– 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
Best: Bray Wyatt Gets The Win He’s Needed Since February
I don’t think I can give this match enough Bests. While it wasn’t my favorite match on the show (maybe even only my third or fourth favorite, which says a lot for this show), it accomplished the most. We got:
1. The main roster debut of Bray Wyatt’s butcher’s smock. If you aren’t familiar with this look, he adopted it down in NXT when he got his face broken and had to wrestle in a protective mask. Their explanation wasn’t just “Bray Wyatt wears a plastic face mask now,” it was that Bray had looked into the mirror and realized that what he saw looking back at him wasn’t his “true self,” so he needed to show that to people. His true self was a mangled face covered in a mask that dulled his features and a BUTCHER’S SMOCK. Note: still not sure why he’s wearing pants with a drawing of a kneepad on them. Maybe his true self wears Ninja Turtle pajama pants?
2. The fireflies entrance, which keeps getting better and better.
3. Chris Jericho’s new jacket, which blows the old ones out of the water and makes him look like KITT from ‘Knight Rider.’
4. Bray Wyatt doesn’t just win the match, he WINS it. Capital letters. As the boldface says, it’s the victory he’s needed since February. Bray came up feuding with guys like Kane and R-Truth, guys who couldn’t carry him to anything great in-ring. He had a brief thing with Daniel Bryan and an amazing beef with The Shield that convinced a lot of people he could go. As soon as that crucial thing happened, he got stuck in a series of awful matches with John Cena where he might as well have been Heath Slater in Dracula cape. The only match he won ended up being a 3-on-1 handicap cage match he barely f*cking won because of a mysterious devil child. Then he got into a feud with Jericho and things looked like they were going in the right direction, but boop, clean loss to a Codebreaker.
This is what Bray needs. A match built around solid enough in-ring work and UNFORGETTABLE character work. Those are his strengths. He’s okay-to-good in the ring, but becomes special when he becomes Bray, and he can only do that in moments like this. Watch him start screaming about how he can never die and tell me that dude’s not money. None of that gaspy promo stuff that doesn’t make sense, no church singing, just a messed up demon man who hops bodies and WILL KILL YOU DEAD.
5. Harper and Rowan never show up, which honors the match stipulation established by its build and lets Bray (for once) look like a guy who can handle business himself.
Oh, one more Best:
Ronda Rousey in a Bray Wyatt hat. First she rants about the Elite Four, and now this. One day she’s gonna give an interview where she declares Uranus the best sailor senshi and I’m gonna just mail her a ring.
Best: Stephanie McMahon Has Become Vince’s Perfect Heir
I didn’t think I could love Stephanie McMahon and be on her side more, and then she shows up dressed like she’s on a 1992 Joshi comp tape and flashes the Four Horsewoman symbol when she passes Rousey and her crew. Then she wrestles Brie Bella like a TOTAL HOSS, just choking her against the ropes like she’s Andre the Giant. Stephanie McMahon. Holy shit.
The best thing to happen in 2014 is Stephanie McMahon’s brain firing in the right places and awakening her dormant Mr. McMahon genes. Like, she’s always looked like him and had his size, but we thought SHANE was the one who got the charisma and the surprisingly adept wrestling ability. Stephanie was the princess with the annoying voice. She was, at best, Vickie Guerrero. At worst she was Lady Eric Bischoff, and that is A VERY LOW WORST. Then all of a sudden The Authority shows up and Stephanie is a CHARISMA MACHINE, working crowds like Vince in his prime. Now she’s doing that thing where she steps into the ring and everything in the arena starts revolving around her, and you’re like “oh, wow, the people who run the world’s most successful dynastic wrestling promotion DO get what makes wrestling work.” She looks like Vince, she’s got Vince’s surprising size, she can talk like Vince, she can work a crowd like him, she can work a surprisingly awesome match like him. She is now her father’s perfect heir.
Shane should come back and look and move like Mike Adamle and confirm whatever Dorian Gray situation is going on between them.
Worst: Samuel Morse Couldn’t Have Telegraphed A Heel Turn Any More
Ah well, at least it makes sense. Nikki didn’t quit her job and try to blackmail her way back into it, but she’s had to suffer because of Brie’s nonsense. Every time Brie showed up to make the situation about her again, Nikki’d get punished. Even during the contract signing, Nikki’s the one who gets blasted and Pedigreed first. I’d be sick of Brie, too. Just be fired and let me do my own thing, you know? It’s not exactly hell on Earth to be put in a slightly unfair match against Alicia Fox.
It also makes sense from a fantasy booking perspective. I’ve long maintained the theory that John Cena’s the WWE’s Big Bad. He’s the end boss. The guy who pulls all the strings and makes all the decisions. Everything that happens in the company revolves around him, which is why Vince can get all ballsy with people but starts nervously gulping whenever Cena’s around. The Authority made Daniel Bryan’s life hell for a year, but when Cena won the championship they were like “uh, you gotta defend in a FATAL FOURWAY I GUESS.” Not exactly the constant railroading Bryan got. Plus, who transitioned the belt to Bryan so Orton could cash in on him under Triple H’s watch? John Cena, who was leaving to have surgery anyway. It all makes sense. And now that Cena’s girlfriend has thrown in with The Authority, it makes even MORE.
Best: Randy Orton Wrestles A Broomstick
choke each other a little slower, guys
Okay, so I give Roman Reigns a lot of grief. He’s getting that unrealistic WWE top babyface push I hate, he’s the only Shield guy who hasn’t grown up since the split (he’s still using their entrance and music) and his matches are just a bunch of plodding strikes until it’s time to hit his signatures. The worst parts of Sheamus and John Cena in a guy who looks like The Rock. It’s kind of an on-paper nightmare for me, I’m not gonna front. So yeah, he’s not actually a “broomstick,” but go back and watch this match objectively and tell me it is not Randy Orton wrestling a f*cking Brawlin’ Buddy. Orton vs. Reigns could’ve been Orton vs. Mama’s Boy from the pizza rolls contest and been the same thing.
Orton is what keeps this together. He’s boring at times, sure, but he’s making this work. He’s controlling the pace, making sure the crowd’s ready for Roman’s moves, prepping them for his superhero recovery. It’s the best singles match Roman’s ever had, and it’s because of the most secretly competent and awesome guy on the roster. Orton’s been a killer in the ring for a while now, he’s just also very aware that too much of that could get him reactions he doesn’t want, so he moderates it. He’s that admin who bans people and keeps the peace and keeps everything moving forward while you’re all OH OKAY I DIDN’T KNOW DISAGREEING WAS A BANNABLE OFFENSE. He makes the unpopular decisions. He wrestles the unpopular matches guys need to have to look the way they’re supposed to look later.
So much of this was good, too. I hated Roman’s SUPER FINISH where just instantly no-sold a match’s worth of damage, but the Superman Punch into the RKO and the spear into the powerslam were both A+ players. If they’re serious about having Roman be The Guy, he needs to only wrestle the very best people on the roster. Never put him in a match with a Ryback or an R-Truth type until he’s been doing this for YEARS. Do what you did to him with the six-man tags in single file … short, powerful, punctuated matches that make him look like a badass without ten minutes of him pretending to sell shit he’s not gonna sell in minute 11.