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WrestleWatch: WWE Summerslam 2020

It's the Biggest Party of the Summer! Only this year, that tagline doesn't seem appropriate for this year's edition of WWE's second biggest annual show, Summerslam. It's a bit hard to have a party without anyone in attendance. So, this year, it's Summerslam... You'll Never See It Coming. Ooh.

The Smackdown before Summerslam, WWE introduced a remedy to the "no fans" problem. Apparently following in the footsteps of the NBA and NFL, they've introduced virtual fans through the experience known as... THE THUNDERDOME! That's such a Vince phrase. They've finally moved all TV production out of the WWE Performance Center and into Orlando's Amway Center. That's actually an arena I've physically been in a few times, as it hosted events through the week of Wrestlemania 33. My best seats of the 3 events I attended- the 2017 Hall of Fame. Let the record show that I had seats closer to the stage than Corey Graves and Tom Phillips, and I was about on par with (The) Brian Kendrick. I also went to NXT Takeover Orlando and the Raw After WM33, with similar quality seats. But I digress.

WWE have loaded the Amway Center with lights and LED screens, and it's a massive visual upgrade from the PC. The audio still needs a little work, but it's cool to see fans on the show reacting again, even if it does look like a giant Zoom call at times. Debuting the set on Smackdown was a smart move as a test run, because it allowed them to work out some kinks heading into Summerslam.


To WWE's credit- in these uncertain COVID times- they have assembled a card worthy of the biggest card of the summer. As I mentioned in my NXT Takeover XXX review, I haven't been watching the weekly product closely, mostly reading results and cherry picking some segments/matches to watch. So here's a bare-bones rundown of how we got to Summerslam.

  • Drew McIntyre is the WWE Champion, having bested The Beast, Brock Lesnar, at Wrestlemania 36. Unfortunately, his entire WWE Title reign has occured during the pandemic, but he's carried himself admirably given the circumstances as Raw's top babyface. The challenger is a veteran heel in the form of his life, the re-booted Legend Killer, Randy Orton. After beating Edge at Backlash in a WM36 rematch, Orton has revived his old Punt Kick and used it to take out Shawn Michaels, Big Show, and even his old mentor, the Nature Boy, Ric Flair. McIntyre vs. Orton is the biggest match WWE could put on right now.

  • The Monday Night Messiah, Seth Rollins, has been locked in a feud with the legendary luchador, Rey Mysterio. At Extreme Rules, Rollins defeated Rey by detaching his eye from its socket in an 'Eye For An Eye" Match. Yeah, some of WWE's booking during this pandemic has been ridiculous. This vile act drew the ire of Rey's son, Dominik. No longer the boy you might remember Rey and Eddie battling over at Summerslam 2005, Dom is now a young man (which makes me feel old AF) and he has stepped up to defend his father's honour, challenging Seth Rollins to a match at Summerslam 2020, in what marks his official WWE debut. High profile and high stakes!

  • Over on Smackdown, Braun Strowman reigns as Universal Champion. He ran through Bill Goldberg in a 2 minute abomination at WM36, and went on to defend his title against comedic challengers, The Miz and John Morrison. Following that... feud, Bray Wyatt targeted his old protege, Strowman. They had a Swamp Fight at Extreme Rules that Bray's "Fiend" persona apparently won, but it wasn't for the title for some reason, so here we go at Summerslam for the gold. Alexa Bliss has been included in the storyline as Braun's love interest, which is an interesting element for those of us that actually watched Mixed Match Challenge.

There's other matches on the card, but those are the big ones, so... let's do this!

The Show

Kick-Off- WWE United States Championship- Apollo Crews defeated MVP (at 6:40)

Thoughts: I hate the newly designed US title. The words "United States" are tiny, while the word "CHAMPION" is massive, so it's a mess... we can tell that he's a CHAMPION of some kind, but of what? And the flag is gone, replaced by a couple of barely visible stripes... and there's a visible eagle, which is an American symbol, but past world championships have also incorporated an eagle into the design, so...

Oh yeah, the match. Standard pre-show fare. Still wild to see MVP as a full time WWE roster member after saying he was going to retire the night after the Royal Rumble, when he wrestled Rey Mysterio on Raw. He's older and slower, and his Hurt Business cronies- Lashley and Shelton Benjamin- weren't really a factor as they were banned from ringside. Crews retains with relative ease following a counter of the Playmaker into the Toss Powerbomb. (**)

Also notable on the Kick-Off Show, it was the last WWE appearance of Renee Young, who gave her notice to WWE last week. Kinda felt like she was bound to leave eventually, what with her husband not only working for WWE's biggest competitor, but also holding that AEW World Championship. Rumours abound that one of the reasons she left now though is that when she got COVID earlier this year, no one in power in WWE bothered to check in on her. Renee's fantastic at her job, and it almost seems certain that she'll land in AEW.


The main show starts with an obscene level of pyro. Not quite Saudi-level, but considering the relative size of the arena compared to Saudi stadiums, pretty damn close! They even have pyro shooting off from the "crowd" area. Making use of the space between the screens... you can criticise WWE for a lot of things, but their production is always on point.

Match 1: Smackdown Women's Championship- Bayley (w/ Sasha Banks) def. Asuka (at 11:35)

Thoughts: Ooh, this may have been worth a blurb. Asuka, a Raw Superstar, is challenging Bayley for the SD title after winning an Interbrand Battle Royal. And she also challenges Sasha Banks for the Raw Women's Championship later in the show. And Bayley and Sasha are the Women's Tag Team Championship. Lots going on here. This is well wrestled, with Asuka bringing her perfect blend of flashiness and intensity. She takes out Byley early on with a flying DDT out on the floor! Damn! Later, a Bayley To Belly gets a near fall for the champ. Asuka counters a Savage flying elbow into the armbar in an awesome spot. The finish makes another cool visual. Asuka goes for a flying hip attack, but Bayley moves and her bestie Sasha takes the bullet. Bayley used the momentary distraction to roll up Asuka for the win! Fun action to get the PPV started. Part of a bigger story but definitely very good in its own right. (***1/4)

Post-match, Bayley and Sasha beat down Asuka. Heels gonna heel.

Backstage, the Mysterio family are talking. Dom asks Rey- still wearing an eyepatch- to not get involved in his Street Fight with Rollins. After some initial reluctance, Rey ultimately agrees to let his son fight on his own.

Raw commentators Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton and Samoa Joe are shown on camera. They throw to a video package on the mystery masked faction that has recently disrupted WWE, known as Retribution. Feels like a weak Nexus/Shield hybrid, but we'll see where it goes. They've been attacking everyone and breaking shit. Woo, chaos! There's extra security at Summerslam to keep Retribution away.

Kevin Owens joins the Raw boys to do a spot of guest commentary, because WWE had nothing better for him to do on this show. One of the best moments at WrestleMania, all the way down to a cameo appearance at Summerslam. Boo-urns.

Match 2: Raw Tag Team Championship- The Street Profits (Montez Ford & Angelo Dawkins) def. Andrade & Angel Garza (w/ Zelina Vega) (at 7:50)

Thoughts: Decent action. KO doesn't add a whole lot on commentary. Highlights were probably the Street Profit's entrance- where it rained red cups- and the finish, where Ford managed a crazy Frog Splash. He always gets crazy height, but this time he turned 180 degress in mid air as he hit it! Eat your heart out, RVD! Poor Andrade and Garza though. Both men deserve to be in the US title scene, not jobbing in a tag match in 7 minutes. Then again, the US title match ended in a shorter time, and on the Kick-Off... WWE really need to treat their talent and championships a little better. (**1/2)

Before Owens takes his leave, he invites Aleister Black to join him on The KO Show tomorrow on Raw.

Backstage, Sarah Schreiber interviews Bayley and Sasha. She suggests that Bayley only won because of Sasha's involvement. Sasha says that if Bayley can beat Asuka, she knows that she can. Interesting statement, and a bit of tension here.

Match 3: No DQ- Loser Leaves WWE- Mandy Rose def. Sonya Deville (at 10:05)

Thoughts: This was a long feud, beginning just prior to Wrestlemania, also involving Otis and Dolph Ziggler. This was originally billed as a Hair vs. Hair match, but real life complicated the storyline. Sonya Deville had a stalker break into her home, and the trauma of that caused a last minute change. It's unknown at this point if Sonya has truly left or if she's just taking some time off, but it's an awful situation either way. The match itself was okay. Mandy brought a great deal of intensity and a different slicked-back look, to combat the assertion of Deville in this feud that Rose was "just eye candy". They brawl and grab some weapons- there's a unique spot where Mandy slides a steel chair across a table at Deville. The finish comes after several bicycle knees and a butterfly facebuster. Not the greatest match ever, but it's hard to judge them too harshly given the week they've both had (Rose and Deville are housemates IRL). (**1/2)

Match 4: Street Fight- Seth Rollins def. Dominik Mysterio (at 22:35)

Thoughts: This was a match I had to go back and re-watch, because the initial reaction I saw online was overwhelmingly positive, and I was feeling very "meh" about it. It was okay for someone having their first wrestling match, but I had high expectations going in for a few reasons. One, Dominik being second generation, there's going to be comparisons made to Rey. It comes with the territory. Two, they had his in-ring debut occur at Summerslam. Putting that kind of spotlight on someone for their first match is pressure, but if WWE are going to do that, you tend to expect big things. And finally, Pat McAfee debuted the night before at Takeover, with far less training and no pro wrestling legacy behind him, and his performance was blow-away. I understood the story and drama that they were going for, but I figured we'd have a comeback with some more spectacular moves. Brian Zane made a good point on Wrestling With Wregret- Rollins vs. Dom was structured in a more realistic fashion for a wrestler having his first match, while Pat was more like a CAW being given cool moves in WWE 2K. But if there was ever a time to kinda skew realism and have a debuting wrestler show a bunch of flashy moves, surely you do that for THE SON OF REY MYSTERIO??? But here I am after watching it for a second time. Removing the expectations that Dominik was going to do some Rey-esque lucha libre (I mean, he did like two cool arm drags) and looking at the story of a son defending his father's honour, even though he was outmatched, I enjoyed it a lot more. Still would have maybe appreciated a bit more flash, especially since I've seen videos of the future Prince Mysterio doing cooler shit in training rings, but I have a better appreciation for this second time around. The story, the psychology, the timing of hope spots... Good shit, Dom. And it's only up from here. Credit to Rollins too- he expertly led a green wrestler through a PPV quality match. And he had awesome attire, which was either a tribute or mockery of Rey Mysterio's Halloween Havoc 1997 gear. (***1/2)

Match 5: Raw Women's Championship- Asuka def. Sasha Banks (at 11:25)

Thoughts: The better of the two women's championship matches on Summerslam. A little too short to hit that classic territory, but excellent energy from both Asuka and Banks, and a couple of brutal looking spots (in a good way). That sunset flip bomb to the outside, oof. Some good chain wrestling too, with the ladies trading signature submissions- Sasha countered the Asuka Lock into the Banks Statement and there was a great sequence of struggling and rolling through that gave me brief flashbacks to Benoit putting Triple H in the Crossface at Wrestlemania XX. The finish furthered what seems to finally be the dissolution of the Boss N Hug Connection- we almost had a repeat of the Bayley/Asuka finish, but Bayley didn't take the hip attack bullet, instead dodging. The Role Model gets wiped out anyway with a spinning back fist. Sasha tries to capitalise with the Backstabber/Banks Statement combo, but again we get some sweet counter wrestling, with the Empress of Tomorrow locking in the Asuka Lock. The Boss has nowhere to go and taps out! Asuka claims championship gold once again, Sasha continues her streak of NEVER defending the Raw Women's Championship on PPV. Seriously, look it up. I think she kept it via DQ on Raw once, but she sucks at holding onto to championships. Almost as bad as Jericho. Anyway, what's most interesting here is the Bayley/Sasha fallout. Bayley is still Bayley Dos Straps, while 2 Belts Banks is no more. There's been little bits of tension more and more frequently lately. I think WWE wanted to hold off on a big Bayley vs. Sasha feud on the main roster until we had fans back on a big stage, but now that we have the Thunderdome, there's a little less reason to hold off on the big matches. (***1/2)

It's WWE Championship time. This really surprised me, as to me, McIntyre vs. Orton is the far bigger marquee match than Strowman vs. Fiend. Guess they're planning some sports-entertainment fuckery to end the show?

A video package airs on the Drew/Orton feud. Randall's been kicking a bunch of old dudes in the head, and Scottish Psychopath Drew won't stand for it. Oh, and Drew thinks Randy's a prick. There's probably context to that, but really, who needs it?

Match 6: WWE Championship- Drew McIntyre def. Randy Orton (at 20:35)

Thoughts: To borrow a line from Bret Hart, this was excellently executed. Two old pros doing their best work. Yes, McIntyre is relatively new to the main event scene, but it's important to remember he's been doing this a long time. The significant difference between Drew's first run where he was anoited as "The Chosen One", and this second run where he's finally fulfilled that promise, is the poise and confidence he carries, and it shines through at this main event level. He's got the perfect dance partner here in Orton, who is in the form of his career in his own right. Motivated Orton is best Orton. They wrestled with an intensity befitting the tone of the feud, although they felt like they were a gear behind going all out (ooh, AEW reference). I feel like that was by design, especially considering WWE are putting on a PPV the week after Summerslam, called Payback, taking place tomorrow at the time of writing. They billed this fairly strongly as Orton's RKO vs. Drew's Claymore kick, but used that to nicely subvert expectations and have Drew retain after countering a RKO attempt into a backslide pin. Nice to see a non-finisher move finish in a major match. Great shit, pal! (****)

Match 7: WWE Universal Championship- Falls Count Anywhere- "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt def. Braun Strowman (at 12:00)

Thoughts: First of all, I was fairly surprised at the lack of Alexa Bliss, given her heavy involvement in the angle heading towards Summerslam. And the Falls Count Anywhere stipulation was apparently sneakily added to proceedings via a post. All a little weird. As for the quality of the match, it was okay. Not really up to par for what would be expected for a Summerslam main event. Bret vs. Bulldog or Cena vs. Bryan, this was not. Maybe in line with the Brock vs. Orton match we got a few years ago, which was similarly underwhelming. They briefly battled backstage into the Gorilla Position (the backstage area where the show is produced), and hilariously, it was conveniently empty for the first time ever. Sister Abigail back there got a near fall. With that token bit of the Falls Count Anywhere stipulation ticked off, we head back towards the ring. Strowman briefly gets The Fiend down and uses the respite to go outside and get a box cutter! I know Fiend is a really OP character, but surely he can't survive a stabbing! Plus, even though Falls Count Anywhere inherently has no rules, Braun wants to be careful. The referee stopped a Cell match where Seth Rollins used a hammer on the Fiend. But no, Strowman isn't using the blade as a weapon on his opponent, but rather is using it to cut open the ring mat and expose the wooden boards. I always enjoy when WWE does this, because it's good to show detractors of wrestling that the ring is actually fairly hard, with only about an inch of padding separating the wrestlers' bodies from the wood. But this ends up making Braun look pretty bad to end his championship reign, as he immediately takes a uranage on the boards he exposed, followed by Sister Abigail to take a pretty bad L. All in all, pretty disappointing, but this show is not over... (**1/2)

Post-match, an all-black figure rushes the ring and takes down The Fiend. Is it a member of Retribution? No, wait, he's not wearing a mask... get a close-up shot of him, dammit Kevin... it's ROMAN REIGNS!

The Big Dog, looking much more jacked than the last time we saw him, viciously attacks the new Universal Champion, then goes to the outside and wipes out Braun Strowman. Living up to the moniker on his new shirt, "Wreck Everyone And Leave", Roman returns to the ring to raise the Universal Championship belt in the air to end the show.

Oh, and Roman Reigns got some dental work done in his time away as well. Looks like very white, bright veneers. Something Randy Orton wasted little time in trolling him about on social media.

So was this a heel turn? Attacking the new champion and the beaten down former champion isn't exactly babyface behaviour from Reigns. Unless this is just an attempt by WWE to give Dwayne's cousin a little more edge? Well, here's something of a spoiler... it was a heel turn based on the events of this week's Smackdown. The blue brand went off the air showing Roman Reigns aligned with... Paul Heyman. And unless they're turning Heyman face... which would be the most bullshit, nonsensical thing ever... but this is WWE, so... okay, I'm about 85% sure Roman's a heel now. Exciting times!

Overall Thoughts

I deliberated a bit on my rating for Summerslam. It was undoubtedly a fine show, but with the exception of Drew McIntyre vs. Randy Orton, and maybe Asuka vs. Sasha Banks, the actual wrestling action didn't typically meet my high expectations for Summerslam, as the second biggest event on the WWE calendar. And it also had the misfortunate of following a really high level NXT Takeover, which needed no grading on a curve as I mentioned on that review. But what pushes it through is the storytelling. The two women's championship matches did a lot to advance the long term story and eventual rivalry between Bayley and Sasha Banks. Dominik Mysterio's debut wasn't an absolute thrill ride, but it told a great dramatic chapter in the story between Seth Rollns and Rey Mysterio, and Dom did well for his first match. And finally, the return of Roman Reigns. A big story in simply his return, but the actions in the angle point to a new creative direction for the Big Dog, something refreshing that fans have been waiting for for years. A combination of good wrestling action, excellent storytelling, and a big-time feel through the production of the Thunderdome leads me to give Summerslam 2020 a firm thumbs up.

Score: 7.5/10

Until next time, take care,


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Image of Mick Robson, founder of The Arena Media

Mick Robson is a freelance writer from Australia. A lifelong fan of pro wrestling and MMA, he endeavours to bring that passion through his coverage in news, reviews and opinion pieces.

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