Monday, August 18, 2014

The Best Squash Match in WWE History: SummerSlam '14 Review

Our new overlord with his hype man
Photo Credit:
TH Style, y'all. Heard you can spend a set price to see this event whenever you want it too if you get some network...

  • On the pre-show, Rob van Dam defeated Antonio Cesaro with a Five Star Frogsplash.
  • Dolph Ziggler defeated The Miz with the Zig Zag to win the Intercontinental Championship.
  • Paige regained the Divas Championship by breaking out of the Black Widow and hitting AJ Lee with the RamPaige for the win.
  • Alexander Rusev made Jack Swagger pass out in the Accolade to win an un-Flag Match-like Flag Match.
  • Thanks to mass chaos enacted by Kane, Seth Rollins was able to nail Dean Ambrose with his briefcase to steal a victory.
  • Bray Wyatt used two Sister Abigail's Kisses, one into the barricade, to defeat Chris Jericho.
  • Nikki Bella turned on her sister Brie, which allowed Stephanie McMahon to hit her with the Pedigree for the win.
  • Roman Reigns upended Randy Orton after a spear.
  • After 16 German suplexes, two F5s, and a surprisingly feeble resistance from John Cena, Brock Lesnar easily won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

General Observations:
  • WWE actually had someone in its graphics department design that on-screen border for Booker T's "shucky ducky quack quack" segment. But no, by all means, release more people. Payroll is clearly the biggest waste of money.
  • The Network, my cable, or my router was spitting up a lot during the pre-show, so I missed a substantial portion of the Antonio Cesaro/Rob van Dam match. I did see the ending. Yeah, while the visual of Cesaro giving RVD the Euro-cut as a counter to the Five Star Frogsplash was pretty cool (as any Euro-cut counter Cesaro does to a flying body), RVD actually started in the frogsplash motion after seeing Cesaro had stood up. His effort there was so frustratingly lazy.
  • Hulk Hogan kicked off the proper show with... a WWE Network shill? Someone needs to tap Vince McMahon on the shoulder and tell him to hire some folks who actually know how to market shit, because his advertising plan right now is all kinds of awful.
  • Miz's jacket was a thing of beauty. I love that he's going all-in with this character. When he's invested in something, the dude seems to put in the work.
  • I wasn't so much shocked to see a German announce table - Westside Xtreme Wrestling in Deutschland is growing into one of the premiere wrestling promotions in the world - but four guys? Yikes.
  • The Miz is absolutely on fire with his character work, and it's slowly informing his in-ring game to the point where he's becoming what he should be. He and Dolph Ziggler didn't just get to the point where the crowd went bonkers for a simple slap in the face by mistake. They built to that spot.
  • The "AJ is crazy, lol" narrative got tiresome a long time ago, but she deserves a lot of credit for embracing it and developing it to the benefit of her in-ring character. Biting Paige's hand during the prematch handshake and then ripping out part of her weave just to drape it across her chest set such a frenetic tone for the match. I have to wonder if Lee gets enough credit for how much better the women's division has become in the last few years.
  • Paige bumped on the back of her neck for the Shining Wizard, which is the best anyone made that move look since Lee started using it. I agree with the chatter that Paige may have a longer way to go than thought of by the consensus, but she still has more good performances than bad.
  • Did Lana really refer to Vladimir Putin as a "reality television star," and if so, what fucking show is he on?
  • Jack Swagger having a color guard play him out almost induced the vomit from the "Blood, Urine, and Vomit" promise that Brock Lesnar made several matches early.
  • Alexander Rusev's current shtick may wear thin in a finite amount of time, but his skillset will demand that he has a roster spot indefinitely. The dude went hard last night, both on offense and with selling his ankle. He could very well be an elite worker within a calendar year.
  • Of course Rusev assaulted Zeb Colter after the match, because this feud just has to continue through Night of Champions, doesn't it?
  • Bill Simmons was spotted in the crowd with a look of disdain on his face at Seth Rollins' entrance into the arena. Pretty sure he was annoyed that Rollins was getting this big push and not native New Englander Johnny Curtis. NEW ENGLAND PRODUCES THE BEST WRESTLAHS, NO ONE DENIES THIS.
  • Dean Ambrose suplexed Rollins out of the ring off the apron into a throng of lumberjacks on the outside. I thought that would be the craziest spot in the match, but then Ambrose back body-dropped Rollins over the barricade ONTO A SET-UP CHAIR. Rollins will have to end up retiring early like Edge at this rate.
  • Kane coming out to make sure the lumberjacks were doing their jobs might have been the best use for him. Let him be the bureaucratic keeper of order, making sure stipulations get followed, dammit.
  • I want to see Ambrose do a stage dive at a concert and knock everyone over like he did when he went top rope to the floor on the elbow towards the end of the match.
  • Ambrose did the Curb Stomp. Couple that with the inordinate amount of finisher-kickouts, and I wonder how much input Paul Heyman had on this show creatively.
  • Goldust being the first lumberjack to confront Kane seemed unintentional, but it was awesome. He and Stardust have been notoriously absent from the ring lately, which is a gross misuse of talent if you ask me.
  • Bray Wyatt finally promoted the leather butcher's smock to the main roster. Of course, Chris Jericho countered with a new jacket and by bringing back the countdown. Judging by the prematch entrance motifs, neither guy was playing around with this match.
  • Wyatt trip-bumped on the apron early on in the match, and later on, he drilled Jericho with an apron DDT. When in Southern California, you gotta break out the big apron bumps, per local custom set by Pro Wrestling Guerrilla.
  • Despite the early fireworks, I grew bored of the Jericho/Wyatt match. They had a ten minute match planned, but were given 15, so they had to S T R E T C H the match out just to fill time. Why couldn't the spillover in this match have been given to Paige and Lee?
  • Starting the Stephanie McMahon/Brie Bella match with a lock-up, a visually awkward one at that, was not the right call. Shouldn't Bella have wanted to rip McMahon's hair out and feed it to her, Million Dollar Man-style?
  • McMahon mockingly did the YES! chant during the match, which was a great heel move except the audience did it right along with her. I'm not sure whether they mimed it in solidarity with Daniel Bryan or if they really were rooting for the evil boss, but either way, it just felt wrong.
  • Bella seemingly was about to get a comeback, and she sized up McMahon for a plancha on the outside. However, McMahon, almost perfectly in sync with the moment where Bella was between the ropes, slam dunked her onto the second cable like she was a basketball. I may still be agog over seeing it done (four times, since my Network feed reset twice and then on the third try when it finally stopped showed the replay), but that sequence might have been my favorite WWE spot all year.
  • Triple H ate a baseball slide from Bella at one point, and he recoiled as if he'd been shot. The sequence brought a smile to my face, but someone on Twitter pointed out that he gave her more than he ever gave CM Punk physically. I almost laughed, then I remembered that the payoff to the Summer of Punk 2: PUNK HARDER was a ladder match between Trips and Kevin Nash and started sobbing profusely.
  • Nikki Bella heel turn! Nikki Bella heel turn! The divergence in personalities and gear has finally paid off!
  • The first remarkable thing to happen in the Roman Reigns/Randy Orton match didn't even involve them. As they brawled on the outside, former WCW World Heavyweight Champion DAVID ARQUETTE was spotted in the front row.
  • Reigns didn't wrestle the best match the whole way through, but he finally showed enough competence towards the end to give hope that he won't take FOREVER to grow into the main event role he's about to be given. A lot of that credit needs to go to Orton, who has finally blossomed into the guy WWE needed him to be. Funny comparison, but maybe Reigns is closer to Orton than he is to Cena?
  • That Superman punch countered into a RKO was pretty tight, no matter how anyone looked at it.
  • The main event had two really good stories being told, one of which I'm not sure most people picked up on. The first one was easy to spot. The narrative tries to dictate all the time that John Cena has all these massive odds to overcome, and yet he never lives up to it because he's always the favorite in reality. This match actually was laid out to paint him as an underdog, and he played that role so well. The second story tied back into Extreme Rules '12. That match was far more even than this one would end up being. Why did Cena end up offering such feeble resistance? It had to do with the build. Paul Heyman, and through his pre-taped promos, Lesnar, both changed the narrative to make Lesnar seem more indomitable than last time. In other words, Cena, the character, got shook bad. Like really bad, so much so that he blindly and stupidly went in to attack Lesnar from jump instead of letting the fight come to him like he would against guys like Orton or Wyatt. Someone in the writers' room paid attention.
  • Lesnar opening with the F5 and then settling into his BARRAGE of German suplexes before getting into the "basic moves" felt a lot like the final fight in Punch-Out!!. Depending on which version of the game you had, Mr. Dream/Mike Tyson would start out throwing bomb uppercuts that would knock you the fuck down unless you dodged them, and then he'd settle into the jabs and taunting. Lesnar followed that formula to a tee and thus became fully actualized.
  • Keeping on the Punch-Out!! thread, Lesnar even talked massive amounts of shit while Cena was down on the canvas and danced around with a goofy grin on his face. Put boxing gloves on him, and he'd fit swimmingly in the next sequel to the game.
  • Lesnar tossed 16 German suplexes, four for each German commentator!
  • Even towards the end, when Cena hooked in the STF due to Lesnar's hubris, Lesnar shrugged it off and segued it right into the finish of the match. Cena got in barely any meaningful offense. It was a squash match, and one that the crowd was absolutely ready to see. Surreal in 2014.

Match of the Night: Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose, Lumberjack Match - Lumberjack matches in WWE rarely, if ever, turn out to be entertaining affairs. Basically, dudes just get thrown to the outside for show, let the other wrestlers who are getting a cheap payday do most of the work, and end up with some kind of rat-faced heel begging off a wide-eyed babyface en route to a decisive finish. Even though Ambrose and Rollins had done nothing but work magic in their WWE tenures to date, the consensus seemed to think that they couldn't perform a miracle and make a lumberjack match. Unsurprisingly, they proved everyone wrong once again.

The biggest reason why the match worked was embedded in their DNA. Both as members of The Shield and post-breakup, Rollins and especially Ambrose have become awash in the spirit of anarchy. Rollins attempting escape and then using Ambrose's wild flailing fury to distract the rest of the lumberjacks so he could get away held such rich psychology. The total, systemic failure of the lumberjacks was a staggering sight, to the point where Corporate Kane's appearance in the match made total sense. In fact, the guys surrounding the ring played such a vital role in how well this match played out. Stardust, Goldust, and the Usos blocking off Rollins at the pass was just as big a moment as Ambrose reinventing crowd surfing with that elbow from the top or leaping over the barricade doing his patented table run.

But both former Shield-mates deserve most of the credit for creating what was by far the best lumberjack match I've ever seen and perhaps the best match of this stipulation of all-time. Whether Ambrose jumped into the throbbing throng holding Rollins in place or Rollins bumping over the barricade onto a set-up chair, the two brought out all the crazy that was expected of them without ever wasting a movement.

Overall Thoughts: WWE perfecting the art of the "special event"/pay-per-view in the later days of the medium has to be either the funniest development or at least an encouraging sign that even when the narrative gets wonky from a week to week basis that something is waiting at the end of the bumpy road. SummerSlam was at least the third masterclass in 2014, and the fifth nearly perfect event since Money in the Bank 2011. From Dolph Ziggler and The Miz setting the tone early all the way through the surprising yet satisfying end to the show, the event held serve the entire night, even through some of the slower spots.

Additionally, even the lower point matches, Stephanie McMahon vs. Brie Bella and Roman Reigns vs. Randy Orton, had eye-popping spots. McMahon's slam dunk counter of the Bella plancha was perhaps the roughest, stiffest spot all year long, and it came from a part-timer and the acknowledged consensus least-talented performer on the card having timing and chemistry enough to pull it off in a visually stunning manner.

The beauty in the card, however, was in the way that discarded match types and layouts were used to elevate the whole. Lumberjack matches are the chickens-in-a-can of wrestling stipulations, and Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins (with the help of about 21 of their closest friends) turned it into coq au vin. Having a squash match serve as the template for a main event of one of the big three events in the year 2014 invites disaster, but Brock Lesnar giving John Cena the thrashing of his life was like finding a ham hock in the pantry to go with the black beans you were planning on cooking. If SummerSlam was a Chopped basket, then WWE and its combined roster turned in such a dish that would impress even Geoffrey Zakarian.

Of course, the prospect of an afterglow being dulled by week after week of the same WWE television that was presented between Money in the Bank and now is daunting. WWE right now has a disconnect between its pay-per-view product and the week-to-week television, whereas in 2013, the opposite was true. This company has no excuse to be so inconsistent with its resources, but then again, NXT consistently delivers on a macroscopic level. Maybe the problem is direction at the top.

But for now, I will revel in the glory of yet another special event emphasizing the first word in the phrase. This year's SummerSlam will go down in history as one of the most satisfying events in history, and even if weekly TV doesn't do it for me, events like these continue to justify the existence of The WWE Network, at least personally.