As much as the wrestling world has changed in 2018, and for the better might I add, nothing exemplifies the stronghold and the brand footprint the WWE has on the pro wrestling scene than the interest and engagement of fans for their mega-weekends.
I'll be the first one to tell you, I fast-forward through WWE programming too often, and rarely ever to dive into anything on either show as of late. That's five hours - FIVE - that in my opinion, feels optional at best. It's quite crazy when you type it out.
But enough on the bashing. Because again, regardless of their weekly programming, no one does these mega-weekends better than the WWE. And naturally, I found myself diving into everything Vince-owned. Unfortunately, the weekend produced some great, some good, some bad, and ultimately, too much content. As always, here are a new notes from this fan on this year's SummerSlam weekend.
NXT TAKEOVER IV
- I'll repeat my usual feelings on NXT - I don't watch the weekly shows, but damn, their specials are awesome! I still believe the hype around the brand is often fabricated out of frustration with the main brand, as well as the die-hard wrestling fan's smugness for anything anti-WWE.
But when you get beyond that, NXT and the crew that works under Triple H's supervision, always hit it out of the park. For casual fans like me, these specials have the reputation of always delivering, and does a great job of bringing you up to speed on the matches and storylines for the night.
- Speaking of the crew on NXT, I absolutely love Mauro Ranallo. We all have our favorite play-by-play guys in sports and entertainment, but the raw passion and inner fandom of Ranallo just makes for such good energy. The dude flat out gets me hyped! It's such a breath of fresh air from the formulaic broadcasts across the board where everyone sounds similar, and even the WWE main brands that often sound insulting at times.
- Moustache Mountain is an absolute hilarious name for a tag team.
With that said, the opening contest between MM and The Undisputed Era was a great way to kick off the night. Also, it's tremendous seeing guys like Roderick Strong and Kyle O'Reilly get some sort of mainstream awareness after killing it in their ROH stints. I do worry about their ceiling at NXT, and overall, under the WWE umbrella. In fact, I share that feeling for a lot of the guys on this roster.
- Velveteen Dream gets it. It's quite shocking to think this dude is just 22 years old! There are very few true gimmicks and personalities in pro wrestling, and his whole aura is the kind that easily sticks out on a pro wrestling card these days.
By the way, "Call me Up Vince" on the tights was utterly fantastic. Dream won the weekend.
As for EC3, I'm not a fan of this version. I'll keep an open mind, but Impact EC3 just feels much cooler than NXT EC3. Maybe it's just me...
- Ricochet caught my eye in Lucha Underground when he was Prince Puma, and since then, I've been a fan and extremely interested on where his career was headed next. It was there in LU that I realized how absolutely athletic and really, insane, the dude was. He did just that with Adam Cole (Bay! Bay!) in his North American Title contest.
Ricochet is STILL something special, and it's STILL interesting to see not only how he navigates the WWE, but how the company further develops him going forward.
As for Cole, add him to the list of guys who seem like they can get lost in the WWE's system. I hope not.
By the way, the North American Title feels like one too many for NXT. I also find it to be rather ugly aesthetically, but it does look old school. Take that for whatever you will.
- The women were absolutely awesome. It's insane how impressive and stacked the WWE roster is with athletic and gifted women's wrestlers. Even in the NXT system. I'm guessing Shayna Baszler is on her way up?
- Gargano and Ciampia delivered, period. That was absolutely awesome, and so damn fun to watch. Match of the Year candidates get throw around a lot, and most of the time it's based on personal preference. As of today, this slots in right ahead of Okada vs. Omega from NJPW Dominion, and right after Pentagon Jr. Vs. Sami Callahan from Slammiversary. I can already feel some of you rolling your eyes - agree to disagree with me.
One last thing on NXT, and it's just an observation from the show - wasn't this supposed to be a developmental brand. Surely feels like a land of recently signed talent from other companies as of late. Just saying...
- Why on earth is the pre-show starting as early as 5:00pm? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why! But of course, with all of that complaining, there I was with the show on in the background as I tackled a few Sunday chores. Ugh, you got me again, Vince. You got me.
- The Cruiserweight championship match was actually a good contest. Unfortunately, I'm not sure the WWE has handled the Cruiserweight thing all that great. They had a second run at this type of deal, and what we've gotten are a bunch of dudes with no character buildup, and a WWE-self-created-stigma attached to them. I can't help but think how many of the talent on 205 Live would be highlighted and showcased in a much favorable focus elsewhere.
- I haven't been into the B Team. Maybe I'm the only one. I walked away from my laptop completely during this one. Hey, gotta save the attention for the good stuff. Long night ahead.
- This might sound crazy, but Dolph Ziggler and Seth Rollins were the match of the night for me. I didn't think this thought at the time, but once Summerslam faded to black - or some creepy show called WWE Stories began - that was the match that came flooding back to memory. Great match. Great pace. Two guys who can deliver. And a great finish.
- The Bludgeon Brothers are a cool powerhouse tag team. But seriously, the mallets are a bit much. Much as in it looks ridiculous to swing a mallet an man, and take it seriously.
- I could watch Braun Strowman run around the ring and pounce Kevin Owens all day long. Shockingly a quick match here, and one that definitely left the tidbit in your mind for a cash-in later tonight.
I'm not sure where Kevin Owens goes from here, but really, you also have to wonder what was the purpose of the last few weeks. I'm all for a good squash match to shake things up, but this was shocking - in an odd way.
- The Becky Lynch turn was great! Just awesome. It's always easy to bash the WWE on their story telling, but this one is a great one. Who can't relate to Becky Lynch's feelings? Especially after Flair weaseled her way into the match to grab the title, stripping away months of hard work and an impressive winning streak. I am really looking forward to to the new (is she a heel?) Becky Lynch.
Oh and by the way - why do the commentators always attempt to relay that all friends were "best" friends. It's nitpicking, but the hyperbole makes it a bit cheesy.
- Watching AJ Styles and Samoa Joe is just weird to me. At one point I even joked, "Where's Christopher Daniels?" With that aside, I'll reserve judgement on where this is going. It definitely gives Joe an edge, something he's lacked in WWE. I just fear this "family angle" will keep one of my favorite wrestlers of all-time, Styles, in the same weird midcard-champion purgatory.
- Triple H vs. The Undertaker at the Super Show-down being billed as "Last Time Ever" is SMH worthy. In fact, and not trying to be overly-critical here, but it kills one of my all-time favorite matches, which was the "End of an Era Match" from Wrestlemania 28.
Also, it hurts too much to watch Taker wrestle these days.
- The video package for The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan was phenomenal. Just absolute fantastic stuff in which only the WWE can produce. It felt like around this time the crowd started to die out, and truthfully, so did this viewer at home. But the finish was absolute gold. Looks like we're not done on the storytelling front here.
- Yawn, Baron Corbin. Sorry, never been a fan.
- I don't recall anything from the Nakamura vs. Hardy match other than Randy Orton threw on his ring gear to walk halfway down the entrance ramp just to turn around and head back. This could have stayed on Smackdown.
- I'm all for a good squash match. I've said this in the past, most notably after the John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar match a few years ago - a quick dominant match here and there adds reality to the product. Not all fights are this back-and-forth battle of struggle and attrition.
I know, all of you match rankers and scalers with your star systems probably just called it quits on this review. But really, the quick win can be shocking, and tell just as important of the story.
I liked that story here as it adds to the aura of Rousey, the former UFC fighter and "baddest woman on the planet". I'm a little uneasy about the title win so quickly, but hey, we've seen worst title situations in the history of wrestling. And this one is sure to add some intrigue, and of course, the replay value will be worth it for the company.
Where Bliss goes from here is a super unknown, and one that is sure to watch as it can be severely damaging to the Bliss character.
- Kudos to the WWE and the ultra-chess move of having Strowman threaten to cash in his MITB briefcase following the match. It added intrigue and anticipation to what might have been a match many groaned through.
Unfortunately, when it was over, that's just what this fan did.
No Strowman cash in, and the satisfaction (always a cool moment regardless of storyline) of having the protagonist finally overcome and prevail was done so abrupt and so unconvincingly, that it left my unbelief in the Romans Reigns character as high as it was in the middle of the entire story line. Translation: Reigns beat a guy he couldn't beat for the past three years after he was distracted by beating up another guy.
Again, I hate to nitpick, but how is that a payoff? And it happened so sudden!
The moment just fell off. It just didn't seem like the pay off Roman should have had.
I can't speak for wrestling fans, but I have a suspicion most fans still don't care for Roman Reigns. Not exactly a win here for the company, especially after the lengthy investment.
All in all, this entire weekend was something else. NXT was absolutely tremendous. Summerslam provided your typical nostalgic evening for wrestling fans. And I'm slightly intrigued by what's to come on Raw and Smackdown, especially as we ramp up heading into the much competitive Fall season.
But ultimately - the weekend as a whole, it's just too damn long. Especially for a Summerslam show that rendered too much content not worthy of remembering in the middle of it. I now fear for what just might be a 24-hour Wrestlemania in April. Of course, I'm kidding...sort of.