WWE SummerSlam 2015: Full Grades for Each Superstar at PPV
SummerSlam may be a pay-per-view whose success is determined by the overall quality of the matches that make up its card, but for the Superstars and Divas lucky enough to perform on this grand stage, their individual performances can either make or break them going forward.
A fantastic performance on a show as important as the summertime spectacular will earn a wrestler the faith and support of management. It could very well result in a huge push or even a future championship opportunity.
A poor one could result in a descent down the card and a stint in the unforgivable hell that is the company's undefined midcard.
On Sunday night, the company's brightest stars delivered performances that ranged from outstanding to "why the hell were they even on the card?"
Which Superstars and Divas fell in which category? Who graded the highest?
Take a look for yourself.
Randy Orton is as smooth a worker as imaginable. There is a fluidity to the way he executes his offense, which makes it that much more enjoyable to watch.
Unfortunately, there was not much for The Viper to do Sunday night, as he was essentially dominated by Sheamus in the latest match of their never-ending series.
He sold well, putting the Money in the Bank winner's offense over, and managed to execute his signature moves late in the match. But this was anything but a showcase for the former 12-time world champion.
The attempt at the running punt late in the match was a nice touch and really helped to put over the hatred between him and his opponent, but missing it only led to his eventual demise.
A fine performance from the third-generation star, if somewhat unspectacular.
Like him or not, there is no denying the quality of Sheamus' work.
On Sunday night, he kicked off the show with a match against Randy Orton in which the motivated Irishman did his absolute best to infuriate and antagonize the crowd.
From grabbing the microphone early to denounce the chants of "You look stupid" to arrogantly adjusting his mohawk mid-match, he worked hard to get fans to boo him.
He even exposed Orton's chest and began pummeling it with forearms, only to stop and catch him with a right hand instead of allowing fans to count along.
The finish, in which he blasted The Viper with two consecutive Brogue Kicks, really put the Celtic Warrior over strong and allowed him the opportunity to regain momentum after a tumultuous two months of booking.
The tag team of Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods has been one of the brightest spots of any WWE show since the trio turned heel, using the "power of positivity" to elicit loud choruses of boos. On Sunday night, they were brilliant as they took to the squared circle, then proceeded to mock Jay Z's "Empire State of Mind," complete with pitch pipes.
From there, Kingston and Big E were fantastic as the lone heels in the Fatal 4-Way match for the WWE Tag Team Championship. They were crisp, motivated and managed to win over the fans to the point that the Brooklyn crowd was chanting "New Day rocks" along with them.
Big E's spear through the ropes is a move he typically pulls out for pay-per-view events and which never stops being absolutely fantastic and terrifying to watch. Kingston does not get nearly as much credit as he deserves for the way he has adapted his style to better suit his new heel persona.
Then there is Xavier Woods, who is one of the more underrated guys on the entire roster. His work as a manager for the team has been outstanding. He has a way of running his mouth that antagonizes fans and even elicits the occasional laugh, as was the case Sunday night.
"Big E's got the market cornered on triceps meat! You can't even get a hamburger in WWE because Big E only serves triceps meat!" he exclaimed. It was a ridiculous line, but part of what makes Woods fresh and entertaining to watch.
The post-match celebration in which Big E let loose and danced was outstanding, as was the tremendous ovation that greeted the outcome. The New Day is catching on and could lead to a renaissance in tag team wrestling if WWE Creative plays its cards correctly.
Sin Cara and Kalisto entered Barclays Center to a fairly impressive reaction, the fans joining them for their "lucha" chant. From there, they demonstrated the speed and flashy offense that has been a trademark of their work as teammates to this point.
Sin Cara was his typically solid stuff but still suffers from sloppy ring work when he tries to rush things. There was a spot or two that did not come off as fluid as it should have, thanks to the fact that the masked veteran was trying to keep the lightning-quick pace cut by his peers.
Kalisto was fantastic, continuing to prove himself as one of the most dynamic and exciting young stars in the company.
The team was unsuccessful in its attempt to pick up the win and the tag titles but once again showed flashes of being a team the company could get behind if they choose to.
Unfortunately, their booking has been spotty to this point, leaving them as just one of the teams suffering from indecisive and inconsistent writing.
There was no reason at all for Los Matadores to be included in the tag title match at SummerSlam.
Outside of the fact that they generated no reaction, they were largely non-factors. They were there for the big spots involving multiple teams but otherwise merely existed to be pinned at the end of the bout, which is exactly what happened.
Diego and Fernando are solid wrestlers, but the gimmick continues to hurt their chances of ever getting over. Los Matadores is an act that would have failed in 1992, as was the case when Tito Santana was saddled with the same gimmick.
Why WWE Creative has not put the gimmick out of its misery is a mystery, one that is adversely effecting the men behind the masks.
Los Matadores were inconsequential in Sunday's title match, which is a shame for two guys who have a history of performing up to the moment in previous high-profile bouts.
Prime Time Players
The WWE tag team champions heading into the match, Titus O'Neil and Darren Young were as solid as ever in their performance Sunday night.
Young, continuing to prove himself as one of the best babyface-in-peril workers in the business, took a tremendous beating at the hands of his opponents, including a nasty apron splash from Big E.
The hot tag to Titus led to the energetic and fast-paced finishing sequence. The big man is clearly the more over of the two teammates, every one of his power moves drawing a pop from the fans. He was fantastic as he bowled over the competition and delivered his sit-out spinebuster finish.
Unfortunaetly, it was Kofi Kingston who capitalized and won the tag titles for New Day, bringing an end to the reign of the Prime Time Players.
Nothing the former titleholders did Sunday night was out of the ordinary or new. Their work followed the same formula they have been working for months. But it is an incredibly effective formula, one that certainly generates a reaction from fans.
The Showoff returned to the squared circle for the first time in months, squaring off with rival Rusev.
Ziggler threw a few body shots early, appearing to add a new element to his performance before settling into his comfort zone of selling and making his opponent look like a million bucks.
Rusev's already impressive offense was made to look that much more punishing thanks to Ziggler's ability to bump all over the ring and make every strike look as though he had been shot.
His comeback was energetic, and his ability to put the right sequences in the right spots really helped the flow and quality of the bout.
But one could not help but think, when watching The Showoff execute each of his signature moves, that he understood that this bout was simply a setup for a much more anticipated match further down the line, and that he decided not to try to break out anything new or fresh until then.
This was more of a "Ziggler's greatest hits," a performance that gave fans the usual without necessarily dipping into the rare B-sides.
Still one of the best wrestlers in the company, he was better than a lot of his peers but not nearly as great as he could have been.
The Bulgarian Brute is a fantastic professional wrestler, something he does not get nearly enough credit for.
A quick, agile and athletic heavyweight, everything he does look credible. When he hits someone, he connects. When he slams them, he does it with such force and conviction that it is impossible not to get caught up in the action.
In an industry that is criticized for being "fake," Rusev looks real, which is one of the greatest compliments a performance can be paid.
He bumped around for Ziggler as the former world champion mounted his comeback and scurried away from the ring with Summer Rae in tow after the match, looking like a heel who knew it was not his fight to win on that given night.
Neville and Stephen Amell
Anytime a celebrity is involved in an actual wrestling match, the Superstars surrounding that person are asked to do more to ensure the quality of the match.
Neville turned in his finest performance on the main roster to date, working at a frenetic, breakneck speed. His kicks were fantastic, and the twisting splash from the middle rope was breathtaking. His work with King Barrett was understated but key to the overall success of the match.
The Red Arrow finisher is still the most explosive in wrestling and allowed Neville to score his first SummerSlam win.
Stephen Amell, in his first match, did a fantastic job of showing off his natural athleticism and taking a beating at the hands of his opponents. He was clearly nervous but never looked out of place.
Best of all, the plancha he delivered off the top rope to his opponents was a moment that could very well earn the company mainstream media attention on Monday.
Stardust and King Barrett
Make no mistake about it: Stardust may have been the main antagonist for the last month or so, and King Barrett may be an underrated worker, but the duo existed solely to lose to the babyfaces in their match Sunday night.
Neither guy was really given the opportunity to showcase their considerable talent.
Sure, Stardust sold well for Amell's limited offense, then showed some great personality while working over the actor, but neither he nor Barrett really stood out in a contest designed to be a showcase for the Arrow star.
Barrett, a pro's pro, took the fall, and all was right with the world.
Ryback has done a fantastic job of carrying the intercontinental title with respect and returning credibility to it. He is incredibly over and has appeared more motivated than ever before since capturing the title.
But Sunday night, he was the least memorable of the three Superstars battling for the gold.
Overshadowed by Miz and Big Show, Ryback went through his typical offense before pinning Miz following a KO Punch from The World's Largest Athlete.
He showed some incredible strength in delivering Shell Shocked to Big Show, but the sneaky manner in which he won the title, coupled with his underwhelming performance, leads to his middling grade.
Miz is one of the most underrated characters on WWE television, someone unfairly criticized for his failure as WWE champion four years ago. Since then, he has managed to stay relevant thanks to his ability to incite venomous reactions from the crowd.
On Sunday night, the booking of the Hollywood A-lister as a cowardly heel helped both the quality of the match and the crowd's reaction to the story unfolding before it.
An opportunistic villain, he repeatedly tried to snatch victory from his opponent, leading to a series of near-falls that popped the Brooklyn crowd.
In the end, a knockout punch from Big Show ended his night on a losing note.
Miz was brilliant, even in a losing effort, as the sneaky and despicable heel who tried to worm his way to victory but failed miserably.
It was as if Big Show was motivated both by the young stars of NXT who performed in the same building one night earlier and the crowd imploring him to retire, leading to his best performance since his match against Roman Reigns at Extreme Rules.
The World's Largest Athlete tried a flipping senton from the middle rope and showcased speed (relative, of course) that fans had not seen from the lumbering giant in quite some time.
The unstoppable giant who dominated the bout right up to the final seconds, he was used exactly as he should be. More importantly, the finish allowed him to remain in the title hunt and even claim that Ryback would not have retained his title without Big Show's knocking Miz out.
Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose
Dean Ambrose brought incredible energy to his tag team encounter with Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper on Sunday night. The Lunatic Fringe lived up to his nickname, cutting a frenetic pace and keeping fans and commentators guessing as to what he would do next.
Roman Reigns, on the other hand, was left sprawled out at ringside, knocked out of commission by his opponents. When he finally made it back to his feet, he exploded with his signature offense, including Superman Punches to both opponents and a big spear to Bray Wyatt, ending the war with his rivals in his and Ambrose's favor.
The teamwork from the babyfaces was fantastic, complete with a Doomsday Device that earned them a "LOD" chant.
There is an explosiveness to Reigns that takes every match to another level of intensity. For all the criticism he faces as the company's "chosen one," he has been outstanding between the ropes all year and looks, from a performance standpoint, like a guy ready to carry the company into the future.
Ditto for Ambrose, who continues to suffer from uneven booking.
Grade: B (Reigns), B (Ambrose)
Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper
Luke Harper may be the most underrated wrestler in the world right now, a big man whose bumping is unparalleled and whose ability to work with wrestlers of all sizes is an attribute heavyweights like himself simply do not possess.
The incredibly stiff offense traded with Reigns during the contest was a play on their spectacular matches from recent Raw and SmackDown episodes, while his willingness to throw his large frame in harm's way for the sake of entertainment is incredibly admirable.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Bray Wyatt. Not on this night, at least.
The Reaper of Souls was missing in action as Harper carried the majority of the work. Sure, he entered the match and cut off the offense of his surging opponents, something he masters, but that was about all he did.
The recipient of both the Doomsday Device and the spear that capped off the match, Wyatt's night did not at all go like most would have assumed it would.
Grade: C (Wyatt), B- (Harper)
For months, critics have waited for Seth Rollins to give that one performance that convinced fans that the current WWE world heavyweight champion was a truly elite worker.
That wait ended Sunday night, as The Architect delivered the finest showing of his WWE singles career, leaving absolutely everything he had in the ring. Hell-bent to prove himself to any and all detractors, he worked a main event-style match that showcased him as the top dog in the company and overshadowed John Cena.
So strong was Rollins' performance that it leaped from the screen, smacking unsuspecting fans in their faces and forcing them to sit up and take note of his greatness.
Everything from his taunting of Cena to mocking him with his own version of the Attitude Adjustment strengthened the performance, blending character with ring work.
The finish is understandably controversial, with some hating the idea that Jon Stewart would get involved in a match that was supposed to be so incredibly important. But with that said, it played up the history between Rollins and the host of The Daily Show and should earn both Rollins and WWE mainstream media coverage.
It was a great night to be The Architect.
John Cena again found himself involved in the night's best match, but this time he was far from the star of it.
The Massachusetts native was sloppy at times, earning loud boos for what appeared to be a botched springboard stunner. But he recovered nicely, keeping up with a determined Rollins and using his trademark offense, along with some well-timed near-falls, to keep the crowd on the edge of its collective seat.
The title-for-title match on Sunday's show felt very much like a showcase for Rollins, and as such, it worked. But it was weird to watch Cena play the role of bit player in a main event match when, for the last decade, he has been the unquestioned face of WWE.
He will recover and probably win the world title before the year wraps up, but for now he will have to settle back into the role of the babyface who chases the gold instead of holding it.
Paige, Becky Lynch and Charlotte were unquestionably the best female performers inside Barclays Center Sunday night—bar none.
Lynch, in particular, stood out. She spent the early portion of the match selling a beating from both opposing teams, only to recover late in the bout and score the deciding pinfall win over Brie Bella with a pumphandle suplex.
Paige picked up where Becky left off, the babyface in peril. She was beaten down throughout, her upper body worked over by Nikki Bella and Alicia Fox. Ever resilient, she fought back just enough to make the hot tag to Charlotte, who exploded into the match with her normal array of maneuvers, including the Figure Eight submission hold to Fox.
The winners of the bout and the Divas booked as the greatest threat to Team Bella's dominance, Team PCB celebrated accordingly.
Team Bella was surprisingly effective in Sunday's match, with Nikki Bella really working to remind fans that they are the heel centerpiece of the Divas Revolution.
She did pushups and jumping jacks in the middle of the bout, arrogantly suggesting that Paige and her friends were no challenge whatsoever to the Divas champion.
Alicia Fox was given the opportunity to shine, especially late, as she worked over Paige, then sold a beating at the hands of Charlotte.
Then there was Brie Bella, who carried the majority of the action. She bumped when necessary and unleashed kicks reminiscent of husband Daniel Bryan, drawing "No!" chants from the crowd.
While some may not be so quick to credit the reality stars for their performances, it is hard to deny that they held up their end of the bargain in Sunday's elimination tag bout.
There was no bigger loser on Sunday's show than Sasha Banks, who went from a Match of the Year performance against Bayley on Saturday to being a non-factor in Sunday's tag match. She was barely involved in the contest, despite chants of "We want Sasha."
Instead, and for reasons that are impossible to explain, Tamina was given the majority of the work on behalf of Team B.A.D.
Lasting just mere minutes into the match, the trio was eliminated, tossed out like garbage in unimpressive fashion.
How anyone is to take them seriously in the war between Divas trios when they are continuously beaten is a question WWE Creative will have to address going forward—or risk ruining the credibility of Banks, Tamina and Naomi.
The Swiss Superman came into SummerSlam and continued on his tremendous roll, delivering another performance that supported the push he has enjoyed over the last year.
He worked in a physical style, unleashing on Owens with a series of forearms that earned a raucous ovation from the Brooklyn fans.
He was quick, agile and broke out his awesome springboard forearm. The best of all was a dropkick from the mat all the way to the face of Owens, who was seated on the top rope. It demonstrated the leaping ability of the former U.S. champion and proved his athleticism.
The loss he suffered did nothing to hurt him, seeing as how it came at the hands of someone fans believe to be one of the baddest and most dangerous stars on the roster.
Cesaro will recover if given the opportunity. And taking into consideration his recent performances, how could he not be?
Kevin Owens was spectacular all weekend, as intense as ever and more determined than before to prove himself as one of the best in the business.
Just 24 hours removed from a vicious, violent ladder match against Finn Balor in which Owens took big bumps, his body wracked with pain, he stepped back inside the squared circle for a match with Cesaro that was another incredible display of physicality.
He bumped around for Cesaro but also threw his body around the squared circle, using it as his greatest weapon against the speed and agility of his opponent.
The Pop-Up Powerbomb proved effective once again for Owens, earning him another pay-per-view victory.
Whether the win marks the beginning of a renewed push for the former NXT champion remains to be seen.
The Undertaker, despite concerns about his age and health, was phenomenal Sunday night. From his strikes to his willingness to bump, he worked a very hard-hitting, high-impact match against Brock Lesnar.
The Deadman took a trip to Suplex City and survived, not to mention an F5 through the announce table that would have finished a lesser competitor. He even kicked out of additional F5s, leaving Lesnar to wonder what he had to do to finish off The Phenom.
But it was not his in-ring performance that earned Undertaker his grade here. No, it was the booking that has made the 25-year veteran of WWE one of the fresher and more intriguing acts in the company.
A low blow and controversial finish had Undertaker looking like a guy who knows he is no longer the guy he used to be, and now he is not afraid to revert to any means necessary to pick up a win.
The controversial nature of the finish suggests that the two will meet once again sometime in the future. And given the quality of Sunday's main event, that would not be a bad thing.
Anyone who does not recognize Brock Lesnar as one of the best wrestlers in the world does not understand just how vital presence and storytelling is to the overall product.
Lesnar may not utilize much in the way of offensive maneuvers beyond suplexes, strikes, the Kimura and the F5, but the way he uses them, the stories he tells and the aura he brings to every match makes for a truly epic package.
He manhandled Undertaker throughout the match, pummeling him with strikes and tossing him with suplexes. He even bled for his art.
But in the end, it was cheating that ended Lesnar's reign of dominance, underhanded tactics utilized by The Deadman to beat someone he otherwise could not.
Lesnar still looked like a beast, and a defiant one at that, as he flipped The Phenom the bird while trapped in the Hell's Gate submission.