8/23/15 – Andrew Berg – @WrestleRosters
More than ever before, WWE tried to make this year’s SummerSlam a Wrestlemania-level big event. Ironically, the thing that stood out most about SummerSlam is what distinguishes it from Wrestlemania- the unclean finishes to major angles show that this event does not have the same sense of finality. Neither Undertaker-Lesnar nor Rollins-Cena bookended those rivalries. If that’s what fans wanted, then the show was a disappointment. Conversely, the wrestling and entertainment value were so high that it would be silly to fixate only on the point in the narrative.
Undertaker def. Brock Lesnar
Undertaker and Lesnar appeared focused on having the match that they should have had at Wrestlemania last year, and they delivered in a big way. Lesnar repeatedly answered the question of whether he is strong enough to rag-doll Undertaker in the way he does everyone else. He suplexed Undertaker all over the ring (although he was more economical with his punishment of the older adversary). For his part, Undertaker stood toe-to-toe with Lesnar’s strikes and even worked in most of his traditional offense- Old School, Snake Eyes, Last Ride, Chokeslam, Tombstone. In fact, one of those boots cut Lesnar badly above the eye and left his face a frightful petri dish of blood, sweat, and saliva.
The ending sequence was a bit confusing, which ultimately prevented the match from going down as a classic. Lesnar had Undertaker in a Kimura Lock while the referee monitored whether his shoulders touched the mat. Suddenly, the ring bell sounded because- as we learned only through replay- the timekeeper saw Undertaker tap out at an angle blocked to the referee. Amidst the confusion over the restart, Undertaker hit Lesnar with a low blow and locked him in Hell’s Gate. As Lesnar slipped out of consciousness, he gave Undertaker a defiant middle finger and passed out to end the match.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this match, and impressed at how athletic Undertaker remains at his age. I don’t even mind the screwy finish because I think it makes sense to maintain the aura that has been built around Lesnar over the last two years. My only complaint is that there should have been a more logical way to distract the referee and initiate the finishing sequence. I think back to HHH using instant replay to overrule a Daniel Bryan Title win due to a fast count; if that option is available, why isn’t it widely used? The timekeeper certainly could have seen Cena cover Rollins earlier in the night when the referee was down. Why didn’t he ring the bell then?
Seth Rollins def. John Cena to Remain WWE World Heavyweight Champion and Become US Champion
Rollins and Cena demonstrated once again that they have as much wrestling ability as anyone in the company and great chemistry together. Rollins was particularly impressive in this match with fresh white ring gear and a huge variety of offense. Rollins used everything from the Japanese-inspired shiranui and Tanahashi slingblade to the Mexican-inspired topez con giro and topez suicida. He also twice went for the Phoenix Splash, nailed a beautiful frog splash, and kneed Cena in the surgically-repaired face.
Cena fought from the bottom more than usual, but still managed plenty of offense. In fact, just after the referee was knocked out, he hit a picture-perfect AA that appeared to have Rollins down for the count. While the referee recovered outside the ring, SummerSlam host Jon Stewart ran to the ring with a chair. He feigned an attack on his old Daily Show nemesis Seth Rollins before he clocked Cena with the chair in the gut. He helped Rollins set up a Pedigree on the chair just in time for the referee to make it back in the ring and count three.
Stewart’s involvement is strange and almost funny, but he clearly has a good feel for the wrestling business and keeping him involved in this story is good for everyone. While it isn’t the kind of finality that usually comes at Wrestlemania, I can’t wait to see what Stewart does with Rollins on Raw and in the future. (Note: I did not have a problem with this match going on fourth-to-last. It felt a little awkward when it started, but given the length and structure of the show, it was the only way to get the most out of this match and the main event.)
Sheamus def. Randy Orton
Sheamus and Orton were a risky pair for the show-opener due to their sometimes ponderous pace and their questionable history with New York fans (see: the Raw after Wrestlemania XXIX). Instead, they wrestled an abnormally exciting match that saw Orton bloodied from a Sheamus boot. Orton broke out lots of big offense, including a slam on the announce table and a hangman’s DDT off of the top turnbuckle. When Sheamus rolled out of the ring after an RKO, Orton tried to finish the match with his long-lost punt. He missed the kick and Sheamus answered with a glancing Brogue Kick into a resounding one. That evens their recent series at a match apiece and likely means they will continue to solid matches a notch below the title picture for another month.
Kevin Owens def. Cesaro
Owens went on second-to-last less than a day after he main evented the NXT Takeover Show in a very impactful ladder match. While it was apparent that the fans were starting to wane about four hours into the live show, Cesaro’s ring generalship helped to reinvigorate them. He hit uppercuts from every position and every angle, as well as several suplexes and slams that showed his tremendous strength. After the Cesaro Swing and a Sharpshooter, Owens reached the ropes and promptly hit the Pop-Up Powerbomb to get the big win. As Michael Cole said on commentary, Owens needed this win after he lost his rubber-match to Cena and couldn’t regain the NXT Title from Finn Balor. Heels don’t need to win every match, but they need to win enough to stay dangerous. This win will keep Owens cocky and dangerous for quite some time.
Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose def. Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper
Much like the rest of this rekindled Shield-Wyatts rivalry, this match didn’t feel bad so much as it felt slightly less interesting than everything around it. The Wyatts took out Reigns near the announce table early in the match and ganged up on Ambrose. When Ambrose finally got the hot tag to Reigns, he cleaned house with a series of Superman Punches. They teamed up for a double-powerbomb on Harper for a two count and then hit a Doomsday Device for another near fall. Wyatt tried Sister Abigail on Ambrose, only to get Dirty Deeds instead. Ambrose tagged Reigns and he finished the match with a Spear. Of all the matches on the card, this one felt like it had the most finality. That result makes me think we are in for a swerve to follow because Ambrose and Reigns feel directionless after this win.
Neville and Stephen Amell def. Stardust and King Barrett
Everyone was impressed by Amell’s debut Raw a few weeks ago, but I was even more impressed by him in the ring. Unlike most celebrity wrestlers, he was not limited to a couple of well-practiced spots; he used a variety of moves and counters that actually resembled a wrestling match. A first-time viewer might wonder why he was a little smaller and clad in capri pants, but he was otherwise right at home. He even factored in the finish when he hit a placha to both opponents and rolled Barrett into the ring for a Red Arrow. Since Stardust did not factor in the outcome, it makes me wonder if we might see Amell again at some point. I wouldn’t object to it.
Team PCB def. Team Bella and Team BAD
Even this unimpressive grade is a bit generous and derived from the difficulty inherent to a nine-person tag match. The upside of the match was that they used Sasha Banks and Charlotte well in their limited action (both wrestled last night, Sasha in an epic match), and all of Team BAD was solid while they were in the match. Unfortunately, after Brie Bella pinned Tamina, things started to go sideways. The low point was a complete whiff on a Brie dropkick. Becky Lynch followed the miss with a pump-handle slam to get the win. It was so anticlimactic that I have to wonder whether that was the planned finish. In any case, Becky now joins Sasha, Charlotte, and Paige as wrestlers with a legitimate claim to a title shot as we build toward Nikki’s first defense in several months. For those looking for evidence of a “Divas Revolution,” NXT Takeover was a much better event.
Ryback def. Big Show and The Miz to Remain Intercontinental Champion
Given the time constraints and the high level of competition on the card, it was smart for these wrestlers to go straight into the meat of the match without much frivolous buildup. Big Show hit an impressive second-rope elbow and Ryback hit a frog splash while Miz simply tried to capitalize on others’ offense. After Ryback downed Big Show with Shell-Shocked, Miz hit the Skull Crushing Finale on Ryback, but only got a two count. Big Show then hit Miz with a KO Punch. Before he could make the cover, Ryback hurled him to the floor and pinned Miz to get the win. Ryback seemed almost heelish in capitalizing on Big Show’s move to get the pin. Other than that misfire, it was a surprisingly solid match.
Dolph Ziggler and Rusev Fought to a Double Count-Out
Of all of this show’s inconclusive finishes, this one was clearly the most inconclusive. The styles of the two wrestlers matched up beautifully- Rusev chucking Ziggler around the ring and Ziggler hitting just enough counters to stay competitive. Lana, in an outrageous ‘80s denim outfit, distracted Rusev outside. A worn-out Ziggler hit a superkick while the referee counted and neither could make it back into the ring. They brawled after the match until the women got into it and the men pulled them apart. As I wrote in my preview, there has been so little head-to-head tension between Rusev and Ziggler that we are only just beginning their feud.
New Day def. Prime Time Players, Lucha Dragons, and Los Matadores to Become Tag Team Champions
This match was the most pleasant surprise on the card and New Day gets most of the credit. Everything they did in this match was golden. Kofi Kingston singing “Let’s Hear it for New Day” to the tune of “Empire State of Mind” was funny, their attempt to pin themselves to win the match was clever, and their over-the-top dance celebration was perfect. The match was even fun, as both Darren Young and Titus O’Neil proved that they have the wrestling chops to sit atop the tag division. The match ended with a crazy Tower of Doom spot on both Dragons and a Matador while Kingston tagged himself in blindly. After the Clash of the Titus, Kingston hit a running kick to get the surprise pin and win the belts back for his team.