SummerSlam represents a mile marker at the halfway point of WWE's annual calendar of events. Most of what has happened since WrestleMania typically culminates at the showcase event and influences much of what carries the WWE through the end of the year and the start of the road to WrestleMania in January.
After four years in Brooklyn, New York, SummerSlam moved to Toronto. Sunday's show at Scotiabank Arena was headlined by Brock Lesnar for the sixth straight year; this time around, he ran back his WrestleMania match against Seth Rollins with the Universal championship on the line.
Tim Fiorvanti and Matt Wilansky recapped the action real time, with Sean Coyle offering ratings for each match on a scale from 0-5.
(c) denotes champion
Universal championship: Seth Rollins def. Brock Lesnar (c)
Since his return to the WWE in 2012, Brock Lesnar has had a habit of making short matches count -- most notably in memorable WrestleMania clashes against Seth Rollins and Goldberg. But his tendency to bring shock and awe can overshadow that he is capable of more in the right scenario. The WrestleMania 35 rematch between Lesnar and Rollins at SummerSlam 2019 will go down as one of the best matches of Lesnar's career, a testament to both men and the work they can do together in the ring.
Everything about the buildup to this match pointed to Lesnar making quick work of Rollins and reclaiming his unimpeachable throne atop WWE. The attacks over weeks of Monday Night Raw appearances left Rollins with compromised ribs, and Lesnar has a history of cutting down WWE's top heroes, especially when they're already in bad shape.
As Rollins winced before the bell ever rang, sporting a taped-up midsection, it had all the makings of a battered hero going out on his sword. That's a big part of the reason why everything that followed was so effective.
Lesnar went to attack Rollins' ribs at the start, but Rollins hit a kick to the jaw, flipped out of a German suplex and hit a stomp. But it only earned him a two-count. Lesnar slid to the outside in the aftermath, and Rollins lined Lesnar up for a running knee. Lesnar caught a superkick attempt after that, but Rollins flipped out of a German suplex once again.
As Rollins hit two superkicks and lined up another stomp, the match started to take on the feeling of Rollins' instant win at WrestleMania, but then the tide turned again. Brock nailed an F-5, but staggered back stunned as both men recovered. Lesnar seemed to grab the advantage yet again as he lifted Rollins up by the tape on Rollins' ribs and swung him around using only the tape as leverage.
A flurry of suplexes inside and outside of the ring brought back shades of Lesnar's thorough destruction of John Cena at SummerSlam 2014, but then, as Lesnar looked for an F-5 to send Rollins into the ring post ribs-first, Rollins slipped out and smashed Lesnar's head into the post, twice.
Each move had a counter. Rollins hit a springboard knee, but then went to the well one too many times and felt the brunt of yet more suplexes. Lesnar removed his gloves to pummel Rollins, and even locked in a bear hug, but then he tried that too many times and crashed and burned on a running shoulder tackle. Just as Rollins got the edge back with a pair of suicide dives, a third allowed Lesnar to the chance to catch Rollins out of midair and send him back-first into the ring post.
Rollins seemed to put the last of his energy into an exchange on the outside, and a superkick put Lesnar onto the German commentary table. Rollins climbed to the top of the ring post and hit a flying frog splash from there, through Lesnar and the table. He followed it up with a second frog splash and a second stomp to Lesnar, but yet again, it only scored a two-count.
When Rollins lined up a third stomp, he was caught on Lesnar's shoulders in an F-5 position and there was one more moment in which it seemed Lesnar had the match locked up. But again, Rollins wriggled his way out, nailed a superkick and followed it up with a third stomp, which was enough to score the pinfall victory.
There are questions to be asked, in terms of timing and the use of the Money in the Bank briefcase, but those are not questions for today. For now, everything that led up to this match made it everything it ultimately turned out to be -- pro wrestling, at its best.
"The Fiend" Bray Wyatt def. Finn Balor
This was not a "Firefly Fun House segment." This wasn't a sneak attack on a helpless soul standing in the middle of the ring. This was the official return of Bray Wyatt.
For the first time in 2019, Wyatt stepped into a ring with a new and equally disturbing persona. He is fun, creepy -- maybe even a little vile.
The buzz was unmistakable, and for Finn Balor, who knows demonic as well as anyone, he had to endure the pomp and circumstance. Even before the match began, something said this wasn't going to be his day, as Balor came to the ring dressed in an unassuming white jacket and stood still waiting for his foe.
That's when the lights went dark and Wyatt methodically walked to the ring donning a terrifying mask with dark, gothic music blaring throughout the stadium. More disconcerting, Wyatt, à la Mankind, never lost his mask when the bell rang. That alone seemed to spook Balor.
Wyatt was ruthless. He made Balor look like enhancement talent, which mercifully ended when Wyatt incapacitated Balor with a Mandible Claw.
Moments later, the lights went dark, with Wyatt under the spotlight. When they went on, he was gone and Balor was shown stumbling to his feet. After the long wait, the payoff was worth it. Wyatt is neither a technician nor is he an aerial artist. But he is terrifying.
But more so, he is refreshing. And something suggests he won't be losing anytime soon. Maybe not until he has championship gold wrapped around his waist.
WWE championship: Kofi Kingston (c) vs. Randy Orton ends in double count-out
At last year's SummerSlam, AJ Styles lost to Samoa Joe by disqualification but retained his WWE championship, extending their rivalry. It was a frequent tactic during Styles' title reign, with rivalries against Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura losing a lot of their luster. With those decisions, Styles' credibility as champion suffered.
It took the title some time to recover, but the past few months of Kofi Kingston's reign as champion has infused value back into the belt -- until, for the second straight year, the biggest show of the year featured a WWE championship match that ended with an unclear, indecisive finish that left fans frustrated.
Kingston has had one of the most straightforward, enjoyable world title reigns in recent WWE history since winning at WrestleMania. He has been a good-guy champion who has risen to the occasion at every opportunity. The biggest challenge to that run, Randy Orton, was as believable a threat as any to Kingston's feel-good story.
Everything from the buildup to this match through a stunningly effective video package hyping the match made it feel like a big deal. A match that was a decade in the making marked a line in the sand -- either Kingston would put the demons of his past away or Orton would rise once again with his 14th world title reign.
From start to end, Orton purposefully stoked Kingston's emotions. It was slow, ugly, physical and methodical, staggered by flurries of high-flying offense that Kingston was occasionally able to mix in, like a tornado DDT.
It seemed things were heading toward a flash Orton victory. An RKO attempt missed, Kingston tried a backslide, then missed a trouble in paradise and ultimately ran to the top rope where Orton would catch him for an RKO.
Both men were down and action spilled to the outside when Orton went back to emotionally manipulating the situation by interacting with Kingston's family at ringside. The chaos led to a double count-out and a flurry of boos from the crowd. Kingston got some offense in on Orton in the aftermath, using a kendo stick and hitting a trouble in paradise in the ring, but it was largely for naught.
Sometimes a rivalry being extended by artificial means can work to build up the tension moving forward, and that can still be the case. But one of the biggest shows of the year doesn't feel like the right place for a moment like that.
Charlotte Flair def. Trish Stratus
A battle of generations has been one of the themes of this SummerSlam. Earlier in the night, Hall of Famer Goldberg came up victorious. Would Trish Status follow suit?
Unlike Goldberg-Dolph Ziggler, the showdown between Stratus and Charlotte Flair, while without much build, had great intrigue. Status and Flair are the most accomplished performers of their generations -- and arguably of any generation.
The energy was unmistakable early. The crowd sang the Canadian national anthem as the Toronto-born Status took it to her younger opponent. At no point did this battle feel like a lopsided affair. At times in was downright nasty. Flair tossed Stratus around like a rag doll, then proceeded to slam her head into the mat. While doing so, Flair wasn't afraid to taunt her foe.
Stratus remained resolute in her attack, but she was slowed significantly after Charlotte superkicked her onto the outside of the ring, where Stratus landed hard on her tailbone.
At one point, both women found their way onto the top rope, which ended with a superb hurricanrana by Stratus that nearly gave her the win. Moments later, she would lock in a figure four, then a figure eight, Flair's finisher.
The crowd was loving it. Stratus was flying. She struck Charlotte with a Stratusfaction, but it wouldn't be enough. Flair ultimately locked in a figure eight of her own and Stratus would tap out.
Charlotte was victorious, but Stratus was impressive, perhaps more so than anyone would have guessed. She showed she still has game, that a former era is not a bygone era. Stratus, even in defeat, waved to adoring home crowd who more than appreciated her effort.
Kevin Owens def. Shane McMahon
Like it or not, Shane McMahon has become one of the best heels in WWE. In doing so, his rhetoric has allowed Kevin Owens to brilliantly take on the anti-authority role.
From an in-ring perspective, these two are extremely familiar with each other, especially after an unforgettable nearly 40-minute Hell in a Cell match in 2017. Owens walked out victorious in that match, and he would need to do the same Sunday night for the sake of his career, as the stipulation stated that if Owens lost, he would quit WWE.
Prior to the match beginning, McMahon announced that his friend Elias would be a special guest enforcer for the match. As the bout progressed, Owens caught McMahon with a pop-up powerbomb, but Elias distracted the referee while Owens had him pinned to save McMahon. Elias even tossed a steel chair into the ring in hopes that Owens would use it and get disqualified. Time and time again, Owens didn't bite on Elias' efforts.
As the match continued to build, Owens connected with a consecutive top-rope senton bomb/frog splash combination. As Owens attempted a pinfall, Elias pulled the referee out of the ring. Owens lunged at Elias and hit both Elias and the referee. With the official down, Owens proceeded to batter Elias with steel chair shots, effectively eliminating him from the match.
The finish came when Owens faked a chair shot attempt on McMahon, and as the official disposed of the chair, Owens hit McMahon with a low blow, then a stunner for the pinfall victory.
This rivalry seems far from over.
SmackDown women's championship: Bayley (c) def. Ember Moon
Perhaps more than anyone on the SummerSlam card, Ember Moon was deserving of a moment in the spotlight.
True, Moon didn't exactly earn her way to this moment. Bayley handpicked her a few weeks ago, but the challenger's overall body of work put her in the category of stars who deserve a chance.
Charismatic and athletic, Moon wasted little time taking it to the champ, landing an aerial forearm smash. But Bayley was tenacious, striking Moon with a deviating knee and then a top-rope suplex.
Although neither woman was able to solidify a long series of offense, the length of the match gave us a chance to see how well-versed Moon is in all facets of her trade. Her power moves and creativity in particular were impressive, and at no point did the match slow down.
Ultimately, Bayley caught Moon on the top rope and landed a devastating Bayley-to-Belly for the three-count.
United States championship: AJ Styles (c) def. Ricochet
It's rare in the modern era of WWE to see a rivalry that could carry on for months at a time without starting to feel a little stale, but AJ Styles and Ricochet have been the exception to that rule.
In a match that felt significantly different from their previous clashes, and yet still not at the peak of what each man could bring to the table, Styles successfully defended the United States championship in a match that still left everyone hungry for more between him and Ricochet.
Ricochet, sporting a Nightwing-inspired full body suit, stunned the crowd in the early moments of the match by using Gallows and Anderson like a footbridge, running along their shoulders to nail Styles with a running head scissors on the outside.
But for most of the match, Styles was focused on slowing Ricochet by going after his knee, time and again. From kicks to using the ropes to sweeping Ricochet's base out from under him, Styles showed a level of brutality we hadn't seen from him in quite some time. And even as he sold the injury with all of the enthusiasm he could muster, the opportunity allowed Ricochet to show off a series of creative solutions, going so far as to use only one leg on a springboard clothesline.
The pace was slower than many might have expected coming into the night, but the crowd got locked back in during the final third of the match. Ricochet countered a calf crusher with a Brock Lesnar-inspired head-slam, followed by an anaconda vice that triggered a couple of "CM Punk" chants from the Toronto crowd.
Most of the match was kept to Styles and Ricochet, but in the closing moments, Ricochet had to fight off Gallows and Anderson as he posted up on the top rope. Then, in what was far and away the most staggering moment of the match, Ricochet attempted what looked like a Phoenix Splash, only for Styles to catch him in the perfect position to nail a Styles Clash for the win.
These two seem to have a lot more to say in this story, with Ricochet absorbing a postmatch attack for good measure, and it seems like a no-brainer to let them keep telling it.
Goldberg def. Dolph Ziggler
Two superkicks from Ziggler were followed by a spear, jackhammer and pin from Goldberg.
Then Ziggler, lying in the ring, grabbed a microphone and begged for more. And Goldberg delivered, twice over.
Raw women's championship submission match: Becky Lynch (c) def. Natalya
After months of conflict against Lacey Evans after WrestleMania, the energy Becky Lynch built since SummerSlam 2018 was starting to wane. Fresh blood in the Raw women's championship picture was overdue, and Natalya stepped back into the spotlight as the first one up.
Sunday's submission match was built through weeks of positive buildup, but that momentum can only go so far if the in-ring action doesn't measure up. It might have taken a little while for the Toronto crowd to become fully invested in the match, but by the time Lynch ultimately got Natalya to tap out to the Dis-arm-her in the middle of the ring, everyone was on the edge of their seats.
From the opening bell, both Lynch and Natalya set a clear narrative, trying out every submission available and working on causing damage to the right body parts to make their signature submissions more effective. The moment when this match started to feel like more than a throwaway moment was when Natalya was able to lock in a sharpshooter while she sat on the top and Lynch was stuck on the middle rope -- a particularly creative maneuver.
They utilized each other's signature move to no avail, but as Natalya was able to get Lynch into position for another sharpshooter in the middle of the ring, the Toronto crowd was fully invested in her taking the title in her home country.
Lynch ultimately persevered, but the amount of time it took for Natalya to finally tap out despite the arm being targeted throughout the match sent a strong message at the end.
Raw's women's division has a lot of depth, and Natalya might step out of the way for the time being. But SummerSlam was a reminder of what she is capable of when she's in the ring with the right opponent and has a story to sink her teeth into
Women's tag team championship: Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross (c) def. The IIconics
Yes, the women's tag team titles were relegated to the Kickoff Show, but champions Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross, and former champs The IIconics put on a solid showing. Although it's an odd matchup featuring a foursome of women who are hardly beloved by the fans, the action was on point.
Not surprisingly, Bliss ended the bout relatively quickly with Twisted Bliss, and you would think this is just the beginning of a long run for two women, who while likely won't be in-ring friends forever work well together. Equally important, Bliss remains in the spotlight while out of any serious singles feuds ... for now.
Buddy Murphy def. Apollo Crews via disqualification
While this match was destined for the Kickoff show, the all-out athleticism and somewhat unexpected interference at the end made for an entertaining few minutes of action. Murphy nearly won his match against Crews early with a running power bomb, but Crews quickly changed the trajectory of the match by tossing his opponent over the top rope. Eventually, it was Murphy's time again, converting a 360-top rope flip on Crews.
But that's when the match came to an abrupt end. Rowan stormed the ring, and in retribution for Murphy blaming the heel for nearly running over Roman Reigns a week earlier began to pummel Murphy. Certainly this storyline is hardly over, and given the names involved, Murphy will see a lot of spotlight moving forward.
WWE cruiserweight championship Drew Gulak (c) def. Oney Lorcan
Cruiserweight champion Drew Gulak and Oney Lorcan didn't deliver your typical Cruiserweight championship match. There were no flips, no aerial attacks or acrobatics. Instead, the combatants treated us to a fine display of mat wrestling and some hard-hitting strikes. In the end, Gulak caught Lorcan with the Cyclone Crash and retained his title.