The Staples Center in Los Angeles hosted WWE SummerSlam on Sunday night. At the end of a wild, unpredictable and frankly stellar evening of professional wrestling, all three defended titles changed hands, the top of the card has undergone a potentially paradigm-altering shakeup and everyone who is tired of John Cena witnessed a dismantling the likes of which has never been seen. We've got a lot to talk about, so let's dive in and figure out where we stand and what we learned at SummerSlam.
Please note: I watched this event live, inside the Staples Center. As a result, I am likely tainted by the crowd energy, lack of annoying commentary and so on. But my initial (and secondary) reaction is that this is one of the best installments of SummerSlam ever. No worse than top-three. Without further ado ...
Rob Van Dam def. Cesaro
This bonus pre-show match was added at the 11th hour and was an exclusive on the WWE Network. In the arena, it was a simply phenomenal match, as Cesaro continues his streak of looking fantastic in matches that he inexplicably loses. He got to showcase his talents and European uppercut Van Dam a bunch, so there's really nothing at all to complain about.
What we learned: Cesaro continues to be the WWE's "break glass in case of emergency" main-eventer-in-waiting. He's going to continue to win over the crowd and be able to consistently dazzle in the ring with his feats of strength. Van Dam is likely taking some more time off soon and he's been losing to pretty much everyone as of late, so this win was likely nothing more than a pleasant send-off and a good, easy way to get the show started right for a hot crowd that was aching to cheer.
Intercontinental Championship Match: Dolph Ziggler def. The Miz (c)
Similar to Cesaro's situation, Dolph is a for-real star who will always, ALWAYS have crowds right there with him, living and dying on every near fall and kick-out. No matter how many times the rug is pulled out from under him with feuds and title runs, or anything else, Dolph's fans don't feel defeated like they have with so many other almost-stars in the past. It's great, it speaks to his talent level and likability and should be comfort to all fans that he's not going anywhere and most importantly, he'll be just fine.
But in the off chance you were worried about that, he won the Intercontinental title on Sunday night in decisive fashion to a thunderous ovation. Pretty cool.
What we learned: Don't tell anyone, but The Miz is actually the complete package now. A fantastic, natural heel with a perfectly smarmy gimmick (a Hollywood star -- mostly in his own mind -- who doesn't want to get hit in the face and is cocky about everything) who has learned how to make everything look great in the ring, put together a fantastic story via wrestling and hang in there with someone the caliber of Ziggler.
Meanwhile, Ziggler gets another Intercontinental Championship run. His feud with The Miz will likely continue. He'll get a chance to be a fighting babyface champion. Maybe he'll be on a collision course with a returning Bad News Barrett, who will be looking to recapture his title. At any rate, more television time for Ziggler is never a bad thing and we should be eagerly looking forward to anything the WWE has in store for him.
Divas Championship Match: Paige def. AJ Lee (c)
This is turning into possibly the best Divas feud on the WWE main roster since Mickie James vs. Trish Stratus, way back when. In the second main-card match of the night, WWE gave us the second title change of the night, as Paige emphatically dispatched AJ to begin her second reign as Divas Champion.
What we learned: Paige is finally the badass heel she should have been when she first came up. She fairly brutalized AJ and should begin a new, more confident title reign. Her feud with AJ is also likely not over yet, but she's finally where she should be: kicking ass and taking names. Her mockingly cradling the KO'd AJ at the end of the match is a good indicator of where her character is heading. It should be fun.
Flag Match: Rusev def. Jack Swagger
Literally up until the very end of the match, no one was really clear on what the "rules" of this Flag Match entailed. It wasn't a traditional Flag Match, meaning a match where you have to capture your opponent's flag. It ended up being a normal singles match where the winner got to have their flag unfurled and their national anthem played. Turns out, the guy who's been traveling with a massive flag got the win. This was all for the best, however, as they were able to have a very good match. And traditional Flag Matches usually suck.
What we learned: Swagger was able to claim a moral victory, as he pushed Rusev to the limit and passed out while in The Accolade, not giving his opponent the satisfaction of tapping out. This is likely the end of the feud, as Swagger has lost to Rusev on back-to-back PPVs and Rusev added the exclamation point of knocking out Zeb Colter with a kick to the head after the match. The problem now -- as no one has beaten Rusev in a one-on-one match since his debut on the main roster -- is what do you do with the formerly-Bulgarian brute? The WWE is really close to painting themselves in a corner with his current dominant-but-not-really-impressive run.
The most important thing to note, however, is this: inside the arena, the crowd was DYING for Rusev to tap out and roared its approval every time he was in trouble. As much as there has been whining about what they're doing with Rusev (whatever that may be) ... it's working.
BOOOOOOO https://t.co/MXHgcShtKX— Bill Hanstock (@sundownmotel) August 18, 2014
Lumberjack Match: Seth Rollins def. Dean Ambrose
In my preview of this card, I predicted that the Lumberjack Match stipulation would make perfect sense for the feud and would end up being a great match. And I was right. This match was incredible. And the feud, thankfully, is far from over.
What we learned: It took shenanigans, an arena brawl, every lumberjack getting involved, crazy dives, high-risk moves, both men pulling out all the stops -- and interference from Corporate Kane and a well-placed briefcase to the head in order for Seth Rollins to pick up a victory over his former brother in arms. It certainly seems like this feud is leading to the only thing that will eliminate outside interference: Hell in a Cell.
Bray Wyatt def. Chris Jericho
And then there was this match! The crowd loved both entrances, but once the work started in the ring, everyone seemed to realize there was no real reason to care about this match. Because there wasn't. Wyatt won in dominant fashion, but after Jericho topped Wyatt clean at last month's pay-per-view ... so what?
What we learned: Wyatt needs to move onto something new and compelling -- and fast. He needs to recapture that air of danger and dominance that he had when he first arrived, or he's going to be in trouble. An entire summer of losing to John Cena will do that to you, I suppose.
Stephanie McMahon def. Brie Bella
This insufferable feud, which combined the so-old-it-has-whiskers tropes of "feud with your boss" and "feud with your boss leads to you getting arrested" with the holy-crap-they're-not-really-doing-this-are-they of a torrid marital affair. Luckily, as I suspected, the actual in-ring blowoff to this feud outpaced the stupidity of the story that built up to it. Stephanie looked great in her once-in-a-blue-moon wrestling appearance and this was easily the best performance of Brie's career.
What we learned: THE BELLA POWERS EXPLODE! It will be twin vs. twin, as Nikki Bella turned on her sister to allow Stephanie to hit the Pedigree for the pin. Brie and her absent husband Daniel Bryan likely still have some bones to pick with the Authority, but for the time being, it appears as though the Bella Twins will be focused on one another. Nikki will likely have some 'splaining to do on Monday night.
Roman Reigns def. Randy Orton
In the first one-on-one singles PPV match of his still-young career, Reigns picked up a convincing and important win over one of the very biggest stars in the WWE. The match was methodical, but had to be given the main event that was to follow. Orton in particular was excellent, especially the stretch where he realized the only thing that could put Reigns away was his running punt kick, a move that is as foolproof as any in the business ... and extremely seldom-used. His internal thought process leading up to his attempted punt was picked up on by everyone in the arena, without the benefit of leading commentary. That's not an easy thing to do and Orton pulled it off with ease. Many people don't want to admit it, but Orton is absolutely one of the very best in the world at this whole "wrestling" thing.
What we learned: Other than that Orton is very, very good, we learned that Reigns does indeed have the proverbial rocket strapped to his ass. A semi-main-event clean victory over a legitimate main event player and multi-time world champion is a fine place for Reigns to start a solid run toward the main event scene. Many people who sung the praises for Reigns are already jumping off the bandwagon, but it's still way too early to know either way. I, for one, am interested in seeing whether he can continue to develop. Based on how far he's come since he was in NXT, I'd say he's earned the benefit of the doubt. And crowds love him. LOVE him. You can't argue with that.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match: Brock Lesnar def. John Cena (c)
This was, as promised, the fight of the summer. This match lived up to and exceeded all hype. It was, in essence, a glorified, extended, GLORIOUS squash match. Although Lesnar failed to live up to his promise of "blood and urine and vomit," he and his advocate Paul Heyman were once again correct. Lesnar put a beating on Cena the likes of which have never been seen and he left as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion following three F-5s. For the record, that's the same way he broke the Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania, back in April.
What we learned: This main event broke the mold. WWE fans were so used to John Cena overcoming the odds for the past however-many years that seeing him completely manhandled and decimated for 20 minutes was groundbreaking, thrilling and invigorating. It felt unique, it felt important and it felt NEW. Brock mauled Cena from beginning to end, catching Cena with the first F-5 in the first minute of the match. From that point on, Lesnar began toying with Cena, hitting huge moves and not even bothering to try for a pin after most of them. With the exception of strikes during two brief comeback moments, Cena only landed two moves in the match: he hit an Attitude Adjustment out of nowhere for a two-count and he grabbed a desperation STF, which Brock easily rolled out of after a few moments.
Following the match, Cena stayed down for a very long time as two WWE trainers checked on him. After SummerSlam went off the air, Cena finally got up and shakily got to his feet. He was having trouble standing and refused assistance, leaving mostly under his own power. It would not be surprising if the WWE played up a concussion angle after this, particularly after the announcers on the PPV broadcast made a point of mentioning that Lesnar delivered 16 German suplexes to Cena in the course of the match. Cena may disappear for a while after this, which would reinforce the paradigm shift of Lesnar being the monster that rules the roost from here on out.
So now we have a part-time monster heel as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Reigns, possibly Cesaro, a who-knows-when-he'll-be-back Daniel Bryan and others are waiting in the wings. Cena has been beaten within an inch of his life and didn't come close to beating the Beast. Where do we go from here? I have no idea. That's the exciting part.