SummerSlam (2014) – Staples Center (Los Angeles, CA) – August 17, 2014 – Main Event: WWE World Heavyweight Championship: John Cena (c) vs. Brock Lesnar (with Paul Heyman) – Announcers: Michael Cole, John Bradshaw Layfield, Jerry “the King” Lawler; Pre-Show: Renee Young, Booker T, Alex Riley, and Ric Flair.
I never thought I’d see a night like SUMMERSLAM 2014.
I am not surprised that Brock Lesnar defeated John Cena to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion due to the simple fact that I could not see the WWE devaluing Lesnar’s victory over the Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX. What I am surprised about is how it happened, which was a near total and absolute beat down.
The WWE turned the WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match into a squash match.
And it was terrible.
And it was incredible.
And it helped make their match into one of the most memorable Championship matches I’ve ever seen. When I watch a PPV, I want to see things I don’t see on RAW and I want to see storyline chapters start and end. I want spectacle, and Brock Lesnar and John Cena put on a spectacle. Yeah, Brock beat the hell out of Taker at WrestleMania XXX, but it is widely regarded now that he actually did beat the hell out of the Undertaker, that the man with the most revered streak in wrestling history was wrestling most of the match hurt.
But this … this was John Cena! Love the guy or hate the guy, Cena is the biggest name in the business and never cheats the fans, so unless he gets hurt, you’re not seeing John Cena play jobber. Yet that is exactly what he did. In a WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match. In a PPV. At SUMMERSLAM.
A few hours later and I’m still blown away it happened.
Lesnar/Cena was a purposely terrible match and an amazing story. One advantage wrestling has always had over boxing and MMA and baseball and football and soccer, of course, is that it’s constructed entertainment. To trot out Triple H’s favorite line of 2014, having a dud of a championship match at a PPV is not what’s “best for business.” It makes little sense to anger your fanbase by having a championship match that purposely puts on a bad show. Yet, that’s what the WWE did on this night. They sent their Superman out to the ring and had him roll over for Brock Lesnar.
Blood. Urine. Vomit. Repeat. (Sign of the night.)
John Cena solidified his status as the Greatest Company Man in WWE history by letting Brock treat him like a sack of potatoes. It was one of his greatest performances and I mean that completely and totally without any kind of snark or glee. By letting himself get dominated in this way, Cena sold the Beast Incarnate in the best possible manner. In one match, Cena sold Brock as the Baddest Man in Wrestling, continued to build on the legend of Brock’s match against Taker at WrestleMania, helped protect Taker’s legacy, and set up his own inevitable comeback to defeat Lesnar at Survivor Series or the Royal Rumble or WrestleMania.
While Cena humbling himself like this certainly doesn’t put any doubt into anyone’s mind about him beating Lesnar in the future, by suffering this kind of defeat, it extends the storyline and opens up some new avenues for Cena. If it’s a standard match than the aftershocks are standard and the post-SUMMERSLAM Raw sees a defiant Cena talking about how he gave it his all and it was a close fight and maybe how Heyman got involved and Cena lost his focus for a moment and all the stuff we usually see.
Not this time.
For the first time in a long time I’m actually looking forward to what John Cena says and does on Raw tonight.
And it wasn’t alone. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Stephanie McMahon and Brie Bella put on a better match than Bray Wyatt and Chris Jericho, and than Randy Orton and Roman Reigns. Those matches certainly weren’t bad, but Stephanie is one of the best things going in the WWE right now and this match has had a near-perfect build and while this was not a technical match, it had loads of drama and animosity. Stephanie has turned herself into a captivating performer; I’ve said it before that I’ve marked out nearly every time Stephanie has been on screen in her career, but this current incarnation of the “Billionaire Baroness” as she was promoted in the opening is the best, yet.
This match had one of the best spots of the night, too. With Steph outside the ring, Brie launched herself through the ropes and Steph turned it on her, slamming Brie’s face into the edge of the canvas. Just awesome. The crowd, too, recognized Steph’s in-ring performance, chanting “You’ve still got it!” as she pulled Brie around like a rag doll. Steph hasn’t wrestled in a decade and it didn’t look like she had any ring rust to knock off.
Like many people, I saw the heel turn for Nikki Bella coming a few weeks back, but that doesn’t alter how well executed it was. After Stephanie and Brie knocked each other around a bit, Brie was on the verge of winning when she put Steph in the Yes! Lock when Trips pulled the ref out of the ring. Brie followed that up by diving at Hunter through the ropes, hitting him with her boots and then standing over him as she led the crowd in a round of the “Yes!” chant.
Nikki got into the ring, trapping Stephanie between her and her sister, and then pulled Steph out of the way to drop Brie to the canvas with a pretty darn good forearm, allowing Stephanie to pick up the win after delivering a Pedigree.
I tweeted a few weeks ago that Nikki’s career highlight was her sister slapping Stephanie in the face but she’s got her own highlight now, and I’m sure that’s the angle we’ll see played up going forward. It’s a smart move – Brie is better as a face and Nikki is better as a heel, so let’s see how this plays out for a bit. I’m loving this storyline, though, and I didn’t think I’d ever love a storyline with the Bellas in it. Full credit to Brie for becoming a quality performer; even if Steph blows her off the screen every time they’re together, Brie has been able to use that to good effect.
This match, just like many of the matches at SUMMERSLAM 2014, does exactly what I’ve been calling for over these last few PPVs: good matches that advance the overall storyline. I want to see chapters begin/end at PPVs, and most of the matches on this night did that; in fact, the only match that really didn’t do that was the Bray Wyatt/Chris Jericho contest, as I’m still not sure where this angle is going or even why Wyatt is focused on Jericho other than the fact that the WWE needs to have him in an angle with the biggest possible face he can defeat and that means Y2J.
I’m abut 1,000 words deep into this review and I still haven’t talked about the best match of the night.
Time to change that.
Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins put on the best Lumberjack Match I’ve ever seen. Now, I generally hate Lumberjack Matches, so that’s not a high bar for a match to jump, but Rollins vs. Ambrose is the Feud of the Year, to this point. These guys keep raising the bar on one another, taking their battles from the ring to the crowd to backstage to the parking lot. This build has been perfect, and Rollins and Ambrose have shined while former Shield-mate Roman Reigns fights higher up the card but without this kind of in-ring success.
Both men have hand their post-Shield characters set up perfectly. I don’t know who came up with Rollins’ “I didn’t sell out. I bought in to the evolution of Seth Rollins” line but it’s the best line of the year. I had some fear over the whole “I’m a wildman” angle they were playing up with Ambrose, but the dude is a star: hiding in the trunk of Seth’s car, hiding in a birthday present for Hulk Hogan, making Rollins believe he’ll never get a chance to cash in the Money in the Bank contract while Ambrose is lurking … Ambrose is just plain, old fashioned, good television.
At SUMMERSLAM, they delivered their best in-ring work to date, quite often spilling outside the ring to keep the Lumberjacks involved.
As I mentioned, I dislike Lumberjack Matches, but Rollins and Ambrose played this perfectly. With neither guy a big favorite with the ‘jacks, each wrestler got manhandled outside of the ring. The Lumberjacks, too, put on a good show, with the faces mostly aligning with Ambrose’s interests and the heels with Rollins. I enjoyed the heck out of Damien Sandow dressing as a Lumberjack, as his ongoing identity crisis finally reached the top of the mountain by dressing as a lumberjack for a Lumberjack Match. I think Sandow’s whole storyline has been a complete waste of his talent over the summer, but his outfit tonight was pretty funny.
I was also fascinated/amused by whatever the hell Rob Van Dam was doing at ringside. He alternately seemed to look like he was stoned and couldn’t find his dealer, and like he was departing stoner wisdom to Fandango: “Hey man, be cool. It’s all good. Just relax and be cool. Wait, you’re a dancer? That’s cool. I never noticed before.”
Ambrose and Rollins took their fight into the crowd and the lumberjacks went with them. Rollins tried to escape down the side and out the back, but he was interrupted by a gaggle of faces, who carried him back to the ring, where Ambrose jumped off the turnbuckle to crash into all of them. Spot of the night.
Worried that things were going to go in a non-Authority-pleasing manner, Kane (back in his suit) came down to the ring to interfere. He did, and then Goldust jumped into the ring to confront him. I know it’s a little thing but there was something so right about seeing Dusty Rhodes’ kid playing the locker room veteran that it made my night. Goldust’s act caused hell to break loose and all the Lumberjacks jumped into the ring for a mini brawl, that then lead to distracting the ref long enough for Rollins to drill Ambrose with the MitB briefcase and get the win.
There were other matches on the night, but they were all obliterated by these top three matches. All of them, however, had something to offer:
Dolph Ziggler won the Intercontinental Championship over the Miz, finally giving him another run with a title. It’s as deserved as anyone in the company, but I’m not really sure where they’re going to go with Ziggler (which isn’t a bad thing – I like to be surprised). Since Ziggler turned face, he’s been the company’s Worker Face (where Alberto Del Rio was their Worker Heel), able to put on a good match with anyone on the roster (even Miz) but that was sort of his thing. The WWE has treated the Intercontinental Champion as the “get over” guy in recent years, continually losing to guys the WWE is giving mini-pushes to in order to see how they work and how the crowd reacts. Ziggler was doing that without the belt, so now that he’s got it …
What I hope happens is that we’re headed for an Intercontinental/United States unification and a Sheamus heel turn. I love the idea of the U.S. belt but the WWE has shown no interest in using it as anything more than to give a wrestler something to carry to the ring with him. For me, I like the belts to be traditional: the U.S. Championship is for an up and coming guy, the Intercontinental Championship should signify the best wrestler in the company, and the WWE Championship the King of the Mountain. Sheamus is obviously way too high up the ladder to be the U.S. title holder in this arrangement, and I’m hoping we have him come out on Raw and say the exact same thing, turn heel, and get into a feud with Ziggler. I think both Sheamus and Ziggler are better as heels, but Ziggler’s got some momentum as a face now so run with it. Fold in Big E and Miz and you’ve got a nice four-way angle to run for a few months.
Paige took the Diva’s Championship from AJ (that’s 3 titles changing hands tonight! Another thing I called for last month) in their best match, yet. Paige and AJ’s program has been a little weak because they don’t have great in-ring chemistry, and the “Frenemy” angle just isn’t believable since they’ve never been pals. If Paige was running this with Emma, sure, or if they redid the Trish/Mickie James angle and had Paige start as AJ’s fan/sidekick, then time would allow it to work. But I don’t buy it and I don’t buy that not buying it helps them, the way not buying that Miz is a Hollywood star helps him.
Their match was solid, though. I like how Paige is starting to play up the coy and violent parts of her persona, like when she crawled over a prone AJ and then began viciously head-butting her. And the whole cuddling and kissing the cheek of an unconscious AJ worked, too. It’s so much better than the “I’m crazy!” angle the WWE has far too many Divas resort to for their persona. AJ doesn’t yet seem totally committed to being a face (or the company doesn’t seem totally committed to her being a face), and I’m okay with that. I think there’s room for both Paige and AJ to try and operate in that middle ground.
Both women have benefited from the Steph/Brie angle, though, allowing them to be the secondary Divas program (a secondary Divas program! Progress!) and work out the kinks. Paige’s viciousness (her Rampage DDT finish is spectacular) and AJ’s jump off the top rope to the floor demonstrate that they’re working in the right direction. I’d actually like to see them become uneasy friends moving forward – pull a Teddy Long and have them tag team with one another against Natalya and It Doesn’t Matter. Heck, I’d even do some backstage and non-arena skits with them, too, something where they’re engaged in “friend” activities (having dinner, driving to the arena) and acting unfriendly towards one another. Anything to build the story outside of the ring, because as we’ve seen with Steph and Brie, all of that can help sell their eventual match.
Rusev forced Jack Swagger to lose consciousness after a lackluster match. Blah.
Wyatt defeated Jericho, and it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t memorable. I think we should be past wrestlers being freaked out by Bray walking around all upside down crablike. Here’s some technical advice, sports entertainers, when Wyatt does that, he’s actually really, really vulnerable. Jump on him.
Roman Reigns beat Randy Orton in a match that never really picked up. Orton looked bored and Reigns just isn’t good enough to carry a long match all by himself. If he’s not throwing a Superman punch or kicking someone in the head outside the rin, or hitting them with a spear, he’s just sort of a plodder, at this stage in his career. He’s got the look, though, and he’s got three killer signature moves, so he’ll likely continue to work at the top of the card.
The best part of the match was seeing David Arquette shit-talk Reigns. I like to think he was reminding Reigns which one of them has been world champion while taunting him about knowing more wrestling moves.
SUMMERSLAM 2014 was a very excellent PPV.
FULL CARD RESULTS
1P. Rob Van Dam defeated Cesaro – Singles match
2. Dolph Ziggler defeated The Miz (c) – Singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship
3. Paige defeated AJ Lee (c) – Singles match for the WWE Divas Championship
4. Rusev (with Lana) defeated Jack Swagger (with Zeb Colter) by knockout – Flag match
5. Seth Rollins defeated Dean Ambrose – Lumberjack match
6. Bray Wyatt defeated Chris Jericho – Singles match
7. Stephanie McMahon defeated Brie Bella – Singles match
8. Roman Reigns defeated Randy Orton – Singles match
9. Brock Lesnar (with Paul Heyman) defeated John Cena (c) – Singles match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
MATCH OF THE NIGHT: Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins in a Lumberjack Match.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “Who’s my bitch?” Stephanie McMahon to Brie Bella.
MOMENT OF THE NIGHT: Goldust jumping into the ring to confront Kane.
MOMENT OF THE NIGHT #2: Dean Ambrose off the top rope and into Seth Rollins, who was being carried on the shoulders of the lumberjacks.
MOMENT OF THE NIGHT #3: Coming out of the Sting promo to see the Sting mask in the crowd. Did you hear the crowd buzz?
MOMENT OF THE NIGHT #4: The smirk/smile on Stephanie’s face when she hit the ring before her match. This is a woman who loves her damn job and knows we love watching her do it. Heck, even her dominatrix superhero gear played right into her “I’m going to make you my bitch” comment from a few weeks ago.