The mind-numbingly pointless stuff was the majority of what lay between the start and the finish of the programme. The first match of the night was a SummerSlam rematch pitting Cody Rhodes against Damien Sandow. Rhodes won with a sunset roll from the corner, meaning 'The Intellectual Saviour' lost to his former teammate two nights in a row. The crowd weren't into the action and amused themselves by chanting about Cody's lack of facial hair.
The Funkadactyls, who are still being introduced as hailing from Planet Funk, bested AJ Lee and Layla when Naomi rolled up Layla. After one of his cheap heat specials Zeb Colter stood at ringside to witness the Real Americans lose to the newly babyface Prime Time Players. This match was not a great advert for them but I think Young and O'Neil could work well as good guys. Their act doesn't need to change, they just need to learn how to play a new role.
Bray Wyatt dropped R-Truth with that finisher of his. The match meant nothing and existed solely to get the Wyatt Family on the show. Just over a month in and they're already being booked as filler. It's disappointing but unsurprising.
In the penultimate match of the night the Usos defeated 3MB boys Jinder Mahal and Heath Slater with a top rope splash. And in the in-ring main event (the true main event was a promo) The Miz defeated Wade Barrett via disqualification after Fandango hit him with a top rope leg drop. It looks like those awful SummerSlam skits happened for a reason after all.
Speaking of Fandango he was involved in one of the highlights of RAW’s unwieldy middle portion. Justin Gabriel and Zack Ryder were shown enthusing over sneakers (or trainers as they're known over here) with a Footlocker employee. Footlocker were RAW's sponsors, which explains why this glorified ad took place in the middle of RAW. Anyway, Fandango showed up, danced a bit and then asked if he could dance in the shoes. The employee replied "Of course you can, Mr Fandango," which was funny in itself. Faaaaaan... daaaaaan... goooooo then corrected the pronunciation of his name and left. It shouldn't have worked but it did, largely because the former Johnny Curtis is happy to ham it up and doesn’t took himself or his character too seriously.
There were only three other items of interest outside of the opening and closing segments. The first was the Alberto Del Rio v Sin Cara match. This was something special. Cara was making his big return after a few months off healing from various injuries. He was scripted to suffer a storyline injury early on in the match. ADR was scripted to ruthlessly work over his foe's injured body part. But Sin Cara, being incredibly prone to botching botched for real. He legitimately injured his hand performing a suicide dive, which led to the amusing sight of Del Rio targeting a genuine injury. ADR was awarded the win via referee stoppage.
Recovering like a pro ADR moved on to the promo he was meant to cut. It was the same message he'd delivered at SummerSlam. He wants to be a hero for the Latin community because they have nobody else. This desire has extended to him having miniature Mexican flags placed atop the turnbuckles as he wrestles.
Del Rio’s diatribe was interrupted by a returning Ricardo Rodriguez. Double R told the champ that he is not a hero, to the Latin community or anybody else, and that he's happy he's no longer employed by him. He then introduced Rob Van Dam as his new charge. RVD dashed to the ring and gave Del Rio a pasting. He tried a five star frog splash but Del Rio escaped.Yep, this is the new World Heavyweight title challenger. A man who couldn't defeat the US champion on the SummerSlam pre-show or, more to the point, win a number one contendership match for the WHC just a few weeks ago. I've not got a problem with an ADR v RVD match but WWE could have planned things a little better.
Ricardo Alfonso? Rob Van Del Rio?
As for the pairing of Van Dam and Rodriguez, I think that could work. RVD functioned well with a manager in ECW and Ricardo is very good at adding emotion to matches. As that's not one of Van Dam's strengths this pairing should, in theory, work. I'll be interested to see how the two function together.
Item of interest number two was the use of The Shield. The group were placed into two matches throughout the evening. The first was against Dolph Ziggler and the second was against Big Show. The idea was that Show and Ziggler were being punished for speaking out against Triple H’s actions at SummerSlam. The matches, both of which saw the bad guys win, were designed to remind us how effective ‘The Hounds of Justice’ are in three-on-one scenarios. They also showed that Brad Maddox, who booked the matches, had happily aligned himself with Triple H. It was incredibly effective booking.
The third item of interest was the development of the Paul Heyman and CM Punk story. First Paul Heyman went to the ring and said that he wanted the family feud to end. If CM Punk was willing to apologise Heyman would reunite with him and lead him back to the WWE championship.
Later in the evening 'The Second City Saint' responded. After offering to fight a man in the audience who'd dared to boo him (which I originally thought was ridiculous but now see simply as Punk being a modern day babyface) Punk called Heyman out to the stage. He informed his former pal that he wished he'd pulled his arm out if its socket at SummerSlam and promised to do it next time.
Curtis Axel was dispatched to fight Punk and the two had a lengthy brawl. A little too lengthy, frankly. It ended with Punk giving the Intercontinental champ a Go To Sleep on steel steps.
Which leaves us only the opening and closing segments to discuss.
The show opened with John Cena. He told us that he was offended and disgraced by Triple H “handing the WWE championship to Randy Orton”. He put over Bryan, who he said had won fair and square. He then announced that he’s going to be taking four to six months off for surgery on his elbow, which was shown swollen to a grotesque size. Before he left he introduced Bryan.Before Bryan could say anything Stephanie McMahon came out (she has the most inappropriate entrance music I’ve ever come across). She said she hoped Bryan understood that what Triple H did wasn’t personal but simply the right thing for business. The audience chanted no to that. Bryan, like a pro, acknowledged it.
We're not going to be seeing this guy for a while
Bryan said he’d have expected what happened from Stephanie or Vince, but not Triple H. ‘the Game’ had been a renegade, the leader of DX. Now he’s walking around with a corporate haircut and a suit (which, in the world of pro wrestling, equates to something bad). Bryan told Stephanie he’s not afraid of getting fired. He can go back to wrestling on the indies and selling T-shirts from the back of his car.
The point here was that Bryan isn’t obsessed with the idea of being a WWE Superstar™. He’s his own man and is just happy if he can get into a ring, any ring, and wrestle. What he said was wonderful because he said it was passion and it was both logical and in line with the storyline.
Stephanie didn’t want to fire him, she just wanted to manage his expectations. She said that guys of his height, weight, and appearance aren’t WWE championship material. She acknowledged that the fans love him. Essentially her point was that firing him would be bad for business, she just can’t allow him to reach the top of the card.
Bryan’s response as that he didn’t have to accept what she said. He can be WWE champion. Steph’s response to that? That ‘The Dazzler’ was being unprofessional and uncouth. She had him escorted out of the building by security.
The show closer was even better.
We returned from the final break of the show to find the entire roster (minus Bryan, Cena, and potentially one or two others like Punk) assembled on the stage. The Shield were down at ringside, standing between the roster on the stage and the McMahon family in the ring.
The setup here was perfect. It would be made clear through Triple H’s promo that anybody who dared step out of line would find themselves not only be brutalised by The Shield, who seemed far more threatening after their victories earlier in the show, but also fired. An appearance from Daniel Bryan did not contradict either of those things. It’s been established over the last year that Bryan will not back down and his comments about returning to the indies meant that he had no fear of losing his job.
Vince spoke first. He said ‘The Cerebral Assassin’ had seen the light and and done what was right for business (Vince’s unofficial catchphrase). He then passed the mic over to H3, who told us that he did what he did not for himself, but for his wife, his father-in-law, his kids, his future grandchildren and the fans, all to ensure the future of the company.
Triple H didn’t want to screw Daniel Bryan. He said he considered him a friend and a “good little technician” (the first sign that he had entered disingenuous heel mode). He said he deserved to win because he gave Cena a hell of a match. It’s just that the fans deserve better than Daniel Bryan as WWE champion.
Pedigreeing Bryan and costing him the title hurt Triple H. He didn’t like forming a union with Randy Orton because there’s a lot of bad blood there. He referenced the formation of Evolution and the overkill feud they had for WrestleMania XXV (y’know, the one that involved Orton punting both Vince and Shane and giving Steph an RKO?). He’d put all their history behind them because it was… all together now… the right thing for business. Bryan, said Triple H, is selfish for not understanding the bigger picture.
Randy Orton was introduced to boos. The new champ shook hands with Vince and Hunter and was hugged by Steph. That she initiated the hug was a nice touch as it really hammered home that the McMahons have put everything behind them and were unified in the decision to make ‘The Viper’ the face of the company.
Orton said he owed his reign to Triple H and blasted the audience for not standing up to show the COO the respect he deserved.
That was it from Orton. That he didn’t contribute a great deal verbally could be seen as a negative but I’d argue against that. We all know Orton can cut a promo. He didn’t need to here. It wasn’t the point. That he only said a few words before handing back to Trips helped to paint him as an undeserving paper champion. Putting him in that role will make him more hated in the long run.
Triple H said because they owned the building they had eyes everywhere, which meant he knew Bryan was in the building. That too was a wonderful touch. It helps to portray the McMahons as the illuminate of WWE, and makes it easy to imagine a storyline (and indeed a real life) sense of paranoia that they know everything that’s going on in the locker room.
‘The Game’ said he knew Bryan had things he wanted to get off his chest so cued up his music, told everyone, including The Shield, that anyone who laid a hand on him would regret it, and invited him out to the ring.
Bryan emerged from the tech area at the side of the stage and made his way towards the ring. He was wearing jeans. This may seem like a small thing (because it is) but it’s something WWE deserves a little credit for. The norm is to have wrestlers wandering about in the ring gear and a T-shirt (this is precisely what Orton was wearing as he stood in the ring). Because Bryan had been removed from the building that approach wouldn’t have made sense and someone deserves credit for realising it.
As soon as Bryan got close to the ring The Shield pounced on him. He wiped out Rollins and Reigns with the ring steps and then brawled up the aisle with Ambrose. After getting the better of the US champ Bryan headed back towards the wing but was wiped out by a spear from the recovered Reigns. Again, this is something that could be viewed negatively, Bryan going down to a single spear. But it didn’t cast Bryan in a bad light at all. He overcame the odds and got caught by a sneak attack. Not only that but Reigns’ spear had been the move which won The Shield their first match of the evening and Ziggler had done an incredible job of making it look devastating. And Bryan managed to get back up thirty second or so after absorbing it.
Anyway… The heels went for their triple power bomb but Triple H called them off. He said Bryan had something to say and that he should be allowed to say it. As Bryan pulled himself up to his feet and into the ring Triple H mocked him. It was an incredibly effective heat garnering move. As was the RKO that Orton blasted Bryan with as he staggered through the ropes.And it was there that the show ended. The new as-yet-unnamed heel stable (The Corporation has a nice ring to it…) standing triumphant over the beaten number one babyface. In two nights WWE had created a new lead heel in Orton and succeeded in making Bryan and even hotter babyface than he had been before SummerSlam. The promotion’s new top feud, whether you see it as Bryan v Triple H, Bryan v the McMahons, Bryan v Orton, Bryan v The Corporation or Bryan v all of the above, could not have had a better start.
The almighty heels stand tall. How long until Bryan takes them down?
SummerSlam and the Monday 19th RAW saw WWE at its best.