SummerSlam placed a magnifying glass directly on the best and worst of WWE, delivering a couple significant surprises while also making a couple extremely frustrating decisions.
Becky Lynch and Brock Lesnar both made their WWE returns, adding some much-needed sizzle to the product one day after CM Punk debuted for AEW, re-altering the state of pro wrestling in 2021. WWE put forth a very entertaining card at SummerSlam, and it was carried by its main event, where Roman Reigns and John Cena combined for a thrilling bout that captured the brilliance of Cena while also highlighting the star-power of Reigns. Cena put over Reigns, who won the match cleanly, extending his dominant run as Universal champion. That was directly contrasted by the booking of SmackDown women’s champion Bianca Belair, who lost in a squash match to Lynch.
Lynch’s return is spectacular news for WWE, but the manner in which it happened was mystifying. After eight months of building Belair into a top-tier star, with her making the most of the opportunity to become an indispensable part of WWE’s success, she was defeated in 27 seconds by Lynch, who filled in for Sasha Banks. This is the same type of treatment that The Honky Tonk Man received against The Ultimate Warrior at the inaugural SummerSlam in 1988, and it is hard to believe that Belair–a genuine star and both the present and future of WWE–was put in a similarly structured match.
WWE has yet to answer why Banks was unable to perform last weekend at live events and again tonight at SummerSlam, leading to even more questions. And despite the fantastic news that Lynch is back in a WWE ring, the way it was laid out left a lot to be desired.
Here are the results from SummerSlam:
— Big E defeated Baron Corbin on the pre-show
— RK-Bro defeated AJ Styles and Omos to win the Raw tag team titles
— Alexa Bliss defeated Eva Marie
— Damian Priest defeated Sheamus to win the United States championship
— The Usos defeated Rey and Dominik Mysterio to retain the SmackDown tag titles
— Becky Lynch defeated Bianca Belair to win the SmackDown women’s championship
— Drew McIntyre defeated Jinder Mahal
— Charlotte Flair defeated Nikki A.S.H. and Rhea Ripley to win the Raw women’s championship
— Edge defeated Seth Rollins
— WWE Champion Bobby Lashley defeated Goldberg by referee stoppage
— Universal Champion Roman Reigns defeated John Cena
WWE has a long-term storytelling problem, too often choosing the immediate reaction instead of building new stars. That was again on display as Lynch wiped out Belair. The way it was presented made absolutely no sense. Belair won the Royal Rumble match, had an industry-altering main event with Banks at WrestleMania, and has given a reason to watch SmackDown every week. Why treat her as an afterthought the moment Lynch reappears? And if WWE had to call an audible because Banks was unable to wrestle, why do it in this manner? This is by no means a criticism of Lynch, who is a genuine star—but a direct shot at the way this was delivered. Instead of pure celebration for Lynch (which would have happened had she used this formula to defeat a heel), there is a mixed reaction after a shortsighted decision to make such quick work of Belair.
Another head-scratching moment took place in the Lashley-Goldberg match. Lashley’s dominance was highlighted, ultimately leading to a referee stoppage because Goldberg could not continue after his knee took too much punishment in the story of the match. A far more effective finish would have been Lashley defeating Goldberg by pinfall or submission. The aftermath saw Lashley continue his beatdown, until Goldberg’s teenage son came to the ring to help his father. Lashley laid him out too, further angering Goldberg—and seemingly continuing this program. While there is certainly a place for 54-year-old Goldberg in WWE in 2021—just like there is a place for 62-year-old Sting in AEW—it should not be in a world title match.
SummerSlam did have its share of positives. Brock Lesnar accomplished WWE’s goal of sending the crowd home happy. He now replaces Cena as the featured opponent for Reigns, a very important program to continue to elevate Reigns’s stature as the top all-around performer in the world.
Charlotte Flair made a statement in her triple threat match against Nikki A.S.H. and Rhea Ripley. Flair regained the Raw women’s title, which WWE is calling her twelfth title reign, and it makes sense. She is on an elite list of the most talented performers in the world. Ripley still has yet to hit her stride as part of the Raw roster, and it may be best for her to have some separation from Flair before we see them continue their feud. Nikki used this run with the belt to establish herself as someone that belongs in the title picture. This next stretch will be pivotal for her, as she looks to remain an important entity on Raw even without the belt.
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Edge came out to an iconic entrance that connected back to his early days in WWE in The Brood. His match against Seth Rollins was intense and physical, serving as a reminder of how fortunate we are to once again watch Adam Copeland back in a wrestling ring. Rollins countering a spear with a pedigree was a memorable spot, as was Edge reversing a Curb Stomp into an Edgecator. Edge won the match courtesy of a crossface submission, never allowing Rollins to hit the stomp, showing the importance of that maneuver. This was a program where both Edge and Rollins looked like world-class professionals.
Surprisingly, WWE did very little with Sheamus as United States champion, so the title change in Sheamus’s match with Damian Priest makes sense. This marks the start of Priest’s first championship run in WWE, and much-needed momentum following the past few months of rematches with The Miz and John Morrison following their entertaining tag bout in April at WrestleMania 37.
Other highlights included The Usos successfully defending the SmackDown tag titles against The Mysterios. Even at 46 years old, Rey Mysterio remains timeless in the ring. RK-Bro’s Randy Orton and Matt Riddle opened the show with a tag match full of action. They defeated AJ Styles and Omos, and the win gives Riddle his first tag title and second title overall in WWE, while it is the 19th time Orton has won gold. Hopefully this begins a transition in which Styles segues back into the world title picture. And on the subject of transitions, Drew McIntyre could benefit greatly from a move to SmackDown after defeating Jinder Mahal at SummerSlam. McIntyre has lost steam over the past few months, mainly due to how he has been presented on Raw, and a new home (and the potential to work again with Roman Reigns) would be rejuvenating.
SummerSlam is a net positive. Cena is on his way out, and thus begins the re-emergence of Lesnar (who, unlike Cena, is not expected to work a series of house shows, though he will be in line for a big pay day at the upcoming Saudi Arabia show). This marks a pivotal point for WWE. With AEW gaining momentum on a weekly basis, WWE needs to invest into its current product with compelling new stories, avoiding the urge to repeat the same matches over and over again. But there is reason for optimism after SummerSlam, which begins a vital stretch for the company.
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