A viewer’s guide to WWE SummerSlam in 140 characters or fewer
Matches you should watch — and matches you should ignore — on Sunday’s card
It’s been nearly five months since WWE’s signature event of the year, WrestleMania, and now the wrestling giant is gearing up for the third of its four “big” pay-per-views of the year: SummerSlam, at 7 p.m. Sunday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The four-hour event, complete with a two-hour preshow, has one of the most stacked cards of the year, and more than half of the matches could be must-see TV.
Most wrestling previews give you a long-winded explanation of the buildup to each match as well as a prediction. The Undefeated is doing something a little different.
We’ll run down each match, but in a world dominated by social media, we’re only allotted 140 characters or fewer to get to the point. For all the non-wrestling fans watching, we compare each match to its closest “real” sports counterpart, forging the industries of competition and scripted works. Rather than an uneducated guess of who will win or lose, we simply provide a reason for or against watching the match. The “c” in parentheses denotes the current champion.
WWE Universal Championship: Braun Strowman vs. Samoa Joe vs. Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar (c)
Twitter summary: A giant monster, rotund assassin, Khal Drogo stunt double, and BROCK LESNAR walk into a bar …
Sports world equivalent: Malice at the Palace
Should you watch? Yes. Furniture is about to be moving at the Barclays Center. The simple storyline is that each of the three challengers thinks he deserves a one-on-one match with Lesnar, so instead of cutting the baby in half, WWE gave us all four in one match. What’s most exciting about this match is what we know will happen: Strowman will throw someone very far; Samoa Joe will do something someone his size has no business doing; Reigns will spear someone through a large object; and Lesnar will wreck shop on all of them. Then there’s the unknown. Who knows what could happen with a collection of men who have collapsed an entire ring, thrown a man in a dumpster, broken someone’s spine, jumped clear over the ring ropes and beaten a man’s head in so severely that staples were needed to close the wound? This is Team MMA, but better.
WWE Championship: Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Twitter summary: A man from India faces a man from Japan. That’s about as much as WWE has told us.
Sports world equivalent: Anytime a U.S. team or athlete isn’t competing in the finals of international competition.
Should you watch? No. The reception to this match is going to get real racist, real fast. Mahal is an Indo-Canadian of Sikh heritage but is more or less presented as a Muslim from one of the “-stan” countries. The Providence, Rhode Island, crowd at Tuesday’s Smackdown Live show booed a woman for singing a song in commemoration of Indian Independence Day. Nakamura, one of WWE’s most high-profile signings in recent years, has had just one notable match since moving up to the main roster in April, and that happened last week against John Cena. A few weeks ago, a crowd rained down the dreaded “What?” chants, which is normally reserved for heels, on Nakamura, the babyface, because of his strong Japanese accent. This match is the “All Lives Matter” portion of the card, and not even Nakamura’s breathtaking charisma can save it.
Smackdown Women’s Championship: Naomi (c) vs. Natalya
Twitter summary: The most athletic wrestler, and best rave club dancer, in the company faces the niece of legend Bret Hart because the latter won a match.
Sports world equivalent: Usain Bolt versus anybody.
Should you watch? Sure. Naomi is by far the most athletically gifted performer in WWE. At the Royal Rumble pay-per-view in January, in the span of a minute, Naomi threw her body at an opponent from the top rope, drop-kicked two people at the same time, used the ropes as stairs to kick the first person, performed a kip up, unleashed a flurry of kicks like a kickboxer on a punching bag, roundhouse-kicked someone and then performed a split-legged moonsault. All of that is to say, Natalya is a shell of her former self and hasn’t had a noteworthy match or feud in a long time. Plus, while the two are enemies in the ring, they’re the best of friends on the company’s reality show, Total Divas, which makes the feud feel contrived, relatively speaking. There’s also the threat of “Money in the Bank” briefcase holder Carmella cashing in her opportunity to have a title match whenever she wants.
Raw Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Sasha Banks
Twitter summary: Two competitors barely 200 pounds soaking wet combined want to legitimately beat each other up.
Sports world equivalent: If Ronda Rousey vs. Cris Cyborg actually happened.
Should you watch? Sure. The two possess the history and chemistry to at least have a decent match, but their previous two one-on-one matches ended in disqualifications, which is a technique WWE uses to protect two performers from losses on their record and to elongate feuds. Aside from that, this match features a superior talker (Bliss) against a superior talent (Banks), and there’s a real-life storyline at work, as the two reportedly don’t like each other. Not to mention, Banks busted Bliss’ nose a few years ago in the company’s developmental system, NXT, and there aren’t enough fingers to count the number of eyerolls the two have directed at each other since April. For those new to this, Bliss does a neat, albeit gross, trick where she pops her elbow out of its socket in the middle of matches.
United States Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens
Twitter summary: Country man with “The Rachel” fights potbellied Canadian who is the “New face of America.”
Sports world equivalent: SEC football fans arguing with NHL fans
Should you watch? Yes. Styles once had a riveting rivalry and series of matches with a man who doesn’t possess a chin. He’s brought out the best in everyone, from John Cena to Roman Reigns to company executive Shane McMahon. On the other side, Owens is the man you love to hate. Like Joffrey Baratheon, Owens’ smug attitude and punchable face make him the perfect villain. His athletic skills despite his unconventional physique make him a unicorn in the muscles-obsessed world of WWE. Despite a down performance and botched finish at last month’s Battleground pay-per-view, these two in the ring together are money.
Smackdown Tag Team Championship: The New Day (c) vs. The Usos
Twitter summary: Three men in unicorn headbands face two hoodie-wearing twins who are cousins of The Rock. The five men once had a rap battle MC’d by Wale.
Sports world equivalent: The good athlete-rappers
Should you watch? Yes. The New Day, two years later, is still the hottest act in the company. Before Battleground in July, the entire arena chanted, “New Day rocks!” without the trio even being in the ring. Not to mention, the assumed weakest link of the trio, Xavier Woods, showed that he may be one of the more complete wrestlers in the company at Battleground, at one point jumping from one corner of the squared circle to the other using just the ropes. The Usos have been battling The New Day for almost three years now, most recently three weeks ago, so the chemistry between the teams is off the charts, presenting the opportunity for a show-stealing, match-of-the-night encore. An aside for first-time viewers: Don’t clutch your pearls over five men of color twerking, rapping and talking about penitentiaries. It makes sense, trust me.
Raw Tag Team Championship: Sheamus and Cesaro (c) vs. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins
Twitter summary: A man teams up with a man he used to hate to face a man who teams up with a man he used to hate.
Sports world equivalent: Shaquille O’Neal vs. Kobe Bryant, Terrell Owens vs. Donovan McNabb, LeBron James vs. Kyrie Irving, Barry Bonds vs. Jeff Kent.
Should you watch? Yes. One lesson WWE will teach you is that wrestlers have the memory of a goldfish, and the best rivals make for the best teammates. In this case, United Nations ambassadors Sheamus (Ireland) and Cesaro (Switzerland) were headed nowhere last year — remember that best-of-seven series? — before they teamed up and became tag team champions. Plus, Cesaro is God’s gift to professional wrestling, and an internet search of even his worst moments is a Hall of Fame reel. In other news, Shield Back! A lot of fans on the internet believe that 71-year-old CEO Vince McMahon is out of touch and needs to pass the reins on to someone younger, but Vinny Mac’s genius is front and center with this match. McMahon had an entire arena ready to burst at the seams over Rollins and Ambrose simply touching fists on Monday. For the spoilers crowd, most fans appear to be looking forward to a heel turn, so there’s that.
Cruiserweight Championship: Akira Tozawa (c) vs. Neville
Twitter summary: Two tiny men putting their lives on the line while half the crowd goes to the bathroom and the other half forgets how to clap their hands.
Sports world equivalent: 5-foot-9 NBA guards Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Ulis engaging in a jump ball last season.
Should you watch? Yes. WWE’s cruiserweight division, for wrestlers 205 pounds or lighter, has been a disaster since its inception last year, but the one constant has been former champion Neville. He’s built like Dwight Howard and Simone Biles at the same time, and his “Red Arrow” finishing move is by far the most athletic feat in sports history. Tozawa, whose finisher is literally just cannonballing on his opponent, just beat Neville for the title on Monday night, so we’ve seen this before; but that match was four out of five stars, so buckle up for more of the same.
John Cena vs. Baron Corbin
Twitter summary: Wrestling’s J.J. Watt versus Young Walder Frey in a match that was a lot more interesting before Tuesday.
Sports world equivalent: Every Eastern Conference team waiting for LeBron James to retire.
Should you watch? No. This match, like Seth Rollins-Randy Orton in 2015, was supposed to misdirect the crowd about Corbin cashing in his “Money in the Bank” contract later that night. But WWE threw us for a loop on Tuesday, with Corbin cashing in on Mahal but losing the match within 10 seconds. Cena, the most decorated wrestler in WWE history, will undoubtedly win (because #CENAWINSLOL), but Big Match John never has a bad match, so it should be an interesting 10 to 15 minutes. Plus, if you want to see a man who needs Rogaine and a haircut at the same time, this match is for you.
Randy Orton vs. Rusev
Twitter summary: Man Who Yells At Clouds picks fight with “Evil Foreigner” stereotype who is actually the better person.
Sports world equivalent: New Jersey Nets-San Antonio Spurs 2003 NBA Finals
Should you watch? No. Orton is a 13-time world champion, fourth most in company history, just ahead of legend Hulk Hogan, yet it’s been at least two years since his last “great” match (WrestleMania 31). He’s a one-trick pony at this point in his career, depending solely on his #RKOouttanowhere to get a crowd remotely interested. Orton is also a bit of a jerk and would be one of the fans yelling, “U-S-A” during the Mahal-Nakamura match. Rusev is one of the most underrated and underutilized wrestlers in the company and, based on WWE logic, will probably lose his second straight pay-per-view match in a row to someone the fans only cheer for because his finishing move is a popular meme.
Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt
Twitter summary: A husky, teleporting swamp man with dreadlocks faces a diminutive Irishman who is few swabs of paint away from competing in blackface.
Sports world equivalent: Shaquille O’Neal crossing over Michael Jordan during warm-ups of 1996 NBA All-Star Game.
Should you watch? Yes. Balor is one of the best performers in the world, and Wyatt is one of the shiftiest big men in the company, alongside Samoa Joe, Owens and The New Day’s Big E. The feud makes zero sense (Wyatt is known to choose his opponents at random), they’re fighting over who’s the bigger weirdo, and the two just wrestled on Monday Night Raw this week, but these two can go in the ring. Not to mention, Balor’s “Demon King” character, the body-painted alter ego that he taps into for big-ticket events, returns after a Carrie-esque finish to their match on Monday.
Big Show vs. Big Cass
Twitter summary: A legit 7-foot man fights a man who says he’s 7 feet tall but is definitely not. Another man will hang above the ring in a shark cage.
Sports world equivalent: The 6-6 tie between the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks last season.
Should you watch? No. Featuring two men with a combined weight of nearly 700 pounds, it’s going to be a slow, slogging affair that has nothing at stake other than one man (Show) fighting for the honor of the other man’s former partner (Enzo Amore). There’s a good chance Amore will jump out of a hanging cage into the ring, at least.