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SummerSlam was at the end a very effective show. The main event left a lot to be desired for a number of reasons, but outside of that, WWE put together a strong show with effective booking. A big thing for them was they used a lot of squash matches to shorten the show and got it to wrap up by 11 p.m. And they chose the right squash matches; with Rousey, Balor and Strowman winning in a way to further progress their characters. The show also had maybe the best match on the main roster this year, with great storyline execution in the WWE Championship match between AJ Styles and Samoa Joe. Even though I thought the main event had a lot of flaws; overall the show feels like a big win for WWE and was probably the best main roster show of 2018.
Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns: **1/2
A lot to go over here; for starters, Reigns won somewhat clean (one could argue that Lesnar was distracted by Strowman but whatever) and this is what WWE has been building for for years. So what was the celebration? Reigns went to the turnbuckle and raised the title, and WWE went off the air a few moments later. WWE also, really noticeably, turned the crowd mics down after the pinfall because the crowd was almost silent. People can debate this all they want; but the fact is WWE spent years building this guy up, and when he finally wins, they are so scared the crowd will be booing the guy; they have to effectively mute the audience. This isn't a conspiracy theory, listen to the noise from the crowd during the end of the match and immediately following the pinfall. It's just embarrassing that WWE refuses to acknowledge that the fans don't want this guy.
The ending of the show was awkward for another reason; at least for me. I guess when Strowman came out I thought the idea was he was going to cash in after the match was over and take on the winner. I'm thinking maybe Strowman really meant he was going to cash in later; like on another show and he didn't care who the champion was. There is also the possibility they'll say on Monday Strowman planned to cash in, but was either incapacitated by Brock, or Brock threw the briefcase away and he couldn't cash in. Either way, it would be lame and it seems like they only put Strowman out there to try and trick the fans into thinking Strowman was going to save them from Reigns leaving the show as champion. Again, that's embarrassing.
Samoa Joe vs AJ Styles: ****1/2
This was an awesome match; I loved everything about it. Even the DQ finish, which often comes across as a flat finish, was perfect for this match. In the ring we know that these guys are great. Styles is a great babyface champion, because he sells a lot and fights from underneath, but is still presented as being a top competitor and never gets destroyed by larger opponents. You can have a babyface champion that sells a lot and is in some ways an underdog, as long as more often then not they win their feuds and don't just fluke their way to wins. AJ is never presented as being lucky to win his matches, he's presented as being a great competitor that doesn't lose very often. That is how you book a strong babyface.
For Samoa Joe, his presence in the ring is so special. Through how effective his offense looks, and how he carries himself in the ring, Joe has been able to get over as a legitimate killer to the biggest stars in the company. It isn't like Joe has been booked like a dominant star, since coming up to the main roster his most memorable matches are clean PPV losses to Reigns and Lesnar. Joe is just so talented that the results of his matches almost don't affect him; he'll always be taken seriously because he has perfected his craft.
I'm not usually a fan of family-based angles; there have been a lot of bad ones over the years (and one in particular involving Styles comes to mind) but so far it's been very effective. The ending to this match was handled really well, with Joe clearly crossing the line, AJ snapping and getting disqualified, and then his family reeled him back in. At the end, with AJ leaving with his daughter ("Daddy, your bleeding") after destroying Joe, he looked like the biggest babyface in the world. Then they cut to a seething Joe, who had been cheated out of his opportunity, and everything came full circle. On Friday, I noted that due to the short time they had to build this angle, this would probably be the first match in a series, and now I can't wait to see their next match. The execution here by everyone involved was perfect.
The Miz vs Daniel Bryan: ***1/2
They got a lot of time for this match; which was justified because these guys have been working on their feud for a long time so they shouldn't have been shortchanged. The crowd was a bit odd; they popped for the big moves and reacted to the finish, but were also quiet for other portions of the match. Bryan is still really good in the ring; and it was nice to see him wrestle a legitimate PPV singles match, which this was really the first one since he came back.
The finish made sense; obviously WWE is expecting to get more than one match out of this feud, and The Miz scoring the first win of the feud is the logical move since he needs to establish himself somewhat as Bryan's equal. The brass-knuckle bit is kind of old hat, but they did what they had to do. The exchanges leading up to that spot were very good and the crowd really got behind Bryan for his signature moves.
Seth Rollins vs Dolph Ziggler: ****
This was really the kind of match they should have had at Extreme Rules; and tonight they got the benefit of opening the main show instead of working the main event in front of a tired crowd. What stands out with both of these guys is their selling, and the effective way they take bumps, making each big move look more impressive and dramatic. Rollins winning the Intercontinental Championship is a little bittersweet; because while he has been a great champion, at the end of the day he is a main event talent performing at a very high level, and he is carrying a mid-card title.
The utilization of Ambrose and McIntyre here is a bit puzzling. Ambrose returning probably should feel like a bigger deal than what we have seen so far from him. In marketing, the term "soft launch" refers to the introduction of a new item or feature without a lot of advertising or fanfare in advance. That is essentially how WWE have utilized Ambrose; they brought him back unannounced and haven't put any fanfare into it at all. McIntyre is I guess operating under the theory that they are eventually going to give him a big push; but the last thing WWE should be trying to do is make him look like Ziggler's lackey; even if the team is good. Hopefully we see more of those two guys in bigger roles moving forward.
Ronda Rousey vs Alexa Bliss: **1/2
This was good for what it was, and there is no reason for her not to be the women's champion at this point. Rousey is really over and she doesn't have too much outside of play the part and she does that really well. Bliss was never presented as a serious, physical competitor so squashing her isn't really that big of a determent; it would be a different story if Rousey squashed Charlotte or Asuka. The only negative here was Ronda's makeup, which along with her black ring attire made her look like Hawkgirl (she kicked a lot of ass like Hawkgirl too).
Becky Lynch vs Charlotte vs Carmella: ***
They got a lot of time for their match, and a lot of the action was good, with strong near-falls. There were a handful of times where someone went for a move, missed their target, and a bump was taken anyway that could have been cleaned up, but everything else was strong. I thought the exchanges between Charlotte and Lynch, particularly early, were very good, which is a great sign for their feud moving forward. I'm not sure about turning Becky; the fans seemed to be rallying around her as a babyface and obviously that isn't the goal for WWE now. Charlotte in a lot of ways is the John Cena of the women's division, and you can argue she's the most talented performer in the division so their not wrong to push her like that; but the fans really wanted to see Lynch win and I don't know how much support Charlotte is going to get in their feud.
Finn Balor vs Baron Corbin: *1/2
Interesting match; I thought it was smart to do it fast simply because I don't think the crowd would have been into a match that featured Corbin on offense for significant portions of time. When Balor came out as the Demon, I was thinking he was having this great entrance and was this new cool character, and that he should just kill Corbin. Maybe on another day WWE would have a booked a regular match, which would have made the Demon look just like regular Finn Balor, and defeated the purpose of him coming out as the Demon. Instead, they made Balor look unstoppable by crushing Corbin in the best result he has had on the main roster in two years.
The New Day vs The Bludgeon Brothers: **1/2
The teams worked hard and the match was looking pretty good before the lame finish. There is a time and place for the DQ finish, but WWE often just does it to extend a feud because they don't have any other ideas, and that is what happened here. I also just hate when people use real, dangerous weapons in wrestling. If Rowan really used a 40lb hammer and smashed it into Big E's ribs; he'd be seriously injured and need time off. I know it's wrestling, but it makes everything look so fake when something that obviously phony takes place.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs Jeff Hardy: **
This was okay; but the crowd wasn't really into it as it was getting late into the show for what is very much a mid-card match. It's hard to watch Nakamura in a match like this and not think about what he could be doing if he was in the G1 Climax instead. I didn't really like the finish, if only because it was uncomfortable to watch. Hardy is already reportedly banged up, and the end of this match was built around him taking this super dangerous bump on the apron. The crowd didn't even pop or react to it; it just felt unnecessary.
Braun Strowman vs Kevin Owens: *
Obviously this match was booked to help set up Strowman in the future, by putting over Strowman so strong. Poor Owens, whose worked really hard for WWE but has just been buried in this feud with Strowman.