Wrestling Review: WWE SummerSlam 2014

Image Source: WWE

Genre: Wrestling
Produced By: WWE
Format: Pay-Per-View
Date: August 17 2014
Location: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California, USA
Attendance: 14,079

The 27th annual SummerSlam had a big-fight feel to it in the build-up, largely because the main event was a big fight. John Cena would be defending the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Brock Lesnar, who in his last match brought The Undertaker’s undefeated Streak at WrestleMania to a shocking end at WM XXX. The vast majority of fans were predicting a Lesnar victory, simply because ending The Streak would have been a waste otherwise. And that’s exactly what happened. However, the manner in which Brock became the WWE Champ for the first time in over a decade did raise eyebrows, and proved to be the most memorable aspect of an entertaining SummerSlam card.

After a Kick-Off Show match which saw Rob Van Dam pin Cesaro in the battle of the former Paul Heyman Guys (RVD back in the days of ECW; Cesaro, erm, a few weeks ago), the PPV began with a short speech by Hulk Hogan, who promoted the show that we were about to see and plugged the WWE Network. A bit strange and slightly disappointing compared to his opening segment at WrestleMania, but it’s always cool to see the Hulkster, brother! Also, this would be the last WWE show to use the “old” logo (2002-2014) on the turnbuckles and the on-screen watermarks, and the first to use the “new” Network logo on almost everything else. Look out for it going forward and you’ll know what I mean.

SummerSlam began proper with The Miz defending the Intercontinental Title against Dolph Ziggler. Miz captured the gold at Battleground, the previous PPV, whereas Ziggler has largely had an uneventful if demeaning 2014, so the smart money was on the Hollywood wannabe Miz to retain here, especially given the Hollywood (well, Los Angeles) location. But that wasn’t to be the case: after a fun yet slightly short back-and-forth effort, in which Dolph was by far the crowd favourite and Miz received the boos which had to be music to his ears (even though he was cheered in the same venue against Rey Mysterio two SummerSlams ago), Ziggler escaped two Figure-Four Leglocks and kicked out of a Skull-Crushing Finale, and hit the Zig Zag for the pinfall win and the title.

The audience loved this title change, especially for the at-times under-appreciated Ziggler, who will hopefully begin rising up the ranks again after 12 months of virtual inactivity. For Miz, the title loss was a setback: besides the obvious reason, his new, Hollywood-inspired persona (which bears a resemblance to The Rock circa 2003, but nowhere near as entertaining as Rock was) only debuted on June 30, and his IC Championship win came just three weeks after that. Considering that Miz himself had a WWE career plunge prior to his transformation, it had to be a disappointment for him to lose here. Unless this is the start of a back-and-forth series between the two Cleveland natives, this may prove to be the peak of Miz’s current gimmick. Still, an entertaining if unspectacular opener, and a popular title change can’t be a bad thing.

Match two pitted AJ Lee against Paige for the Divas Title. The back-story for this was that both Paige and AJ captured the Divas crown from each other in out-of-nowhere scenarios, leading to their first PPV clash at Battleground where Paige lost to AJ. With a rematch booked here, and since Paige is meant to be the future of the Divas division, I felt that the Norwich-born challenger had to win here, otherwise the feud was over, and so probably was Paige’s momentum, at least for a while. And so it proved, but as with the main event, the circumstances by which the title changed hands were a slight surprise.

After some slick exchanges between the two ladies, AJ locked in the Black Widow, which Paige countered into the RamPaige to pin AJ and win the title. That the championship changed hands, as stated, wasn’t a surprise, but for the now-heel Paige to cleanly pin the once-unbeatable AJ was unexpected. It also went over fairly well with the LA crowd, who (like me) are probably wondering why Paige has already been turned heel. Whether this is the title reign that will solidify Paige as the dominant Diva in WWE remains to be seen, but it certainly feels like the AJ-Paige feud will continue, which given their bouts so far is a good thing. If anything, they’ve been a slight disappointment; in summer 2013, AJ vs. Kaitlyn delivered much better matches than expected, so AJ vs. Paige, whilst of a good quality, is now taken for granted rather than being seen as a huge step up from what we’ve seen for most of the last decade from the WWE Divas.

Patriotism was high for match number three, which saw Rusev take on Jack Swagger. Rusev is the unstoppable foreign menace, whereas Swagger has proven surprisingly popular since turning babyface on June 30. Here, the pride of America was at stake in a Flag Match, with the Russian and American flags hoisted high on separate poles (Rusev is a Russian sympathiser, don’t forget; that he’s Bulgarian doesn’t matter, at least not now in the storyline). If you can remember pushes for previous monster characters, a good example being Umaga (or UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUmaga, to quote Armando Alejandro Estrada, or Arrrrrrmandoooo Alejandrooooooo Estrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrada), you probably realised that this was not the night for the unbeaten brute to lose. If WWE builds up characters the way they are promoting Rusev, it’s for him to eventually lose in a big fight. And whilst this was his most important match to date, this didn’t come under the category “big fight”.

Therefore, Swagger’s resurgence had to be halted, as he lost this Flag Match to Rusev via referee stoppage (even though this was a Flag Match, the flags themselves were not captured, nor were they supposed to be strangely), with Jack passing out to the Accolade. John Bradshaw Layfield rather harshly said on commentary that Swagger had let “318 million Americans” down by losing here to Rusev, which I thought was harsh; JBL is a heel, sure, but at least Swagger didn’t tap out, and it’s not like JBL is gonna step up and face Rusev. Where Swagger goes from here is unknown, but Rusev should continue a march up the ranks, before somebody finally puts a stop to his domination and denigration of Americans (cough cough John Cena cough).

Prior to SummerSlam, many fans expressed disappointment that the long-awaited showdown between Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose would be a Lumberjack match. Lumberjack matches can be fun if hilariously silly, but for two of WWE’s best performers to square off, it’s not exactly the first stipulation one would go for. Interaction with the Lumberjacks is inevitable, usually disrupting the flow of a good match, and probably seeing unnecessary side-feuds develop. Fortunately, Rollins and Ambrose appear to have realised this, and between the frantic action and wild scenes whereby the other Lumberjacks got involved, this probably ended up being the best Lumberjack match ever on a major event, and the bout of the night thus far.

Ambrose chased Rollins in the ring, out of the ring, through the Lumberjacks and into the crowd. Unlike previous LJ bouts where those stationed at ringside throw them right back in, the crazy nature of this battle meant that we saw chaotic scenes like Dean suplexing Rollins off the top rope onto a dozen Lumberjacks, and a group of wrestlers being taken out by an Ambrose elbow, who then ran across tables and barriers to launch himself at Seth in the audience, and battled him through the stands with plenty of wrestlers giving chase (someone in the Staples Center could make a mint on close-up photos from that). Back in the ring they went and both ex-Shield members exchanged big moves as the crowd chanted “This is awesome!” Dean even hit Seth with a Curb Stomp, but Kane (who’s now Corporate Kane again, by the way) broke up the pin. Ambrose fought him away, but then got whacked by Rollins and his Money In The Bank briefcase for Seth to steal the win. No doubt this rivalry will continue and, if it delivers more frenetic wars like this, then Ambrose vs. Rollins will end up going down as a classic rivalry.

Bray Wyatt vs. Chris Jericho was the next match on this stacked card. With Jericho surprisingly pinning Wyatt at Battleground (to the horror of “smart fans”, whose name and general existence can be quite annoying), the chances of Bray winning this were as high as those of Lesnar defeating Cena in the headline attraction. The good thing about Chris Jericho, whatever your opinion of him and his part-time status, is that he knows how to consistently put on a good match, and we got another example of that here as he and Bray took the fight to each other and took turns in executing some pretty nifty moves. And whilst fans have come to expect Wyatt’s Spider Walk, it’s always cool to see it, especially when the opponent (in this case Y2J) sells it with the required shock/horror (which he did).

After Bray survived the Walls Of Jericho, Wyatt took the fight back out to ringside and slammed Jericho’s head into the crowd barrier with Sister Abigail. He then rolled Chris back into the ring and hit a second Sister Abigail for the win, and afterwards led the crowd into a chant of “He’s got the whole world in his hands”. Wyatt has proven to be a great all-around performer, impressive for his size and his at-times confusing gimmick, and if this match spells the end of the Jericho feud, Y2J can definitely say that via the performances in both matches and in Raw segments, Wyatt has been enhanced by the feud, even if those on the Internet claim otherwise based on what happened at Battleground.

Then we got Stephanie McMahon vs. Brie Bella. Sigh … Whilst Stephanie has been believable the whole way in this feud, and the match had several months of build-up and therefore felt like a match worth watching, Brie’s acting is just awful. We all know that WWE is scripted entertainment, but you don’t want someone constantly reminding you of that while you’re watching the show, yet that’s what Brie does with her poor acting. Her wrestling isn’t too bad, though, as she and Stephanie combined to deliver a pretty good match under the circumstances (a credit to Steph since she hadn’t wrestled since 2003, and was never a full-time wrestler before that).

Triple H tried to interfere on his wife’s behalf (how weird is it to have a major PPV where HHH doesn’t wrestle and interferes for Stephanie, rather than the other way around?), but Brie dropkicked her away. After a referee bump, Stephanie tried to escape, but was surrounded by both Brie and Nikki Bella, who have both suffered (in the storylines) by the tyrannical Stephanie. Which made the next moment a shock: out of nowhere, Nikki clubbed Brie in the face, supposedly knocking her out, and left the ring to a chorus of boos, having apparently joined The Authority. A smiling Steph picked up the apparently-unconscious Brie and Pedigreed her for the pinfall win, and she and HHH celebrated with big smiles in the aftermath. A good effort, and a surprise twist prevented the predicted ending of Brie getting revenge on Stephanie. A Bellas feud obviously awaits now, although it’s hoped that Nikki’s acting skills are better than those of her sister. Hey, maybe that’s why she betrayed her!

The semi-final pitted Roman Reigns against Randy Orton. Unlike Steph vs. Brie (had McMahon fought Beth Phoenix, that line would have been sounded much better), this didn’t really have a story to it. On the July 21 Raw, Roman Reigns stopped Randy Orton from being named the number one contender for Cena’s title at this event, for no real reason, and so Orton later RKO’d Reigns through an announcer’s table on Raw. That was the extent of the story here. The real reason why it was booked was probably to give Roman a high-profile victory as WWE begins to try and push him, with the company hoping that Reigns might be ready to main event WrestleMania one day, possibly as soon as next year.

Whilst Reigns is nowhere near ready for a WrestleMania main event (both in terms of ability and fan acceptance of such a situation), he can definitely hold his own in a straight-up fight, as we saw here. Orton is very good at making his opponents look strong without one even realising the effort he has put into creating such an illusion, and he did that here by slowing the pace and allowing Roman to make a big comeback, before throwing obstacles in his way to try and stop Reigns getting the win. The most notable one (and the move of the match, if not the show) saw Reigns look to hit a Spear, only to be struck with a huge RKO. But that didn’t stop the ex-Shield powerhouse, who soon connected with the Spear for the win. Reigns is enhanced and looked good doing so, and Orton looked good in making Reigns look good (that’s a mouthful). Job well done, as far as WWE is concerned then, although it is a comedown for Orton after the last twelve months that he has had.

Lastly, we come to the main event: John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar. Apparently, the original plan was for Daniel Bryan to retain the WWE World Heavyweight Title which he won at WrestleMania up until this match where he would lose the gold to Lesnar. A neck injury and an additional shoulder injury prevented that, so WWE had to crown a new titleholder, and picked John Cena at Money In The Bank. This outraged some, and more were disappointed by the deep predictability of Cena retaining at Battleground. However, let’s be honest: whoever won the title was going down to Lesnar, so why not pick someone whose status and legacy would be unaffected, rather than wasting a first title reign for someone like, erm, Reigns? It did annoy me that the SummerSlam poster promoting Cena vs. Lesnar was leaked before Cena even won the title, but that aside the choice made sense. And after the way in which Cena lost, those who hoped they would get the role opposite Brock were probably relieved (if anything, Bryan dodged a bullet with his injuries, as strange as it may sound).

It was 99% likely that Lesnar would beat Cena here after his aforementioned victory over The Undertaker at WrestleMania (which Paul Heyman has done a tremendous job of emphasising, and he did an even better job of promoting this SummerSlam showdown), but since Cena unexpectedly (and illogically) beat Brock in his WWE comeback match at Extreme Rules 2012, the result wasn’t 100% certain. But when the bell rang and Lesnar almost immediately hit Cena with an F5, that perception changed. Not only was Lesnar here to win, he was here to destroy.

And so it proved as he hit Cena with a suplex. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And … well, in total, Cena took a whopping 16 suplexes from the Beast Incarnate and, besides a desperation Attitude Adjustment, Brock wasn’t having any of it. He almost became a cyborg or a Terminator or something; while Lesnar has been dominant in the past, he was full-on ruthless here. Oh, and he’s not above peeing off the hardcore fans, as at one point he sat up Undertaker-style and smirked, tongue out and all, which was both hilarious and frightening.

It should come as no surprise that Lesnar did indeed win the match after another F5, to a big ovation, funnily enough. As Michael Cole noted on commentary, “it wasn’t even close!” It was promoted as a meeting of two mega-stars and a battle of the titans but, while the former was true, the latter proved false: this was a one-sided beating from start to finish, particularly unexpected because Cena, of course, has been WWE’s biggest star for the last 9-10 years. That he would be taken apart so decisively here was a shocker. Lesnar is the champion now, and it remains to be seen how long he will hold the title or how often he will defend the title, but after ending The Streak and mauling Cena here, one has to believe that it will take something special for Brock to drop the title. Although there wasn’t much to speak of in the way of competitive action, the sheer intensity and realism of the match and its unpredictable format had to make this one of the year’s most memorable matches, although it still couldn’t come close to topping the nuclear bomb-level shock of Lesnar making Undertaker 21-1 at WrestleMania.

So, that was SummerSlam 2014. Last year’s card delivered two classic matches and a third great match, and a shocking outcome. This year’s SummerSlam didn’t deliver a classic, but we still got a great match in Rollins-Ambrose, some very good matches elsewhere on the card from top to bottom, and a very compelling main event which had an unforeseen layout and a victory so one-sided that it will go down as being historic. WWE has done what it had to do after terminating The Streak, and that’s make Lesnar the Champ, but his destruction of Cena means that WWE will have to go to some lengths to find and promote someone who has what it takes to dethrone Lesnar, which now appears to be the greatest challenge that a WWE wrestler can face. On the whole, a very entertaining SummerSlam, and one which will not soon be forgotten in a year of some pretty memorable WWE moments.

Overall Rating; 8/10 – Very Good