Mark your calendars—the hottest pay-per-view event of the summer is only a week away!
SummerSlam, World Wrestling Entertainment’s second biggest pay-per-view event of the year, returns to Los Angeles Sun., Aug. 19. This year’s event not only marks the 25th SummerSlam, but also the fourth consecutive year that WWE has held the pay-per-view at the Staples Center.
“The fans, the atmosphere, the environment—everything is just off the hook,” replied “SmackDown’s” new general manager Booker T when asked what makes Los Angeles such a perfect place for the annual event.
Since being announced as the new general manager of “SmackDown” on July 31, Booker T has already had a direct impact on this year’s SummerSlam card, canceling the World Heavyweight Championship match against Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio. When asked what match he would like to see on the card instead, Booker didn’t hesitate for a moment before giving LifeinLA.com his response.
“For me it’s easy,” he said. “I look at the entertainment value of things, so to me the match fans really want to see is [Randy] Orton versus Sheamus. That’s the marquee event, the dream match-up.”
While Orton versus Sheamus has yet to officially be announced for this year’s SummerSlam, one match that is on the card that Booker T said he really wants to see is the match that everyone’s talking about: Triple H versus Brock Lesnar. Booker said he’s also looking forward to watching Dolph Ziggler go up against Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan fight Kane, as he “wants to see how good this next generation really is.”
“I’ve worked with Jericho and Kane before—they’re part of my era—so I’m anxious to see how these young guys are progressing,” Booker said.
Having been “SmackDown’s” color commentator since February 2011, Booker has been watching the next generation of WWE Superstars in action for quite some time. Given his background, though, it’s only natural to wonder if the decorated Superstar misses getting in the ring.
“I scratched that itch for a long time,” Booker admitted. “Really, I miss the intensity. But it’s just the evolution of the game. Look at Michael Phelps—he did what he did for a long time, but now he’s moving on to the next stage.”
“I’m happy with my new role,” Booker continued. “I always said when I was 30 that I wanted to retire from the ring at 40 because I didn’t want to only think about performing; I wanted my own gym and to work behind the camera. This has been a calculated plan, and to be named GM by the boss [Vince McMahon] was just huge for me. It really put a stamp on my career. I always tell the young guys, ‘Once you make general, you never lose your stripes.’ I’ve been out in the trenches, dodging land mines for 20 years making sure I was never out of sight, out of mind. I always made sure I gave the ultimate performance so one day I could relax and just enjoy myself.”
Not that Booker is taking his new role as general manager lightly.
“This job is tough and I’m taking it very seriously,” Booker said. “These young Superstars have got to learn that they’re the future of the WWE. They’re got to learn how to represent the company at events like WrestleMania, how to perform, how to sell tickets. They have got to know their craft, know their Shakespeare, know their Romeo & Juliet. It’s like a riddle they have to figure out. They have to be entertaining; they have to want that encore.”
When asked who he saw as the future faces of the company—the next generation of John Cenas and Randy Ortons—Booker replied with two Superstars who are no stranger to “SmackDown.”
“I always say Cody Rhodes is at the top of that list, and Dolph Ziggler as well,” Booker said. “I always thought of Dolph as a throwback to Curt Hennig and Rick Rude. He looks good, and he knows how to perform and entertain. Now, he just has to grow and mature over the years and stay injury-free.”
One up-and-coming talent who fans, sadly, won’t get to see become a future player in the company is Andy Leavine, the “Tough Enough” winner who was released from his WWE contract in April. When asked if he had any second thoughts on picking Andy as the winner of the reality competition over runner-up Luke Robinson, Booker (who, along with Trish Stratus and Bill DeMott, was a trainer on the show) stood by his decision despite the outcome.
“The decision was made, and really it was a short list of who could have pulled [being a WWE Superstar] off,” Booker said. “Andy was the best candidate. Luke just wouldn’t have panned out backstage with the other WWE Superstars.”
Even though Leavine didn’t become the breakthrough Superstar WWE had hoped for, Booker said he’s hopeful the series will return—although he admitted some changes do need to be made to the program.
“It was an awesome show and the ratings were good, but the selection process needs to be different,” Booker said. “Next time, when the guy [or girl] wins, he [or she] needs to be ready at that moment to start making appearances on ‘Raw’ and ‘SmackDown.’”
While the jury is still out on whether or not there will be another season of “Tough Enough,” a more pertinent issue the WWE has to deal with right now is who will take over Booker’s spot as color commentator on “SmackDown.” When asked who he thought was right for the job, Booker sided with the man who seems to think he’s the right candidate—and isn’t afraid to go on Twitter to let the world know it.
“That’s a pretty short list as well,” Booker replied. “You need someone who can sit with [Michael] Cole on a weekly basis without killing him. JBL, we already know his track record since he’s done it before. He knows the guys, he knows the rules and he can keep Cole in line.”
With rumors of JBL’s return to “SmackDown” swirling even though the former WWE Superstar has since said he won’t be coming back to commentate, one can only wonder what other familiar faces might return to WWE in the future. Now that he’s general manager, can fans expect the lovely Sharmell (Booker T’s real-life wife) to return to Booker’s side?
“She may make a cameo,” Booker laughed. “But she’s real busy right now with the twins. She’ll probably make the trip out to L.A., though, for SummerSlam, since it’s such a big event.”
While Booker may be happy with his new role as general manager, there is one match he admitted he’d love to get back in the ring for.
“Shawn Michaels versus Booker T,” Booker stated. “Shawn’s the guy that set the standard for excellence and was known for always stealing the show. That was the one big match I didn’t get to have in my career.”
Michaels will actually be at SummerSlam supporting Triple H during his match against Lesnar—the perfect opportunity for WWE’s creative team to somehow start a storyline involving Booker T. But even if he never gets in the ring with the retired Hall of Famer, Booker said he’s still happy with his career.
“I always planned on coming out on this side,” he said. “Now I just hope I make it.”
WWE SummerSlam takes place Sun., Aug. 19, inside the Staples Center. Show starts at 4:30 p.m., with tickets ranging from $25-$450. To purchase your tickets, visit ticketmaster.com, or watch the event live on pay-per-view.