The second biggest PPV of the wrestling calendar has rolled around again: WWE SummerSlam 2015. This year, the event is hosted by Jon Stewart, fresh from his gig hosting the Daily Show. He provides a raucous introduction to the show for the Brooklyn crowd, starting off by announcing he will interview Brock Lesnar in-ring. However, being a small weak man, he needs some back-up, so he brings out Mick Foley as his ‘protection’. Foley claims he misunderstood, having missed the ‘B’ part of Brock Lesnar’s name, so he thought he would be having a moment with his former tag team partner, The Rock. Foley expresses no desire to visit ‘Suplex City’, and Stewart is forced to cut the segment short. An amusing little skit to kick things off – certainly a change of pace from other PPVs.
The first match of this year’s Summerslam is Randy Orton versus the current ‘Mister Money In The Bank’ Sheamus, which came about when the Celtic Warrior prevented the Apex Predator from winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship from Seth Rollins. Before the first lock-up, the rowdy Brooklyn crowd is riling up Sheamus with chants of ‘You Look Stupid!’. His aggrieved response is soon ended when Orton takes his legs out from under him. Before too long, however, the savage brutality of the two men is unleashed, and they proceed to pound the crap out of each other. Soon, Orton is busted open, and both men are feeling the effects of a hard fought battle. And it is hard fought… however, we’ve seen all this sort of thing before.
Second on the card is a Fatal Fourway Tag Team Championship match, featuring The New Day, Lucha Dragons, Los Matadores and the champs, Prime Time Players. As is to be expected, New Day try some underhanded tactics – including one that I am surprised has never been done before in this sort of match: tagging each member of your team in, and then attempting to pin your partner. Lucha Dragons member Kallisto provides some early excitement, and is shaping up to be seen as more than the next Rey Mysterio. New Day have really taken their ‘positivity’ gimmick and shaped themselves to be one of the more entertaining heel factions on the roster. Big E provides the brawn, Kofi the high flying, and Xavier Woods the mouth.
Los Matadores and Prime Time Players are both somewhat overshadowed by their more flamboyant opponents, but Titus O’Neill gets to show he is just as much of a powerhouse as Big E by clearing the ring single handed, while Los Matadores mascot El Torito provides a highlight when he tries to flying body press an interfering Xavier Woods.
Sin Cara really is a botch machine, and there are a couple of really bad instances in this match, including dropping one Matadore off the top of the ring post! Thankfully, his identically garbed partner had the quick prescence of mind to jump into the gap to finish the spot. In any case, with this match, the PPV finally lurches into gear, and SummerSlam is really underway!
A brief vignette with Jon Stewart, Neville and Stephen Amell (from TV’s Arrow) foreshadows the upcoming Lesnar/Undertaker rematch, before the PPV continues with the Show-Off Dolph Ziggler battling the Bulgarian Brute Rusev. This rivalry, of course, spun out of Rusev’s ex Lana finding happiness in the arms of Ziggler. So, like all great rivalries, they had to settle it with a brawl out the back of the local pub… or in a wrestling ring.
The match itself is a little flat, as Ziggler is so obviously physically overmatched by Rusev. The crowd is more interested in Lana (who is sporting her best ‘murican style denims in Ziggler’s corner) and Rusev still isn’t charismatic enough to pull them back. The crowd starts to warm to the match when Rusev pulls off some high flying moves that a normal wrestler would find tricky, let alone a near 300 pound one!
Celebrities are an important part of SummerSlam, so alongside Jon Stewart as host, Arrow star Stephen Amell finds himself in-ring with Neville to take on Stardust and King Barrett. Amell is a skilled athlete, performing many demanding physical stunts on the television show himself, and his skills at parkour are a compliment to Neville’s ariel abilities. This is a gimmick match to a certain extent, as Stardust would not be out of place as a costumed villain on a superhero series or movie. For his first match, Amell acquits himself well. He isn’t polished, which is to be expected, but he still gets to provide some exciting spots. Overall, this is a quick, palette cleansing match that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The Intercontinental Championship is contested next, under Triple Threat rules. Big Show and The Miz want to wrest the title from The Big Guy, Ryback. While the two bulls bash each other, Miz weasels his way out of the action, and attempts to get sneaky pins, which provides most of the entertainment value. Like the previous match, this is a quick one and is all the better for it.
Jon Stewart has another segment next with Paul Heyman outside Brock Lesnar’s dressing room. It’s a fun interaction between two guys known for their abilities on the microphone.
One of the more exciting – if brief – rivalries in 2014 was when The Wyatt Family took on The Shield. Both factions have since disbanded, but we get something of a rematch as Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper fight Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. The action is fast and furious right from the get go, with the momentum rapidly switching back and forth between the two teams. Once again, this is a short match, and keeps the entertainment levels heightened.
The first of the two main events is the title versus title match. John Cena is putting his US Title up for grabs for another shot at Seth Rollin’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship. If Cena beats Rollins, he will equal Ric Flair’s record of sixteen world championship reigns. If the other matches can be considered exciting, this match blew the roof off the arena! Cena has been a top title contender for a decade, and despite his polarising of fans, he knows how to put on superlative matches with great opponents – and Rollins is a great opponent. The crowd are fired up by this point, and it feeds into the performance of the two wrestlers, with high spot after high spot coming thick and fast. Both pull out moves they’ve never done before – including Cena using Flair’s signature Figure Four Leg Lock – and the chemistry between the two is great. A top quality match. A shame, though, about the ending – which involves that old trope, the run-in… this time by Jon Stewart, who had been engaged in a feud on social media with Rollins.
The WWE Diva’s division has undergone something of a revolution as of late, with Diva matches no longer as often being relegated to thirty-second fillers or bathroom break slots. Several Divas from NXT have been brought up to the main show, and the division has split into three factions: Team Bella (The Bella Twins and Alicia Fox), Team PCB (Paige, Charlotte and Becky Lynch) and Team B.A.D (Sasha Banks, Naomi and Tamina). All three teams clash in a three way elimination tag match.
There are pros and cons with this approach. The inter faction battling has meant that there hasn’t been much emphasis on the Diva’s Championship, as WWE were determined that Nikki Bella should break the record of AJ Lee’s length of title reign. Why? Because eff you, AJ, says WWE. On the other hand, we get to see more Divas in action on the PPV, including the popular new imports from NXT (Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks). That said, the three-way (nine way?) dance element of the match is quickly dispensed with as the first team is eliminated. There are several impressive high spots, including multiple top rope dives to the floor, and brutal Alabama slam on the outside of the ring. Alicia Fox and Charlotte deliver simultaneous big boots to each other at one point that looks absolutely brutal. After all that, though… what did this actually accomplish for the Diva’s division? For it to remain vital, the title must be defended regularly, otherwise why have it in the Summerslam.
Kevin Owens has been a dominating force in sports entertainment in both NXT and WWE. A hugely agile big man, he was set to face the Swiss Superman Cesaro in the penultimate match of the night. The two men are not afraid to brawl, and they oblige here, quickly dispensing with wrestling to instead smash each other in the face with forearms. Right from the start, the action is high-octane, and the fans are soon right behind the action. There are top rope moves a plenty, several outside dives and a ring to top turnbuckle standing dropkick from Cesaro that would have (in Jerry Lawler’s words) ‘kicked Andre the Giant in the face’. This was a great contest between two worthy adversaries, and WWE would do well to have repeats in the future.
The final match of the Summerslam night is the long-awaited rematch between The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar (who ended Undertaker’s winning streak at WrestleMania 30). Undertaker has barely set foot in the ring before Lesnar has leapt into the attack. Taker fights back, but is soon visiting Suplex City. The match is brutal and back and forth, and Lesnar is soon wearing a crimson mask.
Unfortunately, like a lot of the matches on the card, the end of the match is controversial, with (of all things) the referee embroiled in a argument with the timekeeper over a missed tap-out. This sullied the excitement of all that has gone on before, and quite obviously signposts that there will be another rematch.
Overall, this PPV – supposedly the WrestleMania of the summer was a bit of a let down. Both the main event matches had dodgy finishes that drew attention to the bad writing rather than the performance of the superstars. If you could discount their endings, both the Rollins/Cena and Undertaker/Lesnar matches were supremely entertaining. Otherwise, the best match in totality was the Owens/Cesaro feud. WWE has the problem that a lot of long running series have – in that the same tropes have to be used time and again in order to keep storylines going. SummerSlam though, should be used as a full stop for some stories, rather than a comma in order to flog the next PPV. Overall I give this PPV three missile dropkicks out of five.
Summerslam 2015 is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.