SummerSlam weekend is starting to feel like Wrestlemania with increased length and hype for WWE’s second biggest show of the year, and numerous wrestling events surrounding it.
I saw Evolve 67 and NXT Takeover Brooklyn II live and also watched SummerSlam, so it was a weekend of 24 matches featuring 63 wrestlers for me, and I wanted to spotlight the best here. This would normally be a top 5, but 6 matches stood out against the rest so rather than arbitrarily eliminate one I’ll feature a “bonus.” 😉
Too close to rank, so in chronological order:
1) Matt Riddle vs Tommy End
Riddle is INSANELY good for his level of experience and in particular showed how far his selling has come during this match. His full commitment to the intricacies of pro-wrestling and his dedication to improve are on constant display. He and End beat the high holy hell out of each other and if this was in fact End’s goodbye to Evolve it was a perfectly fitting one. Would love to see a rematch later in these two men’s careers.
2) Zach Sabre Jr. vs Cedric Alexander
Apologies for the cliche, but Sabre and Alexander put on a clinic, and just edged out Riddle vs End for best match of the show. Sabre showing signs of a cocky bastard personality (which is new for him in Evolve) was amusing and excellently integrated into the flow of the match. Zach’s really taken it up to another level recently and is the most consistently near-flawless performer in the business. Everything he does has precision and meaning, and the crowd was enthralled both by the excruciating looking pretzels he kept tying Cedric up in as well as the vicious strikes he delivered once he turned it up late match. Alexander has also been on the roll of his life since debuting in Evolve and working in the CWC. He looks faster and crisper than ever, and more than held up his part of the bargain in there with the greatest technician in the world. Just incredible work from these two.
NXT Takeover Brooklyn II
3) NXT Tag Title Match: The Revival (Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder) (c) vs Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa
Gargano and Ciampa have been given a lot to work with recently and have been consistently knocking it out of the park. I was a big fan of both on the indies and it great not only to see them gets these opportunities but also to see their incredible chemistry as a team. The arena was fairly rabid in support as the duo came out for the against The Revival are the best old school style team I’ve seen in ages, and I get a total Arn Anderson and <insert random AA partner name here 😉 > vibe whenever they wrestle.
The match was fantastic, with natural babyfaces Gargano and Ciampa constantly getting the better of the champs until Dash and Dawson would cheat for the advantage and then grind away at the “upstarts.” Finish could have been a touch better executed, but overall this was excellently built and performed and was neck and neck with the other two title matches for best of the show.
4) NXT Women’s Title Match: Asuka (c) vs Bayley
Kana (Asuka) has long been my favorite wrestler in the world, and as I wrote about after Takeover Brooklyn last year her surprise appearance there left me floored and intensely curious about her future. So with all due respect to all the other amazing athletes on this show and the equally great other two title matches, this is the match I went to see.
It delivered. 🙂 Maybe not quite up to last years Bayley vs Banks title match due to a lack of believable points at which Bayley looked like she could have defeated the champion, this was still an incredible back and forth contest that I enjoyed a touch more than their first encounter. The buildup was great and the continued story of Bayley now knowing what she was getting into and being determined to use that knowledge to defeat the undefeated provide a compelling backbone to the match. The crowd was appropriately split and behind both competitors, and while Asuka showed a bit of her bullying tactics neither really worked heel.
I would have reversed the order of them kicking out / escaping each other’s finishers, as Bayley being the first person to ever break the Asuka Lock without getting to the ropes made it quite obvious Asuka was kicking out of the Bayley-to-Belly she received seconds later. Still it’s an appropriate way to show toughness and determination in big matches and worked brilliantly in that respect. I know there have been some complaint about Asuka steamrolling the division, but Bayley got to push her further than ever and Asuka’s win here was the right call. Her long, dominant reign will eventually make a star when someone unseats her (like say, Ember Moon down the line).
Show of respect between Asuka and Bayley after the match, then the champion left first to allow Bayley some spotlight to hug her compatriots at ringside and essentially say goodbye to NXT. Great stuff. Was such a treat to see Asuka wrestle live again.
5) NXT Title Match: Samoa Joe (c) vs Shisuke Nakamura
Nakamura coming out to a live violin version of his theme song provided a fantastic atmosphere. The presentation was top notch, with numerous rotating spotlights on the violinist giving way to red lights when Nakamura came out. As with Bobby Roode’s entrance the entire crowd was singing along. Was incredible to be there live.
The no nonsense champ glared his way out to the ring as normal, providing a nice contrast to the flamboyant and charismatic challenger. As good as Joe is, there was no split crowd here. They built the story and tension between the two perfectly leading up to this, and Nakamura’s eccentric charm had the audience FIRMLY behind him.
I’d never seen Nakamura wrestle live before, and it was a privilege. This was two professionals holding the crowd in the palm of their hand and beating on each other until one fell. Worthy main event, and the title change was a HUGE moment. NXT now has two undefeated champions reigning over their singles divisions.
6) AJ Styles vs John Cena
This was the one SummerSlam match I was excited for, and it proved as good as I hoped. Cena can still put on a classic against the right opponent, and Styles is quite likely the best overall performer in the business right now. So great to see how leaving TNA and going to NJPW revitalized his career in the long run. This was extremely well wrestled and built, with a clear story underlying excellent action. Despite being a heel, Styles going over clean was 100% the right move to establish him at the top level in WWE and his wonderful attitude and arrogant mannerisms conveyed that despite being able to win on his own merits he’s still someone to resent. Topped their first encounter and was great from start to finish. Well done to both.
While some of the weekend was hit or miss, each show had something special to share and the best matches of the weekend were… well, phenomenal. 😉 These 6 are all worth seeking out immediately if you haven’t seen them.