5 Lessons WWE Must Learn from After SummerSlam Fallout
From two blockbuster returns to several new champions being crowned, WWE's SummerSlam 2021 pay-per-view was nothing short of a newsworthy night.
With the Superstars back on the road full-time, the company needed to hit a home run to get people buzzing about the product heading into the final stretch of 2021. Not every match or booking decision was wise or exceptional—some were simply downright dumb—but by and large, WWE effectively got the wrestling world talking in the days that followed.
It was a unique installment of SummerSlam to be sure. It was the first to be held in a major stadium in almost 30 years and also the first to occur on a Saturday. Both experiments can't be considered anything but a success given it was the most-viewed and highest-grossing of all time, according to WWE.
No announcement was made on where next year's SummerSlam will emanate from, but one has to imagine it will be in a similarly sized venue in another popular destination. If so, as eventful as SummerSlam 2021 was, there are several things that can be improved upon to ensure it's even more acclaimed.
These are the five lessons WWE must learn from last week's SummerSlam extravaganza that will help better future installments as well as other upcoming pay-per-views.
SummerSlam Must Either Be 3 Hours or Expanded into 2 Days
One of the highlights of WWE's Performance Center/ThunderDome era was that almost every pay-per-view was kept under three hours. That hasn't been the case in many years, at least since WWE expanded all of its events to four hours—including non-Big Four shows—in 2018.
Even with the deep talent pool WWE has across Raw and SmackDown, there is no reason for a B-level event to be anywhere near four hours. Exceptions can sometimes be made for SummerSlam, Survivor Series and Royal Rumble, but even those events in recent years had no business being over three hours as well.
That was especially evident during SummerSlam this year, which ended around midnight Eastern Time. The audience in attendance wasn't as tired as those watching at home because of it wrapping up around 9 p.m. local time in Las Vegas, but looking at the lineup on paper, SummerSlam still should and could have been closer to a three-hour show instead of four.
If WWE really wants to go all out with SummerSlam and include as many people as possible, then two days might be a better option. WWE has tried it out with WrestleMania for the past two years, and it has worked out well by all accounts, so doing something similar with SummerSlam may not be the worst choice.
Otherwise, limiting the event to three hours would keep the crowd energetic for a majority of the pay-per-view as opposed to tiring them out before the biggest bouts of the night get underway.
Always Close with a Cliffhanger, a Crowd-Pleasing Moment or Both
Sending the crowd home happy is a crucial component of putting on a wrestling show. The babyface may not always conquer the heel, but ending with a crowd-pleasing moment—whatever it is—is imperative so fans aren't left with a feeling of unfulfillment when it comes to the pay-per-view.
The overall event was all over the place, mind you, but WWE undoubtedly nailed the final half hour of the event.
Roman Reigns and John Cena put on an instant classic for the Universal Championship, and if that wasn't satisfying enough, Brock Lesnar made his shocking return to WWE to confront Reigns. The moment was made even bigger by the 50,000-plus people in the packed Allegiant Stadium who gave it the raucous reaction it deserved.
It was a similar story at Money in the Bank 2021 when John Cena came back to end the evening. Not every event can culminate with the return of a major player, but the key is moving feuds forward or kicking off new ones to give viewers something to look forward to in the fallout of the show.
Becky Lynch and Lesnar resurfacing created cliffhangers going into SmackDown with fans anxious to see what would happen next. Even the finish to Bobby Lashley vs. Goldberg, as awful as it was, gave viewers an idea of what to expect from them going forward.
WWE doesn't create enough compelling cliffhangers, but SummerSlam had just that and they should continue to follow that formula in the future.
Bigger Stadiums Give the Shows a Much Grander Feel
For many years, WrestleMania was the sole show WWE went all out for as far as securing a stadium—and understandably so given it's supposed to be The Grandest Stage of Them All. Only recently has the company started to branch out and make other events bigger, starting with Royal Rumble and now SummerSlam.
The last time SummerSlam was held in a major stadium was 1992, when it emanated from Wembley Stadium in London. It's no coincidence that it's considered one of the greatest installments of all time given the big fight feel a lot of the matches on the card had that night, specifically the main event between Bret Hart and British Bulldog for the Intercontinental Championship.
Even coming out of an unprecedented pandemic period, WWE still managed to land Allegiant Stadium as the home for SummerSlam this year, and it paid off exceptionally well. Not only was it the highest-grossing installment to date, it also added a lot to the matches on the card and made every moment grander than it would have been otherwise.
Nothing should be stopping WWE from making this an annual occurrence going forward. There are plenty of football stadiums across the country that would be perfect for a SummerSlam-type show, and if the card is as star-studded as it was this year, WWE should be able to move a ton of tickets for it.
If SummerSlam is indeed the WrestleMania of the summer, then giving it the same treatment in terms of a large venue should be a top priority.
Know Your Audience and Don't False Advertise
WWE's booking practices can be quite questionable most of the time. It's not that the company is incapable of creating greatness—look no further than what happened with Brock Lesnar at the end of the night—but rather they have a tough time of letting things play out organically.
For starters, continuing to advertise Bianca Belair vs. Sasha Banks for the SmackDown Women's Championship at SummerSlam 2021 despite the company reportedly knowing eight days in advance (per Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter) that Banks wouldn't be present for the pay-per-view was an asinine move.
False advertising is an efficient way to kill goodwill with the audience, followed by booking a bout that's under 30 seconds long and makes the reigning SmackDown women's champion of over 100 days look weak.
The uber-popular Becky Lynch turning heel is a strange call in of itself, but executing it the way WWE did was even worse. It took the crowd out of the show, not knowing how to react to what they just witnessed. It was a bizarre turn of events that left everyone confused more than anything else.
WWE should have known that having the equally beloved Belair lose in the fashion they did wasn't going to go over too well. They must avoid creating a situation that is going to overshadow most of the other positive things they did throughout the show.
Returns and Debuts Are a Sure-Fire Way to Get Fans Talking
As much of a mixed bag as SummerSlam 2021 was on the whole, the two biggest moments of the evening that created a genuine buzz were the returns of Brock Lesnar and Becky Lynch.
Matches and promos can be fun, but returns and debuts are the absolute best part about wrestling and are always exciting. WWE brought back two of its most notable names in recent years, and that immediately sparked interest among fans despite the rest of the card not being anything out of the ordinary.
Doing a debut or a return for the sake of doing so isn't ideal, but if it makes sense, a show such as SummerSlam is the perfect place to pull the trigger. Lesnar and Lynch could have easily come back on any average edition of SmackDown in the rest of the year, but it wouldn't have packed as much of a punch if they returned in front of a lot less people.
As arguably WWE's second-biggest pay-per-view of the year behind WrestleMania, SummerSlam should feel as special as possible. Going all out for it, producing a compelling card and delivering monumental moments is one way to accomplish that.
Regardless of whether WWE opted to reintroduce Lynch and Lesnar at SummerSlam to combat CM Punk's AEW debut (and they almost definitely did), the fans are benefiting by being able to witness so many shocking—and welcomed—developments.
SummerSlam was one of the most talked-about events WWE has done in ages and the sense that anything can happen should be considered a top priority every time. Last Saturday was an excellent example of how to get the wrestling world buzzing for the right reasons and to ensure it was an event that won't be soon forgotten by fans.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.