By Keith Elliot Greenberg
Like its spring counterpart WrestleMania, SummerSlam tends to draw attention to WWE Superstars who use the spectacular to showcase strategies they’ve been stockpiling for just such a moment.
With so many eyes on Sunday’s pay-per-view -- and the editions of Monday Night Raw (seen on USA on Mondays at 8/7c) and SmackDown Live (broadcast on USA on Tuesdays 8/7c) that follow -- a number of names are ready to burst onto WWE’s top tier.
Here are some to watch:
A former top contender for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship, Ali received worldwide attention when he almost defeated then-WWE Champion Daniel Bryan during a thriller on SmackDown Live. This was followed by a performance at January’s Royal Rumble that saw the speedster eliminate both Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe. Then, in May, Ali was seconds away from winning the “Money in the Bank” ladder match when Brock Lesnar entered as a surprise entrant, knocking the bold gladiator from the metal stairway. On SmackDown Live on July 30, Ali bested WWE Intercontinental Champion Nakamura in a non-title match. And at SummerSlam, Ali hopes to win the prize -- and use it as his ticket to enduring stardom.
After an imposing background in WWE’s acclaimed developmental league, NXT, Nikki Cross was despondent about not achieving the same level of fame on the main roster and Alexa Bliss appeared to offer Nikki a sympathetic ear. Soon, Cross was referring to the former women’s titlist on both the Raw and SmackDown brands as her best friend. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Nikki seemed to be doing a disproportionate share of the heavy lifting when the two were in tag team competition. On the August 5 Monday Night Raw, the pair entered a Fatal Fourway for the WWE Women's Tag Team Championship. In the final moments, the two were matched against the Kabuki Warriors, Asuka and Kairi Sane. While Cross neutralized Asuka, Bliss was given a clear path to put away Sane. Although the two now sport the women's gold, fans are left wondering if the time will come when the multi-faceted -- and unpredictable Cross -- rises to assert her independence.
Despite his fierce rivalry with “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles, the two share many traits in common. Prior to entering WWE, each was considered among the best in the world. After blazing onto WWE’s main roster in February, Ricochet earned a spot at WrestleMania 35, then survived a rigorous Fatal Fiveway match on Raw to become the top contender for the United States Championship. Although Ricochet defeated tough Samoa Joe for the gold in June, the aerial master was dethroned by Styles at the Extreme Rules pay-per-view in July -- thanks to an assist from AJ’s allies in “The O.C.” (for “The Original, Official and Only Club”), Gallows and Anderson. Ricochet is determined to take back the title -- and he’s one of the few gifted enough to overcome three of WWE’s most versatile competitors to do it.
A familiar sight on WWE broadcasts since 2012, Bray Wyatt -- a man always in tune with dark spirits -- has undergone his most terrifying transformation yet. Following a long sabbatical from WWE, Wyatt appeared on Raw and SmackDown Live as host of a demented children’s segment called Firefly Fun House. In the course of these episodes, he mentioned a person called “The Fiend” whose goal it was to protect his viewers. On the July 15th Monday Night Raw, the fiend revealed himself. It was Wyatt in a gruesome, grinning mask, using his old finishing move, Sister Abigail, to attack Finn Balor. The next week during a reunion of Raw legends, the Fiend appeared again, this time disabling WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley with his maneuver, the Mandible Claw -- a move he'd apply to another legend, Kurt Angle, on the August 3edition of the show. Regardless of the outcome of his SummerSlam clash with Balor, The Fiend now threatens to permeate all aspects of the WWE Universe.
Perhaps the bravest man in WWE, the former Cruiserweight Champion seems to thrive in the most perilous situations. This was evident on the July 8 edition of Monday Night Raw when Shane McMahon teamed with dangerous Drew McIntyre against an opponent of their choosing and Roman Reigns. Before the main event, Shane O’Mac was seen backstage, hiring a janitor to be the Big Dog’s partner. Instead, Alexander came to ring under a mask, and dazzled his rivals with a flying attack. On July 29, after McIntyre interfered in a confrontation between Reigns and Samoa Joe, Alexander again took to the skies to punish “The Scottish Psychopath.” As Gallows and Anderson and the Usos joined the fracas, Alexander suddenly appeared at the top of the LED screens by the ring entrance, splashing onto the entire group. At SummerSlam, all combatants are likely to be looking up, awaiting yet another Alexander arrival.
OTHER FACES TO LOOK FOR….
Heavy Machinery (Otis and Tucker)
The Kabuki Warriors (Kairi Sane and Asuka)
The Viking Raiders (Erik and Ivar)
The Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins/Montez Ford)
Keith Elliot Greenberg is the co-author of the autobiographies of WWE Hall of Famers Ric Flair, Freddie Blassie and Superstar Billy Graham, as well as the third edition of the WWE Encyclopedia of Sports Entertainment.