Summerslam, Takeover and oh…CM Punk Returns

Charlie Davis: Hey so. Some magic happened last night. I don’t know what’s gonna happen at SummerSlam. But it’s gonna have nothing on The First Dance. 

Forrest Hollingsworth: Look in my eyes, what do you see? An uneven week of wrestl-ing.

Will Nevin: Looks like I picked a good week to start with the wrestling recaps.

Mikey Zee: And we’re so happy to have you here, Will! I think there was a lot to love this weekend, and some truly incredible moments, along with the unfortunate spots. So let’s dig into it!

Friday: AEW Rampage: The First Dance, GCW Off The Rails

Charlie. Sometimes, you’re not sure how to put a feeling into words. You can plan for it, think about it, toil over it, but sometimes, it’s just intangible. I don’t really mean to be so poetic here, but the moment of thick tension in the air as Rampage went live, the packed United Center, the CM Punk chants that were fueled by excitement and not bitterness for ONCE. I’m not sure how to describe how any of it made me feel other than electric. And then Cult of Personality hits and the crowd erupts. The loudest thing I think I’ve ever heard. Punk on the ramp, in tears. I was also in tears. I don’t wanna steal anyone else’s moment here, but man let’s fucking GO.

Vishal: It was an incredible moment. An incredible opening to the show, honestly – they spent a third of their show on CM Punk and every single minute was worth it. I was also really appreciative of the Chicago crowd – they got what they wanted and they made sure to stick around and bring similar intensity and passion to the rest of the show as well. The tag match was HOT and the pops for the main event were really good. And I’m glad that Punk’s in a place where he can enjoy wrestling again. 

Forrest: I think of all the things AEW did right here the thing that struck me most, especially right up against SummerSlam, is that they didn’t overcomplicate it. The crowd — we — wanted CM Punk and that’s exactly what they gave us. Punk cried, I cried, he celebrated, we celebrated, and he spoke to us because that’s what he wanted to do, what he felt was right. 

As others have said, he’s something of a folk hero in wrestling and that authenticity is central to both his own identity, and to his relationship with the fans. They unconditionally delivered on an untailored, genuine moment. It’s the story of someone who had all the reason in the world to turn their back on this and hate it forever falling back in love and that’s all it needed to be.

Speaking of authenticity or lack there of however… please let me give a very quick shoutout to reigning GCW World Champion Matt Cardona, who showed up in the middle of this weekend’s PPV dressed as ECW champion Vince McMahon before cutting a promo on the “GCW Universe” and beating an employee with a pack of PBR cans in a faux match. Good, plasticine heel shit abounds and as an alternative to everything going on in televised wrestling, I’m absolutely in love with it.

Will: The Spirit was in the crowd, and the man in the ring preached the Gospel. It was a tent revival. Or maybe the exorcism of a 7-year-old demon. Whatever it was — and I say this with only a tiny pinch of hyperbole — it was a holy moment, the sort we’re going to remember for years. And to emphasize Forrest’s point, it worked to no small degree because AEW kept it simple. We all know how Vince would have promoted this, right? It would have been teased and teased and teased for 53 minutes, followed by two minutes of screwin’ around and then a rushed five to close the show all in an effort to pop a rating. But here, they had the right idea: You gotta give the people what they want. (Sorry for the gimmick infringement, Best Friends.)

I don’t know if you want to put Darby into a feud he will most certainly lose, but if Punk is not going to immediately challenge for the title (we’re really doing Christian, aren’t we?), it’s as good an option as any.

God, I want to load up Rampage right now. Give me that pop one more time, Chicago.

Forrest: Hey, Christian is the first wrestler ever to hold ECW, NWA, TNA, Impact, and WWE world titles. Put some respect on his name!

Mikey: I do totally agree with Will, though. Not only was it a holy moment, it was a moment of contrition too: a genuine “I understand” from Punk before the line that I’m sure will soon become famous. “I was never gonna get healthy […] staying in the same place that got me sick in the first place.” As someone who dealt with literally-debilitating burnout at my last job, where I worked a 40-hour release weekend, I felt that deep down in my bones. I’m beyond excited to be able to see him return to the ring at All Out.

As for the rest of Rampage, it mostly kept up with the “all killer, no filler” paradigm. The Young Bucks coming out to oversee the tag match was a great touch. The tag match had difficult shoes to fill, following up CM Punk, but Jurassic Express and Private Party put on a weekday banger. The Young Bucks did seem like they were trying to set Jurassic Express up for failure–Matt and Nick were in the first match of the inaugural tag team eliminator tournament and lost to Private Party. Great from a story perspective, and great to see how frustrated the Bucks got when their plans were foiled. (Side note: Jungle Boy is just so dang athletic. Every time I watch him I can’t help but be wowed.)

The women’s match between Jade Cargill and Kiera Hogan was good, but it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. I fell in love with Kiera Hogan watching IMPACT! Wrestling. She burned bright despite my issues with the production of that show. We got to see a lot of that fire in this match, but as green as Jade is, it was a short match that ended with Jade dominant. I saw a lot of criticisms of the booking of this match online, and while I actually kind of enjoyed it, I do think it’s unfortunate that we got this short of a women’s match. AEW was pushing the notion that Rampage would give the women’s division a little more room to breathe, but I’m not quite feeling it yet. I’m still hopeful though that this will bloom into a rivalry.

One thing that I do think is important about both the Jade match and the main event between Jon Moxley and Daniel Garcia is that AEW had the confidence in their booking to have unsigned talent in the United Center show with CM Punk. Daniel Garcia is a rising star in the indie circuit, and he and Mox had great chemistry in the ring. All in all, this episode of Rampage definitely delivered. I hope soon we’ll see some returns on the womens’ storylines being set up too.

Saturday: SummerSlam

Charlie: Honestly. I’m not really sure what to say. I knew SummerSlam wouldn’t probably eclipse the emotions that I felt coming off of Rampage on Friday, but damn. Damn. A card that went until midnight EST with only 2 matches on it that I really liked. Man I’m really not sure how much more of a swing and a miss this could have been. 

Vishal: This was a rough PPV! There were 3 matches that I came away with positive opinions of – the opener, which was fun and otherwise unnecessary, Seth vs Edge, which was match of the night, and the main event which was exactly what I expected it to be. The lowlight of the show was everything to do with the women – Alexa vs Eva Marie was pointless and should have been on Raw, the triple threat was a frustrating “Charlotte wins LOL” and Becky’s return managed to actually end up being a huge bummer. It’s ridiculous.

Will: Bloated, plodding mess of a show. But Orc Barbarian Brock Lesnar is here, and that’s not nothing. What is nothing, however, is Vince McMahon’s ability to book in 2021, and what happened to Bianca Belair is the perfect example of what’s wrong with today’s WWE. When it comes to making stars, Vince is either unable or unwilling (nothing can be more important than the brand with the latter), and it shows when he has to bring back stars from older generations to anchor his biggest shows while everyone else on the roster treads water in some infernal, infuriating doom spiral. There is such a dearth of young talent; squashing someone like Belair just signals that she’s not special, she’s not different and you’re a fool for thinking otherwise. Maybe if she had slipped on a literal banana peel it would have been worse, but this is close to a disaster for everyone involved — including Becky.

Forrest: I’m very, very conflicted about this whole thing but one thing that’s abundantly clear is that WWE in its current iteration is only conceptualizing “moments” and letting the connective tissue fall, or more realistically, stumble into place on a week-to-week basis. 

Do I think Becky and Bianca will make this work? Unconditionally yes, they are genuine stars

Nevertheless, there’s a kind of stomach-churning sadness and frustration that comes from WWE making it needlessly complicated and laborious: Why show the entire Sasha/Bianca package? Why have Carmella and Becky do full entrances? Why not make it a triple threat and protect Bianca regardless? Why are all the women’s stories either about championships or about whatever the fuck is happening to Alexa Bliss? If Drew and Jinder can have a match, why can’t Zelina and Toni?

There aren’t answers to those questions because WWE hasn’t visualized anything but Becky coming back. And that’s not only a disservice to her, but to the fans, to Carmella, and most definitely to Bianca. What happens when, charitably 5 years from now, they have a Royal Rumble predicated on reintroducing fan favorites only to realize they’ve made that pool smaller each year? “We don’t need to make a new John Cena, we have him right now” is not a sustainable business approach.

That being said, I still had fun with some of this! Roman has perfected the art of making less seem more, and the simple controlling, expectant nature that he brings to every match is starting to work quite well for me, especially without interference. It’s almost as if with every win Roman is becoming more sure of himself, a man who has charastically played at having control for years finally actually seizing it. I’m not the biggest fan of Brock, but I respect the counterbalance both he and, inevitably, Paul Heyman’s presence will facilitate.

I also screamed when Brood Edge (one of my most favorite iterations of one of my most favorite wrestlers) made his entrance, and I’m happy that Shinsuke Nakamura has found his passion again.

Mikey: GORG. That’s all I got.

Sunday: NXT TakeOver 36

Forrest: This was the best TakeOver of the year. It was also booked like a series finale:

Cameron Grimes surmounts his bully, WALTER falls only for Ilja to immediately declare himself Tsar in his place (my match of the year this far), Kyle and Adam finish their feud, and the most decorated NXT champion returns to reclaim his throne. It was straightforward narrative catharsis — no hooks, no twists.

It’s probably unrealistic to expect that NXT will change entirely overnight, but it certainly will change. As a show meant to see this era of NXT off with a celebration of the things they’re good at, TakeOver 36 succeeded at doing exactly that.

It also, not surprisingly, happened to be some damn good wrestling in the ring, better than the entirety of SummerSlam. If HHH is good at anything, it’s at honing and presenting something or someone exceptionally well even if he personally doesn’t get it (this is the ideological chasm that separates his NXT and the main roster).

Charlie: This really was the end of an era and if it had to go out, I’m happy it went out like this. I haven’t been able to really get invested in NXT the way I am AEW which is a shame, but I think it really just stems from the fact that I’ve really only been tuning in for one performer for awhile now. Adam Cole is one of my favorite wrestlers ever and the anticipation of what could have very well been his last match drew me to this Takeover. If this was his last match there, thank you Adam Cole…I poured out some Monster Energy Rehab for you.

Vishal: As Forrest said, this was the best TakeOver of the year, and it was definitely my favorite complete show of the year. There wasn’t a single bad match, with the main event being better than I expected and everything else being fantastic. 

The Dakota/Raquel match was fantastic – both ladies put on a clinic in how to make both sides look threatening when there’s such a size difference, and it also seems intended to fall into that similar cathartic mold that Forrest mentioned above. The problem is, though, that everyone was behind Dakota. We’ve all waited for years to see her get her moment, and seeing her lose the match against Raquel made it suddenly and painfully clear that they never planned to give it to her. I can appreciate that NXT valued her to put other people over, but it does sting that they don’t see her as more than that. 

Ilja and WALTER put on a match that, after sleeping on it, I feel comfortable calling my favorite match of the year. I really like WALTER, but I can’t really claim any sort of knowledge of the two of their stories, and even then I was completely sold by the entire affair. Ilja fought like a demon out of hell, until he surpassed his unbeatable foe. The fact that WALTER’s unbeaten streak ended on a tap out (and a quick one) is a massive rub. Especially because, watching the match back, WALTER didn’t tap out out of fear that Ilja would knock him out. It was fear that Ilja would kill him. 

Kyle and Adam’s third NXT match was, thankfully, their best. The unsanctioned match felt more disappointing the further we got from it, and their match at Great American Bash was good but wasn’t given the room to be great. This one pulled out all the stops, though – Kyle’s quick first fall, Adam’s sadism giving him the edge for the second, and the hatred that fueled their relationship giving Kyle the edge in the third. The crowd, though, was not great. They started off pretty hot for Kyle, but fell into their old frustrating habits of cheering Adam Cole when he’s heeling it up. Boos and chants of “bullshit” after what I thought was a really unique finish really grated on me, and while I’ll definitely miss Adam Cole in NXT, I certainly won’t miss his fans.

Vishal: And of course, Joe and Kross had a match that wasn’t as good as either of Kross’s matches with Balor, but didn’t need to be. Joe’s still athletic as hell, and bringing back the musclebuster is a nice touch. But Joe was one of my least favorite NXT champions during his reign, and I can’t say I LOVE that they’ve given him the belt a third time. It was a nice way to end the PPV though.

I need to stress that while I did complain about most of the matches, I genuinely loved this TakeOver. It was a showcase in what this current era of NXT has to offer, and I cannot help but hope that whatever changes have been reported and speculated on are being overblown, because I don’t want them to gut my favorite show. 

Forrest: I join you through mourning NJPW Strong which now prominently features (checks notes)…Swill Nosespray? Sorry Vishal, we’re here for you.

Charlie Davis is the world’s premier Shatterstarologist, writer and co-host of The Match Club.

Will Nevin loves bourbon and AP style and gets paid to teach one of those things. He is on Twitter far too often.

Vishal Gullapalli is highly opinionated and reads way too much.

Forrest is an experimental AI that writes and podcasts about comic books and wrestling coming to your area soon.

Mikey is a writer, graphic artist, and tabletop roleplaying designer based out of Columbus, Ohio. In his free time, he watches wrestling and indulges in horror media. Find him on Twitter @quantumdotdot.