By Will Pruett
Writing about wrestling is weird. It requires me to watch wrestling in a way most don’t. I look at most of wrestling with an analytical eye searching for narratives, both apparent and hidden. I look to understand the overall arc of a WWE story, even though we haven’t even seen the second week of it. It’s a strange way to spend my allotted time for entertainment. Most people don’t have to sit through the entirety of a show like SummerSlam (and its pre-show). Most people can just watch the matches they want to see later and ignore filler. This isn’t a privilege I get.
SummerSlam was a perfect example of WWE sabotaging their own show through an overwhelming amount of content and a totally random show structure.
Let’s get into the amount of content first. If you tuned into the SummerSlam pre-show, then watched the standard SummerSlam card all the way through live, you spent six hours in front of the television. This is just two hours short of most people’s standard work day. In this amount of time, one could marathon an entire season of a TV show, watch Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King almost two times over, or spend some fantastic quality time with their family. This show was far too long. It was absurdly long. This is not a sustainable practice for WWE’s major shows.
More galling than the length of the show was the overall structure of it. Let’s just look at the main card for this one. WWE had four major matches that could have main evented last night. John Cena vs. AJ Styles, Finn Bálor vs. Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton, and Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks all could have easily closed out the (13 match) show. WWE produced a supercard rivaling some of their biggest shows ever. Two of these four major matches were in the very good-to-transcendent quality range. Somehow, this show was bad.
How did WWE take the greatness of AJ Styles vs. John Cena and Finn Bálor vs. Seth Rollins, put them on the same show, and somehow still produce a bad show? This should be impossible.
SummerSlam felt like each match was pulled out of a hat at random. There was no ebb and flow to the show. There was no gradual build. It was like watching a DVD of random matches pulled from modern WWE, not like watching a supershow come together.
The structure of a wrestling show is important just like the structure of a story is important. A good story (in the classic Aristotelian sense) builds. Each action escalates until we reach the climax of the story, usually just before the end. This is what we all expect from a good wrestling story and even a good wrestling match. It’s also what we tend to expect from a good wrestling card.
Look at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II for an example of a card with escalating action all the way through. It built upon itself constantly. Each match increased in importance over the matches before it until the three title matches closed the show (one could argue they’re equal in importance or close to it). It didn’t meander from opening match comedy to serious blood feuds and back again.
SummerSlam lacked this kind of consistency. It followed the ultra-serious end of Cena vs. Styles with testicle-based humor, then expected fans to get serious again for Ambrose vs. Ziggler. It slotted the Universal Championship (what is supposed to be the top title on Raw) underneath the US Championship, even though both Universal Championship contenders have beaten the challenger for the US Championship in the last couple months. WWE gave us two non-traditional finishes in a row in the two final matches presented.
By structuring the card the way they did, WWE exhausted fans. WWE made it so fans couldn’t emotionally connect to the struggles of the stars WWE wants them to love and/or hate. WWE prevented their fans from developing the passionate feelings needed to cheer or boo with all of their might. WWE pushed their fans into distraction, which caused an otherwise fantastic Bálor vs. Rollins contest to suffer from a crowd complaining about an abundance of the color red on a belt.
This was self-sabotage. This was WWE’s inability to help themselves. This was taking what could have been a great three hour pay-per-view (or a completely amazing two-and-a-half hour show) and inflating it to six hours. Imagine if SummerSlam had been structured like this:
- Enzo and Cass vs. Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens
- Rusev vs. Roman Reigns for the United States Championship
- Nikki Bella’s glorious return in the Smackdown six woman tag
- AJ Styles vs. John Cena
- Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks for the Women’s Championship
- Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler for the WWE Championship
- Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton
- Finn Bálor vs. Seth Rollins for the Universal Championship
Every match on this show would matter and have something memorable for fans. Championships and stars are presented throughout, with the top three titles in WWE being in the top four matches on the show. Nothing would seem like a total letdown or built-in filler match. Nothing on this version of the show would have to change from how it was done at SummerSlam. It’s almost like this card could tell a quality story.
WWE gave in to their worst tendencies when they put SummerSlam together and they made a bad show out of a standout card.
And now for some random thoughts:
– I don’t mind the design of the WWE Universal Championship. I certainly wouldn’t try to ruin a match because of the color red the way the fans in the arena did during Seth Rollins vs. Finn Bálor. I enjoy the way all of the top titles in WWE currently have a unified design. The Universal, WWE, and Women’s Championships all seem equal as top titles. I expect this to continue somehow with the Smackdown Women’s Championship.
– The crowd rebelling on Rollins vs. Bálor is more of an indictment on the last 20 years of WWE storytelling. WWE, for 20 years, has encouraged fans to rebel against the oppressive corporate regime. Well, when the corporate regime makes a special appearance to introduce a new belt fans may not like (and most longtime fans just hate new titles for no reason), WWE’s systematic encouragement of rebellion comes back to haunt them. Look at the NXT Championship, which is easily the ugliest title in WWE today. No one boos during NXT Championship matches. NXT has made it their ethos to respect and thank fans constantly (#WeAreNXT) and when you respect fans, they respect you.
I’ve written a ton about how WWE’s disrespect of fans has lead to fans rebelling against and rejecting shows and has lead to the current Roman Reigns backlash. This is nothing new, but WWE continues down this path far too often. Remember, the authority figure who introduced the Universal Championship said “You are merely the blind sheep who follow. You exist to serve us. We are the providers and protectors. We are the leaders, the chiefs, and the generals. We are the absolute power. We own you” just a couple months ago at WrestleMania.
– Both Bálor vs. Rollins and Styles vs. Cena were standout matches deserving of a ton of praise. Either one could have closed a satisfying two or three hour show to a massive standing ovation. A show with two matches like this on it should never feel like a bad show, but this one does.
– The finish of Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton was certainly different. I wouldn’t have closed the show with Orton bleeding buckets of blood in the middle of the ring. I would have put it on second to last, giving everyone another major moment to close the show. I don’t mind establishing Brock as a monster, but I wonder where it could lead. Is Brock Lesnar vs. Shane McMahon a necessary match (“YES!” the unrepentant fan of Shane McMahon I tend to be has to say)? Where does Orton go after Brock Lesnar has drained (what I think was) all the blood from his body? This match leaves me with a ton of questions as we move forward and, given Lesnar’s schedule, I’m not sure we’ll get many answers.
– Charlotte regaining the Women’s Championship from Sasha Banks confuses me. Why did WWE have Sasha win the title on the first Raw just to drop it back. WWE rushed Sasha’s story, robbing fans of the opportunity to fully emotionally connect with her. They then rushed through her title reign, which could cause people to lose faith in her. I’m unsure of how WWE goes forward with the Women’s Division on Raw, as there is a void of top babyfaces. I don’t think Bayley would be a good choice for this slot, unless the plan is for her to come in and lose. Raw is in an odd situation.
– Enzo Amore is great at opening big shows.
– Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler was the most mid-card-ish WWE Championship match since Rollins vs. Kane. It’s not just Ziggler dragging this to the mid card. It’s Ambrose, who doesn’t seem important at all. Dean Ambrose is not the kind of character one could build a brand around. This isn’t to say he couldn’t become this character, but Dean Ambrose isn’t a developed character despite spending almost four years on the main roster.
– The non-match that was Rusev vs. Roman Reigns didn’t upset me. Its placement on the card did. WWE knew the finishes on this show ahead of time and they had the ability to slot this earlier. This was awkward at best.
– The New Day vs. Anderson and Gallows has not been a good feud. It did not seem like a good feud on this show. I hope it ends and testicle-based humor finds its way off of my television as well.
– Nikki Bella’s return was an honest-to-goodness great moment on this show. She instantly enhances the Smackdown women’s division and had a pretty great comeback performance. I know some were critical of this match more than the Charlotte vs. Sasha match, but I was far more impressed with the efforts of Naomi, Carmella, Becky Lynch, Nikki Bella, Natalya, and Alexa Bliss.
– Cesaro and Sheamus are both doing some really great work and I believe they’ll continue to in the best of seven series. Hopefully both guys seem like bigger stars coming out of this series.
Much like WrestleMania 32 is forever the WrestleMania that exists outside of the WWE canon, SummerSlam 2016 will be the show where WWE snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. They set up a show with four major main events and two of them delivered epic matches. How did this show end up being so bad?
WWE is like a student who brilliantly answers two random questions on a test, proving they can do the work and do it well, but then writes random gibberish instead of answers everywhere else. This student still fails, even though they know how to do things right.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.