Or…the one where the match itself was so much better than what came afterward
This match was so good.
Let me be more specific. Everything about the actual match itself was just about perfect. From the opening bell to the (first) three count, it was all we could ask for and more in a professional wrestling bout.
I can hear your questions from here…"But Curtain Jerker, if this match was nearly perfect, why isn't it the number one match?" Because so much else about this build-up and follow-through wasn't very good.
Before we get into the match in earnest, let me say that if the in-ring portion of this match wasn't as awesome as it ended up being, this would have been in the middle portion of the countdown. The build and especially the follow-up dictated that. However, the match itself was so unbelievably great that it is easily the number two choice in my ranking.
Let's get to it.
The night after Money In The Bank 2013 John Cena, the reigning and defending WWE Champion, was given the right to choose his opponent for SummerSlam by Raw General Manager Brad Maddox. Cena chose Daniel Bryan. Good choice. Bryan was over as all hell and is one of the best-in ring wrestlers of his or any era. He was a worthy choice in both kayfabe and in "real-life" to face Cena.
Right away we had our first signs of trouble. Vince McMahon, in a desire to have a "corporate" champ, decided he was going to mold Bryan in his own image. He ordered Bryan to get a makeover and shave his signature beard. Bryan refused, so Vince went out of his way to screw him over because as much as McMahon hated the idea of John Cena as champ (join the club there Vinnie Mac!) he hated the idea of Daniel Bryan, undersized indy legend, as champ even more.
If this sounds familiar it is basically a facsimile of the McMahon-Steve Austin feud. Remember when I told you Bryan was over as hell? These segments got no one over, not McMahon and certainly not Bryan.
McMahon and his lackey Maddox tried to stack the deck against Bryan at SummerSlam, even instituting Maddox himself as ref on the go-home Raw. Maddox had already proven he was anti-Bryan by using a fast count when Bryan fought Wade Barrett on Raw (a mini-program that started when Barrett tried to shave Bryan's beard and Bryan ended up shaving his beard.)
Here to save the day for the angels was Triple H. Hunter pedigreed Maddox and named himself the special guest ref for SummerSlam. On that same Raw Bryan told Cena that when Bryan wrestled in Japan there was a tradition of smacking your opponent in the face to bring out the best in him. Bryan would not extend that honor to Cena because in Bryan's view Cena wasn't deserving of respect because he's not a wrestler, he's a showman. Cena smacked the bleep out of Bryan and we were off to the races.
This build was ok at best, certainly not deserving of a match this caliber. We got far too little Cena/Bryan interactions and far too much McMahon family drama. Just keep it simple Creative: Cena, the alpha male of the WWE, wants to test himself against the young dragon that's fought everywhere and won almost everything there is to win in this business. Cena picks Bryan because if he can't beat the best, Cena doesn't deserve to be champ. Instead we got vignettes at a tailor and a guy getting screwed because of a crooked ref.Main Event Time!
SummerSlam was a two-match show: Cena-Bryan and Brock Lesnar-CM Punk. Lesnar-Punk had a spectacular match that is one of the best matches in the history of SummerSlam. It would be a hard act for Bryan and Cena to follow.
They managed to follow it pretty damn well. It helps when you have a crowd that is as hot as this one was. I've written this before but you know the crowd is great when just the pause before a guy's music hits gets them to cheer. So it was here. Triple H was introduced (to a decent but not great pop. To be fair, he wasn't the focus of this match). There was a short pause and the crowd starts cheering and chanting before the Wagner hits over the sound system.
It was the same with Cena. People started booing before Cena's music hit. When the first notes of his song played the boos were deafening. I – and many others – give John Cena crap for a lot of things, but one thing that all but only the most partisan anti-Cena people can agree on is that the man is a big game player. When the lights shine bright, more often than not Cena doesn't blink. It was the same here. He looked around at the crowd booing, nodded his head and went to work. It wasn't to the degree of Rock calling a match on the fly vs. Lesnar in 2002, but Cena deserves some credit for coming to play in front of a crowd that wanted absolutely nothing to do with him.
The match starts out slowly, with some ROH-style chain wrestling early. Cena was selling a legit elbow injury that ended up being a torn triceps and Bryan, ever the submission specialist, tried going after it early and often. Cena hit some big moves that Bryan sold huge for, like a suplex off the ring steps onto the floor and a Batista bomb for a near-fall. The crowd was following along with chants, cheers and applause and never letting up.
Bryan made his comeback – much to the crowd's delight – and the two went back and forth with the crowd following along. Bryan countering Cena's STF into his own STF was a nifty spot, but to me a highlight of the match was when Bryan hit a superplex on Cena, but rather than fall with Cena into the ring Bryan kept his legs locked in the ropes, so he was hanging upside down in a Tree Of Woe. Bryan then Hulked Up, did a situp and nailed Cena with a Benoit-style diving headbutt. It was a great moment made even greater by the crowd losing their minds in joy.
That spot was only about two-thirds of the way through this match! We still had a ton more. In the interest of brevity I'm not going to recap the entire thing. Just go watch it. The finish comes when both men knocked each other out after colliding in mid-air. They made it to their feet and then the match went all New Japan on us, with each guy slapping each other in the face over and over again like something out of the G1 Climax. Bryan countered an Attitude Adjustment into a DDT, escaped another Attitude Adjustment (hitting a stiff-as-all-hell shootkick to Cena's skull) and then exploded out of the corner with a jumping knee and pinned Cena one-two-three.
Let me state that again in case you missed in: Bryan Danielson, the man who wrestled all over the world in cramped VFW halls and high school gyms because he loved the business, the man who was fired from WWE before his career ever took off, the man who lost in eighteen seconds at WrestleMania then spent way too much time in the midcard, the man who was told he was too short, too small and too weird to be a mainstream champ, pinned John Bleeping Cena clean in the main event of the second-biggest show of the year in front of a crowd who would march through the gates of Hell if he told them to.
What an incredible match. Hats off to both men.
What happened next sucked, but at least it made sense. Randy Orton came out, Triple H turned full-blown heel (thank God. It's so good to have heel Hunter back) and Orton cashed in his Money In The Bank shot and won the belt.
But wait a second Curtain Jerker! We all know that Bryan won his belt back in the main event of WrestleMania XXX in front of 80,000 delirious people in New Orleans, so the follow-up was awesome, right?
In case you forgot or chose to block it from your memory, we weren't supposed to get Bryan winning at Mania. Bryan kept getting screwed by Orton, Triple H, Scott Armstrong, Vince McMahon and even Shawn Michaels. Al l that's fine in a vacuum, but Bryan was an afterthought until well into 2014.
Remember the Big Show's involvement in this storyline? Remember his failed strip malls and health conditions and punching out Dusty Rhodes and crying over and over again? Remember Bryan teaming with CM Punk to take out the Wyatts, before Bryan eventually joined the Wyatts for all of two weeks in January?
Remember Bryan losing to Bray Wyatt at the Royal Rumble? Most of all, remember an out-of-breath Batista winning the Royal Rumble itself as people booed him out of the building? Remember how terrified we all were when the main event of WrestleMania XXX was supposed to be Orton vs. Batista?
It took two things for Bryan to end up main-eventing WrestleMania: CM Punk taking his ball and going home in January (forcing Creative to change their plans from a Punk-Triple H match to a Bryan-Triple H match) and the YES! chants getting mainstream attention. Bryan was a heel when the Rose Bowl-winning Michigan State football team adopted the YES chants and got some airtime doing them on Sportscenter and other media. This finally woke Vince and Company out from their torpor and they said, "Hey, wait a second guys! We might actually have something with this Bryan fella!" after spending the past six months burying him six feet under. Hell, the Bryan-Triple H semi-main wasn't set up until only a few weeks before WrestleMania itself.
A picture really is worth a thousand words (via robot6.comicbookresources.com)
We ended up at the right destination but it was WWE doing the right thing in spite of itself. That's why this match is number two. Now go watch it again – it's worth your time.
Curtain Jerker's Star Rating – The match itself is a 5 star match. Everything else makes it our number two.
Up Next – Tomorrow is our number one main event. See you then!Also in this series: