In just a few days’ time, shrewd businessman and creative genius Vince McMahon’s troupe of fairly compensated independent contractors will put on their second-biggest show of the year.
Originating from its now-annual home, L.A.’s Staples Center, SummerSlam features a complete list of well-promoted matches. I don’t think I can recall a non-WrestleMania show that included this many matches that had been given thorough, proper build-ups.
Maybe it’s the renewed focus wrought by bad financial news (or the pared-down roster that soon followed that news). Maybe it’s better integration with the WWE Network that allows for certain characters to flourish. Maybe it’s a better understanding of how to use the flagship show’s three-plus hours each week.
Whatever the reason, there’s no question that, for the first time in a long time, I can look at each of the eight announced matches on this card and remember compelling specifics about all of them.
Let’s get to the particulars:
The Miz (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler — Intercontinental Championship: Back in May, I wrote that The Miz was the solution to a big storytelling problem the WWE had. Since that time, the company has successfully reintroduced The Miz as a Hollywood heel, along the lines of what I had hoped would happen with the character.
Just as encouraging, Dolph Ziggler is in the midst of a renewed push after months of dormancy (read: putting on great matches but ultimately serving as enhancement talent). The difference is that The Miz now has a clearly defined character, whereas Ziggler is still a generic face.
I expect Ziggler to dominate the match, but The Miz, in old-school-heel fashion, will luck (or cheat) his way to a fluke victory in front of the numerous studio executives who are sure to be in attendance. The WWE is doing a great job with Miz right now. Here’s hoping they don’t change course anytime soon. Winner: The Miz (retains title)
Jack Swagger vs. Rusev (Flag Match): Speaking of old-school, I was at the Richmond RAW during the “detente” segment in this feud. As I said to my friend at the time, the entire exchange could have been pulled from 1985, and the crowd response would have been identical. That’s a good thing for an angle like this one. The WWE has cultivated an effective, if paint-by-numbers, patriot vs. anti-American storyline. It helps that Lana is a heat-generating heel manager. Of course, my hunch all along has been that the flavor-of-the-month Americans are just keeping the proverbial seat warm for the man who will finally defeat Rusev. For now, the evil not-quite-Russian will continue to prevail over his American opponents. Winner: Rusev
A.J. Lee (c) vs. Paige — WWE Divas Championship: I didn’t really “get” Paige when she debuted. It seemed like she owed her crowd support to being something new and different after A.J. had dominated a fairly weak Divas division for a year. Once Paige had the strap, it became apparent that this was probably happening too soon. The WWE wisely reversed course and had A.J. regain the championship upon her return. Even more wisely, Paige “out-AJ’ed” A.J. and became a conniving, passive-aggressive (and then just aggressive-aggressive) heel.
Without that heel turn, I think Paige might have flamed out and disappeared back to the hinterlands of NXT. Now, I feel confident that Paige will be ready for another run at the top when that opportunity presents itself. Not just yet, though. A.J. Lee is by far the best diva in WWE. The build for this match suggests she’ll go over. A troubling sidebar to this feud has been the quiet (and inexplicable) push of Eva Marie. Why not Alicia Fox? She was interesting for about three weeks. Remember that? Sigh. Let’s stick to positives. Winner: A.J. Lee (retains title)
Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt (Rowan and Harper banned from ringside): Of all of the feuds in play at SummerSlam, this is the only one that has never quite made sense to me. Wyatt is a compelling, well-played character, but I think the writers have gotten a little lazy with him. They lean heavily on the the excellence of the character at the expense of the story. I think they believe Wyatt is so good that they can throw him in with another top-level guy without the need to craft a coherent motivation for either party. It’s been months and months since Wyatt was involved in a storyline that had a clear rationale, and some of us have had to get some insight into this story from unorthodox sources.
Having said that, the sit-down segment on RAW last Monday hooked me. Even without it, both of these guys are entertaining enough on their own for me to overlook some of the shortcomings in the story. Jericho went over when they first tangled last month, and there’s no reason for a part-timer to beat a sometimes-fascinating up-and-comer like Wyatt twice in a row. Bray wins, and I’m guessing Rowan and Harper will make their presence felt somehow. Not even providing a poorly written theme song for the event will be enough to get Jericho the win. Winner: Bray Wyatt
Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose (lumberjack match): A cage match might have been a little stronger, but a cage match also doesn’t get everyone a payday. So, I’m fine with trotting out the guys who don’t have anything else to do. It’s a preferable option to jamming them all into an elaborate backstage skit for the benefit of cheesy bacon pretzel dogs.
And the lumberjack story does hold water: The Shield ran roughshod over the WWE for two years, and there are a lot of guys (both heels and faces) who would love a chance to pummel these fine independent contractors should either find his way to the floor.
If there’s one thing I know about the way the WWE books, it’s that the guy holding the Money in the Bank briefcase almost never wins while he’s holding it. This should be an outstanding match between two great wrestlers. It could very well steal the show. I’ll talk a possible cash-in later, but, for now, your Winner: Dean Ambrose
Roman Reigns vs. Randy Orton: I’m not sure Randy (still only 34 years old) is ready to pass the torch yet, but this feels just a touch like that kind of match. Reigns is the hottest face in the company, and he’s fairly obviously being built up for a major run at the world championship. Unless the plan is for him to feud with Orton long-term and trade wins for a number of months (before Reigns wins the Royal Rumble in January), I don’t see how Orton goes home with a victory on Sunday. There may be an inconclusive finish to keep the issue going, but, otherwise, Orton probably does the honors for Reigns.
As far as where these guys are headed if this is their only match, Orton is theoretically still owed a one-on-one rematch for the WWE Title, but I’m wondering if he may drop that request if the man holding the championship is Mr. Laser. Meanwhile, Reigns has the rocket strapped to his back, but, if there were ever a guy who could use a manager, it’s Reigns. The problem is that there are no true face managers anymore. Reigns has a great look and is a fantastic athlete, but his promos are bland and skew a little . . . uh . . . dim. It’s a shame there isn’t a mouthpiece he could work with to hide his weakness, since he has so many strengths. Winner: Roman Reigns
Brie Bella vs. Stephanie McMahon: Can we talk about Steph for a minute? For most of her career as an on-screen personality, I practically dreaded the sight of her. I never found her to be an effective or entertaining character. At all. She was grating, but not in a way that actually got things over.
Now? She’s incredible. I have no idea how she could be a “D” for a decade and suddenly become a rock-solid “A” in the last year-plus, but she’s done it. She is a perfect condescending, patronizing, cheap-shot-artist of a boss figure. Triple H’s current incarnation is a top-shelf heel as well, but he also sometimes can’t resist turning a crowd-pleasing phrase or mugging for a camera. Stephanie has no such qualms. She is pure evil, and all of us are better for having the privilege of witnessing her evolution into this diabolical witch.
I said in the Miz article linked above that the WWE had a major heel shortage problem (and that they weren’t creating pure heels anymore). I listed Stephanie as one of the few they had, but pointed out that this wasn’t really a solution, as she doesn’t wrestle. Well, maybe this is a workaround. The one danger in play is that people are now such admirers of her work that she’s going to start getting cheered. This admittedly awesome shirt won’t help in that regard
Put another way: If you think Stephanie isn’t getting cheered on Sunday, you’re f@#$ing nuts.
The only negative thing I have to say about this feud is the seemingly tacked-on introduction of “Megan Miller” to create an infidelity element six days before the match. Doing so was unnecessary and flawed in its execution.
However, I choose to ignore that, and instead marvel at how Stephanie managed to earn—earn—something close to a semi-main-event through her stunning character work. I think Stephanie wins here, as the success of the angle and the sudden inclusion of a new character suggests things won’t be resolved quickly. Winner: STEPH! STEPH! STEPH!
John Cena (c) vs. Brock Lesnar — WWE World Heavyweight Championship: I went back and watched these two square off at Extreme Rules 2012. I remember watching the match and being incredibly impressed at the time, but I couldn’t remember the details. In short, Brock, fresh off the conclusion of his MMA career, absolutely destroyed Cena. He busted Cena open within the first few moments of the match, and things went downhill from there. Cena eventually won with the help of that always-effective wrestling maneuver—wrapping a big chain around your first and punching the other guy in the face. But the brutality of the match, including blood from both guys in an era when blood is simply not seen in WWE, struck a chord.
I expect some of the same brutality on Sunday. Nobody in the WWE can dish out punishment (intentionally or not) like Brock Lesnar.
The lead-up to this match has been superb. Lesnar is a throwback monster heel who, as a bonus, boasts impeccable “real” credentials. His advocate, Paul Heyman, hits a verbal home run every time he touches a microphone.
My support of defending champ John Cena is well-documented. As he has so many times in the past, Cena presented a superior case, anchored in the moral high-ground, for why people should be rooting for him (couched in appropriate terms of “Lesnar doesn’t deserve this championship”).
Still, a lot of people boo. As usual, Cena is right.
Yet, it’s tough not to be in awe of Brock Lesnar. Making him champion makes all the sense in the world . . . except for the one, glaring reason not to: He doesn’t want to work a full schedule. Absent that, the WWE would have a high-profile, major PPV draw with the title for the foreseeable future.
The question is whether having Brock as the standard-bearer is worth the price of not having the company’s champion at most of its shows. For now, I think the answer is “yes,” although the brilliant build has some doubt creeping in at the last moment. I think Brock probably beats Cena on Sunday, perhaps loses the title back to Cena in another brutal match months down the road, at which point Rollins cashes in and wins it . . . only to lose it to old stablemate Reigns at WrestleMania. Alternatively, the WWE could keep Brock on top as an unstoppable monster for several months, then have Reigns be the guy to vanquish Lesnar at last in Silicon Valley.
SummerSlam cash-ins have been fashionable of late, but it’s tough for me to see Rollins turning in the briefcase at any point during a hypothetical Lesnar title run. A beaten-down Cena, on the other hand? Keep your eyes peeled.
When John Cena kept hoisting the belt on Monday and saying that Lesnar “doesn’t deserve this,” I took him literally. The WWE will roll out a new logo for all of its properties come next week. This new logo replaces the modified Attitude Era “W” that has been used for well over a decade.
To go along with the new logo, a new championship belt will likely debut the Monday after SummerSlam as well. I believe Brock Lesnar will be wearing that championship. Winner: Brock Lesnar (new champion)
Overall Thoughts: The transition in talent is nearly complete. What strikes me about this card is just how young it is. Ambrose, Rollins, Reigns, Wyatt, A.J. Lee, Paige, and Rusev are all in their 20s. In fact, the only people on the entire card who were born before 1980 are Jericho, Stephanie McMahon, and the two main-eventers. By next year’s WrestleMania, I think we’ll have arrived fully at a new era in WWE, much the same way the roster changed so much circa 2002. A few of the top stars will still be around, but the next generation of WWE superstars—the ones who will dominate the next five years—will be increasingly on top.
If I weren’t already paying (JUST!) $9.99 for this show, I would gladly shell out $55 for it. Let’s hear it for the free market! Recommendation: BUY