Critical Booking Decisions WWE Must Make at SummerSlam 2019
WWE staged a throwaway event in the form of Smackville on Saturday that had little value to it, but things will be very different when it comes to SummerSlam 2019 on August 11.
These are tough times for the company, with fans losing interest for the future despite this being one of the most exciting stretches of the year.
SummerSlam is arguably the second-biggest event of the WWE calendar and sets the tone for the next half of the season heading into WrestleMania 36. And with the upcoming SmackDown switch to Fox in October, it's an even more important show than before.
This event will have more eyes on it than normal, so WWE must be wary not to screw things up. With the proper steps and a few strategic bookings, The Biggest Party of the Summer can be a huge hit.
Let's break down some of the pitfalls WWE must avoid and the decisions that must be made to ensure this year's SummerSlam is successful.
The Show Must Be Properly Timed
WWE has extended its "big four" pay-per-views recently, but when the main event of WrestleMania 35 didn't start until the next day, that was beyond a reasonable limit.
Even for fans who can't get enough WWE content, too much of a good thing can be bad. And if SummerSlam turns out to be awful, dragging it out longer will make it an excruciating watch.
Many people won't finish watching the show if it goes on for over seven hours, while others will skip giant portions of the program, which isn't good for anybody involved.
WWE has to plan out this year's card with proper foresight to ensure not every bout gets a 20 minute-plus spot on a 10-plus match card. Shorter fights can sometimes accomplish much more.
Likewise, there shouldn't be a 15-match lineup that includes bouts that will be over in a minute or so. Nobody who actually wants to see Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens will be looking for a lengthy build on Raw and SmackDown for a two-move match.
That is what will likely go down between Aleister Black and Sami Zayn, which reeks of nothing more than a quick Black Mass pin for The Dutch Destroyer.
SummerSlam should feel grandiose, with as many people on the card as possible, but it does not need to be an eight-hour marathon that only dedicated fans will sit through.
Justify Superstars Left off the Card
Even with a stacked card that is properly timed, not everybody can make it on to the show and certain Superstars will be left out.
However, WWE should find a way to justify why certain wrestlers aren't involved.
If Shinsuke Nakamura and Ali don't have an Intercontinental Championship match, it should happen on the go-home show of SmackDown, instead. Likewise, there should be some rationale for why The Good Brothers and The Revival aren't good enough to make it on to a card that has room for everything else.
It's probably a lost cause to expect The Kabuki Warriors to get their women's tag title shot against The IIconics at SummerSlam, but not acknowledging it makes it seem like it's not even worth addressing. There should at least be a mention that Peyton Royce and Billie Kay keep doing everything in their power to avoid facing Asuka and Kairi Sane.
Little reminders such as this can go a long way to keeping viewers informed and prevent any negativity being cast on those wrestlers not involved in a feud right now.
Future-Proof and Build Toward WrestleMania
After recent events, it's clear WWE doesn't like to plan things out too far in advance and can change things on a whim
Automatic rematches still basically happen, the third hour of Raw has failed to be anything different, and NXT stars like EC3 were brought to the main roster with no ideas in mind for them.
The Superstar Shake-up took place over three weeks rather than two nights, and the subsequent Wild Card Rule undid all those changes, anyway. WWE then broke the rule's stipulations on the same night it was introduced.
SummerSlam is the perfect time to take the first step toward WrestleMania, but that can only happen if WWE plans out the future properly.
With Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff taking charge of Raw and SmackDown, respectively, their ideas of how the brands should go progress to The Show of Shows next April must be decided prior to SummerSlam so it can properly reflect how things are going to go.
There will be adjustments to the WrestleMania plans that will happen along the way due to injuries, storyline trends and gimmicks, but WWE can't go into SummerSlam thinking it's just another show with some last-minute changes not being fully vetted and future-proofed.
If random things happen just to give fans something to talk about, the company will spend the next few months undoing those changes and WrestleMania's build won't start until much later in the year.
Anticipate the Canadian Influence
Natalya's match against Becky Lynch for the Raw Women's Championship is not due to a run of momentum that has been built up in recent weeks, it's down to the event's location in Canada.
The Hart Family is royalty there, so WWE is obviously trying to capitalize on this by giving Nattie a prominent spot on the card in the hopes of driving interest with that passionate fanbase.
As such, WWE has to anticipate the way the crowd will react.
There is a good chance Lynch will be booed and her status as the top babyface in the women's division will take a hit. If WWE is OK with that, she needs to be booked as the heel.
If WWE doesn't factor in the crowd's response for local performers, there is a good chance the audience will hijack the event and turn it into an embarrassment.
Don't Purposely Try to Upset Fans
Sometimes, it seems WWE is run by trolls who get enjoyment out of annoying the viewers.
It's one thing for a heel to win or insult the audience to get some heat, but it's another thing entirely when decisions are made with the sole intention of upsetting fans.
For instance, it's become obvious that a good portion of the WWE Universe does not enjoy Brock Lesnar as champion, particularly if he has a quick match consisting of the same two moves he squashes all his opponents with.
Booking The Beast Incarnate to destroy Seth Rollins isn't a strategy to get people to tune in for the following night's Raw, it just pisses people to such an extent that they turn off.
WWE's heel characters should get heat, not the writing team and the company itself.
If WWE keeps on irritating the fans, the boos will eventually be converted into fans tuning into All Elite Wrestling or elsewhere instead.
The Miz Must Defeat Dolph Ziggler
It isn't one of the biggest matches on the card, but The Miz needs to beat Dolph Ziggler.
Since turning babyface, The A-Lister has had a bad run of luck, which is exactly the same problem that plagued his last face turn and resulted in WWE turning him heel again.
It's hard for fans to fully get behind someone who can't get the job done, and that's been happening with The Miz this year due to WWE's preference for pushing Shane McMahon.
His loss to Shane-O-Mac at WrestleMania 35 was followed by further defeats, and WWE had nothing for Miz to bounce back with, so he just floated around with nothing to do other than a lackluster mini-feud with Elias.
Also, there is no reason for Ziggler to need this victory.
The Showoff already lost multiple matches against Kofi Kingston and shouldn't be in line for a title shot any time soon, so he doesn't need to be pushed at the expense of The Miz, who needs a boost in credibility to get back on track.
Ricochet Must Not Lose Cleanly to AJ Styles
Ricochet is an energetic, young Superstar who has the potential to become a big player in years to come, and WWE must not lose sight of that.
Clearly, pushing The O.C. is a priority at the moment, but things aren't as black and white as making AJ Styles the focal point and tossing Ricochet aside to fend for himself.
Assuming the plan is for The Phenomenal One to retain the United States Championship at SummerSlam, Ricochet must come up short in a way that still makes him look strong.
Ricochet shouldn't put Styles over clean. The U.S. champion is a future Hall of Famer who doesn't need that rub, no matter how much investment WWE has in pushing the new stable.
Ricochet is still establishing himself and shouldn't be sacrificed. It will be harder to build him back up as a prospect if he loses on August 11.
Give Consequences to Shane McMahon
The stipulation for Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens is that The Prizefighter must quit WWE if he loses at SummerSlam.
Owens volunteered this from nowhere, rushing the consequences of the feud rather than building them up over time.
It's doesn't feel natural, so there isn't much sense of dread that this feud could see KO leaving WWE.
The stipulation gets in the way of itself based on WWE's history with the gimmick. Fans know the one with the career on the line rarely loses, and even if they do, the company will reinstate the defeated wrestler.
However, if McMahon has something to lose, the winner will be far less clear-cut.
Ideally, this would be something that would stop putting so much attention on McMahon, as this whole feud has been about how frustrating it is to watch him be such a major focal point.
Owens should force McMahon to take a leave of absence if he wins to ensure he accomplishes something with his victory other than saving the job he willingly put on the line originally.
Trish Stratus Has to Lose to Charlotte Flair
Some would argue Trish Stratus should get the win over Charlotte Flair if this is her last match in front of her home crowd in Toronto, but the opposite should happen.
If it's Stratus' last match, losing wouldn't be the end of the world.
Flair is firmly the top female Superstar in WWE, even while Becky Lynch and Bayley hold the belts, which is why she's able to have this featured high-profile match. Victory over Stratus will cement The Queen's legacy even more.
A moment like this can be a send-off for Stratus and a major bullet point in Flair's future Hall of Fame retrospective, so The Queen should get all the heat possible from this crowd by beating Canada's Greatest Export.
Miscellaneous Other Pointers
There are plenty of other booking strategies and ideas WWE should take note of to avoid problems at SummerSlam.
For instance, as great as Drew Gulak is, few people watch 205 Live and care about the cruiserweight division. Even fewer will be interested in a match featuring Humberto Carrillo, so WWE would be better off having someone else challenge for the title.
If not, Gulak vs. Carrillo will assuredly be a kickoff match the majority of the viewers pay little attention to, which means time will be eaten up on the show that could have gone to something more enticing.
Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe—assuming those two have a match at SummerSlam—should not be booked for a regular bout. We've seen them fight enough before, and if all this brawling leads to a standard match, it will be underwhelming.
They should have some sort of Street Fight gimmick to differentiate them from the other singles matches and convince fans the feud is bigger than just something we'd see on an episode of Raw or SmackDown.
Since Finn Balor and Bray Wyatt already had a feud in the past and there isn't even a Demon shtick to sell this more, their match should be kept short.
There are tons of other things WWE should do for SummerSlam to steer the company in the right direction, but fans are going to have to wait until August 11 to find out how things go down.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.