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SummerSlam and the death of Superman

Dolph Ziggler and The Miz made a good fist of transcending their lowly mid-card status with a heated opener for the Intercontinental Championship at SummerSlam 2014. Still, it was a match that, while plenty entertaining and well put together by two able grapplers who have good in-ring chemistry and can really go, only made me think of those great IC Title matches of SummerSlams past, those proper storytelling feud-settlers preceded by weeks of build-up; Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart vs Mr Perfect is still the apex of that kind of match for me. This, while good, was nothing of the sort, especially with a finish that more-or-less came out of nowhere. (Ziggler’s the new IC Champ, by the way.)

Paige and AJ Lee told a better story in their clash over the Divas Title, with the former showcasing a few new moves added to her arsenal en route to victory and her second reign as WWE’s women’s champ (and on her 22nd birthday, no less). The fans at LA’s Staples Center seemed to appreciate it, too. She’s a great heel, is Paige; she just has the right combination of gothy look and snooty attitude. She’s the opposite of AJ, who makes a terrible face when her promo delivery and slightly unhinged demeanour telegraphs nothing but ‘baddie’.

The MacGuffin in the ‘big man’ battle between Jack Swagger and Rusev wasn’t actually the ‘Flag Match’ stipulation. Rather, it was Rusev’s worked ankle injury, which was obviously intended as a chink in his armour to give the ‘Real American’ an in, but in effect made for a disappointingly slow-paced contest, one that made both men look bad: Rusev in showing weakness unbefitting his ‘unstoppable monster’ character, and Swagger for not being able to do the job despite all the odds being in his favour (he passed out to Rusev’s camel clutch).

Rusev needed to get heat here, for sure — that’s the whole point of his character — but there were better ways of doing it. I mean, what’s the point of having Lana out there in his corner if she doesn’t pull a Heenan on his behalf? This could have been his Apollo Creed moment, but it just felt like a standard Raw angle. And while I’m at it, I still can’t get behind Swagger and Zeb Colter’s face turn over the last few months, since all they’ve done in that regard is tone down the aggressive anti-immigration aspect of their gimmick; substantially they’re still the same characters, it’s just the fans who’ve turned. I don’t like it one bit.

Seth ‘Money in the Bank’ Rollins and Dean Ambrose really got lumped with some of the blandest entrance themes in recent memory, didn’t they? At least their post-Shield feud is still something to write home about. Their chaotic, frenetic blend of new-school brawling with an old-school sensibility was as heated and wild as ever, though the added dimension of the ‘lumberjack match’ stipulation did nothing for it. I mean if anything, all the guys outside of the ring — heels and faces alike — should have been antagonistic towards Rollins for being such a suck-up to The Authority, so story-wise it was never a goer in my mind. Why not a cage match? Maybe they’re saving that stage of their blood feud (Rollins won this one, but the war is definitely still raging) for Hell in a Cell. Rollins/Ambrose in the big cage almost books itself — which makes me worry that it won’t happen at all.

This would’ve been a good spot for a quickie tag-team match (there weren’t any on this card, not even on the pre-show) or something like that to break things up, but no, we got an intense psychology-fest courtesy of the supremely creepy Bray Wyatt. He went into this match with Chris Jericho solo, without the hulking giants Harper and Rowan in his corner, probably to prove that his aura is strong enough when he’s on his own, without the rest of the Wyatt Family to prop up the ick factor. And it worked, despite the match being a few minutes too long, and not really kicking into gear until the last five — when Jericho hit Wyatt with a sick top-rope huracanrana, and Wyatt broke out the spider walk for a mega-pop, then turned the tide with one of his trademark crazed quips (“I cannot die! Because I’m already dead!”). Wyatt’s win over the rock star was definitive; these two have done all they can do together. The question now is, what next for Bray?

I would have booked Stephanie McMahon vs Brie Bella before the previous bout, as it was basically a gimmicky side attraction (the sole hook of this match: They called each other ‘bitch’! OMG!) and just something to tide things over till Daniel Bryan can make his big comeback and resume his feud with Steph and Triple H, AKA The Authority. I’ll give it to ’em, though: eschewing the catfight cliché, they actually tried to put on a wrestling match (although since Steph is not a wrestler, it was more of the kick-punch button-bashing video game variety). Maybe more importantly, they worked together to make Steph look like a wrestler. The outside interference at the end was a foregone conclusion; what wasn’t was the big twist: Nikki turning on Bree OMG! How far they can take this without Bryan getting back on TV I have no idea, but let’s see where it goes.

“This match is shit for one fall” — I could’ve sworn that’s what Lilian Garcia said as she did the introductions for Randy Orton’s clash with Roman Reigns. That would be my usual expectation, too; I’ve been vocal about my distaste for Orton as a wrestler (he’s competent, obviously, but he’s got no spark) and a character (he’s a personality void; the best he can muster is ‘petulant child’) but I actually thought he had good chemistry with Reigns in their previous in-ring collisions. So boy was I surprised to read on the dirt sheets that Orton was getting heat backstage for being a dick about Reigns, apparently believing the young up-and-comer posed a threat to his own spot on the card.

On the plus side, Creative seem to have parlayed this aspect into the kayfabe angle (and smartly so), giving their match here more of an edge than the usual WWE-moulded top-card-guy scrap. Sure, it could have done without all the rest holds (vintage Orton, as Michael Cole would put it) but the crowd and the match came to life whenever Reigns built up momentum. That being said, the bookers gave this one far more time than was needed; a swifter pace would have been to its benefit, particularly since Reigns’ whole thing is that he’s quick despite his size. But the former Shield believer got a necessary, convincing win — maybe we’ll see him in the title picture next year when SummerSlam goes back east to New York and New Jersey. (At the MetLife Stadium, perhaps? Although more likely the Izod Center; Brooklyn’s being touted as a possibility, too, but then why bother with the ‘New Jersey’ bit?)

And then it was time for the main event, in which there could only be one result. Brock Lesnar, after all, is the man who broke The Streak, so for him to fall to Super Cena would make The Undertaker look like a chump: the gravest insult of all. Indeed, Lesnar couldn’t just win this match — he had to destroy Cena in the process. And destroy him he did: no-selling his ridiculous stage punches and hitting him with the F5 just seconds into the match, then simply tossing him around like a rag doll with German suplexes for the next 10 minutes. It was literally that long before Cena got any more offence in — and it was the typical sudden superman comeback, no Saturday-morning-cartoon magic to it like Hogan hulking up — but the beat-down would quickly recommence.

Yes, the match lacked variety and nuance, and really could have done without Cena’s second illogical tide-turner. But that wasn’t the point. The point was for Brock Lesnar to render John Cena a physical wreck, pin him clean and take the title. And in doing so he looked every inch the monster he’s portrayed himself to be in his vastly improved and icily intense Paul Heyman-style promos (he’s clearly an attentive student of his mentor). He played his part perfectly; Cena, true to form, let him down at the end as the camera zoomed in on his usual bemused expression, the kind of face you’d pull if you’d just smelled a fart, not been obliterated by 16 German suplexes and two F5s. Don’t you get it, man? This is the death of Superman! ‘The Beast’ just killed you! The least you can do is act like it!

What Lesnar needs now is for Cena to disappear for a while, to sell the beating like Taker did at WrestleMania XXX. He’s got a film to shoot, doesn’t he? Now’s the perfect time for it. Get the hell out of the way and let Brock look like the beast he is.

Some other remarks:

  • The switchover to the new WWE logo wasn’t completed at this show as previously reported; the turnbuckle pads and DOG still had the old scratch, and the new WWE World Championship belt has yet to make its appearance. Word is tonight’s Raw will usher in the complete refresh, however.
  • A lot of top guys didn’t get booked on this show in any meaningful capacity. The tag champs were on lumberjack duty with the bulk of the mid-card. Sheamus was MIA. And the Bellas angle aside, there was no crossover with Total Divas. I’m sure there are some obvious names I’m missing. Creative can do better than that.
  • The Spanish Announce Team is now the German Announce Team? And there’s four of ’em? I smell a feud in the making…