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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: Summerslam 2017 - The Performance Art Preview
By Samuel 'Plan
Aug 16, 2017 - 9:58:24 PM

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Just Business: Summerslam 2017 - The Performance Art Preview


Summerslam 2017 has sort of crept up on me, quite honestly. In no small part because I have been so ensnared by and focussed on the magnificence of the Ambrose / Rollins story, for weeks I haven’t been paying much attention to everything else going on. More fool me; there’s been plenty of other stuff going on and, largely, it’s been great!

Having recorded this Friday’s preview for LOP Radio’s The Right Side of the Pond podcast, I can safely say that I’m rather impressed with the robust, varied card WWE have compiled for their second biggest show of the year. It is a card that justifies that status. So too is it a card that has the potential to navigate WWE out of the slalom of mild anti-climaxes the Summerslams of 2014, ’15 and ’16 provided.

My name is Samuel ‘Plan and this is my Performance Art Preview of Summerslam 2017.

Story, Story, Story

As a proponent of viewing WWE’s product as performance art over sports entertainment, I obsess over the role played by story and character in their creative output. History, I dare say, is on my side. Few, I think, would dispute the view that WWE matches are only ever able to reach another level of quality when they are built upon a foundation of character or of story, or, in increasingly rare instances, of both. What I believe plays heavily into Summerslam’s favour this coming weekend is that almost every match on the card finds itself in such a position.

Sometimes it is easy to lose yourself in the superlative conversations often so abundant among the IWC. It’s easy to believe that a feud that fails to turn heads in any major way lacks story. The truth is quite the opposite. Historically, the better periods in WWE’s modern history have been the Eras that demonstrate a mastery of the undercard story; of the stories behind pay-per-view matches few people head into the event really thinking of, nor come out really talking of, but that, slight as they might be, are able lend any given a match a unique sense of identity. When this occurs, such matches tell a story of their own that only they could tell. It transforms the most throwaway bout into something unique; something that little bit more enjoyable; even memorable, in the best instances.

Perhaps with the exception of the under-developed WWE Championship storyline and the lamentably undercooked Orton / Rusev confrontation, (though as someone who has voluntarily excommunicated himself from Smackdown Live (SDL) since WrestleMania, please don’t hesitate to correct me should my claim be apocryphal) every match on Sunday’s card benefits from having a unique storyline, each at different levels of development.

Some are more robust than others, of course. AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens for the United States Championship, featuring Shane McMahon as the Special Guest Referee, is a story that, on its myriad levels, stretches in some way all the way back to WrestleMania 33, for example. Hopefully, it will continue the trend of its build and ensure the Special Referee stipulation, so often a non-factor, becomes integral to their in-ring tale on the night too.

Others are a little simpler. Akira Tozawa vs. Neville for the Cruiserweight Championship is a straight up title rematch, the likes of which we see regularly in WWE. But what helps to ensure it feels like something more than ordinary is the last minute title change that occurred on Monday Night Raw (MNR) this last week; the resulting intrigue is the story that will help Tozawa and Neville compile something better than they otherwise might have been able to.

The Summerslam 2017 is a heavily story-driven state of affairs top to bottom, that will only encourage the performers booked to draw on an established sense of character and narrative regardless of how much time they have between the ropes or how early they appear on the card, and that promises to make the Biggest Party of the Summer a well-rounded show capable, quite possibly, of finally sustaining is leviathan 6 hour run time (pre-show inclusive).

Bray Wyatt pouring blood over Finn Bálor, Big Cass injuring Big Show’s hand and John Cena costing Baron Corbin his Money in the Bank cash-in might seem like incidental events designed only to fill television time before getting to the meatier pay-per-view bouts, but such small touches provide the territory that help elevate any given special event toward something special in nature as well as name.

That’s what we’ll be watching Sunday, if WWE successfully translate their current anthology of competently developed stories cometh the hour.

A History of Violence

The MNR main event is one that has been met with a little debate over on social media among LOP personalities. Some are disappointed that a more marquee one on one match hasn’t been booked to headline the summer’s biggest show. Others are hugely excited to see the results of four big powerhouses clashing for their brand’s ultimate prize. I sit firmly in the latter camp, but for a reason beyond the immediately apparent. I think the subtext to this Sunday’s presumably show-closing affair is the real key to unlocking its creative potential.

This is a match consisting not just of four villainous characters, each well rounded and three dimensional in their own right, and all of them with an intermingling history hanging over form past encounters, but so too is it a match with a history of violence. It is a most notable history of violence at that.

In one ring at one time you are going to have the Beast Incarnate, Brock Lesnar, who has a history of busting his opponents open the hard way, bruising their bodies with countless steel chair shots and even concussing them; you are going to have the Destroyer, Samoa Joe, who has a history of assaulting bystanders speaking on the behalf of others simply because the person they were speaking on behalf of hadn’t turned up, and who had re-aggravated the injury of Seth Rollins with ease, almost taking the Architect out of WrestleMania for the second year running; you are going to have the Big Dog, Roman Reigns, who has driven another human being trapped in the back of an ambulance headlong into the side of a truck, who took pride in despatching the legendary Undertaker in ugly and unceremonious fashion and who has made the Beast bleed, smiling as he did it; and you are going to have the Monster Among Men, Braun Strowman, who has a very long trail of corpses lined up behind him, has physically decimated Roman Reigns on a multitude of occasions and who got up and walked away from a head on vehicular collision.

You are putting these four men together at a time when their animosity towards one another is at an all time high. You are telling them that the very first person to score a fall will walk away with the ultimate prize of their brand, the Universal Championship. Paul Heyman has promised Joe, Strowman and Reigns the added incentive that is the joy of knowing you sent Brock Lesnar voluntarily packing from all of WWE if you win. Finally, you are ramping up the pressure by shoving them in the main event spotlight of the second biggest show of the year.

These high stakes combined with the pressure cooker environment, all built on top of a disturbing, unrepentant history of violence – of ultra-violence, even – means that this Sunday’s Fatal 4 Way might come to resemble its name in all too real a fashion.

Where most fans see only the lack of a singles main event, or what they believe to be the predictability of the result, or busy themselves questioning what the long term plan is, all I see is blood sport, and the make-up of a happening that makes the word war an unfitting description.

In the past, Summerslam has been referred to as the Biggest Blockbuster of the Summer. If this Sunday’s Universal Championship Match was just that, a summer blockbuster, it wouldn’t be, as we might be quick to think, a monster movie. It wouldn’t be a disaster movie either. If the match stays true to the individual and collective histories of its participants, the match will be an absolute body horror.

And if I’m being honest…I cannot wait!

If only it could be an 18; or R-Rated, as you say in the States.

A Bittersweet Symphony

For me, the match of the weekend is the MNR Tag Team Championship Match between defending champions Sheamus and Cesaro and the challengers Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins.

Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins; not versus; and.

Simply writing it brings a smile to my face.

This story has been pitch perfect from the moment it was ignited all those weeks ago with Seth Rollins coming to the aid of Dean Ambrose against the Miztourage. Week after week the two confronted one another and wore their emotions on their sleeve. You need only to look back at the reaction of the live crowds, not just this week but across the weeks the two brothers have been working through their issues with one another, to realise how much emotional heft, how much of a gut wrenching odyssey it has been for so many WWE fans, myself included.

I believe passionately in the idea of viewing WWE’s product as performance art (my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die details this comprehensively, and is currently on sale on Amazon for less than $3!), and it is stories like the one told between Dean and Seth that continually reinforce my faith in the notion. The latest chapter of their story has been full of character development, recognition of the existing, deep running continuity between the two, and performed with nothing but the utmost dedication to character. Seeing Dean exhausted and shaking on the verge of tears as he finally offered Seth the fist bump Seth had been chasing was incredible. Hearing Seth finally apologise to Dean and admit his wrong-doing was affecting. The way the two have had to fight against both the better and worst parts of themselves simply to accept what they both wanted has proven indescribably powerful. Seth Rollins’ mega-fans like myself should now feel all the fonder of Dean Ambrose for having seen Dean accept Seth’s apology; Dean Ambrose’s mega-fans, like my cohort Maverick, should feel all the fonder of Seth Rollins for having heard Seth accept his misdeeds and apologise for them.

It really is something else; WWE does This is England.

In truth, I could write for thousands of words extrapolating, examining and interpreting every tiny moment, every passing gesture of body language, every facial expression and every line uttered from one brother to the other, but this is a preview of Sunday, and so is not the time or the place; though one day, it will be. For now, sufficed to say that the developing story between them has only made me more attached to both characters than I have ever been before, and that makes this Sunday’s Tag Team Championship Match something very unique indeed. It makes it can’t miss.

It’s can’t miss because it will be the first time in three years we will see Dean and Seth work magic together as a tag team in the way only they ever could. It’s can’t miss because it will be the first test of their newly renewed brotherhood and friendship, and we can see what it’s made of; I’m willing to bet it must be stronger than ever for virtue of having been dragged so upsettingly through the wars of the last three years. It’s can’t miss because it continues the best storyline on WWE television right now, and the latest chapter in one of the greatest relationships in all of WWE lore. It’s can’t miss because the stakes are so high; not just due to a championship being on the line but also because of what Dean and Seth have had to go through simply to get to where they’re at right now.

Finally, and perhaps most pertinently for many sports entertainment-minded fans, it’s can’t miss because the match quality should be off the chain. Cesaro and Sheamus are long-proven workhorses in the ring. Dean and Seth have a chemistry unmatched in WWE, whether that be together or against one another. The combination of all four together, working on so strong and powerful a foundation of emotional storytelling, means that this Sunday’s MNR Tag Team Championship Match has all the makings of a Summerslam GOAT.

As the world around us continues to become harder and more unfeeling, and as the lines of division in our society continue to sharpen, and as everyone becomes increasingly cynical and disbelieving, violent and aggressive, a story like this, that so optimistically reaffirms the power of the bond forged by the love of a brotherhood, and emphasises how such a bond may bend but never break, and which so emotively speaks to the strength found in the notions of forgiveness and compassion of a kind, is exactly the sort of story that our world needs right now.

This one’s not about believing in The Shield. It’s about believing in the brotherhood of Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins; one of the greatest stories ever told.

In Closing

With twelve matches on the card this Sunday, plus another promising Takeover: Brooklyn this Saturday, there’s going to be plenty of action this weekend; it would’ve been impossible for me to cover everything! Though I am fixated on the Rollins / Ambrose story, I am not dismissive of other goings on, so please do let me know what your thoughts are ahead of time, as well as what you are or aren’t looking forward to and why, down in the comments below or over on social media!

I’ll be back on Friday with the penultimate column in my #102 series but, until then, thank you for reading!

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store today! Simply click on the icon on the left of our homepage to find a host of books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP’s own!

For more of my thoughts on the rest of the show, and WWE in general, click here to add me on Facebook!

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