I’m obsessed enough about pro wrestling to have spent $340 to go to Summerslam this past weekend.... to sit in $75 nosebleed seats, since my order for floor seats apparently never went through. That was the second of three nights of sold out WWE action that I saw in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, 12+ hours of live wrestling in a three day span.

I have some thoughts and some things to share:

  • NXT Takeover Brooklyn was the best of the three shows. Better than Sunday night’s Summerslam, better than Monday Night Raw. NXT functions as WWE’s online-only minor league, but the group’s Takeover show mostly outclassed the main rosters’. Takeover had most of the best matches and a crowd that was invested in a wrestling product that doesn’t trade on dumb stereotypes. NXT treats its performers like athletes, not (for the most part) like cartoon characters. What a concept! NXT garnered the hottest crowd, 15,000 or so fans who cheered loudly and often quite cleverly for the whole night.

    Summerslam had some good matches, some bad finishes but also a lot of stuff that just didn’t excite the crowd. Raw had the best surprises but also the weakest crowd, one that responded to a bad match not with apathy but by doing the wave and chanting “we are awesome.” Well, no, the NXT crowd was awesome. I highly recommend watching NXT Takeover Brooklyn on the WWE Network. If you don’t have the service, use the one month free trial to watch it. Top to bottom, it’s a great card.
  • Best match of the three days? The women’s title match from NXT Takeover between champion Sasha Banks and challenger Bayley. Mandatory viewing for any wrestling fan and one of the best matches, for men or women, all year. Unfortunately, there’s no footage of it on WWE’s YouTube channel yet, but you can see the post-match celebration featuring Banks, Bayley and two of the other top women wrestlers from NXT, Charlotte and Becky Lynch. You can tell how into them the crowd is, and with good reason. They’ve been putting on incredible matches with each other all year.

  • The best surprise of the three days? The return of the Dudleyz during Raw. Except for one recent cameo by Bubba Ray, the Dudleyz had been gone from WWE a decade. Their return blew the roof off the Barclays Center, even though they were attacking The New Day, who are pretty much Brooklyn’s favorite wrestling act. (Gotta love Xavier Woods with the trombone, as you’ll see in the clip below!)

  • The Divas Revolution is only in minor jeopardy. Much has been made online that the WWE’s recent push of its women wrestlers and its elevation of the best of the NXT women’s roster to the main Raw/Smackdown roster is now sputtering. The three nights in Brooklyn showed exactly what’s going wrong and how to fix it. On Saturday night, the NXT women were extremely popular. Sasha Banks was over huge. As was Becky Lynch for a match that will air this Wednesday on the next episode of NXT. Here’s a Vine I took of her from that match. Even from the upper deck you can see—and hear—that the crowd loved her:

By Sunday, though, the insane ovations that Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks got the day before had cooled. The Summerslam crowd just wasn’t as interested in seeing these women in a cluttered nine-person match that includes less impressive wrestlers like the Bellas.

On Saturday during NXT, the women were presented as competitors, as tough and talented as the men. By Monday, we had Lynch and Charlotte doing an interview with the heel Miz, playing up the idea that women talk a lot and bond with pinky swears. The subsequent match involving Lynch, Charlotte and Paige vs. The Bellas was initially just okay but lost the crowd when it devolved into an extended beatdown of Charlotte by the Bellas. It got boring. The crowd turned on the match and did the wave and chanted for CM Punk, generally just disrespecting the competitors. I put some of the blame on the wrestlers and whoever booked the match for not structuring the match better. And I put some of it on the show’s writers for presenting the women wrestlers so poorly. I also blame the crowd for responding rudely rather than just with apathy. At least some expressed their displeasure by chanting for Sasha Banks to appear. I joined in on that, but she didn’t show.

To fix all this, the WWE simply needs to stop talking about presenting women as athletes on Raw and Smackdown and just do it. That’s what the seemingly more with it writing staff for NXT does.

  • Finn Balor’s demon entrances are pretty great.

  • ... as are the Undertaker’s, of course (even when seen from the “cheap” seats)

  • ...and the Wyatt’s entrance is a sight to see every time.

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  • Kevin Owens, Randy Orton and Sheamus are all great at playing to the crowd. All three men are veterans and know how to do little things that play off or provoke audience reactions. They’re all fantastic to see live. And there’s a reason that Owens was the only performer to work all three nights. He’s great and will be the WWE’s top bad guy very soon.
  • Stephen Amell and Jon Stewart were the WWE’s best guest celebrities in years. Amell, who plays the title character in the super-hero TV show Arrow, did a surprising amount of pro wrestling:

And then there was Jon Stewart, who got involved with the end of the spectacular Seth Rollins vs. John Cena match at Summerslam, hitting Cena with a steel chair...

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... and who then took Cena’s finisher the next night on Raw after Stewart tried to defend his actions (he didn’t want Cena winning the world title and tying all-time great Ric Flair’s record for title wins. Okay!).

  • Sting showing up at the end of Raw was a fun capper and helped me figure out how WWE does the surprise-appearance-in-the-ring thing. Stop reading if you don’t want to know, but twice during Raw, the WWE would send about 15 or so black-clad employees from the back, have them walk to the ring, around it and then right back to the backstage area. Both times that happened with the lights down while the crowd’s attention was drawn to a video playing on a big screen. Both times it was followed by a segment that involved a wrestler suddenly appearing in the ring. Methinks the wrestler was part of that crowd of workers and slipped under the ring during the walkthrough. Though, with Sting, he was inside a box that was supposed to be holding a statude, so maybe he was just in the box all along?

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  • Pro wrestlers are just like the rest of us. They have to pull and load their own luggage. Twice I left the Barclays Center to walk home only to find myself walking past the pick-up area where wrestlers were getting into buses and SUVs to take them to their next destination. It’s Rusev! It’s Sheamus!

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  • Kappa. Can’t escape it. (see upper left of picture)
  • And that’s about it. Fun three nights. The women deserve a little better. Owens is awesome. The New Day is great. Sasha Banks is indeed the baddest Diva. I miss Daniel Bryan. And I can’t wait for more.

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Bonus Vines!

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