Friday 12 August 2011

SummerSlam preview

SummerSlam is just two days away and there are only four matches announced. Is this the right approach to take towards what should be one of the three most financially successful wrestling pay-per-view events of the year? Erm... No.
The show is being built around CM Punk v John Cena with little thought being given to constructing a compelling undercard that will help sell the event. This is a problem on several levels. Most immediately it potentially hurts the show's buy rate: no matter how good Punk v Cena and Orton v Christian are going to be it's unlikely people are going to shell out the amount WWE charges for a PPV on the strength of those two matches alone. In a state with such a large Hispanic market announcing a match involving Rey Mysterio or Alberto Del Rio would have been a good idea too.
The long term problem of this approach is that it makes WWE’s mid-card and rising talent look irrelevant. At a time when fresh talent is required at every level of the card that's an attitude that isn’t affordable. The company needs to create new name stars and the simplest way to do that is to feature mid-card talent prominently, ensuring their programs are seen as worthwhile and entertaining. I'm not saying these matches will sell the show but they will help rising talent be perceived in a more positive light now which will prepare them for bigger things in the future.
In short WWE is shooting itself in the foot with this approach. Hopefully this state of affairs is rectified for Night of Champions next month.

Let me refocus and be positive about something. How about the matches that could get added to this card? Dolph Ziggler defending the United States championship against Alex Riley could make the show, but it strikes me more as a dark match. Will Ziggler have Guerrero with him? Who knows. A split between those two has been teased numerous times before which makes me think management want to separate them but always pull out at the last minute. If the match ends up airing on pay-per-view I think A-Ry could be in line to get the title. His pushed has quietened down over the last month, but it could easily be restarted.

Mysterio, Del Rio and Miz all deserve to be booked on the show too. A triple threat match isn’t out of the question but Miz v Mysterio strikes me as more likely, leaving ADR free to cut a promo or tease interference in the main event. With Mysterio announced as the challenger on Monday’s RAW, live from his home town of San Diego, WWE cannot afford to omit him from SummerSlam.

SmackDown could offer us Wade Barrett v Bryan ‘Daniel Bryan’ Danielson, Cody Rhodes v Ezekiel Jackson, or (the new) Sin Cara in some sort of quick match against someone like Justin Gabriel or Ted Dibiase. Any of these matches would work well as filler but I think the most likely to be booked is Barrett v Bryan: the SmackDown writing team seems to be putting more stock in these two men than any of the other men listed above.

One match we probably won’t be seeing is John Morrison v R-Truth. At this point that’s probably for the best: Morrison’s great in the ring but Truth has bested him numerous times during their feud and it’s reached the point where Morrison’s credibility is virtually non-existent. Why did WWE book Truth to best Morrison again on RAW last Monday? It was apparently a punishment for Morrison bringing Melina along to last weekend’s house shows after she’d been released from her contract on Friday 5th August. You may be thinking it’s petty to throw away a feud between two aspiring headliners that has months of build behind it just because of one minor discretion. You’re right. It is. But that’s WWE.

Of the four matches announced it’s safe to say two will not steal the show. I’m expecting Beth Phoenix to make short work of Kelly Kelly and become the new Divas’ champion. Perhaps we’ll see Kaitlyn, AJ and Natalya get involved along the way but WWE seems to be setting Beth up as the new dominant force in the division. Perhaps this was the original plan for Kharma? Whatever the reason it’s a good thing: Beth is a far better worker than Kelly Kelly and more deserving of the top spot.

Sheamus v Mark Henry isn’t going to win any Match of the Year awards but it should help to establish Sheamus as a babyface after playing heel for so long. I’m never going to be a Mark Henry fan but he has been used well over the last few months and has been accepted in the monster heel role. I think Sheamus will win and then some sort of post match angle will take place (possibly Henry attempting to injure Sheamus as he has Big Show and Kane with Sheamus managing to fight him off) to keep the feud warm for another month. I’m expecting Sheamus to segue into a feud with Christian by October, leaving Orton free to be paired with Henry. We’ll have to wait and see if that happens.

Speaking of Christian and Orton, SummerSlam will mark their fourth straight pay-per-view singles match for the World Heavyweight championship. A month ago I thought Sheamus was going to be added to the feud to freshen things up a bit. Obviously that didn’t happen, but I wish it had. It’s not that Orton and Christian won’t put on a good match, because they will. In fact it’ll probably be the best bout of the show. It’s more to do with the fact that the feud has been going for a third of the year and there’s very little left for the two men to do together.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Orton left with the belt, but I’m going to predict a Christian win. In hindsight it feels like the point of this feud has been to establish Christian as a credible champion and a top line heel. Both of those targets have been accomplished, and the final vote of confidence in ‘Captain Charisma’s’ abilities would be to have him beat Orton clean in a no disqualification match (or as clean as you get in such a match). If Christian wins here it essentially sends the message to viewers that Christian is now a bona fide top guy.

That just leaves the big one: John Cena v CM Punk to determine an undisputed WWE champion. My opinion: this has been rushed. Had the company had a little more confidence in their own booking Punk could’ve been held off TV for two or three months and embarked on a heavy “viral” marketing campaign (quotation marks used because I dislike the term viral but can’t find another word or phrase to use). Punk’s appearances at the San Diego Comic-Con and an indy show barely scratched the surface of what was possible. I’m sure an agreement could’ve been reached with Ring of Honor and appearances at sporting events and other public gatherings could’ve been organised to get CM Punk’s name out into the wider media.

With Punk absent from TV a Del Rio and Cena feud could have been set up for SummerSlam and the following months, giving WWE viewers a fresh feud and allowing Cena’s title reign to have some credibility to it to make the champion versus champion angle feel more important. That’s the trouble with rushing things: Cena never really became embedded as champion (though an argument could be made that he is actually pretty much permanently embedded at the top of the card) and so it’s never truly felt that there are two distinct WWE champions.

Other than the rushed feel the build for the match has been solid. Cena and Punk are both being booked as top faces but are aimed at different demographics: Cena is, as ever, kid-friendly while Punk is there to bring in the adult males and, more specifically, internet fans (I think WWE have finally acknowledged that with business failing they need to appeal to the web community a little more).

The only downside I can see with regarding the recent booking is that it has focused a lot on Triple H and John Laurinaitis. It’s possible that the long term plan is to replicate the famous ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin versus Mr McMahon feud with Punk as the rebellious loudmouth employee and Triple as the executive. There’s certainly potential there: both men have a strong ring presence, excel on the microphone and could put together a very enjoyable match or two.

I’m predicting a Punk win this Sunday. A loss to Cena wouldn’t be catastrophic but it would set Punk, the angle and the promotion in general back. Too much time has been spent to allow that to happen. What’s more, Cena doesn’t need a world championship to be over or for his plans at next year’s WrestleMania (Rock v Cena doesn’t need a title involved to make it any more prestigious, and by disconnecting the WWE from that match it’s freed up to add some lustre further down the card). Punk is just beginning to really hit his stride in WWE. He is the breath of fresh air the company needs and I’m confident maintaining his momentum will be a top priority at SummerSlam.

Triple H is clearly going to get physical at some point, probably against both men. I just hope the match doesn’t end with Triple H Pedigreeing both competitors and then draping one over the other to get the result, and champion, he wants. Sadly that seems all too real a possibility. Ideally Triple H’s inevitable physical involvement will be limited to a post match shoving match or brawl in order to set up an autumn program with Cena or Punk. If I had to pick whom ‘The Game’ would be tangling with first (I say first because he’ll probably face both men at some point in the not too distant future) I’d lean towards Cena. That’s just a hunch.

Despite the very light announced card I think SummerSlam should shape up to be a fine show. The two world title matches will likely get a good amount of time and the candidates for last minute additions all strike me as good filler bouts with talent who deserve to be on the card. Will it top Money in the Bank? At this point I’d say no. Will it help to establish CM Punk as a new company figurehead? That seems far more likely.  

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