Welcome everyone to the SummerSlam preview show! After many weeks of good-to-great episodes of Monday Night Raw, WWE spends the entirety of its go-home show “setting the stage” for it’s second biggest PPV, which is a way of saying that it offers up a permutation of just about every match on Sunday’s card. Look, it’s understandable that WWE wants to market the hell out of SummerSlam. Along with Wrestlemania, it’s the PPV that WWE uses to cater to more casual fans. It’s less a WWE wrestling event than it is a total spectacle, a giant commercial for WWE with the hopes of garnering mainstream attention. That’s clearly working, as the Authority announces that ESPN will be broadcasting live from the Barclay’s Center on Sunday. It’s the kind of mainstream promotion that WWE loves to get, that legitimizes it as both a sport and as entertainment, and of course helps WWE, the publicly traded company.

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Just in case the SummerSlam preview structure isn’t clear when looking at the night’s matches, The Authority comes out at the top of the show and talks about a few of the matches taking place on Sunday. It’s a long-winded, unnecessary segment that sees the heel owners of the company announcing matches in order to get a pop. The whole segment is sloppy and boasts a strange tone. The fact that the SummerSlam theme from Demi Lovato plays overtop of the whole thing doesn’t help, as pulsing pop music doesn’t exactly fit in with the aesthetic of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon.

From there, Raw descends into a predictable, paint-by-numbers format. While a bit of predictability is okay leading into a huge PPV–you don’t want to overshadow your big show, after all–tonight’s episode is a carbon copy of just about every go-home show WWE has put out in the past few months. Sure, it’s frustrating that WWE feels the need to repeat its old shows so that everyone can follow along, or just because they lack the ingenuity to come up with something more compelling, but what’s more unforgivable is the way Raw basically executes SummerSlam on a smaller scale.

What that means is that this episode of Raw churns out a bunch of tag matches and singles competitions where (deep breath) everyone who’s fighting each other on Sunday gets to fight each other tonight in order to prepare the audience for their fight on Sunday. WWE has been booking go-home shows like this for a while now but it’s still disheartening to see, especially after so many stellar shows. Almost every match has its own individual moments that stand out, but the feeling of insignificance never goes away. For instance, the show opens with Randy Orton and Cesaro taking on Sheamus and Kevin Owens. On paper, that’s a solid match with four talented guys who could kill it. On a go-home show though it’s booked as a joke, as a meaningless preview of Sunday. That’s what drives the match, with Cesaro and Orton taking extended breaks to pop the crowd before a tag, and each wrestler pairing off against their opponent for Sunday. It’s still great to see Cesaro getting over with the crowd, but the match itself struggles to remain compelling.

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That sense of indifference and laziness extends to the rest of tonight’s card. Roman Reigns and Luke Harper actually put on a good match, but it’s still just a preview of Sunday. Thankfully, Dean Ambrose is on commentary, selling the match like his life depends on it. It’s the best Ambrose has been on the mic, even if it is on commentary, in a long time. He sounds motivated and unhinged, and builds the feud up better than Cole or JBL has over the past few weeks. Other matches aren’t so lucky. Miz versus Ryback is basically a squash, the only highlight being a jacked-up Ryback finishing his match and then challenging Big Show to another because he’s “still hungry.” It’s a solid character moment in a useless match.

The useless matches continue from there, the worst of the bunch being a short match between all the tag teams involved in Sunday’s championship match. It’s over in about two minutes and accomplishes nothing, but hey, you’ll see them on Sunday! On the plus side, Becky Lynch gets her first singles win on Raw with a win over Tamina, and Nikki Bell and Sasha Banks put on a solid match, despite the crowd’s ridiculous attempt to hijack the match with chants. What’s really a shame is that complacency even extends to the final segment of the night, which is just a step-by-step recreation of the confrontation between Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker from Battleground.

There are two bright spots to the show though. Firstly, there’s the contract signing with John Cena and Seth Rollins. It gives Seth a chance to do his best CM Punk impression and lament how Cena has been the top dog for too long and how he’s holding the WWE universe hostage by winning all the time. That brings Cena out, reconstructed face and all, who cuts a great promo. The storyline is certainly old news, the same thing WWE has been doing with Cena for years now, but at least Rollins and Cena are seriously selling it. Larger WWE history tells us that Cena wins on Sunday–though his SummerSlam history tells us he loses–but credit needs to go to both guys for injecting some ambiguity into the feud. I’m sensing something fishy about this match, but that might just be wishful thinking/Stockholm Syndrome.

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The other highlight of the night is the segment with Rusev, Summer Rae, Lana, and Dolph Ziggler. After disposing of Mark Henry yet again, Rusev is confronted by Lana. She draws him into the ring, luring him so that Ziggler can make his triumphant return and superkick his face into oblivion. This is a feud that didn’t start off very well, but has been carried by Lana and Rusev’s chemistry for weeks now. They’ve managed to make it feel real and compelling, and the return of Ziggler to a huge pop means that there’s actual stakes leading into Sunday’s match. It’s the only time during the night where I let go, where I got lost in the story and stopped noticing the complacency running rampant in the rest of the show.

Stray observations

  • Results: Randy Orton and Cesaro defeated Sheamus and Kevin Owens; Roman Reigns defeated Luke Harper; Becky Lynch defeated Tamina; Rusev defeated Mark Henry; Ryback defeated Miz; the Prime Time Players and the Lucha Dragons defeated New Day and Los Matadores; Sasha Banks defeated Nikki Bella.
  • Just a reminder that I’ll be reviewing SummerSlam this Sunday. I have no idea when I’ll be able to get the review up, but make sure to read it, share it, critique it, whatever it, and keep our little wrestling community here at the TV Club thriving.
  • I really wish JBL would stop with those WWE Network signs.
  • Ambrose was so good on commentary. I just wish Cole would have stopped talking over him the entire time.
  • The Divas are bringing submission wins back and that’s fine by me.
  • Big Show really sticking to the gross comments about the Miz, calling him a “gender confused jedi” this week.
  • Miz on the Big Show’s place at SummerSlam: “The World’s Largest Extra.”
  • I liked that Cena addressed his 15-time Champion merch, saying he designed it when he thought he wasn’t getting anywhere near the title again. Nice way to keep the mystery of Sunday’s outcome in tact.
  • The Conquerer Marches On.
  • One sentence review of tonight’s Raw: needs more Stephen Amell.

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