WWE SummerSlam stood firm on Saturday night in the face of big expectations that the company shakeup would mean major changes.
The Biggest Party of the Summer walked a memorable balance as a transitional sort of event creatively—and it sure doesn't hurt that Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar exceeded expectations in the main event.
It was fair to wonder what a Triple H-led SummerSlam might look like. Some of it was business as usual with things like tag standard tag matches and little in the way of surprises. There wasn't a stunning appearance by someone like The Rock and Theory only got to tease a cash-in of his Money in the Bank briefcase.
But one could almost feel the care thrown behind certain creative decisions. On the same night, for instance, Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey both appeared to turn, the former to assist Bianca Belair against a returning Bayley and the latter into a more natural heel role.
Rousey's latest loss was certainly memorable, to say the least. WWE had seemingly booked itself into a corner by fully capitalizing on Liv Morgan with the briefcase cash-in and win against someone so much stronger than her. But Morgan, while rightfully looking overmatched, got crafty and stole a win, retaining her title anyway.
Maybe that sort of suave booking was already in the cards, but it's reasonable to tip the hat toward the new era as a sign of things to come. Ditto for more fantastic performances by Pat McAfee and especially Logan Paul, who flashed signs of a guy who just might have main event-level talent in his win over The Miz.
And then there was the main event itself.
Yes, some of the spots were huge. But there was a welcome attention to detail. Theory saw his cash-in attempt thwarted, which keeps the briefcase on a heel who will only keep improving. Lesnar got a little extra revenge on Paul Heyman by sending him through a table—and Heyman even audibly described Reigns as his "meal ticket" during the match, perhaps hinting at a future betrayal.
But yes, the spots. Lesnar in the tractor. Lesnar destroying the ring with the tractor. Lesnar dumping Reigns out of it. Lesnar dropping an Uso brother on his head outside. Heyman going through a table. Everyone needing to pile as much debris on Lesnar as possible just to get the 10-count.
The main event's final 10 minutes devolved into the sort of carnage WWE doesn't throw out often. It was, frankly, very Attitude Era-ish, which might just be a hint of things to come after those rumblings of Raw moving to a TV-14 rating.
Not only that, but this was also the sort of match fans would expect to see from two downright modern legends who, tier list-wise, are grossly more powerful than the rest of the roster. That said, their WrestleMania match recently just worked through the same old tired spots and didn't take risks like this is what made that main event the biggest disappointment of the two-night show.
No such problem here. While it would have been nice to see this feud have those sorts of bouts all the time, it's only fitting that they pulled this off in what is supposedly their final meeting. From a booking standpoint, in terms of perceived power levels, the fact that Reigns needed so much help to finally keep Lesnar down is a pretty good readjustment if he's off to just face the normal members of the roster again.
Rest assured that's one match they will constantly show up-and-comers at the performance center and writers in brainstorming sessions. It's the shining example of how a gimmick or weapons-based match should believably be done, the polar opposite of something memorable for the wrong reasons like that horrific Seth Rollins vs. The Fiend debacle.
This isn't to say there aren't problems. WWE could still simply be stringing the Reigns unified run along while hoping The Rock can do the next 'Mania, especially now that he's roughly a month away from being champion for two years.
Based on history, fans have every right to remain skeptical on things like Morgan keeping her streak going. And it's worth wondering if the long hours of weekly programming can keep this level of quality or if this was a one-off that benefited from already-built angles and feuds.
Still, it's hard not to feel like the careful navigation of what might have been unreasonable fan expectations going into Saturday night is a sign of things to come. And Reigns-Lesnar ending on a high note with some of the most iconic imagery (the decimated ring) of the modern era, plus those well-seeded story beats and hints of almost more mature content to programming, sure helps.
As a whole, outside of the main event, SummerSlam might not go down as the most memorable or be viewed in hindsight as the major turning point or the new Triple H era. But it was one heck of a way to start snowballing momentum in the right direction as two wrestling Mount Rushmore candidates put on a classic to end the show.