Roman Reigns finally conquers Brock Lesnar, wins Universal Championship

After Brock Lesnar beat down Braun Strowman outside the ring, Roman Reigns hit Lesnar with a spear for the victory. This was Reigns’s third championship match against Lesnar this year, but the grand payoff failed to meet expectations. Strowman’s appearance riled up the crowd, but his lack of a cash-in and subsequent Reigns win proved anticlimactic. Reigns is an unappealing character to much of the WWE audience, and ending a major pay-per-view with him standing tall is an odd look.

The Monster among Men enters ahead of Reigns-Lesnar

Braun Strowman’s music hit before the start of the main event between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar. Strowman promised the rivals that he would cash in his “Money in the Bank” contract against the winner of the Universal Championship match, much to the delight of the Barclays Center crowd.

Ronda Rousey taps out Alexa Bliss, claims Raw Women’s Championship

Ronda Rousey dominated Alexa Bliss from start to finish, finally putting the champion out of her misery with a grotesque arm bar. As Rousey celebrated, the commentators called her a pioneer for women’s athletes. She embraced Natalya, the Bella twins, and finally, her husband, Travis Browne. The Rousey era is upon us.

Shinsuke Nakamura retains United States Championship

Shinsuke Nakamura rolled out of the way when Jeff Hardy attempted a swanton bomb outside the ring. Nakamura hit Hardy with a kinshasa and pinned him for the win. Randy Orton then approached the ring, but turned around and retreated to the back before attacking Hardy.

‘The Demon’ makes a surprise appearance

Finn Balor morphed into his alter ego, “The Demon,” for his match with Baron Corbin. “The Demon” normally only appears for high-stakes fights, and Balor’s match against Baron Corbin was hardly billed as such. Nevertheless, Balor made his way to the ring covered in war paint and quickly disposed of Corbin. The Brooklyn crowd ate up every minute.

The Miz punches Daniel Bryan with foreign object to capture win

The Miz and Daniel Bryan’s mutual hatred has been simmering for eight years, and it only intensified during Bryan’s more than two-year medical hiatus. The result was a beautiful match that featured athleticism, drama and symbolism. In the end, The Miz won after punching Bryan in the face with an unidentified foreign object (brass knuckles, probably), given to him by his wife, Maryse, who was watching from the front row. The murky ending means this feud is far from over, to the delight of fans of long-term storytelling. After he left the ring, The Miz glared at the befallen Bryan and hissed: “I always will be better than you.”

AJ Styles retains WWE championship after DQ

Samoa Joe might’ve gone too far. He grabbed a microphone, turned to Styles’s wife and said, “I’ll be your new daddy.” This prompted Styles to charge Joe, sending him through the barricade. He proceeded to beat down the challenger with a steel chair, getting himself disqualified. The good news is this feud will continue, and based on tonight, many more good matches are to come. Styles and Joe have a feel for one another in the ring, and the result is normally something special.

Charlotte Flair wins seventh women’s championship, but loses a friend

In an entertaining triple-threat that saw a litany of near falls, Charlotte Flair emerged victorious, pinning her “best friend” Becky Lynch.

Before the turn, former champion Carmella crawled away from the ring after twice nearly being forced to tap out. Lynch and Flair hugged. But Lynch, in a shocking turn, smacked Flair in the face and beat her down outside the ring. Lynch’s beatdown was characteristic of a heel, but instead she was cheered. Lynch, a massive fan favorite, hasn’t tasted gold since 2016, and her character has expressed frustration at her lack of success.

Braun Strowman annihilates Kevin Owens, retains ‘Money in the Bank’ briefcase

The odds were stacked against Braun Strowman, who could’ve lost his “Money in the Bank” briefcase by disqualification or count out. The stipulation had some wrestling prognosticators mapping out a Kevin Owens win, but instead Strowman disposed of the former WWE Universal champion in quick fashion. Barclays Center will come unglued if Strowman opts to cash in his briefcase for a title shot during the main event that will pit Roman Reigns against Brock Lesnar. Will WWE pull the trigger?

Jon Stewart is in the house

Jon Stewart hosted Summerslam in 2015, and he’s ringside tonight to catch the action. Stewart’s hosting gig ended with him hitting John Cena with a steel chair; don’t expect the former “Daily Show” host to get that involved this year.

The Bludgeon Brothers retain WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship by DQ

To hardly anyone’s surprise, the Bludgeon Brothers’ gimmick hasn’t really caught on. Mallets? Spooky music? In 2018? Erick Rowan and Luke Harper, who are both talented performers, have nonetheless dominated the Smackdown tag-team division since capturing the titles at WrestleMania 34. Brooklyn was ready for a victory for the New Day, one of the most popular acts in WWE, but it wasn’t to be; Rowan hit Xavier Woods with his mallet, getting his team intentionally disqualified. It was an odd look for a pair of big dudes who have done nothing but crush their competition for months, but it means New Day will be getting another title shot in the near future.

The Bella Twins make a surprise appearance

Nikki and Brie Bella popped up backstage for an interview with Renee Young. The Bellas refused to commit to returning to the ring for Evolution, the first all women’s pay-per-view event, scheduled for October, but didn’t leave before stating their excitement for Ronda Rousey, who challenges Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s Championship later in the night.

Seth Rollins reclaims Intercontinental Championship

In a match that will be hard to top, Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler started Summerslam in heart-pounding fashion. The highlight of the match came when Rollins leaped up to the turnbuckle, where Ziggler was steadying himself, and hit an inverted superplex from the top rope. He wasn’t done. Holding his grip on Ziggler, Rollins rolled through and hit Ziggler with another superplex. Ziggler kicked out, improbably, and the Barclays Center crowd clapped in appreciation and chanted, “This is awesome!” After some ringside shenanigans from Drew McIntyre and Dean Ambrose, who were in the corners for Ziggler and Rollins, respectively, Rollins hit Ziggler with a superkick and a curb stop for the win.

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Preshow results:

The B-Team keeps rolling, defeating The Revival to retain the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship: Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas are no longer enhancement talent. Every time the The B-Team defends its titles, it feels like the duo is on borrowed time. And yet, Axel and Dallas keep racking up victories, further pushing the previous iteration of their careers further into the rearview mirror. They might not be the Hardy Boys, but Axel and Dallas are holding down the fort in the Raw tag-team division.

Cedric Alexander retains the WWE Cruiserweight Championship with a win over Drew Gulak: Since winning the title at WrestleMania 34, Alexander has proved to be capable champion. The division is hardly a focal point of WWE programming, though, and Alexander’s reign has been mostly out of the spotlight. This match ended after a flurry of near falls, with the champion rolling up the challenger for the victory.

Andrade “Cien” Almas and Zelina Vega defeat Rusev and Lana: Rusev is one of the most popular wrestlers on Smackdown Live, and Almas one of its brightest young stars. But on a loaded Summerslam card these two found themselves relegated to the preshow. This mixed-gender match functioned as a way to get both some screen time, in addition to showcasing Vega and Lana. Expect this rivalry to continue, perhaps with a one-on-one match between Almas and Rusev on Smackdown Live.

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Gone are the days when professional wrestlers pretended that wrestling, was, well, professional. The curtain has been lifted. Sure, when the camera is on, the performers adopt their WWE characters’ myriad conflicts and desires, actors playing their roles to perfection. But the edges between reality and narrative are increasingly blurred, and some of the most memorable moments of the modern era have been when the performance leans into those shades of gray.

That tension will be front and center at WWE Summerslam 2018, which kicks off Sunday at 7 p.m. at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., particularly with the much anticipated match pitting Daniel Bryan, WWE’s resident bearded underdog, against The Miz. The two are diametrically opposed forces in the world of wrestling: Bryan is an undersized, righteous technician who connects with the audience; The Miz is a former reality television star, with Hollywood looks and arrogant charisma. They’ve crisscrossed one another for the past eight years, dating back to Bryan’s WWE debut. The hook for this match is that these guys might actually not like each other. Their respective wrestling personas are merely exaggerated versions of their real-life personalities, and in turn wrestling fans are left wondering whether the mutual disdain is real or scripted. The answer probably lies somewhere in between.

Then there’s the main event in which Roman Reigns will be challenging Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Championship. Yes, you read that correctly. We’re still doing this. WWE has done its damnedest to paint Lesnar as a loathsome champion who doesn’t care about professional wrestling and would rather fight in the UFC, but that’s not going to be enough to appease a notoriously rowdy and well-informed Brooklyn crowd. Reigns, the corporate poster boy, will be booed mercilessly despite his ostensible presentation as a good guy.

WWE does have an out. It’d be hard to look at the clash between Braun Strowman and Kevin Owens, with the former’s “Money in the Bank” briefcase on the line, as anything but fodder for the main event. The briefcase can be cashed in at any time for a championship opportunity, and it’s been hinted that the winner of Strowman-Owens will inject themselves into the main event in one way or another.

And then there is Ronda Rousey. The former UFC star has been a boon to WWE’s mainstream marketability, and she’s been pretty good in the ring, too. Her debut at WrestleMania was a hit, and on Sunday she challenges Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s Championship. Bliss has been the division’s standard bearer for the better part of a year, and she’s been an apt dance partner for Rousey’s first major championship fued.

AJ Styles recently surpassed JBL for the longest WWE Championship reign in Smackdown history, and when he faces Samoa Joe, his reign will have reached 285 days. The buildup for this match has once again borrowed from reality, playing on Joe and Styles’s longtime relationship, which dates back to their time in rival promotion Impact Wrestling. In praising Styles’s durability, Joe also has taunted the sacrifices the champion has had to make in his personal life. WWE doesn’t have an offseason, and the most durable wrestlers spend around 300 days on the road away from their families. Styles’s wife probably didn’t write Joe a letter, asking him to take her husband’s title so he can spend more time at home, as Joe claimed on television, but the insertion of a very real, very common sacrifice into their story line is sure to yield an emotionally charged fight.

What you need to know:

Date: Sunday, August 19

Location: Barclays Center, Brooklyn

Start time: 7 p.m.

Watch live: WWE Network or pay-per-view

Fight card:

  • Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns
  • WWE Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs. Samoa Joe
  • Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz
  • WWE Raw Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Ronda Rousey
  • WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship: Carmella (c) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair
  • WWE Intercontinental Championship: Dolph Ziggler (c) w/Drew McIntyre vs. Seth Rollins w/Dean Ambrose
  • WWE United States Championship: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Jeff Hardy
  • WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship: The Bludgeon Brothers (c) vs. The New Day
  • Money in the Bank contract: Braun Strowman (MITB holder) vs. Kevin Owens
  • Baron Corbin vs. Finn Balor
  • WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Cedric Alexander (c) vs. Drew Gulak
  • Rusev and Lana vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas and Zelina Vega
  • WWE Raw Tag Team Championship: The B-Team (c) vs. The Revival