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Landau's Landscape: Analyzing The Ring Work in SummerSlam.

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Admittedly, the title is a bit misleading. It should read OVERanalyzing The Ring Work in SummerSlam. But since you’re here, you might as well read this over-analysis.

I think SummerSlam 2013 was the best PPV I have ever seen in terms of overall enjoyment, potentially rivaled only by MITB 2011. While not every match was great as was the case in MITB 2011, the matches which were meant to be the focus of the show – the WHC match to an extent, Lesnar vs. Punk, and Cena vs. Bryan were all spectacular, each in its own way. I won’t go over the rest of the card so I could focus on these 3 matches in-depth, instead I’ll lump them all in 1 paragraph as they relate to these 3 matches. I do want to make something clear about the opener first though, the way I see it.

The show opened with Wyatt vs. Kane, and I do quickly want to address this match – when you put two large men in a ring surrounded by fire you necessarily stifle their ability to work a compelling match. This match was never meant to be about the in-ring work, and I’ll disagree with Richard in that the gimmick was the focus because then I would’ve hated on it as well. The way I see it, surrounding the ring by fire, which according to storyline was done to keep Rowan and Harper out of the ring, was a great storytelling way to show them still getting in the ring, showing the fans that they would literally walk through fire for their leader, and thus also showing Bray’s influence on them. They covered the fire with a tar, but you have to believe no sane person would walk over that when theoretically the flames can erupt at any moment – especially when it’s just to save a wrestling match. That is why I believe this match was done – to hammer home Bray’s influence. It had to be the opener for logistical reasons – putting that set up and dismantling it takes a couple of minutes, so the opener was the only logical placement for it on the card that wouldn’t stop the show’s momentum dead.

As for the other undercard matches, they were perfectly scattered to space out the 3 big matches on the card, so the crowd won’t be burned in any one of them. Now, onto the matches themselves. What I liked about them is that they were all very different in style in ways you rarely get to see in one promotion, and I’ll explain as I go in-depth into each one. Please note that this is not about booking but strictly the work in the ring (and when applicable the buildup to it). You won’t get the jumping-up-and-down response to Bryan winning here. I did have it, you just won’t read about it here. Instead, I imply it in the Weekly Rundown, the special SummerSlam edition of which will be posted tomorrow.

World Heavyweight Title match: Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Christian.

This match was a great classic match. A good ol’ Heel vs. Face, 1 fall to a finish WWE wrestling match. It was very logical, actually to the point where the 4 illogical happenings in the match bothered me enough to notice each and make note of them, as they were really harping on how logically sound the match had been up until that point. They were:

  • Christian’s float over slap in the 3rd act of the match, around 4th gear, when it’s a move he uses to open the match, and an illogical move regardless. It was illogical in the sense that he’s smarter than trying to go for that move in that point in the match (kayfabe), not in the sense that I had to suspend disbelief, because Del Rio did capitalize on the mistake. It was just very uncharacteristic of Christian to make such an error in judgment.
  • Del Rio hooks Christian’s legs too obviously when assisting him to pull off a top rope Hurracanrana. He did that on the last Smackdown as well. You’d think all those years wrestling in Mexico would teach a wrestler how to support a Hurracanrana discreetly, but I guess not. In contrast, Cena did it better against Bryan, even though it is different as he held onto Bryan
  • Del Rio again lowered the knee pad before a superkick to a kneeling opponent, as if it made it more deadly. IT’S A KICK! Why would an exposed knee affect how your foot hits the opponent’s face?!
  • And finally, there was one ref error – Christian had Del Rio rolled up when he was in the Cross Armbreaker, but the ref didn’t count.

I usually wouldn’t mind these little things but it’s just a testament to how solid the match was that these bothered me so much – they were hindrances on an otherwise great match, so they felt especially unnatural and thus irked me.

I also want to take notice of how Christian and Del Rio both showed how you can have great false finishes without compromising your finishing moves. Only one impact finisher was hit in the match – sort of – and that was Christian’s Spear. Other than that they used dives, kicks and good timing and move fluidity to make the viewer believe that each move could have ended the match.

Since this was a classic good match I don’t have that much to say about it, so let’s move on to:

No Disqualification match: Brock Lesnar w/ Paul Heyman vs. CM Punk.

This was a pure Strong style match, but without the flashiness currently plaguing Puroresu. Punk and Lesnar worked a capital S Stiff match, and I wouldn’t be surprised if both were to be fined after all those head shots, intentional or otherwise. This was definitely a Brock Lesnar type of match, in that this is what Pro Wrestling would have been like had it originated in MMA instead of wrestling. Lesnar knows how to play the monster heel who makes few mistakes the face has to capitalize on. Punk showed his gritty side, and it worked well in the context of the match.

This was very different than both of the other matches which will be discussed in this piece in that it was not a wrestling match in the larger sense of the word as far as I could tell. There were I think 3 pin attempts in the whole match (considering Lesnar’s series of covers one after the other as one pin attempt), and they were mostly a novelty except for the end (which will be discussed later on). This was essentially a staged MMA match, until the point that Heyman got involved.

This match as stated was just a fight, with both men beating each other into sweaty (we are PG after all) pulps. The story behind it however mostly came in towards the end, as the match had the basic contest-between-two-great-fighters story until Heyman got involved. I predicted Punk would win but in hindsight it’s obvious that Heyman was to be his downfall. There was just no other plausible way to book the match. Punk averting his attention to Heyman more than necessary (i.e. locking the Anaconda Vice on him after neutralizing him with a punch) was the only reason he lost. In that sense the match became a classic Pro Wrestling match with a broken up pinfall attempt by Heyman to set up him costing Punk the match.

This was a very well worked fight, which progressed logically and fluidly and when needed inserted more classic pro wrestling aspects to it for story purposes. And it was perhaps the best such fight I have ever seen.

WWE Championship match: John Cena (c) vs. Daniel Bryan

This is the only one of these three matches which was very different from how I envisioned it – I thought we would see a great WWE style match between two of the best. Instead we got a hybrid WWE-American indie match which was a dialog between WWE and indie styles with both men actually playing both roles, not each representing a style (as you’d expect).

In a way this was a meta WWE match. It was very self-aware and almost mocking the WWE parts of itself. Bryan had a comeback sequence rather early on. As soon as he was done, Cena had his own comeback sequence into a 5 knuckle shuffle – which was blocked by Bryan, to everyone’s relief… for a moment. Not a minute passes and Cena hits it successfully – after going through the sequence AGAIN, mind you.

At the same time, we saw Cena go all indie on Bryan’s donkey-synonym, with some rarely seen in WWE chain sequences. He was also in control of the match, essentially playing the heel. I haven’t seen that since he legitimately was heel, so for over 7 years I haven’t seen that. Cena took it upon himself to prove to the LA crowd that he CAN wrestle. But here’s the rub – this was different than when he did that with Punk before and countless others. This wasn’t just a great match – it was Cena working the furthest outside of his element as I have seen. So many parts of that match are stuff that you never ever see in WWE, not to mention not seen by Cena. There was a stairs-induced Superplex. There was a Spider Superplex. There was finisher theft. There was Bryan using 5 of his indie finishers: LaBell Lock (YES! Lock), Small Package, his patented repeated elbows, his leg-trap German Suplex, and the Guillotine Choke. This was an indies match in WWE, with WWE-style influence, between Cena and Bryan.

More than anything else, this match was Cena’s coming out to the audience as a WRESTLER, not just an ENTERTAINER. Cena used round kicks, for crying out loud! This is Cena showing what he could do if necessary. Bryan psyching Cena up a la Puroresu Strong style towards the end of the match showed he respected Cena as a wrestler. At the end of the day this match was about each man accepting the other’s style of wrestling, essentially by embracing it into the match itself in some meta-wrestling excrement-synonym. Perhaps this is part of a bigger Triple H idea to change how WWE handles its in-ring product by allowing more freedom for the type of work done in the ring. It makes sense considering the most recent development signings.

But of course, there’s also the technicality which is the botch in the go-home. It’s not really important, but let’s talk about it anyway. Cena was supposed to catch Bryan mid-backflip, a very ambitious spot. He almost pulled it off but not quite, so he told Bryan to cover for it with a DDT. The cameraman than made the mistake of putting a close-up on Bryan and Cena, thus allowing us to hear how they plan to go on. Bryan then goes on top, flies into Cena’s hands who goes for an AA. Bryan then counters into a lackluster Small Package, out of which Cena kicks out. I suspect this was the original finish, but because the Small Package got messed up, there was a need to cover again which is why the kick followed by the knee strike was done.

Well, this is it. Here’s my (over) analysis of the main SummerSlam matches. Let me know what you thought and think about these 3 matches in the comments section.

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