WWE SummerSlam 2013: A Tale of Two Matches

After New Japan rejuvenated my love for pro wrestling with the final day of G1 Climax 23, I decided to give WWE another chance to hook me back in with the 25th edition of SummerSlam. The show convinced me to return to WWE (and pro wrestling in a larger sense) once more with two amazing matches that will stand as legitimate Match of the Year contenders for WWE.

And the best part? They both had an ‘underdog’ theme, something that WWE has struggled with booking in a meaningful way for a long damn time.

The Beauty of ‘The Beast vs. The Best’

The first of those matches, Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk, overshot all my expectations and then some.

I knew that both men had the capacity for a great match inside of them, but I had no idea how well they’d work together. Brock did his best work in his original WWE run against opponents with less of a size difference on him (The Rock, The Undertaker) or opponents with more technical leanings to their in-ring work (Kurt Angle). While I wouldn’t dare call Punk a slouch in the ‘technical wrestling’ department, he doesn’t have the same pedigree as Angle. Punk also gave up more of a size difference to Brock than The Rock did back in 2002. (Maybe. I don’t have the best memory about such things.)

So yeah, I expected something good, but kept my expectations low because of the matches between Brock and Triple H. Doing so made watching Brock’s best match since his return and Punk’s third-best match of the year so far all the better.

The two ring warriors defined their roles right from the opening bell: Punk played the role of the ‘underdog’ who had to keep fighting for every opening possible to take down a man larger and (possibly) meaner than him, while Brock slipped into his usual (albeit amazing) role of the ‘monster’ who wanted nothing more than to crush everything in his path for little more than his own amusement. Brock used his power and size to dominate Punk whenever he could. Punk kept on coming back for more punishment because of his desire to put Brock down for good. The last-minute addition of the No Disqualification rules made it easier for the two to beat each other senseless and played well into the story of the match.

Both men had an answer for everything in the other’s arsenal. From Punk biting Brock’s ear to Brock countering a triangle choke with a powerbomb, nothing seemed to stop the two long enough for a three count or a tap out. Even callbacks to the late Eddie Guerrero’s match with Brock from No Way Out 2004 (Brock’s version of the Three Amigos and Punk countering an F-5 into a DDT on a steel chair) couldn’t keep either man down. The whole match even had a similar ‘underdog vs. destroyer’ tone as the aformentioned Guerrero match.

But the underdog would not have his way on this day. Punk would go down in the history books as the loser after timely interference from Paul Heyman allowed Lesnar to break out of the Anaconda Vice, wallop Punk with a steel chair, and deliver an F-5 to said steel chair to keep Punk down for good. Lesnar walked out of yet another SummerSlam as a winner and Heyman walked out with a sense of vindication.

The beauty of the match lied in the roles Punk and Lesnar played (and how they played them), the No Disqualification rule allowing for some great hardcore brawling, and a natural escalation of violence and ‘last resorts’ that never allowed the crowd to think that Punk would lose until that last F-5.

Brock hasn’t had a better match since his return last year. Punk has only had two matches on par with this match so far this year (vs. John Cena from Raw back in February and vs. The Undertaker at WrestleMania 29). Both men should get serious recognition for putting on the best hardcore brawl you’ll likely see from WWE in 2013.

Daniel Bryan: The Biggest Winner of SummerSlam

Back in 2003, two young wrestlers who had yet to hit the prime of their careers had a short match on WWE Velocity: John Cena and Bryan Danielson. Cena had yet to win a title, and Bryan didn’t even have a WWE contract. I can’t believe anyone back then thought much of the match.

More than a decade later, John Cena and Bryan Danielson (as Daniel Bryan) would meet again in a WWE ring. Cena had the WWE Championship (his eleventh reign with the title) around his waist and another hostile crowd waiting to see him lose. Bryan had a huge roll of momentum and the experience of a decade of wrestling around the world carrying him into ‘The Biggest Party of the Summer’. Even the wildcard of Triple H as the guest referee (and what all the implications of his involvement meant) couldn’t sour expectations on how good the actual match Bryan and Cena would turn out.

Once Bryan and Cena got a brief historical reference out of the way (the test-of-strength/bridge/monkeyflip spot came directly from their Velocity encounter), they slid into their respective roles for the match. Much the same as Brock and Punk, Cena would play the role of a larger, stronger competitor compared to ‘underdog’ Bryan and his shorter, slimmer frame.

But Bryan had something that Punk didn’t: an extensive arsenal of technical holds and submissions. And he used them to great effect. From slapping on the Yes Lock and wrenching on Cena’s (legitimately) injured arm to stealing Cena’s signature STF hold, Bryan’s technical skill came in handy when he needed to take Cena out of his element and gain the upper hand in the match. The two teased the fans well by making Cena look as if he would tap out for the first time in years.

Cena held his own against the skillset Bryan brought to the table, though. He shoved the ‘You can’t wrestle!’ chants back in fans’ faces by breaking out of his ‘Five Moves of Doom’ moveset and adding a fresh spin on some old standbys. He levelled Bryan with a vertical suplex from the steel ring stairs to the floor, then later planted Bryan into the mat with a powerbomb that looked as if Batista had taken over Cena’s body for a few seconds. But those new tricks and his usual ‘Five Moves’ couldn’t get Cena the win.

The back-and-forth between Bryan and Cena felt organic and ‘real’. Every move, countermove, and strike had a purpose. Triple H’s presence had no effect on the match at all. Much the same as Brock vs. Punk, the match’s natural progression and buildup never let fans feel sure in their predicitions for the outcome — well, up to the point where Bryan lifted a move out of old foe KENTA’s playbook and used the Busaiku Knee to level a weakened Cena and pick up the only other 100% clean pinfall win on John Cena since Bryan’s debut in 2010. (The other clean win belongs to The Rock, which should say a lot about the confidence WWE has in Bryan as a main-eventer.)

Daniel Bryan had won the WWE Championship. He had beaten John Cena clean as a whistle in the middle of the ring at the second-biggest pay-per-view of the year. For about six to eight minutes, all felt right with the world.

The ‘Post-Script’

And then Triple H hit Bryan with the Pedigree and allowed Randy Orton to cash in his Money in the Bank contract for an easy WWE Championship win.

But I don’t mind that ending one bit. To answer the question of ‘why’, I point to Tommy Dreamer.

Dreamer went through the majority of his ECW career without having won the ECW World Championship. Much the same as his extensive feud with Raven, Dreamer always felt (from a storytelling standpoint) that he should come up short of achieving the big win everyone wanted him to have. He never wanted the title, but after the Mike Awesome/WCW debacle, he ended up winning the big one.

Then he had his moment ripped out of his hands twenty minutes later by an opportunistic Justin Credible and a little outside interference.

That loss didn’t destroy Dreamer’s career, though. He remained one of ECW’s top stars up until the end, and his loss made him an even more sympathetic character than before. The same kind of loss that Dreamer suffered from happened to Bryan at SummerSlam, and it arguably made Bryan just as sympathetic as Dreamer. Both men had reached the pinnacle of their respective companies before having their moment shattered by outside forces who had no problem with getting what they wanted by any means necessary.

Instead of sitting easy on top of the world, Bryan has to claw his way back up to the top and earn his keep all over again while the seemingly-combined force of Randy Orton and Triple H (and perhaps even the rest of the McMahon-Helmsley Hydra[™ Bill Bucknell]) waits for him.

I can’t wait to watch him start that climb again.

Notes

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