I suppose that, given the time at which I'm writing this post, it'd be best to start off by acknowledging the news that broke earlier this week. Darren Young of the Prime Time Players came out of the closet in an interview during Summerslam Axxess, making him the first openly gay WWE superstar. I have my own suspicions that the incident was not entirely organic, but that's all secondary to the fact that this is incredibly good news. WWE has been very positive about the news and it's great to see the amount of support that Young is receiving from his peers in the industry. Let's hope it continues once the media storm dies down.
Brief thoughts on Money in the Bank:
-The WHC Money in the Bank ladder match was immensely entertaining and I started marking the hell out when Cody Rhodes went on a tear towards the end. Realization that Damien Sandow hadn't shown up for a while quickly set in even before he ran out from his hiding spot, but even knowing what was about to happen, the conclusion of the match played out wonderfully.
-I honestly don't remember a single thing that happened in the Axel-Miz match. That can't be good.
-I felt cheated out of a better match when Layla interfered in the Kaitlyn-AJ bout, and I'm not glad to see her in a prominent role again.
-Ryback narrowly escaping with a cheap victory over Jericho just felt wrong.
-Both the world championship matches ended very disappointingly.
-Although I am strongly against Randy Orton being in any role of significance with the WWE Championship briefcase, the actual ladder match was still very good. And I say that as someone who doesn't really care about RVD.
-So I guess overall there were great highs and dumb lows. As a whole the show was not all that great, but the ladder matches delivered as always.
Off the Card:
The most conspicuous absence from the card is Sheamus, who could be out of action until next year due to a pretty nasty shoulder injury. More puzzling is the complete absence of otherwise prominent tag teams - the Shield aren't being advertised at all outside of Dean Ambrose's pre-show match, despite their ongoing dispute with the Usos and the recently turned Mark Henry. That last detail makes their absence from the card particularly strange - why have a guy feud for the top championship and then bother to turn him if you're not going to use him in the second-biggest show of the year a mere month later? Perhaps the Shield's open challenge on Monday will be answered and there will be a last-minute addition to the card. An alternate theory is that WWE is pushing the Wyatt Family at the cost of the Shield, as some rumors postulate, but I don't really buy into that. The Shield was in the main event of Raw a week and a half ago, I think it's a little early to say they're losing their push. If October rolls around and they're jobbing out to 3MB on Superstars, then feel free to say you told me so. While we're on the subject of champions not being on the card, where the hell is Curtis Axel? I'm guessing WWE doesn't want him to have a match on the same show as Brock Lesnar, due to the Heyman connection. Or hell, maybe they figured the Divas match was more important.
Kickoff United States Championship Match: Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Rob Van Dam
Dean Ambrose's newest challenger was determined in the long-standing United States Championship tradition of a battle royal one week before the match, leaving no time to build any sort of feud or storyline between the two opponents. That said I'm all for Ambrose utterly destroying RVD, and I'm sure he'll look better doing it than he would having a match against Mark Henry.
I might deliberately skip watching this match so that I can pretend RVD becomes possessed by Andre the Giant's ghost, forcing the Shield combat him with proton packs.
PS: If anyone happens to find fanart of RVD being possessed by Andre the Giant's ghost, forcing the Shield to combat him with proton packs, please send it to me.
Brie Bella vs. Natalya
Gah, having to write about this match makes me want to just stop doing these previews altogether. Okay, let's start by putting this in the simplest possible terms and then working our way up...Natalya challenged Brie (just Brie, because Nikki is injured and so it can't be a tag match) to this match because the Bellas have been taunting her mercilessly for the last several weeks because...I don't know. Because they're bitches, I guess. Their taunts have largely consisted of calling her ugly, including referring to her as an ugly duckling (which if their characters were any more intelligent than lobotomized rocks they would realize will come back to bite them in the ass considering how the tale of The Ugly Duckling concludes), which they thought was so clever that Nikki distracted Natalya with a duck call for about twenty full seconds during a match with Brie, who of course won. I'm noticing that recently divas have really been stepping up the whole "come out to distract the person you're feuding with to cost them the victory" thing. AJ and Kaitlyn dress up as each other and put on full skits, for crying out loud. The dudes just come out to their own music and stand at ringside until somebody gets rolled up. Next time Wade Barrett and Kofi Kingston are feuding, Kofi should come out with a ventriloquist's dummy and recite assorted awful jokes while drinking water for a minute and a half before Barrett finally gets RKO'd to death.
Anyway. This match of course is meant to act as a cross-promotion with the Total Divas show on E! Network. All of the featured divas on that show (except for the rookie Jojo) are somehow involved in this match, as Nikki, Eva Marie, and the Funkadactyls will all be at ringside. That doesn't change the fact that the entire basis of the tension between Brie and Natalya is that the former thinks the latter is unattractive. Not exactly a revolutionary premise. I suspect Brie will win, and less than three quarters of the people watching the pay-per-view will stick around to witness it.
Mixed Gender Tag Team Match: AJ Lee and Big E Langston vs. Dolph Ziggler and Kaitlyn
I think I need someone to explain to me how we wound up at this point with these four characters. Not in terms of reminding me of the sequence of events, because I remember that, but what thread of logic connects Kaitlyn inadvertently costing Ziggler a match to Big E with the two agreeing to team up against AJ. Just because you share a common foe doesn't mean you should decide to team up together, especially when it's for a fucking Mixed Gender match, which is actually just two singles matches cut together. This seems like a contrived way for Kaitlyn to get a pay-per-view victory over AJ without costing her the Divas Championship, and it seems more structured to serve that purpose than it seems to be based around the characters involved. Dolph seemed to get distracted from his efforts to reclaim the World Heavyweight Championship pretty easily, and it won't do him any good to win a mixed tag match. And again, why would he want to partner with Kaitlyn, whom he has no reason to place his faith in, other than she too has a beef with Layla? Though I suppose you could convince me that some of that old spark from a few years ago is still there...
It just feels weird because at this point a month ago, all four of these people were feuding with each other, but Kaitlyn was actually pursuing the Divas Championship and Ziggler was pursuing the World Heavyweight Championship. This feels like a step down for all the parties involved, save for Big E. And while it's nice that Big E is taking an official part in the match, I would prefer it if he just got a singles bout on pay-per-view for once.
Cody Rhodes vs. Damien Sandow
Now we're getting somewhere. Of all the midcard face turns that have happened in the past year, Cody Rhodes' seems to be working the best. Unlike Miz, Ziggler, and Henry, he's actually taken a step up because of his turn, and he's getting his fair share of cheers without having to lean on Ricardo Rodriguez as Del Rio did. I think what I like most about Cody's part in this build-up is he's going after Sandow for all the 'wrong' reasons, because he's still got a lot of villainous qualities that he hasn't shaken off. He's been harassing his former best friend because of bitterness, and has committed theft and assault to get back at him. While he's mentioned that there is also a noble side to his motivation - that he dislikes how Sandow thinks himself superior to everyone - it all comes back to selfishness - mostly he dislikes Sandow thinking himself to superior to him, Cody. The great thing about all this is that Sandow is so good at portraying a completely unlikable asshole that Cody's actions seem entirely justified, and his suffering during the course of the past month has been incredibly enjoyable. The real question is whether Cody can continue to be interesting and entertaining as a face once he moves past his feud with Sandow, but that's something that will have to be determined later. For the time being, I have no problems with this storyline, and I look forward to the match they'll have. Because the briefcase isn't on the line, I'll pick Cody to win the match.
Ring of Fire Match: Bray Wyatt vs. Kane
God, this is great isn't it? Wyatt and Kane are literally fighting over which of them is a better demon. Pity this isn't a straight-up Inferno match, but I guess you can't really do such a thing in the current WWE. I have no issues with this match. It'll be a great spectacle with a different sort of build that should put Wyatt over big as an incredible new threat. REALLY looking forward to this.
World Heavyweight Championship Match: Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Christian
There hasn't really been much substance to the tension between Del Rio and Christian in the past month, but that's not to say I'm not interested in seeing what happens between them. Del Rio has separated himself from Ricardo Rodriguez now, and while that may lead to a short-term increase in resentment from the audience, it may do long-term damage to his character. Without Ricardo and without his fancy entrance, there's now not a lot to make Del Rio stand out from the crowd. His character has to evolve, and quickly, and take on new and interesting qualities to replace the ones that he has shed. I'm willing to bet that Del Rio will win, because at this point he really needs the World Heavyweight Championship until those new qualities start to come out. Meanwhile, Christian has at last returned to the championship scene after two years of on-and-off injury problems, which really play well into his character. Christian's contribution to this storyline cannot be judged by the past month of build, it must be judged by how he has changed in the past year and a half. Following his loss of the championship exactly two years ago at Summerslam 2011, Christian acted as a villain who couldn't own up to his own failures, insisting he just needed "One more match" for the World Heavyweight Championship to regain it. After leaving television with injuries and returning from them several times, it's pretty easy to see Christian as a changed man. His body is beginning to break down, and he'll turn forty in a few months. The time he has left to regain the championship seems short. It was very easy for Christian to get the crowd back on his side a year ago, and any time he has had to leave for a while to recover and then returned, he's had no trouble settling right back in. Christian is a popular veteran whom people want to see grab the gold one last time, and an arrogant friendless foreign tycoon who tries to break people's arms when they're at their weakest is standing in his way. Not the most complex match-up, but certainly one with an obvious hero and villain.
Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk
Another really simple build when you think about it. Punk dumped Heyman, Heyman couldn't get over it, he wants Brock to murder Punk. Brock is fine with this, because Brock is fine with murdering everybody. Since then, Brock has looked like a monster and Punk has refused to back down. The thing that sets this feud apart from the one between Brock and Triple H is that Triple H never truly looked like the underdog heading into their matches. At best the two looked to be on equal footing, and at worst Triple H would completely school Lesnar in half their physical encounters leading into the match. Fortunately this time around Hunter is busy ruining another match on the card, so Punk-Brock is looking pretty good. Brock again looks like a horrifying monster, and looks better than he has since before his match with Cena last year. I'm calling Brock to win, but the build has been pretty effective in pushing the idea that Punk at least stands a small chance against him.
WWE Championship Match: Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena (c)
You just couldn't help yourself, could you Hunter?
The build-up to this match was brilliant up until Monday. John Cena, most popular guy on the roster, poster boy for the current era of WWE, against the indy and Internet darling Daniel Bryan, his antithesis. Stagnant character versus constantly evolving character. Five moves of doom versus the best wrestler on the planet. Clean-cut versus scraggly beard. Shitty generic t-shirts versus awesome goofy t-shirts. Implants Bella twin versus natural Bella twin. The star of the last decade versus the potential star of the next decade. As time went by, things got more heated between Cena and Bryan, their opinions of each other beginning tepidly respectful but gradually turning sour as they began taking shots at each other, Bryan rejecting the idea that Cena is truly a wrestler and Cena firing back that Bryan does not deserve to be respected until he wins the championship. All of this culminated in a truly awesome bit where Bryan basically claimed that Cena was not even worthy of being slapped by him, even after Cena similarly struck Bryan in anger. Meanwhile, Randy Orton has made it no secret that he'll cash in on either Cena or Bryan should the opportunity present itself. Meanwhile, Vince McMahon has stated that he hates the shit out of both Cena and Bryan, and wants neither one to be champion. All of this is incredibly good stuff, and promises a truly exciting match two popular superstars as well as the potential for something spectacular to happen soon after the match.
And then Triple H decided to become the special guest referee for the match. Let me ask you something: Vince McMahon was pushing for Brad Maddox to be the special guest referee, presumably to fuck around with the match on his orders, and Triple H interjected because he and Vince are at each other's throats at the moment (because I totally give a shit about that). My question is this: what the fuck would Vince have to gain by having a special guest referee in the match, if he wants neither Bryan or Cena to be the champion? Well we'll never know now, since it's not happening! Secondly, I seem to recall another Summerslam that featured a technically gifted, newly massively popular wrestler battling with John Cena over the WWE Championship, Vince hating both of them, a far less popular Money in the Bank holder waiting in the wings, Cena slapping his opponent in the face, and Triple H serving as special guest referee. Remember what happened then?