Summer Slam is in the books with many newsworthy happenings on the card, providing a glimpse into the future direction of the WWE. I actually had the chance to attend the pay-per-view and made the trip to Ford Field in Detroit to be there live so I’d like to write this review from that perspective to hopefully give a different view than the usual PPV reviews.
First and most importantly, I have to thank the great Mike Sorg, video producer for many independent cards on the Pittsburgh scene where I do commentary (you can find Sorg’s work on indywrestling.us), Missy Sorg, and camera man Rob Brown. The trio secured the tickets and when a spot was open, Rob was nice enough to offer me the chance to go with him to the event. We departed western Pennsylvania early Saturday morning to ensure that we’d make the four and a half hour drive with plenty of time to spare for the show. Ironically, the drive to Michigan was relatively easy and the time passed quickly, as Rob shared interesting tidbits about his camera career, working on film and television, and I ranted about how even two decades later it’s still stunning how WCW went off a cliff in 2000.
We arrived in the motor city in the early afternoon and the stadium was very impressive from across the street. Rob found a place to park and I secured our spot in line at Gate G with a few other fans. I have to say, one of the coolest parts of the entire experience was getting the chance to talk to fans from different states and even Canada. There’s a lot of “red meat” by nature in the wrestling business, and the Dark Side of the Ring series has made literally a few dozen episodes about it, but the other side of the coin in that the same sport can bring people from completely different backgrounds together for the common thread of sports entertainment. A side note, it’s somewhat disturbing that the fans that carry around the $300 replica belts are the same people that don’t use $3 deodorant when they are in public.
After the gates were opened, thankfully being there early paid off, as we found our seats relatively quickly. Rob reported that his search for merchandise outside the building previously was a human Royal Rumble with huge crowds of fans around the stadium so it was good to find our seats to be prepared for the show. The massive building was also an impressive sight, and our lower level seats right about the floor provided a good view of the ring. The set up for the entrance was somewhat odd and we actually didn’t see the athletes until they were about half way down the extended walkway.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t a dark match or anything for a pre-show, but as the seats began to get packed ahead of the start of the broadcast, it was almost surreal to see that many people in the venue. There was only part of the end zone on one side of the building tarped off for production equipment so The Wrestling Observer reports of 45,000 fans in attendance is probably accurate.
The show opened with Ricochet/Logan Paul, and as much as I’m not in the demographic and don’t care about what he does, the Youtube star had major heat with the crowd. The match itself had its moments with some athletic stuff, even if it looked overly choreographed at certain points. This didn’t have nearly as much drama as some of Logan’s prior WWE bouts, but that was more of a reflection of its place on the card and the structure of the match. Logan Paul does well, but since his still a novice performer, he has to be put in scenarios that play to his strengths, and since his audience hasn’t exactly jumped on the WWE bandwagon, I’m honestly not sure if his involvement truly yields that much of a difference in terms of viewers or exposure for the product. Either way, this was a solid way to start the pay-per-view, and Ricochet’s athletic ability is very impressive, as he gracefully soared from the top rope for an attempted dive. The finish was a little bizarre because the live audience didn’t see the random guy that gave Logan the brass knuckles, but as mentioned, it was a solid segment. A win for Logan makes sense and a victory over a mid-card talent gives him some steam, especially since he hadn’t actually won a WWE match yet.
I was surprised that Brock Lesanr vs. Cody Rhodes was second on the card, but given the lengthy broadcast, I’m assuming that wanted to stagger the major matches throughout the event to pace the show. I must mention that the video package for this segment was brilliant stuff and one of the better vignettes of the past few years. Considering this was the rubber match, it was given the amount of time to develop and was different than the five-minute fireworks match that was sometimes used for the Brock formula prior to this. This was a physical and hard-hitting match that told a simple, but very effective narrative. Brock is quite literally promoted as a beast, and Cody had to slay the monster. Watching Cody sail through the air for the German suplexes is a wild visual. The energy and the reaction in the building throughout this contest was really great. It was an instance where being there live added to the presentation of the match. The crowd erupted for Cody’s victory, and while the supposedly unscripted show of respect post-match seemed a little off given the fact that the angle was based on Lesnar breaking Cody’s arm and beating him up in front of his family on Raw, it was still a cool moment for Brock to endorse Rhodes. The biggest takeaway here is that Cody Rhodes is still the most over baby face in the company, and while I’m still skeptical that the loss against Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania was the right call, there’s no doubt that Rhodes still has a tremendous amount of momentum. If that hype can go through potentially Wrestlemania of next year remains to be seen, but Cody is undoubtedly one of the biggest stars in the company.
There’s not much to say about the Slim Jim battle royal since its main purpose was just to get the sponsorship money, but it was great to see the late, great Macho Man still make cameos in the commercials. As expected, LA Knight got a great reaction when he won, but I’m not sure winning the sponsorship battle royal means all that much or does anything for his status in WWE. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very talented and entertaining guy, even if he borrows liberally from The Rock or Stone Cold, but I’m not sure that a major LA Knight push fits into the current WWE landscape. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have the ability to be a featured star, but rather that Damien Priest looks to have big plans on Raw, and The Bloodline angle will continue on Smackdown so how far up the card can LA Knight go right now?
Unfortunately, the next segment was where the card hit the wall. Ronda Rousey, who lost all of her luster to the WWE audience through her semi-constant whining long ago, challenged Shayna Bazler to an MMA rules match. The live audience couldn’t hear the referee’s instructions, but even outside of the rules not being clearly explained, the structure of the match was poorly-designed and the concept was not executed properly. The entire segment was flat when a knockdown, which would usually prompt more action to attempt to finish the fight, led to the ref checking on the competitor instead. I’ve said it many times, worked MMA doesn’t get over because the inherent nature of mixed martial arts is to prevent your opponent’s offense, where as in sports entertainment you have to cooperate with an opponent for maneuvers. Anytime there’s an occasion where someone had a clear opportunity to throw a punch, but didn’t since it’s not the planned finish, is why worked MMA looks silly. The pacing was clunky and the leg lock spot managed to make an entire stadium seem quiet. There were “boring” chants and despite being only seven minutes, this segment dragged. Again, the concept was a total miss, but the fact that Ronda isn’t over at all didn’t help the situation. Maybe it was her whining during interviews or her criticism of the fans when she wasn’t give a Steve Austin reception from the audience, but the sum total of the Ronda WWE run has to be considered a flop so I’m not sure the win does much for Shayna Bazler after this. Reportedly, this was scheduled to be Ronda’s final appearance with the company, and all this considered, there’s really no reason for her to continue to wrestle either.
The IC title match was next, but with as much as the sloppy MMA contest drained the audience, the crowd didn’t really react to the bout until about the half way point. The contest was solid, but I have to be honest, I expected more from this match. Gunther retaining was the right call since it makes sense for him to break Honky Tonk Man’s record. Gunter is such an impressive athlete and he has a mystic about him that very few have in the modern era. That combination allowed him to bring a level of prestige to the IC title that hasn’t existed in several years. As for Drew McIntyre, he’s in a tough spot because he had the biggest push of his career when the world shut down, and at this point, the audience has more or less seen the McIntyre playbook. Make no mistake about it, he has the skills to be a top guy, but similar to the LA Knight situation with all the other moving parts within the WWE landscape, is there really a place for McIntyre other than the mid-card right now? Perhaps, a heel turn could freshen him up, but from a character perspective, Drew is almost in a “been there, done that” scenario.
The World Heavyweight title match was more or less what you’d expect from a Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor match. Everything was crisp and smooth. These two are top notch pros in the ring. That being said, this was also more or less the same Rollins/Balor match that booked for Money in The Bank so there’s really no reason for there to be a third bout. However, the potential cash-in with the Damien Priest appearance was great drama and the crowd reacted to everything in the latter portion of the match as the narrative tilted back and fourth with who might win and if Priest was going to cash in to win the championship. Credit to Seth Rollins, the character is ridiculous, and I think the song is more over than the persona, but he’s one of the best in-ring workers on the roster. Still, he was given a consolation prize championship, and management put him in a really tough spot to try to make the best of it. It’s very possible that if Priest wins the title, he could elevate it’s standing as being the champion would theoretically elevate his status on Raw.
I’ve written about it several times and it’s something I will continue to mention when it consistently remains relevant, outside of Wrestlemania, I still don’t think there’s any reason for a pay-per-view to be four hours long. Summer Slam actually went about four hours and 15 minutes and it was just too long of a show. With such an extended pay-per-view, I think it’s probably unavoidable for there to be a point where the broadcast dragged. It was 11 PM when the Women’s title match was in the ring, and even with the women’s division as arguably the most consistent quality of WWE programming, the first half of the bout was more or less just cannon fodder. Bianca’s selling of the injury looked legitimate and it was well done. It added another level of drama toward the conclusion of the segment. Speaking of being well done, the cash in for Iyo Sky was absolutely tremendous. The crowd went crazy and the fans erupted when she won the title. It might’ve been the biggest reaction of the entire event and it was a great moment for Iyo since she’s one of the most talented athletes on the entire roster.
The atmosphere for the main event was electric. I don’t think anyone in the building honestly believed that Jey Uso was going to win the title, but the crowd was invested in the action of the match. The only downside was that this contest went about forty minutes and could’ve probably accomplished the same goal in about half that time. Again, it was almost midnight and it became somewhat tedious, especially when the result was obvious so the intrigue was just how they would get to the finish. The Jimmy heel turn was predictable, but very well done, and it gives the angle, which is one of the best storylines the WWE has done in several years, a solid reason to continue throughout the rest of the year. It’s a fine line that management has to walk to keep the angle interesting and justify the TV time its given without putting it on the shows just because it did well previously, but so far they’ve kept it solid without it getting stable so it’s been a really storyline for the company.
Overall, it was a really fun experience and it was worth the trip. The ride back was a little rough as without the anticipation of pay-per-view action in front of 45,000 fans to look forward to like we had on the way to the show, the two hour mark in the middle of Toledo at almost 4 AM was a challenge. But, it’s all worth it for the prosperity of pro wrestling, right?
What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and Facebook.com/PWMania.
Until next week
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