As is often the case in the world of WWE, there has been a fair number of detractors cynical towards the events of Summerslam Week 2018. For me, though, the last seven to eight days has shown WWE on form. Its best form, perhaps not, but considerably better form than we have been seeing now for, well, frankly, months, if not years.
The match quality was generally high, production was uncharacteristically conscientious and storytelling almost entirely across the board was on point, concise and progressive, where necessary in equal degree.
I have been re-enthused as a result of this. A week ago, I was struggling, but since Wednesday I have been trying to write a column to organise my thoughts only to find myself not knowing where to start. It may be overdue, but today, finally, I managed it.
My name is Samuel ‘Plan and I am here to break down my favourite matches and storytelling beats of the last eight days. The Performance Art View is back.
Starting on Saturday night but being sure this time to run all the way through regular post-PPV television, the match quality of the last several days has been startlingly good. Some have over-achieved unexpectedly. Some have lived up to high expectations rolling in. Those that enjoyed neither expectation nor the likelihood of over-achievement were, sensibly, mercifully kept short. The result was undoubtedly the best, most well balanced four hour Summerslam we have seen to date, bookended by shows with plenty of quality to call their own.
The Undisputed Era vs. Moustache Mountain for the NXT Tag Team Championships threatened to steal the entire week in spite of being the first match wrestled. An effective mix of freneticism and disciplined, believable choreography combined to create a harkback to the very best work of the Revival – an influence worn unashamedly on the match’s sleeve. Not one stuck to at the expense of original thought, though, as service was paid in equal degree to the feud the bout climaxed, serving to create what my colleague Maverick labelled the latest in a long lineage of outstanding NXT tag team work.
It will come as little surprise to those who follow my work that, for me, Dolph Ziggler w/ Drew McIntyre vs. Seth Rollins w/ Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship took home ‘Match of the Week’ honours. Some might consider it another instance of a Rollins match wrestled in an unfashionably cerebral style, patient and slow-building towards its startling final ten minutes. It was not poorly pieced together, though. With more grit than flash this time, bolstered with supporting acts playing their critical roles to unintrusive perfection on the outside, the match deconstructed the feud’s trademark swift pace just to rebuild it to amplified degree in the final act, capped with an eye-widening Inverted Superplex / Falcon Arrow combination and a series of breathless near-fall sequences.
It was only the use of a definitive and well-informed clear conclusion that lifted it, for me, above the likes of the equally stunning, far more visceral AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe for the WWE Championship. Creative exchanges dotted throughout this brooding piece of work spoke to silent character on the parts of both men. Their mental and physical chess match devolved into animalistic brutality on several occasions, switching in and out from clinical science to feral aggression on the back of seesawing momentum that made for a transfixing watch, one decisive conclusion away from rightfully deserving all-time classic status.
The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan capped off Summerslam 2018’s trilogy of gems, once again matching the patient style of the aforementioned efforts. Presenting Bryan’s best composition since his return to the ring in April, the match relied heavily on symmetry and irony, most notably in the use of duelling submissions and duelling strikes. As can often be the case with Bryan’s work, the expert precision in execution might have left some feeling cold to the burning intensity of a deeply personal issue, but to call this an under-achievement would speak only to the compelling power of this once in a generation feud. Its conclusion was, in its brave gall, the bout’s crowning achievement.
On any other night, Bryan and Miz might have comfortably had the best match of the evening. That, instead, they had only the third stands as a testament to the ring quality on show at Summerslam this time last week. That ring quality would continue on through the television that followed 2018’s Biggest Party of the Summer; not to quite the same degree, but to a noteworthy one nonetheless.
Dean Ambrose w/ Seth Rollins vs. Dolph Ziggler w/ Drew McIntyre on Monday Night Raw (MNR) was many things – the feel good return of the Lunatic Fringe to the ring, the match that saw the four men involved go two-for-two on quality in as many days and the confirmation we are looking at a new Fringe for the good brother Ambrose (read more on that here: Sir Sam’s Court and Just Business: Dean Ambrose, From Lunatic to Misanthrope ). Demonstrating a power game we haven’t seen from him before, Ambrose was a granite-faced picture of barely-contained outrage as he took the Show Off to school in a TV match that, if unremarkable, was solid in action and smart in its revelation of new character.
MNR’s main event of Roman Reigns vs. Finn Bálor for the Universal Championship was a polar opposite – Bálor not relying on Demon form as he had the night before at Summerslam in what was a bigger match against a tougher opponent was a head-scratcher, but where character progression fell short match quality most certainly did not. Once again, Reigns and Bálor exhibited their velveteen chemistry with one another, power matching precision in a back and forth contest wrestled like the big stakes situation it was. With a championship up for grabs, a focus on contemporary talent in a headlining spot and a wealth of post-match excitement almost Attitudinal in its pacy design, it was the much needed injection of adrenaline MNR has needed now for the longest time. A riveting success.
SDL would not allow us to bow out on a disappointment, however, and continued a trend established at Summerslam in the form of The Bludgeon Brothers vs. The New Day in a No Disqualifications Match for the SDL Tag Team Championships. A natural progression from the frenetic, if messy match from the preceding Sunday, here the two teams clicked with a chemistry we had seen them only struggle to chase in previous collaborations. Brevity of run-time proved a little limiting, bad habits a little too prominent, but it was a smoother, more physically intense effort than that two nights prior, saw a positive improvement in the positioning of the championships and embraced its stipulation to the fullest, rather than paying dismally lackadaisical lip service to it. It promises a brighter future for the Team Blue teams in the near distance.
A lot of fans have been happy with the fact that Becky Lynch turned on her best friend Charlotte after losing out on a championship in an over-achieving scrappy Triple Threat Match at Summerslam – but this, I fear, confuses a ‘booking decision’ for a story flaw.
Becky Lynch was categorically not justified in her actions. She had earned her opportunity, of course, and she did so by winning matches. So did Charlotte, who also won the championship in entirely fair and just fashion. Any issues after that fact should be taken up with the woman that afforded the opportunity Charlotte quite rightly sought to take advantage of, and that Lynch would have done were roles reversed: General Manager and resident SDL match-maker Paige. It is understandable many people wanted to see the hard-working Lynch get her moment in the sun. That she didn’t, though, was her own failure, and no moral justification to beat down a woman she called her friend. Why should you boo her? You should boo her because she exhibited a sense of entitlement intrinsic to modern culture, when in fact all she was owed was the match she fairly lost.
Frankly, I can’t wait to see The Queen give the Lass-stabber the pasting she’s earned.
The Demon returned at Summerslam on Sunday to make short work of Constable Baron Corbin in a short-form slice of pro wrestling that proved sometimes you only need one hundred and twenty seconds to tell an interesting story. There was a lot to love about the Demon’s Sunday night cameo. The visual contrast of the characters, one corporate and the other supernatural, the subtext that spoke to the physical threat Bálor felt Corbin posed and, most of all, the subversion of a squash match where the smaller man proves the superior – that only underlined the ‘augmented state’ nature of Bálor’s Demon form. It was the best use of Bálor’s alternative side on the main roster to date.
As a heroic champion, it could be reasonably argued that AJ Styles has long needed some character progression. Samoa Joe targeting Styles’ family might just be proving the feud to provide it, especially in conjunction with Styles’ recently resolved issues opposite Shinsuke Nakamura. The element of familiarity between the two rivalries might, at first, point towards a lack of original thinking on the part of SDL’s creative team. Alternatively, it might have substantiated just who a heroic Styles really is – fiercely capable in the ring, with deeper offensive pockets than arguably any other competitor in WWE today, but a man with a dangerously thin skin; a man who, frankly, is far too easy to tick off. To a degree, the two cancel one another out – anger Styles enough, and he’ll unleash the full fury of his intimidating capabilities, rendering your psychological ploys the sword you come to fall upon. What happens, though, when someone as equally, if not more capable than Styles pushes those buttons? This week has promised that Samoa Joe might very well be on the verge of showing us.
The biggest story progression to have emerged this last week, however, was undoubtedly that big, suddenly very active shared universe picture on Monday nights. Raw is war again, but this time with a lower-case w, as the defeat and departure of the Beast Incarnate Brock Lesnar has left, in its wake, a power vacuum that, now, every major player on Team Red is sprinting to fill. Currently, the freshly reunited Shield is winning, turned from championship-chasing bloodhounds to championship-holding guard dogs, but not without some stiff opposition bearing down upon them.
Many have sided with Braun Strowman following the climactic events of Monday night, some even questioning if The Shield are villains once again. This, again I fear, confuses a ‘booking decision’ with a story. Despite claims to the contrary, Strowman was not a man of his word. Despite implying he was prepared to cash-in on Reigns without jumping him, the Monster Among Men saw fit to distract a Reigns on the verge of victory, temporarily facilitating the near-win of the much smaller, easier to defeat (for Strowman at least) Finn Bálor. When that didn’t pan out, Strowman pounced on Reigns before the Big Dog could fully regather his post-match bearings – face to face perhaps, but an ambush all the same.
It was only when it became clear Strowman was definitely making a move for the Universal Championship that the Hounds of Justice reassembled in full. The reason was simple, clear: this wasn’t the same MNR anymore, and there are no more shortcuts allowed. You don’t get to carry a title and sit on it at home, you don’t get to win a title because of your heavy on the outside and you don’t get to ambush a man to steal one either. This is now The Shield’s MNR, and on The Shield’s MNR you fight to be a champion.
That was why they attacked Braun Strowman, and that attacking Braun Strowman benefitted Reigns does not render the Hounds villains. Their cause is the same it has always been, and is one that benefits the show and the fans: justice, in the form of fighting champions, with shortcuts rendered a thing of the past. You may be unconvinced by that, but I am not – I will offer no apology in throwing myself to my knees and praying at the altar of change in the church of The Shield, still believing.
That not everyone else does – not the ravenous and destructive Strowman, not the embittered lost generation of Ziggler or McIntyre, not the power-hungry Corbin, apparently not a forgotten Wyatt and probably not a demonic Bálor – promises that we’re going to have some very destructive Mondays coming our way. The battle to beat the Beast is over, the battle to splinter The Shield is just beginning.
With Reigns at his most avaricious, Rollins having tapped now into the full reach of his potential and Ambrose more misanthropic than he’s ever been, all I can say is good luck to those who want to try their luck.
With that in mind, if you have any thoughts on the matches or storylines of Summerslam Week 2018, or of anything I’ve explored in this week’s Performance Art View at all, let them be known in the comments below, over on social media or even by signing up to our own LOPForums; just click here to sign up!
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