Columns, Live Performance, TV

Top-Down Smackdown: Summerslam in Review

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WWE

Given all I’ve been saying about stories, characters and making sense, let’s look at how Summerslam yesterday fared. Overall, I’d say it was a better than average pay-per-view show, but I think we all agree that “average” is on the low end nowadays.

Jon Stewart’s bit kicking kicking off the show included a great line about wrestling being more real than politics, with participants who have more respect for their audiences. Considering how often we throw around the term “pro-wrestling” to describe Fox News or MSNBC opinion panel shows, it made me realize we may be insulting sports entertainment every time we do. That said, WWE sometimes has to work uphill if it’s going to prove that it does respect its audience.

The segment with Mick Foley was pointless except to have Mick Foley out, which is fine, since he’s always fun. It was just a storyline dead end, setting up a premise whereby Stewart was to interview Brock Lesnar…which paid off only with Paul Heyman yelling at Jon Stewart outside a locker room. Given what transpired later, an angle with Seth Rollins would have been better for a payoff.

Randy Orton vs. Sheamus – I can’t even remember why these guys are feuding. Boring match, but it finally gave Sheamus a win, so he doesn’t look like a totally week Mr. Money in the Bank.

The Tag Team Clusterfuck, a.k.a. Vince’s token diversity match. Two black teams and two Latino teams who seem to hate each other just because there can be only one token, or something. Honestly, these fatal fourways are becoming formulaic and insulting – the Lucha Dragons in particular shine in one-team-on-one-team matches, and need to be allowed to do so on a major event. Titus O’Neil’s three-person slam was impressive, and I’d see big singles things in his future if not for the fact that WWE’s track record on pushing black athletes to the world title is non-existent. Tag team wrestling used to be taken seriously – this one gave off the disturbing vibe of possibly kickstarting a Xavier Woods vs. El Torito angle, like that feud between Hornswoggle and Chavo Guerrero that used to waste time every week for months.

Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev – I’ll say this: it’s nice to be able to believe that a double countout CAN happen and is a genuine threat. I also don’t buy that “in real life” anyone with the look an pedigree of Rusev would be beaten in a fight by anyone with the look and pedigree of Ziggler. But both register as distinct personalities, and with the dueling girlfriends, there’s a genuine storyline issue at play. Kudos to that.

Stephen Amell and Neville vs. Stardust and King Barrett – Amell looked great, and you could tell he worked his ass off to look legit in the ring, not just with the moves, but the way he taunted foes by pantomiming arrow-firing. I think he probably should have been allowed to get the pin on Stardust, though I get why the boys in the business probably wouldn’t have allowed that. It just seems strange that a match centered on their feud got resolved by their “plus-ones” who were added at the last minute.

Ryback vs. Big Show vs Miz – The Miz proved he was a valuable player in this one, adding ALL the entertainment value to what would otherwise have been a dull collision of slow-moving glaciers (and I don’t mean Ray Lloyd). With this and his recent lengthy angle with Damien Sandow, he has truly earned his spot in the company…perhaps more so than when he main-evented WrestleMania.

The Shield minus one vs. The Wyatt Family minus one – No surprise here: these guys are great in the ring against each other in a way they aren’t always with other opponents. Roman Reigns reminded me why I used to like him, and Wyatt/Harper worked better than either one solo. Again, these are nice, cleanly delineated characters who don’t even need a specific angle because you can just look at them and know they’d naturally fight each other.

Seth Rollins vs. John Cena – I’m not sure how much longer they can keep Rollins a cowardly heel when, in the ring, he can match every one of Cena’s moves without cheating, kick out of the AA, and demonstrate counters I’ve never seen before. It takes two to tango, so Cena deserves credit here as well, but it was Rollins’ show. Cena was best when acting like an actual heel, using Ric Flair’s figure four to make the crowd hot, and I think we all expected Flair or his daughter Charlotte to do the expected run-in once the ref went down. That it was Jon Stewart was a fun twist, though again, having Stewart be shown to be obsessed with the Undertaker-Lesnar match throughout, only to be part of the other main event, was an odd, slightly misguided choice.

Female Teams versus Each Other – I just have one question about this new Divas division feud. How does anyone know when somebody has “won”?

That’s not a small point. These teams wrestle each other every week in matches based mainly on a grudge that they each want to be the best. But what is the goal? What’s the endgame? There is no six-woman championship, and only one can be singles champ – but right now, like with tag teams, the company seems to be afraid to have more than one angle going in the division.

Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro – My router crapped out during this match and had to be rebooted with the help of Time-Warner cable. Seemed decent; what I like the best is the visual contrast between the two guys. A big sweaty bear versus a perfectly toned super-athlete. Owens’ yelling throughout the match works well for him too – Cesaro ought to try it sometime. He comes off too smug as a good guy right now.

Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker – I’ve seen a lot of smack today online talked about Taker’s performance, but I have to say he looked a lot better in this than he did the first time. He hit hard, he forced Brock into more of a wrestling match than a suplex-fest, and just generally we got a Lesnar match that wasn’t one-sided, where he had to face an “equal,” no matter how preposterous the idea is of the aging Undertaker as an equal for the physical beast that Lesnar still is.

The finish was semi-weak – Brock’s middle finger pass-out rocked, but the idea that a timekeeper just got overly excited and fucked everything up by ringing the bell early is pretty silly, unless they go further with the angle and the timekeeper turns out to be corrupt. Also, making the Undertaker heel seems like a fool’s errand – the only way to get heat for him is to make him act like a coward, and if you only do that at the very end of the match, it didn’t really pay off, did it? On the other hand, if he and Brock are back for a lengthy series/feud, it makes total sense; I’m just 99% sure that they aren’t.

We’ll see tonight.

About Author

Luke Y. Thompson has been writing professionally about movies and pop-culture since 1999, and has also been an actor in some extremely cheap culty and horror movies you will probably never hear much about (he is nonetheless mostly proud of them, as he met his wife on one). As editor of The Robot's Voice since 2012, he can take the blame for the majority of the site's content, all of which he creates because he loves you very, very much. (Although he loves nachos more. Sorry.) Prior to TRV, Luke wrote for publications that include the New Times LA, Los Angeles CityBeat, E! Online, OC Weekly, Geekweek, GeekChicDaily, The L.A. Times, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, and Nerdist