DETROIT — When WWE announced that SummerSlam 2023 would be in Detroit, what I looked forward to most of all, possibly more so even than SummerSlam itself, was participating in the events and activities around SummerSlam weekend. As the subsequent announcements from various local and independent wrestling organizations spread across social media, I began to plot out my weekend, so that I could experience as much wrestling, and wrestling-related events, as I could stomach.
Ahead of SummerSlam weekend, my schedule was pretty much set in stone. On Saturday, August 5, I would attend SummerSlam with my son, but on SummerSlam Eve, Friday, August 4, I would enjoy a tasting of local and independent wrestling events in Detroit.
My first bite, or the “amuse-bouche” of the evening, was a stop at an event called Summer Suplex, which took place at 9 Planets Comics and Collectibles in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. Despite living and working in Metro Detroit since August 2005, I’d never been to 9 Planets, so I was happily surprised to learn that there was a pro wrestling-centric comic shop so close to home. For their Summer Suplex event, which ran on Friday from 3-8 p.m., they hosted a meet and greet with the “Brooklyn Brawler” Steve Lombardi, a live recording of the Pro Wrestling Edge podcast, as well as in-store appearances by Mess Bucket Comics, who created comics with Roddy Piper and Darren McCarty, and legendary Detroit wrestling school, House of Truth. 9 Planets was full of wrestling magazines, action figures, and other collectibles, including a copy of this year’s Record Store Day release of Randy Savage’s Be a Man album. I could’ve spent hours in 9 Planets, digging through their wrestling comics and cards, but I still had a full schedule ahead of me, so I made my way to my next course, and promised myself I would return to 9 Planets.
The evening’s appetizer was WrestleCon, taking place at Huntington Place in Detroit, which wrestling fans of a certain age may know better as Cobo Hall, which served for decades as a legendary wrestling venue. As I drove into Detroit, and closer to Huntington Place, I thought the city didn’t look any different than any other beautiful August day. There was nothing that announced the events that were taking place this weekend, so if you weren’t already in the know, it would be easy to go about your day, naïve to the festivities. I parked in my typical lot, near Hart Plaza, and enjoyed a brisk stroll along the gorgeous Riverwalk. The weather was absolutely perfect, the Detroit River was a bright, clear blue, and the Canadian flag across the river, waving hello from Windsor, Ontario, was flying high and proud. Even as I neared Huntington Place, I thought the venue looked oddly quiet. I saw the occasional wrestling shirt, yet there was no signage or anything announcing what was going on or where to go, but once I entered Huntington Place, there was no doubt that I was in the right place.
This particular iteration of WrestleCon appeared to be a slightly smaller scale version, compared to what I’d seen and read about in the past, but the advance ticket line to enter when the doors opened at 5 p.m. was still quite impressive. Many of the people in line were holding wrestling belts, chairs, posters, or action figures, and most were wearing some type of wrestling merchandise, be it a shirt or hat, so I was clearly among my people, even if I was only one of a few I saw who were wearing GCW merchandise. Once the doors opened, the line moved fast, and we were led into a hall where the wrestlers in attendance were arranged at their tables. It was a surprisingly small, vacant space, and I admit I felt slightly underwhelmed. The lines for certain wrestlers, like Bret Hart and the Hardys, formed fast, while others, who I won’t name, sat mostly uninterrupted. It was definitely very cool to see so many wrestlers together under one roof, but I had previously seen or met many of those in attendance, so I didn’t feel too compelled to wait in line for any one wrestler.
For much of my time there, I just people watched and observed as fans got loudly “scissored” by the Acclaimed, who screamed and grunted and gyrated as they posed for scissor selfies. They certainly gave people their money’s worth. I took a moment to talk to Tony Schiavone and buy a copy of his graphic novel, Butts in Seats, then I made my way to the only merch booth in the venue, sponsored by Highspots. It was announced ahead of time that WrestleCon would not allow any merch-only vendors without a wrestling guest, due to unknown union costs, which I thought was an odd statement, but WrestleCon Detroit obviously hasn’t been without controversy this year. Anyway, the Highspots booth was cool to look at, with their displays of autographed action figures and chairs, and even some signed copies of Debrah Miceli’s book The Woman Who Would Be King: The MADUSA Story, but I didn’t feel like there was anything I needed for my collection. After that, I decided it was time to make my way to my next stop. I was probably in line for about as long as I was actually inside WrestleCon, but it was still worth the experience, and I got to enjoy another pleasant walk back to my car, along the Detroit Riverwalk.
The next course on my SummerSlam Eve menu would finally involve some live professional wrestling, at Flop House Wrestling’s No F*ck’s [sic] Given, at the Old Miami. I actually learned about this event amid the recent WrestleCon Rick Steiner controversy, when somebody on Twitter (X?) posted a schedule of all the independent wrestling going on in and around Detroit this weekend. I had initially planned on going to WrestleCon at 5 p.m. and GCW at 8 p.m., so I decided that if I had time in between, I would check out No F*ck’s Given, and I’m glad that I did. Not unlike 9 Planets, despite living in the area since 2005, I’d shamefully never been inside the Old Miami, an iconic Detroit music venue and dive bar that serves first-and-foremost as a bar for military veterans, hence the name MIAMI which stands for Missing in Action (MIA) Michigan (MI). The Flop House Wrestling event was arranged on the Old Miami patio, a surprisingly large, manicured, and fenced-in lawn with an outdoor bar and a pair of large grills, where they serve a full menu of sausages, hot dogs, Coneys (or chili dogs if you’re not in the know), burgers, and chicken. It was cold, inexpensive, canned beer, grilled hot dogs, and live, outdoor wrestling. It was heaven on earth.
I wasn’t attending No F*ck’s Given because of any specific match. I didn’t even know most wrestlers on the poster, with the exception of a few folks from XICW and my recent ICW NHB wrestling card purchase, but the crowd looked like they were there to get buzzed and enjoy some wrestling, and it was exactly what I needed. I stayed for four Flop House Wrestling matches, and I enjoyed each one of them, but I apologize in advance for not knowing each wrestler’s name. The first match was a pre-show trios tag team match, between one team who were a sort of redneck/Moondogs type of team, against a mixed-gender trios team that included two wrestlers I recently saw at an XICW show, one of them a large, biker-looking fellow named Mongo. The redneck team won after double-teaming the woman on the opposing team, which garnered some enthusiastic boos. The next match was the first official match of the night, which pitted Sam Beal against the “Head of the Flop House Table” Schwartzy. I also saw Beal at a previous XICW event, and I’ve enjoyed him each time I’ve seen him. He comes out to “Rockstar” by Nickelback and has a very Brian Pillman Jr. look, with his permed mullet. He’s a bigger guy, and has a sort of arrogant, redneck jock gimmick, plus he’s billed from Ohio, which gets instant heat in Michigan. Schwartzy is billed as the owner of Flop House Wrestling. He’s a smaller, almost nebbish character with marijuana themed gear, and the crowd loved him, so they were happy to see him pull out the victory over Beal.
The next match was a six-person “scramble,” which is obviously a type of match that has become synonymous with GCW. There were several shots fired at GCW while I was at Flop House, which I found amusing, considering I was wearing a GCW (or more specifically EFFY) shirt and hat. Some of the talent at Flop House that night were recently affiliated with GCW, including Matthew Justice, Hoodfoot, and Tommy Vendetta, who was initially booked against Masha Slamovich for GCW that same night, so who knows how much of it was genuine rivalry or good natured ribbing. The scramble was, well, a typical scramble, with lots of chaos and mischief, but the increasingly intoxicated crowd ate it up. The fourth and final match I was present for saw Kenny Urban take on “The Queerbilly” G.G. Jacobs. I missed some of this match when I went back for another can of beer and a grilled hot sausage with onions and mustard, but I returned in time for the final spots, when Jacobs tried and failed to “peg” Urban (beware if you choose to Google it) and Urban slipped a goose sock puppet on his hand and performed a mandible claw type of maneuver called the “Mother Gooser,” leading to a victory over Jacobs. After this match, and my delicious grilled sausage, it was about 8 p.m., and time for my next stop, which would take me to one of Detroit’s most notorious venues.
The entrée was GCW: My Name Is, at Harpo’s. Harpo’s has become the de facto home for GCW in Detroit, but this would be my first visit to Harpo’s. I hadn’t been to a live GCW event in Detroit since they stopped booking a Detroit Knights of Columbus Hall, but tonight I would finally find out if Harpo’s lived up to all the local hype. And folks, I have to say, the place is a genuine sh*thole. It was a bit of a shock to my system, moving from the Old Miami patio to Harpo’s, moving from a pleasant, outdoor, spacious summer venue, to an indoor, dark, crowded, and sweltering hot theater. I don’t want to make it too much about the venue, but if you have general admission, standing room only tickets, like I did, it wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience. For nearly the first half of the show, I could barely see the ring. I was mostly stealing glimpses in between shoulders, or when wrestlers took the action to the top turnbuckle, or to the elevated stage, but otherwise, I would have been much better watching from home.
What I did see was awesome, though. I came in a little late, so I missed the scramble, but I entered while Alec Price and Masha Slamovich were making their way to the ring. Predictably, Price and Slamovich put on a banger, and Slamovich came out on top. The first full match I got to see was Joey Janela versus Komander, and the Harpo’s crowd was hot for both wrestlers. Even with my limited visibility, I had a clear view of much of the action in this match, because Komander spent so much time on the ropes. It was at this point that the crowd began to chant about how hot it was in Harpo’s, and Janela showed his agreement. Nearly everyone in the crowd was glistening with sweat, multiple people removed their shirts, and the talent in the ring were sweating buckets. And speaking of chants, I do believe the biggest chant of the night was the simple LA Knight “YEAH” chant, which broke out several times throughout the evening. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a WWE-specific chant take over like that in an independent show, which made me think that either there were a lot of people in the crowd who had come in for SummerSlam, the promised Jeff Hardy appearance brought in a lot of WWE fans, or LA Knight is just that damn over.
That first half to two-thirds of the show saw a plethora of hard hitting, violent matches, including Los Macizos versus Violence is Forever and Sawyer Wreck versus Parrow, as well as two deathmatches, including Second Gear Crew versus The Rejects, and Cole Radrick versus Crazy King, and with each and every match, the crowd got hotter and more heated. This was a loud and rowdy crowd. There was a lot of booze and pot. I saw several highly intoxicated people being led out of the crowd by someone they hopefully knew and trusted. Almost mercifully, Emil Jay announced an intermission after the Cole/Crazy King deathmatch, which Cole won, and I realized that the lobby was deliciously cool, comparatively speaking. When the intermission concluded, it seemed like a fair number of people in general admission had taken leave of the show, because I suddenly had a clear view for BUSSY versus the former Bang Bros, who recently received a cease and desist letter for the use of the Bang Bros name. BUSSY, as always, was over like rover, and the former Bang Bros got some unexpected regional boos after being announced as from Chicgao. This was a high impact tag match, with a recently super jacked EFFY looking huge compared to both Bang Bros, and BUSSY pulled out the victory with a Doomsday Device-esque “Sack Ryder” from the top rope.
The next match was the main event of “Speedball” Mike Bailey versus GCW champion Blake Christian, which I think everyone was clearly looking forward to. The GCW fans were expecting a five-star match here, and many were hoping for a new champion, and we definitely received an amazing match. While I think it’s safe to say that Bailey is pretty universally loved, Christian is probably the most hated person in GCW since Matt Cardona, and he’s just eating it up (no crumbs). It was at this point that I noticed this was the lone GCW title match that night, and since it’s also SummerSlam weekend, I think a lot of people expected Bailey to come out as the new champ. Unfortunately that did not happen, but what did happen is Bailey and Christian put one one hellacious match. They moved from pure athletic sportsmanship to outside the ring insanity to comical ref bumps, and ultimately, Christian bested Bailey and the boos reigned down upon him.
Many people in attendance started to leave when Christian was handed a mic, and he began to berate the GCW fanbase and roster, but I think they must have forgot about one final announced appearance, because right on time, the Hardy Boys theme song, “Loaded,” began to play, and Jeff Hardy made his way to the ring. This brought a lot of people running back into the crowd, including a man who was in front of me nearly the entire night in full Jeff Hardy cosplay. Hardy wasn’t scheduled to wrestle that night, but he cut a promo on Christian, then Masha Slamovich ran out, distracting Christian, and Hardy hit Christian with a Twist of Fate. After Christian and Slamovich left the ring, Hardy picked up the mic to thank the GCW fans, then “For Whom the Bell Tolls” began, and the king of GCW Nick Gage made his way to the ring. After that, Gage and Hardy exchanged pleasantries, and Gage sent the crowd home happy, but not before Emil Jay reminded the crowd that Hardy would be doing a musical set after the show.
I had a ticket for Hardy’s musical set, so I stepped out of Harpo’s and got back in line, as directed, and that is when I realized how tired I was. I hadn’t thought about how much time it might take to change the venue from a wrestling show to a concert. I could hear Hardy inside doing a sound check, and I started to think about how much longer I might be standing in line. I didn’t want to think about going back into that sweltering theater, especially now that my sweat was finally drying off in the refreshingly cool, August night air.
Over the past eight hours, I had already been to four different events, and visited three Detroit businesses I had never been to before, and I still had SummerSlam ahead of me the next day, so I decided I was too full for dessert, and I drove home to take a cool shower, drink some water, and go to sleep.