Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Sunday, WWE will present one of its signature events, SummerSlam, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. In the pecking order of WWE pay-per-views, SummerSlam ranks just behind “The Grand Daddy of Them All,” WrestleMania.
But it has closed the gap in recent years and become nearly as important on the year-round wrestling calendar.
Finn Balor was selected to WWE’s “Raw” during the draft last month and now finds himself in a match with Seth Rollins for the newly created WWE Universal Championship. That Balor is in this position so soon after joining “Raw” is a sign that WWE is willing to add fresh faces to the main-event mix.
It would be a bold move to put the championship around Balor’s waist, especially at Rollins’ expense. Rollins was forced to vacate the WWE World Championship last year because of injury, and is primed for another lengthy title run.
But if Balor does win? Well, that would be the coup de grace, just like the name of his finishing maneuver.
In other big matches, Kevin Owens will be teaming with Chris Jericho to face recent arrivals Enzo Amore & Big Cass. Enzo is one of the best talents on the mic to come along in years.
He’s snappy (How you doin’?), he’s energetic (How you doin’?) and he’s engaging (How you doin’?)
How engaging? On Enzo and Cass’ first night on Raw, the crowd loudly chanted along with their catchphrases. It took just minutes for the duo to become bona fide studs on WWE’s flagship program, and you can’t teach that.
Fortunately for Enzo and his 7-foot-tall partner, they’re taking on two of the most entertaining heels in the company in Owens and Jericho.
Sasha Banks and Charlotte are two of the three Superstars who propelled the WWE women’s division to greater heights as part of the so-called Divas Revolution introduced last summer. (The third was Becky Lynch, who was separated from the other two when she was drafted to “Smackdown Live!”)
Banks, Charlotte and Lynch faced one another in what was arguably the best match at WrestleMania this year. Charlotte won that triple-threat bout, but after losing the WWE Women’s Championship to Banks on Raw a month ago, she seeks to regain the title at SummerSlam.
With Banks, Charlotte and Lynch in the early stages of their main-roster careers, plus the incoming wave of more female talent, as well as established stars like Paige (not on the SummerSlam card for violating WWE’s wellness policy), the long-term future of the women’s division is brighter than perhaps it has ever been.
Of course, SummerSlam isn’t just about the new additions. The most-hyped match on the card has been Brock Lesnar versus Randy Orton, two men who came up through the ranks together in the early 2000s but have never met in a pay-per-view event.
The anticipation for anything Brock Lesnar does in the WWE is strong. He’s the closest thing to appointment television that the company has.
He’s a special attraction who operates on a different level than most other wrestlers: He works a limited schedule; he’s allowed to use profanity (albeit censored profanity); and, in an era where managers are virtually extinct, he has one of the best in WWE history by his side, Paul Heyman. (The man can get the crowd to eat out of the palm of his hands simply by saying, “My name is Paul Heyman.”)
Inside the ring, Lesnar kicks butt, and it’s so much fun to watch. One more thing about Brock Lesnar: He almost never loses. His last defeat in singles action came last year at SummerSlam, at the hands of the Undertaker (and that was after a low blow). It’s hard to imagine he’ll fall to Orton on Sunday, even if Orton hits his famed move, the RKO.
Dolph Ziggler’s chances of winning the WWE World Championship from Dean Ambrose at SummerSlam are much less certain. Ziggler has repeatedly climbed the WWE ladder through the years, only to slip back down. Indeed, that’s been the talking point for his feud with Ambrose. Ziggler has shown great fire in his interactions with Ambrose. Will it translate into a championship victory?
Roman Reigns has seemingly lost his momentum since he was suspended in June for a wellness policy violation. This year’s WrestleMania ended with Reigns holding the WWE World Championship over his head after defeating Triple H in the main event.
Since his suspension, however, he was pinned at Battleground in a three-way match with Ambrose and Rollins; lost to Balor on the night Balor debuted on Raw; and is now facing Rusev for the United States Championship.
Not to slight the United States Championship or Rusev, a strong heel and a valuable asset to WWE, but it does feel like a step down for Reigns to pursue a secondary title, given his recent history. Then again, John Cena took the United States Championship from Rusev just last year.
Ah, yes, John Cena … how did it take this long to mention his name? It’s a testament to how intriguing the SummerSlam lineup is. Cena is continuing his rivalry with AJ Styles, who launched his WWE career at the Royal Rumble in January and has given Cena a new and innovative opponent to work with. Styles triumphed against Cena in a singles match at Money in the Bank in June. The expectation is for Cena to avenge that defeat at SummerSlam.
Rounding out the SummerSlam card: The New Day versus Styles’ old stable mates, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, for the WWE Tag Team Championship; The Miz versus newcomer Apollo Crews for the Intercontinental Championship; and a women’s tag match that’s been revised because of a wellness policy violation by one of its participants, Eva Marie.
The pregame/kickoff show will feature Cesaro versus Sheamus in the first match of a best-of-seven series; Sami Zayn and Neville versus The Dudley Boyz; and a 12-man tag match.
WWE has also announced an appearance by former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, who cost Cena his match against Rollins at last year’s SummerSlam with a chair to the gut (and received an Attitude Adjustment from Cena the next night).
SummerSlam may not be the Super Bowl of wrestling. But this year’s edition does offer a strong enough card – with strong enough talent and strong enough story lines – to lay the groundwork for the road to next year’s WrestleMania in Orlando, Florida.
SummerSlam airs on the WWE Network Sunday beginning at 7 p.m. ET.
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