One of the problems WWE faces with its “Big 4” events is bloat. Between the pre-show and the main card, events like Wrestlemania and the Royal Rumble turn into six- to seven-hour affairs, which can be a bit overwhelming for live crowds and TV watchers alike. SummerSlam was no different this year, but several moments stood out among the blur of wrestling.
Normally, we wouldn’t talk about the preshow, but one of the matches there was phenomenal and one that made the main card was a waste of time. So…
- Smackdown Tag Team Championship: The New Day and The Usos decided to put on a clinic for free, and we should thank them for that. Somebody had to get bumped off the actual show to make room, but despite that the SD tag title match was one of WWE’s best this year. Lots of great action from bell to bell and a number of cool team-up maneuvers from both sides. Definitely worth a watch.
- John Cena vs. Baron Corbin: Apparently Corbin made an enemy of every single person backstage, because he died before our very eyes in the last six days. We overuse the word “burial” anytime somebody hits a roadblock in their career — even in a single match! — but this sure looked like one. After blowing his Money in the Bank cash-in on SmackDown this week in epic fashion, Corbin ate one Attitude Adjustment against Cena and that was that. Not a terrible match or anything, but you can’t help but wonder what happened.
- SmackDown Women’s Championship: Natalya beat Naomi in a bit of a surprise to win the belt. I’m not really a fan of either of these performers, and this certainly put to rest the rumors that Naomi was going to hold the title until Wrestlemania. That said, it’s nice to see Natalya, a solid hand for several years, get rewarded for the work she’s put in.
- Big Cass vs. Big Show: Somehow this wasn’t the worst match of the night, although it would be if you measured it on a crap/time elapsed formula. Even though Cass’ split with Enzo made for some great promos for a couple weeks, the reality is that nobody seems to like Enzo, making it hard for fans to decide whom to root for in all this mess. Enzo’s plan in this match was to grease himself up to get out of the shark cage he was in. His reward was a boot to the face. Good plan.
- Randy Orton vs. Rusev: Ah, HERE’S the worst match of the night, if you can even call it that. This was a pre-match beatdown by Rusev that led to him eating an RKO right after the bell rang. That’s it. Five seconds. Considering this feud felt thrown together with no stakes in the first place, this was nothing but a colossal waste of time. You would have been better off staring directly at the eclipse.
- Raw Women’s Championship: I had high hopes that Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss would deliver a classic here. I’m not sure they reached that level, but this was good overall. I think the match’s position on the card hurt a bit here — following those two duds at the four-hour mark or so made it tough to get the crowd on board for this. There’s also some strange backlash to Sasha right now; I’m not sure she should be a four-time champ by this point, but you can’t blame her for Bayley’s injury putting her in this match.
- Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt: This was 10 minutes of entrance porn followed by a pretty good match, but there was never any doubt about the outcome. If Balor was going to bring out the demon, you can’t have him lose, especially to Bray “I’m a Cool Talker Who Loses Every Meaningful Feud” Wyatt. These two had good chemistry in the ring and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this down the road, but Balor should probably be making his way back to the main event scene soon.
- Raw Tag Team Championship: This was the best match of the night from a technical standpoint. I’m always a fan of good tag team wrestling, and the newly reunited Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose put on a show against Cesaro and Sheamus. There were several great sequences here, but the best might’ve been Cesaro’s mad dash into the crowd to rip a stars-and-stripes beach ball to shreds. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a feud between the Shield bros and The Bar, because I’d love to see more.
- United States Championship: Not a terrible match by any means — AJ Styles and Kevin Owens are both too good to look bad facing each other. But the entire stipulation here was “our matches have had weird endings because refs suck, so here comes Shane McMahon as a guest referee.” As KO pointed out in the weeks leading up to this, we’ve got video on the WWE Network of Shane being bad in the role before. Here, he got physical with both competitors and nearly missed AJ’s foot on the ropes. All of this is supposedly going to lead to Shane vs. KO sometime early next year, but it feels like everyone was just spinning their wheels a bit.
- WWE Championship: Ah, yes. Look, I’m admittedly a big Shinsuke Nakamura fan, so obviously I’m not thrilled with the outcome here. It’s one thing to have Jinder Mahal get a run as champion, especially with a tour in India coming up. That’s okay on the surface. The problem is he went from absolute jobber to alleged badass so fast you’d hurt your neck trying to track it. The other issue is how Nakamura lost — standard Singh distraction, one finisher, that’s it? What was the point of having him beat John Cena clean to get the opportunity, then?
- Universal Championship: An absolute car wreck in all the right ways. This was a stunningly physical encounter between four huge dudes who wanted to hurt each other. It was never going to be a technical wrestling clinic, but you had NXT Takeover the night before for that. Braun Strowman looked like a huge star here, manhandling Brock Lesnar so bad that he had to do a stretcher job before coming back to win the match. Even though I’m not a fan of Brock keeping the title on a part-time basis, you have to admit that in those limited times when he’s around, he puts in work. He somehow looks like a huge, strong badass while doing cruiserweight-esque bumps for others. What a spectacle.
Like most WWE shows, this was hit and miss. Fans looking for phenomenal wrestling action should be checking out Takeover (if they haven’t already). Here, this was three must-see matches mixed in with two dumpster fires and some decent stuff in between. SummerSlam has probably been replaced by the Royal Rumble as the second biggest show of the year at this point, and I think this was another reminder of why that’s true. 7/10