One of the biggest criticisms of this year’s SummerSlam event was the WWE almost failing to keep the Brooklyn crowd actively engaged in the show. After the AJ Styles-John Cena match, the crowd seemed disengaged, even getting to the point where the appearance of a new title took precedence over the action taking place in the ring.
SummerSlam really was a solid show, but the crowd reactions may have made one feel otherwise. This issue could have been prevented, as the WWE dropped the ball in the ordering of the card. SummerSlam 2016, although a more than passable event, needs to be a reminder that a major show needs to be ordered according to fan investment, or else wrestlers deserving of full attention from the live crowd run the risk of hearing crickets.
It is imperative that the opening of a pay-per-view immediately grasps the attention of the fans. Thankfully, the strongest spot on a current WWE pay-per-view card in the opener thanks to Enzo Amore and Big Cass.
It is the job of the opener to sell the remainder of the card, and Enzo could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves. There is a reason why Enzo and Cass have opened almost every pay-per-view since their debut the night after WrestleMania 32.
After the opening match, the order of the rest of the card was simply bizarre. The second match of the night was one that had one of the highest ratios of the fans’ emotional investment on the card. Sasha Banks and Charlotte are spearheading a women’s wrestling uprising that is the biggest accomplishment of the entire New Era. Never before has the fanbase of a major company gotten behind female wrestlers has passionately as they do Banks, and few other female wrestlers have received the heat Charlotte gets on a nightly basis.
Based on the matches involving these two ladies in the past, WWE should have known that the story they would tell in the ring would again outshine the majority of the card. Although the match did turn into a botch buffet, the moves they did successfully execute in addition to the story they told left no room for the following match, an Intercontinental Championship match between Apollo Crews and The Miz, to stand a chance.
The remainder of the show seems as if it was set up to fail.
As noted, AJ Styles and John Cena had a match that contained, by miles, the most fan investment out of all the matches on the card. They are the figureheads of virtually the only two fan groups that exist amongst the WWE Universe today: the kids and the diehards. Due to this level of investment, Styles vs. Cena should have had the main event, much like The Rock and Hollywood Hogan should have main evented WrestleMania 18 over Triple H and Chris Jericho.
As expected, Styles and Cena owned the night and zapped any remaining energy from the Brooklyn crowd who had, at that point, been watching the show for around four hours. Rather than have the six-woman tag match follow to allow the crowd to calm down (but could have also brought the crowd back with the return of Nikki Bella), The New Day, Anderson and Gallows, and Jon Stewart (who was booed out of the building) had a match based on comedy. This means that the WWE expected the Brooklyn crowd to completely change emotional gears and prepare to laugh at a match that was literally built around jokes about testicles.
Gallagher would have received a better response from the crowd.
If Cena and Styles were not going to main event, there was only one justifiable replacement: Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor.
Instead of having these two – a pair of guys who literally are the future of the company – main event for the first WWE Universal Championship, they had the third-to-last spot, while the main event was given to Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton, two wrestlers who have nothing to do with the New Era.
The WWE needs to be thanking its lucky stars that Balor and Rollins are as good as they are, for they were given a crowd that not only booed Jon Stewart out of the building, but were disgusted over the apparently hideous appearance of the WWE Universal Championship.
At the conclusion of the Balor vs. Rollins match, the three matches that fans were most invested in were completed, leaving a despised Roman Reigns and two twilighting WWE icons to carry the remainder of the show. These remaining performers valiantly attempted to do the job, but fans were already given a 20-minute Reigns-Rusev main event on Raw. Orton being mutilated and getting color grabbed the crowd’s attention, but the order of the card up to that point sucked the air out of the room.
It goes without saying that an occasional Raw or SmackDown is going to have a swing and a miss as a main event. However, the WWE has a chanced to redeem themselves the following week. There is only one SummerSlam a year, that this one came off as an experiment to determine hierarchy rather than a clear indicator that WWE creative is paying attention to fan reaction. To do this on WWE’s second biggest night of the year reaches damn near sacrilegious levels, and this night needs to be noted as one never to duplicate in the area of card order.