Monday, August 24, 2015

I Heard Several Bells, Actually: SummerSlam '15 Review

Taker showed more fire at SummerSlam than he has in the last two years, but was it enough to overcome a dumb finish?
Photo Credit:
You'll want to watch this on The Network for about half the matches. Review written in in the TH style.

  • Sheamus used two Brogue Kicks to put down Randy Orton in the opener.
  • New Day won the Tag Team Championships when Kofi Kingston picked the bones on Diego after Titus O'Neil hit his Clash of the Titus.
  • Rusev and Dolph Ziggler ended in a double countout.
  • Stephen Amell and Neville defeated King Barrett and Stardust when Neville hit Barrett with the Red Arrow.
  • Ryback retained the Intercontinental Championship by pinning The Miz after Big Show knocked him out.
  • Dean Ambrose hit Bray Wyatt with Dirty Deeds, and Roman Reigns followed it up with a spear to get the win in a tag match that also featured Luke Harper.
  • Seth Rollins used a Jon Stewart chair shot on John Cena and a Pedigree to retain the WWE Championship and win the United States Championship.
  • Becky Lynch pinned Brie Bella with a pumphandle suplex to get the win for Team PCB in the Divas Elimination Trios match.
  • Kevin Owens took out Cesaro with a super fisherman's buster and a pop-up powerbomb.
  • Brock Lesnar appeared to have beaten Undertaker with the kimura when Taker tapped out. The timekeeper saw it, but the referee didn't and waved off the decision. Taker then gave Lesnar a low blow and put him in the Hell's Gate until he passed out to get the controversial win.

General Observations:
  • Jon Stewart came out to start the show, and he went right into how mad he was at The Streak ending. WWE resorting to stealing Jim Ross' one-man, spoken-word show material is pretty low, but I guess that's the price one pays for going head-to-head with NXT.
  • When Mick Foley came out and said he thought he was Stewart's backup for "Rock" instead of "Brock," I thought it was going to kick-start the build to that rumored match for WrestleMania 32. It may still come to pass, but nothing of the sort happened on the show. Boo-hoo.
  • As soon as Michael Cole introduced a French announce table, I immediately thought, "Oh, the Spanish table guys must be getting a reprieve from having their table wrecked tonight."
  • Sheamus bailed almost immediately (but not before a RKO tease) to snipe back at the crowd for the "You Look Stupid!" chants. Honestly, with how phoned-in Randy Orton was during the match, I might have preferred an extended crowd-heckling segment in place of this match.
  • Seriously, it looked like Orton was moving in quicksand for most of the match. It took him until he was called upon to give Sheamus an exploder over the top rope for him to look anywhere remotely alive.
  • New Day cut a promo on New York hip-hop and then parodied Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" before the big Tag Team Championship match. Given how big Jay is in the world of entertainment, I wondered how close that promo got to getting WWE banned from Barclays Center.
  • One of the marks of a great wrestler is how exciting they can make the most mundane shit. Kalisto turned a feeling out process with Darren Young into mind-boggling displays of aeronautical prowess most notably landing on his feet in a total backflip after Young appeared to hit him with a heel sweep. He needs to break from Sin Cara and soon.
  • Big E had a ton of really sweet power moves during the course of the match, including his always-impressive spear off the apron (Young being the victim this time). However, his best trait has and always will be slapping the belly on a dude he has in the abdominal stretch to the cadence of the "New Day Sucks" chants.
  • Seriously, either WWE needs to change the Sin Cara mask so he can see or drop the gimmick altogether, because he was sloppy as all hell during this match. It's getting to the point where you can't just keep fucking that chicken anymore, because the fuck-ups are too frequent and too embarrassing.
  • Between Lana dressing like an extra in a Paula Abdul video and Summer Rae looking like someone shot her with a sequin cannon, the female seconds in the Dolph Ziggler/Rusev match appeared to be in competition for who could win the Worst Dressed Award.
  • In theory, a good bearhug spot would be a welcome change from the standard chinlock resthold SOP, but the way Rusev had to hold Ziggler or the way Ziggler was situated while in the grasp made it look awkward. It went on far too long, and was a huge part of contributing to the aesthetic issues and possibly timing problems that plagued the match.
  • WWE booked a double countout at SummerSlam in 2015. That shit was iffy back when it was common in the early days of pay-per-view. Now, no one has any excuse to book that shit on a show people pay actual money for.
  • It can't be said enough how awesome the stylized-comic book vignettes and recaps for the Stardust/Stephen Amell/Neville feud have been, and the pre-match recap was the best one yet.
  • I loved Stardust calling out for Amell to get in the ring right away, but I wonder if he regretted it after Amell kicked him in the gut early on. That was the one move that looked like it might have connected a little harder than it should have during the whole card, which is saying something with Brock Lesnar in the fuckin' main event.
  • It's hard to look at any match with a rookie celebrity in it in the same light as a normal match, but Amell really did well here considering it was going to be his first and probably only match. It was all basic shit, sure, but he soldiered on.
  • One thing that bugged me was Neville attempting a second-rope Phoenix Splash, especially when the "default" variant had been established as one of Seth Rollins' rare special moves (that he'd actually use twice later on in the evening). I'm not sure if it's Neville's fault or if it's something the agents have to work out, but that's not the kind of move that needs to be redundant among more than one roster member.
  • The Miz came out looking like a weird, half-naked version of Kylo Ren, which given his movie star gimmick, may have been on purpose.
  • I was expecting utter dogshit for the Intercontinental Title three-way, but man, all three guys came out and hustled, bringing in some inventive spots and showing great smoothness in transition in some of those manic pin and finisher exchanges at the end. The match actually had positive entertainment value, which is shocking in several ways.
  • The Stewart/Paul Heyman interaction was irritating if only because Heyman singing "Glory glory Brock Lesnar" is grating beyond what should produce heel heat, but I couldn't help but smile at this zinger: "I guess we couldn't get David Letterman to host." I have grown weary of Heyman, but he still has his moments, I guess.
  • "This rivalry [between the Wyatt Family and Broken Shield] is going to continue and continue." -- Michael Cole, accidentally revealing WWE Creative's stock plan for most feuds
  • I want to put the beginning of that tag match, from the opening until Roman Reigns took out Bray Wyatt right after the latter said "LOOK AT HOW SMART I AM," in a bottle and sell it to an energy drink company. It was some of the best brawling I saw all year.
  • Wyatt is hit or miss in the ring at times, but when he's on, he's got the look of a sadist who can turn any match into a torture reel. When he snagged Dean Ambrose out of the air from the outside and threw him to the floor with the rope-hanging vertical suplex, I got a chill up my spine.
  • Reigns got taken out of the match early, and he didn't show back up on the apron until the tail end of Ambrose's face-in-peril run, which caused the crowd to chant "Roman's sleeping!" I give the lads and lasses an "A" for creativity on that one.
  • Regarding the finish of that match, I'm just gonna leave this tweet right here:
  • Seth Rollins came out for his match in a white version of his normal ring gear, which was the weirdest way to pay tribute to Minoru Suzuki (who did the same thing at WrestleKingdom 9) I've seen yet.
  • Between the blockbuster early on and then the suicide dive trio right after, Rollins seemed like he was working as a babyface, not that it was something to complain about, mind you.
  • The match almost came off the rails a few times early, first with Rollins doing his patented flying nothing into being countered off the top, this time into a questionable John Cena STF attempt, and second with Cena trying to do his wonky-ass springboard stunner again. On the latter, I hope this attempt makes him reconsider doing it altogether.
  • Cena playing defense on his face was brilliant psychology though, and even though it was smart, both from a kayfabe and a real life perspective, it heeled him just enough to match the tenor of the crowd. Protecting one's face is equated to vanity, which is always a heelish trait in wrestling.
  • I would have thrown my hands up in the air before saying "I ain't mad" and bowing to the troll genius of WWE had Cena won his 16th title with the Figure Four leglock. Just throwing it out there.
  • I don't care how much of a callback it was, if I were Cena, I never in a million years would have let Rollins come anywhere near my face with that knee again. Gutsy call.
  • Stewart's interference and then turn came off as ridiculously silly at first, but after a few minutes of reflection, it was brilliant.
  • Tamina Snuka fucking up Paige's "THIS IS MY HOUSE" taunt by saying "THIS IS OUR AREA" was just so a propos for her standing among the nine women in this Divas' Revolution. It was more than appropriate that she ate the pin almost immediately afterwards.
  • I guess I understand why Sasha Banks' ring time was at a minimum during this match, especially after the grueling, emotional duel she went through with Bayley the night before, but man, she could have added so much to the proceedings and was held out of the ring, mostly doing basic heat stuff before doing her one big dive out of the ring.
  • Paige tried hitting Nikki Bella with a baseball slide, but Bella sidestepped her, and I swear to God, I thought she punched her right in the ass afterwards. I think she just hit the back of the thigh though. However, that Alabama Slam follow up looked a bit too stiff to be done on the outside of the ring.
  • Speaking of heat, Paige's face-in-peril segment went on way too long. It bordered on excessive.
  • Lynch's snapmare looked about as stiff and rough as a Wyatt tossing suplex, which is great for the aesthetic, but maybe not so optimal for the person taking the move.
  • The sequence from Kevin Owens' tope con hilo on Cesaro to him jawing at Cole to Cesaro hitting him with a BARREL ROLL was some of the most beautiful HOSS FIGHTING one will see all year long. The fact that Cesaro can DO A BARREL ROLL is not surprising but still magnificent.
  • Cesaro running around the ringside area like he was hustling out a triple in baseball, only to be ole'd and rammed into the barricade was as beautifully tragic as it was brutal.
  • Owens' dedication to shit-talking during the match added a counterweight to Cesaro's dogged, silent heroic resolve. Seeing him shout "THAT'S WHY I'M THE MAN" at Cesaro before taking a flurry of hits was as pure a wrestling conceit as one will find between the bells.
  • The entire finishing sequence in the corner looked hairy at first, but once Owens hit the super fisherman's buster, it all made sense.
  • Undertaker came out of the gate looking spry and he kept up his intensity levels all through the match. Not taking a concussion within the beginnings of the match will do wonders, won't it?
  • I'm absolutely shocked that Taker actually absorbed multiple German suplexes. Maybe he's in better shape than most people assume.
  • Okay, Brock Lesnar is definitely younger than Taker, but JBL kept calling him a "Young Lion," and it really got my goat. He's pushing 40 and has had a long enough career to have become an icon in both pro wrestling and mixed martial arts. Bo Dallas is a young lion. Chad Gable's a young lion. Brock Lesnar is a seasoned veteran.
  • Just as prophesied, Lesnar put Taker through the French announce table with a F5.
  • Lesnar standing over Taker and shouting "I'LL KILL YOU, YOU SON OF A BITCH" was fantastic, but Taker spitting back "YOU'LL HAVE TO" was a great retort. In fact, they'd revisit that haughty call-and-response later when Lesnar sat up and laughed at Taker after a double-knockout spot, only to have Taker do his patented Dead Man sit up and mockingly laugh in his face.
  • That finish though, woof. Like, I understand wanting to run confusion, and it would have played off better if Kevin Dunn's production crew had gotten the shot of Taker tapping out to the kimura as it happened. But the first bell ringing had such a Montreal Screwjob feel to it that I almost groaned as it happened expecting Corporate Kane to have ordered the hit. At this point, I may have preferred Kane as an interloper to the finish to what was presented.
  • Of course, the cognitive dissonance of the announce team lauding Taker as a "valiant warrior" after he just rocked Lesnar from behind in the junk to get his submission applied cheaply just made things even worse.

Match of the Night: Seth Rollins (WWE) vs. John Cena (US), Winner Take All WWE World Heavyweight/United States Championship Match - Cena has had one hell of a year working a faux-super indie style, but one constant in all of his big, special matches has been him working as a subtle heel in front of a hostile audience. He was in the same situation tonight, and not only did he work his match, but Seth Rollins took the cue as well and worked as much of a babyface as he could have to turn in perhaps his best performance of the year all-told, or at least since the Royal Rumble. It was a fascinating study in how crowd dynamics and slight changes in alignment can not only freshen up characters, but heighten the quality of a match that in the past has fallen flat without the presence of Brock Lesnar involved.

Sniveling heel Rollins has been hit or miss all year, so seeing him coming out and hitting the big blockbuster and the plancha trio early on was a refreshing change of pace. He was always at his best as the suicidal bump taker and spot machine in The Shield, especially after the group had turned face, so watching him cultivate that offense in a singles capacity was a revelation. Cena didn't necessarily play up as the cocksure establishment automaton he did in Chicago against CM Punk, but he didn't necessarily have to do that to heel it up. Instead, it was the addition of caring so much about his own vanity, taking a page out of Miz's playbook and blocking all kinds of shots to the face so as to protect his nose, that added a bit of a prickish element to his game. Protecting an injured body part may be strategy, but it felt like Cena played it off for heat. Or I could have been dreaming the scenario.

Either way, whether or not one enjoyed this match completely is going to rest on the finish. Jon Stewart's turn was polarizing, but I look at it from the point of view that his interactions in WWE, whether with Rollins on the Daily Show or on WWE's turf have always seen him as a neurotic weasel who has never known when or what action to take. He wasn't Lex Luger knowing exactly how the script was supposed to go on turning on Sting; telegraphing his action in a way was the best course of action. It was a screwy finish that, even if it didn't make immediate sense, packed a wallop in the entertainment category. It was intrepid theater, and it fit the action that came before it.

Overall Thoughts: SummerSlam did not need to go four hours. The show felt bloated at times, no more than in the third match on the card, which definitely could have been saved for RAW next week after translating the return angle for Dolph Ziggler from last week to tomorrow. If you're going to do a double countout finish on pay-per-view, at least have the common decency to save it for fucking Battleground or some other B-or-C-level show that isn't your WrestleMania of the Summer. It isn't 1989 anymore; WWE has a shitload of time on free and cable television to advance stories without resorting to blue-balls finishes. But hey, when you promise four hours of run-time, you have to pad out the segments. It's a fault of production.

Production could be blamed for the confusion in the main event finish as well. The first time the bell rang came as such a shock because someone in the truck whiffed on catching the camera angle where Undertaker tapped out to the kimura. Well, it's not all production's fault, because running a finish like that at any point in time is stupid as fuck. But if you're going to run that kind of ending to a match, then it should probably be pulled off completely correctly, right? I guess it might help if a third Taker/Brock Lesnar match was really what was needed.

Of course, hating on a rubber match here might seem glib in the light of how surprisingly good that main event really was. Taker not getting concussed within the first five minutes of the match definitely helped matters, but at the same time, I'm not sure putting all your eggs into the Taker basket for a third time is too wise at this point. The tone of the feud isn't helping matters either. The whole thing is based off Undertaker being a sore loser and hitting a dude in the nuts repeatedly and then being lauded by commentary for being a valiant warrior. Then again, WWE loves itself some whiny pissboy protagonist characters.

But the negativity concentrated in those problem areas obscured the fact that SummerSlam wasn't necessarily a bad show. It was just a show that needed some culling. Even keeping the main event as is, you could have cut the Randy Orton/Sheamus match, especially if Orton was coming in sleepwalking worse than Brennan Huff and Dale Doback, some time off the heat segment on Paige in the Divas Trios match, and the Ziggler/Rusev match and probably ended up with a killer, memorable three-hour show. It's not just about having the time, but about knowing how to use it. But because of the overkill, SummerSlam will probably be remembered as a worse show than it actually was, and I'm not sure WWE doesn't deserve that fate, to be honest.