We can say this much for WWE, they know how to put on a spectacle, and their powers were in full force for all of SummerSlam weekend. We saw the first Universal Champion crowned, absolutely glorious debuts, tearful farewells, and an ending that we still can’t quite believe, plus any number of other big moments. We’d love to go over every detail of what has been a very long SummerSlam weekend, but there is not enough time to explain, so we’ll have to sum up instead. Here’s everything that we though was worth talking about from an absolutely packed weekend of wrestling, starting with NXT TakeOver, and going all the way to the bitter end of what felt like a day-long SummerSlam event.
15. The New, Red-Eyed Face Of Women’s Wrestling
First up, we look at NXT TakeOver, a show which had a lot to live up to after last year’s Brooklyn event was considered by many to be one of the best wrestling shows ever. And with the women who carried the last year of the NXT Women’s Division all promoted to the main roster, NXT was going to need to build up a few new faces, and quickly, making it the perfect time to debut Ember Moon. Don’t let the odd red contacts and entrance that flipped between “scary mystical ninja lady” and “fiery babyface character” seemingly on a dime fool you, Moon is the real deal, and should be well-prepared to carry the load on the face side while Asuka rules the division as the unbeatable heel champion. Moon didn’t get a chance to show off too much in her debut match, but her finisher alone was enough to get her noticed, and she’ll have more opportunities to show off as her career progresses. We should also note that Billie Kay has done an excellent job in her rebuild as a glory-obsessed heel who was on Smackdown that one time, and should also be an asset in the rebuild going forward.
Honestly, we could just leave that hashtag and it would be enough. In case you ever wondered how to make someone a star before they ever wrestle a single match, witness the entrance of Bobby Roode in Brooklyn. It’s fair to say that even though Roode had a long and productive career in TNA, a lot of people probably didn’t see it, and he also didn’t have the additional exposure from working in Japan after leaving TNA like, say, AJ Styles. Debuting him in a “smart”-heavy city like Brooklyn helped, but there was actually every chance that a lot of people wouldn’t know who he was and not particularly care. And while the match that followed wasn’t a blow-away affair, and his finisher is terrible and should be changed immediately, it doesn’t matter, because all anyone’s going to remember of Bobby Roode at TakeOver is him descending from a massive podium to the strains of his theme music (which is either the greatest theme ever created, or an abomination that should be destroyed, and possibly both). His relatively advanced age means his WWE career won’t be long, but however long it lasts it will certainly be…glorious.
You’re singing it right now in your head, aren’t you?
13. This Is Tag Team Wrestling
It’s almost hard to put into words why the NXT Tag Team title match between The Revival and DIY (the newly-named pairing of Gargano and Ciampa, whose incredible tagline is “No one else will do it for you”) was so good. Mostly, it’s because it was an actual, honest-to-goodness old-school tag team match, of the sort not seen on a regular basis since the Attitude Era came along and made 90% of matches last five minutes or less, even on Pay Per View. Things are no longer that dire, but tag team wrestling on the main roster still often gets short shrift, especially when it comes to match times. However, in Brooklyn, the four men in this match put on an absolute clinic on what used to be the classic formula: extended heat segments for the heel team, complete with ridiculous shenanigans to cut off the hot tag until the crowd is absolutely salivating for it, the match breaking down as everything brawls, rapid fire false finishes, and a clean ending which still put massive heat on the heels and put over the faces as legitimate threats at the same time. For two wrestlers like Gargano and Ciampa, this was possibly the biggest crowd they’d ever worked in front of, and given that it ended in a standing ovation for them, we’d say it went well.
12. Why Bayley Works
We’re incredibly biased here, and we’re not even going to pretend we’re not, but Bayley has a chance to be one of the biggest stars in pro wrestling, and TakeOver was just another example of why that should be the case. Simply put, people care about Bayley in a way that you can say about very few wrestlers, with Daniel Bryan probably being the latest big example. In a world full of larger-than-life characters, many of whom you could never relate to on a day-to-day basis, Bayley comes closest to being a “real” person. Okay, she’s also an anime character brought to life, but over her NXT career, she has struggled and had setbacks, and she reacted like a real person would have every time, with sadness, and hurt, and eventually, determination. The emotional component of Bayley can not be underestimated. She comes out to the ring and is possibly the happiest person on the planet, and runs around offering high fives and hugs to children and adults alike, in a way that would feel completely cheesy and forced if anyone else were to do it but seems honest and genuine coming from her. When Bayley lost to Asuka in Brooklyn, even though it was absolutely the right decision because it lets her move on to the main roster, it still broke the hearts of people everywhere. Children actually cried. Heck, grown-ass adults teared up, and if you say you didn’t, you’re a liar. People care about Bayley, in a way that bypasses the cynical nature of wrestling. That’s why she should be a huge star on the main roster, hopefully as early as the first Raw after SummerSlam.
11. Poor Samoa Joe
For all that Joe is the stoic monster that you see in your nightmares, his short reign as NXT Champion did not go particularly well for him, what with Shinsuke Nakamura basically overwhelming him by being irritatingly awesome and just entire leagues ahead of the rest of the NXT roster. In fact, we heard Nakamura’s character described as “performance art”, and when he was led to the ring by a live violin player at TakeOver, you could understand exactly what they meant. Anyway, you could see the frustration building in Joe even during his entrance, as he played a man who only wanted to swat an annoying insect that remained just out of reach, forever. That Nakamura won is surprising only because he really should be on the main roster, but at the same time, you’re not going to see us complaining about more matches between Joe and Nakamura, because those are two people who know how to wrestle, period. When the comedy is done, Shinsuke brings the Strong Style like few can, and Joe is no stranger to dishing it out as well. Perhaps that was the big weakness in the Joe-Balor feud, in that even as a Demon, Balor never seemed capable of actually going toe-to-toe with the monstrous Samoan. Meanwhile, as last night proved, when Joe and the King of Strong Style get in the ring, things are going to get very, very physical, and that’s the kind of intense match we want to see a lot of.
10. All Glory To The Set Designers
On to SummerSlam, and we’ve been riding WWE for a long time about their uninspired PPV set design since the beginning of the HD era, so it’s only fair that we give them credit when they do something cool. We can’t entirely blame WWE for moving to interchangeable screens, after all, it’s cost-effective and easier, but we still miss all the unique sets of the past, many of which only ever made a single appearance before never being seen again. For SummerSlam, at least, WWE did the right thing and created a completely new (well, there may have been some recycled pieces from the Mania set, but it still counts) entrance stage that was eye-catching and unique, and made the show feel like it was both special and a big deal. We’re sure we won’t see such attention to detail for the minor single-brand PPVs, but things like this really help make the big events feel important, and hopefully it’s something WWE will use more often in the future.
9. We Have To Watch Six More Of These?
We’re going to skip over most of the SummerSlam pre-show matches, because frankly, they didn’t matter, but we’ll pause to deal with the ludicrous plan that is the “Best of Seven” series between Sheamus and Cesaro, which saw Sheamus go up 1-0 in the first match. Well, actually, Cesaro should be up 2-1 after winning two straight matches to set up this thing, and that kind of sets up our point. All credit to Sheamus and Cesaro, who are two very good wrestlers (yes, Sheamus too) capable of putting on excellent matches. However, unless WWE is planning to add some sort of gimmick to matches 5 through 7, we can easily see ourselves getting bored with this whole thing fairly quickly, because we don’t believe that WWE will give them enough freedom to have completely different matches each time. It’s like steak. Sure, it tastes great and you love it on those rare occasions you get to partake, but you’d definitely get sick of steak if it was all you ate for a week or so. A Sheamus-Cesaro match is often very good, but after a couple more of them, we’d bet a lot of people are going to be clamoring to see something different.
8. (Hopefully Not) Dying For The Cause
If we had to count up the number of times we’ve watched an NXT or WWE women’s match in the past year or so and had a moment where we held our breath and said “Please be okay, please be okay”, it would be an incredibly large number, and the Sasha Banks-Charlotte match from SummerSlam offered up a couple more opportunities to add to the total. We’re not going to tell the incredibly dedicated women of WWE to not give 110% in their laudable goal to make women’s wrestling credible, but at right about the point where Sasha reversed a top-rope Razor’s Edge into a hurricanrana that looked like it might have snapped her neck on the follow-through, we officially became concerned that they’re going too far to top their previous accomplishments. Then, we woke up this morning to the news that Sasha could have serious back issues that could keep her out of the ring for at least a month, and we’re going to have to start asking the women of WWE and NXT not to stop trying to have great matches, but maybe tone down the ridiculous spots just a little. Much like TLC or Hell in a Cell in the past, we’ve reached a point where trying to go more over the top is going to get people seriously hurt, and that’s the last thing we want to see. It’s possible to have great matches without making people fear for the performers’ lives, and maybe it’s time for the Women’s Division to explore further down that road for a while.
7. “Old Man” Cena Does The Right Thing
We’re going to get this out of the way first so everyone can stop panicking and/or celebrating: John Cena is not retiring. There’s a good chance he won’t be around on Smackdown very much during the fall, but that is for the same reason that he wasn’t around much last fall, because his reality show got a second season and he’s going to be filming it during that time. Does it seem like bad timing for WWE to be without one of its biggest stars, what with Smackdown having its first single-brand Pay Per View in three weeks? Maybe, but at the same time, people have been begging for a WWE where they don’t lean on John Cena to carry the company, and don’t look now, but we’re in it as we speak. In fact, thanks to reality shows and injuries and hosting duties, John Cena hasn’t been a full-time wrestler for nearly a year at this point, and SummerSlam simply seemed like WWE making it official. And in the time-honored tradition, John Cena made sure to put over someone on the way out, and boy, did he ever, with a fantastic match against AJ Styles that was probably the best of the entire weekend. There’s no doubt in our minds that AJ Styles will be a cornerstone of Smackdown and WWE in general going forward, because his great matches, crowd reactions, and (most importantly) merchandise sales basically guarantee it, but having Styles go over Cena cleanly in a hard-fought match where he not only kicked out of all of Cena’s finishers, he even escaped a powered-up, top-rope version is as close as we’ll get to WWE’s official stamp of approval. Cena will return eventually, and be a part of major WWE PPVs going forward, but at this point, his time is up. AJ Styles’ time is now.
6. Smackdown Totally Matters, Right?
In case you forgot about the WWE World Heavyweight Title match, Dean Ambrose beat Dolph Ziggler in a match that might as well have aired on Smackdown, both for how much anybody seemed to care and how much credibility Ziggler had as a World title contender. This is entirely WWE’s fault, by the way, as they stuck themselves in a dilemma of their own making, putting the World title on Smackdown with a roster full of contenders that could basically be listed as “John Cena, AJ Styles, and a bunch of guys with no career direction”. And as we know, Cena and Styles were busy fighting each other, so that left a bunch of bad options. Ziggler worked hard trying to make people believe he had a shot in the build-up to SummerSlam, but in the end, his passionate speeches just reminded us that his career has been a flat circle of disappointment, and a few fired-up promos aren’t going to erase the fact that there’s no way WWE sees him as a World Champion in 2016. The fact that this match, for one of the top two titles in the company, we should remind you, took place well down the card, should probably be yet another indicator that while the lip service is there, in the end, Smackdown is always going to get the short end of the stick.
5. In The Nikki Of Time
We will give credit where credit is due, Nikki Bella eventually became a decent wrestler, which you would hope, given that she’s dating one of the best wrestlers on the planet and sister-in-law to another one, and at the end, she was placed on top of a division of good wrestlers that forced her to adapt or die. And her addition to the Smackdown roster will definitely help add star power to a division that was basically Becky Lynch, some NXT graduates, underutilized veterans with no momentum, and Eva Marie (seriously, you people slobbering over Eva’s heel act do realize that she’s going to have to wrestle at some point, and then you’ll immediately regret your decisions?) However, we were quite enjoying this long Bella-less stretch that had been going on since WrestleMania, and we’re sad to see it end. WWE can call Nikki a “bridge” between the “Divas” era of women’s wrestling and the current one all they want (while doing a dis-service to all the actual women’s wrestlers who struggled to stay credible during that dark time, like Beth Phoenix, AJ Lee, and Natalya), but she’s still a relic, a representation of an era that a lot of fans would like to see forgotten, and a step back for the division in general.
4. The Belt Sucked, But How About The Result?
Listen, we’re not a big fan of WWE naming something the Universal Championship, then making the physical belt a garish red re-skin of an existing title, but it’s not going to change, so let’s look at what really mattered, which was a very good match between Seth Rollins and Finn Balor that put Balor over at a level that no single WWE Superstar has had happen to in a very long time. By winning the WWE Universal Championship, Balor becomes the first WWE Superstar in history to win a World title in his first Pay Per View match, which suggests an incredible amount of faith in the Demon King, especially since he’ll now become the face of the flagship brand on Raw, with only three total matches on the main roster under his belt. Obviously, his time in NXT and his lengthy independent career will work in his favor, but that is still WWE putting an inordinate amount of faith in a guy that hasn’t been in the company very long. The good news for Finn is, after the last guy WWE tried to make the #1 face in the company, he’s going to look like the Second Coming by comparison, plus he’ll hopefully have more than a little extra rope before WWE decides if his push is working or not. It’ll be interesting to see where his character goes when he’s not covered in body paint, but as first steps go, things couldn’t have worked out much better.
3. This Feels Wrong
When watching the segment masquerading as a match that was the confrontation between Roman Reigns and Rusev, we can’t help but feel like we’re watching one of those time travel movies where things happen out of order. Although unlike those movies, we’re not sure things will make sense at the end. We can’t be alone in thinking that the segment which happened at SummerSlam should have happened on Raw, and the match from Raw should have taken place at the Pay Per View, right? Wouldn’t that have been a more logical progression, even if a lot of people wouldn’t be thrilled with a Reigns title victory? And continuing down the path of things that don’t make sense, man, is Roman Reigns coming across as a gigantic asshole, or what? He interrupted a declaration of love, insulted the bride repeatedly, ruined her dress and humiliated her, then beat up her husband repeatedly for trying to defend her honor. Then, while Rusev was struggling to walk up the ramp in obvious pain, Reigns returned and beat him up some more! And yet, on commentary, Reigns is portrayed as a heroic figure standing up to “evil” foreigners! We’ve lived through an era of “edgy” babyfaces, but Reigns isn’t being one of those, he’s just being a jerk, and the only people who don’t seem to realize that are the ones in charge.
2. We Take It Back, We Don’t Want Blood In Wrestling After All
It takes a lot to make us actually physically uncomfortable when watching pro wrestling, but the end of the Brock Lesnar-Randy Orton match did just that. Obviously, the amount was unintentional, but that didn’t make it any less disturbing to watch Orton lie in a literal pool of his own blood, from a gash opened up after a deliberate elbow to the forehead by Brock. We’re not here to accuse Brock of being careless, after all, cutting someone open “the hard way” isn’t an exact science. And we will admit to being in favor of blood in pro wrestling, on rare occasions, in appropriately big matches, but that stance can’t help but take a hit after last night. WWE outlawed intentional blading years ago, and even used fake blood during the Triple H-Roman Reigns feud leading up to WrestleMania, and we applaud both those stances. However, we can also vividly picture Lesnar and Orton agreeing to go old-school in their match (make no mistake, this is as much on Orton as Brock), and things obviously did not go as planned, ruining the finish to SummerSlam and we’re pretty sure turning a few stomachs in the process. And for what? Brock is likely gone until the Rumble at the earliest, and WWE can’t possibly show any of that footage on TV. Plus, because they were forced to stop the match (a decision we completely agree with), Orton doesn’t even get any “badass” credibility for fighting valiantly through blood loss (which was probably the original plan). We can see where this might have seemed like a good idea in the planning stages, but in the end, it was pretty much a disastrous finish to the show.
1. They Should Make It Shorter
Listen, we’re probably among the biggest wrestling fans in the world, and we gave it our best shot this weekend. We watched all of TakeOver on Saturday, the entirety of SummerSlam on Sunday, and we even got through most of the two-hour pre-show. But it was just too much. Even the best wrestling in the world, some of which was on display this weekend, couldn’t prevent the ridiculous length of SummerSlam from burning out even the most fervent WWE supporter. We get it, WWE has the Network and PPV time is now an infinite resource, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still use it wisely. The average wrestling fan is simply incapable of watching and enjoying that much product, all at once. Even if they didn’t watch TakeOver (which you totally should), or the pre-show, SummerSlam was still over four hours long, and the live crowd (and if they’re like us, most of the viewers at home) had clearly started tuning out by roughly two, maybe two and a half hours in. Sure, part of that was because nothing could have really followed Styles-Cena, but the rest of the equation was the fact that it was a ridiculously long show, and human beings get tired. Throw in three-plus hours of Raw tonight, and two hours of Smackdown the next day, and at some point, something’s going to give. And when that day comes, WWE can look back to these marathon PPV weekends and think to themselves “yeah, that’s probably where we messed up”.