WWE is approaching a major crossroads in its existence. Between Sunday's Clash of Champions pay-per-view and October's Hell in a Cell, SmackDown will move to the larger broadcast airwaves of Fox on Friday nights, and NXT will shift over from the WWE network to the USA Network for a weekly two-hour live broadcast on Wednesdays.
There's chaos and energy in the air, and that has been the result of a few different factors in play as WWE has enjoyed a solid run of weekly TV in the lead-up to Clash of Champions. There's also the King of the Ring tournament, which has given purpose to the seemingly random collection of entertaining matches sprinkled between Raw and SmackDown, only to result in the unlikeliest of finals and a puzzling decision to drop the match off of the PPV card in favor of Raw on Sept. 16.
And then there's the reunion of the Four Horsewomen, with Bayley's haphazard swings of a steel chair tying both of Sunday's women's title matches together and bringing Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch into the ring with her at the same time. Their tag team match Monday wasn't perfect, but the moment and the surge in physical intensity in that match brought a rapid transfusion of energy and excitement into a women's division that has lacked some consistency in recent months.
The final pre-pay-per-view episodes of Raw and SmackDown were a powerful push over the finish line, and dropping "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Undertaker into the equation didn't hurt, either.
As a new era in the company's history draws near, it's clear that WWE's approach at the outset is to make as many big, splashy moves as it can. Whether or not it can use its current momentum as a launching point to something that feels fresh remains to be seen, but in the here and now, there's a lot to like on paper about what's shaping up to be another strong pay-per-view on Sunday.
(c) - indicates defending champion(s)
The big ones
This pair of matches is, as you might imagine, hard to uncouple from each other. The temporary allies earning a shock tag team title win ahead of a big world title match against one another is a trope the WWE has leaned into on plenty of occasions. Having both matches on the same night is an interesting twist, and the path to Clash of Champions has been anything but typical when compared to previous instances of such storylines.
Rollins and Strowman's tenuous partnership has formed into a solid bond thanks to attacks led by AJ Styles and The O.C. in recent weeks. Rollins and Strowman haven't had much time or opportunity to build animosity with each other while dealing with that external pressure, outside of an occasional stray look. It seems like such an oddly civil and respectful moment for a character like Strowman, but with what's to come Sunday and beyond, there's likely to be plenty of opportunities for an unleashed Monster of Men.
Regardless of the result, it's likely that a confrontation with "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt is next for the Universal champion at Hell in a Cell. Wyatt, and his new persona, has been the most popular act with fans since his return, but his ascent into this position seems sudden and risky. The wrong kind of loss to Rollins or Strowman could quickly send Wyatt spiraling out of relevance, just as it did with previous iterations.
But there's another option: making The Fiend the indestructible tour de force that looms over Raw for the rest of 2019 and beyond. That could start Sunday at Clash of Champions, and the relationship between Rollins and Strowman could be the catalyst for launching Wyatt into the stratosphere.
Prediction: Tension builds early in the night as Strowman and Rollins lose their tag team titles to Roode and Ziggler. In the main event, just as it appears Strowman or Rollins has victory within reach, The Fiend enters the picture and destroys them both, setting up a triple threat match for Hell in a Cell.
Lynch and Banks have not had a one-on-one match on WWE TV since February 2016, before the triple threat women's championship match at WrestleMania 32 that altered the path of women's wrestling in WWE forever.
For most of the past three-and-a-half years, Lynch and Banks were on separate shows, back when the division between Raw and SmackDown felt as if it actually meant something. Banks vs. Lynch has always felt like a deep, untapped well of potential, with fans getting only a small taste of what they could deliver during a brief NXT rivalry in 2015. It's a conflict that fans could really sink their teeth into, one that hadn't been tarnished by occasional, low-stakes meetings that would've inevitably happened had they been on the same show.
The energy that Banks has brought with her upon her return from a four-month hiatus immediately put her at Lynch's eyeline, and there couldn't have been a much better moment in each of their careers to make this a reality.
Add in the excitement of the recent reunion of the Horsewomen (albeit in battle), and the uncertainty of where each women's title picture is headed for the rest of 2019, and you have the two highest-stakes women's matches since WrestleMania.
Prediction: Banks wins the Raw women's championship for the fifth time, and actually defends it successfully. But the conflict will carry on for some time to come.
There are a handful of wrestlers in WWE history who could go an entire career without showing even the slightest hint of an evil tendency. Over the first few years of her career, Bayley would have to be at or near the top of that list.
That's what made Bayley smashing Becky Lynch in the back with a steel chair such a jarring moment. The uber kid-friendly "hugger" had seemingly been corrupted by her friend Sasha Banks, who had twisted Bayley's trust and friendship into something ugly. And yet, even as she attacked Charlotte Flair in an identical fashion the next night, Bayley didn't change her overarching message to fans in the slightest. What could be more on brand, in her estimation, than staying loyal to her friend, laying their collective foes down and building up the SmackDown women's championship?
The brilliance of this move for Bayley is how many different ways this story could turn. She could become a more powerful heel, bending the rules more and more until she no longer resembles who she was at the start. She could realize the error of her ways and rekindle conflict with Banks, revisiting their 2015 rivalry for the ages in NXT. Or her sudden change in character and desperation could allow the ground to cave in from beneath her as Flair claims her 10th women's title reign in Flair Country, Charlotte, North Carolina.
Prediction: Bayley retains, with a little help from her friend.
If this rivalry between Kingston and Orton is giving you deja vu, don't worry, you're not alone. Orton pulling Kingston's family into a world title feud is eerily similar to what Samoa Joe did to AJ Styles around this time last year with the WWE championship on the line.
WWE going back to the well is a bit disappointing when it comes to this rivalry, as the early stages of this conflict proved to tap into a powerful moment in Kingston's career from over a decade ago. Kingston was nearly one of the stars who grabbed stardom and a world title reign at an early stage in their career, only for it to slip away and elude him until 2019.
Now Orton is reading fake letters from Kingston's kids and intimidating Kingston's family, which led to an unsatisfying double countout at SummerSlam. Thankfully, the tide turned, at least partially, on Tuesday's edition of SmackDown when Kingston recreated his most famous moment against Orton and put him through a table in the crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Whomever wins this match will kick off SmackDown's new era on Fox with the company's signature belt around their waist and own a prominent position in the final stages of the WWE's marketing blitz. As such, Kingston seems far more well-equipped to carry that banner, but don't be surprised if the SmackDown tag team title match (between Xavier Woods & Big E and The Revival) is a bellwether of how this world title match plays out.
Prediction: Kingston gets another meaningful title defense under his belt, but Orton and The Revival seek retribution in the aftermath.
The best of the rest
Rowan vs. Roman Reigns: WWE has had a real issue with reporting serious felonies to the proper authorities, and Rowan's repeated attempts to (storyline) murder Roman Reigns are no exception. The "whodunnit" stage of this conflict was fun at times, but if this was simply just a way to get Rowan out on his own with no deeper motive or puppeteer pulling the strings, the former Daniel Bryan acolyte is destined to just be another "Monster of the Week" to fall to Reigns. If there's something more to it, the intrigue remains. Prediction: Reigns wins
Intercontinental championship: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. The Miz: Nakamura's title reign has largely been absent from TV and overlooked, but adding Sami Zayn to the mix is an interesting wrinkle that I don't think WWE is willing to toss aside just yet. There's always the chance that Miz wins his record-tying ninth IC championship, especially if WWE is keen on wiping a Chris Jericho entry from atop the record books, but I don't think that's happening just yet. Prediction: Nakamura retains.
United States championship: AJ Styles (c) vs. Cedric Alexander: It was hard to see how Styles would get uncoupled from the ongoing Universal championship picture, but a seemingly random attack on Alexander backstage a few weeks ago ultimately helped answer that question. Alexander and Styles had a few very entertaining minutes one-on-one Monday night before the O.C. spoiled the party, and then Alexander pinned Styles to clinch a victory (and a Steve Austin beer bash) in a 10-man tag match to close out Raw. This match could very easily be the show-stealer at Clash of Champions. Prediction: Styles retains, but Alexander shines.
SmackDown tag team championships: The New Day (c) vs. The Revival: This can't be a bad match. The Revival are workhorses that consistently prove to be up to the challenge any time opportunity presents itself, and The New Day has a tendency to exceed all expectations any time one of their matches is overlooked. Sounds like a recipe for success. Prediction: The Revival takes advantage of the injury-compromised New Day to win the SmackDown tag team titles.
Women's tag team championships: Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross (c) vs. Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville: The pairing of Bliss and Cross seemed destined to end in tears and high school mean girl bullying a la Bliss' feud with Nia Jax. Instead, Cross' enthusiasm and genuine appreciation at their friendship has (slightly) softened Bliss' edge and given the unlikely tag team a genuinely interesting dynamic. I think there's a lot more depth to explore here, but anything is possible as WWE has yet to show a consistent commitment to a long-term story with these titles. Prediction: The champions retain.
Cruiserweight championship: Drew Gulak (c) vs. Humberto Carrillo vs. Lince Dorado: Gulak has been mowing them down one by one, and now faces twice the challenge with Carrillo and Dorado in the triple threat match. As is the case with 205 Live most weeks, this match will feature three guys who are 100% committed to putting on an absolute spectacle. If this match is featured on the Kickoff Show, as has become standard operating procedure for the cruiserweight title, those not yet in their seats when the match begins will miss out on a lot of fun. Prediction: Gulak retains.