Written By: Mark Armstrong
So much has happened in the world of wrestling – or, more specifically, WWE – over the last seven days that it is almost impossible to keep on top of it all. Nevertheless, here are my thoughts on the many events of the last week, although this week’s Thoughts will not refer to the Cruiserweight Classic or non-WWE promotions, just because of the sheer volume of activity in WWE in recent days.
- Working in chronological order, NXT Takeover: Back To Brooklyn was another fantastic showcase of the NXT brand. Of the six matches, three were very good or excellent, and even the other three were of a strong standard. We had Austin Aries provide No Way Jose with his best match to date, a good debut for Ember Moon against Billie Kay, a GLORIOUS! (Google it if you’re unaware why this makes sense) first NXT match for Bobby Roode against Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas, an outstanding NXT Tag Team Title defence for The Revival against Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciappa, an exciting NXT Women’s Title clash between Asuka and Bayley that was an improvement on their previous Dallas collision, and Shinsuke Nakamura unseat Samoa Joe as NXT Champion in a worthy main event (during which Joe suffered a broken jaw; Aries was also injured with a ruptured eardrum after a post-match GTS by Hideo Itami). All of that in one brilliant wrestling show meant that Takeover: Back To Brooklyn was another knockout evening for the brand. Concerns may be raised for the future with this marking Bayley’s exit from NXT, and with speculation that Samoa Joe could also soon move up to Raw or SmackDown; however, NXT’s strength has been its knack for finding perfect replacement when performers move on, and the wrestling product is as good as ever. Expect the NXT buzz to continue; this was incredible.
- As for SummerSlam the following evening, well … this wasn’t exactly a home-run for WWE. It had the potential to be the best PPV in years, but a combination of questionable booking, disappointing performances and an extremely distracting crowd meant that the majority of the card didn’t live up to the hype. It did, however, boast a classic between John Cena and AJ Styles, and a main event that, for better or worse, will be talked about for a long time to come. You can click here to read my full review of SummerSlam; it wasn’t great, we know that, but it was better than some may have you think.
- On the subject of that top-liner: Brock Lesnar’s violent, bloody pummelling of Randy Orton was a jaw-dropping sight in the PG era. Initially, one was disappointed in how things transpired, with the main event curtailed and the heavy nature of the beatdown raising genuine concern amongst fans. Amongst those worried was Chris Jericho, who allegedly had a mini-scuffle with Lesnar backstage after the match, with producer Michael Hayes refusing to inform Jericho whether the extent of the beating had been pre-planned and if Orton really had been knocked out leading to an argument and a confrontation between Y2J and Brock.
- However, the more I think about it, the more I think that it was executed brilliantly. If a wrestling match really did degenerate into a real fight, then the planned finish, extending the match length and providing a show for the fans wouldn’t be in the minds of the combatants; they’d just want to pummel each other, right? Had this been 20 minutes in and Brock began beating on Orton, everybody would realise that it was planned. But the abrupt nature of the assault and the sudden end to the match created that element of doubt amongst fans as to whether it was real or not. In 2016, that’s a pretty good achievement, especially when it manages to fool some of the talent as well. Ironically, Jericho’s near-fight with Brock ensured that everybody knew that what went down had been planned, rather than people still wondering if Brock had taken liberties. I still don’t believe that Orton was meant to bleed as much as he did, but it was undeniably gripping to watch, even if the crowd understandably disliked it at the time.
- Between this, Lesnar’s unscripted swearing on Raw last week and his previous instances of over-enthusiasm (like hurling a car door into the audience last year), Brock is a genuinely believable loose cannon, whose matches are predictable (Suplex City) whilst also being unpredictable, as the guy could flip the switch at any moment. Some say that Orton was damaged by this, but a regular defeat probably would have done more harm. As it is, Orton’s reputation was enhanced if anything due to his courage to take a genuine beating from Lesnar. Jericho’s rep has also increased by being ballsy enough to confront Lesnar without any cameras present (he also once beat Goldberg in a real fight, making him tougher than a lot of people would believe).
- What’s next for Lesnar? Currently, a match with Shane McMahon is being teased, but it’s more likely that Shane would draft somebody in to face The Beast. Could it be Goldberg, who has hinted at a match with Brock himself? Or could it be Triple H? Who knows at this point; however, I would urge WWE to draw a line under the “Lesnar-is-unstoppable” storyline by WrestleMania 33. If it continues any longer, then all of WWE’s main event scene will have been devalued by the part-time Beast Incarnate. WrestleMania would be a fitting stage for somebody to finally take Brock to task; who the conqueror of The Conqueror would be is anybody’s guess. It’d be hilarious if it ended up being Roman Reigns, although Roman is actually the only man who Lesnar has faced since he returned in 2012 that he hasn’t yet beaten.
- As fans were still digesting the news of a real-life Jericho vs. Lesnar showdown, it was revealed that Finn Balor had to vacate the Universal Championship which he’d only just won at SummerSlam due to a labrum injury that could sideline him for 4-6 months. It’s a huge setback for Balor, right after the biggest win of his career. It is hoped that WWE will resume his big push upon his return; fans have certainly accepted him as a major player on Raw. That his injury was the third inflicted by Seth Rollins over the last 13 months (and the second via the Buckle Bomb, even though it was into a barricade and even though Balor arguably caused the injury by stretching his arm out instead of allowing his back to absorb the blow) has led to many hoping that one of Seth’s biggest moves is banned for being too dangerous. Ironically, his old finisher, the Curb Stomp, was outlawed for the same reason despite having never injured an opponent.
- Bret Hart, who has previously been critical of Rollins for causing injuries, once again pointed out his opinion on Seth after the latest incident, which led many fans to criticise Bret. Hell, the man has a point: injuries happen, but when you injure three major wrestlers in little over a year (and one of those, Sting, saw his career end because of it, although his age and condition played a role in that outcome), questions need to be asked. If Seth avoids the Buckle Bomb then things should be fine going forward, but the backlash to Bret’s comments shows the hypocrisy of a section of the fan base: legends like Bret and Vader (for his views on the Will Ospreay-Ricochet match) can’t have an opinion, but anonymous fans on Twitter can. If you read the aforementioned SummerSlam review, you’ll see a sample of my frustration with some so-called “smart” fans right now, in relation to the PPV itself. Not all fans are like this, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of fans may not realise just how they’re coming across right now.
- All of this overshadowed Raw for the most part, where the Universal Title was vacated pending a Fatal Four Way next week. We also had the long-awaited debut of Bayley (Sasha Banks is nursing some injuries, hence her Women’s Title loss at SummerSlam; try telling that to some fans, though) and the apparent retirement of The Dudley Boyz. After a storyline where Bubba Ray and D-Von had some miscommunication, everybody expected Bubba to turn heel on D-Von here, especially with the two having reportedly signed new contracts recently. But no: this segment (which was interrupted by The Shining Stars, and ended with the Dudleyz being attacked by Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson) apparently did end their latest WWE tenure. No idea why, or if it’s a swerve, but assuming that this is all true, hopefully the Dudleyz will be rewarded for a great tag team career (and solo adventures at various points) with a future WWE Hall Of Fame induction.
- On the topic of Raw, we nearly had another injury when Sami Zayn appeared to tweak his ankle, and wrestled in obvious pain throughout. Apparently, that wasn’t the case, and Zayn simply put on an outstanding sell-job. His match with Rollins was a good one, enhanced by the believable injury suffered by Sami. This selling was evidence of what has been missing from WWE too much in recent times; hopefully we’ll see similar sell-jobs in the future, when appropriate. Another quick Raw note: Enzo Amore was the only person who put themselves forward for a Universal Title opportunity that wasn’t entered into the mini-tournament, but Neville (who didn’t come out at the start with the other entrants) was. What’s the thought process behind that? We do know the thought process behind Big Cass being entered into it before Enzo (hint: he’s 7-foot tall, and you can’t – oh, never mind). One final point: I’ve noticed that fans are beginning to slowly turn on the very popular Enzo and Cass now by ripping Enzo’s wrestling skills and Cass being in the Universal Title match at all. Those fickle wrestling fans, eh?
- SmackDown threatened to feel like an after-thought, given all of the drama elsewhere in WWE. Fortunately, it stood out by being a strong two-hour show, with a great AJ Styles-Dolph Ziggler main event and a pretty good American Alpha-Breezango doubles match. SD introduced the SmackDown Women’s and SmackDown Tag Team Championships, both of which will be decided at Backlash. That PPV will also host AJ vs. Dean Ambrose for the WWE Title, a match that many want AJ to win, given his outstanding performances and Ambrose’s general apathy in recent months. Whether he wins the title or not, Styles has to be the front-runner for Wrestler Of The Year as things stand. By the way, fans reacted positively to the designs of the two new SD prizes, despite being different coloured versions of existing championships, which is more than can be said for the reaction to the Universal Title for the same reason; again, see my SummerSlam review for more info on this.
- As if all that wasn’t enough to have the hardcore fans thinking, the post-show Talking Smack on the WWE Network ended up being utterly compelling due to two seemingly unplanned incidents: a Carmella beatdown on the returning Nikki Bella, which was played out very realistically, and a simply outstanding shoot-style rant from The Miz towards Daniel Bryan. Some called it the best promo that Miz has ever delivered. You’ll see plenty of footage from said verbiage in the coming weeks, and it could open doors for Miz to ascend up the ranks again, rounding off what has to be his best year since his WWE Title run ended in 2011. Credit to WWE: between the Lesnar assault of Orton and Miz’s promo here, the product feels unpredictable and exciting again, and these two combined with Sami’s apparent injury on Raw have caused fans who supposedly know the in’s and out’s of everything WWE-related to question what is real and what isn’t. As noted earlier, that’s something to be proud of during the current era.
- I’m out of breath now after recapping all that! Next week won’t be anywhere near as exciting, although we may get the fall-out of certain events and injuries. We will get the crowning of a new Universal Champion (Seth Rollins seems like the current favourite), and we’ll learn more about what to expect at Backlash and Clash Of Champions. Before I begin to wrap things up, I’ll just mention that Eva Marie (who was suspended last week along with Alberto Del Rio and Paige) trying to appeal her suspension may not have an ideal outcome for All Red; The Rock vs. Vin Diesel, which some are speculating might happen at WrestleMania with their supposed beef being a cover-up for such a match, would be an awful idea; Booker T is making me laugh a lot by repeatedly referencing CM Punk’s upcoming UFC fight on the Pre-Show programmes on the WWE Network; and it occurred to me during NXT Takeover that everybody has forgotten about Triple H (he appeared in a short clip to reveal the Cruiserweight Classic trophy), considering that he was heading up the on-screen Authority for so long, he main evented WrestleMania and he was rumoured to face Shane at SummerSlam. As things stand, HHH is likely to resurface during the run-up to WrestleMania, with his power perhaps not being an issue. Or might it finally be Game Over, at least from an on-screen standpoint?
- I’ll round off this busy edition with my WWE Network recommendations, which this week focuses on what we have just witnessed. If you haven’t seen it yet, you must watch Cena vs. Styles from SummerSlam, and take in Lesnar’s violent destruction of Orton to close the show. Check out Miz’s amazing (or awesome!) promo on Talking Smack. And from NXT Takeover … you know what, just watch the whole show; you won’t regret it.
That’s my random (and exhausting) round-up of wrestling opinions this week; I’ll return with my thoughts next week, but don’t expect it the next seven days to be quite as eventful in the wacky world of wrestling!