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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: Another Mixed Bag of a Summerslam At Least Peaks In Second Half
By The Doc
Aug 21, 2017 - 11:05:04 AM



”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.



QUESTION OF THE DAY: How would you describe Summerslam 2017 and how are you feeling about the booking decisions moving forward?

What a difference twenty-fours can make. Yesterday morning, the state of mind when sitting down to write a review of NXT Takeover was akin to having just watched your favorite sports team win a thriller of a big game in person. This morning, the feelings are far more mixed, comparable to having watched the latest installment of Star Wars and being not yet sure whether the good outweighed the bad enough to sway the overall emotional response toward positive memories. These ensuing words will hopefully help contextualize what we saw with Summerslam 2017.

It would be fair to state that the latest edition of the Summer Classic was a mixed bag, just like recent cards have proven to be mixed bags. Since 2013 offered one of the greatest installments in Summerslam franchise lore, each of the ensuing Biggest Parties of the Summer have failed to earn universal praise, all of them with considerable strengths and equal weaknesses. Last night was no different. On the bright side, when compared to 2016 and 2015, this year's Summerslam offered a higher percentage of what should prove to be rewatchable matches, but the flip side is that the bad on the 2017 card was exceptionally bad, at least on the night.

Putting as kind a spin on it as possible, one could argue the merits of having seen the majority of the negatives confined to the first half. A stronger than expected performance (***) from Natalya and Naomi, featuring a plethora of innovative sequences and reminding of the value in the Smackdown Women's division simply picking a pair of talents and letting them work, was swallowed up by a borderline laughably terrible first hour and change from the opener through a non-event of a Rusev-Orton match. John Cena opening the show was sound in theory and he did indeed play the part of getting the crowd into proceedings, but it was a Golden Boy formula match (**) that basically killed off Baron Corbin, whose definitive defeat capped one of the worst months for any wrestler in recent memory when taking into account both his dud with Nakamura at Battleground in July and his stunning failed Money in the Bank cash-in last Tuesday. Cena phoned it in, and a second straight major PPV went by that actively sought not to take advantage of his abilities while he is still in his prime.

Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss were given the unenviable task of trying to basically restart the show in the early second hour. Following the Orton-Rusev segment would have been easy had it not been for the “Welcome Back 2005” curtain-jerker combined with the most boring match of the year between Big Show and Big Cass (½*), which shamefully could have been a good hoss match if not handicapped by two bad gimmicks (the broken hand and Enzo Amore in a shark cage). Negative momentum may not be scientifically quantifiable, but it can be readily observed in any live setting. Not even the Eternal Optimist sitting to my left could deny the mostly steaming pile that came before Bliss vs. Banks, so the Raw Women's Title bout needed to deliver; and it did so reasonably well. The heat was not there thanks to the moronic decision to put no further hype to it after early July's Great Balls of Fire, but they told their story well and executed a surprising title change (***). And so it seemed that the real Summerslam 2017 began...

The Demon King vs. The Eater of Worlds was reminiscent of Bray Wyatt's match on the 2015 Summerslam card in that it absolutely did not light the world on fire as it potentially could have; however, just as it did two years ago, it served its purpose extremely well. Finn Balor returned to the building that hosted his devastating injury last year and brought the Demon with him for the first time since. All that Balor vs. Wyatt needed to be was a platform for the Demon to be unleashed and, in providing that, they satisfyingly accomplished their intended goal (***). Balor looked like a huge star last night and was given a huge star's reception by the audience; the Demon entrance is truly something to behold in person. Sometimes, rating a match favorably goes against traditional criteria and seeks to reward the simplicity in seeing two wrestlers with a very specific job to do in a limited amount of time do exactly as required.

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose dethroning The Bar as Raw Tag Team Champions provided a similar platform for the reunited Shield members to wrap up Chapter 1 of their friendship renewal storyline, yet on top of that were given the added time to create something more memorable in the ring. In and of itself, one memorable highlight from the match was Cesaro running into the crowd and crushing the beach ball that prompted yours truly to go on an uncharacteristic live rant about the idiocy that pro wrestling fans can sometimes bring with them to WWE shows; what a great heel move (face move for me) that was from The Swiss Superman. Undoubtedly, the most memorable moment was the climax that segued to Ambrose getting the pin and the win, but the entirety of the borderline 4-star match was impressively well done, a microcosm of the last six weeks of excellent storytelling from all parties in their varying roles. Tag team wrestling on the main roster was well-served by Summerslam '17, and could have been even better had the fellow borderline 4-star New Day vs. Usos Smackdown Tag Title bout been in the first hour of the actual show instead of the Kick-Off.

Perhaps the match that most improved in my mind once the dust had settled and the morning-after ensued was AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens. Shane McMahon's involvement was pronounced, and that will go over like a lead balloon with some and better with others; what it did offer Styles and Owens, though, was a strong narrative drive that their previous three months of feuding had not been able to conjure. Substance had been previously lacking at Backlash and Battleground; no absence of substance could be found at Summerslam, as Shane took his licks and subsequently played a major role during the runtime, anchoring the performance as a necessary source of emotional turmoil for the two combatants. Downplaying what most diehard fans could safely agree was the desired concept of a straight-up barn-burner between two of WWE's modern best, what we did receive last night was a story-driven match that peaked their rivalry in enjoyable fashion (*** ¾) and that absolutely gave this year's August Spectacular a match should age well and maybe even go down historically as one of the finer mid-card outings in Summer Classic lore.

The low point of the night was The Modern Day Mediocrity continuing his reign as WWE Champion in yet another average match (**) with the same lame finish as all his other title defenses. This experiment is sucking the life out of the Smackdown product and crushing my own personal will to enjoy WWE no matter what. Borrowing from Star Wars, Jinder Mahal is like Viceroy Gunray from the prequel trilogy; he is an adequate heel perfectly acceptable as a complimentary figure to more interesting antagonists, but he absolutely cannot carry a movie as its lead villain. Mahal is what he is; he is a mediocre pro wrestler who has average matches and cuts average promos and for reasons that only Vince McMahon could ever really explain, he is being booked like Emperor Palpatine. Some have said, “Get over the Jinder Mahal hate and move on with your lives” in response to the on-going apathy held toward the enhancement talent-turned-main-eventer. The problem with that sentiment is that Mahal is not in a position on the card that can be easily ignored. He was in the semi-main of the second biggest PPV of the year last night; it is no easier to ignore him than it would be to go to a football game and ignore the third quarter or to watch Star Wars: Episode I and ignore Jar Jar Binks. Honest to God and with all due respect to Mahal as a human-being, I cannot wait for this ridiculous farce of a title reign to end, not because I am invested in the fiction mind you but because I cannot invest in the fiction until his reign is over.

By the way, add seeing Shinsuke Nakamura's entrance live to the list of things you ought to do before you die...

Thankfully, the Universal Championship match was all that it was hyped up to be. On Friday, I wrote, “It promises to be a wild brawl the likes of which we have not seen in awhile.” Well...Boom! It generated a “big fight” feel and wasted little time in bringing the thunder. The foursome crafted utter friekin' chaos, more or less, and the result was a sweeping, harder-hitting version of the comic book-come-to-life-type matches that Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns had earlier in the year. Brock Lesnar being stretchered out only to return minutes later provided the kind of psychologically-stimulating aspect that should make the 4-Way more than just a fun ride on the initial viewing and help it become far more rewatchable to those of us who care about how well matches hold up on replays; the same could be said for the general format, which told the story of four warriors trying first to destroy each other and then concerning themselves with victory in the aftermath of the carnage. It really was fantastic (**** ½), plus it really was nice to see Summerslam end without a total crap finish and for the best match to be the last match on a Big 4 PPV.

Everyone shined in their own way in that main-event. Lesnar has not had a match that good in two years; Samoa Joe could remain in the mix after a solidly unspectacular showing in which he avoided taking the pin; and Reigns being the one to be counted down, one-two-three, was a fascinating booking choice that should make for some interesting TV (if you are paying attention at home, the last time that Reigns won a match on PPV was WrestleMania); Strowman's performance was epic and he was the star of the match. If Strowman vs. Lesnar is not the WrestleMania plan, then McMahon is just ridiculously out of touch with what the fans want to see. Maybe they wind up pushing for that sooner than next April, but it would be foolish not to put their eventual clash on the grandest stage for maximum effect.

All in all, Summerslam was a show that peaked at the end and got better for the most part as it went along. From the Banks-Bliss match onward, it was actually quite a good event. Yes, Jinder is still champion and, yes, the first hour would have been much better if the Cruiserweight and SD Tag Title matches had subbed in from the pre-show, but three matches were good, two others were borderline great, and the main-event was a Match of the Year candidate. The glass is half full and Summerslam 2017 was enjoyable.

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