The 2013 edition of World Wrestling Entertainment's SummerSlam has come and gone and the shock waves resonating from the event will be felt within the company for quite some time.
In the evening's main event, John Cena defended his WWE Championship against Daniel Bryan in a tremendous wrestling match that showcased both men's skills.
Earlier on the card, CM Punk did battle with Brock Lesnar in one of the most violent and physically punishing matches in quite some time.
Dolph Ziggler and Kaitlyn gained a measure of revenge against AJ Lee and Big E. Langston for months of torment, while Christian and Alberto Del Rio represented the World Heavyweight title well with a technically sound bout.
The event may very well be remembered for its closing moments, however, as Randy Orton and Triple H conspired to steal the WWE Championship and, potentially, control of the company.
SummerSlam was an event full of amazing highs for a company that has hit its stride as of late. For four men in particular, it was a night of masterful artistry that will be remembered for years to come.
For an often criticized creative team, it was a shining achievement.
This was WWE SummerSlam 2013.
The opening match of the evening took place on the SummerSlam "Kickoff" show and featured United States champion Dean Ambrose defending against Rob Van Dam.
The crowd was hot for Van Dam from the get-go, as both men took their time feeling each other out. Both champion and challenger delivered a series of strikes throughout the early portions of the match before Ambrose took control with a headlock. He would target the head and neck until Van Dam fought back, increasing the pace as he executed his trademark offense.
Just as Van Dam appeared poised to deliver the Five-Star Frog Splash and collect his first championship since returning at last month's Money in the Bank match, The Shield's theme song played and Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins made their way to the ring, interrupting the title bout. This drew out Big Show and Mark Henry, who kept the tag team champions at bay and allowed the match to continue.
Ambrose and Van Dam traded moves, with neither one really gaining an edge throughout the rest of the match. "Mr. Monday Night" would score a senton for a two-count while Ambrose would take a charging Van Dam down with a spine buster. Winner: Rob Van Dam by disqualification.
The finish would come when RVD climbed the ropes and came off with his signature Five-Star Frog Splash. Before he could cover the fallen champion, Roman Reigns delivered a vicious spear to the challenger, drawing a disqualification.
The Shield would escape the ring before Henry and Big Show could catch them. Ambrose, Reigns and Rollins would leave the Staples Center with their gold intact but an immediate threat on their tails.
Analysis: An average match that never really kicked into the next gear. The involvement of Reigns, Rollins, Henry and Big Show was expected but added nothing to the match and in the end, the United States title match served to get the crowd excited for the night’s festivities without living up to past pre-show matches, including last month’s tag title match between the Usos and Rollins and Reigns.
Highlight: Van Dam’s leg drop from the apron onto Ambrose while Henry and Big Show prevented interference from the champion’s cohorts.
The night's opening match was a complete and utter misfire (pun most definitely intended) on all counts.
The crowd continues to be into the Wyatt Family entrance, but it was all downhill from there.
In one of the worst matches of the year, Kane and Bray Wyatt exchanged some punches, some kicks and basic wrestling maneuvers while flames shot into the air to mask the lack of a wrestling match fans were actually getting.
Meanwhile, at ringside, Erick Rowan and Luke Harper looked for ways to enter the ring and rescue their leader from the beating he was receiving at the hands of the Big Red Monster. Some were inventive and clever, including using a fire extinguisher to try and put out the fire surrounding the ring.
Ultimately, a fire retardant mat of sorts, conveniently located at ringside, would prove useful. The massive followers attacked Kane, setting him up for Wyatt's finisher. The ensuing three-count ended the misery. Winner: Bray Wyatt.
After the match, Rowan and Harper used the steel ring steps to assault Kane before dragging him to the locker room.
Analysis: The Wyatt Family is completely unique and interesting. It is one of the most intriguing acts the company has come up with in years, but Sunday's match between Bray and Kane was not the way for them to build any kind of momentum. The only positives were that it did give the faction pay-per-view exposure and allowed Bray to pick up a high-profile win in a popular gimmick match.
Highlight: Rowan and Harper grabbing the fire extinguisher from a fireman and attempting to put out the fire around the ring only for Kane to send the flames higher into the air.
Damien Sandow cut a promo referring to Cody Rhodes as his sidekick, essentially the Robin to his Batman. He spent the majority of the match supporting his claims by working over the lower back of Rhodes.
Time constraints clearly played into the match, as it was a very fast-paced affair that saw Sandow control the early portion only for Rhodes to show great fire in making his comeback.
Late in the match, it appeared as though Rhodes would finish Sandow with the Disaster Kick, but the holder of the Money in the Bank briefcase shot his shoulder off the mat at two. Rhodes' momentum would be cut short moments later when he missed a corner charge on his former friend and tag team partner and crashed shoulder-fist into the steel post.
Sandow would grab ahold of Rhodes and appeared moments away from victory when Rhodes escaped and delivered Cross Rhodes for the win. Winner: Cody Rhodes.
Analysis: Rhodes' win over Sandow effectively brings an end to the rivalry, at least for now, and has potential to lead to bigger and better things for all involved. Rhodes has been one of the company's hardest workers throughout his six-year stay on the main roster, while Sandow is one of wrestling's best characters. More importantly, one possesses Money in the Bank while the other is a mainstay of a show where the heavyweight champion is a heel.
Perhaps this will not be the last time Rhodes and Sandow meet on pay-per-view. Next time, there may be a far bigger and more rewarding prize for the victor.
Highlight: Sandow's pre-match promo equating Rhodes to a less-talented sidekick.
The best match of the night to this point, Alberto Del Rio and Christian delivered a good, old-fashioned pro wrestling match that managed to tell a story and contained phenomenal in-ring psychology from both performers.
As is the case with most matches involving the champion, Del Rio spent the majority of the bout targeting the left arm of the challenger, using armbars and several different strikes to weaken it. Christian, to his credit, fought through the pain and always appeared to be the champion's equal.
The key moment in the match featured Christian taking a page out of former tag partner Edge's book, delivering a spear to the champion. Unfortunately, he did so with the injured arm. Pain shot up the limb and kept Captain Charisma from immediately covering and possibly scoring another World Heavyweight title reign.
Del Rio seized the opportunity and locked in the cross arm breaker. With nowhere to go and little other option, Christian tapped out, bringing to an end a match that both men could be proud of. Winner: Alberto Del Rio.
Analysis: While not on the level of the two main events that came later in the night, the World Heavyweight title match was a phenomenal example of old-school wrestling at its finest. Christian leaves SummerSlam looking no worse than he did coming in, while Del Rio looks like a true champion for exploiting a small opening and picking up the win.
Highlight: The finish, which was as good an example of in-ring psychology and continuity as one could imagine.
Eva Marie can wear the heck out of red. And white. Any color, to be honest.
But back to matters at hand.
A direct result of the success of WWE and E! Network's Total Divas, the match between Natalya and Brie Bella was meant to be nothing more than a showcase for its two stars. And on that front, it did just that.
Natalya was accompanied to the ring by Cameron and Naomi, known collectively as the Funkadactyls, while Brie was seconded by Nikki and the aforementioned Eva Marie. Eventually, everyone surrounding the ring would play into the match.
Inside the squared circle, Natalya and Brie worked hard. Brie worked over the head and neck of the more experienced former Divas champion, but Natalya had an answer for just about everything she did.
At one point, Natalya locked in the Sharpshooter and it appeared to be only a matter of time before Brie tapped out. To the surprise of some, the hotter Bella Twin (I said it) did something even the legendary Hall of Famer "Stone Cold" Steve Austin could not: She broke the Sharpshooter. Really. Brie Bella.
Moments later, Natalya again applied the hold and, this time, picked up the submission win over her rival. Winner: Natalya.
Analysis: An unspectacular match that allowed the cast of Total Divas to appear on the show. Natalya picked up a much-deserved win, though, so that was nice.
Highlight: Natalya paying homage to her uncle Bret, perhaps the greatest performer in SummerSlam history, by scoring the victory with the Sharpshooter.
A Match of the Year candidate that matched the hype surrounding it and set the bar high for the night's main event.
Brock Lesnar and CM Punk told the story of an unstoppable beast of an athlete attempting to take out one of the sport's smartest and most cunning stars. The threat of interference by Paul Heyman was constant, and Punk's thirst for revenge factored into contest on a number of occasions.
There were no death-defying spots nor were there any maneuvers that looked over-rehearsed or choreographed. Instead, the co-main event of SummerSlam 2013 featured two men doing damage to one another with pure physical brutality. They hit each other, hard, and delivered metaphorical knockout punches in the form of high-impact maneuvers and trademark submissions.
But neither man could do enough to keep the other down for three seconds.
In the end, after every Kimura armbar, every GTS, every chair shot and every Anaconda Vise, it was the sneaky, slimy, villainous Paul Heyman and his willingness to take one for his client that led to Brock Lesnar's victory.
With Heyman locked in the aforementioned Anaconda Vise, Punk was enjoying the euphoria that accompanies sweet revenge.
Then he felt the pain of a chair crashing into his body. Then he felt it again and again.
And then Brock Lesnar hoisted him off the mat, held him on his shoulders and delivered the devastating F5 onto the same chair. Three seconds later and Punk's valiant attempt to put away the beast had come to a disappointing end. Winner: Brock Lesnar.
Analysis: A spectacular Match of the Year candidate that exceeded high expectations. Not only was Punk excellent, but Lesnar reminded fans of just how talented a performer he can be. The storyline involving Heyman played into the match result and assures that it will continue.
After a match as good and thoroughly enjoyable as the one Punk and Lesnar delivered Sunday, that is a good thing.
A very, very good thing.
Highlight: CM Punk, in the middle of an adrenaline rush, exploding into a (presumably) profanity-laced exclamation that was censored but still managed to add to the emotion of the match.
The mixed tag match, the culmination of two-month-long storyline arcs, had the unenviable task of following the instant classic of Punk vs. Lesnar. Where other matches would have faltered under that kind of pressure, all four performers made the most of the time constraints put on their match and delivered a fun, fast-paced bout.
Ziggler and Langston started the match and wasted little time trying to get the best of one another. Ultimately, it would be the powerful Big E. who took control, targeting the back of Ziggler. AJ played up the vengeful ex-girlfriend act to a tee, watching with great satisfaction as the former World Heavyweight champion writhed in agony.
Dolph would make the tag and Kaitlyn and AJ picked up their feud right where it left off. They would trade control until the current Divas champion got overconfident, yelling at Kaitlyn after a series of neck breakers and skipping around the squared circle.
Ziggler and Langston would reenter the match following the hot tag and the pace of the match increased exponentially as it neared its conclusion. Kaitlyn delivered a spear to AJ, essentially eliminating her from the match.
Dolph looked to be in harm's way when Langston lifted him overhead for the Big Ending, but WWE's resident show off wiggled free and delivered the Zigzag to score the win for his team. Winners: Dolph Ziggler and Kaitlyn.
Analysis: Time constraints hurt this one big time, but all four involved still delivered a fast-paced, interesting and entertaining match. Hopefully this spells the end of the Langston-AJ-Dolph storyline and allows Ziggler to get back into the World Heavyweight title picture.
Highlight: Kaitlyn spearing AJ and eliminating the threat of her breaking up the fall, ending months of personal torment.
When Triple H was announced as the special referee for the WWE title match at SummerSlam during this past Monday's Raw, many questioned why the move was necessary. After all, Cena versus Bryan was a hot feud and a highly anticipated match heading into the summertime spectacular.
They would receive the answer to their question by night's end.
Before that, Bryan and Cena would continue to prove themselves as performers. In a match rivaling the extraordinary Lesnar-Punk match from earlier in the evening, champion and challenger delivered a main event-worthy match that provided the 2013 edition of SummerSlam with its second Match of the Year candidate.
Cena entered the match with an injured elbow and even had it wrapped. It was not long before Bryan targeted the joint and worked it over with a series of hard kicks. Cena, to his credit, matched hold for hold with one of the most gifted in-ring technicians in the sport's long and illustrious history, again proving himself as one of the industry's truly great main event performers, despite what his detractors may say.
The champion repeatedly fought out of the No Lock and withstood stiff, hard kicks about his entire body while the challenger survived the power advantage of his opponent and did everything he could to avoid his high-impact finisher.
In the end, a running knee from out of nowhere spelled the end of Cena's latest title reign. Winner: Daniel Bryan.
The fans inside the Staples Center erupted into a huge ovation of both cheers and "yes!" chants while the new champion celebrated his win.
Cena, to his credit, got to his feet and congratulated the champion. The competitors, exhausted from the trials and tribulations they had just encountered, shook hands in a display of respect for one another and, more importantly, the WWE title. Cena also shook Triple H's hand before returning to the locker room area.
Confetti fell from the sky and pyro exploded on the entrance stage. Daniel Bryan thanked his parents and the feel-good moment of the year was unfolding before our very eyes.
Then it happened.
"Voices" played and Randy Orton stalked to the ring, the Money in the Bank briefcase in his grasp. He teased using it, cashing it in for his guaranteed WWE title match then and there. But then he thought better of it. He began walking to the back, then stopped and looked over his shoulder.
Suddenly, Triple H delivered the Pedigree heard 'round the wrestling world to Daniel Bryan and Orton entered the squared circle. He handed "The Game" the briefcase, Triple H called for the bell and, seconds later, Orton captured the title that Bryan had worked so very hard for.
Triple H and Randy Orton stood tall to end the evening's festivities.
Analysis: Another phenomenal match that lived up to all of the hype. Bryan was as great as he always is and Cena, for all of his detractors, delivered another Match of the Year contender. The finish came out of nowhere and was unexpected but worked in the context of the match in that each man tried for the finishers so many times that something so quick and sudden is what finally did Cena in.
The post-match activity was done with such mastery that it even silenced the hardcore fans in the crowd. Waiting until after the confetti fell and the pyro concluded to bring out Orton and then executing the Triple H heel turn lured fans into a false sense of security regarding Bryan’s title win.
Highlight: After a match full of finishing maneuvers and submissions, Bryan catching Cena off-guard with a running knee to the head to capture the WWE title.
There were two matches that absolutely had to deliver for SummerSlam 2013 to be considered a success. Both the CM Punk-Brock Lesnar match and Daniel Bryan-John Cena matches exceeded very high expectations and were legitimate contenders for Match of the Year.
The Christian-Del Rio World title match was a really good pro wrestling match and the mixed tag match was better than most matches sandwiched between main events.
The only real misfire (once again, pun most definitely intended) was the Kane-Wyatt debacle that resulted in one of the worst pay-per-view matches in quite some time.
Ultimately, SummerSlam 2013 succeeded where WrestleMania failed. The focus was on the wrestling matches themselves rather than hype and grandeur, and as a result, the show benefited greatly. Two near-perfect classics and a shocking twist after the main event makes Sunday night’s show an easy thumbs-up and the best pay-per-view of 2013, so far.