SummerSlam justified its reputation as the second best PPV of the year on Sunday. The show’s two main events met or exceeded lofty expectations as CM Punk, Brock Lesnar, Daniel Bryan, and John Cena all demonstrated why they belong in main events. In addition to the tremendous wrestling, there was plenty of narrative excitement to keep the ball rolling. Randy Orton left SummerSlam as WWE champion after HHH turned on Daniel Bryan and ended his title reign minutes after it started. While the lower portion of the card was uneven, Alberto Del Rio’s win over Christian and Rob Van Dam’s DQ victory against Dean Ambrose entertained enough to bridge the gap to the main events. The end result was a fun show that will be memorable for two phenomenal matches.
Daniel Bryan def. John Cena to become WWE Champion
With the rowdy Los Angeles fans firmly behind him from the beginning, Bryan got off to a strong start. He controlled Cena early with kicks and good use of spacing to keep Cena from executing his offense. Cena attempted and STF fairly early and Bryan was able to escape and lock Cena in his own submission move. Moments later, Bryan put Cena in a dragon sleeper and held them there long enough that Cena looked to be in real danger. When he escaped, Cena hit a sudden Attitude Adjustment that got him a two count. They traded top rope moves- Bryan’s flying headbutt and Cena’s legdrop- and both got near falls. Cena tried to get Bryan on his shoulders for a top rope AA, Bryan wriggled free to counter with a hurricanrana, but Cena held him up, nearly dropped him on his head, and dragged him to the mat to apply the STF. Bryan got himself free and turned the move into a Yes Lock. Though Cena escaped, Bryan stayed in control. He hit a dropkick in the corner, and when he went for a second, Cena met him with a thunderous clothesline. The fans grew more and more invested in the even contest as Cena and Bryan slapped, punched, and kicked each other in the middle of the ring. Bryan got a very near three count when he rolled off of Cena’s shoulders on another AA attempt. He followed it up with a “Yes” chant from the crowd and a well-placed running knee to put Cena down for the three count. Bryan looked exhausted and elated as streamers came down from the ceiling and fireworks went off on the stage.
Randy Orton def. Daniel Bryan to become WWE Champion
It was no surprise that Orton walked to ringside as Bryan celebrated, but Bryan turned the script around as he challenged Orton to come to the ring and cash in his Money in the Bank contract. As Orton started to walk away, guest referee HHH nailed Bryan with a Pedigree. Orton hesitantly walked back to the ring, cashed in his contract, and HHH counted three to make Orton the new champion. HHH’s betrayal was clear from his enthusiastic endorsement of Bryan over the last week. I would have preferred one night for Bryan to celebrate without controversy, but I understand the shock value of HHH and Orton seemingly turning simultaneously. If Orton and HHH align with one another, they will have to address their history, which includes Orton basically sexually assaulting Stephanie McMahon while HHH was handcuffed to the ring post. Additionally, it might be difficult for Bryan to get the same fan support as he tries to scale the same mountain for a second consecutive time. Nonetheless, Bryan and Orton should be able to wrestle an excellent match.
Brock Lesnar def. CM Punk
This match was the highlight of the show for me as both wrestlers told a great story that included tons of physicality. Punk showed he can hang with Lesnar, but Paul Heyman’s distractions and interference were too much to overcome in the end. Lesnar started red hot with punches and stomps to Punk in the corners. He taunted him repeatedly and the size difference between the two stood out. Punk countered with kicks of his own and got the crowd fired up with a suicide dive. The No Disqualification came into play almost immediately as the match shifted outside and Lesnar used the ring steps to his advantage. With Lesnar on the ground, Punk went after Heyman and Lesnar used the opportunity to throw Punk over the announce table. The pace stayed fast as Lesnar placed a table top on Punk and stomped on it and threw Punk overhead with a belly-to-belly suplex. Punk’s brief rally was cut short when Lesnar caught him off the top rope with a fallaway slam. Punk finally turned the tide when he bit Lesnar’s ear and took him down with a roundhouse kick. He tried to follow the Macho Elbow with a GTS, Lesnar lifted Punk for an F5, and Punk wriggled free to hit another kick. When Punk went for another GTS, Lesnar turned over into the Kimura lock, but elbowed Lesnar and rolled over into a triangle choke. Despite a powerbomb by Lesnar, Punk kept the hold locked. Lesnar finally escaped when he lifted Punk up and hit a huge running powerbomb. Lesnar retrieved a chair and Punk tried to hit him with a splash to the outside, but Lesnar blocked him with the chair. Punk got to the chair first and pulverized Lesnar with it. When Lesnar grabbed the chair from him, Punk punched Lesnar with a low blow. Punk went to the top rope with a chair and delivered a flying elbow with the chair in hand and Lesnar somehow kicked out again. While Punk hit Lesnar with more chair shots, Heyman got on the apron and grabbed the chair from Punk. Punk held Heyman by his tie, and when Lesnar tried the F5, he could not deliver because Punk continued to hold Heyman. Punk got off Lesnar’s shoulders and hit a GTS that would have won the match if Heyman did not break up the pin. Punk chased Heyman outside the ring. Lesnar used the opportunity to grab Punk and try for an F5 again, but Punk countered with a DDT as he came down and locked in the Anaconda Vice. As Lesnar nearly tapped out, Heyman came into the ring with a chair. Punk went after Heyman and put him in the Anaconda Vice, but Lesnar took the chair and hit Punk repeatedly. He finally hit the F5 on the chair for the win. It was an incredible match that made both Punk and Lesnar look like megastars regardless of the result. The fans chanted various compliments to the wrestlers throughout the match and they were all deserved.
Alberto Del Rio def. Christian to remain World Heavyweight Champion
Del Rio got off to a heelish start when he demanded that Lillian Garcia introduce him in Spanish. Early in the match, he focused on Christian’s shoulder to simultaneously set up his Cross-Armbreaker and marginalize Christian’s spear. Christian finally swung the momentum when he dodged Del Rio and made him dive to the outside and followed it with a splash from the top rope to the floor. Christian’s offense remained focused on the aerial moves with a missile dropkick and a cross body after he dodged Del Rio’s enzuigiri. When Christian went for a springboard in the corner, Del Rio cleverly countered with a backstabber for a two count. Christian maintained the match psychology when he struggled to hold Del Rio down on a rollup due to his weakened left shoulder. Christian tried a sunset flip in the corner, but Del Rio blocked it. With Del Rio still on the ropes, Christian recovered quickly and delivered a hurricanrana. Christian tried for a spear and Del Rio met him with a dropkick that he followed with a standing side kick for another two count. Christian ducked a running knee and delivered a spear. His bad shoulder prevented him from making a cover and Del Rio locked in the Cross-Armbreaker that eventually made Christian tap out. It was another example of Christian’s masterful in-ring storytelling. Del Rio benefited from that ability and received a great crowd reaction as a result. It is hard to say what is next for Christian, but the career retrospective does not paint the future in a bright light.
Cody Rhodes def. Damien Sandow
Sandow took control of the match early with a side Russian legsweep and a modified cloverleaf to wear down his opponent’s back. Sandow went to the top rope, but the clean-shaven Rhodes recovered and picked him up to hit a muscle buster for a near fall early in the match. Rhodes followed it with a missile dropkick and kick to Sandow’s stomach before Sandow dodged an attempted Disaster Kick. Moments later, Rhodes nailed his second attempt at a Disaster Kick for another very near fall. Sandow held the ropes to block an Irish Whip, but Rhodes grabbed him by the head and turned it into Cross-Rhodes for the win. While Rhodes looked solid in the win, the match had the distinct feel of unfinished business.
Bray Wyatt def. Kane
Michael Cole repeatedly mentioned the heat coming from the ring of fire as Wyatt and Kane started their match. Wyatt started the match with a quick pace and high impact as he bounced off the corners and ropes with splashes and shoulder blocks. As Harper and Rowan circled the ring, the flames flared up around the ring for a very striking image. When Harper tried to pass a Kendo stick into the ring, it caught on fire and the distraction gave Kane a chance to hit two chokeslams on Wyatt. Before Kane went for a pin, Harper and Rowan covered part of the fire with a blanket and climbed into the ring to ambush Kane. Wyatt hit his spinning DDT finisher for the pin and the Family smashed Kane’s head between two sets of ring steps to give him a reason to leave WWE for some time. The match was merely ok, which is a disappointment considering the opportunity Wyatt had to make a name for himself going into his debut.
Dolph Ziggler & Kaitlyn def. Big E Langston & AJ
The men started the match at a very quick pace and Langston asserted himself with a spinning splash off the ropes that was very athletic for a man his size. When they tagged in the women, AJ controlled the match with a variety of kicks and holds to keep Kaitlyn grounded. Langston got back into the match and overpowered Ziggler, but Ziggler was able to dodge a shoulder in the corner to get a chance to rally. He set up for a Zig-Zag, but AJ grabbed his foot from outside the ring. Kaitlyn speared AJ to get her out of the way. Meanwhile, Langston took advantage of the opening with a huge clothesline and picked up Ziggler for the Big Ending. Ziggler countered the move with a Zig-Zag to pin Langston and seemingly close the book on his feud with his ex-girlfriend.
Rob Van Dam def. Dean Ambrose by DQ, Ambrose retains U.S. Title
Ambrose and Van Dam squared off without their allies in either corner to start the match. Ambrose showed off some of his offense early in the match and kept Van Dam grounded for several minutes. Van Dam eventually rallied and had Ambrose down while he went to the top rope to attempt a Five Star Frogsplash, but The Shield came to the ring before he could hit the move. Mark Henry and Big Show also joined at ringside to even the numbers and Van Dam went back on offense. After a spinning leg drop on the barricade and Rolling Thunder, he returned to the top rope to attempt another Five Star, but The Shield once again distracted him. He went to the other corner where Henry and Big Show could protect him and hit the move from that turnbuckle. Before he could go for the pin, Roman Reigns entered the ring and hit him with a spear to end the match in a DQ. It is not a surprise that Ambrose retained the title, but it is a bit of a surprise that the pre-show ended on a down note for fans- I expected Henry and Big Show to gain some retribution before The Shield left.
Natalya def. Brie Bella
Natalya dominated out of the gate until Nikki and Eva Marie pulled her off of the apron. Brie stayed on offense briefly and managed to crawl under Natalya to escape the Sharpshooter. The Funkadactyls took out Nikki and Eva Marie when they tried to get involved. A knee to Natalya’s face was not enough to keep her down and Natalya finished off Brie with an Alabama Slam and a Sharpshooter. While the match was not especially interesting and the fans’ random chants indicated their indifference, Brie deserves credit for improving in the ring to keep up with the talented Natalya.