Welcome to the ThunderDome. Welcome to a desperately needed change of scenery.
After months of producing shows from the same location, WWE is set to offer fans something new and different at SummerSlam 2020.
The sports entertainment giant will vacate the WWE Performance Center and move a few minutes down the road to the Amway Center, home of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, with WWE having signed a two-month lease to produce shows out of the arena.
It’s no secret that WWE has been battling declining ratings, as fan interest wanes thanks in part due to viewers growing tired of the recurring setting for WWE’s three main shows: Raw, SmackDown, and NXT. Fans have been unable to get excited for what seems like the same show over and over again. Storylines have started to feel dull and similar, with WWE unable to offer fans something new and different.
The ThunderDome will hopefully help reverse course for WWE, presenting fans with a new viewing experience even as the pandemic continues.
“This structure will enable us to deliver an immersive atmosphere and generate more excitement amongst the millions of fans watching our programming around the world,” said Kevin Dunn, WWE Executive Vice President, Television Production in a release.
Meanwhile, fans will once again have an opportunity to participate in a WWE show. Interested fans will be able to register for a virtual seat in the arena, similar to what the NBA is doing with their in-arena production.
The ThunderDome is being heavily hyped by WWE, so much so that it seems as though the idea of a new environment is expected to bring in more viewers than the matches themselves. Meanwhile, there are eight matches scheduled for SummerSlam, each with something unique to offer.
SummerSlam 2020: Come for The ThunderDome, stay for the wrestling!
Drew McIntyre (C) vs. Randy Orton – WWE Championship
This match should be at the top of every fan’s interest ratings. Randy Orton is exhibiting some of the best work of his career, which has included a modern day reprisal of his legend-killer character. In the lead up to Summerslam, Orton has eliminated such legends as Edge, Christian, Big Show, Shawn Michaels, and Ric Flair, with the latter of those giving us one of the best promos of the year in the process. Seriously, if you haven’t watched the Orton/Flair segment from Raw on August 10, go out of your way to consume it.
Both Orton and McIntyre have been really good since the start of the pandemic, which is terribly unfortunate for them, as they haven’t had any crowds to perform in front of. Meanwhile, McIntyre has been solid throughout his run as champion, and it’s assumed that he’s still over as champion amongst fans, although it’s hard to gauge based solely on reaction stemming from online comments.
Despite McIntyre’s excellent run as champion, it may be coming to and end. It’s hard not to think of the comment made by Flair in his promo with Orton (have you watched it yet?) regarding Orton breaking Flair’s record of 16 world championships (Orton is at 13) and not think that WWE will at least entertain the idea of doing it.
If we’re looking at long-term booking, perhaps Orton wins the title at SummerSlam, then enters a program with one of the legends he dispatched (Edge, anyone?). There’s an opportunity for Orton to win a few more WWE titles en route the magical number of 16, which could then possibly set up one more program with John Cena, who is also sitting at 16 championships. It doesn’t seem farfetched to think that WWE would have either Orton or Cena eventually break the record, as they have been flag-bearers for almost 20 years.
Prediction: Orton def. McIntyre (C) to win the WWE Championship
Braun Strowman (C) vs. The Fiend – Universal Championship
This rivalry could be coming to an end at SummerSlam. This match will be the third instalment in a series of matches that started back at Money in the Bank in May, which was won by Strowman.
Each of these bouts will have been substantially different by the end of the feud, with the first being a simple one-on-one match between Strowman and Bray Wyatt (not “The Fiend” character), the second being a non-title “Wyatt Swamp Fight” (won by Wyatt) and the third being a one-on-one match inside The ThunderDome with The Fiend finally challenging Strowman for the Universal Championship.
Meanwhile, Alexa Bliss has also been injected into the feud, seemingly taking the side of The Fiend, adding another layer to the match. Bliss’ involvement is a tad tacky, given the romantic undertones to it, but at least she could end up playing a unique role in the match.
The chemistry has certainly been there for Strowman and The Fiend but, as with so many other programs right now, they have been hurt by the lack of crowd. Now, though, The Fiend and Strowman will have the entire ThunderDome at their disposal, which will include “a state-of-the-art set, video boards, pyrotechnics, lasers, cutting-edge graphics and drone cameras,” according to a release from WWE.
Let’s just hope WWE doesn’t recreate the projection used from the Wyatt/Orton match at WrestleMania 33.
Prediction: Fiend defeats Strowman (C) to win Universal Championship
Sasha Banks (C) vs. Asuka – Raw Women’s Championship
Bayley (C) vs. Asuka – SmackDown Women’s Championship
It’s great to see that three of the top talents in the women’s division will be in action in championship matches at SummerSlam, with one talent competing twice. Asuka is unquestionably one of the top talents in all of WWE, regardless of gender, and her performance aptitude will certainly be put to the test when she competes in a pair of championship matches. Let’s all hope each match is given a good amount of time to tell a story.
Meanwhile, Sasha and Bayley have been playing bratty, entitled heel characters for what feels like eons at this point. The inevitable turn of one character doesn’t feel so inevitable anymore, as both have stayed the course in their friendship on screen for months on end. Fans have been begging for a reprisal of their feud from NXT in 2015, but have been cut off every time it seems like it’s coming into view.
With both Sasha and Bayley in action in separate matches against the same opponent in one night, might we finally see something booked where one causes the other to lose a championship? Will that, then, finally get the ball rolling towards a top-of-the-card rivalry on the main roster? I’m going to say… YES, FINALLY.
Prediction(s): Sasha Banks (C) defeats Asuka to retain the Raw Women’s Championship, Asuka defeats Bayley (C) to win the SmackDown Women’s Championship.
Seth Rollins vs. Dominik Mysterio (with Rey Mysterio)
It’s the match you didn’t know you wanted to see… because you probably don’t want to see it. This has been a wild roller-coaster of booking from WWE, all in the hopes of trying to get you to care about a new talent in the form of Rey Mysterio’s (real life) son, Dominik. At Extreme Rules, Rollins defeated Rey Mysterio in an “Eye for an Eye Match” where the bout could only be won when one competitor removed the eye of the other. That description, by the way, is 100 per cent accurate.
Rollins won, gauging out Mysterio’s eye on the corner of the stairs that lead up to the ring. And so now here is Dominik, out to avenge what happened to his father. The storyline is really quite easy to understand, but the way in which we arrived at a son trying to avenge an atrocity against his father – that being a wrestling match where the only way to win is to remove someone’s eye – is absolutely ridiculous, even by wrestling standards.
Once again, The ThunderDome will present unique opportunities in which to hide any deficiencies in Dominik’s work-rate, as he is competing is his first large-scale wrestling match ever. So there is hope that the match will, at least, be more than just presentable. Here’s to hoping…
Prediction: Seth Rollins wins
Mandy Rose vs. Sonya Deville – Hair vs. Hair match
This, in all actuality, is the match that I didn’t know I wanted to see until it was actually put in front of me.
These two have an opportunity to move themselves closer to the main card status in the women’s division with a solid showing, and there are plenty of reasons to think that they can do just that. This has turned into a lengthy, deeply personal feud that will culminate on Sunday with one wrestler losing their hair.
The women are good friends off screen so the chemistry will undoubtedly be there. Now it’s just a matter of whether they will be able to pull the viewer in while inside the ring, which I think they can do. Deville is a legitimate shoot fighter, having spent time in MMA before coming over to WWE, so there is every reason to think that she can cast believability through to the viewer. Rose has steadily been showing the wrestling world that she has the charisma and athleticism necessary to be a top-level performer.
Prediction: Rose wins, Deville loses her hair
— Apollo Crews (C) defeats MVP to retain United States Championship
— The Street Profits (C) defeat Adrade & Angel Garza to retain Raw Tag Team Championships
Head over to Sportsnet.ca on Sunday to follow along SummerSlam 2020 with our live blog! Kevin Michie will be providing match ratings, analysis, highlights, and more!