Thursday, August 17, 2006

Summerslam 2006

I'm out of town over the weekend, so I'd better get this week's PPV preview done today. (I'm flying down to Gatwick. Won't that be fun?)

Summerslam is, in theory, one of the WWE's big PPV shows that brings together a whole load of top matches from all their shows. It also helpfully confirms that multi-brand PPVs now include ECW, giving the nascent third show at least some regular presence on PPV. In practice, this is a very strangely booked card, built around some theoretically big matches on the undercard, and largely ignoring the world title matches are are supposed to provide the main event. Some of the title bouts have almost no story backing them up. One was just announced on the company's website without any explanation.

At time of writing, none of the secondary titles are scheduled to be defended, although they could always add something to the card at the last moment. Likely contenders would be the Spirit Squad v the Highlanders for the Raw Tag Team Titles (probably lots of comedy and bad wrestling), Johnny Nitro v Kane for the Intercontinental Title (could be good), London & Kendrick v James & Stevens for the Smackdown Tag Titles (okay, but nobody really cares yet), Finlay, Regal & Lashley in the three-way for the US Title that got cancelled at the last minute a few weeks back (too big a match to run without publicity), and Lita v Mickey James in a rematch for the Women's Title (not the worst idea in the world, but hardly a match I'm dying to see). As usual, poor Gregory Helms, the Cruiserweight Champion, has nobody to fight at the moment.

All of these, however, seem to be storylines on a slow burn for the next brand-only PPVs, which at least means there's a long-term plan for the undercard. Shame there's no long-term plan at the top. Here's this month's bizarre selection of matches.

1. WWE Title: Edge -v- John Cena. Nominally the top match on Raw, but it's been largely overlooked in favour of pushing DX -v- The McMahons. In fact, poor Edge has been reduced to doing the dreaded "Why am I being ignored when I'm the champion?" interviews protesting about the writing of the show. He's absolutely right, of course - this ought to be the focus of Raw, since the main title should almost always be the focus of Raw. Edge has been a success as an evil champion, and crowds actually seem to get behind the usually-divisive Cena when they're programmed against one another. There's money in this feud, and they should be making more of it.

The stipulation, for some reason, is that the title can change hands on a DQ. If they actually do that finish then they'll be out of their minds - there's no way Cena should be winning the belt on a cheap finish. More likely, they'll use it for a false ending, and then somebody will overturn the decision and Edge will retain, setting up a rematch. That's what happened when they did the same schtick with the Rock and Chris Benoit a few years back, and having announced the stipulation, they've got to do something with it.

Cena certainly shouldn't win the title at this stage - there's much more mileage in this feud, and Cena's much better when he's chasing the belt. Match should be good.

2. World Heavyweight Title: King Booker -v- Batista. Smackdown's main event was announced without any explanation on, and there's no background to it at all. It's just a match. A Batista win is not out of the question, since Booker is fairly obviously a transitional heel champion to get the belt from Mysterio back to Batista (who could hardly return from injury and win back his title by heroically squashing a man half his size). As a comedy character, he really shouldn't stay champion for long.

But again, I think there's more mileage in this, and Batista's title win shouldn't be thrown away on a barely-promoted match. Booker should win on a screwjob to set up a rematch. The match will probably be good but not great.

3. ECW World Title: The Big Show v Sabu. Trivia buffs may note that this is the first time the ECW Title (in any form) has been defended on a WWE PPV. Yes, Rob Van Dam wrestled on PPV a couple of months back when he had the belt, but he wasn't actually defending it. Thrilling, I know.

Anyway, this is the token match from the ECW show. So far, the new brand has had a rocky road. The ratings are actually quite good, especially by the standards of the Sci-Fi Channel. But the show is a bit of a mess. It's filmed before an audience who came to see Smackdown, and who don't really understand their role or care about any of the characters. Or, occasionally, it's filmed before a traditional ECW audience, who loathe the show with a passion. You never know quite what you're going to get with ECW's audience - they might loathe the show or they might be completely apathetic. Actually enjoying it rarely seems to be an option. And it's hard to blame them considering that ECW is being used as a dumping ground for bozos like Mike Knox, a wrestler so dull that he prompted one critic to observe "Mike Knox brings nothing to the table other than his above average height." It's hard to disagree. And if it isn't Mike Knox, it's a WWE cast-off, or a vampire called Kevin. Purists are currently pinning their hopes on indie darling CM Punk, but whether he can cross over to a mass audience remains open to question.

Anyhow, the match. The Big Show has the ECW Title for a simple reason: he's there. The original plan was to have Rob Van Dam as champion, but he was suspended for a month after being arrested for drugs possession. Kurt Angle, the other established star on the show, was sent home to nurse injuries (and, days after returning, has been sent home to nurse them again). The Big Show was... at least somebody people knew. So there he is, as the unstoppable monster champion. He's not remotely ECW, but at least he has marginal credibility as a former WWE and WCW champion. It's not like they put the belt on a passing midcarder.

Given the backlash against early episodes of ECW, the show has settled down into a odd format where ECW founder Paul Heyman has supposedly gone mad and taken the show in a bizarre and incomprehensible direction, leading original ECW wrestlers like Sabu to fight back. Obviously, this is heading to a big climax where Rob Van Dam returns as the heart and soul of ECW and defeats Heyman and the Big Show to reclaim his title. So Sabu isn't winning, then.

It's not a bad direction for ECW, although it does involve the high-risk approach of acknowledging that they've made some truly horrid television. Big Show v Sabu is going to be a freak show where Sabu does some crazy stunts and then gets annihilated. And that's exactly what it needs to be - a chaotic trainwreck in the middle of a relatively polite WWE show. I'm not expecting wonders, but it could be okay.

4. D-Generation X (Triple H & Shawn Michaels) -v- Vince McMahon & Shane McMahon. Welcome to Planet Hubris. The de facto Raw main event sees DX, still doing their reunion, facing the chairman of the board and his son. So we've got a nostalgia act, which at least features two guys who are still top-level wrestlers, against... a sixty-year old man and his son, neither of whom were ever full-time wrestlers. For Vince to book himself as a fighter on a par with the top names in his company at the age of 61 is, let's face it, mad.

They've taken this schtick about as far as it can go, so hopefully this is where the feud conclusively ends, the good guys win, and they can move on to break up DX again before the gimmick outstays its welcome. HHH and Shane can probably carry their opponents to a decent match, and the personalities involved mean that there should be heat from the crowd. But god, let's draw a line under this and keep Vince out of the ring from now on.

5. Hulk Hogan v Randy Orton. Utterly silly pairing of the barely-mobile Hulk Hogan and the self-proclaimed "legend killer" Randy Orton. Since Hogan has creative control over his matches, we all know the ending. He's going to win, and Orton will just bounce all over the place trying desperately to get a good match out of the ludicrous arthritic relic.

Some Americans have nostalgic affection for Hulk Hogan. That's understandable. I don't. To me, he's just some bozo who was quite popular twenty years ago for putting on mediocre wrestling matches in another continent. I have no nostalgia for him, and he brings absolutely nothing else to the show. My heart sinks at the thought of a Hulk Hogan match. If we're lucky, it'll be short.

Hogan will win and the match will be an abomination.

6. "I Quit" match: Mick Foley -v- Ric Flair. The latest chapter in this frankly baffling feud, which seems to have been written by a squadron of monkeys on crack. The basic idea is fine - Ric Flair is the legendary old-school wrestler, Mick Foley is the legendary hardcore stunt guy who represents everything he hates. It's a mutual lack of respect thing. It should be hard to screw this up, but the writing has been horrendous, with motivations fluctuating all over the place and no terribly obvious logic to any of it. Still, it could be worse.

Their last match wasn't very good, but it was clearly intended as an angle to set up the feud, so that's not necessarily a problem. Both of these guys are years past their prime (decades, in Flair's case) but can still have good matches on their day. For all the bad writing, there does seem to be some genuine interest in this one, to judge from the crowd response on Monday night. The match should be good, and I expect Flair to win, since this is the big summer show and a natural place to do the payoff.

7. Rey Mysterio v Chavo Guerrero. Oh god. Former world champion Rey Mysterio is out for revenge on Chavo Guerrero, who cost him the title by turning on him. All well and good. The problem is that this whole storyline is still caught up in the all-too-genuine death of Eddie Guerrero. With astounding gall, the angle is that Chavo is upset about Rey exploiting Eddie's death to get a crowd reaction. Since this criticism is 100% justified, one can only assume the impetus for this storyline comes from the WWE's familiar parallel-earth morality.

Wrestling has never exactly been noted for its sense of morality, but when you start wheeling out Eddie Guerrero's widow so that she can tell us how upset she is, you're getting into very uncomfortable territory. It'll probably be a great match - Rey is fantastic, Chavo is solid. But the storyline leaves a bitter taste. Since they want this feud to continue, I'm sure Chavo will be winning to set up a rematch.

Worth buying? Meh. There are plenty of good matches on this show but no obviously great ones. I have no desire to see Vince McMahon indulge his ego, the Chavo/Rey stuff is just uncomfortable, and I really don't want to spend money supporting a Hulk Hogan match. I'm giving it a miss. It's not a bad card, in theory, but there's a lot of stuff here I actively don't want to see, and only Flair/Foley is really intriguing to me in any way.