WWE SummerSlam Review: Fiend or Foe?

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WWE’s 32nd SummerSlam event took place Sunday night at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario. The singles-match-heavy show was main-evented by the WrestleMania rematch of Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins fighting for the Universal Championship. Elsewhere on the card, we saw the return of Trish Stratus to singles action in an “Icon vs. Icon” match between her and Charlotte Flair. Bray Wyatt competed in his first match in nearly a year as “The Fiend” against Finn Bālor and we had battle of submission specialists in Natalya and Becky Lynch’s fight for the RAW Women’s Championship.

Becky Lynch (C) vs. Natalya

These two are definitely two of the better wrestlers on WWE’s roster and a submission match was a classic twist to help bring out the technical side of both women’s abilities like the Sharpshooter Natalya hooked Becky in on the ring post. The highlight of this match was each woman using her opponent’s submission maneuver against her, which drew a big reaction from the Toronto crowd. I thought this was a fine match, but it didn’t really progress from “good” to a memorable brawl like the storyline was building this up to be. There was just a lot of poking and prodding and rolling around that I wasn’t looking for here.

Winner: Becky Lynch  Time: 12:35     Rating: 2.5 Stars

Goldberg vs. Dolph Ziggler

This match was meant to be a redemption spot for Goldberg after his dreadful match with the Undertaker at Super Showdown in Saudi Arabia two months ago. Goldberg has never been known as being a “marathon man” in the ring, instead favoring all-out sprints (usually at his opponent, tackling them to the ground). This match was everything it needed to be: Ziggler has been talking trash at Goldberg for weeks while the former has been feuding with the Miz. Goldberg caught up with him and nearly speared him out of the ring. (That spear may challenge Christian and Nunzio for the best spear Goldberg has delivered while under the WWE banner). At that moment, Dolph proved again why he’s one of the best sellers in the company. I’m going to withhold a rating on this match because it only went 110 seconds and was mostly used as a fun segment in-between other matches. But that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this segment and both men played their roles to perfection.

Winner: Goldberg       Time: 1:50

AJ Styles (C) vs. Ricochet

First off, shout-out to Ricochet for his Nightwing-inspired ring gear in this title bout. The One and Only did a really cool hurricanrana on the outside of the ring by stomping on Karl Anderson’s right shoulder and then Luke Gallow’s left shoulder in order to get to AJ. The story of this match had to do with AJ targeting Ricochet’s left leg, thus grounding a good portion of the latter’s offense. I really enjoyed the storytelling in this match with the focus being on AJ delivering more and more damage to Ricochet’s knee while the challenger limped around the ring trying to exact some revenge while also being wary of the two Good Brothers at ringside. I was hooked on this match like an AJ Styles Calf Crusher or the Anaconda Vice Ricochet broke out late in the match. Finished off with a Phoenix Splash-turned-Styles Clash chain of moves and you have one of my favorite matches of the night. I really hope this feud goes on for one more month because I truly believe these guy can top this match again and create one of the best main roster matches of 2019 if given the right opportunity. 

Winner: AJ Styles       Time: 13:00     Rating: 3.5 Stars

Bayley (C) vs. Ember Moon

I was pulling for this match to be the sleeper match of the night between two of the most popular babyface champions in NXT history. On top of that, I was pulling for Ember Moon to get the win here for much of the same reason I was cheering for Bayley at Money in the Bank earlier this year: Ember has been saddled with go-nowhere storylines and inopportune injuries that have limited her rise to prominence here on the main roster. But given the right opportunity (a championship match) against a proven worker (Bayley) and you might have a shot at the perfect coming out party for the War Goddess.

Unfortunately, much like the Natalya-Becky match earlier in the night, this match seemed to end right as it looked to be shifting into the next gear. We got to see a lot of high-flying offense from Ember, and Bayley even broke out a Boston crab where she stood looking over her challenger. But, the climax of this match seemed to happen out of nowhere with a massive Bayley-to-Belly suplex giving the champ the victory. A top-rope Bayley-to-Belly suplex is a huge move that you would assume Bayley would resort to after several failed pinfalls against a resilient challenger. Much like AJ and Ricochet, I really hope these two get a second chance to show off because I was left hungry for more after this match.

Winner: Bayley           Time: 10:00     Rating: 2.5 Stars

Kevin Owens vs. Shane McMahon

I think with the exception of Edge on the pre-show, Kevin Owens got the Canadian Hero reaction of the night here. The late addition of Elias was a great card to play to rouse more suspicion that there might be another screw job in Canada by a McMahon. I was surprised we didn’t see an appearance by Drew McIntyre, but it appears that he has bigger fish to fry on RAW in the form of Cedric Alexander. As for the match itself, the strength of this came from theatrics and drama as opposed to in-ring work. Kevin Owens is one of the top five best overall talents on the main roster, in my opinion. And Shane McMahon is…Shane McMahon. His punches don’t look good, his kicks are mediocre, but thankfully, Owens was able to sell his heart out to build up the drama a bit more in this match to a fever pitch. I picked Shane to pick up the “W” here to give Owens a reason to invade SmackDown for the next few weeks like a “Stone Cold” renegade. But, like I said, this had some fun theatrics that made this match a fun watch in the end.

Winner: Kevin Owens Time: 9:20      Rating: 3 Stars

Charlotte Flair vs. Trish Stratus 

I’ll fully admit I’m grading this match on a slight curve due to Trish competing in her third match since October and her first singles match since September of 2006. That being said, Trish is still one of the best women’s wrestlers this company has ever seen. Additionally, if there’s one person I’d want to be in the ring with to make sure the match plan goes off without a hitch, it would be Charlotte Flair. The first few hook-ups were really exciting as the Scotiabank Arena was anxious to see what kind of moves Trish could still pull off. I really liked the story this told as Charlotte came out of the gate with energy trying to assert her dominance over the former Women’s Champion. Charlotte really showed off her trash-talking skills too in goading Trish any chance she got and trying to rile anyone in the audience within earshot that she’d barely even broken a sweat in this match. The brief points where Trish got off a big signature move or knocked Charlotte to the mat really got the crowd alive with the chance that they might see an upset victory. I really wish this match got a lot more traction in the form of a proper storyline (as opposed to being announced just two weeks before the pay-per-view) because building this up like a new-age Hogan vs. Rock “Icon vs. Icon” match could have really elevated the hype and pomp around this match. Regardless, this exceeded my expectations and was a very fun watch once they turned on the gas.

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Winner: Charlotte Flair           Time: 16:40     Rating: 3.5 Stars

Kofi Kingston (C) vs. Randy Orton

It would have been super easy to just do a simple storyline of Randy Orton being the measuring stick of WWE Champions in modern day WWE. But, the fact that this particular storyline has included the brief encounters these two had ten years ago closer to the beginning of Kofi’s career gives fans like me a nice aura of nostalgia to give this storyline and match an extra bump of interest. The match started out slow and meticulous with Orton throwing out small moves like thumbs to the eyes and knocking the champion off the ring post to show off his veteran in-ring acumen. The crowd was notably split between both men as both men have built a respectable brand for themselves over the last decade.

This was a fine match, but I didn’t feel like it had a good flow to it until the very end when they started to break out big signature moves to get even more of a reaction out of the crowd (especially that badass cross-body turned RKO). But, if you Google the phrase “letting air out of the balloon,” you will find a picture of the ending of this match in a double-countout. When I first watched this live, I was too focused on Randy and Kofi outside the ring to hear the referee’s ten count, which made me surprised when the referee call for the bell. (Upon second watch, I didn’t hear any count, so I’m not surprised Toronto was not happy with that finish). It’s a safe finish that leaves no man looking weak in the coming weeks (albeit maybe leaving a bad taste in your mouth as a fan), but at least we get a proper match between these two (assumingly) down the line.

Time: 16:45     Rating: 2.5 Stars

Finn Bālor vs. Bray Wyatt

After weeks and weeks of vignettes, puppets and jump-scares, we finally got to see the “new” Bray Wyatt in his new alter ego, the Fiend. This is beyond a doubt, one of the creepiest thing WWE has come up with in years, maybe even decades…and I am all for it. I don’t know what I was expecting for the Fiend’s entrance, but I was blown away by the “Bray-O’-Lantern” and remixed theme music. Finn Bālor, all dressed in white as the de facto force for good, did not stand a chance in this match, although he was able to break out a few moves of offense in the form of slingblades and double-foot stomps. Having Bray borrow the Mandible Claw from Mankind is a brilliant idea because it’s such a visceral move that fits the bill for such a creepy character. I wouldn’t have minded Bray going a little bit more sadistic with more choking and more simulated neck-breaks, but this was everything it needed to be to reassert Bray Wyatt as a demonic force on the WWE roster. May this be the start of a memorable reign of terror fans like me have been waiting for since 2013. 

Winner: Bray Wyatt   Time: 3:25       Rating: 3 Stars

Brock Lesnar (C) vs. Seth Rollins 

This was the match that I had the hardest time picking a winner for before the show. Eventually, I ended up going with Rollins to have the show end with a babyface win, but given how Brock had man-handled him the last few weeks on RAW, I would not have been surprised if the Beast Incarnate had continued his reign of terror with the Universal Championship, a belt he has held for over 64% of its existence since 2016. 

The crowd really came alive for the moments where Rollins used his agility and Brock’s own strength against him by picking his spots and measuring the best opportunities to knock down the big man. The image of Brock swinging Seth by his ribcage tape were just mind-boggling to look at and to know there is a man walking the Earth like Brock Lesnar. I wish Seth would have sold his injured ribs just a tiny bit more, but that’s more a personal nit-pick than a knock on his proven wrestling ability. This match had big moves, surprise counters, loud crowd reactions, and both guys still look like viable fighters after the final bell.

The trouble with Brock Lesnar matches is that they’re total crap-shoots for time. Sometimes you’ll get a match like his Survivor Series encounter with Daniel Bryan that will go over 15 minutes and other times you’ll get a match like WrestleMania that didn’t even sniff five minutes. Luckily here, we had the former. To me, this was Brock’s best match since Survivor Series last year and easily one of the best of the “second half” of his WWE career. This was everything it needed to be to show-off Brock as the killing machine he’s always been but also make Seth look like a viable threat. An incredibly fun main event to cap-off the night.

Winner: Seth Rollins   Time: 13:25     Rating: 4 Stars 

Overall Thoughts: Clocking in at roughly four-and-a-half hours, this SummerSlam avoided the curse of long, drawn out pay-per-views that drag on to the point of boredom like WrestleMania in years past. This show was at its worst points mediocre and at its best points exciting (and thankfully, there were a lot more of the latter than there were the former). Match of the night honors go to the main event match of Rollins and Lesnar, while my least favorite match was arguably the WWE Championship match between Kofi Kingston and Randy Orton for an alright match that was ruined by a flat finish.  

Final SummerSlam Rating: 3 Stars