Did Summer Slam Counter CM Punk?

Just 24 hours after CM Punk walked onto AEW Rampage for a memorable reaction in his hometown of Chicago, bringing a massive buzz for the organization with him, Summer Slam took place at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada with over 50,000 fans in attendance. The bell-to-bell action throughout the show was fine for the most part, with a few notable bouts and a few other contests that were somewhat flat. However, the bigger story was how the company countered the CM Punk debut that brought All Elite a fair amount of press over the weekend. The booking of the event, including who returned to the promotion, was a clear indication that Vince McMahon wanted to steal some of the thunder from the Khan-owned group, but did Summer Slam overshadow CM Punk’s return to pro wrestling?

In many ways, the first half of the card was more or less cannon fodder, with even a title switch as nothing major in the grand scheme of things. Randy Orton and Matt Riddle beat AJ Styles and Omos to claim the tag team belts, but the tag division is so secondary among the WWE landscape that a six-minute match to change the titles doesn’t translate to much importance on Raw. Alexa Bliss defeated Eva Marie in roughly three minutes, but the match still went about two minutes too long. I’m sure Eva Maire is good at many things, such as cooking, singing, dancing, welding, or building bird houses, but any aspect of sports entertainment isn’t on the list. Damian Priest won the US title in a really solid match against Sheamus, which was one of the better matches on the card. But, again the US title was reduced to a prop over the years so while it’s great to see Priest get the spotlight, the championship win itself doesn’t do much to push his status on Raw. It should also be noted that despite going under the radar in some respects, Sheamus is a good performer that consistently delivers quality performances. The Usos beat The Mysterios to retain the Smackdown tag titles, a decision that was predictable based on the stable with Roman Reigns, and the match was fine, but nothing too spectacular. It was basically a TV match in a stadium.

Despite the two title changes, the overall presentation of the WWE product dilutes any importance those switches might have on the brand. As we saw later in the card, Nikki’s MITB win and cash-in the next night was booked to give Charlotte another title reign to get her closer to her dad’s record. The storyline wasn’t designed to get Nikki over so why should the fans invest in the character? Another example is that for a year in an empty building, Drew McIntyre put in the effort every week, but he was booked to lose the WWE title twice during his stint in the main event picture and then he was defeated at Wrestlemania. Now, he was booked for a five-minute match against Jinder Mahal so what was the point of the investment into his character? Furthermore, and this might be the biggest problem with the 50/50 aspect of the product, viewers can still skip a month of Raw and usually not miss any actual progress of storylines on the show. When you tell the audience the results don’t actually impact the direction of the product, eventually even angles that might be an indication of a shift of the direction of the show don’t have an impact. A prime example of this, and don’t get me wrong Charlotte is a polished pro, but shuffling the title around in a relatively short period of time just so she can surpass Ric’s record leads to a recycled scenario on Raw.

In the first return of the night, Becky Lynch showed up randomly after it was announced that Sasha Banks couldn’t compete. Carmella was in the ring, and I get that the idea was to get heat from the crowd before the return of Lynch, but the way the whole thing was presented was rather clunky. Granted, it was a great moment and a big reaction from the crowd to see Lynch return, but the actual match had to be considered a letdown. The surprise moment was the return, not necessarily the shock value of the fast win. I didn’t have a stop watch, but is Becky in a thirty second match and a total of about four minutes on-screen a worthwhile payoff for a stadium show? Furthermore, the baby face used somewhat of a “cheap shot” to set up for the finish so again, it was just an odd presentation. I understand the justification is that the flash win will give Bianca a reason for a rematch, but that’s not really how the segment played out on the broadcast. It more or less looked like Belair, who is a newer star on this level, was defeated flat by a bigger star. Where does this put Bianca? A heel turn would kick start a new chapter in her career, but the argument could be made that she’s not finish with this particular chapter to be ready for a heel turn. Along with that, Bianca got over with the sentimental promo at the Royal Rumble so a heel turn won’t automatically translate to a successful stint either. Finally, if Becky Lynch starts back on the brand as the champion, where else is there to go from a storyline prospective? She already reclaimed the title she had to relinquished when she left so the journey back to the championship is complete. In my opinion, Lynch’s return might’ve been an audible to counter some of the buzz from the CM Punk deal, but the way it was booked only minimized one of the newer stars on the roster.

After that the majority of the second half of the event, similar to the first part of the broadcast, was cannon fodder as well. We already discussed the Drew/Jinder bout, but the fact that the one-sided contest went four minutes shows that this lame feud was only a way to keep McIntyre busy for Summer Slam. Drew was a focal point for nearly a year on Raw, but now they don’t have anything for him better than this? What does that say about the writing team? As mentioned, the women’s triple threat match was only designed to add another title reign to Charlotte’s record so there’s not much to discuss about it. The Edge/Rollins match was fine, but a little underwhelming. I don’t know exactly what it is, but other than The Brood reference for a nostalgia segment, this feud and the match just didn’t get to second gear. Maybe it was that Edge was steam rolled by Roman prior to the Rollins feud, but the whole angle just lacked a sizzle or an intensity. The Bobby Lashley/Goldberg match wasn’t anything great and the finish fell flat. Goldberg is in great shape, but he showed his age at some points of this five-minute bout and despite the spot with Gage at the end of the match that implies the angle with continue, I don’t think it’s wise to continue to book Goldberg as an in-ring wrestler. That said, the real-life Bill Goldberg seems like a great guy and he does a lot for charity so maybe the role of an ambassador would be the best use for him. At most, he could hit the spear and the jackhammer to collect the Saudi money in a squash match, but other than that, it’s just not wise to put a 55-year-old part-timer in title matches.

The John Cena vs. Roman Reigns bout was a quality main event, but definitely seemed to be a one-off in terms of big time matches for this brief Cena run. That’s not necessarily a negative either, Cena returned to sell a lot of tickets for a house show tour and his involvement was one of the primary reasons for tickets to be sold for the stadium show so his comeback was definitely successful. That said, because Roman was already a dominate heel and the champion ahead of the match, I’m not sure beating Cena made Reigns a bigger star. Furthermore, the Cena return seemed more like WWE booking him because they had to sell tickets specifically for a stadium show than an actual comeback stint for him. Obviously, Brock was brought back into the fold to answer the CM Punk debut, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the question is, will Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns really move the needle for WWE? As I’ve said before, I think the argument could be made that Lesnar yielded diminishing returns over the years, particularly because the same playbook was used every time he made his way back to the company. The same angle, the same move set, and basically the same matches. This isn’t a knock on Lesnar, if he can get big money to rinse and repeat the process than good for him, but especially at this point, I don’t think Brock’s return to the product will have the same impact did it even a few years ago.

Ultimately, the presentation of Brock Lesnar back for a short run before he goes back to ice fish in Canada isn’t any type of game changer for WWE. Other than an artificial boost for the ratings of Raw for a week or two, nothing changes in the grand scheme of things. The opposite of that can be said for All Elite Wrestling with the arrival of CM Punk. Still, at least for right now, the WWE will continue to set record profits and just sold 50,000 tickets to a pay-per-view so in some ways, any criticism is moot. On the flip side, the events of the weekend weren’t necessarily about right now, but rather three years from now. The bigger story is, how will the talent shifts affect the direction of the industry in the future. I’ve said before that WWE brass seemed to be the short-end money ahead of the future, and Summer Slam might be an indication of that. A 54-year-old part-timer had to be used in the WWE title match because of a lack of star power on the roster, and John Cena, still the most recent money-drawing star the company made, had to get booked for a comeback tour to make sure tickets were sold for the stadium. How many stars were made for the future at Summer Slam? Ironically, a lot of the buzz about CM Punk’s AEW debut was based on how it can improve the company and the domino effect it can have on the future of the industry.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta
E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta