The programme kicked off with the obligatory welcome from the regular commentary team trio and a lurid graphic telling anyone who'd somehow dodged the social media blitz and news site spoilers that the show would feature a birthday celebration for Hulk Hogan. To that end presents, all wrapped in 'Hulkster' red and yellow, were heaped at the top of the entrance ramp. I'll put you out of your misery now and confirm that, sadly, Hogan did not open any of them. At least not on TV.
|Lovely new T-shirt on Lesnar there.
Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman took the opening segment, a promo designed to sell the Lesnar v Cena match to "the CeNation." Lesnar had requested Heyman make this pitch apparently, although I find it tough to imagine a string of monosyllabic grunts intelligibly making the request. Heyman showed stills of Lesnar defeating The Streak (there was a pretty decent pop when Shocked Undertaker Guy was shown) and reminded everyone that as a rookie Lesnar had trounced both The Rock and Hulk Hogan, both of whom had disappeared after their respective losses. Heyman claimed that after SummerSlam Cena would be disappearing too, blissfully skipping over the fact that Rock disappeared to make a film and Hogan disappeared due to one of his many contract disputes. Amusingly Hogan's name got a mixed reaction, making him officially less popular than Shocked Undertaker Guy. And on his birthday, no less!
I was surprised when they acknowledged the Extreme Rules 2012 match between Lesnar and Cena. Heyman claimed that Lesnar had lost that match but won the fight, whatever that means. He also claimed that Lesnar was still suffering from diverticulitis (which he suffered from for years without realising it, and it really did end his UFC career) at the time but at this year's SummerSlam he'll be one hundred per cent. My favourite line of this rant was that the beating Cena will receive will be that of a Shakespearean tragedy, because there aren't anywhere near enough allusions to Shakespeare in wrestling.
Heyman finished up with an entertaining rap, playing off of Cena's old gimmick. Then he said the ring was Brock Lesnar's house and announced they were going out for dinner (yes, really) with a promise that they'd be back.
Flo Rida and Weird Al Yankovic wished Hogan a happy birthday via videos. Later in the show we were treated to similarly vapid messages from Drew Brees, AJ Hawk, Aaron Rodgers, Florida Georgia Line, and Larry King. I'd heard of precisely three of these people.
After a break Roman Reigns entered the arena for the first match of the show. Before that took place Kane strolled out in a suit and announced he'd been made Director of Operations again. Amusingly, he referred to himself in the third person when talking about the previous week's Reigns v Kane bout and also botched his lines when he said "six weeks" instead of "six days." I've missed Corporate Kane.
Reigns' opponents were RybAxel in a handicap match. The former Shield boy won by disqualification when Ryback and Axel wouldn't stop battering him at ringside. He gave both a Superman punch afterwards, with 'The Big Guy' also getting a spear. That was followed by a formulaic babyface promo most notable for once again demonstrating that trying to get Reigns to be funny helps nobody.
|A clip for a Dean Ambrose DVD compilation in ten years time.
Rollins defeated RVD via curb stomp in the second match of the night. Afterwards Dean Ambrose exploded out of a large Hogan present and attacked him. Rollins ran off through the crowd. Ambrose reminded everyone about the lumberjack match against his former teammate and sarcastically plugged the WWE Network. It was funny, because Ambrose has the personality to pull off something that ridiculous, but it's not something WWE should make a habit of.
A Stephanie McMahon promo followed that. She brought Megan Miller, physical therapist to Daniel Bryan, into the ring. Coaxed by Steph, Megan claimed that she'd been having an affair with D-Bry. That brought out an angry Brie Bella-Bryan (Triple B?) to give Megan a slap and spear Stephanie. For good measure she put a Yes Lock on the boss before Finlay and Mr Jamie Noble arrived to pry her off. Stephanie said they'd finish things later on in the show. I'd be amazed if anyone in the building genuinely believed a SummerSlam match was being moved, unadvertised, to the pre-'Slam RAW.
After that Jack Swagger defeated Cesaro with the Patriot Lock. That was followed by a short, casual racism-stuffed promo from Zeb Colter. Rusev and Lana came out during their "We the people!" shtick. Flag waving ensued.
Next up was a sitdown interview with Bray Wyatt and Chris Jericho, taped earlier in the day. Michael Cole was meant to host it but he was dismissed within the first ten seconds by 'The Eater of Worlds'. Bray's opening gambit was to say that 'Y2J' is a disappointment to his father (a retired NHL player named Ted Irvine, for anyone who cares and doesn't already know). Of himself Wyatt said he wants to help people but that he's never claimed to be a saviour. I'm pretty sure he's claimed exactly that but his character isn't exactly meant to be trustworthy or entirely lucid so I suppose the lie can be overlooked. Then he descended into the normal Wyatt speak of monsters and heaven and hell and bubbling nonsense (there's a pale horse on the horizon apparently). Jericho said he's a survivor and promised he'll shut Wyatt up.
It wasn't the best segment. Wyatt functions far better when he has a live crowd to read. Jericho fell into the trap many long serving WWE stars seem to be falling into lately of referring to unlocking different levels if sadism within themselves. It's boring and illogical, particularly for a guy like Jericho who is still generally thought of as a technical wrestler, albeit one who's experienced a wide variety of gimmick matches. On top of that they appeared to be discussing which of the pair of them was and was not a saviour. Not exactly riveting stuff, is it?
Match number four saw Eva Marie pin AJ Lee off a rollup after Paige had skipped around the ring. The Divas champ is easily distracted. 'The Anti-Diva' then recited a poem. AJ then threw Eva into a crowd barrier. That was probably designed to illustrate how dangerous she is.
|As much as Cena's current title reign does nothing for me
I do like the way he wears the belts.
WWE champion John Cena was up next, sporting a new red and yellow themed shirt no doubt inspired by the Hulk Hogan birthday bash. He mimicked Paul Heyman's style of delivery to begin with, which was a nice touch. He called Lesnar an arrogant bully who only cares about himself and said he'd never lie down for him, because he doesn't like him. Maybe he's been hanging out with Shawn Michaels. Acknowledging he's not unbeatable Cena said he would lose the title(s) one day but he'd make sure it wasn't to 'The Beast'. And speaking of that particular Lesnar nickname, Cena said he'd become a beast to fight one. So there you go.
Cena called Lesnar out. There was no response. So Cena spouted his catchphrases and left. It was an effective enough piece of work from Cena, although he veered to close to his comedy routine for my liking.
The payoff to the earlier Stephanie and Brie angle was next. Steph revealed Megan Miller was pressing charges against Brie for her assault. JBL called it "brilliant", which made it even harder to take as anything but a wrestling angle. Stephanie gloated.
Dolph Ziggler v Heath Slater ended with Slater winning by count out after 'The Show Off' was distracted by Miz (who'd been on commentary) and chased him around ringside. Ziggler gave 'The One Man Band' a post-match Zig Zag to make sure there was no confusion about who the real star was.
The evening's final match saw Randy Orton defeat Sheamus. The match itself was perfectly fine. They both did all their signature spots and seemed happy to leave it at that. The finish was above average though: Sheamus leapt off the top rope and got caught with an RKO.
Finally there was Hulk Hogan's birthday bash. The birthday boy passed the entire roster assembled at the top of the ramp and joined Gene Okerlund and Jimmy Hart in the ring. 'Mean' Gene then cued up a video package looking back at Hogan’s life, wisely focusing mostly on his original 80s run. It was a good piece of work. Hogan talked about getting presents from everyone, including a wonderfully fictitious anecdote about Vince McMahon giving him a birthday card with $9.99 in it so that he could subscribe to the Network (which told us months ago, multiple times, he'd already signed up for). They were then joined by Ric Flair, Paul Orndorf, Roddy Piper, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. The Outsiders encouraged 'The Hulkster' to tear off the red and yellow and don the nWo black and white. Hogan ripped off his shirt, revealing that he just so happened to be wearing the appropriate old WCW merch. Nash capped off the nonsense by starting to sing happy birthday. He was cut off by Brock Lesnar's music.
|Lesnar just wanted a party of his own.
'The Pain' got in Hogan's face before Cena ran down to the ring to intervene. The SummerSlam opponents stared at one another for a moment before Lesnar stepped out of the ring and sauntered into the aisle. The final shot of the show was Brock shouting "I am a mercenary!"
The show achieved everything it needed to. Every segment was designed to highlight a SummerSlam match. Some matches may have benefited from a little more build (Ambrose v Rollins in particular) but on the whole everything seemed well judged. I don't think WWE could have done much better writing a RAW to create interest in this particular SummerSlam match. I'm that regard it was mission: accomplished. Hopefully they pull out all the stops and make SummerSlam a show to remember.