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At the end of an exciting weekend of wrestling, WWE released their marquee event of the summer with SummerSlam. At four hours, SummerSlam was bigger than ever, but was it better? Let's go match by match to see how well WWE made out.
Brock Lesnar vs The Undertaker-***1/2
Lesnar and The Undertaker were well on their way to having an instant classic, but then the WWE creative brain trust got involved and muddled the match into one of the more awkward moments in company history.
First, the match was pretty good. Yes it wasn't the greatest technical battle and there were not a ton of highspots, but both of the these guys are so good at telling stories that it transcends normal wrestling evaluation. Take your pick of your favorite moment, but the peak of the match for me was when Brock began to laugh, and The Undertaker responded by sitting up and delivering a wicked, sarcastic laugh that sent chills throughout the arena. I know it doesn't sound like much when the best part of the match was the two opponents laughing at each other, but that is a testament to how truly great each of these talents are.
The booking of the finish just didn't get the job done for me. I understand they need to keep the feud going until Wrestlemania, but really, this was the best WWE could come up with? A confused timekeeper that didn't know he has to wait for the referee's signal? It makes logical sense, now The Undertaker has a technical victory over Brock, but he still has something to prove while Lesnar is ravenous to get HIS revenge. But I just feel like there was a better way to get to that point, like a referee stoppage or something, than what WWE ultimately elected to do. It also hurt the real finish of the match, because when the bell rang for real the second time, the crowd wasn't quite sure how to react. In the end the match was memorable, but WWE certainly left something on the table for this installment of the feud.
John Cena vs Seth Rollins-****1/2
When WWE rolled out this match halfway through the show as opposed to going on last or second to last, it pretty much confirmed that the finish was going to be screwy. However, Jon Stewart coming out and costing Cena the match was pretty low on the predictability meter. The finish will be frowned upon by some, but I'm not totally against it. It was better than a predictable Cena victory or a DQ finish, and it gives Rollins a victory over Cena, which is something even if it came with some help. If Stewart sticks around and becomes pals with Rollins (and now that Stewart wrapped up his show I don't see any reason why not) it could be entertaining. Stewart has the acting chops and the comedic timing to be a great heel manager, if he is a permanent fixture on Raw he isn't a random celebrity running in for a one-off, it could create a long term storyline.
I think Rollins is the best wrestler in the world, and I'm pretty sure everyone else would agree that he is at least in the top 5 or 10. This guy just understands what it takes to have a good match. As a worker he is the total package, he flys through the air, he sells, he dishes out psychology, he hits all his spots, he does it all. In this match Rollins resembled at one time or another: Jushin Liger, Low Ki, BxB Hulk, John Cena and Triple H. He had Hiroshi Tanahashi blushing after that Frog Splash. He is probably never going to beat Cena cleanly in the ring, so this might be as good as it gets.
Credit should also go to John Cena. Cena has worked hard to make his matches a little less predictable by expanding his arsenal and with the exception of that awful springboard cutter which he should totally retire, the results have been pretty good. 2015 has been Cena's best year from a match quality standpoint, and even if he is going to win 95% of his matches, at least they are entertaining in the process.
But Cena's real value to this match was his overall strength of character. Rollins' victory tonight is arguably more important than his victory at Wrestlemania because this time he beat Cena. When Rollins was connecting with near falls, the crowd came alive and the atmosphere was tense with anticipation. Put Rollins in the ring with any other top star, Randy Orton, Triple H, even Brock Lesnar, and that match doesn't feel remotely the same. When you wrestle John Cena, your match matters more than against anyone else, and that creates a match atmosphere that is unique to him.
Kevin Owens vs Cesaro-***1/2
If you were to tell me that WWE gave these guys around 15 minutes bell-to-bell I would have bet on it to be the match of the night. I think Owens was likely banged up from his brutal ladder match the night before and that took some wind out of the match. The pace was slower than expected and it wasn't until the last couple minutes some of the really heavy moves were brought out. It was still an entertaining match, and it gives Owens a good win at SummerSlam, which will hopefully get him back on the right track headed towards the main event.
Team Bella vs Team BAD vs Team PCB-**1/4
Pretty disappointing match considering how good the previous night's Diva's match was. The match wasn't very clean and Team BAD was barely a factor. In addition it seems like we again are no closer to any form of storyline development within the division. I guess since Becky Lynch got the victory she would be in line for a title shot, but if that was the case, why wouldn't she have gotten the victory over Nikki Bella? It also didn't help that WWE decided to put this match on right after the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match, which was pretty climactic and the crowd probably needed a breather. WWE actually gave them a fair amount of time to work this match, but they just didn't to gel together. Not a great night for the Revolution.
I have no idea what the purpose of this match was. Ambrose and the commentators had stressed that this feud was not going to be the end of their feud. Well, Ambrose and Reigns cleaning house and pinning Bray Wyatt right in the middle of the ring seems like a pretty clean ending to me. Reigns has been on a mission to rebuild his momentum that he lost in the eyes of the hardcore fans during his failed Wrestlemania push. Having a really good match at SummerSlam in front of the NYC crowd would have gone a long way in helping that cause, but instead he came out flat, got the predictable hot tag and won a subpar match.
Randy Orton vs Sheamus-**3/4
A short but effective match between two guys that are treading water in a mediocre feud as they await bigger and better things. For Sheamus that future is in the Money in the Bank briefcase, and since heels are nearly flawless in their ability to cash in for world titles (we are looking at you, Damien Sandow) Sheamus seems like a lock to become the world champion in the next 6-10 months. To do that he needed a legitimate victory over an accomplished champion to build up some credit he had lost due to lethargic booking and his injury, and a clean victory over Orton is just what the doctor ordered. It's still unclear whether Sheamus is really championship material, but this was a step in the right direction and hopefully he evolves a bit more in the coming months.
New Day vs Lucha Dragons vs Los Matadores vs The Prime Time Players-***3/4
When The New Day got their original gimmick, it was doomed to fail. A babyface group that always talks about positivity will get booed in the post-Attitude WWE. But a heel group that talks about positivity, gets booed by the crowd but refuses to accept that they are the bad guys? That is a money gimmick for 2015. Add the fact that you have someone as talented as Xavier Woods leading the charge and you have a group that is rocking the Barclays Center. The match itself was pretty good, with every competitor getting a chance to shine (and how great is Kalisto?). The Prime Time Players were a decent team, but The New Day is the keystone in the Tag Team division right now, and they deserve to be the champions.
Rusev vs Dolph Ziggler-**1/4
Not a whole lot was accomplished in this match, except that WWE pushed the idea of a mixed tag match between the two feuding couples even further. As awkward as Ziggler and Lana have been together, the crowd still pops pretty big for her when she gets physically involved with Summer Rae, so even if their match isn't technically sound it could still move the needle. Rusev has improved so much since his original introduction to the main roster, he is so much more confident in the ring and on the microphone, and he is only going to continue to improve.
Ryback vs The Miz vs Big Show-**
Remember a couple months ago when WWE was pushing the Intercontinental Championship? Boy that seems like a long time ago. You know the situation is bad when none of the three men in the match could change the perception of the title one iota if they won it.
Stephen Amell and Neville vs Stardust and King Barrett-**1/2
As far as celebrity matches go it probably doesn't get much better than this. Stephen Amell took this very seriously and worked really hard to do his best in the ring and all four men should be proud on how this match turned out. A New York City crowd could have been potentially hostile to a celebrity wrestling in the ring, but WWE did a good job showcasing Amell's athleticism and coming up with the right spots and the crowd responded well to it. The other three guys in the ring are all underrated, particularly Cody Rhodes/Stardust who nails every single gimmick he gets.
So was it the best SummerSlam ever? Probably not. The undercard was kind of underwhelming and there was really only three above average matches out of ten. That being said, WWE managed to keep me watching for four hours and the crowd was alive at the end, and that is a pretty difficult task, so they deserve some credit. Post-SummerSlam it looks like WWE has made some pretty big plans with Jon Stewart coming aboard to feud with Cena and the questionable finish of The Undertaker/Lesnar match, and starting tomorrow they will begin writing the first chapter in the road to Wrestlemania.
Here are my star ratings from Saturday's NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn event:
Jushin Thunder Liger vs Tyler Breeze-***- The fact that Liger was able to just fly to NYC and put on a good WWE-style match is pretty incredible.
The Vaudevillians vs Blake and Murphy-***1/2- I'm a huge fan of the Vaudevillians, that is a just a terrific gimmick. Meanwhile, Blake and Muprhy came off as henchmen in a Steven Segal movie. NXT made the right move here in crowing the Vaudevillains.
Tye Dillinger vs Apollo Crews-**1/4- I've been a big fan of Uhaa Nation/Apollo Crews since his Dragon Gate USA days, and it was only a matter of time till he made it to WWE. His in-ring style will translate really well to WWE and this was a fine way to introduce him.
Samoa Joe vs Baron Corbin-***- Corbin has come a long way and that is a testament to the effectiveness of NXT. They booked him well and gave him short matches until he was ready to have longer matches with good opponents. That is the perfect way to work with someone who is long on potential but short on experience.
Sasha Banks vs Bayley-**** - This was a good, not great match. I have been hearing some "5 star" and Match of the Year buzz for this match, but I just agree with that. I think part of the reasoning behind that is that WWE fans are so conditioned to watching bad women's matches, that any match that is genuinely good automatically gets overrated. There was good storytelling and some really good wrestling, but it wasn't one of the 25 best matches of 2015 or anything. Anyone else think that Sasha Banks is like Randy Orton?
Finn Balor vs Kevin Owens-****1/4- This match is getting overlooked. There were some really nasty bumps and highspots in this one and both men were likely very sore the next morning. Balor is a future main eventer and can't be long for NXT.
You can follow Jesse Collings on Twitter @JesseCollings