By Jason Powell
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WWE SummerSlam Hits
Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman vs. Samoa Joe vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship: There were high hopes for the battle of the big men, and they somehow managed to blow away some high expectations. I suspected creative forces might limit the exchanges between Lesnar and Strowman, but they took a much better approach by having Strowman manhandle Lesnar by putting him through two broadcast tables. It was a terrific way to make viewers want to see more from the two of them going forward. And while WWE may strike while the iron is hot by going right to that match, I’d actually prefer to see them save it for the WrestleMania main event. There’s no bigger money match involving members of WWE’s regular roster than Lesnar vs. Strowman. It’s a long wait, but I have no doubt that Paul Heyman could do a great job of delivering promos in which he dodges Strowman by saying that he had his opportunity and lost in the four-way, and thus there’s no need for Strowman to get a title match at this time. Strowman winning the Royal Rumble would be fairly predictable, but if done properly it would be a win that fans clamor for as they hope to finally see the big showdown match between Lesnar and Strowman.
Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose for the Raw Tag Championship: Rollins and Ambrose went from spinning their wheels as singles wrestlers to being one of the hotter acts in the company thanks to the terrific storyline build to their reunion. The payoff of the two winning the tag titles felt somewhat premature, yet it also provided a feel good moment at a time when the show really needed one. It was surprising that we didn’t see more moments where it felt like the duo could self destruct. Even so, this was a really fun match. Major props to Cesaro for popping the beachball. I’m not justifying the idea of bringing a beachball to a show, but I will say that there were plenty of down times earlier in the card where I would have been more forgiving of some beachball silliness. Why those fans waited until this match to play around with beachballs is just beyond me.
AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens for the U.S. Championship with Shane McMahon as special referee: A very good match that was well laid out in terms of making compelling use of Shane in his referee role. Owens snapping on Shane over not getting a three count was very well done and one can only assume that this will continue on Smackdown given the buzz that they are setting up a singles match between the two. It will be interesting to see where Styles goes from here. I mentioned last night in members’ audio that it would be fun to see Styles issue a U.S. Open Challenge on Tuesday only to have the “Glorious” music hit.
Big E and Xavier Woods vs. Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso for the Smackdown Tag Titles: The most pleasant surprise of the night. The surprise was not that New Day and the Usos had a good match. Rather, it’s that they were given plenty of time on the Kickoff Show. The near falls were terrific and the title change was a pleasant surprise. I was especially surprised to see heels win all three Kickoff Show matches. I enjoyed the early work of Woods as Austin Creed in TNA, but he’s been more of a talker and trombone playing cornerman since New Day formed. This stands out as his best in-ring performance in WWE. Everyone involved did a hell of a job and I like the idea of the Usos as champions with New Day back in chase mode.
Randy Orton vs. Rusev: This was exactly what it needed to be. The main card was off to a rough start and the idea of a long match between two wrestlers who lack a quality storyline issue would have continued the downward spiral. Instead, Orton’s quick RKO out of nowhere was a crowd pleaser. It will be interesting to see if this feud continues or where they go with Rusev. It seemed like the plan was for him to return as a monster heel, yet he’s had back to back pay-per-view losses and has zero momentum.
Alexa Bliss vs. Sasha Banks for the Raw Women’s Championship: A good match with a strange finish. Corey Graves seemed to be telling the right story on commentary when he said that Sasha’s injured shoulder was preventing her from applying her finisher properly. However, the match ended just seconds later with Bliss tapping out to the Bank Statement. The finish caught the broadcast team and the live crowd off guard, and it didn’t come off any better on television. That said, the wrestlers worked hard and the match was entertaining despite the clunky finish.
Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt: A minor Hit for the Demon entrance. The actual match was solid, yet also forgettable on a six-hour show. It will be interesting to see where both men go from here. The Demon persona is usually a feud ender, but they are early enough in this program where it feels like they are just getting started.
Akira Tozawa vs. Neville for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship: A minor Hit for match quality. The atmosphere was better than it was for the opener, but they still played to a half empty building. It’s odd that WWE chose to end Neville’s long reign as champion only to give him the belt back six nights later. It doesn’t feel like they got much buzz out of it, nor did Tozawa gain enough to really justify the change in retrospect. Sadly, interest in the cruiserweight division continues to dwindle. If WWE isn’t going to do anything with their UK division, then how about introducing some of the excellent UK cruiserweights to the division along with creative forces who don’t treat it like an afterthought.
WWE SummerSlam Misses
Overall show: As good as the main event was, it was not enough to make this feel like a high end big four pay-per-view event. The typically hot Brooklyn crowd didn’t seem invested in a good portion of the main card’s undercard matches. In fact, the fist two hours of the main card felt slow and uninspired despite a couple of title changes. Most of those early matches suffered from poor storyline support and thus you can’t blame the fans for not showing much enthusiasm.
Jinder Mahal vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE Championship: Jinder mentioned in a backstage promo (the same promo he always delivers) that he’s been champion for 91 days. Yet somehow, the company has already run the finish with Singh Brothers attacking or distracting Mahal’s opponents prior to JInder performing the Cravate into the ground. The lazy approach to his pay-per-view match finishes is putting more heat on the company than Mahal. The finish felt premature in that I expected Nakamura to kick out and continue even if the end result was going to remain the same. This never reached the point of feeling worthy of the semi main event slot on SummerSlam. I continue to hope that WWE will get it right with Mahal by shaking up the formula. He delivers a variation of the same promo every week and his big matches have the same finish. My guess is that the Singh Brothers finish is by design in that they are setting up Mahal vs. Nakamura in a Hell in a Cell match with the idea being that the brothers can’t interfere. The problem with that is that fans have been burned by outside interference in HIAC matches too frequently that there’s no reason to think that the brothers or even Great Khali won’t find a way to save him again.
John Cena vs. Baron Corbin: One of WWE’s biggest stars worked the opening match of SummerSlam, yet the crowd was downright flat compared to the NXT Takeover crowd during the opening match between Andrade Almas and Johnny Gargano in the same venue the night before. Corbin is said to be in the doghouse and nothing about this match suggested otherwise. Cena worked a mixed tag match at WrestleMania, and now the SummerSlam opener with Corbin. Granted, the mixed tag had the engagement payoff, and perhaps the original idea for the SummerSlam match was for Cena to give Corbin a boost, but WWE needs to get Cena involved in more meaningful programs on their bigger events.
Naomi vs. Natalya for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: A decent match that failed to connect with the fans aside from Naomi’s entrance. And you can’t blame the fans given that the build to the match was more about Carmella and the Money in the Bank contract than the two wrestlers involved. It’s nice to see veteran Natalya win her first title in six years, but it’s a shame that this match didn’t get better storyline support. And how odd was it that the match was built around the threat of Carmella cashing in, yet she simply watched the match backstage and never even came out to tease a cash-in?
Big Cass vs. Big Show with Enzo Amore in a shark cage: Enzo’s entrance and his early mic work popped the crowd, but then his promo overstayed its welcome. It was hard to tell if the crowd never recovered from Enzo’s promo or if they just didn’t care about the match. The idea of putting Enzo inside the shark cage so that he could strip, lube himself up, and escape through the bars was bizarre, especially when his involvement post escape was simply taking a big boot to the face.
Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, and Jason Jordan vs. The Miz, Bo Dallas, and Curtis Axel: The wrestlers were put in a bad spot by working a match in front of a nearly empty building. The decision to open the doors to Barclays Center at the same time the Kickoff Show started was baffling. While it’s possible there’s a good explanation, the situation created a lousy atmosphere for the first two Kickoff Show matches while also frustrating a lot of paying ticketholders. Meanwhile, the outcome of the match left me assuming that the babyfaces will get their win back in a rematch on tonight’s Raw in front of a bigger crowd on television and in the building.
The Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features Kenny Herzog discussing his journalism career, his new Outside Interference podcast, doing a feature story on CM Punk, pro wrestling in the pandemic, WWE talk on Retribution, The Hurt Business, Roman Reigns as a heel, and much more...