The strongest theme running through WWE this year was reinforced in the main event of SummerSlam last night. The best WWE gets is when it just lets big ol’ boys steamroll each other through furniture.
The four-way Universal title match last night was like a Fire Pro Wrestling World version of the fantastic Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar match from WrestleMania. It threw four of WWE’s biggest bruisers in the ring at one time, and jumped almost immediately to what would otherwise be a typical main event’s endgame. Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman all basically started this match with their finishers stored up and ready to go, tossing each other around like it was nothing as soon as the bell rung. When Strowman eventually pulled away and dominated, putting Lesnar through multiple tables as the broken bodies of Reigns and Joe were strewn about the floor of the Barclays Center, it became clear that this one match hadn’t just salvaged a hit-and-miss show, but given us all a new dream main event. Strowman vs. Lesnar is clearly the future of WWE.
As good as its in-ring product can be, WWE largely feels stagnant today because it doesn’t ever fully commit to its wrestlers. It infamously feels reluctant to push any of the current crop as true stars, outside of Lesnar, Reigns, John Cena and, now, Strowman. 50/50 booking, stop-start pushes and scripted promos devoid of emotion have kept most of the roster from resonating with the fan base as strongly as they should, and as strongly as the company needs them to in order to become appointment television.
This all reinforces something wrestling fans have known for decades: Vince McMahon pretty much only cares about the superheavyweights. If you’re unusually tall or big you will always catch the boss’s eye more quickly than if you’re just a superb athlete who knows how to wrestle a fantastic wrestling match. It doesn’t always work out—look at how the last two weeks have completely upended Baron Corbin’s former push—but you can tell when McMahon is heavily invested in a match or wrestler, and he’s clearly more excited about Raw’s current main event scene of juggernauts than he is anything else in WWE right now. He’s kneecapped his product for years by insisting upon Reigns as the focal point, but in the meantime he’s continued to push Lesnar as a human Hulk, and has lately let Strowman and (to a much lesser degree) Samoa Joe get over as legitimate monsters. That leads to matches like last night’s, where every move has weight and meaning, and any outcome seems possible. It leads to wrestling matches that actually feel like wrestling matches, instead of just choreographed routines by a revolving door of interchangeable talent.
We don’t love the bigguns because they’re big. We love these matches because they’re the only ones WWE presents as a big deal. As such it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy guided by McMahon’s own well-established biases. The only matches fans care about are the only matches Vince McMahon really cares about. Fortunately right now that inevitably leads to a squadron of bulls pinballing off each other in unbelievable displays of hard-hitting co-op brutality. Or, in other words, great pro wrestling.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.