without Seth’s guidance. While he can defeat Reigns consistently, he also knows just how dangerous and powerful his former friend is, and even admits it sometimes. Now, abandoned by the Authority for Kevin Owens, Rollins is letting his true babyface nature out, and gaining the self-confidence he’s always needed in order to return back to the side of good and his friends. He saved Roman Reigns from a two-on-one beatdown a week ago. He has stood up for himself against Stephanie McMahon, one of the the handful of incredibly powerful people who can make Seth’s life miserable. He refused to give up even as Owens attacked his surgically repaired knee and had his buddy Chris Jericho come in to uneven the odds.

It was easy to hate Seth given he turned on his friends and aligned with the bad guys, but there has always been more to him and his decision than evil. We’re seeing him revert to his true form, one he had to grow back into, and that will inevitably be the most powerful version of Seth Rollins we’ve seen thus far.