WWE SummerSlam Analysis and Predictions

The WWE will descend on Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center this weekend for the second biggest pay-per-view event of the year, SummerSlam.  This event was originally announced to take place in the Izod Center here in New Jersey, which was unfortunately shuttered shortly thereafter.  The move to the Barclays Center has been fortuitous for the WWE as ticket prices in the aftermarket have gone through the roof.  It was not as fortunate for me as I was unable to get tickets in the primary market (thanks for nothing, Ticketmaster) and I’ve decided against paying upwards of $500 to go see it live.  Call me cheap, but at that price I’m quite content to sit on my couch and watch it on the WWE Network which I already paid my monthly $9.99 fee for in August.

As SummerSlam returns to the New York area for the first time following a six year run in Los Angeles, the WWE is riding a hot summer.  Network subscriptions and quarterly earnings are up, and the stock price has risen as a result.  Looking to make a splash, the WWE has taken the unusual step of making SummerSlam a four hour event, a lengthy duration typically reserved only for WrestleMania.  Not only are they trying to sell this as a stand-alone even to drive network subscriptions, but they are also setting us up for WrestleMania 32 in April, an event that can potentially shatter live attendance records if it is marketed properly.

The card is loaded from top to bottom with veteran and young talent in nine matches, and is also peppered with celebrity involvement.  There are a few potential Match of the Year candidates, and two main-events which will probably have fans buzzing for weeks after the show is over.  Interestingly enough, there are three singles matches with no stipulations or titles on the line, they are simply old-school grudge matches.  There is so much publicity headed into the show that it actually going to be covered on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Sunday. Let’s take a look at what to expect.

Jon Stewart

The former host of The Daily Show was recently announced as the celebrity host of the show, his biggest public appearance since stepping aside from his own show.  Stewart is a huge wrestling fan and worked a faux-feud with Seth Rollins on the Daily Show earlier this year.  He followed that up with a live appearance at WWE Raw in Newark in March in which he hosted a humorous segment with Rollins and J&J Security that culminated with Stewart delivering a swift kick to Rollins’ family jewels.

While Jon Stewart was known for his polarizing political views as host of The Daily Show, he is also a talented entertainer, and has already proved that he can fit in nicely with the WWE talents in a live setting.  It is tough to say exactly how he is going to be used, but I’d expect it to be funny to watch no matter what happens.  If I had to guess, he’ll have some sort of interaction with Seth Rollins, likely agitating the heel champion.

Dolph Ziggler (with Lana) vs. Rusev (with Summer Rae)

Rusev enjoyed a spectacular run during his rookie year making his debut shortly after WrestleMania XXX in 2014 with his valet Lana.  After a few modifications to his character, including dropping his first name and re-branding his character as a Russian, he caught a hot streak that carried him all the way to WrestleMania 31 as an undefeated heel.  Lana was the perfect pairing for Rusev, often riling up the crowd with her faux-Russian accent, playing off of very real anti-Russian sentiment that was popular at the time due to the situation in The Ukraine.  Rusev was the classic foreign wrestling heel, and the pair could captivate an entire arena.

Unfortunately, Rusev has lost a great deal of momentum this year.  A high-profile victory over John Cena at FastLane in February was followed by three straight losses to Cena starting at WrestleMania 31.  He was legitimately injured in a match and missed some time with a broken ankle.  He was once again re-branded as a Bulgarian, his actual native country.  He split up with Lana.  But worst of all, he was paired with the odd-looking and talentless Summer Rae as his new valet.

Summer Rae is among the worst of the Divas currently on the WWE roster, and the bar was already set pretty low to begin with.  She couldn’t get Fandango over during her program with him, and nobody really missed her when she disappeared from TV.  Whereas Lana empowered Rusev with her promos by making him appear to be strong and ruthless, Summer Rae only emasculates Rusev and makes him appear to be weak and dependent on her.  She’s done nothing to advance his character and only continues to sabotage his career development.

Dolph Ziggler is back from filming another straight-to-DVD movie from WWE Films, having been written off of TV for a month following a faux-injury at the hands of Rusev.  Ziggler is at his peak as a wrestler, having never broken through to consistent main-event level programs.  He is an unnatural and awkward babyface and would be much better off if he returns to being a heel.  His pairing with Lana is uninteresting doesn’t really do either much good.

In summary, three of the four talents in this match are being misused, and the fourth, Summer Rae, really needs a pink slip.  Despite all of that, both Rusev and Ziggler are talented performers and both have the ability to carry an exciting match.  If the valets stay in the background, you can expect this to be an entertaining contest.  If the cameras focus on the Summer Rae/Lana feud, this could turn into a stinker.

Prediction: Winner, Rusev

The Prime Time Players (c) vs. Los Matadores vs. the Lucha Dragons vs. The New Day in a Fatal Four Way match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

Not much to say about this match, it is yet another indication that the tag team division is languishing.  It feels like every single major pay-per-view has a multi-team tag match for the championship for lack of a better idea for the tag team talent on the roster.

Los Matadores have failed to get over at all on their own, the only thing going for them is they bring a midget to the ring costumed as a bull that kids seem to like.  The Lucha Dragons are never going to get a push, they are only on the roster to appeal to the Lucha Libre fans in the international audience.  The champions, The Prime Time Players, have simply been re-packaged as the same failed team they started off as several years ago.  It feels like they were given the championship simply because Titus O’Neil is highly regarded within the company because of his commendable community outreach work.

The crown jewel of this match is the Freebird-like three-man-tandem of The New Day.  What was originally supposed to be an uplifting babyface gimmick for the trio backfired and turned into a terrific heel gimmick.  They have the crowd right where they want them, even leading them in a chant that they know is going to be turned against them, getting themselves mercilessly booed every time they walk down the aisle.  I am also a huge mark for the “Freebird Rule” that allows two random members of the faction to compete as a tag team on any given night.  It is just so ridiculous that something like that could be a rule even in the fantasy world of the WWE, and that is what makes it so entertaining.

The Prime Time Players have churned out a few entertaining vignettes these past few months, but they really don’t have much else going for them.  The New Day was just finding their way as champions when they dropped the titles, it’s time for a second championship run for the trio.

Prediction: Winners and new WWE Tag Team Champions, The New Day

Ryback (c) vs. Big Show vs. The Miz in a Triple Threat Match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

It has been a tough year for Intercontinental champions in the WWE.  Daniel Bryan won it at WrestleMania and immediately suffered a potential career-ending concussion before he could defend the title on a pay-per-view.  Ryback won the title and was felled by a staph infection.  Fortunately for him, he recovered in time to return to the roster without being stripped of the title.

This match was supposed to have happened already but was postponed due to Ryback’s injury.  The feud is stale at this point and this is going to be a “what you see is what you get” type of match.  The Miz has been stuck in neutral in years and spends as much time filming movies as he does working in the WWE.  The Big Show has flip-flopped sides so many times, the fans can barely remember if he is a babyface or heel week over week.  Ryback has the most upside out of the three of them right now, but even he is running the risk of overusing his “feed me more” tagline. I don’t expect this match to be remembered as a classic.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, Ryback

Randy Orton vs. Sheamus

The animosity between these two was contrived only a few weeks ago, I think this match will be pleasantly surprising and should be entertaining from an aesthetic standpoint.  Both Randy Orton and Sheamus are known commodities and can work any type of match with anybody.  Sheamus has been criticized by some for not using much traditional heel psychology during his matches.  However, his new look and attitude, along with his in-ring talents are enough to cover him and get him over as a top heel that the company so desperately needs right now.  Randy Orton’s vicious and deceptively quick style should complement Sheamus’ penchant for brawling, and you can expect them to beat the hell out of each other one way or another.

The Money in the Bank contract that Sheamus carries around is going to be a permanent wild card until he finally cashes it in.  Is he going to win and cash it in at SummerSlam?  Is he going to lose and cash it in at SummerSlam?  Is he going to do a run-in during the title match, attempt to cash it in, and get thwarted by John Cena?  Who knows?  It certainly carries enough intrigue to get me to stay tuned.

Prediction: Winner, Sheamus

Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro

Cesaro can’t seem to get anything going.  He won the initial Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 30 and that was quickly forgotten.  He was paired with Paul Heyman, and they never really had much chemistry and the pairing was quietly dropped.  He was criticized for not getting over by Vince McMahon himself in a non-kayfabe interview on the Steve Austin Podcast on the WWE Network.  He was paired with Tyson Kidd in a tag team that the fans wanted to embrace, but unfortunately Kidd suffered what is likely a career ending neck injury at the hands of a careless Samoa Joe.  So, it’s back to the drawing board again for Cesaro.  This time around the fans are trying their own grass-roots effort to get him over by printing out “Cesaro Section” signs and handing them out to each other at live events. Even still, he stumbles through his promos and can’t seem to get through a match without blowing at least one spot.

Kevin Owens burst on to the scene with a surprise victory over John Cena at The Elimination Chamber earlier this year and immediately captivated the fan base that was hungry for new talent.  Of course, the WWE wasn’t going to let that victory stand for long and Owens lost his next two matches to Cena.  But the quality of his matches were unexpectedly good, and the rookie has the look of a can’t-miss prospect, reminiscent of a young Kurt Angle when he made his pro debut.

This match should be interesting, if only for the fact that both men are carrying themselves as someone with something to prove.  Expect to see a showcase of innovative offensive moves from the imaginative Kevin Owens, and let’s hope that Cesaro can keep pace.

Prediction: Winner, Kevin Owens

Stephen Amell and Neville vs. Stardust and King Barrett

Every so often, the WWE brings in an outside celebrity to generate interest from fans from the outside.  In the past we’ve been treated to sightings like Liberace, Billy Martin, Cindy Lauper, Muhammed Ali, and Mr. T. at WrestleMania I, Ozzy Osbourne at WrestleMania II, Lawrence Taylor at WrestleMania XI, and of course, Mike Tyson at WrestleMania XIV.  Maybe something is lost on me, but I somehow doubt that Stephen Amell is going to be regarded in the same light as the examples I just sited.  Perhaps I’m living under a rock because I have no idea who the guy is or why they brought him in.  I could google it but I care so little that I’m not going to waste my time.

I see what the WWE is doing here but this match just isn’t for me.  They want Neville to come off as a comic book hero for children, and Stardust to face off against him as a comic book villain.  Fair enough, but throwing in an actor and King Barrett, who changes direction almost monthly, is going to take away from what could have been a decent match.  They are going to have to cover for Stephen Amell’s lack of experience.  I can’t see how this is going to help Neville or Stardust much in the long run, and Barrett is basically a lost cause at this point.

I’ll keep an open mind, but I wouldn’t promise anybody that this is a must-see match headed into it.  I’m willing to bet that most WWE fans would probably laugh if Amell were legitimately injured in this match.

Prediction: Winners, Stardust and King Barrett

Team Bella vs. Team B.A.D. vs PCB in a Three-Team Elimination Match

So, the WWE decided to make a splash in the Diva’s division by bringing up a bunch of rookies from NXT, in the hopes that it would captivate the audience in a way not seen since the Wyatt Family and The Shield factions were brought up to the main roster.  Predictably, this angle has fallen flat and their segments and matches couldn’t be more agonizing to watch.  I fast-forward through all of them and it still feels like torture when they are on my screen.  I read somewhere that the fans at Raw were chanting for Brock Lesnar during one of their matches this past Monday so I’m probably not alone.

Out of respect for Ric Flair, I’m not going to throw his daughter, Charlotte under the bus.  As far as I’m concerned, the rest of them are talentless and I’d much prefer to not have them as part of the show.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper vs. Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose

A bit of a throwback here to the short-lived feud between The Wyatt Family and The Shield headed into WrestleMania XXX.  This time, of course, Seth Rollins is working a main event program as champion and Eric Rowan is out with a shoulder injury so we are down to four of the original six members of these two factions.

Dean Ambrose is still coming into his own and has already shown that he can work main event-level matches, having essentially filled in for Roman Reigns in 2014 while he was on the shelf with an injury.  Reigns continues to be limited both by his lack of compelling mike skills, and his unoriginal and repetitive move set in the ring.  The fans will never allow him to reach the top of the WWE unless he undergoes a significant improvement or radical change to his persona.

It was a mistake to break up The Wyatt Family without a workable plan for Luke Harper and Eric Rowan.  Both weren’t really given a chance to show their personalities and drew very little attention from the fans as singles competitors.  At least as members of the Wyatt Family, they seemingly had direction together.

I’m about ready to be done with Bray Wyatt.  I really wanted to like him at first, if for no other reason than he was unique and mysterious.  His character seemingly had depth and layers of intrigue beneath the surface. He was tormented, evil, intellectual, and psychotic and could cut promos that nobody else on the roster could.

The problem I know have is that there is never any payoff to the mystery behind the man.  He talks and talks and talks and just goes from one inexplicable feud to another.  We don’t even know why he does what he does, he just picks on the next guy time and time again.  The whole thing is getting tired, he’s coming across as a guy whose mouth writes checks his ass can’t cash.  Even worse, he has yet to win a championship and he is a glaring 0 and 2 at WrestleMania.  He really can’t point to anything in the way of in-ring accomplishments to give him some validity as a competitor.  I still want to like the guy but something has to change in order for me to really get behind him.

This should be an entertaining match.  The three out of the four wrestlers in this match that aren’t Reigns should more than make up for his shortcomings.  Ambrose and Wyatt can both be counted on to do something unorthodox and outside the box in their matches against each other and have demonstrated chemistry in the past when facing off against each other.  This match could also have the possibility of something unexpected, like a heel turn or a surprise run-in that shakes up the finish.

Prediction: Winners, Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper

John Cena (US c) vs. Seth Rollins (World c) in a singles match with both the United States Championship and the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on the line

It is always cool to watch a champion vs. champion match, they are few and far between.  I remember my first one as a kid, Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VI.  The hype lasted for months and we couldn’t wait to watch the match.  The crowd was seemingly split between the WWF champion, Hogan, and the on-the-rise IC Champ, The Ultimate Warrior.  Neither man was remembered for their in-ring ability but that match is considered by many critics to be one of the best that either man had in their distinguished careers.

This match has nowhere near the mass appeal as Hogan/Warrior, but there are certain parallels to consider.  In many ways, John Cena is the modern-day Hulk Hogan, the fighting babyface champion who is a hero to kids.  Rollins, similarly to Warrior, is the up-and-comer.  He already has a WWE Championship victory at WrestleMania, but he is relatively new to the main roster as compared to Cena.  He still has a lot of upside potential that has yet to be taped into.

Cena has taken a step back as a main-eventer these past year since his defeat at the hands of Brock Lesnar at the last SummerSlam.  He has worked some high-profile programs with younger stars, notably Rusev and Kevin Owens, helping both of them get over with the fans.  Ironically, his first WWE Championship title shot since January, this match isn’t even the main event of the evening.

Rollins is running well as the heel champion.  I repeat the same thing in every blog post and I’ll say it again: he plays the role of the wrestling heel as it is written out in the textbook. He cheats to win, he whines and complains, and rather than pander to the crowd, he regularly insults the fans.  I’ve always felt that the WWE is at its best when the champion is a heel, and Rollins continues to prove that sentiment.

These two should work well together.  The triple-threat match they had at The Royal Rumble for the championship along with Brock Lesnar was the stand out match of the evening.  I’d expect the two of them to put on a good show without Lesnar as they are two of the best in-ring storytellers the WWE has on the roster right now.

I don’t see Cena winning this match.  He is currently one championship run of tying Ric Flair’s record of 16 championships, and I feel like they would save the moment he ties Flair for something of a larger magnitude, perhaps at WrestleMania, or at least at a pay-per-view where his match is the main event.  I also feel like there are legs to Rollins’ current championship run and he could possibly be set up for a title defense at WrestleMania 32.

Prediction: Winner, still WWE World Heavyweight Champion, and new United States Champion, Seth Rollins

Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker

April 6, 2014 is a day that will forever live in infamy for an entire generation of WWE fans.  The legendary undefeated WrestleMania streak, colloquially known as “The Streak”, was halted at 21 wins at the hands of Brock Lesnar.  A hush fell over the entire crowd of 75,167 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans after the referee counted to three.  Nobody could believe what they saw, and they didn’t know what to say or do.  It was the end of a storyline that lasted over 20 years, the type of which we will never see again.

Following the match, The Undertaker walked up the ramp and out of the stadium, not to be seen again on television or at a live event until WrestleMania 31 a year later.  In the meantime, Brock Lesnar used the victory to propel his status as The Beast and The Conqueror into the stratosphere as he embarked on a dominant run the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the early Hulk Hogan days.  He utterly destroyed John Cena for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam and carried the title to the main event at WrestleMania 31.

In the ensuing months following the end of The Streak, it always struck me as odd that there was no word from The Undertaker.  While it made sense in retrospect for The Streak to end in order to give the rub to Lesnar, The Deadman’s silence was deafening.  Was he just going to let the ending of his streak at the hands of Brock Lesnar go?  Where did he go after WrestleMania XXX and why did he never seek retribution from Lesnar?

We didn’t see The Undertaker at all until he walked down the aisle at WrestleMania 31 for his match with Bray Wyatt.  Although it was good to see that he was still in good shape and still had most of his hair, there were still questions that lingered after his victory about The Streak.  But once again, he walked up the aisle at WrestleMania without saying a word.

Everything changed at Battleground in July.  Brock Lesnar had Seth Rollins pinned and was poised to regain the championship he lost from Rollins at WrestleMania 31 only to have the lights go out in the arena as the referee was just about to count to three.  The eerie gong of the Undertaker sounded, the lights came back on, and there he was, in an angry stare-down with the man who ended The Streak.  The crowd was buzzing with anticipation, and interestingly enough, ‘taker initiated the physical encounter with a swift kick to Lesnar’s groin, a move typically reserved for heels.  He proceeded to beat Lesnar up and walk out of the arena, setting up what is now called “The most anticipated rematch of all time, a match too big for WrestleMania.”

The next night on Raw, we finally heard from The Undertaker and his reasoning for making a return was curious in that he claimed he was upset that Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar kept rubbing it in that Lesnar had ended The Streak.  Again, it seemed as though ‘taker was taking a heel-ish turn as that is the type of a promo that only a cowardly and insecure bad guy would cut.  Later in the evening, we were treated to an epic pull-apart brawl between The Undertaker and Lesnar that had a very realistic look and feel to it.

Finally, in the go-home Raw before SummerSlam this week, Brock Lesnar came out to a hero’s welcome in his home state of Minnesota.  With Paul Heyman singing his praises as the hometown hero, The Undertaker once again appeared out of the darkness, and once again went for the low-blow.  Just prior to the lights going out, Paul Heyman made a point of addressing the fact that The Undertaker delivered a low-blow to Lesnar at Battleground.  The crowd booed in disapproval, and suddenly it seemed that The Undertaker was meant to be booked as a heel along in this feud.

I would not have suspected that The Undertaker would seek vengeance for The Streak as a heel, he had worked as a babyface for many years, and returning legends typically are always cheered.  Not to mention, the fans loved the streak and hated to see it go, it seemed like they would want him to get revenge.

I like this twist as it was unexpected.  Both men have reversed roles since WrestleMania XXX, now Lesnar is the beloved babyface and The Undertaker is the vengeful villain.  He’s show that he will resort to any type of tactic to get his revenge, even if the fans disapprove.

This match should be nothing short of epic.  It won’t be remembered as a technical masterpiece, but it will be a wildly entertaining between two brutal ring generals who know how to tell a story with their actions.  I am just as caught up in the anticipation for this match as the WWE wants me to be and I can’t wait to watch it.  There could be all kinds of swerves and this may put an end to their feud, or it could be another chapter in a long-running conflict between these two legends.

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

Are you still reading this?  Ten matches is a lot for one pay-per-view.  It is top-heavy with two main events, but I really think that most of the matches should be highly entertaining. What are your thoughts?

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