By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
The biggest argument among wrestling fans these days is over which brand has the better product. People who prefer pure wrestling often side with Smackdown, while those who are more into the storyline side of wrestling usually follow Raw more closely. One of the ways to settle the argument is by deciding which show has the better half of a pay-per-view like SummerSlam, where both shows are showcased.
Writing the two previews for SummerSlam has made this argument clear for me: Raw has much more to talk about and has far more interesting matches on the card. After laboring through Smackdown’s matches, I’m excited to talk about what’s going to happen for the red team in Brooklyn. So let’s break down the better half of what could be a good show, if for no other reason than there are so many opportunities to produce good storytelling.
WWE Cruiserweight Champion Akira Tozawa vs. Neville (Kickoff Match)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: I was shocked to see the belt switch on Raw, but it definitely served its purpose. I’m now slightly interested in this match, which I never would have been if Neville was still the champion. Tozawa can certainly use the rub by picking up a second win over Neville, which would make him the top guy at 205, but what would he do next? Neville wins a close match, and they meet again. Neville will eventually leave this feud as champ, but only after trying his best to make Akira a star.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: Neville, the best champion the WWE has had over the past year, was beaten for the cruiserweight belt on Raw, losing to Tozawa, setting up this rematch on the kickoff show. The WWE likely wanted to give the title change a bigger stage than a pre-show match, but they also might have done so to get the title off Neville, only to get it right back on him at SummerSlam. Not sure if that makes sense or not, but I can’t see Neville dropping another match to Tozawa. Unless he’s going back to the main roster, which I think would be great for him. Neville is a way bigger talent and deserves a much bigger stage than 205 Live. Put Neville on Smackdown and give it another monster heel who could feud with any number of superstars. So, I’ll go with Tozawa keeping the belt while Neville moves on to better things, although the WWE probably doesn’t see it that way..
The Hardy Boyz & Jason Jordan vs. The Miz & The Miztourage (Kickoff Match)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: What’s fascinating about this match is how much of an afterthought it is considering the talent involved and the easy storyline. This was a fairly obvious call after last week’s Raw, but the match wasn’t announced until Thursday night. In fact, nothing about this makes sense. Jordan vs. The Miz seemed like the direction after the Miz’s great promo ripping Jordan, but they decided to keep the rest of his stable in the mix, and added the Hardys in the process. The Miz has been getting such a push lately and he should have something better to do, and the Hardys’ return was one of the best-received things WWE has done in a long time, and yet both the Hardys and Miz are in this match. Also, if you were going to make such a huge angle (no pun intended) with Jordan being the son of the GM, wouldn’t you give him a singles match where he can get exposure and start his push? Instead he’s just part of this match, which makes me wonder if WWE is already trying to get out of this silly storyline. Miz wins in controversial fashion, eventually setting up a match with Jordan. If not, then Jordan is already done.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: This match was so haphazardly thrown together at the last minute that I didn’t even know it was happening until I saw Straub’s breakdown. At first I thought Straub was just seeing things that weren’t there and was having yet another out-of-body experience where his warped dreams had morphed into reality (maybe Jason Jordan is his new wrestling crush?), but it’s actually happening. I don’t think WWE is getting out of this Jordan storyline, as Straub suspects, but rather knows he isn’t ready for a title match against Miz, where he most likely would win the belt. That would be completely wrong, and maybe the WWE actually came to their senses in the build up to SummerSlam in that aspect. So putting a bunch of guys who have nothing to do but are still worthy on the card makes sense for just that reason, and maybe for Jordan to pin Miz to ignite that feud even more. That’s really the only direction I can see them going, therefore, the Hardys and Jordan win.
Big Show vs. Big Cass (with Enzo Amore suspended in a Shark Cage)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: What they’ve done to Enzo, essentially burying him for good in terms of being an in-ring performer, wouldn’t make sense either if not for recent revelations about how much trouble he has caused and gotten into backstage. He’s clearly being punished, but if they do want to get him back to being a credible wrestler again at some point, is it too late? I think he’s destined to be a human gimmick from here on out, perhaps even becoming a manager, a role which WWE has gotten away from too often in recent years. The big problem with this match, however, is the actual wrestlers are so irrelevant as to make us talk about the guy in the cage. Cass has a chance to be a big-time wrestler someday, but he still seems a ways off. He needs to win this match and quickly get into a bigger program so we can see if he can hang on that level. Enzo falls out of or leaps from the cage at some point, but Cass gets a win.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: It’s the Big Show vs. Big Cass in a Big Waste of Time. The WWE dropped the ball on what was a great breakup between Cass and Enzo Amore, as the whole thing has been a mess since. I get why the Big Show is involved, but it has dragged out so long there is no reason for this to be on the SummerSlam card. Big Cass will win and go on to something else. I don’t know what, but at least he’s in better shape career-wise than Enzo, who has no place going forward, especially after being discarded so easily by Cass. If Enzo can’t compete with Cass, who can he compete with? Maybe 205 Live is next?
Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss vs. Sasha Banks
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: This was going to be Bayley challenging for the title, but a legitimate injury forced WWE to go with Sasha instead. It seems cruel to say, but the injury actually helps everyone win. Bayley gets time off, which she badly needed since everyone was turning on her thanks to the awful, weak way she’d been booked. Sasha gets to be back in the limelight where she can show off her skills in a bigger match, and Alexa gets what could be her signature match, where she shows she’s much more than a great promo. Sasha wins here, in a NXT stronghold that will go crazy for her, and Alexa comes out stronger thanks to a great match. Meanwhile, Bayley watches for a while, and hopefully comes back with a different take on her character.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: First, Bayley just can’t catch a break, as she fought back from the hole she was in after looking completely foolish in a feud with Alexa Bliss, then somehow worked her way back, beat Sasha Banks to earn a title match at SummerSlam, only to get injured and be forced out of the event, not to mention spotlight, altogether. It’s too bad for Bayley, who I thought would beat Bliss at SummerSlam, becoming a completely different, as in more violent, person, than we’ve seen in the recent past. But alas, that is out the window. In steps Banks, who is just as talented as Bayley and just as deserving to become champion. If Bliss is to lose her title, this would be the moment and Brooklyn would be the place, especially considering the “homecoming” for several former NXT stars who shined in Brooklyn a couple years ago. But something tells me Bliss’ time as champion isn’t done yet, and with help from Nia Jax, she will get a cheap win. The feud is far from over, however.
Raw Tag Team Champions Cesaro & Sheamus vs. Dean Ambrose & Seth Rollins
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: There are two matches on the card which hold the biggest keys to the company’s direction. Baron Corbin’s future is up for grabs, which we’ll talk about in the Smackdown preview, and this match provides us the biggest fork in the road for the Raw side. The four-way for the title on the Raw side can have its outcome rendered meaningless long before WrestleMania, but how the former Shield brothers leave this match sets them up for the whole fall. They’re either going to be a strong team or they’re setting up to fight through Survivor Series. I think it’s going to be the former, with the reluctant renewal of the friendship becoming stronger, and Rollins and Ambrose having a run together. Both men are better as heels, but the fans want to cheer for both, so WWE will give them their wish. I know Brad loves the current champs, but Sunday has nothing to do with them, and their reign is over.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: If you don’t read that last line above and think to yourself, boy, that Straub fellow is quite the jerk, than you either simply skipped over everything written by him, or you’re Straub himself. Sheamus and Cesaro are great and should be tag team champions for a long, long time. They don’t get the respect they deserve and they deserve a lot of praise for elevating that division. After all, they couldn’t just have any tag team go against Ambrose and Rollins and make it appealing. Of course, this is all about the direction Rollins and Ambrose are going in, and while Rollins is better as a heel and Ambrose needs to completely change his washed out character, all signs point to them winning here and remaining best of friends good guys. Boring. It’s just plain boring. Have Ambrose turn on Rollins in the match, turn heel, and have those two feud. It would actually be great television and put them both back into the main event picture. Without that, do you really want to see the two former Shield members as tag champs, defending against Gallows and Anderson on a random Raw? No way. Give them both a big spotlight and let them get back most of the luster they’ve both lost. As for Sheamus and Cesaro, let the reign continue. Suck it, Straub.
"The Demon" Finn Bálor vs. Bray Wyatt
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: SummerSlam is the marker by which the rise and fall of Balor can be measured. Last year in Brooklyn, Balor became the first Universal champion. Now, he’s breaking out his alter-ego for the first time in ages, needing a win to salvage whatever is left of his push. I think he gets it, but just how close he is to irrelevance blows my mind. How WWE blew his return, where he just says he deserves the title he never lost in the ring, I’ll never understand. Even Balor’s current state is bizarre. He lost clean on Raw to Wyatt, with only Wyatt’s pouring of blood (though even WWE was quick to say on live television it wasn’t really blood, a shocking admission of just how PG things are now) even allowing this rematch to make any sense. Balor will get this win, but his feud with Wyatt isn’t over, which means he’s nowhere near the title picture. As for Wyatt, a loss here is actually good for him, as it guarantees him another big match, something he isn’t always promised these days.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: Straub broke down Finn Balor’s last year perfectly, as he is the perfect example of how the writers on Raw can’t figure out what to do with anyone who isn’t in the main event picture. Balor is still immensely popular, even with WWE mishandling his return from injury. But there isn’t a better way to get Balor back into the spotlight than breaking out his Demon alter ego , with the greatest entrance in sports entertainment. For that alone, I’m really looking forward to this match, although granted, it’s really just about the two entrances. Balor is still great and should get a big win over Wyatt here. Hopefully he moves into a feud with Brock Lesnar, as it’s something I really want to see, although that’s not going to happen. Likely there will be another confrontation between Balor and Wyatt on Raw to eventually set up a third match between the two at their next PPV. The WWE has already destroyed the mystique of Bray Wyatt, hopefully they don’t continue to do the same with Balor. And, oh yeah, suck it, Straub.
Universal Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe vs. Braun Strowman (Fatal 4-Way Match)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: People are making way too much of Paul Heyman’s threat to leave and take Lesnar with him. Unless it’s advertised as a retirement match, which this isn’t, you don’t have to hold someone to that type of threat. This means Lesnar could actually lose the title Sunday without being done with the company. If you put that option back on the table, a match which seems like it was just thrown together becomes a bigger deal. I hate four-way matches in general, but especially with stakes like the Universal title. There were any number of interesting ways to go with the four men in this match, but they just threw them all together. Maybe it was because they couldn’t clog up an already huge card by splitting the men up, but usually these matches just scream, “we don’t know what to do.” The good news is all this means this match could go just about any way. I think we’re going to see Roman and Joe split off into another feud, which means we’ll get Strowman vs. Brock in the near future (meaning whenever Brock feels like wrestling again). What can WWE do to make that feud matter and send the fans home happy in New York? Give Strowman the title, which is what they’ll do.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: I think Heyman has used the “retirement” possibility work, even if he’s just going off rumors of a potential Brock Lesnar-Jon Jones UFC mega-fight. That fight isn’t going to happen, at least not for another year, but that doesn’t mean people won’t buy into the notion Lesnar might leave WWE if he loses the title. But honestly I’m not even sure if it’s worth bringing up. Who really cares if Lesnar leaves if he loses the title? And if he doesn’t leave, doesn’t that just make them look even worse? I do believe the WWE both wants and needs to get the title off Lesnar, as him being champion limits what they can do on Raw and at PPV’s he doesn’t show up for. The belt should be visible on every episode of Raw. With the belt off Lesnar, he can go back to being a special attraction to bring out any time they need a big name to do something big. Will they do it? Not sure. I do believe Samoa Joe isn’t going to win the title, although I was wrong about him winning the last big match he had, to get the title shot at Lesnar. So, yeah, he might win, although he already lost his one-on-one match with Lesnar at Great Balls of Fire. The WWE desperately wants Roman Reigns to be champion, and if the crowd would promise not to riot, I think they would give him the win. But Brooklyn wouldn’t make that promise, and if they did, would certainly break it. So, I don’t think they’d have Reigns win the title just yet. The guy I want to win is Braun Strowman, but I just don’t see the WWE giving him the Universal title. Strowman is definitely not your prototypical champion, and that hurts him here, although the fact he’s risen so far so quickly he could be the guy to break the mold. Strowman should win, but he won’t, unfortunately. That leaves Brock Lesnar, who will once again walk out as WWE Universal champion.