I’m not really sure I can explain what it is that I enjoy about professional wrestling. By all accounts, it’s probably one of the single-most ridiculous spectacles in the combined worlds of sports and entertainment, a mash-up of (mostly) elaborately-staged fights and soap opera drama. I know it isn’t real, and yet I still suspend my disbelief and enjoy it unironically. I know it’s become hip to have an ironic appreciation of things considered “low culture,” but for the record, I enjoy nothing “ironically.” As best as I can explain, it’s the inherent ridiculousness of what’s on display that draws me in–and it may also have something to do with me being from Kentucky.
It’s still real to me, dammit.
Last night, WWE celebrated the 25th anniversary of its summer pay-per-view spectacular SummerSlam, and since fellow Comic Vault scribe “Savage” Nick Sandilands failed to watch it, the daunting task of reviewing the extravaganza is falling upon the shoulders of me, Double R, Ragin’ Roger Riddell himself. Ooooooooooo, yeah.
First off, for anyone who isn’t familiar with WWE and the wild world of professional wrestling, SummerSlam is WWE’s second biggest event behind the March/April Wrestlemania juggernaut. When I first started watching pro-wrestling back in 1997, when WWE was still WWF and they were in the midst of the lewd and outlandish “Attitude Era.” At the time, there were five pay-per-view events out of the yearly 12 that were considered the big ones: Wrestlemania, SummerSlam, Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, and King of the Ring. They existed roughly in that order of importance, and the first four in that list were the company’s originals. King of the Ring hasn’t existed as a pay-per-view for around a decade now, though, cutting the big PPVs down to just the original four (plus the less important other eight). The Royal Rumble’s importance also now arguably trumps that of the Survivor Series.
That said, SummerSlam’s 25 years of existence leave a lot for the event to live up to. The Undertaker fought Ted DiBiase’s fake Undertaker at the event in 1994, and the pay-per-view’s history is littered with all manner of high octane gimmick bouts from boiler room brawls and casket matches to cage matches featuring stars that read like a who’s who of the business’ best.
When it comes to the era I’m most fond of, several years stand out in particular. 1997’s event is probably best known for Owen Hart’s botched piledriver that broke Steve Austin’s neck. 1998 had an amazing main event for the WWE Title with Steve Austin versus the Undertaker, plus a pulse-pounding ladder match for the Intercontinental Title between The Rock and Triple H (though that year was somewhat tarnished by the Insane Clown Posse’s live performance). In 2000, one of my favorite moments in the history of the event happened when Shane McMahon took a fall from the top of the stage set during a Hardcore Championship match with martial artist Steve Blackman, plus there was a great triple threat match for the WWE Title that year during the feud between The Rock, Triple H, and Kurt Angle.
I’m not trying to say there hasn’t been a great SummerSlam since the “Attitude Era,” because that wouldn’t be true. We had The Rock versus Brock Lesnar and an amazing Shawn Michaels/Triple H “street fight” 10 years ago, and last year featured CM Punk going over John Cena for the WWE Title in a match that featured some of the loudest crowd pops I had heard in years. What I’m saying is, 25 years builds a lot of moments like that to live up to.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get to the match-by-match review of last night’s show, which took place in Los Angeles for the fifth year in a row.
Chris Jericho vs. Dolph Ziggler
Chris Jericho is probably my all-time favorite wrestler. I can’t say I feel the same for his band, Fozzy, but the guy’s an amazing performer and got that “best in the world” reputation for a reason. Dolph Ziggler is a guy who’s quickly rising through the ranks and will more than likely be pushed as a World Heavyweight Champion by the end of the year. I honestly expected him to go over in this match since Jericho’s about to briefly leave wrestling again to tour with his band, but can definitely understand why he didn’t.
The one big reason here that Jericho went over is probably to keep him looking like a legitimate competitor. He has, after all, put his opponents over at every pay-per-view since he returned, so the win (coupled with his recent face turn) makes him look more competent in the eyes of the fans and puts a nice cap on the “Has Chris Jericho lost his touch?” angle they were running. Ziggler is on the verge of being a main event competitor. He sells moves like a champ and the way he yelled and berated Jericho in the match last night was a nice touch, but he’s perhaps not quite there yet as far as going over a guy like Jericho at an event like SummerSlam.
Daniel Bryan vs. Kane
This was a pretty standard match with a lot of solid action building off of the “anger management” feud between the two. Daniel Bryan’s “Yes!’ and “No!” chants have gone way over with the crowd in the last year, and the finish was believable as far as a guy Bryan’s size beating a super heavyweight like Kane. Given the backstage tantrum from Kane following the match, this is a feud that’s likely to continue.
Rey Mysterio vs. the Miz (c) – Intercontinental Championship
I used to hate the Miz back when he debuted. He still annoys the hell out of me, but I guess that’s a sign he’s doing his job right. Anyhow, he’s grown by leaps and bounds since his debut and deserves every push he’s had. In keeping with his frequent big-event, superhero-inspired costume themes, Rey Mysterio had an all-black mask last night with Batman-style ears and entered wearing a cape. The match featured a ton of great spots, including a hurricanrana reversed into a powerbomb by the Miz–a rarity these days, given the WWE’s PG rating and their avoidance of using moves that target the neck. Ultimately, Miz went over. Not surprising, given what I’ve heard about how Mysterio’s a guy who doesn’t mind losing to younger talent in order to legitimize them. Perhaps it might be a good idea to place him in a tag team with fellow luchador Sin Cara to help with WWE’s current efforts to bring back a solid tag division.
Alberto del Rio vs. Sheamus (c) – World Heavyweight Chamionship
Alberto del Rio continued to build up a much more aggressive side to his “Mexican aristocrat” heel persona last night during his bout with Sheamus. During the match, Michael Cole’s commentary had me laughing pretty hard for a moment after he talked about how Sheamus was bullied as a kid because he had red hair and ghostly white skin. He’s from Ireland. Everyone there has red hair and pale skin. (The WWE’s anti-bullying campaign also humors me a bit, as well, but mostly because they have heels, i.e. bad guys, break character for appearances as part of it. It kind of ruins the illusion for me.)
Anyways, Sheamus ultimately prevailed in the match after del Rio’s driver/assistant/personal ring announcer Ricardo Rodriguez distracted the referee and threw a shoe to him, which was ultimately caught by Sheamus and used on del Rio. Sheamus additionally pushed del Rio’s foot off of the rope during the pin fall before the ref could see, doubling the dirty win and throwing his future as a face into question.
Prime Time Players vs. Kofi Kingston & R-Truth (c) – WWE Tag Team Championship
This was a pretty by-the-book tag match. It’s unfortunate that the Prime Time Players’ on-screen manager, Abraham Washington, was released from his contract a few weeks ago after making a Kobe Bryant joke (“The Prime Time Players are like Kobe Bryant in a Colorado hotel–UNSTOPPABLE!”) on live TV and then making some questionable Tweets about Linda McMahon’s Senate campaign, but those are the breaks in the ultra-PC world of PG WWE, which is becoming increasingly easy to confuse for the company’s former competition, WCW. He really added a lot to the PTP’s gimmick. Kingston and Truth win following a dive to the outside on Titus O’Neill and a What’s Up and pinfall on Darren Young in the ring from R-Truth.
John Cena vs. Big Show vs. CM Punk (c) – Triple Threat for the WWE Championship
Big Show was the wild card in this match, and I honestly thought John Cena was going to go over and win yet another WWE Championship here. I’m sure Cena’s a great guy in real life, but his super-sanitized character really doesn’t do anything for me and, to me at least, he’s just felt kind of forced on everyone over the age of 8 during the last few years. He’s Hulk Hogan reincarnated as a white-rapper-slash-super-patriot in jorts. Oddly enough, this is the closest to the main event a WWE Title match has come to the main event since the beginning of CM Punk’s over 300-day run, despite his matches constantly stealing the show. In a way, I kind of get it. Cena sells more merchandise and I guess that justifies burying your title. At the same time, it also potentially hurts its perceived validity in the long run–but at least it doesn’t get bounced around like a game of hot potato anymore.
Anyhow, this was a pretty great match. I can’t remember seeing Big Show booked this dominantly since his tag team run with the Undertaker in 1999. It’s a much more ideal characterization than the goofy, gentle giant that he’s predominately played the majority of his 13 years in WWE. At least once, I questioned whether or not Big Show might actually win the match. The match initially ended after Punk and Cena finally took down the Big Show and both applied their signature submission maneuvers to the giant at the same time, resulting in a confusing “no contest” and a “restart” to the match. Prior to the “restart,” I honestly thought that even that ending made sense–Punk, who is currently teetering between face and heel (very well, might I add), wouldn’t have to lose the title cleanly yet and the WWE could schedule a decisive Punk vs. Cena bout for Night of Champions. However, that would be too similar to the Punk/Cena storyline from last year.
Thus, the match begins again, Cena performs the Attitude Adjustment on Big Show, and Punk pushes Cena out of the ring and steals the pin on Show, retaining the belt. Also worth noting, this match had some of the loudest booing for Cena (who’s supposed to be a face) that I’ve heard during any event.
Kevin Rudolph Live Performance Segment
Can someone please tell me who Kevin Rudolph is and why this was necessary? This music was a strange choice for a wrestling show, and the DJing was definitely über late-’90s. Either this was staged primarily against a backing track or there was a lot of auto tune and no discernible sound from the guitar that Rudolph was apparently playing. Hell, I didn’t even hear guitar on the studio track WWE’s been running with all of the promos for this show. The terrible dancing by everyone at ringside was also unnecessary, and some of the WWE Divas dancing on stage seemed somewhat uncomfortable–but hey, that’s PG for you again. I would’ve rather seen a divas match (there wasn’t one on the entire card) than sit through that. There was probably even time for a Ryback squash match or a Brodus Clay segment instead of this.
Also of note, prior to this segment, Fred Durst was pointed out as a “celebrity” in attendance. The main pro-wrestling fan base is probably the only audience Durst still has any relevancy with outside of frat boys. Word is, he was allegedly kicked out of the event after the very non-PG move of flipping off the camera when it panned over to him. Smooth move, dickbag.
Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar
Triple H versus Brock Lesnar is one of those matches that never ended up happening during Brock’s initial run in WWE, back before he left to try out for the Minnesota Vikings and eventually landed in UFC. It makes sense that it would happen now, and the build-up was pretty solid, with Lesnar “breaking” Triple H’s arm earlier this year during a storyline where Triple H didn’t give Lesnar the contract perks he wanted. Last week, Lesnar made it even more personal, “breaking” the arm of HHH’s best friend, WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels.
This match didn’t play out as brutal as the Lesnar/Cena bout from Extreme Rules that ultimately saw Cena going over in an unbelievable finish. Lesnar/Triple H had a much more cerebral pace, with Lesnar focusing on Triple H’s once-broken arm and Triple H eventually focusing on Lesnar’s stomach. This was a great detail for anyone who knew about Lesnar’s issues with diverticulitis and the stomach surgeries that ultimately led to his departure from UFC. Lesnar sold every shot to his midsection pretty believably, as did Triple H with the shots to his arm. Ultimately, though, Lesnar followed up a Pedigree from Triple H with a pin reversal into the Kimura Lock, once again kayfabe breaking Triple H’s arm and leading to a tapout.
The pay-per-view ended about 10 minutes earlier than normal, with a broken and defeated Triple H refusing medical attention and slowly making his way to the back, setting up a potential future “broken fighter returns from the jaws of defeat” storyline.
Overall, this was a pretty decent pay-per-view. The matches were pretty solid, but, as mentioned before, it’s hard to compare it to the 24 other SummerSlams that came before it. The Rudolph performance really kind of killed my attention in the home stretch, but the majority of the matches were better than much of the other pay-per-views this year, with the exception of maybe the Punk/Jericho and Punk/Bryan feuds. Take out that live performance and it’s a four-star effort.