Scott: David, my friend, it’s been too long. We both have been busy, but I have the itch to debate wrestling again. I attribute this to many factors, but a leading one of late is WWE.com’s new “SummerSlam in 60 Seconds” feature, in which they distill an entire show into one minute of highlights. On the day of this writing, the showcase event is SummerSlam 1994, my first live WWF show. I could write a few thousand words about just that day, but I’ll spare you the nostalgia.
I remember you once telling me about a WWF house show you attended, I think in St. Louis. Do you have any fond memories of that event?
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David: I have very fond memories of the two St. Louis house shows my father took me to in the late 1980s. The first was in November 1988, and featured a main event of the Ultimate Warrior vs. the Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental title. I vaguely remember that match, but I vividly remember my dad buying me an Ultimate Warrior poster and hanging it on my wall when we got home from the show. I also remember seeing the Rockers vs the Conquistadors. I had a been a Rockers fan since they were the Midnight Rockers in the AWA, and finally getting to see them live was great. I also remember there being a couple of “audience participation” spots during that match. At one point, the Conquistadors switched without tagging (which they did often) thanks to their masks, but the ref did something I had never seen before… he asked the crowd whether the masked men had tagged, and when we said no he disallowed the tag and made them break whatever hold they were involved in. The same thing happened later when the Rockers switched without tagging. The ref asked us if they had tagged, and we all said yes. As I look back on it… I guess good guys have pretty much always been jerks in the WWF/E, haven’t they?
The second show was in December 1989, and was supposed to feature Mr. Perfect vs Hulk Hogan. Unfortunately, due to bad weather, the Hulkster didn’t make it to St. Louis. I vividly remember them replacing the main event with a battle royal, which was won by Dusty Rhodes. But even more than that, I remember the promo Mr. Perfect cut before the battle royal where he called Hogan a coward.
I know you’ve seen a few televised events, but have you ever been to an untelevised house show?
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Scott: I wish! I’ve only seen three live shows — SummerSlam 1994, King of the Ring 1996 and the WCW Thunder you and I attended in Cedar Rapids in 1998. I made a new year’s resolution to see a decent live independent show in 2013, but I’m not certain I can make it a reality. There’s good stuff in the Chicago area, but fitting it into the schedule can be complicated.
I’ve long wanted to get more into the “before they were stars” vibe on a lot of levels. I could go to Chicago and watch Second City performers before they get cast on “Saturday Night Live,” just like I could see guys who might one day make it to “Monday Night Raw.” You’re busting your hump in the community theater world these days — does that give you more of an appreciation for something like Daniel Bryan’s main event ascension?
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David: I think so. I’ve seen friends of mine elevate themselves from the community theatre level to regional theatre, and I’ve seen people who have worked at the same theatres I’ve worked at move up to Broadway and television, and every time I see them in their new roles, I get excited for them. Did I have any role in their success? Of course not, but it’s thrilling to see someone who was in a similar position elevate themselves to a higher plane in your business. In the same way, watching someone like Daniel Bryan who fought so hard and so long just because he loves wrestling is exciting. Especially since the storyline is born out of that struggle.
So far, I’ve really enjoyed the “Entertainment vs Wrestling” angle they’ve gone with so far, even if John Cena has been pulling his “Let me get serious, Jack!” routine. I especially enjoyed Bryan not allowing Cena to interrupt him on the most recent edition of Raw. They’ve got a good story going, but I’m unfortunately wary about the McMahon family’s role in this match. Do you think we’ll get a clean match, or is there going to be some kind of screwball finish that somewhat tarnishes Daniel Bryan’s first chance at the WWE Championship?
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Scott: First off, I really identify with your feelings about performers climbing the ladder. It’s one of the reasons I still want to see The Miz succeed, because I’ve “known” him since he was just a huge WWF fan trying to break into the entertainment world. I think the continued evolution of the NXT program and the new development center will help fans follow prospects the way we do in professional sports. Of course, the hard-core devotees are always going to be aware of guys long before their first WWE developmental deal, and they’ll be even more invested in the long-term careers and successes. It’s a totally different fan experience from what we had in the 1980s and 1990s, but it’s a welcome evolution.
As for the SummerSlam main event, it’s hard not to see some sort of screwball finish. It’s easy to see a Night of Champions main event featuring Bryan, Cena and Randy Orton (even if the event poster features Kofi Kingston and the Intercontinental belt). I know matches where Triple H is the special referee have a track record of more or less straight finishes, but with Orton’s briefcase involved, plus the Brad Maddox-Vince McMahon dynamic of late, it certainly seems something is afoot.
Let’s put it this way: when has SummerSlam ended with the champion triumphant, ending his story conclusively with no eye toward a future opponent? It’s rare. That’s how WrestleMania ends. And if that’s what we’re building to here with Bryan — similar to the path Steve Austin trod culminating at WrestleMania XIV — I’m OK with that. They can tell a great story. Adding HHH to the mix Sunday kind of prepared me mentally to accept the show will end other than Bryan picking up a clean win over Cena. I had that feeling for a while, but after Monday it just seems more clear.
Is Bryan-Cena the match you’re anticipating most? What else on the card has you jazzed?
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David: You’re right about the way SummerSlam is structured. It’s rarely a culmination, and more of a mid-point in major stories. I’m hopeful that this is the beginning of a longer Daniel Bryan story that does, indeed, feature him in the main event of WrestleMania.
The Bryan-Cena match is the one I’m anticipating most, mainly because I think it’s had the best build, and it’s got one of the two competitors I enjoy watching the most right now, Daniel Bryan. The other competitor is CM Punk, and his match at SummerSlam is secondary in terms of prominence to me, simply because I’m not a fan of Brock Lesnar. I don’t particularly enjoy watching him in the ring or anywhere else for that matter. However, I find it interesting that Punk’s feud isn’t really with Brock Lesnar, it’s with Lesnar’s manager and Punk’s former best friend, Paul Heyman.
The Heyman/Punk dynamic is something you and I have been talking about and hoping for for almost a year. Has the story between these two been as good as you hoped it would be?
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Scott: I wasn’t wowed with the way Heyman set a “trap” for Punk on Raw this week, if only because it wasn’t a very good trap and Heyman should be smarter than that. But I did like how Heyman laid out Punk’s choices between being smart or being a hero. This is a story that goes back nearly a year, as it was the Labor Day Raw in Chicago when Punk first revealed his association with Paul. And again, since it’s SummerSlam, I’m not entirely sure this is the final movement.
I wouldn’t say Lesnar is my favorite performer. But I think we may disagree in terms of his value as it relates to the overall show. He’s just a different performer than everyone else on the roster, which is partly why he’s able to be relevant without being on the show every week. His music and appearance, as well as his in-ring style, give him the overall aura of someone who is simply there to mutilate and destroy (this was explained in great detail on episode 101 of the Old School Wrestling Podcast). It’s like playing through a level of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game full of Foot Soldiers (Curtis Axel) and then all of a sudden Krang shows up and stuff gets real.
Earlier this summer Tom Holzerman floated the idea Lesnar may not be Heyman’s end game for Punk, that maybe there’s even a more significant Heyman Guy for punk to conquer. To hybridize our two streams of consciousness, TH floated Austin as the Shredder in this analogy. Could it be anyone else besides Stone Cold? Is that fantasy matchup even worth pursuing at this point? Is there anyone bigger than Brock for Punk to encounter? Does the Brock-Punk thing have to keep going to keep Punk away from the Cena-Bryan-Orton story?
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David: I don’t know if Brock/Punk has to keep going, but Punk does need something relevant to occupy him if he’s not going to be in the title picture. Ideally, in my mind, that would somehow involve Heyman. Part of me almost wonders if maybe they brought in Lesnar too soon. Let’s go back to your TMNT analogy.
If Lesnar is Krang and Austin is Shredder (I promise I’m not about to make any Kevin Nash/Super Shredder jokes here), and Curtis Axel is the Foot Clan, maybe there should’ve been some other Heyman guys in Punk’s way. Ones that would be more of a threat than Axel, but less than Brock: Bebop and Rocksteady, if you will. There are a litany of Paul Heyman guys that could’ve been brought in to this story if things could be worked out: Raven, RVD, Rhyno, Dreamer… etc. In this scenario, I think it would’ve been awesome to see them bring in Colt Cabana on a short-term contract to work as an adversary to Punk.
Then, once Punk had beaten the new Dangerous Alliance, he could’ve faced Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble, which would do a good job leading us into a match with Austin at WrestleMania. I’d be interested in seeing that match, if I’m given the right story. But with the way this story has played out so far, I don’t see how they’re going to keep Heyman/Punk going for the next seven or eight months if Austin is indeed Heyman’s next move. I guess the match wouldn’t have to be at WrestleMania, but will Austin come out of retirement for anything less than a WrestleMania Moment™?
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Scott: Great questions. I think to some degree Brock’s contract details are a factor — and I have no idea what those details are. I was surprised to see Heyman aligned with Axel in the first place, but maybe that was just part of the ongoing Punk-Heyman story. Not to overuse the word surprising, but I’m surprised both Lesnar and Heyman are with the company. Brock because I figured he’d have about one year before he got bored (though maybe the money and terms are too good to walk away from) and Heyman because, well, he gets fired everywhere he goes.
I’m not certain there’s a ton of potential in a “Punk goes through the old ECW roster” story long term, so maybe we are better off if this is the end. Maybe Punk beats Brock and assaults Heyman and we don’t hear from either for some time, and I guess Axel is just left alone? That can’t work either. I guess I’m going to be surprised one way or another on Sunday?
I have thought a Punk-Cabana story would be great, maybe along the lines of a Bret-Owen “What about me?” angle. A few problems with that: One, Cabana is nowhere near as established with the larger audience as Owen was in 1993. Two, the people who are greatly familiar with Cabana would very much be inclined to cheer for him getting another chance at the top, which wouldn’t help in this story. Three, can Cabana play a convincing heel on this stage? It’s tough for anyone to live up to Owen’s standards, but what would a heel Colt Cabana look like in 2013 as it relates to the rest of the roster?
A few of those issues could be rectified by bringing in Cabana as a Punk ally before a turn, but I am certain that won’t happen Sunday and not entirely sure it’s something Cabana even wants or needs at this point in his career. Not saying it won’t ever happen (never say never), but I think this is a case where practicality must be considered.
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David: You’re right. My scenario was definitely fantasy booking. However, what is not fantasy is the fact that on the most recent episode of Raw, Dean Ambrose referenced CM Punk. And with Reigns and Rollins not having a match at the pay-per-view, could we see the Shield get involved in bringing their own brand of justice to CM Punk? I don’t know, but we’ll see.
There are other matches on the card, as we all know, but do any of them make you want to lay down your hard earned money? I’m certainly looking forward to the Bray Wyatt-Kane match. Wyatt has been nothing short of a revelation since he and his family made their Raw debut, and may be the best marriage of performer and character in WWE in a long time. His mic work is creepy in the best way possible, but what really sends a shiver down my spine is the kiss before he delivers “Sister Abigail.”
Which of the other undercard matches are you looking forward to?
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Scott: I guess the Shield are Heyman guys in canon, right? It would be logical for them to come back to the Punk story. Are we supposed to be believing Heyman hired the Shield (and also paid off Maddox at one point) to save Punk, only Heyman never told Punk what he was doing?
But I’ll use the Shield to get me back to the rest of the show, because I’m always interested in their matches. While I’m not yet sure how Ambrose will work with RVD or if Mark Henry and Big Show are a good in-ring fit as opponents for Rollins and Reigns, I have confidence in the young guys based on everything I’ve seen from them so far. This is their first SummerSlam, and I expect them to make an impression. In fact, along with Bryan, the Shield’s ascendance from here to WrestleMania is probably my most anticipated long-term development.
I know we’re supposed to disagree a lot here, but obviously I’m on your side as it relates to the Wyatt family. That said, I’m not so much excited for the Wyatt-Kane match for a few reasons. One, the Ring of Fire concept is sure to be overly gimmicky. Two, Kane tends to do more for me in tag team or battle-royal style matches. This match probably puts Kane back on the shelf for a while while moving the Wyatts in a new direction, and I don’t think they need a 15-minute singles match to reach that goal.
The Cody Rhodes-Damien Sandow stuff has mostly been pretty solid, and I’m always glad to have a singles match with nothing more at stake than “these guys don’t like each other and want to prove who is best.” I would not be surprised if this advances to September and a match where Sandow’s briefcase is on the line. Why? The story of Money in the Bank was more about Cody losing (and how) than Sandow winning. Transferring the case to Cody allows him to rise up the ranks without hurting Sandow’s character. Not that I want to deprive Sandow of a title run, but it feels like the best use of him would be as a challenger to Cody’s title than as the one Cody has to chase.
That said, what’s happening with the contenders is to me more interesting than the actual World Heavyweight Championship match. My interest in Del Rio’s future took a significant hit when he turned on Ricardo, though maybe they are heavily invested in a Ricardo redemption story. I’m just not sure if El Local is ready to take that step without some more NXT seasoning. And while I enjoy seeing Christian on my TV, I don’t see him winning the gold. Or should I say, I don’t see a win for him here being as big a moment as he could be based on the way the story has been told thus far.
And then there’s the mixed tag match. It’s full of people I love to see perform, but with all the other, higher profile matches on the card, it seems the writers are seeing this as a throwaway. I’m sure Ziggler will try to steal the show, and Big E. Langston usually makes an impact. But I guess I needed something more along the way to get me invested in what happens going forward. If they didn’t know what they’d do when they broke Dolph away from E and AJ, then what was the harm in keeping them together? We’ll never know to what Degree Ziggler’s concussion altered the trajectory of his story for the summer of 2013, but we have come a long, long way from the joy of his MITB cash-in on Del Rio the night after WrestleMania.
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David: And that’s the rub with wrestling, isn’t it? An injury, a suspension, personal issues, anything that takes a piece from the chess board alters everything. By virtue of its serial nature and the fact it’s told mostly in a live setting, wrestling will always have to worry about planned stories changing. There are even rumors Cena has to have surgery after SummerSlam and that could affect the outcome of his match on Sunday. However, that’s only a rumor at this point, and in the long run, I’m not sure it matters. All I care about is that a compelling story is told in a compelling manner. I don’t care why JK Rowling decided she needed to (eight-year-old spoiler alert) kill off Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. I only care about the effect it had on the story. Whether Daniel Bryan wins the title at SummerSlam or if it takes him until New Orleans, all I know is I will take pleasure that I’ve gotten to see a compelling character scratch and claw his way to the top of his chosen profession.
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Scott: Great points. Though sometimes I wish my favorite wrestling shows came from a single creator the way Rowling created the Harry Potter universe — if only to help with internal logic and continuity.
I don’t know about you, but our chat here definitely has me worked up for SummerSlam. It’s never a guaranteed smash, but with as much emphasis as they’re putting behind the entire event experience this year, I’m hoping to be fairly well entertained.
As always, thanks for reading, and know you can contact us via Twitter, or the comments section below. Your feedback is appreciated.