SummerSlam week has finally arrived, with the WWE set to take over Brooklyn's Barclays Center for four days of festivities.
The supershow card, showcasing stars from both Raw and SmackDown, features the culmination of several key rivalries and, in all likelihood, will plant the seeds for several storylines that won't play out entirely until next year's WrestleMania.
With that in mind, we're breaking down every match on the SummerSlam card, with a particular focus on the two major titles on each show -- the Universal championship, Raw women's championship, WWE championship and SmackDown women's championship.
The Universal championship match is set to be the main event this time around, and with four titans -- Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe -- set to do battle, that should come as little surprise.
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Paul Heyman promised that he and Lesnar would leave the WWE should Lesnar lose. That possibility hangs like a giant ax over this match. But the energy and excitement for this Universal championship match didn't begin just a few weeks ago. No, the path to this Fatal 4-Way is a long, intertwined patchwork involving all four participants, with significant history dating back to early 2015. There's animosity going in every single direction between these four behemoths in the ring, but the central conflict in the middle of it all is Reigns versus Lesnar -- and the unfinished business they have with one another.
Let's take it back to January 2015, when Reigns won the Royal Rumble and got booed out of Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center despite The Rock raising his arm at the close of the show. The buildup to the WrestleMania 31 match between Reigns and then-WWE champion Lesnar was, at best, polarizing and controversial. A lot of fans in Santa Clara seemed poised to boo Reigns out of Levi's Stadium, too, until Seth Rollins did the unthinkable and cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase mid-main event, stealing the title away.
Both Lesnar and Reigns were in a triple-threat WWE championship No. 1 contenders match in 2016 featuring Dean Ambrose (won by Reigns), and both men were in the past two Royal Rumbles, but there hasn't been a clash of this magnitude since their spoiled match at WrestleMania 31. Rumors abound of a future one-on-one match, but for the time being, this Fatal 4-Way offers far more permutations.
Reigns has history with the other two participants in this match as well. In Samoa Joe's first match on the main roster, Joe beat Reigns on Monday Night Raw in February -- and Joe got the better of Reigns twice more in June; Joe won a Fatal 5-Way at Extreme Rules that earned him a shot at Lesnar and the Universal title at Great Balls of Fire, and then beat Reigns again two weeks later on Raw. Their Universal title No. 1 contenders match in mid-July ended in a no contest after Braun Strowman returned, which was the main catalyst for this four-way.
The brightest and most intense animosity hangs between Strowman and Reigns, who have had several of the most intense WWE matches of the year thus far. They faced off as far back as October 2015, when Reigns was the first to defeat Strowman (via countout) in the midst of the Wyatt Family vs. The Shield rivalry, but this rivalry was truly ignited at Fastlane this past March.
Reigns gave Strowman his first pinfall loss in the WWE, and Strowman hasn't stopped chasing him ever since. Strowman pushed Reigns off a loading dock while he was strapped to a stretcher and tipped over the ambulance he was put inside. Reigns backed an ambulance up at high speed into a trailer a few months later. And still, Strowman wasn't finished with Reigns quite yet.
Between the history and animosity among all those combinations, there's more than enough heat to go around. Add in the unknown of Lesnar versus Strowman and Joe versus Strowman, and there's a lot to work with here. Without Lesnar having to rely simply on himself to get through this match, the main event could carry on far longer than his average match.
It seems unlikely that Lesnar walks out without the title and walks out of WWE again, but if the past couple of years have taught us anything, it's that the WWE isn't afraid to take a big chance. One year after the Barclays Center crowd inexplicably and loudly booed the design and color of the new Universal championship -- taking away from a big moment for Rollins and Finn Balor -- this match will be a far more popular spectacle.
- WWE (@WWE) August 15, 2017
Triple H's thoughts
"That's going to be a pretty interesting situation. I can't recall a time where you had four guys all sort of having this monster build, all in the same way."
"Brock Lesnar is Brock Lensar. You don't need to say more than that."
"Roman Reigns, whether people love him or hate him ... he's the guy."
"Samoa Joe, since he's come to WWE, has just become this unstoppable force with his match with Lesnar, and taking Lesnar as far as he did, and what he's done with Roman and Braun."
"Then there's Braun Strowman, who has very quickly become this -- he calls himself the monster among men -- and it's hard to argue that he isn't when you talk about a guy with that size and that level of strength, but that when you see him run across the ring and the speed at which he does it, his ability to throw guys around; I hate to say it because it's a different style, but it's almost Lesnar-eqsque, seeing a guy that big ... trust me, when you're in a ring with a guy and he's that size, he's not supposed to be able to move that fast. And that's the way you feel like when you're in the ring with Lesnar."
"Add into that the Jon Jones challenge and everything else, Lesnar doesn't have to get beat here. If he just doesn't win, that's all that matters. It's a really cool dynamic that you don't know what is going to happen."
"You have four guys in there, all over the 260 mark, everybody in there is agile, and can move, and is fast. These are athletes. These aren't plodding guys lumbering around the ring. This is speed and quickness. They move like cruiserweights, but they're not. It's a whole new world, in that manner."
How Brock Lesnar benefits from a win
After a lengthy absence post-WrestleMania, Lesnar and Heyman have settled right back into the pocket over the past month or so. Getting into the ring with guys his own size gives Lesnar a lot more to work with, and with three of them in play, expect to see some vintage Lesnar (sorry Michael Cole).
As much as the talk about a Lesnar-Jon Jones UFC superfight has grown legs -- and seems especially likely in a world where Mayweather-McGregor is a reality -- Lesnar still has several months of his previous USADA suspension to serve out before he can even think of stepping back into the Octagon. That fight will happen, but emerging from this match with a new rival (or an old one) and starting his path to the WrestleMania 34 main event seems the likeliest scenario.
How Braun Strowman benefits from a win
Strowman seems like the least likely to emerge from this match as Universal champion, if for the simple fact that he doesn't really need a world title right now. A strong showing in this match would be a perfectly acceptable outcome, and if it sets the stage for a future one-on-one match with Lesnar some time between now and WrestleMania, all the better.
If, somehow, he emerges victorious here, it's hard to imagine a scenario where anyone outside of this quartet (most likely Reigns) could take that title from him. Strowman has grown by leaps and bounds over the past year, and he can go with any of the top guys on Raw right now. It simply feels like he needs to get a few more big matches under his belt -- and this one could go a long way -- before he becomes the top guy on Raw.
How Roman Reigns benefits from a win
The Brooklyn crowd, at its very best, can be described as impatient over the past few years. A Reigns victory would likely end with a showering of boos and a lot of the same old arguments being made against "the big dog." While I, for one, have heard the words "dog" and "yard" enough for two lifetimes, the Reigns hate overall has grown tired. As long as there's a creative endgame in play, with Lesnar perhaps coming back at Royal Rumble or WrestleMania, there's no reason Reigns can't leave this match as the winner.
The conflict with Strowman still seems to have a little bit of fire underneath it, and with Strowman and Joe sticking around to chase him in Lesnar's absence, there are plenty of ways things could play out in the last few months of 2017 with Reigns on top.
How Samoa Joe benefits from a win
After a bit of bad luck and some uncertainty at the very beginning of his main roster run, Samoa Joe has turned it up to 11 in his chase of Lesnar and the Universal championship. He pushed the champ hard at Great Balls of Fire, and everything leading up to and after that event screams of Joe being a longtime fixture in the main event.
A win for Joe would come as something of a shock on Sunday, but there's no doubt he has done everything right to get himself to the spot he's in right now. If something screwy happens, like a Paul Heyman double cross that I'm not sure WWE is in a position to pull off at this moment, Joe could do a lot of good carrying the title into the fall.
Both Strowman and Samoa Joe will be competing at their first SummerSlam. Only two superstars in WWE history have won a world title in their SummerSlam debut. Lesnar defeated The Rock for the WWE Championship in 2002, and Balor defeated Rollins to become the inaugural Universal champion in 2016. (Joey Koontz, ESPN Stats & Information)