SummerSlam is traditionally either the second- or third-best (and generally biggest) pay-per-view of the year, depending upon your opinion (and the quality) of the Royal Rumble. It also tends to feature some of the best in-ring action of the year. SummerSlam rolls around once again on Sunday night, taking place in Los Angeles for the sixth straight year and beginning at 8 p.m. ET, with a kick-off show exclusively on the WWE Network beginning at 7:30 p.m. and featuring a bonus pre-show match.
Sadly, after a mostly white-hot year of action in the ring and a nearly unparalleled run of fantastic pay-per-views, the build-up to SummerSlam has been ... kind of bad. The WWE has focused on the perplexing feud between Stephanie McMahon and Brie Bella and has (understandably) been in panic mode regarding the WWE Network, but the event looks solid enough on paper. And since they've yet to have a misstep with a PPV so far this year, they deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Let's run down the card and see why we should care about any of this.
Cesaro vs. Rob Van Dam (Kick-off show)
What am I looking at here? Cesaro was one of the hottest stars on the roster after tossing Big Show out of the ring at WrestleMania. Four months later, he broke up with manager Paul Heyman and lost to Kofi Kingston during a commercial break on "RAW". Now he's in a throw-away match on the pre-show with RVD, the high-flyer who's both older and less high-flying these days. In other words, it's been a rough slump for the Swiss Superman.
Complete SummerSlam coverage
Complete SummerSlam coverage
Why you should care: Uh ... these two had a couple matches several months ago, so maybe there's a feud? It's a shame to see how far Cesaro has fallen, but a win here could get his momentum back. Regardless of whether he's been winning or losing, though, Cesaro has been delivering in matches all over the place and with Daniel Bryan out, he's in the conversation for the best wrestler in the world right now. Van Dam has even been showing some spring in his step during his latest "put the new guys over" tour before he takes time off again. Despite the lack of build-up or reason to actually care about the match, it should be a fine way to kick off the event and get SummerSlam started on the right foot.
Intercontinental Championship Match: The Miz (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler
What am I looking at here? The Miz, back from his sabbatical shooting The Marine 4 (not a joke!), is now playing up that he's a big Hollywood celebrity and making everyone remember why he was such an effective heel during his WWE Championship run: he's great at making you hate him. He's also playing up that he doesn't want anyone to hit him in the moneymaker, so if you hear Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler say "moneymaker" 150 times during the match, that's why. Well, that's the storyline reason, anyway. Dolph Ziggler is the guy with the spaghetti hair who got too many concussions so now WWE doesn't trust him to stay healthy for any length of time, ever.
Why you should care: Dolph Ziggler is one of the most likable people on the roster, one of the best wrestlers and willing to land on his goddamn head as many times as it takes to make his opponent look good. (Which is possibly related to the concussion thing; results inconclusive.) The Miz just makes you want to punch him in the face with a building (preferably a building that's on fire). The crowd LOVES Dolph and HATES The Miz and Ziggler will bump around like a ping-pong ball until this match is great. Just mute the commentary if they start saying "moneymaker" too often and you should be fine.
Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt
What am I looking at here? Cool dad Chris Jericho and cult leader Bray Wyatt already tussled at Battleground last month. Jericho won clean with the Codebreaker. But ... I guess we're doing this again, huh?
Why you should care: Uh. Hm. Give me a sec here. I stared at my computer screen for a solid 90 seconds between the last sentence and this one, so uh ... I guess if you like Chris Jericho and/or Bray Wyatt, this will be fun? Both guys are really good at wrestling, it's just that there's really no reason for this to be happening. At least they had a good one-on-one interview on "RAW"!
Flag Match: Jack Swagger vs. Rusev
What am I looking at here? Jack Swagger is the big doofus in the singlet, accompanied by mustache champion Zeb Colter. Swagger will be waving an American flag. Rusev is the barefooted guy in the high-waisted diaper, accompanied by human legs Lana. Rusev will be waving a Russian flag and will have a GIGANTIC Russian flag descending from the rafters, pissing off everyone who paid for a seat facing the hard camera. Note: Rusev is actually Bulgarian, but being American means all other countries are one interchangeable blob.
Why you should care: This could very well be the first time Rusev is soundly defeated in a match. Or maybe he'll win. Who can say?! The truly compelling thing here is that this is supposed to be a Flag Match, which generally means the flags are in opposite corners and you have to capture your opponent's flag to win. As a result, Flag Matches are almost always terrible. But it might not actually be THAT kind of flag match, but WWE hasn't said for certain what the hell is going on. So we have the allure of the unknown drawing us to this match. Also, un-ironic "U-S-A" chants for the first time since the World Cup. Come on; you know you missed them.
Divas Championship Match: AJ Lee (c) vs. Paige
What am I looking at here? AJ Lee, who totally isn't married to someone people will chant for in a really annoying fashion, is slightly unhinged. Paige, her pale, English opponent, is trying to push her buttons by calling AJ crazy, in order to get inside her head and steal the Divas title.
Why you should care: The two best women on the main roster are going at it on a pay-per-view with legitimate bad blood and mind games. This should do just nicely until the next batch of women (including Ric Flair's daughter, Charlotte) come up from NXT and condition WWE fans to understand that women can be good wrestlers with exciting matches, too.
Lumberjack Match: Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins
What am I looking at here? Dean Ambrose is a modern-day Roddy Piper without the racist bent, a perpetually jeans-and A-shirt-clad maniac who wants nothing in life but to get his hands on Seth Rollins, his former teammate in The Shield, because Rollins stooped to betrayal. Betrayal most foul. Rollins didn't sell out to the Authority, he bought in. In doing so, he is the current Mr. Money in the Bank, which entitles him to a WWE World Heavyweight title shot any time he likes before next year's WrestleMania. He has been trying to avoid a beating from Ambrose for some time.
Why you should care: Ambrose won the right to pick the stipulation for this match, and he picked a Lumberjack Match. (For those who are unaware, a Lumberjack Match has wrestlers surrounding the ring -- generally, wrestlers involved in the earlier matches, or not booked in any match that evening. If either wrestler attempts to leave the ring, they are thrown back in by the wrestlers on the floor ... generally following a group beating.) Many people were upset or underwhelmed at the stipulation, because Lumberjack Matches generally suck, but a couple things here:
1. This is almost certainly not the match that will end their feud.
2. This is a situation where a Lumberjack Match makes perfect sense. In a perfect world, and back in the 1970s and early 1980s, a cage match happened when the babyface was sick of the chickenshit heel running from a fight, or using count-out victories or outside interference to retain their title, so they agreed to settle their dispute in a steel cage, where the heel could NOT run away and outside interference could NOT happen. But this eventually gave way to modern cage matches, where the objective is to ... escape the cage. Which is dumb and sucks.
So now the only cage match where you can't run away is Hell in a Cell, which is only reserved for EXTREMELY special situations and ... uh ... almost invariably involves people getting out of the cage and wrestling on top of it. So basically all cage matches suck now. But THIS lumberjack match is brilliant, because it not only guarantees that Rollins CAN'T run from Ambrose, but all parties will gladly be ready to throw fists at both men and force them into fighting one another, because of how The Shield ran roughshod over the ENTIRE WWE roster for the past few years.
So of course after writing all that, the match could very well be bad anyway, but I'm going to keep living the internal justification I've made for it and you can't stop me.
Roman Reigns vs. Randy Orton
What am I looking at here? Roman Reigns is a golden god, born from a slab of marble and given the hair of some sort of majestic raven bear. Randy Orton is okay too, I guess.
Why you should care: This is Reigns' first singles pay-per-view match since the dissolution of The Shield. There's some real bad blood between the two men since Orton gave Reigns an extended beatdown a couple weeks ago on RAW. This is a real test for Reigns to see if he can bring the goods in a high-profile PPV match and continue his momentum, since WWE is hoping to make him into the next giant superstar. This match could very well be a turning point for him. Orton will be good here, but win or lose, this is Reigns' opportunity to run with the ball.
Brie Bella vs. Stephanie McMahon
What am I looking at here? Stephanie McMahon is the daughter of Vince McMahon and is one-half of The Authority, along with her husband, Triple H. She's the new figurehead of "evil boss" and is really terrific at her job description. Brie Bella is one-half of the Bella Twins and the wife of Daniel Bryan, the currently-injured WrestleMania hero who everyone really hopes comes back as soon as possible.
Why you should care: It's extremely rare for Stephanie to wrestle. She hasn't done it in basically a decade, but she's likely going to bring the goods. It's exciting pretty much any time a McMahon gets in the ring, with the exception of Linda. This feud with Brie has been convoluted, with a million unnecessary plot points and the motivations for the babyface and heel being completely ass-backwards. If for no other reason, you should get excited about this match because, God willing, it will be the end of this feud.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match: John Cena (c) vs. Brock Lesnar
What am I looking at here? John Cena is a human cartoon who has as much flesh on his face as the Lou Reed robot in the beginning of the "No Money Down" video. Brock Lesnar is a reddened human Sasquatch who refused to eat a vegetable so half his guts fell out, but will literally beat you to death with his frozen-turkey fists and is an unfeeling golem who will grind your bones to make his bread (provided said bread is also made out of meat).
Why you should care: BECAUSE IT IS GOING TO BE SO FANTASTIC UNTIL JOHN CENA WINS. CHECK OUT THIS HYPE VIDEO:
HOLY LORD LET'S DO THIS.