While SummerSlam as an event is the second or third biggest and most highly anticipated WWE show of the year, as the card continues to be filled with matches, only one really sticks out as having genuine drawing potential and hype: Four of the current top stars on the entire roster, not to mention four of the biggest, baddest guys, all squaring off in a match against each other for the Universal Championship.
As so often happens in WWE, though, once the matchup was made official, WWE has fallen into one of its typical booking habits at the hindrance of itself and the match, because it is not enough to book a big match and just build to it the old-school way with promos, angles, etc.
No, WWE must also book compelling matches for television leading up to the pay-per-view, by which it takes the exact competitors of the big upcoming match and has them face each other in somewhat preliminary contests as well. It’s a method which certainly does its job of attracting viewers to Raw or SmackDown, keeping them hooked in for the long shows to see whatever intriguing matchup is coming. However, it does no favors to what is ultimately most important: the big match itself.
With each passing week utilizing this booking method, you take more and more of the shine off what was supposed to be your big match. But, in reality, how big of a match is it really when fans have got to see the competitors face off in several different contests in just the couple of weeks beforehand?
The one saving grace of SummerSlam’s main event is Brock Lesnar does not do TV matches, so his shine is always maintained heading into a big show. But what about the other three-quarters of the match?
WWE actually started off the build on a very high note. Ultimately, this match finds its roots at Great Balls of Fire, where Lesnar and Samoa Joe had their first-ever match. The following night began the build to SummerSlam as we looked to determine Lesnar’s next challenger, featuring a great promo with Lesnar, Joe and Roman Reigns that led to a No. 1 contender match between the latter for the following week.
A match, yes, but a match which had a real purpose to the story and came before anything was announced. So Braun Strowman makes his return during said match, demolishing both men without any match result, leading to the next week, where all three men make their claim for a shot at Lesnar and Kurt Angle decides to grant all their wishes simultaneously and make it a four-way contest.
An all-out brawl between the three men shortly follows. The security crew comes out and gets destroyed. Followed by the midcarders in the back who try to break everything up and the three guys are still going all out. A display of mayhem and a perfect way to kick-start the build to a match predicated on the idea of its competitors being the baddest men in the locker room.
The following week is where WWE began the slip-up. After that great brawl, the next Raw got an official three-way match between Reigns, Joe and Strowman. SummerSlam is being main-evented by a four-way, and WWE decides weeks out it’s going to have three of the four men compete against each other on TV, just because.
The reason the brawl works so well is because it’s spontaneous, it’s unsanctioned, and it’s short — simply a taste to tease the craving. But you go and give a full-blown match and the complete opposite effect results. Instead of just a taste, you are literally giving a portion of your big match away for nothing.
But that’s not enough for WWE, as it is announced the following week will host a Last Man Standing match between Reigns and Strowman. First of all, you probably should not be giving away big-match stipulations on TV. And second, the watering-down process continues as we get to see two of the four competitors face off in yet another match leading up to the big one.
Just like the three-way, another match which has no real purpose storyline-wise. A match for the sake of itself, with no stakes nor consequences.
It’s really not that difficult. Promos and angles are the way to go, with limited physical contact if you’re going to host any at all. If the guys are going to have matches as well, they should be with anyone else besides the ones they are set to face at the big show.
That is the whole foundation of selling a big match. The idea is the fans are dying to see the match between said competitors. So what sense is there in essentially giving them the match before you actually give them the match?
You look at the real fight world and you do not see two fighters having sparring or grappling matches leading up to their actual fight. That would be ridiculous. It would completely undermine the whole reason people want to see the fight in the first place.
You build through promotion, interviews, face-offs and general banter, which compels fans to want to see them get their hands on each other even more.
WWE, with its efforts constantly on selling the Network, is not compelling people to subscribe when they’ve already seen several variations of the match they are going to have to pay to see. Realistically, fans have already seen the vast majority of the match by now. They know what it is basically going to look like because WWE was kind enough to show so much of it for free, effectively making SummerSlam less and less of a priority to go out of your way to see.