Monday, August 7, 2023

WWE SummerSlam 2023: Never Get Your Hopes Up

Well, WWE has done it again.  And by "it" I mean snatched a pretty good show from the jaws of instant classic territory.

SummerSlam 2023 was yet another example of a show that should've been in contention for PPV of the Year (or at least WWE PPV of the Year), and was instead just a good solid PPV.  Between a live crowd that was oddly pretty subdued all night and some messy moments and their usual questionable booking decisions, this show overall fell short of my expectations.

Things started out very promisingly as Logan Paul and Ricochet had a very entertaining spotfest-type match that suffered a bit from WWE not being all that good at spotfest-type matches.  For a bout that was intended to "go viral" as an aerial spectacle this wasn't nearly as noteworthy as numerous other examples this year.  But it was very well-worked aside from a couple messy bits, and this was Ricochet's first main roster match with this high a profile.  After plenty of back-and-forth action and nearfalls, one of Paul's friends (who went unnamed) handed him brass knux, which Paul used to knock out Ric and steal a win.  Michael Cole's line "This was a great match but the ending sucked" was both amusing and a bit of unintentional commentary from WWE regarding their penchant for unsatisfying finishes.  ***3/4

Overall the strongest match of the night, most unexpectedly, was the Cody Rhodes-Brock Lesnar rubber match, which from where I sit marked Brock's best work since the 2019 SummerSlam.  This still suffered from Lesnar Repitition Syndrome, with Cody limiting his own moveset to match Brock's, and a long stretch where Brock was inexplicably trying to get a countout win over and over.  But ultimately the match worked in the same way as Brock vs. AJ in 2017 and Brock vs. Bryan in 2018 did.  Cody overcame all the punishment and hit three CrossRhodes in a row to put a decisive end to this feud.  Brock then took off his MMA gloves, shook Cody's hand, and hugged him, in an apparently unplanned show of respect.  Good stuff overall.  ****

Next up was the Slim Jim Battle Royal, which didn't have anything particular at stake, but was at least a pretty fun battle royal by WWE standards.  Omos was the last guy to enter the ring and of course everyone started fighting way before he got there.  The early going was rapid-fire eliminations (and as I suspected Shinsuke Nakamura was a non-factor and I don't know why he's still in this company), but eventually things settled down to allow for a few stories to play out.  Omos went on a rampage until LA Knight and a few others hit him with a series of moves to stagger him, before teaming up to toss him over.  It boiled down to Knight, Sheamus, AJ Styles and Bronson Reed.  Reed was first to go after Knight pulled him over the top (a la Benoit and Big Show), followed by AJ, and Knight and Sheamus had a few exchanges leading to Knight hitting a Kurt Angle-style top-rope throw before tossing Sheamus out.  The crowd was happy.  This was fine.  **1/2

The fourth match on the show was, alas, not fine.  Ronda Rousey vs. Shayna Baszler was a match I'd been looking forward to since 2019.  And WWE managed to pork it in every conceivable way.  First off, this should've just been a straight wrestling match, as whoever "produced" this MMA Rules match has clearly never watched an actual MMA fight in their lives.  MMA fights do not include medical personnel checking on a knocked-down fighter, nor do they include the opponent throwing said medical personnel out of the ring.  Aside from a few stiff-looking strikes on both women, this was clunky, awkward and boring, and it lost the crowd.  After a few back-and-forth submission attempts, Shayna locked in the kirafuda clutch, Ronda passed out, and the ref stopped the match.  WWE shouldn't ever try to do worked fights.  Ever.  *

Things picked up again, though not to the degree I was hoping for, with Gunther vs. Drew McIntyre for the Intercontinental Title.  These two worked hard but never got close to the 'Mania triple threat or the Gunther-Sheamus match from last year.  The first ten minutes played out in typical WWE fashion and by the time the match really got into the next gear they had to end it. Gunther hit a top rope splash for a nearfall, they had a chop battle toward the end, but Drew ducked a chop and hit a Claymore for a nearfall.  Drew attempted a superplex but Gunther chopped him away, Drew got crotched on the rope, and Gunther hit another splash, followed by a stiff lariat and powerbomb to retain the title.  This got very good by the finish but considering my expectations it was a disappointment.  ***1/2

Another match that looked better on paper than it wound up in execution was Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor.  The story was Balor seething with resentment for the last seven years over being forced to relinquish the Universal Title a day after he'd won it, thanks to a powerbomb into the dasherboards gone awry.  These two worked well mechanically as usual but the match just felt cold to me.  The rest of Judgment Day got involved near the end, with Damien Priest initially offering Finn the Money in the Bank briefcase to use as a weapon and Finn refusing it.  Rhea and Dominik both tried referee distractions but Seth put an end to their shenanigans with a plancha on Priest and curb stomp on the outside to Dom.  Finn then hit Seth with his big move combination including a Coup de Grace for a very close nearfall.  Priest slid the briefcase into the ring and distracted the ref but the move backfired as Seth curb stomped Finn onto the briefcase and pinned him.  This to me was absolutely the wrong call.  Judgment Day is a hot stable, they're building toward a Balor vs. Priest feud, and not putting the title on Finn a) further makes Finn look like a second-tier guy and b) removes the suspense of whether Priest would cash in on him.  Another poor booking decision to end an otherwise good match.  ***3/4 

Maybe the most divisive match on the card was the WWE Women's Championship three-way of Asuka vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Bianca Belair.  Some reviews of this match have been positive, but I've seen numerous ones calling this a one-star match and one of the worst bouts of the year, which I find frankly baffling.  The first half had some awkward misses and a wardrobe malfunction, but the second half was quite good I thought and made use of some innovative three-way spots.  Charlotte targeted Bianca's knee, which played into the latter stages of the bout as Bianca was sent over the top rope and landed badly on her leg.  She sold it like a legit injury and the medical staff ran out to help.  Bianca was escorted toward the back as Asuka and Charlotte fought on, but refused to go and limped back into the match.  Charlotte had the Figure 8 on Asuka but Bianca came off the top rope with a 450 splash to break it up.  Charlotte then applied the Figure 8 to Bianca but Asuka sprayed mist in Charlotte's face, then went for a spin-kick on Bianca, who ducked and rolled Asuka up (while still in the Figure 8) to win the title.  Fun ending.  But Bianca's celebration was short-lived as Iyo Sky ran down with her own MITB briefcase.  Bayley helped her pummel Bianca before she declared her cash-in, hitting a moonsault to become the new Women's Champ.  The crowd popped huge for this, maybe the biggest pop of the whole show.  Anyway, a good match hampered by some errors.  ***1/2

Now for the Roman Reigns-Jey Uso main event.  Ya know, for a show they had to cut matches from due to time constraints they sure as shit didn't care how long this one dragged on.  Roman vs. Jey was a really good 18-minute match.  Unfortunately it went on for THIRTY. SIX. FUCKING. MINUTES.  This was a perfect illustration of everything I don't like about Roman Reigns matches.  Dude moves in super slow-motion, ALL THE TIME.  Does a move, stands there for a while, does a move, looks at the crowd, does a move, jaw-jacks with the opponent.  Hey Joe, you're not getting paid by the hour, pick up the fuckin' pace, will ya?  There were plenty of cool spots and moments in this match, but they were separated by interminable stretches of nothing, and therefore the bout had no forward momentum for most of its runtime.  That's not storytelling or psychology, in spite of what WWE wants you to think.  A match going really long doesn't automatically make it better.  Roman's entire style as a heel is way too similar to Triple H's, and I find a lot of both guys' matches boring as shit.  So this went back and forth for a while, then Roman took over to get heat, which went on forever, then Jey made a comeback, then Solo Sikoa showed up to cockblock it, both heels beat up Jey for a while, Roman accidentally speared Solo to set up that inevitable snoozer, Jey speared Roman through the barricade (Seriously, STOP DOING THIS SPOT.  It's stupid, it's predictable, it's in every Roman and/or Brock PPV match.), Jey splashed Solo through the announce table.  Jey rolled Roman into the ring and hit the top rope splash and went for the pin, but a mystery man yanked him out of the ring before the three count.  And of course said mystery man was Jimmy Uso, which makes no sense at all.  Yeah I know they've been teasing dissension between the Usos but why would Jimmy want to help Roman, whose stable he JUST left?  And why would he want to hurt Jey by preventing him from winning the title and later challenging him to a match, instead of, I dunno, HELPING Jey win the title and THEN attacking him and challenging him to a title match??  For a company that prides itself on storytelling WWE really doesn't seem to grasp basic logic or character motivation.

I think I've said this before but I'm truly at a loss as to why this Bloodline angle is SOOO popular.  Like, it was compelling for a while once Sami Zayn became part of it.  Watching him grow into a huge star and eventually leave the group and reunite with Kevin Owens was good stuff and led to a great WrestleMania match (and of course Sami and KO have lost a ton of steam since then because the company is still so focused on Roman & Friends).  Watching Jey and Jimmy hem and haw for months and months and months over whether or not they'd stay loyal to Roman does nothing for me (nor does booking every Roman match to go 30+ minutes with basically the same finish) and I thought once The Usos finally rejected him and later BEAT him, we'd be moving on from this shit.  But no, now it's Jey vs. Jimmy and eventually Roman vs. Solo and probably Roman vs. Jimmy and probably Jey vs. Solo, and this is all just filling time until Roman vs. Cody II.  More power to anyone who finds this irresistable television, but I really don't get it.  

Anyway this main event would've been four stars if they cut out all the fat and stopped trying to make "cinema," but as Roman Reigns' longest singles match to date it only gets ***.

So once again another case of WWE getting in its own way.  Remove their penchant for overproducing everything and this show would've been a calendar year highlight.  Instead SummerSlam 2023 was just a good show.

Best Match: Brock Lesnar vs. Cody Rhodes
Worst Match: Ronda Rousey vs. Shayna Baszler
What I'd Change: Surely Roman's match could've been trimmed significantly so they could make room for Becky vs. Trish (or Rhea vs. Raquel).  Also come up with a better way for Jimmy to get involved, like maybe put him in a position where he COULD have helped Jey win but refused, instead of yet another last-second interference to help Roman keep his title.  Also Finn Balor should've beaten Seth so the Finn-Priest feud would actually matter.  With the exception of Rhea Ripley every member of Judgment Day has been booked as a try-hard loser.
Most Disappointing Match: Gunther vs. Drew McIntyre was a far cry from the bout the two of them had with Sheamus a few months ago.
Most Pleasant Surprise: That Brock wore his working boots
Overall Rating: 8/10
Better Than WrestleMania 39?: Nope.

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