WWE SummerSlam 2022

It seemed inevitable that eventually the WWE would bring SummerSlam, long billed as "The Biggest Party of the Summer," to Nashville — a city more than happy to bend over backward to throw parties for out-of-towners.

For all their faults — and both have plenty — Nashville and the world's largest and most important professional wrestling promotion are both very gifted at giving people Spectacle and Events. So if Saturday's show was a tryout for the Music City to host WrestleMania once the Adams-Cooper East Bank Enormodome is finished? Clear your calendar for the first weekend in April in 202something.

Grain of salt — because the people who provide these numbers are professionals at making you believe something you know is fake — but attendance at Nissan Stadium was announced at north of 48,000. Announced, in fact, by WWE Hall of Famer and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. Discordantly, he was billed as "Mayor of Knox County Kane." Of course, everyone knows that Kane and Glenn Jacobs are the same person (well, except my seat neighbor who asked if Kane was now an executive for the WWE; no, I explained, he's the executive of the state's third-largest county), but Jacobs usually tries to keep those two identities separate — probably because as Kane, he'd have to answer questions about Katie Vick. Despite its open snobby disdain for wrestling, the Tennessee Democratic Party would do well to do some oppo research on that particular arc before Jacobs' inevitable gubernatorial run in 2026.

But eyeballing it, 48,000 felt about right. The west stands were covered and empty, but the rest of the stadium was full. Nashville can move tickets for pro wrestling, same as it ever was.

It was also a tryout of sorts for Paul Levesque, the man better known as Triple H. After his father-in-law's messy (but nevertheless lucrative) retirement, Trip — who had a much-lauded run at the helm of NXT, the WWE's developmental brand — was named "head of creative." In wrestling parlance, he has the book. In normal people talk, the buck stops with him.

Vince McMahon famously had final say on the booking of WWE for decades. Sometimes it was genius. Sometimes it was ... Katie Vick. It's hard to put a hard date on these sorts of things, wrestling being an intensely insular business. But with the lone potential exception of his time spent in federal court (and even that's in dispute), Vince has been the shot-caller for his company since it formally left the National Wrestling Alliance in August 1983.

Thus, Saturday's Premium Live Event (the new nomenclature that's replaced "pay-per-view" since a rapidly diminishing portion of the audience actually consumes these events via PPV these days — the WWE was a relatively early adopter of streaming services with its WWE Network, now part of the Peacock bundle) was Haitch's chance to show the world what a post-Vince WWE would look like.

And if Saturday's tight eight-match card was the standard he's set, the WWE could be entering another golden age.

After the preliminaries — including Extremely Nice Guy and Cool Person Titus O'Neil presenting championship belts and $20,000 to three local nonprofits — the card began with Raw Women's Champion Bianca Belair (the former University of Tennessee track All-America got the first big pop of the night, being billed from her hometown of Knoxville) taking on Becky Lynch. Women's wrestling was long relegated to popcorn-match status at best and unwatchable horndoggery at worst, but the women's revolution has paid dividends. It's no longer unusual for women's matches to get prime positioning on the card at even the biggest shows on the calendar.

All that said, it seemed a bit of an odd call to jerk the curtain with this match in particular. Belair and Lynch are both talented enough to deliver all sorts of matches and generally to get a crowd hot, the opener is a high-speed, big-spot affair. Much to the chagrin of people who think wrestling should be nothing but a chain of flashy spots with no storytelling whatsoever, the pair delivered an old-school, ground-wrestling- and ring-psychology-heavy fight, and the crowd — smart crowds in Nashville — ate it up. Belair's big-ticket moves are suplexes (suplicies?), overhead press slams and an Argentine facebuster she calls the KOD, all of which require tremendous strength in both arms. So Lynch worked over her arms and Belair was unable to execute the moves until she mustered the strength, hit the KOD after a beautiful Spanish fly and pinned Lynch to retain the title. That led to a handshake from Lynch and a run-in from the returning Bayley (now working heel!), Dakota Kai and whatever Io Shirai's new name is going to be.

Any non-wrestling fans in the crowd who also happened to be massive consumers of both early-21st-century reality shows and modern-day YouTube were in for a treat as The Miz, who before becoming a staple in WWE was in the cast of that season of The Real World when everyone just kinda liked each other, took on his former protégé and tag-team partner Logan Paul, who is extraordinarily famous for reasons no one under the age of 30 can possibly comprehend. To his credit, Paul looks like a wrestler. He's conventionally handsome in a way that isn't overwhelming and lean with good muscle tone. He also knows what's he's doing inside the ropes. That's no small task for someone who just kinda decided he wanted to be a wrestler a few months before April's WrestleMania. Anyway, he and The Miz put on a great piece of business and Paul actually got the crowd on his side, which is what the WWE wanted for him but fans had resisted. He's probably locked in a feud with The Miz for a while, which is the best thing for him — The Miz is a reliable hand and could get an above-average match out of an inflatable doll or a child if he wanted to, which he doesn't because he respects the business, the fans and himself.

There was a quartet of fine to good, if not necessarily memorable, matches in the midcard. Giant human Bobby Lashley took care of Austin Theory — both in storyline and in real life considered Vince McMahon's next chosen one; he is not ready for primetime and thankfully it seems like HHH recognizes that — to retain the U.S. Title. Rey Mysterio and his son Dom defeated spooky stable The Judgment Day (NB: exactly one too many words in that name; "The Judgment" or "Judgment Day" are both better) with the help of a returning Edge (formerly the mentor for the spooky too-many-words guys). Former Indianapolis Colts punter and current WWE color commentator Pat McAfee — who the crowd wanted to cheer because he's funny and good at wrestling, but who they didn't want to cheer because he's ostensibly a bad guy and was billed as being from Pittsburgh by way of Indianapolis (a sure way to get cheap heat in Nissan Stadium), but who the crowd still wanted to cheer because Nashville marks for punters — beat Happy Corbin (and had a men's chorus taunting him during the entrances, which was fun). And then the Usos retained the tag titles over the Street Profits, who also went for the cheap pop with Titans-themed ring gear and Titans cheerleaders escorting them to the ring. That last match was good, because the Usos and the Profits are both good, but it lacked something. The inclusion of special guest referee Jeff Jarrett seemed unnecessary, and he didn't even El Kabong anybody!

After Seth Rollins and an injured Matt Riddle brawled for a bit for reasons that will surely be clearer after tonight's episode of Raw, Ronda Rousey — one of roughly 3,500 people at Nissan Stadium doing Roddy Piper cosplay — lost controversially to Liv Morgan, who may have tapped out while simultaneously pinning Rousey. Rousey went banana sandwiches on a referee, which will earn her a "suspension" and presumably set something up with whoever Liv drops the title to (probably Charlotte Flair).

And then there was the main event, a last-man-standing match between the two most dominant figures in the past decade or so of pro wrestling: undisputed champion Roman Reigns and giant scary man Brock Lesnar. The two have been at each other for probably seven or eight years and always consistently deliver. The buildup here is that this was the blow-off match, so the gimmick was justified. You don't just have intense gimmick matches for no reason on a Wednesday night because you aren't actually good at running a wrestling promotion. You have them when they are meaningful and they serve the story.

Reigns entered first with all the intense pomposity that he deserves. And then Brock Lesnar drove a tractor to the ring and parked the thing right next to it, like Chekov's gun. If Chekov's gun was a tractor. And if Chekov wrote wrestling shows and not dense Russian plays. What resulted was a fight and not a wrestling match. There's no disqualifications in last-man-standing matches, so all manner of chairs and stairs and tables and Austin Theory's Money in the Bank briefcase were involved. Yes, Brock put Roman in the tractor's lift and dumped him in the ring from some height, but even that couldn't keep the champ down. So Brock did the only logical thing, which was to of course use the tractor to lift half the ring up the air, sending Reigns tumbling to the floor. Reigns' cousins (technically first cousins once removed) The Usos ran in to help. His advocate Paul Heyman did his dastardly distracting and even took an F5 from Lesnar onto a table for good measure. Still, both men struggled to their feet to beat the count of 10. That is, until Reigns and The Usos were able to get Lesnar prone long enough to cover him with all the detritus from the match (they sadly did not throw Theory on top for good measure, because nothing is perfect, really) and Reigns was able to retain. It's a nice piece of storytelling. Lesnar is basically indestructible, and Reigns will do whatever it takes to stay at the top, even if that means relying on help. To him, The Usos are just another tool in his toolbox, like the Superman punch or the spear, to be used whenever he needs it.

Nashville passed its test, and Triple H passed his. For the WWE, the future looks bright for both.

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