For the past six months, WWE has done its best to continue its weekly shows and pay-per-views, despite the coronavirus epidemic sweeping the nation.
At first, watching professional wrestling with no audience felt like an avant-garde experiment. Today, it still doesn't feel completely normal, but WWE has employed a number of tricks to generate excitement. The NXT trainees stand in as audience members. The crew turns up the volume on the audience to create the impression of a large crowd. And there's more backstage segments and cinematic matches, which are less reliant on crowd reaction.
All of this effort has led to SummerSlam on August 23, It is, aside from WrestleMania, the biggest PPV of the year. Here is the match card and several rumors that have been circulating in the weeks leading up to the best socially distant party of the summer.
Drew McIntyre vs. Randy Orton — WWE Championship
The Street Profits vs. Andrade & Angel Garza — Raw Tag Team Championship
Dominik Mysterio vs. Seth Rollins — Street Fight
Apollo Crews vs. MVP — United States Title Match
Braun Strowman vs. Bray Wyatt — Universal Championship
Sasha Banks vs. Asuka — Raw Women’s Champion
Bayley vs. Asuka — SmackDown Women’s Championship Match
Mandy Rose vs. Sonya Deville — Hair vs. Hair Match
Paying For Residency
Up until now, WWE has held its post-COVID shows at the WWE Performance Center, their training facility in Orlando, Florida. SummerSlam, however, will be held at Orlando's Amway Center. The change in venue coincides with the debut of a pyro/special effects-intensive approach to WWE programming, which the company is referring to as "Thunderdome."
“WWE has a long history of producing the greatest live spectacles in sports and entertainment, yet nothing compares to what we are creating with WWE ThunderDome,” said Kevin Dunn, WWE Executive Vice President, Television Production. “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.”
Summerslam marks the beginning of a two-month residency at the Amway Center, which will cost the WWE a pretty penny. An unnamed Orlando official stated that the fee was $450,000.
Typically, WWE PPVs are scheduled one month apart. But Payback is scheduled to take place one week after SummerSlam. Why the change in pattern? Longtime wrestling historian Dave Meltzer tweeted that this is purely an experiment to see what the reaction will be. It seems, however, that this is probably going to dovetail with a major angle, where a heel (villainous wrestler) triumphs at SummerSlam, and then the babyface (hero wrestler) gets payback the following week.
One possibility is that Retribution, the new anarchist group terrorizing Raw, will interfere in Drew McIntyre's championship match; on the August 17 episode of Raw, Drew was attempting to rally the locker room against the emerging faction, which provides a clear motive.
New Show on Saturday Night
WWE filed trademarks for "Saturday Night's Main Event" on August 11, which has led to speculation that we may be getting new WWE programming in the near future.
Before Raw and SmackDown, Saturday Night's Main Event was the company's main TV offering, running during SNL's time slot when the sketch show wasn't broadcasting. It debuted in 1985, and lots of Gen-Xers have fond memories of the show, which featured Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Earthquake, Mr. Perfect, and more in high-stakes matchups.
Take a Meeting
AEW, the wrestling promotion bankrolled by Jacksonville Jaguars co-owner Tony Khan, has picked up several high-profile WWE talents over the past two years, including Chris Jericho, Cody Rhodes, Goldust, The Revival, Dean Ambrose, and Luke Harper.
When asked about how many WWE stars AEW had established preliminary contact with, Meltzer recently stated, "virtually everybody." He noted that Roman Reigns, who has not spoken to any AEW officials about a potential future there, is a notable exception to that.
Daniel Cormier, WWE Superstar?
MMA legend Daniel Cormier retired from the Octagon after losing to Stipe Miocic by decision at UFC 252. He's been a long-time fan of WWE, and at one point, was even set to appear on WWE's now-defunct FS1 show WWE Backstage.
The speculation is that WWE is still extremely high on Cormier and wants to work with him. If signed, he would most likely work commentary; he mentioned a potential commentary gig in 2018, but scheduling got in the way. But now that he's retired, that might no longer be a problem.
Grabbing the Brass Ring
It's always a good thing to be praised and noticed by WWE chairman Vince McMahon. And according to a recent Wrestling Observer Newsletter report, McMahon singled out three wrestlers as particularly noteworthy: Bayley, Bianca Belair, and Peyton Royce. More specifically, the report states that McMahon gushed over Bayley's current heel persona at a July 31 meeting with creative and staff.
Return of the Beast?
And lastly, the new residency at the Amway Center has caused company officials to speculate about whether Brock Lesnar or Roman Reigns could make surprise returns, either at Summerslam or in the near future. For Lesnar in particular, it would be a massive stage befitting his marquee status.