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August 18, 2016

2016 WWE SummerSlam preview: Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton headlines stellar card

Wrestling WWE
081916_summerslam_WWE WWE/Twitter

For the first time in WWE, Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton will do battle in Sunday night’s main event.

The build to SummerSlam looked strong out of the gate from WWE’s brand extension in late July, but it swiftly took a downward turn in the weeks after. The stage was set rather early, so there was almost nothing to do for a few weeks except wait for the biggest event of the summer.

And it’s finally here. We’ll be rewarded for our patience on Sunday with the first-ever four-hour SummerSlam show, including a two-hour kickoff preshow, which is set to begin at 5:00 P.M. ET.

Jon Stewart, who made an appearance at last year’s SummerSlam to help Seth Rollins defeat John Cena for the United States Championship, will also return this year as a special guest. I wonder if he’ll get involved in any matches?

And once again, the main roster will have a tough task to follow up NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II, which happens Saturday night in the Barclays Center, the same venue SummerSlam will emanate from the next night. Samoa Joe will defend his NXT Championship against Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka will defend her NXT Women’s Championship against Bayley.

Yeah, those two matches are going to be ridiculously awesome. And I’ll have a recap of that for you right here at PhillyVoice on Sunday morning.

While I think some matches won’t be that great, the card WWE put together for Sunday shaped up very nicely and heading into it, I think it has the potential to be the best pay-per-view of the year. Here are my predictions on what I think will go down at the Barclays Center on Sunday night:

Six-Woman Tag Team Match

Becky Lynch/Carmella/Naomi vs. Natalya/Alexa Bliss/Eva Marie

This match was just announced this past week, and it basically features the entire women’s division on SmackDown. While there is talent among these six women, they’re not fighting for anything at the moment. There’s no championship so the women’s matches that have taken place each Tuesday have meant next to nothing.

Eva Marie has been giving a pretty good storyline where she is ready to wrestle but something always comes up to prevent her from doing so. It’s not the first time this has been used in professional wrestling, but for a character like Eva Marie who thinks she’s God’s gift to the world, it works perfectly.

Lynch and Natalya are still –sort of – beefing with each other, and Naomi came back on the scene this past Tuesday – with an awesome entrance – as a babyface. Carmella needs to get over with the crowd, but it seems like the audience is just assuming she’s a “ripoff” of Enzo’s gimmick. Hopefully, she can do it because she’s very talented and should be at the forefront of the women’s division with the likes of Lynch and Natalya.

I think the babyfaces go over here.

Your winners: Becky Lynch/Carmella/Naomi

And as I was writing this, WWE announced Eva Marie will be suspended for 30 days. There’s no word yet on if there will be a replacement for this match, but I would assume so.

Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens

It’s clear WWE doesn’t want Enzo and Cass to claim the WWE World Tag Team Championships just yet. In fact, the team might never need the titles because of how over they are with the crowd. Every time the beginning of their theme music hits, the crowd goes wild.

It’s been a while since we had an act that over with the fans. And that might be why Enzo and Cass aren’t in the tag title picture yet. And that’s fine. The New Day has been maintaining their popularity with the crowd and it doesn’t seem like the crowd is turning against them… yet. We’ll get to them later.

So if WWE wasn’t going to use Enzo and Cass in the tag title picture, I think they’ve done the next big thing. The chemistry that Enzo has with anyone on screen is palpable. Big Cass has shown he’s got some personality on the mic, too. And Jericho and Owens are the perfect heels to complement Enzo and Cass.

The mic work had been golden, but it’s all about how this match will develop and who comes out on top. WWE’s mantra has been to gain as much sympathy with babyfaces as they can. In that vein, I can definitely see Jericho and Owens walking away with a win here. But I’m not completely sold on it, and with Enzo and Cass in their backyard of Brooklyn, N.Y., I think they pull out a victory here.

Your winners: Enzo Amore and Big Cass

Best-of-Seven Series: Match 1

Cesaro vs. Sheamus

Now we’re talking. With seemingly nowhere for Cesaro and Sheamus to go on a stacked Raw roster, WWE has found a way to make these two important in the next few weeks.

Last Monday on Raw, general manager Mick Foley put Cesaro and Sheamus in a best-of-seven series which is set to begin this Sunday. What’s the prize? Hopefully a number one contendership to either the Universal Championship or United States Championship – the two men’s singles championships on the Raw brand, with the exception of the Cruiserweight Title coming. But Cesaro and Sheamus don’t qualify as cruiserweights.

There’s been a few best-of-seven series of matches in mainstream wrestling, with perhaps the most famous coming between WWE Hall of Famer Booker T and Chris Benoit. Both men fought in a best-of-seven series in World Championship Wrestling and also in WWE, with Booker T coming out on top both times. He defeated Benoit in seven matches – four to three – in WCW in 1998.

He also defeated Benoit in seven matches in 2005 for the United States Championship. In that series, Randy Orton actually subbed for Booker T in the fifth, sixth and seventh matches of the series due to Booker T suffering a legitimate injury.

Cesaro and Sheamus have a lot to live up to if they want their series of matches to be on par or even surpass those series between Booker T and Benoit. I think this match has a chance to steal the show because even though I’m not big on Sheamus, he can still deliver a good match with the right opponent. Cesaro wins the first one.

Your winner: Cesaro

WWE Intercontinental Championship

The Miz (c) w/ Maryse vs. Apollo Crews

This feud hasn’t really been given much time to grow. Crews won a Triple Threat Match a few weeks ago to become the number one contender to Miz’s Intercontinental Championship, but WWE hasn’t done enough to build him up as a solid threat. I think he’s going to win solely based on the theory that they want a new champion heading into the fall season and Crews is the perfect guy to build up on SmackDown as a New Era superstar.

The Miz doesn’t need the title. I’ve grown to really like his character, and with his real-life wife, Maryse, they are fantastic together on screen. They can still find themselves in big angles and have television time, but Miz does not need gold to become over with the crowd anymore. He’s a great heel and will continue to be a great heel with or without a title.

Your winner and NEW WWE Intercontinental Champion: Apollo Crews

WWE World Tag Team Championship

The New Day (c) vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

WWE has really given Gallows and Anderson a chance to show their personality on their own without AJ Styles. And they see themselves in a WWE World Tag Team Championship match in their first pay-per-view after the brand extension.

Not too shabby.

Big E is selling his injury to his, um, well, nether region, thanks to Gallows and Anderson. It’ll be Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods defending the tag team titles, and I have a bad feeling about all of this.

It’s not time to split up The New Day because they’re still one of the hottest acts on WWE television. But I think it’s going to happen, and the seed will be planted Sunday night. Whether Big E makes an appearance or not, I think Woods will likely get beaten and Gallows and Anderson will become the new tag team champions. This will probably begin a subtle heel turn for Big E, who’s likely to become a big-time performer in the upper card as a singles competitor, whether it’s on Raw or SmackDown.

The trio has held the WWE World Tag Team Titles for a long, long time. They’ve done a great job with them and have not gotten stale one bit, which might be the hardest thing to do in pro wrestling. But all good things must come to an end, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the beginning of New Day’s end occurs at SummerSlam.

On the other hand, I can’t wait to see how Gallows and Anderson are utilized as tag team champions if that’s what happens.

Your winners and NEW WWE World Tag Team Champions: Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

WWE United States Championship

Rusev (c) w/ Lana vs. Roman Reigns

I’m definitely digging Rusev in recent months. I’ve said it before; he’s overcome a bad 2015 to make 2016 the year of the comeback. He wasn’t dealt a great hand heading into WrestleMania 31, so his resurgence has definitely been a good thing for the company.

Building Reigns up to a midcard title is what should’ve happened in the first place. Instead of having Reigns feud with non-champions, giving him either the Intercontinental or United States Title first before having him win the 2015 Royal Rumble would probably have done wonders for his crowd reaction. Once the audience knew behind the scenes that WWE was grooming Reigns to become the face of the company, they turned on him.

Slowly building him, just like they did to Cena [even though Cena’s reactions were largely boos once he was drafted to Raw in 2005], would probably have resulted in a different path for Reigns.

I don’t think Rusev should be losing the title just yet, though. Reigns winning the United States Championship is a little too telegraphed for me, so I think he’ll win the match but not the title.

Your winner by disqualification: Roman Reigns

Rusev keeps the United States Championship.

John Cena vs. AJ Styles

This could have been the main event of the event if Lesnar vs. Orton wasn’t already booked in early July. Cena vs. Styles II will happen in Brooklyn on Sunday night which makes me think the rubber match will occur in September at SmackDown’s Backlash pay-per-view.

Styles vs. Cena is one of those feuds that people can view as more of a “TNA vs. WWE” type of feud. Styles was obviously the face of TNA while Cena was becoming the face of WWE over a decade ago. Now we’re getting a series of matches between these two who seem to be better in the ring than they were in 2005.

The buildup has only featured a couple of promos, but the video package WWE put together for this match is exceptional. They truly know how to make a match feel special. And this match, much like the Cesaro vs. Sheamus match, has a chance to steal the show.

If their first match at Money in the Bank is any indication, this is going to be special. Styles won the first match, so I expect Cena to win this one to ensure a third match. I’d be surprised if Styles were to win here, but I don’t see it happening.

Your winner: John Cena

WWE Women’s Championship

Sasha Banks (c) vs. Charlotte

The Boss is heading into Brooklyn as the WWE Women’s Champion, and that’s all right. Banks won the WWE Women’s Championship on the July 25th episode of Raw, defeating Charlotte via submission with the Bank Statement. It was one of the biggest moments on WWE television in years, and they certainly made it feel special.

And, looking back, I’m glad they did it then. Banks, who was originally scheduled to win the Women’s Championship at SummerSlam, is probably the most popular women’s wrestler on the main roster today. Given that, with so many big matches on the card, Banks winning the Women’s Championship on Sunday might have been overshadowed. That July 25th episode of Raw was notable for two reasons – Banks’ championship win and the ascendance of Finn Bálor. Banks had her moment and didn’t have to share it with Cena, Styles, Lesnar, Orton, Rollins, Reigns or anyone else.

And I like to throw out that phrase “steal the show” a bit, and this match could absolutely do just that. From NXT to the main roster, Banks and Charlotte have had some of the best matches I’ve ever seen.

Is there a chance Bayley shows up and begins a main roster storyline with Banks? It’s possible. Last month, they were partners at Battleground, but they’ve been sworn enemies in NXT. Bayley takes on Asuka on Saturday night, but Sunday could be the first day for her on the main roster. We don’t know. I would love for that to be the case, though.

I don’t think Banks should lose the title, yet, so a Banks/Bayley program for the Women’s Championship would be the best route WWE can go after SummerSlam. But what happens with Charlotte?

Whatever happens, I think Banks walks away with the gold Sunday night.

Your winner and STILL WWE Women’s Champion: Sasha Banks

I could actually see this as being a way to move either Charlotte or Banks to SmackDown to elevate the women’s division there. It hasn’t been great since the brand extension began, and having one of those big names on Tuesday nights would instantly bring the division to new heights.

WWE World Championship

Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler

In their attempt to reinvigorate the career of Dolph Ziggler, SmackDown’s creative team has done a pretty good job. They’ve addressed all the “real” questions people have – why should we invest in Ziggler after he’s consistently failed time after time?

Despite winning the World Heavyweight Championship, Ziggler’s claim to fame in recent years has been being the sole survivor in the 2014 Survivor Series to strip all power from The Authority. Of course, Sting was the reason and the main story after that.

The WWE World Champion has also turned to heelish tendencies on the mic, eventually provoking him to hit him with a superkick out of nowhere [take that Orton]. Ambrose has been pushing all these buttons for Ziggler and it leads me to believe this match will either have a crazy ending or something crazy will happen after the match is over. One of these guys is turning heel.

But Ziggler as WWE World Champion? I just can’t buy it. And maybe that’s exactly what they want me to think.

Your winner and STILL WWE World Champion: Dean Ambrose

WWE Universal Championship

Seth Rollins vs. Finn Bálor

While the name of the championship either of these men will win still seems foolish, the first match for Finn Bálor on the main roster will be one to remember.

There’s no better opponent in this situation for Bálor than Rollins. Rollins is the true face of the company right now. He’s their All-Star. Yeah, Styles is great, but Rollins is the man right now.

His promos have been great and his match against Bálor is something I’m looking forward to the most on this card. Rollins is going to make Bálor look great, and I believe that’s why when Bálor wins the Universal Championship, he’ll automatically be accepted as a player in WWE by the casual audience.

I just don’t see WWE bringing Bálor this far to have him lose the match. Rollins has been on a roll since returning from his knee injury, and having Rollins chase Bálor and eventually win the title before 2016 is over is the route I believe they’re taking. The Demon King will make an appearance, so why would they beat him? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

There’s a way to have Bálor win and be the main man on Raw for a while before Rollins eventually wins the title. And I think, again, it’s too telegraphed to have Rollins as the first-ever Universal Championship. Making Bálor the first one would truly be making the mark of a New Era.

Rollins is absolutely included in the New Era, but he was the champion for most of the year in 2015. He’s not exactly screaming “New Era!” right now. Give it to Bálor.

Your winner and FIRST-EVER WWE Universal Champion: Finn Bálor

Maybe I’m just overanalyzing the entire thing. That’s entirely possible.

Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton

When the company first announced Lesnar’s opponent, two days before Lesnar took on Mark Hunt at UFC 200 in Las Vegas, I was a bit listless about the match. Actually, I’d describe myself as very listless. I didn’t think having Orton return to face Lesnar was a particularly good idea, especially after Lesnar defeated Hunt in pretty convincing fashion on July 9.

In the weeks since, it’s been reported that Lesnar failed a drug test for the same substance that took Jon Jones out of UFC 200, but the WWE has not acknowledged it at all. So, for all intents and purposes, if Orton wins on Sunday, WWE may feel like that could be the biggest win of his career. I mean, I’d be hard to argue with that. Orton is a 12-time World Champion, but there are maybe a handful of his reigns that I truly remember – maybe even less of a handful. And with Lesnar’s cross-promotional pull and into the casual audience, Orton defeating Lesnar would be a bigger story than any of his title wins.

That’s why I think there’s absolutely a chance Orton can win this match. I would love to see WWE build Lesnar back up into a monster and eventual champion again, but I’m not sure what having Orton get beaten in his first match back would do. Sure, it’s against Lesnar, but he’s also a part-timer. Orton’s sticking around for the long haul, unless he gets injured again. And there’s a very real chance he could get injured in this match because Lesnar is known for not being too careful in the ring.

This is a tough one for me. I don’t think it makes sense to beat either guy. But if I had to choose one, there’s no chance I pick against The Beast.

Your winner: Brock Lesnar

11 matches. At least. It’s a lot to digest on Sunday. But we’re going to do it together and we’re going to try our hardest to enjoy it. Check back here Monday morning for a complete recap of the biggest event of the summer. At least in WWE’s eyes.

Follow Nick on Twitter: @nickpiccone
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