The Brain Buster 8.24.13: Summerslam 2013 - The Point of Turnaround for WWE
Posted by Phil Hiotis on 08.24.2013
An exploration towards the events leading up, occuring, and following Summerslam that positively show that WWE is changing their product for the better.
I'd like to point out, first and foremost, that this is not going to be my regular column this week. Maybe it's because I've been out of town the last few weeks and have been unable to write, or maybe it's because I'm on the outskirts of a total mental collapse, but I would like to write as purely a wrestling fan this week. Sometimes I try to take an unbiased literary view at wrestling, other times I like to do deep character analysis; however, after watching Summerslam, all I could think about was, "Man, it feels good to be a fan." I'm continuing this mindset unto this column.
I'm not one to predict an event's importance prior to the story unfolding. Wrestling especially has proven that, with many moments and events, the impact is not truly felt until it is rested in the annals of history. It lies in the progress of letting a story play out, and it is well documented that sometimes, especially in today's televised wrestling business, the creators become too impatient/pressured/short sighted to allow this to happen any longer. So, I guess I'm starting this off with an apology for going against my own laurels; however, my jumping the gun has more to do with my overall excitement of the product than anything else. Starting from the beginning of the summer, when the storylines for Summerslam truly began to manifest, continuing to programming afterwards, WWE has shown me the light ending the dark days of transition. This is the point of turnaround for the WWE.
Now, to once again kill my credibility, I will admit that this is not the first time I have uttered those words. I'm sure we all said the same thing during the infamous "Summer of Punk: WWE Edition." We all thought the product was turning – in one night, Daniel Bryan won the Money in the Bank and CM Punk became WWE Champion. CM Punk and John Cena also happened to put on a 5-star classic match. WWE became unpredictable, as I, nor my wrestling peers, had a clue of what was going to happen. It was a good feeling – a good feeling that lasted until that year's Summerslam. A Kevin Nash jack-knife later, and I realized that this was wishful thinking. So what's different now? If you think about it, what happened in Summerslam 2013 mirrored 2011. Daniel Bryan, the clear cut fan favorite, defeated John Cena only to be attacked by an aging wrestler, Triple H, that led to a Money in the Bank cash in. Should I not feel equally hollow and empty as I did when Kevin Nash "invaded" yet another wrestling program? The difference lies in the storytelling.
Why I, and to my surprise many in the internet community, are not as up in arms as we were in 2011 with Big Sexy, is because of the storytelling. Yes, it is upsetting that Daniel Bryan could not have a definitive first run as champion, but honestly who really does anymore? Edge, Randy Orton, CM Punk all had very brief runs on their first go around as WWE champion, and that did not keep them down. It's almost expected now. They give the wrestler the belt to see the crowd respond to them, take it away, and build them back up with another chase towards the title. We see the same thing happening now with Daniel Bryan. If I was to be negative, I can say that Randy Orton is only serving as a temporary holder of the belt because he had the Money in the Bank. I could argue the merit of having two separate Money in the Bank matches, and say that there should only be one and it should go to someone like a Damien Sandow, who can be elevated by it. But I'm not a negative fan. I like to let the storylines play out, and although people are concerned with WWE losing their number one baby face in John Cena to injury, there has been a bigger problem the last few months: there is no clear number one heel.
Since CM Punk left and came back, the company has been missing a definitive number one heel - someone to challenge the number one baby face. Alberto Del Rio's new visciousness is helping him get over as a great heel, but the problem is that he is the World Heavyweight Champion with the inability to challenge the number one baby face. Mark Henry's faux-retirement made a strong case for him as the number one heel; however, Creative has recently gone a different direction with his character. With Randy Orton cashing in and aligning himself with management, we now have an established number one baby face in Daniel Bryan and a number one heel in Randy Orton. And as much as I'm, and I'm sure you all, will hate saying this, there's something timeless about the McMahon family as full blown heels. I'm not big on nostalgia, but it just seems right. Daniel Bryan versus, not only Randy Orton, but the entire McMahon family, with the added wrestling reality of the question, "what makes a WWE superstar," can lead to a long feud that will make the moment when Bryan wins the title again that much sweeter. I think about the time when Bryan will win the belt again, and I got a sort of euphoric feeling. And I will admit, I am biased towards the 2004 ROH guys; however, this goes beyond that. It will feel so good to see Bryan finally win because it will be what the WWE Universe wants, and the fact that the WWE Universe likes Bryan Danielson from ROH is a euphoric feeling for me. I used this same analogy when I saw Bryan against Antonio Cesaro during Bryan's gauntlet match, but it's like watching your kids grow up, fight adversity, and become completely successful. It's a great feeling.
Both main events undoubtedly delivered and made this event what it was. What made them so interesting to me is, leading to the event; these matches were complete opposites of each other. With Daniel Bryan v. John Cena, we, the audience, knew we were in for a great match. We saw what Cena can do when paired with a high caliber wrestler in the past, and one would find extreme difficulty in finding a higher caliber wrestler than Bryan on the current WWE roster. The Miz TV program aside, the build left something to be desired. There was no real feud. Cena picked him because he felt he was the best opponent. No hurt feelings – those only came out with the revelation that Cena might have done this to appease his Bella twin. They both did a great job selling the fight towards the end, but the focus was more on what Vince McMahon wanted.
Punk and Lesnar, on the other hand, had great drama guaranteed. Since Lesnar uses Heyman as a mouthpiece, we were ready to be taken on an emotional journey, and they did not disappoint. We knew the chemistry between Heyman and Punk was extraordinary; however, even when Lesnar chimed in, it did not feel forced or awkward. The uncertainty was in the match itself. Lesnar was coming off three matches with Triple H that felt very slow and uncoordinated. Their third match left me especially confused, as Lesnar was acting more like Ric Flair than a beast. We were a bit unsure if Lesnar could deliver on giving a high caliber match; however, after the conclusion of their match, it was all laid to rest. Punk proved how tough he was, and Lesnar proved that he is a beat. Shawn Michaels said it best with his simple, "Thank you."
It wasn't just that the matches delivered on the hype of a Summerslam, it's the way they delivered. Both the main events were not only barn burners - they were unique. Those matches were different. It set them apart from the type of wrestling the WWE fan might be use to seeing. Let's take Brock v. Punk, for example. I wrote (and later lost in the Atlantis of the Internet) an article about how I believed it was time for WWE to finally use MMA to enhance their product, and this match could be the start. Was the match like the recent Kazushi Sakuraba v. Yuji Nagata match? Absolutely not; however, they incorporated enough of an MMA influence in the match to make it stand out. I was expecting Punk to pull guard into a submission at some point toward the match; however, the chain submissions he and Brock Lesnar completed, although no stranger to a fan of many types of wrestling, might have been a new look for the recent WWE programing. Although I personally may have wanted to see a bit more, I can respect the fact that a match like Sakuraba v. Nagata would not appeal to enough wrestling fans. I believe someone on this website said it best about an MMA influenced wrestling match, "It's a match you'll either love or hate." Well said. Anyway, the added nuances, as well as the overall story in the match made this, not only one of the best matches of Summerslam, but hands down one of the best WWE matches of the year. Paul Heyman once said that wrestling is simple, well there is no simpler story than one presented in this match, and with the level of execution that both wrestlers brought, it left the viewers on the edge of their seat.
The Bryan v. Cena match is great for similar reasons. It told a great story – "young" wrestler hungry for the belt and an established star trying to prove that he's still the best. It's Hogan – Andre. It's Hogan – Warrior. It's a classic story. What made this continually interesting is their styles are completely contrasting. They even threw in a great treat of starting their match similarly to their dark match on Velocity ten years prior. This match also was different because they established a different rhythm. It reminded me towards the end of a puro match. By the time both competitors were slapping each other, the Japanse influence was solidified. The fact that Bryan won with a very familiar move – what seemed to be the "Boma Ye"- and beat Cena completely clean (despite him revealing his torn triceps later) shows that, unlike in 2011, the WWE is committed to change.
Now, I'm not writing this simply to mark out about how great the main events were. I would be hard-pressed to say that I agree with all the decisions in the booking of Summerslam. Damian Sandow lost clean to Cody Rhodes, which continues the modern WWE approach towards the individuals who win the prestigious Money in the Bank briefcase – do not allow them to win until they win the title. There was a match that's purpose was only served because of a reality show on the E! network. The World Championship match, although provided an entertaining effort by both men, was not truly built with a strong story (although the video package that highlighted Christian's place in the title match was brilliantly done). So, it is a little of the same ol' same ol'. Why the optimism then? The silver lining in these disappointments helped lay the foundation for my optimism.
Let's take a look at the Sandow-Rhodes match. Yes, Sandow lost, which is aggravating to wrestling fans, since it is presumed he will be a world champion within the next year. The solace I take is: this is a storyline that was in the works for a bit. They showed hints of the falling out of their friendship before the Money in the Bank PPV, and it looks like they will continue to feud, perhaps with Sandow's briefcase on the line. With our short sightedness, it seems as though WWE is burying Sandow only to resurrect him to win a title randomly; however, this could be a start of a significantly long feud for him, and the start to building him towards being a believable champion. I can say the same for the Randy Orton/McMahon involvement in the main event. Although it was no real surprise, it stayed consistent with the material presented on WWE television. Mr. McMahon said that he would want neither Cena nor Bryan to be champion. He got his wish because he's the boss. Bryan and Orton now both have direction, as does CM Punk, who will continue his blood feud with Paul Heyman. WWE could continue this feud for months, and make the moment when Punk finally gets to enact his full revenge on Heyman so fulfilling for the audience. This feud has also reignited Punk to the face he began as in 2011, one that does not play for the fans or management. If his outlash towards the booing fan on Monday is any indication, it is that he will continue being the unique anti-hero the WWE has been trying to create with wrestlers like Orton for a while now. Bray Wyatt, although not having the highest caliber match, has direction after his kidnapping of Kane. Even people like Ryback, who were going nowhere last month, seem to have some development happening with their character.
Let me break for a second, and talk to you, the reader, one on one. Honestly, do you think Ryback looks at videos from last year, as he was getting popular and people were chanting "Feed Me More," and look at himself now, and how Creative has ruined his character, and just cry? I can see it, especially if he's playing a bully now. What did your parents always tell you? The bully is the one who is most sad. Talk about life imitating art and art imitating life. Thanks, I'll go back now. It's almost done, I swear.
Ryback aside, the reason I marked Summerslam as the turning point is because this is the first time in a long time where I see management not cowardly running towards the known commodity, but bravely putting their faith in a new. It is the first time in a long time where one can see long term story developments come to fruition and continue onward. It is the first time in a long time that the WWE Universe's voice has felt heard in a very long time, and I can only hope that my positivity will be rewarded in the product to come. During a year when Wrestlemania was as guilty as ever as being uninspired and safe, Summerslam not only trumped it, it showed why it is considered the second biggest wrestling show.