It’s been almost five months since I got to nerd out about professional wrestling on this blog with my Idiot’s Guide to Wrestlemania 32 (save for a brief appearance to tell the world about “The Final Deletion”). And with WWE’s second biggest event, Summerslam, set for Sunday, I figure it was time to bring folks unaware of the pro wrestling landscape (see: Have better things to do on Monday and Tuesday nights) up to speed with the doings of the last four months.
The biggest plot line that has come up recently is the WWE draft, which split the roster in half between the flagship shows Monday Night Raw and Smackdown Live. For all intents and purposes, this has given seldom-used performers a chance to get in the spotlight instead of the same marquee superstars taking up both shows. It also gave some younger talent from WWE’s developmental system — NXT — a chance to be called up (the biggest one being in the main event. We’ll get to that later). It’s been a time of flux for wrestling fans as we see who emerges because of the split and how long they plan on sticking with this formula.
The first big test for this split comes Sunday. Here’s a look at what’s in store:
Summerslam card (as of Thursday; card subject to change)
Cesaro vs. Sheamus (Match 1 in best-of-seven series)
Who is Cesaro?: The Swiss Superman. A man who comes to the ring as a knock-off James Bond in a rip-away Chippendale’s suit and somehow makes it work because he’s a hoss. Probably the strongest pound-for-pound guy in wrestling, and perhaps the most believable guy on the roster. However, he hasn’t become a main-event player because he has a goofy European accent, which is a damn shame.
Who is Sheamus?: A guy who has won the WWE championship a few times, but has never really been much of a main-event player because he has a goofy European accent, which is a damn shame. Wait, didn’t I just type that? Yep. Thanks to WWE, a group of people have grown up thinking accent=villain. I’ll do my best not to get political here.
Sheamus also played Rocksteady in the latest “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie, which I will hopefully never see until Joe Froemming picks it in an edition of the JOE-DOWN.
What should I expect?: Lots of deadlifts. Lots of European uppercuts and hits to the chest. And a lot of people being indifferent. There’s no stakes yet in this best-of-seven series. Once they get to match 6 or 7 (because it will go seven matches), people will be invested in watching these two beat the crap out of each other.
Carmella, Becky Lynch and Naomi vs. Natalya, Eva Marie and Alexa Bliss
Who are Carmella, Becky Lynch and Naomi?: For the sake of simplification, I’ll break everyone down briefly.
Carmella: A former hairdresser-turned-wrestler in NXT after she accidently turned a poodle pink. Now, an undefined Long Island “princess.” In no way does that accent become grating.
Becky Lynch: My favorite in this group. Over the last four months, WWE has painted Becky as naive, seeing all of her friends turn against her because reasons. With her orange hair, she fills WWE’s requirement of being a top female wrestler whose hair is on the extreme end of the color wheel.
Naomi: Returned from injury this past week. Her main selling point around Wrestlemania was wearing updated versions of LA Lights shoes. Now, she comes to the ring in a black light and glows.
It’s starting to dawn on me that unless you’re in the main event of the women’s division, WWE’s women wrestlers’ characters as three dimensional and believable as the shark in “Jaws 3.”
Who are Natalya, Eva Marie and Alexa Bliss?:
Natalya: The workhorse of the division. One of the people that turned on her “bestie” Becky Lynch because reasons. WWE has also retconned her real life by treating Bret Hart, her uncle, as her father — although her real-life father is Jim Neidhart, Bret’s former tag-team partner in the 90s.
Eva Marie: All red everything! Back to defying nature via hair color. Her gimmick since being called up to Smackdown Live has been avoiding matches via circumstance. First, a pulled hamstring, followed the next two weeks by a wardrobe malfunction and traffic. Since Summerslam is in Brooklyn, my guess is she’ll miss this match via Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man attack.*
Alexa Bliss: A recent call-up from NXT. Started out as a glitter-blowing pixie. Then became a mean girl fit to hang out with Lindsay Lohan. Former D-I gymnast and body builder. Owner of the best annoyed facial expressions in wrestling.
What should I expect?: A lot of fans going to the bathroom. This is a thrown-together match featuring the female wrestlers of Smackdown with (like Cesaro/Sheamus) no motivation. It’s never good in wrestling when the joke actor line of “What’s my motivation” is an actual concern.
*NOTE Well, we already found out how Eva Marie’s missing the match. On Thursday, Eva Marie was popped for her first violation of the WWE”s Wellness Policy. It’s unclear at this point whether this match will be taken off the card, if it’ll be a 2-on-3 match or a new partner will be found before the show.
The Miz (C) w/ Maryse vs. Apollo Crews (Intercontinental Championship match)
Who is The Miz?: The biggest (straight to DVD) movie star in the WWE. Since Wrestlemania, his act has been helped by his real-life wife Maryse, who just adds to the unlikability and arrogance of The Miz. Has been Intercontinental champion since the day after Wrestlemania 32 after defeating surprise champion Zack Ryder. While purist hate him because he had the audacity to be a reality TV star, he is one of the few truly loathed bad guys in WWE, so he deserves some praise for that.
Who is Apollo Crews?: One of the new NXT call-ups that is a blue chipper on paper. While Crews is arguably the most athletic guy on the roster as far as strength and agility, he hasn’t quite connected with the audience. Then again, WWE hasn’t given him a chance outside of being the athletic black performer who smiles a lot, which unfortunately seems to be a trope with that particular company (see: Ahmed Johnson and Bobby Lashley). Before WWE, he was known as Uhaa Nation, which is a WAY cooler name than Apollo Crews.
What should I expect?: Hopefully, a chance for Apollo Crews to finally show that he can be one of the future cornerstones of WWE. He hasn’t come close yet and he’s probably not ready to win a title yet, but any sort of forward momentum would be encouraging.
Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs. Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens
Who are Enzo Amore & Big Cass?: Arguably the most over act in WWE currently. Enzo is a chihuahua who looks like he dressed in the dark and somehow made it work. And Cass is seven feet tall (in exaggerated WWE measurements) and is the muscle of the tag team. Two bombastic New Yorkers who will blow the roof off with the Brooklyn crowd. Enzo says he’s a “Certified G and a bonafide stud” and “You can’t teach that.” Cass’ catchphrase involves him calling his opponents soft (spelled SAWFT). He may be illiterate, and you can’t teach that. I mean, watch people chew up their schtick. And, Enzo knows all the U.S. presidents in order.
Who are Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens?: Two premier singles competitors who have become frienemies for this feud (I hate that I used the word frienemies). Jericho, who has been with WWE for nearly 20 years, has updated his character by dishing out dad insults and wearing a scarf with his wrestling trunks. That is the attire of a true jerk. Meanwhile, Kevin Owens is the same entitled ball of anger he was after Wrestlemania. Not to mention, he just got done with a blood feud with Sami Zayn, who is the Batman to Owens’ Joker.
What should I expect?: Expect to be entertained with four of the most intriguing talents in WWE. Enzo and Cass have become the modern-day New Age Outlaws, with Enzo having the gift of gab and Cass being the muscle. Kevin Owens is Surly from “The Simpsons” and I love him for it. And Jericho is widely regarded as one of the most entertaining acts WWE has ever had. If they have the time, this one should be fun.
The New Day (C) vs. The Club (Tag Team Championship match)
Who are The New Day?: At Wrestlemania, The New Day came out of an oversized cereal box of a fictional cereal, Booty-Os, dressed as Dragonball Z characters. Now, they actually sell Booty-Os. I truly don’t understand how wrestling works sometimes. But in a pro wrestling world where comedy rarely hits, The New Day are legit funny and entertaining. Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods will make up the team after powerhouse Big E was injured (more on that later).
Who Are The Club?: As 80s a tag team as you can get in modern-day WWE. They came in after Wrestlemania with plenty of hype as members of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Bullet Club (think modern-day NWO), only to tread water for a couple months. Seems to have found some traction, but for iffy reasons as we’re about to discuss.
What should I expect?: A lot of testicle humor. Sigh.
So a lot of the tension in this rivalry stems from Gallows and Anderson wishboning Big E into the ringpost and hurting his, ahem, manhood. And now, Gallows and Anderson are dressing as doctors and cracking jokes at Big E’s expense. Hopefully this is a one-time thing for both teams. Knowing WWE, I’m concerned. I like both these teams but man, storylines like this is why I’m embarrassed to tell people I’m into pro wrestling.
Sasha Banks (C) vs. Charlotte (Women’s Championship match)
Who is Sasha Banks?: Back in the Wrestlemania preview, I lauded Sasha Banks as one of the best wrestlers in the entire company regardless of gender. That still remains true and she became champion after beating Charlotte during an episode of Raw. It was a slow burn for Sasha, who never really got a solid push until June either due to injury or to help build anticipation for her championship push. It’s never been quite clear. Also, pink hair because that’s how WWE women’s wrestlers roll.
Who is Charlotte?: Someone who proves the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. After winning the newly-christened Women’s Championship at Wrestlemania against Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch in what I thought was the best match of the night, Charlotte has truly evolved into her father, all-time great Ric Flair. She sports the robes. She has the crowd hating her for talking down to everybody. She even has muscle at her disposal in newcomer Dana Brooke, much like how Daddy had the Four Horsemen in the 80s. She’s been on the main roster for about a year, but she’s honestly as old school as they come.
What should I expect?: Magic, hopefully. The Wrestlemania match these two had (along with Becky Lynch) stole the show, and this showdown certainly has the makeup to continue with that momentum. Women’s wrestling is catching on, these two are in sync and know how to work a crowd. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if this ends up being the best match of the night in a walk.
Rusev (C) w/ Lana vs. Roman Reigns (United States Championship match)
Who is Rusev?: A bad guy only because we’re told he’s a bad guy. The story is he’s a Bulgarian brute who with his “Russian” manager (and real-life wife) Lana, despise Americans. Yet he is always disrespected despite being the highest-ranking champion on Raw (until later in the card), being an American success story for coming over from a foreign land to become champion and being a loving husband. But in WWE logic, he speaks funny. Therefore, bad guy.
Who is Roman Reigns?: A good guy only because we’re told he’s a good guy. One of the most polarizing talents in WWE, Roman Reigns was WWE World Champion at Wrestlemania and was booed out of the building. That kind of reaction never really waned. And, before Battleground, last month’s pay-per-view, Reigns had to serve a 30-day suspension for violating the wellness policy. Now, he’s left trying to climb his way back up after watching his stock plummet.
What should I expect?: Expect Roman Reigns to win, unless the WWE has decided he’s no longer the cash cow of the future. The guy is much better than anyone will give him credit for. And Rusev is secretly becoming my favorite wrestler in the company because he’s both entertaining and believable as a fighter. But Reigns is the guy they had pegged as the future and it would be moronic to give up on him already.
John Cena vs. AJ Styles
Who is John Cena?: A guy serving a sort of identity crisis. Basically the new Hulk Hogan over the last decade, Cena missed Wrestlemania this year with a shoulder injury. Now he’s healthy, but it’s hard to quite figure out where he fits in now that WWE has gone through a youth movement. Kids still love the guy, so he’ll always have a place to sell his plethora of ugly T-shirts. While his character is in a state of flux, the guy can still go in the ring even when he’s busy hosting the ESPYs and a show on FOX.
Who is AJ Styles?: A guy that WWE gave an identity crisis. He came into the company in January white hot and really had the crowd behind him until WWE reunited him with Gallows and Anderson to reform the Bullet Club (renamed The Club… sigh). That flamed out and Styles is on Smackdown now where he’s still a bad guy despite everything about him screaming good guy. Know how many AJ Styles gloves kids would buy?
What should I expect?: Well, these two already wrestled at Money in the Bank, with Styles beating Cena after shenanigans from The Club (I really dislike that nickname). This time, I imagine Cena will get the win. Why? Because Cena always wins. Moving on.
Dean Ambrose (C) vs. Dolph Ziggler (WWE World Championship match)
Who is Dean Ambrose?: He disappointed me at Wrestlemania where his match with Brock Lesnar was very forgettable (according to him, Lesnar wasn’t exactly helpful in the process). But after being put in the main-event spotlight after winning the World Championship at Money in the Bank, Ambrose has been legit. It’s still super 90s for a guy to wrestle in jeans, but it fits his aura as an unpredictable drifter. Also, he once used a hot dog cart to attack an opponent. Wrestling is stupid sometimes… OK, a lot of the time.
Who is Dolph Ziggler?: Like an ex-girlfriend who wants to get back together, someone that we all hold a special place in our hearts for but we still remember all the times we got burned by him in the past. Ziggler has always been a guy who had all the tools and is always entertaining between the ropes. He’s getting a chance in the main event, but we’ve been down this road with him before, so forgive us fans for feeling a bit snake-bitten.
What should I expect?: No, I can’t do it. I can’t put my faith in Dolph Ziggler. I enjoy his work, but I’ve been hurt before. Plus, I enjoy Ambrose’s work as well and I agree with David Shoemaker of The Ringer in thinking that Dean Ambrose is at his best when he’s at the top of the card.
Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton
Who is Brock Lesnar?: In his words, an ass kicker. Last month, he came back from a four-year hiatus for a one-off mixed-martial arts match at UFC 200 against Mark Hunt and got a convincing win. He also got popped by the USADA for taking a banned substance afterwards, but because Brock Lesnar puts the fear of God into me, I’ll say he’s innocent. I also think he hunts bears in Canada so he can eat their hearts and gain their wisdom.
Who is Randy Orton?: Like John Cena, a long-time WWE stalwart. Only, he hasn’t been shoved down our throats so heavily. He also missed Wrestlemania with a shoulder injury and this will be his first major match back. Was at his best in the mid-to-late 2000s when he was “The Legend Killer,” but PG-TV and all… Also has the best finishing move in the WWE: The RKO. How popular is it? It was its own internet meme for a while.
What should I expect?: Lots of punches from Lesnar that look (and probably are) real, a LOT of German suplexes and at least one RKO. Orton is probably a first-ballot Hall of Famer in WWE lore, but…
Finn Bálor vs. Seth Rollins (match to determine the inaugural WWE Universal Champion)
Who is Finn Bálor?: WWE’s premier young talent. Was one of the top picks in the WWE Draft and got vaulted to the top right away. Owner of the most over-the-top entrance, complete with fog machines, light show and body paint. And he was doing these elaborate entrances before WWE, painting himself like Spider-Man villain Carnage, Batman bad guys Joker and Bane, and Freddy Krueger.
Who is Seth Rollins?: WWE’s best all-around performer who finally returned from injury back in June after a bad knee injury. And, in a testament to how good the guy is, when he returned, he got the crowd to boo him. That’s a hell of a feat considering he had to forfeit the WWE World Championship and whose work is universally praised. Also seems like a magnet for crazy people who think it’s a good idea to jump the barricade and get in the ring with wrestlers. Spoiler alert: That is a terrible idea.
What should I expect?: That’s the $64,000 question.
First, there’s the matter of the Universal Championship, which a. Is a terrible name and b. Is apparently a necessity now that the brands split and the WWE champion is on Smackdown.
Beyond that, both these guys figure to be in WWE’s plans for a long time. The safe choice is to go with Rollins because he’s the proven commodity. But if the WWE truly wanted to commit to the youth movement, your Universal Champion will have the same name as the main character from “Adventure Time.”
I’m cool with that. As highly as I view Rollins, wrestling needs to have the earth shaken.