Summerslam is in five days, but the way the storylines have been progressing you wouldn’t know it. Last night was WWE’s last chance to sell you on the ‘biggest event of the summer.’ Was it successful?
A Flair For the Gold
I’ll be honest: this show didn’t have a lot going for it. Most of it was recaps, promo packages, or blatant advertising, and the matches we did get for the most part were either really short, sloppy or both. But there are three things in this life you can always count on: death, taxes, and really good promos from John Cena and Seth Rollins.
Oftentimes when one feuds with John Cena, the storyline is simply “you’re the best and I want to be the best, so I want to beat you,” or at least the minor variant “everyone thinks you’re the best but I’m gonna prove that I’m really the best.” Last night Rollins managed to subvert this trope somewhat, turning the story into Cena not being the hero he fancies himself as, but rather the villain, holding the audience hostage for the past decade. And the cure? Well, that’d be Rollins, of course. It’s a refreshing angle on a story we’ve seen dozens of times before.
Cena, for his part, took the story in a bit of a different direction, turning his attention to something that’s being discussed on the interwebs with increased frequency lately: how close Cena is to Ric Flair’s record setting magical 16th World Heavyweight Championship reign. It’s a sore subject for a lot of people, and one that I’m personally ambivalent about. On one hand, the 16 (officially recognized by WWE–Flair claims he’s a 21 time champ) reigns are Ric Flair’s claim to fame, and it’s always a little upsetting when a record you’ve been so familiar with for so long is broken, especially by someone you may not be so fond of. On the other hand, though, of course this is going to happen eventually, and love him or hate him it’s hard to deny Cena’s tireless work ethic and passion for professional wrestling.
Anyway, Cena brilliantly tied his beef with Rollins into a much bigger story: he alleged that Triple H hand picked Rollins, and gave him all the tools to succeed (including the Pedigree) as a way to ensure Hunter’s legacy never dies. He’s the next generation, much like Hunter was the ‘evolution’ of Ric Flair. So instead of the potential 16th championship reign being a footnote in this story or a piece of trivia, he managed to link Rollins to Flair in a way that is both logical and interesting.
I wasn’t particularly jazzed for this feud at the beginning—in fact, I was pretty damn disappointed when it turned out Cena would be the next challenger for Rollins’ throne. But as he is wont to do, Cena invested me by cutting one hell of a promo that made everything tie together. Suddenly I’m invested in Triple H’s—and hell, maybe even Ric Flair’s—role in all of this.
The Beast’s Homecoming
Last week, they advertised this week as “Same arena, same time,” meaning this would be the first time Brock Lesnar would be in the same building as The Undertaker since their epic brawl a few weeks ago. The showdown culminated in a main event segment that saw Paul Heyman cut another absolutely brilliant promo. I swear, every time Paul Heyman says anything it’s the best promo he’s ever cut. This one saw the advocate herald the homecoming of The Beast in the form of a battle song. The gong hit pretty early, which in hindsight seemed to be a mistake, but Heyman thought on his feet and used it as fuel to deride Undertaker’s attempt as using “Jedi mind tricks” to get into the head of Brock Lesnar—his usual tactics aren’t going to work on this foe, who Undertaker has never defeated in a match.
Not enough can be said about how masterful Paul Heyman is at his craft. He could sell me on El Torito vs. Blue Pants as the main event of Summerslam if given enough time, so when he’s putting over legendary performers such as Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker, it’s real magic.
Eventually the gong hit again and Undertaker appeared in the ring where he hit yet another low blow, so at this point it’s officially becoming ‘a thing’ that Undertaker is resorting to dirty tactics to get the upper hand on Lesnar. Is it a full-blown heel turn? Hard to say, but kicking Lesnar in the junk in front of a hometown crowd that was ecstatic to see him is about as heelish as it gets. I’d love for Undertaker to stick around until WrestleMania 32, especially if he was a heel. The Undertaker’s gotten by on nothing more than the mystique of his character for the past five or so years, so adding some new wrinkles to the legend that is the Deadman would be a hell of a way to go out.
Taker’s use of dirty tactics has added at least some intrigue to the story as well. Yes, he’s back to avenge the breaking of the streak fifteen months later, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that he waited so long because it must have instilled a huge amount of self doubt. Is he still the Phenom? Can he still get it done? These are the questions that are presumably going through his head, and the answer seems to be no, at least not with the same authority he once had.
A position of vulnerability is one that Undertaker has basically never been in in his career, so it’s about the most interesting thing they can do with him at this point. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess, but that’s half the fun.
The Rest of the Card
- The two main event matches had a pretty good showing last night, but when it came to just about everything else, the writers apparently took a night off. The show started with an Authority ‘promo’ that was really nothing more than an advertisement for Summerslam. We harp on the ‘show, don’t tell’ concept in comics a lot here, and that can extend to wrestling as well. Don’t just tell me these matches are big, show me why they matter. I didn’t get a lot of that last night.
- Jon Stewart was announced as the guest host of Summerslam, though, and as a big Daily Show fan that’s pretty neat. Next celebrity inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame, anyone?
- Haven’t we seen Orton/Cesaro vs. Sheamus/Owens at least a couple times now? These four guys get the standard “kill two birds with one stone” booking segment, but at least it was a pretty good match. That is, until the end, where a string of odd, uncomfortable botches really threw everything off kilter.
- I like Luke Harper. I like Roman Reigns. I did not like Luke Harper vs. Roman Reigns. What a slow, plodding match from two guys who can usually go. There’s a lot of talk about family in this one, which leads one to believe Roman or Dean is going to turn on the other. That would certainly be shocking, but we’ll see. I’m not sure if they’ll pull the trigger on turning one of two of their more popular faces right now.
- The good news: Becky Lynch got her first singles match on Raw. The bad news: it was against Tamina Snuka, easily the least talented and charismatic one of the nine Divas involved in the Revolution. It showed in this match, too–forgettable.
- Dolph Ziggler is finally back, but I wonder if it was too little too late. He got a monster reaction from the crowd which was awesome, but the booking of this feud seems very scattershot. Lana and Summer Rae have absolutely carried this entire feud, so it would have only made sense to make the Summerslam showdown a mixed tag of some sort, but alas, it’ll be a one on one match between the Show Off and the Bulgarian Brute. Hard to complain at the end of the day though—both guys are great at what they do, so this match could just steal the show Sunday night.
- The Miz is one of the more entertaining guys on the roster, and consistently gets some of the most heat of anyone. Why is he being squashed in a couple of minutes by Ryback? I really hope this is just so it’s that much more of a surprise when he walks away with Intercontinental gold at Summerslam.
- It felt like the 8 man tag match was thrown in last minute when they realized they still had 10 minutes to fill. What a poorly booked match. El Torito attacks Xavier Woods, even though Woods just allowed Fernando (or was it Diego? Who knows?) to hit the Backstabber, and even though they were on the same team last night. Very weird booking in a quick, pointless match.
- That Stardust/Barrett promo, though. I’ve been down on King Barrett for weeks now, because it seems that WWE is down on him. He felt randomly thrown into the Stardust/Neville feud as a warm body to necessitate a tag match involving Stephen Amell, but the promo last night crowning Barrett the ‘Cosmic King’ and Barrett seeming into it went a long way to making it feel way more cohesive.
- I was very much looking forward to Sasha Banks vs. Nikki Bella, but unfortunately it wasn’t really the great match I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, it was alright, and honestly probably one of the better matches on a Raw that was very light on actual wrestling. But it could have been a lot better. The crowd chanting for JBL and Lesnar didn’t help, either, but I can’t really say I blame them when they sat through a Raw that was extremely lackluster. Regardless, Sasha gets a huge win on the Divas Champ, submitting her with the Banks Statement.
Besides the Cena/Rollins and Undertaker/Lesnar segments, this show was hot garbage, and did little to sell any of Summerslam‘s undercard matchups. The card still sounds solid on paper, though, so I’ll reserve judgement, especially after this year’s WrestleMania which was easily a top 5 ‘Mania despite having one of the worst buildups ever.