By Chuck Carroll
If WWE’s goal at SummerSlam was to keep pushing a new era forward, they succeeded. Good or bad, the show managed to buck the trend of the all too predictable outcomes that have become commonplace in sports entertainment. Unpredictability is always a plus for viewers, especially with the NFL season looming and a substantial portion of the WWE Universe likely to flip over to football on Monday nights for the next four months.
However, the show was far from flawless. In fact, fans watching live in Brooklyn rejected the new WWE Universal Championship belt design. An absolute classic between Seth Rollins and Finn Balor was overshadowed by fans voicing displeasure about the big red belt. The timing of their cries rubbed the former leader of The Shield the wrong way.
The belt was just one of many surprises on the show. Here are the five biggest surprises at SummerSlam:
5. Nikki Bella Returns
If WWE hadn’t publicly announced Eva Marie’s suspension, I doubt Nikki Bella would have been on anybody’s radar. However, I strongly suspect that she still would have appeared even if her Total Divas co-star hadn’t gotten in trouble. It just makes all the sense in the world for the longest reigning WWE Women’s Champion in history to return on such a grand stage.
Just nine months ago, her career was in limbo as doctors informed her that a neck injury may force her into early retirement. Every day she was forced to navigate through a storm of self-doubt, soul-searching and painfully exhausting rehab. Finally, at SummerSlam, it all paid off as she was warmly welcomed back to a radically different women’s division.
She admits to being nervous last night when her music hit, but showed little sign of ring rust once she stepped through the ropes.
The only question now is whether she’s going to be a heel or a babyface. She may have teamed with Natalya and Alexa Bliss, but she certainly seemed to be on the right side of evil.
4. The Miz Retains Intercontinental Championship
Seriously. Who the heck thought Miz would remain champion? Apparently, oddsmakers in Vegas did. And yes, you can bet on professional wrestling, if you didn’t know.
It appeared the stage had been set for Apollo Crews to take the next step. But no, WWE surprised us by keeping the gold on the egomaniacal Miz.
This just goes to show that the creative team is trying to keep fans guessing. Perhaps they’ll keep the belt on him a while longer and do a spinoff of Santino Marella’s “Honk-A-Meter.”
3. Charlotte Defeats Sasha Banks
Less than a month after Sasha Banks dethroned Charlotte for the WWE Women’s Championship in what was a defining moment for the new era of RAW, the Boss’ title reign is over.
PWInsider reports WWE made the decision a week before the pay-per-view because Banks is suffering from an undisclosed injury that will keep her sidelined for a few weeks.
Before the report surfaced, Charlotte’s win was puzzling to say the least. Banks is one of the most popular talents in the company at the moment and continues to drive the women’s division forward. Hopefully she will get right back in the title picture upon her return.
It is possible that Nia Jax will set her sights on Charlotte’s title sooner rather than later. It’s about time she stops having squash matches and starts facing real competition on RAW anyway.
It’s kind of a shame that Nikki Bella is on the SmackDown roster and won’t rekindle her feud with Charlotte. Recapturing the gold would be a nice way to cap off her long road back to the WWE.
2. John Cena’s Wristband
It’s not really that much of a surprise that John Cena lost to AJ Styles. What is a surprise is what happened after the match.
Is Cena walking away from WWE? After laying down for a three-second tan, Cena hung around in the ring for a bit in dismay. He looked down at his wristband that read “never give up,” gave it a kiss and left it laying in the middle of the ring as he exited. It is just like a wrestler leaving his shoes on the mat after his final match.
Let’s be clear. There is zero chance that Cena is leaving WWE for good. He has a number of other projects lined up outside of the squared circle. Just last month it was announced his reality show American Grit had been renewed for a second season. Could he be leaving to film that already? Perhaps, but he’ll be back.
1. The Final 30 Minutes
WWE closed out SummerSlam with Roman Reigns challenging Rusev for the United States Championship and the highly anticipated bout between Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton in the main event.
The problem? Neither had a clean finish. In fact, the U.S. title match didn’t even happen. Reigns just beat Rusev mercilessly and repeatedly until a platoon of officials tried to corral him to the back.
I get the need to try to scrub Reigns of some of the stink that’s been following him for a year. But this angle is something that needs to be done on RAW and not on a pay-per-view. When you have fans paying money to see a match, conventional wisdom says to give them what they paid for.
Doing this on a pay-per-view isn’t going to do much to get Reigns back in the fan’s good graces.
That issue was only compounded by the abrupt conclusion to the main event. Yes, it was bloody, and I wish WWE would allow more of that on their broadcasts. But it was hardly clean. The train to Suplex City stopped on a dime after a series of vicious elbows that opened Orton’s skull and required 10 staples to close.
The referee declared Lesnar the winner by TKO, but it might as well be another non-finish. Now, you have two guys from opposite brands, and it’s going to be difficult to get any sort of finality for this feud.
Closing the show with back-to-back non-clean finishes (and the design of the WWE Universal Title) has left a sour taste in the mouth of many fans.
Still, good or bad, if the objective was to keep everyone guessing, the company succeeded. It will be interesting to see where everything goes from here.
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.