Ok, deep breath, I am not writing this to simply say that Brock Lesnar is everything that is wrong with SummerSlam this weekend. I promise you, I am not. That being said, the Beast’s name will come up on that side of the spectrum and possibly on the other, but we’ll have to wait and see. The Biggest Party of The Summer is upon us and I hardly know what has happened in the who knows how long four weeks that it has been since WWE I really don’t remember what the last ppv was Extreme Rules. Wrestling has been in a post Wrestlemania funk unlike anything that I can remember experiencing as a fan. Much like last year’s lead up to Wrestlemania where Ricardo and I complained about everything being about Roman Reigns, this SummerSlam seems to be entirely important and entirely not at the same time. WWE needs a spark to take it into the fall as it gears up for its annual beatdown by fight against Monday Night Football. At the same time much of this is starting to feel like it doesn’t matter. So, before I decide what my own personal expectations are for this Sunday’s event, I’m going to break down everything that is wrong and right with the third of the Big 4 ppvs of 2018.
Is Anything Right?
I ask this somewhat tongue in cheek. My first thought when I broached this question was that there is nothing right. But, I looked more closely (read: I went back through the recap of the last few weeks) and I found some gems.
Yes, I am including Roman vs Brock in this list (fight me), but the title matches lined up for this weekend’s event are pretty good on paper.
Universal Championship – Brock Lesnar (c) vs Roman Reigns
What makes it good? Two big athletic dudes tossing each other all over the ring seems like a good start.
What makes it potentially great? Brock no longer being Universal Champion, by any means necessary (we will come to that shortly) and possibly a Reigns heel turn. Also there are four possible guys who can walk out of Brooklyn as Universal Champion. As always, Paul Heyman (this was even before this past Monday’s events).
A reminder of why Paul Heyman is the best.
WWE Championship – AJ Styles (c) vs Samoa Joe
What makes it good? It’s AJ Styles vs Samoa Joe, this should be an awesome match without question.
What makes it potentially great? It’s AJ Styles vs Samoa freakin’ Joe. This was a TNA headline match and feud time and time again. Though we may have seen everything we think we can from this pairing elsewhere, the potential of adding WWE flair to the whole thing could lead to a match of the year candidate. (When WWE buys TNA’s library the level of promo packages for matchups like these will be beyond measure.)
A snippet of what is possible between these two.
Intercontinental Championship – Dolph Ziggler (c) vs Seth Rollins
What makes it good? Two of the absolute most batshit crazy workers will get probably 15 minutes to tear the house down.
What makes it potentially great? Dean Ambrose and his massive arms and his unique brand of insanity is back and in Seth’s corner. This could lead to a Rollins win, a shocking turn, or an outright brawl that spins this into a 2-on-2 feud for the foreseeable future. Options like those give this just enough intrigue beyond the match itself that could elevate to match of the night.
U.S. Championship – Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs Jeff Hardy
What makes it good? Two solid hands (this is becoming a trend) who will probably not get enough time but will still put on a good to great match.
What makes it potentially great? Randy Orton interfering and this turning into a crunch and munch of Jeff Hardy’s groin area. Pause.
Raw Women’s Championship – Alexa Bliss (c) vs Ronda Rousey
What makes it good? Alexa Bliss is quite possibly the best heel in wrestling. Rousey (especially after opening the SummerSlam go-home episode of Raw) is potentially an Austin level face waiting to happen. Sometimes those dynamics alone lead to a great story told in the ring.
What makes it potentially great? For a segment of the audience, and I imagine WWE brass, Rousey ragdolling Alexa to take a commanding perch atop the Raw Women’s division and becoming the face of WWE’s upcoming all women ppv, Evolution.
Smackdown Women’s Championship – Carmella (c) vs Charlotte Flair vs Becky Lynch
What makes it good? Charlotte and Becky. Point blank.
What makes it potentially great? Becky Lynch snapping and beginning a strong heel run as Smackdown Women’s champ.
Smackdown Tag Team Championship – Bludgeon Brothers (c) vs The New Day
What makes it good? The New Day. These guys are great on the mic and just as great in the ring. And its probably about time for another New Day tag title run.
What makes it potentially great? This may be the hardest match to make that argument for. It is possible that Rowan and Harper are able to tap into their unique skillset and have a high quality match. Also, a New Day win or break-up (don’t kill me).
While I have had to look up most of the other stuff so far, I actually knew the title matches out of my head. That is a good sign. Overall, It is hard to look at this list of title matches and see a stinker. Oddly enough, depending on the approach to the Universal title match, that is probably the most likely candidate with Bliss vs Rousey a close second (again depending on approach). And I love Alexa Bliss, so that says a lot.
There are so much workhorses in the title matches. Styles, Joe, Dolph, Seth, Nakamura, Flair and Lynch. Then you have the potential entertainment value of Bliss, New Day and Jeff. The wreckshitness of Brock, the Bludgeon Brothers and Rousey also has potential. (Yes, I made up a word. Yes this also applies to a certain Monster in the Bank.)
How do I think this will break down in terms of best matches:
Best Match in the shortest time – Nakamura vs Hardy
Designated Show Stealer – Ziggler vs Rollins
Best overall title match – Styles vs Joe
Best potential ending – Brock vs Roman
Worst potential ending – Brock vs Roman
Potential Show Stealer – Carmella vs Charlotte vs Becky
Most likely to end in pancake celebration – Bludgeon Brothers vs New Day
Most likely to be deemed to usher in a new era – Bliss vs Rousey
Most likely to be a show opener – Ziggler vs Rollins
There is a whole lot to like when you look at the title matches on this show. This may actually be the best set of title matches on one WWE ppv in quite some time – even if they don’t all pan out.
If it wasn’t for the sheer massive appeal in a lot of those title matches, Miz vs Bryan would have led as the number one right thing about SummerSlam. As I have probably discussed ad nauseam in the past two years or so, Miz vs Bryan is one of the best feuds WWE has in its arsenal to break out for a series of ppvs. First, they can trace this rivalry back through a number of threads. Miz was Bryan’s pro on the competition show version of NXT. They then feuded over the U.S. title after Bryan made the main roster. You then have the bubbling below the surface feud of the last two years where Bryan had to retire and became GM of Smackdown Live, during which he called Miz soft. Miz retorted that Bryan’s style is exactly why he was retired and would never wrestle again in WWE. From there they had little moments here and there as Miz spent some time on Raw before bouncing back to Smackdown in this year’s shakeup. That’s not to mention the potential addition and carryover of Miz and Maryse’s beef with Cena and Nikki over Total Divas onto Daniel and Brie. There is actually a TON of depth that can be unlocked here. This match should be fire and if this turns into a months long feud, I am 100% here for it. Make it happen WWE. Also, this had better not be a pre-show match.
That is what Kevin Owens vs Braun Strowman is. Braun Strowman is the current holder of the Money in the Bank briefcase. In short, this affords him an opportunity at the Universal Title anytime and anywhere. He is the largest guy (physically speaking, PAUSE) to ever hold the briefcase and is the one of only two monster type characters to ever hold it, Kane being the other. In WWE, where the fall and winter seasons have traditionally been seen as a time to test out new champions – see Finn Balor/Kevin Owens and AJ Styles in 2016, Jinder Mahal in 2017, Sheamus in 2009, The Miz in 2010, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan in 2011 etc. – this would be the perfect time for a cash in at the conclusion of the Universal title match. WWE gets to give its newest monster a spin with the title sans Brock Lesnar (while potentially giving them a reason to fight again at a Wrestlemania no doubt) and see what he makes of it. In any other year, this would be kind of a no brainer. Braun has a meaningless match earlier on the card and ends the ppv with the title held high above his head. This year is different however.
Kevin Owens and Braun Strowman have been having a rather one-sided feud over the last few months. One-sided in that Kevin Owens has been taking a 90s era Stone Cold style beating from Braun since Money in the Bank. Somehow, WWE has used this (and the fact that KO has beaten Strowman and cost him a match or two recently) to book a match at SummerSlam where if Strowman loses (no matter how he does) KO gains the briefcase. To me, you don’t setup a plot device like this unless you are willing to go the whole mile with it. KO has already been Universal champion in place of someone else. This match, should it go his way, will allow KO to take the place of Strowman in that night ending cash in scenario mentioned above. There are a litany of ways this can go – my personal favorite is a distant but memorable former punching bag for Strowman, Sami Zayn. (I know he is injured… I know he just had a second surgery like two weeks ago… Listen to me, it does not matter.) A no-armed Sami Zayn coming down to the ring to Helluva kick KO causing him to win by DQ and gain Strowman’s briefcase is the best kind of crazy WWE storytelling. Having Braun then chase KO for the title for a month or two could also be fun. When you tie in Roman’s claim to the belt and his history with both men, this could be a fun fall three-way rivalry.
There is one thing certain, there is a whole lot of uncertainty brewing as to who will ultimately walk out of Brooklyn as Universal Champion. At this stage, there are realistically four men who could walk out with the red belt – Brock, Reigns, Strowman or KO and only one of those options would be a complete and total let down. Don’t do it Vince. Just let it be anyone but Brock. PLEASE!
The last few weeks have been a strong reminder of why the man formerly known as Paul E Dangerously will go down as one of the best the wrestling business has ever seen. The Brock attack two weeks ago. The unshaven, intensely distressed interview with Renee Young (“Do your job…”) and then the revelation of it all being a ruse (or maybe not) and Roman suffering a beatdown because of it at the hands of Brock. Paul Heyman is the best talker in the WWE right now. There is not a wrestler, commentator, manager or otherwise that is within a country mile of Heyman’s greatness. Let’s hope WWE has an idea for him beyond Brock’s departure.
Okay, I said I would write about the good first so that I could get it out of the way quickly and move on to everything wrong with SummerSlam and the build to it. To be honest, I think I’ve convinced myself that this won’t be a terrible show. That said, this is WWE, nothing is perfect.
Brock Lesnar as champion
This has to end. WWE has either deliberately or ignorantly ignored the voice of its fanbase for going on almost a year now. Most fans have wanted the Universal Title off of Brock since about last June/July. WWE leaned into the madness and has had one of their top two champions (and the champion of their flagship show) off of television for months at a time. They have not allowed anyone to beat him and they think that they have written over CM Punk being the longest reigning WWE champion of the modern era by having Brock hold the title for over 500 days. The madness has to stop. So whether it’s Roman, or Strowman or hell even Owens, someone other than the beast incarnate needs to walk out of SummerSlam as champion. Brooklyn might actually riot otherwise.
This ga be a long ppv. You know how I know. We have to go to a christening on Sunday for my wife’s friend. There is an after christening function that starts at 5. I’ll be watching SummerSlam with a group of friends beginning around 8pm. And we will still probably end up watching 4 hours of the show live together. If you count the pre-show, SummerSlam will run from 5pm to 12pm. This is entirely too long for a wrestling event. The worst thing is the possibility that at midnight Brock Lesnar is grinning from ear to ear as he walks through the curtain still Universal Champion. To be that tired, to have spent that much time watching one event and to still have Vince McMahon take a dump in your cereal cannot be an option. It just can’t.
I legitimately came into writing this article thinking that I was 100% down on this weekend’s SummerSlam. The interesting thing about WWE right now is that there is so much talent that on paper most ppv matches, especially Big 4 ppv matches, are likely between two solid to great wrestlers. One can argue that stories are lacking and that by that metric the matches are not as exciting or meaningful overall. I am a story guy so that means a whole lot to me. However, if the talent in the ring shines through sufficiently SummerSlam has the potential to be the best ppv of the year and the best overall event in that past two years. If all else fails, we always have NXT and Gargano vs Ciampa will probably outshine just about everything else there is to see this weekend.
ONE MORE THING…
OTTB will make its triumphant return next week with a slightly new approach and our review of this weekend’s SummerSlam. Like Jalen Rose likes to say: