SummerSlam weekend has finally arrived. For some, Sunday night represents the end of the a long story arc, while others are just getting started.
So how will it all play out? Tim Fiorvanti and Matt Wilansky are here to run you through the entire card, with insights and predictions along the way.
Universal championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns
Tim Fiorvanti: I feel like we've said this before, but this has to be the last match between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar ... right? Once the series of matches to determine the new No. 1 contender for the Universal championship got down to Reigns and Bobby Lashley, I steeled myself for a tired retelling of all the same tropes and story points that we got on the way to WrestleMania and Greatest Royal Rumble. But a funny thing happened along the way -- Paul Heyman added some extra wrinkles with a series of tremendous performances. I'm far more interested in this match and its outcome than I was when it was the WrestleMania main event.
Matt Wilansky: And can we just say, thank goodness for Heyman. He is the only reason this match feels like it could be worthy of the main event. The past few weeks have made me wonder if some kind of swerve is coming. How epic would it be if he turned his back on his longtime client? Sadly, I don't think that's going to be the case, but that being said, I have to ask one of the many burning questions, regardless of the Heyman situation. After all the peaks and valleys, twists and turns in the building of the Roman empire, is the WWE going to be in a better place should he win? Will it be better off with him making the Universal title weekly staple on Raw? Or does the mere idea of him holding the belt make you a little queasy?
TF: Even though Reigns hasn't been a world champion since early 2016, Joey Koontz brought a very interesting stat to my attention this week. Reigns has had an astounding 13 world title shots at WWE pay-per-view events over the last five years, and he's gone 2-11 in those matches. It's time for WWE to rip the bandage off and see what it has with Reigns as a Universal champion, for better or for worse. As much as there's a contingent of fans who feel Reigns has been forced upon them as the top guy in the company, it's time for WWE to stop dancing around the subject, make him champion, send Lesnar away for a while. The likeliest scenario is Reigns overcoming all of the odds and finally dispatching Lesnar, but I like that Heyman's actions have left the door open just a crack for something truly crazy to happen on Sunday, like a turn of some kind or a possible Money in the Bank cash-in.
Prediction: Roman Reigns walks out of SummerSlam as Universal champion
MW: Wow, 2-11, eh? So you're saying Roman is the biggest loser? Kidding aside, the creative team obviously has no plans of relegating Reigns to anything other than a main-event staple. But if he is to win on Sunday, I can't help but wonder why it's taken this long to hand him the hardware. Yes, I get it that Lesnar is a unique star, someone who likely had more leverage in his direction than anyone else who has ever stepped foot in a ring. Still, if the Reigns era is about to begin, this is the longest ascent to the apex of this business in as long as I can remember. Between Braun Strowman and Kevin Owens possibly cashing in and Heyman's allegiance questions, I cannot say with any certainty who will win. I thought Roman had a 70 percent chance to beat Brock at WrestleMania, and a 90 percent chance at the Greatest Royal Rumble, so ...
Prediction: Roman Reigns has a 95 percent chance of ending Lesnar's run at Universal champion and possibly his tenure in the WWE.
MW: AJ Styles-Samoa Joe is a match that you could almost argue should have waited until a WrestleMania, but the truth is that the timing is right. Styles is the best in the business, and Joe is easily the top candidate to pursue Styles' title. Still, while their history dates back 15 years, are we in danger of this first-time clash on WWE television falling a little flat, just as Styles-Nakamura did? I can't help but be a little leery, given how quickly that feud faded after WrestleMania despite multiple meetings afterward. Tell me, should I lower my expectations?
TF: No, and here's why. Even if the verbal altercations have been the bulk of what we've gotten thus far, the tension bubbling just beneath the surface was clear in the post-show pull-apart Joe and Styles had just after SmackDown went off the air this week. Their history indicates that these two longtime friends and rivals can be thrown into the ring with one another cold and have a great match. With even the smallest of builds to this match, they should be fine.
I think this match is one of a few reasons that SummerSlam is going to sneak up on a lot of people as a good show overall, despite some fans having low expectations. This match is absolutely not going to main event, but I'm smelling a title change in the water. Styles has run through a lot of different challengers, and Joe as champion would have plenty of places to go, including extending this rivalry with Styles.
MW: Nothing would make me happier than to see Joe win the heavyweight title. He, probably more than anyone else in the WWE, deserves a long reign. But, as Greg Wyshynski pointed out in his fan guide, Styles is on the cover of WWE2K19. While that doesn't guarantee Styles will remain champ, I have to imagine it means something to have the guy with one of the two biggest belts in the company as their face. Win or lose, my only wish is that Joe doesn't fall down the SmackDown hierarchy if he doesn't come out on top. It happened to Shinsuke Nakamura, although he is the United States champ now, and look at where Rusev ended up.
Prediction: AJ Styles retains his title in a hair-raising back-and-forth battle.
TF: Provided he continues to stay healthy, I feel like the powers that be in WWE are high on Samoa Joe. We saw what Joe can do in the spotlight last year when he faced Brock Lesnar at Great Balls of Fire, and then again when he took part in a tremendous Fatal 4-Way match last year at SummerSlam. Joe steps up when the spotlight is brightest, and AJ Styles is very much in that same boat.
Samoa Joe and AJ Styles have so much history that they can carry on beyond Sunday night even if Joe loses, but I think this rivalry becomes a whole lot more interesting if Joe walks out of Brooklyn with the WWE championship in hand.
Prediction: Samoa Joe pushes AJ Styles over the edge and gets him to make a mistake. New champ.
Raw women's championship: Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Ronda Rousey
TF: It seems as though any outcome other than Ronda Rousey walking out of SummerSlam as the new Raw women's champion is unlikely, and I'm fully behind the move. I completely understand the instinct WWE may have to try to drop a few surprises into its biggest matches on Sunday, but a lot of times an inevitability is an inevitability for a reason. Rousey's performance to this point in WWE is admirable, and there's something about trained and accomplished fighters and how they move in the ring that is incredibly appealing in the scripted world of WWE.
Is there a case to be made for Alexa Bliss to find a way to wriggle out of yet another seemingly impossible situation?
MW: Well, this is Alexa Bliss we're talking about. Despite all her challengers on both brands since making her main-roster debut in 2016, Bliss has been a perennial champ -- and for good reason. She's a master manipulator and has a bad enough attitude that she's must-watch TV nearly every time she walks to the ring. Still, Rousey is unlike anyone we've ever seen before, maybe with the exception of Brock Lesnar. Her presence alone is enough to break through WWE walls into the mainstream sports matrix. No one else is going to help ratchet up more attention than Rousey will during and after SummerSlam. If Bliss miraculously escapes with the title in hand, she's going to need to pull it off with someone beyond the likes of Alicia Fox or Mickie James. I'm not optimistic that will happen.
TF: Sometimes it makes sense to steer into the obvious. My hope is that we go from smiling, appreciative Ronda Rousey to a dominant champion and domineering personality as time rolls along. If the end goal is to move toward a Rousey/Charlotte Flair WrestleMania program, that's the most logical progression -- and it's the clearest way to make a women's match the centerpiece of a WrestleMania card. Now that we've seen some strong efforts opposite Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, and against Nia Jax, this match with Bliss is another major test for what Rousey can do.
Prediction: Alexa Bliss throws everything including the kitchen sink, but Ronda Rousey is your new Raw women's champion.
MW: There's little question about a Flair-Rousey WrestleMania showdown, and let's just put it on the record that this could be the first women's match to ever main event 'Mania. But back to SummerSlam, I see no logical way Bliss can come out on top without some major, unforeseen twist. Who knows, maybe Paul Heyman will show up if Brock is on his way out. No sense in uninformed conjecture here, though. This match is going to be Rousey's breakout moment.
Prediction: Ronda Rousey doesn't just win the match, but dominates a la Lesnar vs. John Cena at SummerSlam four years ago.
Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz
MW: Tim, I'll be honest. With all the drama between Roman and Brock, and Ronda and Alexa, not to mention how excited I am about Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler and their respective sidekicks, I had not put much thought into The Miz-Daniel Bryan. That all changed Tuesday after the three-part miniseries. I had forgotten a lot of what happened over their long rivalry, which really informs the depths of their dislike for each other. On the flip side, I am so done with the smack talk between the two. It's time to get this one underway and see exactly who the best man is.
For Bryan, this is a seminal moment in his return. He's had some decent matches. but subpar feuds and results. I don't know about you, but something tells me a win by Bryan will be the first step in thrusting him into the main-event spotlight for the foreseeable future, perhaps all the way to WrestleMania, where AJ Styles could be waiting.
TF: We've only just started to scratch the surface of the dream matches Daniel Bryan could have on SmackDown, and I'm glad that Bryan's finally getting a juicy story to dig his teeth into. The short matches and confrontations with AJ Styles and Samoa Joe to this point were fun, but before Bryan can sniff a world-title scene this is a moment and a rivalry that has to be settled. That Talking Smack segment between The Miz and Daniel Bryan was brilliant at the time for any number of reasons -- Miz's performance, choosing Bryan and a very real issue as his target, the intensity and anger involved being some of the biggest. It reignited Miz's career. But it takes on an entirely different meaning in a world where Bryan can compete in the ring again. Part of what excites me about this match is that I really have no idea what to expect from it.
MW: Fair enough, but I think we can expect a solid encounter by two guys who actually might have a hint of real-life tension between them. Of course, I don't know that for sure, but there is something more organic about this showdown than any other match on the card. I expect both guys to bring it big-time, and no matter what happens with Roman or Ronda, I fully expect this is the showdown we'll be discussing by the watercooler Monday morning.
Unfortunately for The Miz, a loss will do nothing to hurt his stature, meaning a win won't elevate him nearly the way it would for Bryan, who needs his breakout moment.
Prediction: Bryan survives one, maybe two, skull-crushing finales before catching The Miz with a running knee and a Yes Lock for the win.
TF: That seems to be a wise call, but there's this nagging feeling in the back of my mind, because The Miz never plays anything straight up. He accepted Bryan's challenge after minimal hemming and hawing, and I think Miz gaining a psychological edge through nefarious means is definitely something that's in play. I don't imagine this will be a one-and-done scenario, so there has to be some element that brings these two guys back together outside of just their accumulated animosity.
I think this will be a great match that's often dominated by Bryan, but Miz will find someone else to get involved to make sure he strikes the first major blow in this chapter of his story.
Prediction: The Miz wins, by any means necessary.
Intercontinental championship: Dolph Ziggler (c) vs. Seth Rollins
TF: Speaking of matches where there might be more than meets the eye, this Intercontinental championship clash gained a fascinating new angle with Dean Ambrose's return on Monday night. I can't imagine that Ambrose would be inserted into this scenario to stand on the sidelines and watch Seth Rollins lose to Dolph Ziggler -- and he'll play some kind of active role in neutralizing Drew McIntyre. But you heard that pop that Ambrose got for his return -- he's already rolling on a wave of momentum, and playing second fiddle isn't going to suffice for long.
Prediction: Seth Rollins wins back the Intercontinental championship, but he better watch his back.
MW: Not only did Dean Ambrose come back, but he looks better than ever. He is also quite possibly the linchpin of yet another Shield reunion, even if we don't know exactly how that dynamic would play out. In the short term, Ambrose will be a major presence when Rollins attempts to take back his Intercontinental belt from Ziggler. But something inside me makes me believe Ziggler might have the last laugh here.
Ziggler never should have gone through the lengthy run of futility he did, and his partnership with McIntyre has lifted the status of both. It feels too early to take away their momentum. I wish I had a clearer idea how this is all going to play out, but I don't. The one thing you can count on, though, is that like Bryan and Miz, this is going to be a terrific in-ring battle.
Prediction: Somehow, some way, Ziggler retains.
SmackDown women's championship: Carmella (c) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair
MW: There was only so long the WWE was going to be able to downgrade Charlotte Flair from the title picture. While I personally was rooting for the return of Becky Lynch as the champ, the reality is that Charlotte performs at a different level than anyone, when you factor in pedigree, skill and personality. The SmackDown landscape doesn't seem right without her as champion. That said, the triple-threat with Lynch and current champ Carmella opens up more permutations and reasons Flair could fail.
Personally, I don't believe there will be a sudden swerve from her or Becky, with one or the other making a turn to the dark side. Still, I think they could get in each other's way long enough for Carmella to escape with another underhanded victory. SmackDown needs to build up its villainous women, and the elevation of Carmella has been the first step in doing just that.
Prediction: Carmella prevails, but it won't be because she was the top woman in this three-person tangled web
TF: Let me start off by staying Carmella's performance in the opening promo of the go-home SmackDown featuring Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch was her best work to date. Pretending that everyone has the same skill set as everyone else, man or woman, will only lead to a boring, homogenized product. Leaning into whatever perceived slights Carmella has from a wrestling perspective and accentuating her strengths is exactly the right way to handle her role in this triple-threat title match and going forward on SmackDown.
All that being said, if this isn't the point where Becky finally gets her big win, I don't know how much longer things can carry on without Lynch looking less and less like a threat. Whether it's Lynch or Flair feeling the pull of the dark side, I think Sunday's match is the spark that lights the flame. Sure, Carmella could continue to carry the title while the other two go after each other, but Lynch-Flair feels like a money rivalry to carry the SmackDown women's division through most of the rest of the year.
Prediction: Lynch finally regains her SmackDown women's championship.
United States championship: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Jeff Hardy
MW: This might be a Jeff-Hardy-Shinsuke Nakamura showdown, but I think you and I really know this match is just as much about Randy Orton. Personally, I don't get this odd, twisted triangle. None of these guys has any organic heat with the other. Why not just give Orton a feud with Rusev or Shelton Benjamin after SummerSlam to get his heel turn cooking? Anyway, I digress. Whatever happens, Nakamura is not leaving SummerSlam without this title. If he's going to be out of the WWE championship picture, he at least needs the next-best thing.
Prediction: Nakamura wins, with or without Orton's help.
TF: We can only hope what we get on Sunday is better than their previous encounters.
Money in the Bank contract: Braun Strowman (current holder) vs. Kevin Owens
TF: The Kevin Owens-Braun Strowman match could very clearly tip WWE's hand as to how the main event of SummerSlam will go. If Owens finds some loophole or miracle to win the Money in the Bank briefcase off of Strowman, he could easily come into play later in the night, or hold on to the case for a while to bide his time. If Strowman retains, as most feel he probably will, he'll have as clean a shot at Brock Lesnar as he'll get for the next few months should Lesnar retain. Strowman gave Reigns his best matches in recent memory, so there's plenty of juice in revisiting that rivalry as well.
Prediction: I'll lean toward a Strowman-Roman parlay, and call it a night.
MW: If Reigns is indeed going to walk out of SummerSlam as the champ, I am not convinced creative is going to want to put him in a position in which he can quickly lose the belt to Strowman. Reigns fending off a Strowman cash-in would not be a popular decision inside Barclays Center, and seems even more unlikely. To avoid those very scenarios, something fishy is going to happen. Maybe Owens handcuffs Strowman to the outside post and wins by count-out, or finds a way to get Strowman disqualified. KO doesn't need a clean win here.
Prediction: Owens evades "Those Hands" in the most manipulative of ways and snares the briefcase, which he will hold on to for some time in an effort to give Reigns his first foe as champ.
SmackDown tag team championships: Bludgeon Brothers (c) vs. New Day
MW: Harper and Rowan have done almost nothing memorable since winning the title. On the flip side, New Day has been downright spectacular in recent weeks. For the sake of caring about this belt, a shakeup needs to happen at SummerSlam.
Prediction: New Day takes the titles and brings relevance back to this blue-brand tag division.
TF: New Day pushes Bludgeon Brothers, but the champs' reign of terror continues.
MW: It seems as if WWE has no direction for Balor at the moment and Corbin needs more ring time instead of serving as Stephanie McMahon's proxy. Disparaging Balor's size is silly, if not trite, especially when you consider the same narrative recently unfolded with Big Cass and Daniel Bryan. It certainly doesn't do Balor's credibility any favors.
Prediction: Balor takes a beating from Corbin, but ultimately prevails.
TF: Balor wins, both guys find their way toward something more fruitful moving forward.
TF: The Revival made a name for themselves in NXT, but struggled for quite a while to get something rolling because of a couple of freak injuries. Even though they were used as a device to build tension between Bobby Lashley and Roman Reigns ahead of their match, Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson fed off that momentum and got rolling. While the B-Team's lucky winning streak has been fun, a move toward re-establishing what could be a great division on Raw starts with putting the titles on The Revival and lining up teams for them to knock down. The Revival versus Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose sounds like fun to me.
Prediction: No flips, just wins. New Raw tag team champions.
MW: The B-Team has a Rusev-like thing going on, and the people love it. They'll stick around as champs for at least a little while longer.
TF: The WWE cruiserweight title matches on major pay-per-views are a staple of the kickoff show -- that's simply the reality of the way things currently stand. Never mind the fact that week in, week out, 205 Live produces some of the most exciting and entertaining matches across all of WWE's brands. Cedric Alexander has had tremendous matches against Mustafa Ali, Buddy Murphy and Hideo Itami, among others, over the past few months, and now he faces down the prospect of a very different kind of match with Drew Gulak.
Both have been a part of the 205 Live dating all the way back to the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016, and they have a chance to continue the tradition of making fans regret not getting in their seats or tuning in sooner.
Prediction: Cedric Alexander keeps on rolling in a strong effort from both guys.
MW: Cedric Alexander has been the longest-running cruiserweight champ since Neville, and for good reason. Alexander is spectacular. He won't drop the belt at SummerSlam, or in the foreseeable future.
MW: More than any performer in the WWE, I am eminently disappointed about the decision to relegate Rusev to a Kickoff Show mixed tag-team match. And this is no slight toward Andrade "Cien" Almas or Zelina Vega, both of whom have a high ceiling in the WWE. But the Rusev 180 and his ardent fan base suggest he deserves more than a one-off shot at the WWE championship and an intra-family squabble with sidekick Aiden English.
Prediction: Almas and Vega, who look like they are getting a strong push, win with the latter pinning Lana, the weakest link of the bunch.
TF: I think you're in for some heartache on Sunday. This will be the end of the line for Rusev and English, after he costs Rusev and Lana one final match.