James: As SummerSlam rolls around again, I got to thinking. My girlfriend, Dwen, and I have been watching WWE consistently for two years together now. We spend hours discussing it. Why not bring some of that focused mental effort into the public eye?
Between her biting English wit and my relentless devouring of wrestling history and trivia, I like to think we've got something to say. That said, here's our take on the past week in WWE.
Let's start right at the beginning. This week was the first proper three-hour Raw, ignoring the grand spectacle of Raw 1000. It's something of a taste of how Raw will be going forward. What are your lasting impressions?
Dwen: Well, we had Daniel Bryan's whole psychiatric thing, right? Well, since that was the first thing that came to mind, it obviously left an impression on me. And I thought it was a pretty great segment. It was ridiculous, but actually drove the 'plot' forwards. Which, now I think about it, is actually a good point about this arc.
It's one of the few ones recently, I feel, where we've had an evolving narrative, of sorts? Like usually feuds start and end over nothing, seemingly, and are just a string of matches with some promos in between. Usually very repetitive ones.
This, though, has seen character development in everyone. Punk is now a heel, and though it isn't RELATED to his feud with DBD, they aren't ignoring that happened. With AJ now being GM, it still ties that all in together. Kane is a face which, again, seems a direct result of the feud.
DBD's character has just... gotten better and better, and now there's this whole insanity thing or whatever you want to call it. I think it's really neat that they are trying to have a progressive story with each character involved instead of THAT DUDE WON, HE IS THE WINNER, NEXT FEUD.
James: No, I largely agree with you, at least in that Daniel Bryan has been one of the few characters in WWE, recently who feels like he has forward momentum, and growth, and isn't just a static entity like so many of WWE's other characters.
Even Punk and Kane haven't felt, to me, like they've become that much of a big deal. Despite Punk's lengthy title reign, he's stuck playing second fiddle to Cena constantly; hopefully something that will change with recent developments, but we can get into that in a bit.
Daniel Bryan and AJ are definitely the break-out stars recently, is my main point, and this story has really propelled them along, so I'm curious to see how it continues to unfold. My main question is who they actually have Daniel feuding with now. Is he in with Charlie Sheen, or Kane, or AJ, or...? He's endlessly entertaining, I just hope that next week, say, we get a bit more focused direction.
Dwen: In this case, I really like that it isn't obvious.
James: I think that they pulled it off, this week, but if he spends too long off in his own little corner, I think he'll lose something.
Dwen: My point, for what I said, was less that it has made the people in the feud stars, because i agree Kane and Punk haven't done as much, but more that it seems like an organic story. It wasn't that long ago Punk was feuding with Jericho and getting whiskey poured on him, being humiliated, Jericho being horrible, and now Jericho is a face. And we shall speak no more of all that crap that went down between them.
So now even though DBD isn't marrying AJ, and AJ doesn't seem interested in Punk, and Punk and DBD aren't actively feuding, there's still this sense of tension between them, and I like that they are trying that, it makes their characters more interesting, outside of just their matches.
But you make a good point that DBD needs to keep up that momentum. He works best when he's really involved in something story wise. i feel like his charisma is best when he has... situations to respond to? Rather than having to come out, talk about himself in some bland babyface way, and then have a match.
James: Well, yes, but I think you could say that about a lot of people. It's hard to have a meaningful character when all you do is make empty pronouncements in a vacuum. See: Randy Orton for the last several months.
Dwen: Well, obviously. My point is that DBD before this turn, this feud, and DBD after, are barely recognisable people. I feel like this is less him LEARNING charisma, since he was apparently such a great heel in ROH, and more that this situation allowed him to push it more. To pull down AJ, or make moves on Kaitlyn, or interrupt Punk, or whatever.
Jericho can go out in the ring and do some mudslinging and talk himself up without really having another person there to direct it AT, and he's still great at it. And for all my raging dislike of Cena, he can do that, too.
In fact, he's better when he does that, since when he's directing his promos at someone he tends to decline into childish jokes and insults, rather than those more inspirational speeches he was making about himself and his love of the company during his Lesnar feud.
James: They've definitely given DBD something to sink his teeth into, yes. And honestly I'm sure, after this, he could turn around and play a really engaging face now that he has... established himself? He could use a lot of the same mannerisms, just dialing it back in a few areas, and I think the crowd would really respond.
His problem in his early WWE run is just that they gave him nothing to work with. He didn't really have an outstanding character outside of being a great technical wrestler.
All right, speaking of Cena, I'll masterfully segue into what's really the main focus of this past week: the WWE title situation. What's your opinion on the triple threat at Summerslam, and also CM Punk's heel turn?
Dwen: I don’t know, I am generally not okay with Big Show in these sorts of things, especially a big main event match that should, by all rights, last a decent time. He's just so not in the right shape for it. And I think Punk's performance could suffer for it, depending on how Cena gets involved. It seems to be a hit or miss with him with matches like these. Hopefully he'll pull out all the stops with it being a PPV.
However, saying that, at least Big Show being there could potentially make the match a bit more interesting, rather than just a replay of the last Punk/Cena, if they book it right. And I wouldn't be surprised if Rock interrupted to get back at Punk, but I don’t know how much they want him getting involved so early.
I guess it depends on whether Punk attacking him was just to get heat in that moment and spur his (rather ineffective) heel turn, or if they're actually planning for them to feud for a title match.
James: On the topic of Big Show, my thinking is that he's basically in the match to keep things from being just another Cena/Punk match, thus leaving the door open for that being a singles match later in the fall while, for now, Big Show will add a few new moving pieces, take a ton of punishment, and almost certainly take the pin from whoever is walking out of Summerslam with the belt.
As for the Rock, I could see him showing up, since Summerslam is one of the Big Four PPVs, but I'm not wholely convinced. I do think that it will be him and Punk at the Rumble, but also, I agree that Punk attacking him at Raw 1000 is because, largely who else was Punk going to turn on to actually turn heel? Very few people would care if he GTS'd Cena. Or, at least, the people who cheer Punk wouldn't. And, to an extent, still don't.
He got a very mixed reaction, it seemed to me, at this week's show, which wasn't really a surprise. I think WWE will be hard-pressed to actually turn him in the eyes of most of his fans, especially if he's feuding with Cena, since he turned face in the first place BECAUSE he was feuding with Cena.
Dwen: Ha, basically. Honestly I don't have much of an opinion on Punk. Or, rather, his heel turn. As I said to you when we were actually watching, that speech he made to Lawler, his big heel coming out speech, was full of mega truth bombs. Nothing in it was arrogant, or overblown, or making out like he was God's gift.
The WWE champion should be the focus of the show, he's holding the gold, he's the main event, and it seems a little silly if they're actually trying to make that attitude his heel thing.
James: Yeah, it's definitely odd how they're playing it off. I'm not sure if they just want to keep him a tweener a little longer, perhaps while Big Show is in the picture, before really hammering his turn home.
Dwen: Mm, I was wondering that. If this is kind of testing the water to see how it goes in this feud.
James: Maybe they're just trying to take a slow turn this time around. Or, it's possible that they're just not going to bother turning him all the way because, as said, his staunchest fans are almost never going to boo him. I don't think there are any faces in the WWE right now that will overpower Punk's charisma for the smark audience, at least.
Dwen: Also, let's think of it this way: WWE is, first and foremost, all about making money, right? And Punk is still one of their best sellers. He's got the smarks AND a lot of casual fans. It would seem so dumb to dump all of that when he's still super popular, gets massive pops, bunch of Punk shirts being sold all over the place.
I would be amazed if they properly turned him heel instead of just trying to bring some of that ~bad boy~ attitude back that got him so popular in the first place.
James: It's definitely a tricky situation because on the one hand, you're right, he has been selling a lot of merchandise and getting a lot of positive attention.
But at the same time, I agree with what is perhaps the "old school" way of thinking, in that wrestling is best when there's a strong hero, and a strong villain, and Punk definitely has the chops to be an epic villain if they cut him loose.
If he goes full heel in a feud against the Rock leading up to Royal Rumble? That could make WWE a lot of money in PPV buys.
Dwen: Mm, no, I totally agree. I think this is why i don't have a big opinion, or desire, either way. I like him as a face, he is a good, refreshing face, but also, he could be a great heel if they book him in a big feud, and would happily sit through a couple months of that. And I think I would prefer a Punk/Rock feud to Rock/Cena if Rock doesn't start singing on his guitar and making embarrassing jokes again.
I don't feel like he could in a feud with Punk. It worked with Cena because Cena is eight years old. They could bat those kind of low-brow insults at each either, and rap, and all of that. But Punk is good at kicking it up a notch and making everything he says sound clever, and honest, even if he is a heel. So it would probably bring more out of Rock.
James: We can only hope. And also hope for less of that petty personal animosity leading to petty tearing the other guy down, making the match seem less important in the process. Something that, admittedly, Punk is guilty of in the past when he utterly neutered Del Rio and Miz going into TLC. He has, however, been better about that lately.
Dwen: And again, maybe that's why this is good. Kind of hard to do that to someone like the Rock than Del Rio and Miz. As much as I love the Miz to death, and del Rio are kind of not on Punk's level. Miz gets more heat, but he's still obnoxious.
People could be easily swayed even more against him to take him even less seriously with his totally not intimidating gimmick. And the less said about del Rio, the better.
James: We'll get to Del Rio when we cover Smackdown.
Dwen: I was kind of eh about a Punk/Rock feud at first but the more we talk about it, the more I am behind it. I think I was apprehensive because of how much I haaaated everything about the Rock/Cena feud.
James: I think it will be really strong, if they handle it properly. And just like DBD taking a Rock Bottom at Raw 1000, just having Punk in the ring with the Rock and the Rock treating him as somewhat of an equal, even if Rock is almost guaranteed to win that match, really elevates Punk.
I think Punk is, at this point, the closest WWE has to someone on that level of the Attitude Era and Ruthless Aggression Era stars.
Dwen: Rock selling that lariat like his lungs had evaporated is enough to push Punk as a credible threat.
James: Pretty much. So if he's willing to step in and treat Punk right, then I'm all for it. I'm less for Rock/Cena 2 at WrestleMania, but..... We'll see, when that rolls around, if it does.
All right, that all said: you brought up the Miz, so I'll shift gears over there with a general question of how the upper-mid card seems to be doing lately. We have Miz and Christian battling for the Intercontinental Title, and Jericho and Dolph working their way into a feud on the... Raw side? Not that it really matters anymore with the evaporated brand split.
The upper midcard did get a decent tag match this week. It was good seeing the Intercontinental title held side by side with a MITB briefcase. I know we've said things like this before, but it seems like having Miz hold the title against Christian, both former world champions, and in the mix heavily with Jericho and Dolph, both recent world championship contenders, seems a good time to elevate it to more prominence.
Dwen: Mm, I just hope that they are actually, you know, intending to do that, instead of just hoping it will occur by itself. Uuugh, I’m just so disappointed in the Christian/Miz feud. Christian had a crap return, so I don't really care about him. And I didn't think he was a good heel, in that his gimmick was just… annoying, and I wanted him to go away, and now Miz has had this super underwhelming return, too.
And neither of them have cut any substantial promos at all, really. Miz had like one thing I don't even remember the details of, and ended it with his catchphrase and… there's nothing there. It is boring so far, and it shouldn't have to be, because they're both perfectly capable of making it interesting. But there's no effort gone into it, or time given to them to make something of it.
I don’t know what the issue is, but it’s obviously there. I guess that's why I’m worried, that despite the names on the belt, they're not ACTUALLY that bothered about elevating it, unless they just… hope that because Miz and Christian are more recognizable, it will suddenly appear more important, despite not giving any build or hype to their matches or feud. No, we have to get REPEATED TEN-MINUTE PROMOS instead.
James: I definitely agree with you that the three-hour raw felt overloaded with filler when they could have let other segments breathe instead. The repeated promo packages and over reliance on Touts needs to end, and fast, but I'm pretty sure it won't.
That said, we have two more weeks going into Summerslam, with five hours of show each week. I think it's a bit early to call the Miz/Christian feud completely dead. They had a pair of well-fought tag matches and are still being positioned with other upper-carders.
So for now, I think, they're just in holding pattern. If the holding pattern continues next week, then I'll worry.
Dwen: Mm, we'll see.
James: On a related note, I saw that on house shows this weekend they were advertising a tag match between Miz and Dolph, and Jericho and Zack Ryder, oddly enough. Do you think there's anything to make of that for the future, or is Zack just serving as a replacement because Christian is... not available for some reason?
Dwen: I did see somewhere that a Miz/Zack feud could be a thing, which I wouldn't mind. I would find it more interesting than Christian/Miz. Zack and Miz could actually get a pretty good feud going with Zack being the internet star, self made, and Miz with his Reality TV goofiness, and then Miz being all YEAH, WELL I MADE A MOVIE, WAT DO?
James: It would certainly be different, as I don't think that's a combination we've ever seen before.
Dwen: I just wish they'd starting booking Miz as more threatening. And I think they could against Zack. He's proven himself to be a good underdog.
And as long as they don't have Miz immediately getting kicked in the head or something, and ruining any forward momentum, or having Zack just taking the piss resulting in I'M AWWWESOOOOME getting screamed… I'm sorry I'm so cynical, I have just learned my lesson in getting excited about anything. Sometimes things work out awesome, but others......
James: It certainly is hit and miss. Let's take a swing over to Smackdown for a bit. Once again, for what feels like the fifth time, we have Del Rio and Sheamus opposite in the top spot. Your thoughts?
Dwen: I don’t really care.... I like Sheamus a lot, as is established, but del Rio is just, so boring, so bland. I just feel like I get to a point with some guys where if they haven't done anything exciting for such a long time or whatever, I just can't get into things they are involved with, and del Rio is definitely one of them. It's like I have no reason to think he COULD make something great out of the feud, because what has he done before now?
James: I feel like they had an opportunity to do something fresh and interesting, at least a little, with his refusing to complete until Summerslam, but then they immediately killed that storyline just to give a pop to new GM Booker T. Which, as we've discussed, is kind of a recurring trend in WWE.
The desire for immediate satisfaction to make the crowd happy and get a "moment," at the constant expense of damaging heels and rendering them ineffective because we've already seen them get their comeuppance time and time again.
So Del Rio is worthless because his credibility is undercut right at the start of the show, and then at the end, he eats an RKO. This is in addition to him losing clean to Sheamus at No Way Out, after having already taken a Brogue Kick the very night he got the number one contender's shot!
Dwen: Yeeeaah. I'm not entirely sure when this started. I don't remember it always being a thing. But maybe we're just more aware now because we are pick-picky nerds. But no, I think I have said before how the heels don't really do much, but be kind of arrogant most of the time. And if they even TRY to do something, immediate punishment.
And the faces are usually only faces because they're against heels, you know? Like Punk is one of those rare guys recently, and Zack, too, oddly, who actually SEEMS LIKE A GOOD GUY. And now Punk is a heel anyway.... Oh and Sheamus.
Though even then he's stopped his whole “Rescue Sheamus” thing that he used to do. And faces gang up on dudes now. and are cheered for it, because boooo that guy said a mean thing. Kick his face in, be a star.
James: Basically. Booking has gone so completely backwards from how it was just ten years ago, at the latest, it's really baffling. One can only hope that Punk's sheer charisma will help him to step away from that black hole of heat death, but we'll see how many Attitude Adjustments he takes in coming months.
Well, Del Rio and Sheamus is basically paper-thin, so let's move on. Randy Orton is back. Rey was back for approximately a week and then has summarily disappeared. Wade is due back next week. So it seems like the card is getting stacked back up again. Possibly. Thoughts on Randy's return?
Dwen: Not much. It's not like I cared much about Randy before he left, and his return was also pretty underwhelming. He gets a pop because he always does. People just love him for some reason.
James: I thought he looked good coming back, and fired up. So I'm optimistic to see how things unfold, but cautiously optimistic. And frankly I am just so relieved to see the beard gone. It was hideous.
Dwen: Ha, I know. I do agree that when he's spoken he has seemed better. But I'm not a huge Orton fan any more so I will take some convincing. I was, admittedly, quite pleased, to see that he didn't come back into a big feud or whatever, to replace some guy who hadn't gone out on a wellness violation, so I don’t know, despite my reservations maybe a Randy/Wade feud would be best, at least for a little while, since Wade will need someone and Randy doesn't have anyone big.
James: I wouldn't be surprised if he wormed his way into Summerslam somehow, possibly even the World Title match. Nor, frankly, would I be that displeased. As said Sheamus and Del Rio is pretty awful, not to mention boring as paste.
But yes, that seems another likely chance. Wade definitely needs to come back with some momentum, so putting him with Randy, while not exactly new or exciting, would at least give him a top opponent and a credible matchup. Hopefully they'll send him back with new music
Dwen: I wish, but i doubt it, since he picked it for himself. I love him, but his taste is awful. I don’t care if he went to my University.
James: Sadly. Then we have Jericho and Dolph which will, if nothing else, make for a phenomenal match. Though, again, the sheer amount of Codebreakers Dolph has taken recently is excessive. But I take that to mean he will most definitely be going over when the time comes. Jericho's a giving man so I had little doubt, but the booking just seems to confirm it.
Dwen: Mm. Though, again, even if he is going to put Dolph over, I just don't see the NEED to hit him with so many finishers. Not just Jericho, since Sheamus has been doing it, too he has plenty of heat, why just keep slamming him?
I don't really think he'll lose in the end, and I never did (at least I hope not). It still baffles me though. You know I like trying to figure logic out. Which is silly, since, pffff, WWE logic.
James: It’s definitely lacking from time to time. And on that note, our GMs are now a crazy young woman who has attempted self-harm, among other things, and an ex-wrestler who doesn't even watch Raw. How is this new chapter unfolding?
Dwen: AJ forever. I love it. I think AJ being made GM is probably my favourite thing to happen recently, apart from her and Kane making out.
James: The moment Vince's music played on Raw 1000 was definitely one of the highlights of the night and no one can take that away from me. So I'm really with you on that one. I am excited to see how they play this out and how much she balances between solid decisions and that crazy we saw from her.
Seeing her vindictively [and justifiably] ruin Daniel Bryan's life in the process will also be a good time. He's one, I think that has enough heel heat, and enough credibility, that seeing him constantly outdone and humiliated will probably only build his character even more, given how he flourished in the face of the psychiatric evaluation.
Dwen: Mm. See, that's a good point, actually. DBD IS a heel who got away with so much, and that's what's made him so good. He horribly abused AJ and really didn't... get any repercussions from that, especially not as he was doing it.
Made out like he was replacing her with Kaitlyn, said all kinds of awful things, built up this amazing douchebag aura, and now it is hugely satisfying to see him getting knocked down, story-wise.
But they're balancing it well with him still being a very capable wrestler who isn't a coward, instead of seeing, like, del Rio eating a finisher and stumbling away being held up by Ricardo.
James: I'm still blown away by how savagely he handles himself in the ring, and how his kicks have become one of the most threatening things in the WWE right now, when he's 5'10", this tiny little pasty indie guy, who is still constantly in top title running as is the most threatening heel next to Brock goddamn Lesnar. It's baffling, and enormously satisfying.
In other news, do think WWE is taking steps to start rebuilding their undercard. Finally. We have an actual tag team feud unfolding, we have Damien Sandow taking Brodus Clay off his feet, Jinder Mahal has escaped Ryback's wrath for the second week in a row, and Antonio Cesaro has pinned Santino relatively cleanly for the second week in a row. General thoughts on those segments?
Dwen: I had forgotten about Sandow/Clay. That was massively satisfying since I am bored to tears with Brodus Clay. Like, two months ago at this point. And I’ve been so impressed with Sandow. Seeing him doing that with such ease and aggression, without having Brodus no-sell and hulk out or something, was fantastic. And honestly I wasn't expecting it, and was in a little bit of shock after. So good job, WWE.
James: I was a really big fan of Clay’s to start, but I agree. I am fatigued with his ever-lengthening ring entrance and it’s been long coming for him to change. I thought his deal with Big Show was a good start, but he just slipped into the same rut.
Meanwhile, I think it looks like they're really behind Sandow. I mean, he got a MITB match his first... few months in WWE? [sort of] And he got to rub elbows with DX. So it looks like they're positioning him for big things.
And I know you agree with me in begging WWE to please, please, put the US Title belt on Antonio Cesaro. I really enjoyed Santino in the build up to Elimination Chamber, and how he handled himself there, but they completely drove it into the ground and he has massively overstayed his welcome
Dwen: Yes, ugh. I am also bored with Santino. They had suuuch a good chance to do something with him, I was so impressed, and then: nope. OH BOY PEOPLE ARE CHEERING FOR HIM, BETTER HAVE HIM ON, ALL THE TIME, DOING THE SAME THING, ALL THE TIME. YEAAAAH.
James: Basically. While Antonio is at least a fresh and impressive heel, who has a good potential act with Aksana.
Dwen: And I really like Cesaro, mainly because he is European, and I always feel a little closer to dudes who are not American, whoops.
James: Dirty foreigner.
Dwen: Yup. And I love Aksana. When she is not in the ring, at least. I think she has great potential as a manager, if not an actual wrestler. I'm hoping that this run with Cesaro will get her even more confident being in front of people, without having to be in the spotlight and possibly mucking up, for when she does do more.
And uh, Jinder.... Do we even really need to talk about him? Can we not just talk about how cool Ryback is?
James: I think I can sum up Jinder in a few short words: mediocre worker, offensive gimmick, limited charisma, definitely not deserving of a top heel push even remotely. But if they use him to actually give Ryback his first proper feud, well, I can accept that. Because Ryback is one I DO see big things from.
He is scary fast for his size, can easily heft over 300 pounds on his shoulders and march around like it was nothing, he's slowly building a crowd response, and I didn't think his promo this past week was… bad. Nothing revolutionary. But it's not like he's unintelligible or hopelessly bland like others I could name.
Basically, Ryback is at least average on the mic, and coupling that with a good look and a really impressive move-set and agility for a man of his side, I think he has tremendous upside. Also, he is absolutely nothing like Goldberg. I just don't understand. He's bald and he squashes people. THAT'S IT. That is the entire end of the similarities.
Anything else you think needs to be said?
Dwen: I think that covers it.
James: Alright. Well, that's our opinions. Give us yours in the comments!