Pruett's Pause: WWE SummerSlam 2014 - In person perspective on Brock Lesnar destroying John Cena to capture the WWE Championship, Nikki Bella turning on Brie Bella, and the best Lumberjack Match ever
By Will Pruett
Something special is happening. Something special took place in front of my eyes. Something special happened in the middle of the main event of SummerSlam. WWE has a major top star with something most of their major top stars lack: mystique. Brock Lesnar is an absolute monster, meant to not only be respected, but to be feared. From the fans in the arena, fans watching at home, and any star stepping into the ring with him, Brock Lesnar inspires fear in everyone. This couldn't be better.
Let's go back to WrestleMania, where Brock Lesnar seemed to be just another guy challenging Undertaker's Streak. He was still a major deal, but he wasn't a monster. Lesnar was a main event guy, but he was still just a guy. From the moment Lesnar was pinned at Extreme Rules 2012 until the moment he pinned The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX, Lesnar was missing his most valuable asset. He wasn't an unbeatable beast, he was a professional wrestler. When Lesnar pinned Undertaker, suddenly the mystique returned. Listen to the silence at WrestleMania as Lesnar celebrated his victory. It was respect, not "bad heat."
The night after WrestleMania, the last time we saw Lesnar before he returned to announce this John Cena match, Lesnar was established as the new most powerful entity in WWE. He stood by the side of his faithful orator, Paul Heyman, and became a mythical being once again. The fear was back. The mystique was back.
When Lesnar entered Staples Center on Sunday night, he was greeted as a mythological being. The pop he received wasn't a babyface reaction, it was an exciting reaction. The crowd was seeing a god-like man enter and they greeted him as such. Lesnar didn't seem normal. Lesnar didn't seem like another guy. Lesnar, from the time he entered to the time he walked back through the curtain, carried himself like a truly frightening horror movie villain.
John Cena, in contrast, has never looked as human as he did in this match. Cena is normally an elevated presence above everyone in the ring with him. One of the key stories in WWE has been wrestlers like Daniel Bryan and C.M. Punk attempting to match Cena's almost folkloric status. No one, traditionally, can be on the level of John Cena. As frustrating as it is for most fans, Cena has always been a level (or two or three) above the entire WWE roster. When John Cena stood face to face with Brock Lesnar, Cena was overshadowed. It was the first time in many years Cena had found a villain more than capable of stepping up to where he is.
In the actual match, Cena and Lesnar delivered something completely different from their previous encounter. As different as it was, it was also more satisfying. Lesnar destroyed Cena. Lesnar dominated Cena. Lesnar laughed at Cena's best offense and threw him around like a rag-doll. All around me in Staples Center, the excitement for the match slowly turned to concern. Lesnar went from being a safe mythological creature one wanted to see in a match to being feared. As Cena took German Suplex after German Suplex, Lesnar became the monster chasing you down. Lesnar never relented. Lesnar never stopped punishing Cena. Even at his most vulnerable moment, Lesnar summoned the supernaturally frightening strength to sit up and smile. For 16 minutes, Lesnar dominated Cena until there was nothing left of him.
When Lesnar finally delivered the F-5 and mercifully pinned Cena, the roar from the crowd was not adulation. It was not the crowning a new hero. It was not a celebration of a man overcoming his greatest challenge (as it had been when Daniel Bryan defeated Cena one year ago). It was respect and fear. The crowd had to crown Brock Lesnar as the conquerer, not because they wanted to, but because he forced them to.
Something special is happening. Brock Lesnar is no longer a mere mortal. He is "The Beast Incarnate" just like his moniker declares. At SummerSlam, the most important star in WWE for the last decade was easily destroyed by Brock Lesnar. We were left to stand in awe as a man became immortal.
Picking up the pieces:
- The only disappointing part of the Lesnar vs. Cena match (as it aired on television) was the director showing a replay while Lesnar did The Undertaker's zombie sit-up. If you had experienced this without the announcers talking over it and in full screen, you'd know just how amazing this moment was. Perhaps I have been rather hyperbolic about Lesnar transforming from man to god in front of our eyes, but this moment was key in this transformation. Lesnar's entire demeanor in and around this moment was perfect.
- Lesnar vs. Cena might have been one of the greatest matches I have ever seen. It is not just the destruction of Cena, but way Lesnar destroyed him. From a storytelling standpoint, this match was perfect. It had a clear goal and a clear story laid out. It told the necessary story in the best way.
- The German Suplex was the move of the evening as Brock Lesnar delivered 16 of them to Cena. Each one of them felt more vicious than the last. I have to give so much credit to Cena for the beating he was willing to suffer. I have never seen Cena sell as well as he sold for Lesnar.
- One interesting element of the Cena vs. Lesnar match, especially when contrasted with their Extreme Rules 2012 match, was that it never left the ring. Neither man ever stepped through the ropes until the match had ended.
- Brock Lesnar is proof that cheating doesn't make a great heel (as many wrestling minds, including Jim Ross, seem to believe), but attitude makes a great heel. Lesnar is not hated because he cheats, he's hated because he doesn't have to cheat and is a jerk about it. Lesnar isn't great because he can't win; he is frightening because he easily can.
- Elsewhere on the show, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose had the best Lumberjack Match of all time. This is not an opinion or up for debate. It was the best Lumberjack Match ever.
- The crazy excitement and fantastic booking of Rollins vs. Ambrose was exactly what their feud deserved. The bell rang and they went at each other like two men who needed to fight. The involvement of the other wrestlers at ringside (and all through the crowd) was a perfect use of Lumberjacks. The match felt out of control and unpredictable.
- I wasn't even upset by Kane's involvement in the finish of Rollins vs. Ambrose. It was the right kind of interference on behalf of a heel.
- The other key angle going into SummerSlam was Brie Bella vs. Stephanie McMahon and their match delivered in a surprising way. Stephanie dominated the match, not with brute force, but with actual wrestling. They worked a compelling match, but it was hard for the crowd to get behind Brie. I'm not sure WWE took the right approach in building this match, but I also think the size disparity between Brie and Stephanie forced their hand. In the end, they worked an entertaining match and delivered an interesting (but predictable) angle with Nikki Bella turning on Brie.
- I haven't been impressed with the promo work Nikki Bella has done in her career, so her explanation will be interesting to watch. Hopefully the Bella vs. Bella feud will surprise me. Brie Bella, when placed against the right heel, can become a great plucky babyface. Hopefully he gets the opportunity to do so.
- How great was Brie's dive through the ropes onto Triple H? Kudos to Triple H for selling that move perfectly.
- Roman Reigns, the man many assume to be the heir apparent, had his first high-profile pay-per-view singles match on this show. I can't say I was impressed by his performance, but I wasn't let down either. The match was boring for the first third and Reigns had trouble selling in a way that garnered sympathy in the second third, but the final third of the match came together nicely. Randy Orton is known to work a slower pace anyways, so this may not even be completely Reigns' doing.
- I do wonder, as we just saw Brock Lesnar crowned WWE Champion, if Reigns will be ready to stand toe-to-toe with Lesnar by WrestleMania. Reigns' improvement in the last year and a half has been amazing, but he isn't quite at the level a possible challenger for Lesnar would need to be six months out. So much needs to happen between now and March for Roman Reigns. WWE needs to have a backup plan in their back pocket.
- Speaking of a backup plan, WWE could always use Daniel Bryan's return to give him a Royal Rumble win and have Bryan lose to Brock in the 'Mania main event. The crowd would absolutely support the underdog they already passionately love against the monster they fear. The story is good enough. They could give Reigns until next year's SummerSlam, in WWE's New York home market, to get ready.
- One funny element of being at the show was watching a crew of about 25 guys dismantle the pre-show desk in the minutes before Hulk Hogan's entrance. They barely made it, as the carpet underneath it was being dragged away as the lights came up in the arena. That desk looks heavy.
- It only took them about 126 tries, but Cesaro and Rob Van Dam finally had a good match.
- I was surprised to see Dolph Ziggler beat The Miz, but this show needed strong babyface moments given how it would end and Ziggler offered one. I'm not excited about Ziggler as Intercontinental Champion, but I'm not excited about anyone as a secondary champion these days.
- Paige and A.J. Lee had a good match as well. It was delightful to see these ladies wrestling with defined heel and babyface roles. The fans still cheer for skipping, but they also knew Paige was the bad girl here. Putting the title on Paige allows A.J. to play something closer to an underdog babyface, which is more natural for her. They could have another really great match in this series at some point.
- The "Flag Match" between Jack Swagger and Rusev was really fun. Swagger is (or was) more over than he has ever been and Rusev continues to impress me in the ring. Lana and Zeb Colter were great sidekicks for this Hoss Battle. I was surprised to see Swagger take the loss, but with the rules requiring a pin or submission, he had to. Swagger is not the guy Rusev should lose to.
- Bray Wyatt's entrance provided one of the most stunning visuals of the evening as everyone turned on their cell phone flashlights to greet Wyatt. It's one of the coolest things I have ever seen as a wrestling show. Bray Wyatt is quickly developing the kind of presence one has to see live to truly appreciate.
- I wasn't excited or optimistic about Wyatt vs. Chris Jericho, especially after their odd match at Battleground and awful promo segment on Raw, but they surprised me. This was a very good match with the right guy winning and the right story being told.
- Another surprising element of this show was the uneven branding of WWE. They used the new WWE logo on top of the SummerSlam one, but then the corner of the screen, the turnbuckle pads, and all of the titles had the old logo. I assumed WWE would be more uniform in its roll out of their fancy new logo.
On Sunday night in Dot Net Member's audio with Jason Powell and Chris Shore, I graded this show as a solid B, but as I reflect on it more, it deserves better. I'm going to up it one full letter grade and go with a solid A. It wasn't quite perfect enough to give an A+ to but there were very few flaws. This is a show everyone should go out of their way to see. It was a fantastic display of professional wrestling coming in just under WrestleMania XXX as my favorite show this year.
So, what did you think of the show? Agree? Disagree? Either way, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or to follow me and interact on twitter @itswilltime.
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