By Chuck Carroll
WWE’s year is booked around two dates: WrestleMania and SummerSlam. And that means more eyes than usual will be tuned in Sunday to watch the second largest pay-per-view of the year unfold.
In a normal year there is tremendous pressure to deliver a stellar SummerSlam card and A+ performances. But this year it’s as if the weight of the world rests on the company’s shoulders. It is a chaotic time for WWE, and some of the mess is self-inflicted. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Just as in years past, the creative team has been tasked with putting together believable feuds with builds nearly rivaling the lead-up to WrestleMania. This go around, however, they’ve been asked to do it in about half the time. Because of the RAW/SmackDown brand split, some of the storylines have been rushed through at breakneck speed. It was WWE’s decision to do this, and it was a wise one.
However, the dark cloud hanging over the main event is out of WWE’s control.
Brock Lesnar is stepping in the ring for the first time since it was revealed he twice tested positive for a performance-enhancing drugs leading up to his UFC 200 showdown with Mark Hunt. WWE has stated that Lesnar is exempt from the mandatory suspension for failed drug tests outlined in the company’s Talent Wellness Policy because he only performs on a part-time basis.
Nonetheless, one must wonder whether the company is amending its plans because the match and Lesnar’s performance will be heavily scrutinized.
In fact, you kind of have to wonder what WWE is going to do with the whole card. They have already proven that anything is possible following the reboot of RAW and SmackDown. Seriously, who would have thought Dolph Ziggler would be challenging Seth Rollins for the WWE Universal Championship in the semi-main event?
Anything is possible Sunday.
To help figure it all out I’ve enlisted the help three WWE insiders to pick the matches.
Michael Sempervive (@Sempervive) – Host, Wrestling Observer Live
Aaron Oster (@TheAOster) – Pro wrestling contributor, Rolling Stone and Baltimore Sun; Host, Jobbing Out Podcast
Scott Fishman (@smFISHMAN) – Pro wrestling contributor, Channel Guide Magazine and Miami Herald
Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton
Sempervive: In Japanese wrestling, when a major player is coming back from injury, a very effective story to tell is for the ring-rusted returning fighter to valiantly battle, only to come up short. I think that’s the story you need to tell here. I’m not for seeing Lesnar lose until you have someone who can take that energy and parlay it for years to come. Orton doesn’t need that magic touch, and a loss here won’t hurt him with the fans a bit. PICK: BROCK LESNAR
Oster: This feels like the first time Lesnar could legitimately lose since WrestleMania 30. WWE has done a great job selling the RKO as a deadly finisher, and throw in the failed drug test in UFC for Lesnar, you can almost see WWE pulling the trigger. PICK: BROCK LESNAR
Fishman: Considering Randy Orton is full-time, a win over Brock Lesnar would be a big way to solidify the Viper and his return to the ring after a lengthy absence. This would also open the door for another match between the two down the line. PICK: RANDY ORTON
Carroll: Despite his exemption from punishment as a part-time performer, I just can’t see WWE letting Brock Lesnar get away two failed drug tests in UFC. I also agree with Scott that a win would be invaluable for the returning Randy Orton. SmackDown has a talented roster, but it just doesn’t quite stack up to the flagship RAW. A victory by Orton would help balance things out a bit. PICK: RANDY ORTON
Check out a special post-event edition of The Taz Show: Bodyslams & Beyond on Play.It and CBS Sports Radio.
Show will air live Sunday, August 21, 2016 at 11:00 pm EST.
Finn Balor vs. Seth Rollins
WWE Universal Championship
Sempervive: I tend to go in and out of bullishness on how Finn Balor will ultimately play out in WWE. The fact he was declared “The Demon King” about 147 times on Monday night doesn’t make me feel comfy when it comes to the “Finn” part of the persona. But, regardless of name, in my mind, the former Prince Devitt is still the definite favorite to win the debuting Universal title, and make his first huge mark on the main roster. PICK: FINN BALOR
Oster: You can make equal arguments for both guys here. Balor losing in his first main roster match as “The Demon King” would feel a bit weird. However, his segment on RAW, coming out in the paint without a match, makes me think that something will go wrong for him at SummerSlam. Hopefully these guys feud throughout the fall. PICK: SETH ROLLINS
Fishman: Seth Rollins is the first NXT champion and as the first Universal champion, would have an accolade to boast about. I think it’s a bit too soon for Finn to secure the top title on RAW, and there is more money in having the Demon King chasing Rollins. PICK: SETH ROLLINS
Carroll: WWE has been full of surprises lately and having Finn Balor become the first ever WWE Universal champion would certainly fit right in. This is a tough one, but I think the Demon King takes home the gold with a rematch — or rematches — surely to follow. PICK: FINN BALOR
Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler
WWE Championship Match
Sempervive: This is a funny one. I’d like to see Dean Ambrose get more established as the WWE champion. But, if Dolph Ziggler doesn’t win, what’s next? A loss would prove everything his fellow babyface said about him being an overrated blowhard that fades under pressure to be true. Of course, what that could also do is open up the opportunity for Ziggler to go heel, which is probably long overdue. PICK: DEAN AMBROSE
Oster: Dolph Ziggler winning the title shot felt weird, and the build didn’t change that. They focused more on Bray Wyatt than Ziggler during the build, which is never a good sign for someone’s chances. Ambrose retains, the only question is does Wyatt get involved to create a triple-threat for Backlash. PICK: DEAN AMBROSE
Fishman: Great to have Dolph Ziggler back in the WWE championship picture, but I can’t see him winning against Ambrose. A victory here will continue to establish Ambrose. PICK: DEAN AMBROSE
Carroll: I’m tempted to go with Dolph Ziggler for three reasons. First, he is an awesome interview. Second, because everyone else picked Dean Ambrose. Third, he deserves it… and that’s really what counts here. Having Dolph Ziggler capture the WWE Championship would easily top Zac Ryder’s shocking Intercontinental Title win at WrestleMania this year. Fingers crossed that it happens. But unfortunately Dolph’s shock value stops with the fact he’s in this match at all. PICK: DEAN AMBROSE
John Cena vs. AJ Styles
Sempervive: Whether or not John Cena has his upcoming wrestling plans infringed upon by filming season two of American Grit, with a thin roster in need of impactful stars, AJ Styles needs to be the one that comes out of this match on top. Since debuting, he’s held up his end of the deal — and a future feud with Ambrose likely looms. PICK: AJ STYLES
Oster: Normally, the default is that John Cena lost before, so he has to get his win back. For some reason though, this doesn’t feel like other times. Maybe it’s because of the brand split, maybe it’s just because Cena seems to be transitioning to a different role. But if there’s a time for someone to truly go over Cena, that time is now, and it’s for AJ Styles. PICK: AJ STYLES
Fishman: I can see John Cena evening up the odds against AJ Styles with this rivalry continuing. The Club may now be on Raw, but they will be there at SummerSlam. So I can see some interference backfiring or other type of shenanigans playing out. After all… Jon Stewart will be in the house. PICK: JOHN CENA
Carroll: AJ Styles lost at WrestleMania this year, so he’s due to get his first win at a premiere WWE pay-per-view. Plus, the match is in New York where fans have less than no love for John Cena. Remember, this beautiful group of individuals are the ones who once threatened “if Cena wins, we riot.” WWE has to keep the peace. PICK: AJ STYLES
Rusev vs. Roman Reigns
U.S. Title Match
Sempervive: Reigns getting the clean win on this past Monday’s Raw could be an omen that Rusev will get the duke here, which, in my opinion, is the best way to go. I’m not sure if there’s a better opponent right now for Reigns than the obnoxious, oversized, foreign menace, he can slam into at top speed — and I’d like to see it continue. PICK: RUSEV
Oster: Rusev should walk out with the title. The only question is if he wins the match, or if it’s a DQ/count out finish. The only reason to have that long match on RAW that I can see is if something odd was going to happen at SummerSlam, so I could see a DQ finish. But they can’t have Reigns win clean on Monday, and win the title at SummerSlam. PICK: RUSEV
Fishman: A Rusev win over Roman Reigns would even up the score and open up the potential for another rematch. A win here would be good Rusev, who has been rebuilding what he created when he first made his debut. PICK: RUSEV
Carroll: This is pivotal match for Roman Reigns who has been somewhat demoted since returning from a 30-day suspension. A win would show he’s back in WWE’s good graces. Is he there? The Bulgarian Brute and Ravishing Russian are hot right now, but Reigns is too important to the future of the company to be kept down for long. PICK: ROMAN REIGNS
Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte
WWE Women’s Championship Match
Sempervive: The result of Saturday’s NXT Women’s title match between Bayley and Asuka may play a role in what direction we go when this match is over. But when it is, it should be The Boss that continues her burgeoning title run. PICK: SASHA BANKS
Oster: Sasha has to win here, right? They wouldn’t pull the rug out from her this quickly. The Dana-banned-from-ringside stipulation is interesting though. You have to wonder if anyone else, like Ric Flair, could end up getting involved. PICK: SASHA BANKS
Fishman: After making Sasha Banks winning the title such a milestone moment on RAW, I don’t see her dropping the championship so quickly. Perhaps, they are building Nia Jax up to be the next contender for The Boss. PICK: SASHA BANKS
Carroll: Sasha Banks is the best thing going in the Women’s division right now, and WWE would be fools to take the gold off her waist already. There is no way this one ends cleanly though. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Nia Jax come out and destroy Banks while The Boss is getting her hand raised. That will set up a David vs. Goliath scenario and gives Banks a chance to further cement herself as the top women’s wrestler. PICK: SASHA BANKS
New Day vs. The Club (Gallows and Anderson)
WWE Tag Team Title Match
Sempervive: It’s time for this feud to get back on track and away from the purely comedic state that it’s fallen into. Bottom line: The New Day doesn’t need those belts, and The Club surely does — as well as also needing a one-way ticket into a new feud where they can regain their edginess. PICK: THE CLUB
Oster: This just feels like the right time for The New Day to finally drop the belts. Big E being “injured” gives them a way to not look bad in a loss, and it’s time for The Club to get the belts. Eventually you have to get Enzo and Cass back in the title picture, and it looks way better with The Club holding the titles. PICK: THE CLUB
Fishman: New Day already broke the record, so the Club can now swoop in to get their first tag team championship. New Day doesn’t need the gold at this point and are better in a position chasing the title. PICK: THE CLUB
Carroll: It is time to legitimize The Club. The biggest thing lacking from their resume right now is the WWE Tag Team Championship. The New Day have Booty-O’s cereal and no longer need the title belts to get over. Expect this feud to continue beyond Sunday, however. PICK: THE CLUB
Enzo and Big Cass vs. Jericho and Owens
Sempervive: I absolutely love the team of Jeri-KO, and would be completely satisfied to see their unit continue — even at the expense of Owens’ individual greatness. But, on Sunday, they’re supporting players that will help further Enzo and Cass’ push into the stars, and (hopefully) towards a title tilt with The Club. PICK: ENZO AND CASS
Oster: Enzo and Cass are the hottest thing going in WWE right now. WWE won’t have them lose. The only question is: does Owens attack Jericho after the match or not? PICK: ENZO AND CAS
Fishman: Enzo and Big Cass winning in Brooklyn would get a nice reaction from the New York/New Jersey crowd. This is a case of the veterans helping take Enzo and Cass to the next level. PICK: ENZO AND CAS
Carroll: What possible good could it do to have WWE’s hottest act lose to two guys who aren’t even really a team? This is how it will happen: the “realest guys in the room” win and Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens will get mad at each. Thus, setting up a feud between the two Canadians moving forward. Bada boom! PICK: ENZO AND CASS
Miz vs. Apollo Crews
Sempervive: I’m not sure Apollo Crews is truly connecting, but a jump start with the Intercontinental title — which is currently treading water with the entertaining, yet underwhelming, Miz — wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to try. PICK: APOLLO CREWS
Oster: This match is one of the trickiest to pick. Miz is doing an excellent job in his IC title run. However, particularly with Backlash only three weeks away, I could see them allowing Apollo to have a trial run with the title. If it doesn’t work, they can give it right back to Miz there. This one could legitimately go either way. PICK: APOLLO CREWS
Fishman: Apollo Crews has sort of gotten lost in the shuffle lately, and an Intercontinental title win will be just what the doctor ordered. A championship run could be a great vehicle for him to show what he can really do. PICK: APOLLO CREWS
Carroll: It’s time for Apollo Crews to prove himself. He has been well received by fans since debuting on the main roster. Now the question is, can he get to the next level as Intercontinental Champion? We’ll find out. PICK: APOLLO CREWS
Cesaro vs. Sheamus
1st Match in Best of Seven Series
Sempervive: Here’s what we know: No matter what, as the first match of a Best of Seven, this feud will continue. You could make the case for either man, but I think the heel slimes away with the dastardly duke. PICK: SHEAMUS
Oster: This match really is a coin flip because it’s the first in the series. However, typically heels will take an early lead in a series like this, so for that, I’ll give it to Sheamus. I do hope that they give a reason to have this series quickly. PICK: SHEAMUS
Fishman: Sheamus has lost most of his recent matches on television. If this is going to be the first in the Best of Seven Series, the Celtic Warrior should get the first win to build some drama. That way Cesaro has to rebound. PICK: SHEAMUS
Carroll: The first match of seven will set the tempo for the rest of the series. It’s easy to go with Sheamus for the reasons Michael, Aaron and Scott outlined above. But I’m bucking the trend here and going with Cesaro. It’s a pay-per-view and the fans need to go home happy. PICK: CESARO
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.