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An apology to Triple H as Damage CTRL wins the big one, and other SummerSlam thoughts

Here we are. Collectively the WWE Universe has had a full day now to soak in and process what we all saw go down at Ford Field this past Saturday night.

A tragic betrayal. An instant classic. A heartwarming reunion. A touch of nostalgia and one big sigh of relief from the close to 60,000 people who had L.A. Knight chants echoing throughout the downtown streets of Detroit hours before the doors ever opened for the show.

It’s safe to say that this year’s SummerSlam had a little something for everyone. Although, rarely is a Premium Live Event without it’s faults. And for WWE fans, the turn of Jimmy Uso against his twin brother was an outcome that many had predicted but seldom wanted.

The success of the latest twist in the Bloodline saga may very well hinge on what happens this Friday night on SmackDown, where hopefully we’ll hear why Jimmy Uso decided to be the Cain to his brother’s Abel.

A controversial finish isn’t necessarily a fault however, despite how it’s viewed by some. WWE is the ultimate form of subjective entertainment. Regardless of how you felt at the end of the night, there’s no denying that once again, Roman Reigns and Jey Uso delivered a masterful performance.

Before I Monday Morning... Well, at the risk of copyright issues I probably shouldn’t finish that sentence with ‘Quarterback this thing’.

Let’s just call this what it is - the Monday Morning Gorilla Position.

Prior to hopping into the big chair for my main takeaway from SummerSlam weekend, I need to offer up a quick note and a bit of lengthy apology.

No, that SummerSlam audience was not a bad crowd.

I cannot tell you how many text messages I received Saturday night asking if the crowd was as dead as they sounded on Peacock. The answer, as is usually the case, was no.

The announced attendance Saturday night was 59,154, and I can confidently say that nearly every single one of them was invested in what was happening throughout the entirety of the show. Understandably though, they were pretty tired.

I know this because, well, I was feeling fatigued despite the nearly C4 level amount of caffeine that was coursing it’s way through my system.

By the time Seth Rollins had retained his World Heavyweight Championship over Finn Balor, the crowd was spent. Thousands of people who bought tickets to the show, whether it was at WWE’s big block party or elsewhere, were out pre-gaming several hours before the opening contest.

What was mistaken by those watching at home as disinterest as Asuka, Charlotte Flair and Bianca Belair battled it out for the WWE Women’s Championship, was actually just exhaustion. But give the people of Detroit credit, they got up for the biggest moments late into the night. And even the early minutes of the next morning.

Which brings me to my apology.

Last week I published a column lambasting WWE’s decision to keep Becky Lynch, Trish Stratus, Rhea Ripley and Raquel Rodriguez off the card. The reported reason, that was essentially confirmed Saturday night by Chief Content Officer Triple H, was that there just wasn’t enough time for two more matches on the show.

The crux of my argument was - who cares if the show runs a little long? It’s Saturday night. It’s the ‘Biggest Party of the Summer.’ Stack the card, I believe was the exact verbiage that was used.

Hitting an arbitrary hard out should not be prioritized over showcasing some of your biggest stars, on one of the biggest Premium Live Events of the year. Especially considering the match between Becky and Trish had been building for five months.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with my work, I am a longtime women’s wrestling fan and advocate. I also have great admiration for The Man, both as a human being and as a performer.

So when I rolled out of bed at 1:30am last Tuesday and cranked out that column, I was a bit steamed about the situation.

Just like Premium Live Events, very rarely are human beings without their faults.

While I still believe my piece last week was fair and balanced, and left no stone unturned in analyzing the situation, my entire argument crumbled to pieces when SummerSlam lasted until early Sunday morning on the East Coast.

It was not my expectation that the scheduled eight match card would carry the show over the 4-hour mark.

Much to his credit, Triple H allowed each match and segment to breathe. Nothing was rushed and everyone on the card got the time that they needed and deserved.

It’s here that I have to admit I was wrong. Adding one more match to the show, let alone two, would have been a mistake.

“That show was plenty long tonight,” Triple H said during the post SummerSlam press conference. “If it had been longer, it would have been bad. So there comes a time when you say, ‘Well, does everything get shorter time? Does everything get rushed? Or do we move things around and shift it and give it a bigger spotlight?’ As a performer, for me, I’d rather have the bigger spotlight. That’s how I look at it.”

The Game was answering a question surrounding the recent online discourse when it comes to the overall booking of the Women’s Divisions in both WWE and rival AEW.

He could have been talking about my article specifically (knowing my luck, he probably was).

“There was a lot of banter that I saw this week about matches being cut, which is the word that was used. But nothing was cut. There was no card announced. If we don’t have more things in the pocket ready to go for a PLE that can fit in the PLE, I’ve done a terrible job. Because there’s always an injury waiting around the corner. There’s always a moment that changes everything. When one creative thing changes, it changes the trajectory of everything, right. So if you don’t have more stuff than you need ready to go, you’ve failed. Then you get to the unfortunate place where you’ve got too much stuff.”

This is the exact out that I mentioned in last week’s column. Becky Lynch and Trish Stratus, while heavily reported to be slotted for SummerSlam, was never officially announced for the show.

That said, a new report from Fightful Select says that some of those involved in the Becky/Trish and Rhea/Raquel programs had family and friends that were planning to be in Detroit for the show. That would indicate that some of talent were under the belief they were going to be booked for SummerSlam - if not told so directly.

Regardless, it was quite clear by their social media activity over the weekend, that the ladies were not exactly thrilled about their matches being bumped to a later date.

And honestly, who can blame them for being mad? You or I would be too if we were in their shoes.

Later on during the press conference, when asked about Austin Theory not defending his United States Championship on the show in lieu of participating in the SummerSlam Battle Royal, Triple H offered up the same answer - there wasn’t enough time.

“When you creatively have enough talent and enough storylines that you could do two full days of WrestleMania, when you pull back to one show time-wise it’s very clear no matter what show it is, you cannot put everyone on that show. I try to have that conversation with talent all the time. Obviously, if you are talent, when the bigger PLEs come around or what is perceived as the bigger PLEs, that’s the show you wanna be on. But not everyone can be on that PLE.”

I do not envy Triple H. Making these types of decisions cannot be easy. Let’s not forget, he has been where Austin Theory, Becky Lynch and every other performer in the WWE locker room stands now. He’s been in their shoes. He knows how disappointed and angry his Superstars are when something like this happens.

And I’m sure he’s well aware that he’s going to get some pushback from the fanbase as well, and that was certainly the case this past week.

These decisions still need to be made and being the Chief Content Officer means Triple H is the one that has to make the tough call and live with the fallout - whatever it may be.

Heavy lays the head that wears the crown.

“Sometimes those decisions aren’t going to make everybody happy. Sometimes people are going to have to take the lemons and make lemonade. It’s just what it is.”

Triple H closed out the proceedings Saturday night by making a not-so-subtle reference to Becky Lynch’s Twitter post (see above) that stirred up her fans once again just that afternoon.

In hindsight, would Becky Lynch vs. Trish Stratus or Rhea Ripley vs. Raquel Rodriguez have been a better fit on the show?

I believe many fans would argue, yes.

Now it comes down to weighing the merits of one match against another. That might seem easy for some fans, but you have to remember, WWE is a business. Sponsored matches and celebrity appearances will make the card 100% of the time.

Ratings and revenue always come first. Always. Slim Jim brought the cash, the largest sponsorship deal in company history, and Logan Paul brings new eyes to the product. He’s also a part-time performer, which makes his matches a bit harder to reschedule.

Aside from all of that, you eliminate either of those matches, you eliminate major moments for both Ricochet and L.A. Knight. Two men who more than earned their spotlights.

You’re not going to drop any of your three big title matches off the show and I would love to see anyone try to tell Brock Lesnar that his big finale with Cody Rhodes was being saved for Payback. Which in consequence, would have denied the crowd one of the more organic displays of respect in SummerSlam history.

A humbled Beast hugging the American Nightmare and thrice raising his arm in victory. A gesture that we later found out Brock Lesnar took it upon himself to do.

As someone who spent the better part of two years screaming for the Intercontinental Championship to be highlighted on the bigger stages, Saturday’s bout between GUNTHER and Drew McIntyre delivered on that dream in a major way.

It took every tool in the Ring General’s arsenal to keep the big Scotsman down for the three seconds, closing out a hard hitting affair that likely left both men with some free hamburger meat on their chest. GUNTHER has put together the most significant Intercontinental Championship reign of the millennium, and his march toward the Honky Tonk Man’s record trudges forward.

Last, and in no way least, we come to Shayna Baszler vs. Ronda Rousey in an MMA Rules Match.

I understand a large portion of the WWE Universe feels a certain way about Ronda Rousey, but allow me to point out that this was the shortest match on the card. Not counting IYO SKY’s MITB cash-in.

An official time of 7:30.

If you’re a fan of Becky Lynch, Trish Stratus, Rhea Ripley or Raquel Rodriguez, I’m asking for an honest answer here. Would you have been ok with any of them getting just seven and a half minutes in front of that Ford Field crowd?

I’m willing to bet there would have been similar feelings of disappointment and disrespect as there were with those four competitors being left off the card entirely.

We could argue about match times and whether the main event needed to run nearly an hour, including entrances and post match shenanigans, but putting this card together was not an easy task for Triple H. I don’t care how many different ways you try to slice it.

I do take The Game at his word, that he truly believed he was making the right call for the betterment of the matches themselves - Becky vs. Trish and Rhea vs. Raquel - despite earmarking them to take place on much smaller stage than the one at SummerSlam.

Damage CTRL was Money in the Bank at SummerSlam

Bayley on Saturday night called it magic. I say, how can you not be romantic about professional wrestling?

It was SummerSlam 2022 when Damage CTRL made their surprise debut in WWE. Bayley, making her first appearance in year following surgery to repair a torn ACL, walked down to the ring at Nissan Stadium in Nashville flanked by the newly rechristened IYO SKY (FKA Io Shirai) and Dakota Kai - one woman who was recently let go by the company and one who was reportedly on her way out the door.

It was the first major move of the Triple H creative regime and when Damage CTRL stepped up against Bianca Belair and Becky Lynch on that first night, you couldn’t help but get this feeling that the group was ready to take over the entire Women’s Division.

A month later at Clash at the Castle, Damage CTRL handed Belair her first pinfall loss since the fall of 2021. Certainly the first step in the group’s dominance - except it wasn’t.

In the months that followed, the trio would fail time and again to score a meaningful victory. SKY and Kai would capture the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships, twice, but they would go on to have only five televised title defenses over their 162 combined days as Champions - they lost two of the them.

That’s definitively an indictment against the booking of the Women’s Tag Team Division and not the group themselves. Something that I’ve often critiqued in the past.

The concept of Damage CTRL should not have been a hard sell, even though Bayley herself has said that numerous past attempts to get this group off the ground were ultimately rejected by Vince McMahon and his creative team.

It’s a faction of three incredibly talented women, led by a multi-time Women’s Champion and future WWE Hall of Famer, with the goal of using her star power and influence to help get two former NXT talents over with the main roster audience.

Regardless of whomever is involved, it’s nearly impossible to accomplish that goal when the talent doesn’t get the booking the WWE Universe feels they need or deserve. Sooner rather than later, the fans will call for a change. And that’s exactly what happened with Damage CTRL.

After pinning Bianca Belair at Clash at the Castle, Bayley received a Raw Women’s Championship match at Extreme Rules. The E-S-T defeated the Role Model in a Ladder Match, fighting off all three members of Damage CTRL single-handedly to retain her title.

Bayley would earn herself another opportunity at the Championship with a win over Belair on an episode of Raw, thanks to some unexpected help from Nikki Cross. Several weeks later at Crown Jewel, Bianca would once again overcome the odds and kept her Championship in a Last Woman Standing Match.

As the calendar was getting ready to flip to 2023, the long rivalry between Damage CTRL and Bianca Belair was set to finally come to an end at Survivor Series: WarGames.

WWE clearly wanted to keep the belt on Bianca during that stretch, but surely Bayley, IYO and Dakota would score a big time win inside WarGames with the title no longer up for grabs, right?

Nope. Not when The Man came back around to exact her revenge on the group that put ‘her on the shelf’ for several months. In actuality, Becky Lynch separated her shoulder during her match with Bianca Belair at SummerSlam, but Damage CTRL was given the credit for keeping her out of action for an extended period of time after attacking The Man on the next episode of Raw.

Becky Lynch’s return ensured the loss for Team Damage CTRL inside WarGames to put the trio’s WrestleMania plans in motion. A major six-woman tag team match against Becky Lynch and WWE Hall of Famer’s Trish Stratus and Lita.

With fans already calling for the group to be disbanded and given new creative direction as individuals, Damage CTRL would fall short in their attempt to win the Royal Rumble, Bayley would eventually lose to Becky Lynch after their steel cage match was a late scratch from Raw XXX and then fail to qualify for Elimination Chamber, IYO and Dakota would lose the Tag Team Championships to Becky Lynch and Lita, and then trio would fail to win their aforementioned six-woman tag team match at WrestleMania 39.

It was a long and exhausting road to watch Damage CTRL go down. Following their loss at ‘Mania, it appeared as though the end was near.

Dakota Kai suffered a torn ACL during a Tag Team Title match on SmackDown. The New Zealand native sustained the injury while attempting to protect Liv Morgan, who was trying to finish out the match with an injury of her own. And in Kai’s absence, WWE began telling a story of dissension between Bayley and IYO that seemed destined to lead to their separation.

The night however, is always darkest before the dawn.

At Money in the Bank, the light for Damage CTRL peaked over the horizon when IYO SKY literally climbed over her mentor Bayley to capture the briefcase and it’s guaranteed contract for a future World Championship opportunity.

True to her word, and in line with her reputation, Bayley was more than willing to help put her teammate over in a major way.

There was no jealousy. No double-cross.

On the contrary, when IYO’s music hit on Saturday night, Ms. Money in the Bank sprinted across Ford Field in a manner Lions fans hope to see Jahmyr Gibbs replicate this upcoming football season. Bayley right behind her, matching her stride for stride until pulling out in front to provide three key blocks, clearing the path for SKY to successfully cash-in her briefcase and capture her first WWE Women’s Championship.

And as Bayley pointed out in the post SummerSlam Press Conference, it was a true full circle moment with Damage CTRL finally being able to pry the Women’s Championship away from Bianca Belair - mere seconds after she won it back from Asuka.

As the Ford Field crowd erupted in jubilation for IYO’s big win, an unannounced Dakota Kai hit the ring for a surprise reunion. All three members of Damage CTRL were together again, embracing in the center of the ring.

It was the moment of the night. One I’m not too proud to admit brought a tear to my eye.

You could tell right then and there how much they truly care for one another and what that title win means to them after 12 months of suffering setback, after setback.

Ahead of WrestleMania 39, Bayley said just being able to have a match on the Grandest Stage of Them All alongside her girls would be a victory. After the loss, she said the group still had plenty left to accomplish.

She was right.

Damage CTRL is a shining example of life as a pro wrestler in the new Triple H regime - Patience is a virtue.

The Game has proven time and again that he has a plan and he’s not one to make knee jerk reactions and alter the path to the goals he plans to accomplish as Chief Content Officer.

When it’s a talent’s time to shine, they will shine.

IYO SKY’s time is now. What WWE has in store for her Championship run is anybody’s guess, but my only hope is that the creative team learns from the same mistakes that were made with the last two Money in the Bank winners.

Nikki Cross and Liv Morgan we’re not presented as strong Champions out of the gate, and their runs with the gold were ultimately cut short because of it.

For the second straight year coming out of SummerSlam, it feels like Damage CTRL - back as a united front - is ready to dominate a stacked SmackDown Women’s Division.

Bayley and the new WWE Women’s Champion should be able to hold down the fort until Dakota is healthy enough to return to the ring. When that happens, watch out.

Damage CTRL suddenly has a new lease on life and now has an opportunity to build a lasting legacy.

But no matter what the future holds for the triumphant trio, they’ll always have that one night in Detroit.

You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast Channel for more of his work.

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