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In the wake of the brand split, WWE is promoting their biggest show of the summer with an oversized edition of their second biggest PPV of the year, SummerSlam. Despite the fact that the brand split required WWE to hastily assemble a card with only a few weeks of build for some of the biggest matches on the card, this is a very large event indeed with four matches that could main event any other show of the year anchoring what should be a really interesting show.
It's hard to figure out what match will close the show, but we will start with the traditional WWE Championship match between Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler. The brand extension required WWE to push different guys into the main event picture, and Ziggler so far has been the greatest beneficiary of that situation. Ziggler has been largely forgotten in WWE for at least the past year and while it looked like his ship had sailed as far as him ever being a top star, he gets a golden opportunity to be the number one contender for the WWE Championship. Although he had been booked into oblivion by WWE leading up to this opportunity, Ziggler has still flashed the ability to be a top name during this program. His promos have been very good and now that he is working more as the heel against Ambrose it is allowing his more arrogant side to be presented. Some fans will still find it hard to believe that Ziggler is the number one contender, but I think he has done the best he can do in the last few weeks to come across as a credible challenger.
Ambrose has thankfully gotten a chance to really run with WWE Championship and it's clear that he has what it takes to be a good babyface champion over the long term. His unique appeal, from his promos to his in-ring work make him so different from everyone else on the roster that the fans are attracted to him in a way that they never could be towards Roman Reigns. This match screams that Ambrose is going to retain the championship, but probably in controversial fashion which will lead to a full-fledged Ziggler heel turn and a continuation of their program heading into September.
After making an incredibly big deal about Ambrose (and therefore SmackDown) keeping the WWE Championship at the last event and RAW being without a world title, that issue was quickly thrown out the window in favor of WWE creating a new world title just for RAW, the WWE Universal Championship (because the universe is bigger than the world) and it will see Seth Rollins and Finn Balor battle for the vacant championship. Unlike the WWE Championship feud, I haven't been that big of a fan of the build-up for this match. Seth has been pretty good, but I think the RAW writers are struggling to work with Finn, which isn't surprising since he has only been on the show for a couple of weeks. His promos have felt over-scripted and I'm worried that they don't have a total grasp on his Demon character, to the point that I think it might end up being more hokey than badass. That being said the match at SummerSlam should be terrific because both guys are great workers and have a similar style and the New York crowd will be really hot for them. Rollins has clearly established himself as the ace of RAW and deserves to have the championship; but WWE has pushed Balor hard and it wouldn't be that risky to give him the Universal Championship.
I didn't have very high expectations for Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton at the beginning of their feud simply because I didn't know how much more they could do with Orton; but I'll admit WWE has done a better job presenting Orton than they have in years and really made him look like a credible challenger to Lesnar. Lesnar's been great in his segments, mainly because he is allowed to say and do things that nobody else is allowed to do because of who he is. Guys who work for WWE can rightfully complain about Lesnar getting away with that; but WWE would be dumb to shoehorn Lesnar into a more conventional role because his whole gimmick is that he isn't like everyone else. The match should be pretty good and you know there is going to be an F-5 countered into an RKO spot that will get a huge pop, but Brock should still win this match. Yes failing that drug test was bad PR for the company, but as WWE already proved by not suspending Brock, they are incapable of punishing him so he will not be forced to job here. The guy who finally beats Lesnar cleanly should be a younger guy that really need the rub; and as good as Orton is he isn't in that role at this point in his career.
The final main-event level match is AJ Styles vs John Cena, which has been the longest running feud in the company and because of that this is the match with the best build. I have no doubt this match is going to be tremendous especially because of the New York crowd; but it could end up also being the most frustrating match on the show. With Cena slated to take more time away from WWE and missing most house shows, there is no reason for Cena to win this match other than the fact that WWE does not want to have a guy who is popular for his work elsewhere get a clean victory over the guy who has been the face of the company for the last 11 years. Out of all the matches on SummerSlam this match will be the most dramatic because from a fan perspective, it really does matter who wins and who takes the pin. In the title matches a guy can lose and you know that they will get another shot, but AJ probably is not going to get another shot at Cena if he doesn't win (and even if he did he would likely lose that match as well) so it's imperative he wins this match for his future in the company.
The rest of the card is filled out with matches that range from interesting to skippable. One of the matches that falls under the former is the Women's Championship match with Sasha Banks defending against Charlotte. Banks won the title a couple weeks ago on RAW and while it seemed like a mistake to waste the title victory on RAW instead of SummerSlam, the result from that match has been a good storyline between the two. I think Charlotte's work on the microphone has been really good and as a heel has been great at getting heat to work with Banks, who the fans already like. Sasha Banks should retain but this could end up being the best women's match in WWE this year.
Another intriguing match is the United States Championship match between Rusev and Roman Reigns. Rusev has been really good as a heel over the last few weeks, but it will be really interesting to see how the NYC crowd reacts to Reigns. He hasn't been booed as much now that he is in the mid-card and if there is a heel that is going to get heat against Reigns it will be Rusev. But even though it seems like Reigns isn't getting pushed down the fans' throats as much, WWE still is more committed to Reigns than anybody else. I thought it was important that on the last two episodes of RAW it was Reigns and not Rollins, Balor or Lesnar who closed RAW. Rusev should at least retain at SummerSlam, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if Reigns wins cleanly.
The two tag team matches on the show are the title match between the New Day and Anderson and Gallows and the match between Enzo and Cass and Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens. I haven't liked Anderson and Gallows lately with their whole mock-doctor gimmick after injuring Big E; it just isn't really them. I think the New Day retain when Big E returns. The other match is more exciting to me; Jericho and Owens are really funny together and everyone loves Enzo and Cass, and they might be the most over act on the show since it's in New York.
Rounding out the card are two matches that don't have a lot going for them. The Intercontinental Championship, despite getting to be on SmackDown where there is less competition for the spotlight, has been mostly an afterthought. The Miz is basically working the gimmick where he rarely defends the championship and while I like Apollo Crews, creative hasn't given him a whole lot to work with. Even if he wins the title (and I don't think he will) it probably won't mean that much because of how it has been booked into oblivion. The other match is Cesaro vs Sheamus is the first of their best of seven series. Cesaro and Sheamus can have good, physical matches with each other, but they don't have the kind of relationship where you would want to see a ton of matches between the two in a short amount of time.
SummerSlam on paper should be the best WWE show of the year, at least on the main roster. The two title matches, Brock vs Orton and Cena vs Styles all easily could be 4+ star matches and the United States Championship and Women's Championship matches have the potential to get there as well. I do worry that the show may end up being just too damn long and by the end of it some momentum will be lost, but I will be really disappointed if SummerSlam isn't at least an above average show.
Must Watch Matches:
Hirooki Goto vs Naomichi Marufuji-****1/4-NJPW G1 Climax 26 Tag 17
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuchika Okada-****3/4-NJPW G1 Climax 26 Tag 17
Kenny Omega vs Tetsuya Naito-****1/2-NJPW G1 Climax 26 Tag 18
Kenny Omega vs Hirooki Goto-****3/4-NJPW G1 Climax 26 Final