Monday, February 6, 2023

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SummerSlam in Review: Two Teams Fall, One Team Rises


To some wrestling fans, NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn and SummerSlam may have felt like night and day: one was refreshing and fun, while the other felt tired and underwhelming. Well, I felt that way, at least. The comparison between NXT and WWE is probably worn out at this point, but the WWE invited such comparisons by scheduling these events on consecutive nights. As it turns out, it might have not been the smartest move, because, really, the established product came out of this weekend looking a lot worse for the wear.

The main roster Divas suffered from the comparison too, in my opinion. TakeOver had everyone walking around with hearts in their eyes, so the main roster Divas would’ve had to work overtime to even match it at SummerSlam. Even so, the match here just didn’t deliver. There are a plethora of reasons why it didn’t, but I’ll save that for the end of this review.

Aside from the Three-Team Elimination match pitting Team B.A.D. (Naomi, Sasha Banks and Tamina Snuka), Team Bella (Alicia Fox, Brie and Nikki Bella) and Team PCB (Paige, Charlotte and Becky Lynch) against one another, we were promised more confrontation between Lana and Summer Rae.

But, before any of that could take place, we were treated to an appearance by Stephanie McMahon. She spoke to JoJo about the Diva Revolution on the Kickoff show:

She hypes the match, claiming that the outcome will determine who is truly the dominant team. She also discusses the big leaps women have made in sports, the military and the world at large. While she wouldn’t give an official prediction, Stephanie seemed to indicate that the win would translate to something big, saying, “to the victor goes the spoils.”

On the main show, Lana and Summer delivered on their promises for ass-kicking, scrapping around and inside the ring during the match between Dolph Ziggler and Rusev:

The non-finish surely sets us up for these duos to settle the score at Night of Champions with a Mixed Tag Team match. Bring it! I’m excited to finally see Lana and Summer wrestle – not that the vintage catfights aren’t refreshing in an odd way. Lana’s new look (or “Dolph Ziggler genderswap cosplay”, as I like to call it) is cute, but I’d like to see her carve out her own identity at some point. On the flipside, I love how obviously and shamelessly Summer’s ripping off Lana’s trademark look. It’s such a perfectly heelish touch.

Dolph and Lana talked about the non-finish in a post-match WWE.com interview, emphasizing that this feud is far from over:

Later on, it was time for an actual sanctioned Diva battle! The match was preceded by a nice video package, leading in to tandem entrances by Team Bella, Team B.A.D. and Team PCB:

With everyone assembled in the ring, Brie and Becky start things off, Brie backing Becky into the corner and toying with her. Becky shoves Brie back and hits her with two arm drags and a dropkick. Brie recovers, fending Becky off and hitting her with a running knee strike. Tamina, seeing enough of this, tags herself in and levels Brie with a superkick.

Sasha and Naomi temporarily enter the ring to clear the path for Tamina, who tosses Becky to her corner and tags in Sasha. Sasha kicks Becky and immediately tags in Naomi. Naomi launches herself over Sasha onto Becky and tags in Tamina, who slams Becky and tags in Sasha. Sasha delivers a slap and immediately tags in Naomi. Naomi hits a split leg drop on Becky and goes for the pin, but Becky kicks out.

Naomi hits another leg drop and tries for another pin, resulting in another kickout. Sasha is tagged back in, but her bodyslam attempt results in a rollup by Becky. Sasha kicks out and is back on Becky, taking her back to the Team. B.A.D. corner and tagging in Tamina. Tamina hits Becky with a clothwsline and goes for the pin. Becky kicks out.

Tamina headbutts Becky, who tumbles out of the ring. Tamina follows, lifting and driving Becky back-first into the ring apron. Charlotte comes to her teammate’s aid, hopping off the ring apron and taking out Tamina with a spear. Out of nowhere come Naomi and Sasha, who propel themselves over the ropes to take out her and Becky. Brie and Nikki decide to do the same, launching through the ropes to take out Naomi and Sasha. Alicia and Paige, the only Divas left standing, do battle on the top rope. Paige shoves Alicia into the crowd of Divas before leaping off the top rope herself, taking them all out with a senton. Everybody’s down!

Tamina and Becky reenter the ring, Tamina lifting Becky onto her shoulders in a fireman’s carry. Becky slips free, allowing Brie to tag herself in and take out Tamina with a facebuster off the second rope. She pins Tamina, eliminating Team B.A.D.!

Brie tags in Nikki, who squares off with Becky. Nikki lifts Becky up for the Rack Attack and goes for the pin, but Charlotte and Paige break it up. Paige is tagged in. She comes charging at Nikki, tackling her and nailing her with a series of right hands. Nikki backs into the corner, where Paige hits her with a barrage of knees. Paige then grabs hold of Nikki, hoisting her up and hitting a fallaway slam. Nikki rolls out of the ring to safety, so Paige goes to hit her with a baseball slide, but Nikki stops her, pulling her out of the ring. Nikki lifts Paige and brings her back down to the floor with a sick Alabama Slam.

Nikki heads back into the ring and taunts the remaining members of Team PCB with some cocky pushups. Paige gets back into the ring just in time to avoid being Dolph Zigglered counted out, only to be hit with a bodyslam from Nikki. Nikki goes for the pin, but Paige kicks out. Nikki tags in Brie, and the two hit Paige with a flapjack. Brie makes another pin attempt, but only gets a near fall. Brie locks in a chinlock on Paige.

Paige gets to her feet slowly, fighting off Brie. Brie takes her out with a double axe handle, though, and goes on to nail Paige with a series of kicks to the chest. Paige takes back control with a surprise roll-up, but Brie kicks out. Alicia is then tagged in, pulling a woozy Paige to her feet and hitting her with a Northern Lights suplex that’s bridged into a pin. Paige manages to kick out.

Alicia locks in a submission, twisting Paige’s arms back. Paige slowly but surely gets to her feet, but Alicia sends her back to the mat with a dropkick. Alicia tags in Nikki, who hits snap suplex on Paige. She goes for another pin, resulting in another kickout by Paige. Nikki stomps on Paige, taking her back to her corner so Alicia can tag in. The two hit a suplex on Paige. Another pin attempt, another kickout by Paige. Alicia kicks Paige, stalking her before choking her against the bottom rope. She relents at the referee’s insistence, taking her to the corner instead. Paige starts to fight back, though, taking out the Bellas on the apron, fending off Alicia and tagging in Charlotte!

Charlotte hits chop after chop on Alicia, punctuating the assault with a neckbreaker. She knocks off both Bellas and nails Alicia with a spear before locking in the Figure Eight! Before Alicia can tap, though, Nikki breaks it up. Paige comes charging in, taking Nikki out of the equation. Alicia and Charlotte come at each other with tandem boots, taking each other out at the same time. Charlotte crawls to her corner, tagging in Becky just as Brie is tagged in.

Brie and Becky battle with forearms, Brie being backed into the corner. She knocks Becky away, though, and climbs to the top rope. She goes for the missile dropkick, but Becky moves out of the way, leaving Brie to fall hard on the mat. Becky drags Brie to her feet and sends her flying with a pumphandle suplex, pinning her for the win. Team PCB are your victors!

The victorious trio talked about the win in a WWE.com interview, shedding about as much light on their future as the match did:

They’re gonna TakeOver take over! How, when and why, you ask? That remains to be seen, unfortunately.

Thoughts: While I was really underwhelmed by this match, I can’t help but feel bad for the Divas involved. The crowd was absolutely dead for much of the match, and the effect that had on the match demonstrated how the whims of the fans can make or break a performance. The crowd helped elevate the Bayley/Sasha match to even greater heights, while the SummerSlam match, in which these Divas are clearly busting their asses, was almost embarrassing to watch, largely due to the overwhelming sense that the crowd couldn’t give less of a shit. It’s disheartening to see that Sasha, the woman seemed to have the crowd wrapped around her finger on Saturday, couldn’t elicit even a shadow of that response in the same building on Sunday. Yes, we got “We want Sasha!” and “We want Charlotte!” chants and the bigger spots got “OH!”s, but there wasn’t nearly as much crowd investment on the whole.

Crowd reaction aside, the booking of the match didn’t give it much of a chance to start with. The quick tags work in some scenarios, but here it just made the match drag. There were three teams to work incorporate here, and while isolation was a smart tactic for Team B.A.D. in kayfabe, keeping one of the teams on the apron for a good portion of the match robbed it of any sort of flow. The finishes – Brie pinning Tamina off a second rope facebuster and Becky pinning Brie off a suplex – didn’t feel like finishes at all. There was no momentum to make those feel like satisfying, earned finishes.

Part of me wishes that this Elimination match would’ve been booked Survivor Series style, with each participant needing to be eliminated individually, but I have a feeling that would have resulted in the dreaded clusterfuck-of-finishers ending, so I’m not sure it would’ve improved this match in any sense. Nine Divas are a lot of Divas, it turns out! Still, I think there could’ve been a way to book this that didn’t feel so damn perfunctory. Maybe if any of the Divas had any sort of tension with each other, from team-to-team or within the teams, we could have had match-ups that felt earned and exciting. As is, the match-ups were random and felt like it.

I found it kind of annoying that Brie took the deciding pin, since that doesn’t really point us in any direction, vis-a-vis the Divas Title picture. Sure, Becky got the win, but it wasn’t by pinning Nikki, so that doesn’t really entitle her to a Divas Title shot, does it? But why not use a match on as big a platform as SummerSlam as a turning point in the feud? Why save that for Raw? You want a match like this to matter, so even if the action itself doesn’t deliver, it will still serve a greater purpose in the long run. I’m not sure this match did anything for the division aside from giving Becky a well-deserved boost. Both she and Brie impressed me the most here, but they also benefitted from getting the majority of the in-ring action and scoring pins. It’s not like the other Divas sucked – they just got lost in the crappy booking.

I wonder if the WWE will eventually see the decision to put TakeOver and SummerSlam back-to-back as a mistake. Sure, it elevated NXT to a whole new level, but as a result, SummerSlam really paled in comparison. In fact, this weekend was kind of WWE’s situation in a nutshell: everyone lost their minds over TakeOver and were pretty lukewarm over much of SummerSlam. Putting them so close together only makes the differences more stark.

Taking that comparison and narrowing it down to the two Divas divisions: putting TakeOver and SummerSlam back-to-back left the Diva Revolution feeling hollow, from a booking perspective. So much hype has been put into the Revolution. We’re constantly being told that it is “changing the game”, but its big culmination at the second biggest PPV of the year was easily eclipsed by a “lower level” match with much smaller stakes. This weekend exposed the true flaws of the main roster way of doing things: in the NXT Divas division, hype follows performance, while on the main roster, the performance follows hype. The NXT Divas get hype from having spectacular matches, while the main roster matches are constantly trying to live up to the hype the WWE has created. So really, it’s no surprise that we got the two matches that we did.

Don’t get me wrong: the main roster matches have really stepped up in quality as of late, but it feels like the WWE is promising a lot that they’ve yet to deliver on. A Diva Revolution cannot be sustained on longer matches alone. That’s not a fundamental change, because those longer matches can be taken away from us tomorrow, and all we’d be left with a lot of listless Divas with half-baked alliances. If the WWE wants the fans to care, they need to tell a story. Merely putting on a series of longer matches will not make them care. Putting on a series of longer matches with story connecting them will. It gives fans something to follow, something to invest in. There’s nothing for them to invest in if the tides are changing constantly. If all they get out of this storyline is three teams saying “We’re the best!!!”, you end up with a reaction (or rather, a lack of reaction) like you did tonight. Well, the card scheduling didn’t help either, but surely the NXT crowd was tired when Bayley/Sasha rolled around at TakeOver, but they still managed to find the energy to repeatedly lose their shit throughout the match, so I’m not sure the “death slot” argument explains that dead crowd away.

As I said in the TakeOver review, those behind the Diva Revolution need to take a long, hard look at its roots. Those are, of course, planted in the NXT Divas division. That division’s successes didn’t spring up out of nowhere. It took a hell of a lot of investment on NXT’s part to get them to a place where the crowd would happily accept Divas matches in the main event slot. It’s not just about giving them these opportunities: it’s about giving them the chance to earn those opportunities in full view of the audience. Charlotte and Sasha wouldn’t have been able to main event that Philadelphia event on their first day. They had to prove themselves to the NXT faithful. All of the successful NXT Divas have done the same, earning the fans’ love by bringing them along for the journey. The WWE can’t just cut out the middle part and jump right to longer matches and expect the crowd to be right there with them. We know the Divas deserve it, but Joe Schmo sitting in Section 212 doesn’t. Show him why they do by crafting stories that provide epic and emotional moments. Then, maybe, eventually, you can make changes to the Divas division that stick because the crowd actually demands it. You can’t just drag the unconverted along, kicking and screaming. You have to actually convert them.

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