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Viceland’s The Wrestlers— A Riveting Look into the World of Professional Wrestling

Viceland has the perfect wrestling show!

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Viceland The Wrestlers TV Series Review

From the bright lights of Florida to the spotless streets of Japan and the chaos of the Congo, Damian Abraham dives headlong into the fascinating ways cultures around the world have embraced one of America’s greatest exports: professional wrestling.

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For decades, professional wrestling has had its share of drama, both inside and outside of the ring and like any popular sport and entertainment, there are enough rags-to-riches stories; career-ending injuries; strange myths; urban legends; and heartbreaking controversies to fill the pages of several novels. From harassment suits to steroid abuse to screw jobs and double-crosses to backstage affairs and real-life suicides and murders— there’s never any shortage of topics to discuss in the world of professional wrestling. Luckily for wrestling fans, documentary filmmaking over the decades has provided a candid and deeply personal look at the lives of some of the world’s most famous wrestlers and the best of these documentaries act as a source of valuable information, sometimes shedding a light on a wrestling promotion or superstar— and bringing understanding (and closure) to controversy.

Last year, Viceland debuted one such documentary series titled Dark Side of the Ring, a compelling six-episode show that explores several of pro wrestling’s most notorious backstage controversies. The series was well-received and proved successful enough to greenlight a second season but what I didn’t realize until this week, is that Viceland produced another docuseries about professional wrestling that very few people (including myself) had heard of, nevermind seen. The Wrestlers, hosted and created by Damian Abraham (the frontman for the Canadian punk band Fucked Up) is Viceland’s other 2019 wrestling series which shines a light on a variety of fascinating and bizarre wrestling subcultures with which most fans are unfamiliar. And as with Dark Side of the Ring, The Wrestlers is a must-watch for wrestling fans and non-wrestling fans alike.

Viceland The Wrestler

Lucha Libre Wrestling

What makes The Wrestlers different than just about every other wrestling documentary is how Damian Abraham projects it through a fresh new lens. Rather than simply telling a story about the career of a well-known superstar or making a film that documents the tragedies of the industry— Abraham instead uses wrestling to explore various cultures from across the globe and examine wrestling’s place in the ever-changing social, and political climates of the world. “As a lifelong wrestling fan, I’ve always felt there’s more to wrestling than just choreographed violence,” Abraham says in the introduction. “At the core of every wrestler, there is a storyteller, every ring a stage to reflect the struggles of its audience — whether it be gender, sexuality, race, religion or class.”

In one of my favourite episodes titled “The Next Wave of Mexican Luchadores,” Abraham follows legendary lucha libre fighter Black Spider and soon-to-be-famous Rey Fenix through the streets of Tijuana, as Mexico copes with an ever-present drug war and Donald Trump’s America. Despite lucha libre wrestling being more popular than ever, due to Trump’s crackdown on immigrants, many of the Mexican wrestlers are no longer able to cross into the U.S. and wrestle at various promotional events. Over the course of sixty minutes, Abraham dives deep into the history of Mexican wrestling and how the current political climate is making it harder and harder for many of the best lucha libre wrestlers to breakthrough. In one scene, we get to see the now-famous Sam Polinsky in action at Arena México, the holy site of Mexican wrestling, which regularly draws 10,000 fans. In the fall of 2016, Polinsky approached the CMLL promoters with a suggestion to tweak his “pretty boy” character, playing off the political situation of the time. With CMLL’s approval, he rebranded himself as Sam Adonis, “El Rudo de las Chicas,” and became a staunch Donald Trump supporter, including waving a four-foot-long US flag emblazoned with Trump’s face as he played off the then-President Elect’s stance on Mexico and immigrants while whipping crowds into a frenzy. His over-the-top, absurd style blends well into the sport, making him the perfect heel for the Mexican crowd to root against. Of course, you’d be forgiven for entirely missing the footage of Sam Adonis since it’s just a minor side story in an hour packed with so much history and so much conflict, I figure they can do an entire series just on the lucha libre scene alone.

During this episode, Abraham also interviews professional wrestling personality, manager and former professional wrestler Konnan who sheds light on how he discovered Rey Mysterio Jr. and why he sees Rey Fenix and his younger brother Pentagón Jr., as the next big thing. Fans of AEW tag team wrestling will not want to miss this episode as it shows these young struggling Mexican wrestlers performing at the corners of the bustling city streets in order to beg for money from people driving by while gaining media attention for their creative panhandling approach which involves scripted wrestling matches at busy intersections. If you ever want to see where Rey Mysterio Jr. got his start or witness a beautifully shot lucha libre wrestling match through rush-hour traffic, this is not to be missed!

Voodoo Wrestling

Whether you are a casual wrestling fan who catches the occasional pay per view event or a long-time fan, The Wrestlers is bound to keep you entertained from start to finish since it’s such a personal journey— and not just for Damian Abraham who is a longtime wrestling fan— but for the men and women he interviews who allow him to capture a side of them, they would normally hide from the general public. Despite the title, The Wrestlers isn’t just a story about wrestling, it’s a story about different cultures and different beliefs and it works equally well as a travel show since Abraham’s globe-trotting series takes us from the indie wrestling scene sweeping the United States — to Bolivia where women are fighting misogyny and abuse through wrestling— to a war-torn Congo, where a cultural collision has helped popularized one of wrestling’s strangest subgenres: Catch Fétiche — loosely translated, to voodoo wrestling.

Yes, there is an entire episode about voodoo Wrestling, in which suplexes and powerbombs mix with hexes and deadly black magic. But don’t be fooled, this isn’t like Charles Wright’s WWE Papa Shango act from back in the ’80s— these men and women actually practice traditional black magic to defeat their opponents. In modern Catch matches, pretty much anything goes; from weapons to concrete blocks, to sacrificing live animals or using them as weapons, sometimes both. And while Catch Fétiche is a combination of traditional African wrestling moves, some fighters use voodoo almost exclusively, preferring not to engage in physical combat and instead kill their opponents by cursing them. The craziest parts of this episode are watching the thousands of fans follow their favourite wrestlers through the streets and to the ring to watch the main event matches. While the rest of the world seems to understand that wrestling is scripted, the people of Congo believe that what they are watching is totally real, even if it’s a wrestler slicing someone’s stomach open and feeding on their intestines.

The Wrestlers TV Series Review

Japanese Death Matches and American Backyard Wrestling

While “Voodoo Wrestling” is at times disturbing, it’s not even the most terrifying episode— that honor goes to the episode titled “Death Match” which follows several famous hardcore wrestlers who battle with barbed wire, razor blades, and broken glass, challenging the idea that wrestling is fake. “Death Match” is not for the faint of heart and even opens by warning its viewers of the extreme violence that lies ahead. Yet, amidst the blood and bodily carnage are some heartfelt moments including a scene with hardcore legend Danny Havoc who heads into his final bout at CZW’s Down With The Sickness, to compete with his longtime rival Alex Colon. Taking up the remainder of the episode is an extensive interview with Japanese pro wrestling icon Atsushi Onita, best known for having brought the legendarily brutal “Deathmatch” style of wrestling to Japan with his storied Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) organization. If you are not familiar with Atsushi Onita, the man is a living legend— the first true graduate of the All Japan Pro Wrestling dojo, and who trained in Amarillo, Texas, with Dory Funk Jr. and Terry Funk. If I ever made a list of the greatest hardcore wrestlers, Onita is sure to make the cut. Listening to him speak about his career while the camera circles his body showing in painful slow motion every single one of his scars is powerful stuff— but watching his wife prepare the weapons he uses to destroy his body during these hardcore matches is just fucked up. And even more, fucked up, is watching him hold his newborn baby while he debates his retirement or seeing his mother at ringside, enjoying his blood-soaked deathmatches. Again, I must stress, this episode is not for the faint of heart.

Exóticos

In the episode titled “Body Slamming Homophobia in Mexico,” Abraham interviews some of Mexico’s most famous male wrestlers known as exóticos, who embrace the feminine and dress in drag inside the ring to battle homophobia. These mostly gay, male luchadores participate in regular fights while wearing full makeup, very feminine outfits and boast stage names that sound like characters from a John Waters movie (i.e.: Diva Salvaje, Chi Chi, and La Braza). They’re conniving in their flouncing and have no qualms in using their character’s sexuality to intimidate their competition. We watch exóticos flirt with the refs, blow kisses at the crowd, psych out their opponents by propositioning them in the ring, and even sneaking an easy win by landing a low blow. As someone who’s never seen exóticos in action, this episode proved one of the most fascinating of the bunch, and left me wondering if former American WWE superstars such as Adrian Adonis and Golddust (Dustin Rhodes) took inspiration from the Mexican wrestling scene when creating their wrestling personas?

Japan DDT and Stardom

The Wrestlers is an eye-opening experience, to say the least. Even as a longtime fan of professional wrestling, there was so much I learned while watching the series. Of the entire first season, however, my two favourite episodes both focus on the various wrestling promotions in Japan, diving deep into both the history and inner workings of how these organizations, differing styles, and competitors came to be. In “Japan’s Finest Wrestlers,” Abrahah visits Tokyo to get up close and personal with the ladies of Stardom, considered by many to be one of the world’s leading all women’s promotion. Meanwhile, “The Craziest Wrestling in Japan,” is by far the wackiest installment as it follows the weird and wild world of Japan’s DDT, the world’s strangest wrestling promotion which often parodies WWE, with a Japanese puroresu flair to the matches. It’s not for everyone since there’s a heavy emphasis on offbeat comedy, with invisible wrestlers, blow-up dolls, subway brawls, waterpark matches, and other wacky gimmicks— but DDT also has the most robust talent development program in Japan, and has produced some incredible main-event matches over the years with guys like Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi, and Sami Zayn carving out their names there. During his time in Japan, Abraham manages to capture the fascinating behind-the-scenes skullduggery that goes into crafting a successful show and the many unbelievable stories of how competitors from every walk of life wound up landing a gig working for DDT. If you’re a fan of the Netflix series GLOW, you’ll love the spotlight on Stardom and if you’re a fan of the wackier WWE storylines, you’ll certainly find an interest in learning more about DDT. Thanks to Abraham’s obvious love of wresting and infectious curiosity, we get to see beyond the guise and mystique of these colorful characters, and what they’re like outside the ring and behind the scenes.

Kota Ibushi vs Yoshihiko: A Five Star Wrestling Match with a Doll

Evolve Wrestling and More

It’s too bad The Wrestlers hasn’t received as much recognition as Dark Side of the Ring because in many ways it’s better and far more ambitious. Unlike most wrestling docs, The Wrestlers doesn’t rely heavily on talking-head interviews and stock footage— instead, Damian Abraham and his crew went out and shot hundreds of hours of original film. It helps too, that the show is beautifully shot and features a killer soundtrack, not to mention Abraham managed to interview several wrestlers just before they got their big break and were hired by major promotions such as the WWE and AEW. In retrospect, it seems Abraham chose the perfect time to make the docuseries, capturing the early careers of some of today’s hottest young talent. The first episode for example, immediately grabbed my attention as it follows Gabe Sapolsky, a veteran wrestling promoter who founded Evolve Wrestling which is now known for showcasing emerging indie superstars. If you didn’t know, Evolve’s alumni page is a who’s who of current wrestling favorites, and this episode features early appearances from Drew Galloway, Drew McIntyre, NXT sensation Matt Riddle and All-Elite Wrestling’s Darby Allin who shares his backstory and reason for deciding to be a professional wrestler. It’s fascinating to follow these wrestlers before they became household names and equally compelling to see how much Sapolsky cares for their well being and future success.

The Wrestlers arrives at a remarkable time for pro-wrestling. The WWE is still a massive success, especially thanks to NXT; meanwhile, AEW is giving WWE a run for its money and indie promotions around the world are selling out major venues. What’s great about The Wrestlers is how it covers so much ground, circles the globe and offers a snapshot into the lives of people we would otherwise never see. It allows many wrestlers to voice their opinions, and open up about their struggles while sharing their personal stories to an audience worldwide. In a particularly touching episode, Abraham even heads to northern Quebec to join a crew of wrestlers who brave weather and isolation to bring professional wrestling to remote and disadvantaged First Nation communities. The world of professional wrestling could use more episodes like this.

The Wrestlers is a truly engrossing watch and one of the very best docuseries about professional wrestling. If you consider yourself a fan, this is something you really shouldn’t miss.

Ricky D

The Wrestlers can be found through the Viceland website as well as on most streaming services and platforms. You can also watch a couple of episodes completely free on Youtube.

The Wrestlers Wrestling Documentary TV Series Review - Viceland

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and Tilt Magazine. Host of the NXpress Nintendo Podcast and the Sordid Cinema Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound on Sight. Former host of several other podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead shows, as well as Sound On Sight. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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Wrestling

WCW Monday Nitro: 25 Years Ago, A Legend Was Born

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WCW Monday Night Nitro

September 4th, 1995. That was the day WCW Monday Nitro debuted and launched the Monday Night Wars. It was the day that Ted Turner’s wrestling company would take its biggest shot a dethroning the company then known as WWF. And they came a lot closer than many fans realized at the time.

As WCW’s version of Raw, Monday Nitro was their flagship show. If you were going to watch WCW, you had to tune in to Nitro. That’s where everything happened since almost nothing of consequence ever happened on their secondary show, Thunder. It was, at the best of times, a hot mess.

Nitro was where the war started as well as where the war ended. The last episode aired on March 26th, 2001 from Panama City Beach, Florida. But between those two dates, a number of huge moments happened, both for WCW and for wrestling as a whole.

The First Show

The first episode of Monday Nitro set the tone for what was to come. Broadcast from the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the show was live. This was a huge change from WWF programming, which was pre-taped at that point. Internet spoilers weren’t an issue in the old days.

Lex Luger appears on the first Nitro

Saying the energy was amazing was an understatement, to say the least. The card featured Brian Pillman versus Jushin Thunder Liger, Ric Flair versus Sting, and Hulk Hogan versus Big Bubba Rogers. It was an amazing night with a huge twist no one saw coming, including Vince McMahon.

This was the evening Lex Luger made his return to WCW. It was a shock to fans as he had appeared on WWF programming the night before. Luger’s WWF contract ended with that appearance, then he signed his WCW the next morning and appeared on the first episode of Nitro.

Lex Luger’s shocking debut was incredibly important. It cemented the notion early that anything could happen and anyone could show up. The moment also proved to be a key piece of foreshadowing for the surprise appearances of other former WWF talent.

Madusa Dumps The WWF

December 18th, 1995 was a date in the Monday Night Wars that would live in infamy. Alundra Blayze was the WWF Women’s Champion as well as an early high profile defector to WCW. But she did it in an epic, memorable fashion.

She showed up on Nitro with the actual WWF Women’s Championship title belt in tow. Blayze, now going by Madusa, denounced the WWF, her former gimmick, and quite literally dropped the title belt in the trash.

Madusa debuts with the WWF Women’s Championship

It was an enduring image of the Monday Night Wars inexorably tied to Blayze/Madusa. She was eventually welcomed back into the WWE family and the Hall of Fame. Her recent appearances for AEW probably didn’t do her any favors in the forgiveness department, though.

The Outsiders

After leaving WWF and the Razor Ramon gimmick behind, Scott Hall made his return to WCW on the May 27th, 1996 edition of Nitro. Two weeks later, Kevin Nash followed suit. This was a huge moment as it was two of WWF’s biggest stars making the leap to the competition.

The Outsiders arrive on WCW Monday Nitro

As it turned out, it was also the beginning of something much bigger. The nWo was officially launched when Hulk Hogan joined the faction at Bash at the Beach. But Nash and Hall debuting on Nitro was the true beginnings of the infamous group.

The Outsiders, as the duo was known, were the backbone of the entire nWo angle. Unfortunately for WCW, Hall and Nash knew it, and took full advantage of their importance to the company. Regardless, the end result of their initial appearances kicked off the biggest faction in wrestling history.

Two Places At Once

You would think that WCW fans would have been used to the surprise debuts of WWF talent. But Eric Bischoff was always talented in making those debuts interesting. Few had the impact of Rick Rude, mainly because he was in two places at once on November 17th, 1997.

Rick Rude was ravishing

Raw featured an appearance by the new faction known as DX. Many people have forgotten that Rick Rude was a founding member of the group. But while that episode aired, Rude was also making his debut on Nitro. For fans channel flipping between both shows, it was a confusing moment.

Once again, this was thanks to Raw being taped and Nitro being live. To make things even worse, Rude went on a tirade against his former employer. It was a big deal to hear those comments. Wrestlers didn’t have the option of Tweeting their issues with WWE out the day after leaving in those days.

Fingerpoke of Doom

As far as history-making moments go, this wasn’t exactly a great one for WCW. At this point, there were two nWo factions. One was the Wolfpac, led by the WCW World Heavyweight Champion Kevin Nash. The other was led by Hollywood Hulk Hogan.

Goldberg had recently dropped the title, as well as his legendary undefeated streak, to Nash thanks to another questionable angle. Essentially, Scott Hall tased Goldberg and allowed Nash to get the pin. Yes, that is actually how the streak ended. That’s WCW for you.

The Fingerpoke of Doom destroyed Nitro and WCW

On January 4th, 1999, Goldberg was supposed to get his rematch against Nash on Nitro. But partway through the show, he was kayfabe arrested for stalking Miss Elizabeth. This necessitated a change in the main event which now featured Hogan and Nash facing off over the championship.

That’s when it happened. The wrestlers walked out to the ring, Hogan poked Nash in the chest, and the big man hit the mat. Hogan then got the pinfall and the championship. This signaled the reunion of the two nWo factions, all of them turning heel.

The Fingerpoke of Doom is widely regarded as possibly the worst booking decision in Nitro history, if not all of pro wrestling. Many fans soured on WCW after this moment as it was an incredible letdown. Shockingly, it wasn’t the only strategic mistake they made that evening.

Burying Mick Foley

On the same evening that the Fingerpoke of Doom was going down on Nitro, big things were happening on Raw is War. Mick Folely was wrestling The Rock for the WWF Championship, and would ultimately win. But because Raw was pre-taped, some people already knew the outcome, including Eric Bischoff.

Since Nitro was live, he instructed commentator Tony Schiavone to spoil the WWF match and bury Mick as their new champion. Schiavone has since stated he was not happy about doing it. Still, Tony did what he was asked and made the announcement.

Mick Folely became the WWF Champion

The plan completely backfired. Ratings showed that hundreds of thousands of viewers more or less immediately changed the channel to watch the historic event on Raw. Mick Foley was, and is, arguably one of the most beloved figures in the industry. Watching him win a top title would be a huge moment.

The combination of the Fingerpoke of Doom and the failure of burying Mick Foley’s championship victory was a watershed moment. It was the start of a decisive shift in the Monday Night Wars back to WWF, driving fans off in huge numbers.

The Night of Champions

The final episode of Nitro took place on March 26th, 2001, after Vince McMahon bought the company. All five of WCW’s major championships were defended that evening, allowing the company to go out with a huge bang.

Fulfilling the circle of life, the final match for the company was Ric Flair versus Sting. These were the two names that typified the best of WCW over the years. In particular, Sting was considered the face of the company. He was one of the only wrestlers who stuck with WCW to the bitter end.

The final moments of WCW Monday Nitro

But there was one more twist waiting for fans. Shane McMahon revealed he bought WCW, not his father. It kicked off the Invasion storyline which featured wrestlers from WCW and ECW trying to take over WWF. The angle largely misfired because the biggest names from WCW were not involved in it.

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Festival du Nouveau Cinema

‘Nail in the Coffin – The Fall and Rise of Vampiro’: Another Wrestling Doc Worth Seeing

Festival du Nouveau Cinema

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Nail in the Coffin – The Fall and Rise of Vampiro

When it comes to the world of professional wrestling, most wrestling fans derive as much pleasure watching people talk about wrestling as they do watching wrestling itself, and ever since Paul Jay released his controversial Brett the Hitman Hart documentary, Wrestling with Shadows, we’ve seen a number of excellent behind-the-scenes wrestling-themed documentaries made over the years.

For decades, pro wrestling has had its share of drama, both inside and outside of the ring and for devoted fans, wrestling documentaries have provided a candid and deeply personal look at the lives of some of the world’s most famous wrestlers. Many of these documentaries have been produced by the WWE of course, so obviously there’s a certain amount of bias that goes into making them— but every so often, a documentary produced outside of the WWE is released, and provides raw insight into the politics and backstage mechanics that often tear apart the lives of those involved. And usually, the best of these docs go out of their way to give viewers a different perspective on important events in wrestling’s history that fans would otherwise never see. Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro, the directorial debut from Michael Paszt about Richard Ian Hodgkinson, is one of those films.

Ian Richard Hodgkinson is a name most people won’t recognize but die-hard fans who’ve followed professional wrestling over the years will know who he is. Everyone else will know him as Vampiro or the Canadian Vampire, a living legend in Lucha Libre (Mexico’s version of the popular sport) and one of WCW’s most underrated stars. Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro follows his career from its beginnings in 1991, when the then 20-year-old, punk-rock Canadian made his debut, to his current job, working as a talent director for Lucha Libre AAA. For the most part, the documentary chronicles the latter part of this career, concentrating on his relationship with his daughter and his declining physical health.

Like most wrestling documentaries, the story it tells is at times a dark one— Nail in the Coffin doesn’t shy away from the realities of injuries, painkillers, and recreational drug use, nor the wrestler’s tragic past growing up. Vampiro has broken his neck and his back several times as well as suffered around twenty-seven concussions in his lifetime. He has a history of substance abuse and was recently diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and when he was younger he was molested as a teenager which led him down a path of organized crime working for the Montreal mafia before landing a gig as a bodyguard for Milli Vanilli. From there, he risked everything and heading to Mexico where he became a star before signing a lucrative dollar contract with the WCW (the title of the film is actually named after his WCW finishing move). That’s when he suffered a severe neck injury that sidelined him for three years and lost him millions of dollars.

Given its short running time, it’s impressive how much ground Michael Paszt covers. Other topics introduced include the influence of Lucha Libre and the differences between Mexican and U.S. wrestling as well as the process of directing a televised broadcast and the unexpected problems that can arise due to the backstage bickering between the wrestlers which can drastically alter the course of a show. It’s also interesting how Hodkinson claims he was never trained to be a professional wrestler and admits that it was his good looks and charisma that won over the crowd, particularly the female audience who helped him become a legend in Mexico.

Despite being the legendary wrestler who helped popularize Mexican Lucha Libre in the United States, what makes Nail in the Coffin different than most wrestling documentaries is how it places a larger focus on the relationship between Hodgkinson and his teenage daughter Dasha. Nail in the Coffin is first and foremost a documentary about a father— it just so happens to be a professional wrestler. Hodkinson repeats several times throughout the doc that he hates wrestling, and although those statements are likely not true, it does highlight that even when the shit hits the fan, he powers through the hard times in order to provide for his family. The documentary never makes you forget that Hodgkinson is first and above all, a father who constantly puts his daughter first. The father-daughter relationship is the emotional core of the film, and without it, Nail in the Coffin would be a lesser film.

Michael Paszt’s documentary could have made a better two-part series on a streaming service like Netflix given that there is so much ground to cover and not enough time to explore every topic addressed. For fans of the sport, there is certainly enough behind the scenes footage to pique their interest, but I also couldn’t help but wish we saw more of Vampiro’s most famous wrestling matches including his time working with WCW. Still, there is plenty of extensive footage to make Nail in the Coffin worth seeing, and despite the short running time, the film manages to be a fascinating character study that every wrestling fan should see.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on October 16, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Festival du Nouveau Cinema.

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Wrestling

SummerSlam 2020: Actually A Solid Pay-Per-View

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As one of WWE’s big four pay-per-views, SummerSlam plays a key role in all of their storylines. Regardless of what their promotions tell you, this is the event where the build to the next WrestleMania truly begins. And it actually held up reasonably well against TakeOver this year.

SummerSlam 2020 was no different, as a variety of rivalries ended, began, and advanced to the next level. What was overall a decent pay-per-view had its fair share of ups and downs. It did have more ups than downs, which is what happens when Asuka has two matches.

This was also the first pay-per-view to take place from the brand spanking new WWE Thunderdome. It turned out to be an improvement over the Performance Center, despite the crowd noise being pumped in. Still, the Thunderdome at least has a big event feel to it.

Apollo Crews vs MVP

No one was sure what to expect from MVP’s return to WWE at the Royal Rumble, but the last six months have been great. As the voice of The Hurt Business with Bobby Lashley and Shelton Benjamin, MVP has proven to still be a master on the mic. But he’s still got it in the ring, too.

Apollo Crews retains at SummerSlam

United States Champion Apollo Crews has really stepped up in the past few months, as well He has always had all the talent in the world, he just needed the opportunity. Crews’ title reign is almost three months old, and shows no signs of slowing down. It was the opportunity he needed.

Apollo retained his championship against MVP on the pre-show in a solid match. It proved that Crews was the right choice to hold the mid-card championship and that MVP has still got it in the ring. That being said, this should be the end of Crews’ feud with The Hurt Business.

Bayley vs Asuka

The first of Asuka’s two title matches against members of The Golden Role Models opened SummerSlam. This one featured Bayley putting her SmackDown Women’s Championship on the line against the Empress of Tomorrow.

Since her heel turn and partnering with Banks, Bayley has been doing the absolute best work of her WWE career. For some reason, her constant yelling at Michael Cole during matches is especially engaging. Maybe she’s just living out fan fantasies.

Bayley barely retains against Asuka

Not surprisingly, Bayley retained with the help of her bestie, Sasha Banks. This continues her historic run as the SmackDown Women’s champ. It wouldn’t be a shock to see her take this run all the way to the next WrestleMania, building a feud against Sasha Banks for the event.

Street Profits vs Andrade and Angel Garza

The title run of the Street Profits as the Raw Tag Team champions has gone on longer than anyone would have expected. That’s a good thing, too. As they come up on as six months as the champs, they have only gotten better and better in the role.

Montez Ford takes a spectacular leap

At the same time, the fate of Zelina Vega’s stable has gotten more and more cloudy. After beating Austin Theory out of the group, Andrade and Angel Garza have been perpetually on the verge of imploding. Their SummerSlam bout was a solid match that ended with the Street Profits retaining.

The biggest surprise was the fact that Bianca Belair was not involved at all. Given her burgeoning feud with Vega, she should have been at the side of the Profits. Her time is coming soon, hopefully, as its been reported that Vince sees a big upside with Belair.

Mandy Rose vs Sonya Deville

Real-life events certainly added some drama to this feud. While their kayfabe friendship has fallen apart, their real-life friendship was put on full display when an obsessed man tried to kidnap Deville at her home. Rose was present. Fortunately, everyone is fine and the perpetrator is in custody.

The match was at it’s best when Rose and Deville were working outside of the ring. But the table Rose brought out didn’t event get used, breaking the storytelling rule of Chekov’s Gun. They made a big deal out of showing fans the table so someone needed to go through it.

Sonya Deville leaves SummerSlam and WWE with a big loss

Deville lost, meaning she leaves WWE. It was a last-minute stipulation added on the go-home episode of SmackDown. How long Deville’s kayfabe departure lasts and how she makes her return will be interesting. It’ll be more interesting to see how Rose fits into WWE without Deville as a friend or foe.

Seth Rollins vs Dominik Mysterio

While he might claim that his mission is to bring the greater good to the WWE, Seth Rollins’ real mission seems to be to exterminate the Mysterios from wrestling. He’s oddly obsessed with the living legend and his son. Even Dominik’s mother, Angie, was involved in this one.

Seth Rollins mocks Rey Mysterio

A lot of fans were questioning Dominik getting such a high profile match on a big four pay-per-view as his first WWE bout. But it’s hard to deny that he delivered. Dominik may not have been the seasoned professional his opponent was, but he did well all things considered.

Rollins won the match, which he should have. No one would have believed Dominik coming out on top. If WWE is serious about Dominik, he needs to head down to NXT and sharpen his skills with the other talents there. It wasn’t a perfect match, but at least Dominik showed his legit potential.

Sasha Banks vs Asuka

After losing to Bayley and getting a post-match beat down, Asuka made her way to the ring. This time, she was taking on Sasha Banks for her Raw Women’s Championship. It was only at the last pay-per-view that Asuka “lost” that title to Banks in the most dubious fashion possible.

Asuka becomes a two time Raw Women’s Champion via submission

Asuka came to play, though, taking her belt back from Banks via submission. What made this win so special was that it was the first singles championship she’s won on the main roster cleanly. Both of her previous victories were in multi-person ladder matches, no pinfalls or submissions.

This was Sasha’s fifth reign as the Raw Women’s champion. She has set a record, both for wins and losses. Banks has held that title more times than any other woman. That being said, she has never successfully defended it, losing the title on her first defense every time.

Bayley vs Sasha Banks is on the horizon

Part of this loss can be attributed to Bayley not watching Banks’ back effectively. Without Banks, Bayley would not have retained earlier in the evening. Depending on what happens with their Women’s Tag Team Championships, this could be the beginning of the build to a big match between them.

Drew McIntyre vs Randy Orton

This is the kind of match you want to see on a pay-per-view. Two wrestlers on the top of their games going at it over a championship. Both Randy Orton and Drew McIntyre are doing some of the best work of their careers, on the mic and in the ring. Their feud will career-defining for both wrestlers.

There was a lot of speculation going into this match that WWE was going to put the title on Randy Orton. Thankfully, that did not happen. Drew McIntyre is the WWE Champion Raw needs right now. Randy is doing amazing work, but now is not the time to take WWE to the past.

McItntyre retains at SummerSlam

It’s unclear if this is the end of the McIntyre/Orton feud. If Edge is ready to return, then WWE will continue their program. For Drew, it might be time for a new challenger. Keeping in mind that Keith Lee just lost his title, now is a good a time as any for the limitless one to make the main roster jump.

Braun Strowman vs “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt

The history between Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman goes back years, from The Wyatt Family all the way to the current era. The babyface version of Strowman excelled after leaving The Wyatt Family behind, eventually becoming the Universal Champion.

“The Fiend” is now a two time Universal Champion

Their feud got rolling with Bray Wyatt losing to Strowman. That got followed by a match that wasn’t a match between Strowman and a Wyatt Family era version of Bray in a swamp. Finally, “The Fiend” stepped in and took the championship off of his old friend at SummerSlam.

After the match, things really got rolling with the return of Roman Reigns. He hasn’t been seen since the start of the pandemic. But he made his intentions clear, attacking both Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman. Heel or face, Reigns immediately launched himself back into the main event scene.

Roman Reigns made his return at SummerSlam

Who has to deal with Reigns has yet to be determined. It’s likely that his first feud will be with Strowman. The WWE may then use that as a launchpad towards a feud with Wyatt. No one would be shocked to see Reigns pick up the Universal Championship from him at the next WrestleMania.

Missing In Action

In addition to Belair, the newly crowned Intercontinental Champion Jeff Hardy wasn’t on the card. He took the belt off of A.J. Styles on the go-home episode of SmackDown. A rematch at SummerSlam would have been a great addition to the pay-per-view, even on the pre-show.

The new Intercontinental Champion was missing from SummerSlam

Also nowhere to be found were the SmackDown Tag Team champions, Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro. But that shouldn’t be a surprise as the WWE seems to dislike giving these two pay-per-view air time. They aren’t even really involved in a program with anyone right now, which needs to change soon.

Both the SmackDown Tag Team titles and the Intercontinental Championship were in matches on SmackDown. That was probably done to lighten up the SummerSlam card. Regardless, those were some huge names to be absent from one of the big four pay-per-views.

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