Sure, only one third of the card was any good. That third, however, was often crazy good.
Dubbed the “Biggest Party of the Summer,” WWE’s SummerSlam is the most aimless of the company’s big four events. With the only central theme being “wrestling,” the show is typically a hit or miss affair. Despite taking place in front of an excitable Brooklyn Crowd, who went absolutely nuclear for the previous night’s NXT Takeover, this year’s event was a near total miss. The burial of young talent, the weak booking of attraction matches and an exorbitant four hour runtime left this event feeling uneven and poorly paced. There were a handful of matches that got the crowd going – including a fantastic main event – but most of the card was no better than an episode of Raw or Smackdown – and in some cases, much worse.
- They do a backstage interview with Baron Corbin and while they appeared to have audio issues with the sound, he still stumbled over his words. Something about “what happens when people stick their people… in someone else’s business.” Ouch. No wonder dude’s in the doghouse.
- The first of three pre-show matches is the Miztourage vs. Jason Jordan and the Hardyz. First off, they’re keeping JJ’s terrible farting trumpet theme song, and it’s starting to feel like it’s out of spite. He and Matt are both wearing green, but Jeff’s in all black. Either he didn’t get the memo, or he rightly judged that no one would be watching. Seriously, the stands are almost completely empty for this entire match and it even goes over a commercial spot. Speaking of spots, there’s a really crappy call-and-response effort midway through with JJ standing in the middle of the ring and pointing at either Hardy brother as they chop members of the Miztourage. You can tell they thought they had something there, but they most assuredly didn’t. Despite looking like jabronis throughout the entire match, the heels manage to squeak this one out when Miz makes a blind tag and hits the Skull Crushing Finale on JJ from behind. This match, added only to get both the Miz and the Hardyz on the card, would be filler on an episode of Raw. In fact, it already was last week.
- The second pre-show map is the Cruiserweight title match between the current champion Akira Tozawa and the former champ Neville. This was a reasonably fast-paced match, and though it wasn’t quite as good as their first encounter on Monday, it was a decent pre-show contest that was both athletic and built on the previous bout. The ending is a bit of a inversion of that last fight, with Tozawa repeatedly going for his finish only for Neville to get his knees up then hit the Red Arrow to win and regain his title. I’m not sure why you bother with that first title change if you’re just going to undo it six days later. I like Neville and all, he’s certainly the best part of the Cruiserweight division, but he looked like he was onto something with the unhinged and deranged character he was on 205 Live and Twitter. Instead we’re going back to more of the same.
- We get a full performance from the Drifter and it’s pretty fantastic. It’s so good, in fact, dude actually gets an uninterrupted encore where he (predictably) attacks Brooklyn’s hipster population with lines like “You wear T-shirts that are way too small. Hey Brooklyn, when did you lose your balls?” Great stuff.
- The third and final match of the pre-show is the Smackdown Tag Team Championship bout between The New Day and the Usos. Much like the last time these two teams met, this is one hell of a match – and would have been match of the night if it weren’t for the chaotic spectacle of the main event. The pace of this match was unreal, and the counter-wrestling and spot-fest elements crafted an immaculate work of art. There’s a point where Big E powerbombs Woods onto Jey Uso, only for Woods to lift E into an electric chair drop onto that very same Jey Uso. AND DUDE KICKED OUT! They then hit a combination uranage and backstabber for yet another near fall. Late in the match Jimmy dumps Woods over the top rope only for Jey to catch him and turn it into a Samoan drop! This leaves E alone in the ring, and after he takes what feels like eight superkicks, the Usos hit a double splash on the big man for the win and their fourth tag title reign. Didn’t see it coming, but after that performance, I don’t care. These two teams could face each other forever and they would somehow find a way to make each match better. I can’t believe this didn’t make the card but undeniable shit like Big Cass/Big Show did. Just one of the many, many booking mistakes in this show.
John Cena vs. Baron Corbin
If there’s one word to describe this match and its result, it would be petty. At SummerSlam 2010, John Cena led a team of superstars in an elimination match against the biggest thing in the company at the time, the Nexus. The match could have been used to launch the upstart team of seven up-and-comers into the stratosphere with a decisive win over some of the company’s biggest names, but John Cena had other ideas. It’s common knowledge at this point that Cena used his backstage influence to make himself go over strong in the match, only to later admit that it was the wrong decision. Still, the damage has been done and the only members of the Nexus team still on the WWE payroll are Daniel Bryan, Heath Slater and Darren Young. Since that night, however, Cena has lost every SummerSlam match he’s been in. Dubbed “the Nexus curse,” a fan myth emerged stating that Cena would lose seven SummerSlam matches – one for each Nexus member he effectively buried in 2010. Part of me thinks that they genuinely intended to go through with that when they first envisioned the SummerSlam booking. And then there was Baron Corbin.
Earlier in the month, rumors began to swirl that Corbin had fallen out of favor with the company brass. First there was his underwhelming performances against Shinsuke Nakamura, then he got new and infinitely crappier theme music, there was a Twitter beef with the iconic Dave Meltzer, and then he unwittingly attacked (and then backed down from) an actual soldier who criticized him on social media. As the rumors swirled, Cena started calling Corbin a “dumpster fire” to thunderous applause, and then Corbin lost his Money in the Bank cash-in attempt in an embarrassing manner (while Cena giggled). Fans of the Lone Wolf had hoped that this was a sign that Corbin would be reinvigorated by the loss, come back as a more no nonsense and aggressive ass kicker, maybe losing matches by disqualification or stoppage because of how violent his attacks become. That…uh….didn’t happen.
What followed was one of the most brutal burials I’ve seen on a major show (at least until a bit later in this very card), and it’s particularly disappointing to see Cena back in the role of “guy tamping down new talent.” As far as in-ring work, this was classic Super Cena. Corbin controlled most of the match until Cena had enough, hit the AA and pinned him clean. That booking is archaic and damaging enough, but then there’s Cena’s actual behavior during the match. The dude is smiling and barely selling, but that’s classic Super Cena. No, the really damaging part comes early in the match when John rolls out of the ring to joke with JBL about his opponent like it’s nothing. Shit, after the match, rather than selling it as a hard won victory or giving his opponent a bit of respect, dude is taking selfies with Michael Che and Jeff Ross then getting hugs from his Nana in the front row. Even the crowd was burying Corbin, chanting things like “where’s your briefcase?”
Cena is off to Raw to climb into Universal title contention, but what do you do with Corbin now? He is so deep in the dog house he’s sharing a bed with Scooby Doo (PG Jokes!). He’s literally a joke at this point. Anyone that loses to him is far worse off at this point and his drawing power is shot. Like…why ruin a guy that just a few weeks ago you were saying would be a world champion at some point? He’s pretty much in in Erick Rowan territory at this point.
Natalya vs. Naomi (c) for the Smackdown Women’s Championship
This is a match that, though competently wrestled, is just a huge letdown on every level. The build was weak, with Naomi barely factoring into her own title feud. The match itself was low on memorable sequences, with Naomi’s Blockbuster to the outside and missed Split-Legged Moonsault being the only action of note. The ending was anticlimactic, with Natty rolling Naomi into a Sharpshooter for a clean tap out. Then, despite spending the last several months building toward a cash-in from Carmella (including an otherwise pointless interview on the pre-show), she no shows and just walks to the back.
Like…what? Why did this make the card? You bump the amazing New Day/Usos match to the pre-show and dreck like this makes the main card? Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they have more women on the card, and I’m happy that Natty gets to further her legacy as a performer with another title run, but this wouldn’t even be a Smackdown main event. I don’t know that Carmella cashing in would make it better, but at least it would add something interesting to what was a completely forgettable encounter that crowned a charismaless champion that no one wanted.
Big Cass vs. Big Show with Enzo Amore in a shark cage
Speaking of burying talent with backstage heat, this match should send Enzo Amore back to the drawing board. The Realest Guy in the Room comes down to the ring to cut one of his trademark rambling promos, where the only funny bit is him repeatedly calling Cass a schmuck. Cass, who has managed to dye himself the color of a smoked link, gets the biggest pop he’s ever received when his music cuts Zo off mid-speech, but the crowd goes back to being silent throughout the actual action. On Monday, Cass (and the Club, who are nowhere to be seen) kayfabe “broke” Show’s hand and that was the story of the match. Show’s offense was constantly stymied by his injury, and even the offense he does get off with his right hand is so weakened that Cass is able to kick out of any of it. Show hits a KO punch, Cass kicks out. Show hits a chokeslam, Cass kicks out. By the time Cass takes control the crowd is chanting “boring.”
Now, while this is all going on, Enzo has not shut up at all. He’s in the cage dancing and talking trash loud enough for the ringside mics to pick up. It’s like having that one obnoxious child who isn’t getting enough attention, so they just act super obnoxious until people acknowledge his existence. Shoot, he even takes a cue from the snotty brat handbook and starts taking off his clothes. Zo produces a bottle of baby oil and lubes himself up to squeeze through the bars of the shark cage. Not sure why he needed to be in his boxers to do it, but Enzo manages to get through the bars and drop to the ring below…only to immediately eat a big boot from Cass. Cass then hits Show with the Empire Elbow for the win. That was…underwhelming? Anticlimactic? Both? Yeah, both.
Don’t get me wrong, the right guy went over and the action between Show and Cass was serviceable, if a little uninteresting. It’s just that this was another match that would be better suited to the midcard of an episode of Raw, if Vince was willing to spring for the cage and harness for a weekly TV taping. The real story is the burial of Enzo Amore, who comes out of this match looking like the biggest jabroni on the roster. Judging by the crowd reaction, his promos aren’t exactly setting the world on fire anyway, so it looks like he may be on his way to a dramatically reduced role in the near future.
Rusev vs. Randy Orton
Hearing that John Cena had utterly decimated the credibility of an up-and-coming heel, Randy Orton said “hold my beer” and dropped Rusev in 9 seconds. While Randy was still heading to the ring (they thankfully have done away with the spermy snake graphic on the walkway) Handsome Rusev jumped the Viper from behind and tossed him around the ringside for a bit before rolling him into the ring. The ref pushes RuRu back while he checks on Orton to see if he can still compete, with Randy eventually giving him the nod once he’s ready. The bell rings, Randy ducks a clothesline, hits a thunderous RKO and wins the match. It took you longer to read this paragraph than it did for Orton to bury Rusev like a bad secret.
What can you even say about this “match?” I mean, it was a pretty great looking RKO, and Rusev sold it like RVD used to, which is a real compliment. That being said, what the hell are they doing with Rusev? This man should be in title contention. Should be a tentpole figure in the future of the company. Should not be beaten in less time than it takes to cook a Pop Tart to put over a guy who absolutely does not need the rub. With Enzo and Corbin, we know their burials come from backstage heat, but what the hell did Rusev do to deserve this kind of treatment?
Sasha Banks vs. Alexa Bliss (c) for the Raw Women’s Championship
Before the match, there’s a little vignette of Banks walking in the back and running in to Bayley. The Hugger wishes her friend good luck and gets booed to hell for it. Jeez, wrestling fans, what the shit? Anyway, Sasha is out first rocking some sort of clockwork peacock outfit that looks sort of like a huge folding fan glued to her back. Bliss comes out and it’s then that I notice that the crowd is completely dead for this match. Maybe the previous “match” just drained all of the crowd’s enthusiasm, maybe the three-hour mark is when people start to lose interest in the wrestling show they’re watching, but whatever the reason the audience is dead for most of this matchup.
Like a few other matches on the card, this is a pretty good, but unremarkable outing for both performers. As far as high spots, there’s a moment where Sasha does this sort of Alabama Slam to the corner turnbuckle, Bliss pulls the ring skirt to trip up the Boss, and that’s kind of it. The rest are familiar signatures, some strikes and then Sasha locks in the Bank Statement once, loses it, then locks it in again four seconds later for the tap out victory. The thing about the ending is that it kinda comes out of nowhere. Not the result, as Sasha winning the title isn’t at all controversial, but the actual ending. There’s not enough build for the audience to get invested in the finish, and it’s not sudden enough to be shocking, it just sort of feebly limps out there.
Banks as champion creates an interesting dynamic once her friend Bayley is healthy enough to compete again. Fans have long been clamoring for Sasha to return to her heel character (which, let’s be real, is her best character), and snapping on Bayley – who has a legitimate claim to a title shot in the future – is a great way to welcome the Boss back. For Bliss, the future is less certain. If Banks goes heel then she loses her spot at the top of the division, but I see her establishing a secondary heel role sparking a feud with a face Nia Jax.
Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt
Much like the previous bout, the match between the men with the two most theatrical entrances on the Raw roster was fine, but unremarkable. The two men met earlier in the week in an okay outing on Raw that ended with Wyatt going over then dousing Finn in some viscous, acidic, totally not barbeque sauce, liquid. This time around it was pretty much the same thing except Finn equipped his Demon paint, which conveys a +1 to resiliency and crawling skills. Really the only difference now is the ending, where Finn popped up while Bray was doing his spider walk, hit a corner dropkick and the Coup de Grace for the win.
It feels like no one knew what to do with this program. They just noticed “Finn does spooky stuff. Bray does spooky stuff. Put them together, we’ll figure out the rest later.” It’s that last part that never came to fruition. Both men seem to be going through the motions, as even Finn’s entrance wasn’t as exciting as his NXT efforts have been. Like most of Wyatt’s feuds, there’s no explanation for why he attacked Finn, and Balor hasn’t really helped to stoke the interest in this bout. Both men deserve better, but it may be beyond the writing team’s ability to rehab Bray at this point. Like, his promos are as good as they ever were – and they were a large part of what got him over – but it’s just more of the same. We never expect him to win, we never take him as a serious threat, there’s just not a lot he can do at this point. Balor, on the other hand, needs something to do of import. I know the main event scene is controlled by the super heavyweights and Jason Jordan is supposedly the next IC champ, but what are they planning to do with Finn? Why waste him on this meaningless midcard nonsense?
Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose vs. Sheamus and Cesaro (c) for the Raw Tag Team Championships
Wait, what’s this? An actual good match at SummerSlam? One that’s well worked, evenly paced, highly competitive, features a number of great spots and a well executed finish? Well I guess if you cast a wide enough net you’re sure to catch something. So yeah, the Tag Title tilt between the reformed Shield and The Bar was a pretty entertaining match from beginning to end, with both teams looking strong and getting good fan support. Shoot, at one point when crowd interest starts to wane and it looks like we’re in for another round of beach ball mania, Cesaro literally runs into the crowd grabs the ball and rips it in half. It’s amazing and reinvigorates the Barclay Center who remains hot for the rest of the contest.
There’s chemistry between all four men (they’ve certainly all faced off against each other enough times to develop it) but the interesting parts of the match come from the great moments of teamwork throughout. Now teamwork for The Bar has mostly been “Have Cesaro dive into a move Sheamus already does” but The Shield’s tandem offense is a little more inspired. Yes, we’ve seen a lot of it before when they were together the first time, but it’s great to see that both guys’ timing is still where it needs to be. The pacing of this match meant that everyone was allowed time to look strong, both teams stayed engaged and the action is constantly moving.
The ending sequence is also a thing of beauty. The Bar have Dean set up for their assisted White Noise finisher only for Seth, in his best Deadpool cosplay I’ll add, to come back to life and Frankensteiner Cesaro into Sheamus. Seth then hits the Kingslayer which knocks Sheamus into Dean’s waiting arms. One Dirty Deeds later and The Shield have won Raw’s tag titles. The two super bros then fist in the middle of the ring in celebration of their newly minted place atop the tag division.
Not quite as strong as the New Day/Usos match on the pre-show, but this was a much needed breath of fresh air in the middle of a dull and poorly booked card. It was sort of a second wind for the audience as well, who had cooled so much that they barely even reacted to the Banks/Bliss match before it. I think Rollins and Ambrose have a good path before them, as neither guy was doing much as a singles star, and putting them against tandems like the Hardyz or (hopefully) the Revival should make for some good bouts. As for The Bar, once their rematch series is finished, I hope Cesaro gets a strong solo push. I know Sheamus will be out filming a movie for some time, so why not let the Swiss Superman get some time to shine?
Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles (with Shane McMahon as special guest referee)
So here we are again, another match between two of the best performers in the world that slightly underwhelms given its limitless potential. To be fair, this is probably the best match these two have had in the WWE thus far, but the added stipulation of Shane McMahon as referee watered down what may have been otherwise. There were at least four times in this match where Shane’s presence somehow encumbered the proceedings to advance the looming Owens-Shane storyline. Maybe it’s me being a smark, but I’m just not crazy about AJ friggin Styles being a side character in his own championship match. Shoot, last year he put on an AMAZING battle with John Cena for the WWE Championship, with the story being the arrival of a true superstar who could lead the company in the future. Here? He’s “the other man.”
That doesn’t make him any less of a marquee performer, of course, and he and Kevin Owens do their best to make this match stand out from their previous encounters. Styles hits a sunset flip powerbomb that looks like it really hurts and goes for the springboard 450, only for Owens to pull Shane in between them. It’s a curious spot because it just means KO was crushed under two men, even if he didn’t take the direct impact of the move, so you’d think Owens would still be pretty hurt, but I don’t think logistically it would hurt AJ more or less than if it went through as planned. Naturally KO uses this opportunity to hit the pop-up powerbomb and shoot the pin, but a still groggy Shane takes a moment to collect himself and Styles kicks out. Later AJ gets knocked into Shane, sending him tumbling outside long enough to miss KO tapping out to the Calf Crusher.
Naturally both men get on Shane for missing their chance at winning and it’s one of the stupidest tropes in wrestling. I get KO being a dick because it’s his character, but AJ? Dude, you know damn well why Shane is unresponsive. It’s just lame booking that feels like a remnant of the carny days when people thought the fights were all legit. Crowds are smarter now and could stand to be treated as such, whether you’re trying to appeal to children or otherwise.
The ending comes after another “Shane is out of place” spot that saw Shane count the three but not make the call because he spotted AJ’s foot on the rope just as his hand collided with the mat. As KO is yelling at Shane for this, AJ hits a Phenomenal Forearm, follows it up with the Styles Clash and pins Owens to retain his title. This will clearly feed the impending feud between KO and Shane, something that is rumored to lead to a Team Shane Vs. Team Owens match at Survivor Series. As for AJ, the sky’s the limit. He’s free to be the top babyface on the blue brand, which will likely put him in line for a tiff with Jinder Mahal or perhaps even a debuting Bobby Roode in the future.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Jinder Mahal (c) for the WWE Championship
Oh, this match. As I kind of spoiled a moment ago, Jinder Mahal retains the title here and the theme of underwhelming matches with abrupt finishes just keeps on rolling. So I want to take a moment to talk about what the WWE is doing with Jinder Mahal. As everyone knows, Jinder rose from the ranks of lowly jobber to WWE champion due to the dual factors of his undeniably impressive physique and the WWE’s desire to carve out a foothold in the lucrative(?) Indian market. That’s all well and good, and all of the footage I’ve seen of Mahal outside of the ring makes him seem like a decent guy with a great drive to improve. The problem is that he’s not improving in the places that count. His ringwork consists entirely of strikes, headlocks and the Khalas, which would be the weakest looking finisher on Smackdown if Mike Kanellis hadn’t recently debuted. His promos are as one note as his character, and he only wins matches in one way – with the help of the Singh brothers. I get that he’s a heel, and heels send goons to do their dirty work, but it’s literally the same process regardless of who he’s facing. It could be a forgotten scrub like Luke Harper or 13-time World Champion like Randy Orton, it’s always “opponent successfully fights off both Singh brothers, only to get hit by a single Khalas and lose.”
It turns out, Shinsuke is no different. The King of Strong Style, who I’ve seen take CRAZY bumps in NJPW that would knock a normal man out cold, is felled by a single weak ass full nelson slam thrown by a glorified body builder. It would be one thing if any of the action between the bells was memorable, but it wasn’t. This was bored Shinsuke going through the motions and working around Jinder’s limited skills. Now I, like probably most people, wanted Shinsuke to win so seeing his first loss come to the least entertaining member of 3MB is a bitter pill to swallow. It’s just made so much worse by the fact circumstances of that defeat. Shinsuke was in clear control, Kinshasa’d both Singhs and then one small back bump and he’s out cold? It was a suspension of disbelief when it happened to Harper. It was openly ridiculous when it happened to Orton. At this point, it’s downright farcical. How can these performers continue to lose the same way each month and not learn from their mistakes?
I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I hope this feud continues. It had no heat going into it, so make the story that Shin underestimated Mahal and got caught. Make their rematch worth watching, build to it over the next few weeks and then let Nakamura kick Jinder’s ass back down to the midcard. Is it too much to ask for a believable badass to be the world champion?
Braun Strowman vs. Samoa Joe vs. Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar (c) for the Universal Championship
…And around all the time. Believably badass and around all the time. But I digress.
This is the match that saved this event. A crazy spotfest that went for thirty minutes, made all four men look like monsters, never dragged and left you guessing right up until the end. Without doing the research, I wouldn’t hesitate to call this the best SummerSlam main event of all time (yes, even better than Bret vs. Bulldog in 1992). Now it wasn’t perfect, as some moments got a little sloppy, the stretcher spot was transparent and felt a little unnecessary, and Samoa Joe really didn’t get the same amount of shine that his opponents did, but that’s all quibbling. This was a phenomenal matchup that was worth the cost of the Network by itself.
A quick rundown of some of the high spots in this match:
- Joe catches Brock in a coquina clutch on the outside, but sees Roman running toward him and jumps out of the way, letting Reigns spear Lesnar through the barrier. Joe then uranages Roman onto the announce table, Braun tosses Joe over the Spanish announce table, then powerslams a renewed Lesnar through the German announce table. This all happened in the first five minutes of the friggin match.
- As Roman and Joe are locked up on the outside, Strowman chucks one of the announcers’ chairs directly into the Samoans’ faces. I can see this becoming a signature spot for Strow, and it’s pretty frickin’ funny.
- Strowman then powerslams Lesnar through a second announce table, which I’m pretty sure gives him a PSN trophy.
- The crowd chants “one more table” but Braun opts to just dump it on top of the still downed Brock. They treat it like it’s some serious damage, but I mean, no matter how strong Braun is, it’s a flimsy Ikea table designed to fall apart when someone that weighs more than 150 lbs falls onto it.
- Still, the table spot leads to Lesnar being stretchered out. Of course, he returns about four minutes later, so the whole thing was pretty ridiculous.
- Each man (except Joe) gets to use their impact finishers multiple times, giving everyone (except Joe) great nearfalls. I know Joe’s Muscle Buster has been banned (I guess?) but how cool would it have been if he was able to get Strowman or Brock up for one of these things?
So the big story of the match is the impending collision between Braun Strowman and Brock Lesnar. The two giants were constantly teasing a confrontation only for Joe or Roman to run in and break up their battle. The few moments where they faced off, and especially when they actually fought, were met with deafening cheers. WWE, if you had any doubts about how much people want this match, this should have cleared that up. Please don’t make us wait until Survivor Series or Royal Rumble to see it.
The ending comes when Joe hits and F5 on Joe, but Roman breaks things up. After a little back and forth, Roman went for the spear only to be caught by Lesnar. One F5 later and Lesnar retains. What a match. I know it sucks that Brock isn’t on the show every week, but if he keeps putting on matches like this, I don’t mind. All four men (yes, even Roman) put on a great performance this night and all four deserve to hang around the main event scene. I assume that Brock will go back into hibernation again, so these three will have to spread out a bit. I’ve really enjoyed the feud, but I think Ro and Strow is finished, and given how they book him, I don’t want Joe going after Roman either. Maybe have Reigns reconnect with his former Shield brothers. If you want to get him over, that may be your best bet. I’d love to see Joe reignite his feud with Finn, which gives them both something better to do AND lets Braun go after Bray. I don’t think those matches would be great, but the story is there.