But the decision paid off for WWE, as such things tend to. On the night the audience was receptive to everything they were presented with. They naturally gave bigger reactions to the more hyped battles but Ziggler and company got their fair share too. SummerSlam was another pay-per-view success for WWE.
The evening’s action kicked off on the pre-show with Rob Van Dam challenging Dean Ambrose for the United States championship. With just under fourteen minutes and Big Show, Mark Henry and the remaining Shield members making their way to ringside during the match the two were able to construct a match that held attention. Van Dam won via disqualification after he was speared by Roman Reigns. Expect this to lead to title defences from The Shield at Night of Champions.
After a little more waffling form the expert panel (we’ll get to them) and Renee Young SummerSlam proper kicked off.
The Miz walked out onto the stage to absolutely no reaction. He welcomed us to the show and talked up the evening’s big matches. It brought back memories of his time hosting SmackDown. That was not something I wanted reminding of. Fandango came out and danced to his music with Summer Rae as Miz said “Really?” It was not the best of starts.
The opening video was given a grainy, dated feel, evoking seventies and eighties infomercials. It was a typically well produced WWE video package. It’s one of the company’s strengths. At this point the bigger surprise would be them producing a bad one.
After Jo Jo Offerman sang America the Beautiful we were told that the opening contest would be the Ring of Fire match. Kane was introduced first and we had two commentary highlights before he’d even entered the ring. The first was Michael Cole describing the Wyatt Family as “diabolical” and the second was Jerry Lawler saying "If you can't stand the heat don't tickle the dragon." Lines like this cannot sound like anything but a euphemism from ‘The King’.
The match was fairly basic but benefited from being on early. The crowd were incredibly into everything the two men did. Bray Wyatt’s involvement helped too, because he has become very popular in a short amount of time.
‘The Big Red Machine’ was in control for most of the match, eventually hitting ‘The Man of a Thousand Truths’ with a choke slam. Wanting to inflict more pain Kane hit a second choke slam and then signalled for a Tombstone piledriver. That gave Erick Rowan and Luke Harper time to place some black flooring over the fire-belching contraption and make their way into the ring. Because the match could end only by pinfall or submission the referee was powerless to stop them. They double teamed Kane and then a recovered Bray hit his finishing move for the win.
What a wrestling ring looks like when it's on fire (sort of)
After the match Bray sat down in his rocking chair and had Kane placed in front of him with his head on some steel steps. Rowan and Harper smashed another set of steps onto Kane’s head (they’re shaped so that all Kane had to put up with was a loud noise) and dragged him out of the arena after Bray. We won’t be seeing Kane for a while as he’s off to film See No Evil 2.
It was a good performance from all four. Jerry Lawler described what we’d seen as creepy, which fails to do it justice.
Up in the skybox Josh Mathews and his expert panel of Booker T, Shawn Michaels and Vickie Guerrero discussed what they’d just seen. Booker said it was disturbing and that the Wyatts have flipped the script. That made me miss Booker’s commentary. HBK said it was uncomfortable viewing but added that it was an impressive debut.
A Paul Heyman interview originally shown during the pre-show was aired. The most important thing he said was that the match between Punk and Lesnar would be fought under no DQ rules.
Damien Sandow cut a promo as he walked to the ring. He reminded us that there have been many great literary pairings over the decades, one of the pair always being the leader and the other a sidekick and lackey. He told us Rhodes had been his sidekick. He finished by saying that he would send Rhodes back to his Dumb and Dumber partnership with his father.
Sandow promos are always good. This was not an exception to the rule.
The two had a spirited, fast paced opening sequence. Sandow gained control before Cody kicked off a comeback with a Muscle Buster from the corner. A few minutes later he won with Cross Rhodes. That moves strikes me as one that could be seen as incredibly legitimate if built up. It looks like it would get you a victory. If WWE have him go over more people with it then it could become something special.
These two will almost certainly clash again at Night of Champions. That neither has a title makes me think that the briefcase will be up for grabs. Whether it is or not, expect ‘The Duke of Decency’ to win there. It’ll be his turn.
Cody Rhodes there, channelling his inner Kid Muscle
The video of Christian’s career that’s done the rounds on TV over the last couple of weeks preceded the World Heavyweight championship match. That this was shown instead of the traditional feud recap showed just how bad a job WWE had done adding sparks to the Christian and Alberto Del Rio rivalry. The closest we came to getting a genuine reason for the two men’s alleged dislike of one another was Michael Cole’s claim that a black eye ADR was sporting was the result of Christian’s Killswitch finisher. It may be true, but I doubt it.
The match built slowly, with the two men eventually exchanging their signature and finishing moves for near falls and reversal spots. It was very well done. Del Rio worked on Christian’s shoulder, playing off the injury that had kept ‘Captain Charisma’ out of action for nearly a year and also softening him up for the cross arm breaker submission.
The finish came about after ‘The Instant Classic’ speared Del Rio, winding the champion but also harming his own shoulder. ADR recovered and slapped on the cross arm breaker for the victory. It was a logical finish that didn't harm Christian but kept ADR strong. Considering this was a time killer feud for Del Rio keeping him strong was obviously going to be of importance. The match didn’t measure up to the incredible Del Rio v Ziggler matches of the last few months but it was worth watching.
After the match Renee Young appeared in the ring to ask ADR if he was proud of his win. ADR told her it’s a great night because he's still the champ. He said the Latino people need a hero and an idol to look up to. And that's him (obvs). Presumably this was done to dissuade WWE’s Latin fans from cheering Del Rio.
Backstage The Miz acted as interviewer and spoke to Maria Menounos. She recapped the issue between Natalya and the Bellas (which nobody cares about) before Fandango showed up again. He and Summer danced and then Miz and Maria danced. The final shot was of Fandango and Maria looking put out. If these segments don’t provide the starting point for a feud between Miz and Fandango they will have happened for literally no reason at all.
The Divas battle was next. Maria Menounos was nowhere to be seen. Natalya was accompanied by the Funkadactyls only. Brie was accompanied by her sister Nikki and Total Divas newcomer Eva Marie. The heels looked better, as is usually the case with WWE’s Divas.
The crowd amused themselves by chanting for each member of the commentary team in turn as Brie took an early lead following heel shenanigans. Natalya would eventually overcome those and get the clean victory via a Sharpshooter. The match was basic but avoided being bad.
In the back Ryback bullied a catering guy. First he said the food sucked, then he poured soup down the guy’s shirt and over his head. None of WWE’s babyfaces made the save. That doesn’t paint them in a terribly good light, does it? I’d ask where it all went wrong for Ryback but I think it’s probably too late for that. WWE have wasted a golden opportunity with him.
A lengthy video package was shown. It recounted the failed friendship of Paul Heyman and CM Punk and the involvement of Brock Lesnar.
The match kicked off with Punk getting in some offensive flurries on Lesnar before getting shut down and put on sell duty for several minutes. During the early portion of the match I was particularly impressed with Lesnar’s use of the bear hug. It’s not exactly a thrilling move but when applied by Lesnar it looks genuinely painful.
Punk kicked off a comeback by biting ‘The Pain’s’ ear. He followed up with kicks, elbows and a high knee. Punk finally sent Lesnar down to the mat with a roundhouse kick, following up with a Macho Elbow for a two count.
Punk attempted a GTS but Lesnar countered into the Kimura lock. Punk sold that for a few moments before inexplicably countering into an armbar and then a triangle choke. Lesnar powered up to his feet and tried to power bomb his way out of the hold, but Punk kept it applied. Moments later he powered to his feet again and this time freed himself by hitting a running power bomb on Punk. ‘The Second City Saint’ kicked out.
The Kimura lock. This will be among the many things Punk fails to sell on RAW
Lesnar blasted Punk with Eddie Guerrero’s Three Amigos for another two count. ‘The Beast’ slipped out to ringside and grabbed a chair. He was met with a top rope dive from Punk before he could return to the ring but managed to get the chair up to protect himself. This was a wobble in the otherwise enjoyable action. Not only had Punk recovered too quickly from the sustained beating that had included two power bombs and three suplexes but he made it to his feet quicker than Lesnar even though he jumped off the top rope into a steel chair. It was ropey psychology. Considering the high esteem Punk holds himself in I think we’re entitled to expect better from him.
Punk smacked Lesnar with the chair on the outside and back in the ring and used it when hitting a Macho Elbow. Heyman made the save there. As he distracted Punk, Lesnar clambered groggily to his feet (selling the beating he’d taken – fancy that) and scooped Punk up for an F5. Punk grabbed hold of Heyman, forcing Lesnar to release his grasp and creating a moment of confusion that allowed Punk to get a GTS on his foe.
Heyman made the save for a second time. Instead of looking furious that he’d just been cost a win Punk smiled. He chased his former pal around the ring, re-entering the ring to find himself scooped up for an F5. He countered that into a DDT and applied the Anaconda Vice.
Heyman once again entered the ring, this time brandishing a chair. Punk released the hold to put a stop to Heyman’s nonsense. He punched him in the mouth and then put him in the Vice. This left him wide open to Brock Lesnar, who broke the submission hold with a chair and then F5ed Punk, onto that very same chair, for the victory.
Punk’s aversion to logical wrestling psychology aside this was a very good match. It wasn’t as great as the commentary trio made it out to be nor was it the match of the night (the main event grabbed that honour) but it was very enjoyable. Lesnar and Heyman left to boos and Punk got a standing ovation. My assumption is Punk will win a rematch.
Michael Cole went from discussing the serious beating Lesnar and Punk had handed one another to jovially introducing a video package about a fan who agreed to take a World’s Strongest Slam from Mark Henry in exchange for free SummerSlam tickets. It was a jarring change of pace. It was also a weird challenge. But this is wrestling. We’ve seen far weirder over the years.
The evening’s penultimate match was the mixed tag. Ziggler (and Kaitlyn, because she entered with him) got a huge pop. AJ got slightly less. Big E got nothing. The crowd were hot for the Big E versus Dolph exchanges but cooled off considerably whenever the ladies stepped into the ring. They did nothing wrong, this is just the result of WWE encouraging fans to see women’s wrestling as a waste of time over the last six or seven years. It’ll take time to get the division back on track but they are moving in the right direction.
The finish saw Big E attempt the Big Ending only for ‘The Show Off’ to counter into the Zig Zag. Winners of a fun and thoroughly inoffensive bout: Ziggler and Kaitlyn.
Backstage we got the final skit involving Miz and Fandango. Miz clotheslined the dancer to the ground for no reason. The crowd didn’t care. Neither did I. Frankly, I’d be surprised if either Fandango or Miz did.
Up in the skybox the experts gave their picks. Shawn and Vickie both selected Bryan while Booker failed to select anyone and instead talked about how Bryan will scratch and claw and fight while questioning whether Cena is still hungry enough to be at the top. Segments like this only work if everyone involved plays along and picks against the underdog. That was clearly Bryan, but going exclusively off the responses here you’d think it was Cena. A logical reason for HBK backing Bryan did exist (he trained him), but Booker and Vickie both should have backed the champ to get over how big a challenge Bryan was facing.
The final video of the evening recapped the Bryan, Cena, Triple H and Vince saga we've seen over the last month. If you’ve missed it the basic gist is that Cena selected Bryan to be his opponent, Triple H felt Bryan was the future of the company, and Vince didn’t want either Cena or Bryan holding the title and isn’t getting on with Triple H.
Triple H's King of Kings music got a rare airing for his entrance. Bryan's entrance, featuring his The Beard is Here parody shirt, was met with the predictably thunderous yes chants. Cena’s entrance was booed, but that was always going to be the case.
The first few minutes saw Cena turning his hand to some mat wrestling. This was done to prove a point to Bryan, who’d described Cena as a parody of a wrestler. It was also in retaliation to the “You can’t wrestle” chants fans pelted the champion with.
Cena took control with a suplex off the steps to the mats and a power bomb back in the ring. Bryan came back with a clothesline and a series of kicks. Cena responded with a spinning back drop (formerly known as the Killswitch) and the Five Knuckle Shuffle. He attempted an AA but Bryan landed on his feet and hits a top rope drop kick for a two count.
Cena's eye was shown swelling as Bryan laid in kicks and screamed at Cena to get up. Bryan tried slapping a submission hold on to Cena’s elbow and Cena tried countering into the STF. Bryan came through that and slapped the STF on himself.
Cena powered out of that but moments later found himself in a Yes Lock. Cena slipped out but Bryan immediately put on a front face lock and a body scissors. Cena came back from that with an AA, out of which Bryan kicked out. Yes, Daniel Bryan was permitted to kick out of the AA. At this point I became convinced WWE were doing everything they could to make the match special and memorable.
Cena went up to the top but Bryan crotched him. Bryan launched himself at the champ again and again, getting pushed off each time but climbing to his feet and coming back. After a few repeats of that Bryan hit Cena with a second rope suplex, staying on the top rope by hooking his legs in the ropes. The commentary teams rightly put that over as a smart move that helped Bryan avoid the impact of a traditional second rope suplex.
Bryan came off the top with a headbutt and attempted a suicide dive. Cena put a stop to that with a forearm and his notoriously dodgy top rope leg drop. Cena tried a second rope AA but ‘The Dazzler’ fought out of the predicament with a load of elbows. He attempted a hurricanrana but Cena blocked it, leapt down to the mat and applies the STF.
After a few moments in the STF Bryan slipped out and applied the Yes Lock. Cena escaped into the ropes, earning him boos.
They did the boo and yay punch exchange, a Cena specialty, before a mid-air collision dropped them both to the mat. After a breather the two got back up, Cena visibly calling spots.
Cena slapped the challenger. Bryan responded in kind. They started a slap exchange but Bryan quickly got the better of it and Cena was left to cover up. Bryan went for his top rope flip counter as he was whipped into a corner but Cena caught him. The subsequent DDT attempt was countered into a DDT. As they both sold that Cena loudly called a sequence, ending on “… you got that?” What a pro.
There were several kicks thrown in this match. Natch
Daniel Bryan defeated John Cena clean. It's astonishing.
Bryan was handed the championship for a celebration but was interrupted after just a few seconds by the former champion. There was nothing to worry about though, not with a loveable babyface like John Cena. He shook Bryan’s hand and then left. Bryan continued his celebration with pyros exploding all over the place and confetti cascading down from the rafters. It was a great moment for fans of a guy who’s been one of wrestling’s hardest working men for years, both in and out of WWE.
Then Randy Orton came out.
‘The Viper’ posed with his briefcase in front of the ring. Bryan shouted out him to get in the ring but Orton just walked away. The commentary gang assumed this was just Orton reminding Bryan that he was waiting to strike. They had clearly forgotten how WWE works. As Bryan continued shouting Triple H, who had remained in the ring, spun him round and hit him with a Pedigree. Orton then headed back to the ring and handed over his briefcase. ‘The Game’ took it and we had our second WWE championship match of the night.
It didn’t last long. Orton simply made the cover and won. Thirty-three seconds passed between Bryan receiving the Pedigree and being covered. If that doesn’t tell us who the star was I don’t know what does. Cena would have kicked out of that pause. It would have been nice to see Orton pull Bryan up and hit him with an RKO (or enter the ring quicker) but I suspect the fact that Orton didn’t perform a single wrestling move all night but still left as champion is going to become a plot point.
Anyway, Triple H applauded Orton as he posed all over the place with the championship belt. SummerSlam went off the air with Triple H raising Orton's arm and Orton smirking. It was a shot that had a very DX feel to it.
And that was SummerSlam, the hottest show of the summer. It was, by any fair criteria, a damn fine wrestling show. Every match performed at or above expectations and it ended on a development that will send plots off in new and unexpected directions. The Bryan v Orton feud had been expected, but the union between the ‘The Apex Predator’ and Triple H had not.
It was also nice to see WWE go all the way with Daniel Bryan. Yes they took the championship off him straight away, but that’s to set him up as a babyface chasing a heel champion. It’s a dynamic proven to work and so there’s nothing wrong with doing it. Bryan still managed to defeat Cena clean in a pay-per-view main event, something not even CM Punk has been permitted to do.
Tonight’s RAW should be very interesting.