SummerSlam & The Challenge Of Scheduling Big Matches in 2017

Looking at the current WWE landscape, SummerSlam really is a unique event. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always been important in the company’s calendar but with the brand split and PPV schedule, this is the only show currently even comparable to WrestleMania. Both brands only come together four times a year and two of those are Royal Rumble and Survivor Series, shows very much built around their central gimmick matches which automatically allow most talents on the cards. SummerSlam and WrestleMania aren't built on a specific match though and instead are basically just super-cards. The only difference really is that there seemingly isn’t the same need to include everyone at “The Biggest Party of the Summer” that there is at the “Grandest Stage of Them All.”

When you have a brand split though, options are obviously limited from as soon as the rosters are drafted. You have your major matches on top, talents to develop and more appealing matches in both the tag and women’s divisions. It’s then a matter of having the foresight to schedule those matches in a fashion that will maximize their drawing power while also considering their potential impact on the brand and more importantly, when they are needed most. This is all far easier said than done of course but when you factor in the responsibility of producing solo PPVs almost monthly, SummerSlam becomes a quite fascinating event on the creative side.

Let’s start at the top of the card where both brands are offering quite contrasting world title matches. The blue brand’s WWE title bout is Jinder Mahal vs. Shinsuke Nakamura. This is a match that seems to have a lingering possibility of disappointment but in fairness, Shinsuke is undeniably one of the most popular babyfaces in “The Land of Opportunity” and considering that, this is a pretty fair offering for an event like SummerSlam. It’s really just going to be a matter of the two performers clicking on the night. However, when you compare that with RAW’s headline act, it doesn't seem quite as interesting.

RAW has been pretty strong recently and this main event scene absolutely symbolizes that. With the hoss quartet of Roman Reigns, BRAUN Strowman, Samoa Joe and Brock Lesnar all colliding at once, this has Avenger fight scene potential. The reason this match really fascinates me as far as the scheduling topic though is that it seems to achieve everything all at once. To feature all of your talent you often have to force multi-man matches and that in turn sometimes limits its overall appeal. That absolutely isn’t the case here, though, as all 4 seem organically linked and Brock’s schedule allows them to still maintain an aura of real spectacle.

More than just being a stellar main event though, this match allows them to save three major Brock singles matches for later events which means that brand exclusive events like No Mercy could possibly be treated to a major Lesnar match just like Great Balls of Fire was. It really is the ideal SummerSlam main event in that sense particularly as it allows the flagship brand to continue its momentum in the months following the event. On the other hand, the women and tag divisions tell quite interesting, contrasting stories, especially with SmackDown’s approach.

When the brands come together for a show like this it’s only natural for the audience to compare the opposing sides of the card. The women’s title matches are a great example of that. I don’t mean this as a slight to either Natalya or Naomi but when placed next to Sasha vs. Alexa, their match feels somewhat weak. That’s certainly due to booking in many ways but regardless of the reason, unless we get a cash-in on Sunday, this match feels very much like a way to get another title defense in whilst saving matches featuring Charlotte, and to a less degree Becky, for later events that need them more.

As much as I’m excited about Alexa and Sasha’s shoot fight, it’s unlikely to get a ton of time on a card like this and considering that, maybe a Charlotte/Naomi or Charlotte/Becky match is better saved for a “Clash of Champions” for example as that’s where it will get more promotion and more in-ring time. That’s an aspect absolutely worth taking into account but is there an impact to not putting your best foot forward on one of the year’s biggest stages? Does it further SmackDown’s long-time B-show perception in a way that subtly hurts the brand overall? I’m honestly not sure but from my view, the pair of tag title matches definitely give some insight into these decisions.

Arguably the most engaging story on WWE TV right now has been the reuniting of Seth Rolllins and Dean Ambrose and this Sunday they face the RAW tag champs Cesaro and Sheamus for the belts. People seem to have been really emotionally invested in the segments building to this match and hopefully, that will translate to in-ring excitement. This match likely has more interest going in than almost any other and that’s what makes SmackDown’s offering pretty unfortunate. For two months The Usos and New Day have put on quite spectacular PPV matches and what’s likely their blow-off match here is as good as any potential tag match in the world but due to this card’s nature, it finds itself on the pre-show.

I’m not saying that being on the pre-show is a big deal to be clear and someone obviously has to be on it but I do think it’s a shame that this feud’s 3rd PPV match will likely be forgotten by the time the main event comes to a close. It’s that aspect that makes a SummerSlam Natalya title match seem more reasonable all things considered. This is a topic that we should likely all keep in mind more when throwing our wild criticisms out as frankly, it’s something that constantly has to be taken into consideration when considering creative plans.

Producing solo PPVs can be a dangerous business and an event like Battleground is the perfect example of what isn’t ideal for a single brand show. In many ways, the July PPV felt just like a necessity that had to be done before we got to SummerSlam and unfortunately, that’s almost certain to happen at times. Last year at SummerSlam the draft had only just been re-instated and that meant that SmackDown took the back seat in many ways as they prepared for their first brand exclusive show: Backlash. That isn’t the case this year though so when you’re enjoying the 6029 hour extravaganza, take a moment to consider the way the brands perform opposite each other on this extremely unique event.

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