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Summerslam 2015 Review
Behind only Wrestlemania, Summerslam is considered the second biggest major event. Even if they do not always succeed, WWE always at least tries to make Summerslam a big deal. Like Wrestlemania, Summerslam has hosted classic matches that fans have had legit arguments about what are the best - Rock vs. HHH's ladder match, Hart vs. Bulldog, Punk vs. Lesnar, Shawn Michaels's comeback match, the first TLC match - I could be here all day listing the classic matches. Unfortunately, like Wrestlemania, the booking team's attempts to make Summerslam a big show have kind of backfired. 1994 may be the perfect example of the best and worst of Summerslam in one show. It had the 5-star classic Owen vs. Bret cage match, but that was the B-main event for Undertaker vs. Fake Undertaker - which also featured an investigation from Leslie NIelsen as Frank Drebin who apparently forgot how to be funny. However, with a winner-take-all champions match, a rare Undertaker match, and a relatively stacked card, this Summerslam looked to be in the upper echelon.
The event opened up with guest host Jon Stewart. I have a feeling I'm not going to hurt a lot of feelings when I say this, but I am not a fan of the whole guest host thing. It's unnecessary. When people pay to see a show, someone standing in the ring talking is the last thing they should have to see. They also don't need third party perspective telling the show is good. Either it is good or it's not! However, Hank Hill once said "if you're gonna do something, do it right - even if it's the wrong thing." That's how I feel about Stewart hosting. A guest host is entirely pointless, but if you're gonna do it, you might as well have someone as charismatic and funny as Stewart. Even if he's not as funny as he was on The Daily Show, he's still engaging and clearly knows how to work the crowd. All things being equal, Jon Stewart doing his C-material is still more engaging than the Miz - even if Stewart went a lot further down the alphabet. But now, on to the actual wrestling:
Sheamus vs. Randy Orton
These two have had many matches in the past - including last month's Battleground. Most of them have been good, so it was fair to expect something good. This match was... decent. Orton and Sheamus worked a slightly slower pace. There were some memorable spots, such as Orton countering Sheamus's springboard shoulder block into an RKO - hardly new, but still an entertaining spot. While not a classic, this was a solid enough opener.
The New Day vs. The Prime Time Players vs. The Lucha Dragons vs. Los Matadores - Fatal 4-way for the tag titles
Now THIS was a classic. Ever since Extreme Rules, the once stagnant tag team division has been on a role! The New Day seems to have the Rock effect where they were annoying as overly-happy babyfaces, but as heels they are the kind of team the fans love to hate. Before the match, the trio harmonized a rap song to egg on the crowd. My goodness, these guys are so lovably hatable! The match itself was a fast-paced roller coaster of a match. All four teams are talented and they kept the flow going the entire time. There was something going on during every moment of the match including some impressive high spots outside of the ring. One wicked spot featured Titus O'Neil pulling a powerbomb superplex on THREE other men! The New Day won the tag team gold. While I had my money (not literally, thank goodness) on the Prime Time Players, the New Day was the right team to win. These guys really know how to rile up a crowd, and having gold around their waste is like salt in the wound of fans.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev
This storyline has me shaking my head. Jim Cornette - so wise, so often - once said that good-looking women should not be paired with babyfaces because the male fans who have the hots for said women will resent that wrestler. I like Ziggler and all (shout-out to a fellow Golden Flash), but this is the guy who was paired with AJ Lee for that exact reason. Yeah, I know these guys are swimming in women, but as Shawn Michaels once said "Just because they know doesn't mean they like to be reminded." (He was talking about a different matter, but that's a valid point.) Also, to add injury to insult, the word on the grapevine is that Vince is splitting Rusev and Lana on screen because they are an item off-screen, and Vince McMahon thinks Lana is too hot for Rusev. Vince, eat a d**k.
Also, Lana is adapting sort of an average girl look with denim shorts and butterfly patches. I'm just gonna say it - the suits were hotter. Lana is a very good-looking woman no matter what she wears, but now that she's going for the teen at the mall look, it ruins the sexy evil b***h thing she had going for her. Oh yeah, there was a match! And it was a pretty good match. Ziggler was on point, and Rusev pulled off some impressive high spots for a man his size. The match was hampered by a weak finish where both men were counted out. That is kind of understandable. Both Rusev and Ziggler are returning from injury - Rusev's real, Ziggler's an excuse to make a movie. So the booking team may not want to job out either man.
Stephen Amell and Neville vs. King Barrett and Stardust
Boy, talk about something that sounded awful on paper but turned out awesome. Celebrity matches have a spotty history. Mr. T headlining the first Wrestlemania may have been a big moment, but there has also been David Arquette, World Champion - need I say more? However, the company came up with the idea of booking this match like a battle between superheroes and supervillains. Again, on paper, that sounds absurd, but the writers and performers gave this so much gusto. Stardust and King Barrett - guys who are talented but the booking team has always seemed lost on what to do with them - are finally finding their voices and playing up the goofiness of their personalities. Old school fans frequently cry for more over-the-top characters like in "the good ole days." And these two are finally delivering on that and giving us a little - dare I say - fun!
But how was the match itself? Much to my surprise... it was pretty good. So many celebrities seem to just want to spend a few days in WWE/WCW fantasy camp, but Amell actually delivered in the ring. He pulled off some cool-looking flips and even an impressive enziguri. I wonder if Amell was properly trained to take bumps as much of Barrett and Stardust's offense consisted off punches and kicks. If I weren't such a big fan of Arrow, I'd say Amell would be a good fit for a regular. But even if it was just a one-time thing, I hope everybody else in this match gets opportunities - even if it is just making the mid-card more entertaining.
Ryback vs. The Big Show vs. The Miz - Intercontinental Championship
Boy, talk about the one match I was NOT looking forward to. Big Show is the one guy I even kind of like in this match, and I'll admit he's not exactly a spring chicken. The Miz is irritating, and Ryback has rarely had a good match unless weapons or some other gimmick is involved. However, giving credit where it is due, this match was decent. The match was relatively fast-paced with some decent spots - such as a double team suplex on Big Show. Even if the match was technically filler, it was also short - less than 6 minutes so at least it was short enough to not wear out its welcome.
Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper
Remember how it looked like the fans had forgiven Roman Reigns? Yeah, that's over. I really don't understand why Reigns is still booed so vehemently by the fans. Even if I thought it was a bum rap, I still at least understood why they were booing him up to Wrestlemania - Fans didn't view him as someone who deserved that spot. However, ever since 'Mania, Reigns has had every reason to redeem himself. His matches have been good, he is no longer in the world title picture, and he has in fact put over other guys. Knowing that, I can't help but wonder if Reigns was teamed with Ambrose so Reigns could float on Ambrose's pops. Whatever the case, I am glad they were paired together because this match was pretty good.
The match was bookended with wild brawls outside of the ring with some impressive out of the ring dives between most of the competitors. The match kind of slowed down when they played a spot where Reigns was laid out from a serious bump and Harper and Wyatt laid waste to Ambrose for much of the match. These teams really ought to work a street fight or some kind of no-dq match because that seems to be the kind of match they want to work, plus it would be an awesome throwback to the amazing matches the Shield had with Evolution and Team Hell No. But that may be a pipe dream - like Ambrose being in the main event and fans redeeming Reigns.
Seth Rollins vs. John Cena - Winner Take All Match
Wait a minute, the world title match - a double championship match on THIS early? Something is amiss! All joking and weird placement aside, this was a STELLAR match. Rollins and Cena worked a solid, fast-paced brawl with the story line of one man being champion of champions and Cena possibly tying Ric Flair's world title record. With that storyline, there were some callbacks to the legends who preceded these two living legends. Rollins performed the Frog Splash while Cena performed Flair's figure-four leglock.
As superb as this match was, there are valid criticism. Even if it is not exclusive to this match, Cena needs to take that springboard stunner out of his repertoire ASAP. I applaud him for defying the "five moves of doom" criticism, but Cena almost NEVER connects that move properly. Like him or not, most people would agree, Cena is at least competent in the ring (I actually think he's quite talented, but I digress) so seeing him do something that sloppy so consistently only leaves a blemish on otherwise great matches. (Conversely, just once I'd like to see Rollins do that moonsault thing and his opponent NOT roll out of the way.) The match ended with Jon Stewart interfering on Rollins's behalf. I like Jon Stewart, and it is good to see them follow up on that feud he had with Rollins - even if in such a bizarre way - but it is so odd for a match this highly anticipated between two guys this big to end in this manner. Still a good matches, but these flaws keep it from being a five-star classic - maybe a 4.5 star classic though.
Seth Rollins really was the right person to win. While some have criticized Rollins for being too talented to be booked as a consummate cheater, I think it works. He has sort of anti-underdog vibe where he wins through chicanery even though by all rights, he shouldn't have. Being a double champion seems to only add to that, making him delusional that he really is that good. The fact that he IS so talented creates the perfect balance. He angers the fans just enough that they will pay to see a hero knock his block off while still engaging them with his matches.
Team PCB vs. Team Bella vs. Team BAD
After making it clear I'm not too wild about the divas division, I have to say this whole Divas Revolution has reinvigorated my interest. The booking team has brought in talented NXT ladies such as Becky Lynch and Charolette. The Divas match from Battleground was one of the best non-NXT divas matches in a good while. This one... was okay. Team BAD was eliminated early, making their involvement feel esoteric. The match was solid, but like the Ambrose/Reigns match, this one played the babyface in distress card a little too long. Team PCB won, as they should have. This was not a great match, but it leaves me optimistic that there's more to the divas division than ogling Paige. (Now I can ogle Paige during decent matches!)
Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro
Boy, talk about a match that lived up to expectations. Owens and Cesaro are two uber-talented performers who have been climbing ranks, but always seem to never get the brass ring. Hopefully, this match gives the higher ups a hint that these guys deserve more. Both men combined brilliant technical savvy, high-flying spots and brawling to create a uniquely brutal match with flips, a ridiculous-looking top-rope suplex, and outside dives. Both men are big enough that everything they do looks like it hurts. Owens won with a pop-up powerbomb. Either man winning would have made me happy, but Owens has been counting the lights enough that he needed the victory more.
Undertaker vs. Lesnar
This match seemed to have all the hype in the word going for it. The build-up started when the Undertaker hijacked the already hotly anticipated Rollins vs. Lesnar match from Battleground. The Undertaker has not had a non-Wrestlemania PPV since 2010. It looked like he was trying to mount a comeback 2 years ago when he had some house show matches and even a few TV matches - including a match with Dean Ambrose - but nothing stuck. So it goes without saying Undertaker matches are still rare. The company has been legitimately criticized for pushing part timers like Taker and Lesnar while not knowing what to do with the talented full-timers still in their prime. However, Taker and Lesnar matches are both a commodity so seeing the two in the ring together still has a big fight feel to it.
As for the match itself, the Undertaker may be past his prime, but during his later years, he worked enough of a rough and tumble style that he can still pull off a decent brawl when he needs to, and Lesnar has never been a slouch with his fists - especially considering he's a former UFC fighter. That seems like the best angle for this match - two men who hold this strong of a grudge won't do head scissors and armbars, they are going to beat each other to a pulp. In hindsight, the Wrestlemania match with these two was pretty underwhelming - and not just because of the downer of Taker losing. This match was everything that match was supposed to be. We even got blood! Say what you will about the PG rating, but at least blood feels like a big deal now that it's rare.
Unfortunately, as good as this match was, it was marred by one thing: The ending. Here's what happened: Lesnar had Taker in a kimura lock - the hold that - in storyline - had broken several men's arms. However, it also left him open to pinfall since his shoulders were on the ground. The ref counted one, and the timekeeper called for the bell. After chewing out the timekeeper for prematurely ringing the bell, the match restarted. Taker low blowed Lesnar and put Lesnar in Hell's Gate. Defiant Lesnar passed out rather than tap out and Taker was ruled the victor. After the match, it was revealed Undertaker had tapped. If Jon Stewart's interference in Rollins-Cena was odd, this is a black eye on what could have been a classic. Also, if the ref missed the tap out, how did the timekeeper see it? Giving credit where it's due, I did like the image of Lesnar flipping the bird as he went out - maybe not as iconic as bloodied up Austin, but still cool in a PG era.
At the same time, I can't help but wonder where this is going. Undertaker has been acting like the heel for his entire feud with Lesnar. He started the fight, basically as a sore loser and won with a tainted victory. If he is going heel, what's the end game? Is he going to be more than a part-timer? Also, will it really go over? Taker hasn't worked heel since 2002, and even when he was battering Ric Flair and doing other nasty deeds, fans still cheered him. Maybe this will pay off, but only time will tell. (I predict it's going to lead to a match with Sting.)
Overall Summerslam 2015 was pretty good. There were some headscratching booking decisions, but every match was good. This was a FOUR HOUR show with hardly a dull moment. Even the filler matches were at least palatable. The right people went over in almost every match. Match-for-match, this may be the best Summerslam since 2002.
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