Summerslam is the second-most important weekend on the wrestling calendar for WWE – and the single most important for its videogame developers, 2K. The latter hosted a major event on Friday night showcasing WWE 2K17 for the first time, for which I flew out from the UK – and it would have been rude not to have hung around to take in the three shows which followed: NXT Takeover on Saturday, Summerslam on Sunday, and Raw on Monday.
When you spend four days watching wresting, hanging out with wrestling fans, and interviewing wrestlers, you end up with some fascinating stories which don't make WWE TV broadcasts. As a result, here are ten things I discovered across the weekend which all but the most ardent of fans will likely have missed…
For one night only, New York venue SIR Stage37 became Suplex City, a bustling circus of WWE-related activity. While tunes from Lil Jon boomed in the background, WWE superstars past and present – including Goldberg and Brock Lesnar – held media interviews, and guests could sample WWE 2K17 for the first-time in a curtained-off (and security-heavy) area. I did that for two hours, and the results can be viewed in our 11 things we learned going hands-on with WWE 2K17 feature.
My most bizarre interview was with Irish brawler Sheamus. Our chat quickly changed course from WWE 2K17 to retro gaming, at which point – out of the blue – he confided his sadness at the death of Dalian Atkinson, one of his Sensible Soccer heroes. “Atkinson, Dean Saunders, Steve Staunton, Tony Daley… what a great Aston Villa team that was on the Amiga.” On discovering my love for Crystal Palace, he then delivered his verdict on Christian Benteke’s switch from his team, Liverpool: “Our style didn’t suit him. He’s going to do great things for Palace, where he won’t be under as much pressure. I can already see him scoring a hat-trick against us." Move over, Jermaine Jenas – there's a new contender for your Match Of The Day gig in town.
Just as we predicted waaaay back in March, both American Alpha and The Revival were confirmed as playable characters on the WWE 2K17 roster. It’s the least Jason Jordan, Chad Gable, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder deserve; their NXT matches throughout the first few months of this year made tag-team wrestling relevant again, and there’s a case to be made for Dash and Dawson as the MVPs of the NXT brand in 2016. They always deliver.
Other noticable names confirmed for the on-disc roster were Alberto Del Rio, last seen in WWE 2K15, and Carmella, who – like the above teams – is featured in the game for the first time. Razor Ramon, Typhoon and Earthquake were along the legends announced. Don’t forget you can read profiles of every wrestler bound for WWE 2K17 via our roster gallery.
Two nights before dropping the WWE Women’s Championship to Charlotte in the most shocking result of Summerslam, Sasha Banks appeared to confirm that intergender matches are in WWE 2K17. When discussing prospective fantasy opponents past and present, she tells me: “I can’t wait to play as myself. My dream match is me versus Eddie Guerrero, and that’s going to happen. That’s a dream come true." This is likely innocent misinformation on her part, rather than a new in-game option; WWE does not want videos of men striking women on Youtube, even in a videogame scenario.
One thing that’s definitely real is her addiction to the game everyone is hooked on right now. “Of course I’m playing Pokemon Go," says Banks. "I’m on level 24, I’m doing quote well. That's my game of the moment – I’m actually really obsessed. I’ve spent a lot of money on it so far. I just need to catch them all. Gimme all the Pokemon already!”
Kevin Owens admits he’s not much of a gamer these days – but says other generations of his family have caught the bug thanks to debuting in 2K's series last year. “My son’s always excited [about playing WWE 2K16]," says Owens. "I play with him a couple of times, he beats me, I ground him, it turns into a whole thing. And my dad has a PlayStation now – he never plays videogames, but bought a PlayStation just so he could buy 2K16 and play as me a couple of times.”
Owens was a Mega Drive fan in his youth, and says he still has a soft spot for Sonic The Hedgehog and Mortal Kombat. With the latter in mind, I ask which gaming character he’d most want to have a virtual brawl with – and his answer is very different from the anticipated Sub-Zero or Scorpion. “Toad from Super Mario Brothers," he replies with genuine fury in his voice. "He just looks so annoying. I’d like to kick him as far a I can.”
Summerslam on Sunday and Raw on Monday saw Barclays Center merchandise stands invaded by the collector’s toy of the moment: Funko Pops. The WWE ones available included a Bella Twins two-pack ($25) and Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns solo editions ($10 each) – and when I did a complete circle of the arena during an early Raw match (Rusev vs Big Cass) out of curiosity, the Bella and Lesnar figures had all but disappeared.
There were no such issues with the availability of the Reigns Funko. These were piled high at every merchandise stand, an arena-wide army of plastic Samoans staring deep into people’s souls and being guiltlessly shunned. It was a actually a little sad – but a stark reminder of the disconnect between Reigns and the grown-adult majority of the WWE fanbase. (A disconnect the company largely continues to ignore).