WWE’s summer spectacular is frequently one of the hottest pay-per-views of the year, and thanks to the fantastic build up to Punk vs Lesnar and Cena vs Bryan, the 2013 show looked to be no exception.
Unfortunately, things did not get off to an encouraging start as the show opened with Bray Wyatt vs Kane, in one of the least workable gimmick matches, a Ring of Fire (aka Inferno) match. To my memory, there has never been a decent one of these and this was no different; hindered by the fire making it impossible to run the ropes, the action was dull and sluggish, and neither the Wyatt family or Kane were particularly over. Bray took the victory (as he should in his debut) but only thanks to the interference of his ‘family’.
WWE should be portraying the Wyatts like an eerier, more sinister version of dominating force The Shield, but instead so far they have just been cheap, beatdown merchants. This may be why fans aren’t taking to them, and didn’t react to the lame post-match angle, which will no doubt be used to excuse Kane while he is away filming See No Evil 2.
Things picked up slightly with Cody Rhodes vs Damien Sandow; they had a perfectly decent back and forth battle, with Rhodes taking the victory to set up a future programme once Sandow inevitably cashes in his Money in the Bank briefcase. Rhodes has settled in nicely to the face role and the audience have warmed to him, but they really couldn’t have cared less about Sandow, who was occasionally sloppy here. WWE, as illustrated here and elsewhere on the card, seems to have a real difficulty getting heels over these days, something it needs to rectify urgently.
Christian vs Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship was up next, and WWE bizarrely implied that this could be Christian’s last shot at the gold. Given that he has been a consistently over and reliable mid-level worker for years now, that seems very unlikely. ADR was sporting a beaten up looking face, with bad bruising to his left eye and ear – the result of a bar fight the previous night.
Despite displaying a more aggressive attitude than of late (as Michael Cole endlessly harped on about), ADR still isn’t connecting with the masses, and it was up to Christian to get them involved. Thanks to some good audience interaction and convincing selling of his shoulder injury, people were behind the challenger as the near falls got hotter. Christian seemed to have it won when he hit the spear, but the move also made his shoulder worse, stopping him from capitalising. ADR took the opportunity to lock on the cross armbar and take the victory. I’d be mightily surprised if this was the last we saw of Christian though.
Natalya vs Brie Bella was inoffensive filler, but was clearly there as an advertisement for Total Divas on E! The first of two main events followed, when CM Punk clashed with the monstrous Brock Lesnar. Intense from the get-go, Punk and Lesnar contested a thoroughly gripping and exciting bout. The story was that Punk was so desperate to get his hands on Paul Heyman that he let his guard down on several occasions, allowing Lesnar to take the advantage. Brock dominated Punk in the early stages, lobbing him across both announce tables and suplexing him on the outside. Punk fought back by biting the ear to escape a bear-hug, before hitting a flurry of elbows, running knees and several beautiful roundhouses.
A GTS attempt was countered into a Kimura by Lesnar, but Punk countered again with an armbar followed by a triangle choke in a sequence the crowd were red hot for. Lesnar finally broke out with a running power-bomb. Soon after Punk hit a GTS but Heyman broke up the fall.
Punk countered an F5 attempt into a DDT, before locking in the Anaconda Vice. Heyman broke it up again, and Punk finally got a measure of revenge when he decked the mouthy manager and put him in the Anaconda Vice. Unfortunately for CM Punk, this allowed Lesnar to recover, who battered Punk with a chair, before hitting an F5 onto it for the victory.
It was the right move going forward, as Punk looked badass even in defeat, and gives good cause for rematch at WrestleMania, and the win for Lesnar means his psycho-monster aura is stronger than ever. Both men made an excellent effort and this bout was worthy of Match of the Year. Before the card topper, WWE inserted the mixed tag bout between Ziggler & Kaitlyn vs Big E Langston & AJ to allow the crowd to cool down. Decent enough in the ring to not offend, it was nevertheless a complete waste of a talent like Ziggler; WWE has totally dropped the ball with his face turn. At least he walked away with a win on such a high profile PPV.
Finally we came to one of the most highly-anticipated bouts of the year – John Cena vs Daniel Bryan for the WWE Championship, with Triple H as special guest referee. After Cena handpicked Bryan as his opponent on the post Money In The Bank episode of Raw, WWE has done everything to make Bryan believable as the next babyface superstar, including a score of convincing victories on television. On the night, he looked and felt it too; the crowd was 100 per cent behind Bryan’s quest for gold, clearly revelling in the yes and no chants, and he gave a super-polished performance in the ring.
Cena too deserves an immense amount of credit for pulling out his smoothest and psychologically soundest ring work since his 2007 Rumble battle with Umaga. He sold for Bryan as though they were equals, and there wasn’t a Super Cena comeback in sight; he even allowed Bryan to kick out of the Attitude Adjustment and pin him clean after Bryan hit the a Shining Wizard. The crowd went nuts for Bryan’s most significant win yet, and WWE put on the fireworks and confetti to sell the importance. But there was more to come…
After Bryan celebrated for a few moments, Randy Orton’s music hit and he headed to the ring, MITB briefcase in hand. It seemed as if he may challenge Bryan, who was more than up for it, but Orton decided to leave it for another day. Then out of nowhere, Triple H nailed the unsuspecting Bryan with a Pedigree; Orton covered him and Triple H counted the three, crowning a new WWE Champion in Randy Orton.
Kudos so should go to WWE for making such a bold move – the Orton heel turn had done the internet rumours for weeks, which would normally cause an about turn by WWE, but they sensibly stuck to their guns. Orton and Triple H are far more effective as heels and Bryan is more effective as the underdog challenger. This seems likely to lead to a Bryan Vs Orton/McMahon family feud, and hopefully they will put every possible (logical) obstacle in Bryan’s path, before a big rematch and victory for The Beard at WrestleMania 30.
Let’s hope they stick to the slow burn, because it will pay off for WWE and the fans the most in the end.