Monday, August 15, 2011

Big Sexy Destiny: WWE SummerSlam 2011 Review

I did not see this one coming in the least, did you?
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Personally, if you laid out all the finishes to SummerSlam that I thought would happen, I didn't think in a million years that Kevin Nash, acting apparently independently of Triple H, laying out CM Punk after he had questionably defeated John Cena to unify the titles to set up Alberto del Rio cashing in his Money in the Bank contract, would be the end game. Given all the agita that some folks on the Internet were giving themselves over this, the fact that Triple H's biggest impact in this match was him putting over the importance of having a title, i.e. putting Cena and Punk over his own supposed MO, should be the biggest relief in the world to those who thought he'd end up jizzing all over the ring, and I'm left feeling much easier about things going forward. With all that being said, SummerSlam was a damn fine PPV, and a fitting follow up to the white hot Money in the Bank.

Let's start from the top, after LEGENDARY guitarist Adam Jones played the National Anthem, we were treated to a surprise match. Miz came out, doing his best dime store Rock impression. I like Miz a lot, but c'mon son, you're better than that. That elicited R-Truth, which then elicited Alberto del Rio, and boom, there was team #1 for the six man tag. The faces, John Morrison, Kofi Kingston and Rey Mysterio came out with no real promos or frills. That's how I'd describe this match, at least for the first part of it. There was good tag team work from both squads, which leads me to believe that there's good potential for a tag division if WWE would get their heads out of their asses to build one and not wait for the Kings of Wrestling to magically save them. Oh well.

Anyway, there was a really good bit of cohesive spot-fu here by Kingston and Morrison against their heel counterparts, mainly Miz. The Awesome One tried a hair pull takedown on that hippie Morrison, but JoMo countered with a mock Pele kick. At another point, Miz and Kingston were tangled together, with the former going for his Skull Crushing Finale and the latter segueing into the SOS for a two count. The end sequence probably had the biggest firework display from Kingston of them all. Mysterio went for a double 619 attempt on Miz and Truth, but Miz slipped away, leaving Truth to take the brunt of the kicks. Thinking he was home free, Miz turned around only to see Kingston leaping at him from the top rope to the outside of the ring with a splash. When I tell you that Kofi got mad air on this splash, the guy got MAD FUCKING AIR. Rey finished off Truth in the ring with what friend of TWB and fellow PPV-watcher Jesse Draham termed the "tadpole splash", and the PPV got started off with a high note.

Between matches, we got our first Punk sighting of the night, sarcastically acquiescing to John "Funkhauser" Laurinitis' request for an apology, and encountering Stephanie McMahon for the first time since he called her idiotic in Vegas. She wished him luck, although Punk was skeptical. Afterwards, she offered her hand, but Punk "knew where it's been" and refused. Awesome segment. Seriously, there is no better all-around performer in all of wrestling right now than Punk. Steph was tolerable here too. I'd say if she didn't shriek and took more of a neutral character like her husband is right now, then I wouldn't mind her back on WWE TV on an occasional basis. Yes, I just wrote that. No, I don't know why you're all coming at me with pitchforks and torches. Was it something I said?

The second match of the evening was HOSS FIGHT 2K11, aka Mark Henry vs. Sheamus, and it was probably my second favorite match on the card. When you get two big guys in the ring like that, the tendency is for slow, plodding and boring. I think with Sheamus in there, you get a new breed of big guy. He's so much crisper, so much stiffer-looking and has an agility that most guys his size don't possess. Henry's got athletic qualities too, even if they're more understated.

That's why this match worked. Sheamus clubbed hard with his strikes, and Henry moved around the ring, acquitting himself just fine. There was one point in the match where Sheamus was resting over the second rope in the classic 619 position, and Henry charged in like a locomotive at full steam, leaping in a Big Bossman-style hip attack, only he went through the ropes and to the floor. Christ, it was a mean looking attack. Sheamus looked the part of a mold-breaking wrestler, showing his strength at one point breaking out of a Canadian backbreaker by Henry by ripping his arms apart, and then his agility at another, flying from the top with a big shoulderblock. The finish of the match is what made it for me though. It was a countout, but it was such a well-done count out and one that made so much sense that I feel like it was the only right way to go. The two were brawling around on the outside when Henry scooped up Sheamus, slammed him against the ringpost and then barreled through the guardrail, busting a giant hole through it, leaving Sheamus in the wreckage. Henry struggled back to the ring, but Sheamus couldn't answer the bell and was counted out. See, that's the kind of countout finish I can dig. The visual of the rail breaking open was way cool, and it would make sense that an impact that broke steel, padding and other hard materials would take Sheamus out for at least 10 seconds.

While I was left with a positive imprint of the PPV to this point and for the most part thereafter, SummerSlam was not without its glaring flaws, and they all seemed to be compressed within the 20 or so minutes between HOSS FIGHT and the Divas Championship match. The sequence went as such where there was a commercial for a fucking movie, Cee-Lo Green performing and then ANOTHER commercial, this time for Slim Jim. First off, I pay $44.99 plus taxes and fees so that I get wrestling, resolution, banter and the occasional WWE hype piece. The reason for the payment is so that I, and everyone else, aren't bogged the fuck down by idiotic commercials made by terrible companies with terrible ad departments (for the most part). If you're going to have advertisements during PPV, then for Christ's sake, don't charge $45-$55+ per buy.

Secondly, and I'm going to try and be as fair to this as possible because he wasn't terrible, but I think Cee-Lo's performance here is the big reason why televised wrestling and live music don't mix. Again, he wasn't bad, and I realize that the wrestlers all marked out like schoolchildren to have him there. Punk, William Regal and several other wrestlers Tweeted things about how awesome it was to have him there. In theory, the live crowd probably should have dug him too. However, there are a lot of things that work for a live crowd that don't play off well for the audience at home. Dance-offs on RAW fall in this category. Talent shows are another. Singers performing stand-alone at a wrestling event? They definitely fall into this category.

The strange thing was though, the live crowd didn't even eat this up. Even during its deadest during the matches, they were still able to generate some buzz for each match. Aside from the random lip-syncing girl in the crowd they panned to, no one really seemed to be into Cee-Lo. It's a shame, because he's a higher caliber performer than, say, the Chris Warren band or even Kid Rock (whom I think with his last album or two has turned into an alright singer, but he definitely appeals to a wrestling crowd more than Cee-Lo). And I kinda dug him. But at the same time, it didn't feel right to me, and I'm not sure I was the only one who felt this way.

The Divas Championship, as I mentioned before, was next, but a funny thing happened. It wasn't a murderific squishy-squash, but it wasn't terrible either. Either Kelly Kelly got better by osmosis of being in there with Beth Phoenix, or maybe Kelly just needed more of a stage and a better opponent than, say, Brie Bella, to ply her wares. I don't know, but this was actually bordering on a good match. A lot of it had to do with Phoenix openly mocking Kelly's moves, especially the stink face, which I thought was a great bit of dickery. A lot of it had to with Kelly's bumping, it being really the only thing she does well. I thought the flash pin coming out of the way-too-long setup for the Glama-Slam was a really good finish too. I don't think this was meant to be the finish to the feud, and with it starting a couple of weeks prior, I didn't think it should have been either.

Back to the back, Stephanie was shown coming out of Cena's locker room to throw in a bit more drama. Then, another commercial. ANOTHER FUCKING COMMERCIAL GAWD ASDFKASfda;sdfh... this time, that godawful Twix spot with the two cops singing the theme song from Mannequin. At this point, I thought we'd see a commercial for Suits or In Plain Sight or whatever other formula drama USA Network was coming out with next.

Daniel Bryan and Wade Barrett would be the next match, and it was a fine match indeed. Then again, it's Daniel Bryan. He could have wrestled Moppy to an adequate at least match, and Wade Barrett is hardly Moppy. I don't know if I was the only one who picked up on this or not, but towards the beginning of the match, it felt like both guys were channeling the World of Sport and Johnny Saint with the escapes and the grappling sequences. As someone whose memory is still fresh with Chikarasaurus Rex and the wonderment of Saint, Johnny Kidd, Colt Cabana and Mike Quackenbush, I thought that was a great little sequence, almost an Easter egg for folks like me who are familiar with the style.

It was clear that Barrett, who still needs some seasoning to me, had a great rapport with Bryan last night, but again, it's Bryan. Still, some guys look better in there with the erstwhile Best in the World, and this has been the best Barrett has looked ever in a WWE ring. It was the little things, really, like his almost seamless reaction to Bryan's matrix-in-the-corner escape into a waiting Black Hole Slam, or the fact that Bryan had to resort to crawling between Barrett's legs to escape him. I really liked his slingshot backbreaker too. It was innovative offense without really needing to make things complex. Obviously, Bryan brought his A-game too, but does he ever not come ready to dazzle? I loved the sequence out of the first Wasteland attempt where Bryan went from the guillotine choke into the LeBell Lock, into the KICKS~! after the rope break. Seriously, watching Bryan wrestle is the major perk of being a fan right here and right now.

I thought the finish was really well done too. You had Barrett in the corner, ready to take a Frankensteiner from the top, and then he just shoved Bryan onto the ropes. Crotching Bryan would have been good, but they went the extra mile by having Barrett clothesline Bryan off the ropes before going into Wasteland. Really slick match. I want to see more of this, and if Barrett is going to be in the main event without needing Money in the Bank, then he really should work more with Bryan so he can get a bit of a shine on him. They got del Rio acclimatized to WWE by having him work with Mysterio, so why not let it work with another guy they have big plans for?

The World Heavyweight Championship NO HOLDS BARRED match was next on the docket, and Christian had some words for Randy Orton. He brought out his insurance policy, Edge, who got a pretty decent pop. There was a love-in at first, but then Edge started berating Christian for his whiny behavior as of late. Anticipating the swerve with promo swerve... it was so meta. A lot of people thought this was the match of the night, and I'm not going to sit here and say that it wasn't a good garbage brawl. It was. I enjoyed a lot of it, but at the same time, parts felt needlessly excessive, and I didn't feel like Orton took enough big bumps to really put the match in doubt. I mean, three tables were broken. All three of them had Christian going through them. Yeah, Orton took a few Kendo stick shots, but at the same time, he dished out a bunch of them too. The Con-Chair-To was foiled. Christian took the stump DDT on the trashcan, the flip onto the steel steps on the outside and the big finish with the RKO on the steps. Orton really came out of the match unscathed.

Now, I'm not one to harp on a guy looking stronger than the other guy because that's pedantic and I fucking hate when people judge their enjoyment of a match based on parity. That being said, the story didn't draw me in nearly as much as it might have if Orton's health and well-being was put into jeopardy more than just taking a random Kendo shot or the Killswitch. People complain about John Cena being SUPERCENA, but Orton as the destroyer of worlds doesn't draw me in all that much. Remember when I talked about vulnerability being key for a good performer? Orton didn't put that vibe out for me, and he really hasn't for a good long time now. So yeah, he'll have good matches, even great ones, but it's times like these where he really hampers himself with the lack of big spots he takes. The no-DQ match was a perfect place for Orton to show that he could really generate something more than a pop for his RKO. He didn't. That's why this, for me, was maybe my fourth favorite match on the card rather than my favorite.

And now, after a shot with Stephanie giving Trips a good luck smooch, it was time for the main event. This is the match that is going to be dissected the most by everyone who watched and even those who didn't care to tune in at all. Cena and Punk had a very, very tough act to follow, but I thought that if any two guys in WWE right now were up to the task whose names weren't Bryan, it was these two. I thought Cena's entrance was really cool in turning to the camera and waxing about how this was the arena where it all got started for him. I thought it was really cool. The crowd, which was on the quiet side most of the night (although they were hot for certain guys, more on that later), came alive for this match, going into the "LET'S GO CENA/CENA SUCKS" routine every chance they could. It was so weird, there were barely any "CM PUNK!" chants, although he got a lot of the positive cheers for things he did. It was almost like this match was a referendum on Cena more than anything else. Something to chew on.

Anyway, the match at the beginning felt like it was your standard feeling-out process. Lots of headlocks and whips, strikes and rope-runs. Actually, I felt like most of the story revolved around how evenly matched the two were, even as they went deeper into the match. Case in point, Cena went for the Five Knuckle Shuffle, and Punk, like he did at Money in the Bank, went to kick Cena in the head. Cena, knowing that the counter was coming, blocked it and segued into the STF. That was brilliant storytelling. That was brilliant wrestling. That set off a stretch where guys were countering and countering and countering some more with some damn good submission wrestling from both men until Punk, while in the Crippler Crossface (!), gained the ropes.

The moment of the match for me came when Punk hit his plancha to the outside. This was the only spot in the match where Triple H stood out to me, and it was for the right reasons. Punk nailed Cena with his suicide dive, and then there was a double countout tease, mainly because Punk hit his face flush against the rail. Trips got to 9, and then said "fuck it". He decided he wasn't going to let the match end on a BS double countout, so he fetched both Cena and Punk. This interjection was positive because it ensured we were going to get a true winner. Trips got involved, yeah, but it was in a way that put the other guys over, put the match over. I dug it a lot.

From there, we went into a prolonged sequence of finishers and big spots. Punk and Cena traded strikes in BOO!/YAY! crowd reaction format. Punk got a majority of the YAY! cheers. There were a bunch of AA teases, a few GTS teases. Each guy kicked out of each other's finisher. At one point, Cena slickly countered Punk's springboard dive into a STF, something that I didn't think could be humanly possible. Punk elicited a "Randy Savage!" chant with a flying elbow from the top. Then, Punk just started laying into Cena, getting a buisaku knee to the gut, a few more kicks and a second GTS for the pin. Cena got his foot on the ropes, yes, which I thought at the time would be the source of controversy going forward, but Trips shrugged it off. Punk won, and all was right with the world. Hell, he even refused to shake Triple H's hand. SummerSlam would end with a happy ending...

...but then Kevin Nash came out of the crowd and all hell broke loose. A clothesline and a Jackknife powerbomb later, and Alberto del Rio comes in to cash his briefcase with a glimmering warlock and the 1-2-3.

This is the point of contention where most people will bicker as to the worth of this event. Personally, I loved it, and I'll tell you why. One, Nash's involvement, and then Triple H's bewilderment over it, gives the ending so much doubt and so many directions where they can go. Nash and Trips have a long history, and not just in character either. In fact, I'm not sure how far back their in-ring characters go. This was very much a wink-nudge moment that this top story has been built upon ever since Punk sat Indian style on top of the stage in Las Vegas and "spoke his mind". Secondly, it preserves both Punk and Cena as three-dimensional, rootable characters and gives an external villain for either of them to chase. Thirdly, it allowed for Triple H to have a moment at the end of the event without overshadowing anything. Fourth, it was genuinely shocking and at the same time, it still felt fresh.

All in all, I thought this show was a GREAT SUCCESS. It had its problems - the commercials and having Stephanie McMahon there almost superfluously being the worst - and it didn't really have that special atmosphere that Money in the Bank did (but then again, that's a minor quibble since MitB '11 is in at least the top five if not top three WWE shows since 1996). That being said, there really were not patently offensively bad matches, there were some great moments, and I thought the end, though admittedly polarizing, was memorable and sets up so many great options for storytelling going forward. Yeah, maybe Punk winning should have gotten more breathing room, but then again, he got his super happy ending in Chicago. I don't want to see CM Punk's super hot resolutions lose their specialness right away, y'know? That's why I'm more than okay with SummerSlam and its end. This caps off what has been an amazing summer for the Worldwide Leader in Sports Entertainment, and I'll be awaiting RAW tonight with baited bated breath.

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