The WWE Championship should return to familiar territory this Sunday at SummerSlam, where it will be defended by Drew McIntyre against Randy Orton. The title has not closed out a pay-per-view since April, but that appears destined to change this Sunday.
McIntyre defeated Brock Lesnar for the championship in the main event of WrestleMania 36’s second night. Over the past four months, WWE’s most prestigious belt has been placed in a prominent position, yet the main event spot has proven elusive.
McIntyre had a tremendous match with Seth Rollins at Money in the Bank, but that show was built around the Money in the Bank ladder match. Bobby Lashley helped McIntyre deliver the best match of his title reign in a physical, hard-hitting encounter at Backlash, a show built around “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” pitting Orton against Edge. McIntyre also combined with Dolph Ziggler for an entertaining match at Extreme Rules, but that went on right before the main event, which was the cinematic Wyatt Swamp Fight.
There are no gimmicks for this Sunday’s Orton-McIntyre bout. To the credit of the performers, none are necessary. No steel cage, no extreme rules, no wrestling atop the corporate office in Connecticut. McIntyre and Orton have built a program worthy of the top of the card, a singles match that perfectly fits the SummerSlam marquee, exactly what McIntyre has been working to do throughout his entire title reign.
“This title hasn’t been on last, and I’m doing everything I can to change that,” said McIntyre. “It doesn’t matter if there are cinematic matches or anything else, I believe the championship should close the show. My goal is to keep working my butt off to make sure that happens. I don’t want there to be any doubt. As WWE Champion, that’s the spot I want at SummerSlam.”
Compelling wrestling programs are dependent on two people, and McIntyre is benefiting from sharing the ring with a rejuvenated Orton. The build to this match is an old-fashioned battle of good versus evil, with some real-life history mixed in for added flavor.
“This is the Randy I wanted, it’s the match I wanted, and I can’t wait for the bell to ring,” said McIntyre. “Randy is firing on all cylinders, both as a character and in the ring as a performer, and our story is especially meaningful to me because it is based on our truth.
“I remember being a young kid in WWE and walking on eggshells being around Randy. If you upset him, you’d get heat, you could be fired. But I’m not a scared kid anymore. I’m a grown ass man, and Randy’s got his receipt coming this Sunday.”
Orton has been RKO-ing and head-punting everyone within range, but this current stretch for the longtime WWE star has resonated because of gripping, visceral interviews and a violent form of storytelling. The promo he cut last week on Ric Flair was raw and cruel, qualities that Orton relishes portraying as such a natural antagonist. He represents everything needed in a villain, which highlights McIntyre as the story’s hero, and the potential exists for a very memorable match at SummerSlam.
“I always knew Randy Orton would make me step up,” said McIntyre. “If I’m Batman, he’s my Joker. Randy is so naturally gifted. Even when he doesn’t give it his all, he’s still one of the best in the world. It’s frightening, but that’s how good he is. And Randy Orton stands for evil, which we see on TV every week, so I’m looking forward to showing a different style on Sunday for my fans.
“I can’t thank my fans enough. They’ve let me into their lives. When I started in WWE, I was the chosen one by management. It’s so much cooler to be the one chosen by the fans. Their support keeps driving me forward, and I’m going to put on a match like they’ve never seen out of me before against Orton.”
McIntyre has enjoyed a successful four-month run as WWE Champion, but the potential for an extended impact and reach as the company’s leading figure remains untapped. In order to reach a new realm of stardom, it may be necessary to drop the title to Orton, only to restart wrestling’s most sublime story: the chase. But there is no debate that McIntyre has earned the main event spot, a position he needs in order to take his career, and WWE, to new heights.
“This is the challenge I wanted,” said McIntyre. “If I can’t swim in the deep end with Randy, then I don’t deserve to be champion. But I am in this position for a reason, and I am confident that SummerSlam is going to be the perfect opportunity to show why I am the WWE Champion.”