As fully loaded as Sunday's SummerSlam card is on paper, it's difficult to pinpoint one matchup that stands out above the rest as the no-brainer to headline.
In this case, that's a good problem for the WWE to have, considering just how deep the roster has become one month after a brand extension and draft divided it in half. The result has been a number of intriguing storylines set to culminate inside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, which will host the 29th edition of WWE's second-biggest pay-per-view.
While a showdown between veterans Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton has the most star power of any match scheduled for Sunday night, and is being pushed most prominently across both Raw and SmackDown Live, the rest of the card offers plenty of bouts that are more important to the company's immediate future after the kickoff of its so-called "new era."
Let's take a look at what's at stake in each match.
Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton
The WWE was fortunate that Lesnar survived his "one-off" return to mixed martial arts in July without serious injury, outside of the negative press surrounding his pair of doping violations at UFC 200. Thankfully for the WWE, his popularity doesn't appear to have taken a hit with fans because of it.
A significant portion of the intrigue going into Sunday night has been the return of Orton, who missed the previous nine months with a shoulder injury, along with the history (or lack thereof) between the two. WWE has billed it as "a match 15 years in the making," with some powerful video packages recapping their days in WWE's developmental territory and their simultaneous 2002 debut on the main roster.
As much as Lesnar has been a signature attraction in his part-time role since returning to the company, it's been the booking of Orton, who returned as a WWE babyface, that's made this a must-see match. WWE has done well to play up the danger of his RKO as the great equalizer to Lesnar's size and strength. For a feud with this much star power, a proper buildup isn't essential, but credit WWE nonetheless for cultivating a strong story. With Orton and Lesnar on competing shows, the orchestrated run-ins on both Raw and SmackDown have been flawless.
There isn't much at stake in this match, in terms of what the outcome will be, but that's fine because the entertainment value alone should be enough.
Seth Rollins vs. Finn Bálor, for the inaugural WWE Universal Championship
Say what you will about the name the WWE has given to its new world title, but the Universal Championship could prove to be the company's most prestigious belt the second it's awarded, simply because its home is on Raw. If you're looking to award the title of "most intriguing match" going into SummerSlam, this is the one, for reasons that go beyond its four-star potential.
There isn't one superstar who better exemplifies the WWE's "new era" than Finn Bálor, who held the NXT Championship for 292 days before relinquishing it in April. Fans of the "Demon King" couldn't have asked for a better buildup than his Raw debut on July 25, when Bálor won a pair of matches, including a clean pin over three-time WWE champion Roman Reigns to clinch a spot in this match.
The question that looms largest going into Sunday's match is twofold; was allowing Bálor to get this far in his first month enough of a tip of the cap to vocal fans asking for change, with Seth Rollins assuming his natural position as champion at the top of the heap on Raw? Or is WWE ready to go all-in on its future by strapping a rocket to Bálor and having him win this brand-new title?
The more likely scenario would see the Universal Championship in Rollins' hands; he's the WWE's top heel and arguably its best performer, and he carried the company throughout 2015 until his November knee injury. Either way, the WWE is in a no-lose situation, with the chance to test just how ready Bálor is for the big stage, with his chilling entrance and unique look as the demon.
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler, for the WWE world championship
As is the case in all babyface pairings, fans have waited to see who is more willing to adopt heel tendencies. In this case it's been Dolph Ziggler, who appears rejuvenated after being rescued from the midcard with the way the draft shook out -- and he's been the star of SmackDown Live's premier feud in recent weeks.
- WWE (@WWE) August 17, 2016
It's hard to imagine, however, that Ziggler will actually win the title -- especially with how strategically positioned Dean Ambrose is within the show as a fan favorite -- but Ziggler's return to the main event level has excited fans who have long been clamoring for it. A loss on Sunday would still be a victory for him overall if it leads to more meaningful opportunities on a thinner SmackDown roster.
It wouldn't be a surprise, either, if Ambrose and Ziggler produce a sneaky-good match in the process. The unknown quotient remains Bray Wyatt, who has played as big of a role in this feud as Ambrose and Ziggler -- and he's curiously without a match of his own on Sunday. At the very least, consider him in line for a program against the winner.
Sasha Banks (c) vs. Charlotte, for the WWE Women's Championship
A recent stipulation of this match has barred Charlotte's protégé, Dana Brooke, from being ringside. Let's hope all that does is allow the focus to be on the wrestling ability of these two rising stars, who have a history of incredible matches together dating back to their time in NXT.
They've already started to tell the story their match will likely center around, with Charlotte pretending to fire Brooke backstage, only for her to run out and level Sasha Banks so Charlotte could slap on the Figure-Eight.
- WWE (@WWE) August 17, 2016
Hopefully their incredible match last month on Raw, in which Banks won the title, was only the appetizer for what will happen Sunday. This rivalry has legitimate Shawn Michaels-Bret Hart-like potential for years to come.
Rusev (c) vs. Roman Reigns, for the WWE United States Championship
Surprisingly, this pairing has received more airtime on Raw in the buildup to SummerSlam than any other -- further fueling fan disdain for how the company just can't help itself in trying to get Reigns fully over as a good guy.
The good news is that they work well together, even if their 27-minute main event on Monday felt like a bit too much of a tease for how things will play out Sunday night. For how maligned Reigns can be, no one in the company is working harder at the moment. His microphone work has improved, with an influx of comedy of late, and he has proved that he can have a great match with just about anyone.
Considering Reigns has closed each of the last two Raw episodes with the upper hand against Rusev, a victory for "The Bulgarian Brute" on Sunday seems likely. The result would be an equal victory for Reigns, likely freeing him up for a return to the main event level. Let's be careful not to forget the foreshadowing promo Reigns gave immediately after his loss to Bálor on Raw.
The New Day (c) vs. The Club, for the WWE tag team championship
The recent storyline injury to Big E has provided this rivalry with plenty of PG-13 comedy along the way. What we have seen inside the ring leading up has been just as exciting.
It's been one year since The New Day regained their WWE world tag team championships in a fatal four-way at last year's SummerSlam. With Big E sidelined and The Club performing at a high level in the ring and on the microphone, the timing is perfect -- at least from a storyline perspective -- for the New Day to relinquish those titles on Sunday.
John Cena vs. A.J. Styles
Will this be the culmination of their summer feud? It's starting to feel that way.
Not a whole lot has changed from a storyline standpoint since John Cena returned from shoulder surgery on May 30, only to be confronted on Raw by A.J. Styles about a "dream match." Styles got the win with an assist from The Club at Money in the Bank in June, and Cena got revenge in a six-man tag match at Battleground in July.
Their quarrel has been mostly quiet in recent weeks, save for Cena dropping Styles through the announce table on SmackDown Live this week. One thing we know we can count on entering Sunday is a great match, as both have a tendency to raise the level of their performances when the lights get brighter. Considering how under-the-radar this feud has been, don't be surprised if they end up stealing the show.
The Miz (c) vs. Apollo Crews, for the WWE Intercontinental Championship
While the depth of Sunday's card has largely relegated this feud to the backburner, this is Apollo Crews' first real opportunity to show what he can do in a relatively important match. The Miz may just be the perfect foil to help Crews get over, even in defeat. Crews is an incredible talent in the ring, but he probably could have benefited from more time and polish in NXT. He'll be ready one day to wear the IC title, but not yet.
Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens
Consider this a stay-busy feud for Enzo & Cass, who could use the in-ring seasoning they will get from the veteran duo now known as Jeri-KO. The humor throughout the buildup, especially from Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens, has been nothing short of top shelf as well. That should come as little surprise since some of the best promo cutters in the company are involved.
Cesaro vs. Sheamus
After feuding on Raw to less-than-rave reviews in recent weeks, SummerSlam marks the kickoff of their recently announced best-of-seven series. Both Cesaro and Sheamus could work, so they might surprise us by the end of their feud. Simply from an anticipation standpoint, this one isn't moving me.
Carmella, Becky Lynch and Naomi vs. Natalya and Alexa Bliss
A new generation of women's superstars have benefitted from a recent push on SmackDown Live, but this six-woman tag match, featuring a mixture of veterans and recent call-ups from NXT, took a hit with Thursday's news that Eva Marie, who was expected to team with Natalya and Alexa Bliss, was suspended for a wellness violation. Who will join them now and face Carmella, Becky Lynch and Naomi? Could the open slot create the opportunity of a surprise return for Nikki Bella, who is rumored to have been recently medically cleared to compete after recovering from neck surgery? Considering this match's placement on the card, a higher-profile return further down the road is more likely.