Four hours. As big a deal as Triple H made about SummerSlam being so epic that the WWE needed to extend it to four hours from the usual three, I don’t think any WWE fan was genuinely excited about that. I was reminded of a great line from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, having to fill time on their sketch show with some already awful material, director Cal Shanley exclaims:
“I guess tell them that the secret to finally making it better was making it longer.”
The WWE is really pushing it with a four hour show. The pre-shows for PPV events usually lasted 30 minutes with two short matches and a whole lot of previews. For Wrestlemania, sure, why not? If there’s going to be an Iron Man match, you could totally justify it. If you were going to try to put an extra Divas match, or had an inordinate number of tag team matches, then an extra hour would totally work. But I just don’t see this going well, because, as we go through the preview of Sunday night’s show, the build-up wasn’t done all that well with the exception of the top of the card.
The one saving grace that could come in New York? Host Jon Stewart.
A little more than a year ago, Stewart started slipping WWE references into his show. They kind of came out of nowhere, usually peeking out as he flew into a passionate rage. Last July, he sat ringside at the Money in the Bank pay per view and then in February he started a back-and-forth with Seth Rollins leading to this moment on Monday Night Raw showing that Stewart is more than capable of putting on a great performance inside the right as solid as any night at his now-former Daily Show desk.
Usually the host of a PPV, as opposed to a the host of Raw or Smackdown, has almost nothing to do with the way the show plays out. They make one appearance, almost always at the start, and then aren’t seen again. Think Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania XXX. If the WWE wants to keep the audience entertained for four hours, Stewart should get more free reign than other hosts, especially given his experience with comedy and live events.
So let’s get started with the preview. We continue with the tradition so lovingly set by our former WWE beat writer Brandon Troy, going from the least to most anticipated matches of the night.
Randy Orton vs. Sheamus
We’ve seen it over the years countless times. It’s arguably the least interesting rivalry in the WWE. Two years ago, the boredom of a match between these two inspired a raucous post-Wrestlemania crowd to entertain themselves with their own chants. You could maybe chalk it up to Sheamus rarely facing Orton as a heel and the two so often facing each other as faces with little heat. But really, little has changed. As Mr. Money in the Bank, Sheamus has generated virtually no compelling action with that briefcase save for a near-cash-in that no one thought would actually two weeks ago. As for Randy Orton, aside from his triple threat win and championship match two weeks ago, same goes for him.
These two would be much better off facing younger guys on the roster with an interesting story. It was fun for a while when Kevin Owens and Orton were going at it. Sheamus is so poorly written as is the tradition with so many Money in the Bank winners. On the up-side, there’s nowhere to go but up from here… right?
Prediction: Orton wins. If the WWE is smart and actually wants to get something out of these two with a continuing storyline, Orton will beat Sheamus again as a single and maybe again as in a tag match giving him claim to the briefcase. I love it when Mr. Money in the Bank has the tables turned and has to defend the briefcase as if the company has an extra title. There are better guys than Orton to challenge for it, but I’d be happy to see it here to give this old feud some new blood.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev
Six days of build-up! Can you feel it! How could you possibly think of skipping this one!?
The joke goes that the best time for the audience to take a bathroom break or go grab some snacks is during the Divas match of the night. But with the Divas Revolution going on, this would be your best bet because there’s absolutely nothing of consequence going on in this match. The only thing you might not want to miss is possibly something happening between Lana and Summer Rae.
On the plus side, if this reasons-there’s-a-preshow match leads off the night, you won’t feel so bad about joining the action a little late.
Prediction: Ziggler wins. The dearth of creativity exemplified in this match prevents me from elaborating any further.
Triple Threat Tag Team Elimination Match
Team Bella (Nikki Bella (c), Brie Bella, & Alicia Fox) vs. Team BAD (Naomi, Sasha Banks, & Tamina) vs. PCB (Paige, Charlotte, & Becky Lynch)
The Divas Revolution had major heat as soon as it happened. Despite the poor execution in calling up three NXT women and then arbitrarily placing them in two separate factions to war with Team Bella, it’s been a welcome sight to see multiple Divas matches on every televised show. The talent is shining and the matches have been entertaining…
But where’s the story?
Stephanie McMahon called three NXT women out and on that historic Monday Night Raw and the story has been the factions and which has the upper-hand. No one is talking about the Divas title or the NXT women’s title. Shouldn’t those championships be the focus here? The NXT women are cutting these promos about finally getting called up and establishing themselves as major stars, but they can’t do that unless they’re holding or defending their titles.
It’s the reason that I hope that anyone but Team Bella wins this match on Sunday. If Team Bella wins, the status quo is maintained and the faction war continues. But what happens if either Naomi, Sasha, Paige, Charlotte, or Becky pin Nikki Bella to win the match? Wouldn’t they immediately want to make a play at the title? Could there be inner turmoil among Team BAD and PCB as to who should be the #1 contender?
We can only hope because for a four-hour SummerSlam to feature just one Divas match seems inexcusable unless it leads to something great.
Prediction: Charlotte wins and begins her big push. It’s long overdue. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if the lazy WWE continued Nikki’s reign as champ with a win here. They’d just love to erase AJ from the record books as the longest reigning Divas champion of all time.
Fatal 4-Way Tag Team Championship Match
The Prime Time Players (Darren Young & Titus O’Neil) (c) vs. The New Day (Big E & Kofi Kingston) vs. Lucha Dragons (Kalisto & Sin Cara) vs. Los Matadores (Diego & Fernando)
It wasn’t that long ago that the tag team division was in amazing shape. The Wyatt Family, The Shield, The Usos, and Team Hell No ruled the yard. We’ve fallen off quite a bit since then, which isn’t to say the matches haven’t been entertaining, but the direction of the champions and contenders have been constant and right at each other with little room for character development or any stakes but a simple match for the titles.
The Prime Time Players do their best to stay interesting. Their in-ring work is solid. The only time their given mics to speak is when they’re on commentary or when they’re backstage and given a minute to make some jokes about their opponents. They do well with what their given, but it’s so little that you wonder if the WWE is worried about extended screen time for them and holding them back on purpose, because no other tag team is getting that kind of attention except the New Day.
The sad part about this is that it makes the division predictable and quite often stale. Los Matadores are in character limbo while Lucha Dragons never get any screen time aside from their matches. Why kid ourselves? Those two teams have ZERO chance to walk out of SummerSlam champs. Will the spots they hit in this Fatal 4-Way be worth it? We can only hope so.
Prediction: The Prime Time Players win. As the champs, mocking the New Day even as their outnumbered 3-2 has been fun. Their initial win for the titles was quite the surprise, but we haven’t seen a signature defense yet. This should be it.
Triple Threat Intercontinental Championship Match
Ryback (c) vs. The Miz vs. Big Show
Hey! A match for a title! Now we’re talking! Although chasing a championship is about all that’s driving this three-headed feud. Still, an entertaining mid-card is crucial to WWE success and these guys have pulled it off well. Even when Ryback was out with a gruesome staph infection, The Miz did a great job of cutting promos and being an obnoxious character to fill time and keep things going with the Big Show. Ryback has hit a plateau though and needs to step up his game to take himself and this feud to the next level so it doesn’t die right after SummerSlam. He’s over with the crowd and has put on entertaining matches. I’m actually looking forward to this one because of the diversity in athleticism it brings to the table.
Prediction: The Miz wins. If the feud continues, Ryback can play up his desire to work his way back to the title after injury. Plus, it gives the Tough Enough finale a little extra juice to have one of the three judges be a reigning champion.
Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro
It feels like forever ago that Kevin Owens put on one of the best matches of the year by beating John Cena at Elimination Chamber in his WWE debut. The hype before and afterward was amazing. He was cutting great promos and the matches were must-see. But… of course… Cena wins LOL. Cena’s subsequent two victories killed Owens’ brand and now he’s starting from the bottom. The problem is that his focus is on Cesaro, another guy the WWE Universe wants to see elevated. The two are good, but the story has been bland. Cesaro doesn’t have history, and the reason that Owens was so compelling at the beginning of his main roster run was that he was going against the conventions and attacking the establishment. Randy Orton would’ve been a perfect target since Orton turned face and this is a failure of WWE writers to try to keep Owens interesting. Owens has been thrown in tag matches along with Cesaro. No mic time, no story. If this feud continues, hopefully that changes.
Prediction: Of course Cesaro wins. Doesn’t a three-match PPV losing streak sound just like the WWE after building up a character like Owens? It makes total sense!
Bray Wyatt & Luke Harper vs. Dean Ambrose & Roman Reigns
“Family vs. Family.”
You know, as much as I harp on WWE brass doing a poor job of storytelling, this match here doesn’t really need one. Reigns is nothing special on the mic, Ambrose is crazy, and Bray Wyatt always gets his promo time in. This match really feels like something a fan would come up with.
“Hey, remember when the Wyatt Family feuded with the Shield? We should have Wyatt and Harper team up to face Ambrose and Reigns. Capture some of that old magic!”
The singles matches have been ok, but the finish on Smackdown this week was great.
What I and a lot of other WWE fans are waiting for is for Reigns to step his game up. Right now, he’s cool by proxy teaming with Ambrose. Reigns has the little kids in the audience who always cheer babyfaces, but he’s not over with hard core fans the way Ambrose is. A show-stealing match would go a long way in advancing his career because it’s fallen off quite a bit since he headlined Wrestlemania.
Prediction: The Wyatt Family wins this one. I can see the feud continuing from here as Reigns goes solo against Bray Wyatt in the future with Ambrose, sadly, still having little direction. Still, I expect a high-flying, amazing match.
Stephen Amell & Neville vs. Stardust & King Barrett
In 2014, Drax the Destroyer won the Royal Rumble. Could Green Arrow win a match at SummerSlam? I can’t wait to find out. The superhero angle for the WWE is a brilliant move, embracing the actor’s character in comic book form just as they have with Neville’s Altitude Era slogan. Stardust and King Barrett are perfect foils here as well. Their over-the-top personalities and actions contrast so well for a tag team matchup that you wonder if the WWE writers just let this one fall into their laps.
Amell hasn’t done an extensive interview talking about growing up with the WWE, but he’s obviously a fan. And you couldn’t have picked one in sicker shape. My friend Sandra Gonzalez over at Mashable pointed me at some videos on Amell’s official YouTube and Facebook pages.
If you have any doubts about Amell’s abilities, these videos should put you to rest.
Prediction: There’s one thing that the WWE sometimes does that I can’t stand. It’s when the heel wins the match, but then the face gets one last shot in and exits victoriously, complemented by the cheers of the crowd as well as their music. It seems satisfying at the time until you realize that the match forever goes in the record books as a loss for the guy you were rooting for. I don’t think that happens here. There has to be something epic set up for an amazing finish between Neville and Arrow. After all, how many more times are we going to get to see an Arrow finisher?
Title vs. Title Winner-Take-All Match
John Cena (United States Champion) vs. Seth Rollins (WWE World Heavyweight Champion)
This is truly the year of John Cena. The most impressive part of his 2015 run is that he’s done the majority of his best work as the United States Champion, far away from the top of the card. Though we shouldn’t forget his amazing triple threat match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at the Royal Rumble, he’s basically shouldered a big load for the company with his weekly United States Open Challenges on Monday Night Raw. It grew to become something everyone looked forward to. But most impressively, it made everyone not only tolerate but completely accept that Cena was going to win.
2015 has been a particularly stagnant year on TV in terms of titles switching hands on Raw. The only time any title changed hands was at the beginning of January when Wade Barrett was unceremoniously handed the Intercontinental Championship in a 2-out-of-3 falls match that was originally scheduled for one fall vs. Dolph Ziggler. Cena changed all that. While the stakes of most every televised show have dropped in favor of driving up the value of PPVs to watch on the WWE Network, you can thank Cena for saving us from utter boredom for the other 2 hours and 30 minutes of every show.
As for Ziggler, as slimy, devious, and conniving as he’s been as champion, he’s been entertaining. Not since CM Punk has a champion been able to own the mic and the crowd for several minutes and keep them so hatefully engaged. Only recently, targeting the polarizing John Cena, have people actually been rooting for him. Sadly, we’re left with one big question: Will the winner of this match actually win clean and walk away with two titles?
Prediction: Yes. Seth Rollins is going to do it and he’s going to rub all of our faces in it. I can’t wait. A lot of people are predicting this match to end in a no contest or disqualification, but it’s the co-main event. There’s only one match bigger than this one. It’s SummerSlam. And the biggest title in the company is on the line. The WWE wouldn’t dare piss off that many people all at once by giving them exactly what they dreaded… wait… Roman Reigns, Batista, John Cena… crap. That’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker
There are few moments when the WWE truly surprises you. When, in the middle of watching a show, you gasp, your eyes light up, the adrenaline immediately pumps to your body, and the only thing that your entire body and mind are concentrating on is what you’re looking at in front of you. The two biggest examples over the last few years of such a phenomenon have been Brock Lesnar beating The Undertaker at Wrestlemania and Undertaker’s out-of-nowhere return at Battleground to put a stop to Lesnar pinning Seth Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
It’s among the greatest return of all time because of who it was and when he came back. The crowd went absolutely nuts and the WWE was salivating at this match headlining SummerSlam this year. And you know why? Because not matter the outcome, as long as the match is entertaining, they can’t go wrong with the winner.
If Brock Lesnar wins, his reign of destruction continues. He could practically retire The Undertaker by putting on a beating so bad that, unlike at Wrestlemania XXX, the Dead Man won’t walk away from this one. After exorcising one final demon, Lesnar can once again take aim at the company’s biggest title and carry the WWE through a usual autumn lull as the countdown to the Royal Rumble begins and the road to Wrestlemania officially starts again.
That kind of move builds Lesnar’s brand with the company sky high. Since Lesnar returned to WWE from his time at UFC in April of 2012, he’s only lost two one-on-one matches: to John Cena at Extreme Rules in 2012 and to Triple H at Wrestlemania XXIX. He keeps his place at the top of the card and now he’s in position to feud with whomever walks out of SummerSlam as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Heck, I’d love to even see him start going after Sheamus because the crowd would love him for it.
But if Undertaker wins, he does the impossible after Lesnar did the same. He tames the beast and picks the perfect way to retire, exiting the company by beating the biggest monster the industry has ever seen. It’s something that Lesnar would never be able to live down. More importantly, he exacts revenge for the only blemish on his Wrestlemania record.
So what is going to happen? It’s a conversation I’ve had with countless fans in the week leading up to the summer’s biggest party. Everyone has their opinion. Mine?
Prediction: The Undertaker wins, then retires. I don’t agree with it, but I think that’s what happens. In my opinion, Lesnar should win. He’s the one that’s going to make appearances on televised shows and continue to compete at PPVs in the months to come, including the biggest ones on the calendar; the Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania. But ultimately, the WWE does get sympathetic. There have been two major WWE legend deaths recently with Dusty Rhodes passing away in June and Rowdy Roddy Piper dying just weeks ago. With the Undertaker so close to retiring and WWE fans needing something to cheer about, I can see them giving The Phenom one final moment to go out on. We can only hope it’ll be as fun as the build-up.
Photos courtesy WWE; The CW