By Keith Elliot Greenberg
For Kevin Owens, the long SummerSlam week in New York concluded the way it began, with his head swirling with suspicion toward Smackdown Live General Manager Shane McMahon.
After his SummerSlam loss last Sunday to perennial foe AJ Styles, the WWE United States Champion, Owens expressed anger at the special referee, McMahon, who -- after a series of physical altercations with both competitors -- ruled the bout in the titlist's favor.
Last night on Smackdown Live, McMahon grudgingly agreed to allow Owens to pick the special referee for a rematch. After a number of rejections, Baron Corbin agreed to the assignment, provided he received the first shot at the title after it changed hands. But it was not to be. Sensing that Corbin was favoring Owens, Shane interceded in the match, eventually wrangling the ref's shirt away from the unofficial arbiter. In the fracas, Styles blasted Owens with a Phenomenal Forearm and scored the pin; Shane has now decreed that Owens, a three-time WWE United States Champion, has run out of opportunities to challenge for the gold.
“History repeated itself,” the Montreal-bred Owens griped, in reference to Shane's father, Vince's efforts to maneuver the WWE Championship away from Calgary-born Bret “Hit Man” Hart in 1997. “And, 20 years later, a McMahon screwed a legendary Canadian once again.”
But that wasn't the only treachery allegedly perpetrated on Smackdown Live, broadcast from Brooklyn's Barclays Center -- the same venue that hosted SummerSlam on Sunday and Raw the next night. In a tag-team match against Becky Lynch and Naomi, new WWE Smackdown Women's Champion Natalya learned that her partner, Carmella, was more interested in cashing in her Money in the Bank briefcase and gaining a title shot than working as a unit.
After her teammate exhibited a less than ambitious effort in the bout, Natalya grabbed Carmella's wrist and forced her to make a tag –- then watched as the “Queen of Staten Island” was squashed by a Bexploder from Lynch and a split-legged moonsault from Naomi.
Like WWE’s premier extravaganza, WrestleMania, SummerSlam has become more than just an isolated event. In addition to the highly charged episodes of Raw (Mondays, 8/7c) and Smackdown Live (Tuesdays, 8/7c) that followed the spectacular, WWE Superstars participated in a week’s worth of attractions that included a surprise visit by Seth Rollins, Nikki Bella, AJ Styles, and Dolph Ziggler to a group of Make A Wish Kids touring One World Trade Center. Rollins and Dean Ambrose also got into it with SummerSlam opponents Sheamus and Cesaro at a WWE 2K18 kickoff party on Friday night.
At times, it seemed like the entire city was caught up in the flurry. In the days leading to SummerSlam, the event’s logo was projected onto the pillars of the Brooklyn Bridge, while the panes of glass at the Barclays Center were inlaid with images of various WWE Superstars, as if the building were a cathedral to sports-entertainment.
Fans who attended multiple shows over the weekend left feeling as if they'd witnessed a part of history. “All the feuds were reset,” observed Brooklynite Gary Post, 18, who was present for both Raw and Smackdown Live.
“You got to see something fresh; you could feel that a lot of new stuff was starting,” said Oliver Ossatian, 29, who traveled to New York from Glasgow, Scotland to see the series of live events. “With all the international fans, these were definitely different types of shows, just in terms of the intensity level. The fans were into everything, and you could see how the Superstars really went that extra mile.”
A sizable majority of the post-SummerSlam discussion has focused on the confrontation between WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman during their Fatal 4-Way match on Sunday, which also involved Samoa Joe and Roman Reigns. Lesnar -- the only competitor to have been a champion in WWE, UFC, the NCAA and Japan –- has never taken the kind of beating Strowman administered. After being thrown through two separate announcer’s tables, Strowman was crushed by a third. Yet, even after being carted out on a stretcher, he returned, winning the match with an F-5 to Reigns.
The next night, Strowman started Raw by going after Lesnar again, leaving him writhing on the canvas. Time will tell if the pair engages in a number of equally pitiless exchanges on Raw in the weeks leading up to their main event at the aptly-named No Mercy pay-per-view (available to the WWE Network) on Sept. 24.
The relationship between John Cena –- who returned to Raw Monday night after more than a year -– and Roman Reigns is attracting attention, as well, particularly since “The Franchise” and “The Big Dog” intended to fight when they were interrupted by mutual enemies. Although the pair ended up teaming together, and having their arms raised, little was resolved, which begs the question: the next time these two step into the same ring on Raw, will Cena realize his initial wish?
On Smackdown Live, Shinsuke Nakamura -– who lost a match against WWE Champion Jinder Mahal at SummerSlam, due to the interference of the titlist's cronies, Sunil and Sumir Singh –- was pitted against the perfidious twins in a tag team match. It was an easy night for Nakamura, who forced Samir to submit to an armbar, then punished a suit-clad Mahal after the bell. Still, the issue appeared far from mediated, and fans had the sense that “The King of Strong Style” would continue his pursuit of the Championship.
The show also featured a number of number of Smackdown Live acquisitions: former WWE Tag Team Champion Shelton Benjamin, who agreed -– albeit, grudgingly -– to merge with former US Olympian Chad Gable next week, and “Glorious” Bobby Roode, just elevated from NXT, WWE's developmental league.
Said Roode, following his trouncing of Aiden English with a spinebuster, “Everything I touch and everything I do is box office. And, in a New York minute, Smackdown Live went from being great to being absolutely 'glorious.'”
Star Spotting: Among the celebrities either participating in WWE events over the weekend, or simply hanging out and enjoying the various shows: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Snoop Dogg, Macaulay Culkin, Seth Green, and Brenda Song.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Lee England, Jr., the violinist who made Nakamura’s SummerSlam entrance even more compelling than usual. Dubbed the “Soul Violinist,” the former elementary school teacher has appeared with Stevie Wonder, Babyface, Ludacris and others, and exudes the same star power as those regularly showcased on WWE programming.
Keith Elliot Greenberg is the co-author of the third edition of the WWE Enyclopedia of Sports-Entertainment, as well as the autobiographies of Ric Flair, Freddie Blassie, and Superstar Billy Graham.