SummerSlam and NXT Takeover 36, August 21-22, 2021 @Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas & Capitol Wrestling Center, Orlando
One of the ‘big four’ events in WWE’s calendar, SummerSlam combined with an NXT Takeover PPV to create a mouth-watering weekend for wrestling fans. Our head of the wrestling table, Andy Spoors, is on hand to guide us through the talking points…
Billed as the biggest party of the summer, SummerSlam saw a pair of huge returns, new champions galore and a stadium-sized crowd in the biggest WWE event in over a year.
Over on the black and gold brand, friendships fell apart, an NXT legend looked to create history and one of the best in the brand’s brief but steeped history made his possible swansong.
So with rival promotion AEW making a huge statement of intent on Friday, did WWE manage to show the world why they are the biggest company in the business or did the newcomers officially “move the needle”?
With a plethora of matches on the SummerSlam card, there was every chance championships would change hands.
By the end of the night, no less than four new champions were crowned.
The popular pairing of Matt Riddle and Randy Orton kicked off the night by capturing the Raw Tag Team Championships. One of the brightest lights on Monday Night Raw, has been the work put in by the Original Bro Riddle and his odd coupling with strait-laced veteran Orton.
Elsewhere, both the SmackDown and Raw Women’s Champions lost their titles to challengers. More on the former below, but Charlotte Flair continued to make history by becoming a 12-time Women’s Champion.
Hot on the heels of her father, Ric, it won’t be long before The Queen matches his 16 reigns as a World Champion.
The sleeper hit of the night could be claimed by Damian Priest’s victory over Sheamus to win the United States Championship. With attention focussed elsewhere on the card, Priest is proof that you don’t have to win the NXT Championship to be a hit on the ‘main roster’.
Over on NXT, the longest reigning champion was finally defeated as Ilja Dragunov captured the NXT UK Championship from WALTER after an astonishing 870 days a top of the mountain.
If you watch one match from the weekend, make sure it is this one!
Joe Lifts Samoa Gold
Things can change quickly in wrestling. Just ask Samoa Joe who went from commentating in a rain poncho during a thunderstorm at WrestleMania, to a release from the company just weeks later. Going full circle, Joe made a return to NXT via an enforcer role two months ago.
Tensions between Joe and NXT Champion Karrion Kross bubbled over, resulting in an in-ring return for the former. At NXT Takeover 36, Kross found out exactly why Samoa Joe is a two-time NXT Champion, when for the first time in a one-on-one match Kross was pinned, losing his title in the process.
With rumours of a revamp for WWE’s third brand, NXT is in great and experienced hands to lead them into a new era.
With a long line of talented Superstars eager for their chance at the Championship, the future is bright no matter what the next few weeks has in store…
The Man Comes Around
2018 feels like a long time ago right? Before the world was brought to its knees by the pandemic there was one woman blazing her own trail all the way from 2018 through to the early months of 2020.
And then it all disappeared.
But at SummerSlam 2021, it all came back. In front of the biggest attendance since January 2020, Becky Lynch returned to a WWE ring following her maternity leave.
The Man (or should that be The Mum) was afforded a huge ovation from the WWE Universe just minutes after the disappointing news that Sasha Banks would be unable to compete against SmackDown Women’s Champ, Bianca Belair.
Banks and Belair’s WrestleMania match this year was so well received, the pair picked up an award from ESPN amongst a shower of plaudits.
As the crowd began to raucously boo the announced replacement, Carmella, WWE pulled a bait and switch as Lynch made her entrance.
There was to be a slightly sour note to what could and should have been a return for the ages, however.
Since having her hand raised in Tampa, Belair has been one of the brightest stars to shine within WWE. An athletic phenomenon with a flair for fashion, the company could not have hoped for a better role model and Champion to head up the SmackDown Women’s division.
After accepting the new challenge to her title, Belair was defeated in spectacularly quick fashion.
Months of hard work unravelled in a matter of seconds.
We await with bated breath how WWE build the now former champ back to the same level, but a squash match against an opponent, no matter how good or over with the crowd, is baffling at best and damaging at worst.
There’s no easy way to say this. WWE has been making some mistakes recently when it comes to their talent. As with many companies over the last year and a half, colleagues have been let go, purse strings tightened and tough decisions made.
WWE have however either let go of, or seen a high number of their Superstars move to pastures new. The likes of Aleister Black, Anderson and Gallows and Jon Moxley (formerly Dean Ambrose) have landed on their feet in rival companies already.
The creative genius of Bray Wyatt was pushed out the door. Daniel Bryan looks set for a run with AEW and whole raft of former employees are making the wrestling scene in general a very interesting place to follow right now.
But of all the talented to walk away, the most confusing could be just round the corner in the shape of Adam Cole. One of the cornerstones of NXT, it was widely expected that the former leader of Undisputed Era would grace Raw or SmackDown and prove just how big a star he can be.
A contractual oversight looks to have put paid to that notion however. After losing the final match in his rivalry with Kyle O’Reilly at Takeover 36, Cole finds himself a free agent. Exactly how he entered NXT almost four years to the day, one of the hottest properties in the world of professional wrestling (or sports entertainment) now has his future in his own hands.
Quite how the longest reigning NXT Champion in history, first ever North American Champion and integral part of UpUpDownDown (WWE and Xavier Woods’ video game YouTube channel) has been allowed to get to this stage could be one of the biggest gaffs in the company’s history.
Should Cole walk into rival company AEW’s ring and face off against the likes of Bryan, Kenny Omega, Moxley or the recently signed CM Punk, many fans will be sure to follow too.
No Sweet Seventeen For Cena
Since his return to WWE last month, John Cena wasted little time in inserting himself into the Universal Championship picture. Challenging Roman Reigns to a showdown for the title at SummerSlam captured the attention of the WWE Universe.
Had Cena picked up the win, he would have edged into clear air atop of the company’s championship mountain with a record-breaking 17th reign. Against any other opponent the leader of the Cenation may just have done it. Against Roman Reigns, it was to be a different story.
The two have met in the past, with Reigns also picking up the victory on that occasion, but the new attitude of Reigns and the hero’s welcome Cena has been experiencing gave the match a new flavour.
A flurry of his famous Attitude Adjustment finishing manoeuvres couldn’t get the job done and it was Reigns that would stand tall, holding the Universal Championship aloft. It was in this moment that the second return of the night would rear its head.
Brock Lesnar, complete with new look, marched down the aisle to stare down the ‘Head of the Table’ as the WWE Universe reached another level of volume. Reigns vs Lesnar may have been seen multiple times in recent years, but similar to the Cena rivalry, this feels fresh.
A special mention has to go to Paul Heyman and his outstanding reaction to his former protégé. Shrieking and dropping to his knees, Heyman played a weasely slave terrified by the return of a former master perfectly. His presence in the upcoming feud will be a major factor for the next few months.
Images used courtesy of WWE.