WWE SummerSlam 2020 Was A Messy Show For A Messy Year, But Had Its Moments

Another WWE Summerslam is in the books, but like this year’s WrestleMania 36, it will always have a COVID-19 asterisk next to it. Things have come a long way since April, however. We’re in the Thunderdome now, which means a sea of fans watching on individual computer screens. It definitely makes WWE look more like pre-pandemic WWE at a glance, and when you really look at what’s going on it just feels like the future (for good or ill).

And by the way, the name “Thunderdome” is a strange choice because it really only makes me think of one thing. And now that we’re in Thunderdome, the assumption is that eventually we’ll get beyond Thunderdome, which is even more on the nose. Sadly Tina Turner’s health is apparently too poor these days for her to do appearances, so we’ll never get that ultimate tie-in. But I’m digressing, and there’s a lot of SummerSlam to talk about.

The show opened with Bayley taking on Asuka for the Smackdown Women’s Championship. As commentary noted, it was impossible to watch this match without thinking back to 2016, when Asuka took the NXT Title from Bayley by putting her to sleep. Bayley’s become a whole different person since then, while Asuka’s more or less the same Asuka, just with a cozier relationship with WWE.

Actually, I say Bayley’s a different person, but what I love about her character is that I think at heart she kind of is still the same awkward, emotionally immature wrestling fangirl she was in NXT. It’s just that now she’s built a hard shell around the heart she used to wear on her sleeve, and she’s thrown herself into being a mean, cackling villain, because she’s come to see that as the thing that gets you ahead in WWE (and she’s not wrong there). But when you see the fear in her eyes as she faces someone she knows could beat her, like Asuka, that same nervous little girl is visible.

I also thought Asuka could beat Bayley here, and she would have (or at least that’s the story) if Sasha Banks hadn’t taken a hip attack on the apron that was meant for Bayley, giving Bayley the chance to roll Asuka up and just barely return her Title. This was only part one of the night’s Women’s Title drama, and it was already dramatic.

Part two came later in the evening, when Asuka had her second title match of the night, this time against Sasha Banks for the Smackdown Women’s Championship. This was probably the match of the night. I’m not one of those people who goes around the internet loudly proclaiming Sasha Banks the greatest female wrestler in the world, but let’s be honest she’s up there, and so is Asuka. They were both giving it their all here, and the combination of athleticism and high drama was everything pro wrestling is about.

And whereas Sasha took Asuka’s hip attack for Bayley, Bayley was presented with the exact same opportunity in this match and declined, letting Sasha take it and then lose to an Asuka Lock. You could see the tension after the match, but what I liked about that tension is that Bayley wasn’t playing a sneaky heel, who’s secretly happy her best friend now has less belts than her. She was genuinely shocked and upset that Sasha lost. Of course, that’s not going to stop the breakup from happening (whenever it finally happens).

And Sasha didn’t just lose—she tapped out. That adds another dimension to their eventual rift, where Bayley can counter Sasha’s “You let me lose” with a “You gave up.” When they do turn on each other, I’m not sure how the alignments are going to shake out, but I’m really hoping Bayley stays heel and Sasha turns face, mostly because that’s a dynamic we’ve never seen before.

The third women’s match (a phrase that should make AEW feel deeply embarrassed) pitted Mandy Rose against Sonya Deville in a Loser Leaves WWE Match. It was originally supposed to be Hair vs Hair, but then some creep broke into Sonya’s house, and according to Dave Meltzer her lawyer didn’t want her to shave her head when she’s going to have to go to court to get that guy put away. That certainly makes sense, but I’m disappointed that we don’t get Buzzcut Sonya out of this. Instead, we don’t get Sonya at all for a while, so I’m holding out hope she gets the push she deserves (and maybe a badass new look too) when she comes back.

As for this match, it was obviously overshadowed by the two matches involving three of the most talented women in WWE, but it was a solid showing. Mandy and Sonya get points for fighting like two people who used to be friends and now hate each other, as opposed to a lot of these big grudge matches that start with wristlocks and other equally non-rage filled wrestling moves. This match began, and immediately Sonya was shoving Mandy and Mandy was driving Sonya’s face into the steps. That’s the drama and emotion we want.

The Raw Tag Team Championship match couldn’t compete with that level of pathos, despite the fact that Andrade and Angel Garza’s manager Zelina Vega recently poisoned Montez Ford of the Street Profits. The real drama came at the end, when Ford accidentally knocked Vega off the apron and Andrade went to check on her, causing him to miss a tag from Garza, which in turn led to him taking the pin. Is there tension between Andrade and Garza? Does it have to do with Andrade caring too much about Zelina? Will this team ever get a name, or do I have to start calling them the VegaBoys (they like to party)?

On the subject of high drama and pathos, Dominik Mysterio made his real legit WWE wrestling debut against Seth Rollins, and seems like he has what it takes. I mean don’t get me wrong, Dom’s as green as George Steele’s tongue, but he’s got the tools and the look, not to mention the pedigree. He also had his parents, Rey and Angie Mysterio, with him at SummerSlam, which gave Seth lots of people to direct his heelishness at. Rollins even wore gear based on a classic Rey Mysterio cosplay from WCW, which is probably the most love the movie version of The Phantom has gotten since Rey wore that outfit.

Obviously Seth beat the hell out of Dominik, because that was always going to happen, but the important thing is that Dominik is a wrestler now. I’m not sure where he goes from here. Is he going to get some time at NXT? Seems like he could probably use it, but with legacy stars you never know. Is he going to turn on his dad and maybe steal his mask? Probably sooner or later.

Obviously Drew McIntyre and Randy Orton had a solid wrestling match for the WWE Championship, because they’re solid veteran wrestlers. I must admit I’m one of those who finds it hard to get excited about Randy Orton, so the best thing I can really say is that Drew retained. Then of course Randy turned up on Monday Night Raw and kicked Drew in the head a bunch of times, so I guess this is still happening for a while. Look, if you want to watch two guys who can wrestle having a wrestling match, this is definitely one you can watch.

The WWE Universal Championship match was less of a wrestling exhibition and more of a fight between two big, weird monsters in Braun Strowman and the Fiend Bray Wyatt. The Fiend continues to be hard to put down in that way that strains the limits of a viewer’s suspension of disbelief sometimes, but he also continues to be extremely creepy, which hopefully makes up for it. For a couple of years there, Braun was one of those “will he ever get the top title?” guys in WWE, and now that he’s finally had a run with it… I can’t say it really amounted to much. So he lost it to the Fiend, and then the most exciting thing on the show happened.

Roman Reigns, wearing a T-shirt that says “WRECK EVERYONE & LEAVE,” made his surprise return, wrecked everyone, and left. Well, not so much left as stood tall in the ring with the Fiend’s Title over his head. Every fan I’ve talked to was very excited to see him, which hopefully means it’s no longer cool to hate on him. He took a leave of absence early in the pandemic for the sake of his family’s health, and hopefully that decision isn’t compromised by this return.

So here we are: Post SummerSlam, Thunderdome in effect. Roman Reigns is back, the Fiend is Universal Champion, Bayley is still “Bayley Dos Straps” but Sasha’s no longer “Two Belts Banks.” Oh, and “Retribution” is still out there causing chaos, but you couldn’t tell that from watching this show. It’s been a weird year for WWE (and let’s be honest, everybody), between awkward Performance Center shows, layoffs, cinematic matches, and missing talent. But now is looking like time for a reboot, and we’ll see how that goes.