Clash of Champions Excites and Lucha Libre Honors Mexican Heritage Month

Justin Barrasso

Seth Rollins became the “Beast Slayer” at SummerSlam, then tamed “The Monster Among Men” Braun Strowman in the main event of WWE’s Clash of the Champions. However, "The Fiend" is now looming in the shadow of Rollins' victory.

WWE took a chance by closing out its pay per view with a masked Wyatt hitting a Sister Abigail and then locking in the mandible claw on Rollins, sending home its crowd in a manner reminiscent of a more frightening, seemingly forgotten era.

The show also saw superb performances from WWE champion Kofi Kingston, who overcame Randy Orton in an absurdly well-crafted storyline, and more brilliance in the ring from The Revival. And for those who did not watch the show, this is not a misprint: Erick Rowan pinned Roman Reigns in the co-main event following an assist from a returning Luke Harper.

The night was also notable because Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide’s “Invading NY” show took place inside the hallowed walls of Madison Square Garden in the Hulu Theater. That show saw Pentagon and Fenix defend their AAA world tag team titles against LAX, Taya Valkyrie become a three-time Reina de Reinas champion, as well as the wrestling return of former UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.

Here are the results of WWE’s Clash of the Champions:

• Cruiserweight champion Drew Gulak won a triple threat match against Humberto Carrillo and Lince Dorado on the preshow

• United States champion AJ Styles made a rare preshow appearance to defeat Cedric Alexander

• Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode defeated Seth Rollins and Braun Strowman to become the new Raw tag team champions

• SmackDown women’s champion Bayley defeated Charlotte Flair

• The Revival defeated The New Day to become the new SmackDown tag team champions

• Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross successfully defended the Women’s Tag Team championships against Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville

• Intercontinental champion Shinsuke Nakamura defeated The Miz

• Sasha Banks defeated Raw women’s champion Becky Lynch by disqualification

• WWE champion Kofi Kingston defeated Randy Orton

• Erick Rowan defeated Roman Reigns in a no disqualification match

• Universal champion Seth Rollins defeated Braun Strowman

And here are my five takeaways, including some firsthand perspective, from a Sunday full of wrestling:

1. Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks were spectacular during their match at Clash of Champions.

For months, all Lynch needed was the right opponent. Lacey Evans was certainly not the right fit, and the chemistry felt forced between Lynch and Natalya Neidhart. But the return of Sasha Banks has rejuvenated the women’s division in WWE, and despite ending in a disqualification, their match at Clash of Champions was the fight of the night.

The repeated false finishes added a heightened element of intensity to the meaning of the Raw women’s title. Multiple times it appeared that Banks had the match won, only for Lynch to kick out from the jaws of defeat. The steel chair sequence—where Banks slid a chair in the ring, waited for the referee to turn his back to remove, and then hit Lynch with another chair—was especially well done.

The decision to end the match in a disqualification was the right call, as there is so much more of a story to be told.

2. Lucha Bros. and LAX pay tribute to Mexican Heritage month

With all due respect to The Revival and New Day, who put on a show at Clash of Champions, the standout performance of the night for tag team wrestling belonged to the Lucha Bros. and LAX, who fought at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater for the AAA world tag team titles.

The Lucha Bros, who consist of Pentagon and Fenix, successfully defended their titles against LAX—recent AEW signees Ortiz and Santana—after Pentagon hit Santana with a package piledriver that was reinforced by a double foot stomp off the top from Fenix.

“I saw that when I was in the corner and I live in the moment, so I do it,” said Fenix, who spoke following the match with Sports Illustrated. “We’re in New York for Mexican Independence Day, which is why I was draped in the flag, and we brought lucha, AAA and the Lucha Bros. to Madison Square Garden.”

Pentagon also stressed the magnitude of the match, which allowed him and his brother to take another step forward in becoming the best tag team in the world.

“This day is history for Mexican history, and tonight was magic,” said Pentagon. “LAX is one of the best teams in the world, and I think people really enjoyed our match.”

LAX shined in defeat, showing off a hybrid style that offers a physical ground game on the mat but also an aerial assault and some of the best tag combinations in the business. After becoming the best tag team on the indies and then in Impact Wrestling, they debuted at AEW’s All Out pay per view in August and will be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future.

“We are from New York and we grew up coming to this arena,” said Santana. “We used to wait for all the wrestlers and try to get pictures and autographs. Bless my grandmother, she would stand out there with me for hours at all these shows. Tonight, everyone—my mom, my dad, my grandmother, my girl, my daughter—were all here to see us debut at Madison Square Garden.

“It’s surreal. It’s hard to put into words. We’ve been everywhere in the f------ world, and to do this here with the f------ Lucha Bros. at the Garden on Mexican Independence Day, there’s nothing better.”

The match was also especially meaningful for LAX’s Ortiz, who was flooded with memories and emotions about how he reached the point in his career where he would put on a show within the walls of the Garden.

“Little known fact because we don’t talk about it too much, but my father literally sponsored our wrestling career,” said Ortiz. “He’s a blue-collar guy, he works, and he expected me to get a job. But he supported us. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be here. And the last time he saw me wrestle, it was in a building with mold on the walls, it was falling apart, and I was the s---. Now he got to see me at Madison Square Garden. And my son got to see us wrestle our greatest rivals.

“We’re not done with Fenix and Pentagon. We’re definitely going to touch them on a pay per view on an even bigger stage, and then kill it even more.”

3. Cain Velasquez made his return to the ring for AAA.

He has three dates remaining on his current UFC contract, but the former Heavyweight champ—who knocked out Brock Lesnar during his Hall of Fame worthy UFC career—continues to excel away from the Octagon in the wrestling ring.

“This is a chance to do what I’ve done in MMA and now add to it with lucha and pro wrestling,” said Velasquez. “I get that same feeling when I perform in the ring.”

In only his second match, Velasquez worked another six-man tag, teaming with Impact champion Brian Cage and Psycho Clown against Rey Escorpión, Texano Jr. and Taurus. Velasquez, who dazzled with an authentic lucha libre style in the ring instead of a dominant heavyweight approach, returns to action when AAA travels to Los Angeles in October.

“It was amazing to compete here in New York City,” said Velasquez. “I feel very honored to have this opportunity.”

4. All hail the Reina de Reinas... for the third time

More history was made on Sunday night, as Taya Valkyrie defeated Tessa Blanchard at the AAA show in New York to become a three-time Reina de Reinas (“Queen of Queens”) champion, tying the record in company history.

Taya is also Impact’s reigning Knockouts champion, redefining, as she proved again in New York, the standard of excellence in women’s wrestling and wrestling as a whole.

“When I first came to Mexico in 2012, there had not been a non-Mexican born woman to win this title,” said Taya, who is also the longest reigning Reina de Reinas champion in AAA history. “People thought I’d be gone within a week and that I would never make it, so this is a big deal to me.”

The back and forth match with Blanchard reached its crescendo when Taya delivered a vicious package piledriver, recovered from a Blanchard stunner, followed by her signature Road to Valhalla finisher to regain the title.

This was the lone women’s singles match on the card, and it helped set the tone for a phenomenal night at the Garden.

“There have been a lot of moments throughout my career that humbled me and made me work harder,” said Taya. “Those made me realize my worth and what I wanted. But I still have a lot more to prove, and I feel that way every time I accomplish something—and I am already looking forward to the next thing.

“Right now, I am extremely excited to regain the Reina de Reinas championship, be the longest reigning Knockouts champion in Impact history and present lucha libre internationally and represent it the best way I can.”

5. Braun Strowman's knee injury

WWE went to extreme lengths to protect Braun Strowman in his loss to Seth Rollins.

Strowman suffered a storyline knee injury and was hit with four Curb Stomps and a pedigree before taking the pinfall loss. Watching how WWE books Strowman following this loss will be interesting, especially if he is removed from the Universal title picture after the emergence of Bray Wyatt.

Wearing his trademark “Fiend” mask, Wyatt appeared out of the darkness to attack Rollins as Clash of Champions went off the air. After years of starting and stalling with Wyatt’s cult leader character, it appears Vince McMahon—with Paul Heyman strongly behind him—are fully behind a run for Wyatt with the world title.

Wyatt brings a different element to WWE that does not otherwise exist in AEW, New Japan or anywhere else in mainstream professional wrestling. If WWE can put some substance behind the story, a match between Rollins and Wyatt would make for a tremendous headlining act at this November’s Survivor Series.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.