When I was in seventh grade, my grammar school decided to throw a Halloween party for the entire school. It was hyped for weeks as the greatest party of the school year. Their first school-wide Halloween party the year before was a big success and a good time was had by all, so we were really looking forward to the sequel. It turned out to be one big trick rather than a treat. The teacher in charge of putting the party together was beyond lazy and uninspired and needless to say, the party was just one big bore.
I normally wouldn’t start a wrestling recap with something so seemingly unrelated, but when SummerSlam 2016 ended after a marathon length of 6 hours and 6 minutes this past Sunday night, 25 year old memories of that bad Halloween party came flooding back. The three-day Weekend of Wrestling ended with a whimper instead of the bang that this show seemed poised to deliver on paper.
SummerSlam 2016 was the wrestling equivalent of said party: lazy, uninspired and overlong. This was not a good show at all. While it was packed with 13 matches, only two managed to live up to the high expectations on paper. Most of the matches wound up disappointing in one way or another. The booking had more holes than the entire production line of a Swiss cheese factory. Three matches had no proper finish. One match was a total bait-and-switch that only left a sour taste in the mouths of all watching. Both World titles and their respective champions were made to look unimportant while a pair of drug cheats got the top two matches on the card.
WWE is claiming a live attendance of 15,974 inside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY for SummerSlam, allowing them to boast that main roster WWE one-upped NXT by a slight margin. However, NXT bested WWE in the one area that truly matters: show quality. I read in the Observer that the main roster talent and crew felt motivated to top NXT Takeover. If this is the product of a motivated roster and crew, I’d hate to see what a show would be like if they were complacent and idle. Thumbs down and a crummy end to a three-day Weekend of Wrestling!
1. Pre-Show Match: American Alpha & The Hype Bros & The Usos Vs. The Vaudevillains & The Ascension & Breeztango: I admit I had major apprehensions about this match. Lately, pre-show tag team matches have been a hot mess, featuring random pairings of leftover guys not featured on the main card rushing through a far too short match. Imagine my surprise when this 12-man, 6-team tag match bucked the odds and wound up being one of the better matches of the overall show. They had 11 minutes, which was a major improvement over the less than 4 matches pre-show tag bouts had been receiving as of late. All six teams also worked like they had something to prove, which in a way, they do considering Vince McMahon’s penchant for mismanaging tag team wrestling. This extra motivation made for an exciting match. Even Fandango seems to be flourishing in a tag team role, something I would never have believed possible. American Alpha were the standouts; everything they did was simply fantastic. They seem to be building to an Usos heel turn, which is just as well considering the tandem have been booed out of every arena recently due to their familial affiliation with Roman Reigns. Chad Gable and Jason Jordan had the match won against the Vaudevillains, but Jey Uso tagged himself in and helped his brother steal the victory away with the Uso Splash. There was subtle acrimony when the Usos blanched at Gable & Jordan when the latter team held up their compatriots’ arms in victory. Nice subtlety that is often lacking on the main roster WWE product. ***3/4
2. Pre-Show Match: Neville & Sami Zayn Vs. The Dudley Boyz: This would be the latest swan song of the Bubba Ray and D-Von on a WWE PPV as Vince McMahon chose to renege on a handshake deal he had made with the team a week before regarding a contract renewal. Geez, I remember the days when a McMahon handshake deal was actually ironclad. It appears that Neville and Zayn are being packaged as a permanent tag team instead of being pushed as the legitimate singles stars they were in NXT. Oh well, better a solid tag team with a good chance to dominate the division instead of being jobbed to oblivion to arrogant beasts like Brock Lesnar. Match was a basic tag team match, but solid most of the way. Since the Dudleys were leaving, it only made sense for them to put over the new team on the way out. Neville scored the pin after a Red Arrow on Bubba while Zayn held D-Von at bay. ***1/4
3. Pre-Show Match: Sheamus Vs. Cesaro, Best of 7 Series Match 1: This was supposed to be on the main PPV card, but with Baron Corbin/Kalisto being scrubbed due to a worked injury angle for the latter, they decided to stick this match on the pre-show, where they would receive less time to pull off the great match both are capable of. Sure enough, that is exactly what happened. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good match but not the great match both are capable of. If any match should have been made the sacrificial lamb, it should have been the six-woman tag team match, especially since it looked weak on paper and was even worse in execution. But since John Cena used his political muscle to ensure that his girlfriend's match remained on the main card, Cesaro and Sheamus were royally screwed. There was one amazing spot where Cesaro climbed atop the enlarged ringpost and leapt off, leveling Sheamus with a lariat that has to be seen to be believed. Since this was a throwback to the traditional Best of 7 series of JCP/NWA lore, it made sense for the heel to win the first encounter, which Sheamus did with one well placed Brogue Kick. Word on the street is that the winner of this series is in line for a shot at the Universal title. Cesaro should win, but if the rumors are true that Roman Reigns is getting yet another world title run, Vince will rehash Reigns/Sheamus, which was already done to death in late 2015/early 2016. ***1/4
4. Enzo Amore & Big Cass Vs. Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens: There may be no tag team on main roster WWE as completely over with live audiences as Enzo and Big Cass are. They are the most charismatic team I’ve seen in years. Fans actually recite their dialogue in stereo with Enzo and Big Cass, not to mention eagerly eat up everything the duo says and does with relish. So what does McMahon do with this potential gold mine? Continue to job them out. It was even worse this time around since 1) Jericho and Owens were thrown together at random with no real set-up or even a reason why; 2) Jericho is not the lightning sharp workhorse he once was, visibly older and slower and 3) Enzo and Big Cass were the hometown tag team, yet they proceed to lose to the foreigners. The match was fairly solid. Enzo is getting blamed for missing spots, but when you’re working with an older veteran who was lost much of the speed from his fastball, it’s definitely a difficult job. I thought he did quite well considering the handicap of being matched against Jericho. To be fair, Jericho did look better in the ring than he has the past few months but he’s still a long away from his prime. Hiding him in a tag team was a smart move. Owens was fantastic and whenever he was in, the match was really good. For the most part, it was a solid, fast-paced affair. Then came the crummy finish, where the wrong team went over and to add insult to injury, Jericho scored the pin. A thrown together team made out of spare parts just beat your regular full-time team. Morons. ***1/2
5. Women’s Champion Sasha Banks Vs. Charlotte: This was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the entire show because both of these women are amongst the best wrestlers in the country and even the world, yet the match was barely average and extremely sloppy. To those who have eagerly followed the previous Sasha/Charlotte classics on NXT and Raw, the match must have seemed as if Brie Bella and Kelly Kelly somehow tied up the real Sasha and Charlotte, disguised themselves as the better talents and proceeded to do their usual sloppy, lazy and uninspired Divas matches that tortured the masses five years ago. That preceding remark may have been a run-on sentence, but it was fitting for describing a run-on match. As it turned out, by evening’s end, we would find out that Sasha Banks was entering the match with a severe back and shoulder injury. This certainly explains why the match was so below par by the high standards of both women. Charlotte screwed up a spot on the ropes that resulted in Sasha being slammed hard back first on the mat. Sasha looked like she was seeing stars and certainly didn’t do her back injury any favors, much less the match. They went through the motions, lacking the smooth spark of their classic matches of the past. Sasha attempted to make Charlotte tap to the modified Crossface, but Charlotte sloppily rolled atop of Sasha and the ref counted the pin. At least she didn’t cheat this time to secure a victory. Knowing that Sasha was nowhere near ready to perform at her usual high level, WWE could have made a last minute change to the match on the pre-show. They could have removed Becky Lynch from the worthless six-woman tag and added her to Sasha/Charlotte, stating that it was the brainchild of Raw GM Mick Foley and Smackdown GM Daniel Bryan, who both desired to stage the rematch of the century and a last stab over deciding which brand would wind up with the title. The triple-threat could have hidden Sasha’s injury-induced weaknesses and a fired-up Becky would have been able to carry the load. Another option would have had Foley declare that Sasha was too injured to compete, so the title was vacated but that Charlotte would have to earn the title the hard way by facing his newest acquisition: Bayley. Either of those options would have been better than what they did go with in the end. **