Friday, August 12, 2011
Summer Slam was born in late August, 1988, just a matter of days before 17 year old Jim Jividen moved into the all male dorm (you had to sneak in overnight female guests; the television in my room got one channel; we had community sausage fest showers; our assigned parking was on the other side of campus; I have very few good things to say about my choice of college) at Ohio Northern University that I'd share with my fellow entering freshmen. Included in that group was Kirk Hiner, with whom I'd collaborate on multiple projects for the better part of the next quarter century.
Among those projects included our breaking into Kirk's frat house during summers to watch WWF programming. It seemed like the thing to do at the time.
For almost 15 years now, I've been Kirk's primary contact with the goings on in professional wrestling; that once meant phone call match results recapping PPVs watched on squigglevision, and now it means quarterly previews of the "big 4" WWE supercards. You could get to my Wrestlemania 27 preview here.
Summer Slam 2011 is Sunday from LA. It's a curious card.
CHAMPION V. CHAMPION: CM PUNK V. JOHN CENA (HHH-SPECIAL GUEST REFEREE)
-When last we left, The Miz was your WWE Champion, keeping against Cena in a crappy Wrestlemania main event; unsurprisingly, Cena wound up with the belt anyway, taking in the May PPV.
Then came the promo.
So, maybe you've heard, CM Punk cut a promo on RAW. It wasn't unprecedented, Paul Heyman and Joey Styles had both cut similar "we like wrestling, not sports entertainment" promos in years previous, but this one hit the jetstream, and turned CM Punk from underground fave to (perhaps temporary) wrestling phenomenon.
This set up Punk challenging for the belt at the July PPV, on what was ostensibly the last day of his contract (like the promo itself, enough shooty-real that it had the veneer of credibility) in a show usefully in Punk's hometown, Chicago. The guts of the Punk thing relies on the enthusiasm of the fans that WWE most actively dislikes, fans like me, and what fans like me know and what WWE relied on is that Punk's got an association with Chicago, built by years of independent wrestling storylines, like a Hart has with Calgary.
And that gave us the best atmosphere WWE has had for a PPV maybe since the top of Hogan's return (maybe longer, what it felt like was the Canadian Stampede show, or Van Dam/Edge at One Night Stand) and the best WWE match since Michaels/Angle at 21, with Punk taking the title from Cena and quitting the company.
Who became WWE Champ? Rey - they had a quick tournament, Rey went over - and then Rey dropped to, wait for it, Cena.
Punk returned to WWE, and in a match set up by Hunter (as Vince was storyline fired in what is thought to be a precursor of Hunter's eventually taking the real life wheel) they meet at Summer Slam to unify the disputed title.
Punk's continued the shoot style promo gimmick, the anti-establishment figure against Cena, the corporate creation. Cena's been a Hogan-like face of the company for years, popular largely with children, and if one feels alienated by a homogenized, corporatized "we don't like wrestling, wrestlers, or wrestling fans" WWE, the face of that product has been Cena's.
And he still punches like a girl.
The most recently ended decade is my favorite ever for US wrestling, the hegemony of WWF absorbing both WCW and ECW at the turn of the century led to a real resurgent independent wrestling movement that turned to high quality wrestling matches as its differentiation from WWE. In the way that ECW said "we're not WWF" in the 90s by ratcheting up the violence, Ring of Honor did the same in the 2000s but with nearfalls.
Punk's one of the core figures of that movement, and his current character voices much of the indie leitmotif. In the same July PPV where Punk took the belt there was another 4 star match, a Money In the Bank Match won by Bryan Danielson, who has been the singular standout performer in the 21st century independent wrestling movement, who has what appears to be a real world anti-corporate ethos that might fit snuggly in a street protest, and who, just a year ago, cut a similar "I'm a wrestler, dammit" promo himself. They don't need to tether Danielson to the Punk angle (although were it to expand to a stable, they should) but its important to put a new foot forward if there are going to be different eyes watching the product. Were I a lapsed wrestling fan, with not a lot of knowledge of styles of wrestling superior to WWE, some high level Danielson matches right now would really be appealing to me - particularly if he were framed as being particularly skilled. I learned Mr. Perfect was a good wrestler because they told me he was; WWF was able to explain to me that the Intercontinental title matches were where I could go to get workrate, even when I had no idea what workrate meant. They could do that now; while Punk fights the corporate machinery at the top of the card, Danielson could be underneath, having the best 15 minute match every single night and allowing young fans the education that appealed to me. 17 year old Jim Jividen moving into that dorm room still liked Hulk Hogan, but who I most wanted to see in Summer Slam '88 was the Hart Foundation, as the idea that even though Hogan was a bigger star, Bret Hart was a better wrestler, was an idea I enjoyed having in 1988; it gave me the ability to think I was onto something, that I understood something, and there's no reason why John Cena fans can't enjoy wrestling in that way too.
This should be a good match, Alberto del Rio isn't on the card and he has a Money in the Bank briefcase; the bet here is that Hunter works del Rio into winning the title by night's end, screwing whomever wins the Cena/Punk match in a way that keeps them both as babyfaces.
(Edit - I got it right; 4 stars for the match, which given the pedestrian opening mat work and the mildly screwy finish is on the low end of 4 stars, but just can't be considered any kind of disappointment. Moreover, I got Del Rio right, who is your new champ - and if you're going to do that booking as opposed to playing it straight - it was done particularly deftly. Punk thought he was getting slow counted throughout the match, and there was maybe a fast count favoring Cena - but you'd probably side with Hunter on all of those issues. Then Cena's foot on the ropes was overlooked, but that happens sometimes, and you might say Hunter just missed it as opposed to missing it intentionally. The most likely construction of the Nash run in is it was set up to give Hunter deniability; unlike Vince, who wanted to be standing at ringside when he screwed Bret, to look Bret in the eye so he'd know he had been strongarmed - Hunter's swerve was more nuanced - he not only counted the fall for Punk, but did it when Cena's foot was on the ropes. Who could possibly say Hunter screwed Punk on those facts? Probably we're building to Punk/Hunter, and they've given themselves a way to get there. It's good use of Nash, who could be made use of as on camera (just not in ring beyond once a year) talent.)
WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE: CHRISTIAN V RANDY ORTON (NO HOLDS BARRED)
When last we left, Edge kept the Smackdown Title in a good Mania opener over Del Rio. He retired the next week (legit) due to injury; his longtime partner (no longer storyline brother) Christian beat Del Rio in a match for the vacant belt, and he immediately then dropped to Orton. That led to Christian turning heel, out of frustration at being held down by same mindset "he's just not a main eventer - now that Randy Orton, that's a main eventer!" that is being fought against in the big angle. Christian took at that same July PPV, by DQ, in a stip that allowed a belt switch in the event of said finish, and here we are. The Punk angle has blotted out the sun, really casting a shadow over the entire company and relegating the Smackdown belt to secondary status (well, it's always been secondary - maybe it's tertiary now that there are 2 RAW belts) but every match these two have had has been good (Christian is as good at wrestling WWE style as is anyone; that sounds like damning with faint praise, it's not - I'm a big Christian mark even though he's not one of the hundred best wrestlers in the world) and this will be good also. I assume Orton gets it back.
(Edit - Match of the night, 4 1/4, it's been a particularly strong year for WWE workrate, I think this might be the second best WWE MOTY. Orton went over in a good garbage match.)
SHEAMUS V. MARK HENRY
This will be short. Henry is now a heel, doing a monster gimmick, and maybe he challenges Orton next. Sheamus has, I guess, turned face. I like Sheamus. It's unlikely this will be good.
(There's a body of opinion for a few years that Henry is a good worker; I don't think I've ever seen a 3 star Mark Henry singles match. This wasn't the first.)
THERES A WOMEN'S MATCH
AND THAT'S IT. (Edit - Not any more, they've added DANIEL BRYAN V. WADE BARRETT; the program is Barrett's angry that a "nerd" like Bryan, as that's the way he's framed, has the money in the bank briefcase. Barrett's just okay, so this isn't ideal, but will still be good)
(Barrett went over Danielson, 3 1/4, a good match the crowd didn't care about; and they added a six man opener that I thought was 3 stars also. That's 2 four star matches and 2 three star matches. A very successful Summer Slam).
Kirk Hiner: Dude, that's 4 matches. It's Summer Slam, how are there only four matches?
Me: Yeah, I don't know. I mean, I assume there will be a Del Rio cashing in the money in the bank briefcase match at the end, and maybe they throw on one more match in the undercard - but even after the Smackdown tapings, this is it. 4 matches, and two them will be short or at least should be.
(Yes, the Counterfactual is completely screwed if they do it like this. Yes, it has occurred to me that's intentional. Yes.)
It's possible that either of the two title matches might bust into this group. The 10 Best Matches in Summer Slam history:
1. Bret Hart d. Owen Hart (94)
2. Davey Boy Smith d. Bret Hart (92)
3. Edge/Christian d. Hardys/Dudleys (00)
4. Shawn Michaels d. Razor Ramon (95)
5. CM Punk d. Jeff Hardy (09)
6. Bret Hart d. Mr. Perfect (91)
(I'm slotting Orton/Christian right here).
7. Undertaker d. Edge (08)
(I'm slotting Punk/Cena here).
8. Brainbusters d. Hart Foundation (89)
9. Chris Benoit d. Chris Jericho (00)
10. Shawn Michaels d. Vader (96)
That's it. Graps!