WWE's second biggest evening of the year was here, with a six hour spectacular featuring twelve matches, including John Cena v AJ Styles 2 and the first ever meeting between Finn Bálor and Seth Rollins to become the first ever Universal Champion. With a quarter of a day to fill could WWE deliver a quality event?
In what was arguably the main event and should have closed the show, John Cena and AJ Styles managed to up their game and improved on their 19th June contest. Without the involvement of Styles' The Club stablemates, the match was able to reach a much more satisfying conclusion and with the duo not having to worry about building something for another contest. This meant they could go all in and hold nothing back, throwing in their best ideas and pushing themselves to keep up the pace. The Money in the Bank original was a tasty little taster that left me wanting more, like a decent soup with a crusty roll, Number 2 was a fine main course with plenty of steak for the sizzle.
The Phenomenal One and The Leader of the Cenation produced a captivating tit for tat "Anything you can do" style match with the two being presented as extremely evenly matched and almost always having a reply for their opponents offense. From the back and forth respectful opening that turned with Styles' suplex onto the apron, the real moment when the match became something special was after Styles' had kicked out of an Attitude Adjustment and Cena had returned the favour with the Styles Clash unable to put him away. The moves were done early enough that they weren't believable false finishes, but late enough to where I knew that the duo had something bigger and better coming up. Inside the structure of the bout the two were almost exclusively smooth and crisp, catching each transition, including plenty of risky switches and a collection of marvelous submission sequences.
Styles picking up the win genuinely shocked me, as it almost seemed inevitable that Cena would over come, especially after losing the 19th June clash. Cena nailing an avalanche Attitude Adjustment and Styles kicking out of what seemed like it would certainly be the finish, but was only the beginning of the end. Cena's face directly after this as he watched Styles crawl to the ropes was a picture as he sold the bewilderment that anyone had kicked out of his fail safe last resort move. Styles slipping out of another AA attempt and hitting a Styles Clash felt like it could have ended the match also, but the Phenomenal Forearm with the pad removed added that exclamation point that and it was those extra details and thought that made this contest the match of the night and Styles' best match since coming to WWE in January. The win for The Phenomenal One surely slots him into a World Championship match at 11th September's Backlash, but Cena leaving his "Never Give Up" arm band in the ring as he walked out leaves his future up in the air.
The RAW brands strongest showing was the battle to become the first Universal Champion, between Finn Bálor and Seth Rollins. In their first encounter The Demon King and The Aerialist put on a great title match, that was put together astutely with a natural feeling ebb and flow, rising and falling like the tide without ever losing my interest always finding away to hold my attention. It was crying shame that the Brooklyn crowd, which was a piss-poor audience throughout the whole show, was more focused on making their disdain for the new Universal title belt known, booing the announcement of the match and chanting about the the design. Yes the belt is ugly as sin and lazily designed, but you've got two of top ten best wrestler in the company working their fucking arses off to entertain you, barely putting a foot wrong in this process, respect that instead of constantly trying "rebel" against any minor element of the product. As Rollins said on Twitter "More important than a title's appearance is what it represents to the men fighting over it".
The match came straight out of the traps with a series from Bálor, that included him going straight for Coup de Grâce, which become the main theme of the match. I think that's what made the contest so enthralling, the urgency behind everything, even when Rollins was taking time to trash talk Bálor there was a purpose behind his actions. Whether it was mind games or attempting a big move, every movement from both men was to get them closer to becoming the top dog on RAW and grabbing the Universal belt. The match progress well with the both men showing pulling out new and old moves, with Rollins in particularly digging deep into his deep arsenal of moves like a near fall for off of God's Last Gift, as well as a Phoenix Splash attempt and attempting to turn a superplex into a Pedigree as opposed to his regular Falcon Arrow. Balor went for the Coup de Grace on a number of occasions with Rollins always having a counter, up until the very last moment.
The finish kept to the motif, as it Rollins attempt to do something different that would ultimately be his downfall as his Pedigree attempt would be reversed, leading to two corner dropkicks from the Demon King before the victory was claimed with Coup de Grace.
Balor winning the Universal Championship on the second biggest show of the year on his WWE PPV debut in only his third broadcast (non-NXT) match is an incredible achievement, that instantly legitmises him and lifts his credibility to WWE's fanbase who might not watch anything outside the company and even more so to those who only watch these big shows. This was simple story, embellished with skillful in-ring performances and some great commentary by all three RAW announcers.
The task of opening the show was handed to RAW's tag team division as Big Cass & Enzo Amore tangled with Jeri-KO (Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens). Enzo & Cass have become a reliable act to kick off a show with, they were famed for it during their run in NXT and have opened a number of episode's of Monday Night RAW recently and they didn't disappoint in Brooklyn. Despite having more than a passing similarity to The New Day's work on last August's Brooklyn shows, The Realest Guys in the Room's New York cliche-laden promo remained a fun watch, thanks to their undeniable energy and charisma. It was also a pleasant surprise that Cass has pretty decent singing voice! Not having Jericho & Owens get a chance to reply before the match was a missed opportunity though.
This was a decent match, that was unfortunately let down by a handful of slips on risky moves. This included the finish which saw Owens launch Amore into the air, as if going for his Pop-up Powerbomb, and sending him straight into a Codebreaker from a waiting Jericho. Regrettably, Amore and Owens didn't get enough air on the Pop-up, meaning that Y2J double knee facebreaker had much less of an impact than it usually did. When the match was sticking to a relatively straight forward tag formula, everything was fine and dandy, with everyone playing their roles well, creating an entertaining mid-section to the contest. It was however when the four tried to produce something a bit different and more precarious that the fight ended up not delivering on the promising build.
In the Smackdown Live's World title match, Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler wrestled an oddly paced contest, that got a reaction of almost complete indifference from the Barclay's Center. The pair put on some decent wrestling, they went through a number of different styles and began with an interesting story, but it never changed gears. Fifteen minutes of plodding wrestling with more than a little lying around, isn't going to get a crowd excited in 2016. It might keep their interest, but it's not going to make them get behind anyone. The pair did some lovely detail work in the match, like Ambrose being out-wrestled in the early going and certain applications of simple moves like the Single Leg Boston Crab, but the broad strokes, like fleshing out the character work and changing the pace were missing.
The match lacked a definitive heel or babyface and neither did it give a reason to get behind one guy over the other. It was this guy doesn't like this guy, because he doesn't like him and so he's going to half heatedly do his taunts, but with little conviction. If this was a babyface v babyface match, they should have both bought their A games, got the crowd whipped up in a frenzy. This was the biggest match Ziggler has been given for years and he decided to do it on autopilot. It's also notable than on one of biggest stages possible, Ambrose bottled it once again. They had an opportunity to steal the show with little storyline to pander to and they left it sitting on the table.
In the strongest match on the undercard, Charlotte won back the Women's Championship in a great match with Sasha Banks. After the duo had a handful of slip-ups in the first couple of minutes and Banks seemed to be knocked silly by a nasty bump of a backbreaker onto the top turnbuckle, it was impressive that The Genetically Superior Athlete and The Boss were able to compose themselves, not just regain the crowd's attention and support but enliven them with some top class wrestling. The sequence that had the crowd sit up, take notice, then rise to their feet saw Charlotte hip toss a charging Banks into a tree of woe position, before after a battle on the top rope Banks would smoothly reverse an avalanche crucifix powerbomb into a hurricanrana in a Halloween Havoc '96 throwback.
The final five mintues or so was dramatic stuff, with both women getting strong near falls and Banks always looking to find a way of getting the Banks Statement locked in. A long sequence in the hold that saw Banks push off the ropes to bring Charlotte back into the ring at one point with Charlotte hitting a chop block to set up Natural Selection for two, leading to both women selling the pain and frustration of the match in their faces and throughout their entire bodies. It was a cool pause, that allowed the women and the audience to breath before the final stretch, allowing time to consider the previous action with the knowledge that there was more to come. The selling across the bout was very good. Charlotte getting the pin was somewhat of a surprise after only losing the belt three weeks earlier, but it does also present a more interesting story to go forward with. However, I would have like to have seen The Nature Girl grab the tights on the pin, instead of getting the clean, albeit flash, pin.
Heading into the show, I certainly wasn't expecting to be writing about Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton's match six matches into the review. But here we are, after a bizarre final match. The finish is what most people will remember here and it was odd to say the very least. About ten minutes into the show closer, Lesnar delivered a number of blows to Orton with the Viper on the mat. A few seconds into the series of strikes and Orton was PISSING blood from his forehead. The stream of claret coming from his dome was reminiscent of the Guerrero v JBL bout from Judgment Day in 2005 and perhaps looked even worse because of the ever-growing pool on the mat. I stay away from dirt sheets so have no idea what the plan was hear, but it appeared like something had gone wrong somewhere whether Lesnar caught Orton too strong or it was a blade job gone awry, but it felt to me like WWE had to call an audible by sending Smackdown Live Commissioner Shane McMahon in to take an F5 just to give the show an actual ending. If this was what was the plan all along, whoever had the idea shouldn't be booking wrestling.
The thing is, I was enjoying the interaction between Lesnar and Orton and felt like the two characters has slotted together exceptionally well. Orton having the RKO blocked in the first few exchanges and then taking an absolute beating from The Beast was a clever start that played off the story that had been presented across the two months of build. Lesnar battering people is rarely boring and this was no exception. He dominated his opponent with the regular German suplexes hitting seven without reply, before also just lobbing The Apex Predator through an announce table. We'd been told throughout the build that Orton could pull out an RKO at any time and that's what happened with one coming onto the other announce table and putting and end to The Conqueror's momentum. The spot were Lesnar crawled back towards the ring, only for Orton to hit his rope assisted DDT may have been ever better. After both had kicked out of each other's finishes in the ring, it looked like the match would head towards a finish similar to that of Cena v Styles, but that wasn't to be!
I'm not sure that anyone had picked out the Smackdown Live six woman tag bout as one they were particularly looking forward to, but it was perfectly acceptable contest, that included on of the biggest pops of the night. That pop was the return of the 2 time Diva's Champion Nikki Bella. This was Bella's first match since November and Brooklyn initially seemed pretty happy to see Bella. The return was built up well, with Eva Marie's entrance music playing, despite her being suspended, with her personal voiceover explaining that she was unable to compete due to stress. The angle is great way to turn a negative into a positive and the heat upon Marie's return will be nuclear. The returning Bella bolsters Smackdown Live's women's ranks and after the strong run she had before her injury matches with Becky Lynch, Natalya and Alexa Bliss should create some good action.
The wrestling was decent, nothing spectacular, but it kept a good pace, showcased six talents effectively and featured some nice exchanges between Bliss and Lynch and later Natalya with both Carmella and Naomi. For me, Bella seemed to have more than bit of ring-rust and has perhaps came back a little to early, with her timing being off at a couple of point during the match, but the other five performed well, with Bliss and Carmella both rising to the occasion in their biggest match of both of their careers. Lynch did a solid job of trying to get the shit Brooklyn crowd going (although one fan at ringside looked at her in utter disgust when she was getting the audience to clap with her) whilst the heel trio were working over Carmella, whilst David Otunga did some of his best work on commentary here also. The finish built up well with Lynch and Naomi both getting flurries of action in, before the breakdown allowed Bella to pick up the win with a Forearm strike and TKO on Carmella.
The most disappointing match of the evening came in the form of the Tag Team title match as The New Day (Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods) put their belts on the line against The Club (Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson). The most infuriating part was that the match flopping was nothing to do with Kingston, Woods, Gallows and Anderson, but everything to do with some horrible booking decisions. The first of those booking decision was having comedian and former Daily Show host Jon Stewart anywhere near the ring. It wasn't just his involvement in the finish getting physically involved and not allowing Gallows & Anderson to get the win after Magic Killer, but also the fact that the one thing you'd expect him to be good at, the introduction of Kingston and Woods, was fucking shambles. Maybe it's the whole American sense of humour being non-existent thing that leads to Stewart being a professional comedian and hosting a major chat show for sixteen years and still being painfully unfunny and seemingly unable to perform in front of a crowd, or maybe he's just shit. It was made even worse by it being a replacement for the usually magical New Day pre-match promo. Fuck you, Jon Stewart, you are to energy what a Dyson is to dust.
So, Stewart getting in the ring and flapping about like a fish in a bush wasn't actually the finish, Big E running down to the ring to stop Stewart getting pulled dick first into the ring post was, because of the disqualification. Now, Big E hitting multiple suplexes on the outside and cleaning house is always going to be a joy to watch, but it made no sense for him to come out and especially not in full gear and clearly able to compete. He wasn't in the match because he was (kayfabe) injured when his testes got squashed into the ringpost a few weeks ago, okay cool, I can buy that. What I can't buy however is that an injured Big E was backstage watching the match and when he saw Stewart's nuggets were in danger, stripped nude, rushed to get his singlet and boots on, repaired his knackered knackers and legged it to make the save. It was a mind bending piece of booking, that felt very much like a first draft that no one had bothered to look at a second time.
Headlining the Kick-Off event was a twelve man tag team rematch from this week's Smackdown Live as The Usos (Jey Uso & Jimmy Uso), The Hype Bros (Mojo Rawley & Zack Ryder) and American Alpha (Chad Gable & Jason Jordan) took on The Vaudevillains (Aiden English & Simon Gotch), The Ascension (Konnor & Viktor) and Breezango (Fandango & Tyler Breeze) in a fun match, that also opened that portion of the show. With twelve men the action should always be exciting and giving the match over double the time it had on TV meant that all twelve men could get a time to showcase themselves as individuals and as teams. It also gave room for a nice face in peril sequence from Ryder, which came either side of flurries of action involving all competitors, as well as hot tag turmoil from both Jimmy and Jordan.
The build towards a clash between The Usos and American Alpha got a whole lot more ammunition as the two teams were clearly the stars of the match, working together at points, trying to outdo each other at others and ending up like they might come to blows come the finish. It was an intelligent piece of build, with America Alpha hitting Grand Amplitude on Gotch, only for Jey to come flying off the top with a splash before Gable could get the pin, taking the victory for himself. Both Jey and Gable played the moment perfectly, staring at each other, as Gable tried to work out just what was going on. Jey had seemingly turned heel at the end of the match, putting his thing to his lips in "Shush" to the crowd, whilst also appearing to try to get in the face of American Alpha. There's some real potential for this feud, especially if given a slow burn and it could very well light up the blue brand before the end of the year.
The lone singles match on the Kick-Off was the 1st of a Best of 7 series between perennial rivals Cesaro and Sheamus. This was a match of two halves, as the first half was flat and the second half was an exciting stretch of action that had the crowd marking out and featured some creative spots and good quality wrestling. This was the tenth televised match between the two in just over two years and therefore the first part of the match felt like more of the same, lacked a bit of purpose, whilst also lacking the hard hits that have made their earlier bouts watchable on multiple occasion. You could easily have cut five or six minutes from this one and made it a better contest.
Luckily for Cesaro and Sheamus they managed to end the contest on a high with strong final stretch. It would have been hard to continue a Best of 7 series otherwise! The crowd finally rememberedd that they like Cesaro when he started doing cool moves like using the new bulkier ringpost as a launching pad for a massive crossbody and the Cesaro Swing, whilst the two used their signature offence to create impressive reversal sequence and get good near falls. The finish was definitely the right way to go, after Cesaro had won two non-series matches previous, as Sheamus countered the Sharpshooter with a thumb to the eye, threw The Swiss Superman into the post and hit a Brogue Kick for the pin. It was a good combination of a dominant victory for The Celtic Warrior, whilst also have him cheat to win, leaving more room to create interesting and compelling narratives for the next three to six matches between the two.
Rounding of the Kick Off action was another tag match (making that five on the entire event) where Sami Zayn teamed with Neville for the first time since March to earn a victory over The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray Dudley & D-Von Dudley). This was an enjoyable clash, that made the most out of all four of the competitors, using their strengths to communicate a simple story that was easy to watch. It was paint by numbers kind of stuff, but was done well with Dudley Boyz being superlative veteran heels, whilst Zayn and Neville are two exciting babyfaces that may have found a spot for themselves in the tag division. Some of the stuff that Neville & Zayn (The Underdogs that Gravity Forgot or The Men from The Underground?) were doing in their face shine was super pretty and added to the promise that they have as a team, they would only get better and more creative with their offense if working together consistently. The finish involved Neville escaping a 3D thanks to his agility, before Zayn would hit D-Von with a Helluva Kick and The Man That Gravity Forgot nailed a Red Arrow was a exhilarating finish that capped off a solid tag clash.
Rusev defending the United States Championship against Roman Reigns would never happen as the two began to brawl before the bell, leading to Reigns picking apart his Bulgarian counterpart on the outside of the ring and having to be pulled away from the scrap. In my opinion, this should have been how their match the previous episode of Monday Night RAW should have gone down, because it was a really good angle with a great brawling and got over the problems that the two have with each well. The problem was that this was on PPV and the second biggest show of the year, using this show to have an angle in the place of advertised contest is a bit silly. On it's own merits this was a strong piece of action that did what it had to do to show how the problems between two men had gotten out of hand, but it also has to be taken in the context of the PPV and the fact it came before the Lesnar v Reigns match meant that the show concluded on a bum note.
Bringing up the rear at SummerSlam 2016 was an Intercontinental Championship match where Apollo Crews challenged for The Miz's belt. This was an okay match, but the crowd would have cared more about a someone standing in the ring with a sparkler. Only going five minutes meant that Crews got no face shine and no chance to get an audience that is yet to invest in him to care about what was going, so we Maryse causing the distraction from the bell ringing. Both worked pretty well with each other, with the two characters and performers both seeming to have a little chemistry in the ring, whilst Crews comeback and spot that saw him catch a clothesline from Miz and hit a Belly to Belly suplex were also nice moments. Miz would end retaining his title with Skull Crushing Finale after pushing Crews into the ringpost to make sure the match did nothing for the career of the 29 year old former Uhaa Nation.
Best of the Rest
- Tom Phillips spoke to Jeri-KO in a funny but menacing interview ahead of their bout with Big Cass & Enzo Amore during the Kick-Off show.
ATPW Scale Rating -
Kick-Off - 6.1
Main Show - 6.43
Combined - 6.36
There matches stand out from SummerSlam for me, Cena v Styles, Balor v Rollins and Charlotte v Banks. Each one was worked was different from the other, but all three featured a big dollop of urgency and some great wrestling. Cena and Styles may have had the match of the night, but Balor and Rollins weren't far off and Banks and Charlotte produced another match that will help towards one day positioning women's wrestling in the main event slot. Even though Ambrose v Ziggler wasn't the match it could and should have been, I still think the stuff they did do was done well and it wouldn't have taken a whole lot more to boost it into the category of those first three matches. The Kick-Off event also managed to produce some strong action with the Twelve Man Tag and Sheamus v Cesaro worth a mention.
It was, of course, the show was not without it's problems. Lesnar v Orton concluded the PPV in bizarre fashion, whether it was planned to unfold that way or not, which wasn't helped by the previous Reigns v Rusev having not actually started. Then there was New Day v The Club, which at no fault of the competitors turned into a shambles thanks to Jon Stewart and some first draft, no thought booking.
Nontheless, when you've got six hours of a mainstream product like WWE, especially on a show like SummerSlam, you aren't going to like all of it. That's just how it is, if something isn't directly at you, six hours of it isn't going to be all for you. However, I thought SummerSlam was a good PPV event, that had a mixture of styles across the show and featured some excellent wrestling at points.
All content - James Marston