WWE Clash of Champions 2017: Superstars Who Deserve Biggest Push Leading to PPV
Clash of Champions is the final WWE pay-per-view of the year and the last stop before 2018 starts the immediate ramp up to the Royal Rumble and, eventually, WrestleMania 34.
This is where WWE will need to wrap up some storylines and make the judgment calls on which wrestlers it will push during the Road to WrestleMania and which performers will start to fade into obscurity.
SmackDown Live has a more shallow pool to draw from than Raw but still boasts plenty of talented Superstars who will all be vying for the few coveted spots available at this event.
Furthermore, while getting booked for the card is one thing, but coming out on top and winning your match is an entirely different animal.
By the end of Clash of Champions, the best-case scenario will be that a wide range of the SmackDown roster come out of it looking stronger than before, win or lose.
Here are some of the Superstars who stand out as deserving of at least a strong push heading into the event.
It sounds so strange to bring up his name, but Mojo Rawley is a definite for this list.
Earlier this year, Rawley won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, which garnered some publicity for WWE via Rob Gronkowski's special appearance but little else.
Jinder Mahal—the final man to be eliminated—ended up winning the WWE Championship and holding it for far longer than most would have anticipated. Meanwhile, Rawley went nowhere fast.
Like most winners of that WrestleMania staple, WWE failed to capitalize and create any solid push out of it, forcing Rawley to revert back to his Hype Bros tag team.
That, too, amounted to nothing, with a heel turn or a possible split being teased for months with little follow through.
Just as it seemed like that gimmick wasn't going to amount to anything, the trigger was pulled to have the duo part ways, with Rawley turning on Zack Ryder.
Now is the most crucial time in regard to making or breaking this angle. If WWE doesn't make it a storyline to follow, the fans won't be invested in it.
At the very least, a match between Rawley and Ryder has to be optioned for the pre-show well enough in advance that it doesn't seem tacked on at the eleventh hour.
Rawley and Ryder need to have a few confrontations leading up to a standard one-on-one affair at Clash of Champions, where Rawley has to come out on top.
If this is pushed aside yet again, there's no hope for Rawley in WWE.
The Bludgeon Brothers
Harper and Rowan are no strangers to the WWE Universe, so this isn't the same situation as a brand-new tag team making its debut or some upstart from NXT transitioning to the main roster.
However, they haven't just lost their first names this year—they also lost their edge.
Being rechristened The Bludgeon Brothers sounds menacing, along with their hammers and their music, but they have yet to show us anything we haven't seen before.
In an odd oversight, WWE's creative committee didn't even take the sheep mask away from Rowan to help differentiate his gimmick from the one he had during his time in The Wyatt Family.
What is different about these two men? It can't just be their ring attire. We need to learn more about what drives them.
It's one thing to tell us they are menacing and have them win squash matches, but it's another thing to get the fans invested in seeing Harper and Rowan team up again.
The Bludgeon Brothers need something to sink their teeth into so the crowd will anticipate seeing them do more than just be a rehash of the same characters.
The Riott Squad
For some reason, WWE chose to have a nearly identical angle take place on Raw and SmackDown after Survivor Series, and no effort has been made to make those involved seem unique.
On Raw, the veteran Paige has two NXT wrestlers in Sonya Deville and the lesser-seen Mandy Rose by her side, and the three heels attack everybody on the roster.
On SmackDown, Ruby Riott has two fellow NXT wrestlers in Liv Morgan and the lesser-seen Sarah Logan by her side, and the three heels attack everybody on the roster.
If it weren't for the blue brand's team being called The Riott Squad for quite obvious reasons, it would be easy to blur the lines between this group and Absolution.
A serious effort needs to be made to establish this team as something more than just a mirror image of what we will see every week on Monday Night Raw.
By no means can Riott, Morgan and Logan be struggling to figure out their identity as a unit past Clash of Champions. By that time, fans will have already written them off as copycats.
WWE has to set up a proper motivation for these three women to have turned heel and put the SmackDown roster on notice beyond just wanting to make a name for themselves or any other lame, boilerplate excuse like that.
Also, a firm group of adversaries has to be put in place to give them someone to go up against, but not at the expense of the SmackDown Women's Championship—unless it is so good it warrants skipping a title match on a show called Clash of Champions.
These are tricky waters to navigate, and it's OK to have little faith WWE will pull it out. But there's still time to steer the ship in the right direction if the right plan is set in motion for not just these three women but also the SmackDown Live women's division.
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
It should go without being said that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn deserve pushes. They are two of the premier players on SmackDown and perhaps have the biggest ongoing storyline.
However, logic doesn't always become the foundation of what WWE does, and you can never quite know for sure what is being cooked up behind the scenes.
This is, at times, extremely beneficial for fans, who like to be shocked and are pleasantly surprised by something unpredictable happening. But sometimes it makes us all scratch our heads and wonder why the low-hanging fruit wasn't only ignored but fervently cast aside.
Owens and Zayn wrestled the pre-show for Survivor Series in what felt like a throwaway match. That was used to further their problems with SmackDown's management, causing them to interfere in the main event.
They helped cost the blue brand the match. Consequently, everybody hates them.
So now what?
Randy Orton has nothing to do, it seems. Does he team up with someone like Shinsuke Nakamura—another drifter—to face Owens and Zayn?
Does this go back to The New Day fighting on behalf of Shane McMahon, who probably won't get his hands dirty for the third event in a row?
Is a SmackDown Tag Team Championships opportunity on the horizon for this duo, pitting them against The Usos?
Where does general manager Daniel Bryan fit into this situation, and where is it all leading to?
There are plenty of ways this story could go, but it has to head somewhere that benefits Owens and Zayn going forward, as they are helping keep SmackDown afloat.
AJ Styles and Jinder Mahal
It's likely that both AJ Styles and Jinder Mahal will receive their proper screen time on the next few episodes of SmackDown to push them along to their WWE Championship match on December 17.
Still, it has to be said that both Styles and Mahal need to have their time to shine in order to properly sell this as something we should all want to see.
When it was announced that Mahal would be facing Triple H during the tour in India, it seemed to seal the deal that his hopes of winning the title back were dead in the water.
That type of atmosphere breeds apathy. Nobody will feel like this match is necessary to watch, as the outcome is predictable; Styles will retain and hold on to the championship heading into WrestleMania, where he will probably drop it to the Royal Rumble winner, Shinsuke Nakamura.
Something has to be done to give the audience a chance to doubt this and start to wonder whether there are other plans about to unfold.
WWE can't do the tired shtick of having Mahal look strong on the go-home show, as any fan who has seen more than a handful of pay-per-views is well aware that, more often than not, that person loses at the event.
Instead, something else—something more interesting and buzzworthy—has to happen to give Mahal and Styles the proper push so fans will be invested in this match rather than viewing it as a foregone conclusion.
Who are your picks for the Superstars you think deserve big pushes heading into Clash of Champions? Tell us who made your list in the comments section below!
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.