Wrestling Review: WWE SummerSlam 2013

Image Source: Bleacher Report

Genre: Wrestling
Produced By: WWE
Format: Pay-Per-View
Date: August 18 2013
Location: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California, USA
Attendance: 14,166

SummerSlam 2013 had a lot of potential beforehand, with a double main event which promised a lot of action as well as some intriguing under-card matches. As it turned out, the show (WWE’s biggest of the summer) ended up exceeding expectations, with several contenders for Match Of The Night, and at least one if not two of those bouts were even Match Of The Year contenders. And as if that wasn’t enough, a major angle took place at the end of the card which will have a huge impact on the state of WWE in the coming months. All of which ensured that this was a very memorable and entertaining event; now, let’s delve into exactly how it all went down.

On the pre-show, we had a United States Title match between Dean Ambrose and Rob Van Dam. This kept up the recent tradition of noteworthy pre-show matches, at least from an in-ring standpoint, but the bout was marred by a disqualification ending, as Roman Reigns ran in to Spear RVD as he had Ambrose beat. Seth Rollins also tried to intervene, but Big Show and Mark Henry (both of whom have recently turned babyface; in Show’s case, for possibly the millionth time, and in Henry’s case, this time for real after his tease the night after Payback) helped to fend off the Shield interference. This will presumably lead to a rematch. While this was enjoyable, I felt this should have been on the main show (it was RVD’s first singles match at a WWE PPV since 2007, after all) with a proper ending, and why not have Rollins and Reigns vs. Show and Henry for the Tag Team Titles on the proper card too? Otherwise, a fairly good if slightly frustrating preview match for SummerSlam.

After JoJo sang the American national anthem (and did a good job, actually) and The Miz, who was hosting SummerSlam, was interrupted by Fandango and Summer Rae (which led to a massive Fandangoing session inside the Staples Center), the PPV extravaganza kicked off with a Ring Of Fire match between Bray Wyatt and Kane. To recap: after weeks of very effective hype videos, The Wyatt Family (previously seen on NXT) arrived on Raw and attacked Kane to the extent that he missed the All-Stars Money In The Bank Ladder match. But the Big Red Machine came back with a vengeance, and vowed revenge on Bray here at SummerSlam in the first ever Ring Of Fire match. Well, it wasn’t quite the first of its kind, since the Inferno match (Kane’s longtime specialty) has been seen on numerous occasions since its first appearance at Unforgiven 1998 (where Kane fell to The Undertaker; Kane has actually only ever won one of those bouts, against MVP at Armageddon 2006). The difference between the Inferno match and the ROF bout (by the way, who else thought of the Johnny Cash song Ring Of Fire, which just happens to be a crowd favourite at the world’s greatest football team – well, mine – Liverpool FC?) would be that, due to the PG rating, the previous Inferno clash would result in a man being set on fire, whereas this one had to end by pinfall or submission.

That being said, the Ring Of Fire match still provided an element of danger; after all, you’re surrounded by flames. This also meant that there were also restrictions on the talent from a working standpoint, since they couldn’t run the ropes, use the turnbuckles or do anything other than scrap in the centre of the ring. Therefore, while this was a decent opener, and a fun spectacle to watch, it wasn’t exactly the greatest option to open the show. It was okay for what it was, but the stipulation in a PG environment meant that it was largely a kick-and-punch brawl. The dangers of the fiery surroundings were slightly hindered when Bray’s partners in crime, Erick Rowan and Luke Harper, used a fire retardant cover to fan the flames and interfere, leading to a 3-on-1 assault that led to Bray pinning Kane. Afterwards, the three men slammed the edges of a level of steel stairs onto the other layer upon which Kane’s head lay, and carried him off (I didn’t want to say that they hit him with the stairs because, well, they didn’t). It remains to be seen what happens from here. Overall, just an okay PPV start for Wyatt, although in his and Kane’s defence, the Ring Of Fire/Inferno borders provide severe restrictions on what can be done. Incidentally, anyone disappointed because somebody wasn’t set ablaze should remind themselves of the new name and stipulation for this contest, and wonder whether in the modern PG version of WWE, would you honestly expect someone to be set on fire?

Match two on the main show pitted Damien Sandow against Cody Rhodes. Since Sandow’s underhanded yet fair MITB win at the expense of Rhodes, the Team Rhodes Scholars combo has split up. Cody has officially gone babyface, and cemented this turn when he kidnapped Sandow’s MITB briefcase and tossed it into the river, leading Sandow to jump right in after it, despite struggling to swim, and apparently failing to retrieve it (he also swam by some suspiciously brown floating objects in the water). But the Intellectual Saviour Of The Masses returned with a more appropriate case for his character, a smart-looking brown briefcase (which looks like a big bar of Cadbury’s chocolate to me; if it was, I’d eat it because it would look delicious!), and swore revenge on Cody, despite Rhodes’ hijinks all being retribution for what Sandow did to him at Money In The Bank. All of which led us to this match here at SummerSlam.

Arguably the biggest story of the match presentation was the revelation when he came down to the ring that Cody Rhodes has shaved off his now-famous moustache! Sure, it looked silly, but it was part of his gimmick dammit! I suppose the face turn necessitates that people do not shout “Cody’s moustache!” in a condescending way. It’s actually weird to see Cody clean-shaved now, even though he had no facial hair for the first five or so years of his WWE run. But back to the match: this was an adequate bout, nothing special, but sufficient for a rivalry of this (mid-card) nature. After some nice near-falls before an interested crowd, Cody picked up the pinfall win with Cross Rhodes to exact full (well, near-full) revenge on Damien. I thought that Sandow would get the victory to build some momentum for his character before he cashes in Money In The Bank (this one is for the World Heavyweight Championship, by the way; Randy Orton has the one for the WWE Championship, or had it I perhaps should say … is that a spoiler? Hmmm …), but instead this moment went to Rhodes. It is assumed (and hoped) that Sandow will get some important wins from now until he cashes in his prize, because it was a surprise that he even won the case at MITB, so he’ll need booking support to turn him into a genuine contender and a potential World Heavyweight Champion, even if it doesn’t happen until 2014.

We then got Alberto Del Rio defending that same World Heavyweight Championship against Christian. ADR appears to have ended his feud with Dolph Ziggler, judging by the booking since MITB, so he got Captain Charisma here instead. Christian recently returned from a long injury lay-off, and has picked up some significant momentum and big wins (he even beat RVD and Orton in a 3-way to earn this shot by cleanly pinning Orton, amazingly). This hasn’t been mentioned enough in recent weeks, but it bears repeating because Christian was often seen as the guy who WWE simply wouldn’t push, or if they did, it was a case of start-stop as opposed to giving him a true winning streak (his 2005 and 2011 main event adventures are suitable evidence). Therefore, at this stage of his career, it’s a surprise that WWE would go all-out to push Christian in this fashion, so Peeps should have been more than satisfied by the preparation given to Christian for this big title opportunity at Del Rio (by the way, I wonder if Sheamus would have been given this title shot had he not been shelved himself shortly after Money In The Bank, or Chris Jericho had he not quietly departed WWE shortly after MITB?).

As it turned out, this wasn’t to be Christian’s night to regain the WHC, but he and Alberto still managed to deliver a very, very good match – they’re both talented, but this was still better than I expected, and it was definitely their best match against each other to date. Del Rio concentrated on striking tactics with hard kicks and weakening Christian’s arm (with the intention of polishing him off later with the Cross-Armbreaker) by ramming Christian’s arm into the barricade (which the CLB did a great job of selling; if you don’t know what “CLB” means, Google it). Christian attempted comebacks, but Del Rio would keep cutting him off and would keep going back to that arm. Captain Charisma did eventually mount a real fight-back, and this led to some big moves by both men, such as a top rope crossbody by CC, a Backstabber by ADR, a major hurricanrana off the ropes by Christian and seemingly match-winning kick to the head by Del Rio to no avail. As the fans chanted “This is awesome!” (and it wouldn’t be the last time we heard this chant on the night), Christian attempted a Spear and nailed it, but his arm prevented the decisive and timely cover. This gave ADR sufficient time to rebound with a Cross-Armbreaker and to give him the win by tap out. This was fantastic; the first of the really good matches on this show. ADR followed the bout with a delusional promo where he called himself a hero to the Mexican people, to the expected boos by the fans.

Miz was back on-screen with Maria Menounos (who was heckled to what had to be an upsetting degree by the MSG crowd back at the 2013 Hall Of Fame induction ceremony), as Fandango and Summer again tried to steal the spotlight, only for Miz and Maria to provide some dance moves of their own to upset, erm, the dancing duo. Next!

Okay, maybe “next” again, because we had a tribute to Total Divas now as Natalya faced Brie Bella. Natalya is good enough in the ring that her matches are better than the standard diva offering (well, besides AJ vs. Kaitlyn, which has greatly exceeded expectations over the summer), but this match purely existed to promote the E! show which, at present, is only on in the United States (making it irrelevant to UK viewers of SummerSlam), and which has female wrestlers on it, but apparently has no real focus whatsoever on wrestling. Therefore, while using PPV time to promote Total Divas makes sense from a business perspective, it was actually something less than filler from an entertainment standpoint. With the other cast members at ringside (Nikki Bella, Naomi, Cameron, JoJo again and Eva Marie; and who is Eva Marie, anyway?), the match was fortunately kept fairly short, and Natalya won by submission with the Sharpshooter. To summarise this bout, fans began chanting irrelevant things in a repeat of what the Raw crowd in New Jersey famously did the night after WrestleMania 29. The subsequent scene, where Ryback was bullying someone backstage, was actually more entertaining than this match, as wrong as that sounds.

Fortunately, things took another up-turn with the following encounter, as CM Punk battled Brock Lesnar in what Paul Heyman announced on the pre-show would be a No Disqualification match (that should have been made clear on television weeks ago to make the match a more enticing prospect for potential PPV buyers). After Lesnar F5’d Punk on the post-Payback Raw, and Heyman backstabbed Punk at Money In The Bank, there was only ever going to be one outcome, and that was Punk vs. Lesnar here at SummerSlam. This had the potential to be really good, and it ended up being even better: it was either the first or second best match of 2013, depending where you rank Punk vs. The Undertaker from WM 29 compared to this match. This was a fast-paced and furiously-fought brawl, all to huge crowd heat all the way (which was a good sign after the Staples Center crowd almost ignored Lesnar’s match with Triple H at SummerSlam last year). The story of this match was that Lesnar was much bigger, stronger and therefore tougher than Punk, but CM’s hard strikes, technical wrestling skills and never-say-die attitude kept him in the fight throughout. It all made for an entirely believable and extremely entertaining fight.

Lesnar pummelled Punk in the early going, as Punk would occasionally respond with some wicked strikes but to no avail against the hulking-great beast. A tope by Punk took Lesnar down, but Brock repelled an attempted steel stairs attack. They brawled by the announcer’s table, and when Punk targeted Heyman, that same table was where Lesnar threw Punk as if he were a piece of garbage. After a ringside belly-to-belly by Brock, Lesnar added pressure with a bearhug, which with the support of the Los Angeles crowd, Punk managed to fight out of the hold with a bite and followed that up with repeated knees. Lesnar tried to brush them off, but Punk used them to eventually put Brock down for a Big Elbow, leading to a close two-count. Finisher attempts by both were countered, and Lesnar even reversed an attempted GTS into a Kimura Lock, which Punk would counter himself into a triangle choke. Brock broke it with two powerbombs, but that still wasn’t enough, and Punk then had another near-fall of his own with a frog splash, again to no avail.

A steel chair then entered proceedings, with both men blocking shots, but Heyman looked worried when Punk seized control of the weapon, as he had evened up the playing field somewhat. Heyman broke up the cover after a chair-assisted Big Elbow and a GTS, but even when Lesnar attempted an F5 again, Punk countered it into a DDT (in another tribute to Eddie Guerrero if you remember No Way Out 2004). Punk trapped Lesnar in the Anaconda Vice, but Heyman again interfered; this time, Punk struck Heyman and then locked the manager in the Anaconda Vice to a huge pop. But this allowed Lesnar to get the chair and begin belting Punk hard with it to break the AV, and the monster Lesnar followed that up by dropping Punk with an F5 onto the chair to get the pinfall win. What a match that was; tremendous stuff. Thanks to the red-hot crowd, Lesnar achieved what he and HHH largely couldn’t here, and this was Brock’s best all-round match since his April 2012 WWE return (the Cena brawl at Extreme Rules was great, but Punk provided far more offence and still looked strong in defeat). For Punk, it was another feather in his cap as he once again stole the show on a major stage. It’s hard to figure what happens now, because while Lesnar will inevitably be taking a break (and he has appeared on at least one episode of Raw a month all year so far, as unimpressive as that might read), Punk surely won’t lose his feud with Lesnar/Heyman that easily, will he? I foresee further Punk-Heyman squabbles in the near future, before a probable Punk-Lesnar rematch at some point (which may be saved until WrestleMania XXX).

Two feuds merged into one next with a mixed tag team match, as Dolph Ziggler and Kaitlyn battled Big E Langston and AJ Lee. Since AJ inadvertently cost Dolph the World Heavyweight Championship at Money In The Bank, Ziggler has officially cut ties with AJ and Big E, thus cementing his babyface turn. Since the Kaitlyn-AJ feud remains ongoing, it led us to this doubles match, which would allow Ziggler to get revenge on both of the heels who wronged him (even though the chances of him attacking AJ were very slim, and unsurprisingly didn’t happen), and Kaitlyn would get another chance to fight AJ. It was an adequate match; AJ and Kaitlyn had some fine exchanges for the third consecutive PPV, and the Dolph-Langston action was good too. Since AJ had beaten Kaitlyn twice and Ziggler hadn’t won on PPV since Elimination Chamber, the logical ending was for the babyfaces to win, and that came to pass as Ziggler pinned Big E with the Zig Zag.

A sensible result, then, which probably draws a line under Dolph’s quarrels with AJ and Big E (by the way, why didn’t anyone ever called their group “A-B-D”? You know, for “AJ”, “Big E” and “Dolph”? Oh, never mind.), although the AJ-Kaitlyn feud could continue; they deserve at least one more Divas Title match, perhaps at Night Of Champions. The only downside is for Ziggler who, unless he refocuses on Del Rio, appears to have been kicked out of the World Title picture having worked so hard to get there, having elicited an enormous reaction when he cashed in MITB and won the WHC in April, and having seen his title reign cut short at Payback following a serious concussion. Hopefully, Ziggler can rebound; it would be a shame if he wasn’t given a chance to at least challenge for the prize which he may still be holding today, had he not been sidelined. Oh, and after this match, one more Miz-Fandango segment led to Miz cracking the ballroom dancer with a right hand.

The main event was up next, pitting John Cena against Daniel Bryan for the WWE Championship, with Triple H as special guest referee. The set-up for this one was a bit unusual: the new General Manager of Raw, Brad Maddox (who Vince McMahon gave the job to as a punishment to the fans for tormenting previous GM Vickie Guerrero when she was fired by public vote in an amusing segment), gave Cena the chance to pick his own opponent for SummerSlam, and he picked Daniel Bryan, whose popularity has gradually reached new heights in recent months. But Vince McMahon has made it clear that he did not approve, and even tried to get Wade Barrett to shave off Bryan’s beard to make him look more like a potential champion. Stephanie McMahon played it neutral, whilst Triple H (the babyface COO of the last two years, remember) strongly praised Bryan as a title contender. In the meantime, Vince’s attempts to install Maddox as the referee here were repelled by HHH, who announced that he would be the official for this contest. That he also refereed Cena vs. CM Punk at SummerSlam 2011 was in my mind, which made me think that HHH might have a hand in the finish. Also, Cena and Bryan’s largely sportsman-like approach to this bout (Cena helped Bryan after he was attacked at the climax of a gauntlet series, during which Bryan had an outstanding bout with Antonio Cesaro) turned sour when both men exchanged some heated comments in a really good Miz TV segment on Raw the previous Monday, where Bryan told Cena that he was a parody of pro wrestling. This all set the table nicely for what had the potential to be a pretty memorable main event match.

Unsurprisingly, Bryan was the overwhelming crowd favourite against Cena, who often divided crowds at the best of times. There were some technical wrestling exchanges in the early going, as the match was being slowly built up in an expert manner. Bryan teased Cena with a test of strength that he turned into a bridge to try and flip Cena into a quick-fire cover. More closely-fought wrestling led to several submission attempts, notably a Bryan surfboard stretch, before Cena fought back with a suplex from the steel stairs to the ringside mats and a sit-down powerbomb back in the ring. Bryan made a comeback with his flip off the top rope and a running clothesline followed by his signature stiff kicks, but Cena avoided the sequence-ending big kick to the head and set up his own comeback (beginning the so-called “Five Moves Of Doom”) with the shoulder tackles and his turnaround slam. Bryan countered a Five-Knuckle Shuffle when he kicked Cena during his “You Can’t See Me!” bit, but Cena would hit the, erm, Shuffle shortly afterwards.

Bryan avoided an attempted Attitude Adjustment, and followed that with his painful-to-land flying dropkick off the ropes, but it only got a two count. In a cool moment, after Cena tried to lock on the STF, Daniel countered by trapping Cena in the STF himself to a major pop (it couldn’t have escaped people’s attention that Bryan’s version was executed far better than Cena’s is), but the WWE Champion got to the ropes to break the hold. Two German suplexes by Bryan were followed by the Yes Lock, but Cena found a way out of it and replied with an Attitude Adjustment for an extremely close near-fall. Daniel hit a really big move next as he suplexed Cena off the top rope, but in such a manner that Bryan remained on the top turnbuckle and followed with a flying headbutt, again for something only slightly below a three-count. Cena blocked a Bryan tope with a hard right-hand and hit his top rope legdrop, once more without getting the victory. With the LA audience (and me) completely enthralled by the action, Cena trapped Bryan in the STF but, once more, it was broken when Bryan made the ropes this time. A series of running dropkicks by Daniel were stopped by a wicked Cena clothesline, and then after a big back-and-forth exchange of punches and slaps, Cena tried to hit another AA, but Bryan expertly countered the attempt on two occasions, and followed that up with a hard running knee, which amazingly won the match and the WWE Title for Daniel Bryan! Yes! Yes! Yes!

It was surprising enough that Bryan had won the title, but the fact that he – as an underdog, smallish babyface, don’t forget – had managed to cleanly pin Cena (who never loses cleanly, unless it’s to a mega-star like The Rock) was a major achievement, and it came at the end of an outstanding match, definitely the best that either has had so far this year (although for Bryan, his aforementioned clash with Cesaro comes close). Afterwards, with the fans loving that Bryan had unexpectedly won WWE’s top prize, both HHH and Cena officially endorsed the new WWE Champion, as fireworks went off and confetti fell from the ceiling of the Staples Center. On commentary, Michael Cole (once Bryan’s biggest critic) conveyed the significance of the moment and was signing the show off the air, when …

“I hear voices in my head, they counsel me, they understand, they talk to me …”

Randy Orton came out with his Money In The Bank briefcase for the WWE Title shot. Orton was booed, despite him having not turned heel at any point; apparently this appearance alone signified a heel turn. The Viper had let the SummerSlam main eventers know with his presence alone that he was considering cashing in here, and it looked like he was about to do so as Bryan and HHH looked surprised. Surprise turned to adrenaline for Bryan as he called for Orton to do it if he was so inclined, only for Triple H to stun everybody by turning Bryan around and dropping him with a Pedigree! OMG! This unpredictable heel swerve led to Orton pinning Bryan without another move being hit as HHH crowned Randy Orton the new WWE Champion. What an unbelievable end to an awesome supercard.

On Raw the next night, the battle lines were further drawn as it came to light that Vince, HHH and Stephanie were all backing Orton as the so-called “Face of WWE”, whilst diminishing Bryan as being a good hand but nothing more than, in Stephanie’s words, “a B+”. The Shield also seem to be backing up the modern-day Corporation by helping to beat Bryan down. This storyline has a lot of potential, as it looks like Bryan will have a slow title chase and a real fight on his hands against the McMahons and Orton, which is guaranteed to get the crowd backing him. As for John Cena? Well, Cena revealed on Raw that he had suffered a nasty-looking arm injury, and thus he would be undergoing surgery and would be out of action for some time. This leaves Bryan as the new top babyface in WWE for the time being (unless you count CM Punk, whose feud with Paul Heyman rolls on), and it will be very interesting to see how this major new storyline develops over the coming weeks and months.

To conclude, then, SummerSlam 2013 was superb; the best SummerSlam in years, perhaps since the phenomenal 2002 edition of SummerSlam (which saw Shawn Michaels return to fight Triple H, Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio, The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar and more). The top three matches were all excellent, and Punk vs. Lesnar and Cena vs. Bryan were genuine Match Of The Year contenders. Add to that the big, shocking angle which ended the show and some good action further down the card, and you have a classic PPV event. As good as WrestleMania 29 was (and I attended it, remember), SummerSlam was probably the best WWE show of the year, and it could be a while before we get another supershow which matches it, because this was exceptional.

Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding