Most of the best matches of all time have been the simplest ones: two opposing sides facing off.
This has meant either one-on-one, two-on-two, or three-on-three matches. Matches involving three sides facing off against each other have also become popular, but great triple threat/triangle matches are few and far between. But what about four-opposing-side matches? Has there ever been a truly great four-way match that didn’t turn into an overcomplicated and overbooked mess?
Yes, there has been at least one.
Many people have praised this as one of the best SummerSlam main events in years. It was hailed for its mayhem and destruction. But were those two traits really good enough to give this match such high praise and a stellar reputation? Let’s find out.
Today we look back at the Fatal-4-Way match between Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe from SummerSlam 2017.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
Lesnar retained his title against Samoa Joe earlier at WWE Great Balls of Fire. On that same show, Strowman beat Reigns in an Ambulance Match. But Reigns was a sore loser and continued brawling with Strowman after the match ended. And by ‘brawl with’ I mean smashed him into the ambulance and then crashed the ambulance into the side of a production truck. But Strowman survived all of this “attempted murder” and went after Reigns and Joe a few weeks later as they were competing in a #1 contender’s match. So to kill three birds with one stone, it was announced that Lesnar would defend the title against all three challengers. Then to add more drama, Lesnar’s mouthpiece Paul Heyman announced that Lesnar would leave WWE if he lost this match.
Needless to say that there was more than just championship gold at stake here. If Strowman, Reigns, and Joe could overcome their personal differences and work together, they could rid themselves of Lesnar.
This is a Fatal-4-Way for Lesnar’s Universal Championship with the first pinfall/submission determining the winner. As a (modern) Fatal-4-Way, there are no disqualifications in this match (that logic has never been fully explained). The bell rings and Joe goes after Lesnar while Strowman goes after Reigns. Strowman and reigns fight to the floor while Lesnar lands an overhead belly-to-belly suplex on Joe. Strowman goes to smash Reigns into the ringpost but Reigns reverses and Strowman hits it instead. Reigns confronts Lesnar in the ring. Reigns rushes Lesnar but Lesnar ducks and lands a German suplex. Joe does the same but he gets German’d as well.
And then there was one.
The crowd jumps to their feet as Strowman gets to the apron. Lesnar and Strowman inch ever closer…until both Samoan Joes interrupt. But that interruption doesn’t last as Strowman clotheslines Joe and Lesnar clothesline Reigns. Lesnar and Strowman are along in the ring once again, much to the crowd’s delight. They lock-up and Strowman biel throws Lesnar into a corner. Strowman follows with a corner splash and then clotheslines Lesnar to the floor.
Then in comes Reigns to spoil the party as he clotheslines Strowman to the floor. Or at least, he tries to, but Strowman stays in the ring and throws Reigns aside. Strowman charges into a corner but misses and hits the ringpost so hard he tumbles to the floor. Meanwhile, Joe locks Lesnar in the Coquina Clutch. In this match submissions count even outside the ring. Suddenly Joe releases the hold and sidesteps, just in time to dodge Reigns as he spears Lesnar through the barricade Goldberg-style. But Joe isn’t done. He grabs Reigns and lands an uranage onto the announce table (but not through it). Joe turns around and Strowman shoves him over the same table.
Strowman dismantles a different announce table and lifts Lesnar up for his powerslam finisher. He carries Lesnar across the ringside area and smashes him through the table. The crowd goes nuts (as they always do for this spot). Strowman tosses Joe into the ring but eats a drive-by kick from Reigns before he can do anything and then Joe hits a Misawa-style elbow suicida on Reigns. Joe picks Reigns up bot Strowman throws a chair onto both of them. And not a steel folding chair but the big office chairs the commentators sit on. Strowman dismantles commentary table #2 and lifts a very groggy Lesnar up. Another running powerslam connects! The referee sees that Lesnar’s out and waves for the medical staff to come over. Why doesn’t Strowman just get a quick pin right then and there? If Lesnar’s so badly damaged then pinning him shouldn’t be a problem. But Strowman isn’t done. He lifts the last remaining commentary table up and shoves it on top of Lesnar, burying him beneath it. Again, all Strowman has to do is put one foot on Lesnar and get a quick pin. But I guess common sense is escaping the big man at this moment.
An army of referees and officials come to check on Lesnar and demand he be stretchered out. There has been no call to turn this into a triple threat match or anything so that the action can continue, leading to some blatant stalling. Meanwhile, neither Strowman nor Reigns nor Joe fight or cover each other as any of this is going on. Any one of them could’ve taken advantage of the chaos with a potential cover but instead all of them have to sell way more than necessary.
As Lesnar’s stretchered out, Strowman smashes both Joe and Reigns in the face with the steel ringsteps. Strowman tosses Reigns and the steps into the ring but Reigns kicks him on entry. Reigns hits some corner clotheslines but Strowman no-sells and throws him off with ease. Reigns retaliates with multiple steps-shots of his own that send Strowman back to the floor. But then Joe schoolboys Reigns from behind. One, two, Reigns kicks out. Joe follows with a Manhattan drop/big boot/senton combo for another two-count. Joe tries another uranage but Reigns throws him off and lands a one-arm Samoan drop for a two-count of his own. Reigns teases and goes for the Superman punch but Joe kicks him first and then locks in the Coquina clutch. Strowman interferes and double chokeslams both of them at the same time. He covers Reigns but Reigns kicks out.
All three men are down as Lesnar makes his heroic return. Lesnar takes Strowman down and rains punches down on him. He throws Strowman to the floor and hits Reigns with a German suplex. Joe goes for a Misawa rolling elbow but Lesnar ducks and Germans him as well. Strowman goes after Lesnar and tries another powerslam but Lesnar escapes. Lesnar teases a German on Strowman but Strowman elbows out and hits a big running corner clothesline. But Lesnar traps him in a kimura lock. Strowman has enough strength to lift Lesnar up and walk around with him but Lesnar still tightens that submission hold when suddenly Reigns appears out of nowhere and superman punches Strowman…and then Lesnar…and then Joe.
Reigns spears Lesnar. One, two, Lesnar kicks out. Reigns teases another spear. Joe locks in another Coquina clutch on him out of nowhere. Strowman shotgun dropkicks both of them into a corner. Running powerslam on Joe. One, two, and th – Lesnar pulls the ref out of the ring.
Reigns superman punches Lesnar at ringside and counters a pop-up in the ring from Strowman with yet another superman punch. The ref counts one, two, and another two-count. Reigns charges for a spear but Strowman boots him and hits a powerslam. One, two, Lesnar stops the pin. Strowman picks Lesnar up but Lesnar picks Strowman up for an F-5. Strowman escapes and tries another powerslam but Reigns spears him first. Strowman falls out of the ring and Lesnar tries an F-5 on Reigns. Reigns escapes and gets thrown out by Joe. Joe locks Lesnar in the Coquina Clutch. Lesnar counters with an F-5. One, two, Reigns breaks it up. Reigns hits three more Superman punches on Lesnar and goes for another spear. He charges…and Lesnar picks him up onto his shoulders. One more F-5. The referee counts one…two…and three! Lesnar retains!
Winner and STILL WWE Universal Champion after 20:52: Brock Lesnar
Unfortunately, this match didn’t live up to the hype. It was a token demolition derby that only had one truly unique spot with Lesnar being ‘buried’ under the announce table. Beyond that it was a mess with plot-holes and logic gaps aplenty. It suffered from a bad structure and worse tropes. Sure it had some sort of fun moments of destruction. But overall there was nothing here that had a lasting impression. It was bland and forgettable thanks to a bad structure, underwhelming performances from everyone except Lesnar, and some really questionable creative decisions.
These wrestlers missed a golden opportunity to tell a refreshing story in this match that actually made something out of the stipulation. Within seconds of the match starting it became two simultaneous one-on-one brawls instead of something more story-driven. No one was triple-teamed or made to be the biggest threat in the match. Logically, either Lesnar or Strowman should’ve been targeted first. Lesnar had that aura of the biggest threat and was booked and presented as the most dangerous wrestler in the match. Meanwhile, Strowman was literally the biggest man in the match and hit the hardest. It didn’t make sense for those two threats to be left alone and not neutralized almost immediately. And while Strowman did neutralize Lesnar (more on that shortly), neither Joe nor Reigns did anything to weaken Strowman afterwards. If he was so dangerous and could do so much damage to Lesnar, why didn’t both Reigns and Joe realize the danger they were both in and try to eliminate Strowman in similar fashion as Strowman eliminated Lesnar? It was a story begging to be told: you have four top-tier wrestlers starting the match, each one with a 25% chance of winning. Then you eliminate the biggest threat and then the second-biggest threat if possible, leaving the remaining two combatants with a 50% chance each. And if the plan all along was to bring Lesnar (i.e. the biggest threat back anyway), you lose nothing by following that process of elimination strategy. It’s a much better way of telling the story than having token chaos and plunder that leads to nothing but generic destruction spots that don’t mean anything.
Furthermore, with Lesnar being forced to leave WWE altogether if he lost, I’m astonished that his three challengers didn’t go after him immediately. He was by far the biggest threat and favorite to win in this match based on his win/loss history and his booking in WWE. Reigns, Joe and Strowman all had the same goal, and even if only one of them won this match, their future success in the company would’ve been easier with Lesnar no longer around. So it stood to reason that all of them should’ve focused on Lesnar to make their own lives easier. But that was completely ignored in favor of a token ‘chaotic’ start that led to f**k all. They could’ve given this match a special story, but instead they overemphasized the wildness and mayhem inherent with the Fatal-4-way stipulation.
Also, what was the point of Lesnar being stretchered out anyway? He was only ‘out’ for eight minutes out of twenty, and when he returned he did just as much manhandling as he did before the injury. So in the end, that ‘stretcher job’ accomplished nothing. All it yielded was another pair of broken table spots, which weren’t even that special. The fans popped for Strowman’s bedlam, but those reactions were more Pavlovian than they were genuine. It’s like a checklist for things to do when you attend a WWE event in person; one of them being start a generic chant whenever the commentary table is broken, even though that same spot has been done countless times before.
Plus, the whole ‘Lesnar leaves if he loses stipulation’ was completely ignored by this point. If Lesnar was stretchered out and never returned, would he still leave WWE? Would he continue wrestling due to a loophole in the stipulation? Was any of this even addressed or even speculated upon as Lesnar was being stretchered out? No, it wasn’t. And it didn’t even play into the match at all. No one, not a single person, thought that Lesnar was actually being taken out of the match. A star of Lesnar’s caliber wasn’t leaving the company on such a low note. Moreover, he wasn’t announced as being eliminated and the match wasn’t changed to a triple threat match. That lame stretcher job was a thinly-veiled escape to give Lesnar a reason to return. But it didn’t help him at all. He was already established as a once-in-a-lifetime beast with superhuman strength. He would’ve been better served staying ringside and ‘sleeping’, like Reigns had been accused of in other matches. So really, that added storyline selling point was just that: a selling point. No-one bought it as an actual possibility but WWE was so desperate to get more ticket sales that they added a cheap, thrown-together condition to draw ‘more interest’ when in fact it changed nothing in terms of build for the match or action within the match itself.
As for individual wrestler actions, only Lesnar really stood out. He sold a lot more than in previous years and his struggle during the second half made him more compelling. Strowman was fun on offence and seeing him hit like a freight train was entertaining. As for Joe and Reigns, sadly, they didn’t do anything really memorable here. Joe hit a nice suicide dive and a few big slams here and there but nothing more. The moments he had guys in his Coquina Clutch looked more like stalling moments than opportunities for a submission victory. As for Reigns, he just spammed two of three moves here and there (the number depends on whether you count his OOHH-AHH taunt as a move) and generally acted as a background character.
The match had this awful clichéd structure where two guys were in the ring and the other two would ‘sell’ outside the ring until it was their turn to do something. That ‘wait-your-turn’ structure robbed this match of any true tension and unpredictability. It played out like a single, carefully-choreographed sequence and didn’t live up to the stipulation as much as it could have.
I know some people reading this might be thinking that I shouldn’t use logic when watching wrestling, nor should I be pointing out plot holes in wrestling matches. BUT, as I’ve mentioned before in previousmatchreviews, logic and common sense have been found in great matches before. So if there’s a precedent in place to have matches make sense, ignoring logic and common sense in favor of pure spectacle isn’t something that I can do, no matter how entertaining a match is. That’s why, for example, I only rated Rock/Hogan at Wrestle Mania X8 ****. Even though it had arguably the best crowd in WrestleMania history, the action was silly and more over-the-top than practical. But I’d be foolish to dismiss the spectacle of that match, and I’d be equally foolish to rate that match even higher based on the crowd reaction and atmosphere alone.
Final Rating: ***1/2
This match is largely forgettable. It doesn’t really showcase anything unique. In 21 minutes there was only one truly unique spot and it didn’t even have a lasting impact on the match itself since Lesnar returned later on. But since many fans enjoy this sort of turn-your-brain-off demolition-style match, I can see why it has appeal.
And yet there are better matches out there for people seeking that sort of match. I would strongly suggest looking elsewhere, preferably with older pre-2008 hardcore and TLC matches. Those ones had better stories, more unpredictability, and more cohesiveness overall.
Plus, those earlier matches didn’t have the always-dreadful bad teaser gimmick of carting someone out only for them to return later on. But that was just one of several bizarre creative directions that made this match so chaotic and all over the place that it became just another generic WWE main event with the same spots and same token plunder.