WWE Pay Per View weekends are exhausting. After the resounding success of NXT Takeover: Brooklyn which showed the company that their non televised developmental roster is popular enough to fill a 15,000 seat stadium, its possible that future events may involving a two hour Saturday show (with a 30 minute preview panel show) and then a main Sunday show that is 3-4 hours (with a 30 minute preview panel show) followed by a 3 hour Monday Night RAW the following night. That is a LOT of wrestling to consume in one weekend.
The Summerslam weekend in Brooklyn promised plenty and delivered a mixed bag. There were some classic matches on the weekend, a couple of surprises and some truly strange decision making to finish off the main event.
Here’s my two cents on both the shows.
NXT Takeover Brooklyn was one of the strongest shows I can recall in a long time. Not every match was a five star classic (far from it) but the combination of a molten hot New York City crowd and a nice diverse range of matches makes this more or less the perfect showcase of what wrestling has to offer. It had a grudge match in the main event. An unbelievable women’s title match preceding it. An excellent tag team contest. A visiting Japanese legend. Two giants locking horns. An acrobatic youngster on debut. Cool and innovative entrances. It had it all.
Finn Balor (c) vs Kevin Owens
NXT Championship, Ladder Match
Unfortunately for Balor and Owens, this match suffered a bit from being ‘merely good’ after the ridiculously great Womens Title match that went on before it. The crowd appeared to be a little fatigued from cheering so after being hot all night, this match had a few quiet spells through no fault of either wrestler.
Both men delivered some big spots and there was a couple of cringe worthy bumps taken (particularly by Owens) before Balor eventually picked up the win with an incredible top rope coup de grace.
I believe this match will mark the end of Owens run in NXT which was short but memorable. As for Balor, he’s cemented himself in the top spot and has a number of viable and credible opponents lined up. There’s Samoa Joe who was run roughshod over his opponents to date. There’s the imminently returning Hideo Itami. And if he can hang on long enough, there’s the prospect of a title match with Sammy Zayn in the New Year.
Who I Said Would Win: Finn Balor
Who Did Win: Finn Balor
Sasha Banks (c) vs Bayley
NXT Women’s Championship
This match was everything I wanted it to be and then some. Bayley’s Road to the Championship has more or less been a storyline eighteen months in the making as she saw her counterparts find success before her and she was constantly bullied by the likes of Sasha and Emma who told her she was too nice to hang with the elite. After finding her inner confidence and besting rivals Charlotte, Emma and Becky, Bayley earned a title match at NXT Brooklyn against the champion Sasha Banks.
Banks made a high profile entrance to NXT Takeover in a Cadillac Escalade with an entourage of bouncers in tow which looked seriously bad ass. She then proceeded to tear the house down with Bayley in front of an appreciative Brooklyn crowd that roared with approval and divided their loyalties between the two stars.
It seems impossible to think that Sasha Banks is just 23 years of age and Bayley 26. For their first match in front of a crowd of this size, both worked an intelligent, measured contest that you’d expect of seasoned veterans where there was purpose and meaning behind every hold applied. There were callbacks to past encounters as both women avoided one another’s signature moves or had to modify the move to hit it successfully. There was ring psychology in the form of Sasha singling out and attacking Bayley’s injured wrist. There were high spots like Sasha’s incredible tope over the top of the referee and onto the floor. Submission wrestling that evoked the days of Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit as Sasha locked in a Bank Statement only for Bayley to counter with a Cuddler Crossface.
After a near perfect contest that went for a full fifteen minutes, Bayley finally picked up the win by destroying Sasha with a poison avalanche hurricanrana followed up with a second Bayley-to-Belly suplex. The three count resulted in a deafening pop from the crowd as Bayley finally won the big one. There was nary a dry seat in the house as the new champ celebrated in the ring with Charlotte, Becky Lynch and eventually Sasha herself. The four women in the ring threw up the Four Horsewomen sign and called time on an incredible run in NXT. With Sasha’s time in NXT complete, only Bayley remains. I hope she has a great run with the title. She deserves it.
This was incredible match and must seriously be a contender for the greatest womens match in WWE. Certainly in the modern era its tough to think of anything else that comes close. Simply awesome.
Who I Said Would Win: Bayley
Who Did Win: Bayley
The rest of the NXT card was an excellent lead-in to the two solid main events. The NXT brand has been firing on all cylinders for some time now and it showed with how many performers were massively over with the crowd. The Vaudevillains finally got their long awaited title reign when they defeated the defending champs Blake and Murphy thanks to the assistance of Blue Plants who came out and neutralized the threat of Alexa Bliss. Both teams have come along leaps and bounds in the past year and I’m happy they got to deliver the big title switch in front of the Brooklyn crowd. I’m pretty dubious about the chances of either team shining on the main event roster right now so I hope neither team is called up any time soon.
Samoa Joe got the best match out of Baron Corbin that anyone has managed to date. The result suggests that the company remains high on Joe and his potential and it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here. They may potentially revisit the stalled feud with Kevin Owens or maybe he gets pushed straight into the main event picture. As for Corbin, I think they need to reinvent his character at this stage from being NXT’s version of Goldberg now that he jobbed cleanly not once but twice this year (he lost to Itami in March).
Apollo Crews had an excellent debut on his birthday in a fun match against Tye Dillinger. He is incredibly athletic for a big guy and has huge potential.
Jushin Thunder Lyger was impressive with how well he could move for a fifty year old. Word is he may yet do more appearances for NXT. As for Breeze, I don’t think he was hurt in any way by the loss. I absolutely love his over the top PPV entrances and he more than held up his end with this match. It’s a crowded roster on NXT but I hope he gets a run at the top before he gets called up to the main roster.
WWE Summerslam was clearly a show that the company had high hopes for with its four hour running time and celebrity involvement. What the company delivered was a solid undercard and some seriously weird booking in the main event which suggests a creative team not entirely sure with its direction and too afraid to let their brightest stars shine. It seems pretty crazy to think that in 2015, we’re getting screwy finishes in the main event to ‘protect’ John Cena and The Undertaker. Is it really necessary? The WWE seem to think so.
Brock Lesnar vs The Undertaker
For twenty minutes, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker put on a match that was the quality most hoped they would have had at Wrestlemania two years ago. In his first non-Wrestlemania appearance since 2013, The Undertaker managed to put in a respectable showing against Lesnar, absorbing his offence and showing that he could still keep up with the former UFC champion.
Then that finish happened. The timekeeper’s bell was abruptly rung and everyone including the ref and the crowd looked ringside in confusion. With the ref distracted, The Undertaker delivered a low blow and won the match when it was immediately restarted. A replay showed he had in fact tapped cleanly to Lesnar moments before.
In the weeks leading up to Summerslam, The Undertaker has been getting the best of Brock Lesnar by kicking him in the groin – a decidedly heelish and uncharacteristic move – that had most viewers puzzled as to what was going on. The bizarre finish to this match where Lesnar appeared to be a deserved winner only to be robbed by unprecedented behavior from the timekeeper seems to suggest the company wants to turn The Undertaker heel. This seems like an idiotic move, even for a company as tone deaf as the WWE. Taker is expected to wrestle a retirement match at next years Wrestlemania and no one expects him to wrestle another match between now and then. To try and turn him between now and then, a wrestling icon who has been working as a babyface for the past ten years, seems colossally stupid and yet here we are.
The match was perfectly fine until the finish but it was so lousy that it really put a dampener on the whole affair. A truly strange way to end the show. If they didn’t want to put either wrestler over decisively, you wonder why it was booked in the first place.
Who I Said Would Win: The Undertaker
Who Did Win: The Undertaker
John Cena (c) vs Seth Rollins (c)
World Heavyweight Championship, United States Title
Seth Rollins won the other main event match on Summerslam in unexpected fashion when he appeared to be soundly beaten by John Cena only for former talkshow host Jon Stewart to storm the ring, turn heel and hit Cena very gently with a chair. It meant that Rollins has become the first ever concurrent WWE Champion and US Champion.
The match itself was a mixed bag. Cena seemed to be having an off night by his standards and he seemed sloppy with his moveset throughout the night. His springboard reverse stunner which he has incorporated into his moveset is one of the most contrived and botched manoeuvres I can remember a main eventer using in some time. Rollins on the other hand was something else. He busted out a lot of new moves in his arsenal including an impressive looking frogsplash off the top rope as well as a superplex/tiger driver combo.
I didn’t really know what to make of this match. The turn from Stewart was nonsensical and unexpected. Cena was poor. Rollins looked great but ultimately the booking makes him look like a chump. He deserves better.
I’m not sure where we go from here. Rollins has plenty of potential opponents he could face. Cena has almost none left. We anticipate that Cena will eventually be the one to dethrone Rollins but then equally, we expect Sheamus to cash in his Money In The Bank contract and become the new champ straight away. There’s not a lot to look forward to the in WWE’s main event championship scene for the foreseeable future.
Who I Said Would Win: John Cena
Who Did Win: Seth Rollins
The most positive talking point of the Summerslam undercard is the incredible work Kofi Kingston, Big E Langston and Xavier Woods have put in to turn chicken shit into chicken feed in one of the most stunning reversals of fortune I can recall in some time. None of these three wrestlers had much going in their favour even six months ago but now they are bonafide stars, making the most of a really lousy gimmick and running absolutely wild with it. They deservedly recaptured the tag team titles at Summerslam and looked like stars in the process.
Stephen Amell put in a respectable performance in his debut wrestling match. He took some bumps, worked a lengthy session in the ring getting beat down by Stardust and King Barrett before Neville stepped in and won the match. As celebrity wrestling involving goes, this was one of the better examples I’ve seen.
Cesaro and Owens put on what was probably the match of the night but it was to a largely indifferent crowd.
The lowlight and one of the biggest talking points of the show is how the WWE look like they might drop the ball on the ‘Divas Revolution’. Fans embraced Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks because they were positive characters who could work great wrestling matches. Upon being called up to the main roster by Stephanie McMahon to great fanfare, they’ve been lumped together with the existing divas who are significantly less talented in the ring and don’t have the respect of the majority of the crowd. Subsequently the whole revolution has felt flat and Summerslam has done nothing to change things. The sooner they get the title off Nikki Bella and allow the NXT alumni to develop their own personalities the better. It’s not over by a long shot but if they’re not careful, the company could very well squander the potential of some of the brightest young talent they’ve had in a long time. The formula is simple. Let these women working lengthy matches against one another and cut out any of the demeaning sexist bullshit that the diva storylines usually get saddled with. It remains to be seen whether the company can deliver on this.
Overall the Summerslam weekend gave fans a contrasting picture of the future. The NXT juggernaut remains on track. It has plenty of exciting talent, a clear sense of direction and well booked matches. The main roster is almost the complete opposite. There is a wealth of talent. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Kevin Owens, Adrian Neville to name a few. But the show’s primary focus still remains on the likes of John Cena, Randy Orton, Kane and Big Show. Most of these guys have been in the company over a decade and have wrestled over three thousand matches each. They are over exposed to the extreme. There hasn’t big this big of an internal disparity in quality since the days of the Brand Split when Paul Heyman’s Smackdown ran roughshod over Eric Bischoff’s Raw.
Many fans and dirt sheets speculate that a power struggle is the reason for this disparity in quality and creative direction. Vince McMahon just turned 70 and the prospect of the WWE running without him at the helm is now on the horizon. In one corner you have Triple H and Stephanie who are expected to take over the reigns. They are commonly associated with the positive attributes of NXT. Much of the negativity directed at the main roster is believed to be the handy work of established backstage producers – the likes of Kevin Dunn and Michael Hayes. Traditionalists who have been loyal to Vince and are more likely resistant to change. Who can say how much truth there is to this but its clear that something is happening behind the scenes.
The future of the WWE looks bright but with a very specific caveat – it looks bright on NXT. On the WWE main roster, things haven’t looked this tired and uninspired in a long time.