Saturday, August 16, 2008

Summerslam 2008

Summerslam is notionally one of the four big shows of the year (the others being Wrestlemania, Royal Rumble and Survivor Series), but at least in recent years, this has been less a reflection of the quality of the card, and more to do with the fact that they've been using the name for 21 years. That buzz of familiarity aside, it's just another show. And this year is a particularly lacklustre effort, with a bunch of matches that seem to have been put together by drawing names from a hat. One understandable factor is that head writer Stephanie McMahon had a kid a couple of weeks ago, and presumably has other things on her mind right now. Another element is that the WWE seems to be going through one of it's occasional bouts of gratuitous unpredictability (i.e., total randomness). But there's little sign here of any direction, except for storylines which were set in track ages ago.

1. Hell in a Cell: Edge v. The Undertaker. I normally open with the title matches, but frankly, none of them are particularly notable this month. So we have a topsy-turvy show where the world champions are wrestling in the midcard, and the show is headlined by what the WWE clearly hope are dream matches.

This is Undertaker's return match after taking a couple of months off. The story is that after Edge married Smackdown's figurehead general manager Vickie Guerrero, and she discovered he was sleeping with the wedding planner, she brought the Undertaker back in a fit of pique. Undertaker hasn't appeared on TV at all to promote the match, and instead the storyline has focussed on Edge going mad and turning on all his former allies.

Normally, I'd say that the Undertaker was bound to win his return match, but given that the focus has been on Edge's character change, and the fact that the writers seem to be going through an "avoid the obvious ending, even if it's the only one that makes sense" phrase, I wouldn't rule out Edge winning. Match should be good, but we've seen these two many times before, and I've never been a big fan of cage matches.

Incidentally, the final push for this show on Friday's Smackdown was edited off the UK airing altogether, for god knows what reason (isn't this show supposed to be PG-rated in America?). If anyone knows what Sky found so offensive that they weren't prepared to air it at quarter to midnight, do tell.

2. Batista v. John Cena. Completely random pairing of the two main good guys on the current Raw roster. This had the potential to be a big deal, but they've thrown it together in a couple of weeks with no real build, and the buzz just isn't there. The build has largely consisted of them telling us time and again that this match has been six years in the making, which nobody believes. It should be a perfectly decent match, and with Cena still getting divided reactions, they should get some heat for it. It's been suggested that Batista is on his way to a heel turn (not a bad idea in itself), but this isn't the night to do it - whatever he does against Cena, he's likely to get cheered by a large section of the crowd. I'm going for Cena to win; makes more sense all round.

3. WWE Title: Triple H v. The Great Khali. This is the Smackdown title match, and it hasn't been very well promoted. Triple H is Stephanie's husband, so he's presumably had other things on his mind. That makes this a schedule-filling match between proper feuds, and perhaps explains the otherwise baffling choice of Khali as an opponent. Khali is a genuine Indian giant, of limited mobility and less talent. Getting a decent match out of him is very difficult, particularly if Triple H insists on it being a long one (which is his usual preference). If they keep it short, it might hit the dizzy heights of average. Triple H is almost guaranteed to retain, unless he's belatedly decided to book some paternity leave.

4. World Heavyweight Title: CM Punk v. JBL. To general surprise, CM Punk is still the Raw world champion, despite a string of inconclusive defences that have generally made him look like a bit of a loser. This only really works if you're a heel, and Punk is meant to be a babyface. Apparently they're aiming for "underdog", but they've missed the mark. To be an underdog, he needs to weather the storm and beat bigger opponents by exploiting their mistakes - not get beaten up for ten minutes straight before retaining on a technicality.

JBL may well have been selected as an opponent on the fringes of the main event, who can give Punk a much-needed decisive win. But Punk already beat him up decisively on Raw on Monday. And that's odd, because in the WWE's formula, when the champion beats up the challenger just before the show, he's probably losing. Still, I can't imagine them putting the title on JBL, so I suspect they're just teasing the Internet. Punk retains in a middling match.

5. ECW World Title: Mark Henry v. Matt Hardy. God help us. Mark Henry, still billed as the world's strongest man, is a huge bloke who isn't especially good at the "wrestling" side of thing. Since the draft a couple of months ago, Matt Hardy is the top name on the ECW roster, and he's obviously getting the title sooner or later. The question is whether they do it now, or build to a rematch down the line. Matt's "never say die" character, and typical WWE booking philosophy, would say rematch. But this is likely to be a mediocre match at best. So I'd say put the title on Matt Hardy and move on to a more promising feud with somebody like John Morrison.

6. Intercontinental Title & Women's Title: Kofi Kingston & Mickie James v. Santino Marella & Beth Phoenix. Comedy intergender tag match, with Kingston's IC title and Mickie's women's title both on the line. So if the heel team wins, Santino gets the IC belt and Beth gets the women's title. Kingston is a promising rookie, inexplicably cast as a Jamaican despite the minor technicality that he's from Ghana. Mickie and Beth are two of the better wrestlers in the women's division. And Santino Marella was introduced as a wrestler from the crowd who won the Intercontinental Title in a fluke open challenge, before bombing in the underdog role. Re-invented as a delusionally arrogant Italian dork with a ludicrous accent, he turned out to have a flair for comedy which has justified his position on the roster despite middling wrestling abilities. I presume it's somebody's idea of a joke that his entrance video - which would normally be a montage of his great wrestling moves - is now mainly footage of him talking and reacting.

Santino and Beth are doing an odd-couple gimmick, with Beth as the straight man, unable to figure out quite what she's doing with this ridiculous loser (who can't even beat her, let alone most of the guys on the roster). It's a good act, I think there's a fair chance they win here, the angle being that Beth does all the work and Santino insists on acting like he's a proper champion. Possibly too early to take the belt off Kingston, but as long as he wins it back in a re-match, it'll be fine. This could be good, as comedy segments go.

7. Jeff Hardy v. Montel Vontavious Porter. Random pairing of two guys on Smackdown who weren't doing anything else. This feud has been built largely around some segments aimed squarely at internet fans, which assume that we all know Jeff Hardy's house burned down and that he's been suspended for recreational drug use in the past. Heaven only knows what the kids must make of it. Still, they ought to work well together, and I can see this being a good opener. MVP probably wins, because there's more mileage in this one.

Also: Shawn Michaels speaks. Yes, that's right, they're advertising a talking segment for a pay-per-view. Shawn Michaels is feuding with Chris Jericho, and he's out with an eye injury (which seems to be in part a storyline justification for some genuine eye problems that are visible if you're watching closely). Shawn is going to show up and tell us whether he'll be able to return and face Jericho again. (Hint: yes.) There's obviously going to be some sort of angle with Jericho. This looks like a compromise to get Michaels and Jericho on an otherwise weak show without messing up the pacing of their storyline.

Worth buying? Um.. it's a bit average, frankly. I don't see this one doing particularly well.