Critical Booking Decisions WWE Must Make at SummerSlam 2020
SummerSlam may have lost some of its importance over the years, but it remains one of the biggest annual events for WWE.
However, amid the problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic and poor television ratings, the company needs to ensure The Biggest Party of the Summer is not a flop this year.
In order to make the August 23 pay-per-view a success, there are certain things WWE must do in preparation for the build as well as during the event itself.
Here are some critical booking decisions it must make for SummerSlam 2020.
Don't Split the Difference Between SummerSlam and Payback
Some weeks, WWE can't seem to pull together a full three-hour episode of Raw, let alone everything else for TV combined with a pay-per-view as big as SummerSlam.
Despite that, though, the company is set to follow The Biggest Party of the Summer this year with another PPV just one week later, according to WrestleVotes.
There will be only one episode of Raw and SmackDown to distance the returning Payback from SummerSlam, so it's inevitable there will be some overlap with the storylines.
The best course of action would be to create enough great feuds over the coming weeks so that there will be an abundance of matches worth watching at both events, though that does seem extremely unlikely.
Instead, what's most likely going to happen is that WWE will split matches across SummerSlam and Payback, although there is the fear that the company will book false finishes on August 23 purely to stage rematches a week later.
Asuka and Nia Jax had a double count-out at Backlash on June 14 just to do a rematch the following night. The Empress of Tomorrow's contest with Sasha Banks at Extreme Rules was another non-finish that played out in a rematch two weeks later on Raw.
WWE cannot just leave a bunch of matches without proper finishes at SummerSlam, tell fans on Raw and SmackDown to watch the real ending at Payback and then expect people not to feel cheated.
The two PPVs in August must exist on their own, with enough hype and value to justify their existences. One show cannot be merely a setup for the next.
Bayley Needs a New Challenger and Not Another Repeat Match
The concept of rematches has been one of the biggest problems in WWE for a while, but it's been significantly worse in 2020.
One of the most egregious examples of continual repetition is the way the company has booked Bayley, Sasha Banks and their championships over the past 18 months.
WWE has already announced Asuka will get a rematch against Sasha Banks for the Raw Women's Championship if she beats Bayley next week. It will be the ninth time The Empress of Tomorrow has fought either of The Golden Role Models in some fashion since June.
That rematch has already lost most of its value, but WWE could get away with it if a gimmick is added to spice things up, even though that's unlikely to happen.
However, Bayley's search for a new challenger for the SmackDown women's title needs fresh impetus. She's beaten everyone on the blue brand multiple times, notably Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross.
In singles or tag team format, The Role Model and Banks have fought Cross and Bliss 27 times since Bayley won the title at Money in the Bank in May 2019.
Bayley can't have another match against those two, nor should Naomi get her third shot at the title this year.
Ideally, Liv Morgan and Ruby Riott can be built up to earn a tag title shot at Payback while someone new can step up to fight The Role Model at SummerSlam.
Something Has to Happen with Raw Underground
WWE's latest idea to win fans back is Raw Underground, which premiered on Monday's Raw but remains a vague concept.
Over the coming weeks, we need to learn more about this idea. Is it a separate division with actual rankings, a potential championship? Or is it just a series of random backstage segments that won't amount to anything?
Ideally, WWE has more plans for this other than to just toss the gimmick out there and figure it out as time goes on. One way to prove that is to have it figure in the plans for SummerSlam.
The best-case scenario would be to lead up to some sort of title match that crowns a champion of the league at SummerSlam. It could launch the career of someone like Dabba-Kato. Even if WWE isn't going that far just yet but wants an interesting fight for SummerSlam, it will still be a step in the right direction.
But fans will need to know well in advance that Raw Underground will have a presence at SummerSlam and that the idea is going somewhere.
Otherwise it will just seem like another pet project that will disappear as quickly as the magical dark third hour of Raw, the Wild Card rule, the Raw and SmackDown talent exchange and so on.
Take the Next Step with Seth Rollins
For far too long, all Seth Rollins has been doing on Raw has been fighting Rey Mysterio, his son Dominik, Aleister Black, Humberto Carrillo and Kevin Owens. More often than not, it's some combination of a tag team match, some singles matches that end in disqualifications, or just random brawls.
All of them end the same: Rollins and Murphy are scared off or they manage to slam someone's eye into the steel steps. It grew tiresome weeks ago and there's now no distinct direction for the feud to go next.
If Dominik wants a fight with Rollins, the same program will be continuing with nothing new. They've already scuffled enough and neither Superstar winning will feel like a definitive end to the story.
WWE needs to do something different with The Monday Night Messiah.
August is already set to be a tough month to sit through, as it's undoubtedly going to be Rollins cutting the same promos he's done for months. There's no point watching any more setup if that's all WWE brings to the table here.
A good storyline goes somewhere. It doesn't keep itself in limbo.
WWE has had almost a full year with this version of Rollins' character and all there is to show for it is a faction that got hacked to pieces, some terrible eyeball spots and two feuds with Owens.
It's time to prove there's more to this character than what we've seen since Survivor Series.
Andrade and Angel Garza Need the Belts or to Have to Split Up
Andrade and Angel Garza have been feuding with The Street Profits on and off since before WrestleMania. After four months of this, it's time for WWE to book something with actual consequences.
Losing a non-title match recently meant nothing, as they became No. 1 contenders the following week. This cycle has to end, as the more this continues, the less each match matters.
It's been teased that Andrade and Garza are both at odds with each other as well as on the same page. Both can't be true. One of them has to be proven with this match.
There are two possible directions that can happen and both have their merits.
Option A) Andrade and Garza win the titles and the division gets a change of pace while proving they are in sync with one another and all is well with the stable.
Option B) The Street Profits retain and we see the actual split of Zelina Vega's group as this loss was too much for them to bounce back from.
If this is just another situation where Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins retain the titles and the status quo remains the same with Andrade and Garza trying to get another opportunity, it will have been entirely meaningless other than to fill time.
If that's all WWE is trying to do, it would be better off cutting SummerSlam short.
Braun Strowman Needs to Put Bray Wyatt Down for Good
It sounds like a self-referential joke to keep repeating that WWE has to stop repeating things, but it's true for nearly everything going on right now, including the feud between Braun Strowman and Bray Wyatt.
It made sense for these two to clash following the universal champion's victory at WrestleMania. He was the next logical target for Wyatt, the two have history together and were the biggest names on the brand available to fight.
Instead of leaving fans wanting more, WWE decided to do a second encounter between them at Extreme Rules with the Wyatt Swamp Fight, mostly to set up a third match.
By now, everything's been exhausted. Strowman will have fought the sweater Firefly Fun House version of the character, his old Eater of Worlds ally and The Fiend. It has to end here.
With Alexa Bliss roped into the feud as somewhat of a damsel in distress for Strowman to save, he must free her from Wyatt's grasp, get a definitive win over his former mentor and move on to some new challengers.
Sheamus and King Corbin could be the next in line, while Wyatt could do well to feud with Jeff Hardy, now that The Charismatic Enigma is showing that he has some sort of mythical powers after magically manifesting facepaint during his bar fight with The Celtic Warrior.
If Wyatt wins, he won't have any decent options other than Hardy to fight for the title and Strowman's reign will look lame in hindsight. But if Strowman can put this rivalry to bed, he'll come out a much stronger champion and it will be better for the SmackDown roster.
Big E or Jeff Hardy Should Fight for the Intercontinental Championship
One of the best things going in WWE right now is AJ Styles as intercontinental champion. All he's doing is defending his belt against people who earn title shots and it's one of the most fun things to watch.
Gran Metalik, Matt Riddle and Drew Gulak were the most recent challengers and all had great matches with The Phenomenal One.
He's quickly running through the roster, though, so there aren't a ton of options left. However, thankfully, there are still two who would fit the bill very nicely: Big E and Jeff Hardy.
With Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods out of action, Big E is starting a singles run that already has more passion behind it than he's had in years. It would be great to see him rise up the ranks and fight once more for the title he held all the way back in 2013.
Now that Hardy is done feuding with Sheamus, he'd be another great choice. King Corbin seems busy with Riddle at the moment, so there isn't anyone else for Hardy to feud with unless he helps The Original Bro even the odds against Shorty G.
If SummerSlam goes by and the Intercontinental Championship isn't defended, the event will feel less special not just because one of the most important belts was off the card, but also because fans will have been deprived of another great Styles match.
Mandy Rose vs. Sonya Deville Must Be a Hair vs Hair Match
The feud between Fire and Desire has had several stops along the way, but it's been reinvigorated after Sonya Deville's most recent attack on Mandy Rose.
The jaded Deville left Rose battered on the floor with chunks of her hair cut off and would have shaved her entirely bald had officials not arrived to separate the two.
Every writer knows about Chekhov's gun—the literary principle that if something is shown in a story, it should have purpose. You don't give a character a weapon if they aren't going to use it, as that would make it a pointless detail.
Since wrestling fans are well aware of putting hair on the line in a match, WWE shouldn't do an angle revolving around that unless the plan is for that gimmick to come into play. Otherwise, why bother making that the subject of the attack when it could have been anything else?
For that matter, given the two's characters, Deville should lose the match as her comeuppance and to take her one step closer to the Daddy Deville character she wants to play into.
Find Something for Mr. Money in the Bank Otis to Do
While Rose and Deville are busy fighting to keep their hair, WWE needs to find something—at this point, anything—for Otis to do.
It's been weeks since he was involved in any feud or storyline even in a tangential manner. After winning Money in the Bank, he's actually somehow become less important of a character on the show.
He's holding a contract for a guaranteed world title match. The guy should be one of the most prominent people on the roster right now!
WWE can't rely on him merely holding that briefcase as a catch-all solution for his booking. Being Mr. Money in the Bank doesn't absolve Superstars of bad matches, a series of losses, terrible storylines or the complete lack of screen time.
To correct this downward spiral, Otis needs to be given a reason to appear at SummerSlam other than to be in a backstage hype-up moment prior to Rose's match.
Since The Miz and John Morrison made fun of Rose after Deville attacked her, it wouldn't even be hard to follow that up with Otis and Tucker exacting some revenge on them in a tag team match.
Heavy Machinery back together in that capacity is far from the best thing Mr. Money in the Bank should be up to, but it's at least better than what Otis has been up to when he was missing in action nearly all of June and July.
If WWE can't figure out any way to use him going forward, then he should even be booked to lose the briefcase at SummerSlam so someone they do have plans for can use that briefcase. That would at least be a worthy talking point.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.