Now that SummerSlam is over and we as fans have a pretty good idea of where many of the major storylines are likely headed going into the autumn months, it's as good a time as any to reflect on the PPV that was (and last night's Raw) and pass some judgment on what made the grade and what didn't. Think of it as one scribe's opinion on what worked, what didn't, and what just puzzled the hell out of me. The method will be simple: Hot Hot Heat (in honor of a very underrated band from the musical archive) will describe something that sizzled with excellence. Conversely, Sunburn will conjure forth the painful imagery that an Irishman like me (not Irish enough to say "fella," mind you) experience after a visit to the beach that goes on a bit too long, so about six minutes or so. If you watched the event, hopefully you'll bring your own opinions on what you saw and heard to the table. If you didn't, hopefully you'll get a fresh take on things.
Before we begin, I should fire a bit of an opening salvo. I rarely tell anyone to skip ahead, because that may be a natural inclination anyway, but if you are 100% fine with the way the PPV closed on Sunday than this next paragraph or two may not be worthy of your time. If, however, you are one of the many on social media that has allowed Daniel Bryan fan-rage to take over the logic receptors of your brain, I give you the same advice that Dr. Shelby offered to the Wyatt Family's buzzard bait, Kane: Breathe in, breathe out, find your happy place, and don't set the couch on fire. I fully understand that many people are unhappy that Daniel Bryan did not walk out of SummerSlam as the WWE Champion. That's natural. We've watched Bryan absolutely tear through the roster top to bottom and leave the WWE in his bearded wake, and it's natural to expect that complete dominance and remarkable execution to be rewarded with the gold. That's the first mistake. Wrestling is a never-ending story (though, tragically, no Rockbiter) and stories must have fully developed heroes and villains to be captivating. You may have noticed there was no "true" villain in the main event Sunday. I say "true" because while booing John Cena has become a bit of an Olympic sport, he is by no means a heel. That was not an accident.
In a previous column, I spoke about the difficult booking of face vs. face. It's like a birthday party for multiple children; someone's going to end up getting the new Xbox, and someone else is going to end up playing pin the tail on the potato. A great solution to this is to introduce the Heel of Despair. Rather than being a new Dr. Scholl's product, the Heel of Despair is what you turn to when you need the wrestling world to get on board with your story. Every great story has one, from the Bible and the Iliad to the Pretty Little Liars books (not that I would know, mind you; I only got halfway through the Iliad before I realized it wasn't written by a cartoon power plant worker). In our story, you may feel that the Heel of Despair is Randy Orton, the new WWE Champion. And that would be incorrect. Orton has never been oozing personality (though quite possibly several banned substances) but his heel side was always more interesting anyway. He's the means to an end. No, the Heel of Despair here is Triple H, and it makes total sense.
How many times have we gnashed our teeth and pounded our fists in rage over the McMahons' perceived (and real) lack of desire to put the big gold on a deserving candidate? How irritated were all of us when Bryan's last title run ended so...pathetically? In a way, Daniel Bryan won the war just by getting the WWE to put him over John Cena cleanly. You can say that Cena was injured anyway, but there were plenty of folks that could have gotten the gold. Cena's speech on Raw further cemented that. I love that the injury was discussed but not allowed to stand on its own. Bryan proved all of our points just by changing their minds already. If you're looking for the icing on that delicious cake, it's coming. Cena's estimated recovery time may be shorter, or right on schedule, but a short-term Bryan win and a feud with Orton would do us no favors. Now you have The Viper, The Shield, and the whole McMahon family stacked up against the hottest talent in the WWE right now, and that's the way he (and I) want it. It will make the actual victory all the sweeter. And it makes Orton less monotonous and boring. A little. Did you see Trips's heel turn coming a mile away as soon as he was announced? I'm sure many did. Does it matter? Not really. This is the biggest and best way to do it. Buy in. You'll be glad you did.
Hot Hot Heat: CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar
The match above deservedly got most of the ink, but holy cow did these two gentlemen put on a show. CM Punk showed just how valuable he is to the company by launching Brock Lesnar into his best match since his return. I am not trying to sell Lesnar short; his offense and his timing were close to impeccable and the two wrestlers told a very believable story. Lesnar should be booked like a beast and he was in this match. Fortunately, it was done without ruining Punk's credibility. Both men came thisclose to winning several times, and the far more intricate feud between Punk and Paul Heyman really took center stage in the outcome. That makes total sense, as Brock frankly isn't going to be around enough to continue being in the forefront of an ongoing battle. This is what we hoped for when he heard Brock was returning to the WWE.
Sunburn: Curtis Axel
Allow me to introduce you to someone you may have completely forgotten about, reigning WWE Intercontinental Champion (and Paul Heyman guy) Curtis Axel. I wouldn't be surprised if you failed to remember he existed, since the last few PPVs have seen his once-promising push relegated to stooge taking bumps. Failing to defend titles makes them lame. One day someone will figure this out. I fully understand that every belt can't be defended at every PPV, but I'm quite sure we could have done without one of the other matches to make room for a title defense for the third most important title in the promotion. Axel exists to fill air time during Brock's month-long coffee breaks. Last night's Raw was little better, as Axel managed to get some offense in on a "badly injured" Punk in something that wasn't even a match before it ended predictably. Not doing him any favors.
Hot Hot Heat: The Wyatts
The Wyatt Family don't have to do much to get a great crowd reaction at this point. It's almost similar to Fandango (hope I said that correctly) in that they are so over they are almost TOO over. This match opening the card was a crafty move by WWE, both because it was visually cool and also because you don't want Bray Wyatt's win to be overshadowed by something that went before. The match itself was what is was, a simple enough affair in which the outcome was evident three weeks ago. Kane shooting a movie only reduced this feud to one PPV instead of possibly several. More important was the continuation of the Wyatts as a strange group that you can't look away from. Having more questions than answers with them is fine. In my heart of hearts, I would love to see Kane re-introduced down the line (a la Raven's Flock) as an asskicking behemoth after some alone time with the big man in the rocking chair. In reality, it might be a reunion with big brother Taker to get him ready for his annual WM appearance in some light duty. Just no more battles with R-Truth the night after. Please?
Sunburn: Dolph Ziggler
I'm sure there's an explanation for why Dolph Ziggler was booked in a mixed tag to follow one of the two main events. I just don't know what it is. Here's an example of the reverse of what we've been discussing today: the story taking precedence when it shouldn't. Dolph and AJ's chemistry as a couple was way better than as ex-lovers. Dolph is trying way too hard in a situation where he doesn't need to. We want to see him succeed. We know AJ is crazy. Who cares? These are well established facts. Dolph continues to take bumps better than anyone else on the roster right now, and he managed to do that in the short match we saw Sunday. Unfortunately, his break with Big E was rushed with his injury and it has sucked the life out of a great talent that just a little while ago was sitting in the Daniel Bryan position. Give this guy something to do please. He's earned it. Seven minutes is a travesty at this point.
Hot Hot Heat: World Championship Match
Alberto Del Rio continues to deliver the goods on PPV. It might seem easy to pick a championship match as something that delivered, but that's not always the case. Christian is underrated in my view and even though I didn't give him a shot to overtake ADR, he made a believable challenger and the two put on an excellent match. Del Rio dumping Ricardo makes sense, as he's working in his true role as a heel fully now, and given Monday's announcement that RR will be backing Rob Van Dam, I look forward to what those two can do in a feud that has already gotten some legs on WWE programming. As for Christian, he can wrestle a solid match with anyone. His absence on Monday does not exactly bode well, but I can't really complain with how he's been booked so far and he's really been getting a chance to shine on every PPV since his return. Give two wrestlers who can go a chance to tell a good story with some decent time constraints and good things will happen.
Sunburn: Holding Patterns
As mentioned, wrestling rosters are full of deserving individuals who have to compete with each other for face time. That unfortunately leads to big talents being left off the card. That is a wrestling fact of life, but I would much prefer a complete absence over lame segments that serve merely to remind us that certain people exist. A perfect example of this is Ryback. If you were wondering how the WWE planned to get Ryback his credibility back after his many failed PPV matches, it's by attacking ring crew members and backyard wrestlers with food items. Constantly. Remember when Ryback debuted and beat ten jobbers every week while you reheated pizza and learned French? C'est la vie. Dust off your Rosetta Stone, because we're getting a steady diet of it on TV and PPV. I'd rather have the gazpacho. Another example would be Fandango. Several dancing segments just to lead up to a random attack of the Miz on Raw really isn't a payoff for sitting through those segments. It's bad enough you get the commercials and the movie previews; just show us another video package. Do something different if you do anything at all.
Hot Hot Heat: WWE 2K14 Symposium
WWE overall has done a very good job over the last few years with their video games. I don't play them regularly, but I check them out and they just seem to get better every year and in every iteration. By far, the most entertaining (and perhaps newsworthy) event that came along with WWE's unveiling of their new game, however, was the symposium of "30 Years of WrestleMania" on Saturday night. If you did not get a chance to check out Monday's Headlines here on TJR (shame on you!), the panel was hosted by Jim Ross and featured Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Rey Mysterio, Ric Flair, Paul Heyman, Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan. (Short version: Everyone's favorite wrestlers, minus Shawn Michaels and dead ones.) I won't even bother to recap what occurs, but it's amazing. I'd love JR to call my wake. Check it out for yourself here.
Sunburn: Cody Rhodes vs. Damien Sandow
This feud should just be better. It started out tremendously and has gotten worse and worse as time goes along. Sandow is a gifted comedian and Rhodes has improved his delivery big-time, but this has just been a confusing mess. Rhodes's revenge story culminated with a short, rather unimpressive affair that should have had way more energy, way more intensity, and way more time. I don't care that Sandow lost clean (it's sort of the point to establish that Rhodes is "smarter" despite Damien's claims to the contrary, and Sandow has the case with the title shot) but he once again lost on Raw to Rhodes the very next night. If this is what we're in for, let's flip the page and get them some different opposition. I think it's smart to keep the focus off Sandow while everyone is abuzz over the Orton cash-in, but killing any momentum he had (and he had plenty) after MITB makes no sense. This match felt like something I've seen on TV eighty-six times already. Because I have.
*The Shield got even closer to their pseudo-New World Order persona by being relegated to backyard bodyguards for the McMahons Monday evening. The hounds of justice are now called out to beat down anyone who dares tweet their displeasure at Monsieur Helmsley-McMahon-Ryzing. And they don't even do that particularly well, by the way. I'm not sure which was worse: the clumsy victories over Dolph Ziggler and the Big Show or standing at the entrance ramp like glorified security guards to protect the McMahon biscuit fortune from Daniel Bryan. Actually, I take that back, I know full well what was worst: watching The Shield obey HHH's every command like glorified gofers mere months after letting us know how they were going to turn the WWE and all its symbols on their head. I'm really glad that such a large amount of gold rests on The Shield's shoulders so that they can show it off as they do pretty much nothing of consequence week after week. Say it ain't so, WWE. Use 3MB if you'd like, dig Brisco and Patterson out of mothballs, but give The Shield some real work.
*The other huge story coming out of the weekend was front and center in the best way last night when the Prime Time Players took on Zeb Colter's excellent Cesaro/Swagger pairing. While I never like to see those latter two lose, I make a big exception in this case. Darren Young's honest and open comments regarding his sexuality were not mentioned at all, and that's just fine with me. I'd like to think we can get to the point where this is an angle for all the right reasons, but quite frankly it's far more important what he does in the ring, and that's what I want to comment on here. I thought PTP looked better than usual (they always do a decent job) and Young was really on fire and showing it with his facial reactions and excitement in the ring. Should this news coincide with a face turn, as it appears, this is a great start. It's not completely clear that that's where this was headed, but I think this is an excellent opportunity to deal with real-life issues in a professional and fun way. Nice job.
*Will there ever come a point where anyone in the wrestling business will learn from mistakes past and stop handing Hulk Hogan just about anything he wants on a silver platter? I can only hope that TNA has figured that out. I have no idea if firing Hulk's daughter was a shot across the bow, brother, but it would be a nice change of pace in an industry that continues to bend over backwards as Hulk tarnishes his legacy. Nothing against Brooke, who's quite lovely and athletic (although I don't check her out nearly as much as dad does), but merely having Hogan as your handle does not a star make. TNA needs to figure out what they are trying to be and fast, and if in fact it is supposed to be the anti-WWE, relegate Hogan to a special appearance and be done with it. Whatever merchandise he's adding to the kitty is being adversely impacted by his penchant for stupid statements and bad decisions. I'm sure that Hogan has plenty to add to this business with everything he's achieved, but not in the ring and not while he's putting himself first.
*I'm really glad that Raw's general manager, Brad Maddox, has had such an excellent story arc. He has gone from ridiculously bad official to ridiculously bad tryout wrestler to sidekick of Vickie Guerrero to finally getting his big break and running Raw to...sidekick of the McMahons. Maddox is trying hard enough, and he's gotten away from some of those dangerously ugly Mike Adamle tendencies, but he's not getting any help in this position. Put him in a managerial role if you're that sold on him (I'm clearly not), but just be done with this ridiculous for-show bureaucracy that is way too Royal Family-esque. While I'm ranting on the topic, I got a kick out of all the wrestlers standing on the stage during Orton's coronation to close Raw. The happiest person appeared to be Teddy Long, wildly applauding while the six guys around him didn't. I'd clap too, Teddy. You're employed. I challenge you to an impromptu tag match, playa!
That's it for this week. I hope you enjoyed this spin on what was overall a pretty good show last weekend, and encourage you as always to put your heat and burns in the space below. You can also reach me on Twitter @coffeyfan77 or via email at email@example.com. I will return on Friday with your headlines. Until then, this is Mike Holland saying thanks for reading, the Foot Locker ref might do better than Mark Harris, and have a great week!