SummerSlam was an uneven night for WWE.
Despite some must-see moments, the show will be remembered more for the stars who were not on the card than the ones who were.
Incredibly, SummerSlam did not feature a match from Roman Reigns, Daniel Bryan or Braun Strowman. Nor were there returns from John Cena or The Undertaker for the second biggest WWE show of the year.
More healthy scratches from the card included Intercontinental champion Shinsuke Nakamura, Drew McIntyre, The Miz and Samoa Joe. Neither set of men’s tag team champions, Raw champions Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows or SmackDown champs Big E and Xavier Woods, were in a match either. NXT stars occasionally aren’t booked for a TakeOver, but those shows have only five matches. Including the pre-show, SummerSlam had a total of 12 matches on the card.
The night did include an array of highlights, including Seth Rollins regaining the Universal championship in a match that will stand out as one of Brock Lesnar’s most outstanding performances in the past five years. Kevin Owens defeated Shane McMahon in a perfectly booked match, boosting Owens’ chances at becoming the company’s top babyface.
Trish Stratus also wrestled her last match, a compelling loss to Charlotte Flair, and AJ Styles reasserted himself with a strong outing against Ricochet. There were also surprises, with Edge, Ric Flair and Bret Hart all making cameos.
But the night belonged to Bray Wyatt, who captivated the wrestling world with his debut as “The Fiend.”
Here are the results:
• Cruiserweight champion Drew Gulak defeated Oney Lorcan on the pre-show
• Buddy Murphy defeated Apollo Crews by disqualification after Rowan laid a beating down on Murphy, also on the pre-show
• Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross successfully defended their tag titles against Billie Kay and Peyton Royce on the pre-show
• Raw women’s champion Becky Lynch defeated Natalya Neidhart
• Goldberg defeated Dolph Ziggler
• AJ Styles defeated Ricochet to retain the United States championship
• Smackdown women’s champion Bayley defeated Ember Moon
• Kevin Owens defeated Shane McMahon
• Charlotte Flair defeated Trish Stratus
• WWE champion Kofi Kingston and Randy Orton wrestled to a double countout
• Bray Wyatt defeated Finn Balor
• Seth Rollins defeated Brock Lesnar to regain the Universal championship
And here are my eight takeaways from WWE’s signature summer show:
1. Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar were spectacular together during the main event at SummerSlam.
Lesnar did business for Rollins, accentuating every move by “The Beast Slayer” in a particularly strong effort to ensure that Rollins is the unquestioned, undisputed Universal champion.
Rollins also put forth a fantastic performance. Rather than Lesnar, Roman Reigns, John Cena or Daniel Bryan, it is now Seth Rollins who is the face of WWE’s signature program as world champion. His post-Mania title reign was disappointing, but this is a good chance to reset and see what he can do atop the company—and without a drawn out feud against Baron Corbin.
Vince McMahon used Lesnar perfectly, having him regain the title at Money in the Bank to help his build to SummerSlam. But Lesnar is a mercenary, away from WWE programming far too often to rely on. Rollins remains the WWE’s workhorse, and he now gets another chance to prove he is the man to carry the company.
2. Kevin Owens represents another integral piece of WWE’s future, especially with All Elite Wrestling emerging as a legitimate competitor this October.
Owens’ match with Shane McMahon was entertaining from start to end. Part of the issue with McMahon’s latest run is that he has been unbeatable in the ring, which lacks logic. But McMahon only stayed in this match with the help of outside interference, and his attempt at locking the sharpshooter onto Owens was a nice reminder that the McMahons still play tremendous heels.
Now that Owens has done away with McMahon, what happens next?
Kofi Kingston and Randy Orton will continue battling for the WWE title, so that appears as though it is not the next move for Owens. He already overcame Drew McIntyre, and natural foil Sami Zayn is on Raw, so it will be interesting to see which direction WWE chooses next for Owens.
3. Somehow, a women’s division led by Becky Lynch is in need of some serious work.
There were some positives, including the fact that one-fourth of the card’s 12 matches featured female stars. Bayley looked very good in her victory against Ember Moon, who still looked strong in defeat. The two were given requisite time to tell a story, and the resurgence of Bayley’s singles career has been one of the more entertaining parts of WWE television over the past four months.
But Becky Lynch, who opened the card in a win over Natalya Neidhart, needs a different opponent. Neidhart is an important piece of the division, but she is not a credible threat to beat Lynch, regardless of whether the match is in the United States, Canada or anywhere else in the world.
Commentary tried to paint a different picture, but the crowd in Toronto was thrilled to cheer Lynch, despite the story that Toronto would be entirely behind Neidhart.
In order for Lynch to keep her momentum, she needs opponents that aren’t Neidhart or Lacey Evans.
The division desperately needs a return from Sasha Banks.
4. Dolph Ziggler deserves some recognition for his SummerSlam performance.
Yes, Ziggler lost a squash match to Goldberg in 80 seconds. But he played a vital role in restoring value to Goldberg, whose performance was disastrous this past June against The Undertaker in the main event of the Super Showdown in Saudi Arabia.
Since that point, WWE has made it a point to restore value to both The Undertaker and Goldberg. With Drew McIntyre bumping and selling for him, ‘Taker looked phenomenal in a July tag match at Extreme Rules. The same happened for Goldberg at SummerSlam, as Ziggler ensured that the WWE Hall of Famer shined.
Personally, I enjoyed Ziggler repeatedly calling out Goldberg after the finish. Goldberg returned to the ring on two separate occasions to inflict more punishment, and I hope that Ziggler is able to move forward with his arrogant, delusional character—starting with a win tomorrow against The Miz on Raw.
The moment was also more meaningful than Elias’ nonsensical spearing by Edge. At least Ziggler was on the main card, while Elias has lacked any significant direction other than serving as one of Shane McMahon’s new age Mean Street Posse.
5. Trish Stratus returned for her first singles match in eight years to wrestle Charlotte Flair, in what she has stated will be the final match of her career.
Stratus and Flair put together a very entertaining match, with Flair ultimately making Stratus tap. While I would have preferred that Stratus was matched up against Becky Lynch, there was no denying that the match delivered.
Stratus got a strong ovation from the crowd following the match, and the win should re-insert Flair back into the SmackDown women’s title picture.
6. WWE missed a great opportunity with its finish of the WWE title match between Kofi Kingston and Randy Orton.
The match was the best in-ring stretch for Orton since WrestleMania 30, and it was a fantastic title defense for Kingston–until it ended in a double countout.
Orton had just hit a surprise RKO, but the action spilled outside. Orton mocked Kingston in front of his family, who were sitting ringside, and they locked up outside until the ref counted them both out. Kingston then showed off a vicious side, randomly grabbing a kendo stick from under the ring (Why was that even there? Where is the logic in that?) and brutally attacking Orton after the match—drawing boos from the crowd, which was not what was planned for a babyface champion.
SummerSlam is supposed to be a payoff, go-home show with definitive winners and losers. This match had neither, and instead served as a table setter in the continuation of the feud. The idea to continue the story is a great idea, as Kingston and Orton clearly have chemistry, but the booking and execution were both remarkably weak.
7. What comes next for AJ Styles?
Styles, who is on the short list of best wrestlers in the world, defeated Ricochet to keep his United States title.
There was a point in WCW when the U.S. champ was the number one contender for the world title, a system that could add tremendous value if instituted in WWE.
Styles would be a perfect foil for newly crowned Universal champion Seth Rollins. With the emergence of AEW this fall, WWE will want to ensure that the top of their card is better than that of any other promotion in the world. That will be accomplished if Rollins and Styles are wrestling over the Universal title.
8. There are more questions than answers when it comes to Bray Wyatt.
But that entrance was mesmerizing.
In a night of hits and misses, Bray Wyatt’s return to the ring was a towering shot out of the park.
The symbolism and imagery were exceptional, with “The Fiend” holding a severed Wyatt head atop his signature lantern, his Sister Abigail finisher no longer a necessity and Balor contrasting Wyatt in white trunks and boots.
Balor worked in just enough offense, but he was no match for Wyatt.
There is no ceiling for Bray Wyatt’s new character, and there are a number of storylines—with Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins and perhaps even rekindling his feud with John Cena—that need to be told.