– Make sure you’ve read the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn. If you watched SummerSlam and didn’t watch that, you’re doing it wrong.
– Share the column! Your shares, likes and other Internet Things are appreciated. You keep me in the business of making jokes about Dolph Ziggler’s terrible clothes by spreading the column around.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE SummerSlam 2015. It’s cool. For the summer!
Best: Jon Stewart, Wrestling Fan
So, if I had to pick an overarching theme for the 2015 edition of SummerSlam, it’d be “Jon Stewart is WWE’s critique of smart wrestling fans.”
I’ll write more about it later when the sh*t hits the fan, but it’s a fun way to go back and look at the show. Stewart accomplishes something in life — being the beloved host of The Daily Show — and gets asked to come be a respectful, normal person at a WWE event. He shows up, and his first order of business is to confront a wrestler about a match he didn’t like from a year and a half ago. He wants to “confront” Brock Lesnar about ending the Undertaker’s streak at WrestleMania 30, much like how someone like me would meet Sheamus and say, “hey, if you’ve got a minute, I’d like to thoroughly explain how you ruined WrestleMania 28.” He enlists the help of WWE Hall of Fame legend Mick Foley to be his bodyguard, because he is willing to instigate a fight, but knows he’s not strong enough to finish it. Jon tells Foley on the phone that he wants help against Brock, but Foley hears “Rock.” That’s about Foley’s brains being scrambled, but also suggests that smark-ass Jon Stewart may have misspoken, because sometimes smarks are not good at explaining how they feel like human beings.
So! Foley bails on Stewart and nothing happens. Later in the show, this happens:
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If you need confirmation that Jon Stewart’s booked as a smark, watch him tell Neville he’s excited for his match, blatantly namedrop the fact that he “knows” the Undertaker and solicit WWE Superstars for autographs in the middle of a show. How perfect is that? Later, Stewart finally builds up the courage to confront Brock Lesnar in his dressing room, runs into Paul Heyman — the man who is responsible for rubbing in Lesnar’s victory for the past year and a half — and starts complimenting him. Suddenly he’s a “big fan.” Heyman gives him a brushoff, and again, nothing happens.
That doesn’t even touch on Stewart representing smart wrestling fans by hating John Cena. There’s something meta and brilliant happening here. The only way it could’ve been better is if they’d ended the show with Jon being all, “heh, they should start running WWE PPVs on Saturdays and NXT shows on Sundays, am I right?”
Worst: Opening The Show With The Cooldown Match
If I gave out star ratings, the rating for Sheamus vs. Randy Orton would be the sound of wind blowing.
Sheamus/Orton suffers a lot of the same problems as the Divas Revolution match, which isn’t something I thought I’d ever type. Basically what’s happening is you’ve got two talented, important guys locked in a blood feud that’s based on literally nothing, and they’re wrestling an objectively good match with no heat beyond “we’re excited to see the wrestlers.” Maybe that’s why it opened the show. The crowd starts chanting “HOW YOU DOIN'” and “OLÉ” in the middle of the FIRST MATCH, and Orton and Sheamus aren’t really doing anything to deserve it beyond being August 2015 Randy Orton and August 2015 Sheamus. Is that on them?
Sheamus even stops in the middle of the match to do the Kurt Angle Memorial “you will not boo me” microphone spot, and it results in a lot of stimulus response booing, but nothing really sustainable. Orton counters a Battering Ram into an RKO and Sheamus rolls out of the ring. That’s Randy Orton match code. He’s not over, but the RKO is the most over thing in wrestling history, so if he builds and builds to hitting it, he’s winning. If he hits it and something goes wrong and it doesn’t automatically end the match, he’s losing. It’s the “Nikki Bella apathetic butt twirl” of the men’s division.
So yeah, it’s a Worst, but an existential one. You thought we were pretentious before.
As a quick note, WWE’s getting really good at positioning Money in the Bank matches to stress us out all night. If they run Sheamus vs. Orton early, that sets us up to expect Sheamus to at least TRY to cash in Money in the Bank later. It makes us think they want him to rest or want us to forget about him to maximize the cash-in surprise. Most of the time they aren’t doing sh*t, and we’re falling for it. We’re all a bunch of puppets. This is us right here, dancing.
Worst: Thanks For Sending These Pricks To SummerSlam, Draft Kings
Maybe I’m being harsh, and I could be phrasing this a little strongly, but watching “Jake and Josh” take a break from Mountain Dew and fantasy sports to go to wrestling events made me want to throw them both down a flight of stairs. If you want to know who was chanting “what” during William Regal’s announcement of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic during TakeOver, I’m pointing a finger at these guys. They didn’t even bring their little sister.
Best: Let’s Hear It For New Day
Going back over the show this morning, I think the Tag Team Championship match is my favorite match on the show. Rollins vs. Cena was better, but ended in a way that kinda made me want to put my head down for a while, so I’m giving it to the tags.
There’s so much going on here, and all of it works. The New Day opening the match with a surprisingly good cover of ‘Empire State Of Mind’ alone would’ve made this a Best, but go back and watch it and keep your eyes on Brandi in the background. She spends the entire song trying not to lose her sh*t, especially when Big E says the other teams are “booty.” On top of that you’ve got Kofi Kingston wearing the Hover Boots from The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time and Xavier Woods at ringside, running his mouth and facebustering El Torito on the floor. Facebustering? Facebusting? He’s picking him up and throwing him at the ground.
The other teams are great here, too. The Prime Time Players are on another level right now, with Darren Young slowly becoming this generation’s perfect Ricky Morton and “Hot Tag” Titus turning hot tags into a damn event. Kayfabe-wise, they’ve got a great system going. It’s like camping, but for tag matches. If they fought anybody two-on-two, I’d pick the PTP. Los Matadores wrestled a smarter match than I think I’ve seen them wrestle before, and Kalisto was on fire, man. That monkey flip 450 was a thing of beauty. Kalisto was like, “I’m stuck teaming with Sin Cara, how many SummerSlams am I gonna be on? Better make this one count.” (Ed. note: I hope he’s on a lot of them.)
I think New Day celebrations might be the best thing about wrestling. Kofi steals a pin and celebrates by hopping up and down on his back like he’s trying to avoid elimination from his own win, and then this happens. How are you supposed to boo them? The New Day is the new Edge and Christian.
Worst: Freedom ’90
To show that she’s a free, independent woman who no longer has to dress like her boyfriends wants, Lana shows up dressed like Dolph Ziggler. I mean, Lana could draw puff-paint frowny faces on a potato sack and put it over her head and make it look fashionable, but still. Just because the guy you’re dating dresses like a 13-year old emo freshman from 1993 doesn’t mean you have to.
Honestly, they should’ve kept SummerSlam at its normal length and cut a lot of this. If you’re gonna bring Ziggler back the week before SummerSlam and end the match with a double count-out just to set up a mixed tag at Night Of Champions, can’t you do that on Raw? A double count-out on Raw would at least feel like a stepping stone to something greater, and not like a waste of time. The only thing positive I have to say about it is that it reinforces my belief that Rusev is the babyface, because when he sees his girlfriend get slapped, he releases the submission hold he was about to win with to go check on her. That’s a classic, dumb babyface move.
This was pretty terrible. The wrestling wasn’t bad, but it went nowhere on purpose. Rusev had the match won, but essentially lost via distraction catfighting. Dog Ziggler didn’t do a run-in, nobody got hit with a cold fish and Ziggler didn’t reveal a giant United States flag with a picture of him Frenching Lana on it. I got nothing.
Best: Stephen By God Amell
I understand the criticisms of people who outright hated SummerSlam. The main event was a screwy finish between two part-timers, the title vs. title match ended with a celebrity heel turn and one of the major undercard stories revolved around a guy from a CW superhero show. That’s legit. Like many of you, my greater instinct is to type things like, “I enjoyed The Vaudevillains vs. Blake & Murphy from Saturday night more than 90 percent of SummerSlam.” I get even worse with it. “I liked Alexa Bliss’s facial expressions more than SummerSlam.” It gets bad.
That said and understood, it … kinda worked? That main event with the screwy finish between part-timers has people talking, which is really the only thing you can hope for when you’re following WrestleMania 30 and one of the most controversial WWE matches of all time. The celebrity heel turn at least made sense from a smark point of view, and that CW superhero did GREAT. Like, as well as you could’ve ever expected him to. Amell had what, a few weeks of training? After just a few weeks he was able to put together a believable, entertaining and athletic match. Some people are eight-year WWE veterans and can’t be relied on to do that.
Plus, this guy’s a budding movie star — he’s Casey Jones in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie — and he’s doing dives from the top rope to the floor. Not that Paige dive where she tucks and rolls and prays to God Tamina remembers to catch her, he’s GOING FOR IT. I’d like to see Elias Koteas do THAT. His enzuigiri was good, too, and he sold the hell out of the physicality of the WWE experience. See how much better things are when you work with celebrities that respect the product, and aren’t just here because their agent made them do it?
I’m surprised that neither Amell nor Stardust were involved in the finish when the feud was built around them, but I guess that sets us up for a sequel.
The Tough Enough Contestants Get A Front Row Seat To See Four Hours Of Examples Of Things They’ll Never Get To Do
My vote’s for Sara Lee. I don’t care if she’s a monster. I’m willing to change my mind if WWE agrees to sign ZZ and bring him in as Husky Harris.
Best: Jon Stewart Preserves The Legacy Of Ric Flair
We’ll get to that in a second.
First of all, I want to make sure I properly express how f*cking rad this match was before the finish. Seth Rollins and John Cena have amazing chemistry together — it reminds me of a faster version of Punk/Cena, maybe with a little less gravity — and I love that for as much as Cena talks about him being a coward, Rollins can legitimately hang with him. This isn’t a match built around J&J Security and Kane running interference the entire time. Seth Rollins (by himself) is countering all of Big Match John’s Big Match Moves, doing Cena’s own “roll-through feat-of-strength Attitude Adjustment” finish and pulling off some outstanding sh*t of his own. One day he’s gonna hit that Phoenix Splash, and it’s gonna win so hard.
If Cena’s United States Championship run had to end in a way other than someone stepping up, accepting his challenge, beating him, winning the title and earning Cena’s respect without five additional qualifying matches (sorry, Kevin Owens), at least he got to go out strong. Cena’s been having the best in-ring year of his life this year, and it’s so good it makes us briefly forget about what a creative brick wall he is.
As for the finish … yeah, it was dumb. Stewart didn’t do a great job of making us think he was gonna help Cena before he swerved us, as he just kinda stood there grimacing and awkwardly holding a chair, waiting for Cena to get up. I appreciate it on two levels, though:
1. It continues the “Jon Stewart is WWE’s commentary on smart fans” angle, because a smart fan would want to see John Cena lose, especially if a Cena victory meant he tied Ric Flair’s 16 World Championships.
2. It makes sense as the next step in the Rollins and Stewart story, as Rollins appeared on one of Jon’s last Daily Show episodes and gave him a custom WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt. Why would you hate on the guy after he did that? You’d be his best friend. I can’t stand Sheamus, but if he showed up at my house and gave me a BRANDON’S GREAT replica title I’d probably change my mind.
So, as it stands, the finish is dumb, but it works, and the match is great.
Best? Wait, I Almost Forget There Was An Intercontinental Championship Match
And it, uh, wasn’t bad!
The Miz, Ryback and Big Show have been trying to have this Intercontinental Championship match since like 1965, but bad timing and sudden injuries have delayed it. They finally got to have it here, and it’s fun. They keep it short, Big Show stays relatively protected — he knocks out Miz but gets clotheslined out of the ring, allowing Ryback to pin Miz and retain the championship — Miz looks like a goober, and Ryback looks like he’s smart enough to win a match with something besides screaming and muscles.
I think my favorite part was Show climbing the ropes to do history’s worst and probably most dangerous Swanton Bomb, which should’ve instantly killed both of his opponents whether he hit them or not. It also should’ve killed 15 people in the front row. It takes him for-ev-errrrr to get into position, which makes it an effective analogy for SummerSlam as a whole: “We’re trying something cool, just give us a minute … wait, just a little longer … ah, well, that wasn’t as cool as we’d hoped, but let’s move on.”
Congratulations to Ryback on his victory. I can’t wait for the next three to eight months of build for Ryback vs. Miz vs. Big Show II.
Best? Are We Not Doing Anything?
Similarly, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns have great (great) chemistry with Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper, but all that really resulted was a fun wrestling match. I don’t want to complain about that — being entertained by what the guys in the ring are doing is the end goal, no matter what surrounds it — but SummerSlam was kinda booked around the idea that it was this massive, four-hour event where everything changed. People were predicting heel turns and Sting run-ins and the whole nine, but large parts of the show were just a good Raw.
Again, not the worst complaint in the world, especially after a year where entire pay-per-views have been filler, but it’s interesting. Are we to the point where Network live specials are dressed-up reasons to tune in to Raw the next night? Are we okay with that? It doesn’t really change anything, it just necessitates things actually happening on Raw. Otherwise we have nowhere where “stuff” happens, and we’re stuck on a treadmill with no endorphins left in our system.
Roman Reigns likes beers, though! Crowds should start yelling “ICE COOOOOLD” like in ‘Hey Ya’ so Roman can go “BOOM” instead of “OOOH” before spears.
Best/Worst: The Divas Are Revolting
No, I don’t mean it like that.
If we’ve learned anything this weekend, it’s that a 1-on-1 women’s match with good characters, a good build and consequence is a thousand times better than nine Divas going as hard as possible and doing all the moves they know.
I’ve written about it a lot over the past month and may have to retire the point, but it doesn’t matter how “good” this match is, they’re having it for no reason. There’s no end game. If Team PCB wins, what happens? If Team Bella wins, what happens? It’s a 2-page Choose Your Own Adventure book. Page 1 is “do you want the Divas to have longer matches and do moves,” and page 2 says “they do it.” As I’ve shouted from mountaintops before, it’s a great first step to give the women time and let them wrestle matches instead of pointing at each others’ butts for 30 seconds and falling backwards into terrible rollups, but you’ve gotta take Step Two. Step two is telling us who any of these women are, why they’re doing what they’re doing, and what they’re fighting for. “Stephanie McMahon says women are doing great lately” is not a mission statement.
I don’t want to just give it a Worst, though, because the match itself wasn’t bad. I’m sad there wasn’t a focus on Sasha Banks and that Team B.A.D. got eliminated so quickly, but she did get dropped on her damn head with a reverse Bayleycanrana on Saturday, so if she needed an easy night, I’m not gonna throw shade. I thought Paige worked especially hard here, running around trying to keep everything together and eating even basic Bella offense like it was a Steiner Screwdriver. Becky getting the win with a pump-handle ura nage was unexpected and kinda sudden, but good for her. Plus, it involved Brie Bella in the finish, which all Divas matches are contractually obligated to do.
Let’s step into Monday with a plan. Every WWE Championship is defended at Night of Champions, which means we build to a Nikki Bella Divas title defense and (hopefully) loss. The Bellas are established as part of the “revolution” for better or worse now, so if she loses the belt, it’s not a reason for both of them to disappear forever. Maybe put the belt on Becky, have the Bellas chase her for a few months with Paige and Charlotte running interference, and have B.A.D. play both sides of the fence.
If not that, then something. If we spend another month doing nothing and saying it’s great, we’re selling out the effort.
Best: Making The Most Of The Death Slot
Speaking of people who killed themselves on Saturday and deserved an easy night, here’s Kevin Owens going 14 minutes with Cesaro in the SummerSlam death slot. It’s a very good match, hurt a little by its placement on the card. It’s hard to watch anything you love for four hours, much less four straight hours of WWE. Once you’re 3 1/2 in, you’re gonna be burned out by anything that isn’t absurdly spectacular. Owens and Cesaro had to go on before Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker. It’s a much more polite version of the “We Want Lesnar” chants during Nikki and Sasha on Raw.
I’m happy Owens won, at least. Cesaro needed the win just as badly, but he’s superhuman and will be able to recover. Owens was on a losing streak and getting fat jokes made about him on Raw, so while yeah, he’s currently part of the WWE upper-mid-card and wrestling on TV against top opponents every week, he’s in an iffy spot. That kind of position can go very well or very badly out of nowhere. Him beating Cesaro keeps him looking like a relevant competitor, and not like an indies shlub who got lucky once because Cena underestimated him.
Best: Kevin Owens Calling Rich Brennan ‘Milhouse’
Hey! He looks just like you, poindexter!
Best: The Match They Probably Wanted To Have At WrestleMania 30
Having been live in the crowd for Lesnar vs. Undertaker at WrestleMania, I had low expectations for this. I expected another Lesnar match where he mostly walks around in circles waiting for German suplexes, and his opponent has to crawl around for 20 minutes reaching for the ropes. There’s an exciting kind of Lesnar match — the triple threat at the Rumble, for example — where he’s this unleashed, furious monster, and a boring kind of Lesnar match — Battleground against Rollins — where he’s kind of a dork.
The good news is that Lesnar/Taker 2 walked a fine line between those. We got a lot of Brock being super cool and super strong, but also some of the enjoyable dorkiness, like the sit-up laugh exchange you’ll see memed from Monday afternoon until the end of time. If Brock bleeds, the match is usually good. That’s strange to say, but it’s true. Having them start the match fast and having the announcers emphasize the importance of specific strikes and where they land really helped a lot. So, having said that I enjoyed the match, what do you think the problem was?
This is the way SummerSlam ends; not with a bang, but with people furrowing their brows, waiting for something else to happen.
If you missed it, Undertaker had Brock Lesnar locked in the Hell’s Gate. Brock was able to counter into a Kimura. Taker tried to roll Brock back onto his shoulders for a pin, so the referee slid into position and counted “one.” While this was happening, Taker was tapping out. The referee couldn’t see it, but the timekeeper started ringing the bell. Brock got up and celebrated, thanks in part to Paul Heyman telling him he’d won, and the referee was all, “what, no, what?” In the confusion, Undertaker hit a low blow on Brock and locked him in the Hell’s Gate again. Brock gave Taker the finger (pictured), but passed out in the hold. Taker was declared the winner. After the match, they showed a replay that clearly showed Undertaker tapping out, so Heyman rang the bell a bunch and declared Brock the actual winner.
If you want to build up interest in a Brock vs. Taker rematch at WrestleMania (which is what I’m assuming they’re doing), that’s fine. If you want to portray Undertaker as a dirty heel, whether he’s being cheered or not, having him take a cheap victory after tapping out and getting lucky is also good. It’s especially good if you have him show up on Monday bragging about how he submitted Lesnar, and really push the heel thing. The problem is in the execution. The referee couldn’t see Undertaker tap out, but neither could the timekeeper. So why’d he ring the bell? Even if he SAW the tap and knew Taker had lossed, since when has the timekeeper rung the bell without the referee telling him to? That’s like, the entire purpose of the timekeeper. Why didn’t we SEE the timekeeper? Why was Charles Robinson leaning through the ropes, yelling at someone offscreen? Is the reveal gonna be that Kane was there and rang the bell, but the announce team couldn’t look two feet to their left and see him? How does ANY of this make sense?
It’s one of those first draft ideas where somebody goes, “I’ll tap and the ref won’t see it, then you’ll think you won and I’ll f*ck you over,” but they don’t actually rehearse it and half of it gets lost in translation. It’s such a simple ‘f*ck you’ finish that it not working and making sense is the most infuriating thing. That, and that WWE crowds outside Minnesota won’t boo Undertaker for being a total POS.
And … uh, that’s SummerSlam. Yay?
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
WWE has scheduled this show like a road trip with my family: Go to the bathroom now, because it’s four hours to Grandpa’s house.
“Hey Rusev, what are your thoughts on Ziggler’s hair?”
“If he dyes, he dyes.”
Stephen Amell reminds me of a two-legged Zach Gowen.
Wait A Minute Rice
Rollins is the hero we deserve, but Cena is the one he kneed.
Rollins, demanding his statue: Give me the one in Hogan’s spot!
HHH: HORACE HOGAN HAS A STATUE?!
Jon Stewart spent the last 17 years taking down the villains who appealed to the lowest common denominator of society. Tonight he continued that work.
The Real Birdman
Have fun losing your next three straight PPV matches against Cena, John Stewart
Brock Lesnar, victim of Dick-Kick-Ulitis
Never shoulda fired Mark Yeaton, Vince.
Big Baby Yeezus
I guess the PPV was cool…at least for the summer
Thanks for reading. Time for three more hours of WWE programming!