NEW YORK -- With some fight fans foaming at the mouth for a Brock Lesnar-Jon Jones MMA superfight, the stipulation of Lesnar and Paul Heyman leaving WWE with a Lesnar loss served as the perfect fodder for the WWE creative team to pull off another in a seemingly endless series of well-executed misdirections that have made them the company they are today.
No matter the rumors, which ran the gamut from Heyman switching allegiances to a shocking appearance from the seemingly retired Undertaker, all fell flat. What was left was everything fans wanted from a battle between four of their biggest bruisers -- an absolute war of attrition.
From the start, it was as clear as day who the Brooklyn fans were behind. Braun Strowman and Samoa Joe each came out to huge pops, with the crowd carrying on a loud and sustained "Joe" chant until they realized Roman Reigns had to be the next man out. That's when they started booing, before his music even began, and didn't stop until the first beats of Lesnar's theme hit.
For the two straight minutes, and to a somehow even louder degree when his name was introduced, the fans rained down their fury upon Reigns with all of the hatred they could summon. If there was one man they didn't want to leave this match as champion, it was Reigns.
The crowd got loud again for Lesnar, who moved far more quickly than usual to ringside. The tension inside the Barclays Center was thick, and uncertainty hung heavy in the air. When it was Lesnar's turn to be introduced, Heyman grabbed the mic and did an accentuated version of his Lesnar spiel -- and the whole crowd called along with him in time.
Lesnar paired off with Joe, and Strowman went against Reigns. Over the next 20-plus minutes, which flew by as the crowd rarely left their feet, fans saw every bit of the car crash they were hoping for and then some.
There weren't as many German suplexes as we've grown accustomed to, but with the exception of Strowman, Reigns and Joe still got their fair share.
One of the crazy nuances about this match were how few near-falls there were until the tail-end of the match. Joe locked (or nearly locked) in the Coquina Clutch several times, but never for an extended period, and there were only a handful of pinfall attempts until the final moment.
The Strowman vs. Lesnar showdown that fans were salivating for was never truly realized, but the brief moments the pair had were dominated by Strowman.
After a corner splash, Strowman clotheslined Lesnar out of the ring and started what was likely the sequence fans will remember about this SummerSlam event for years to come. Joe briefly caught Lesnar in a Coquina clutch, but let go just in time to have Reigns spear Lesnar through the ring barrier. Joe then picked up Reigns and hit a Uranage on a table, but it didn't break. Strowman shoulder tackled Joe up and over the table through the air, neutralizing both Samoans.
That left Strowman to make the biggest statement of his career over the next few minutes.
He cleared the first table in a row, picked up Lesnar and powerslammed him through the table. Reigns and Joe briefly got some offense in, only for Strowman to throw a desk chair and hit both men, once again neutralizing them. Strowman cleared off a second table, and hit a second power slam through that. With the crowd chanting for blood, Strowman flipped over a third table and deposited it directly on Lesnar, monitors and all.
EMTs rushed to carry Lesnar to the back, with the crowd curiously chanting "na-na-na-na-hey-hey-goodbye" in his direction before a quick realization of how much more likely a Reigns win had become. The steel steps got involved, and both Strowman and Reigns used them at various times to clear out all of their opponents. Joe picked up a couple of two-counts in quick succession, only for Reigns to cull his momentum with a Samoan drop.
Joe stopped a Superman punch and locked in another Coquina Clutch, but Strowman rolled in and choke-slammed the both of them at the same time. Suddenly, the energy picked up in the building, and everyone's attention turned to the top of the ramp as Lesnar fought through the EMTs and production staff to make his way back to the ring.
The chaos intensified, with spears, German suplexes and strikes flying in every direction. Lesnar tried to suplex Strowman, but failed, and then locked on a kimura, a callback to a few years ago in his career when he was "breaking arms".
Reigns delivered Superman punches all around and hit an awkward spear on Lesnar, getting only a two count. Joe locked on yet another Coquina Clutch on Reigns, but Strowman hit a low dropkick on both men and a running power slam on Joe, only for Lesnar to pull the ref out of the ring at two and three-quarters. A Superman punch from Reigns on Lesnar sent the champion out of the ring, and another Superman punch leveled Strowman for just a moment. Strowman turned it around in a hurry, hit a running power slam on Reigns, and Lesnar charged in to break it up once more.
Lesnar attempted to F-5 Strowman, but couldn't get him up, and Strowman's attempts to turn it around on Lesnar were interrupted by Reigns spearing Strowman out of the ring.
Joe locked his final Coquina clutch of the night in on Lesnar, only to get turned over into an F-5, with Reigns charging in to stop Lesnar. A pair of Superman punches set Reigns up for a spear and the win on Lesnar, but Reigns instead ran directly into an F-5, and Lesnar picked up the 1-2-3 in the center of the ring.
While it appears that Lesnar isn't going anywhere anytime soon, it's certainly unclear when he'll next be back in a WWE ring. When it does happen, he has plenty to work with when it comes to either Reigns or Strowman, but the order of how those conflicts play out over the next few months on the way to WrestleMania 34 will likely serve as Monday Night Raw's biggest mysteries in the short-term.