By Will Pruett
There are moments in wrestling I find it very hard to be critical of. When Daniel Bryan won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 30, I wasn’t thinking of the weird and awkward way he ended up in the match. When I look back on Sami Zayn winning the NXT Championship and the hug he shared with Kevin Owens immediately after, I don’t automatically criticize the heel turn that would occur moments later. When Shawn Michaels’ boyhood dream came true, I didn’t think about an Iron Man Match lacking in substance. I simply cannot be critical of moments that pull at my heartstrings and this show had a couple of them.
The opening match featured my favorite moment of the night. When Sasha Banks’ music hit and she was all smiles, my heart jumped. Could this actually happen? When Sasha paused, I was on the edge of my seat. When Bayley’s music hit and the crowd greeted her with a massive reaction, I couldn’t hold back tears. I can’t quite pinpoint what it is about Bayley that draws such emotion out of me, but it happened again here. Bayley’s WWE main roster debut was spectacular.
After the match, seeing the pure joy on the faces of Sasha and Bayley, I was in awe. This is why I watch wrestling. It’s not for simulated violence. It’s not for contrived stories featuring authority figures. It’s for the thrill of seeing an athlete I care about achieve their dream.
The match Bayley debuted in provided a good first chapter of the physical feud between Sasha Banks and Charlotte. I’m interested to see what WWE does with a full slate of shows going into SummerSlam, but I assume Sasha vs. Charlotte is the direction. WWE has a chance to do with Sasha and Charlotte what they did with them (plus Becky) at WrestleMania. WWE can make the women a main event. They know these two can deliver.
A couple matches later, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn had the final chapter (for now) of their epic feud. This is a feud I remember experiencing first in ROH in 2010. It moved through the American indie scene for years to come. When Owens found himself sharing a roster with Sami Zayn in NXT, it continued again. Now, on WWE’s main roster (and on the Raw roster, if you want to be specific), it’s happening again.
Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens are both wrestlers I can’t help but have an emotional attachment to. Having watched them come up as a tag team, create the original buzz around PWG, and redefine each other’s careers, I have to feel feelings about them. It was downright surreal to see them perform in front of 100,000 people at WrestleMania. It was equally surreal to see them finally have an epic encounter in WWE.
With Owens and Zayn in WWE, timing always seemed to be against them. They had some flourishes of greatness, but whole matches of it seemed to escape their grasp. Owens and Zayn worked against each other hurt. Owens and Zayn worked in odd areas of the card (after the Enzo injury at Payback). They never quite reached their potential until this match.
Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens told a masterful story of two men too determined to hurt each other to quit. Zayn wanted vengeance. Owens wanted to move on. It was beautiful. The last 5 minutes of this match are as good as anything WWE has produced in years. Zayn finally pinning Owens brought out even more feelings in me. For the first time since 2010, it felt like Owens and Zayn were finally through with each other, not forever but for now.
When wrestling gives me one moment like this, I have refuse to be critical. When it gives me two, I rejoice. This was some of the best storytelling professional wrestling can offer. This was some of the best entertainment one can ask for.
For the first time since the group formed in 2012, a match was comprised entirely of every member of The Shield. Dean Ambrose defended his WWE Championship against Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. The group that defines the current era of WWE was set to clash without distraction. This was one of the most anticipated matches of the last few years for WWE. Fans yearned for it at the last two WrestleManias. Everyone wondered when The Shield would finally have this moment together. Considering how excited fans were for it, this match really let me down.
The build up for the match was disappointing. The WWE Draft stood in the way of WWE making true progress with this story, as did the suspension of Roman Reigns. Here’s the thing, WWE didn’t need to move this storyline forward. They needed to look back. Before this match took place they rolled a fantastic video on the history of The Shield with the members and notable names in wrestling discussing the faction. Where was this on Raw or Smackdown? Why not give 30 minutes of TV time to a mini-documentary building up a main event like this one?
WWE didn’t just let fans down with the build up, they let themselves down. WWE makes amazing documentaries (sometimes even with facts!). Where were these skills during the last five weeks?
When entrances for this match began, fans were greeted by Stephanie McMahon, Mick Foley, Shane McMahon, and Daniel Bryan. Did we really need four authority figures at ringside? The focus of this match then became about the awkward concept of brand/team pride. Wrestlers were shown watching intently in their brand locker rooms. WWE decided Raw and Smackdown (the arbitrary titles of shows they picked decades ago) were more important than Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Roman Reigns.
With this, Seth, Dean, and Roman tried to fight. They had a good-to-great in-ring match. It never hit the chaotic gear reminiscent of The Shield’s early six man tag matches I had hoped for. The match never really felt like it mattered. I can’t justify why a wrestler cares about the show they are on or why someone would consider those on their roster a “teammate.” This story overshadowed a good effort from three important wrestlers.
WWE didn’t do right by Ambrose, Rollins, and Reigns and I cannot figure out why. Why was the Smackdown roster lifting Ambrose over their heads in celebration more important than The Shield colliding at last? WWE has some messed up priorities and they were on display here.
While I have other observations on the show to mention, time is limited, so please excused the brevity of these thoughts:
– The main issue in my mind with Dean Ambrose as WWE champion is who he faces at SummerSlam. Currently, I assume Rollins vs. Reigns will headline the Raw portion of the show and Styles vs. Cena will happen on the Smackdown portion. Does Ambrose make Styles vs. Cena a triple threat? I doubt it. What does Dean do?
– Cena, Enzo, and Cass vs. The Club was fun. Styles’ tailbone has to be in some serious pain today. I like the idea of Cena getting his win back without winning a one-on-one match. Their third match should be amazing.
– Rusev destroying wrestlers in their new United States themed gear is fun.
– New Day vs. Wyatt Family never charmed me the way I expected it to. Xavier Woods displaying some great fire in the match saved it for me. Woods could be a great major star one day.
– Natalya vs. Becky Lynch was decent. I am overjoyed to have seen two women’s matches on this show and to have seen them both get time.
– Randy Orton wearing pants was the underrated story of this show.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email me at email@example.com.
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