Written By: Mark Armstrong
SummerSlam weekend is upon us, so my thoughts this week will heavily consist of predictions for the big supershow on Sunday, as well as the second annual NXT Takeover: Brooklyn the night before. In the meantime, though, there have been other wrestling developments which have caught my eye …
- In one of the more unusual suspension-related stories, both Alberto Del Rio and Paige were suspended for violating the Wellness Policy on the same day. Why is this unusual? Because ADR and Paige are a real-life item, and because it just happened to be Paige’s birthday when the news came through. We know that both Del Rio and Paige were Drafted to separate brands, and that injuries have kept Paige out of the ring. It is also rumoured that ADR is unhappy with his current status in WWE (can’t blame him) and may leave the company as soon as next month. In other words, when you add it all up, there’s more than meets the eye regarding this dual suspension. Did Alberto and Paige deliberately violate the system to get a month together away from wrestling? Could the two have gone a bit over the top in celebrating Paige’s birthday? Have the two gone out of their way to receive a suspension because of unhappiness with their roles in WWE? Or is this one giant coincidence? I don’t know; however, at this stage I would be very surprised if we saw ADR in a WWE ring again, and depending on the severity of Paige’s injuries, it could be a long time until she resurfaces too – if at all. This should be interesting to follow, although I can’t envision a happy ending for any of the parties involved.
- We’ve finally been given some detailed information about what to expect in WWE 2K17 and, with one exception, it’s shaping up to be a very promising game. And with further news still to come, including the remainder of what will apparently be the largest roster to date, the hope is that 2K17 will be the best wrestling game in a long, long time. Click here to read my further thoughts on what we know so far from 2K17.
- Raw was a slight improvement over last week’s show, with a strong verbal segment involving Brock Lesnar, Paul Heyman and Heath Slater, an intriguing stand-off between Finn Balor’s Demon character and Seth Rollins, and a basic yet hilarious backstage promo involving Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens. The show hasn’t quite matched the initial excitement generated by the first post-Draft episode of Raw, but with SummerSlam now days away, the focus may switch back to wrestling next week, and from there the three-hour programme should hopefully generate more interest from fans. In fact, the post-SummerSlam edition of Raw from Brooklyn last year was one of the best of the entire year, so there’s a standard that many fans will be demanding, never mind expecting, from the Brooklyn Raw this coming Monday.
- SmackDown was an enjoyable programme again; after a shaky start in the post-Draft era, SD has found its feet by largely keeping things simple and emphasising certain character traits. From the rehabilitation of Dolph Ziggler as a serious player to Heath Slater’s previously-unimaginable popularity rise as he strives to earn a contract to Eva Marie’s “accidental” methods of avoiding matches (this week, Eva was supposedly stuck in traffic, hence her not facing Naomi as planned), along with familiar faces such as John Cena, AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose and new call-ups like American Alpha, the show is once again making the most of what it has and placing a clear emphasis on wrestling, as it did in previous years. Raw may be the longer and more prestigious show, but with the exception of the post-Battleground episodes, SmackDown has been superior to Raw every week so far, and this trend is currently likely to continue. (While writing this article, news came through that Eva Marie has also been suspended, which kills her push for the time being. Perhaps there was a wild party to celebrate Paige’s birthday which got out of hand. Or maybe the roster got too excited at Rusev and Lana’s wedding. Either way, what a strange series of events this has become.)
- NXT was all about promoting Takeover: Back To Brooklyn, so I’ll reserve comments this week; in the meantime, the Cruiserweight Classic continues to impress. The CC has been so good that many fans will be sad to see it end in a few weeks’ time, although that blow should be softened by the upcoming return of the Cruiserweight division (and the Cruiserweight Championship) on Raw.
- I have to mention something which I noticed on Twitter this week. Sasha Banks had taken a photograph with a fan who met her at an airport, and he Tweeted the pic, thanking Sasha. In response, though, The Boss dismissed him as an “airport creep”, and she didn’t look very happy on the photo either. This isn’t the first time her attitude towards fans has been questioned, but many tried to defend her comments. If the guy actually had stalker tendencies, then fair enough. On the surface, though, it looks more like Sasha had made the fan look like an idiot in front of the (online) world (and he was thanking her for the photo; it wasn’t like he was slating her). Considering that Sasha is currently playing a babyface character and that many fans genuinely like her, and it is their support which has hoisted Banks to her level of stardom, I felt it was unnecessary at best, and quite cruel at worst for Sasha to do this. Sure, there’s a time and a place for fans to approach wrestlers, but it came across really badly, and I’m hoping that the likeable Sasha isn’t letting her fame truly get to her head. As for those defending her regardless: I am planning to write an article in the future where I look at how the average wrestling fan has changed in recent years, and I’ll refer back to this point then, because in many ways, the fans have played a key role in wrestling as we know it today – but not entirely in a positive manner.
- TNA Wrestling now has a new President in Billy Corgan (yes, that Billy Corgan). Will this reverse TNA’s financial fortunes after a pretty awful couple of years? It remains to be seen; however, the bizarre yet compelling feud between The Hardyz (including the infamous Final Deletion match), the debut of Damien Sandow (now competing as Aron Rex) and now this shift in power all give TNA some momentum for the first time in ages. Truthfully, I don’t see TNA ever coming close to competing with WWE again, and it may not even reach the heights that it achieved in the late 2000s and early 2010s. But considering how many people were writing the company off as far back as 2013, the fact that TNA now appears to have a fairly bright future is a pretty impressive achievement.
- Although many fans were up in arms, I loved that Vader defeated Will Ospreay in their long-awaited match. Really, why should a genuinely arrogant and disrespectful competitor, who hasn’t been wrestling for very long, triumph over a long-established, well-respected and legendary competitor, even if Vader is in his 60s now? There will likely be a rematch where Ospreay will get the victory. Besides, credit to Vader for actually flying over to the UK and facing Ospreay when it could have been left as nothing more than a Twitter war.
- Now onto my predictions for SummerSlam weekend, beginning with NXT Takeover: Back To Brooklyn. I’ll keep my predictions brief and say that newcomer Ember Moon will beat Billie Kay; Austin Aries will vanquish No Way Jose; Bobby Roode will have a “glorious” victory over Andrade “Cien” Almas; The Revival will retain their NXT Tag Team Titles against Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa; Asuka will lose the NXT Women’s Title to Bayley (but regain it at a later date to officially mark the end of Bayley’s NXT tenure); and Shinsuke Nakamura will unseat Samoa Joe as NXT Champion. I also predict that either Bayley, Nakamura or Joe will debut on Raw the night after SummerSlam (probably Joe), and that this card will be another great NXT event. I don’t think it will be as special as last year’s NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, but I do see it being the best NXT show of the year so far.
- However, SummerSlam might see the main roster finally defeat the NXT crew from a quality standpoint, after last year’s Brooklyn show bettered SummerSlam 2015 and Takeover: Dallas was superior to WrestleMania 32. From an in-ring standpoint, SummerSlam should be the show of the year, and it actually has the potential to be the best main roster wrestling show in several years. But who will win the big matches? Here are my predictions … Becky Lynch’s team will win the six-woman match, especially with Eva Marie now absent. The Miz will retain the Intercontinental Title against Apollo Crews, but may taste a countout or disqualification defeat to do so. Sheamus will beat Cesaro to give him a chance in their Best-Of-Seven series (which begins here at SS). Enzo & Big Cass will defeat Jeri-KO, but their feud will continue onto Clash Of Champions (a Raw PPV in September). The New Day’s long reign as WWE Tag Team Champions will finally be ended by Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. Sasha Banks will retain the Women’s Title against Charlotte in what promises to be a great contest, setting Sasha up to face Nia Jax in the near future. Rusev will find a way to defeat Roman Reigns, but a post-match assault by Roman will keep their United States Title conflict going. John Cena will defeat AJ Styles, but Styles will leave Cena laying to set up a feud-ending match in the future (which may not be for a while, since Cena is apparently set to take more time off soon). Dean Ambrose will defeat Dolph Ziggler to retain the WWE Title, but Ziggler’s title chase won’t end here, with a probable heel turn coming prior to Backlash (the next PPV, which is SmackDown-exclusive). I predict that Seth Rollins will beat Finn Balor to become the first Universal Champion; Rollins was Raw’s #1 Draft pick, but Balor has come out on top in all of their exchanges, and a sneaky win for Seth allows the Balor-Rollins feud to continue for the Universal Title into the autumn months. And Brock Lesnar will defeat Randy Orton (it’d be hilarious if free agent Heath Slater tried to interrupt the match after being laid out by both this week, but it’s very unlikely); I suspect that Lesnar’s next opponent could be determined on Raw the following night, with some whispers that none other than Goldberg (who is in town to promote WWE 2K17) could confront him, as both have exchanged threats to promote 2K17, with the intention of setting up a major showdown in the future (possibly at WrestleMania 33). Admittedly, this sounds like a fantasy scenario, but it very well could happen. And SummerSlam could very well become one of the most memorable PPVs in recent times. If the matches live up to the hype, the event should be a classic.
- Finally, my weekly WWE Network recommendation. Since SummerSlam is days away, it’s only right for me to recommend some classic SummerSlam moments. Check out the unforgettable Bret Hart-British Bulldog main event from Wembley Stadium in 1992, the brutal Boiler Room Brawl between The Undertaker and Mankind from 1996 that has a shocking conclusion, the first TLC match (an incredible stunt show) from 2000, Shawn Michaels’ tremendous comeback match against Triple H in 2002, or almost all of the outstanding 2013 card which boasted a strong Alberto Del Rio-Christian scrap, a superb CM Punk-Brock Lesnar war and a very good John Cena-Daniel Bryan, with the totally unexpected post-match shenanigans giving birth to The Authority. There are plenty of others to seek out too; I suggest squeezing in viewings of these and other top SummerSlam moments to prepare for the big show on Sunday.
That’s my random round-up of wrestling opinions this week; I’ll return with my thoughts next week, including what I thought of NXT Takeover: Back To Brooklyn and SummerSlam!