SummerSlam weekend has in a lot of ways become a miniature version of WrestleMania weekend: four events held in the same city, anchored by a destination event in front of their most hardcore fan base. Unfortunately, despite a stellar NXT TakeOver the night before, this year’s SummerSlam failed to deliver on most fronts, as head-scratching booking decisions and an exhausting format overshadowed the handful of genuinely good matches.
A core component of WrestleMania weekend is of course the Raw the night after — the show has become the stuff of legend as the hardcore fans who traveled from around the world cap off their rasslin’ vacation with one last show. The Raw after SummerSlam rarely has the same pomp as its bigger brother, but the audience has the same feel. Tonight from the Barclay Center, beach balls, the wave, and unusual chants were unfortunately in full effect as WWE delivered a fallout show about as uneven as the show the night before.
A Monster in Suplex City
The main event of SummerSlam, a demolition derby-style fatal four way match for Brock Lesnar’s Universal Championship, almost single handedly carried the rest of the show on its back. The spectacle mostly delivered on the hype, with several standout spots and an unpredictable finish. Arguably the biggest star of the match was Braun Strowman, who manhandled the Universal Champion on several occasions, sending him crashing through two announce tables and burying him underneath a third.
Strowman’s unlikely rise to stardom has been one of Raw‘s success stories, cementing himself as a bona fide main eventer thanks to a stellar feud with Roman Reigns and showing he can hang with The Beast Incarnate. Braun is actually even larger than Brock, which in and of itself is pretty impressive; even more impressive is that he can pick Lesnar up like he’s a Cruiserweight. So when the Monster Among Men interrupted Brock and advocate Paul Heyman’s in-ring celebration, the crowd went nuts.
There isn’t a lot to say about the segment, other than that it accomplished what it set out to do: Further establish Strowman as a legitimate threat to Brock Lesnar’s reign, as he stood tall after laying Lesnar out with another running powerslam. Later in the evening, WWE confirmed Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman for the Universal Championship as the main event of next month’s No Mercy PPV, virtually ensuring Raw‘s streak of huge dudes beating the crap out of each other in awesome PPV main events will continue.
Along with the chaotic main event, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins winning the Raw Tag Team Championships from Cesaro and Sheamus was one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise drab SummerSlam card. The "will they or won’t they" reformation of two thirds of The Shield has been one of the most well written, compelling stories in WWE in general, let alone on Raw, and their match with The Bar lived up to the hype. Their bond seems surprisingly strong given how much reluctance there was to reform from both sides at various points in the storyline, but for now, the Hounds of Justice (well, the smaller hounds; they are still sans Big Dog) are a cohesive unit.
Enter the Hardy Boyz, who challenged the new Raw Tag Team Champions to a dream match (that may or may not have been for the championships — that wasn’t made clear). As Corey Graves called it, "the clash of generations" was solid tag team wrestling. The Hardy Boyz continue to defy Father Time by being an entertaining tag team in the year 2017 while still maintaining something at least resembling the same gear they wrestled in in the 90s. Ambrose and Rollins defended the title in a fun back and forth match as Cesaro and Sheamus watched on from a monitor in the back, their contractually obligated rematch looming.
Of course, all anyone really wants to see out of Team Xtreme is more glimpses into the Broken Universe; anything less is a bit of a disappointment. Graves had a lot of fun with the situation, making several references to Matt’s past life as a vessel of the Seven Deities, wondering if Seth’s memory of the match would be "obsolete" after taking some blows to the head, and ruminating on whether or not Dean and Seth would be able to "delete" their heroes. No amount of winks and nods will fully satisfy, though, and it’s about to the point where I’d rather they didn’t even reference at all if they can’t do anything with it yet. The match tonight ended up being more of an exhibition than progressing either team’s storyline, meaning the Hardy Boyz continue to be in the frustrating holding pattern they seem to have been in since their return to the company in April.
The Face That Runs Both Places
Probably the biggest development on tonight’s episode of Raw was Kurt Angle’s big surprise, which has been hyped for…a couple hours via one quietly released YouTube video, I guess? Angle announcing he was delivering his big surprise was the first I had heard of it, honestly, but I digress. Angle’s surprise turned out to be John Cena, ostensibly the only man who has figured out that WWE’s official protocol on becoming a free agent is simply declaring you’re a free agent. The Franchise can come and go as he pleases to either brand, and after embarrassing Team Blue’s former Mr. Money in the Bank, Cena came to Monday Night Raw to call out one Superstar: Roman Reigns. The two most polarizing (read: disliked) wrestlers on WWE’s roster today had a brief stare down before being interrupted, surprisingly, by The Miz.
As if more evidence of SummerSlam‘s shortcomings was needed, Miz, who legitimately wrestled in front of about 50 people in the pre-show while the sun was still up yesterday, came to Raw with a purpose. The A-lister brought his A-game, spitting hot fire about the constant opportunities afforded to Cena and Reigns while the Intercontinental Champion "rode the pine" at the Biggest Party of the Summer. Miz’s best work always seems to come when pitted against Cena, and tonight was no different, as he invigorated a show that up till this point was about as meandering as the PPV that preceded it. Proving he’s one of the best in the company on the stick with another passionate, worked shoot-style promo, The Miz talked his way into a Raw main event against Cena and Reigns, along with Samoa Joe who eventually joined the fray.
Though Miz undoubtedly stole the segment, make no mistake: This is all about John Cena and Roman Reigns. They are WWE’s Superman and Batman, and if nothing else, the brand split has made it so these kinds of dream matchups feel important. It’s surprising to see the two paired up so quickly, as the period between SummerSlam and Royal Rumble is usually creative no man’s land, but it’s a truly titanic matchup between the two golden boys of the past 15 years.
The tag match, which served as the evening’s main event, could have been a five star classic for all I know, but the slap happy crowd managed to siphon attention away from the bout and put it directly on themselves as they paid attention to just about everything but the action in the ring. This is the downside to these kinds of destination weekends, and it’s not entirely the crowd’s fault — three nights of wrestling totaling 12 hours is simply too much to remain emotionally invested in. Let’s not absolve the crowd of all wrongdoing, though. A big part of wrestling shows is the audience, so this kind of flippant disinterest really takes away from the experience.
It’s not as if WWE gave them much to focus on, though. Despite a huge billing and a captivating lead-in, the match itself ended up being a paint-by-numbers WWE tag team main event, complete with accidental friendly fire to stoke the flames of a budding feud. In a familiar sight to anyone watching WWE in 2009-2011, a previously prone John Cena leapt to life to thwart The Miz’s attempt at capitalizing, putting him away with a single AA and deflating any momentum he had built earlier in the night.
The Rest of the Card
- Big Cass seemed to suffer a legitimate injury during a Brooklyn Street Fight against Enzo Amore, the match that should have been booked for the night before. Cass landed awkwardly on his knee after being thrown to the outside, and the match sort of petered out just as awkwardly from there. While it’s a tough break for the seven footer, Enzo vs. Cass has been the pits for a while and it’s probably for the best for both of them if they just reset. The man who walked away uninjured is apparently in the doghouse, and who knows how long Cass will be out, so it’s anybody’s guess where either of the former Realest Guys go from here.
- Conventional wisdom says Baron Corbin, Enzo Amore and possibly Rusev have pissed off the wrong person backstage to earn their on-air squashes, but I’m starting to think Emma should be grouped in with them. Her "bitching on social media about her place on the card" storyline feels all too real, and being squashed in nothing matches every week is not doing her any favors.
- I’m not sure where Jason Jordan is going. After losing to The Miz, he gets a match against Finn Balor simply by asking his new dad and…loses cleanly. He doesn’t have to be involved with the Raw General Manager every week, but after being thrusted into such a big league storyline, he’s already starting to feel aimless.
Overall, Raw felt a lot like SummerSlam: some great moments were overshadowed by the deluge of dreck surrounding them. The three big angles were entertaining, setting up a major main event for next month’s No Mercy PPV and reintroducing John Cena to the red brand while giving The Miz a moment to shine on the mic. Sadly, the payoff didn’t match the buildup in the main event, and the undercard seemed to have been mostly forgotten on this show, as much of the show ended up treading water.