8/17/15 – Andrew Berg – @WrestleRosters
John Cena Looks Down on Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins acted excited, almost giddy, when The Authority told him that his Champion vs. Champion match with John Cena would become official upon signature of the match contract. Rollins demanded a Bruno Sammartino-like statue at WWE headquarters if he beats Cena and The Authority said such a statue might be appropriate. The Rollins gloating continued in the ring for the contract signing when he said, “I must congratulate myself on the statue that will be built in my honor.” He went on the channel CM Punk and several other past Cena rivals when he said that Cena is not a superman, but a villain holding the WWE hostage.
At last, Cena came to the ring to respond to Rollins. His face did not look nearly as bad as one might expect only a few weeks after facial reconstructive surgery. He pointed to Rollins and HHH and said that they had the same problem- that neither were as good as Cena. He talked down to Rollins and HHH saying that he would become a 16-time Champion and render both Rollins and HHH’s mentor Ric Flair merely answers to trivia questions. Typically, Cena spends this time in a feud getting serious and discussing the long odds that he faces. His confident, positive attitude was refreshing and effective. The go-home promo is intended to sell the big event, and whether you are a supporter who wants to see Cena destroy Rollins or a detractor who wants to see Rollins take Cena down a peg, the promo made you more excited about their match.
Undertaker Undermines Brock Lesnar Homecoming
Much of Raw revolved around hyping the Undertaker-Lesnar main event at SummerSlam. It started with an old-school Undertaker promo in a cloud of purple mist, set over druid chants. Later in the show, a great video package recapped their entire rivalry to date, from the build to their Wrestlemania match to the fallout to Undertaker’s return.
Finally, Heyman brought Lesnar to the ring to great fanfare (and confetti!) from the appreciative Minnesota fans. Heyman sang a version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic to Lesnar and enlisted the fans to sing along. As Heyman continued to rant about Lesnar’s greatness, the lights went out and Undertaker appeared in the ring. Lesnar prepared to square off with him, but Undertaker kicked him in the groin for a second time. He followed with a chokeslam and a Tombstone to decisively leave Lesnar laid out before their match.
The entire interaction felt very strange because Undertaker was a pure heel and Lesnar was a pure babyface. It has been upwards of a decade since either of them played these roles so clearly and I never thought I would see a heel Undertaker again in my life. One might speculate that Lesnar merely functioned as the fan-favorite in his home territory, but these characteristics have been consistent with the build to their main event match. It makes me believe that the finish will have more to do with storyline development than a resolution to their rivalry.
Roman Reigns def. Luke Harper
While I have been hard on the wrestlers in this program at times for the unfocused development of their rivalry, this segment went a long way toward righting those wrongs. Before the match even started, Michael Cole reminded fans of Wyatt’s interference in the Money in the Bank match that ignited this chapter of the feud. Dean Ambrose sat in on commentary and continually reiterated that story, called Wyatt’s motivation into question, and reaffirmed his friendship with Reigns.
The match held up on its own, much better than I would have expected. Harper looked exceptionally good early with a Michinoku Driver for a near fall and an impressive running boot. Reigns got back on track with a Superman Punch to counter a suicide dive, but when he went for a spear, Harper blocked it with a side slam. He followed it with a sit-down powerbomb for another two count. He tried a discus clothesline, only for Reigns to hit another Superman Punch and a spear to win. The wrestlers looked so good that it raised my interested in their SummerSlam match, and with the seeds planted for a possible heel turn by Reigns or Ambrose, there is plenty narrative force, as well.
Randy Orton and Cesaro def. Sheamus and Kevin Owens
It took 17 minutes of Raw before this match started, and with only an extended commercial for SummerSlam before it, so the beginning of the match was welcome. Cesaro chased Owens throughout the match and struggled to get him one-on-one. When they were isolated, Cesaro managed to hit him with a vertical suplex. Cesaro continued to get a great reaction from the crowd when he hit a series of uppercuts on Sheamus. He almost got the win when Sheamus came off the top rope and he met him with another uppercut. Orton continued the rally on Sheamus, and although Owens blocked an RKO attempt, Orton hit one on the legal man, Sheamus, to get the win. As Orton and Cesaro celebrated, it was clear that Cesaro has elevated himself a notch in the eyes of WWE and the fans.
Rusev def. Mark Henry
Henry put up more of a fight than usual against Rusev. He put him into a barricade and hit two splashes before Rusev went on his rampage. Soon enough, Rusev delivered a thrust kick and locked in the Accolade to get the submission victory.
The segment was more about the post-match confrontation. Lana left the commentary table and called Rusev and Summer Rae back to the ring. She slapped Summer to the ground and called Rusev into the ring. As the fans chanted for Dolph Ziggler’s return, Lana smiled and his music hit. When Ziggler hit the ring, Rusev tried to use Summer as a human shield. Lana slapped Summer and the two faces hit simultaneous kicks to send their adversaries running. As mediocre as Ziggler and Lana were together at first, seeing Ziggler back was so good that they even seemed to have some chemistry. The next question is how Ziggler’s challenge will fit into a very crowded SummerSlam card.
Becky Lynch def. Tamina
Tamina has not had many singles matches since the three team rivalry started in the Divas Division, probably because her involvement telegraphs the result. Nonetheless, this match was a good opportunity for Becky to shine and for the announcers to focus on the positive developments in women’s wrestling and women’s sports at large. Becky hit a nice missile dropkick and locked in the Disarmer to get the win. It wasn’t great, but it was a real match, which shows that the women’s division is headed in the right direction.
Sasha Banks def. Nikki Bella
The match started awkwardly as both wrestlers showed off to each other with calisthenics after their offense. Asha was the first to dial up the intensity with her double-knee drop in the corner. Her control was cut short when Nikki answered with an Alabama Slam. Nikki proceeded to roll through a pin attempt and turn it into an electric chair. A distraction from Naomi prevented from hitting the Rack Attack. Instead, Sasha delivered back cracker into the Banks Statement to force the champion to submit. Despite the confused reaction to the heel-heel match from the fans, it was a good match for Sasha.
Prime Time Players and Lucha Dragons def. New Day and Los Matadores
New Day came to the ring with rhyming couplets about their greatness, but they weren’t as entertaining as their normal skipping and clapping routine. The match was mostly a trainwreck. El Torito and Xavier Woods got in a fight even though their teams were sided together. Kalisto hit a hurricanrana into a roll-up to get the pin. New Day remains so good that they could very well become champions once again.
Ryback def. The Miz
In his return to the ring, Ryback squashed one of his SummerSlam challengers. He ran through Miz with his entire offensive arsenal, culminating in Shell-Shocked to get the victory. He challenged Big Show to leave the commentary table and fight him after his win. Big Show declined and walked to the back while Ryback stood tall. The evaluation of this program depends on where you slot it in the company. If it’s a mid-card feud that belongs on the lower rungs of a PPV, it’s solid. If you think the Intercontinental Title necessarily belongs in the semi-main event, it’s a letdown.
Stardust and King Barrett Explain Their Team
One of the most incongruous teams in recent memory got some context as Stardust and King Barrett joined up for a mystical promo. Stardust gave Barret a “cosmic cape” to fit him into the superhero story into which he found himself wedged.