With numerous major championships on the line and scores to settle (The Bloodline, Seth Rollins & Finn Balor, and more), SummerSlam 2023 was sure to be an eventful return to Detroit, Michigan for WWE.
TEXT BY JASON McVEIGH / PHOTOS BY JERRY VILLAGRANA
THE LAST TIME WWE held a SummerSlam in the greater Detroit, Michigan, area was 1993, when Lex Luger rolled into town hoping to thwart the seemingly unstoppable World Wrestling Federation champion, Yokozuna. Luger had spent the summer trekking across the United States in a tour bus nicknamed “The Lex Express” in an attempt to drum up support for his championship collision against the supposed sumo superstar. The road to that year’s SummerSlam main event had started onboard the decommissioned warship, the USS Intrepid, where, on July 4, Luger had shocked the world by doing the seemingly unthinkable: bodyslamming the mammoth Yokozuna.
The main event of the 2023 iteration of SummerSlam came about thanks to a similarly shocking July scene—that of Jey Uso pinning the seemingly unpinnable WWE Undisputed champion, Roman Reigns, in a tag team match at Money in the Bank. With the main event of Reigns vs. Uso set for SummerSlam, fans packed Ford Field in Detroit to see if “Main Event Jey” could succeed where Luger had failed, by taking the title from a dominant champ.
Of course, that would be the night’s main event. SummerSlam 2023 opened with a fast-paced contest between veteran high-flyer, Ricochet, and social media maven-turned-WWE wrestler, Logan Paul. Given the natural athleticism of both competitors, it was no surprise that this contest quickly escalated into a dangerous game of high-risk one-upmanship.
After a series from Paul that included a flapjack and a frog splash for a near-fall—and Ricochet gaining the upper hand again, only to miss his patented 630 senton—a mysterious, hooded figure at ringside slipped Paul a set of brass knuckles with which to clobber Ricochet. To the chagrin of ring announcer (and Ricochet’s fiancee) Samantha Irvin, it was Paul who was announced victorious.
Next, the trilogy of matches between Cody Rhodes and Brock Lesnar offered up its final chapter, with Rhodes picking up the hard-fought win in the rubber match between the pair. In a rare post-match show of respect, Lesnar proved that “The Beast” might not be all bad, as he shook the hand of “The American Nightmare.” Though Lesnar’s gesture was a nice one, Rhodes had to earn it by surviving a barrage of suplexes, F5s, and Kimura Locks along the way.
Professional wrestling and Slim Jims go together like Randy Savage and, well, Slim Jims. These days, it appears that LA Knight is the new wrestling face of the brand—thanks to winning the meat sticks’ namesake battle royal at SummerSlam.
Knight outlasted a field that included the Miz, Omos, Austin Theory, Santos Escobar, and others in order to have his hand raised at the end. The crowd in Detroit exploded with joy after seeing the increasingly popular Knight get the win.
Ronda Rousey had what, for now at least, seems to be her last hurrah in WWE. This was an MMA Rules match against former partner, Shayna Baszler. The hard-hitting affair between the two mixed martial arts veterans produced plenty of bruises. And, for Rousey, it offered an unsatisfactory ending to her WWE run, as she passed out while in Baszler’s Kirifuda Clutch submission hold. Still, for former NXT Women’s champ Baszler, this win should serve as a potential springboard to bigger things on the main roster.
The lengthy Intercontinental championship reign of Gunther continued next, as the Austrian brawler disposed of Drew McIntyre. Although McIntyre undoubtedly tested his opponent in the early going of the match—thanks to his arguable strength advantage—the Imperium general kept himself going. And, in the end, Gunther put the Scotsman away with a powerbomb. Gunther now stands on the edge of making history, as his title reign approaches that of the historic 454-day run of The Honky Tonk Man.
Both Seth Rollins and Finn Balor came Into their WWE World heavyweight championship bout with differing motivations. For incumbent champ, Rollins, it was about beating Balor for a second time on consecutive pay-per-view events and solidifying his status as champion. For Balor, it was about exorcising the demons (pardon the expression) of seven years earlier, when an injury sustained in a Universal championship tussle with Rollins ended Balor’s reign before it could properly start.
Despite how talented Balor is as a wrestler, he has continually leaned on his Judgment Day colleagues’ interference as of late. But, on this occasion, it proved to be his undoing. After Damian Priest slipped his Money in the Bank briefcase into the ring, seemingly so Balor could use it against Rollins, some miscommunication saw the plan backfire. In the end, Balor’s face collided with steel, as he was curb-stomped into the briefcase by Rollins (who picked up the win and remained champion).
A choice triple-threat match for the WWE Women’s championship saw Asuka, Charlotte Flair, and Bianca Belair do battle for the belt … only for none of them to leave Detroit with the gold. After twenty minutes of action, Flair locked Belair in the “Figure-Eight” leglock to try and force a submission. Before that could happen, Asuka sprayed mist into the eyes of Flair.
Hoping this would be her opening to retain her title, Asuka tried to go for a pin on Belair, but found herself quickly rolled up by “The EST” for the three-count.
Any celebratory plans Belair may have had were quickly out on ice, as Iyo Sky marched to ringside and cashed in her Money in the Bank briefcase for the title shot and, eight seconds later, the victory. While it’s another SummerSlam heartbreak for Belair, anyone who has followed Sky’s career couldn’t help but be happy for her as she celebrated her success with Damage CTRL teammates Bayley and Dakota Kai.
And what of Jey Uso? Could one of the most decorated tag team wrestlers of all-time do what Lex Luger couldn’t do all those years previously? Could he dethrone the champion in the main event?
As it turned out, no.
Uso put up a tremendous fight and even stood up to the interference of Bloodline enforcer Solo Sikoa. Yet, what Jey couldn’t have planned for was the interference of another one of his brothers … his twin brother, Jimmy.
Just as it appeared that Jey had Reigns put away thanks to a spear and Uso Splash combination, a masked man pulled him from the ring before the referee could count to three. In a shocking turn of events, the masked man revealed himself to be Jimmy Uso, who proceeded to lay his twin out with a superkick and help Roman Reigns to victory.
Maybe if Jey had procured his own tour bus, things would have been different.
BELOW, FIND OUR GALLERY OF ADDITIONAL SUMMERSLAM 2023 PHOTOS (ALL SHOT FOR PWI BY JERRY VILLAGRANA)