WWE has experienced positive momentum since Paul “Triple H” Levesque took over as head of creative control, and Clash at the Castle did just enough to satisfy the fans.
Levesque has now taken on a new role as “Chief Content Officer,” as he and co-CEOs Stephanie McMahon and Nick Khan have received raises, according to a new public filing. It appears the WWE board are satisfied with business not falling off a cliff after Vince McMahon resigned due to his “hush money” scandal, which also has association with former President of the United States Donald Trump.
The biggest tangible change Levesque has done in his WWE tenure is putting more of a focus on the in-ring product. It’s something fans have wanted for a few years because of the amount of talent on the roster, and McMahon’s apparent refusal to showcase it in favor of wacky storylines and poorly booked angles.
It’s the latter that hasn’t changed that much but has been ignored by the core fan base. Clash at the Castle embodies that well, and we’ll get there when it comes to the main event, but the highly anticipated event in front of 62,215 people, according to WrestleTix, was an opportunity to make a huge statement. Instead, it delivered a good but not great show. Let’s dig into this six-match card.
Note: (c) denotes champion heading into the match.
Bianca Belair, Alexa Bliss and Asuka vs. Damage Control (Bayley vs. Dakota Kai and Iyo Sky)
This was a solid opening match, and from the opening bell, the crowd set the tone for the entire show. The audience went into a classic chant of ‘hey Bayley,’ but, now a heel, Bayley did a solid job of playing off the crowd and tried to maintain heel heat. This was a fine match, and Dakota Kai and Iyo Sky did a fine job of showcasing themselves to people who did not watch their work in NXT. The match ended they way it should have. Bayley pinned Raw Women’s Champion Bianca Belair and earned herself a future title match — probably at the next premium live event, Extreme Rules.
Intercontinental Championship: Gunther (c) vs. Sheamus
This was easily the match of the night. From the jump, Gunther’s faction, Imperium, and Sheamus’ faction, The Brawling Brutes, went at each other while Gunther and Sheamus just stood there and stared at each other. It was fantastic and showed how no-nonsense Gunther is and how motivated Sheamus was. You could also tell the two wrestlers wanted to put on a good showing, knowing they were the only match with two European stars. The crowd was with these guys the whole way, and they brought it, especially in the physicality department.
For those unaware of Gunther, the sight of Sheamus’ chest is a common one in his matches — and can often be worst. There wasn’t much need to get anymore complex with the story. Sheamus tried to match Gunther’s physicality but ultimately fell short. The match does a good job of building up Gunther as an unbeatable force, and it helps endear Sheamus even more to the audience — the broadcast sticking with Sheamus, so we could see the crowd giving him a standing ovation was a nice touch. I also love the clothesline finish. A fitting ending to a hard hitting battle.
SmackDown Women’s Championship: Liv Morgan (c) vs. Shayna Baszler
Another simple story, but with less than stellar results. This was a fine match. Liv Morgan and Shayna Baszler continued the story from their build where the former used her MMA background to target Morgan’s arm, which Ronda Rousey had done previously in SummerSlam. Morgan continues to be the underdog champion who claws her way back and manages to survive against a stronger competitor. Crowd reactions have been mixed for Morgan, and it does present worry if WWE continues to stick with this direction for her character. But an eventual rematch against Rousey will be interesting to see if there will be any more development in her character.
Edge and Rey Mysterio vs. The Judgement Day (Finn Bálor and Damian Priest)
A lot of strange psychology in this match. Dominik Mysterio was constantly trying to help his dad and Edge win the match but with heel tactics. He would distract the ref or take out Bálor or Priest when the ref wasn’t looking. Of course, Dominik did turn heel after the match, but Rey and Edge weren’t unopposed to how Dominik was helping them out. The match had some fun spots. Edge spearing Damian Priest through the ropes was a well executed spot from the 48-year-old. Rhea Ripley also, once again, beat up on Dominik, which might be part of his heel turn?
It appeared from the post-match celebration Dominik isn’t too keen with how close his dad and Edge are, and perhaps he feels he is being left out and not given enough credit? Credit to Dominik, he didn’t low blow his dad like he did Edge, so that’s nice of him. It would have been preferable to have the cameras catch Dominik rip off his “Mysterios” tank top to further symbolize his disassociation from his father.
It was an odd way to execute a heel turn, but a disassociation from his father could do well for Dominik — it would at least be something different. What is clear is The Judgement Day could use a meaningful win, unless WWE wants to relegate them to enhancement group, but knowing Levesque’s fondness for these wrestlers, that feels unlikely.
Seth Rollins vs. Matt Riddle
In the go-home episode of Raw, Seth Rollins and Matt Riddle brought up some real-life events. It started with Riddle saying he’d show there is only one “man” in the house. Becky Lynch — Rollins’ wife — has a popular nickname in “The Man.” This led Rollins to bring up Riddle’s divorce that finalized in 2022 and started when his ex-wife had accused him of neglecting their children. Rollins later brought up in an interview with BT Sport’s Ariel Helwani where he brought up Lisa Riddle and her social media attacks toward Lynch.
You compound this with Riddle’s sexual assault allegations, and it presents a lot of complicated factors. Riddle was the babyface in the match. He’s been presented as such throughout his time in WWE, even with the allegations, and some fans are willing to focus on the in-ring performance and ignore things that happen outside of the ring — Cleveland Browns fans are seemingly taking a similar approach with Deshaun Watson.
Rollins came out in Elton John inspired gear, and he’s such an entertaining wrestler the crowd can’t help but cheer for him. The match was intense, due to the build-up of their feud. The match went a bit longer because of the intensity, and there were few lulls in the match, more than there should have been.
Undisputed Universal Championship: Roman Reigns (c) vs. Drew McIntyre
The crowd was into this match before it even started, most helped by Drew McIntyre’s old theme music, “Broken Dreams,” playing for his entrance. Even with an average match between McIntyre and Roman Reigns, the crowd was into every moment and really wanted to see McIntyre pull off the victory. But Solo Sikoa from NXT 2.0 came in and helped Reigns win the match. Sikoa is the brother of The Usos and cousin to Reigns, so his involvement seemingly confirms he has joined The Bloodline.
The finish felt like a booking decision McMahon would come up with. A screwy finish to prevent the babyface from a huge win, just to disappoint the crowd, and this, supposedly, will bring more heat to the heel. Well, years of WWE losing fans should be proof this is not an effective strategy to garner heel heat or make new stars. I’ll get more into where Reigns should go after this match on another day, but this should end McIntyre’s chase for the title, right?
If McIntyre wasn’t going to win in the United Kingdom, then there’s not logical reason for him to win in a future match. A victory for the former WWE Champion would have been an interesting statement to show those who have tuned out from WWE that things are truly different. Instead, Reigns won and kept the status quo for the company.
Also, what was with the Tyson Fury segment? The current WBC and The Ring heavyweight champion was in attendance, and he provided a fun moment where he clobbered Austin Theory in his attempt to cash-in his Money in the Bank briefcase, which further illustrates how little WWE has confidence in Theory and only see him as a joke. But after the match, Fury comes to the ring, shakes Reigns’ hand and then does a sing-along with McIntyre? It was an odd way to end a show and felt more like an end of a house show or for something when the cameras cut off.
It also kind of hurt McIntyre, exposing him as a lesser star to Fury. The two have talked about a match in a WWE ring, and that’s the most alluring thing, but he is a big star, so it may be something fans would want to see again. Considering he was reportedly paid $15 million for his Crown Jewel match in 2019, it’s unlikely Fury would say no to an offer.
Overall, Clash at the Castle was a fine show. For people who have tuned out to the product in the last five years, WWE has shown incredible growth, but for fans who have tuned out in the past decade, not much as changed. The worry is WWE sees how hot Saturday’s crowd was and thinks that’s how things will always be. It won’t be. The company needs to book better stories and deliver with hot stories. The philosophy of not giving the audience what they want to generate heat has not been a fruitful strategy. Those in the mid-card and lower mid-card need to have their credibility built back up, so there is a perception of forward momentum for everyone on the roster. If not, the “honeymoon” phase of Levesque’s creative tenure could fall off sooner rather than later.