This year’s Summerslam marks an important anniversary in my history as a fan. The year, 1992, was when I became a wrestling fan and back in those days the WWF (now WWE) only put on four annual pay-per-view events: Wrestlemania, Summerslam, Survivor Series, and the Royal Rumble. Summerslam ’92 was the first pay-per-view I watched the build up to and anticipated with baited breath. That show remains the peak for the event as over 80,000 fans packed Wembley Stadium (still the legitimate attendance record for the WWE) to see The Ultimate Warrior and “Macho Man” Randy Savage wrestle for the WWF title with Mr. Perfect’s allegiances hanging in the balance, and an inter-family war as brothers-in-law “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith and Bret “The Hitman” Hart did battle for the Intercontinental strap. In those days, it was rare to see a match that was not for the WWF title headline a pay-per-view, but Hart and Smith put on a clinic deserving of the honor. Though Smith was the victor, he would be turfed from the WWF by the year’s end and Hart would become the WWF champion.
2012’s Summerslam (the 25th) will also be headlined by a non-WWE title bout of heavy importance. Brock Lesnar (1-1 SS) will take on “The Game” Triple H (8-4 SS). Lesnar, once the WWE’s next big thing and brightest young star, gave up wrestling because of his frustrations with life on the road. He departed to find personal fulfillment, making the Minnesota Vikings practice squad, wrestling in Japan, and finally MMA. He was as successful in MMA as in wrestling, decimating the heavyweight rankings and becoming a two-time defending world champion. Diverticulitis hampered his career and first round stoppages to Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem put him into at least a temporary retirement. Four months after the Overeem fight, he re-emerged in the WWE.
While Lesnar took an 8-year hiatus, Triple H went nowhere. A man who loves the wrestling business so much, he quite literally married it (In 2003 he married Stephanie McMahon, daughter of the WWE patriarch Vince McMahon); Triple H has wrestled in the WWE an astonishing 17 years since his first Summerslam in 1995. This will be his first appearance on the show since 2009, as the 43-year-old veteran has turned into a part time performer; business duties for the WWE have dominated his time over the last several years.
A disgruntled Lesnar instigated the feud by attacking Triple H and breaking his arm. Lesnar felt the need to hurt somebody, after his disappointing April loss to John Cena. Since then, the bout has been promoted oddly to work around both men’s part time schedule, with Paul Heyman acting as Lesnar’s mouthpiece and Triple H calling out the former UFC and WWE champion in vain; until Lesnar was provoked into the bout on the 1000th Raw. Brock Lesnar needs the win. With just two matches in the last eight and a half years, both losses, he will need a strong victory to remind fans of his capabilities.
Also on deck for tonight is a triple-threat match for the WWE title as CM Punk (3-3 SS) , John Cena (4-4 SS), and The Big Show (4-0 SS) will all do battle. The Big Show’s interference on the 1000th Raw caused John Cena to be the first Money in the Bank winner to not capture the title since the concept’s inception in 2005, which was a clever back channel for Show to insert himself into the title picture. CM Punk’s “Go to Sleep” attack on The Rock on Raw 1000 was the first salvo fired in a war between CM Punk and The Rock; With Punk’s long reign already extending from last year’s Survivor Series to this year’s Summerslam and tremendous fan intrigue in a Royal Rumble match between Punk and Rock in Phoenix next year, he should be the favorite to win. Cena seems a realistic possibility as well, as interest in his feud with The Rock drove successful buyrates for the last two Wrestlemanias. The Big Show seems a long shot, but it is interesting to note he is undefeated in his very few Summerslam appearances since his 1999 debut and though a Rock vs. Big Show title matchup is unlikely, a lot can happen between August and January.
World Heavyweight Champion, Sheamus (0-2 SS), will defend his title against the man who emerged from last year’s Summerslam the WWE champion, Alberto Del Rio (1-1 SS). The former PRIDE fighter and luchador, Del Rio, is unlikely to get his signature armbar on the dominant world champion. The Irishman should prevail in a short encounter, continuing a reign of dominance since Wrestlemania.
Daniel Bryan (1-1 SS) is set for a match with Kane (6-3-1 SS). Bryan has been embroiled in a silly feud with flailing actor and tabloid sensation Charlie Sheen, as well as with his ex-girlfriend, Raw General Manager AJ Lee. Bryan will need a victory over The Big Red Machine to stay relevant.
Chris Jericho (3-5 SS) will wrestle Dolph Ziggler (0-1-1 SS) in his first pay-per-view matchup since his July face turn. Fans have wanted to embrace and cheer Jericho since his late 2011 return and have been denied the chance to do so. His heel run felt forced and arbitrary, which was very odd given Jericho’s propensity to reinvent himself in creative and compelling ways. Though both men need a win, I predict Ziggler takes it via chicanery in a show stealing match. Jericho passing the torch to Ziggler would not hurt the veteran “Y2J”‘s reputation and would propel the talented technical wrestler, Ziggler, who has had trouble ascending to world title level.
Newly made-over intercontinental champion, The Miz (0-1 SS), will defend his title against fellow returning star, Rey Mysterio (4-4 SS). Re-establishing The Miz, who fell fast and hard from his late 2010 through early 2011 fights, will be a mean feat, and I predict a Mysterio loss here.
R-Truth and Kofi Kingston (0-0 Team SS) will defend their WWE Tag Team Titles against The Prime Time Players, Titus O’Neill and Darren Young (0-0 Team SS). Only devoted fans can even remember who the tag champions are at this point and the fact that they are defending on this card signifies a changing of the guard. The WWE tag team division is stale and meaningless and a young team might have a shot at resuscitating the belt.
In pre-show action, former Ring of Honor standout, Antonio Cesaro (0-0 SS), will take on defending U.S. champion, Santino Marella (1-0 SS). The U.S. title has been around Santino’s waist for a very long time, and though he proved deft as a serious performer when called to step up at this year’s elimination chamber, a title is inessential to his usual comedy act. Antonio Cesaro (despite the WWE name, still best known to fans as Claudio Castagnoli) has the look, talent, and mic skills to make a compelling midcard champion and return some glory to the vaunted United States title.
Summerslam kicks off live on Pay-Per-View from the Staples Center in Los Angeles at 8 PM EST. Check your local listings for availability.