WWE SummerSlam: AJ Styles and John Cena shine while Brock Lesnar vs Randy Orton ends in elbow farce
Another big WWE event underwhelms – despite some highs
AJ Styles and John Cena stole the show at SummerSlam in an at-times enjoyable event with a strong card and equally strong performances, save for the last two matches which threatened to entirely undo the good work before them.
In the grand pantheon of wrestling results, AJ Styles beating the face of the WWE for the past decade can't be overstated. That he did it clean and without any interference was all the more noteworthy and impressive from a WWE booking point of view. A lingering shot of Cena's wristband after the intense bout seemed to suggest it was a passing of the torch more than just another PPV result. Whether that's true remains to be seen, but what is evident is the belief the company has put in AJ Styles, whose presence in the WWE still draws disbelief.
Several finishers came and went before Styles - who had survived an Avalanche AA, a feat unheard of until SummerSlam - did something only The Rock, Daniel Bryan and Brock Lesnar had done for nearly a decade, beat John Cena clean. It featured incredible story-telling: Cena’s facial expressions told the tale of a wrestler who had run out of ideas and with that, a fantastic feud seems to be over - and John Cena has lost it.
The only other fight that came close to toppling Styles vs Cena for match-of-the-night status was Seth Rollins taking on Finn Balor for the vacant and newly-created WWE Universal Championship. Although the presentation of the belt itself was roundly booed by the fans in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center (presumably for its undeniable ugliness) there was no doubting the quality on show between two NXT graduates. From his dramatic entrance to his tough fighting style, Finn Balor appears to have the star power to headline Raw events to come.
Star power was also the operative term in the Women’s Championship match as Charlotte reclaimed her title from Sasha Banks. The latter is apparently due to miss upcoming live events, with rumours suggesting this could be down to a wellness policy violation or an injury sustained in the match, which would make the title switch more understandable. Banks and Flair have proved they’re not only two of the best women wrestlers on the roster, but two of the best wrestlers on the whole, who are constantly pushing the division to new heights.
The conclusion of the night left many confused and, as ever with WWE and their longer events, it felt like too much. That seems to be a problem as the only global wrestling company with pulling power gobbles up all of the star wrestlers from around the world: they simply have too much talent. Superstars like Rusev and Reigns are clearly only given a seven minute slot to continue their bizarre feud (Reigns pushed Rusev’s wife, Lana, into her wedding cake) and by the time they’ve actually come out, most fans are exhausted and have spent their energy cheering bouts they know they’ll like. It ended in a no-contest and they will surely fight again, but it’s a match not many people care to see. Reigns, though, seems to be teetering on the edge of a heel switch, which would at least reignite any interest in him.
Brock Lesnar, too, is a mystifying figure. Each fight of his follows the same formula, wheeling out the ‘this guy does plenty of suplexes’ trope, which certainly sells shirts but doesn’t ever make for an interesting contest. His main event match (the MAIN EVENT of one of the biggest WWE events of the year!) against Randy Orton featured a few suplexes, some heavy punches, and other assorted power moves before it was stopped due to Orton legitimately bleeding from his head. World Wrestling Entertainment takes head injuries incredibly seriously these days, in an encouraging move, but fans who paid to attend the show were left feeling short-changed and boos rung out by the final bell.
It would be remiss to focus on the negatives and ignore the fantastic aspects of SummerSlam, which included one fantastic match, two or three good ones and others which kept the attention, but fans do expect a lot, especially from an event as big as this one in the annual wrestling calendar. When NXT Takeover is - yet again - being billed as the weekend’s best show, it’s time the WWE looked at why that keeps happening.
Results in full
Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens defeated Enzo and Big Cass
Charlotte defeated Sasha Banks (new Women’s Champion)
The Miz defeated Apollo Crews
AJ Styles defeated John Cena
Gallows and Anderson defeated The New Day (via disqualification)
Dean Ambrose defeated Dolph Ziggler
Nikki Bella, Natalya and Alexa Bliss defeated Becky Lynch, Naomi and Carmella
Finn Balor defeated Seth Rollins (new Universal Champion)
Rusev vs Roman Reigns (no contest)
Brock Lesnar defeated Randy Orton