Welcome Back: WWE’s summer season has begun

The WWE has no off season. What it has is a year-round, non-stop traveling circus of sports and entertainment. At least that’s the plan. What it really has is 52 weeks of WWE programming every Monday night.

And about 25 of them are actually worthwhile.

The WWE has become famous for its lull periods. It puts on its A-game every Monday from the New Years until WrestleMania. After that, it usually takes a few weeks for the high to wear off but when it does, eesh.

After SummerSlam, there is another lull that used to be relieved by the arrival of Survivor Series, but that PPV hasn’t mattered for over a decade. The post-Summer lull now lasts from September 1 until the turn of the new year.

Back when the PPV schedule revolved around a Big Five, the WWE kept things rolling at a steady clip. The Big Five are the Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, King of the Ring, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series. The build-up to those events allowed the company to focus their creative forces into short bursts: Three months from January-March, three months from April-June, two months from July-August, three months from September-November, two months from December-January. And on again.

Now the Big Five is no more. King of the Ring faded away as a PPV event, leaving a Big Four and a big—five month—hole between March and August. Over the years the importance of Survivor Series has eroded, and so the time between something important happening after SummerSlam is now five months. The Big Four has now become a Big Three, with two of those three part of the same big storyline event (the road to WrestleMania). And though events like Money in the Bank, Night of Champions and Hell in a Cell have occasionally reached close to that tier-one status as a PPV event, they will never be on the level of SummerSlam or the Royal Rumble, for no other reason than the lack of prestige and tradition associated with those events.

So it goes, that from late April until late July, the WWE slumps, with no other big events on the near-horizon. This year, the Spring Slump saw a big main roster debut, a WWE title blood feud, a rekindled Tag Title division and more emphasis on the IC title than there has been in years.

And ratings were stagnant…even occasionally, historically, low.

The reason, in part, is because fans have conditioned themselves to tune out of WWE until the Summer season kicks off. It will take several years of consistent care to undo the several years of nothing big happening between Easter and Independence Day. In the meantime, WWE is going to suffer through declined ratings in those months.

Finally, in 2015, those months are over and now, with the Money in the Bank PPV and Raw fallout behind us, the Summer season of fun has finally begun.

Looking at the happenings this past Sunday and Monday it feels like WWE has begun an exciting road to SummerSlam. Let’s take a look at the big stories going on…

THE DIVAS: A FAINT GLIMMER OF HOPE

For an ungodly number of years, the Divas division has been a floating turd whose pooper refused to flush it down and move on with his (or her) life. There it has sat, near the top of the toilet bowl, staring pathetically up at its deliverer, offering nothing of value and basically being an embarrassment in all respects.

Meanwhile the ladies on NXT have been blowing the roofs off of buildings left and right, putting on matches of the night and receiving well-deserved standing ovations from onlookers in the arena and at home.

Thanks to NXT fans have become aware of how much better things could be if only some care would be put into the main roster Divas division. After several especially horrid months of booking there is finally a glimmer of hope that something positive is coming. Paige once again lost the Divas championship, after once again being screwed by the Bellas, who, once again, used “twin magic” to fool the ref and steal a victory.

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It’s been the same song and dance since WrestleMania, but finally there is something new to report: Paige has begun a quest to find some diva who will stand with her against the Bellas. If ever there was a perfect time to call up Charlotte, this is it. The problems with the divas division aren’t going to be fixed with another new diva–considering how little things changed when Paige was called up last year. But maybe, maybe, this will be the beginning of a true rekindling of the division, with it being remade in the image of Triple H’s NXT vision; where the women are treated as actual humans with human emotions, motivations, depth and desires beyond shallow superficial ideas.

THE MIDCARD: SOMETHING, AT LEAST

As marginalized as the Divas have been since Trish retired, the Intercontinental Championship has been in the dumps for even longer. Trish walked away in 2006, and with her departed any depth to the divas division. The IC title, on the other hand, has not mattered for any considerable stretch of time since Triple H defeated Kane to (temporarily) retire the belt in 2002.

For years the World Heavyweight Championship has been the customary #2 title and the kinds of superstars who carried it from 2005-2012 would have carried the IC title in a bygone era. Now that the World title and the WWE title have merged, the IC title is getting a renewed focus (alongside the restored credibility to the US title).

It’s taken a some wrong turns on its road back to prominence (R-Truth playing hide and seek with it, for example) but at least the belt has been getting consistent stories from characters that the company is actually invested in (financially, creatively or both).

I might disagree with the decision to build toward a big (expected) SummerSlam match between Ryback, Big Show and Miz, instead of using more versatile talents such as Stardust, Dolph Ziggler or Cesaro, but at least its something. At least there is a story surrounding the belt. At least the horrendously boring middle hour of Raw has something of substance to it, instead of just meaningless tag matches featuring Los Matadores.

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If nothing else,seeing Ryback, a proud first time champion, fighting to keep the white strap away from Big Show and Miz (former WrestleMania main-eventers) makes the title mean something. So when it finds its way around the waist of someone who can carry the title with some in-ring credibility and real fan support, the title will have a chance to rival the importance John Cena has given to the US title (more on that later).

THE TAG TEAM SCENE: FORWARD MOMENTUM

Not to repeat myself a third time, but man the tag team scene has been horrible for the better part of a decade now. It’s only recently started to be noticed by the audience, though it’s been a couple years since WWE started working to rehab the belts. It was the dominance of the Team Hell No that started the work, and then the Shield took the ball and ran with it. Though both of those teams were very over, it was the individual components that fans loved (Bryan and Kane’s antics, the Shield’s unstoppability) and those teams would have been over had there never been a tag title. The fact that they held the title for as long as they did is an indictment on how few teams there were to feud with and eventually be vanquished by.

Now, its not just the teams that are over, but the titles too. That was proven on Sunday when the Prime Time Players won the tag straps in a five minute nothing match. Presumably there will be more to the feud and the title change was just the opening chapter (as sometimes happens) but seeing a team that a few months ago had little momentum get a loud pop after winning the belts says as much about the importance of the belts as it does about the (very over) team they beat.

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Meanwhile there is the resurgence of Harper and Rowen as a tag team, their potential feud with the Dudley Boys, the upcoming return of the Usos, the potential in Kalisto and Sin Cara, and The Ascension too (but really, no, not The Ascension). There are a plethora of great and potentially great tag teams to build around and the division has more forward momentum than it has in ages.

THE MAIN EVENT: MY BOYFRIEND’S BACK AND YOU’RE GONNA BE IN TROUBLE

On the one hand, Kevin Owens is not dead yet. In fact he is looking pretty good right now. As long as he does not lose a 2 out of 3 falls match at SummerSlam, and then a Hell in a Cell match, and then a TLC match (which, the worst pessimist in me is expecting), he should be made in the shade and solidified for years to come. Meanwhile the US title itself has kind of taken a step back in order to build up the personal animosity between Cena and Owens. Now that it’s been established, the US title will likely be the prize to fight for in their next encounter. All of this is being discussed in the “main event” section because Cena is the main event, even if his title is not.

And then there’s the real story of the summer: The return of Brock Lesnar, the rekindling of the always-entertaining Lesnar v Rollins feud (which has been teased little by little since January) and the bringing back of WWE’s best talker in Paul Heyman. Despite how much fans wanted to see Dean Ambrose feud with Seth Rollins for the WWE title, the actual matches underwhelmed. Largely this was due to the story of the feud being so wrong in tone. The Rollins title reign has disappointed because creative overdid the “champion needs help to win” trope that WWE loves to put on their heel champs.

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Now that Lesnar is back the intrigue around the title has increased ten-fold. As weak as Rollins has looked, losing to everyone from Kane to J&J Security, it will be an entirely different sight to see him running for cover as Lesnar storms around the ring like a Tasmanian Devil. Whether it ends with Lesnar regaining the title at Battleground or things stretch out for several months, one thing is for sure:

Summer’s back and things have finally gotten interesting again.

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