Like so many of the biggest summer parties, SummerSlam goes on way too long and, by the end of it, you’re a little dazed and slightly confused about what just happened. That one match from 5 hours ago that started the show feels like it happened a week ago, and you struggle to remember just who came to this party and why you were so excited in the first place. Gruelling length aside, SummerSlam is still a big deal. With all that said, let’s dive into the show, starting with a trio of matches watched by a handful of people.
Kickoff Show Blues
I’ve yet to see a really compelling PPV Kickoff Show, but boy oh boy does SummerSlam make me long for the days of Dean Ambrose and Baron Corbin sluggishly fighting in the hot Orlando sun. When the highlight of your kickoff show is Elias Samson singing two songs to ironic applause, and there’s no post-performance beatdown, you know you’ve got a problem.
Look, this review is going to be long enough as it is, what with the main show runtime hitting four hours, so let’s just get right to the honest truth: the kickoff show, across its ludicrous two hours, has exactly one thing of value. The Miz is forced to wrestle in a nearly-empty arena, which is no way to reward the guy who singlehandedly revitalized the Intercontinental Championship, and Akira Tozawa loses the Cruiserweight Championship that he just won on Monday, a booking decision that begs a lot of questions and doesn’t provide any answers.
Coupled with all the social media segments, the kickoff show is a complete waste of time. That is until the Usos and New Day once again put on a clinic. Those two teams have incredible chemistry, and the way the titles keep changing hands underscores just how equal they are. They understand each other’s strengths and flaws, and each match they have finds new ways to escalate and deepen the feud. The kickoff show may lack the atmosphere of the main show, but at least we can always rely on New Day and The Usos to bring it all to the table no matter what.
The only problem? For the most part, it only gets worse from here.
Buried Baron Corbin
As if the kickoff show wasn’t dull enough, the first hour or so of SummerSlam doubles down. If you laid out the entire card on a sheet of paper and ranked the matches from most to least excited to see, everything at the bottom of the paper would be the start of the show. As someone on Twitter jokingly mentioned, WWE was doing NJPW booking, putting all the terrible matches first and then building to a stellar main event. The truth in that statement is evident throughout the night.
SummerSlam gets off to a rough start with the follow-up to Baron Corbin’s unsuccessful cash-in. I said in my SmackDown Live review that I was withholding judgment on the cash-in until the PPV match because it had some serious storytelling implications. I’m glad I waited because now I can definitively say that this rubs me the wrong way. I usually don’t fret too much over booking decisions and behind-the-scenes chatter because I consume professional wrestling, and especially WWE, as if it’s a long, winding TV show, but it’s hard to ignore the context here.
That context is Baron Corbin being exiled from the main event scene. Not only does he fail to cash-in with the Money in the Bank briefcase, he loses pretty handily to John Cena at SummerSlam. It’s not so much the loss that matters but the way the match is structured that truly bothers me. Cena is out there treating Corbin like a complete joke, laughing at his attempted moves and donning JBL’s hat at one point. It’s smug and irritating, and it completely kills any momentum Corbin could salvage after the failed cash-in last week.
Big Men, Big Problems
From there the show transitions to two absolute duds: Big Show vs. Big Cass, and Randy Orton vs. Rusev. The former is a debacle of a match, with every single person in the crowd happily chanting “BORING” as the match rolls on. The breakup of Enzo and Cass hasn’t done anyone any favours, and tonight’s PPV match only shows that WWE isn’t sure what to do with either guy.
The whole match is booked around Enzo Amore trying to squeeze out of the shark cage. The match builds beautifully to that moment, heightening expectations and getting the crowd excited for the first time since the New Day-Usos match, only for Enzo to immediately eat a boot from Cass. Then he delivers one to Big Show, followed by the Empire Elbow, and the match is over. There’s no single moment for the crowd to pop for, and there’s no real advancement of any story. Enzo and Cass are floating, and there’s no stable ground in sight.
A little too Outta Nowhere
Credit where it’s due though: Randy Orton and Rusev at least keep things brief. After Rusev attacks the Viper before the bell rings, Orton barely makes it to his feet to start the match. The bell rings, Rusev runs at Orton, and then Orton delivers an RKO. 1-2-3 and that’s the match. It pops the crowd, which is much needed at this point in the show, but it’s the second baffling booking decision in a night filled with them. In fact, the main takeaway from SummerSlam might be that the old guard isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Cena crushes Corbin, Orton beats Rusev in seconds, and later in the night, WWE refuses to crown new WWE and Universal Champions despite ample opportunity to use those moments to create their next big stars.
The Women’s Division stealing the show
While all of this contributes to the first half of Summerslam feeling rather sluggish, to the point that it’s one of the worst stretches in recent PPV memory, the Women’s Division picks up the slack and gets the night moving in the right direction. Natalya getting the big win feels like another strange booking decision, but at least the match is competitive. Considering Naomi and Natalya were working with almost no meaningful story, they manage to craft a compelling match. They strike a good pace early and never let up, making Natalya’s win on the Sharpshooter feel earned. Naomi also sells the hell out of her disappointment, tears streaming down her face after the match, a moving bit of character work in a feud that was severely lacking in any of it.
For as good as Naomi vs. Natalya is, the turning point in the PPV is the match between Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss. The two absolutely go to war with each other. They have an urgent, angry pace to their match, and their strikes look absolutely nasty. They’re two performers with great chemistry who deserve to be at the top of the division. It’s the kind of match we’d imagined the Women having at every single PPV ever since the Four Horsewomen were called up and WWE started bandying about the empty phrase “The Women’s Revolution.”
What’s even more intriguing is that this win seems to set up a lot of storytelling possibilities. Bayley seems primed for a heel turn, angry that her friend took her spot and managed to come through with the win. I see a lot of potential in an angry, bitter Bayley, especially considering much of the crowd seems to be turning on her already. We’ll see what happens in the following weeks, but it’s promising to see WWE crafting women’s stories that evolve and shift as the performers do.
Demon vs. Demon
Before we get to the two matches for the top Championships, we have to talk about a couple of midcard matches that represent some of the best and worst things about WWE. First, there’s Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt. If you’ve seen a Finn Balor match in WWE before, this is another one, except this time he’s in the Demon facepaint.
I’m of two minds about this match: on the one hand it reestablishes the viciousness and seeming indestructibility of The Demon. On the other hand, WWE isn’t giving us much in terms of character to latch on to when it comes to Balor. He’s still just a cool entrance and a few cool moves, and not much more. At some point Balor needs to evolve, and whatever show he’s on needs to let him show a little personality. Those abs are great, but they’ll only take you so far. We need a reason to care about Balor beyond him being an internationally recognized talent. It’s time to build that story.
Get out of the way, WWE
The other midcard match, which is ostensibly a main event match, sees AJ Styles defend his United States Championship against Kevin Owens, with Shane McMahon acting as the special guest referee. I can’t underscore enough just how good this match is, and I also can’t underscore enough how much better it might have been without all the shenanigans.
All of Shane’s bumping and shoddy refereeing certainly work for the story being told, and there’s the sense that we’re going to get much more out of Owens and Styles, but at the same time it’s the perfect example of WWE getting in the way of its incredible talent. Owens and Styles are in there to truly pick each other apart, and Shane’s involvement kind of gets in the way. If it sounds like I’m not sure how to feel about all of this, and about much of the show in general, that’s because I don’t. So much of SummerSlam is seemingly designed with indifference in mind. There are clear stories that build to wonderful moments—Owens and Styles kill it with the near falls, for instance—but then something in nearly every match to take all the air out of the room.
The story The Shield deserves
If there’s a lone case where that’s not true, it’s in the Raw Tag Team Championship match, which pits the reunited Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins against the reigning champions Cesaro and Sheamus. It’s a match that builds to and earns its crowd-pleasing climax. Rollins and Ambrose, despite showing great teamwork, spend the match working out from under Cesaro and Sheamus, who are just too big and too strong.
That’s the story of the match: can Ambrose and Rollins use their speed and dynamic offense to counter the hard-hitting brutality, and occasional cheap shot, from Cesaro and Sheamus? It really doesn’t look like they can, but it only takes a single moment for the match to turn. That moment is Rollins saving Dean, superkicking the hell out of both Sheamus and Cesaro, followed by Ambrose hitting Dirty Deeds on Sheamus and getting the win. Rollins and Ambrose stand tall with the titles in their hands, Ambrose having completed the Grand Slam with this win.
It’s the lone match where the ebbs and flows really work. Nearly every other match on the card, outside of the two stellar Women’s matches and the main event that’s pure chaos, never quite nail their pacing. Where so much of SummerSlam feels dull and uninspired, Rollins and Ambrose vs. Cesaro and Sheamus feels electric and important. It’s the sign of good storytelling. Raw has been building to this exact moment, with Rollins and Ambrose winning the titles and shaking up the tag team division, and the payoff here is perfect. Also perfect? Cesaro ripping a beach ball in half when the crowd gets impatient and rowdy.
A Tale of Two Championships
That brings us to the main event matches, and it’s really the tale of two completely different atmospheres and outcomes. In the first match, the undefeated Shinsuke Nakamura takes on Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship. It’s a decent enough match despite the usual covering-up of Jinder’s flaws. Nakamura is so completely over, and the crowd is ready to cheer for him capturing his first WWE title and running with it for the next few months.
That makes it all the more frustrating to see Jinder retain. Not only does he keep his championship and end Nakamura’s undefeated streak, he does so in the exact same way he’s won every other title match. The Singh Brothers get in the ring, the opponent takes care of them, and then Jinder takes advantage of the distraction. It’s boring and repetitive and Nakamura deserves so much better. Again, I really don’t understand the booking decision here. SmackDown Live spent months treating Nakamura like the next big thing, protecting him and his streak, and the result is feeding him to Jinder in a rerun of every other match he’s been in? That’s infuriating.
On top of that, it just doesn’t seem like a good storytelling decision. Nakamura has been treated like a truly special superstar. He’s given the time on his entrance, he’s protected in every match, and he beat John Cena to become the #1 Contender for the WWE Championship. He’s supposed to be so much more than any other main eventer on the roster, so logic would dictate that even though the Singh Brothers will interfere, Nakamura will overcome where others have faltered. That’s not the case, and it feels like a total waste of an opportunity to cement Nakamura as the special, unique, nearly unbeatable guy SmackDown Live has been telling us he is.
While Jinder’s successful defense nearly kills the momentum SummerSlam has been building since Sasha Banks knocked off Alexa Bliss, the main event delivers in every single way. It’s exactly what we all expected: a violent, chaotic, brutal bit of violence from four guys who truly know how to sell a big fight feel. Nobody wastes any time getting down to business. Roman spears Brock through the barricade; Joe locks in the Coquina Clutch on everybody; Strowman repeats his chair-throwing spot, this time nailing both Roman and Joe; then there’s Strowman destroying Brock Lesnar, putting him through two tables before dumping a third on him, causing the champ to be carried out on a stretcher.
After a truly underwhelming show that’s peppered with some inspiring moments, this brutal main event is a breath of fresh air. While Lesnar ultimately comes back and gets the win, and that’s a touch disappointing, it’s hard to see this as anything other than another star-making performance from Braun Strowman. WWE could go a number of ways with Brock and the Universal Championship from here, but it’s clear that babyface Braun as his opponent is where the money is. The crowd goes insane for every single one of his spots, and it proves that he’s a special talent with the presence and charisma to make him a long-time main event staple.
Within that main event is the story of SummerSlam in general. The various outcomes might not have been ideal, but there are moments tucked away in each match that stand out. The first half of this show is one of the worst in recent memory, and yet I can’t help but think that, a few weeks from now, all I’ll remember is Ambrose and Rollins winning the titles, the women putting on a clinic, and a main event that was everything I hoped it would be.
Kickoff Show: The Miz, Bo Dallas, and Curtis Axel defeated Jason Jordan and The Hardys; Neville defeated Akira Tozawa (c) (Cruiserweight Championship match); The Usos defeated New Day (c) (SmackDown Live Tag Team Championship match).
Main Show: John Cena defeated Baron Corbin; Natalya defeated Naomi (c) (SmackDown Live Women’s Championship match); Big Cass defeated Big Show; Randy Orton defeated Rusev; Sasha Banks defeated Alexa Bliss (c) (Raw Women’s Championship match); Finn Balor defeated Bray Wyatt; Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins defeated Cesaro and Sheamus (c) (Raw Tag Team Championship match); AJ Styles (c) defeated Kevin Owens (United States Championship match); Jinder Mahal (c) defeated Shinsuke Nakamura (WWE Championship match); Brock Lesnar (c) defeated Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe, and Braun Strowman (Universal Championship match).
What did you think of SummerSlam? What moments will you remember? Let us know in the comments below!
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?