- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
As a service to fans who have a general interest in WWE but might not have watched a match in months, we’re happy to provide this guide to WWE SummerSlam at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event begins on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on Peacock.
Heck yes! SummerSlam makes its first-ever trip to Sin City, but the WWE has a history with Las Vegas that can be summed up in three words: “championship match shenanigans.”
It’s the place were Bret Hart lost the world title to Yokozuna in WrestleMania IX, only to have Hulk Hogan walk out, challenge the new champ and beat the big guy in 22 seconds because “Hogan Must Pose.”
It’s also the place where all three members of The Shield held the WWE world championship on the same night at Money In The Bank 2016; Seth Rollins won it from Roman Reigns in the scheduled main event, and then Dean Ambrose cashed in his briefcase to win it from Rollins. (Whatever happened to that Ambrose guy? Charismatic fellow, that one.)
SummerSlam is another big WWE event in Las Vegas, with another Roman Reigns championship defense — but this time, against John Cena!
John Cena? The actor?
You might remember him from such roles as Peacemaker in “The Suicide Squad” and … Peacemaker in his eponymous upcoming HBO Max series. Also, he’s part of the family in “F9,” the latest entry in the Fast and Furious saga. Cena made a welcomed return to the WWE at July’s Money In The Bank, following in Dwayne Johnson’s grand tradition of coming back to the ring when you’ve got something to promote. He said he wanted to defeat Reigns for the Universal Championship, which would break his tie with Ric Flair for most world championship wins in the WWE, as they both currently sit at 16 world titles.
Why would Roman Reigns agree to wrestle someone who hasn’t competed since WrestleMania 36?
He didn’t. Follow the bouncing plot: Reigns denied Cena a match, opting instead to accept Finn Balor’s challenge for a SummerSlam match; at a contract signing on SmackDown (those things never end well, do they?), a desperate Baron (no longer King) Corbin attacked Balor and tried to sign the contract himself. Cena ran out, pummeled Corbin and then put his own name on the dotted line. While none of this likely stands up to the scrutiny of U.S. contract law, it makes for a great setup for this SummerSlam matchup.
Reigns, for the uninformed, continues to be the single best thing currently going in the WWE. He has found his niche as a charismatic heel: the “Tribal Chief” flanked by his cousins Jimmy and Jey Uso and advised by the indelible Paul Heyman. He has struck the perfect balance between physical domination, sarcastic smack talk and the occasional moments of pusillanimity that make for a classic wrestling villain. It’s a tribute to Reigns that fans can root for his demise and find satisfaction in his reign continuing with the same fervor.
Needless to say, this match holds a bit more interest than our other “returning veteran star gets inexplicable title shot” match, probably due to the lack of Goldberg.
Goldberg is back? Again?
Yes, 54-year-old Bill Goldberg is wrestling Bobby Lashley for the WWE title, which either speaks to the lack of options in the championship picture, Goldberg’s enduring popularity, or a little of both.
Please recall that Goldberg challenged Drew McIntyre for the WWE championship at the Royal Rumble and lost in under three minutes. Like Reigns with Cena, Lashley initially turned down Goldberg for a championship match. Instead of a convoluted contract signing, all it took was a monstrous spear from Goldberg to change his mind. Please note: Goldberg’s 15-year-old son has featured prominently in the build to this match; if this was still the Attitude Era, that would mean he’d turn on his father and join a reconstituted Hurt Business as an intern. Alas, that time has passed. But he’s not the only wrestling legacy son who will likely appear at SummerSlam.
Who are the Mysterios battling?
Rey Mysterio and 24-year-old Dominik Mysterio are taking on The Usos, who defeated the father-and-son team for the SmackDown tag-team championships at Money In The Bank last month. SummerSlam marks the one-year anniversary of Dominik Mysterio becoming a regular in-ring competitor for the WWE, having lost to Seth Rollins in a street fight at last year’s SummerSlam.
What’s up with Seth Rollins these days?
He has a match against Edge. It’s one of these WWE feuds in which two great talkers get you interested in an undercard bout. Sure, Rollins cost Edge in his Money In The Bank match against Reigns by distracting the referee for “reasons,” but mostly the animosity between these two has been personal and increasingly contentious.
Rollins being taunted as “Edge Light” was a particular favorite. That these two can also really go in the ring makes the matchup one of the more anticipated ones on the card, aka the opposite of Drew McIntyre vs. Jinder Mahal.
Stop. Why is Drew McIntyre in a match against Jinder Mahal?
Huh, it appears this question was submitted by a “Drew from Ayr, Scotland.” At least there’s a little history here, as the two were stablemates in “3MB” with Heath Slater, a name we did not expect to have listed in this preview. Mahal was upset that McIntyre had been successful and welp, here we are.
McIntyre won a two-on-one match against Mahal’s associates Veer and Shanky to ban them from ringside. There’s also a sword involved. Honestly, Drew’s 200th match against Sheamus would have us more excited.
Is Sheamus on the card?
Yes, and defending a belt. The reigning U.S. champion takes on Damian Priest, who was elevated from NXT earlier this year, had a prolonged feud with The Miz and John Morrison that included zombies at one point, and then returned to save Humberto Carrillo from a beating by Sheamus. That set up this title match between one of the WWE’s old reliables against one its few shining, new stars … and the possibility that the match could be decided via Drip Stick.
A … Drip Stick?
A small, handheld water gun wielded by Miz and Morrison, aka “‘Johnny Drip Drip,” his self-assigned nickname back when the two were engaged in rap battles with Bad Bunny. It can have a devastating effect on opponents. Or sometimes they do what Priest did recently, which was wipe his face because it’s just, like, water.
Are there other championships on the line at SummerSlam?
Absolutely! The Raw tag-team championships will be defended by AJ Styles and Omos — listed at 7-foot-3 and 400 pounds! — against the delightful pairing of “RK-Bro” teammates Riddle and Randy Orton. And really, there are few things happening on Raw right now that have the appeal of the WWE’s biggest dude-bro, scooter-riding goofball teaming with the serpentine intensity of Randy Orton. Especially with Riddle as the puppy dog-like “try hard” attempting to win Orton’s respect.
It totally works on a human level that so many current angles don’t. Like, for example, anything involving an evil doll.
So Alexa Bliss is still doing her “Harley Quinn, but in The Conjuring Cinematic Universe” thing?
Because there simply isn’t enough mysterious black ectoplasm and temporary demonic possession of opponents in wrestling, so yes she is. The former protégé of Bray Wyatt — one of a few dozen performers who have been cut from WWE in recent months, and a name that could well be chanted during this match — has centered her creepiness around a doll named Lilly, which does spooky doll things like move on its own without the need for batteries. Bliss is wrestling Eva Marie at SummerSlam. Marie has tasked her own protégé — the former Piper Niven in NXT, now saddled with the unforgivable moniker of Doudrop — to try to steal the doll.
Look, we’re not saying the “The Demonic Possession of Doudrop” is the predictable result for this match, but of course, it is.
What about the women’s championship matches?
Bianca Belair, the SmackDown women’s champion, faces Sasha Banks. Please recall that these two closed out the first night of WrestleMania 37 with a really good main event match. The build for this one saw Banks return just after Belair’s scheduled title challenger, Bayley, went down with a serious leg injury. Banks returned as an ally for Belair, which naturally meant she would turn on Belair. There has been some concern about this match happening, however, as a scheduled preview was pulled from recent dates on the Road To SummerSlam live (non-televised) tour.
Finally, the Raw women’s championship is on the line as a superhero takes on a queen.
There’s a superhero?
Well, “Almost Super Hero.” Nikki Cross is now Nikki A.S.H., wearing a mask and doing the “you don’t need superpowers to be a superhero” gimmick. She cashed in her Money In The Bank briefcase and won the belt from Charlotte Flair, who continues to do her “I’m Charlotte Flair and my eventual victory is inevitable” gimmick. Rhea Ripley was added to the mix to make this a triple-threat match for the Raw title. It’s hard to keep a championship on an underdog for too long. Also, as a reminder, Charlotte Flair is in the match.
Is SummerSlam worth watching?
Look, it has been a weird couple of months for the WWE. There have been roster reductions that have made many fans unhappy. The events are just getting back in front of live crowds. There has been a wild disparity in the quality of some of its weekly television products. But if there’s one thing the WWE does better than anyone, it’s sticking the landing on most of its signature events.
This is a stadium show with a few very compelling matchups and some that could surprise. So yes, SummerSlam will be worth your time for Cena vs. Reigns alone. Provided that Goldberg-Lashley match doesn’t take up too much of it. And he won’t. He’s 54. And wrestling Lashley.
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