By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
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WWE SummerSlam Hits
Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship: It’s over and we can finally move on. The saga that should have wrapped up back in April finally came to a merciful end with Reigns beating Lesnar to win the Universal Championship. I give Vince McMahon and the creative forces credit for pulling a fast one on the Brooklyn crowd by teasing them with Braun Strowman cashing in his Money in the Bank contract. It distracted the fans from hijacking the match and WWE was even able to rush off the air before reality hit home that Strowman would not be cashing in on this night. Of course, the fact that they had to go to such lengths to avoid Reigns being booed is telling and only buys them one night. What happens tonight in Brooklyn when Roman makes his first appearance as the new champion? And even if they were able to sway some fans in Roman’s favor over Lesnar, will those fans stick with him when/if Lesnar is out of the picture or will the company be right back where it started with fans rejecting the force fed top babyface?
AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe for the WWE Championship: The DQ finish came off really well and didn’t feel like a major letdown or an easy way out as most DQ finishes do. The match was physical and entertaining, and Joe taunting Styles by addressing his wife over the house mic drew a strong reaction and led to an understandable heated response from Styles. It is fair to question why Joe would choose to taunt Styles over the mic in this manner when he should have been focused on winning the match, but I simply rationalized it as a heel getting cocky. Are they heating this feud up with the goal of putting the rematch inside the Hell in a Cell structure?
Alexa Bliss vs. Ronda Rousey for the Raw Women’s Championship: The dominant win for Rousey surprised me. I assumed that something would happen to give Bliss some cheap offense to make the match a little more suspenseful, but they took a different approach. It was very nice to see Natalya appear for the first time since her father’s untimely death. Meanwhile, the Bellas getting booed was no surprise and it would be great if Nikki turned heel heading into the rumored match with Rousey at WWE Evolution. I’m not holding my breath, though, as the company positions her as a beloved face of their reality shows and their female empowerment branding. For what it’s worth, I don’t think the reality shows should be an issue. After all, Miz & Mrs. show is doing great numbers even though Miz and Maryse are cast as heels on standard WWE programming.
Dolph Ziggler (w/Drew McIntyre) vs. Seth Rollins (w/Dean Ambrose) for the Intercontinental Championship: The second half of the match was highly entertaining. Rollins taking the IC Title back got the show off to a strong start. This is Monday Morning Quarterbacking all the way in that I never would have asked this question going into the show, but I came away wondering if they would have been better off having this match and Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz swap spots on the card.
“The Demon” Finn Balor vs. Baron Corbin: The Demon persona made this a crowd pleasing squash win for Balor. I hope they come up with a creative reason to explain why he doesn’t use the Demon persona all the time given that he always wins while in Demon mode.
Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz: A minor Hit for a quality match that failed to garner the live crowd support. These two deserved better. I can’t remember a crowd that had so many fans sitting on their hands during Bryan’s Yes! routine since it took off. I knew they were in trouble when Bryan punching Miz in the face failed to garner much of a reaction. The creative approach with Maryse sitting in the front row with a baby carriage was damaging. It sent the message that there was a corny finish coming even though the one they used wasn’t so bad and had nothing to do with the baby carriage. On a positive note, Miz going over was the right move since it prolongs the feud. It’s worth noting that it would also be the right move on the off chance that Bryan is leaving the company when his deal expires on September 1.
Bludgeon Brothers vs. New Day for the Smackdown Tag Titles: A minor Hit for a solid match. The DQ finish wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world and yet it felt necessary. The story of the match was that New Day was actually competitive with the usually dominant Bludgeon Brothers to the point that the tag champs opted to take the DQ finish. This obviously sets up the need for a rematch and hopefully creative will find a way to make Bludgeon Brothers look like killers on television while having them work more competitive matches like this one in pay-per-view matches.
WWE SummerSlam Misses
Carmella vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch in a Triple Threat for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: The match quality was Hit worthy. Carmella really stepped up her in-ring game and didn’t stand out in a negative way. The Miss goes to the apparent miscasting of Becky Lynch as the heel and Charlotte as the babyface in the post match angle. Not only was Lynch made out to be a poor loser, but Charlotte cried after her best friend attacked her. In other words, this wasn’t scripted with the goal of having Lynch cheered by the fans. And while I would love to see Vince McMahon react accordingly by making the necessary tweaks that would cast Lynch and Charlotte properly, his history in recent years suggests that he’s not going to budge.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Jeff Hardy for the U.S. Championship: The match was hurt by Randy Orton even though he never got involved. Fans assumed that Orton would interfere in this match and thus they never got invested. It would have been hard to take Hardy’s chances of winning seriously even if they had banned Orton from ringside. Nakamura just won the title and Hardy has been a weekly punching bag for Orton, so he entered the match without much momentum. I must ask whether the Swanton Bomb onto the ring apron was really worth it. Yes, it’s a big show and Hardy is a big spot wrestler, but at some point the company should step in and save these guys from themselves.
Braun Strowman vs. Kevin Owens for the Money in the Bank briefcase: The squash match was great for Braun and not so great for Owens. It’s been tough to watch Owens take crazy bumps throughout his program with Strowman and be defined down in the process. The element of danger that existed with Owens early in his run is long gone. He’s become a pest heel and I hope the company has a plan in place to get him back on track. Owens is a gifted talker and a phenomenal all around talent, so it’s not like he doesn’t have the skills to bounce back, but he needs the right creative support. It’s worth noting that they could erase a lot of the damage by turning Owens babyface if they have a strong enough angle in mind.
SummerSlam Kickoff Show: I realize that WWE executives love to boast about the average number of programming hours that WWE Network subscribers consume each month. And going with needlessly long Kickoff Shows and overly long pay-per-view events is the easiest way to drive that number. But company officials have to know that they are sending the message that the pre-shows are completely missable. Cedric Alexander and Drew Gulak worked hard in the cruiserweight title match, but the entire division is completely ignored on Raw and Smackdown these days so the vast majority of fans had no reason to care. The mixed tag match was booked in a way that will presumably lead to a rematch on Smackdown. The Raw Tag Title match featured solid work with the same finish we’ve been seeing in B-Team matches on Raw. Once the pre-show was over, I felt like I’d just wasted two hours of my life and watched three matches that felt like they belonged on their respective brand’s television shows. Is it really worth burning out the live crowd and fans at home just to boast about long the average subscriber watches the network? Well, they obviously feel like it is, but they should at least work for it by giving viewers something that feels worthy of their time investment.
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