The week leading up to Saturday night’s SummerSlam felt particularly guarded. Most of the stories about the workings backstage in the wake of Vince McMahon’s “retirement” and Triple H’s taking over of creative referred to the plans for the company’s second biggest show already being locked in. That we wouldn’t see HHH’s influence until after the show, when he could start anew. Perhaps that was just lowering expectations, perhaps it was just to make the things HHH is going to change pop all that much harder on the show, maybe a mix of the two. Whatever it was, you can already see the seeds of where one Paul Levesque might take the company, creatively.
The first move that HHH went for was juicing the women’s division, which is no surprise given that the women’s revolution on NXT and then the main roster is basically what his legacy as a booker will lead off with, and rightly so. Becky Lynch, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Bayley are household names because HHH’s NXT featured them first and foremost. Bianca Belair is the same. Women’s matches have led off PPVs or PLEs before, but this felt a little different.
As they always do, Belair and Lynch tore down the house, but it’s what came after that signaled a definite departure from what had come before. After the match, Bayley returned from injury, but she was accompanied by Dakota Kai — whom WWE’s previous leadership had fired just a few months ago — and Io Shirai (who did get a name change to Iyo Sky, but I’m choosing to just not be bothered by that). The former had been released by the old regime, but was heavily pushed by Triple H in her NXT days and was brought back because of that, and Io/Iyo was another HHH darling, one who was supposed to be part of the inaugural Mae Young Classic before injury. Rumors had been that she was going to run down her deal and return to Japan, partially because she didn’t see much of a future in either the new NXT or on the main roster. Clearly, that has changed. The buzz was also that this faction was pitched a long while ago and fell on Vince’s deaf ears, so HHH immediately instituting something that the performers themselves wanted is certainly a signal to the entire locker room that he’s going to listen and flexibility will be a calling card.
Another aspect HHH seemingly couldn’t wait to stomp all over was Becky Lynch as a heel, as she pivoted away from it with her handshake/hug with Belair after Belair’s win and then backed her up when the previously mentioned returning trio came to the ring. Lynch was never a heel, fans will never dislike her, and it was folly to even try. Tweener yes, Becky can always straddle that line. But as a heel? Nope.
So now the Raw side of the division gets some new faces who can really go in Sky and Kai (ha! Look at that!) as well as a returning heavy in Bayley. Bayley can take the lead heel role that Lynch was never quite suited for, and we can see some other combinations besides just Lynch-Belair all the time with a sprinkling of Asuka. There’s also tag team potential here with Kai-Sky and Becky and Belair, which will get awfully interesting whenever HHH brings Sasha back (it’s gonna happen and my AEW dreams are over). Clearly, HHH is going to take this all a bit more seriously.
In only a week on the job, HHH hasn’t been shy about having people shit on things he clearly thought were silly by proxy. On Smackdown, Roman Reigns taunted Theory by telling him, “Daddy’s not here anymore.” He had Drew McIntyre cut a promo during SummerSlam about how tedious Brock and Roman facing off had gotten. He even had Theory get clowned in the main event, but we’ll come back to that. If nothing else, Trips has his finger on the pulse of what fans have been complaining about.
Perhaps the most refreshing thing about SummerSlam is it felt like feuds and programs ended. One of the most tiring things about Vince’s WWE is that no PPV or PLE ever felt like it brought anything to a conclusion. This is why there were so many dumb non-finishes because we knew we were just going to get the same match at the next PPV/PLE. It certainly didn’t give what is supposed to be a signature show a feeling of being all that important. It made one wonder why they’d bother to tune it all if nothing would ever change in storyline. Most of this card was just a Mania runback, really.
But Lynch turning face puts her on the same side as Belair instead of across from her. Bobby Lashley basically squashing Theory feels like an end to that. McIntyre is poised to be Roman’s next foil. They made it clear we won’t be seeing the Usos and Street Profits again. The only thing that looks like it might continue is Seth Rollins and Riddle, but they didn’t even have a match on the show. Maybe Ronda Rousey will get another crack at Liv Morgan, or maybe she’ll be “suspended” and leave us all alone for a while.
Add to that commentary not being afraid to talk like real people, or to reference the changes that everyone knows about anyway instead of pretending there’s nothing to see here, and the whole thing had a new feel. That we can tune into PLEs now and watch feuds conclude while others begin, instead of another step on a slog to nowhere. You can’t help but find that refreshing.
WWE is never going to be a work-rate company, and it’s still based on memorable moments. So that’s why Brock tilting the ring with a goddamn tractor is what everyone will take out of it. It’s the kind of silliness and bombast that Vince couldn’t bring himself to author or didn’t have the sense of humor for, at least not anymore, but this is what WWE should be. Everyone’s talking about it. It also covered for the fact that the rest of the Lesnar-Reigns match was yet another that just didn’t quite live up to its billing, though given everyone’s fatigue of this rivalry it probably couldn’t have. There were tons of callbacks to their SummerSlam 2018 match, perhaps their last good one, where they just got into the big spots right from the bell and didn’t stop. That 2018 match also teased a cash-in from Braun Stroman, which was squashed mid-match by Lesnar, as was Theory’s this time around. But at least this feud is over, Reigns can move on to something else that can hopefully free him from his stale state, and Lesnar can go back to his Manitoba farm where he raises dollar bills.
We’ll find out more now that HHH can spend the next five weeks or so completely designing the road to a PLE on his own instead of parachuting in the week before such an event. But what we saw Saturday portends an improvement, as simple a task as that might have been. But just because it was simple doesn’t mean it isn’t greatly welcomed.