By Keith Elliot Greenberg
If you hadn't figured it out by now, last night’s SummerSlam 2017 reinforced one eternal truth: Brock Lesnar is a beast. But -- after surviving the worst thrashing of his life and emerging from SummerSlam with the WWE Universal Championship -- he's a beast who's going to remain on Raw.
Prior to the summer classic -- to be followed up with broadcasts of WWE's flagship programs, Raw (tonight at 8/7c) and Smackdown Live (Tuesday, 8/7c) -- Lesnar's “advocate” Paul Heyman had complained about the rules of the main event, threatening drastic action. The titlist was pitted against Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns, and Samoa Joe in a “Fatal 4 Way” contest that allowed any participant to win the match (and the Championship) with a pin or submission over any opponent.
Convinced that the WWE was discriminating against his client, Heyman vowed that both he and Lesnar would leave the company if “The Beast Incarnate” did not retain the gold. Some viewed the declaration as an excuse for Lesnar to exit WWE and pursue other projects.
His performance at SummerSlam -- held for the third consecutive year at Brooklyn's Barclays Center -- proved how badly he wants to remain on Raw. After being leveled over the top rope by a Strowman clothesline, Lesnar was squeezed by Samoa Joe's Coquina Clutch on the arena floor and hit with a running spear by Reigns. But that was only the start of the carnage. Strowman then put Lesnar through two separate announcer's tables, and tipped a third onto the Champion's prone body.
Lesnar was taken to the back in a gurney -- only to return, trailed by about a dozen frantic officials and a panic-stricken Heyman, winning the match after delivering an F-5 to Reigns. Although Lesnar retained the gold, it's almost certain that Strowman will attempt to inflict more damage after Raw begins tonight. In fact, until Strowman, the only Raw competitor who could induce comparable terror was Lesnar.
The show -- along with Smackdown Live tomorrow -- is seen as a special event, since both programs will also broadcast from the Barclays Center, and many of the fans who traveled to New York for SummerSlam will attend. Among the items available at all three events: a black t-shirt bearing the slogan, “Brooklyn 3:16,” a takeoff on the “Austin 3:16” phrase popularized by Stone Cold Steve Austin.
When the Barclays Center opened its gates Sunday, this and other unique fashion choices were in abundance. Fans flooding the building wore a variety of t-shirts and outfits, paying homage to the greats of the past -- including Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Shawn Michaels, and Mick Foley -- as well as Raw Superstars Strowman, Enzo Amore, and Finn Balor and Smackdown Live standouts Shinsuke Nakamura and John Cena.
Conversations centered on, among other topics, comparisons between the Raw and Smackdown Live rosters -- each show offers a distinct lineup of Superstars -- along with speculation over which performers from WWE's highly-acclaimed developmental league, NXT, would soon be elevated. Mitch Majro, a fan from Perth, Australia, wore a t-shirt of WWE Hall of Famer “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, who was said to be improving after a serious health scare earlier in the week. “He's on everyone's mind, to be sure,” Majro said, speaking not just for the spectators but the WWE Superstars.
In the course of the night, five titles would change hands. Neville beat Akira Tozawa for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship, the Usos defeated the New Day for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship, Smackdown Women's Champion Naomi lost to Natalya, Sasha Banks toppled Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women's Championship, and Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose upended Sheamus and Cesaro for the Raw Tag Team Championship.
The Rollins/Ambrose victory harkened back to their days in the celebrated unit, the Shield. But the two had had a venomous relationship more recently, and many were sure that they'd turn on each other in the important match. Although it was a difficult victory, none of their trust issues became an obstacle, and the pair come into tonight's Raw seemingly unified.
Another rejuvenated Superstar is Finn Balor, who donned his old “Demon King” body paint to war with Bray Wyatt. Balor topped his rival following a coup de grâce from the top rope -- displaying the aggression and fearlessness that enabled him to become the first WWE Universal Champion at SummerSlam 2016. The confrontation between seven-footers Big Show and Big Cass was a bizarre affair. Cass' former best friend -- and current enemy -- Enzo Amore was suspended from the ring in a shark cage. But he managed to use a hidden lubricant to slip through the bars and onto the canvas. There, he was met by a big foot from Cass, who then delivered a succession of kicks to Big Show to score the win. Given his size and attitude, Cass appears to on the same menacing path as Strowman.
On the Smackdown side, Jinder Mahal retained his WWE Championship against Nakamura. That, and other SummerSlam developments related to Tuesday's Smackdown Live broadcast, will be covered here tomorrow.
- Betty Skaaland, the widow of WWE Hall of Famer “Golden Boy” Arnold Skaaland, was a dignified presence in the front row. John Cena made it a point to hug her before and after his match.
- Shawn Michaels delighted the crowd by shooting an ad for KFC -- dressed as Colonel Sanders.
- Fans were buzzing about Adam Cole, who made his NXT debut the night before by attacking the division's newly-crowned kingpin, Drew McIntyre.
Keith Elliot Greenberg is the co-author of the third edition of the WWE Encyclopedia of Sports-Entertainment, as well as the autobiographies of Ric Flair, Freddie Blassie, and Superstar Billy Graham.