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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: WWE Month-in-Review (August 2017) - Mae Young Classic Round 1 Thoughts, Wrestler of the Month, Match of the Month, September Predictions
By The Doc
Aug 31, 2017 - 12:56:38 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.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do you think the New Era reigns supreme at No Mercy with Strowman and Roman victories or will the OVW Class of '02 remind of their dominance?

Also, what did you think was the Match of the Month among a stacked August 2017 field?

The following is a case study of WWE’s product for the month of August 2017.

WWE Summerslam 2017 Review

Mae Young Classic: Round 1 Thoughts

WWE’s latest bold undertaking – a 32-woman tournament featuring a largely unknown group of female wrestlers – kicked off this week with each of the sixteen opening round matches available on-demand.

Frankly, a quote from Triple H on the Bracketology special hyping the various competitors stuck out in my mind mid-way through the second episode that served as perhaps a microcosm of my overall opinion of the MYC’s first round. He said that he reached the conclusion, after scouring the non-WWE women’s wrestling scene, that there were thirty-two women ready for the spotlight that this WWE Network-hosted situation would provide, which changed his original stance that half that number was probably just right. Personally, I think that his initial inclination was spot-on, and that there were more than a few participants in the 32-woman field still very clearly inexperienced and/or just not very good; as few of the departed and even some of the victors left little impression, less may well have been more here.

Admittedly, my excitement for Round 1 of the MYC was guarded, as compared to my unbridled enthusiasm heading into last summer’s Cruiserweight Classic opening contests, largely because I correctly presumed a comparable format of roughly four matches per episode and generally short of ten-minute runtimes for each match. Faster-paced, cruiserweight action was better suited to make an immediate splash with viewers within the framework of the show-by-show structure; so many of the MYC counterparts struggled to standout in any way because there just was not enough time to showcase much in the way of character or move-set. Expect the Round of 16 to be a lot better if more time is afforded to each match. Hopefully, the commentary will improve too, as the most noteworthy criticism beyond the rather limited presentation of the action itself was just how little chemistry Lita has with Jim Ross; the Hall of Fame announcer himself, came across only half-engaged, but the Hall of Fame wrestler serving as his broadcast partner was, making no bones about it, downright terrible.

My three favorite bouts of the opening round were Kairi Sane vs. Tessa Blanchard, Santana Garrett vs. Piper Niven, and Mia Kim vs. Sarah Logan; as such, all six were among the best performers in the field. I saw Tessa wrestle at a GFW show two years ago and she was as green as could be; the improvements she has made since were readily apparent and she seems like a future star for sure. Niven vs. Garrett was the best of the lot, in my opinion, as they were able to combine similar quality to Sane vs. Tessa while also making me believe that there was a real shot at what I perceived would have been an upset.

Others who stood out to me were Serena Deeb (more for her story than for her in-ring work), Shayna Baszler (who has a Lesnar-esque legitimacy about her), Jazzy Gabert (awesome monster), Abbey Laith (sparky underdog), Tony Storm (lots of innate charisma and charm), Bianca Belair (unique use of her hair as a weapon), and Candice LeRae (fittingly married to Johnny Wrestling because he strikes me as the female equivalent).

Match of the Month: Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe at Summerslam

In recent years, so many different wrestling styles have become regular features under the WWE umbrella that such a day as this, when a two night period produced a plethora of excellence prompting as difficult a Match of the Month decision as ever before, was bound to come. Summerslam weekend featured eight borderline-to-bonafide four-star matches, including the entire NXT Takeover: Brooklyn card and three more from the 2017 Summer Classic. Of the eight, no two were wrestled in the same style – Usos-New Day was of the more mid-card show-stealer type, Shield-Bar was of a team-oriented main-event style, Sanity-AOP was a chaotic brawl, Gargano-Almas was an indy-influenced hot opener, Black-Itami was delightfully strong-style, Moon-Asuka was the best kind of modern women's headliner (maybe we should just name that category “Banks-Bayley”), McIntyre-Roode was a traditional, escalatory WWE main-event, and the Fatal 4-Way was a monster's ball. That so many great matches could be so unique to one another is just an incredible thing that I sincerely hope that we see again someday.

Two of the above, in particular, stood out from the pack, and they are the ones confirmed by replay to have been the bouts named Match of the Night at Takeover: Brooklyn III and Summerslam, respectively: Asuka's final defense of the NXT Women's Championship before she was forced to relinquish the title and Strowman vs. Joe vs. Reigns vs. Lesnar for the Universal Championship. I had originally intended to post this column on Monday; yet, not wanting a repeat of July's awards, after which I second-guessed myself repeatedly about Alexander vs. Dar over Usos vs. New Day, I decided to sleep on it for a few more nights.

A big part of me wanted to give the nod to Ember Moon vs. Asuka because they told such a tremendous story in one of the cleaner, crisper women's bouts ever seen in a WWE ring (or at least on such a big stage); nitpicking as one can be prone to do when comparing two fringe Match of the Year candidates, they did get a little bit iffy on their timing during one 15-second stretch in the late stages, but a momentary lapse in execution did not hinder the strength of their character performances. Frequently since two weekends ago, I have seen praise for the match qualified by such statements as “it was not quite as good as Bayley vs. Sasha.” Well, not many matches period are better than 2015's Match of the Year, much less another women's match. So, let's make it clear that anything qualified by Bayley vs. Sasha is likely to go down as being on the “all-time” level in its own right.

Nevertheless, I did not feel that there was a large enough gap between the Takeover semi-main and the Summerslam headliner to give Asuka-Ember the nod, despite the fact that – again nitpicking under the circumstances – the drama in the 4-Way decreased considerably on re-watch after Strowman’s role was muted in favor of Roman’s Superman Punch-fest. Reigns taking control segued into a climax that, while fun on the night of, was rather weak in hindsight (granted, I’m not one who gets anything emotionally out of seeing Reigns lose). The initial stretch, though, featuring Braun destroying Brock and culminating in Lesnar’s return to the match, was just utterly fantastic, strengthening my position that their upcoming No Mercy clash should have been the Summerslam main-event all on its own. Everything that followed was rock solid too and all involved played their roles quite well, none better than The Monster Among Men. So, this proved to be an instance of, when in doubt between two matches, pick the one with the highest stakes and the grandest stage.

Previous winners: Styles vs. Cena at Royal Rumble (Jan), Strowman vs. Big Show on Raw (Feb), Reigns vs. Strowman at Fast Lane (Mar), Rollins vs. Triple H at WrestleMania (Apr), Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne at Takeover: Chicago (May), Ambrose vs. Miz at Extreme Rules (Jun), and Dar vs. Alexander on 205 Live (Jul)

NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III Review

Wrestlers of the Month: Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose

It was no secret that, during the period between early July and Summerslam on August 20th, yours truly was absolutely captivated by the reunification story told by the former Shield members. Theirs was the best mid-card storyline to have culminated in a match at the Summer Classic since 2014, when they capped off the first chapter of their excellent singles rivalry; frankly, be it Ambrose and Rollins or Ambrose vs. Rollins, both are candidates for the greatest mid-card angle in the history of WWE’s second most important pay-per-view.

Taking a step back from it with a couple of weeks of hindsight in an effort to contextualize the strength of their saga against the work done by the Universal Championship Fatal 4-Way participants, I cannot help but note the difference in methodologies used to earn the kind of reactions that each situation received from the audience. Lesnar vs. Joe vs. Reigns vs. Strowman elicited its response via the basic aesthetic allure of seeing mammoth frames being thrown through tables or struck by bulky office chairs and that is unquestionably appealing and deserving of praise for its achievement; however, to garner a comparable reaction by digging underneath the surface to get to that part of our psyche that believes in redemption and that is willing to celebrate expressions of forgiveness is far more impressive because it is far more difficult to accomplish.

Remembering that the Wrestler of the Month award is given to the superstar(s) who display the greatest combination of strong character and in-ring work in addition to accolades such as winning titles or headlining pay-per-views, a case could certainly be made for one of the 4-way combatants, but in the end the choice was pretty obvious. With Ambrose and Rollins having provided the most emotionally engaging angle of Summerslam Season and with the top notch performance that they put forth at Summerslam to win the Raw Tag Team Championships, they deserve to share the honor for August 2017.

Previous winners: John Cena (Jan), Braun Strowman (Feb), Roman Reigns (Mar), (Tie) Neville & Braun Strowman (Apr), Kevin Owens* (May), Samoa Joe (Jun), and The New Day (Jul)

September Predictions

Well, September is going to be a huge month for WWE’s Raw brand at least. Roman Reigns vs. John Cena and Braun Strowman challenging Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship are matches that could easily have been the main-event at WrestleMania 34 in seven months, yet we will see them at No Mercy in a few weeks. Talk about stacking the deck! I discussed the issue at length on “The Doc Says” podcast this week, but credit where it’s due for WWE not accepting a football-driven lull heading into the autumn months, in spite of the fact that, as someone who forked out a bunch of money to see this year’s Summer Classic in person, No Mercy looks like Summerslam far more than Summerslam did.

Strowman vs. Lesnar is a fascinating showdown carrying with it an aura fit for a massive setting. The Monster Among Men feels like the right guy to knock Lesnar off the top of the mountain and begin The Beast’s transition toward possible WWE retirement next year. They have something special, potentially, in Strowman, so I sincerely hope that WWE pulls the trigger and has Braun go over…and strongly at that. Do you realize that Lesnar, in spite of his now-lengthy career, has never “given back to the business” by putting over a new star? Eddie Guerrero beat him, but with the help of Goldberg and with commentary yelling repeatedly “Eddie cheated!” I don’t know about you, but I would rather appreciate seeing Lesnar go down clean with a one-two-three to Strowman. On principle alone, I will be heavily rooting for that very thing to happen and see no reason not to expect that to be the case. Seriously, the time is now for Strowman and to derail his momentum to further Lesnar’s is very silly on the surface; hopefully that realization has set in on the top floor of Titan Towers.

Equally as fascinating should be Reigns vs. Cena. The world is still buzzing about Cena’s verbal destruction of Reigns last Monday. Roman was exposed for his lack of promo skills, but in such a way that confirmed to me that Cena is about to go down hard at No Mercy, without interference or excuse. The dynamic between them in the ring should be very interesting and I am curious to see what sort of quality that they will be able to forge, along with whether or not this will be wrestled like the first match in a series or whether they will go all out from the word go and wrestle like it is a one-off. How the crowd reacts should in and of itself be a hook for viewers; Reigns is at his best and his most likeable when he allows his innate attitude to shine through and, based on Monday’s interaction, it would seem probable that he will show plenty of attitude come No Mercy. Cena should be plenty motivated for this; he used to get these sorts of opportunities regularly, but now they are few and far between (the last chance of this magnitude was at Royal Rumble). I struggle to imagine this being anything but September’s favorite for Match of the Month.

  • Doctor’s Orders: Monday Night Rollins – The Architect Offers Raw’s Most Memorable Performance In Ages

  • Doctor’s Orders: The Great Irony of My Wrestling Fandom

  • Doctor's Orders: Polarizing Strowman Comedy, The 3-Hour Advantage, & Other Monday Night Raw Thoughts

  • Doctor's Orders: The Evolving Legacy of The Shield

  • Doctor's Orders: The Women's Division Is Back In A Groove, And I Want To Walk With Elias...

  • Doctor's Orders: The Notorious BRRRAAAAUUNNN (Competition Column) (plus 205 Live is Back in My Viewership Rotation)

  • Doctor's Orders: John Cena Teases Again, Evolutionary Progression, Roman's Quieter Rise (plus Royal Rumble 2018 Best January Classic in Years & NXT Takeover: Philly Review)

  • Doctor's Orders: The Few Things I Liked From A Nostalgia-Heavy RAW 25; plus Matthews 3:16 Says Stone Cold Steve Austin Sucks (Competition Column)

  • Doctor's Orders: Reclaiming The Curb Stomp, Rebuilding Strowman, and Restoring Glorious Relevance; Plus, Professional Commentary on Daniel Bryan Returning to the Ring

  • Doctor's Notes...On Raw's Path to ROYAL RUMBLE, Namely Jason Jordan & Balor Club, Plus The One Praiseworthy Thing on Smackdown Live