Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The History of WWE SummerSlam, part 9 (2012-2014)

Continuing with 2012-2014 and the new Brock Lesnar era.

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

Part 8
Part 10

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