The 2017 iteration of WWE's SummerSlam takes place on Sunday evening at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and it's guaranteed to be a packed show. This weekend's events jam in 13 announced matches between the main card itself and the SummerSlam pre-show (both of which are, of course, airing on the WWE Network). Let's get into the ring.
Wyatt vs. Balor
Bray Wyatt and Finn Balor are set to face off, though they just did so on Monday. The goal? Apparently it was to try to goad Balor into transforming into his "demon" persona for the first time since his return from injury earlier in the year. Balor initially thought Wyatt was not a worthy opponent for the demon to face, prompting the two meeting in the ring on Raw, just days before SummerSlam so that Wyatt could drop a bucket of what we're supposed to believe was blood on Balor's head, thus summoning out the dramatic demon entrance that was made for large-scale WWE events.
It's just so perfectly WWE to give away a version of a pay-per-view match away for free as a way to add the Balor Demon to a match we had already assumed would feature it. And now it's even less believable that Wyatt could come away with a win.
Orton vs. Rusey
Randy Orton and Rusev are basically being paired up so both have something to do on such an important stage. The motivation here is simple: Rusev wanted a match at SummerSlam, so here's Orton to oblige the request. This gives the match the feeling of being a placeholder for both men's characters, a blaring, blinking sign that their next storylines are very much of the To Be Determined variety. The only compelling bit here is that Orton might finally be able to break the pay-per-view losing streak that has defined his 2017.
Cena vs. Corbin, Mahal vs. Nakamura
Chaos and confusion both reign over two of the top Smackdown matchups on the SummerSlam card -- the meeting between John Cena and Baron Corbin, as well as Jinder Mahal's defense of his WWE Championship against Shinsuke Nakamura. These four men have been orbiting each other for weeks, but their overlapping storylines all seem to be headed essentially nowhere.
Two weeks ago, Cena and Nakamura had a match on Smackdown to determine who will face Mahal for Mahal's belt at SummerSlam. Nakamura got the pin, but the following week it was Cena who got a match against Mahal, albeit not for the belt. But after the match, Corbin decided to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase, failing spectacularly in the process, making his match with Cena on Sunday of far lesser consequence. But Cena is about to head out of the ring for a few months again, this time to shoot the "Transformers" Bumblebee spinoff, so it might be an opportunity for Corbin to get some of his momentum back via running Cena out of the company for a while.
Meanwhile, Mahal is now going to be defending his championship belt after losing two non-title matches in a row on Smackdown, and the only real motivating factor there is simply because Nakamura won the right to challenge for the title. And all without the threat of Corbin's Money in the Bank cash-in hanging overhead. Sunday's happenings between these four men need to wrap up with a way forward for all of them.
Big Cass vs. Big Show
Perhaps nothing about Sunday's event is more convoluted than the rivalry that has developed following Big Cass and Enzo Amore splitting up in June. Since then, we've seen a series of Cass beatdowns of Amore, with Amore establishing a new big-man, big-friend in the Big Show and, for some reason, the involvement of The Club (Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows). Now, the Club-Cass connection has broken Big Show's hand (the hand which he uses to deliver his patented knock-out blow) and Cass and Show are set to face off at SummerSlam, with Amore suspended from the ring in a cage. That move was to prevent Amore's involvement, but now that The Club has been sniffing around, it appears that Show is being set up for a one-on-three handicap match by default. There may be some double-or triple-crossing intrigue at play that could make this whole storyline worth it, but much as this rivalry does on Raw, it feels like filler for SummerSlam.
Championship matches galore
It wouldn't be a SummerSlam without every WWE title being up for grabs, and thus there are eight such matches scheduled for Sunday.
In addition to Nakamura challenging for Mahal's WWE Championship, Naomi defends her Smackdown women's title against Natalya, Alexa Bliss defends her Raw version of the belt against Sasha Banks, the Smackdown tag champions, the New Day, defend against the Usos and the newly-reunited Shield (Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins) challenge for Cesaro and Sheamus' Raw tag belts. Neville will also be trying to reclaim his recently-lost Cruiserweight championship from Akira Tozawa and United States champion A.J. Styles defends the belt against Kevin Owens, with Smackdown commissioner Shane McMahon acting as special referee. Finally, WWE Universal champion Brock Lesnar has to defend his belt in a Fatal Four-Way match that has him taking on Samoa Joe, Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns. Yes, it's a lot.
With the potential in place for an entire reboot of the WWE's championship picture, the entire company could be sent into (scripted) chaos heading into the fall. But it's also just as likely that no titles change hands or that only a select few do. When it comes to the Cruiserweight and United States belts, in particular, both seem to be in constant motion; Owens and Styles have been trading the U.S. title back and forth throughout the summer, while Neville just lost his Cruiserweight strap on Monday's Raw.
The Smackdown women's title match has been set for some time, but the wild card factor is Women's Money in the Bank briefcase holder, Carmella. The title could thus change hands twice on Sunday night, and could reshape the heel-face makeup of the division, something that would certainly breathe some new life into it. On the Raw side, though, Bliss retaining makes the most sense. Banks is only the challenger because the former No. 1 contender, Bayley, has a (for-real, for-real) shoulder injury that has her sidelined for Sunday; she defeated Nia Jax on Monday for the opportunity to take on Bliss. Bliss, meanwhile, seems destined to have to face Jax for the belt at some point in the coming months, so it doesn't seem like the timing is right to make Banks the new champion.
Another likely title retention is the New Day (here, represented by Big E and Xavier Woods, with Kofi is a supporting role) getting a defeat of the Usos. The main reason: the Usos defeated the New Day in a (non-title) match on this week's Smackdown, the most obvious telegraphing the WWE does leading up to a championship match. Still, if their meeting at July's Battleground pay-per-view is any evidence, this could be one of SummerSlam's very best matches.
The other tag team title match, between Raw champions Cesaro and Sheamus against the uneasy former Shield brothers of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose could also be a high point of the event. Rollins and Ambrose just finally agreed to team up against the champions on this Monday's Raw after weeks of a will-they-or-won't-they dance that centered around the mistrust the two have for one another since Rollins orchestrated the breakup of The Shield over three years ago. Not only will that on-edge dynamic come into play on Sunday, these four men all possess a great deal of in-ring talent that should result in a strong story being told by this match.
But of course, the event's showstopper is the Universal title match between champion and resident part-time beast Brock Lesnar and challengers Samoa Joe, Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns. The four men have been alternating interrupting one another, staring each other down and beating each other up, something which has recently included Strowman making entertaining use of an office chair:
This degree of violence will be the overarching tone of the match, which makes sense given the four are the biggest, baddest that the WWE currently have to offer. There's also the added threat that Lesnar claims he will depart the company for good should he lose the belt, which at least helps the WWE get some reflected glory from recent reports that Lesnar is ready to return to the UFC.
So there's a lot that will be familiar about this SummerSlam. Many are rematches of contests we saw as recently as this very week. And with over six hours to fill (including the pre-show), it may be hard for WWE to keep its audience's attention. The familiar matchups need to look new and, after a confusing buildup to the night's action, there must be a point to everything that happens. Like any of the WWE's cornerstone events, avoiding a show that feels bloated and overlong will be the biggest challenge of the night.