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GOTNW

[2016-08-21-WWE-Summerslam] John Cena vs A.J. Styles

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The beginning was actually quite interesting as you had them working a tight lock up, Cena throwing the best punches he's ever thrown (I want to say his punching style here looked Buddy Rose's but I'm not sure I've seen enough of Rose to stand by that) and Cena using irish whips as punishment spots. Then they do an apron bump and this turns into a formulaic Cena-as-PWG "superworker" match, with AJ inserted into the formula and the formula slightly adjusted to fit his moves in but not enough to make it actually novel. And you don't want to see these two do a stupid spotfest. AJ Styles isn't 25 anymore, he isn't nearly as smooth and athletically impressive as he used to be and Cena never was nor is he ever going to be the guy for that type of match. The inefficiency of their finishers has reached such an absurd level I just don't buy anything they do as a potential match ender. Cena's weird Big Ending variation was ugly, but otherwise the move they spammed looked solid and some of the sequences were kinda cool, would have made for a 6.5 GIF maybe. Still this isn't really much different from a New Japan main event and I'm not sure whether it'd be more hypocritical to praise this and shit on New Japan or do the opposite. It's also amusing to see how many Japan references they make these days. "IWGP, BUSHIDO, Goto, using a translation of 雪崩式 instead of whatever WWE buzzword they have for top rope moves etc.) **3/4

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I thought this match was absolutely fantastic. I hated Cena for such a long time but i've turned around on him a bit in recent months since being very impressed with his Punk and Bryan bouts. I thought his performance was superb here. His facial expressions after the big AJ kick out was great. I really bought in to his disbelief.

 

I loved him playing the heel for a bit earlier on in the match and it made me realise i'd love to see him do it full time. I know a heel turn will never happen but I think he would be great at it. Not just from a character stand point but in the ring too.

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Absolutely loved their first match. This was pretty disappointing. Just doing a Cena/Owens tribute which was already a shitty template for a match. You bring up an interesting point about hypocrisy and as someone who is generally praised New Japan more often than not I don't think I'm a hypocrite. Here's why:

 

New Japan tends to have finish runs for each guys. It is clear one man is in the driver seat and then there is a well-worked transition that switches momentum to the next wrestler. It was these sustained periods of momentum and smart transitions that separate NJPW from these Cena super-worker matches. Maybe it is because I've watched a lot of NOAH but I think NJPW is pretty stingy with the near falls. I would say there is only 1-2 false finishes per match before the finish. Cena/AJ every move was treated as a bear fall so there was diminishing returns. Cena/AJ was definition of My Turn, Your Turn it was very rare for one guy to hit more than two moves in a row. I would say it is about ***. However I think this another feather in AJ's cap for wrestler of the year.

 

He has had a traditional classic with Roman Reigns which I'm on record saying it is the best match in twelve years and GOTNW thinks it is the a contender for the best WWF/E match of all time. He had a badass Extreme Rules match with Roman which is best live match I've ever seen. Now he has had Indy Superworker spotfest. He has crushed it in three different styles. He is the fucking man right now!

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I can't believe how much praise this match got from not only Meltzer but from Wade Keller and Austin on his podcast. I found it overwrought. Sure, they busted out all sorts of fancy moves and AJ got the clean win, but nothing seemed effective or impactful until the final quarter, when Cena's facial expressions became the focal point of the match. I don't think the match was actively bad - nothing with this many good sequences and quality execution could be - but calling it even "great" seems like too high of praise. It was above average, but not that much above average.

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I'm not a fan of the "epic" formula Cena has relied on the last few years, but this was really good in spite of that. They executed superbly, hooked the crowd and succeeded in creating a big moment for AJ. I went in with modest expectations based on what I'd read but thought it was the clear highlight of Summerslam.

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I started off loving this in the early stages, with Styles doing his roll-through/taunt combo off of the side headlock, his typically great bump off the high back body drop and the way that the crowd elevated him to Cena's level and he ran with it. He looked like the most major league of major league heels. After that, the match declined for me, but hear me out.

 

I can see why people saw this match as Finisher Spam, and for a while it drove me crazy too. Not even the kickouts so much, as I knew to expect that coming in, but the long dead space after each kickout. It just seemed to lack creativity. The whole reason they do that extended sell is to protect the finishers, but an even better way to protect the finishers would be to only use them for finishes. But I digress. They ended up bringing me all the way back after Styles kicked out of the middle rope AA.

 

Cena had worked this very simple, straight-ahead strategy of taking big moves and hitting big moves in the past when facing especially tough rivals -- The Rock and Kevin Owens are the first that come to mind. And the key to his success in those cases was always just his ability to outlast his opponent. His ability to absorb offense was his biggest strength, so he could always take one more move than his opponent, and as long as he was one step ahead, even if it was only one tiny step, that was enough. I compare it to playing checkers with my uncle, who always beat me, but would take a jump to land a jump (or sometimes three jumps), so while he won every time, the win was never decisive. He had zero interest in running up the scoreboard.

 

So I saw the finisher spam here not so much as a match choice because that's what pops the people (although it did, and that's fine), but because they wanted to show that a trusty Cena match approach wasn't going to be enough this time. When Styles kicked out of the middle rope AA, the look on Cena's face said it all. He knew someone was finally going to beat him twice. He didn't have anymore ideas -- he had thrown his hail mary and Styles was still there. I thought JBL's "looking in a mirror" comment was astute and matched exactly the story I thought they were trying to tell at that point. When Cena saw Styles rising to his feet and reality set in. Styles, to his credit, knew at that point that no single move, no matter how big, would get the job done, so he had to pull a two-move combo to get the win, and that's what he did.

 

Yes, this had the long stretch of finisher kickouts that drives some of us nuts (usually self included), but I really thought it was a necessary evil to serve the bigger objective -- they went through their finisher spam so that at the end, they could flip the whole match concept on its head, and good riddance! Me saying that contradicts and challenges so much of what I've always said about how the WWE style isn't a place for nuance, but the game is changing, and this match seemed like an attempt to capture that story in a microcosm. Styles didn't just beat Cena, he cracked the code. ****1/4

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I thought the first 5 minutes or so were good but then, after the first AA counter, the match structure completely fell apart and they just started exchanging big moves and finishers for 10+ minutes straight. It wasn't necessarily that bad but just lazy and unrewarding. Ok match but no way MOTYC level. ** 1/2

 

If I understood it correctly, Loss's assessment is pretty interesting in that finisher spam stuff was actually Cena's usual strategy of exchanging big moves until he comes out on top and it wasn't enough this time. I don't really see it that way (mainly because the way they executed it wasn't particularly good) but that's a unique position.

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It's an interesting argument but how long will the narrative of overcoming Cena being such a big deal have merit when he's lost in his last *six* Summerslam matches and beating him doesn't mean nearly as much as it used to? Will future arguments boil down to "well, Styles was the first one to kick out of five of Cena's finishers and the top rope AA and beat him, and Balor was the first one to kick out of two top rope AAs and beat him, and Joe was the first one to kick out of an AA of the Scaffold and beat him...."

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Loss' argument is everything that I was thinking and trying to say about the match when it happened, but he's expressed it far more articulately than I could. So thank you.

 

There are real world problems when you start breaking things down into "well, lots of guys have managed to pin Cena before.." and stuff, but the achievement of the match is in getting you to forget about all that WWE bullshit and just focus on this match and the story they're trying to tell. And they nailed the story they were telling. They can't account for shitty booking. They just had to make AJ's clean win seem as exciting and significant and earned as possible.

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This wasn't about beating Cena. This was about beating Cena twice. That rarely happens. Usually, Cena wins the rematch. That's actually been one of WWE's greatest institutions for a while now. This was about the psychology of the rematch where Cena comes back after losing and just wins through attrition. That usually works. It didn't work here. AJ broke the pattern.

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I hadn't really watched this back at Summerslam and people's comments led me not to watch it after that.

 

I was perfectly okay with this. I loved the teases for the top rope AA. I thought the submissions sequence was good though I wish there was more leg selling from Cena after the fact. They were even talking about how it hurts his strength and he wasn't selling it. Mauro may be my least favorite play-by-play announcer ever. He hurt the match at a number of points. I was, frankly, expecting a lot more in the way of finisher spam. It's pretty broken up. We've seen matches a lot worse in the last few years. It's certainly far better than most of the BS Brock does (and that his very presence creates). The ending felt appropriate. You can even say it was Styles constant struggling (and he made Cena earn almost everything) that let him kick out of the top rope AA. He was elbowing him in the skull the entire time. Things like that matter, if they make them matter. I think they did in this match.

 

All that said, and this is going to sound absolutely crazy coming from me, but... All that said, I think the most important part of the match was the execution. I'm not sure I've ever seen a Cena match where all of his stuff looked so good. The Code Red was absolutely crisp. I loved his goofy dropkick early on. The top rope leg drop thing was picture perfect. He didn't bother with the stupid stunner, but his body cutter thing looked exactly like it should. He had that one clothesline which took off Styles' head. And Styles was just as good if not better. The forearms both hit dead on. I don't even understand how he managed some of the submissions reversals. Part of the calf crusher's visual effectiveness is that it comes at a weird and unsettling angle in the set up and that played into those submission reversals so well. There was a snap and a zing to everything. I'm not sure if without that, the match would have held up in that sort of dream match, top of the top, two men at the very best of their game, way that they were presenting it, and you need it to hold up to justify what they were doing.

 

And while I didn't love all of the specifics of the selling, they sold the overarching story of the match and that was struggle, oneupsmanship, and perseverance. I thought the end worked as well as any match in the modern era that was so heavily carried by self-conscious WWE acting (and a lot of that was JBL hitting his mark and it actually representing what Cena was expressing in the ring as opposed to earlier points in the match where they'd bring something up that wasn't representative of what was happening).

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While a match can stand on its own, so much of how this should be looked back upon hinges on the follow-up. As much as I think there's benefit to running with Ambrose as a strong babyface/tweener champion who wins for a long time (even if he's not exactly producing in the ring), there's much more upside to pushing Styles as a long-term champion stemming from this. We've seen the card for Backlash. Smackdown needs consistently high-quality main events to carry cards and to take up large chunks of the temporal real estate. They just don't have the roster size and depth to fill out cards. Styles, built up in this specific, definitive way, is a very workable solution to that problem.

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This wasn't about beating Cena. This was about beating Cena twice. That rarely happens. Usually, Cena wins the rematch. That's actually been one of WWE's greatest institutions for a while now. This was about the psychology of the rematch where Cena comes back after losing and just wins through attrition. That usually works. It didn't work here. AJ broke the pattern.

Sure, but he broke the pattern in a match where doing so wasn't very surprising in a way that wasn't very creative. They did the million finishers, Cena's facial expression were even more self-indulging (que Parv's Cena as Hamlet point), Styles just won. And maybe it's been a while since Edge or Orton or Triple H or Punk or Del Rio or whomever beat Cena *again* but if they were trying to create this special moment (which they were) this was a pretty lazy way to go about it. I get the defence of "well the narrative is that Styles is just better than Cena so it works in that context", the problem there is that Styles' booking and presentation doesn't really match up with that and if you want to get him to that level then I don't see how doing a match like this where every move he has is kicked out of five times really helps him. And even if you're willing to defend that my argument is that thers's simply not much value in this type of match due to its predictability and repetitive nature. I wonder if Cena going even further in constructing matches like these will just result in debates similar to those about 2000s junior wrestling and Dragon Gate that used to happen on DVDVR.

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There's nowhere left to go with this type of match. If they forget that and try doing it again months from now (which they very well might), then I'd call that a black mark, but it worked here. The moment was created in the sense that they were on a Big 3 show where normally it would be Cena's turn to win, and most fans know that. It's being followed up with a title shot and likely title win on the very next big show, so I'm not sure what more is wanted than that. If Cena does this again and it keeps escalating, I won't defend it. It's the type of thing where if they return to this type of match, I'd probably come back to this and lower the rating because part of what I liked about it was that it seemed like the denouement of that match structure. This is a perfect example of why I always argue that opinions of wrestling matches live and breathe.

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Okay on rewatch this didn't feel as over the top as the first time I watched it. The first half of it was actually really good with grumpy John throwing headbutts and chucking AJ around the ring, and the apron suplex looked brutal so I could work with it. I even liked the early Styles Clash as a spot to show urgency following that. But the AA following it kinda felt like too much then it turned into like an extended bombfest before AJ found an opening. However, the portion Loss spoke about with Cena's reaction to AJ kicking out of the avalanche AA was great character work but I just wish that the path to get there was better.

 

I think the arguments presented in this thread are fair points about somebody surviving the Cena big match bombs and coming out on top being a major breakthrough. But this felt more like just a major dream match with huge pop-worthy stuff and them kinda as equals. I know that feels like a throwaway statement but to me AJ in the first match outwrestling and out-thinking John for a majority of the match seemed like a more noteworthy development than this.

 

I will say that I'm interested to see where they take Cena with the talk of legacy. He seemed ornery in the build to this plus the first half of the match. This followed over into how he had an attitude with Ambrose in the build to the triple threat at No Mercy. It could just be slow heel teasing, but I wouldn't even mind Cena as a vet who has a right to be sorta standoffish to poor arguments about his commitment and desire.

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