When it comes to WWE pay-per-views, four events on a crowded calendar stand out as special each year: Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Survivor Series.
Collectively known as the "Big Four," these are usually supercards for WWE standard and turning points in the major ongoing stories in the company.
This year, the event is also representing a change from recent trends, as more than just a handful of matches are being announced before the show. Recently, it hasn't been surprising to see three or even four bouts added to PPVs without advance notice.
Tonight's Raw represented the go-home show for SummerSlam, the last chance to build excitement and sway people to order the show. The best way to evaluate Raw is to look at the implications the show had on the major matches for Sunday's pay-per-view.
Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar: With Triple H "delayed" to the venue, Shawn Michaels lurked backstage, nervous all night. When it came time for the contract signing and Paul Heyman and Lesnar began running their mouths, HBK made his way to the ring.
Contrary to expectation, there was no physical contact between anyone, even after Triple H finally showed up. That had to be the biggest surprise on this entire episode of Raw, and gave the build to this match an unexpected turn.
Of course, it wouldn't last long, as Lesnar attacked Michaels backstage in a segment that knocked out the camera's vision. Everyone knew HBK wasn't going to make it to SummerSlam unscathed, but it was a little much for Lesnar to pull Michaels out of his car and then to break his arm.
The fact the Lesnar-Michaels-Triple H angle took the final 30 minutes of the show is telling. This match will close the PPV Sunday. This whole ordeal could have been shortened to allow for something - anything - else. This was entirely too much time dedicated to this segment.
CM Punk vs. John Cena vs. Big Show: These three men - along with Daniel Bryan met in a tag team match. Punk and Cena seemed to be cooperating for most of the match, but near the end, the champion left his partner strander.
Of course, though, Cena would overcome the challenge and hit an Attitude Adjustment of Bryan for the win. The match itself was good for television, but it's a shame to see Bryan take another clean loss for the sake of advancing a story he's not part of.
The focus of the match's ending - which featured Punk hitting Cena's signature moves - and post-match happenings was clearly on Punk and Cena, so Big Show may be a bit of an afterthought heading into SummerSlam.
Chris Jericho vs. Dolph Ziggler: These two found themselves in a triple threat match that also included Intercontinental Champion The Miz. The match itself was a lengthy and really good, fun contest that saw all three men emerge looking strong.
There were also several instances of storytelling and advancement in this match, especially involving Jericho, Ziggler and Vickie Guerrero. In the end, Guerrero's distraction of the referee allowed Ziggler to score the pinfall over his rival.
There was also development for some of the under- and midcard matches scheduled for SummerSlam, and details of those advancements can be found below.
Overall, it was a mixed bag of build for SummerSlam. The show is still a pretty stacked card and will surely deliver, but WWE has to rebound from some hit-and-miss build.
- Interference by Brodus Clay backfired during Damien Sandow's match with Christian, and there was much rejoicing - well, in my apartment anyway. The match was fairly pedestrian until Clay's music hit, and Christian tried capitalizing on the distraction with a roll-up. Sandow got out off it and hit his finisher. After Christian delivered Antonio Cesaro his first loss last week on Smackdown, I was worried Sandow would meet the same fate, but this was a more-than-welcome surprise.
- While it wound up being nothing more than a set-up for the tag match later in the night, the opening contest between Punk and Big Show wasn't bad at all. These two men don't have issues putting together compelling action together, and neither do Punk and Cena, so why are people so up in arms about the WWE Championship match at SummerSlam?
- WWE seems very uncertain what it wants to do with Tensai. One week, he has a brutal brawl with the World Heavyweight Champion, and the next he's jobbing to a cruiserweight in less than three minutes. Sin Cara's victory over Tensai wasn't even a fluke; it was a definitive pinfall. When things like this happen, a win over the big man starts to mean less and less.
- Roddy Piper seemed to be off his game in the Piper's Pit segment. The whole bit came across pretty weak, though, and it can't all be blamed on Piper. There is also an issue with the relevance of the fan interactivity when all three potential candidates wound up as part of the show anyway.
- Fans asking for longer divas matches got what they wanted, as Divas Champion Layla and Kaitlyn defeated Beth Phoenix and Eve. The match wasn't extraordinarily long, but compared to typical divas matches, it was an improvement. The action, while sloppy at spots, wasn't all that bad either.
- Heath Slater squash matches were entertaining when he was getting destroyed by legends of the past. When he's losing to someone like R-Truth, it just doesn't have that spark. At least Titus O'Neil and Darren Young got some post-AW heat by beating down Truth after the match.
- Santino Marella will defend the United States Championship against Antonio Cesaro on the SummerSlam pre-show. This more than likely means that Marella will retain, which will be disappointing. WWE needs to pull the trigger on Cesaro if they hope to make him a true star.
- Pauly D tweeting during the show did nothing to get me more invested in Raw or SummerSlam. Then again, I'm not the target demographic for his involvement, which is aimed at getting casual viewers and his followers to tune in.
- JTG's controversial Twitters comments earned him a spot on the show. Unfortunately, he found himself facing Ryback. Thanks for coming, JTG.
Big Show d. CM Punk by disqualification
Ryback d. JTG
R-Truth d. Heath Slater
Sin Cara d. Tensai
Dolph Ziggler d. Chris Jericho and The Miz
Kaitlyn and Layla d. Beth Phoenix and Eve
John Cena and CM Punk d. Daniel Bryan and Big Show
Damien Sandow d. Christian
Some people on social media were blasting this week's Raw to shreds, but I don't think it was anywhere near that bad. The triple threat match and tag matches were worthwhile viewing, many of the other matches served their purposes and nothing stood out as exceptionally bad. Yes, there were questionable decisions, but I think the biggest issue with the show continues to be the issue of trying to find three hours of worthwhile and valuable content. Thirty minutes of Lesnar, Triple H and Michaels was a bit excessive, to say the least. SummerSlam seems to be shaping up like a solid show, and I'm saddened that I won't be able to watch it.
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