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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: August 15-18, 2017 - “Best Match” of Summerslam Weekend Competition, AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens Could Sneak Up On Us, The Summerslam We've Been Asking For
By The Doc
Aug 18, 2017 - 12:48:05 PM

”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.

Summerslam Weekend's "Best Match" Competition

Styles-Owens Could Sneak Up On Us

The Big 3 PPV We've Been Asking For

Strong “Best Match” Competition Should Highlight Rock Solid Weekend

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What do you predict will be the weekend's best match between the cards at NXT Takeover and WWE Summerslam?

The in-ring performance is my personal favorite thing about professional wrestling so, as I look across the line-ups of both NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III (TOB3) and WWE Summerslam 2017, I cannot help but get excited about the weekend-long competition for the match that we will collectively be talking about most come Monday morning.

Starting with Saturday night’s NXT WrestleMania, of sorts, there are no less than four matches that should contend for Summerslam weekend’s best. Since TOB1 in 2015 birthed the combo of NXT and WWE special events, the so-termed-but-not-really developmental brand has stolen the weekend four times out of seven tries by my count; and that is with full awareness that many others would call it a clean (or close to it) sweep favoring NXT. It would therefore seem probable that one of the five bouts on the card the night before Summerslam will earn top honors yet again.

If you preferred Bobby Roode vs. Shinsuke Nakamura to AJ Style vs. John Cena III in January (I did not), then the main-event of a Takeover has indeed been the source of at least one weekend-stealing match, but the vast majority of NXT classics to have grabbed the spotlight from their counterparts on the main roster came from the mid-card. With all due respect to Roode vs. Drew McIntyre, to which I am greatly looking forward, the NXT Tag Team Title scene has produced great matches more consistently than any other division on recent Takeovers so, even though The Authors of Pain and Sanity may not possess the same critical reputations as The Revival or DIY, we know that Triple H and Co. highly value the tag team scene and will give it every chance to shine; plus, there is something intriguing about seeing four mammoths beat each other up that could be so novel on a grander stage that we cannot help but marvel at it – and Summerslam’s 4-Way participants may need to take notes on how to best it.

Alastair Black vs. Hideo Itami has the potential to reproduce the kind of mid-card magic that did Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn in Dallas and Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne in Chicago. No debuting NXT talent this year is more intriguing than the artist formerly known as Tommy End and Itami has so much motivation to reclaim a spot in the hierarchy that was largely robbed of him due to injury that you can guarantee that he is going into TOB3 with something to prove. Meanwhile, hidden by all of these standout tag bouts and mid-card classics has been the vast majority of Asuka’s stellar body of work. Not a Takeover has gone by without her adding a valuable, weekend-enhancing Women’s Title match since she won the championship from Bayley last year, but her slew of 3-to-4 star defenses have not been able to achieve “consensus” status; Asuka vs. Ember Moon II has the makings of the exception and I will calmly name their rematch my sleeper choice for best of the weekend.

When Raw and Smackdown Live take command of the Barclays Center, the list of contenders will shrink despite the line-up featuring a greater volume of matches because of the difference in card structure. Nevertheless, three matches immediately come to mind that will be in the mix, two of which should have no problem taking back the spotlight from NXT if they are given the fullest extent of their prospective opportunities. Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles was discussed at length earlier in the week, but to add a finishing touch to that conversation, The Phenomenal One had matches at Summerslam 2016, Royal Rumble 2017, and WrestleMania 33 that I would re-watch over anything that took place on the corresponding Takeover line-ups; nobody is more capable of knocking it out of the proverbial park than AJ Styles, and KO is certainly no slouch.

If not KO-AJ, then the other mid-card bout at Summerslam most likely to steal the weekend is the freshly reunited duo from the decade’s most celebrated stable, The Shield, challenging for Sheamus and Cesaro’s Raw Tag Team Championships. The last time that a standard tag match was given substantial time to achieve the upper limits of its potential on a Big 4 pay-per-view was all the way back at Summerslam 2009 (Legacy vs. DX), but the story told over the past several weeks by Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose has been marvelous, giving the impression that maybe their respective places at the top of the creative priority list will be enough to allow tag team wrestling on the main roster a better-than-usual chance to provide more than just a rip-roaring blast of a 12-13 minute show-booster. This quartet undeniably has it within them to dial up something comparable to July 2017’s Match of the Month-contending Battleground curtain jerker between New Day and The Usos (whose rematch sadly got bumped from sure-fire hot opener to the Kick-Off Show), in which case stealing the show would not be out of the question, but the Ambrose-Rollins storytelling seems to warrant something awe-inspiring.

Maximal magnificence for the Raw Tag Title match would be pretty untouchable, in my eyes, due to such a compelling back-story, but clearly the favorite from the Summerslam card to emerge the most memorable of the Saturday-Sunday lot is Brock Lesnar’s Universal Title defense against Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns, and Samoa Joe. The closer we get to bell-time, the more the anticipation grows – even if Monday night’s Strowman-Lesnar showdown confirmed for me what I’ve thought for six months: that Braun vs. Brock, one-on-one, should be the Summerslam main-event. It promises to be a wild brawl the likes of which we have not seen in awhile, and the unpredictability of the result only adds to the intrigue. Lesnar has thrived in similar situations that did not require him to live up to the standards of the character he has crafted since ending The Streak. Gone will be the lengthy periods of standing around from 2014-2016 that have since been mitigated by shortening the run-time of his matches, replaced by utter friekin’ chaos with all parties going to great lengths to put each other down for the count. It is quite possible that WWE books the show full of 10-13 minute bouts and gives only the 4-Way a main-event-level time allotment.

I am pumped, ladies and gentlemen. There is a lot to look forward to over the next few nights and, with no less than seven legitimate contenders for Summerslam 2017 weekend’s best match, it could and should be highly memorable.

AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens Could Sneak Up On Us...

It has been a strange summer for Smackdown Live, with roster positioning at arguably its oddest ever in WWE. Running parallel to the crux of the oddity – a limitedly skilled recent enhancement talent as WWE Champion – has been the United States Title program between AJ Styles and Kevin Owens, who are set to pay-off their near four month feud at Summerslam. With the name value that they established from WrestleMania 32 to WrestleMania 33, you would think that we would all be talking more about their presumed final chapter, but it would seem as though Owens vs. Styles is an unlikely position to sneak up on us on Sunday.

Perhaps no two wrestlers have suffered more from an experimental World titleholder, in the eyes of the diehard fanbase especially, than The Phenomenal One and The Prizefighter. The kinder part of the 'Community has called the US Championship situation the “real main-event on Smackdown,” while a less enthusiastic portion believes that Styles and Owens, if for no other reason than their lengthy WWE and Universal Title reigns in 2016-2017, are far above the level of the US Title and, as such, that the aura surrounding their feud has been weakened by its positioning beneath The Modern Day Mediocrity; those fans might argue that it is almost as though a slightly disappointing undercurrent was placed in the mindset toward Styles-Owens by it not featuring the WWE Championship and that the resultant string of good-but-not-great, kind of disappointing PPV bouts was a symptom of that underlying disease of lack.

Safely, there was an assumption coming out of the Shake-Up that Styles and Owens was a storyline that would carry WWE through the summer given their successes for the several months leading up to and through this year's Showcase of the Immortals. In addition to their lengthy top title reigns, they capped off impressive Mania Seasons with victories over legendary figures. Surely one would win the title from Randy Orton by May or June, then the other would step in as primary challenger, and Smackdown's reign of surprisingly modern-peak-level shows would continue on in spite of the blue brand losing two of its cornerstones to Raw in mid-April...or so the thought-process went. They were indeed tasked with carrying the summer, but it obviously did not go down as expected. Smackdown abandoned its successful writing formula and top-notch roster dynamics, and Styles and Owens were not even given the chance to steer the ship to calmer seas before wrestling on Tuesday nights slammed into the proverbial iceberg and started to sink.

In the moment, questions arose about their chemistry. “Maybe they are just a case of two of those guys who you'd think that they would click in the ring but, like Steve Austin and Chris Jericho, they just don't,” some said. Closer inspection reveals that not be true at all. Rewind the clock to March 21, 2016 and they had a barn-burner of a TV Match of the Year candidate on Monday Night Raw with a similar face-heel dynamic that they have today. It clicked that night and both have gotten even better since then, so what has been serving as the pebble in their shoe, slowing them down and holding them back? Never under-estimate the power of expectations; if less (US Title) is presented when more (WWE Title) is expected, very easily a general shift in fan reception can follow.

Since Shane McMahon entered the fold, something has felt distinctly different about Styles vs. Owens; it feels more like what some of the kinder diehards were saying regarding its being the “real main-event” earlier in the summer. When was the last time that there was a special guest referee appointed for a so-termed “mid-card title” on a PPV, much less a Big 3 PPV? Recent Summerslam history, however, has seen the use of special guest referees on multiple occasions, each time in headlining matches. McMahon's mere stature raises the stakes and seems to better position Styles vs. Owens closer to the WWE Title situation, but the added tie-ins of what AJ and Shane endured through WrestleMania 33 together and the possible hint of a forthcoming return to the ring from Shane, next time opposite KO (maybe at Survivor Series), only escalates the Owens-Styles rivalry further up the hierarchy.

Last year, Styles vs. Cena snuck up on quite a few of us too. It was flying a little bit under the radar after they had hit their initial crescendo a few months prior. By Summerslam 2016, a lot of other matches on the card had usurped the hype behind their one-on-one rematch and, though it was expected to be a very valuable addition to the card, it certainly did not seem like everyone went into it presuming an all-time classic. Again, maybe it was the roster positioning, with Ambrose vs. Ziggler for the WWE Title and the Smackdown half of the Orton-Lesnar build-up earning so much prominent air-time (plus all of the attention surrounding Brand Split 2.0), thus organically lowering the expectations for Styles-Cena II. Early in the second hour of the event, however, Cena and Styles went out and stole the show. It is not a stretch to suggest that history could repeat itself in 2017, switching out Cena for Owens.

So, it would probably be foolish of any of us to write-off AJ Styles and Kevin Owens when given a third pay-per-view and a considerable stage on which to finally give the people what they had been expecting all along – a classic. Their reputations precede them, and the element that Shane 'O brings to the table more than likely will ensure that Part 3 gets every opportunity to shine. At present time, their rivalry has been a letdown, a microcosm of strange roster positioning and of Smackdown's post-Mania decline but, should they steal the show at Summerslam, maybe we can remember Owens vs. Styles for the right reasons.

This Year’s Summerslam Is What Many Of Us Have Been Asking For…

Just days before it takes place in Brooklyn, New York, Summerslam 2017 can be described in many ways. Some have said that it feels fresh, while others have remarked that it does not have that distinctly Summerslam aura; some have stated that the booking leading up to it has been rather bland to downright awful, whereas others have found great appreciation or fascination in one or more stories being told during the build. An additional description that does not seem to be getting much attention from a largely apathetic diehard fanbase, pre-Summerslam: it is what many of us have been asking for…

WrestleMania 33 exacerbated a trend that began earlier in the decade of reserving the three biggest shows on the wrestling calendar – Royal Rumble, Mania and Summerslam – for reinforcing the dominance of the generations that debuted in or before 2002 instead of using them as the vehicle to launch the stars of the more recent and current generations to the next level. Enveloped in this complex issue is the so-termed “Part-Timer Problem,” but the broader scope of the trend suggests more of a WWE obsession with the past and a reticence toward fully embracing the present and future. A microcosm of the borderline to outright crisis (depending on your perspective) came in the form of John Cena winning the WWE Championship at the Winter Classic from AJ Styles, basically to act as the first in a series of segues to putting the title back on the 2017 Rumble winner, Randy Orton; Cena and Orton, champions yet again…some “New Era” huh?

Despite a plethora of top flight talents emerging since 2010 – CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, The Miz, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt, Kevin Owens, etc. – every WrestleMania and Summerslam Season has continued to fixate primarily on the stars of yesteryear. As it stands today, not one of the Big 3 pay-per-view main-events this decade has exclusively featured wrestlers who debuted after 2002.

Sunday’s Summerslam card is set to change the status quo, as nostalgic resonance gives way to present day consciousness. Whatever the 2017 Summer Classic is able to achieve from the standpoint of WWE Network subscriptions added and/or media attention received, the credit will go to a collection of talents who are firmly entrenched as the cornerstones of the “New Era.” Before Sunday, the “New Era” applied mostly to the secondary special events and their corresponding television products, with each WrestleMania and Summerslam Season since the climax of the Yes! Movement temporarily fractured the glass ceiling selling its Big 3 PPV on names from the Monday Night War or the OVW Class of ’02. Sunday will bring the “New Era” to the next step in its evolution, as it has no Undertaker, Triple H, Rock, Goldberg, or Sting to act as an economic safety net; this time, it’s all on the “New Era.”

The World and Universal Championship matches, respectively, feature only one star whose peak days in WWE are in the rearview (Brock Lesnar). Shinsuke Nakamura challenging Jinder Mahal and the trio of Reigns, Samoa Joe, and Braun Strowman attempting to dethrone Lesnar equate to 83% of the primary draws for Summerslam being relatively new to their roles. The total number of times that a modern star has exited WrestleMania or Summerslam as winner of a main-event and then become the subsequent post-PPV focal point is three, and they have all been recently (Manias 31-33, Reigns twice and Rollins once) – that is three out of fifteen. Sunday is poised to build on the success for the former Shield members, positioning modern top guys to perhaps from here on assume not just a share of the spotlight with heavy part-timer assistance, but a lion’s share of the attention before, during, and after these massive events.

It was originally rumored that Kurt Angle might wrestle his first WWE match in eleven years at Summerslam and, while his presence surely would have boosted the hype machine for an event that will attempt to separate itself through execution and presentation (without prominent nostalgia) from the twelve to thirteen single-brand PPVs, Our Olympic Hero’s absence on the card has opened the door for the supporting cast to step up. Rollins and Ambrose were the primary beneficiaries on the red brand, crafting an awesome story with plenty of time to breathe over the past month-and-a-half. How nice will it be for a Tag Team Championship match to sit just beneath the two top singles title matches on the marquee at the second biggest PPV of the year? How refreshing was it to see a very strong and eventful go-home Monday Night Raw focusing almost the entirety of its creative attention on the Summerslam under-card?

All seven of the top-billed matches at WrestleMania this year featured at least one talent who debuted before 2003. Of the top seven matches at Summerslam (as defined by the total amount of TV hype), only one – the Fatal 4-Way featuring Lesnar – features a talent who debuted before 2003, and all but one other debuted after 2011 (Sheamus started on Raw in late ’09); the proverbial ball has been placed confidently in the court of today’s top stars.

The greatest benefit of present day consciousness is the ability to build well-rounded cards that do not feel so top heavy. Rather than pick the creative scraps left behind while so much scripting goes into feuds revolving around names who made it big over a decade ago, the secondary and tertiary storylines – even if they do not light the world on fire – actually get a chance to contribute something of value to the hype. Certain things could have been better these past six weeks, without question; that is part of life. However, it has been a summer treat to see the guys and girls busting their butts for the entirety of the grueling wrestling calendar be the central figures of the Summerslam 2017 process, gifted the opportunity to succeed or fail because either they were or were not good enough instead of being doomed to backseat duty in order to make room for the wrestlers that they (and we) grew up watching.

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