The idea WWE higher-ups have been pushing that they don’t pay attention to AEW seems as flimsy as ever now.
Even CM Punk admitted it was the worst-kept secret in the industry by the time he met the media after Friday’s AEW Rampage. Which was by design, because you want to create the anticipation (and sell tickets and attract eyeballs to the TV) for such a momentous event. And while we all knew what was coming, and how it would look in the minutes following Smackdown, that didn’t detract from the moment at all. Punk walked out to a United Center ovation that simply crashed through the television, which hasn’t shaken like that since Duncan Keith scored in Game 6 against Tampa in 2015.
And it was illustrative that Punk’s 15-minute promo started with putting women’s champ Britt Baker over (if only those who book AEW were so dedicated to their women’s division), and ended with him stating that the reason he was here was to vault a younger generation of wrestlers higher, in a way he felt that never happened in WWE. His first challenge was to Darby Allin, AEW’s most out-of-nowhere star who would most certainly never be used in WWE.
Punk couldn’t have imagined how right he would look after Saturday night’s SummerSlam.
It is quite possible that WWE always planned to bring Becky Lynch out in Vegas. It’s their biggest show, post-pandemic. After Roman Reigns, she’s their biggest star, and some would argue she eclipses Reigns. They assuredly will tell you it was always the plan, whatever CM Punk was getting up to. But whatever the plan was and when it was conceived, optics are optics, and surely they can’t ignore that it looked like they were pulling the only card they had anywhere near the one of AEW signing one of the most popular wrestlers in the world (and while Punk’s complaints about WWE are certainly well-founded and understandable, he’s not turning a crowd of 15,000 into utter goo by simply walking onto the stage if he hadn’t had his time there. But let’s shelve that for now).
That card only looked worse with how badly they mangled Becky’s return. The desperation that dripped from it only increased the idea that this was attempting to return fire on AEW. WWE has known for at least a week that Sasha Banks wouldn’t be able to make SummerSlam to have her rematch with Bianca Belair. No reason has been stated, though some buzz was that she had tested positive for COVID. If true, WWE would certainly like to keep that under wraps as they were running a show with 50,000 people crammed into a dome and it would have been a stark reminder of the risk everyone was taking.
Fine, whatever, shit happens, especially these days. Perhaps the plan all along was to have Becky come out after the Bianca-Sasha match to challenge the winner. Scripts get torn up all the time (mostly at Vince McMahon’s whim). They needed something else. Becky was there, so they used her. Cool. Everyone gets that.
And everyone would get that Becky isn’t ready to work a full match yet. She gave birth less than a year ago, hasn’t been seen, needs more time. Makes sense. But why not just have her simply walk out and issue a challenge? Or why not use Asuka to have a banger of a 15-minute match with Bianca, which they would assuredly have done, get the crowd hot, and then bring Becky out? WWE has changed big PPV matches at the last minute before due to unforeseen circumstances, and no one would have been upset by an Asuka appearance. And it would have kept Bianca’s star at the same level it’s been.
It’s often said that WWE is best when they have to come up with something on the fly, when they have to make it up. But this desperation to have “A MOMENT” wiped that out, and left everyone looking worse. Becky came out, squashed Bianca in 30 seconds because she can’t do a full match yet, and left everyone wondering what the fuck just happened.
Belair was one of WWE’s only homegrown and properly developed stars, and she is a true star. A fantastic worker with a Vegas-sized neon sign of a personality. She had come up through NXT and the Performance Center and had grown almost immeasurably over the past two years, to the point where her main eventing of Wrestlemania hardly seemed a reach. And that match was one of the best of the year. She’s carried Smackdown’s still somewhat-light women’s division through the next few months while Sasha was gone, and was proof that WWE didn’t always ignore its young talent. She is what WWE could be.
And then they chumped her out to Lynch, who looks worse for it as well, as that’s never been what Becky’s been about. Her rise to the biggest star in the company was rooted in not getting a chance and not being able to break through WWE’s tired and stale booking. And now she’s just Lady Lesnar? Bianca and Becky will assuredly fix this down the road by having a proper match that will be great, but until then…
One also couldn’t help but notice the difference in production as well. Whereas Punk’s return was simply allowed to breathe with just the picture and noise and no commentary, Michael Cole and Pat McAfee couldn’t stop slobbering all over Becky’s return and depriving us of the scale of the crowd reaction. WWE is overkill if nothing else.
The capper was the following ad for WWE’s next show in Saudi Arabia, because getting their $40 million in blood money is that important, even with the record profits they’re claiming which apparently are not enough to dissuade them from associating with the murdering of journalists or grievous human rights violations or whatever else the Saudi rulers get up to. That’s who they are.
The rest of SummerSlam didn’t really change the outlook. Goldberg wasted Bobby Lashley’s and our time, and didn’t even give Lashley a clean win to look better. It ended with Lashley having to maul Goldberg’s son, yet another “family” angle we’d already seen earlier in the show with the Mysterios and in the build to Seth Rollins-Edge and various other times. It’s tired and boring. Combined with the match being stopped due to a Goldberg “injury,” we’re not done with this even though no one other than a Saudi prince or two wants it.
Reigns and John Cena put on a main event worthy of any PPV, which of course was finished with the appearance of Brock Lesnar’s Old Axl Rose-lookin’ ass. Yes, Lesnar-Reigns is more attractive now with this version of Reigns, but we’ve seen this. It’s not new. It’s not really exciting. But we know that along with Lashley-Goldberg, it’s just a prep for what they’ll do in Saudi Arabia. Which makes its own statement. And then Lesnar will fuck off for months again, and Reigns will still have no worthy challengers who are on the roster full-time.
While AEW is hardly perfect, Friday night showed a company that is using known and older stars to make new ones and get people talking. Saturday we saw one that is only interested in that first part, which is how we got AEW in the first place.