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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE SummerSlam for August 21, 2016.
Best: Jeri-KO Forever
First of all, if Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho are gonna finish off with the pop-up part of the pop-up powerbomb into a Codebreaker, I’m formally requesting they call it the “Dadder Machine.”
Second of all, holy sh*t look at this:
The only reason I’d be into an Enzo Amore/Sasha Banks romance angle is because they won’t stop hurting themselves, and it’d be a The Fault In Our Stars situation where they’re gonna be dead in a few years anyway and might as well get to be happy and enjoy life.
So yeah, the show opener is Jericho and Owens against Enzo and Cass, featuring a Frank Sinatra homage that’s already been done. I was a little concerned that this was just a means to an end to get Owens to turn on Jericho (or at least powerbomb him on the apron for losing the match), but I was pleasantly surprised. We got a fun if ultimately kinda consequenceless opener that made everybody but probably Cass* look great, and not only maintained but CELEBRATED the wonder that is Jeri-KO. The blown kiss was too much in all the best ways. If you haven’t seen the post-match fallout video where they share a towel, speak French, call Cathy 2 “Cheryl” and high-five a bunch, please do that immediately:
* Cass was scaring me to death with that Air Enzo. It’s in the Fan Nation video. You’ve gotta just toss him and let fate handle the rest, you can’t guide him all the way there. I thought they were gonna both go toppling over the ropes onto their heads.
Best/Worst: Please Don’t Die
Just to say it, Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte for the Women’s Championship was my favorite match of the night. It was also, admittedly, kind of a nightmare.
I don’t think it’s possible to watch this match and feel good about either competitor. There are a pair of really unfortunate botches early on — one a Gory Special attempt that kinda fell into a backslide Widow’s Peak, and another where Charlotte tries to sideslam Sasha onto the top turnbuckle, misses completely and dumps Sasha into the ropes and onto her head — that took most of us out of it. Even some of the big stuff like the Splash Mountain counter seemed to take just a little too long, and look a little too dangerous. Why isn’t Sasha looking back when she does hurricanranas? Is she just going back blind like that, from the top rope, backwards, with the lady who just dropped her on her neck? BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR DAMN EVERYTHING.
At the same time, that reckless danger can add to a match. It certainly turned this into a spectacle, similarly to how the Raw match featured Sasha diving onto her face and ALSO almost dying. Or how the legendary Brooklyn match with Bayley ends with Sasha taking that reverse rana, not looking back and landing on the top of her head. I love you, Sasha Banks, but you need some spatial awareness. Or a robot neck.
If nothing else, it’s the kind of match we won’t forget. It’s the opposite of Ambrose vs. Ziggler, for better or worse.
As for the decision, that’s pretty crazy. It’s shocking to see Sasha Banks get set aside for so long only to FINALLY start putting on the main roster matches we were dying to see and FINALLY become Women’s Champion only to … well, immediately lose it and, if reports are to be believed, go away. She’s been pulled from a bunch of upcoming events to reportedly deal with some “nagging injuries,” which I guess now includes BEING DROPPED ON YOUR F*CKING HEAD BY CHARLOTTE AT SUMMERSLAM.
It’s unfortunate, but it DOES present a pretty blatant opportunity for Bayley to pimp-strut onto Raw and become the biggest female star in the world. So if we aren’t gonna have Sasha for a bit, let’s do that.
And also, seriously, let’s practice not killing ourselves. I know WWE has painted themselves into a corner where the crowd only reacts to big moves and you’ve gotta add three or four to every “big” match to make it feel like it matters, but PLEASE figure out how to work them in without paralysis.
This Also Happened: The Miz vs. Apollo Crews
Speaking of matches you probably won’t remember, here’s The Miz defeating Apollo Crews.
Honestly? It’s not a bad match. On a Raw or a Smackdown, it’d be a good one. It’s a good one on its own, but it just doesn’t have anything behind it. There’s no emotion, no vibe, no story, no nothing. It’s Apollo Crews: The Match.
Watching it again this morning, I can’t help but think how much better both of these guys would be if they had some dedicated storytelling behind them. Crews is coasting on being Thicker Neville, and suffers the same hiccups. He’s great in the ring, but nothing he does matters to anyone because he’s never been presented a WWE context in which he could do something that did. The Miz is an incredible character and a powerfully charismatic performer, but he always seems like he’s pretending to be a wrestler instead of being a wrestler, and it shows. It works for his character, but it ONLY works for his character. Does that make sense?
Basically what I’m getting at is that if you had this match in WWE 2K17, you’d be like, “that was a great match!”
Best: The Future Finally Wins
I’ve been going back and forth on this since I watched it. If you want to leave a comment on this column, I’d love to hear what you think.
When I initially watched it, I thought it was good in the way that every “Big Match John” and WWE main-event style match is good, but I didn’t think it was special. It felt like it went on too long. The card placement was ridiculous — how you gonna put a 25 minute match full of kickouts in this spot and kill the crowd? — and the kickouts. My God, the kickouts. There weren’t actually any more than usual for this kind of match, but the way Styles and Cena paced the thing, it made most of them seem like believable finishes, which made the kickouts stand out more, which made them seem more ubiquitous. I think that’s how it works. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that WWE has a style they love, and it’s “go for a big move, counter, hit your own big move, repeat, counter a counter INTO your big move, repeat, and then someone finally hits a slightly bigger move and wins.” They’ve been doing it for years, it works for the WWE Universe, and John Cena is the Rembrandt of it.
Also, Cena’s in there completely no-selling late match submission holds because it’s time for him to do his reversals. That’s the most infuriating thing to watch. He does it when he suddenly pops up to hit an Attitude Adjustment, too. “Oh, I’m hurt. I’m hurt. BOOM I’M PERFECTLY FINE TO HIT MY MOVES YEAH F*CK YOU.” Sometimes that’s followed by, “aw jeez actually I’m still hurt, heh, sorry guys let’s get back to believing me.”
I spent part of the morning talking to Bill Hanstock about it, and I think he gave me a better perspective on what went down. Sometimes we get a little jaded with John Cena stuff and need to take a step back to appreciate the story they’re trying to tell, whether all the pieces of the story make sense or not.
Cena has done this before. He preaches about how the future has to go through him, and how he’s the face that runs the place. In the past, guys like Rusev or Ryback or Kevin Owens have shown up and gotten one up on him, but he’s goaded them into series of rematches where he can readjust the sliders and prove his everlasting dominance. It’s the tired joke we make every time we analyze a Cena feud, because it’s not even really a joke, it’s just an observation. Cena loses once, then wins a bunch in a row when it matters. He’s coming into this match with Styles having lost one, but having picked up a win in the 6-man tag at Battleground. The end of the story here is, “Cena wins again, then probably wins again.”
Only this time, after a decade of overcoming everything in the world, Cena has finally met the guy who’s not only his equal, but his superior. Not that Styles is a spring chicken or really “the future” in any way, but he’s fresh, and he’s good as sh*t, and that’s something.
One thing I like about this Cena run is how he’s finally starting to feel like he’s approaching the end. Dude was superhumanly unstoppable forever, and now the grimaces and the sweat and the struggle seem more legitimate. He’s not getting up like he used to. He’s still occasionally no-selling everything, but he’s moving a little slower. And here’s AJ Styles, fresh from a decade of desperately deserving a shot like this, finally GETTING that shot and making the most of it. He’s not a guy with “a future” like Rusev or Kevin Owens. His future has to happen right now, or it’s never going to. If he doesn’t make it RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW, it’s over.
So on top of Styles being Cena’s superior in the ring, Styles might be the first guy Cena’s met who sincerely outdoes him in passion. Styles is trying harder. He’s moving faster and hitting harder. Cena’s been going through these motions so long he doesn’t even remember how he does it most times. His brain and his body just do this. And now he’s starting to notice, and AJ Styles is springboarding into the ring with his elbowpad off and blasting him in the face before he can figure it out.
So yeah, all in all, looking at this as its own thing detached from my expectations for what everything means and where everything should go, I think it was great. Cena leaving his sweatbands in the ring felt like a moment, and I can’t help but wonder how unforgettable this would’ve been if it’d been, say, a retirement match for him at a WrestleMania. Styles kicking out of the Super AA, the world’s most devastating wrestling move, would’ve meant even more. It was still a pretty solid holy sh*t moment.
The best part of it all? Now Styles can say he actually handed Cena an L, and move on to take the WWE Championship from Dean Ambrose. Cena can take another six months off if he wants or whatever, and come back with a beard to be a grizzled old vet. Or we can finally see what Hollywood Hogan John Cena would look like.
Worst: Everything After This Gets A Dead Crowd
Worst: I Really Wish Seth Rollins Had Shown Up And Hit Him With A Chair
Ultimate Smark Jon Stewart has a pretty solid history of being entertaining on WWE television, but this was … not that.
Stewart shows up to be a surrogate Big E, joining The New Day and half-doing the New Day entrance speech after like 75 minutes of chatter. By the time he’s just wandering around in the ring during the match, I’m actively cheering for The Club to split him like a wishbone and put his eggs in their lemonade jars.
Next time they should leave Jon Stewart at home, bring on Pro Wrestling Trevor NOAH and have him hit people with Burning Hammers.
The match itself was forgettable, ending on a disqualification like five minutes after a disqualification should’ve happened. Jon Stewart starts interfering and being threatened, which brings out a returning Big E, who is happy to inform Puff Daddy that his **NUTS** are doing great.
The bout ends with New Day and Jon Stewart dancing, and Big E drinking what’s probably supposed to be urine out of The Club’s testicle depositories. Beats a heated conversation about how you f*cked a trombone, I guess.
Worst: Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler
Despite my jokes to the contrary because I’ve got an everlasting hate-on for Smackdown, the build to Dean Ambrose defending the WWE Championship against Dolph Ziggler was pretty fire. Ziggler’s finally getting a shot he’s been claiming to deserve for years, and he’s stuck somewhere between SUPER INTO IT and terrified that he’s not gonna follow through. Ambrose is nonchalant to the point of danger, which continues into the match. On paper, it should’ve been great.
In practice, man, I don’t even know.
I’m not sure who to place the blame on. Everyone seems to be into bagging on the crowd for not paying attention and being disinterested in everything after Cena/Styles, but is that the crowd’s fault? Is it WWE’s for arranging the matches like they did? Why did Sasha/Charlotte go first, and why did Cena and Styles have the world’s most epic long John Cena match in the middle of the show? ESPECIALLY if your final two matches are going to be short and bait-and-switchy?
The match isn’t bad, I guess, but it’s certainly not GOOD. Everything feels flat. Nothing resonates. Ziggler’s in there jumping and flailing his arms and trying his best, and it’s not connecting. Ambrose is showing personality with the Shawn Michaels homage burn, but nobody seems to know what to make of it. Do they wanna boo him? Would they boo him over Ziggler?
It’s unfortunate, because this could’ve been the best match on the show. Ambrose doesn’t have a great history of bringing it home with these big marquee matches, which could be why it’s in the middle of the show. Remember Ambrose vs. Lesnar? The builds are great, but when it’s time to have the actual match, it’s underwhelming. The Shield guys seem like they’re into the IDEA of great matches over actual worked great matches. I’m still trying to figure it out.
The Colonel vs. an errant chicken was a legitimately better Dolph Ziggler match.
Worst: The Universal Championship
How are you gonna have a WWE Championship that looks like a slab of meat and not have Brock Lesnar hold it? I think we made all the appropriate jokes in here, but here’s a complete list of everything it looks like:
1. a Fruit Roll-up
3. the WWE Championship with the skin removed, like Inside Out Boy
4. Meatwad shapeshifting into a WWE title
5. Kane’s class ring
6. every other WWE title
7. a horrible idea
When the title belt looks like it was designed by Spawn, who do you think’s gonna hold it, the Demon King who is covered in red and has an entrance full of red lights, or the guy dressed like he’s about to go skydiving into a Mountain Dew?
Rollins has already shared his feelings about the crowd spending most of the Universal Title match booing and chanting about how terrible the belt looks. He’s right. You shouldn’t let a cosmetic f*ck-up overpower a first-ever championship match between guys we (at least in the “most of the Internet and what I can tell from the live crowds”) like. But to the audience’s credit, that belt is cold boogers on a paper plate.
Best/Worst: The Universal Championship Match
To list some positives, The Demon King’s entrance on a fancy WWE stage in a big arena looks AMAZING. It probably would’ve been more amazing had they not shot their Demon Wad on Raw and saved it for here — and also if they’d find something better for him to wear on his head than the Men’s Wearhouse of Nazarene crown — but it was still cool.
And yeah, Bálor vs. Rollins had its moments. I hate that I can’t seem to get more hype for this stuff because of the way it was presented, and the way it had to follow NXT TakeOver. Finn is Finn and Rollins is Rollins, and the dead, disrespectful crowd plus the corny belt plus its position on the show plus the malaise of an almost-over wrestling weekend didn’t help. You can’t expect to put on 6 straight hours of wrestling and have people enjoy all 6, guys. I don’t even want to watch 6 hours of wrestling I already know I love.
Now there are rumors that Bálor is injured, which makes it even more stressful. I think the thing WWE needs to realize is that it doesn’t just need a talent overhaul … it needs to rethink the way it presents itself, and for how long it presents itself, and what it’s actually trying to accomplish. And we need to stop hurting everyone, and maybe give people a day off.
Best: Welcome Back, Nikki
I’m still not a great advocate of the Bella Brand or whatever, but it’s great and heart-reassuring to see Nikki Bella return to the ring after a career-threatening injury. That’s the kind thing we should ALWAYS Best. Also a Best: retiring the Rack Attack and replacing it with the TKO. Hooray for moves that don’t compact your own spine!
Bella shows up as the replacement for the recently suspended Eva Marie, who is being written off the show via “exhaustion” and stress from aggro-ass wrestling fans. I believe it.
The women give it their all, but their still sorta stuck in this post-Cena post-Lord Zedd belt death period, so nothing but Nikki’s appearance really gets a response. Carmella isn’t winning any points, but she DOES eat a goddamn earthshaking forearm to the face, so that’s something.
Worst: The Last Two Matches
Okay, so after 5 1/2 hours of wrestling, everybody wanted to go home. The crowd, WWE, everybody.
Remember how weird it was that they did a full Roman Reigns vs. Rusev match on Raw with a clean ending to build to this? Well, the payoff is Reigns and Rusev brawling before the bell, Reigns attacking Rusev with a chair and Rusev getting injured. It feels like they did it out of order. This would’ve been a pretty hot Raw segment, right? Instead, it’s the semi-main-event of SummerSlam, right before another match that ends out of nowhere.
And then, Orton vs. Lesnar.
I’d been looking forward to this match for a long time, but I guess I need to come to terms with the fact that Modern Brock Lesnar is a spectacle wrestler, and not necessarily interested in putting on good matches.
Unfortunately, this match is going to be a conversation for a long time, which I’m not even sure it deserves. If you missed it and need a recap, it starts off hot with Lesnar hitting a bunch of German suplexes and Orton pretty visibly sandbagging him. Like, Orton absolutely refuses to jump on those suplexes and makes Brock take him all the way over against his will. They fight to the outside, and Orton hits a desperation RKO on the table. They get back in the ring, and Orton hits another RKO that gets two. He sets up for the punt, Brock counters with the F-5, and then Lesnar just elbows him in the face until his head collapses and the match is stopped via EXPLODED FACE.
That’s the entire match.
There’s an awkward convo happening right now about whether or not this was the planned finish or some kind of shoot. Lesnar did the same thing with the “slashing elbows” to Cena during their Extreme Rules match, and while his face didn’t quite explode like Orton’s, it was an intentional component of the match. The real question is, “WHY would this be the planned finish?” And why would you plan this finish, still put the match on last, and still put it on after the Rusev/Reigns non-finish?
Imagine if the show was completely rearranged. Imagine if Lesnar vs. Orton had happened in the middle of the show, and had gone down exactly like this. We’d probably all be in agreement that it was an exciting attempt to make wrestling feel a little more legitimate and real, which Lesnar does really well. Then we could go into Cena/Styles or Finn/Rollins and the crowd’s still buzzing from conversation, not burned out, and ready to pop for some Actual Pro Wrestling. They could’ve put Sasha/Charlotte after it and hilariously escalated the danger while still putting on an entertaining match.
I’d say this was a colossal letdown, but I don’t know what I was expecting. Now we build to what, Brock Lesnar vs. Shane McMahon? Brock getting suspended for beating up an authority figure to retroactively justifying the stuff he probably should’ve gotten suspended for before? Is Orton going to work a lobotomy gimmick?
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
that’s a six-hour show alright
R K O-negative outta nowhere.
That was the most violent rendition of Rikki Tiki Tavi I’ve ever seen.
And the crowd goes…
Out of the building.
Beige Lunatics, King of String Style
Brock’s just trying to find the voices in Randy’s head. Nope, just more blood so far.
Tomorrow night on Raw: Commissioner Foley grants Roman a US Title shot to make up for the one he deprived himself of at Summerslam!
That KFC commercial made more sense than this match.
I really dig Roman getting vicious revenge for everything he did to Rusev and his wife.
About the Joker tattoos: Finn Balor spent the weeks leading up to this match sending used condoms and dead animals to his fellow wrestlers.
Wait, sorry, that was still Randy Orton.
If playing video games since the 1980s has taught me anything, Rollins needs to aim for the big eye on Balor’s back.
Can we just rename Finn “Dropkick Murphy”?
Thanks for reading, everybody. See you tonight for that hot Post-SummerSlam Raw and the epic build to Survivor Series. I’m kidding. But come read it anyway so I don’t feel like I’m throwing wrestling jokes into the abyss.