WWE SummerSlam 2014: Full Grades for Each Superstar at PPV
The success of any great match or pay-per-view hinges on the collective performance of the Superstars and Divas involved.
But that does not mean that single performances are unimportant.
A Superstar's individual showing can determine their long-term future with the company. It can determine who will rise up the card, who will stay in the spots they currently inhabit and who will plummet down the card, their performance far more disappointing and detrimental to their careers that anyone could have imagined.
Luckily enough, SummerSlam was an outstanding show devoid of any real negative performances. Each man and woman involved worked hard and it was clear in the quality of the overall show and the individual matches.
Relive every Superstar's performance from Sunday night right now with the full grades from SummerSlam 2014.
Rob Van Dam
The WWE Kickoff match pitting Rob Van Dam against Cesaro just prior to SummerSlam hitting the airwaves was textbook RVD, a display of his greatest hits.
Nothing he did in the match was out of the ordinary. It was everything one has come to expect from the man known affectionately as Mr. Pay-Per-View. He hit his trademark offense and finished Cesaro off with the Five Star Frog Splash.
Though his performance was rather pedestrian, that does not mean there was anything wrong with it. On the contrary. The match was competitive enough to get the Los Angeles crowd off to a hot start and Van Dam remains perpetually over with the crowd, even when it is clear he is no longer the performer he once was.
An average performance, at best, but one closer to good than bad.
The problem with Cesaro is that he is such a tremendous wrestler that when he delivers a subpar performance, it is more evident.
Like opponent Rob Van Dam, there was nothing wrong with Cesaro's performance at SummerSlam, but there was nothing particularly great about it, either.
Cesaro is on a treadmill right now, losing more than he wins and is generally lost in the shuffle. He is doing nothing of any real note and has noticeably lost some of the intensity and aggression that his performances right after WrestleMania had that made them stand out.
With motivation low and fan interest even lower, who knows when fans will see the great Cesaro that took WWE by storm this past spring.
For all of the criticisms that regularly accompany The Miz, fans often tend to ignore the fact that the performer they see today is vastly superior to the one that held the WWE Championship three years ago from an in-ring perspective.
He proved it at SummerSlam, delivering a tremendous performance as he defended the Intercontinental Championship against Dolph Ziggler in the event's opening contest.
Miz was crisp in terms of his ring work while he played his character to perfection. He shielded his "moneymaker" from Ziggler on several occasions, then sold the hard right hand and huge superkick from the Showoff as if he had been shot late in the match.
His reaction to dropping the title was perfect and really helped put over Ziggler's championship victory. It was the type of performance that, while overshadowed by the more important matches of the night, is exactly what you want from one of your more recognizable heels.
Dolph Ziggler is so good at what he does, as fans were treated to another excellent example of his ability Sunday night at SummerSlam. He and Miz tore the house down with a fast-paced, energetic opening contest in which the Showoff displayed great emotion and motivation.
There is no denying his greatness inside the ring. He and Miz gelled quite well, as they have on numerous occasions in the past, and the match was a great and dramatic way to get the show started. What really made the match the success that it was was the elation on Ziggler's face when he planted Miz with the Zizag and won the title.
He was legitimately thrilled to hold the Intercontinental title for the second time in his career, and it showed in his reaction.
The fans can feel it anytime one of the guys or girls cares about what they do, and it makes it that much easier to support them, regardless of the good or bad times. That is why Ziggler has been able to maintain the fans' admiration despite a not-so-great win-loss record.
Paige wrestled her best match since debuting on the main roster when she defeated AJ Lee to win the Divas Championship at SummerSlam.
Unlike the disappointing Battleground contest, she was crisp and showed much better chemistry with Lee and the result was a very competitive, much higher quality bout than their previous one.
Paige showed hints of really understanding and embracing her new character, something she never really did with the generic good girl persona she was thrown into early in her main roster run. It helps enhance a performance exponentially when one believes in the character they are playing, and Paige is benefiting from that right now.
The Ram-Paige finisher is far more effective than the Paige Turner and it was nice to see her break it out Sunday to put away the smaller AJ, who took the move like a champion. That move is exactly the type of devastating maneuver that a heel looking to show more aggression or a darker side of themselves would use to put an exclamation point on their performance.
A very good night for Paige and one that she will undoubtedly look back upon with pride.
AJ Lee turned in her best performance in over a year at SummerSlam, displaying great energy as she took the fight to Paige following weeks of abuse at the hands of the young Brit.
She flew through the air, catching Paige with a huge clothesline that floored her at ringside, popping the crowd by adding an element to the Divas Championship match that is not typically seen. It really put over the importance of not only avenging the assaults she suffered at the hands of her rival in the weeks leading into the show but also of retaining her title.
One thing AJ does as well as any Diva is take a beating. Perhaps it has to do with her size, or lack thereof, but she is so sympathetic when enduring an assault at the hands of her opponent that it really works within the context of the story.
The way she sold the Ram-Paige put the move over as a devastating new piece in Paige's arsenal and really served as an exclamation point to the quality contest that the two Divas crafted.
Over the last three years, AJ has established herself as the face of women's wrestling in WWE, the premier Diva in the company, and Sunday's performance was evidence of why.
While one may question the logic of having your monstrous new heel sell as much as he did for Jack Swagger at SummerSlam, the fact that he did proves that he is gaining a better understanding of the business with every passing match.
Once questioned for being too green and unprepared for the enhanced exposure that a main roster spot brought with it, Rusev has proved doubters wrong, developing into a strong character and a solid midcard worker since debuting the night after WrestleMania.
His match with Swagger at the summertime spectacular not only put his vast improvement on display, it also featured some tremendously dramatic moments that had the crowd in Los Angeles on its feet, unsure of which Superstar would celebrate with his flag hanging high overhead. That drama is not something easily produced, and it is a testament to Rusev's development that he was able to work with Swagger to do so.
Years from now, fans will look back on Jack Swagger's career and realize just how good he really was.
A workhorse who has proved to have undeniable chemistry with Superstars of various sizes and styles, Swagger is an old-school performer who understands sequencing and its role in eliciting the desired reaction from the audience.
That is what made his match with Rusev the success that it was at SummerSlam. Together, they delivered a match with enough high spots that the crowd remained completely invested in the action.
The key to Swagger's success both recently and throughout his career has been his consistency. It is that consistency that has helped him receive as many chances from management as he has and the reason that he is likely to sniff the upper midcard or main event scene at least one more time in his WWE career.
You cannot teach consistency or availability, and the fact that Swagger has proved he has both in spades makes him a major asset to the company.
Another great-yet-understated performance from the All-American American Sunday night.
Does anyone take a better butt-kicking than Seth Rollins right now?
He has been on the receiving end of so many beatings at the hands of Dean Ambrose that it is becoming abundantly clear that his penchant for selling is as impressive, if not more so, than his dynamic offense.
SummerSlam was the setting for his best singles performance to date, a wild and chaotic Lumberjack match that did away with all conventional booking and delivered something far more than any fan could have expected.
Rather than going to the same, tired route with the match, he and Ambrose took fans in a completely different direction, giving them the opposite of what they thought would happen and it made for a much more exciting match.
Rollins' ability to take a beating but still manage to pull out the sneaky, underhanded win is exactly what makes him such an effective heel and will one day make him a great heavyweight champion.
As good as anyone else on the card Sunday night, Rollins turned in a career-making performance.
Dean Ambrose is going to make Vince McMahon, Triple H and World Wrestling Entertainment A LOT of money one day. Don't believe it? Re-watch the match from SummerSlam and focus entirely on the Lunatic Fringe.
Watch his facial expressions and his body language. Watch his mannerisms and then watch the way the crowd reacts. His ability to captivate the audience without executing a single move is something that very few performers ever have.
Ambrose has it in spades.
Another thing he has is timing. He understands when and where to fit a specific move or spot into a match. More importantly, he knows exactly what type of response it will generate and thus, actually manipulates the audience like a master puppeteer.
He threw caution to the wind at SummerSlam, delivering a breathtaking performance that had the wrestling world buzzing.
Easily the best performance of the show.
Since losing to John Cena at Payback, Bray Wyatt has appeared somewhat unmotivated.
That WWE Creative has decreased his presence on television has not helped, nor has the fact that the story leading into his SummerSlam match with Chris Jericho was so lethargic.
But that does not explain what was a performance from Wyatt that never really felt like it got out of first gear. Sure, he did the spider walk and showed considerable intensity on one or two occasions, but it was nothing fans had not seen before. And better.
The chemistry with Jericho that so many raved about following their match on NXT a year ago has not manifested to this point and as a result, their match at the extravaganza was yet another disappointment in a long line of them since the program began on June 30.
This writer is a huge Chris Jericho fan so let's get that out of the way before discussing Y2J's performance at SummerSlam.
With that said, Jericho showed his age Sunday night, looking every bit the slowing veteran whose body and soul may no longer be completely invested in what he is doing.
And who would blame him, really? Despite being one of the biggest stars of the last 20 years, he has been treated as an afterthought by WWE Creative countless times and came back to the company for feuds and rivalries with Superstars who really have no business sharing the same ring as him.
His feud with Bray Wyatt should have been something truly special, the type of story that captures the attention of the fans and threatens to steal some of the thunder away from the main events stories. Instead, it has fallen into mediocrity and has been accompanied by Jericho's in-ring performances.
SummerSlam was as lethargic a performance from Y2J as fans have witnessed in quite some time, and unless he has some reason to care, expect more of the same.
Whether it is intentional or not.
Someone who has not wrestled in a legitimate match for 11 years should not look nearly as good as Stephanie McMahon did Sunday night.
Showing great confidence between the ropes, she worked a very good match with Brie Bella, delivering moves she was not necessarily associated with but doing so with great crispness and effectiveness.
The way she manipulated the crowd with the flash of a smile and the raising of her arms is part of what makes Stephanie as good as she is. She has such a hold of them and is such a talented heel that the crowd wants to see her get beat up and are willing to cheer a former model-turned-reality star that they are not particularly fond of if that means shutting the Billion Dollar Princess up.
The look on her face as she was confronted by Nikki Bella and the post-match celebration, despite needing assistance from Nikki and Triple H to win, put a nice cap on her SummerSlam performance and proved why Daddy's Little Girl is the best heel in wrestling.
Brie Bella gets a lot of flack for her acting abilities, or lack thereof, but she was excellent Sunday night at SummerSlam when it came to eliciting sympathy from the crowd while on the receiving end of an assault at the hands of her boss.
Like any good babyface, she also demonstrated a solid understanding of timing, mounting her comebacks at the right time and generating a big pop in doing so.
She took a huge forearm to the face from sister Nikki that looked like it hurt a lot more than anything Stephanie did to her, then sold the Pedigree spectacularly en route to a major pay-per-view loss.
While expectations were low for the match, and Bella in particular, she exceeded them and turned in a performance that was perfect for what she and Stephanie were attempting to accomplish.
There is no greater master of in-ring psychology and timing that Randy Orton. That may not be a popular statement among those fans who have grown tired of The Viper over the last decade but that's too bad. The fact of the matter is that Orton has become one of the best and smartest workers in the industry and one must look no further than the performance he turned in at SummerSlam against Roman Reigns.
Orton was the architect of the match, creating it from beginning to end and making the necessary adjustments when it became clear that the audience was burnt out after the Bella-McMahon match.
Everything from standing on Reigns' fingers following the Garvin Stomp to his facial expressions following the huge mid-air RKO helped enhance the story of the contest.
Despite losing, he went out of his way to deliver the best match possible with Reigns and did so brilliantly, again proving why there are few who understand the little things about a wrestling match as well as the third-generation star.
Roman Reigns needed to prove to fans and management that all of the hype surrounding him over the last three months was valid and, for the most part, he did that Sunday night.
He sold well for Orton during their match and made the big comeback late before planting The Viper with the RKO and scoing the decisive pinfall victory.
The one knock against Reigns is his greenness as a singles performer, and it still rears its head every so often, including at SummerSlam. Outside of his signature maneuvers, he is still trying to find his way as a one-on-one guy. His offense is a bit sluggish, but that will work itself out when the time comes.
Still, nothing that Reigns did (or didn't do) at SummerSlam should halt his push. He is clearly the next major babyface in the company and will only improve the more he gets to work with guys like Randy Orton.
Taking him out of the main event picture at this point because of any questions surrounding his ability will damage him so much more than not giving him the push in the first place.
The Beast Incarnate had the wrestling world buzzing Sunday night following the most dominant championship victory in WWE history: a one-sided pummeling of John Cena that made even the most confident of Cenation members question their leader's ability to overcome the former NCAA, UFC and WWE champion.
Lesnar was brilliant as he tossed Cena around the ring with reckless abandon, showing no real sympathy or concern for his opponent's well-being.
That he openly mocked both Cena and the Undertaker throughout the contest only added to the spectacle of Lesnar's championship victory. Such a smug, confident and arrogant competitor, Lesnar took pride in being able to beat Cena and prove his dominance over WWE.
It was one of the best performances of Lesnar's controversial career, without a doubt, the mixture of brutality and confidence blending to make an evil man that much more dangerous.
You will never again see a main event Superstar willingly take the beating that John Cena took at SummerSlam. It just does not happen. Franchise players do not let themselves look as weak as Cena did, something the marquee star will not receive nearly enough credit for.
He took tremendous punishment from Lesnar but still managed to show tremendous heart and intestinal fortitude as he tried valiantly to fight back. Unfortunately for him, Lesnar left very few openings available, just decimating the champion.
Cena took a historical pounding and should be applauded for putting business ahead of ego. His willingness to take the beating that he did, including a dozen or so German suplexes, shows just how much he cares about doing what is right by the industry that made him a household name.
Fans may get tired of his act, but how anyone can get tired of his selflessness is a mystery.