Traditionally, SummerSlam has been one of the tent pole events in the WWE calendar. Even in the network era, this always feels like the major focal point of the summer and a high point before the usual autumn slump while we wait for WrestleMania season to kick in comes January. However, this year’s show has had quite the mixed build and some questionable booking decisions in the build-up, but the show itself delivered in spates and even provided a few surprises along the way.
Pre Show: Cruiserweight Championship – Drew Gulak vs Oney Lorcan
With Lorcan emerging from the wreckage of a terrific six-pack challenge on 205 Live a couple of weeks back, everyone anticipated this would be a very hard-hitting, physical encounter. In reality, it was a non-event, with Gulak continuing to show a more aggressive, hardened side to his character pinning Lorcan with the Cyclone crash after a punch to the throat behind the referee’s back.
Pre Show: Apollo Crews vs Buddy Murphy
Crews and Murphy looked to be getting something of a showcase before SummerSlam proper got underway, but in essence, this was more of an angle than a match. Rowan attacking Murphy, presumably for revealing his role in the attack on Roman Reigns was a logical step and provides some much-needed storyline continuity in a programme that is still developing.
Pre Show: Elias-Edge segment
What pre-show would be complete without an Elias promo to rile up the crowd? This was mostly his usual shtick but local hero and Hall of Famer Edge made a surprise appearance cutting off the former Drifter and hitting him with a spear. This was very significant as since his retirement in 2011 Edge has rarely if ever, done anything physical with WWE due to the neck injury that forced him to hang up his boots. Of course, this has set tongues wagging over whether Edge will be making an in-ring return. It seems unlikely, but this was a great way to heat up the crowd for the main event of the pre-show and create some extra intrigue.
Pre-show: Women’s Tag Team Championship – Nikki Cross & Alexa Bliss (c) vs The IIconics
An instantly forgettable tag match that was thrown together at the last minute, this was difficult to get excited about. There were a number of messy looking spots and the four women didn’t really gel before Bliss hit her finisher off the top rope and ended this match mercifully quickly. Still, this at least shows that the duo will be defending these tiles more than their predecessors, which can only be a good thing.
RAW Women’s Championship – Submission match – Becky Lynch (c) vs Natalya
While it may not have seemed the obvious choice to open the show, given the stipulation involved, the crowd was invested from the off with Becky taking the immediate initiative before Natalya would eventually go to work on Lynch’s knee. Stylistically this was very different from the average women’s match on WWE shows which helped it stand out from the other matches in the division on this show. Lynch looked strong in victory, while the submission reversals from Natalya were well done which made for a genuinely hot opener.
Goldberg vs Dolph Ziggler
Goldberg’s match here was playing to his strengths and making him seem like an absolute killer. For his part, Dolph Ziggler bumped like a maniac in this sprint before Big Bill got his win. The post-match shenanigans with Ziggler goading Goldberg into returning to the ring and attacking Dolph was an odd decision that was either intended to portray “The Show Off” as utterly delusional or a never-say-die babyface. Hopefully, it’s the former. It bordered on comedy at points as Ziggler convinced Goldberg to come back twice, only to put him down again on both occasions. While it may have been brief, this was very entertaining and a great way to erase the lasting memories of Goldberg’s Saudi Arabia debacle at Super ShowDown earlier this year.
US Championship – AJ Styles (c) vs Ricochet
On paper, Ricochet vs Styles should be something phenomenal (pun intended), but this match never really got out of second gear. Styles working a more ground-based style was an interesting route to take but it took something away from what should have been a legendary aerial battle. It also seemed very conclusive, with Styles getting the clean win. It was definitely a little short, and although Gallows and Anderson laid out Ricochet after the match there doesn’t seem to be much point to revisiting this pairing after this match unless it will be Ricochet recruiting a partner and pivoting towards a tag title programme.
SmackDown Women’s Championship – Bayley (c) vs Ember Moon
After an underwhelming build that lacked focus, Bayley and Ember Moon put on a very serviceable contest with a number of convincing near-falls and Moon holding the upper hand for much of the bout. Moon executing a top rope hurricanrana was a high point and the Bayley-to-belly suplex from the middle rope was a fitting conclusion to a very good match. Unfortunately, this suffered from a lack of audience interest, as this played out to minimal reaction which really hampered things.
Kevin Owens vs Shane McMahon (If Kevin Owens loses, he quits WWE)
After months of verbal sparring, Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon finally got into the ring together. Shane introducing Elias as the guest enforcer on the outside stacked the deck against the riotously popular Owens forcing KO to overcome the odds and gain a very popular victory over McMahon. Although this was lacking a traditional big Shane stunt, it certainly delivered an entertaining and enjoyable brawl and continued Owens’ momentum as this feud presumably rumbles on.
Charlotte Flair vs Trish Stratus
Before this match, it became public knowledge that this would be Trish Stratus’ final match as she returned to retirement. However, before that, she more than held her own against arguably the best female performer on the planet. Charlotte was brilliant here and played the cocky heel role to a tee which was perfect in opposition to Stratus’ hometown babyface. Stratus would hit all of her classic spots including the handstand hurricanrana, the chick kick and the Stratusfaction. The near falls here were superbly done, and although Charlotte would eventually get the tap out win, Stratus certainly held up her end of the bargain. A huge win for Flair, a great use of a Legend to put over a current superstar and a fantastic cap on Trish’s career. Excellent work all round.
WWE Championship – Kofi Kingston (c) vs Randy Orton
Few matches on this year’s SummerSlam card have such history as Kofi Kingston vs Randy Orton. Built on a nearly decade-long issue between the two and real-life backstage politics this was the match on this show that held the most intrigue. In the ring, it delivered until the end of the match. Orton and Kingston share genuine chemistry and it’s not hard to see why this very personal programme should continue beyond this match. However, this could have and arguably should have been a big statement win for Kingston on a huge stage. In-ring, Orton did his usual spots, although his RKO onto a diving Kingston was a thing of beauty. The post-match assault by an enraged Kingston was at least some sort of development, especially given the involvement of his family at ringside. It makes sense that this should be a very personal rivalry, and the shots with the kendo stick certainly conveyed that, but that is not necessarily incompatible with an undisputed finish to the match. A very heated and engrossing match that was sullied by a cheap ending.
Bray Wyatt vs Finn Balor
Since the night after WrestleMania, the build for Bray Wyatt’s return has been slowing bubbling along via Firefly Funhouse and then eventually Wyatt’s return a few weeks ago to attack Finn Balor. Everyone was waiting to see how “The Fiend” would translate from the vignettes and attacks on Balor, Mick Foley and Kurt Angle to an actual match. The presentation was sublime, with Wyatt providing one of the most creative and genuinely scary entrances in WWE history. From the lighting to the disturbing lamp that he walked to the ring with, right down to the revamped version of Wyatt’s old theme. Everything was spot on and Wyatt has never looked more unique or intimidating. When the bell rang Balor sold The Fiend as terrifying and in becoming the sacrificial lamb for Wyatt’s re-debut he did a wonderful job of helping his opponent make a lasting impact. This was everything it needed to be and more. An absolute home run for a gimmick that could so easily have fallen down on presentation.
Universal Championship – Brock Lesnar (c) vs Seth Rollins
Finally, to our main event. Brock Lesnar defending his Universal Championship against the man he dethroned at Extreme Rules, Seth Rollins. While Rollins may have been damaged by the way he was booked for much of his first Universal title run, he excelled here as the underdog babyface. To his credit, Lesnar had his working boots on and these two put on an absolute barnburner. There were believable near falls, multiple finishing manoeuvres, big power spots and although Lesnar dominated for large swathes of the bout, Rollins made spirited comeback after spirited comeback. This was probably the best match on this show, and the definitive clean win for Rollins elevated him far more than the cheaper victory he gained at WrestleMania. With the belt back on Rollins, it remains to be seen who his next challenger might be, but this certainly made him feel like more of a star than at any point since April.
All in all, SummerSlam 2019 was an enjoyable show. None of the matches were particularly poor, some were excellent, the main event especially. Bray Wyatt made a huge splash, and crucially the show wasn’t overly long. WWE seems to have reacted to audience burnout by more tightly structuring these shows and not overfilling them even it means leaving big stars off the PPV. The only puzzling decision from SummerSlam is the lack of any real development for the Roman Reigns-Rowan-Daniel Bryan story, but presumably, that will play out on television this week. A very good show.
All images courtesy of WWE.com