Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The History of WWE SummerSlam, part 9 (2012-2015)

Well we've come to the end of the road.  It's the final installment of the History of WWE SummerSlam!!

SummerSlam '12 - Staples Center - 8/19/12

One of the more disappointing editions occurred in 2012.  Here was a show that on paper looked quite stacked and featured a dream match with some real intrigue. 

Ten years earlier Brock Lesnar and Triple H were on top of their respective brands and arguably the "co-faces" of the company.  Before Brock's hasty departure in 2004 there were plans in place for these two to clash at the following WrestleMania.  Alas Brock's exit thwarted this plan and instead Dave Batista became the new monster babyface.  But in 2012 we would finally get to see this long-awaited battle, and given how well Lesnar performed in his big return against John Cena that April, it seemed we were all in for a treat.

Unfortunately Triple H proved to be one opponent with whom Brock didn't click in the ring.  This match was slow, plodding, and overall pretty dull.  The crowd was fairly anemic too which didn't help.  WWE made a mistake putting this match on last; had it been placed in the middle of the card maybe the crowd would've had more energy and wouldn't have expected this to save what had been a lackluster show.  Lesnar predictably won by "breaking" Hunter's arm, and this should've put an end to the rivalry.  But of course eight months later Triple H had to have a rematch, which as it turned out was even worse, and received with even greater apathy.


Side note about Triple H (indulge me for a moment): From an in-ring standpoint he really doesn't work as a babyface.  Hasn't since he turned heel in 1999 and became The Cerebral Assassin.  His whole character is based around being a dangerous, sadistic bastard.  His wrestling style is slow, methodical, and generally involves dissecting an opponent and trying to permanently injure them.  When you put him in the face role and expect him to carry the offense for the first and third acts of a match (traditionally the segments where the face is on offense) it makes for an extremely dull affair and doesn't rev up the audience like it needs to.  And for the middle third of the match when the heel is in control, the very nature of Triple H's character undermines the whole purpose of the second act - vulnerable babyface in peril.  Hunter's character is almost never presented as vulnerable, so there's no real suspense during his big selling segments and therefore nothing to root for.  End of tangent.

The rest of the show consisted of a series of decent matches, all of which would've been welcome on any episode of RAW.

Chris Jericho and Dolph Ziggler had a fine contest to open the show, and Jericho won his only PPV match of 2012 (even though Ziggler really needed a win here).  The following night they'd have a rematch where if Jericho lost he'd be fired (hmmm, that sounds familiar).  He did, and he was.

Nice girdle, fattie!

Next up was Daniel Bryan facing Kane.  These two had a very entertaining comedy feud which of course led to a wildly successful tag team run and demonstrated that Bryan was much more than just a technical workhorse.  This match was decent but nothing special.  They did what they could with the eight minutes allotted.

The Miz then faced Rey Mysterio in a solid TV-caliber Intercontinental Title match.  By this point Miz's stock had dropped so severely it was just nice to see him get a decent midcard title run.

For the World Title, Sheamus defended against Alberto Del Rio, in one of about 900 matches the pair would have in 2012.  This was fine, but I never felt Sheamus and Del Rio meshed all that well.  By this point the World Title's stock had dropped almost as much as Miz's, hence an eleven-minute match placed fourth on the card.

The tag team division was on the upswing in 2012 and so the tag champs R-Truth and Kofi Kingston actually got to defend the straps on PPV against The Prime Time Players (one of probably dozens of teams over the years that showed great promise but were prematurely split up only for both partners to vanish into obscurity).  This was fine.

Once again the WWE Title match was not in the main event slot, for the eighth PPV in a row mind you.  I honestly don't know what the company was thinking in 2012.  CM Punk was the Champion for the entire calendar year and only main evented three PPVs.  I get that John Cena is the face of the company but there is no excuse whatsoever for Cena's match with GM John Laurinaitis to headline a PPV over the Punk-Bryan WWE Title match (2012 Match of the Year as far as I'm concerned).  Then SummerSlam rolls around, and even with Cena IN the Title match it still doesn't get the main event.  Unbelievable.  Anyway, this was probably the second-best match of the night, as Punk got a slightly underhanded 12-minute win over both Cena and The Big Show.  But seriously, 12 minutes for the WWE Title match, which didn't even go on last.  How underwhelming can an important match get?

2012 was a year of inconsistency for WWE.  CM Punk had a nice epic run with the Title but still wasn't treated as the top guy much of the time, Brock Lesnar made his long-awaited WWE return but only wrestled two matches on the year, one of which was a loss, the company was heavily relying on past stars to carry major shows, and multiple events looked great on paper but failed to live up to expectations.  WWE had listened to the fans in pushing Punk as a top guy but it was done very begrudgingly it seemed.  Meanwhile they tried really hard to elevate Ryback as Cena's eventual heir.  Yeah that worked out great, didn't it?  Hmm, actually this whole scenario would happen again, wouldn't it?

Best Match: Dolph Ziggler vs. Chris Jericho
Worst Match: Probably the Tag Title match, though it wasn't exactly bad.
What I'd Change: First, put Brock-HHH fourth on the card and keep it under fifteen minutes.  Just have them beat the absolute bejeezus out of each other to make it fast-paced.  Give the WWE Title match the twenty minutes it deserved.  Other than that, it was just a matter of the overall show not delivering.
Most Disappointing Match: Brock vs. Triple H - I had very high hopes, and while this was a watchable match, it was nowhere near as good as it should've been.  We certainly didn't need to see it twice more.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I guess Daniel Bryan getting a win over Kane.  After the WrestleMania 28 debacle I didn't trust WWE to not screw Bryan once his feud with Punk was over.
Overall Rating: 6/10
Better than WrestleMania XXVIII? - No

SummerSlam '13 - Staples Center - 8/18/13

After a slew of disappointing and lackluster PPVs in 2013, WWE finally brought the goods that August, presenting an absolutely killer Summerslam card.  The show was built around two incredibly intriguing main events and fan enthusiasm was riding high on the wave of Daniel Bryan's YES movement.  Much like the 2011 edition, this show is fantastic, but you should turn it off before the final minute.

The show opened with a real dud - Bray Wyatt's in-ring debut in an Inferno Match against Kane.  The Inferno Match first appeared in 1998 as Kane introduced the gimmick during his feud with The Undertaker.  That match was novel and somewhat entertaining, but this match was not.  It was too short to amount to anything and not much happened.  Fortunately this would be the only bad match on the card.

The former Rhodes Scholars faced off next, as estranged allies Cody Rhodes and Damen Sandow had a nice little six-minute bout.  It was well-worked and fast-paced, and while it could've been a bit longer, got the job done.

Highlight #1 of the night was up next as Alberto Del Rio defended the World Title against Christian in a superb 12-minute match.  The action here was crisp and agile, and these two worked great together.

Natalya then faced Brie Bella in something of a throwaway bout, but this was fine for what it was.  Nothing offensive here.

Highlight #2 was fifth, and boy was it a doozy.  Brock Lesnar faced CM Punk for the first and only time ever, in a brutal, intense, smartly-booked No-DQ match.  The month before at Money in the Bank, Paul Heyman betrayed Punk, costing him the briefcase, and Punk vowed revenge.  Heyman then brought back his number-one client Lesnar to take Punk out.  This match told a fantastic story of the giant bruiser pummeling his smaller, scrappy opponent who refused to back down.  Punk managed to outsmart and outmaneuver Lesnar throughout much the match which made for a believable back-and-forth contest.  Finally after several interference attempts by Heyman, Punk's focus shifted, allowing Lesnar to take advantage and score the win.  This was near-perfect for the gimmick.  My only complaint is that Punk fell for Heyman's interference too many times.  At a certain point he should've been smart enough to keep his eyes on Lesnar.  But otherwise, great, great match.

Knee-to-Face #1

The buffer match went to a mixed-tag - Dolph Ziggler and Kaitlyn had a rapid-fire match against Big E and AJ.  This was nothing amazing but as death-spot matches go, this was quite entertaining.

In the main event spot was highlight #3.  WWE Champ John Cena handpicked Daniel Bryan as his opponent, and the two had a legendary match.  For twenty-six minutes they went toe-to-toe, showcasing memorable, innovative spots and gritty, realistic fight action.  Bryan showed he could hang with the big dogs in a WWE main event, and Cena showed he could hang with the king of wrestling workhorses.  Bryan's popularity had surged in the months leading up to this match and the crowd ate up everything he did.  This epic showdown concluded with Bryan nailing Cena with the baisuke knee to finally win the WWE Title.  This was an amazing moment that unfortunately led to a sucky one.  Randy Orton crashed Bryan's celebration, and after a Triple H heel turn, cashed in the MITB briefcase to take the Title. 

As far as the storyline went, this made total sense and was much better executed than Del Rio's cash-in on Punk two years earlier.  Having Bryan chase Orton for months with The Authority repeatedly screwing him along the way was a fine story arc.  Unfortunately the company didn't really get how this needed to work, and managed to botch it horribly.  Were it not for the fans hijacking the show in the months leading to WrestleMania 30, this initial SummerSlam moment would've been for nothing.  Regardless, John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan was the best match of 2013, and one of the best Summerslam matches in history.

Knee-to-Face #2

Considering Summerslam 2013 had the two best matches of the year, plus several other good ones, it's a no-brainer that this was, by a wide margin, the best PPV of 2013.  It is also significant for being the proper start to the YES movement, and the first chapter in Daniel Bryan's rise to the top. 

Best Match: John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan - but it's #1 and #1A between this and Punk-Lesnar
Worst Match: Kane vs. Bray Wyatt - Pretty crappy way to kick off the show but everything after this was good or great.
What I'd Change: Dean Ambrose vs. Rob Van Dam probably should've been on the PPV instead of the pre-show.  I'd swap that with Kane-Wyatt.
Most Disappointing Match: I wasn't expecting much from this, but Wyatt's debut match should've been much better, especially considering how good he's become.  I guess technically the most disappointing match was Orton vs. Bryan because it ruined the moment.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I guess just that Daniel Bryan got to headline a PPV, and beat John Cena clean for the WWE Title.  In 2009 when he signed with the company I never would've expected this to happen.
Overall Rating: 9.5/10
Better than WrestleMania XXIX? - If 'Mania 29 is like a piece of used-up chewing gum, SummerSlam 2013 is like a masterfully assembled pizza topped with gourmet meatballs and extra awesomesauce.

SummerSlam '14 - Staples Center - 8/17/14

The 2014 SummerSlam was a rock-solid show with a pretty stacked lineup and no bad matches.  It almost resembled the 2012 edition but was infinitely better-executed and boasted one of the most unusual and memorable main events in a long time, while also spotlighting several strong midcard feuds.

The opening match was yet another I-C Title meeting between The Miz and Dolph Ziggler.  While their feud was never treated with much importance, these two always had decent chemistry in the ring, and this was an enjoyable 8-minute kickoff.  The Title itself was long-dead, thanks in part to becoming such a hot potato, but no complaints about the match.

Next up was the second PPV bout between AJ Lee and Paige.  As with the I-C Title, the Divas Championship had been bouncing back and forth between these two.  Paige won here in just under five minutes, which sadly wasn't enough time to have the barn burner AJ and Paige were capable of.

Rising heel Rusev was third, in a Flag Match with recently-turned "Real American" Jack Swagger.  Swagger provided a somewhat credible midcard challenge for the undefeated Bulgarian, but the nature of Swagger's (and especially manager Zeb Coulter's) in-ring persona kinda prevented him from fully connecting with the audience.  Had this not been a USA vs. Russia feud, there wouldn't have been much heat.  But this match was fine.  Nothing amazing, but a good power vs. power matchup.

Things picked up big in the fourth slot as Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins finally had their much-anticipated first match.  The previous month at Battleground, Ambrose had been thrown out of the building for attacking Rollins backstage, and Rollins won their scheduled match by forfeit.  The extra month of buildup made this feud red-hot, and Ambrose's loose cannon persona coupled with the host of Lumberjacks outside the ring made this a wildly entertaining brawl.

What a great feud this was.

Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt was next, and they got a chance to redeem themselves after an uninspired effort at Battleground.  Both guys brought their A-game and put forth a near-show stealer, with Wyatt finally getting the big win.

The unexpected hit of the night was sixth, as Brie Bella took on Stephanie McMahon.  Steph had by now become one of the best talkers in the company (to my absolute shock), and held up her end of the buildup brilliantly.  Sadly Brie's acting skills are nowhere near that of Steph's, so Mrs. Helmsley had to carry this feud.  But once the bell rang both women delivered a helluva catfight reminiscent of Steph's 2001 match against Trish Stratus.  In the end Nikki turned on her sister, leading to probably the worst feud of 2014.  But this match was stunningly entertaining.

My pick for Match of the Night went to the semi-main event, as the unproven Roman Reigns took on mainstay heel Randy Orton.  These two meshed admirably and strung together some exceedingly well-timed spots, leading to Reigns hitting the match-winning Spear at just under 17 minutes.  This was Reigns' first major singles victory, as well as his first really strong one-on-one performance.

The long-planned main event of Daniel Bryan vs. Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title unfortunately never took place due to Bryan's neck injury, but the company instead subbed in their biggest star to take on the rejuvenated Beast.  In what was almost a do-over from their Extreme Rules 2012 match, Lesnar absolutely DOMINATED John Cena, throwing him around the ring like a bag of wet leaves.  This will likely go down as the most one-sided PPV main event of all-time.  Lesnar played his overpowering bully role to perfection, treating WWE's posterboy like a total jobber and routinely mocking both Cena and The Undertaker (whom he defeated at 'Mania 30).  After 16 minutes and just as many German suplexes, Lesnar steamrolled Cena to win the WWE Title.  My initial reaction to this match was one of boredom, as I found it too monotonous and had hoped for a back-and-forth match.  But upon a second viewing I understood what they were doing.  This wasn't ever supposed to be a match per se, but a realistic beatdown by a heel so far above everyone else on the roster the company's top star didn't even present a real challenge.  The story of this match was Lesnar basically winning the Title by hitting one move over and over.  While it's certainly not a five-star classic, Cena vs. Lesnar holds up as a unique, unforgettable angle.

This might be my favorite moment of the entire match;
Lesnar mocking Taker's situp

Nothing on this show exceeded the 3.5 star range, but SummerSlam 2014 proved to be a highly engaging night of wrestling, with several good matches and no bad ones.  The big story coming out was Brock Lesnar's complete supremacy over the WWE roster.  Unfortunately WWE followed this up horribly, hotshotting a rematch the next month and then keeping Lesnar off TV until January.  Clearly an every-other-month schedule would've been a more appropriate way to play out Lesnar's title run.  Anyway, thumbs up for SummerSlam '14!

Best Match: Randy Orton vs. Roman Reigns
Worst Match: Paige vs. AJ, by default
What I'd Change: Aside from putting Cesaro vs. RVD on the actual PPV, just the usual SummerSlam time management issues where it seems like every match somehow gets shortchanged.  Not sure why that happens so often at SummerSlam.
Most Disappointing Match: There wasn't much disappointing.  Nothing on this show was truly great, but nothing was bad either.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Stephanie vs. Brie was much better than it had any right to be.
Overall Rating: 8/10
Better than WrestleMania XXX? - No

SummerSlam '15 - Barclays Center - 8/23/15

Sometimes it pays to have low expectations.  Case in point the 2015 SummerSlam extravaganza.  I went into this show with the mindset of "I'll be content as long as I don't feel like my night was wasted," and what I got was a consistently very entertaining wrestling show with a ton of variety where every match felt like it got enough time, and a few actually stood out.

The much-dreaded-by-me Brock Lesnar-Undertaker main event was easily the best match delivered by these two since their No Mercy 2002 Hell in a Cell.  It was streamlined, hard-hitting, full of nice little nuances (the double situp for example), and while the ending left me baffled at first, once the replay explained everything I actually kinda liked it.  Granted we've been conditioned that the timekeeper never rings the bell until the official calls for it, but in all these years you'd think human error would get in the way at least once.  Well, this was that one occurrence.  Taker tapped out and the timekeeper jumped the gun.  It was a realistic screwup and it protected Lesnar as an unstoppable monster while reframing the feud with Taker playing more of a heel.  I liked this match a lot, and the lasting image for me was of the defiant Lesnar flipping Taker off just before passing out to Hell's Gate.

Ok this was pretty boss.

The Match of the Night however was Seth Rollins vs. John Cena.  Both guys were motivated to overshadow every other match despite being placed only 7th of 10 bouts, and aside from a couple miscues, this was a helluva contest.  Rollins essentially worked babyface, pulling out every crazy, crowd-pleasing move he could muster.  My fellow New Japan fans surely noticed Rollins borrowing from Hiroshi Tanahashi's moveset (High Fly Flow, Slingblade), and even Kota Ibushi's (standing shooting star press).  The finish, where Jon Stewart stormed the ring and whacked Cena with a chair to cost him the match, was met with a lot of scorn, but WWE covered it brilliantly the next night by having Stewart say he couldn't bear to see Ric Flair's 16-time record tied.  Simple, logical, and made for a nice little moment where Cena gave Stewart the AA.

This was even more boss.

The third standout was Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro, which was given the unfortunate second-to-last spot (in any other company that slot is a huge compliment, but not in Bizarro WWE World) in front of a crowd clearly waiting for the main event.  But the two ROH alums delivered a fine match that got a good amount of time.  It felt like the first in a series so it didn't quite steal the show.  Plus Owens was almost certainly pretty banged up from his NXT Ladder Match the night before, so the fact that he performed at the level he did is significant.

The rest of the show was full of pretty good stuff.  Sheamus vs. Randy Orton, while not quite as good as their Battleground match, was nonetheless a solid opener with a nice clean, much-needed win for Sheamus.  The 4-Way Tag Title match was loads of fun and got enough time to resonate.  The New Day deservedly regained the straps and Xavier Woods was hilariously awesome at ringside.  Rusev vs. Dolph Ziggler was so much better than I anticipated, making their twelve minutes count. The middle of the show featured the only two throwaways.  Stardust/Wade Barrett vs. Stephen Amell/Neville was short and forgettable but inoffensive.  Ditto for Ryback vs. Show vs. Miz, which should've culminated in a more decisive win for Ryback.  Dean Ambrose & Roman Reigns vs. The Wyatts 2.0 was a wild, fast-paced war that didn't resolve the feud but led to Bray adding a new Family member the next night.

Not as boss as The Shield vs. The Wyatts, but not bad.

Finally there was the Divas three-way, which shockingly got a full fifteen minutes.   Unfortunately this probably wasn't the match to allot that much time, as it exposed just how much better the NXT women were than their main roster counterparts.  Once Sasha Banks' team was out, the match hit a long lull period as the Bellas controlled most of the offense.  Despite the improvement shown by Nikki and Brie in 2014-15, in this scenario Team Paige should've dominated the action.  At least the right team won.

All in all, warts aside, SummerSlam 2015 was a very entertaining show with a lot about it to like.  While nothing on the card was MOTY-worthy I'd say seven of the ten matches were three stars or better, with only the Divas match, the Stardust bout, and the I-C triple threat falling short.  I liked how much actual wrestling was on this show and how strong WWE's time management was.  I was in the minority but I would say decisively that SummerSlam was superior to WrestleMania PlayButton.

Best Match: Seth Rollins vs. John Cena
Worst Match: Ryback vs. Big Show vs. The Miz
What I'd Change: I'd have kept the Divas 3-way a bit shorter and faster paced and put Owens vs. Cesaro earlier on the card so the crowd would've been hotter for it.
Most Disappointing Match: Probably the Divas
Most Pleasant Surprise: Lesnar vs. Undertaker
Overall Rating: 8/10
Better than WrestleMania 31? - That's a yes.

And that brings us to the present day.  I hope you've enjoyed our little jaunt down SummerSlam Memory Lane. 

So if we tally up the number of SummerSlams that upstaged their respective WrestleManias, we get 13 out of a possible 27.  So nearly half the time, SummerSlam has been the better show.  Let that be a lesson to you - don't overlook the little brother.

Anyway, before I go, let's take a look at the Top Ten SummerSlams in history, and the Top 20 SummerSlam matches, according to me.

Top Ten SummerSlams

10. 2009
9. 1992
8. 2014
7. 2015
6. 1997
5. 1998
4. 2001
3. 2013
2. 2011
1. 2002

Top Twenty SummerSlam Matches

20. Steve Austin vs. Undertaker - 1998
19. Rick Rude vs. Ultimate Warrior - 1989
18. The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar - 2002
17. CM Punk vs. John Cena - 2011
16. Undertaker vs. Edge - 2008
15. Seth Rollins vs. John Cena - 2015
14. Jeff Hardy vs. CM Punk - 2009
13. Kurt Angle vs. Eddie Guerrero - 2004
12. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels - 2002
11. Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio - 2002
10. Brain Busters vs. Hart Foundation - 1989
9. Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon - 1995
8. Shawn Michaels vs. Vader - 1996
7. TLC - 2000
6. Christian vs. Randy Orton - 2011
5. Chris Benoit vs. Randy Orton - 2004
4. CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar - 2013
3. Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle - 2001
2. John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan - 2013
1. Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog - 1992

Agree?  Think I'm way off base?  Let me know in the Comments section below!

Part 8

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