Examining the Biggest Hits and Misses on the Road to SummerSlam
WWE fans have watched a series of narrative tributaries merge en route to SummerSlam 2013.
Some of the rivalries have been the kind that have fans pumped to see how things play out at the blockbuster pay-per-view on Sunday. Other feuds have suffered from inattention and faulty storytelling.
SummerSlam is built on battles over pride, championships and revenge.
For the most part it's the high-profile feuds that have been successful. WWE has clearly doled out energy and focus on these marquee matchups, and the lower card matches have been more rushed. One of WWE's most notable buildups has been for a match pitting one former Rhodes Scholar against the other.
Damien Sandow vs. Cody Rhodes: Hit
The feud between the former best friends and tag team partners has been one of the highlights of WWE SmackDown each week.
Sure it was strange and counterproductive for Jerry Lawler to downplay Cody Rhodes' motivation during the Damien Sandow vs. Randy Orton match on Monday's Raw, but WWE has mostly nailed this rivalry.
Without a championship on the line, two guys not in the main event scene have been the talk of the SummerSlam buildup.
Happy for Sandow & impressed with Cody Rhodes' baby face fire.— Sean Waltman (@TheRealXPac) July 23, 2013
After knocking Rhodes off a ladder the night before to win the Money in the Bank ladder match, Sandow offered Rhodes the position of "Protector of the Case." The story since has been Sandow looking down on his former partner, saying that Rhodes was the weak link between them.
Memorable moments have included Rhodes tossing the Money in the Bank briefcase into the Gulf of Mexico and Sandow later revealing a new customized version.
It has not only been a fun ride watching this friendship's destruction, but it's been a great chance for both men to shine. Sandow has added to his resume of despicableness, and this feud has elevated Rhodes as a fan favorite.
Dolph Ziggler and Kaitlyn vs. Big E. Langston and AJ Lee: Miss
WWE had a chance for two show-stealing feuds heading into SummerSlam but instead cobbled them together. That move diluted the power of both Dolph Ziggler against Big E. Langston and AJ Lee against Kaitlyn.
Interweaving feuds have certainly been successful in the past, but this narrative has felt muddled.
Missed opportunities have been the theme of these feuds. Layla turned on Kaitlyn on a recent SmackDown, and nothing became of it. Ziggler and Langston have met in the ring a few times, but their animosity for each other hasn't escalated much.
With the amount of bad blood that there is between these four wrestlers, for this to be one of the least talked about matches is a bad sign.
Bickering between the four Superstars led to Miz announcing a mixed tag match between them. That is a match type that has not produced many classics.
WWE's focus on the more marquee matchups has turned this feud and match into an afterthought.
Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk: Hit
While not perfectly executed, the buildup for the CM Punk and Brock Lesnar match has given fans plenty reason to tune in.
The non-match on Monday's Raw between Punk and Heyman was odd. It certainly felt that WWE had something else planned, but a cramped schedule led to an awkward moment where Heyman immediately announced that there would be no match.
WWE could have used Curtis Axel more in Lesnar's absence, but generally the story of revenge and anger has been a compelling one.
A clash with Lesnar left Punk needing stitches in his chin. Lesnar's "Paul, say something stupid" line was an unexpected bit of entertainment. Lesnar, Punk and Heyman have all given powerful performances on the microphone.
Lesnar/Punk segment on Raw was enthralling television. Great example of how to build a hot feud. SummerSlam should be excellent. #SmackDown— WrestleEnigma.com (@WrestleEnigma) August 10, 2013
Heyman's performance when he explained why he turned on Punk was stellar. He told Punk that he didn't exist in his world in a speech where Heyman was childish, pouty and vindictive.
Lesnar followed that up with a pre-taped segment where he mocked Punk, saying that he took beginner MMA classes at a local gym. The Beast Incarnate came off as scary, highly motivated and he gave Punk credit for his accomplishments as well.
Even with Lesnar's power and size advantage, the match on Sunday is hard to call.
That's the mark of a good buildup, where uncertainty accompanies excitement.
Alberto Del Rio vs. Christian: Miss
The buildup to the World Heavyweight Championship bout has had little sizzle.
It lacks a narrative beyond Christian's journey to "one more match" for the title. The championship should take center stage, but adding intensity, additional motivations or a personal element would have made this a better feud.
Del Rio and Christian's rivalry from 2011 hasn't been brought up enough.
Champion and challenger have had too few verbal showdowns and too many full matches on TV. It's hard to get fans excited about a SummerSlam match that will likely look a lot like the one we saw on SmackDown.
The Shield: Miss
The SummerSlam card is crowded, and some big names ended up on the bench for the second biggest WWE event of the year.
The Wyatt Family's arrival, the Rhodes and Sandow feud and the clash between Brie Bella and Natalya leave The Shield without a match. Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins appeared to be on course to collide with The Usos once again.
The tag champs battled The Usos and Mark Henry in the weeks leading up to SummerSlam only to have that rivalry end in a six-man tag match on an episode of WWE Main Event.
Dean Ambrose does get a bout against Rob Van Dam on the pre-show, but leaving the rest of The Shield out of the mix means that Rollins, Reigns and The Usos don't get a shot to follow up on their excellent match at Money in the Bank.
A rumored match between Henry, Big Show and the tag champs would have been intriguing as well.
Instead, fans get to see the spillover from Total Divas.
John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan: Hit
John Cena and Daniel Bryan's feud is centered around the WWE Championship, but unlike the Christian and Del Rio feud, there are additional motivations, subplots, sound bites and a general buzzing energy propelling this forward.
Randy Orton lurking with his Money in the Bank briefcase and Triple H's involvement as guest referee add nuances, but the crux of this story has been Bryan looking to prove himself against the established Cena.
Forget the odd moment where Bryan evaded a shave and clipped off half of Wade Barrett's beard. This buildup was been primarily a home run.
Bryan has called Cena an entertainer and himself a wrestler, speaking with pride about his independent wrestling background. His and Cena's interactions have set up a potential Bryan victory as a way to climb into the pantheon of the greats.
In a stirring promo on the go-home episode of WWE Raw, Bryan called this the biggest match of his career.
That Cena/Bryan exchange was great! Talkin people into the building. #RAW— Scorpio Sky (@ScorpioSky) August 13, 2013
The tension felt real between them that night. Cena looked legitimately insulted and angry at Bryan's remarks. Both men seemed to be speaking from the heart.
Theirs is not a contrived story; it's a very realistic one that has made their title match and SummerSlam itself must-see.
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