Monday, August 14, 2023

The History of WWE SummerSlam (2016)

The 2016 edition was like a demonstration of everything that was good and bad about the WWE product.  The highs shined, the lows sucked....

SummerSlam '16 - Barclays Center - 8.21.16

What an exhausting show this was.  It went four-plus hours and by the second half both the live crowd and I were drained, to the point that when the second-to-last match for the US Title was a non-starter I was actually kinda relieved.

This lineup was the most stacked in many years, with no fewer than four potential Match of the Year candidates (on paper anyway), plus a good amount of variety in the undercard.  Had the execution been stronger we'd likely be including SummerSlam 2016 in the "Greatest SummerSlam Ever" conversation.  But a few things kept it from reaching that level.  First though, let's talk about what did work.

I would've liked to see Cesaro vs. Sheamus actually open the PPV, since these two always work well together and this was no exception.  It wasn't anything amazing but in the first slot this would've fit perfectly.  Sheamus won the first match of the Best of 7 series.

The actual opening match, JeriKO vs. Enzo & Cass, was just fine but it was very strange to see Kevin Owens, seemingly on the verge of breakout status at that point, relegated to an opening tag match (Though nowhere near as infuriating as Sami Zayn's position in a preshow tag match). This of course led to one of the best ongoing angles of that time period, the bromance between Owens and Jericho.  As for the match, it was okay.

Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte was the first of probably three instances where I said aloud, "This match is happening already??"  Putting this match so early on the card seemed to undermine the importance of the Women's Title and the company's new outlook on the division.  That said, this was a fine contest that suffered from a few sloppy moments and an over-reliance on big risks.  These two would go on to trade the Title back and forth throughout the fall (including a headlining Hell in a Cell match), before Charlotte finally won the feud.  Anyway, this was a splendid match all things considered, though this feud really peaked with their first meeting on RAW at the end of July.

One of several moments in this match where I feared for Sasha's life

The next standout (and the second match about which I intoned "Already??!?") was AJ Styles vs. John Cena.  Holy lord, what a match.  These two started out like a normal wrestling match but things quickly escalated into an extended flurry of huge moves, like they were both trying to kill each other for twenty minutes.  There was zero doubt by this point that AJ Styles had adapted seamlessly to his WWE surroundings.  Where Cena-Styles at Money in the Bank felt a bit tentative and had timing issues, this match flowed beautifully, all the big moves looked effortless, and these two meshed like they'd been wrestling each other for years.  I was very glad this match got the most time; this came off like a major main event and probably should've closed the show.  AJ going over clean was absolutely the right move and it led to AJ getting a nice little run with the WWE Title, eventually dropping it to Cena in an even better match at the 2017 Royal Rumble.  This was the WWE main roster's Match of the Year 2016.

Goddamn this match was awesome

Sadly everything after AJ vs. Cena was doomed to a certain extent.  There was simply no way any other match was going to follow that.  But a few managed to deliver the goods.

Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler suffered from a pretty disinterested crowd, as Ziggler's credibility had been so damaged no one bought him as a viable threat.  The audience was basically silent for all the near-falls in this match.  From a mechanical standpoint there was nothing wrong with the bout at all - it was an extremely solid showing from both guys and in front of an engaged crowd this probably would've been in the neighborhood of ****.  There just simply wasn't enough suspense over Ambrose retaining and thus no emotional stake.  On balance it was still ***1/2.  Ambrose obviously retained and went on to drop the belt to AJ the following month.

The other real standout was, not surprisingly, Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor for the new Universal Championship.  Sadly the first two-thirds of this match was hurt by the Brooklyn crowd being distracted over the Universal belt reveal.  It almost certainly would've been prudent for WWE to reveal the design on RAW instead of building up the suspense only to present an exact copy of the existing WWE Title but with a red strap (which our own Dan Moore said "looks like it's made of Fruit Roll-Ups").  That said, this was definitely the second-best match of the night; Balor and Rollins worked really hard and delivered some excellently crisp action.  Unexpectedly Balor took the win and the Title with a Coup de Grace, but sadly he'd suffered a dislocated shoulder off a buckle bomb on the dasher boards and had to relinquish the belt 24 hours later.  Rollins would then get screwed over by Triple H in the 4-way match to determine a new Champion, and Kevin Owens got the strap instead.

Balor got the shaft with that injury

The Brock Lesnar-Randy Orton main event was a thumbs-in-the-middle situation.  I was hoping they'd book Orton to be too crafty to fall into the Suplex City trap, but WWE recycled the same ol' Brock formula.  Lesnar dominated the first half of this match, hitting numerous German suplexes and more or less repeating the exact match he had with Cena two years prior.  Orton came back outside the ring, hitting the RKO on the announce table, followed by a draping DDT and another RKO inside the ring for a near-fall no one bought into.  But then Lesnar jumped on top of Orton and ripped his forehead open with a hardway elbow.  And then the match just ended with Lesnar getting the win by TKO.  Wait, TKO is a thing in pro wrestling?  Since the fuck when???  What should've happened was Orton giving one last effort to turn the match around only for Lesnar to hit another F5 for the win.  The visual of a bloody Orton landing an RKO Outta Nowhere but being too exhausted to go for a cover would've been epic.  Or even better, this should've actually been a back-and-forth match where Orton held his own for most of it before Lesnar split him open with an elbow and lowered the boom.  Furthermore, if they wanted blood here, just let Orton blade.  It's far safer than allowing a 300-pound man to split him open for real with an elbow.  Orton suffered a concussion as the result of this and it really undermines Vince's philosophy that blading is barbaric.  

Thank god he didn't blade, this is way safer.  Idiots.

Brock-Orton should not have closed the show, especially after Roman Reigns and Rusev had a non-match brawl with no winner in the semi-main event slot.  Why would you have the final two matches on a SummerSlam PPV both end in non-finishes??  This was baffling and only served to undermine what was a pretty damn good PPV for the first three hours.  Much like WrestleMania 32 (and 33), SummerSlam limped across the finish line when it needed to surge in the final hour.

This show had a very weird "every other" pattern to it, meaning every other match was good or great.  The rest was filler.  Aside from the opening tag match, the rest of the B stuff was totally forgettable.  Miz vs. Apollo Crews was short and quick but felt like a standard free TV match, hardly doing the Intercontinental Title any favors.  The New Day vs. The Club started out okay but quickly degenerated into a dumb comedy match with Jon Stewart getting involved to help The New Day retain.  The Smackdown six-woman tag was technically fine but the crowd was absolutely dead.  And of course the "death spot" went to Reigns vs. Rusev, which was simply a feud-advancing angle.

So you're basically looking at six good matches out of ten, plus a strong Preshow bout that should've been on the main card.  By no means a bad SummerSlam, but it was only very good when it should've been truly great.  The placement of the various matches was confounding; I still maintain that a great PPV should build to a peak rather than bring everyone down in between important matches.  The booking of the last two bouts was appalling; why in the world would you end the PPV on such an unsatisfying note?

Best Match: John Cena vs. AJ Styles
Worst Match: Rusev vs. Roman Reigns, since it didn't even happen
What I'd Change: Make the main event an actual back-and-forth match where Orton frustrates Lesnar at every turn before finally succumbing to Suplex City, change the match order so the show doesn't feel so up-and-down
Most Disappointing Match: Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton
Most Pleasant Surprise: I liked everything I expected to like, aside from the main event letdown
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
Better than WrestleMania 32? - Yup


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