Wrestling Review: WWE SummerSlam 2015

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Written By: Mark Armstrong

Genre: Wrestling
Produced By: WWE
Format: Pay-Per-View
Date: August 23 2015
Location: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York, USA
Attendance: 15,702

The 28th annual SummerSlam seemed beforehand to be one of the biggest in the event’s history, partly due to the four-hour running time (a first for a non-WrestleMania PPV in WWE), and partly due to a stacked line-up which included ten matches, and with the top two bouts being a WWE World Title vs. United States Title winner-take-all clash between Seth Rollins and John Cena, and the rematch “too big for WrestleMania” between Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker, stemming of course from Lesnar ending Undertaker’s undefeated record at Mania back at WM 30. Did the event live up to its lofty hype? Let’s see …

The show began with a short exchange between SummerSlam host Jon Stewart and Mick Foley (and apparently Foley genuinely was there at Stewart’s request), further hyping what was to come on the PPV event. By the way, in something that I noticed last year but people only picked up on this year, the generic WWE set was used as the aisle for SummerSlam, with the screens showing SSlam graphics. This has been the case with all non-WM supershows for a while now (I think TLC 2013 or Royal Rumble 2014 was the last non-Mania PPV which didn’t use the usual titantron), but some commented on it at this show, partly due to the bigger-than-usual hype that made SummerSlam 2015 seem like a truly colossal card.

The opening contest pitted Randy Orton against Sheamus. The second PPV meeting of a feud which has lasted for several months with no real reason for it to exist, this was also the second time that these two have actually met at SummerSlam; they collided at this event five years ago for the WWE Title. Here, ironically, they probably had their best regular match yet, as the two exchanged many big moves before a hot crowd. It wasn’t a standout match that one will be desirous of seeing on a future DVD compilation, but it was a nice start to the show.

I expected Sheamus to win and he did, but I was surprised that he did so cleanly following a Brogue Kick which knocked Orton onto the ropes, forcing the Viper to be rebounded into a second match-winning Brogue Kick. This hopefully brings an end to this conflict, and seems to set Sheamus up for a future cash-in of his Money In The Bank briefcase (whether that would be successful remains to be seen). As for Orton, I can see him going on another of his little breaks as there’s nothing obvious for him right now going forward, and a heel turn is unlikely given that he only turned face again last November.

Next up was the WWE Tag Team Title four-way match. The New Day proved prior to the bell that they are an extremely entertaining and talented trio, and not just because they had the Brooklyn crowd chanting their names. Think about it: when this faction was formed at the tail end of last year, the act felt as dated and tired as anything WWE has put out. This meant that the three babyfaces were booed when they should have been cheered. After WrestleMania, WWE capitalised on this, and so The New Day turned heel, began parodying the negative chants to make it sound like they were actually being greeted warmly (they said “New Day rocks!” while fans said “New Day sucks!”). Over the last few months, they have hammed it up massively from the chants to the claps to the facials to the victory celebrations, and now? The New Day have arguably become very popular fan favourites, as was hoped to be the case nine months ago, and it’s all down to their own great work as opposed to storylines or directives from WWE. How great is that?

Anyway, The New Day delivered their best performances to date here on several levels. Their modified version of Empire State Of Mind by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys could have been an embarrassment, but ended up being what Americans would describe as a “Home Run”, something which was very entertaining and actually showcased some singing talent within the group. Onto the match (no, I didn’t forget about that), the squad along with The Prime Time Players, Los Matadores and The Lucha Dragons delivered a rather good match, highlighted by Big E’s insane spear through the ropes sending Darren Young to ringside and a stacked up double powerbomb in the corner by Titus O’Neil. During that move, Kofi Kingston sneaked in a tag which allowed him to pin Diego (or Fernando?) to bring the Tag Titles back to The New Day. Cue huge cheers from the hardcore fans (who loathed the ND gimmick a few months back) and a ridiculous yet hilarious post-match celebration by Kofi, Xavier Woods and especially Big E, who has shown more charisma than ever in the heel role. Oh, and Kofi and Big E tried to pin each other to become Champs early on in the match, a la The New Age Outlaws back in the Attitude Era. Overall, a terrific night for The New Day. On this occasion, New Day rocked!

Match three was Dolph Ziggler w/ Lana vs. Rusev w/ Summer Rae. In a nutshell, Rusev blamed his losses to John Cena on Lana, and the two divorced. Lana went with Dolph Ziggler, and after a Rusev foot injury, Ziggler himself was injured in the storyline by the Bulgarian Brute. In the meantime, Rusev introduced Summer Rae as his new bit on the side, but as one who dressed and at times spoke exactly like Lana. Summer began attacking Lana, with revenge coming in the form of a Ziggler comeback on Raw as he took out Rusev and even Lana hit an amazingly high kick on Rae. And so this match was an inevitability.

It was alright (Rusev’s standing senton was unexpected and Ziggler’s top rope X-Factor on Rusev looked good), but nothing too memorable. Interference from the two ladies was guaranteed, and so it proved. However, the finish being a double countout was not a popular outcome in the Barclays Center. I felt Dolph would win since I didn’t think he would lose just six days after a fairly anticipated return. But WWE obviously felt that Rusev couldn’t lose yet again on PPV, so we got a draw instead. A post-match fracas between Lana and Summer Rae indicated that the feud will continue, undoubtedly leading to a mixed tag bout at some point (probably at Night Of Champions). Once the match has happened, though, I’m not sure what will happen because Rusev will become nothing more than a mid-card heel if he loses the feud-ending match, but at the same time Dolph is unlikely to progress further if he doesn’t win this conflict. And can you really see Lana staying at Ziggler’s side for months or years on end?

The next match was the celebrity involvement showdown (which everybody thought going in would be the only bout with celebrity involvement; how wrong people were on that front), as Stephen Amell, who plays The Green Arrow on the US TV show, erm, Arrow, teamed up with Neville (whose finisher is the Red Arrow) to take on Stardust and King Barrett. The real story was Amell vs. Stardust, as Barrett was only a bit-part player until the moment when Amell finally got his hands on Stardust a fortnight ago on Raw. Neville has held things together in Raw and SmackDown matches with Stardust, but while it was important for him to be involved in this match, everyone was waiting to see what would happen when Amell locked horns with Stardust.

As it turned out, he did very, very well. Never once looking out of his league, the actor turned in a great performance. His moves were basic but well-executed, and he even hit a top rope dive on the bad guys. This was quickly followed by Neville hitting Barrett with the match-winning Red Arrow. The faces triumphing wasn’t a surprise, but it was unexpected that Stardust didn’t drop the fall. It’s possible that this feud isn’t over yet, and that Amell will face Stardust one-on-one in the near future. Whatever the case, I can’t see the Stardust persona lasting too much longer (even though he is playing the bizarre whack-job better than ever right now), with a return of his alter ego Cody Rhodes to come shortly thereafter.

Considering that SummerSlam was heavily hyped as a four-hour show, it was expected that the matches would be longer than usual for this particular event, so it was surprising that the Intercontinental Title Triple Threat match only lasted slightly more than five minutes, more so when you take into account that the feud between defending titleholder Ryback, Big Show and The Miz began way back on the June 1 episode of Raw, nearly three months ago. This rivalry has been fairly entertaining (Miz’s promo at Battleground was genuinely awesome, to quote Miz himself), but it has felt almost as stale as the Orton-Sheamus conflict. Ryback is arguably more popular now than he ever has (he was main eventing in 2012/3 but being greeted with “Goldberg!” chants every week; that doesn’t happen nowadays), so he is adding prestige to the IC belt, but Miz’s character hasn’t advanced enough to make this feud must-see, to once again quote Miz himself. Meanwhile, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether Show is meant to be a face or a heel (not for the first time), and his character is the stalest in WWE by far. That he doesn’t really have a character is part of the problem.

Still, the three-way match was perfectly acceptable for what it was. In hindsight, it perhaps benefited from being kept short on this show; had it exceeded ten minutes, I suspect that the three combatants would have been pelted with “Boring!” chants. Ryback’s Shell Shock on Big Show was a big moment (not the first time he’s done it, I know) and, as the biggest move of the match, it should have been the match-winner. Instead, Ryback pinned Show after Miz had nailed the big man, which tells me that Ryback isn’t quite finished with Miz yet. I see no reason for Show to continue pursuing either man. At this point, I think it’d benefit Show to take extended time off TV to refresh him, and have him return as a surprise entrant at Royal Rumble. Something tells me he won’t, however.

Match six seemed to have only one possible outcome beforehand. Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper, to me, seemed to set up only one ending: Ambrose turning heel on Reigns and costing his team the match, leading to a Reigns vs. Ambrose feud. The reasons are that Ambrose has gone as far as he realistically can as a babyface as of right now (not a knock on him, but having had WWE Title bouts with Seth Rollins, and faced many different heels, what else can he do as a face?), an Ambrose vs. Reigns feud would be fresh, and the Shield members’ “brotherhood” had been played up so much on WWE TV recently that it seemed inevitable that their “family” would fall apart at SummerSlam.

The only problem would have been that such an outcome would see the once-overpushed Roman lose yet again on PPV, and for the third supershow running, it would have been due to an attack by a third party (even if, here, it would have been his partner). Plus, I probably wasn’t the only one expecting such a development because nearly everywhere I looked online beforehand, most were anticipating an Ambrose heel turn. Therefore, it was understandable that WWE decided not to pull this trigger and instead the Shield boys beat the Wyatts in a match that was okay but lacking in real heat. It felt like a TV match on PPV, not a PPV match. It ended the feud, presumably, and it’s possible that Dean will still turn on Reigns, but for all intents and purposes the storyline ended with this match on a somewhat flat note. Also, Roman was heavily booed here, and I wasn’t sure why. Look, I know Roman was booed every week earlier this week, but since Reigns’ Last Man Standing win over Big Show at Extreme Rules (in a match that was far better than expected), Reigns has nearly always been greeted positively, and has grafted in his major matches. Presumably, the Brooklyn fans simply didn’t like Reigns (a hint of this was from the fans chanting “Roman’s sleeping!” while he was down selling a beating during the tag match with Dean getting pummelled by The Wyatts). As for the Wyatts, their future looks bleak. Had Erick Rowan not been injured, the group would have had more vibrancy but, as things stand, I can’t see them progressing much further. Might a face turn and a tag feud with The New Day be the answer? (Yes, I know I said earlier that The New Day are getting cheered now, but they’re still heels.)

Up next, surprisingly, was the double title match between John Cena and Seth Rollins. Rollins looked odd when he came out in a white version of his costume (he looked like a skinny snowman), but he looked phenomenal during the match itself. He truly performed like a champion and hit a number of brilliant moves. A triple tope to ringside, a top rope suplex into a standing suplex, a standing Shooting Star Press, a number of Phoenix Splash attempts – Rollins showed here why he is in the major spot that he’s in, regardless of whether fans feel he’s getting special treatment for real by Triple H and WWE. The Brooklyn crowd loved Rollins, but otherwise his heel work has been so good that he’s booed every week regardless of his abilities, a triumph for a villain in the modern era. I see Rollins in the mould of several wrestlers: Edge (for his opportunist nature), Shawn Michaels (for his high-flying antics), CM Punk (for his rebellious attitude/arrogance), Randy Orton (for his youth and “future” tagline), Triple H (for, well, the Pedigree and his association with HHH), Chris Jericho (for his willingness to win at all costs, or avoid losing the title regardless of how screwy it might be) and even Ric Flair (for elevating his opponents by making them look like they’re within a whisker of dethroning him). His promos have improved greatly this year; a little more improvement, and I can see Rollins going down as a classic heel champion, enhanced by brilliant performances like this one.

Cena, on the other hand, did what was to be hoped that he wouldn’t. Whereas Seth launched eye-catching and innovative offence, Cena hit his usual moves and little more, and bungled his springboard stunner (since this move hasn’t directly won one match for Cena, and he has messed it up a few times, it might be time for him to stop doing that). To no surprise, the crowd shredded him; even some kids were booing Cena (to be fair, they were booing him beforehand as well). That’s a shame because Cena has delivered a number of truly great matches this year, and going in I felt this would be another one. It WAS a great match, but almost in no way because of John Cena. (Some say that Cena hasn’t fully recovered from his broken nose, which may explain Cena’s worse than usual performance). I did like how he attempted to win his 16th World Title with the finisher of 16-time champ Ric Flair, the Figure-Four Leglock. I had a feeling that Seth would win, since I couldn’t see Cena beating Rollins again here, and I suspected that it would be a win achieved by devious minds. I didn’t expect it to be because of Jon Stewart of all people hitting Cena with a steel chair, leading to Rollins Pedigreeing Cena on a chair to win. Rollins is now WWE Champ and United States Champ; the man has had an amazing run in WWE. Seth’s star will only continue to rise, but I believe that his feud with Cena has only just started. Where Jon Stewart figures into the equation, I don’t know (HHH would have been more appropriate, to protect his hero Flair’s record, and because everyone knows that Cena-HHH is more likely in future than Cena-Stewart). Whatever the case, Rollins and Cena will meet again, probably at Night Of Champions. A double-pin there might see Cena become US Champ again, since I don’t see this spelling the end for that particular title (I think it should, but that’s another story), and a Hell In A Cell score-settler might be the catalyst for Sheamus to cash in MITB on a beaten-down WWE Champ, whomever that might be.

The Divas Revolution took over the show next with a three-way elimination match between the teams of three. This was pretty good, and it’s telling that on the second biggest event of the year, one of the most hyped and anticipated matches was a Divas match. Last year, Stephanie McMahon vs. Brie Bella was a major match because it was pushed as such, not because fans truly wanted to see it. This year, the Divas earned their spot as a major PPV match. A good sign of how far the WWE women have come, and also a good sign of what is to come.

That being said, while it was enjoyable, it was a little bit less than what some were expecting, magnified by the terrific NXT Women’s Title match between Sasha Banks and Bayley 24 hours earlier at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn. That Team BAD were eliminated out of the blue didn’t help, as the Bellas are starting to become a real annoyance for fans (and not in a desired way). Fortunately, Team PCB triumphed (Becky Lynch surprisingly got the winning fall), which should finally lead to some matches with the Divas Title at stake (there hasn’t been one on TV since the Divas Revolution began in mid-July. It’s obvious that WWE is forcing fans to accept that Nikki Bella will surpass AJ’s Divas Title record in terms of days as champ (which is more annoying because it’s done out of spite against CM Punk’s wife AJ for leaving WWE, not because Nikki has shown the talent to prove that she deserves such a long reign). You’ll know for sure if this time next eyar, we’re noting how Rollins surpassed Punk’s 434-day reign as WWE Champ. Ironically, if he does, Seth will have earned that accomplishment, unlike Nikki. Prediction: Nikki surpasses AJ’s reign, then loses the Title to Charlotte.

The semi-final was Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro. This was a fairly anticipated match beforehand, but it was in a tough spot here. Not only was it the last match before the main event, but with this being a four-hour show, and with several matches having already been presented in the same way as this was, fans were clearly tired; they were into it, but would have been more energised had it happened an hour or two earlier. That Owens was coming off a gruelling Ladder match with Finn Balor for the NXT Title the previous night at Takeover meant that he was likely going into this match at less than 100%, but you would never have known it from his performance.

Indeed, this was a fun match; it wasn’t a match of the year candidate but it wasn’t a blatant card-filler either. Owens won with the Pop-Up Powerbomb, but I see a rematch on Raw, and I’d like to see the two of them face off on PPV again, with a bit more time and earlier on the show. Many were anticipating a great match here (Paul Heyman even suggested that this could make the careers of both wrestlers beforehand); under the right circumstances, hopefully they can deliver such a contest at Night Of Champions.

Finally, we come to the main event. The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar, with Taker avenging the loss of his Streak at WrestleMania 30 and the subsequent gibes by Paul Heyman and, to a lesser extent actually, Lesnar. I was excited when Taker returned at Battleground to confront Brock for the first time since April 6 2014, and their pull-apart brawl the next night on Raw was the best I’ve ever seen in WWE. On the other hand, as big as this was, there were big question marks about the whole thing beforehand. Why did Taker confront Brock now, and not in the run-up to WM 31? Why was Taker acting like a heel even though fans wee devastated that Brock ended the Streak? (I know Brock’s a face now too, but face vs. face matches are still possible.) Who would win, considering that Undertaker surely wouldn’t lose again, but Lesnar has been too dominant to potentially look weak here? And given his physical state, could Taker even handle a brutal match with a beast like Brock? Some questions were not answered, and on-screen at least they never will be.

The big questions were the match quality and the outcome, and the bout itself was brilliant. As a mega-brawl under regular rules in the PG era, there couldn’t have been a better presentation than what we got here. Massive crowd heat from the start was matched by very physical, stiff and brutal blows, strikes, moves and everything else. Brock was cut open several times; Taker really laid the punches and boots in, and Lesnar retailiated with his trademark full-on offence (he even attacked Taker as he was removing his coat before the match, something that nobody has ever done). Suplex City was visited several times during the match, but Taker took Brock to Tombstone City, Chokeslam City (the chokeslam Brock took was awesome) and other move-related locations within a place close to New York City. Brock’s biggest move was an F5 through an announcer’s table, where Taker’s ribs hit the table edge hard. Fans chanted “This is awesome!” several times, and they were right; this was incredible to watch. One unexpected treat was when both men sat up, with Lesnar shooting Taker a sarcastic laugh, only to be met by a positively EVIL laugh by the Phenom. It was hilarious, compelling and scary all at once, and while only a quick glance, added a lot to a phenomenal and super-charged brawl. Had this match took plave at WrestleMania XXX, nobody would have complained, even if Taker still went 21-1 that night.

However, the ending of this match wasn’t without controversy. Lesnar revived the Kimura Lock in this match (not seen since the night that the Streak ended) and had it locked on Undertaker several times. At one point, Taker seemed trapped, but Lesnar was almost being pinned, so referee Charles Robinson concentrated on spotting whether the hold was forcing Brock to pin himself. Then, inexplicably, the bell rang. Was it a distraction by an interfering party? Had Lesnar won? No. An odd suggestion of miscommunication led to Taker low blowing Brock behind the ref’s back and locking on Hell’s Gate. Brock definantly flipped Taker off (a surprise in the PG era; and can we now show middle finger gestures going forward if it’s okay for Brock to do it here? I hope so.) before being passed out, leading to Undertaker winning the match. Post-match, Taker didn’t celebrate in Dead Man fashion, but instead like a desperate man escaping a gang fight. Afterwards, we discovered that Taker had actually tapped out to the Kimura, which is why the timekeeper rang the bell, but the referee didn’t see it. This allowed Taker to cheat and obtain a win, which in itself wasn’t by submission since Lesnar passed out and didn’t tap out.

Many were displeased at the way this mega match ended. I was confused at first, but it made sense in hindsight: neither man was going to lose convincingly, since Taker wasn’t going to lose twice to Brock (this decade) without winning at some point, and Lesnar has looked too devastating to lose cleanly, especially in a babyface role. And a draw would have been offensive in this encounter. A screwy finish was the only outcome, in retrospect. Was it executed well? More could have been made of Undertaker’s predicament in the Kimura, because nobody would have anticipated Taker losing to this hold before the match began. Overall, it kind of made sense, but it did feel like a strange ending (especially with Heyman post-match announcing that Brock was the real winner, and both Heyman and Lesnar seemingly accepting their own ruling). I see one of two things happening: either the two men square off once more, either at a future PPV with Lesnar triumphing and the two shaking hands or at WM 32 with the same thing but Taker retiring as a result, or with Undertaker now saying he has nothing left to prove, only to be confronted by Sting ahead of a double retirement match at Mania 32 (since fans are more inclined to cheer Taker over Sting unless he acted slightly heelish). That being said, I hope WWE established Undertaker as being “still” a babyface, because fans do not want to boo Undertaker at this stage of his career. They might like Brock, but they love Undertaker, so hopefully if we do get one more match in this feud, it’ll end with mutual respect and fans being able to truly back Undertaker again. One thing is for sure: this was a terrific match and while the ending was a bit of a head-scratcher, it’ll be accepted once we see what path the combatants take from here. It’s easier to take than the end of the Streak was, that’s for sure.

And so that was SummerSlam 2015. It definitely felt like a major show, more for the line-up than for the developments, but it still largely delivered in the ring and helped to set up the autumn season in WWE. I liked the four-hour running time for this show, and hope that we get four hours for Survivor Series and Royal Rumble too. And it actually links to something I have previously thought of: WrestleMania should be five hours so that everybody of consequence gets their chance to shine, and so that we don’t have to see super-short matches on the biggest show of the year.

The best matches were a shade below being match of the year contenders, but the two main events were still very entertaining, and a couple of the supporting bouts were rather good too. It wasn’t a classic in-ring show, and it won’t challenge WrestleMania 31 for being the card of the year, but it was a really enjoyable event which will be memorable for some time. Most memorable of all was Lesnar-Taker, which lived up to the hype in my opinion, and Rollins-Cena seems like a precursor to what will hopefully be a great WWE Title series over the next few months. Whether we get Lesnar-Taker III, Sting-Taker, Rollins-Cena II (on PPV) or Rollins-Sheamus (or even Cena-Sheamus) will soon be answered, but on the whole I give SummerSlam 2015 a thumbs-up. Not the best SummerSlam ever, but one that will be remembered for some time to come.

Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good