WWE superstars discuss hopes for SummerSlam

WWE superstar A.J. Styles is thrilled that he, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson and Finn Bálor -- all former members of the Bullet Club during their time in Japan -- enter Sunday's SummerSlam card in high-profile spots. Tim Fiorvanti/ESPN

NEW YORK -- By all appearances, Sunday night's SummerSlam card looks to be one of the year's deepest -- on par with a Wrestlemania lineup -- and that's with good reason. WWE has turned the entire weekend in Brooklyn into something much larger than just its second-biggest pay-per-view of the year.

There's also NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II on Saturday, with the WWE's third brand returning to the scene of the triumph at the Barclays Center that cemented its status as far more than a developmental territory. There's also Monday Night Raw, making it three nights of live shows in Brooklyn for the second straight year.

But that's not even it.

There are superstar appearances and outings throughout New York City and beyond. One of the biggest was Friday's WWE 2K17 Kickoff Event, in which 2K Sports introduced the brand new WWE video game that hits stores in October with a blowout party, replete with custom-made police cruisers, a giant "Suplex City" sign and food trucks inside of a theater.

A number of WWE superstars took the opportunity to walk the red carpet at this event, providing the perfect chance to gauge their thoughts heading into SummerSlam and NXT TakeOver.

WWE women's champion Sasha Banks stole the show in 2015's inaugural NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn event against Bayley -- in a match that was widely regarded as one of the best of the year in all of professional wrestling.

"All I can say is it was goose bumps," said Banks. "To me, Brooklyn last year felt like my WrestleMania. I felt like I really had to show the world what 'The Boss' was about. I knew walking in as NXT Champion, my main goal was to steal the show and show them that NXT was better than SummerSlam. We did a hell of a job, and it's so crazy that it has been a year, but people talk about that match with Bayley every single day. Every fan that I meet always talks about the match -- and that's a dream come true. I've always wanted to have a match like that where people were like, 'That's what women's wrestling is all about.'"

It has been onward and upward from there for Banks, who captured her WWE title on July 25 in another well-received match, against Charlotte on Raw. There are a lot of expectations to live up to entering Sunday's return match, but Banks is looking forward to being out in front of the Brooklyn crowd again.

"I'm going to keep on rolling," Banks said. "For Sunday, I feel really confident. I feel like Brooklyn is almost my second home. There's something about this atmosphere. In that arena, the fans there are so crazy. They'll let you know if you did something wrong -- that's for sure -- but I cannot wait for this Sunday."

Speaking of upward momentum, A.J. Styles has been on quite the tear himself since his WWE debut in January at the Royal Rumble. He has had strong showings against some of the biggest talents the company has to offer, including Roman Reigns in a pair of WWE championship bouts and several opposite one of this generation's biggest stars, John Cena.

Sunday marks the likely culmination of his feud with Cena.

"I expect nothing but the best," Style said. "I think [the match] is going to be one of the best of the night, and these guys better have their working boots on because I don't come out there to do half-par stuff, I get after it. I know John Cena is the same way. I predict a very memorable match. When it comes to John, there's not really a challenge. It's very easy to get in there and have a very entertaining match with someone like John Cena."

Cena is one of the most polarizing personalities in wrestling today, and that affects how matches play out in the ring. For Styles, it's about embracing the challenge of pushing the crowd in one direction or the other.

"Everybody either hates or loves John Cena, there's no medium," said Styles. "I feel like that I've accomplished something when I get people to cheer for John Cena. I feel like I've done something."

The SummerSlam card is a big deal for Styles for reasons beyond his own match with Cena. His running buddies in The Club, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, have a match against The New Day for the WWE tag-team championships, and another former compatriot in New Japan Pro Wrestling's Bullet Club, Finn Bálor, is facing off with Seth Rollins to determine the first WWE Universal champion.

"It's unbelievable," said Styles. "Who knew that something like this would happen? Timing's everything. When you've got guys that can get after it, you've got to find ways to get them on the show. It's a special moment for all four of us."

Styles believes the future may hold some epic showdowns between some, or all, of the former Bullet Club members.

"You're talking about four guys that love to get after it," said Styles, "And it's only a matter of time before you see two of those guys in the same ring against each other."

For a four-time WWE world champion like Sheamus, there have been some ups-and-downs over the past few years of his career. Since he lost that championship to Reigns in December 2015, his alliance with the League of Nations and a few other missteps left him somewhat languishing and trying to find his place on the Raw roster.

After two weeks of showdowns with Cesaro, Raw general manager Mick Foley was inspired to show more of the bruising style of matches that the pair tends to put on, and set into motion a best-of-seven series between them. The first match of that series takes place Sunday, during the SummerSlam Kickoff pre-show.

In an era of wrestling in which matches are often criticized for their brevity, it has been a long time since two wrestlers were given the opportunity to have anywhere from four to seven matches to tell a story and create the kind of art that professional wrestling is all about.

"Well, I feel, from a company standpoint, like there's a lot of trust that goes into this," said Sheamus, "Because to have seven matches, or at least a best-of-seven, which probably goes 4-0 to me, there's a lot of confidence bestowed on both of us. People know we can go. People know we hit hard. We bring a lot of realism to our matches."

The series offers both Sheamus and Cesaro an opportunity to take chances, in an effort to truly define their characters for years to come.

"It's just going to be a situation where every week is going to be different, and every week is going to be great," Sheamus said. "The creative juices are going to be flowing. I think, ultimately, everyone is going to have a great old time watching a Swiss man and an Irishman beat the hell out of each other."

Shinsuke Nakamura has reached the pinnacle of wrestling outside of the WWE, but for the moment, he's still on his way up the ranks within the company. He has put on quite the show in high-profile NXT showdowns with Bálor, Sami Zayn and Austin Aries, to name a few, and now finds himself headlining NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II against Samoa Joe.

The native of Japan brings a style and charisma unlike anything the WWE Universe has seen.

"I love to wrestle fast-paced," said Nakamura. "[I did] TakeOver Dallas, now Takeover Brooklyn. I'm very excited."

Saturday will be the first time Samoa Joe and Nakamura will square off for a crowd of more than a few hundred people, and the anticipation for this showdown is high -- for both NXT fans and Nakamura himself.

"Only for small house shows -- never wrestled him one-on-one on TV," said Nakamura, on his history with Samoa Joe. "We were always in different companies. I am very excited for this moment."

It's only a matter of time before Nakamura finds himself on Raw or SmackDown, and his high-profile match with Samoa Joe could go a long way towards getting him there.

For some talents who have reached the level of success Nakamura has in his wrestling career, a stint in NXT might be seen as something of an insult. In his case that's not untrue because for as much as the 36-year-old has learned in the ring, he has made tremendous strides in areas even he may not have anticipated after moving to the United States.

"Being [around] a lot of young kids, they make me younger," said Nakamura. "I am older than everybody there. I like to hang out on these road trips. I am able to find out about young Americans' wrestling culture, and that's interesting for me."