Wrestling Review: WWE SummerSlam 2018

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Written By: Mark Armstrong

(Read the original version on Pro Wrestling Journal at http://prowrestlingjournal.com/index.php/2018/08/20/wwe-summerslam-2018-review/.)

The biggest PPV of the summer has come and gone, and with it came some major storyline developments, long-awaited battles and headline-worthy title changes. But how did the show measure up as a whole? Let’s analyse SummerSlam match-by-match, beginning with the three bouts on the Kick-Off Show.

Rusev & Lana vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas & Zelina Vega

This served its purpose in the pre-show slot. Almas and Vega both hitting his signature pose at the ropes, only to appear shocked when Rusev and Lana performed a taunt of their own, made me smile. Otherwise, there wasn’t too much to this bout, though I thought Lana was impressive, especially considering how negative opinions were of her as an in-ring performer just one year ago. Vega’s roll-up pin on Lana, with her feet on the ropes, was slightly sloppy, but it’s further momentum for her and Almas, who I assume will be moving up the SmackDown ladder heading forward. Though Rusev ordered Aiden English to stay backstage (and he did), a Rusev Day split seems inevitable, possibly as soon as this Tuesday’s episode of SD.

Cruiserweight Championship Match
Cedric Alexander (C) vs. Drew Gulak

I really enjoyed this match, and so did the Brooklyn fans who appreciated the effort that both the champion and challenger put into this. Considering that this was the first chance for the cruisers to showcase their skills on the (pre-)PPV stage since WrestleMania, and that they haven’t appeared on Raw in over six months (their action is now solely limited to 205 Live), the crowd were surprisingly invested into a match that began a little slow and technical, but soon accelerated the pace and led to some big spots. A series of nifty pinning combination reversals led to Cedric picking up the three-count and holding onto the purple-strapped title.

Raw Tag Team Championship Match
The B-Team (C) vs. The Revival

Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel’s unlikely run as heads of Raw’s tag team division continued here. It seemed like things would be different as The Revival took out Axel early and focused on weakening Bo’s leg for a potential early win. But the titleholders stayed in the bout, and once Axel tagged in, they had the advantage up until the closing moments. A roll-up on Axel by Scott Dawson was turned over after Dallas was shoved into them, allowing for a somewhat fortunate victory (and the third match in a row with a straight-up pin rather than it being preceded by a signature move of some kind). The B-Team retain in an instantly forgettable match, though I am predicting that their reign won’t last too much longer, considering that The Authors Of Pain are yet to make a challenge to the titles since being promoted from NXT.

Intercontinental Championship Match
Dolph Ziggler (C) w/ Drew McIntyre vs. Seth Rollins w/ Dean Ambrose

It had been emphasised on television, particularly after the Iron Man match at Extreme Rules, that the sole reason why Dolph Ziggler remained Intercontinental Champion was due to the presence of Drew McIntyre, hence why Seth Rollins would have a returning-from-injury Dean Ambrose to back him up here. And Ambrose made sure that Drew didn’t get involved once, at least not physically towards Seth. This was a long opener, and it also had a slow pace early on, but towards the end there were some massive moves which created a red-hot atmosphere. In particular, a reverse DDT off the ropes followed by a sit-down reverse DDT slam by Rollins was a real eye-opener, as well as a hard-looking DDT on the apron by Dolph. McIntyre assaulting Ambrose at ringside distracted Seth enough for Dolph to hit a Zig Zag, but he kicked out, and after Dean laid Drew out with Dirty Deeds, Seth avoided a Ziggler superkick with one of his own, followed by the Curb Stomp to win his second Intercontinental title. Great opener here, and Rollins once again holds the IC gold. Cue the next round of speculation as to when (not if) Ambrose will turn on Seth.

SmackDown Tag Team Championship Match
The Bludgeon Brothers (C) vs. The New Day

I’ve found the title reign of Harper and Rowan to be really underwhelming up until this point: whether it’s because their matches have been relatively short, or because they’ve been holding something back, they haven’t shone in the way that they occasionally did under the Wyatt Family guise a few years back. Thankfully, New Day helped them to deliver the best match of their reign thus far, as Big E and Xavier Woods went all-out with their performance in an attempt to win the titles. The DQ finish of Rowan clocking Big E with a mallet was a bit of a let-down, as the time seemed right for a title switch here. Overall, better than expected, but the Bludgeons’ stint as champions will continue for now, which I’m not sure is the right decision.

Money In The Bank Briefcase On The Line
Braun Strowman vs. Kevin Owens

If Braun lost this one in any way possible, KO would commandeer the MITB briefcase. After weeks, if not months, of the heel being targeted and, in Kevin’s words, tortured by The Monster Among Men, it was said that the perfect revenge would be Owens (the heel, incidentally) snatching away the green briefcase. But it wasn’t to be, and Owens actually had very little offence, with Braun dominating him from bell to bell. A chokeslam on the steel ramp looked gnarly, and a running powerslam quickly brought an end to proceedings. Strowman remained as dominant as ever, though Owens’ status has taken a right tumble since departing SmackDown for Raw back in April.

SmackDown Women’s Championship Match
Carmella (C) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair

The story here was that “Becky Balboa” had overcome many obstacles to earn this title shot, only for Charlotte (who of course has earned many title opportunities over the last few years) to find a way into this contest, albeit because of a decision by Paige. The action here was really good, and Carmella stepped up to deliver her strongest performance yet; though she has been portrayed (fairly accurately, too) as an inferior performer to others in the division, she definitely looked better here than she has at any point during her reign as champion. That run wouldn’t last too much longer, incidentally: Becky had Carmella trapped in the Dis-Arm-Her, but a Natural Selection to Lynch by Charlotte earned her the blue-brand gold. Carmella began crying afterwards (and she is entitled to a rematch), but the big story was Becky finally snapping and attacking her “best friend” Charlotte. Without mentioning that Charlotte has previously turned heel on Becky herself, it was newsworthy that the crowd were – and totally understandably – 100% behind Lynch as she destroyed Charlotte, cheering the assault and booing the new champion. A heel turn has been rumoured for weeks, but perhaps WWE should consider casting Charlotte as the glory-snatching villain and Becky as the hard-done-by babyface. Most fans could relate to this story, and those that do would sympathise much more with Becky than Charlotte.

WWE Championship Match
AJ Styles (C) vs. Samoa Joe

Joe had chosen to take the personal route to rattle Styles before this match, bringing his family into the picture and noting how AJ was a failure as a father and a husband for putting his career first, even supposedly reading a letter from AJ’s wife, Wendy. As it turned out, AJ’s wife and youngest daughter were at ringside for this bout, and Joe provided a pre-match taunt to rile up Styles further. The action itself began surprisingly technical given the personal issue, but it soon turned into a plethora of big moves and strong attacks by both men. There were some close near-falls here, and a Styles Clash on Joe was quite a sight. Joe’s Coquina Clutch saw AJ’s long WWE Title reign in serious jeopardy, but the champion managed to escape his, erm, clutches. Joe rammed AJ into the steel stairs (inadvertently busting him open) and then shouted to Wendy that he’d be the new father for her children. An enraged AJ sent Joe flying through the barricade and began whacking him with a steel chair, resulting in a DQ win for Joe. I was expecting this outcome, since a clean win for AJ ended the feud, whilst I don’t see WWE putting the big title on Joe. A rematch at Hell In A Cell, and probably IN Hell In A Cell, seems very likely.

Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz

Promoted as being eight years in the making, this was the match that most wanted to see once Bryan’s WWE comeback was announced, dating back to their infamous confrontation on Talking Smack at a time when it seemed unfathomable that Daniel would wrestle again. This was a back-and-forth battle, with both men trading the advantage and at times playing “can you top this” as Miz would execute signature Bryan moves, only to then be subject to the real thing by the master of said strikes and holds. Of note, Miz found a way to get out of the Yes Lock, and Bryan kicked out of the Skull-Crushing Finale. As a slightly divided crowd looked on (many fans were behind Miz, which was unexpected), we were repeatedly shown Maryse in the audience, and there was a reason for this: she handed Miz an unidentified object (presumably brass knuckles), which he whacked Daniel with to seal the victory. A Miz triumph was the only way to extend this feud, so I wasn’t surprised. A dejected Bryan needed advice from his wife Brie (who had appeared alongside Nikki in a backstage promo earlier, and were booed out of the building) to keep motivated enough to continue battling on in a rivalry that is far from over. Really good stuff here.

Finn Balor vs. Baron Corbin

Many fans rolled their eyes when this match was confirmed for SummerSlam, and after Finn pinned Baron at Extreme Rules, most wondered why this match was necessary. Well, they may still wonder that, but we were treated to a surprise with the return of Balor’s Demon alter ego, last seen at TLC in October. The Demon made quick work of Corbin in what was essentially a squash win (if you’d have said this would be a squash, surely you’d have assumed that Corbin would be victorious, right?), and having looked so convincing here, it’s possible that Balor now moves onto bigger things on the red brand. Perhaps it’s finally time for him to challenge for a certain title that he had to forfeit two years ago?

United States Championship Match
Shinsuke Nakamura (C) vs. Jeff Hardy

By this point, the fatigue was setting in, as is often the case nowadays for four-hour PPV events. Both men mocked the other’s taunt early on, before settling into their groove in a match that, while competent, couldn’t capture the imagination of the audience. Except for one moment, when Hardy (who has been suffering from injuries for months, on top of all the wear and tear he has accumulated during his career anyway) attempted a Swanton Bomb to Shinsuke on the apron, and when Nakamura missed, he received a horrendous-looking thud in what was, from a health standpoint, possibly the most ridiculous spot all year. Nakamura quickly ended things with a hard kick to the back and a Kinshasa. Randy Orton appeared afterwards to attack Hardy, but changed his mind and retreated backstage. Hopefully Jeff is okay.

Raw Women’s Championship Match
Alexa Bliss (C) vs. Ronda Rousey

Natalya appeared beforehand, wearing Jim Neidhart’s Hart Foundation jacket in a nice tribute to her father, who sadly passed away last Monday (though Michael Cole, in a flabbergasting statement, said that Jim died “a couple of weeks ago”). Strangely, considering that she has had back-up from Mickie James or Alicia Fox or weeks, Alexa went this one alone, and paid the price: Ronda dominated her from the opening bell, once she managed to halt her initial stalling. Taking advantage of Alexa’s double-jointed elbows, Ronda’s attack looked very painful, and she applied her armbar for the quick submission win. Ronda Rousey is now Raw Women’s Champion in what was the third squash-like match of the night. I had no real complaints about this, only that it seems odd for Alicia Fox to have overwhelmed Ronda on a recent Raw, but Bliss to have had no offence here. Post-match, Ronda celebrated with Natalya, and also The Bella Twins, who watched from ringside and were again booed heavily. Brie and Nikki being part of this moment was totally unnecessary and rather annoying, unless it’s designed to promote a match at Evolution.

Universal Championship Match
Brock Lesnar (C) vs. Roman Reigns

Having held the Universal Championship since WrestleMania 33 and with UFC aspirations, a title loss seemed certain here, but we have been here before with Roman Reigns at WM 34, when Lesnar stunned everyone by winning there. WWE had painted Brock as a selfish, lazy titleholder who wouldn’t even show up for work in order to get fans on Reigns’ side, but while it had led to some minor positive reactions for The Big Dog, would enough fans be on side for Roman’s likely coronation to make this a success? Also, would the fans even allow the match to happen without hijacking it, given how many bouts on PPV have received such treatment this year, and the reputation of Brooklyn crowds in recent years? The final question mark concerned the Money In The Bank briefcase: no matter who won, would there be a surprise cash-in afterwards?

As it turned out, as the introductions were being made (and Paul Heyman repeatedly emphasised “defending” when announcing Lesnar, which was a great touch), Braun Strowman came out to a huge pop and announced that rather than being a coward, he was telling Roman and “Beasty Boy” that he would immediately face the winner for the Universal Championship after their match. From the bell, Roman struck with several Superman Punches and three Spears, but Brock survived, and when Roman tried for another Spear, he was trapped in a guillotine choke which almost made Roman submit. Reigns battled out, but Lesnar caught him again, only for Reigns to escape once more. With Strowman looking on, Brock began taking Roman to Suplex City, before avoiding a Roman Spear by sending him through the ropes and launching into Braun. At ringside, Brock decided to take out his potential next challenger by F5’ing Strowman, pounding him with a chair and tossing the MITB briefcase up the ramp. But when he re-entered the ring with the chair, Lesnar tasted another Spear by Roman for the three. Lesnar’s reign as Universal Champion (and possibly his WWE career) is finally over, and Roman Reigns holds heavyweight gold for the first time in over two years. No cash-in occurred, with Strowman taken out, and Reigns celebrated as the show went off the air.

Regardless of your opinion on Roman as champion, this was exceptional booking and crowd control by WWE under the circumstances. Braun’s presence ensured that fans wouldn’t leave early, and the fast pace early on made one think that it would be over and done rather quickly, reducing the need for fans to be bored. It also meant that fans wouldn’t completely turn on Roman if he won, since there was the possibility of him immediately losing the title. In fairness, the crowd were better than I expected for this, too: besides one “You both suck!” chant and what sounded like one moment of a beachball-related distraction, the crowd were invested into this from the start. There was even a “Let’s go Roman!” chant and a momentary big pop at him finally dethroning Lesnar. And the action itself was smartly designed: after several losses to Brock, Roman needed to look strong (insert your own jokes here), and by launching the initial big attack and convincingly pinning his opponent, Reigns received the boost that officially makes him The Guy once again on Raw.

What’s more, while Strowman didn’t cash in MITB after all, he still holds the briefcase, meaning that his moment will still come eventually. Now that a full-timer holds the red-strapped belt again, Roman could potentially defend against Owens (through Stephanie McMahon backing him up), his Shield brethren Seth Rollins (in a title vs. title bout) or Dean Ambrose (who could challenge him as a heel, even though he’d be cheered anyway), Finn Balor (based on what I wrote earlier), Drew McIntyre (who hasn’t been pinned in singles action since returning to the main roster), and of course Bobby Lashley, who pinned Reigns just a few weeks ago at Extreme Rules. There are a lot of possibilities, and though it’s possible that Brock still sticks around, few would be disheartened if he didn’t. If nothing else, WWE achieved a more positive reaction to this result than they would have had they pulled the trigger at Mania, which we all assumed they would. Yes, many will still be angry at Reigns being champion, but it now opens the doors for others to feasibly challenge for the gold, which is hardly a bad thing.

On the whole, I thought that SummerSlam was a strong show, one of the year’s best supershows. Three of the matches were great, others exceeded expectations, the top two bouts delivered major title changes, and there were plenty of hair-raising spots throughout the evening, as well as some surprises here and there. The booking was occasionally strange, and three squash-like bouts on one PPV may have been excessive (WWE should have omitted at least one of the matches from the card to avoid this), as well as having two DQ outcomes on a Big-Four event (this should have been reserved for AJ-Joe only as that was the priority). But it’s hard to come away from the show as a whole disappointed, even if some results or the booking of certain matches wasn’t to your liking. So, I would give SummerSlam a thumbs-up, and am looking forward to seeing where certain storyline developments on the night will take us in the coming months.