Previously at “Battleground“…WWE put on a surprisingly good show, even the majority of the matches felt like filler and none of the titles changed hands, with a few not even being defended (!!). There’s nothing wrong with all of the Champions retaining, except the booking of these matches was predictable, so we knew who would likely emerge as the victors. Nevertheless, at least all of the bouts were exciting on some level, with a few standing out as exceptional.
RAW (7/25/2016)– This was an exceptional episode of RAW, containing epic matches, compelling stakes and a dash of unpredictability. Shockingly- Sasha and Charlotte arguably stole the already excellent show with their incredible- and sometimes unintentionally scary- match. That was crazy, easily being Charlotte’s best work (at least on RAW). Finn and Roman battled for the #1 contender spot in a very intriguing bout that I think we all wanted to see. WWE definitely went all out in making this an exciting and memorable episode of RAW.
SMACKDOWN (7/26/2016)– This show…wasn’t very good, opening with a sloppy-ass Battle Royale filled with minor botches (Did you see the Ascension ‘double teaming’ Kane? Zack Ryder was especially clumsy). The booking was a lot more predictable, safe and sometimes even counterproductive. Becky avenged her loss against Natalya, meaning no one benefited. I did kind of like seeing Alexa Bliss, Naomi, Carmella and Eva Marie show up afterwards to establish themselves, even though it doesn’t lead anywhere. I found myself feeling bad for Heath Slater, who cuts a passionate promo about how he deserves a job, only to get gored by Rhyno. The Main Event is OK and it was interesting seeing Ziggler became the new #1 contender, but he isn’t as popular as he used to be as I don’t see how I can get emotionally invested in this ‘feud’. I’m not really sure who should’ve won, but Ziggler hasn’t really been credible enough. Most of these guys haven’t been on a victorious roll lately and didn’t Ziggler spend his last feud losing to Corbin? Meh. The production aspect also felt underwhelming compared to RAW, so I thought this Smackdown Live episode was pretty damn weak, especially as it’s supposed to be the babyface rival to RAW.
RAW (8/1/2016)– This show was really uneven,shining with consistently good matches, but floundering during the majority of promo/backstage segments. Enzo and Sasha do NOT make a good pair, with their flirty bantering being annoying and a little offensive. But I was hooked on the matches, especially ‘Sheamus Vs Cesaro‘ and ‘Rollins Vs Zayn‘. The finale surrounded a Paul Heyman/Brock Lesnar promo, which had a satisfying ending when Orton cameo’d and delivered an RKO out of nowhere.
SMACKDOWN (8/2/2016)– Ambrose and Ziggler have a verbal face-off and it was…interesting…On one hand, Ambrose seemed a bit too hostile and Ziggler did seem a bit too whiny, but both delivered their promos with passion and intensity and brought up some good points about each-other. Ziggler brought up his history as a member of the Spirit Squad, which was pretty funny. Bray Wyatt suddenly attacks Ziggler, setting up a match to challenge Ziggler’s position as #1 contender. I like these stakes. I also liked how they determined the #1 contender for the Intercontinental Championship, as it made yet another bout feel important. Brockasaurus Rex appears for vengeance too, with all of these elements uniting to elevate Smackdown over the previous weak. I think this was a steadier show than RAW was, even though it lacked its rivals higher points.
RAW (8/8/2016)- I didn’t like this show, even though I did like portions of it. The Lesnar/Orton video package was great and I really liked Finn Balor’s video package. Sheamus and Cesaro put on another great match as well. But Roman Reigns came across as a bit of douche when he confronted Rusev and Lana during their tedious wedding segment. Seth Rollins’ promo was underwhelming, probably because the crowd seemed strangely indifferent. The Club are becoming difficult to take seriously because their current angle surrounds Big E’s testicles…huh…The Mic Foley/Daniel Bryan segment was OK and I did like how it ultimately surrounded Rusev and Cesaro competing for the United States Championship. It elevated both men, in my opinion and the match was good too. But the other matches were average and the show overall kind of bored me.
SMACKDOWN (8/9/2016)– Alexa Bliss and Becky Lynch put on a short and energetic match after Eva-Marie had to drop out from a wardrobe malfunction, but Becky seems like an idiot for falling for the same tricks that cost her all of her relevant matches against Charlotte. Heath Slater puts on a surprisingly competitive bout with Rhyno and it was pretty good, but Heath’s status as the underdog is making me want to root for him. I feel bad for the guy, lol. The remainder of the show was solid, but standard. This episode was fine, once again lacking the high points of RAW, but being steadier and more smoothly paced.
RAW (8/15/2016)– The opening segment surrounds Rusev and Roman Reigns, with Stephanie and Foley trying to keep them under control. While Roman is much more natural on the mic, I can’t help but feel like Rusev was the more sympathetic party. Roman came across as a douche with his taunts, while Rusev genuinely seems to want to defend the honor of his wife. Later on, Roman declares that he’s ready for any kind of fight Rusev wants, only to be successfully ambushed by the Bulgarian Brute. Guess he wasn’t ready? The Jericho-Owens dynamic is interesting because Owens looks bored, although that might be the point as Jericho seems overly enthusiastic about their pairing. I kind of think Jericho is overdoing the ‘it’ gag, but Jericho’s enthusiasm makes it work well enough. The whole New Day/Club storyline is stupid and hurting the credibility of everyone involved- in my eyes, anyway…even though 2 members of the New Day promptly squash the Dudleyz.The best segment of the night surrounded Brock Lesnar and…Heath Slater? Heath challenges him to a match and Lesnar, if only for a moment, seems sympathetic to his plight. It does not end well for the ‘hottest free agent in sports entertainment’ and it was kind of terrifying. Lesnar, Heyman and Slater all played their parts magnificently. Very uneven episode.
SMACKDOWN (8/16/2016)– Heath Slater tries his hand at winning a contract by defeating Randy Orton, who brutalizes him far worse than Brock Lesnar did. I can’t find myself to cheer for this, as I feel too sorry for Heath, even when his stupidity keeps costing him contracts. The remainder of the show was average, with everything else playing out exactly how you think it would. The main event is ‘John Cena Vs Alberto del Rio‘, but why would del Rio ever win? They even acknowledge he’s not on the card for the PPV and this show is promoting that event? Watchable, but standard smackdown. It looks like Bray and Rowan are splitting up too…again…The presence of a family seems to be the only thing keeping Bray a threat, so why? Once again, RAW wins (albeit barely).
1) Cesaro Vs Sheamus- Cesaro
2) Sami Zayn and Neville Vs the Dudleyz- Sami Zayn and Neville. Have the Dudleyz even won anything since their debut?
3) American Alpha, Hype Bros and the Usos Vs Vaudevillains, Ascension and Breezango- The Good guys.
4) Brock Lesnar Vs Randy Orton- Lesnar.
5) Finn Balor Vs Seth Rollins- Seth Rollins
6) Dean Ambrose Vs Dolph Ziggler- Ambrose
7) John Cena Vs AJ Styles- AJ Styles, because Cena will probably take more time off.
8) Rusev Vs Roman Reigns- Rusev, because Reigns seems to be dominating the feud.
9) Sasha Vs Charlotte- Charlotte, for the same reasons.
10) The New Day Vs the Club- New Day
11) Enzo and Cass Vs Jericho and Owens- Enzo and Cass
12) The Miz Vs Apollo Crews- Crews?
13) Carmella, Becky Lynch and Naomi Vs Natalya, Alexa Bliss and Mystery partner- The villains.
(Kick-off Match) The Hype Bros, American Alpha and the Usos Vs the Vaudevillains, Ascension and Breezango– From what I understand, there is a bit of a story-line here as the Tag Team division is envious of American Alpha. You do notice some tensions between them, but if an angle comes from this, they’re still in the building stage. It was an acceptable, chaotic 12-Man Tag Team match, with the finale even providing some cool stuff. But did I need this? Not really. The…*sigh*…length of this PPV is going to make me more of a critic than usual, because I won’t tolerable unexceptional filler when I have to watch 4+ hours of a single event.
(Kick-off Match) Neville and Sami Zayn Vs the Dudleyz– Um, was there even a story here? Did they just want to put everyone on this card? Are Zayn and Neville becoming an official tag team? Why is this happening in this FOUR HOUR LONG EVENT!? The match was standard, something I could’ve easily seen on RAW or Smackdown. The only way to justify its presence here would’ve been if the Dudleyz finally split up, which they’re obviously building towards. Update: Turns out the Dudleyz are leaving the WWE, so yeah…
(Kick-off Match) Sheamus Vs Cesaro– I’ve enjoyed this program, because their hostilities seem genuine and their matches have been great, so they don’t need an elaborate story-line. This was a good, hard hitting match and Cesaro even busted out some new maneuvers, although I personally prefer their previous few bouts. I can’t complain about the quality though, ignoring the…*growls*….FOUR HOUR LONG RUNNING TIME! Wait, why am I even watching the Kick-off Show? It’s not even part of the 4-hour long running ti- Oh shit.
Enzo & Big Cass Vs Kevin Owens and Christ Jericho (JeriKO)– I was surprised how much attention this storyline got in the past few weeks, as there weren’t any stakes involved and this almost seemed like filler. It was generally entertaining though as long as it didn’t involve Enzo flirting with Sasha Banks or involving any kind of reference of Enzo flirting with Sasha Banks. This was a fast paced, solid opener that surrounded the traditional formula of the heels ganging up on the smaller babyface, so the hot tag will cause the arena to explode. It worked and Jericho and Owens are an amusing pair. This is the kind of match that sets up the right pace for the evening…hopefully…without necessarily stealing the show from everyone else.
WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP: Sasha Banks Vs Charlotte– I generally enjoyed the development of this feud, as long as it did not involve Enzo flirting with Sasha or any reference to Enzo flirting with Sasha. The banter between Sasha and Charlotte was biting, although the whole ‘get Dana Brooke banned from ring-side’ subplot was obvious and should’ve clued me into who would emerge victorious. Speaking of which, Dana and Charlotte don’t have the right dynamic to be a worthwhile pairing. This was a strange match, sloppy as it was exciting. There were some really cool spots, the suspense kept me engaged, the pacing was perfect and the psychology was…well, it might not have been psychology. There were a lot of miscues, which sometimes grew comical as the ladies obviously weren’t connecting with their strikes and some maneuvers just looked bad. But the good and the bad was sort of upstaged by a bad landing by Sasha, which appeared to legitimately hurt her. She was favoring her lower back the entire match, possibly because of the fall, although she might’ve just been selling. The crowd was mostly invested and I will admit to watching intently, but I would rather a mediocre bout where I’m not really concerned for their health over a great match which ends up with someone hurt. Mad props to Sasha for pulling through though, assuming she was actually hurt. (Update: Apparently Sasha had some nagging injuries going into this and the match may have aggravated them, but she should be back sooner than later.)
INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP: The Miz Vs Apollo Crews– Um, if hulu acknowledged this story, then I must’ve forgotten about it. I guess I don’t mind Crews in the title picture, but he hasn’t been booked particularly strongly and crowds seem indifferent to him as a result. I guess I’m a little interested in this match, as it’s different, even if nothing else about it will likely be emotionally involving. The match was pretty good though, even if the unenthusiastic crowd deflated the energy and the Miz seemed WAY too dominant at times, deflating some of Crews’ momentum. Nevertheless, it did showcase the strength, athleticism and skill-set of Crews, who deserves much better booking than this. His Intercontinental Championship contendership really feels like an afterthought, so it’s hard to care. Solid match, especially considering that it’s obviously designed to give us a breather.
A.J Styles Vs John Cena– Chapter 3 of the ongoing saga between Cena and Styles also feels like an afterthought, although Chapter 2 was significantly less compelling than the first, so I guess the creative team is running out of ideas. I don’t understand why they split up the Club, as they were on their way to becoming the most compelling part of WWE television. Styles and Cena continue to bicker anyway, but by now, it feels like they’re going through the motions. Luckily, they worked hard to put on a great match for their final (?) clash and they succeeded. The slow burn pacing was exactly what this bout and overall show needed at the half way point, as I didn’t find it to be exhausting or underwhelming. It was incredibly competitive, with both men looking very good throughout the duration of the match. The psychology was interesting because Cena actually seemed to be selling a lot of his injuries, with his strength at times just leaving him during his attempts to use his powerhouse moveset. The ending was a little chilling as Styles cleanly defeated Cena, with symbolism implying that Cena is finally giving up. Is he retiring? I hope not! Cena and Styles have perfect chemistry together, so I’d even be game for a fourth chapter, although I’d prefer the writers come up with some more exciting content to be worthy of such an exciting match.
TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP: The New Day (Woods and Kingston) Vs The Club (Gallows and Anderson)– This storyline has been stupid, as the whole ‘Doctor’ angle has been stupid, Big E’s nuts being the center of attention has been stupid, the puns have been stupid, the separation of the Club has been stupid and the decision to change Gallows and Anderson into comedic relief has been stupid. I really feel that this program has hurt both the New Day and Gallows/Anderson. The match…ugh, the worst part about it is throughout the first 2/3’s, it was pretty good. Gallows and Anderson in particular stood out as impressive, as they seemed so much swifter than usual, while their size advantage also came into play. There wasn’t a dull moment thanks to a constant back-and-forth of competitiveness, but then…Jon Stewart had to get involved. I don’t know why he’s so annoying whenever he appears on WWE programming, as I usually think he’s hilarious. Maybe it’s because his strength lies in his wit and political satire, not the broader style of comedy that he’s trying to work here? I don’t know! Furthermore, it made the New Day look bad, as they would’ve presumably lost without his interference…and they’re supposed to be babyfaces. Big E returns, but that was predictable and lead to a shitty, unsatisfying finish.
WWE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP: Ambrose Vs Dolph Ziggler– This program had its strengths and weaknesses, with its biggest flaw being that Ziggler was not a credible #1 contender. This is the first major Smackdown ‘Main Event’ story and Ziggler has been used too much as talent enhancement to take seriously as potential World Champion at this point, so his presence kind of diminishes the prestige of the belt and Smackdown. Yet I did like how they used this as part of the story and it felt meaningful when Ziggler began overcoming so many odds and I liked the presence of the Wyatts, as they elevated the tensions and the stakes on a weekly basis. I believe Ziggler has been phoning it in the past few months, but his passion must’ve been re-ignited, as his promos have been pretty damn good lately. So even though I think Ambrose’s first major rival on Smackdown should’ve been someone with more legitimate booking, the writers and performers made this feud much more engaging than it should have been. Unfortunately, while boasting a few cool moments, the match was kind of boring. There were way too many periods of rest, where the dominant superstar would just stand around while their opponent lay on the ground. The action never really seemed to pick up momentum either, with the finish being weirdly anti-climactic and awkward. Also, was it just me or did Ambrose kind of bury Ziggler? His mockery of Zigglers’ antics was amusing, but strange considering Ambrose is not supposed to be a villain and there was a noticeable pause between him landing his finisher and making the pin. I’m probably misreading his intentions, but this bout never caught fire for me or the crowd. I’d say it’s more underwhelming than terrible though, something that would’ve been adequate on Smackdown.
Becky Lynch, Carmella and Naomi Vs Alexa Bliss, Natalya and a Mystery Partner– I can’t really complain about the build-up to this match, as hulu did acknowledge it and I will admit to even enjoying some of these segments, but…ugh, I never thought I would say this…The lack of Eva-Marie (suspension) makes this kind of pointless, as it seemed like the division is being built around her trolling of her opponents. Yeah, she’s a horrible wrestler, but her gimmick does seem to be working and it would’ve been satisfying seeing her get her L’ass (forgive me) kicked. But if it weren’t for the mystery partner angle, I suspect this would’ve found itself on the Kick-off show. The return of Nikki Bella does give it more relevance, I guess. Although is she supposed to be a face or heel? She got the loudest pops and pandered to the crowd like a babyface, but she’s working with the heels. Pretty bland match, with the only standout performance coming from Naomi. I had forgotten how athletic she is, although her horrible outfit sort of upstages how good she can be. Nikki did very little, even though she scored the pin.
WWE UNIVERSAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Seth Rollins Vs Finn Balor– This program hasn’t been bad, but it has been a little…underwhelming? The ‘Universal Championship’ name is lame and I expected more out of Balors’ arrival. His ‘Demon King’ appearance should’ve been kept off RAW, being reserved for the PPV and it should’ve been more…I don’t know…crazy? Memorable? Important? The body writing looks silly to me and the ‘green’ tongue resembled vomit (at a distance). His NXT entrances seemed more epic to me and their bantering promos were solid, but nothing has stood out. The build-up has benefited from strong booking and I didn’t think its presentation was bad, but considering the stakes and talents involved, I expected more. The match itself was…good…Not great and I think we all wanted this to be a classic, but there is little I can actually criticize about it. It had a steady pace and both men used plenty of interesting maneuvers. Rollins seems a lot more dangerous than he was during his World Championship reign, which I approve of. I’m not entirely sure if this is intentional, but Demon Balor seems to get more powerful as he takes more damage, in contrast to Lesnar’s invincibility and Cena’s freakish recovery time. When I consider his last bout with Samoa Joe and this current match, Balor initially sells his enemies attacks like everyone else. But over time, he starts shrugging off their more advanced techniques and becomes more dominant while his enemies lose strength. He started kicking ass AFTER taking a pedigree from Rollins. If this is part of his gimmick, I LIKE IT. It’s a refreshing change of pace from traditional ‘no selling’. Returning to the quality of this match, I think the problems include-
- Our expectations were too high.
- This PPV is too long and people are getting tired, so it would’ve had to be much more explosive to keep our attention.
- The placement on the card. It’s not the main event and I doubt they wanted this to (intentionally) upstage ‘Lesnar Vs Orton‘.
But I do still believe that this was a good match that simply was buried underneath a bloated card and an exhausted audience.
UNITED STATES CHAMPIONSHIP: Rusev Vs Roman Reigns– The f@ck? I thought it was strange that this belt was being defended after its more prestigious brethren were battled over, but then the match just didn’t happen. They brawled outside and it was determined this match would not take place. Lame. Was this a botched attempt to recreate the unstable Roman that temporarily got over late last year? Did one of them suffer an injury behind the scenes? Did a previous match go on for too long? This was odd and the crowd was pissed. I expect this shit on TV, not a PPV. The storyline wasn’t very good anyway, as Roman came across like a smug jerk, even though he’s supposed to be a hero. It’s too much of a soap opera for my tastes, although I can actually see why some would find it enjoyable. It’s not the unwatchable disaster that embodied the Rusev/Ziggler program, but I wasn’t a fan. Still, I expected an actual match. We were all let down.
Brock Lesnar Vs Randy Orton– I’ve enjoyed the simple build of this feud, as Orton has been killing in his promos, while the Lesnar/Heyman pairing doesn’t seem to have an expiration date in terms of being entertaining. Would I have preferred them take this feud farther? Yeah, it would’ve been cool if Orton resurrected his legend killer gimmick and maybe punted Lesnar. But that doesn’t mean I disliked what we got. Although I kind of disliked what we got HERE, as it was a one-sided beatdown reminiscent of Lesnar-Cena from “SummerSlam (2014)“. It just didn’t connect in the same way, as Orton’s style is different than Cena’s. John Cena is presented as a more defensive combatant, who is durable, strong and quick to recover, so it’s more horrifying to see those defenses crumble like glass underneath the might of the beast. Orton is more counter-offensive, his moveset being based around quick reversals that do maximum damage. To the credit of the match, this is acknowledged as Orton did have his hope spot and seemed more effective than Cena, but him spending the majority of the bout getting his ass kicked just doesn’t stand out as meaningful. Eventually, Lesnar starts getting so physical that he busts Orton’s head open and…it became uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons (to me). With injuries becoming such a common problem within the roster, it seems really tasteless to try to evoke such a work on the audience- who sounded genuinely disgusted. It’s possible history will take the side of this match, as it just depends on what they plan to do next. It doesn’t feel like anyone is being built up to be a credible challenge to Lesnar, whereas in 2014 they were trying to make Reigns ‘that guy’. Orton was one of the only performers left who could’ve rivaled Lesnar, but I doubt anyone would be able to see him as a possible threat anymore. If getting heat on the beast was the intention, then mission accomplished. But remember that Lesnar’s part-time schedule derailed his heat when he conquered the Undertaker’s streak as well, as fans will start to miss him. If this match leads to a cool angle, then it will have been worth it. But if it doesn’t, then why end the PPV on such a downer?
Overall: I feel like there is a good show somewhere in “SummerSlam (2016)“, but its entertainment value was seriously restricted by the bloated running-time and general overexposure to the WWE. Why do they want to have “NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II” and the longest annual PPV to take place in the same weekend? That only seems like it’s going to draw unwanted comparisons (“NXT TakeOver” specials are consistently acclaimed shows, the main roster PPV’s are…not) and is bound to burn viewers out, especially when you remember that RAW and Smackdown almost immediately follow these events. I probably enjoyed this PPV more than most because I…kind of cheated…I was unable to watch this live, so spent the next few days watching the event in segments. For the first day, I chose to stop at ‘AJ Styles Vs John Cena‘, which would’ve been a satisfying main event to a satisfying show…except I was only about 90 minutes into said show. If I had viewed “SummerSlam” live along with everyone else, I’m pretty sure I would’ve gotten impatient with subsequent matches or drowsy, as I had already experienced the climax. For the second day, I finished with the 6-woman tag team clash and the problems within the booking and quality of the matches had begun to surface, even if it was all tolerable. I probably would’ve been significantly more annoyed if I hadn’t separated this questionable chunk of screen-time from the rest. I watched ‘Balor Vs Rollins‘ individually, which is probably why I saw it as a good match, as the disappointment would’ve stung a lot more if I had spent the previous 3-5 hours watching wrestling. I spent the last day with the final two matches, which was arguably the lowest point of the show, which would’ve likely infuriated me had I viewed it live. Maybe I just found the secret to enjoying the 4-6 hour long SummerSlam event, as watching an hour or two hours at a time will allow you to judge the matches on their own. I personally feel it’s impossible to properly pace such a long event, as slow burn bouts get boring and fast paced clashes get exhausting in the context of overexposure to professional wrestling.
Final Word: I’ve chosen to end “MartialHorror cuts a PROMO” for a handful of reasons, the first being that I need to re-evaluate pieces of my life so I can pursue my true passion (screen-writing). The second is that these critiques have sort of diminished my interest in wrestling, making me question how much I loved it in the first place (as movie reviews haven’t affected my love of cinema). The third is that I feel like wrestling critics should be much more familiar with the terminology of the wrestling maneuvers, so I’m not the ideal expert. But I wanted this review series to have a true conclusion, even though I had made this decision a few months ago. My first formal (written) critique was of “SummerSlam (2015)“, so why not finish with this years “SummerSlam“, so I can say I covered a full years worth of WWE content? Thank you for following me on this journey and I hope you continue reading my other various works. This might not actually be my final wrestling critique, but it will be my final planned one. If a storyline or PPV really jumps out at me (good, bad, or interesting) and I feel like I have to write about it, I’ll dust off this moniker once more for that special occasion. THANK YOU!