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SummerSlam

WWE rolls into SummerSlam on Sunday on a bit of a high; the ratings have been up over the last couple of months, no key stars are out with injuries, and the card for SummerSlam is filled with younger, up-and-coming stars positioned prominently in the card. SummerSlam may not have the bounty of "must-see" matchups, and outside of Brock Lesnar there are no part-time stars, which may make the event seem more like a regular PPV and not one of the biggest wrestling events of the year, but I think ultimately WWE would benefit from having guys that are not as established on the card. If you compare it to the WrestleMania card, you have Braun Strowman, Jinder Mahal, Shinsuke Nakamura, Baron Corbin and Samoa Joe all in big matches at SummerSlam, yet they were not even on the main WrestleMania card. If they are the future of the company, it is great for them to get a chance to actually wrestle on the biggest stages.

The main event will be Roman Reigns vs Strowman vs Samoa Joe vs Lesnar for the Universal Championship. I like this match-up because you can make a case for all four guys winning the match and it would make sense. The frenetic style of a Fatal-4-Way and the inclusion of weapons and tables spots should make up for any inadequacies some of the performers might have in the ring and the finish isn't predictable from the outset, which should make it a pretty good match.

WWE loves their multi-man title programs though. It does offer them a ton of creative flexibility and the program is simple to write; have the guys wrestle each other in singles matches, have them team up against each other, do some brawls where everyone gets involved and at the end you can have a finish where nobody really loses clean and you can continue the feud that way. However, I think it depletes their ability to foster really good singles feuds. Unless you are in a faction, it is hard to really become a big star through multi-man matches. I also get tired of the same-old tropes WWE trots out; such as when the announcers say "Mathematically, Brock Lesnar will likely NOT be the champion after Sunday!" or "Remember, Brock Lesnar does not have to be pinned or submitted to lose the title!". We get it guys; there is a multi-man match with the same rules on almost every show. I would bet on Lesnar winning the match, then Reigns, Joe and Strowman, but the best thing about the match is that it isn't unrealistic to see Strowman win it. It is unusual to have a four-way match where all four competitors are legit contenders.

The other world title match is the WWE Championship match between Mahal and Nakamura. The possibilities for this match became fewer when Corbin failed in his Money in the Bank contract cash-in, which I'll get too later. The Mahal title reign is going about as expected; they have put in a lot of effort, giving him a big entrance, an entourage, some great entrance music, and he scowls a lot and looks the part. However, the matches are always going to be limited and every single important one has been marred by interference. However, WWE is committed to making an Indian star and he is the one they chose, although he isn't really connecting and business in India isn't up at all, it doesn't make sense to stop after a few months. I would suspect this match ends with some interference by the Singh Brothers and Mahal retains, but sets up a rematch for the next PPV.

One of the highlights of RAW the past few weeks has been the slow formation of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose as a team once again. I like that WWE has teased them teaming up, but only to have either Ambrose or Rollins back away at the last moment, before putting them together again. The logic behind the booking is simple but effective; set up a moment that the fans want to see, tease that they are going to do it, end up not doing it so the fans are disappointed, but then turn it around and do the moment, which in this case was Ambrose and Rollins bumping fists. Additionally, with Sheamus and Cesaro they could have a really good match and the finish is kind of unknown; I wouldn't rule out Rollins making a heel turn and stabbing Ambrose in the back again, or better yet, Ambrose turns on Rollins.

The United States Championship is on the line, with AJ Styles defending against Kevin Owens. I would say that this match is going to be really good, but after the quagmire that was their match at Battleground, I can't guarantee that. The inclusion of Shane McMahon as the guest referee screams that there will be another controversial finish, with the logical outcome being an eventual match between Shane and Owens. WWE is always looking for ways to thread stories together, so during PPVs we always get a lot of screwy finishes because that is the best way to get from feud to feud. The result is you have easy ways to set up future matches, but the side effect is that you often have disheartening finishes. It depends really on why you watch WWE; either for the storyline development or for the quality of the matches and the wrestlers themselves. Neither side is right or wrong, but it is a matter of taste and there are some fans such as myself that would like to see more clean finishes.

The biggest development over the last week was Corbin losing in his bid to cash-in the Money in the Bank contract. While the moment made Corbin look like a total geek, I think in the long run it will be beneficial for his career. The Money in the Bank briefcase is a symbol, more or less, that a wrestler is going to be champion one day. Corbin was not ready to be champion (although in the Jinder Mahal era I'm not sure that really matters) and the briefcase was a lot of pressure on him to get over as a real superstar. I don't think skill wise he is there yet, so this is a burden off of his shoulders. On top of that, I think being the guy that blew his Money in the Bank contract will give him additional purpose, and put him on a path to avenge his embarrassment. As a fan, I have never been more interested in Corbin than after he had lost the match to Mahal, and he did a great job acting like losing the match was truly a crisis for his career.



With that being said, I think the first step in putting Corbin on that path of vengeance would be to have him beat John Cena at SummerSlam. Cena is on his way over to RAW which has led WWE to hastily put him in matches with the key SmackDown guys they are trying to get over (Mahal, Nakamura and Corbin). Whatever he ends up doing on RAW, he can sustain a loss to Corbin and still appear like a huge star because of how much capital he has built up over the years as a credible contender. It would be the right kind of rub for Corbin and put him in a much better position than he was while holding the Money in the Bank contract.

There are a slew of other matches on this card, judging by the number of matches on the show SummerSlam 2017 might be one of the biggest shows in WWE history. The Smackdown Women's Championship will be Naomi defending against Natalya. Lurking in the wings is Carmella, who can cash in HER Money in the Bank contract, and SummerSlam seems like as good of a time as any other to do the cash-in. The SmackDown Women's division has been different than I expected, as I figured Charlotte and Becky Lynch would be kind of the staples of the division but have been kind of irrelevant in recent months. Naomi and Natalya could have a decent match, although we will see what they get for time.

The RAW's Women's Championship is also in an odd situation. Bayley had been completely destroyed by terrible booking during her feud with Alexa Bliss, and just when it looked like she earned another crack at the title, Nia Jax injured her, which hastily switched the match from being Bliss vs Bayley to being Bliss vs Sasha Banks. The key here is that WWE has been teasing Jax vs Bliss for months, so it would look like the next title program would be Bliss as champion defending against Jax. With WWE booking though, they could always have Banks win at SummerSlam, lose the title back to Bliss soon after, and then do the program with Jax.

The program between Enzo Amore, Big Cass and The Big Show has gotten a ton of time on RAW lately. Cass has been pretty impressive; his turn on Enzo has gotten real, old-school kind of heat that is rare today and the segments between him, Enzo and Show have been pretty good. I think it is safe to say Cass is winning this match, but how? Will he just beat Show clean, or will Enzo turn on Show and become Cass's manager? I would prefer the latter, if only to get Enzo in his natural role as a heel manager.

Finn Balor makes his appreciated return to PPV by facing Bray Wyatt. Wyatt is in a tricky position right now in WWE and I think his character needs to be re-booted somewhat. The original idea was that he was a cult leader, but he doesn't have any followers anymore. His promos are redundant and nobody ever understands them. His biggest issue right now is that because he is the abstract character, WWE is tempted to abstract stuff with him that are not resonating with the audience. Whether that is the insect projections at WrestleMania (did I seriously just write that?), the House of Horrors, or pouring "blood" on Balor, it comes across as hokey and awkward. He has been involved in some terrible matches this year and when that happens with a variety of different opponents it starts to look like Wyatt is the common factor. Balor should win but they are probably going to do some crazy finish that sets up another match and leaves the fans confused.

The last match confirmed for the main card is Rusev vs Randy Orton, which does not feel like a very important match-up. Rusev remains a one-note character, like a Jinder Mahal LITE, basically being a patriot and running afoul of Americans who have their own brand of patriotism. That is a disappointment because I think he is capable of a lot more; he has a unique look, great athlete, consistent worker, good talker and has great comedic timing. With different booking he could be a strong babyface, but that doesn't appear to be in the cards right now. Orton has been in a prominent position all year but is probably having the worst year of his career from a match-quality standpoint.

There are additional matches on the preshow, including the Akira Tozawa vs Neville rematch and the SmackDown Tag Team Championships match between The New Day and The Usos. Those are actually two matches that are going to be pretty good, but it is tough to sit through the pre-show matches when the main show is going to be over four hours long.

SummerSlam is going to be a very interesting show; overall I think the build has been pretty good and there are some intriguing match-ups on the card from a storyline standpoint. I think what is going to make or break the show is how long it runs and how satisfying the matches are. Last year's show I thought was terrible because it lasted forever and a lot of the matches were disappointing and the main event was rushed. I think this year they have put too many matches on the card, instead of feeling like a special showcase for the elite, it feels like a cache of quick matches highlighting as many people on the roster as possible. With the exception of the Universal Championship match, really you are going to see better versions of all these matches on the separate brand PPVs.

G1 Finals

The annual round-robin tournament in New Japan Pro Wrestling came to a conclusion Sunday night with Tetsuya Naito defeating Kenny Omega in the finals. Fans online have been saying that this was the best tournament in the history of the industry when it came to match quality; and while I haven't seen every tournament in history, I can't think of a tournament that was better. The key matches were outstanding on the final three nights, and compared to many other reviewers who watched the tournament, I gave the matches lower ratings than most.

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Tetsuya Naito: ****½ NJPW G1 Climax A Block Final 8/11

Tanahashi turned in a wonderful tournament considering he wrestled the entire tournament with a torn biceps. At 40, Tanahashi is not going to be able to match the athleticism of Kazuchika Okada and Omega, but he makes up for it using his charisma and intellect. The story of the match was Naito working over the injured bicep, but Tanahashi countering by attacking the shoulder/neck area of Naito. Tanahashi actually controlled most of the match and had Naito locked in the clover leaf for what felt like forever before Naito made the ropes. Although Okada and Omega are more well-known to a global audience, you could make the argument that Naito and Tanahashi is a bigger feud in Japan. Naito and his stable, Los Ingobernables de Japon, are the most over acts in Japan and sell a ton of merchandise. Even as Tanahashi moves into the twilight of his career, he can still go in the ring and has that charisma and reputation of being the guy that saved NJPW in the late 2000s when they were only drawing 18,000 fans to the Tokyo Dome, to carrying the company to the lucrative heights it is currently enjoying.

Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega: ***** - NJPW G1 Climax B Block Final 8/12

Another instant classic; it is always going to be compared to the other two matches and you could really pick any of them as the best bout. The first match went 47 minutes and the second match was the 60-minute draw, so this match was different in that it had a 30-minute time limit, which meant that they had to work faster to get the same emotion as their previous matches. There was a bunch of crazy spots, including Okada taking a reverse hurricanrana on the floor, which was disgusting. Not all fans have the patience to sit through a 45+ minute match, so if you are looking for an introduction into these two this would be the match I'd recommend. Omega getting the victory for the first time and pinning him after a solitary One Winged Angel continues the story and they will definitely meet again, probably some time early next year. I still think their first match was the best one because it was such a watershed moment with everything they did, but the following two matches are on the same level.

Tetsuya Naito vs Kenny Omega: ****¾ - NJPW G1 Climax Final 8/13

A really fun final match that was just as dangerous as the match previously. Really, Omega's greatest achievement is wrestling these two final matches on back-to-back nights. Not only were both matches physically exhausting, but he did it at the end of a gruelling tournament that leaves everyone involved banged up with nagging injuries. The table spot that had Naito somehow miss the table when he leaped up to give Omega a jumping piledriver, was pretty grisly although Naito was able to keep Omega safe as they crashed onto the floor. There were some killer spots where Omega gave Nato a DDT right on top of the steel post and then had Naito basically jump straight up in the air and land face first on the turnbuckle and then flip inside-out to the mat. The beauty of NJPW is that Omega had this amazing performance and yet, you can't argue that Naito is just as valid of a winner of the G1 as Omega would have been. I would give this match the full five stars, but I thought the finish wasn't as good as it could have been and that might be nit-picking that is the kind of level of perfection you need to have for a match to get a perfect score.

I'd also like to highlight the dramatic return of Katsuyori Shibata, who walked to the ring as a complete surprise right before intermission on the last day. To the best of my knowledge, I thought Shibata was still in the hospital and re-learning how to walk after he had suffered traumatic brain damage during a match with Okada earlier in the year. His music playing and then walking to the ring was a complete shock, and it was incredible to see how many people in the audience were in tears. Truly a special moment that even non-fans of wrestling can appreciate.

Must Watch Matches

YAMATO vs T-Hawk: ****1/4 - Dragon Gate Kobe Pro Wrestling Festival

Shingo Takagi, El Lindaman and Takashi Yoshida vs Genki Horiguchi, Jimmy Susumu and Ryo Jimmy Saito: **** - Dragon Gate Kobe Pro Wrestling Festival

Jimmy Kagetora vs Flamita: **** - Dragon Gate Kobe Pro Wrestling Festival

Brian Cage vs Katushiko Nakajima: ****1/2 - NOAH Summer Navigation 7/27

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