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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents - What I Liked in WWE This Week - Takeover, Summerslam and Beyond
By Dave Fenichel
Aug 25, 2017 - 9:46:25 AM

Hi kids.

It’s been way too long since I dropped a column. I needed a brief hiatus after finishing up my Summerslam column series, and I was out of town attending NXT Takeover and Summerslam last weekend. I’m excited to be back and a ton has happened since I last wrote. With that in mind, I’m going to give my always-positive thoughts in free form about the happenings of the last seven days. A warning to all – this is by far the longest column I’ve ever written. Feel free to turn back now.

Johnny Gargano is the new Sami Zayn.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opener at Takeover between Gargano and Almas. I feel that the similarities between Gargano and Zayn are glaring and obvious. Like Zayn, Gargano is an amazing worker who can have a great match with anyone. Like Zayn, Gargano represents the underdog that the NXT Universe has rallied around. Like Zayn, Gargano seems to come up short repeatedly in big matches when it counts the most.

The WWE would be wise to continue to book Gargano in this manner. He has become incredibly popular and his “difficult” journey towards an eventual NXT World Title is one that can carry the brand for a long time to come.

I Was Wrong About Sanity.

Sometimes, you need to eat crow. I was unusually critical of the Authors of Pain v Sanity match going into NXT Takeover. I felt that it would be the worst on the show, and that no one was clamoring for Sanity to knock AoP off the top of the mountain.

I got this one completely wrong. Not only did Sanity win, but the crowd ate it up with a spoon. What a great brawl! Where did Alexander Wolfe come from? I had a pre-conceived notion that Eric Young was the established entity, Killian Dane the breakout star and Alexander Wolfe the weak link of the group. Wolfe blew me away at Takeover. The way he tossed around two huge men was beyond impressive. He showed great acrobatics for a big man, and a ton of in-ring charisma. In one night, he went from being a guy on the roster to a guy that I think can be a huge star.

Alister Black is a Future World Champion.

I’ll let one of the Negative Nancy’s that writes for LOP talk about Hideo Itami and their perception that he’s being misused. He put over Alister Black in a big way at Takeover, and it was 100% the right call. Black is the total package. His ring entrance is awesome. He has size and an extremely unique but marketable look. His unorthodox striking style is one that both the NXT and WWE universes will get behind. He was treated like a star Saturday night and deservedly so.

I am interested in seeing where he goes next. There aren’t a lot of strong heels on the NXT roster right now. He needs a step up for the next Takeover show. I’d love to see the WWE bring an established name in from the main roster to put him over. Dolph Ziggler would seem to fit the bill perfectly. Make it happen WWE!

I want to see more of Asuka v Ember Moon.

I felt like it was a foregone conclusion that Ember Moon was going to take the title off Asuka on Saturday. I was wrong once again. The match that they delivered was as compelling a match as the women have delivered since Bayley v Sasha at NXT Takeover Brooklyn I.

While Bayley/Sasha was the superior match and its compelling nature was based on the underdog story being told over the course of several months, Asuka v Ember was compelling due to its extreme physicality and uncertainty of the outcome. I lost count of the number of times that I felt like the match was over only for it not to be. They delivered an absolutely brilliant epic. It’s a shame that Asuka broke her collarbone and had to relinquish the title, because I feel like there is one more fantastic chapter to tell.

NXT Takeover Brooklyn III was the Best Show NXT Has Ever Done.

This may seem like a bold statement due to the tremendous quality that NXT has put forth on their past Takeover Specials, but I feel this way for three reasons.

First, it was the deepest card that they have ever put on. I went back and analyzed every Takeover, and Brooklyn III was the only card in which every match delivered. All five matches on the show ranged from very good to great. That simply hadn’t happened before.

Second, each match delivered something different and was a shining example of a particular style of wrestling. Asuka v Ember Moon delivered the “epic match” that only comes around once in a blue moon. Bobby Roode v Drew McIntyre was a great old school wrestling match while Johnny Gargano v Cien Almas was a perfect example of what new school wrestling looks like. AoP v Sanity provided a train-wreck ECW-style brawl and Black v Itami was a rock-solid example of a NJPW style striking-based wrestling match. There was something on this card for every type of wrestling fan.

Third, NXT Takeover Brooklyn delivered on “moments”. One of the things that NXT has always done well is protect their titles. Being a champion matters in NXT. Title changes are rare and when they happen, they are presented as a big deal. We got not one but two title changes on Saturday. In addition, we saw two major debuts with that saw new wrestlers be given incredible opportunities to shine. Adam Cole and The Red Dragons are already main event players in NXT, and their debuts may go down as the most historically significant events to happen on Saturday night.

All in all, NXT Takeover Brooklyn III delivered in every way it possibly could. It was the second best wrestling show I’ve ever been to live, and the best Takeover of all time.

Tag Team Wrestling Killed it This Week.

In addition to the abovementioned NXT Tag Title Match, we saw three absolute classics on WWE proper.

First, The New Day and the Usos tore the house down at Summerslam. I’ve been a huge fan of all three of their matches. I believe that their trilogy will stack up favorably with any in tag team wrestling trilogy in history, as I think all will age extremely well. Some were upset that this ended up on the preshow of Summerslam, but I was not. They would never have been given twenty minutes on the main card, and the match would have suffered as a result. The preshow main event placement allowed The New Day and the Usos to deliver the absolute classic that we deserved to see.

Second, the feel-good moment of the night came when The Shield dethroned Shesaro and took the Raw tag team titles. The match was not quite as good as The New Day v The Usos and was threatened to be derailed by a beach ball, but it was still excellent. The entire arena shook when The Shield won. This angle has done wonders for Seth Rollins. He was struggling to find himself as a face and is now being cheered as much as anyone on the roster.

Third, the WWE delivered a dream match by pitting The Shield against the Hardy Boys on Raw. This match was every bit as good as you would have expected it to be. Sure, it came out of nowhere and definitely could have made for a strong title match on PPV, but I liked its placement. The Raw and Smackdown after both Wrestlemania and Summerslam are some of the most important shows all year for the WWE. People are traveling from all over the world to come to those shows. It is important that the WWE deliver not only big moments but big matches as well. The Shield v The Hardy Boys was a perfect example of the type of special attraction that will continue to make these shows must-see.

The Women Acquitted Themselves Very Well at Summerslam.

I’ve been critical of women’s wrestling for a while now. The past year hasn’t lived up to the standard they set during the previous two. Both Summerslam matches looked to be lackluster on paper going into the show, and appeared to be reasons to strengthen my stance. Instead, both were pleasant surprises.

Natalya v Naomi was a match that no one cared about going into the show. The general consensus was that it was a preshow level match being put on the main card only for Carmella to cash in. Not only did Carmella not cash in, but Natalya and Naomi dramatically outkicked their coverage. Their match was filled with innovative spots and I was floored by how good it was. Natalya winning the belt came as a complete shock to me, but it sets the Smackdown Women’s Division up well. She will surely feud with Naomi for another month or two, and has Charlotte and Becky Lynch waiting in the wings as strong face opponents. Once that passes, the WWE will be able to pull the trigger on Carmella’s cash in. I think we’re in for a solid six month stretch for the women on Smackdown.

As surprised as I was that Natalya beat Naomi, I was even more shocked that Sasha Banks took the title from Alexa Bliss. The WWE seemed to move away from this feud in favor of Bayley. Sasha only ended up in the match because Bayley got hurt. I never expected the WWE to then put the belt on Sasha. Nonetheless, I’m glad that they did. I love Alexa Bliss. She’s smoking hot and cuts a great promo. Sasha is just a better representation as champion. The crowd response to their match was great, which is impressive considering how lackluster the first hour of Summerslam was. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for Sasha as champ.

Jinder Continues to be Unhindered.

Everyone hated it and I don’t care. Jinder Mahal is the world champion the WWE needs. Here’s the deal. Heels are supposed to get booed. People hate Jinder because they don’t perceive his in-ring or microphone skills to be up to par. Do you know what happens to heels the internet likes? They get cheered and the WWE can’t run the angles they want to!

Jinder Mahal v Shinsuke Nakamura wasn’t a great match by any stretch of the imagination, but it had some of the best crowd reaction on the entire show. Think about it for a minute. When was the last time you had a traditional heel getting booed out of the building against a traditional baby face that everyone wanted to see win the title? It simply doesn’t happen in modern WWE, and it happened at Summerslam. This is why Jinder is your world champion. This is why Jinder should continue to be world champion for the foreseeable future. At some point, a baby face is going to knock him off. That baby face will be revered like no other. Jinder’s title reign has been an incredible success thus far, and will continue to be for as long as it lasts.

The Fatal Fourway Would Have Scored Very Well on my Countdown.

A lot of people have been asking me how I think this match would have fared on my countdown. Now that it has come to pass, I think I can give a somewhat intelligent answer.

The build was strong. People would have preferred to see to see Lesnar defend his title in a 1 on 1 match. Nonetheless, the WWE did a great job of building all four men once the four way was announced. They focused on their size and physicality and the stipulation of Lesnar leaving the WWE if he lost added to the intrigue. By the time Summerslam came around, people were very interested in the match. This was definitely a top ten build.

The match was an absolute car crash in all the right ways. The first ten minutes were absolute fire. Braun was made to look like a monster, and the successive power slams through tables was simply awesome. Wheeling Lesnar out on a stretcher made for compelling television, as there was a legitimate question as to whether or not he’d return. Once he did, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. This wasn’t among the very best of Summerslam main events, but it was definitely in the top ten.

The historical impact is difficult to ascertain, but it’s quite possible that it will be significant. There is a growing feeling that Braun Strowmann is being groomed to become the new Brock Lesnar once Lesnar leaves the WWE for good. If this is the case and Strowmann becomes a massive superstar, this match will be viewed as the turning point for him.

All in all, a top ten build and top ten match ensure that Summerslam 2017’s main event would score very well on the countdown. If Strowmann becomes a huge superstar, this match could easily crack the top five.

Speaking of Braun Strowmann, Strike While the Iron is Hot.

Most, myself included, would be very happy to see Braun Strowmann v Brock Lesnar headline Wrestlemania 34. As such, many were none too happy when this was announced as the main event for No Mercy.

At first, I agreed with this assessment. It felt like short term booking that would harm the long term booking. After letting it marinate, I’m glad that they went in this direction. Heat and being over are not an eternal guarantee. Look at Roman Reigns. He was incredibly popular during the Summer of 2014. All people wanted to see was Reigns become champion. The WWE banked on this and wanted to hold out until Wrestlemania. Everything went horribly wrong and a large chunk of the fan base turned on him.

Who’s to say that Strowmann will still be this popular come Wrestlemania season? I am giving the WWE kudos for learning from their past mistakes and making this match happen now. Who knows? There are plenty of storylines that could come out of this match that will still lead to Lesnar v Strowmann at Wrestlemania 34. Either way, it’s the right call.

Enzo Amore Finds his Place.

I really thought Enzo Amore was in danger of becoming Marty Jannetty when he and Cass split. Cass looked like the obvious star and Enzo seemed like the guy that would fall off a cliff.

Instead, he’s done nothing but excel since the split. He took his already strong mic skills and upped his promos to another level. He does a better job conveying legitimate emotion than almost anyone on the roster. He created entertainment by greasing himself up and escaping the shark cage in a match that was completely devoid of any other entertainment value. Time and time again, he makes lemons out of lemonade.

I was beyond ecstatic to see him debut on 205 Live and start a feud with Neville. No matter how strong his mic skills are and how entertaining he is, his lack of size was going to hinder him from ever being taken seriously on a main event level. Neville has been head and shoulders above everyone in the cruiserweight division, and has sorely needed an opponent who was his equal from a character standpoint. Enzo Amore is absolutely that guy. This is the feud that will bring the cruiserweight division to relevance, and I can’t wait.

A Surprisingly Good Week for Wrestlers I’m Not High On.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give credit where credit was due. Finn Balor came off as an absolute superstar at Summerslam. The Demon Character is amazing, his entrance is a sight to behold, and he was over at a main event level. I’ve been critical of him since his return from injury, but I finally saw what others see. There is superstar potential here. I can’t help but feel that the WWE needs to highlight him in a big way for the remainder of the year. I never thought I’d say that.

Then, there’s Chad Gable. I felt like his only path to success was as part of American Alpha with Jason Jordan. When Jordan was taken away and Gable was left to his own devices, I thought he’d be a quick fail and back to NXT. Instead, the WWE dropped a tremendous gift on him by pairing him with the returning Shelton Benjamin. The comparisons between American Alpha and the World’s Greatest Tag Team were obvious. His pairing with Benjamin pays homage to the past and has much more runway than even American Alpha had. I think it’s a foregone conclusion that they dethrone The Usos and become tag team champions.

Lastly, there’s Elias. This gimmick looked destined to fail, yet here we were. It was the Summerslam preshow, and the fans were chanting “Encore”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but was glad to see it. If his gimmick works in Brooklyn, it will work everywhere. In one night, he went from a superstar that looked like a flop to a guy that could gain tremendous momentum in the coming months.

A Step Back for Three Superstars is a Blessing in Disguise.

On the flip side to my abovementioned point, sometimes you need to fail in order to succeed. Such is the case for three wrestlers whose careers weren’t going in the right direction.

First up – Baron Corbin. Who had a worse week than him? He loses his MITB briefcase in hilarious fashion, then gets jobbed to Super Cena at Summerslam. Many believe that the WWE killed him dead, but I disagree. Corbin brings skills to the table. He has size, is a decent wrestler and cuts a decent promo. He wasn’t ready for the spot he was in and it wasn’t working. Had the WWE continued down that path, he could have ended up irreparably damaged. Instead, he gets to take a step back into a U.S. Title feud with A.J. Styles. Working with Styles should lead to some tremendous matches, and a run with a mid-card title is exactly what the doctor ordered if the WWE is looking to build him up to a main event level.

Second up – Big Cass. You never want to see anyone go down with an injury the way he did on Monday Night Raw. With that said, I think it’s the best thing that could have happened to him. Big Cass jumps off the page as having obvious star power. He’s huge and you can market that. However, his current push was in the process of failing. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. He’ll be gone a minimum of nine months. Past history has shown that an injury layoff often leads to tremendous momentum upon said wrestler’s return. The time off will give the fans a chance to forget about how badly his push was going, and allow the WWE a second chance to capitalize on what appears to be a wrestler with significant potential to be a star.

Last up – Jason Jordan. He was took an L against the Miz on the Summerslam preshow in front of roughly one hundred people, then laid down for Finn Balor the next night on Raw. Many felt that his storyline with Kurt Angle was way too much way too soon, and that his subsequent jobs this week were the beginning of the end for him. I couldn’t disagree more. I absolutely LOVED the segments between Jordan and Angle this week on Raw. The “I’m disappointing my father” storyline is one that many can identify with. Not only that, but it’s a perfect way to bring him along slowly while still ultimately getting to where the WWE wants to go with him. I’m infinitely more interested in him now than I was a week ago.

Roman Reigns v John Cena Has Arrived.

I don’t know how I can end my column on anything other than this. There isn’t a single match that the WWE could put together that I’d want to see more than John Cena v Roman Reigns. It’s been hinted at for months, and many thought it could end up on the Summerslam card. I have much larger aspirations for it. I want to see John Cena take the title off Roman Reigns for his 17th world championship at Wrestlemania 34. Cena breaking Ric Flair’s record will be a tremendous accomplishment. His opponent needs to be someone of high stature, and there’s no one with a higher stature than Roman.

The WWE finally pulled the trigger on this by having Cena move to Monday Night Raw. It could be argued that this match will happen much earlier than Wrestlemania. I don’t think so. Monday’s encounter felt like the beginning of a very slow burn rather than the push for a showdown in the short term. Regardless of when Cena v Reigns actually happens, it will be the highlight of my wrestling year.

That’s a wrap kids. Holy cow. That was long. Congratulations to those of you still reading. I had a lot on my mind, and it’s good to be back and writing. Thank you for reading. Sound off below!

Facebook: David Fenichel

Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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