August 17, 2014. SummerSlam. Brock Lesnar, Paul Heyman in his corner, stood across the ring from record-setting twelve time WWE champion John Cena. He had been built up as an unstoppable monster and everyone knew he was taking the gold from ‘The Leader of The CeNation’.
It’s funny how things sometimes work out in WWE. I suspect the original plan for SummerSlam was not Lesnar v Cena but Lesnar v Bryan. The parallels with his first title win twelve years earlier would still have been there but they wouldn’t have been as strong. He’d have been (we can assume) defeating an undeniably popular champion in D-Bry but not a record setter or the face of the company. He also wouldn’t have been facing the only man who’d beaten him who he hadn’t beaten back since his return to WWE in 2012.
WWE was blessed with this main event. But before it came, there was an entire show. We should probably start by talking about that.
Hulk Hogan kicked things off with a hype promo. He didn't go to the ring. Instead he stood at the top of the ramp, letting informed fans know that his presence would be mercifully brief. ‘The Hulkster’ reminded everyone that SummerSlam is important and that the WWE Network costs just $9.99 (though he failed to specify that’s a monthly charge). That was his entire involvement. Good call from WWE. If there’s a star of Hogan’s magnitude available for a packed show they should use them, but only in a very limited role.
A video aired looking at the evening's chief feuds. Stephanie McMahon was referred to as 'The Billionaire Baroness'. That was pretty amusing. The video was, predictably, of a pretty high standard. The WWE team had done a good job putting it together.
The opening match saw The Miz defending the Intercontinental championship against Dolph Ziggler. 'The Awesome One' wittered on about being a legit movie star as he walked to the ring. He's not. He also promised to beat Ziggler. He wouldn’t.
Ziggler threw himself about on offence in the opening moments, which the crowd ate up. Miz took a powder a couple of times before taking control with a rough Irish whip and a kick to the temple. A "You can't wrestle!" chant broke out as he applied a sleeper. Ziggler started a comeback with a fist to the gut as Miz went for axe handle, following up with a neck breaker.
Miz dodged a Fameasser and threw the challenger over the top rope. Dolph skinned the cat back into the ring (which always seems strange outside of a Royal Rumble setting) and went for a super kick. Miz shied away to protect his face so Ziggler school boyed him. Miz kicked out. Dolph countered a figure four and gave Miz a big punch and a super kick for a two count. It was pretty convincing.
|Title changes were a theme on this show.|
Miz left the ring again, grabbing his belt with his intention clearly being to leave. Dolph caught him with a baseball slide but then found himself in Miz's devastating figure four moments later. It’s so devastating, in fact, that Miz never wins with it. Ziggler escaped after a minute or so and flattened Miz with a Fameasser. The champ no sold it and immediately floored 'The Show Off' with an SCF. The crowd roared approval when Ziggler kicked out. They roared louder moments later when he gave Miz a Zig Zag and pinned him to earn his second Intercontinental title.
It was a great opener. They packed a lot in to their slender run time and the crowd was into both guys. I hope it signals a new beginning for WWE's mid-card, one in which Ziggler and the IC title are the centre of attention and the importance of the white belt is emphasised. But I’ve expressed this sentiment before.
Backstage Brie Bella was interviewed. She said the (storyline) charges she'd be held over earlier in the week were bogus, called Steph a "she-beast" and announced she'd take her out (presumably meaning “of action” as opposed to “for a nice dinner”). She said her actions would be what’s best for business.
Out in the arena Paige skipped out to the ring to get her Divas championship back. The match was preceded by recaps of the two previous title changes between the two (in April and June on post-PPV episodes of RAW) and a handshake... which quickly turned into biting from AJ. They brawled around ringside before Paige took control by dropping AJ first face onto the crowd barrier.
The champ came back when she shoved 'The Anti-Diva' off the top rope to the floor and then followed her down with a cross body block. Moments later they were back in the ring and AJ was kneeing Paige in the face. Paige tried for the Paige Turner. AJ reversed into the Black Widow. Paige reversed that into the Ram-Paige small package DDT. That earned her a three count and her second Divas title. They had the best match they could with not much time. I'm still convinced they could do something special if they had fifteen minutes to play with.
Match three was a flag match, the winner of which would have their nation's flag hung over the ring as a statement of "pride and superiority." So that was something. JBL channelled the Cold War as Rusev and Lana walked to the ring. It's only been over for a few decades, after all. After Lana had called Hollywood a "golden fantasy land" and made a reference to “happy endings” Jack Swagger was marched to the ring by some US army dudes. That got the chant you'd expect and a decent pop for 'The Real American'.
Rusev jumped Swagger before the bell and had the ankle lock slapped on him for his trouble. Lana tried to call the match off claiming Rusev was too hurt. The match took place anyway, Rusev selling his ankle throughout. For his part Swagger sold his ribs, which had been (storyline) injured a few weeks earlier in a comical flag assault by Rusev. The injuries were introduced in part to make Rusev's victory, which he was awarded after Swags passed out in the Accolade, more impressive: 'The Super Athlete' was able to win despite suffering a serious injury seconds before the match began. Very Kurt Angle.
After the match Rusev kicked Zeb Colter. Because you can never get enough cheap heat. The Russian flag was raised above the ring and the country's national anthem was played. The audience wasn't happy. The Rusev push continues.
Match four was Dean Ambrose v Seth Rollins. It was preceded by a lengthy video looking at their history in The Shield and the feud they've had since Rollins turned on his comrades, essentially dissolving the group. I say it was a match, it was more a fight. The two concentrated more on closed fists than arm drags. Which made complete sense considering their history.
I'd expected the lumberjack stip to be something of a hindrance but they made good use of it. First they got over the unhinged nature of Ambrose's character by having him attack lumberjacks whenever he was tossed out of the ring. Then they used them as a human crash mat for diving and apron-to-the-floor suplex spots.
The former teammates eventually spilled out of the ring, passing the lumberjacks as they brawled into the crowd. That brought out Kane, who dispatched the mid-card to retrieve them. Ambrose was carried back to the ring while Rollins tried to make his escape. He got caught by the babyfaces and bodysurfed back to the ring, a lovely target for ‘The Lunatic Fringe’ to leap off the top rope onto. In the ring Seth escaped a Dirty Deeds but got flattened by a Nigel McGuinness-style rebound lariat. Ambrose gave him a Curb Stomp for good measure. The cover was broken up by Kane, which brought Goldust into the ring. He took a punch, which triggered a lumberjack brawl. The confusion allowed Rollins to sneak his Money in the Bank briefcase into the ring. A thump from that put Ambrose down for the three. It was a cracking, wild match, the finish of which kept things alive between the pair for another month without harming either's standing.
Up after that were Bray Wyatt and Chris Jericho. Before going further I'd like to note that Wyatt was wearing his brown leather apron when he entered. They had a solid match, one noticeably better than their Battleground offering. I think I'd probably have enjoyed it more if I were more invested in the 'Y2J' character. But I'm not. He doesn't interest me. If a wrestler can't make you care about them are they really that good? I’d argue they’re not.
The finish saw Wyatt get the advantage with a Samoan Spike and a Sister Abigail into the barricade before rolling him into the ring for a second, more traditional, Sister Abigail. Jericho was certainly protected by that: he only fell after he'd absorbed two finishers. 'The Eater of Worlds' took a microphone and said Jericho had found out what it meant to follow the buzzards. Then he sang.
Then, finally, it was time for the much-anticipated return to the ring of Stephanie McMahon. The former women's champion (because that's what Steph is) wore an outfit not dissimilar to Seth Rollins’, confirming another member of The Authority as a fan of Agents of SHIELD.
Brie threw some arm drags in the early going. Steph sold well but acted like the Hulk when she was on offence. The latter was pretty irritating, partly because Brie's selling didn't match (not should it have done, Stephanie should have acted more realistically). Mrs Bryan tried a suicide dive but took a punch to the face from the boss, followed by an impactful DDT. Brie came back with some kicks and a Thesz Press. She got a two count from a missile drop kick and pummelled Steph afterwards.
At this point Triple H strode out to ringside, followed by Nikki Bella. As Tripes stood on the apron, Nikki swatting ineffectually at his ankles, Steph went for the Pedigree. Brie countered into a Yes Lock, because married female wrestlers can only use their husbands' moves. 'The Game' yanked the ref from the ring before a Steph tap could be witnessed. Brie smacked him with a baseball slide and started a "Yes!" chant. The crowd got into that.
|Who saw this swerve coming? Most people, to be honest.|
Nikki slipped into the ring, pretending to stop Steph escaping before elbowing Brie in the face and hauling the boss to her feet. A Pedigree later Stephanie's music was playing. The Authority celebrated in the ring, slapping an unconscious Brie about because that's what heels do, as Nikki stood at ringside with a vacant expression on her face. She was probably meant to be emoting something. Remorse that things had to go that way? A feeling of vindication that her selfish sister had received her comeuppance? Who knows? The match, for the record, was exactly as good as it needed to be.
The penultimate bout saw Randy Orton tussle with Roman Reigns. They'd clashed a few times on RAW since WrestleMania and been involved in a ladder match and a four-way dance on the previous two pay-per-views so while this was a first time pay-per-view meeting it did not feel as fresh as it could have done. Still, both men got good reactions and Reigns was sporting some natty blue ring attire. That was nice.
They had a proficient match. It veered far too close to the standard Orton offering to be anything more. It wasn't bad but it wasn't as good as it could have been. The pace was just too slow, as it tends to be with Orton. The good news was that the crowd responded to Reigns when they needed to. That must have pleased the WWE creative heads.
The closing moments were pretty good, albeit played at the same glacial pace as the rest of the match. Reigns got a Superman punch but his follow up spear attempt was reversed into a power slam. The draping DDT set Reigns up for an RKO but he pushed out of it. A second Superman punch was reversed into an RKO. That got a believable false finish. Orton brought out his rarely seen punt kick but Reigns swiped his foe's foot aside and felled him with a spear. Roman Reigns got a victory in his first one-on-one pay-per-view match.
Lesnar versus Cena predictably had the best video of the night. Cena said he'd beat 'The One' and keep his championship. Lesnar said he'd leave Cena in a puddle of blood and urine and vomit. It was a great tone setter that would have served as an excellent introduction to the characters of both competitors, as well as conveying the significance of the meeting.
Lesnar's entrance was met with a roar of approval. Cena's was met with heavy boos. That trend continued during the in-ring introductions and throughout the match itself.
Champion and challenger started off pummelling one another on the mat. 'The Beast' quickly got the best of that and gave Cena a textbook F5. It was a great decision to through that in within the first minute as it brought the crowd to their feet and emphatically set Lesnar up as having the advantage. From there the match was practically all Lesnar. He mauled Cena around the ring, stomping, kneeing and suplexing him. That went on for several minutes, Cena only mustering a very brief comeback when he rushed Lesnar into a corner a fluttered at him with punches.
After a series of German suplexes Cena managed a sturdier comeback. Lesnar scooped him up to attempt an F5 but Cena escaped and gave him an AA. 'The Pain' kicked out of that, doing The Undertaker's sudden sit up afterwards. He was the first man back to his feet. Cena dashed at him but got taken down and pummelled with heavy rights and lefts. Then there were more German suplexes (in total, we were told, Lesnar landed sixteen German suplexes throughout the match) and shouts of "Die!" from Lesnar.
|Brock Lesnar. Four time WWE champion.|
Men and women in the crowd were shown looking shocked. A kid flickered across our screens, looking close to tears. The commentary team gushed about how impressive and dominant Lesnar had been in the match and reminded us that he's called 'The Conqueror' for a reason. The final shot of the show was Lesnar standing tall with the WWE championship and World Heavyweight championship belts slung across his shoulders.
The match was not a masterpiece. But to expect a masterpiece would have been to miss the point. Lesnar does not produce great wrestling matches. He hurts and dominates people, and that’s exactly what he did here. It was the most one-sided Cena match I can ever remember seeing. For that matter it was the most one-sided WWE championship match (that wasn’t some sort of angle) that I can ever remember seeing. It established Lesnar as unstoppable, a man who can and will obliterate anybody placed in his path.
Taken as a show on its own merits I think SummerSlam was probably the strongest WWE offering of the year so far. There wasn’t a single bad match and every match had a reason for happening and told a story. The first four matches were all very good or better, the McMahon v Bella match was surprisingly enjoyable, and the main event was, if nothing else, a compelling spectacle.
Taken as a show preparing things for the future SummerSlam is even better. There’s no guarantee WWE are going to follow through on the potential Ziggler as IC champion offers or make the AJ and Paige feud compelling, but they could do both and there are things that they will do. Ambrose and Rollins will keep their grudge alive. Something will happen between the Bella sisters, enjoyable or not. Most significantly Reigns’ ascension will continue and Lesnar has been set up as a monster champion. If the last two points don’t intertwine at WrestleMania 31 I’ll buy a hat and eat it.