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The Smark Henry RAW Report (8/17/15): Cool for the Summer

We’re less than a week away from what is being billed as the biggest SummerSlam *ever*. I wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s SummerSlam eventually lives up to that billing, what with ten matches on the card, all of which were built up weeks in advance. That’s a rarity in today’s WWE, and quite the achievement in itself.

Maybe it was the commitment to ramp up this year’s SummerSlam in comparison to the previous years, or the addition of the extra hour, or the monstrous main event; I don’t really know. Whether it’s any of those factors, a combination of them, or something different altogether has become irrelevant because getting a PPV with an entire card of matches where the rivalries aren’t rushed is always a good thing.

For this week’s RAW report, I’ll be doing something different. Let’s go through each of the matches on this year’s SummerSlam card and talk about how the last leg of buildup in each match’s backstory mattered (or didn’t matter).

Fatal 4-Way Tag Team Match for the WWE Tag Team Championship: Lucha Dragons vs. Los Matadores vs. The New Day vs. The Prime Time Players (c)

Expect this match to be bumped down to the kickoff, mostly because of all the matches on the card, this one looks to be the most expendable. On the plus side, being on the kickoff does give the match more time than it would on the main show. That also means that story-wise, this is the one at the bottom of the totem pole.

We saw that on RAW this week as the PTP teamed up with the Lucha Dragons against the New Day and Los Matadores. That was problematic from the get-go because of Los Matadores’ status as the Justin Gabriel of the tag team division. They conveniently turn face or heel depending on the needs of the feud, which doesn’t help audiences care about their characters. To make matters worse, in the two years that Diego and Fernando have been on WWE TV, we still don’t know what separates one from the other aside from Epico Fernando being the taller one. With the Usos, at least we know that Jimmy is the one who married Naomi.

The match itself was ridiculously short, with a glaring misstep in El Torito’s mid-match attack on Xavier Woods. I thought that was stupid because they were supposed to be teammates in the first place. If the goal of the match was to show that both teams inherently had fissures within them, then that was rushed. There wasn’t much tension at all between the PTP and the Lucha Dragons, save for the end when Kalisto picked up the win for his team via a West Coast Pop. Speaking of that finish, it was so anticlimactic and rushed that it made me feel like this feud just whimpered towards SummerSlam.

Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev

While watching Lana tell us last week on RAW that Dolph would be back after SummerSlam, I knew that Dolph would return this week. I just felt that it was an intentional red herring to throw us off, and I’m glad I called it.

After Rusev demolished Mark Henry for the 52nd time, he and Summer Rae celebrated and brought the Bulgarian flag with Rusev’s mug on it again. Lana then went up and challenged Summer Rae to a fight, even slapping Summer in the process. She then challenged Rusev to get in the ring with her, and that’s when everybody knew that Dolph coming back to save her was the plan she alluded to at commentary.

What do we want? A girl worth fighting for!
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I’d hate to call this match a throwaway one, but at this point, it looks like it is. I’m slightly disappointed that Lana isn’t trained enough right now to be Dolph’s tag team partner. It would have been interesting seeing Dolph and Lana teaming up against Summer and Rusev. Then again, at least a straight-up one-on-one matchup makes it a more interesting match in a vacuum.

If anything, this segment sent the message that Creative wasn’t fucking around with the stories and making sure that every existing feud would have a payoff at SummerSlam. The best part of all this is we can finally see the merciful end of the Dolph-Lana love team. Stop na, guys.

Randy Orton vs. Sheamus
Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens

As recently as last year, I used to wistfully look back on the PPVs from 2003 or 2004 back when the brand split was in effect because I would appreciate midcard matches that were just singles feuds with stories. Matchups like Shawn Michaels vs. Batista would be grudge matches that gave us a basic face vs. heel program. No titles or gimmicks had to be involved because the writers would have spent weeks building that shit up.

In recent years, we’d just get random face-heel pairings at the PPV that would be thrown together because of lack of foresight, and it would be the subject of many a rant online for me. This is why I’m glad that we’re getting three singles matchups at SummerSlam this year featuring stories that took weeks to progress. Another thing worth appreciating lately is how they’ve been booking different combinations of matches involving the guys in singles feuds to keep the matchups refresh heading into SummerSlam.

This week’s RAW kicked off with a tag team match featuring the babyface team of Randy Orton and Cesaro against the heel team of Sheamus and Kevin Owens. Michael Cole did a great job of referencing the tension between Sheamus and Owens, which stemmed from several weeks ago when Sheamus walked out on Owens and Rusev in a six-man tag. There was also a bit of an uneasy alliance between Orton and Cesaro, which both men played off of decently.

See you at SummerSlam, bub.
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The match itself was pretty entertaining, with Orton taking most of the punishment from Owens and Sheamus until Randy finally got to Cesaro for the hot tag. Once Cesaro got in the ring, you could feel the crowd just light up for the guy. As a fan of the Swiss Superman, I’m just elated to see him get some of the best crowd reactions on a weekly basis ever since he had that breakout match against John Cena several weeks ago. We’re at that point where Cesaro needs that one feud or match that really gets people to pop for him like mad such that even WWE management would consider themselves fools not to listen to it.

Spoiler alert for SummerSlam
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As for Owens vs. Cesaro, it’ll be very interesting to see where they go from here. Cesaro’s being built up as if he’s the next breakout babyface, and the Cesaro Section looks like the next fan-driven movement that WWE will co-opt. But Kevin Owens needs the win more than Cesaro, and we’ve seen that in the way he’s been written since he lost the NXT Championship to Finn Balor and every other major match he’s been involved in. He certainly lost a lot of steam after losing his feud with John Cena, and he’ll need to regain that against the beloved Cesaro at SummerSlam.
Randy Orton vs. Sheamus is the real throwaway match for me, since we’ve seen that happen many times over. There really isn’t much of a feud to go on either other than “Randy Orton hasn’t forgotten what Sheamus did to him.” But if they’re going to capitalize on the events of last week, then it might be a good to idea to run along with it and make this match for #1 Contender status.

Three-Team Elimination Tag Match: Team PCB vs. Team Bella vs. Team B.A.D.

It was about time the crowd turned on the #DivaRevolution.

Becky Lynch had her singles debut on RAW against Tamina in a fairly entertaining match, save for the fact that Becky wrestled like she graduated from the Mike Mizanin School of Ring Psychology. She didn’t work Tamina’s left arm at all during the match, and yet she was so quick to apply the Dis-Arm Her and make Tamina tap out to it. It’s a shame that Becky wrestled this way on RAW, when her match with Bayley last week on NXT was much better and had actual psychology.

And then there was Nikki Bella vs. Sasha Banks. That was a match that should have been billed as Champion vs. Champion. And yet, there was no hype at all for it, not even during the show. To make matters worse, Sasha Banks didn’t even come out with the NXT Women’s Championship. I don’t understand why there are weeks when she has the title on RAW, and then there are weeks like this one where she doesn’t. Kevin Owens always came out with his NXT Championship, even when he was working a main roster feud. Why should the NXT Women’s Champion not be shown the same level of reverence?

One moment in that match stood out, and that was when the Minnesota crowd loudly chanted, “WE WANT LESNAR!” Nikki vs. Sasha was the last match before the Lesnar segment at the end, and the show was in Minnesota, so it was understandable that the crowd would be dicks out of their excitement to see the Beast Incarnate. But allow me to speculate that chant could very well be the first concrete sign that the WWE Universe has turned on the #DivaRevolution. I’ll admit that it’s too early right now to say that, but if the WWE Universe does turn on the #DivaRevolution, we can look back to this moment as the point where it began. And if you’ve been thinking about the merits of this so-called revolution, you’ll know it’s because Creative dropped the ball on this story by not giving it substance.

Week after week, we’ve been seeing different combinations of Divas from the three teams in singles or tag team matches. But as I’ve been harping on and on (and on and on) in this space, there has been no endgame. Even with the elimination tag match at SummerSlam, there doesn’t appear to be a bigger picture. What does the winning team stand to gain? These girls can’t keep fighting each other just for the brownie points of raising the bar for women everywhere. It’s like forcing an artist to keep painting for free.

Hey, WWE. There’s a sizable butterfly-themed championship belt around the waist of the busty twin. Use it as more than a prop and make the girls fight for that, why don’t you? Yapping about the length of Nikki Bella’s title reign has become useless since the wins and losses the girls have accumulated don’t lead to title shots anyway.

Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns vs. Luke Harper and Bray Wyatt

Roman Reigns and Luke Harper had a rematch of their SmackDown! match from this past weekend, but this time both Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt were at ringside. The match itself was enjoyable, and I would even go out on a limb to call it the best of the night. Sometimes, you just want to see a good hoss fight, and these two men actually have solid chemistry.

Luke Harper has a good grasp of working well with different opponents, and he’s always been one of those underrated guys you could put in a match with anyone and expect to have a good one. Roman Reigns himself has been making strides with his in-ring work, but with Harper, he didn’t have to exert a whole lot of effort save for his usual strikes. Reigns being the relatively smaller man—which is a weird thing to write—worked because it allowed Harper to dominate with his power game, while also opening the door for his surprising athleticism.

Luke Harper's become the Ben Wallace of pro wrestling.
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Seeing Dean Ambrose trying to provoke Bray Wyatt throughout the match was pretty fun because watching Dean run his mouth is already a great experience. But watching him get in Bray Wyatt’s face, given the long history between both men, made for great TV.

That being said, I still felt like there was something missing from the match and segment overall. Similar to the tag team title feud, I wanted to see more out of these four guys to establish the tension being at an all-time high heading into SummerSlam. Hell, they’re calling it a family war. They should make it feel like one.

Stephen Amell and Neville vs. Stardust and King Barrett

I was very curious as to how they were going to write King Barrett into this storyline. Last week, he was just Neville’s opponent and a mere spectator as Stardust made the first move on Stephen Amell.

When Amell asked Trips for a tag team match and immediately declared Barrett as Stardust’s partner, I thought it was weird because Barrett didn’t even have any issues with Amell. All the King of the Ring did was hold Stardust back after Amell jumped over the barricade.

This week, King Barrett appeared alongside Stardust in the latter’s dark little corner backstage and talked about how it offends him that Stephen Amell would dare enter their realm (of pro wrestling). Barrett took his kingship seriously and wanted to defend the industry against an actor who thinks he can have a WWE match just because he has the network to make it happen.

Save for the ridiculous names like “Lords of Darkness” or “the Cosmic Kings,” I’m pretty satisfied with the way they justified Barrett’s entry into this feud.

Triple Threat Match for the Intercontinental Championship: The Miz vs. The Big Show vs. Ryback (c)

Ryback and Miz had a very short match, with the Big Guy being portrayed as being 100% again. Big Show was awkward on commentary, almost acting and speaking like a babyface, especially when he and JBL tried to put his new movie with Dean Cain over.

After the match, Show reminded everyone why he’s a heel, too. Ryback challenged Show to fight him since the IC champ wanted to prove his dominance over both men. But Show just waved it off and went to the back.

There wasn’t really much to go on here, especially since the story had already been set prior to Ryback’s injury and the original title match being postponed. To Miz and Show’s credit, having them both bitch about Ryback’s legitimate staph infection was enough to stretch this feud until SummerSlam. I just hope that either Show moves on from this program completely after SummerSlam. I want a one-on-one feud between the two Tough Enough batchmates.

Champion vs. Champion Winner Takes All: WWE United States Champion John Cena vs. WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins

Throughout the night, Seth Rollins kept sucking up to Mommy Steph and Daddy Trips, all while inflating his already sizable ego. And then John Cena came out and cut a grade-A promo about why Seth Rollins needs to win at SummerSlam.

In a nutshell, Cena said that the pressure isn’t on him to win at SummerSlam, but on Rollins because if Cena wins the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, he becomes a 16-time World Champion. That means Ric Flair won’t be the only wrestler to have that distinction, which diminishes his legacy. Given the Flair-Trips mentor-student relationship, that also affects Triple H’s own legacy because Seth Rollins was the guy he personally handpicked as his successor.

Pressure's on you, bitch!
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That was brilliant storytelling on John Cena’s part. My praises for this segment don’t stop there because I have to address Cena addressing his new “15x” gear. We said on last week’s episode of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast that the gear is all but a spoiler. And while this week’s events won’t change that fact, I’ll have to be fair and acknowledge that Cena said that the gear was “planned for in advance,” since he didn’t think he’d ever come near the world title picture anytime soon. But he did, and that was all thanks to Rollins’ brash and cocky attitude.

The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar

Like many thinking members of the IWC, I thought that the Undertaker and Brock Lesnar would be two characters working within shades of gray. Since both personas are relatively developed compared to most WWE characters, they could get away with that. But as Smark Henry’s fuhrer brought up several weeks ago, that won’t always work because at its core, professional wrestling thrives on the good versus evil dichotomy in storytelling.

Now I never imagined the Undertaker could pull off a heel turn in this day and age, especially given his legendary status. In fact, I’ve never seen Taker work heel myself because I started watching wrestling sometime before WrestleMania XX, when Taker came back as a glorious amalgamation of all of his gimmicks since 1990.

Undertaker is still a petty bitch.
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And yet after this week’s RAW, it’s plain as day that the Undertaker is the heel and that Brock Lesnar is the babyface. Taker interrupted Brock’s homecoming in Minnesota, and the first thing he did upon showing up was lowblow Brock Lesnar again. And then he hit him with a chokeslam and a tombstone.

Paul Heyman was golden on the mic again, as usual, with the best part of his promo being the bit when he literally sang Brock Lesnar’s praises. As for Brock Lesnar, I think it was either a happy incident or a smart, calculated move to have the go-home show in Lesnar’s hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. That largely facilitated what they did to cement Taker and Lesnar’s respective alignments.

I only wish that this had happened sooner because we were all speculating as early as Battleground, when Taker first appeared and hit Lesnar with a low blow. We had five weeks to get here and we saved the blatant “LOOK, GUYS, TAKER IS THE HEEL HERE” moment for the go-home show? They could have fleshed out the heel turn more in the previous weeks instead of letting the WWE Universe argue over whether or not Taker was justified (or petty) for doing what he did at Battleground. They could have saved us all the arguing by establishing the Undertaker as the heel, period.


Overall, the episode lacked the oomph you’d expect from a go-home show. There weren’t a lot of cliffhangers for the feuds, except for Cena-Rollins and Taker-Lesnar. Instead, we got a lot of loose ends that they wanted to tie up before SummerSlam, or some throwaway matches/segments because they had no idea what to do with an extra week. On a positive note, for the feuds that have been largely developed over the weeks, that means they’d done what they could for those programs. Nonetheless, this episode gets a C+ from me.

But what do you think? Was this go-home show satisfying? Are you convinced that the Undertaker really is the heel here? What did you think about Cena’s promo? Do you think the #DivaRevolution deserves to be turned on at this point? Sound off in the comments section below!


Stan Sy is a radio DJ, an events host, a freelance writer, one of the hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, and Smark Henry's official PPV reviewer. He enjoys watching WWE, NXT, Lucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. Every now and then, he dresses up in fancy suits to book matches as PWR's longest-tenured General Manager to date. Follow him on Twitter: @_stansy

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