REQUESTING FLYBY: Summerslam Memories (The 2010s)
Aug 13, 2014 - 3:45:21 PM
Summerslam Memories (The 2010s)
Welcome to the penultimate part of this Summerslam Memories series. Looking back at the first four Summerslams of our current decade, I very much see them as illustrating the journey of CM Punk from frustrated upper midcard act to top title holder to special attraction superstar. With the Chicagoan’s recent walkout from the company, it’s interesting to ponder what his legacy might be, and summer classics from 2010 to 2014 are almost a microcosm of his time with the ‘E. We start with a match that was booked horribly, and end with one that was booked perfectly.
The Straight Edge Society vs. The Big Show at Summerslam 2010
Following CM Punk’s dynamite feud against Jeff Hardy that we examined last time, the Straight Edge Superstar formed the Straight Edge Society. Having first targeted Rey Mysterio, they turned their attentions to The Big Show when the newly babyface World’s Strongest Athlete played a decisive role in the hair vs. mask match between Punk and Rey. Unfortunately, WWE were of a mind to try to push the babyface version of Show, despite it flopping many times before, and the SES were very much fed to him in distressing fashion. 2010 was a very poor year for the company in all, and incidents like this handicap match were prime examples as to why.
The bout begins in annoying fashion with Big Show removing tape from his wrist to show that his bad hand has recovered. His smug smile is supposed to illustrate what he plans to do to his opponent with that untaped fist, but it also comes across as unpleasant foreshadowing of a glorified squash. I know that Paul Wight is an enormous man, but when he’s booked like this, it becomes impossible to enjoy anything that he’s in. Mercury and Gallows get knocked down to the canvas in quick succession and retreat to strategise with their stable leader, before they attempt to blindside the giant by circling him and outnumbering him. Ridiculously, Cole and Striker seem to have no idea whatsoever whether the match is being wrestled under tornado rules or under handicap tag rules, and the participants and referee seem equally unclear. It’s a mess in all honesty, with the three Straight Edge Society members just getting continually knocked down by their massive opponent. It really is no fun to watch at all. The brief flurry of offense that the stable get in on the seven footer comes only due to him missing a right hand and striking the steps, and the triple team that follows is devoid of heat because the crowd know exactly what’s coming, which is Punk sneaking away while Mercury is chokeslammed onto Gallows for the three count.
Admittedly, CM Punk’s stock with the company was not high at this time, but his stable had been the most entertaining thing on WWE television ever since its formation. By feeding it wholesale to a veteran like The Big Show was just a terrible waste. The Straight Edge Superstar noted in his DVD interview how frustrated he was that the talents of Gallows and Mercury went to waste in such a way and that WWE didn’t fully recognise what they had in his puritanical group of misfits. A crying shame.
CM Punk vs. John Cena at Summerslam 2011
However, a year later, CM Punk had suddenly hit the big time of permanent main event status, a far cry from his handling a year before during the emasculation of the SES. Straddling the crash barrier, the new champion blew his soon to be former employer a kiss and disappeared into the night with the company’s most precious piece of gold. It was the perfect end to the hottest angle in years. But that was the problem. WWE Creative didn’t know what to do next. You see, I suspect that very little about the angle was planned out in advance and therefore they weren’t prepared for just how volcanic Punk would become when they gave him that live mic and told him to “voice his grievances.” It had been a long time since a storyline had captured the imagination of the audience in quite this way, so an obvious dilemma awaited the writers. On the one hand, the writing staff had the opportunity to build a lasting “fourth wall” storyline where the Voice of the Voiceless took himself on a tour of the indies, toting the championship and bragging about his escape until finally returning to “change the game” all over again. Most of the IWC thought this would be the direction WWE would go in, at least to a degree. The second option, meanwhile, was to capitalise there and then on the fact that they’d re-signed the hottest property in professional wrestling and to continue the feud with Cena. Much to the chagrin of some commentators, this was what Creative ultimately decided to do, with our favourite pipe bomb merchant returning after an absence of just one week. This was understandable to a degree in that they needed to put asses on seats for their second biggest show of the year and this was not a time when WWE had much long term patience. Was it a missed opportunity? Probably, yes, but hey, at least we got a hot rematch, if nothing else.
At the time, I thought that this match very nearly matched the original championship battle at Money In The Bank, but watching it back now, I no longer think that’s the case. It’s a good, solid WWE main event featuring two very charismatic wrestlers, but that’s all it is. For one thing, it’s very much a bout that takes too long to get going. In the Money In The Bank contest, the opening chain wrestling not only came as something of a surprise, it was also crisp and clean, as well as fast paced. Here, it’s just slightly awkward to watch and just that bit sloppy in execution. There’s one particular leg take down Cena attempts on Punk which looks like something you might do to a childhood friend roughhousing in the garden, and to then resort to rest holds so early in the match really kills the momentum. The way the two men trade the advantage also seems a bit contrived this time around; maybe it’s just the fact that we’ve seen that back and forth story told by them already in a much more emotive way, but there’s a choppy feel to the flow of the action that wasn’t there before.
With that said, the match heats up considerably after ten minutes or so, beginning with an excellent exchange of submission counters which really gets the crowd hot, and from there the pace picks up, making this something of a contest of two halves. Triple H, for his part, plays the guest referee role unobtrusively and his interaction with the combatants does add some extra frisson to the proceedings, particularly in firmly telling Cena that a near fall is a two count, not a three. However, there’s another slight problem here in that the false finish is used rather excessively; there’s only so many times you can watch these two kick out of each other’s grand finale before the kayfabe effectiveness of both moves is compromised. The fact that the Second City Saint’s winning high knee/GTS combination is counted for a three while the Franchise Player’s foot is on the ropes is also problematic. Maybe the perceived botching of the Punk push began here rather than in bringing him back too soon; his win being marred by a referee error takes away the true, clean victory the Chicagoan needed to be seen as “the man.”
And if the downfall of the initial rise of the purveyor of pipebombs began with Trips failing to spot John boy’s foot on the ropes, it was well and truly cemented by the booking that came next; even now, it’s downright bizarre seeing Kevin Nash standing behind Punk and hitting an awkward looking Jack-knife on him, and downright hilarious seeing him waddle away from the scene of his crime. Hunter runs about looking horrified, looking out to the crowd, and then the Del Rio cash-in happens. Even that comes off badly, with the Mexican Aristocrat first walking to the ring and then seeming to remember that time is of the essence and sprinting, pushing the referee ahead of him.
Bringing Chick Magnet back to the company while he was still hot was not necessarily a mistake and the storyline that accompanied his return was pretty well written and fairly cohesive, but this Nash interference and the ADR cash in unquestionably ruined that good work. Once they made the decision to bring him straight back, the execution was all important, but with that convoluted Nash nonsense, any good was undone. Rumour has always had it that Vince McMahon was convinced that having a reigning and defending Mexican champion during the tour of that country would help him at the box office, and in going for that short term goal instead of furthering the angle that had garnered more publicity than anything else in years showed just how short sighted the company had become. Out of nowhere, the waters were muddied, and what had been an excellent feud between the Second City Saviour and the Franchise Player suddenly mutated into a confusing mess, but as a consolation, remember that the epic rivalry between Punk and Cena was far from done. A year later, at Summerslam 2012, they and the Straight Edge Superstar’s dance partner from Summerslam 2010 would lock horns together in a triple threat match.
CM Punk vs John Cena vs The Big Show at Summerslam 2012
We all know that Cookie Monster has much more juice in him as a villain, so I think we were all looking forward to the journey he’d take us on in the run up to Summerslam having turned on Cena and Rock on Raw 1000. The key theme was that of respect, with Punk taking issue with Jerry Lawler’s assertion that he’d turned on the WWE Universe and also with Rocky’s scene stealing save of John Cena. AJ, Raw’s newly crowned GM, was not giving him respect by booking a triple threat match for the year’s second biggest pay-per-view (The Big Show had been given an ironclad contract in the storylines and had been feuding with the Franchise Player). Cena wasn’t giving him respect. Even the fans weren’t giving him enough respect. It was a turn somewhat modelled on that of Bret Hart the night after Wrestlemania XIII, who similarly took issue with those who did not respect his career and achievements. Given the way Mr Sobriety had been kept away from main events in 2012, it was the ideal angle. Unfortunately, the presence of The Big Show in the storylines muted the impact of the ongoing turn, and Punk probably retained the support of most of the audience. It reminded me somewhat of Backlash 2006, where Edge was the hated heel, Triple H was the tweener on the way to a DX reforming face turn, and Cena was the champion who split opinion. Del Rio’s presence in the Cena vs. Punk rivalry back in October 2011 created glitches in the plotting but led to a sterling triple threat Hell in a Cell bout. Here, the presence of the giant would actually limit the match quality, although the Summerslam three-way was still an interesting match, and one that helped cement Crooked Moonsault’s transition to heeldom.
If you’re going to book Big Show into a championship match, a triple threat is certainly the way to do it; the giant’s obvious weaknesses can be hidden by the work rate of the other two competitors. Sadly, rather than take this approach, the agents who assembled the match have the World’s Largest Athlete dominate the action for the first ten minutes of the bout. Therefore, the match is wrestled at a plodding pace that does it no favours whatsoever, with Big Show plodding across the ring to Cena and Punk in turn and pounding them. At times, the Second City Saint and the Franchise Player attempt a double team, which is sound psychology, but the big man always manages to shake off his assailants. There are some nice high hope spots where Cookie Monster, Fruity Pebbles or both manage to up the pace with some risky moves, but all in all, it’s not exactly an in-ring clinic (the conspiracy theorists among you might speculate that perhaps Triple H had instructed these three not to steal the show from his main event clash with Brock Lesnar).
However, while the contest itself is not the most exciting title showdown you’ll ever see, there are things about it one can appreciate. The storytelling is top notch, with Punk’s increasing desperation to win leading him to resort to ever more underhanded tactics. Furthermore, Cena and the champion sell the assault of The Big Show manfully, helping to get the giant over as a legitimate monster (if only WWE didn’t reverse such booking so often by reducing Show to a joke, but that’s another story for another time). The double submissions which ultimately lead the man with the ironclad contract to tap out is a typical murky finish for when the result needs to not be too conclusive, and sure enough, everyone’s favourite skipping GM comes out to re-start the bout. Here’s the thing about re-started matches; I wish they’d not finish two minutes after they re-start. It happens here, as it would a few months later with Punk and The Rock. It seems to make the whole point of the re-start seem too much like what it is; a cheap booking stunt. What if a match started over and went another twenty minutes? Now that would be unpredictable. Two minutes after the bell rings for the second time, Cena’s AA to the giant is capitalised on by a sneaky champion, who throws the Franchise Player from the ring to pin Big Show and retain his championship.
This finish would be the birth of a new character trait in Cookie Monster, that is, the desire to retain the title at all costs. Cena, meanwhile, would amp up his determination to finally hold the title again after one of the longest droughts of the year, but would not be able to bring the title reign of Punk to an end. That privilege would belong to The Rock. Having lost that title, the Second City Saint would become a special attraction wrestler, a role he would proceed to knock out of the park to prove conclusively that Summerslam 2009 would not be his only five star performance at the event.
CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar at Summerslam 2013
The previous two entries showed how important a well constructed story is to featured matches; both 2011 and 2012 were good bouts, but they weren’t the spectacular everyone knew could result from CM Punk being in that spot. Thankfully, the Paul Heyman dimension made for a dynamite story leading in, one of jealousy, betrayal, ego and desperation. It was perfectly pitched, with Cookie Monster determined to burn the world down to get to Heyman. Unfortunately for Punk, that world was the Beast Incarnate and he would be facing that man in a No DQ environment.
However great the storyline going in, it was imperative that the two put on something of a lesson in shock and awe, particularly given the lukewarm reception to Lesnar’s matches with Triple H. The beginning of the bout shows Lesnar using his enviable power, reach and size to treat Punk with disdain, stomping on him in both corners and throwing him about like a rag doll. However, the audience are reminded of the sheer heart of the man from Chicago when a succession of high knees and a suicide dive take Lesnar outside the ring and to the concrete. It becomes clear that the Straight Edge Saviour is prepared to take any risk to knock the massive MMA star down, going off the top to the outside and from the announce desk to the floor. However, the story in the background is always “can Punk get to Heyman” and it’s this piece of hubris that ends his first offensive flurry, as Lesnar blindsides him and tosses him like a piece of garbage over the commentary team and back again. This sets up the inhuman belly to belly suplexes on the outside, which the Chicagoan sells to perfection. Applying sound psychology, Lesnar targets the back and then the midsection, taking his opponent apart with scientific menace. The Beast Incarnate’s sick grin of enjoyment is very much the icing on the cake. Whenever Punk does show the audacity to attempt a comeback, Brock cuts it off with brutal effciency. It really is awe inspiring stuff.
It’s the educated knees of the Straight Edge Superstar that give him something of a way back in as a succession of them down the big man long enough to hit the Macho Man elbow for the first near fall of the bout. However, a series of reversals follow, with Punk going for the GTS, Lesnar going for F5, Punk hitting a roundhouse, having his second GTS attempt turned into the kimura, which then gets countered into a triangle choke, which Lesnar breaks with two gigantic powerbombs. It’s breathless, thrilling professional wrestling, and the sheer impact and intensity of the action is what makes the difference. Both men have no regard for their own safety- something we saw earlier in the series with the TLC match- and the kinds of risks and stiff shots taken by them both is something truly epic to behold. Punk coming off the top to the outside only to be met by a chair. Lesnar getting worn out by some of the stiffest chair shots to the back you’ll see and getting a chair elbow dropped in his face. Just jaw dropping stuff, and it’s the former UFC champion’s turn to show his resilience now, at least until his manager makes his presence felt in proceedings by first distracting Punk on the apron and then breaking up a pin attempt following a Go To Sleep. Even after Paul E’s intervention, the Second City Saint is in the ascendent, countering an F5 into a DDT and applying the Anaconda Vise, forcing the advocate to put himself in the firing line yet again.
The hubris of it is marvellous, Punk forgetting about the monster on the canvas while he’s busy placing a submission on his former friend. The reward for such hubris is a chair across the back, an F5 onto that same steel, and the loss of the match. If last year’s Summerslam restored the pay-per-view to its old position of prestige, the poster boy for that restoral was the Best vs. The Beast. With two five star matches taking place on the same card, much of the talk coming out of last year’s edition of the August extravaganza was to do with which match was better. It is difficult to compare them in all honesty, as they are different animals with different intentions, but my marginal preference is for Lesnar vs. Punk over Bryan vs. Cena. If people want to know what Punk’s WWE legacy is, it is in the fantastic work he put in on pay-per-view over his years with the company. There have been few better “bright lights” performers than Mr Sobriety in my opinion, and the match against the Beast will be replayed on the WWE Network by thousands of fans for years to come. Now that’s a legacy.
Well folks, that’s it for today’s edition. I have one more part of this series coming your way, discussing overlooked and underrated matches in the midcard. Having conversed with my LOP colleague The Doc, who did a top 10 in that genre last year, I have selected five matches that were not on his list twelve months ago so it’ll be 100% fresh for you guys. Look for that one to drop Saturday, and don’t forget ATTITUDE coming your way tomorrow. Maz and I will be looking, in timely fashion, at Summerslam 1999. Lots of good stuff to discuss there.
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This is Maverick, requesting flyby!