Nothing ever changes in the WWE Universe. No matter how great a show is, and this one was awfully great, change is still illusory. It's the same guys, wrestling the same matches in front of the same fanbase. They're even repeating the same finishes.
That finally seemed like it was changing. Shame on me for believing it.
Just when it seemed like SummerSlam would go off the air with Daniel Bryan triumphant, with CM Punk and Bryan cementing themselves at the top of the promotion, the WWE went all WWE on us. Triple H interfered. Randy Orton cashed in the Money in the Bank.
The paradigm shift was revealed to be nothing more than the same old entropy and stagnation.
Meet the new WWE—same as the old WWE.
The finish, with Triple H Pedigreeing a newly crowned Bryan and Orton ascending the throne may ultimately be best for business. But, on this night, it deflated an audience that felt confident they had seen something special.
And they had.
It's rare to witness two matches as good as CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar and John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan on a single card. Christian and Alberto Del Rio also delivered in a major way. This was, in the ring, by far the best show of the year. In time, that will be what stands out.
Right now, for hardcore fans at least, this one stings. There might have been a worse way to close this edition of SummerSlam...but I can't think of it.
Rob Van Dam is back! Is that not enough to justify a match with the United States champion? No? Well, how about winning a battle royale to claim the honor? That should about do it!
In Van Dam's way is Dean Ambrose, proud member of the Shield and a man whose hair never seems completely dry. He and the Shield have run roughshod over the WWE Universe for months. Will Van Dam have the allies he needs to stand up to them?
Van Dam wins the match but not the title when Roman Reigns runs in to save Ambrose after Van Dam's Five Star Frogsplash.
"ECW, ECW, ECW!": the crowd letting us all know where they stand.
Ambrose blocks the split-legged moonsault. WWE cuts to commercial—on a PPV pre-show match! That's shameless.
Big Show clowning Ambrose after RVD reversed a suplex on the floor.
Poor Dean Ambrose. Wrestling without his flak jacket, he looked like what he is—an indy star playing with the big boys. If he has the musculature to pull it off, he needs to either go back to the vest or go shirtless. Wrestling with a T-shirt on is something fat guys do at National Guard Armories—it's not something big-time wrestlers do on the national stage.
The match itself had the potential to be pretty entertaining, much like a bout on Raw where they are given two segments to work. It never quite clicked though. It was a clash of styles, the 1990s and 2010s colliding in a not so flattering fashion. It was never bad, but it didn't quite work as well as I'd hoped.
There is good news, however. WWE is setting up a battle between the Shield and the WWE B-team stars made up of RVD, Big Show and Mark Henry. That's going to be a good one.
Bray Wyatt is WWE's homegrown cult leader. His powers include chair-rocking and convincing grown men to wear sheep masks. He's pretty awesome.
Kane is the Undertaker's brother. His powers include wearing red spandex without anyone being inclined to laugh and sometimes setting the ring posts on fire. He's pretty awesome, too.
Wyatt may be recruiting Kane to join his flock. The best way to do that is to beat him up repeatedly and then set him on fire. He's mostly there!
Bray Wyatt pinned Kane with his finisher after copious interference from his family, who covered the flames with an asbestos blanket. After the match the Wyatts took Kane to the back with them.
"We're here": Bray Wyatt. They are indeed.
"It's like Duck Dynasty meets Charles Manson": Jerry Lawler on Bray Wyatt.
The flames flaring up every time someone hit a big move.
The Wyatt family failing to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher. It didn't work.
Wyatt kisses Kane before finishing him off.
Well, after months of buildup, Bray Wyatt made his in-ring debut. And it was awful.
I've seen Wyatt on NXT and know that he's actually pretty darn good. But after all the buildup, I think fans were expecting more than was delivered here. This is a gimmick at a very tenuous position.
The next time out better be a big, big win. It will be the difference between being an undercard and midcard act. Right now the Wyatt Family is looking like a team of openers. And that's too bad.
Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes, mere weeks ago, were the Rhodes Scholars, a jobber tag team with a humorous gimmick. Sandow thought himself a genius yet made consistantly bad life choices, starting with tagging up with Rhodes. Rhodes wore a pencil-thin mustache he was inordinately proud of.
Rhodes Scholars, however, is no more, existing only in the nostalgia center of our tiny pro wrestling-loving brains. Sandow beat Rhodes for the Money in the Bank briefcase for the shot at the World Championship. Success, as it tends to, came between the two men—one ascending, the other static. No friendship can ever survive something as nefarious as fleeting glory.
Cody Rhodes pinned Sandow with the Cross Rhodes.
"I'm going to send him back to his family of clowns": Sandow, calling Cody his sidekick.
"Dumb and dumber": Sandow referring to Rhodes and his legendary father Dusty.
"Cody Rhodes wants to be a world champion, just like his father the American Dream": JBL.
Cody's top-rope Muscle Buster for a near fall.
The birds aren't singing quite as sweetly. The sun won't shine quite as brightly. The worst news imaginable was delivered cavalierly by Michael Cole during the broadcast—the Rhodestache is no more.
Cody Rhodes with no mustache is like, um, Tom Selleck with no mustache. Don Frye with no mustache. Yosemite Sam with no mustache.
What am I trying to say? Basically, he has no mustache.
These two guys have really good chemistry. That's the good news. The bad news? The WWE doesn't have a lot of time on a show like this to feature everyone. This match had to run short so that others could go long. And, in the end, it's a sacrifice I can live with.
The mustache? That's unforgivable.
Christian is the aging veteran looking for one last shot at glory. Unfortunately, based on the last few weeks of television, no one cares or even remembers Christian's glory days in the Attitude era.
Alberto Del Rio is once again the bad guy—a world champion unencumbered by either a manager or crowd heat. The audience's response to Del Rio seems inversely related to the stiffness of his work in the ring. At this rate the WWE Universe will be falling asleep just as Del Rio whacks Christian with a Mick Foley-ish chairshot.
Del Rio makes Christian tap to the cross armbreaker after a really good match.
"Alberto Del Rio has demanded I introduce him in Spanish": Lilian Garcia.
"WWE fans in the corner of Captain Charisma": Michael Cole (and they really were).
"He might have to start wearing a mask like his dad": JBL on Del Rio's bloody face.
Del Rio leaping off the top rope to deliver a double stomp on Christian. Del Rio whiffs, flying through the ropes and landing hard on the outside.
Christian with a crossbody off the top rope for a near fall. The champion runs up and just kicks the crap out of Christian.
Del Rio counters the spear with a dropkick right to the face.
Credit where due: I wasn't expecting much from this, but Alberto Del Rio and Christian did their very best to steal the show. This was a great back and forth match between two veterans who know exactly what they are doing.
Del Rio worked the arm throughout the bout and the announcers did a tremendous job explaining what was happening. It helped make the finish particularly compelling.
More than a collection of spots, this was a match all about the little things. Every move was executed to perfection, the reversals were well considered and Del Rio's rake of the eyes to finally secure the armbar was a thing of beauty—the kind of attention to detail that makes a good match great.
Natalya is the Total Divas' loveable veteran. She never made it big, even after growing a goatee to match her daddy Jim Neidhart's. This is her final chance at salvaging a career before the wrestling industry finishes dining on her youth and health.
In the way is Brie Bella. The Bellas put the diva in Total Divas. Brie is the reasonable one, but that doesn't mean she won't lie, cheat and steal to win this match.
Natalya makes Brie tap out to the Sharpshooter.
"Natalya the first woman ever to be trained in the Hart Dungeon": JBL.
"JBL, JBL, JBL": the crowd chanted for all three announcers. How rude!
"Give up, Natalya. Give up": Brie.
Brie Bella with a sliding dropkick that sent Natalya to the floor.
Brie reverse the Sharpshooter and sends Nattie into the corner.
Brie's brutal running knee that rocked Natalya.
It looks like there is a battle brewing—between fans of Total Divas and fans who resent the divas intrusion on their regular wrestling programming. A subset of fans chanted throughout this match. Chanted for Michael Cole, JBL and everything but the bout.
That's really a shame, because it was actually a pretty fun match. Smartly and stiffly worked, this was a match that belonged on pay-per-view. Hopefully fans will give them a chance. Because, each and every week, they are proving they deserve it.
CM Punk and Paul Heyman were once both business associates and best friends. At least in the moments Heyman wasn't cuddling up to the "Beast" Brock Lesnar, his other business associate and best friend. No more.
Today the threat of violence looms whenever the two are in the same zip code. Heyman, no physical specimen, has Lesnar there to do his fighting for him. Punk and Lesnar are as different as different can be. City versus country. Erudition versus grunts. Jiu-jitsu versus wrestling. Whose ethos will stand tall? That's why they have the matches!
Lesnar pins Punk after an F5 onto a chair.
"Does it ever feel like a big fight feel out here?": JBL.
"This is my house": Brock Lesnar to Punk.
"It's like Brock Lesnar has no remorse": JBL
Lesnar manhandles Punk into the corner to start the match. Later he would catch Punk in the air trying a flying knee. A Beast indeed.
Punk with a stiff flying knee turns the tide. Lesnar throws Punk over the announce table. With ease. Then he leaps high in the air to smash a piece of the table on Punk's back. Amazing spot.
Lesnar punch drunk after a series of Punk strikes. Punk drops Lesnar with a beautiful roundhouse kick.
Punk counters Lesnar's Kimura with an armbar—an ode to Matt Hughes versus Georges St-Pierre at UFC 50. Lesnar blocks a Punk leap from the top to the floor with a steel chair.
Punk counters an F5 attempt with a great DDT counter.
I loved everything about this match right down to the way Lesnar yanked Punk's lifeless body to the center of the ring in order to pin him. There's never been as apt a nickname as Lesnar's "The Beast." When you look at Lesnar you aren't really seeing modern man. He's only semi-civilized—and that's a good thing.
These two men brutalized themselves in what has to be considered the leading contender for match of the year. Not only did it have tons of tremendous pro wrestling moves, but they did a better job of incorporating MMA moves into a match than all other wrestlers in WWE history. When Lesnar and Punk repeated the finishing sequence of Matt Hughes's famous win over GSP at UFC 50, it looked real. Probably because both men have trained extensively; they know what a real hold is supposed to look like and made it so.
All that, of course, was secondary to an amazing finishing sequence. Paul Heyman got involved and, in what seemed an impossible task, actually escalated the heat. By the time Lesnar finally landed his finisher, on a chair no less, everyone watching knew they had just seen a bona fide classic. That doesn't happen every day.
All great romances must eventually come to an end. They burn too hot and, like Icarus, eventually plummet, victims of their own hubris. So it was for the WWE's latest "it" couple A.J. Lee and Dolph Ziggler.
Imagine you are Dolph and no longer have A.J. in your life. Terrible, right? And yet, like the vixen she is, she makes things infinitely worse by immediately hooking up with your protege, "Big E" Langston. Why do they call him Big E? Trust me, Ziggler doesn't want to think about it too hard.
Into this combustible mix comes Kaitlyn, Lee's former friend and current rival. Folks, this one is bound to get wacky.
Ziggler pins Langston with the Zig Zag for the win.
"A.J.'s lost a lot of best friends": King. Yes. Because they are haters. Duh.
"That's right. I'm the champ": A.J. Lee. Yeah you are.
A.J. with a hard running elbow.
Ziggler drops 10 elbows on Big E.
This was a match designed to give the crowd a breather in between the two top matches. It just needed to fill time and in that it succeeded. Ziggler looked great and everyone else did their part. This feud is nowhere near finished. That's a good thing, because if this was any indication they have a pretty good match in them.
John Cena is the best wrestler in the world. At least he is to the children and their screaming mothers who make up much of the WWE's world.
Daniel Bryan, king of the independents, is the other best wrestler in the world. He represents young men in ironic T-shirts and people who take wrestling pretty darn seriously. He is the Internet's favorite. And, for once, that doesn't seem to be the kiss of death.
That's the subtext, brought to the fore on Raw this week. There's also McMahon drama at play. Patriarch Vince doesn't want the scruffy and tiny Bryan to be champion. Son-in-law Triple H wants to give Bryan a chance and has inserted himself as the referee of the main event. It's a match that promises to propel the WWE through the fall.
Daniel Bryan pins John Cena with a hard running kick to the head.
"Boooo!": the crowd let's Cena know they are with the beard.
"He may be hot, but he's still 210 pound and looks like a goat against the 11-time WWE champion": JBL on Bryan.
"This is awesome": the crowd as the match neared an end.
"You can't help but feel bad for Daniel Bryan": Lawler. This.
Triple H's comical referee get-up. I guess no one had the guts to tell him he looked like a goon?
Bryan goes face first into the announcers table, then gets suplexed off the ring steps to the floor by Cena. Bryan counters the Five Knuckle Shuffle with a kick that blackens Cena's eye.
Bryan turns an STF into a German Suplex. I'm still not sure how. Bryan superplexes Cena but doesn't take a bump, hanging on the middle rope by both knees. That allows him to hit the diving headbutt for a two count.
Cena hits the Fame-Asser off the top rope. Wow. The two exchange a series of hard slaps. Inoki would be proud.
The entire crowd chants "Yes" with Daniel Bryan on his way to the win.
Ugh. John Cena and Daniel Bryan had a tough task in front of them. CM Punk and Brock Lesnar set the bar pretty high earlier in the night, and while they didn't leap frog the Beast and the Best, the goal was at least in sight. This was a WWE championship match worthy of the belt Bruno held, a classic in its own right.
Had the show gone off the air with Bryan's celebration, fans would of felt pretty darn good about it. But it's the WWE. A new star only gets elevated once every decade or so. I guess it might be Bryan's time around 2020. We'll all have to check back then.
In the meantime, Monday is a new day. We'll see what Raw brings us regarding the Triple H turn and Orton's rise to the top. The potential is there for even better things for Bryan. He may emerge, when it's all said and done, stronger for having lost at SummerSlam. But it sure would have felt good to see him get his happy ending.