Written by Sean Meyers
For more than 20 years, SummerSlam has been the second-biggest event on the WWE calendar. Many fans had high hopes for this pay-per-view, which was headlined by two main events. Not only did the show live up to expectations, but it exceeded them. SummerSlam was filled with compelling storylines, incredible in-ring performances, and was capped off by a dramatic twist that will change the landscape of the company for months to come.
John Cena and challenger Daniel Bryan squared off for the WWE title in the most anticipated match of the night. Bryan entered the contest with more momentum than any superstar has had in recent memory, and this match marked the first time that he has truly headlined a major event in his WWE tenure. Cena, who has held the title since WrestleMania, and Bryan delivered an incredible promo last Monday on Raw, and Triple H was named the special referee, setting the stage for a memorable bout.
As expected, the fans in attendance loudly voiced their support for Bryan throughout the contest. Bryan lived up to his reputation as one of the best workers in the business, and Cena turned in an outstanding performance, as well. After more than 20 minutes of back and forth action, with fans on their feet for the duration, Bryan unveiled a devastating knee to Cena’s face to capture the win. The emotion that Bryan displayed when he finally captured the WWE title seemed genuine, and he was probably the most deserving superstar on the entire roster of winning the championship.
His celebration would be short-lived, though, as Triple H pedigreed Bryan, enabling Randy Orton to cash in Money in the Bank and win the title.
Although the twist was unpopular among the fans, it could potentially set the stage for a long-term feud between Bryan and the WWE front office. Orton came into the event with considerable momentum in his own right, and he also is deserving of holding the championship. He will likely take over as the top heel in the company now, and he has the ability to fill that role well.
Conversely, Bryan now will be primed to battle Triple H and Vince McMahon for the foreseeable future. If handled correctly, the ultimate payoff of this turn could result in Bryan chasing, and finally capturing the WWE Championship from Orton or whoever Triple H and McMahon push as the “Corporate Champion”. Subsequently, Bryan should remain in the main event scene for the duration of this storyline, and assuming he still garners the same reaction from the fans, he will almost certainly win the title back in due time.
The other match that received top billing at SummerSlam, CM Punk against Brock Lesnar, also exceeded all expectations. The storyline for the match revolved around Paul Heyman’s betrayal of his longtime friend and client, CM Punk, at Money in the Bank last month. The interaction between Punk and Heyman over the past several weeks set the stage for an emotional contest, and Punk was clearly portrayed as the underdog against the massive Lesnar.
As soon as the bell rang, these two competitors engaged in a hard-hitting, brutal encounter. With no disqualifications for the match, Punk withstood being thrown through the announcers tables on multiple occasions, which legitimately lacerated his back. Likewise, Punk nailed Lesnar in the face with several knees. Much like the WWE Championship match, the fans were on the edge of their seats for this entire battle, and repeatedly showed their appreciation of the match with chants of “this is awesome.”
The clash culminated with Paul Heyman interjecting himself, as he broke up the potential pinfall for Punk. Heyman paid for his interference, as Punk drilled him with a stiff shot to the face, but Lesnar capitalized and hit his trademark F-5, driving Punk’s face into a chair. This may have been Lesnar’s finest performance since his return to the WWE, and Punk, as usual, delivered on the big stage.
Aside from the two main events, SummerSlam featured several tremendous performances. In the World Championship bout, Alberto Del Rio and Christian combined to produce one of the best in-ring displays of the year. Although the match lacked the hype and star power of the aforementioned contests, both superstars showed they were deserving of a marquee match.
Christian, playing off the “one more match” storyline, showed that he is fully recovered from an array of injuries that derailed his career over the past two years. Similarly, Del Rio endured numerous injuries, including a potentially broken nose, to put on a stellar performance. The psychology of the match was superb, as well, as Christian’s shoulder injury prevented him from capitalizing on the spear. Opportunistically, Del Rio locked in his patented cross-armbreaker to score the submission.
In addition, Damian Sandow and Cody Rhodes capitalized on the overdue opportunity to shine in a singles contest. They put on a solid in-ring product after several weeks of interesting storytelling. Sandow’s betrayal of Rhodes last month split up team Rhodes Scholars, setting up this match. After an entertaining back-and-forth battle, Rhodes scored the win with his Crossroads finisher.
Rhodes seemingly has been on the cusp of reaching main event status for years, and his pinfall victory over Sandow could help catapult him as a top face on Smackdown. Likewise, Sandow should maintain a prominent role, as he still possesses the Money in the Bank contract. Both superstars took advantage of the chance to showcase their talents, even though the match was part of the undercard of SummerSlam.
In the opening contest of the event, Bray Wyatt made his in-ring debut against Kane. Wyatt debuted on WWE television recently to much acclaim, and immediately targeted a proven veteran in Kane. These superstars squared off with the ring surrounded by flames. This stipulation was supposed to prevent Wyatt’s henchman, Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, for getting involved. After some mediocre action between Wyatt and Kane, the henchman devised a plan to extinguish the fire and enter the ring. From this point, the Wyatt family outnumbered Kane, leading to Wyatt’s pinfall win.
Although the fire stipulation added to the excitement, and created a unique environment for such a prominent event, it probably wasn’t necessary at this point. The feud to this juncture did not dictate such a match, and it may have somewhat taken away from Wyatt’s ability to display his in-ring talents in his first match. After the pinfall, the Wyatt’s carried Kane away, likely leading to further developments in the storyline.
In other action, Dolph Ziggler and Kaitlyn defeated AJ and Big E Langston. Although this match lacked significant buildup, Ziggler and Langston really delivered in their limited time. The contest featured an array of impressive moves on both of their behalf, and Kaitlyn and AJ also added to the match with their well-documented animosity. In the end, Ziggler captured the victory with the Zig Zag, while Kaitlyn exacted revenge on AJ by nailing her with a spear on the outside.
Natalya also defeated Brie Bella in divas action. This match stemmed from the new “reality” series Total Divas, which will likely serve to push the Bellas as major heels in the women’s division. This was the only match of the evening for which the fans seemed disinterested, and the match probably should’ve been moved to the pre-show. Regardless, Natalya has put in the time and effort over her years with the company, and she was deserving of the pay-per-view victory. Their work in the ring wasn’t bad, and the duo had ample time to show off some impressive moves. This contest may signal an increased focus in the divas in the months to come.
Unlike several recent events, SummerSlam delivered stellar in-ring action. Also, several of the outcomes will help to advance storylines over the next several months. Overall, SummerSlam certainly lived up to its billing as the biggest party of the summer.