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On Friday in my SummerSlam preview I thought that SummerSlam had the potential to be one of the best shows of 2016. Holy s--t was I wrong! I can't believe how badly WWE screwed this event up, the number one issue being time management. With the exception of AJ vs Cena, every big match felt incredibly rushed, which was amazing when you consider that the show was SIX HOURS LONG!!!!!
Brock Lesnar vs Randy Orton: **1/4
The match started out fine, like most Brock matches it was a wild and physical brawl. Then they either rushed into the finish or Brock really went crazy and made Orton bleed profusely for real. I'm guessing the former.
I expected Brock to win the match, but they were really hammered by time constraints and they basically did about five minutes of the match and then rushed into the finishing segment. I think if this match went 20 minutes it would be much better because you would believe that Lesnar had just worn down Orton into nothing. But since we are so accustomed to main event matches being 20+ minutes, a quick match with Lesnar winning by stoppage seems really unconvincing.
The Rusev vs Roman Reigns bit was, in my opinion, the sign that this show was really coming apart. If they were running out of time they should have cut out some of the recaps and maybe the six-man tag match. What we got was just absolutely pointless brawling and Reigns getting really mad at Rusev for apparently getting married. It also highlighted an issue with Reigns and that he lacks a certain charisma in the ring that prevents him from connecting with fans in the designed way. If Reigns was really going crazy, he should have been pushing referees, punching security guards, maiming Rusev left and right. Instead he just kind of casually strolled around the ring inflicting his will on Rusev. The crowd might have been going crazy, but we don't know because they were muted. Brock Lesnar gets over not because he buzzsaws through people and kicks a ton of ass, but because he is so convicing when he does it. Reigns is not nearly at that level.
Finn Balor vs Seth Rollins: ***1/2
I picked Rollins for this match, but Balor winning makes sense as well. It immediately establishes him as a top star in the company and it gives the Universal Championship a good start since it will seem fresh because it's on such a new star. Rollins can take the loss without losing that much and he and Balor have the potential to have a legendary feud, even if it hasn't gotten off to a terrific start.
The issues with the match were cosmetic. The crowd was distracted in the beginning because of the admittedly horrible design of the Universal Championship; although they eventually got focused on the match. However, it also didn't help that the match went on third to last, behind the US Championship and the Lesnar vs Orton match. You want to establish the title as a big deal? Put it in the main event! Certainly don't put it behind another title match for a championship that is already on RAW. Lastly, I felt like it was a bit rushed and they didn't get enough time to tell a good story. How can a show that was this long have so many matches that feel rushed?
Dolph Ziggler vs Dean Ambrose: ***1/4
A disappointing match to say the least; I don't why WWE wanted to make the WWE Championship seem like a mid-card title, but clearly they feel that way because they booked this match like it was one. What is really sad is that Ziggler and Ambrose worked really hard to get this storyline over and make themselves seem like a big deal; only to be mostly rejected by WWE. The match itself I thought was fine; but the crowd was dead for it and it didn't get enough time to really tell a story.
The whole point of the brand-split was to make SmackDown seem equal, but WWE has tried pretty damn hard to undermine that concept. At the very least the WWE Championship match should have been on second-to-last behind the Universal Championship match. Instead, WWE parked it behind the Universal Championship, the Lesnar vs Orton match, the United States Championship and a throw-away Diva's match. By the time the show ended nobody was thinking about the WWE Championship and that is just horrible show design.
AJ Styles vs John Cena: ****1/4
I thought this match was going to be the best of the weekend and it certainly didn't disappoint in that respect as they had a very good match. WWE didn't mess around and make the right booking choice by giving Styles the clean victory over Cena. Few victories, not even title wins, mean as much. Many different guys have won the WWE Championship over the years, very few have clean victories over Cena.
I do have a complaint about the match and that is that Cena's big matches have become increasingly formulaic. Cena and his opponent chain wrestle a bit, for the first ten minutes or so, and then they spend the remainder of the match; sometimes even for 15-20 minutes, just taking turns hitting high impact moves and kicking out at two. Guys' finishers don't really have a lot of effect and there isn't a lot of psychology in the match because it is just big move, two count, big move, two count, big move, two count etc. It was very exciting to see Cena work a match like this this the first time, but we are now well over a year into this kind of match and it has become too predictable. I only started to really love the match after Cena hit the Attitude Adjustment off of the second rope and AJ kicked out, because that was the first time something truly unexpected happen. If we are looking at Styles' matches from 2016, I liked his match against Reigns at Extreme Rules much better.
Sasha Banks vs Charlotte: **1/2
Not the kind of match they needed to have in this situation. With all the hype going around with Women's division in WWE with the Network special and everything, it would have been really good if they had an excellent match at SummerSlam, but instead they had a mediocre one. I actually thought Banks did exceptionally well in this match and her high spots were done really well, but for some reason Charlotte was all over the place, botching some moves and perhaps even injuring her opponent. I like her as a talent, but she can be carless in the ring and that is something she needs to improve on immediately.
I have to think there is something to Banks losing the championship. Even if she got hurt, that wouldn't have changed the outcome of the match; they would have still had her win the match. I suppose Banks could have been injured and that forced them to rush to a finish, which seems likely because it really did come out of nowhere. I speculated on Twitter the other day that there is a possibly more WWE talents are going to be suspended; but that WWE was holding off on suspending them if they were on the SummerSlam card, so I suppose it is fair to speculate Banks is going to be suspended soon. If not, I don't like that they took the title off of her so soon. The best way to build the championship is to have long title-reigns, not hotshot it around a bunch of times.
The New Day vs Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson: **
Not a particularly important match; really it was just a vehicle for Jon Stewart to be on SummerSlam and for Big E to come back and get the big return pop. I thought it was fine for what it was—WWE also made Anderson and Gallows look fearsome by having them dominate Woods and Kingston and also made Big E seem like a really important wrestler. It also served as a decent rest period for the fans between the Cena/Styles match and the WWE Championship match.
Apollo Crews vs The Miz: **1/4
Quick match that just hastens the decline of the Intercontinental Championship. Crews is a super athlete, but WWE hasn't given him a whole lot to work with; to get him over as a face they need to have him wrestle a heel that really threatens him either physically or mentally. The Miz though, is a heel that nobody takes seriously so it doesn't get anything extra out of Crews. The Miz is a talented guy and there is a role for him in WWE, but I don't think Intercontinental Champion is it.
Enzo and Cass vs Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho: **1/4
Nothing wrong with this match to open the show, although I'm not sure I would have beaten Enzo and Cass to start the show, since the crowd adored them and beating them might have quieted them for a little while. Enzo and Cass wrestle a lot like the way Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns worked when they were a tag team, with Enzo taking a beating until making the tag to Cass, who comes in and lays everyone out. Its clear WWE wants Cass to be a big star, but he will eventually need to do more than just that sequence to work a good match; something that I think hindered Reigns in the beginning of his singles push (he has since gotten much better).
Nikki Bella came out as Eva Marie's replacement and got a big pop. I thought it was interesting they have her still as a heel because you would think they would try and capitalize on the sympathy she generated from recovering from a serious injury. Really this match was a victim of timing more than anything else, it was sandwiched it was already 2 hours and 40 minutes into the main show (a whopping 4 hours and 40 minutes into the whole event) and at that point fans really just want to see the main event matches and go home. A rushed six-man tag team match is really just unnecessary filler at that point. Someone in the crowd held up a sign that read "This show is very long" during this match and I don't think a fan's sign has ever been more accurate at describing the feeling in the building at that time.
Here is a brief review of last night's NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II event:
Austin Aries vs No Way Jose: **1/2
Not much to see here; Jose looks better in the ring than he has in the past; of course working with Austin Aries will do that for you. His stuff looked pretty good, but I'm worried that he is going to be groomed to be just a job guy on the main roster, because that seems like his destiny, just like it was for Adam Rose, Bo Dallas, The Vaudevillians and The Ascension. If that is the goal what is the point of having him in developmental at all? Just call him up to the main roster now instead of bringing back Jinder Mahal to do jobs. Itami coming back and laying out Aries sets up a kind of dream match for fans of Ring of Honor circa 2008. It's been a long road for Itami since he came over from Pro-Wrestling NOAH, but there is no reason why he still can't be a top star in the company.
Ember Moon vs Billie Kaye: *3/4
Simple match just to showcase Ember Moon in her first televised match and it was fine. I like that they are giving her a bit of a character as well, which combined with her athleticism is a nice building block for a future star. I think Billie Kaye has potential as well, but it will be a while before she is capable of wrestling a long-match.
Bobby Roode vs Andrade "Cien" Almas: **1/2
Despite the fact that the NXT shows are often superior to the main roster shows and feature a ton of polished stars ready to main event PPVs right now, it still is technically a developmental organization. For a guy like Almas, it's an important place for him to be because I think he is going to take a while to get acclimated to WWE style. Some wrestlers like Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka can come in and pick up the style right away, but for others, like Itami and Almas, it's going to be a steep learning curve. I like that Triple H said that he couldn't figure out why someone would put a mask on Almas (which he wore in CMLL as La Sombra) and then WWE has him come out wearing freakin' suspenders. Roode is a stud, but everyone already knew that.
The Revival vs Tomaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano: ****
My favorite match of the night. It started off slow with The Revival really working over Ciampa and using every trick in the book to block the tag to Gargano. They then moved onto a lot of cheeky roll-ups and near falls that got the crowd really into that and The Revival stole the victory, but they will likely have another title match. Gargano and Ciampa are excellent individual talents and the more they tag together the better they are going to be better. The Revival, in the ring at least, remind me of Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard; they are not in the same stratosphere when it comes to charisma and promos, but The Revival are going to be stars.
Asuka vs Bayley: ***
Asuka is really good but I think this match proved that she still has something to learn in NXT. I didn't care for her selling that much and the result was that Bayley's offense looked as bad as I've ever seen for a big match. They tried to tell a story but I didn't really buy it; particularly Bayley no-selling Asuka's offense at times, mainly because it takes some of the prestige away from Asuka being the hardest-striker in the division. Some fans probably really liked it, and that is fine—but I personally believe that both women are capable of working better matches.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs Samoa Joe: ***3/4
Interesting match, in the beginning they focused a lot on each man having a background in MMA and working a kind of catch-wrestling style. There is nothing inherently wrong with doing that, but I think fans really wanted to see a brawl between these two, especially because of how hyped the crowd was during the ring entrances. Towards the end they started to kick the hell out of each other and the audience came alive, but I thought the finish was a bit sudden and kind of sloppy.
Overall I thought the event was just okay; there wasn't a truly bad match on the card and the crowd was really into it. However, looking back on it I don't think it lived up to it's potential, particularly the final two matches which I felt like most fans were anticipating to be two of the best WWE matches of 2016.