The WWE calls its annual SummerSlam premium live event “The Biggest Party of the Summer.” Considered the wrestling company’s second-biggest event behind WrestleMania, SummerSlam will take place Saturday at Ford Field in Detroit.
Roman Reigns has headlined the last two SummerSlam events. He enters this year’s show as (in the voice of his special counsel, “The Wise Man” Paul Heyman) the reigning, defending, undisputed WWE Universal Champion. But this year’s show features a storyline considered one of the best WWE’s had in years — and a card that matches the intensity and overall firepower of WrestleMania’s two-day event in April.
Reigns is “The Tribal Chief” and “The Head of the Table,” and he’s the leader of “The Bloodline,” one of the most intriguing factions in professional wrestling. In past months, however, there has been turmoil within the family, leading to The Usos (Reigns’ cousins Jimmy and Jey Uso) splitting from the group while their younger brother, Solo Sikoa, remains firm with Reigns. Saturday will feature Reigns against Jey Uso in a “Tribal Combat” match — where anything goes until there is a pinfall or submission. The winner not only becomes WWE Universal Champion but also takes the throne as “The Tribal Chief.”
And that’s just one match. There are eight matches this year on a card loaded with star power. The Athletic’s pro wrestling die-hards Jason Jones, Chris Vannini and Eric Koreen have collaborated to offer their thoughts on who will win each match in Detroit.
Undisputed Universal Championship: Roman Reigns vs. Jey Uso
(As of Friday, Reigns has been the champion for 1,068 days. Uso was Reigns’ “Right Hand Man” as a member of the Bloodline and has earned the nickname “Main Event” Jey Uso. Could this be Reigns’ first singles loss in nearly three years?)
Jones: There’s no way Roman Reigns is dropping the title. So, exactly how does WWE keep this story compelling? This is the kind of night Jey’s brother, Jimmy, makes a return. Their brother, Solo Sikoa, is still in the mix. There’s guaranteed to be plenty of interference during the match, and perhaps another family member from The Bloodline joins the fray. Either way, Roman leaves Detroit as the champion.
Vannini: It’s wild that we have Jey Uso in a singles match at SummerSlam, but it’s completely deserved, and they’ve built it up in a way that makes us believe in him. Roman most certainly is going to win, but I hope we get enough hope spots to give us those split seconds of thinking Jey could actually win.
Koreen: Roman Reigns. In kayfabe, Jey should have little chance of winning this one. In reality, Reigns is carrying the belt to WrestleMania XL in Philadelphia, where Cody Rhodes finishes his underdog story. (Although, again, in and out of kayfabe, Jey actually would be the bigger underdog.) Jimmy Uso’s on-screen absence has been, let’s say, notable leading up to this match.
Cody Rhodes vs. Brock Lesnar
(Each has scored a win over the other this year. Rhodes beat Lesnar at Backlash; Lesnar returned the favor at Night of Champions. The rubber match should be a physical one for the books.)
Jones: Rhodes overcomes this set of hard times with the win. The momentum behind Rhodes’ story has to continue. His documentary just premiered on Peacock, and he’s one of the top faces in the company. The buildup to him getting another shot at Reigns starts by overcoming Lesnar.
Vannini: Cody wins the rubber match to continue his momentum, and Brock fades into the background until WrestleMania season next year. I’m still upset that Cody didn’t beat Roman at WrestleMania 39 in April, and nothing since then has really told any sort of story or major adversity for Cody (he even kept fighting with a “broken” arm). But the Peacock documentary was great, and Cody continues to be the top good guy in the company.
Koreen: Rhodes. See above. WWE has to give him the rubber match to keep him strong. I just don’t see him taking a definitive loss between now and April 2024.
World Heavyweight Championship: Seth ‘Freakin’ Rollins vs. Finn Bálor
(Bálor beat Rollins to become WWE’s first Universal Champion seven years ago. He had to vacate the title, however, because of injuries. Bálor hasn’t forgotten, and the build-up has been an intense storyline.)
Jones: It’s Bálor’s time. Since losing to Edge at Wrestlemania, Bálor has been one of the company’s best villains. The Money in the Bank briefcase, held by Damian Priest, figures to be used to smack Rollins in the head at some point. Rhea Ripley or Dominik Mysterio will be up to no good, too. That’s three members of The Judgment Day outside the ring for Rollins to contend with — and the perfect setup for a Bálor win.
Vannini: I would love Finn to win and complete that seven-year journey, even if he is the heel, but my pick is Seth to win the match – only for Damian Priest to cash in Money in the Bank and walk away with the title his stablemate Finn wanted.
Koreen: Logic says Rollins, but I’m rolling with Finn here. I think Damian Priest, owner of the Money in the Bank briefcase, probably gets involved, laying the groundwork for Finn to win. A cash-in by Priest is teased, but not executed. That way, we leave with a looming threat to Bálor within The Judgment Day, as well as one from outside in a deranged Rollins. Bálor gets revenge for having to relinquish the Universal Championship seven years ago, but he won’t be able to enjoy it much.
Women’s Championship: Asuka vs. Bianca Belair vs. Charlotte Flair
(Asuka beat Belair at Night of Champions in May, and instead of Belair getting a rematch, Flair chose to jump the line. We’ll now see a Triple Threat Match – with IYO SKY potentially lurking while holding the Money in the Bank briefcase.)
Jones: Asuka escapes with the title. Putting the title back on Flair is all too predictable. A Belair-Flair match doesn’t need to have a championship on the line to be intriguing. The only way Asuka doesn’t leave champion would be an IYO SKY cash in, but I don’t think that happens. Too many moving parts for it to make sense.
Vannini: This is, by far, the most difficult match to pick on the card. Any four women could win. When that happens, I default to the current champion retaining, so I’m going with Asuka. The nightmare scenario is Charlotte winning and immediately getting cashed in on by IYO, giving Charlotte yet another title solely for the purpose of transition.
Koreen: When in doubt, go Flair, with WWE doing anything and everything it can to add to her title count. And then, they go and put her on the chase again, with IYO SKY cashing in to become the champ. That gives WWE four top competitors to bounce off each other.
Intercontinental Championship: GUNTHER vs. Drew McIntyre
(After weeks away from action, McIntyre returned at Money in the Bank and confronted GUNTHER, who has become one of the most accomplished Intercontinental champions in WWE history. Expect a hard-hitting affair between two heavyweights.)
Jones: GUNTHER! I don’t think this is a clean victory. He’ll definitely get help from his group, Imperium. But I think it sets up a longer feud and keeps McIntyre a strong opponent who GUNTHER cannot defeat one-on-one at this point. GUNTHER is being groomed for the main-event picture, and this feud could put him there.
Vannini: GUNTHER is one month away from having the longest Intercontinental reign of all time, surpassing The Honky Tonk Man, so I don’t think that reign ends right now. Gunther wins, but we could easily see some chicanery and a rematch next month at Payback with the record on the line.
Koreen: GUNTHER. This pairing is too good to make it a one-time event, which means the champion retains for a bit longer. Once he shows he can hold down a program with a top-tier superstar — and he has passed every test so far on the main roster — it is probably time for “ALL CAPS” to enter the world title picture.
Logan Paul vs. Ricochet
(While Ricochet is an established highflier in the company, Paul has quickly gained the respect of wrestling fans with his incredible ability and showmanship in the ring. This match could be the highlight of highlights.)
Jones: This is a big spot for Ricochet. It makes me think he gets his biggest singles win in a long time. There figures to be plenty of acrobatics in this match, which Paul and Ricochet have teased in their previous encounters at the Royal Rumble and Money in the Bank. I also do not think this will be the last time these two have a singles match, so Round 1 goes to Ricochet. I know Paul hasn’t won a match in forever, but if this is the first in a series of matches, he loses.
Vannini: Logan Paul is better at pro wrestling than anything else he does. Whatever you think about him, he was born to do this business. It’s ridiculous how good he is with so little experience. He lost at WrestleMania 39 and hasn’t won a match in a bit — and Ricochet is not someone heading up the card. Logan Paul wins.
Koreen: Logan Paul has gone a year without winning a match. Sure, that includes just two singles matches, and they were against Seth “Freakin” Rollins and Roman Reigns, but I’m sure the company wants to give one of its special attractions a bit more credibility. Also, WWE has never had a problem with having Ricochet be a highlight-producing machine who can take a loss at any point.
Ronda Rousey vs. Shayna Baszler
(Once Women’s Tag Team Champions, Rousey and Baszler will prepare for a match expected to be brutal yet personal. Baszler turned on Rousey at Money in the Bank, which led to the duo losing the tag titles to Liv Morgan and Raquel Rodriguez.)
Jones: Baszler has never had the dominant singles run I expected after her NXT title run. Though the company is placing Baszler as the heel in this match, it is clear that the public is behind Baszler. Rhea Ripley is going to need foes who are seen as legitimately tough, which Baszler is with her MMA background. Baszler disposes of her old buddy Rousey, comes out looking stronger than ever, and Rousey can take a break.
Vannini: Rousey appears on her way out of WWE, at least for a little bit, and putting Baszler over on the way out is the perfect cap. Baszler has been a revelation in this feud, showing how much she can do on the mic when she has something to dig her teeth into. I’m not sure how good the match itself will be, especially under “MMA rules,” but the build has been fantastic.
Koreen: It’s times like these that I wish I adopted the kayfabe-only lifestyle. Alas, Rousey appears to be on her way out, and she wants to give Baszler the look upon departure. However it happens, Baszler has deserved a push for a long time. Baszler also is one of the few competitors on “Monday Night Raw” who can be bought as not intimidated by current champ Rhea Ripley.
SummerSlam Battle Royal
(The winner of the Battle Royal, presented by Slim Jim, will put himself in a good position for title contention in the near future.)
Jones: It’s time for WWE to give the people what they want: LA Knight! The more popular he becomes, it seems the more determined the company is to keep him out of the title picture. He didn’t win Money in the Bank or even get a shot at the U.S. Championship, so it’s about time he picks up a big win.
Vannini: I’ve been an LA Knight fan since he was in TNA as Eli Drake. The guy has always just had a spark, and it’s been so cool to see him organically reach this point. He’s got old-school confidence and charisma, and you can’t help but get sucked in. His many catchphrases are even breaking into the mainstream culture. I’m going to be at SummerSlam, and this might be the thing I’m most looking forward to. “YEAH!”
Koreen: Who is the most over wrestler in the company? “With everyone saying — snap into a Slim Jim — YEAH!” (I’m going with LA Knight.)
(Photo of Roman Reigns: Alex Bierens de Haan / Getty Images)