– You can catch up on previous years’ Best and Worst of Summerslam reports here.
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– Important Real Life Stuff: If you live in the Chicago area, want to see Meet Me There (the movie I made with Goldust) and want an excuse to bump into Bruce Campbell, the film’s screening at this weekend’s Wizard World Chicago event as part of the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival. I’ll be there, so if you come to this and say hi, we’re friends for life.
If you live in Austin and can’t make it to Chicago, you can come say hi and earn my friendship for a very long time by hitting up the next Inspire Pro Wrestling event on August 31.
Please click through for the Best and Worst of WWE SummerSlam 2014.
Worst: A Night Of Great Proportions
The food here is terrible, but the proportions are great.
So here’s the thing about WWE turning the price of its network into a catchphrase and a chant: it’s not cute. It’s thirsty. Coming out of Hulk Hogan’s mouth it makes WWE Network sound like an off-brand George Foreman grill. Is the price point a problem or a sales pitch for anyone who doesn’t currently have WWE Network? This is a serious question. Is price awareness the problem, or the fact that there’s a cap for domestic adults willing to drop x-amount of money a month for access to old Great American Bashes? Real talk, if somebody regularly buys WWE pay-per-views and has been dropping $60 a month on these things since February, let them do it. They are dumb as f*ck. Take their money.
Furthermore, maybe you wouldn’t have to comically beg people to pay for your product if you put on good shows between April and August. Don’t trick yourself into thinking anything between now and Royal Rumble’s gonna have any effort behind it either. Get the money, drag ass for five months, put on one good show when it’s time to renew, repeat.
Worst: IC Title Runs Being Nothing But Non-Title Losses Building To A Title Loss
I want to feel good for Dolph Ziggler here, but I can’t. For one, the guy’s a former World Heavyweight Champion and he’s already been slotted back down into “LOL never again” Rob Van Dam territory. Also, who’s he getting the belt from? ANOTHER former main-eventer champion WWE’s totally lost faith in and forgotten. A couple of months ago, Bad News Barrett was leading a revitalization of the Intercontinental title division and winning a violent, hossy tournament. Now we’re back to “we don’t have anything for you and nobody cares, but we don’t have a reason to fire you.”
Look at The Miz’s run. What was that? The guy comes back with a new gimmick and gets overshadowed and humiliated by Chris Jericho. He then WINS A BATTLE ROYAL FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP, loses a non-title match and spends the rest of the month sitting at the announce table causing roll-up distractions. As soon as he’s asked to defend the belt, he loses clean. I’m not cheerleading The Miz and saying he should be German suplexing John Cena 16 times, but damn, what’s the point of that? It lessens the importance of the IC strap, suggests that people who hold secondary titles are worse than people who don’t, gives no reason to boo OR cheer him and gives us nothing of worth to fall back or follow up on once the cycle’s over.
The match itself was fine, but was absolutely forgettable and the kind of thing they could’ve done to mild applause on a Smackdown. Filler at best. And seriously, let me reiterate: a popular wrestler who is great in the ring getting a clean, pay-per-view championship win against a guy who just got back from shooting a feature film is total filler. That’s not a compliment.
Best: Totally Logical Divas Matches
OF COURSE BRANDON HATES HULK HOGAN AND A HOT OPENER WITH A TITLE CHANGE BUT LOVES THE WOMEN
Here’s why Brandon’s doing that: Divas are showing their capacity to learn. Yes, I observe WWE women’s matches like a scientist observing dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.
On this week’s NXT, Bayley defeated Sasha Banks in a match with a finish that played on the finishes of their previous three matches. It’s a principle known in the comedy world as “if that, then what?” Once we know what’s happened, we want to find variations on that, form a pattern and that heighten. If these are real people in a real pro wrestling situation, they’re going to remember what they’ve gone through and react differently the next time it happens, right? There should at least be an illusion of that.
That’s what I liked about Paige and AJ. The match was less than five minutes long, but they used the time they had to develop a woefully underdeveloped physical story … these women are dangerously similar, as shown by their mirrored title wins at the other’s expense, so they should start adapting and kinda growing on top of one another. Normally a Divas match is a bunch of hair-mares and bitch-calling, and there was some of that. A big chunk of the middle was built around them pulling out the other’s hair extensions and a suggestive cover from Paige. But hey, along with that we got AJ countering Paige’s apron knee strikes, Paige countering AJ’s apron attack by hurling her face-first into the barricade and a Black Widow reversal into the Rampaige, calling back to Paige’s first title win, which was a Black Widow counter into the Paige Turner.
Again, not a barnburner, but in a world where we very recently saw Naomi vs. Cameron and a month of Eva Marie matches on TV AND in developmental, a match built around the women as wrestlers where they wrestle and come to a conclusive finish is worth a Best. And hey, they might as well trade title victories until the next batch of challengers are ready.
Best: Two Title Changes To Start The Show
Issues with how the secondary championships are booked aside, I love that the show started with two straight title changes. I’ll get into it more as the show goes on, but this SummerSlam was one of the most legitimately unpredictable pay-per-views in YEARS. I didn’t see Miz losing the belt to Ziggler OR AJ losing to Paige, and they knocked them out back to back at the beginning. Even stuff like the flag match not having flag match rules and a lumberjack match spilling into the crowd felt haphazard and unique. I didn’t love all of it, but I liked how ALIVE the show felt, and that kept me glued to the screen. Sometimes that’s enough.
And honestly, sometimes you have to hotshot these championships. If something’s not working, switch it up and try something else. If things aren’t clicking like you’d like, give someone else a shot and see if something catches. You never know what could happen. Nobody said “have Steve Austin cut a promo about the Bible” and thought it’d create the biggest draw in company history. Who knew that Daniel Bryan being happy about a title win he didn’t deserve to be happy about would propel a guy into two WrestleMania victories in the same night? Sometimes the random shit works, and you shouldn’t be afraid to do it. Even if people like me complain about how it looks like you don’t know what you’re doing.
Worst: So, Uh, Do You Guys Know How A Flag Match Works
Two things I was hoping would happen during Jack Swagger’s entrance:
1. Rusev would charge down the ramp and start fighting these guys, or
2. They’d just point their rifles at the ring and start shooting at Rusev.
If I can get all book report on your ass for a moment, Webster’s Wikipedia defines a “flag match” as
… essentially the professional wrestling version of capture the flag. For the match two flags are placed on opposite turnbuckles, each representing a specific wrestler or team of wrestlers, and the objective of the match is to retrieve the opponent’s flag and raise it while defending the flag in the wrestler’s corner.
That didn’t happen. They just started wrestling a normal match and everybody went with it. It honestly felt like they’d forgotten it entirely and someone had to call an audible and come up with a way to salvage it. So Rusev wins the match, lingers in the ring for a little too long and then the announcer’s like “YEAH SO IN A FLAG MATCH THE WINNER GETS TO STAND HERE WHILE WE PLAY HIS NATIONAL ANTHEM AND RAISE HIS FLAG, BECAUSE GET IT, FLAG MATCH.”
On top of that, nobody even honored the stipulation. Rusev stood there while the announcers complained about how DISGUSTING this was (that Rusev had cleanly won a match and earned celebratory rewards per the agreed-upon pre-match stipulation) and how sad they were to see Russia’s colors flying. Note: Russia’s colors are red, white and blue. Nobody knows what we’re doing, it’s fine.
Best: The Actual Match, Minus The Flags
Flagfoolery notwithstanding, I really dug this match. Rusev deserves some kind of golden, star-shaped medal for selling on offense. Not enough people do that. Selling on offense isn’t just touching your leg after you’ve had your leg worked for 20 minutes and used it to hit all your signature moves, selling on offense suggests that the damage you’ve been taken is, you know, real, and that it continues to affect you even when you’re in control.
Compare and contrast it with Roman Reigns. Reigns took a ton of damage during the match, but when it was time to hit his moves and win, he just DID it. After the match, he looked as fresh as he did going into it. Same wet hair and everything. That’s fine if you’re part of a video game crowd who doesn’t want this to exist in real life, but the gravity and drama of pro wrestling largely revolves around people getting hurt and toughing their way through it to achieve spectacular physical goals. If a wrestler isn’t hurt and just wins, there’s no drama. If he’s barely able to stand and puts something together to come back and win, that’s a story. It causes us to admire and respect that person for things we admire in athletic humans. Guts. Determination. Skill. Adrenaline, whatever. Roman just wrestles a good match and then everything resets, because it’s time to start over. It’s why Rybaxel can target his shoulder and throw him into a ring post a bunch of times, but he’s still immediately gonna use his shoulder to attack them.
In contrast, Jack Swagger has been attacking Rusev’s ankle since they started beefing. It’s what he does. He even gets on an ankle lock before the match starts, putting Rusev at an early disadvantage. What’s great about that is that Rusev’s offense revolves around his feet … he throws a lot of kicks, but he also needs his legs and ankles to hold himself up for The Accolade. It even has a pre-move stomp to the back for emphasis. Jack rips Rusev’s ankle up, so when it’s time for The Accolade, Rusev tries to lock it in … but can’t. He’s in total control of the match, but his f*cking ankle hurts, so his f*cking ankle hurts. See how that makes sense? He has to switch things up and drop to a knee to lock in the hold. Because that version isn’t as strong or complete, Swagger’s able to reverse it. BEAUTIFUL PRO WRESTLING. The follow-up to that is Rusev realizing he’s got to take the pain if he’s gonna win, so he locks in the full version, and his normal look of confident boredom is replaced by him looking like he’s about to die. Sell. Ling.
Bill Simmons is just the Brie Bella Bitch Guy with millions of dollars. I wonder if he thinks WWE dropped Xavier Woods’ new faction because of Martin Luther King Jr.?
Footnote: This pay-per-view was just like Larry Bird.
Best: The Best Lumberjack Match I’ve Ever Seen
First things first, I think Macho Man’s jacket was the original “Lunatic Fringe.”
Second things first, this is absolutely the best lumberjack match I’ve ever seen. WWE is so thoroughly bathed in its tropes that when they break free and do something different, it feels revolutionary. Did anybody think when Dean Ambrose picked “lumberjack match” that they’d still fight throughout the arena, and that it’d be an excuse to get 20 random guys throwing hands at everyone everywhere? I guess my only complaint would be to ask WHY Dean Ambrose picked a lumberjack match if he was gonna fight Rollins up into the stands anyway.
I’m okay with it getting out of control, though, because everything Dean Ambrose does should be conducted using chaos theory. If he picks a table match and spends the entire time trying to climb up a ladder and pull something down from the lights, I’m in. He should be pro wrestling’s version of The Doctor … a mad man who seems like he’s ruining everyone’s lives and f*cking everything up, but he’s got a plan and you’re just too basic and human to get it.
Even without the lumberjack stipulation there was a lot to love here. Ambrose looking conflicted before hitting Rollins with a Curb Stomp was the GREATEST. I love the suggestion that Ambrose is only lashing out at Rollins like this because he’s still so goddamn heartbroken and doesn’t know how to express himself. So he’s just like I’M DOING YOUR OWN MOVE TO YOU, DO YOU SEE HOW F*CKED THIS HAS GOTTEN?? He’s not just ruining Rollins’ Money in the Bank cash-in chances, he’s transporting Rollins inside his brain, where lumberjack matches involve everybody fighting everybody everywhere, teased headlock drivers from balconies and Stardust creepily blocking off sections of a crowd.
I also really like that Rollins has finally “taken out” Ambrose and is now free to get in a few cash-in opportunities on the same night Brock Lesnar won the championship as both the most overpowered and never-there WWE Champion in history. Dude finally got a window and now boom, nothing.
Best: The Director Of Operations Directing Operations
Big ups to Kane for finally turning “director of operations” into a job. Normally his role is to stand in the background of Authority segments or be like “Raaaandy, you made me kind of mad so you’ve got a match TONIGHT.” General irrational heel GM stuff. Here, a WWE match stipulation has gotten out of hand and the lumberjacks are proving to be largely ineffectual, so Kane jogs out and starts handling shit himself. That’s GREAT. That’s how a 7-foot Director of Operations should work. And hell, a supplementary Best for Goldust getting in the ring and getting in his face about it, because “The Rhodes Family hates The Authority” is the story WWE needs to remember and bring back the most.
Best: Sign Of The Night