The first WWE premium live event of the post-Vince McMahon era has officially passed with SummerSlam having come and gone. While it will take quite a bit of time before fans can properly analyze what a pro wrestling universe looks like without McMahon, the early returns of the Triple H were certainly looking good.
SummerSlam featured plenty of memorable moments including a fantastic bookend with the return of Bayley, Dakota Kai and Io Shirai to begin the night and Brock Lesnar lifting the ring with a tractor to end the night.
There is plenty of reason for optimism for the jaded WWE fan. The buzz from SummerSlam could catch the interest of those who may have been driven away sometime in the last decade or so. Now that fans have had a taste of what it will be like with Triple H at the helm, here are some other items that should be on The Game’s list as he continues to forge ahead with booking responsibilities.
Continue to rebuild the Women’s Division
SummerSlam kicked off with a solid match between Bianca Belair and Becky Lynch, which saw Belair retain her Raw Women’s Championship and Lynch turn babyface. However, post-match was noteworthy with the returns of the aforementioned Bayley, Kai, and the newly named Iyo Sky (formerly Io Shirai).
Fans of WWE have been disgruntled over the last year-plus watching several wrestlers in the company get released from their contracts, including Kai, who was let go in April. But she’s back alongside Bayley and Sky, who appears to have a signed a main roster contract after competing in NXT for an extended period of time.
The women’s division has felt extremely thinned out since, essentially, the start of the pandemic. It was top heavy with the likes of Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Bayley and Lynch, with only Belair breaking through to the upper echelon of star power.
Triple H oversaw NXT when it had, arguably, the best women’s division in pro wrestling. Kai and Sky were part of that roster alongside current main roster stalwarts Shayna Baszler, Rhea Ripley, and Belair. There is plenty of optimism surrounding the women’s division now.
New Wrestlers on Top
It will be extremely refreshing to see new challengers for the Raw and SmackDown women’s championships. Bringing Kai back into the fold and welcoming Sky onto the main roster are home runs in the early days of Triple H.
Now it’s time to ask when and how many new wrestlers we’ll see on WWE television in the coming weeks.
Fans immediately wondered if former NXT star Johnny Gargano would return to the fold, working under his former boss in Triple H. The same can be said for Bray Wyatt, whose first character iteration as part of the Wyatt Family was shepherded by Triple H.
As the old glory days of NXT faded away and all its old stars either graduated to the main roster or left for AEW, it felt as though no new stars were showing up on WWE television. Now that Triple H is at the helm creatively, perhaps he can convince wrestlers to either stay with, or come to, WWE.
Other wrestlers that aren’t working regularly in North America that could be great in WWE include JONAH, Killer Kross, Stu Grayson, Top Dolla and B Fab among many others.
With Bayley, Kai and Sky together, it appears as though they have developed a faction of sorts. Over the last five years, there has been no stronger faction in WWE than the Undisputed Era, which Triple H oversaw in NXT.
Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish (all now in AEW) and Roderick Strong were major stars not just in NXT, but across the entire pro wrestling landscape. The foursome was so good together due in large part to their friendship and natural camaraderie on and off camera. There are natural cliques behind the scenes in wrestling, just like in any business, and when those cliques are allowed to amalgamate, they can often produce brilliant results.
If there is a group of friends behind the scenes dying to do something together, let them do it. Faction warfare was a tad overdone in the late 1990s but was still fun and memorable for the most part. D-Generation X is a prime example with Triple H, Billy Gunn, Road Dogg, X Pac and Chyna.
At the heart of WWE is the word wrestling, and that is both literal and metaphorical. World WrestlingEntertainment. Before that, it was the World Wrestling Federation. And ahead of that label, before Vince McMahon had even purchased the company out of his father, there was the World Wide Wrestling Federation. The lineage extends beyond that, as well, but the common denominator with each business model was that it relied on professional wrestling to sell tickets.
Too often in the last decade, and likely even longer, has wrestling fallen by the wayside in the name of entertainment. Fans are drawn to WWE not for the cheesy backstage segments or sometimes eye-rolling promo segments, but for the art of pro wrestling.
WWE has shown that, bell-to-bell, they still have some of the best pro wrestlers on the planet. In fact, at SummerSlam they demonstrated that with some excellent matchups between Reigns and Lesnar, Belair and Lynch, The Street Profits and the Usos, among other bouts. Memorable rivalries in pro wrestling are often developed on the strength of multiple weeks of promotional items, namely interviews and microphone exchanges between wrestlers. However, if there’s no payoff in the ring, there is little to no memory of the multiple weeks of work prior to it.
WWE airs seven hours of live television per week on Sportsnet 360, meaning there is plenty of time to fill. It is easier to fill that time with pro wrestling matches as opposed to talk shows, backstage segments and commercial promotional items. More wrestling, less talking, and Triple H have shown that he deeply cares about the in-ring product.
But in order to fill more in-ring time, there is a need for more in-ring athletes.
Pro Wrestler Development
Triple H has showcased the ability to sell high-quality pro wrestling to the masses dating back to just a few years ago when he was in charge of the glory days of NXT. Fans now watch a majority of NXT’s former stars on another channel, in another pro wrestling organization.
It felt as though any time a star in NXT arrived on either Raw or SmackDown, the shine they had gained on the black and gold brand was washed away and replaced with a new coat of paint. There were exceptions to that, with superstars such as Kevin Owens and Shinsuke Nakamura attaining championship status on the main roster, but fans will tell you that many of their favorite NXT stars never lived up to their potential on the main roster.
With a former developmental head at the wheel, now, that can change. If there is a success story in NXT, don’t change what isn’t broken. If Bron Breakker gets over with the audience in NXT, don’t change anything. Let him do his thing from him on the main roster. NXT certainly isn’t the feeder system it once was, meaning there is also an opportunity to let talent that are already on the main explore different characters and promos, rather than have something always carefully crafted for them.
Hands Off Approach
Roman Reigns is nearing a two-year run as the top champion in WWE, something not seen since the days as Hulk Hogan. In his first run as a singles star, he was reportedly handed promos that were always carefully sculpted to him, all while trying to play a cool guy.
Two years ago, Reigns was gifted an opportunity to transform into something that was more believable for himself and for the entire crowd, beginning with the aforementioned championship run.
Reigns, while obvious, is an excellent example of stepping back and letting a talent transform into a character that is closer to themselves than that of a writer’s. Triple H has worked closely with success stories such as Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Adam Cole, Shayna Baszler, and Asuka, among many others, who flourished under his creative guidance from him, which essentially felt like letting the talent do their own thing.
Make Sami Zayn a Champion
This is a selfish one from me. But Sami Zayn is the most underrated wrestler on the WWE roster and he deserves to run as a top champion before his career is over. It would be absolutely brilliant to reignite a storyline with Zayn as babyface and Kevin Owens as a heel and let the two Canadian’s work a storyline where they wrestle for a major championship.
Triple H was in charge of NXT when Owens and Zayn first encountered each other with Zayn as champion. Perhaps he’d like to revisit it sometime down the line. If it’s not Zayn and Owens, there is a brilliant bit of storytelling to be laid out with Zayn as an underdog babyface. The sky could be the limit with the Montreal native.