Oh yes. It's been a while! It's time once again to speak on the thing I love so dearly: wrestling.
If you're a fan there are many "federations" you can follow but only one, these days, that carries any weight. The WWE, for all its faults in the PG era, is still the biggest draw of eyes when it comes to televised events, merchandise sold and so forth. The closest competitor, TNA (Total Nonstop Action, formerly NWA), is barely hanging on at this point. Why all this to preface my review of the annual edition of Summerslam?
I have hope.
Or to quote Matt and Pat from "Two Best Friends Play"), "My jimmies are SEVERELY unrustled." That means I'm really friggin' happy right now.
What gives me hope? Let's take a step back to the debut of the first video vignette of the Wyatt Family on May 27th of this year.
What's that? An actual character? Seriously? An honest to God gimmick for once? I was impressed. This began the uptick in development not just for the Wyatts but in attempting to actually develop story lines and feuds again. Aside from the long builds that we got for Rock/Cena at Wrestlemania and a few others we mostly get short feuds that have little to no steam going into them.
This summer changed that. The emergence of the Wyatt Family as a force to be reckoned with, the continued dominance of the Shield (There has to be a clash coming right? At some point? Order v. Chaos?), Daniel Bryan catching fire and just wrestling like a damn madman and the revivification of a VERY stagnant Divas division via the feud between Kaitlyn and AJ Lee are only just a few reasons why WWE has actually been kicking ass and taking names as of late. It's also a signal that some of the major shifts in delegation of duties and power behind the scenes involving Triple H are also starting to have their effect. Good effects mind you.
So, now we build towards one of the major pay-per-view events of the season, Summerslam.
We've had a change of General Manager on RAW from Vickie "I Scream All The God Damn Time" Guerrero to the very green Brad Maddox. He throws down the gauntlet and tells the champ, John Cena, that he can pick his opponent. The IWC (Internet Wrestling Community) held their breath. Could it be? Is this it? Will Daniel Bryan get a chance?
YES! YES! YES! Cena grants the collective wishes of all us jaded fans out there and grants the Indie Kid his shot at the title again.
The build is quick but honestly pretty heated which culminates in a great face-off in the ring where they lay all their cards out:
That, ladies and gentleman, is how you lead into a championship match at a pay-per-view event. Both sides delivered here. Bryan channeled all the hatred of being that Indie guy that Vince won't push. That guy that is beloved by fans but can't get over the corporate face of the company. Cena fired back with his usual mantra of being about the fans which almost made me roll my eyes until he pointed out the Make-A-Wish kid in the crowd. Was it a bit on the nose? Yeah. It worked, though, as I haven't seen Cena that intense in a long time. Cena even limited his use of the word "jack" which, as we all know, is usually super high (The JPM (Jacks Per Minute) count of his promos is usually absurd). He cut a measured and, honestly, solid promo to put a cap on things leading into Summerslam.
The relationship, or rather, lack thereof, was the focus of the other major feud going into this past Sunday. CM Punk and Paul Heyman. The former self-proclaimed "Paul Heyman guy" has split with his former manager and friend due to the fact that, as Paul has proven time after time, a greasy weasel. The former ECW messiah has had a rocky road with WWE but is now featured quite prominently on the flagship program. He's also quite chummy with CM Punk outside of the ring. That changed recently:
Money in the Bank saw, which seemed to be the theme of the night, the betrayal of Punk by Heyman. Lesnar soon enters the picture and, well, shit got REAL. A classic David v. Goliath scenario unfolded and culminated in one hell of a match at Summerslam. A non-title match that got a VERY strong build? What the hell is going on here?
Throw in the Damien Sandow/Cody Rhodes blood feud, the mixed tag match involving AJ/Kaitlyn and Ziggler/Big E, and a World Heavyweight title match between the criminally underrated Christian and Alberto del Rio. Oh yeah! Dean Ambrose defended his US title too against RVD! Okay!
So, all of the above is my way of saying, "Guys. They're doing something different. They're investing in feuds again. They're DEVELOPING characters and arcs again!" RAW has actually been worth watching. I've even found myself watching Smackdown lately which I haven't done in a few years. All of this culminated in what was, hands down, the best event of the year for WWE. Summerslam, in the last five years or so, has not really delivered in terms of match quality or impact on the long game going into Wrestlemania.
United States Champion Dean Ambrose vs. Rob Van Dam
So, let's start with the pre-show match between Dean Ambrose and RVD. Rob Van Dam won the right to face off against the current title holder due to winning a rather hastily thrown together Battle Royal. Ever since he returned in late July the "Whole F'in Show" has, honestly, been in top form. His return to the Fed has been strange in that he looks he stepped right out of 2002. That said this match was, sadly, one of the lower points of the night.
There's a reason it was on the pre-show. Dean Ambrose, taking off the flak vest and getting in the ring to tangle with the salty vet looked a bit out of place. I like the guy. I do but I've wondered if we were going to see him try to expand past the stable dynamic. He's ventured into singles competition on the big show but it has been limited. This was a quick match and WWE even cut to commercial at one point during the middle of it. Two segments of work and things never meshed.
It was okay at best and Ambrose retained. It did, however, setup the Shield coming to blows in the future with RVD, Big Show and Mark Henry. THAT is something I'm interested in seeing. What bothered me most is that Ambrose still had this look of someone straight out of the circuit who maybe wrestled in a high school last week and somehow got the call up to the big show. I know that sounds harsh and I'm hoping that maybe that will change. There's still a bit of work to do I think. That said? Yin-yangs bro! Sick unitard as always with Rob.
Kane vs. Bray Wyatt - Ring of Fire
The Wyatt Family attacked Kane upon their debut on RAW. Kane disappeared briefly only to return and deliver a blistering promo that lead to challenging the the self-proclaimed "Eater of Worlds" to an Infern--err Ring of Fire match. The Devil's Favorite Son in a ring of fire with a lunatic? I'm in. I've been high on the Wyatts since the first video. This was, hopefully, going to be one of the highlights of the entire night for me.
It was a bit shaky at times honestly. It could have used a little more variety though the flames flaring up when big moves were landed was a nice touch. Bray's brethren eventually managed to get into the ring by snuffing out the flames on one side with a blanket and helped to finish off the Big Red Machine. He was then sacrificed upon the alter of steel steps to whatever God crazy Southern charismatic maniacs worship I guess.
I love Bray's finisher, Sister Abigail (a swinging reverse STO with a flourish) along with chops the guy has in preaching his sermons of desolation and destruction. This match was decent but short. I think the gimmick was a bit unnecessary for this match but whatever.
Cody Rhodes v. Damien Sandow - THE BLOOD FEUD
That's the face of anger mingled with shock. The Money in the Bank PPV left Cody Rhodes falling just short of capturing the briefcase thanks to his former partner, Damien Sandow. The Intellectual Savior of the Masses did what he had to do to win but, in the process, broke up one of my favorite tag teams. Still the drama is just fucking SUCCULENT.
The weeks following Sandow's glorious backstabbing of Rhodes we had a bevy of truly great segments adding heat and lending some serious steam to this feud. It came to a head with Sandow referring to Rhodes as his sidekick at best. The Robin to his Batman.
Sadly this was another match that was constrained due to time concerns (which thankfully came to be a very good thing later in the night concerning the main event matches) yet still provided a great wrinkle to what is sure to be a long feud. It better fucking be anyway.
Sandow dominated early with Rhodes thundering back only to have his rampage cut short by an errant charge into the steel post. Damien had victory within his fingertips but Rhodes nailed him with the Cross Rhodes finisher and got the pin.
It was a bit short for my tastes but it still delivered a quality match. It felt to me that this was just the beginning chapters, really, of a feud that will last a while. Sandow still has the Money in the Bank briefcase. The next time we see them tangle at a PPV I think the stakes will far higher than at Summerslam. I give them both credit for working a good match into such a tight timeframe.
World Heavyweight Champion Alberto del Rio vs. Christian
"One more match!" The new motto of a man who's been around for quite some time. When he wasn't "Reeking of Awesome" with his bro Edge he was constantly providing the WWE Universe and in TNA as well as Christian Cage. Always doin' it for the peeps.
Alberto del Rio has been a solid performer in the ring though he still needs to keep pushing to be that top-tier guy that I think he can be. Dumping Ricardo was the right move, honestly, to push his character forward. It also got him SO much heat. Squaring off against the cagey veteran with all that intestinal fortitude (God damn. Fuck Tazz. Seriously.) is a good fit for Mexico's finest import.
This would have been the BEST match of the night had we not gotten two fucking CLASSICS in the last two matches (More on that later). This was pro wrestling damn it. Really good mat work, in-ring psychology and they told us a story that was REALLY FUCKING GOOD. Del Rio did as Del Rio does. Soften up the left arm for the potential Cross arm breaker and attack, attack, attack. Christian was his equal every step of the way. Some really decent high spots actually from both men along with some really SICK Enziguris. I loved the HELL out of this match. It honestly is a shame that it had to be overshadowed.
Del Rio's persistence in working the arm paid dividends after Christian hit what should have been the match-ending Spear. Pain shot down his arm and gave Del Rio ample time to get in position to lock and finish the ol' boy off. In-ring psychology at its finest. Seriously. This match was great. Del Rio retaining was the right call. It builds even more heat for a guy that is pretty damn good at getting it. He needs to hold the title for a while I think. Maybe Christian will get another shot. I'd be fine if he did.
Natalya v. Brie Bella
There wasn't a ton to say about this match. It was an easy opportunity to remind an already aware audience of Total Divas. Natalya picked up the win in style with a Sharpshooter in the middle of the ring. The biggest benefit of this? I really hope that having a win over one of the other major Divas in the division means we're getting further away from the Nattie that was seen farting in backstage segments and doing goofy bullshit all the time. Enough of that. She's the most competent mat wrestler in the division. FUCKING USE HER. SERIOUSLY.
Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk
Oh man. This was phenomenal. This is a definite contender for the best match of the year without a fucking doubt. A lot of hype surrounded this match. "The Best versus The Beast" it was billed as. Both men delivered a truly brutal and hellacious match that exceeded the build-up for it. What a treat this was for fans of this often maligned form of entertainment.
I mentioned the earlier build of this feud, and it has been a fantastic story thus far, but with this match two things were accomplished: The hatred between Heyman and Punk was utilized within the match to give us a sudden swerve and Lesnar did what he's always done best: rain down death and destruction. It also served as a reminder that he is a very talented in-ring performer. Punk was the true star here, though.
"The Beast", as it were, was indeed merciless. His onslaught was ruthless and his tenacity was absurd but he was matched blow-for-blow by CM Punk. This, at times, reminded me of the absurdity of some of the Triple H/Taker match from Wrestlemania. It was savage, honest and no holds barred. I loved every damn minute of it. It took the fatal dance of MMA and injected it directly into Punk's domain. Blows were exchanged, holds were administered but it came down to Heyman. Punk could not resist taking a shot at Paul. Lost in his fury over what his former friend/manager had done to him as he locked in the Anaconda Vise the shadow of Lesnar fell over them both. One after another chair shots rained down like the steel fists of mechanized titan and Lesnar seized the fallen hero into his clutch. The F5 was tremendous as Punk impacted with the same chair and "1,2,3" went the ref.
Lesnar was, indeed, the Monster we all knew him to be. Punk, however, came out of this even better despite the notch in the Loss column. He went toe-to-toe with Goliath and managed to nearly defeat him. He matched every bit of raw physicality that Lesnar had to offer and it was just fucking magic. FUCKING MAGIC PEOPLE.
What's better? This means the Heyman feud will continue. More sick promos, more potential for Heyman/Punk showdowns and it also gave Lesnar a really great way to go off into the sunset until Wrestlemania (probably). This was so damn good.
RATING: S+ (SUPER FUCKING GOOD)
Mixed Tag Match - Kaitlyn/Dolph Ziggler vs. AJ Lee/Big E Langston
Honestly I don't have much to say about this. The feud between AJ and Kaitlyn has been really great for the Divas division. But a mixed tag match and trying to sandwich together disparate storylines? Eh. I wasn't a huge fan. Highlight for me was Kaitlyn hitting that spear. God damn! So sexy. Anywhoooooo..
It was an okay match. Short, thankfully, but it also had to follow the Lesnar/Punk match? Err yeah. I get that it's almost like a breather between the two Main Events. I do. I would have rather just have a Divas title match. Whatever.
WWE Champion John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan
Another easy pick for Match of the Year right here. Yet another high profile feud, though it had less time to build compared to the Lesnar/Punk showdown. The addition of Triple H as the special guest referee added a potential wrinkle to an already interesting storyline. It would be clear by the night's end why Triple H was hanging around. More on that later. First things first.
I'm going to let you guys in on a little secret. Come closer.
Cena, for all the hatred tossed his way, is one of the best main-event performers the company has. You may boo him and, frankly, I can see why and often agree with the hatred yet to deny what he is and what he does when it comes to the big matches? That's just being a jaded fan. That said? Bryan continues to show that he is one of the hottest commodities in the business right now but, more importantly, is truly a genuinely gifted performer that has SUCH A LONG career ahead of him. This would turn out to be the night that Daniel Bryan truly hit the big time.
Cena came into this match with his Helga Patacki elbow wrapped up (Thank FUCK FOR THAT. GROSS.) and did his level best in keeping up with the pacing of Bryan. What became clear, immediately, is that it wasn't just Bryan carrying this match. Both sides were bringing their A-game. The hungry bearded man with passion to spare and the veteran who has seen and bested everyone put before him. This was a definite contrast to the Lesnar/Punk battle. Brutality was traded for some serious mat wrestling. The thing that shocked me was Cena actually held his own the whole way through. Shrugging off No-Locks and locking in STF's. Finishers were kicked out of. It was such a back and forth affair that it was a rather sudden and unexpected end, a running knee to Cena's dome, that capped it off.
The moment had come. Daniel Bryan's crowning victory. He had arrived. Confetti rained down from the rafters and pyrotechnics lit up the arena. It was a bombastic and well-deserved celebration. Cena congratulated Bryan in a show of respect for him and the title. Even Triple H shook Cena's hand.
The moment that all of us fans who know what's best happened. "Voices" shattered the revelry and Randy Orton, the other Money in the Bank winner, marched out to the ring. It wasn't long before he saw Daniel was ready and rarin' to go that he decided against it. It wasn't until he was nearly all the way up the ramp that Triple H did what, well, Triple H does. He delivered a devastating Pedigree that left Bryan in pieces upon the mat. Orton grinned and cashed it in. Title change. The crowd was stunned into silence.
HOLY SHIT. What a way to finish off what was already the BEST PPV event of the year. Bryan lost the title nearly as fast as he won it, truly, but it did something even better for him. Bryan is fucking LEGIT now. More than ever he is a main-event man. When the McMahon family fucks you over? Yeah. Business is boomin' for D-Bry.
The sudden swerve was a terrific fucking way to end the night. It creates huge storyline potential not only for Bryan/Orton but ties into the entire McMahon dynasty angle that's going on right now. I loved every single second of it.
RATING: S++ (For the match) - GOD-TIER STATUS (for the aftermath)
So, overall, this was a REALLY GOOD PAY-PER-VIEW. HOLY CRAP! Summerslam, thank the Maker, actually lived up to the preceding hype. If you haven't seen it yet? Find a way to watch it all. Well worth your time. Sets up some tremendous continuations of feuds going all the way into Mania and further proves that the WWE isn't done being entertaining or awesome. Not by a long shot.