In this day and age you can’t just “predict” a PPV anymore, you have to account for the capricious whims of WWE’s septuagenarian, sleep-deprived egomaniac owner. You can’t just “preview” a PPV…you have to Preview how things should go, in a reasonable and sane world, and then add “so of course…” and explain what Vince McMahon will probably do instead.
So consider this your “so of course” predictions for the most wrestling-packed weekend in the history of ever!
It’s NXT TAKEOVER:BROOKLYN!!!
Co-starring: NXT TAKEOVER:BROOKLYN…THE TV-SPECIAL!!
With special appearance by: WWE SUMMERSLAM!
Am I crazy or is wrestling becoming…not uncool? I’m not going to say it’s anywhere near as socially acceptable as it was in the mid-80’s, or even as “hip, counter-culture” as it was in the late 90’s, but it seems to have settled into a “it’s hip to like this cheesy thing” territory. ESPN is talking about it, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, celebrities like Jon Stewert and others, they’re all talking about it…and with a straight face. It’s so weird.
For once, people are calling the WWE “sir” without adding “you’re making a scene.”
It’s almost as if, all at once, everyone came to the realization that it’s okay to like this silly pseudo-sport. Sure there are still closeted fans out there, but there are a lot more out in the open than there used to be. I think more fans should circulate videos like Max Landis’ beautiful summary of his fandom, or standup bits like this:
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to help non-fans understand how asinine it is dismiss the entire genre based off a silly stereotype. Of course it’s fake. It’s TV. You think Duck Dynasty is too legit to quit and you laugh at me for watching Raw? M’kay.
This coming Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday brings a 1-2-3-4 punch of wrestling’s biggest and best stars, sure to deliver an entertainment knockout. It brings a sold out show to the Barclays Center, not once, not twice, but three times. NXT Takeover, WWE SummerSlam, and WWE Raw all will emanate from the Brooklyn arena, where the fans are sure to be electric, ready to cheer what’s good and verbally destroy what isn’t.
First, on Saturday night there is the biggest NXT show in history. Sure, “history” is only like three years old, but still. It’s a credit to how well-built the WWE’s little yellow brand has been, in that they can have a supershow without two of their biggest attractions (Sami Zayn and Hideo Itami) and still sell out a 14,000 seat arena. I was at the San Jose show, a few days before WrestleMania 31. That was, to that point, the biggest show in NXT history. We packed into a 5,000 seat gymnasium and cheered harder than we would inside Levis stadium. We had more fun too.
Vince McMahon (who is totally oblivious to his company’s new found “ironically hip” status, what it is or how to use it) likes to say that he’s in the business of putting smiles on people’s faces. But it’s the show he has next to no input in that is doing it better than the main show and more consistently than the main show.
NXT’s presence will be broadcast live on Saturday night with a six-match supercard. In addition, other matches will be recorded to air in a special 90-minute edition of NXT, the following Wednesday on the WWE Network. All combined, Brooklyn will bear witness to ten NXT matches, and every one of them has something the fans are certain to go crazy over.
Meanwhile, on the main roster, the WWE’s annual supershow of the summer takes place this Sunday. SummerSlam’s card is also a 10-match blowout, but the buildup has been spotty at best. WWE’s been in kind of a pattern lately of producing “mediocre” build ups to “pretty good” shows. The build to SummerSlam was not memorable, except in a few key spots, but looking at the card it’s hard not to be excited for the potential in-ring action that will unfold.
Because there’s so much going on, this is a special double-sized edition of the SO OF COURSE preview. We’ll start by looking at the lower-level matches and then, on the next page, consider the top matches from both promotions. Maybe our excitement for NXT will rub off on SummerSlam (and not the other way around)…
NXT – BULL FIT vs ELIAS SAMPSON
What it is: It’s the end of the first act in the Bully Dempsey story. Bull’s has been on an interesting character-arc. He started out as a big guy. Not “Big Show” big (who is a literal giant), and not “Lesnar” big (who is all muscle), and not even Viscera big (who was just a cartoonishly large human being). He was just “out of shape guy who could stand to try out that Advocare his sister’s best friend keeps pimping on facebook.” The character didn’t work because Bull wasn’t a believable monster. After getting squashed by Baron Corbin, his character turned and became in on the joke. He became a lovable loser who just wanted to eat his snack-sized bag of Doritos. Eventually he got fatshamed by William Regal and has since then been on a montage-exclusive journey to get into shape. To get “Bull Fit” as it were.
Why it’s special: I don’t expect we’ll see Dempsey debut in Brooklyn half the size he was the last time he competed, but if nothing else it’s been a nice little story. He’s a jobber who got over the way a lot of jobbers do: Sympathy cheering from the crowd and good character work from the performer. He deserves his five minute nothing match in front of a huge crowd.
What should happen: Look, his opponent is “Elias Sampson.” He has no character-arc. He has no backstory. He’s there for one reason: The reason Bull used to work matches. Now it’s Dempsy who gets to be the guy doing the squashing this time. Good for him. Bull should walk down the isle with his theme song blaring “BULL!” at the crowd, while the audience responds with “FIT!” He should then proceed to squash the jobber and return to regular TV work, eventually making something of himself.
SO OF COURSE…
WWE – DOLPH ZIGGLER vs RUSEV
What it is: It’s the matchup between a talented vet held back by powers that be, and a talented newcomer overshowed by his former valet. Rusev blamed Lana for his losses to Cena, berated her, lost her, replaced her and now is feuding with her new squeeze Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler has been meandering for almost his entire career but whenever they give him the spotlight he usually puts on great matches, especially when he’s asked to bump around for big guys. Much of the storyline has been hot garbage (Lana has basically been the villain throughout the whole thing, but that’s WWE for you), but the fans have eaten every bit of it up. It should be an exciting match with an excited crowd.
Why it’s special: Rusev is in a rare spot among those who have been buried under the crushing weight that is “feuding with John Cena.” Other newcomers like Bray Wyatt and Kevin Owens went into their Cena matches with their characters pretty well defined, then they went head-to-head with the Face that Runs the Place and got put in their place in a slap to the the fan’s face(s). After their momentum-stunting feud was over, Wyatt and Owens simply slid down the card, continuing to do their established-shtick, only now with much less importance because they got thoroughly dismantled. Wyatt went into a tailspin from which he has yet to recover and Owens is feuding with Cesaro and Finn Balor in matches that look to bring him back-to-back losses. Rusev is different. Sure he’s not nearly as invincible as he was when they were building him up for Cena to conquer, but his one-dimensional Putin-loving, America bashing “Russian by way of Bulgaria” gimmick transformed after his Cena loss, into a broken, love-lost, Putin-disowned broken man. Fans complained online (naturally) about how weak he became, but at least it was something different. His character evolved. It’s going to be interesting to see the reaction Brooklyn gives him on Sunday. Dolph is beloved but Rusev has been killing it on the mic whenever he gets the chance. A big smarky crowd usually rewards good characters like that.
What should happen: This is the first match in the feud, and even though Rusev took Ziggler out of action for several weeks leading up to the match, he still needs the first win. The best thing to do would be for Rusev to get the victory but for Lana to get some post-match comeuppance on Summer Rae (even though Summer’s only crime is being the next girlfriend and doing some mild gloating about it, but that’s WWE for you), build to a mixed-tag match later on and eventually the rubber match to end the feud, around October or even possibly Survivor Series. There’s no sense in bringing the action to a conclusion as soon as the story really kicks off. You don’t build and build and build and then end the movie right at the beginning of act two. That would be idiotic. The most important thing is that the wrestlers get the spotlight, and the valets only accentuate the match.
SO OF COURSE…
NXT – CARMELLA vs EVA MARIE
What it is: It’s, without question, the worst match on the card. Carmella—about whom it can be said has maybe “too much” personality—is taking on the latest model in the robo-wrestler series. This machine is called “Eva Marie.” She is particular in that her designers fitted her with vibrant red hair, although the work put into her looks left the programmers little time to work on her personality and basic computing. She’s basically working on auto-pilot, and hasn’t been properly programmed to work a functional match. Still, the higher ups see potential in her and they’ve sent her to NXT for further testing, troubleshooting and a minor firmware upgrade.
Why it’s special: The crowd is going to murder this poor young lady. First of all, Carmella is the hometown girl, and even though her debut and initial attachment to Enzo and Cass was met with anger from fans, the persistence of the booking (as opposed to a certain someone’s hotshotting and sudden mind-changing) paid off and she eventually won over the crowd, albeit tepidly. The fans accept her, but they’re not craycray about her. On the other hand, fans HATE Eva Marie. She represents everything fans are tired of when it comes to WWE Divas. I don’t think anyone in Brooklyn is going to give her a break for trying to be a wrestler. She’s trying and that’s great, but she’s also getting a spot that might have gone to someone the fans really wanted to see. Even though this is the worst match on the show, it will still have insane levels of crowd heat, so don’t go to the bathroom during it.
What should happen: Oh my gosh Eva has to win. She has to win and formally turn heel, embracing the hatred of the fans, talking up her tutoring by Brian Kendrick, all of it. She has to make the fans hatred an official part of her character. That has to happen. Carmella losing to Eva Marie will only help her to be more beloved by the NXT universe, so it’s win-win. Eva has to go over.
SO OF COURSE…
WWE – RANDY ORTON vs SHEAMUS
What it is: It’s, without question, the worst match on the card. Randy Orton and Sheamus have been wrestling off and on for six years now. Every match is the same. The same moves, the same counters. The same near-falls. The same finish. I don’t know if Orton will win or if Sheamus will win, but whoever wins, the finish will have been seen before. If Orton wins they’ll just do the “Orton wins” sequence. If Sheamus wins, they’ll sub-in the “Sheamus wins” sequence. THIS is the bathroom break of the show, and it’ll probably come within the first hour.
Why it’s special: It isn’t. Even if Sheamus cashes in. Even if Sheamus loses to Randy Orton and then cashes in and goes on a four year, Hulk Hogan-esque run, only to be conquered by Hideo Itami in the main event of WrestleMania 35, where the story is “Sheamus dominance all began back at SummerSlam 2015…” even then, it still wouldn’t be special. It would still be the same match, with the same moves, the same counters, the same near-falls.
What should happen: Sheamus should win. The cliche that the MITB holder always loses until he cashes-in has become so played out, fans have come to expect it. They will be looking for the RKO from “outtanowhere” to finish Sheamus off. So why not subvert the trope? Sheamus has the case, he has the “future,” Orton has nothing to lose. Just put Sheamus over and at least try not to make his post-cash-in reign look like such a joke.
SO OF COURSE…
NXT – ENZO/CASS & THE HYPE BROS vs DAWSON/WILDER & JORDAN/GABLE
What it is: It’s Enzo and Cass’ homecoming. There are six other guys they will be sharing the ring with, but unless it’s Chad Gable, the audience is not going to care one tiny bit. More than anything else, I am DYING to see 14,000 fans sing along to Enzo’s opening promo. Other than that, I expect Chad Gable to continue impressing with his “Kurt Angle meets a serial killer boyfriend” character. Forget about the rest. This is Enzo and Cass time.
Why it’s special: Because it might be the last time Enzo and Cass appear between the yellow ropes, but it might not be the last time they work a match this weekend…
What should happen: Enzo and Cass enter last, lead the masses through their spiel, get the hot tags, get the spotlight, get the win, debut on Raw, win the Tag Titles and become the New Age Outlaws 2.0, selling tons of merch, entertaining thousands of people weekly, and eventually split so that Cass can go be a mediocre main-eventer pushed too hard and Enzo can be brilliant midcarder not pushed nearly enough. Don’t be sad though, I just mapped out the next decade of their careers. Lots of fun will be had for a long time.
SO OF COURSE…
WWE – PRIME TIME PLAYERS vs NEW DAY vs LOS MATADORES vs LUCHA DRAGONS
What it is: The most popular tag team on the main roster is a trio of guys that either fans, or creative or both cared nothing about. They were put together to be a happy, clappy group of motivatonal speakers, thinking that would actually get them over as babyfaces. The crowd hated them, so they turned heel and now everyone loves them. Wrestling fans. They’re taking on the second most popular tag team on the main roster (also the champs), who won the titles because one of them won a “dad of the year” award and the other came out as gay, garnering positive media buzz. Don’t get me wrong, the champs aren’t bad, but they’re not the cream of the crop in the tag division. In addition, this match features a couple of overgrown trick-or-treaters (along with their kid brother who loves cows), and a couple guys cosplaying as Mystico and Rey Mysterio.
Why it’s special: New Day shenanigans are always special. They are one of the few must-not-skip segments of Raw each week (along with Cesaro/Owens, Sasha Banks, and Lesnar/Heyman). These tag matches usually feel slapped together and meaningless but usually entertain. There’s not much to get crazy excited about, but it won’t be boring.
What should happen: New Day should win, return to the Barclays Center the next night, gloating, only to be challenged by Enzo and Cass, kicking off what has potential to be an Attitude Era-like feud—with hilarious promos, fun in-ring action, and great crowd enthusiasm—from now until I don’t even care.
NXT – CHARLOTTE vs BECKY vs EMMA vs DANA
What it is: It’s the curtain call for two of the pioneers of the NXT women’s division. It’s also (potentially) the first step in setting up the next great NXT women’s feud. Charlotte is the second women’s champion, and the only former champ in this match. Becky Lynch had many shots and never won the big one. Emma made it all the way to the finals of the inaugural tournament before losing to Paige. Dana Brooke is this insufferable, easily hateable, thick-Ohio-accented jerk of a character who only lacks a little experience in the ring from being Triple H circa 2000 in the women’s division. There hasn’t been a diva in NXT that fans just enjoyed hating. Sasha is too good at her job. Emma is too adorable in her darkened color palate. Eva is too inconsequential to matter (and hatred for her goes beyond her to the higher ups). But along comes cocky Dana Brooke, patting backstage interviewers on the head, and crying about not being given any opportunities to get a title shot like three minutes after debuting. She’s so stereotypical of what WWE wanted out of their Divas for so long that her character is almost a meta commentary on the poor state of women’s wrestling in WWE from 2007-2013. These four ladies are being tossed into a one-fall, fatal four way match, despite the fact that Charlotte and Becky are on the same team and will be wrestling alongside each other at SummerSlam. Meanwhile Becky and Emma have been buddy-buddy for a few months now as well. Why toss them all in the blender together? Why not do a tag team? Because…
Why it’s special: Because women’s wrestling matters in NXT and at least three of the ladies involved in this match have the means to put on a show-stopper. In short: It’s one of those rare matches that you can call special because it’s going to be special.
What should happen: Dana pins Emma. It’s the only finish that makes sense. You can argue that a “Dana pins Charlotte” ending also makes sense, given the nature of the feud between them, and with Charlotte leaving for Raw and Dana staying behind on NXT. But for that very reason Dana doesn’t need to pin Charlotte. It’s clear Vince and co. see her as the future of the Divas division (even though Sasha blows everyone else away). The next best thing is for Dana to pin her usual tag partner, in order to steal a victory. You set up the feud between them here, escalate it on the next Takeover and blow it off on the one after that. Dana continues to improve and eventually her ring work catches up to her character work. Emma gets to have a big face turn and become even more beloved than she was when she first got called up to Raw (of which we shall not speak). Charlotte or Becky don’t need the win. They can have their big last moment with Bayley later. This moment needs to be Dana’s.
SO OF COURSE…
WWE – KEVIN OWENS vs CESARO
What it is: It’s the match that, if given enough time, can definitely steal the show and maybe the whole three-night spectacle. Kevin Owens is on another level with his mic work and ring skills right now. He’s CM Punk on the mic and is busting out moves that a man his size has no business even thinking about, much less executing perfectly. Cesaro, meanwhile, is in the midst of another push. The previous ones were all cut short thanks to the capricious whims of WWE’s mad scientist in charge. Vince claims he doesn’t see the potential in Cesaro, despite the fact that he’s pound for pound the strongest wrestler on the roster, and might be doing the best in ring work of anyone in WWE right now. Sick of seeing him overlooked, the WWE fans are refusing to let Vince ignore him. The little “Cesaro section” signs have taken over arenas wherever the Swiss Superman appears and his reactions have spilled over into the casual fan’s territory.
Why it’s special: Because both guys need the win, both guys are very popular with fans, and neither guy has 100% support backstage. That combination always makes for a great match. The fans are invested because they love the performers, the nearfalls are believeable because fans don’t know which of the two guys Vince doesn’t like will get the win and both performers will pull out all the stops to impress everyone in the stands and watching backstage.
What should happen: Both guys need the win, but Cesaro needs it more. He’s more on the cusp of moving to the next level than Owens, and for all his great matches lately, Cesaro doesn’t have a really big marquee win. Owens does, even though it’s been overshadowed by a string of big defeats. After 15 minutes (20 if Vince is feeling generous) of incredible, pure “wrestling” Cesaro needs to counter a pop up powerbomb with a popup european uppercut and neutralizer. 1-2-3 victory. Owens can get his revenge the next night on Raw and win the rematch in September, but Cesaro needs the first one.
SO OF COURSE…
Turn to page two for previews of the final ten matches…