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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: Summerslam's 10 Most Underrated Matches
By The Doc
Jul 6, 2013 - 9:56:36 AM

The Snowman is a genius

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Welcome to another edition of the 2013 Summerslam Series. FYI - we're going to keep up these outside of the ordinary top tens, but we're also going to dive into some historical comparisons once the actual card starts taking shape in a little over a week.

Summerslam's 10 Most Underrated Matches

10 - Edge vs. Lance Storm (2001) - After he initially split from Christian and went through his Intercontinental Championship phase, Edge made a habit of having really good PPV mid-card matches with a variety of different wrestlers. I would suggest that three have all been underrated because of the star power included on the cards that hosted them. The second and third, respectively, were Survivor Series '01's Edge vs. Test and Royal Rumble '02's Edge vs. William Regal. The first was Edge vs. Lance Storm at Summerslam ‘01. The aspect of Edge's style that drew me in when I started watching wrestling again that summer after a two year hiatus was his pacing. None of his matches were overly long, so he wasted zero time. Subsequently, all of his work benefited from an aesthetically pleasing series of high spots and near falls. Storm was an underrated talent, in general, and had natural chemistry with his fellow Canadian. I am a proponent of the theory that wrestlers should not try to tell a twenty minute story in a ten minute match, so I will always appreciate matches like Edge vs. Storm, which did its best to be as entertaining as possible without many pauses.

9 - Jeff Jarrett vs. X-Pac (1998) - If you clamor for a return of the mid-card to its stature of old, look no further than this match as proof of how much it can add to the product. The storylines do not need to be excellent, rather just in-depth enough to ensure that the characters involved have a chance to get over. Both Pac and Jarrett were over, leading to what the mid-card being relevant adds most: really good matches that push the wrestlers at the top of the card to step up their game (no headliner wants to be upstaged by the guys underneath). Pac and Jarrett's "Hair vs. Hair" match was the caliber of contest that became a microcosm for the former's first year back in the WWE (one of the most persistently excellent years for a non-main-event player in history, by my estimation) and that gave the world a preview of why Jarrett would become the WCW World Heavyweight Champion two years later (Double J, despite how recent history has portrayed him, was as well-rounded a pro as there was in the late 90s).

8 - CM Punk vs. JBL (2008) - I thought that CM Punk's first run as World Heavyweight Champion was atrocious. He had no build-up prior to winning Money in the Bank at Wrestlemania and he received no substantial push leading up to his cash-in that June on Edge. The entirety of Punk's initial foray into the main-event scene was poorly handled. However, there was one night when he actually looked really good - where actually looked like a credible champion: Summerslam 2008. JBL's one year return before he retired for good was full of a lot of solid storylines and matches. He did a lot for Punk in putting him over clean at Summerslam. He did a good job of pointing out the obvious flaws in Punk being a titleholder, but then laid down for him 1-2-3, making his words seem baseless. The quality of that match was the highlight of Punk's reign; an example of what he could do as a headlining babyface. I thought it benefited from the accidental blood spillage toward the climax of the match when their heads collided. It made Punk look legitimately tough when toughness was a question mark to casual fans. The match reminded me a lot of the modern World title matches since the brand split has ended and the WHC has assumed the spot once occupied by the mid-card titles in the past.

7 - John Cena vs. Chris Jericho (2005) - At less than 15-minutes in length, Jericho vs. Cena was not your typical WWE main-event for the modern era. Though the time may have hindered their work from being amongst the critical elite of the year or the decade, it should not go unnoticed or underpraised when considering the best matches in Summerslam history. With a Washington, D.C. crowd behind it that quite honestly may have been responsible for officially starting the "dueling chant" craze that still enhances Cena's matches today, the WWE Championship match from 2005 was as well-hyped and superbly executed a major PPV headliner as you will find in the modern era. It came about long before the critical masses came around to Cena being a good performer despite his unorthodox, somewhat (at times) athletically uncoordinated style, so part of the reason that I believe it to be lost in the shuffle comes from an underappreciation of what Cena was capable of offering back then. Jericho and Cena clicked; that much was apparent. Y2J gave Cena his best match of the first year that he was a main-eventer. (Doc’s note - I rank it this low only because not everyone underrates it. I thought about putting it #1).

6 - Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Benoit (2002) - RVD rightfully earned the moniker of being a spot monkey because he excelled in environments that allowed him to execute high risks and because he was often asked by the WWE to do everything that made the masses love him in less than 6-minutes of in-ring action. I have always thought that one of the finest examples of Van Dam's ability to break those molds came against technical wrestlers who could pace and control a match so that RVD could merely space out his aesthetically pleasing aerial arsenal over a greater time period. Benoit was the perfect opponent, agile and strong enough to make RVD's moves look as good as anyone has ever been able to sell them. It was the caliber of match that you would hope to see the WWE factor into every Summerslam card - a fifteen or so minute mid-card title bout featuring two guys that the crowd has been given the chance to invest in over the years. Though not often discussed amongst the best in Summerslam history due to it not being epic in any way, it is a match that greatly benefits the career resumes of both wrestlers.

5 - The Hart Foundation vs. The Brain Busters (1989) - For the longest time, I thought that the best Hart Foundation match in Summerslam history was their Two-out-of-Three Falls match with Demolition from 1990. It was actually at the suggestion of LOP's Mr. Tito that I went back and watched the 1989 Summerslam bout between the Foundation and the duo of Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard. I am forever glad that I did. When I first started studying match reviewing, I used Keller and Meltzer's list to help build a definition for what I should be looking for. Neither man rated the '89 opening tag match favorably enough to include on their three-star or better lists. Sadly, this helped skew my perception of what, as I came to find out after rewatching it, was arguably the second best tag team match in Summerslam history behind the first official TLC in 2000. Of course, that should come as no surprise given the talent involved and the over 16-minutes in length. Watching Bret, in particular, mix it up with fellow legends in Anderson and Blanchard was quite a sight. I love watching Arn and Tully matches. If you have not seen this match (at all or in awhile), do yourself a favor the next time you have twenty minutes to kill and take a gander at it. It was the perfect example of how to work an exhibition-style tag match with limited back story.

4 - Shane McMahon vs. Test (1999) - Do you remember back in 2003 when Test was getting a push with Stacy Keibler as his manager (the whole "Testicles" thing that tried to make him a sympathetic, likeable babyface)? I remember most people on the internet were moaning and groaning about it. That was my first year as a card-carrying member of the IWC and I felt like I was the only one that was championing Test's efforts. I had always liked Test and the reason was that I remembered loving his match with Shane McMahon at Summerslam '99. That card stunk to high Heaven and was one of the catalysts for my WWE hiatus, but the Test-Shane match was awesome - easily the match of the evening and one of the best in a pretty weak overall performance year. It was a match that goes to show how easy it is to get blinded by our prejudices against talents that do not fit the critical mold. Kurt Angle and X-Pac had great matches with Shane and were praised up and down, but Test pulled out the match of his career against Shane, showing that he could excel in a major angle and its payoff match, and he gets lost in the historical shuffle.

3 - Ted Dibiase vs. Virgil (1991) - One of my favorite mid-card storylines from the Hulkamania era was the Million Dollar Man's lackey, Virgil, finally having had enough of being treated like a dog and turning on his boss. Back then, nothing was rushed. I'm unsure if it was a difference in society or just a difference in Vince McMahon's mindset, but characters in modern wrestling are nowhere near as layered as they once were. Dibiase was excellent at subtly hinting at turmoil, for instance, and turning up the heat as time slowly went on. By the time that the Virgil storyline came to the forefront, there had been years of teases to set its stage. The match that they had at Summerslam was an outstanding mid-card performance in front of a hot Madison Square Garden crowd that appreciated the work that led up to it. Virgil was not an overly talented individual - such is why he was merely a bodyguard for the majority of his career - but Dibiase carried him to the match of his life. It took a few tries to reach its potential, but everything clicked at Summerslam. Historians often cite matches such as Dibiase vs. Roberts at Wrestlemania VI as bouts that earned critical acclaim in a WWE mid-card that did not often allow enough time for mid-card matches to fully play out. Add Dibiase vs. Virgil to that list.

2 - Bret Hart vs. Jerry "The King" Lawler (1993) - As an amateur pro wrestling historian, I have spent a lot of time in the last decade (plus) researching the wrestlers and matches of the past that most often get mentioned in the arguments for the greatest of their respective generations. A name that often comes up that I am, honestly, not overly fond of is Jerry Lawler. To me, The King's work in the eighties was a bit overrated. Of course, there are exceptions and I will not deny his mastery of the Mid-South Coliseum and the excellence in his Super Clash match with Kerry Von Erich. Yet, most of his matches were very basic. On the other hand, his work as a heel in the 1990s for the WWE? I loved that. He was an outstanding antagonist for Bret Hart, playing no small part in ensuring that the Hitman got back to the top in 1994 (after dropping down the card after Mania in 1993) with a ton of momentum. Bret's match with Lawler at Summerslam '93 was only six-minutes in length, but it was a part of a great cowardly scenario that involved the King, first, feigning an injury and being replaced by Doink the Clown (RIP). After the King attacked Bret with a crutch, he was forced to wrestle. Bret beat him with the Sharpshooter, but would not release the hold, ultimately causing the decision to be reversed. The entire situation played out beautifully and was the highlight of Lawler's in-ring career for the WWE. That match deserves higher praise.

1 - Steve Austin vs. Owen Hart (1997) - There is no question that the finish to a match can either make a bland bout better or a great match worse. Unfortunately, there are times when a match that is heading toward being excellent gets knocked down several pegs, critically, due to its climax. I chose the word "unfortunate" because that is how I have always felt about the critical response to Owen vs. Austin sixteen years ago. It was famous for all of the wrong reasons, with Owen forgetting to do a Tombstone-like piledriver and instead opting for a hellacious sit-out version that damn near killed Stone Cold. As mentioned in the last column, it all worked out for Austin and his peers, but it assuredly shook Owen to the core. Prior to the piledriver spot, the match was incredible. It had the crowd involvement, the crisp execution of the moves, the intangible qualities from the combatants, and a very good story leading up to it. All things considered, Owen vs. Austin was going to be a 4-star classic for Summerslam historians to shuffle in and out of the top 10 for years to come. I think it is underrated because, in context, the ending when watched today does not really affect my overall enjoyment of the match. Sure, it was botched and ugly, but its historical significance is undeniably fascinating which, to me, negates the improvisation from being an eyesore.

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