The biggest party of the Summer proved to be a show filled with surprises and excitement, with the vast majority of the matches living up to the hype. Three championships changed hands, young talent was given an opportunity to shine, and the main event demonstrated how the art of storytelling will take you from the curtain raiser to the headliner. Los Angeles witnessed some fantastic action in the squared circle, from the moment a legend opened the show up to the point where a beast ended it. Following the disappointment that was Battleground, WWE had to step it up for their biggest night of the Summer. But, considering the number of repeat matches from that card, and the lack of appearances from the likes of The Usos, The Wyatt Family and Sheamus, one would be permitted to be less than enthused over this show’s potential. But they would not be frustrated again.
If somebody had said to me earlier this year that I would be enthralled by a card featuring lumberjacks, flag matches and a squash featuring John Cena, I would have struggled not to have you committed to a mental institution. Yet, on this night, thanks to performers putting it all on the line and pushing the boundaries of a match’s potential, everything came together for an evening filled with enjoyment.
There were some shoddy instances of course, but this is what a review is designed to do. It will cut the wheat from the chaff, and give those worthy of merit a showcase, whilst also pointing the finger at those who should have stepped it up. However, this edition will certainly be far more optimistic than my exposition on Battleground. So, let’s examine the bouts performed for the thousands in attendance and millions watching at home, ranking them from the easily forgettable to the must-see…
Not Ranked – Rob Van Dam vs. Cesaro (Kick-Off Show)
I have refused to rank the kick-off show contest between RVD and Cesaro, simply because I would be prone to skipping this match on an episode of RAW. Cesaro has fallen off a cliff since the high of winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal whilst WWE are keen on pushing other talent, and RVD has been employed sparingly since his return from hiatus. Furthermore, previous contests between these two had done little to exhilarate crowds in recent months, the two showing little chemistry. The victory for RVD was simply designed to get the crowd happy before the opening contest on the main show.
Though the last kick-off match between Cameron and Naomi was certainly worse technically than this offering, it at least gave the impression of having a “feud” behind it. If WWE were planning on throwing a match out of nowhere, why not give the crowd an early championship match for either Sheamus or the Usos. Sheamus could have rolled over Damien Sandow or Fandango, or the Usos could have fought Slater Gator. It would have had the same effect of giving the faces a victory to get the crowd happy, but the added significance of the belts on the line would have gotten them a great deal more invested. To have a match that would currently be seen as filler on weekly shows fill this gap was pointless and achieved nothing.
#8 – Bray Wyatt vs. Chris Jericho
Strangely enough, one of the most disheartening facets of the Battleground event was the lowest point on the main card of Summerslam as well, as the return of Chris Jericho has continued to be one of his most substandard of his legendary career. Not only has his moveset become more generic, but he has been placed in a totally nonsensical feud with Bray Wyatt. It seemed like a brilliant idea during their first encounter, but as time has gone by, it has persisted like an irritating rash. Also, it has become apparent in this feud that the writers that composed Wyatt’s emphatic promos were likely just stringing big and scary words together like your average high school poet and relying on his delivery. But they have been found out in the past few months, as his pursuit of Jericho is based on a gimmick he dropped in 2008, and Wyatt has been making less sense than Scott Steiner after a botox treatment.
When the promos stop and bell rings, it doesn’t get much better, as the crowd became essentially silent from the first headlock. The match was much improved from the Battleground travesty, with Wyatt showing far more aggression and personality than the first match between the two. His movement was slow, but it fit his methodical character that he sported against John Cena and Daniel Bryan. In fact, a number of spots and characteristics of this match were imitable from the Bryan match at the Royal Rumble. But, tonight he was not facing Bryan, but Chris Jericho. 2014’s Chris Jericho. And Y2J has shown that as time as passed he has not behaved as a fine wine, but more like a stale loaf.
I think Jericho wanted to impress once again. He pulled out the usual tricks, but also mixed in springboards and a neat hurricanrana off the top rope which rolled back the years for a few glorious moments. But frankly, nobody seemed to care much. The match was in the middle of the card, had received a sub-par build, and the action was too slow and unspectacular to overcome these drawbacks. I have and always will be a Jericho fan, and believe that he is not only the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time, but one of the greatest overall wrestlers to ever step between the ropes. He just isn’t what he was anymore, and frankly he doesn’t need to be. Jericho is coasting through his matches, which he is untitled to do after others coasted in the main event whilst he was exciting the audience in the midcard. Nevertheless, the fact that this feud still likely has one more showing left in it does not leave this writer excited, but anticipating it finally ending.
#7 – Paige vs. AJ Lee
The two finest female wrestlers competed once again with the Divas Championship on the line, this time with more of an edge behind their feud. At Battleground, the bout was constrained due to time and a lack of animosity in bout, as Paige was busy playing BFFs with AJ Lee. The decisive heel turn on RAW finally gives this battle a clear dimension, and though on TV it has been limited to Paige throwing Lee off the stage and costing her a few matches with Eva Marie, the prospect of these two locking up would make most fans of women’s wrestling gleeful. And it was a solid match, with both divas showing what they were willing to do to excite the crowd. Paige was aggressive with he knees to Lee’s ribs and skull, there was a cool transition from a Paige-turner into the Black Widow, and the final blow of the RamPaige was a brutal way to give the Anti-Diva her second reign as champion. The pair look solid equals in the ring, and that is good for an effective rivalry.
Nonetheless, it would not be this low if it didn’t have a number of issues surrounding it. There were few botches, and the action in the ring was flowing better than it did at Battleground. But I still was left screaming at the television at times. Firstly, and this is directed at members of the crowd that chanted “CM Punk!” at the start of the match, could you please SHUT THE HELL UP. AJ Lee is more than CM Punk’s wife, so allow these two individuals to perform and cheer for them, not some runaway who no longer works for WWE. Then, there is Paige’s current character. Could there possibly be a top diva feud between an aggressive heelish diva and a speedy and charismatic face like, I don’t know, the men do? Instead, Paige just skips around imitating Lee, and at one point did this teasing crawl over her fallen opponent. Yes, she is attractive, but she came into NXT as the vicious anti-diva. So you’d expect that from Eva Marie as it fits her character, but Paige is more unique than that.
But the biggest issue, once again is time. If it was a problem last month, then this event was an absolute catastrophe. They were afforded five minutes in the ring. Five. It is ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, these two put everything they could into that five minute slot to make it entertaining, but there is only so much you can do in such constraints. I’m sure they read that allotment and their heads hit the floor. It’s like being forced to perform with one arm tied behind your back; it isn’t likely to give you five-star matches. In fact, they are having to work harder to make fans care about their match and earn the right to have an extended contest. Those in power may say nobody cares about the divas so they aren’t afforded much time. Well, that is only because since Trish Stratus and Lita retired they have lost all interest in building them up. So, despite their best efforts, the lack of time and creative direction has left them as one of the most demoralising moments of the night.
#6 – Stephanie McMahon vs. Brie Bella
This match was arguably one of the most heavily built heading into Summerslam. With Lesnar’s limited appearances prior to the event and John Cena’s absence due to filming commitments, Stephanie McMahon and Brie Bella headlined RAW not once, but twice in the build to the PPV. Though the ridiculous soap opera shenanigans of Megan Miller’s affair with Bella’s husband Daniel Bryan took away from a feud that had been building up nicely, it was still a match that was fuelled by intensity. However, not many would have imagined the pair would actually try to make a wrestling match work.
Instead of the cat fight carried by McMahon’s acting skills most were expecting, they actually tried to put on a solid match, and for the most part succeeded. McMahon looked effective as a strong heel, and her moves even elicited a “You Still Got It” chant from the crowd. Brie, however, looked somewhat stunted, due to a mixture of McMahon taking less bumps, and the more vocal crowd getting behind the Billion Dollar Baroness for her surprising proficiency. The run-ins from Triple H and Nikki Bella did their job well, allowing McMahon to steal the victory after the expected heel turn of Brie’s twin. So this was a better “match” than anticipated and gives the Bellas’ their feud against each other.
However, there is only one reason this match was both better than expected, and simultaneously laced with disappointment. The AJ Lee/Paige match was technically better, but was only given half the time of this match. Also, this match got a long promo, entrances, and a lengthy celebration segment following it. So, my question is, why can’t more Divas matches be given this time to perform. If a longer match can make Stephanie McMahon look ring savvy, imagine what it could do for Lee, Paige, Natalya, Naomi or Emma, actual wrestlers. It amazed me to examine the archives and discover that this was only the third divas match on PPV to go longer than ten minutes since Trish Stratus retired in 2006. And the other two were Survivor Series elimination matches. It seriously goes to show that with some extra time and creative investment, the women of the company can provide as compelling a program as the men. This certainly wasn’t a bad match, but the treatment of the rest of the women’s locker room over the past eight years still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
#5 – Rusev vs. Jack Swagger
It seems that in today’s WWE, a flag match is the exact same as a regular singles match, but with a pair of flags on the outside. Well, that has ruined the suspense over who won this match. Anyway, I have begun to enjoy Lana a bit more, as though she goes through the same anti-America, pro-Russia shtick, she tailors it to any city the show is broadcasting from. Calling Rusev a dose of reality for an American public that resides in fantasy was a good effect. However, no matter how much Lana impresses, as soon as the American armed forces stood on the stage and hoisted an American flag, you could only pray that Jack Swagger would pull out the incredible victory, and I’m not even American. Swagger is getting the best reactions of his career, and it would have been great to see him take down the seemingly indomitable Rusev.
Sadly, that was not to be, but there was enough about the match to leave one satisfied. The opening brawl was a nice touch, and the immediate placing of Rusev into the ankle lock gave hope of an eventual victory because I assumed a flag match would require climbing the turnbuckle to a flag, and so a damaged ankle would make that harder for Rusev whilst keeping him strong. Shame on me for assuming such a ridiculous prospect. But, though some have been immediately critical of Rusev’s wrestling ability and asked whether he can tell a story in an extended match, he impressed tonight. He sold that ankle injury for the entire match; he never forgot, and that does wonders for making Swagger’s submission look strong. It’s very rare you see such total commitment to demonstrating an injury throughout a match, and that is to the Bulgarian’s credit.
Swagger also looked a legitimate threat to the unbeaten streak of Rusev, which would have been difficult to imagine only three months ago. He was aggressive, powerful, and had the crowd 100% behind him during the contest. Using the ankle injury to allow Swagger to be the first man to break the Accolade was a nice touch, and showed a vulnerability to the Super Athlete that was previously non-existent. Yet, although Rusev eventually took the victory by making Swagger pass out to the torturous submission hold, the manner of his defeat still makes him look heroic and strong. The attack on Zeb Colter after the bell indicates to me there is still one more match left in this feud. This would be the perfect time for Rusev to lose his undefeated streak, as he has developed enough credibility in his recent matches to still be a viable heel, and it would give Swagger the victory he deserves for his hard work and how over he has become during this run. Otherwise, Rusev will lose his streak to John Cena, and he doesn’t exactly need to kill any more of those.
See page 2 for the top 4…