The hype for the company's marquee pay-per-view outside of WrestleMania officially began when the WWE announced that Brock Lesnar would face Randy Orton earlier this week. Fresh off the momentum generated by The Beast Incarnate's successful MMA return at UFC 200, the build to the match is now well underway.
In less than a week, the brand split will shape the landscape of the company for years to come. Unprecedented anticipation mounts as the WWE Universe feverishly deliberate over who the top picks will be in the draft and how that will affect the company going forward. Since WrestleMania 32, there has been a healthy and interesting influx of fresh talent emanating from NXT, which has altered the competition on the roster for the better, as young stars have emerged and have pushed the veterans on the main roster. General consensus would be that a second wave of NXT prodigies will be needed in order to fill both unique rosters with enough quality to run two distinct shows successfully.
That same excitement has also brought forth understandable skepticism. Are some of the developmental wrestlers ready for prime-time? Some noticeable call ups have recently seen previously successful gimmicks buried without having been granted a fair shot. The Apollo Crews and Tyler Breezes of this world were upper echelon players down in the minor leagues, but have yet to make a significant impact on the main roster as of this writing, despite immense potential and upside. Others, like Enzo and Big Cass, have taken the WWE Universe by storm instantly. With all this to take in, we will predict the top eight wrestlers who will thrive and the top seven that will fail at the biggest event of the summer.
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15 Thrive: Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar has already cemented his legacy as a generational athlete, a beast with no comparison. He has yet to be pinned since his return to the WWE and his matches have been booked in such a way that continue to push his unbeatable allure. Following a return to the UFC which saw him handily defeat a top ten Heavyweight after a five-year hiatus, Brock only helped solidify his stance.
No one can conceivably envision The Beast Incarnate losing a match clean, which opens the door for tons of speculation as to how the match will be booked with the returning Randy Orton. Brock is on top of the professional wrestling world, logging tons of momentum, and visibly in the best shape of his life. He remains poised to steal the show yet again and the hype his recent fight generated will only help draw more attention towards the card and himself. Lesnar has received lots of grief and heat for only being a part-time performer with limited appearances in a year. But the bottom line remains, if he is billed on the event, you WILL be watching. And the WWE recognizes that.
14 Fail: The New Day
The trio has dominated the division for the better part of a year, and rightfully so. They have combined humor and quality promos with great rivalries and matches, which has them poised to break the record for the longest running Tag Team Champions in the company's history.
However, with the brand split looming, and the threat of a tentative split given Xavier Woods' recent behavior as the champs rival with the returning Wyatt Family, many believe a break up is imminent and this could prove disastrous for the team. All three members have finally found their true selves as performers and have been given freedom to run with their ideas and develop their personas, leading to plenty of success. If the group is split, where would this leave each member and how would they manage to thrive on their own? The belief is that it may be to premature to break up the group, though the probability of them being drafted on the same show is slim to none. Also, there are clearly a ton of viable tag teams in NXT right now that could help salvage the division on two separate shows.
Thus, it appears the New Day may be coming to an end and perhaps risk even having some members completely left off the card all together, if they do in fact split, and that would be a shame.
13 Thrive: Sasha Banks
The Boss has been slowed due to nagging injuries. Many believed that she would have already been crowned the Women's Champion by now, as we near the full calendar year since her call up. She's one of the most gifted performers on the female roster and, since her return, creative has been steadily building a feud between her and current champion Charlotte, who has been on quite a run herself since claiming the title almost a year ago.
Many view SummerSlam as the ideal stage for the two to finally clash in a much anticipated match that is long overdue. Many recall last year's NXT Takeover: Brooklyn pay-per-view that went on during the same weekend, which saw a historical, show-stealing match between Banks and Bayley. One would believe that Sasha has been itching to embark on a run which would solidify her position in the women's division and allow her to become the face of the female roster for years to come.
12 Fail: Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson
AJ Styles has been carrying The Club since the team debuted, serving as the marquee center piece to the faction. Gallows and Anderson have served as the goon-squad body guards and have fed off the momentum Styles has generated, as his booking has landed the tag team some fortunate spots on regular programming.
The main reason I believe they will fail at SummerSlam comes from the clear belief that the highly anticipated head to head rematch between Styles and Cena looks like it will be at SummerSlam, and this leads us to question where this will leave Gallows and Anderson. Their interference is almost purposely running its course as they continuously ruin match endings in order to salvage their leader. Their in ring work, while not poor, is clearly a step behind the younger and faster talent on the roster. All these factors lead me to presume they will be lost in the shuffle and perhaps be left off the card, or replay a stale, auxiliary role The Phenomenal One`s role at the event yet again.
11 Thrive: AJ Styles
A.J. Styles has produced highlight reel match after highlight reel match since debuting at the Royal Rumble last January. The WWE used him in a main-event capacity as they awaited the return of Seth Rollins and he helped put over Roman Reigns as a quality wrestler by carrying two incredible matches with the somewhat overwhelmed Reigns.
The Phenomenal One now finds himself in the thick of a compelling rivalry with John Cena and the stage is set for the mega rematch to take place at SummerSlam. With the brand split just days away, it is believed the creation of a new championships will allow the opportunity for AJ to embark on a title run, and rightfully so. The idea is equally as interesting as AJ's heel turn opens the door for quite a few interesting booking scenarios, given how the crowd still reacts favourably to him despite the villainous persona.
10 Fail: The Miz
The Intercontinental Title has seemingly lost its shine in the past few months, due to a stale and uneventful run by The Miz that has only been kept above water by the return of his jaw-dropping wife, Maryse. With the brand split looming near, it is still unclear what will become of the title. Factor in the inevitable influx of new talent to the roster, fresh with new faces and hungry Superstars, and a worthy veteran such as Miz may realistically drop off the radar.
While his character may still be useful in helping put over young talent and more so to help carry along promos with his superb mic skills, many question if he is still the right guy to carry any sort of championship. My guess is that he holds the belt long enough and loses it to a newcomer such as Finn Balor to help put them over immediately.
9 Thrive: Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens has steadily been a great heel for the company and a detestable character. He has developed a persona towards his strengths, which lie in his snarky verbal jabs on the mic and in the ring. He has proven doubters wrong with his elite in-ring work despite a seemingly out of shape physique. He has captured the Intercontinental Title twice already and has figured in interesting feuds delivering five-star matches on the regular. Many believe that the brand split will set the platform for Owens to finally pierce the main event scene and claim the sports highest prizes and accolades.
The Prize Fighter may have well earned his way right to the top which could culminate beautifully at SummerSlam, with the proper direction and booking. With so many potential great rivals he has yet to really develop impasses with, the possibilities are endless. The company can also ensure full investment by the WWE Universe as heel runs as champions always generate passionate crowd reactions and Owens is certainly no exception.
8 Fail: Bayley
This one pains me to classify as a fail, as I am true fan of everything Bayley brings to the table. Rumors are circulating that the draft will result in WWE finally calling up the former NXT Women's Champion, though I foresee a future similar to that of Apollo Crews right now. Less due to her own faults and more due to a lack of direction, and I say this only because the Women's Division has stagnated after receiving a significant push last year with the first string of call ups dubbed the Divas Revolution which saw Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks make their main roster debuts.
Charlotte has been carrying the title for quite sometime, and many believe Sasha Banks is the next in line to claim the title. There is a significant drop off from there, as Becky Lynch and a past-her-prime Natalya feud is next up. Nikki Bella is supposedly set to return from injury sooner than later, complicating the mix. The division itself has yet to be identified to either brand and no one is quite sure how that will play out. For this, I feel that Bayley will be forced up and misused until the female division is given any meaningful direction. Or, the company will take the option to keep her down with NXT searching to become the first ever two-time Women's Champion. This seems like the better path, though it is still regarded as a fail because that means we won't be seeing Bayley anytime soon. Tough situation to say the least.
7 Thrive: Bray Wyatt
Finally returning from injury, The Wyatt's have picked up right where they left off and will finally challenge for the Tag Team Championship gold at the upcoming Battleground pay-per-view. Many wonder what will happen to the faction once the draft airs next week. Why would the company want to break up their best faction on the roster, who are so different from the rest?
Clearly, the success of the group rests squarely on the performance of their leader Bray, who portrays a truly creepy character while remaining PG. He is a raw talent and, in my estimation, severely underrated in the ring. Whether The Wyatt’s are split at the draft or not, I think it is time Bray finally receives the push he has warranted with his stellar performance on the main roster. With SummerSlam about six weeks away, hopefully creative devises a plan to make Bray a prominent figure, as shuffling through the midcard is a gross misuse of his talents.
6 Fail: Rusev
The Bulgarian Brute stagnated considerably during his tenure in the lackluster League of Nations. He has since regained a bit of momentum while recapturing the United States Championship.
However, since breaking on to the main roster with a sizable impact a few years ago, his character has failed to evolve. Carried by the graces of his valet Lana, the character today is virtually the same as it was when he burst onto the scene. Stuck with a stale political gimmick in an overly sensitive geo-political climate, Rusev's character treads sensitive waters if precautions are not taken to filter his vignettes.
For this, I see him holding a title only long enough to help put over new talent that will be hungry to make an impact upon their inevitable debut with the draft pending shortly. SummerSlam sets a perfect stage for a coming out party for new talent looking to make a lasting first impression and Rusev may unfortunately serve as a casualty of a changing guard, despite his raw talent.
5 Thrive Enzo and Cass
There was concern when Enzo Amore went down to what seemed like a serious head injury earlier this year. Instead, Big Cass carried his own admirably while his partner made a prompt recovery. Since returning, the duo have take the WWE Universe by storm, becoming instant contenders in the tag team division. Enzo proves to be one of the most charismatic mic maestros the WWE has seen in a while, which serves as an undeniable advantage to creating a connection with the WWE Universe.
In the ring, the combination of Amore's scrappiness and Cass' nimbleness and raw power demonstrate exactly what the duo is all about. Being paired with John Cena for an upcoming six-man tag match at Battleground is also no coincidence, as Jersey's finest clearly have what it takes to carry their own next to the legend that is John Cena. Expect a fully ushered arrival towards SummerSlam which could see the duo capture their first titles and what better stage to do it on.
4 Fail: Roman Reigns
The WWE is currently faced with quite the predicament. They spent months on months pushing Reigns as the top guy and future face of the company. Crowd reactions were generally against being forced into believing Reigns was as invincible as he seemed. Then news broke of Roman's suspension, which only further complicates the situation.
"The Guy" remains billed for the much anticipated Shield Triple Threat Match main event at Battleground, and thus, what message does this send the locker room if the top guy receives preferential treatment following a significant suspension? Should he not be reprimanded accordingly and forced to work his way back up?
Once he returns, no one would grasp, nor accept if Reigns simply returned and won the title that easily. His relationship with the audience remains sensitive as it is. Thus, booking him in light of all this and the brand split will require diligent handling, as this could make or break the former World Champ. I predict too many moving parts inhibiting a proper transition back into relevancy and thus, his return is poised to fail in the short term.
3 Thrive: Finn Balor
Arguably the biggest call up pending from NXT and the most anticipated debut looming, Finn Balor has more than paid his dues down in developmental. An unparalleled, elite talent, fans are salivating at the prospect of rivalries with the likes of Seth Rollins and AJ Styles to name a few.
Will The Bullet Club finally form or even the Balor Club? Will he be a face or transition into a heel given the possibility of The Demon character taking full force? It will be interesting to see how creative integrates him into the main roster, though it is believed that Finn possess all the necessary tools to make a sizeable impact the second he receives the big call up. With the draft leaving more than a month to prepare for SummerSlam, the stage is set for The Demon to arrive in style and make a debut for the ages, setting the scene for what can potentially be a legendary career.
2 Fail: Dean Ambrose
Dean Ambrose serves as an admirable performer, delivering quality and consistency both on the mic and in the ring, on a nightly basis. His current title run seems almost like a prefix to a bigger plan, as Roman Reigns serves a suspension and Rollins transitions back up to speed.
Perhaps the brand split will allow The Lunatic Fringe to maintain his marquee status on either brand, though something seems off as he currently serves as the face of the company while creative sort out the last details before their full blown split. SummerSlam leads many to believe that a changing of the guard is well underway and Ambrose might be the odd man out, depending on how the cookie crumbles with the brand split, how many titles will be up for grabs, and many other ambiguous details. Uncontrollable circumstances may have forced Ambrose into the limelight and it is my belief that SummerSlam will help set the pendulum straight, as creative clearly sees Reigns and Rollins as the top guys.
1 Thrive: Seth Rollins
The Architect returned and appears to not have missed a beat in the ring. He pinned the monstrous Roman Reigns clean at MITB, only to lose the title immediately after as Dean Ambrose cashed in his contract won earlier that night.
WWE has exercised caution as to not over work Rollins as he fully recovers from the devastating injury that forced him to vacate his title back in late 2015. In the meantime, plenty of hype has been generated from his brooding rivalry with Ambrose. Rollins also continues to take shots at Reigns while he remains sidelined due to suspension. The sense is that something drastic will happen during the main event of Battleground which will finally pit the three former brothers against each other. However, many believe the Battleground stage is far from adequate for a match of that magnitude, and thus, something even bigger lies in the cards for SummerSlam.
Rollins has proven to be the man of big moments and SummerSlam will serve as the biggest platform to breakout since his return. Today's version of "The Showstopper" will undoubtedly seize the opportunity in front of him and it is my belief that this is exactly what the fans expect and want.
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