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Doctor's Orders: The Summerslam Series - John Cena vs. Randy Orton for the 1st time
By The Doc
Jul 18, 2012 - 10:16:12 PM
QUESTION OF THE DAY (12): What did you think of the initial encounter between Randy Orton and John Cena? Do you think they are each other's greatest rivals?
Randy Orton’s career hit a massive bump in the road in September 2004 when he lost the World title to Triple H after one of the most ill-advised and poorly handled face turns that I can ever recall. When you think of where he was seemingly headed when the decision was made to turn him into a babyface and put it against what he went on to do between Unforgiven ’04 and the summer of 2007, it’s hard not to think of what might have been. That is not to say that Orton wasn’t relevant during that time, but there’s little doubt that he could have been much more. What the experience did for Orton, though, was make him shape up his attitude, get his head on straight, and focus on becoming a professional. By the time that the road to Summerslam ’07 began, Orton had done enough to earn back the confidence of the WWE higher ups that they put him in the biggest feud of his career. He was developing the reputation, after taking out HBK, as more than just a Legend Killer. He was morphing into the Viper – a cold hearted, sadistic force to be reckoned with. John Cena was the WWE Champion and had been for nearly a year as of August, during which time he was rounding into form as the face of the company and a helluva performer in between the ropes. The question began to linger, after one of Cena’s best personal performances in his career against Bobby Lashley at the Great American Bash in July: who will be the one to dethrone The Champ?
When it was announced that Orton would be the challenger at Summerslam, it seemed like we had our answer. Orton was on a roll, dominating Cena every step of the way as the stage was set for their very first major PPV match. The excitement in seeing that encounter was undeniable given their history. If you rewound the clock back to Summerslam 2004, they appeared together in a backstage segment in a moment of foreshadowing that got everyone talking. Orton was being positioned as “The Man” for the future back then. Cena ended up taking the ball and running with it after Orton flopped, becoming the face of the company. It’s interesting how times change, isn’t it? Looking back, I would have bet that Orton was going to end up as the bigger star. Of course, that was during an era where heels ruled the roost. I was a prisoner of the moment, I guess. Cena restored the normal order of things to the WWE (babyface dominates the main-event in the Hogan, Bret, HBK, Austin, and Rock mold). Every great babyface has their foil, though, and once Orton ascended back to the top of the card, it seemed logical that he’d be that foil for Cena.
Summerslam was a one match show in 2007, but what a helluva one match it was. The point of the match was not to feature a back and forth masterpiece of epic proportions, but rather to make sure that everyone knew that Orton was going to be the guy to take the title off of Cena – even if it wasn’t on that night. Though Orton lost, he dominated the entire match. It was a bout that served to also reinforce the resiliency of the champ. You walked away from the match feeling as though the two were evenly matched, making the ensuing chapters in their rivalry seem as must see as the initial encounter. I thought it was one of the finer performances of Orton’s career and one of the first times that I thought he started looking like the ring general that I saw flashes of him becoming during his initial rise to stardom.
The only other matches of note, from a headlining standpoint, were the return bouts for Rey Mysterio and Triple H, each having battled back from major leg injuries that caused them to miss Wrestlemania. The World title match was between Great Khali and Batista, with Khali as the reigning champion, so the big comebacks from two previously ailing top stars was the second big drawing point behind Orton vs. Cena. None of the matches on the card were really given a chance to be great other than Orton-Cena, though.
Undercard match worth viewing: Umaga vs. Carlito vs. Mr. Kennedy (Doc’s Note – In all honesty, there was not a second match to reach the 3-star mark, so this triple threat for the IC title was the most entertaining match outside of the main-event. The friend I watched it with really enjoyed Carlito and I really enjoyed Umaga, so it made it a fun little 8-minute match)
Match of the night
1) John Cena vs. Randy Orton (***3/4)
2) Umaga vs. Kennedy vs. Carlito (**3/4)
3) Rey Mysterio vs. Chavo Guerrero (**1/2)
Wrestler of the night: Randy Orton – Even though he was defeated in the first meeting with Cena, he still came away looking like Cena’s potential heel foil. This match went a long way toward re-establishing the credibility that he’d lacked in previous years and set the tone for his career moving forward. Much of the success that he still enjoys today is due to the build and payoff to this Summerslam.
Yokozuna won the WWE Championship back from Hulk Hogan at King of the Ring in June 1993 and came across as a transitional champion rather than the guy that would eventually hold the title for nine months up until Wrestlemania X. It seemed that the WWE was constantly striving to find someone to recreate Hulkamania. Around that time, Lex Luger – he of NWA/WCW fame – was wrapping up as headliner of the failed project infamously known as the World Bodybuilding Federation. Since Vince McMahon had him under contract, he decided to use him as a wrestler. Yokozuna was a massive guy and nobody had yet been able to bodyslam him. Aboard the USS Intrepid, the WWE held an open challenge to anyone that could slam the massive champion. Nobody could until Luger showed up in a helicopter and hoisted the mammoth up and dropped him down. The slam heard round the United States sparked a huge push for Luger, as the WWE sent him touring the country on the Lex Express bus.
It was built as a clash between Japan and the U.S. The match was predictably average, but Lex should be given a ton of credit for it even reaching that height. Yoko was not a bad worker by any means. It was just a simple matter of him gaining weight at an alarming rate. He used being champion as an excuse to allow his poundage to balloon out of control. I think history remembers this match for being far worse than it actually was.
The second biggest match on the card was the battle between the King of the Ring, Bret Hart, and Jerry “The King” Lawler, who had recently joined the company. Bret was enjoying his coronation ceremony at the inaugural June PPV when Lawler viciously attacked him with a scepter. Lawler classically used Bret’s family to build this feud, throwing out some one-liners that built up his reputation as a heel in the WWE quite quickly. The match at Summerslam, though, had a monkey wrench thrown into it when Lawler showed up “hurt.” Instead, Doink the Clown was put into the match. Bret defeated Doink via disqualification when Lawler showed himself to actually be fine. Unfortunately for the King, the president of the WWE came out to inform Lawler that since he was not hurt, he would still have to wrestle Bret. In an underrated match that I’ve just recently warmed to, Bret defeated Lawler with the Sharpshooter. However, he wouldn’t let go of the hold, wanting to inflict as much punishment on Lawler as the King had done to his family in the previous two months. The decision was reversed to a DQ win for Lawler.
Summerslam ’93 also featured a horrifying rematch of the God-awful Undertaker-Giant Gonzalez match from Wrestlemania IX. They needed to wrap it up and get a little bit of money out of it before sending Gonzalez packing. The Deadman made quick work of him.
Undercard match worth viewing: Shawn Michaels vs. Mr. Perfect (Doc’s Note – On paper, this reads like one of the best mid-card Intercontinental Championship matches in WWE history. In the past, they actually did have a match of that caliber. It did not take place at Summerslam ’93, though. That match took place in 1991 prior to Wrestlemania VII before HBK was HBK and just a member of the Rockers. In 1993, he and Perfect had a solid feud that included Hennig costing HBK the title to Marty Jannetty in what was arguably ‘93’s MOTY. HBK won the title back to set up this match. It was a good match worth seeing, but if you want to see the best of Perfect vs. Michaels, turn your attention to Stars and Stripes Forever)
Match of the Night
1) Bret Hart vs. Jerry Lawler (***)
2) Shawn Michaels vs. Mr. Perfect (**3/4)
3) Bret Hart vs. Doink the Clown (**1/2)
Wrestler of the Night: Bret Hart – It took a while for the WWE to realize what they had in Bret. It was nights like this that helped them figure it out. Bret stole the show, wrestling two solid matches including one that gets passed over when speaking of his most impressive performances. Wrestling is not always the focus in sports entertainment, but Bret did it well enough to ensure that most people left the arenas back then talking about how good he was, no matter who was the champion.
The main rivalry heading into Summerslam ’99 was the feud over the WWE Championship #1 contender status, even though that #1 contender status led to a match at Summerslam with the champion, Steve Austin. Stone Cold was not really the focus of the storyline in the couple of weeks leading up to the event. Rather, it was who would be facing him. Austin had defeated Undertaker at Fully Loaded the month before and was merely awaiting his next challenger, who was supposed to be Triple H per the stipulation of defeating The Rock at Fully Loaded. However, Chyna actually beat him to become #1 contender with all sorts of Attitude era shenanigans at play. This was one of the bad things about that era. People glorify it for all the great TV moments, but those were interspersed amongst a wide variety of clusterfuck booking decisions and a product designed more to draw ratings with shock value than anything. Mankind ended up winning the title shot from Chyna, only to be forced into a match with Triple H where both were pinned, thus making the title match at Summerslam a triple threat match. Said triple threat was historically significant if not all that good (again, thanks to the Attitude era style booking), as it was the first time that Triple H got a PPV World title match. The triple threat match was also significant considering that it was Mick Foley’s last WWE Championship win. Even though Mankind won the belt at Summerslam, Triple H won it the next night on Raw and began his feud with Austin.
The two other major matches as Summerslam that year were a tag team title match between champions X-Pac/Kane and the “Unholy” Alliance of Undertaker and Big Show and a “Kiss My Ass” match between The Rock and Billy Gunn. The tag titles had become a prop to pass around by that point, so it was a randomly thrown together saga that turned out to produce an “OK” match. This was the point where I stopped watching wrestling and went on a near two-year hiatus from Raw. As much as I enjoyed watching The Rock, I just could not stand all the hot shot booking (and I was dog tired of Steve Austin, with all due respect to the guy and the run that he had). The Gunn vs. Rock situation stemmed from Billy interfering in Rock’s #1 contender match the previous month, costing him a shot at the WWE title. Gunn won the 1999 King of the Ring tournament and the WWE were testing him out as a singles headliner. This was the height of the “Mr. Ass” persona, as Billy was parading around in a thong covered by a mesh pair of tights. At one point in the feud, Gunn pressed the Rock’s face right onto his butt cheek, insinuating that the Rock was kissing it. Rock promised to return the favor, whoop that “nobody” Billy Gunn’s ass, and then have him get down on his knees and kiss the “People’s ass.” The Rock defeated Gunn at Summerslam, ending the feud and also Billy’s push as a top singles star. To be quite honest, Billy just did not have the chops to be a consistent main-event player, but he did alright for himself up there in a limited engagement capacity.
Undercard match worth viewing: Shane McMahon vs. Test (Doc’s Note – Of all the storylines and matches at this edition of Summerslam, the most satisfying was between Test and Shane. Test was dating Stephanie, at that point, in the arc that eventually led to Triple H swooping in and marrying Stephanie, the reveal for which was shown during the wedding ceremony of Test and Stephanie. Before that, Shane was against Test dating his sister and did everything that he could as her big brother to deter that relationship from continuing. Quite frankly, Shane did some of the best heel work of the year in the WWE in ’99 and showed a willingness to put his body at risk for the betterment of the matches that he was involved in. He had some good ones, including the bout with X-Pac at Wrestlemania XV earlier in the year. I’m not sure even that underrated performance was as good as this match with Test, though. It was one of the finer matches of Test’s career. He did a nice job of playing the babyface, which was a role in which he never otherwise thrived. The Test vs. Shane match was the best of the night at a fairly mundane PPV, considering it was the second biggest event of the year. Test won the match and, per the stipulation, was allowed to continue dating Stephanie with Shane’s blessing)
Match of the night
1) Shane McMahon vs. Test (***1/4)
2) Steve Austin vs. Mankind vs. Triple H (**3/4)
3) Tag Team Turmoil (**3/4)
Wrestler of the night: Mankind – This was the one time in Foley’s career where he won the WWE title on a PPV. The other two times were on Monday Night Raw and the Halftime Heat special on MTV. So, it was a big deal for him, even though he lost the title on the next night.
Only in the Hulkamania era could we get a main-event like we had for Summerslam ’89. Hulk Hogan had made a movie about wrestling, in which the villain character was a huge guy named Zeus. Since it was still a time where kayfabe reigned supreme, the WWE hatched a storyline where Zeus decided to get revenge for what happened in the movie by attacking Hulk during a WWE match. Hogan was still feuding with Macho Man at the time, just a few months after the "Mega Powers Exploded" at Wrestlemania V. The two feuds were essentially blended into one. Yet, instead of have a handicap match, the WWE decided to add Brutus Beefcake to the mix to even the odds. This was when Brutus started gaining the reputation as a Hogan leech. It paid to be a friend of the Hulkster. Oh, Brutus…what a true Hulkamaniac you were. Anyhow, Savage and Zeus faced Hogan and Beefcake at Summerslam. The guy playing Zeus, Tony Lister, was not an actual wrestler, so he was just instructed to no-sell everything. It was pretty bad, looking back on it. As a kid, it was interesting, but it loses its luster as an adult. Savage was in there trying to save the day to no avail. Luckily, it was a commercial success for the WWE because it certainly was not a performance success. It would almost be comical to see a match of this nature be the main-event of a major PPV in the internet era. Can you imagine the sheer level of complaining that it would produce?
The match of the night was the bout that drew second billing, which was the rematch from Mania V between the Intercontinental Champion Rick Rude and the Ultimate Warrior. The Mania match had been sloppy, while also being thoroughly entertaining thanks to Rude’s selling and charisma. The Summerslam match was one of the best performances of Warrior’s career and one of the great carry jobs of Rude’s career. It went off without a hitch. Everything that they did in the 16-minute match clicked. They traded momentum back and forth, keeping you guessing as to which one of them would walk away with the IC title. You assumed that Warrior would regain the gold, but Rude did a great job of making you think that perhaps he would find a way to win again. While the drama was greater in other Warrior matches, specifically citing the Mania matches with Hogan and Savage, the quality of the counters in this match with Rude might’ve been the most impressive that I’ve seen from Warrior. Ravishing Rick really did an incredible job, here. You have to think that he must have been exhausted, both physically and mentally, by the time Roddy Piper showed up, signaling that they go to the finish of Warrior winning back the belt. There’s a moment when I watch this match now where I look at Rude’s face after the match and – I may be totally imagining this – I see this look of satisfaction subtly creep onto his face in the midst of him selling the anguish of losing the title. He should’ve been proud of this…
While it is difficult to look back and identify a third match on the marquee that year, I look back at the line-up and the feud that jumps out to me is the battles between the former members of Strike Force, Tito Santana and Rick Martel. They wrestled several times after splitting for good after Mania V. I thoroughly enjoyed their matches and consider them both to be quite underrated in the all-time sense. Martel used the heel turn to develop his “Model” character that eventually earned him a headlining match at Wrestlemania VII, so this was an important feud for his career. It ended up being one of the last high profile stories of Tito’s career. At Summerslam, they found themselves on opposite 6-man tag teams, with Santana tagging with the Rockers while Martel tagged with the Fabulous Rougeaus. Martel’s team won…
Undercard match worth viewing: The Hart Foundation vs. The Brain Busters (Doc’s Note – You’ll begin to notice a trend from the early days of Summerslam, in which the Hart Foundation’s tag team matches were the matches that did not get much in the way of billing, but were unquestionably one of the best matches of those nights. It was a lot of fun to watch Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson compete in the WWE. They took what they’d done so well in the NWA and applied it against a fresh set of tag teams. This was a great tag team match with the Foundation)
Match of the night
1) Ravishing Rick Rude vs. Ultimate Warrior (***1/2)
2) Hart Foundation vs. Brain Busters (***1/4)
3) Martel and the Rougeaus vs. Santana and the Rockers (**3/4)
Wrestler of the night: Ultimate Warrior – Warrior needed a match like this, in my opinion. The WWE would not have cared if he was a botch machine that couldn’t work a feature length match if they only planned on him being an IC champion, but he needed to prove that he could perform in a match the caliber of this Summerslam bout with Rude if they were going to give the green light to move him up any further. It’s matches like these that also instill confidence in young, green wrestlers like Warrior. I would imagine he learned a lot from working with Rude.
This one has sentimental value for me, as it was the only time that I got to review Summerslam for Lords of Pain as the featured reviewer of WWE PPVs. While not the highest quality card, it was extremely entertaining. I remember not rating any of the matches above 3.5 stars (out of 5) and giving match of the night honors to Edge vs. John Cena, which was actually a pretty epic encounter. Some bouts don’t have ratings that reflect just how good they were. As 16-minute main-events go, it’s tough to beat the drama and execution in the story told during Cena vs. Edge from 6 years ago. I thought that entire feud was some of the best work we’d seen in either man’s career and this was the match where they seemed to click in the ring for the first time and really deliver something memorable. Recall that their initial encounters in the beginning of 2006 were painfully average given the talents involved. Thus, Summerslam ’06 was not exactly the setting for high expectations from Edge and John Cena. Luckily for us, they were able to develop some chemistry and tear the house down. My favorite spot in the match was when Lita was holding the title belt, ready and willing to blast Cena over the head with it. Edge, however, begged and pleaded that she refrain, for he would lose the title if he got disqualified. It was a great sequence, as Edge was locked in the STF at the time. So much was packed into the match despite its relatively short duration and I remember it being quite the challenge to keep up with them. Edge lived to defend the title another day and this bout was historically significant for being the one PPV match where Edge defeated Cena in the mano y mano situation.
The next of the triple main-event saw the recently reunited Degeneration X battle the primary nemeses of their second run in Vince and Shane McMahon. With all due respect to Rated-RKO, the McMahons gave DX a duo to verbally castrate that people thoroughly enjoyed seeing get owned. Plus, the feud with the Macs came to a fitting conclusion, while DX vs. Edge/Orton ended in tragic injury to Triple H. To be honest, the second coming of DX didn’t do a lot for me, as a reviewer and uber critic of that time period, but I will not say that I wasn’t entertained by them. I just thought that they were a little out of place in 2006 and everything that they did paled in comparison to their original antics. My favorite DX incarnation was the HBK-HHH duo, but the one from ’97-’98 that helped revolutionize the television content of the business. That was groundbreaking and cutting edge, while the ’06 version was tame and forcibly comedic. Again, though, they were entertaining and they were two Hall of Fame wrestlers coming together. Some of what they pulled off against the McMahons was pretty funny, as was what they did to the male cheerleading Spirit Squad. The McMahons vs. DX was the second best match of Summerslam 2006, in large part thanks to the McMahons trying to legitimately prove their worth in being a part of such a high profile match by recreating several finishers of classic tag teams. It was a fun match.
Booker T defending the World Heavyweight Championship against Batista might very well have been the most intriguing feud behind the scenes that never translated quite as much to the screen. During a photo shoot earlier in the summer, reports stated that Booker and Batista got into a fight over something that I don’t recall being disclosed. King Booker was enjoying his only run in WWE as the World Champion (post-Invasion) and was doing quite well for himself, but it was inevitable that Batista would regain the title. I think many assumed it would happen right away at Summerslam and that Book would take the heat for the supposed fisticuffs (unless the fight happened before he won the title; I’m unsure of the details after six years, but either way the WWE needed to get the belt from Rey Mysterio to a heel in order for Batista’s return from injury to be capped off satisfactorily with a victory over a heel champ). Alas, that’s not the way it went down. Batista less than glamorously chased the belt until Survivor Series. Some stories of internal tension translate well to TV, but Book-Bats failed to live up to the potential of that their backstage brawl suggested.
Two other major matches that highlighted a fairly loaded line-up were Mick Foley vs. Ric Flair in a match that, like the above, was laced with real life animosity and Randy Orton battling Hulk Hogan. Foley and Flair had traded written barbs in their books. Flair dismissed much of Foley’s accomplishments by claiming him to be a glorified stuntman. I was quite engaged in this on-screen rivalry after having read what each had said about each other in the numerous years prior. It failed to live up to the hype in the ring, though. We needed a clean winner and we got something silly involving Melina. Hogan and Orton, meanwhile, were trying to take advantage of “Hogan Knows Best” attention and the budding career of Hulk’s mildly talented daughter, Brooke. It didn’t work and suffered from a lame restart finish.
Undercard match worth viewing: Chavo Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio (Doc’s Note – Chavo cost Rey the title the previous month, so this was the grudge match. It was not nearly the match that they had when Mysterio debuted in 2002, but it was worth a watch. Unfortunately, it too suffered from a lame finish, this one involving Vickie Guerrero)
Match of the Night
1) John Cena vs. Edge (***1/2)
2) Degeneration X vs. McMahons (***1/4)
3) Mick Foley vs. Ric Flair (**3/4)
Wrestler of the night: Edge – As a character, Edge had done everything needed in the first six months of 2006 to earn the burden of carrying the company as its WWE Champion, but he still lacked a major victory over Cena. Up to that point, Cena had owned Edge when it mattered. He was made quick work of at the Rumble, was soundly defeated on Raw a couple of weeks later, and most of the one-upping he’d done had come in the form of cheap tactics. He needed the win at Summerslam to take the final step toward being a legitimate top guy…and he got it.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a column series that highlighted the very best performers of each month’s signature PPV events. Unquestionably, Mr. Summerslam was Bret Hart. He was as obvious a choice as HBK was for Mr. Wrestlemania. The Hitman’s Summerslam resume is full of classic matches at every level that the WWE offers championships. Perhaps the finest of those classics is the Summerslam ’94 cage match with Owen Hart, which continued the rivalry that had initially culminated in a breathtaking blueprint for future generations to follow at Wrestlemania X. This go-round, Bret was the WWE Champion and Owen was getting his only PPV World title match of his career. Inside the old school blue cage, Bret and Owen put together a unique match that is not universally accepted. Some people loved it – like me – while others found it to be lacking in elements that had traditionally been the cornerstones of the gimmick. Even though it did not feature blood and violence, it made up for it with an unmatched psychology toward winning the match. The entire match was based around outwitting the opponent to escape the cage via door or over the top. There was no wasted motion and every little thing mattered. For thirty brilliant minutes, Bret and Owen worked on the turnbuckles, the side of the cage, near the door, and at the top of the cage. Unlike most cage matches, the ratio between attempting to get out of the cage to the content contested on the mat was heavily skewed toward the former. In one of the more dramatic finishing sequences you’ll see in a match of this type, Bret dropped to the floor off the outside wall of the blue steel as Owen, right beside him, got his foot hung up in one of the cage squares. If you have been one of the skeptics of this match over the years, then I suggest you take everything into account discussed above and re-watch it. Awesome match!
’94 was also the year of the Undertaker vs. Undertaker match. Perhaps the most memorable part of that angle was, at Summerslam, when Leslie Nielson played his amusing character from the “Naked Gun” movies and searched the arena looking for the real Deadman. The match itself, which for some reason was given the main-event spot over Bret vs. Owen, was a silly representation of a generally silly era for the WWE.
The Kliq, meanwhile, was taking over the WWE one division at a time. One such division over which they had already gained considerable influence was the Intercontinental Championship scene. At Mania X, HBK and Razor Ramon had arguably stolen the show with their ladder match. Shawn’s bodyguard, Diesel, had stepped out of that role and figured more prominently into in-ring situations, winning the IC title from Razor. At Summerslam, Razor went after his title while HBK took his spot in Diesel’s corner. For the all the Kliq’s faults, the one thing that they did very well was work together. Razor and Diesel had a damn good match that night, with Ramon winning the title back. They were always motivated to perform to the absolute best of their abilities against each other. Considering that only a handful of guys were ever able to get good matches out of Diesel, then Hall’s accomplishment at Summerslam should rightfully be considered one of the most critically applauded of his WWE career. That summer was important for Diesel, too. He showed in matches against Razor and earlier against Bret Hart that he could, at least, be carried to good enough matches to where he could be made WWE Champion by year’s end.
Undercard match worth viewing: Tatanka vs. Lex Luger (Doc’s Note – The story was that Luger had potentially sold out to the WWE’s first Corporation – the Million Dollar Corporation. Ted Dibiase was buying up all kinds of wrestlers and Lex had enough of a name, coming off the Mania X co-main-event, that it was a no-brainer to bring the All-American into the fold. The only caveat was that it meant that he’d turned his back on the fans. Tatanka insisted that he knew the truth about the situation and that Lex had, indeed, sold out. The match between them lasted all of six-minutes, but I enjoyed this feud and its payoff with Tatanka actually being the one to have sold out)
Match of the night
1) Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart (****1/2)
2) Diesel vs. Razor Ramon (***)
3) Alundra Blayze vs. Bull Nakano (**1/2) (really)
Wrestler of the night: Owen Hart – Since Bret’s title victory was not the main-event of the show, I’ll give the nod to Owen for having had his only PPV World title match in his career end up being a classic for the ages. Owen was an important piece of the New Generation puzzle and this was the biggest moment in his career outside of his victory over Bret 5 months prior.
I was at the height of my Kurt Angle fandom when the Olympic Hero won the WWE title from Brock Lesnar at the first Smackdown-only PPV in July ’03. Angle had vaulted up my all-time favorite list with his iconic performance despite a soon-to-be surgically repaired neck at Wrestlemania XIX. The face-heel dynamic reversed for the rematch at Summerslam a month after Angle regained the gold. It worked out better, as Lesnar was a natural heel. Angle was not a natural face, but he was so good at the time that it was easy to find a reason to cheer him. You won’t find much better a series of matches in the last ten years than Angle vs. Lesnar. This second chapter was quite the match, even if it was the weakest in the series that also included the Smackdown Ironman match. It was a four-star effort that saw Lesnar tap out for the first time, leading to one of the first “You Tapped Out” chants that I can recall. Lesnar had been so dominant in his run up until that point that it seemed unfeasible for him to submit. This was one of those moments of weakness for Lesnar’s character that you have to wonder about, in terms of where he would end up some eight months later when he left the WWE. Tapping out at Summerslam and changing gears from stone cold killer heel to more of the traditional type made Lesnar human in the booking. You can’t give a guy with a massive ego nothing but dominant victories over the industry’s top stars and expect him to like tapping out to smaller, less heralded players like Angle and Chris Benoit.
Anyhow, this was a year when Raw was trying very hard to be the bigger brand, but it was just not on-par with the weekly episodes of Smackdown. Kane unmasked, but it didn’t work. Goldberg was pushed to the top, but it wasn’t WCW. They tried to make Kevin Nash a legit threat again, but he was too washed up. Triple H (w/ Evolution) and Chris Jericho were the only interesting characters, but the show was stuck in an era that had passed by. Smackdown owned Raw. You had to applaud them for trying to make Raw a bigger deal by unleashing the second Elimination Chamber. Trips vs. Goldberg, HBK vs. Orton, and Jericho vs. Nash were all combined into the Chamber and it worked well. It was not the greatest Chamber match, but it was sufficiently entertaining and it was really the one night where a WWE crowd seemed to give Goldberg the reaction that the WWE had hoped for. Because of that crowd, I became a fan of the city of Phoenix. The manner in which Triple H got the win was well done, inciting you to want to see Goldberg get his hands on him the next month and defeat him for the World title. This was also one of the better early showcases for what Orton brought to the table and gave him the valuable experience he’d need to go on a long string of high profile Summerslam matches that continues to this day. Starting here, Orton has never been in a Summerslam match that wasn’t billed as one of the top matches on the card.
The unmasking of Kane was one of those key moments in his career that leads us to praise him for having overcome so many rotten booking decisions. That had a lot of potential to be huge and take him to a new level, but the decision to put him in a feud with Shane McMahon almost right from outset of his heel turn/unmasking was a colossal error in judgment. I had somewhat high hopes for Kane’s match with Rob Van Dam, which stemmed from their tag team championship partnership ending the night Kane took the mask off and chokeslammed RVD. Unfortunately, like that story as a whole, it was a disappointment. The chemistry just wasn’t there between them. It’s a wonder that Kane hasn’t actually gone insane after so many odd storyline twists and turns for his character. The unmasking should have led to a run with the World title, even if it was brief, but after the mini-feud with Van Dam flopped and the rivalry with Shane happened, it just wasn’t possible. A more solid foundation for the revised character might have allowed for it, but – as it was – Kane got the wrong end of the stick.
Undercard match worth viewing: Eddie Guerrero vs. Rhyno vs. Tajiri vs. Persona non-grata for the United States title (Doc’s Note – This bout took place one month after the US title was brought back. Eddie had tried turning heel briefly, but that didn’t work. The match wasn’t anything to write home about, but it was the third best match on an uncharacteristically average Summerslam card for the modern era)
Match of the night
1) Lesnar vs. Angle for the WWE Championship (****)
2) HHH vs. Goldberg vs. Y2J vs. HBK vs. RKO vs. Nash (***1/2)
3) Eddie vs. Rhyno vs. Tajiri vs. Benoit (***)
Wrestler of the night: Kurt Angle – This was the only time in his career that he went into a Summerslam or Wrestlemania and walked away the WWE or World Champion. He lost at Summerslam 2000 and 2001, as well as Mania XIX, Mania XX, and Mania 22.
The Rock may as well have owned the WWE in the year 2000. With Steve Austin on the shelf for the majority of the year, Rock was given the ball and asked, initially, just to keep the ship afloat until the Attitude era’s golden goose made it back to reclaim his throne. However, Rock turned heads when business continued to flourish and grow with the Brahma Bull at the helm. Rock’s rivalry with Triple H deserves the lion’s share of the credit for giving him a creative outlet through which to take his popularity to dizzying heights. Triple H was Game for the task of playing a strong #2 in the company as the lead heel. He did incredible work that year, especially in the feud with The Great One. The two superstars had some great matches and, even after they started wrestling other guys as the summer started, you got the feeling that it would come back around to Rock vs. Trips yet again. Summerslam seemed a logical destination for the next chapter of their story, but a third man was inserted into the fold.
Kurt Angle, Our Olympic Hero, had won the 2000 King of the Ring and was in position for a WWE Championship match of his own. Thus, he drew the attention of the champion, Rock. He also, though, drew the ire of The Game. Angle had become more than cordial with Triple H’s wife, Stephanie McMahon. What initially seemed to be a friendship quietly blossomed into something more. Trips and Angle each became #1 contenders to the WWE title for Summerslam and it was up to Stephanie to keep them on the same page, intent on beating The Rock. Unfortunately, they struggled to get along. Trips felt Angle was after his wife, which served to bring Kurt and Steph even closer together. Angle ended up kissing Stephanie shortly before Summerslam. The entire scenario created for a rather unpredictable WWE Championship match.
Rock ended up retaining the WWE title in a high quality match that was marred slightly by Angle taking a nasty bump on the announce table that knocked him legitimately silly and gave him a concussion. Angle showed off his classic fortitude in returning to the match despite his shaky condition and finishing the match. In the end, Angle and Trips failed to co-exist, giving Rock the edge necessary to achieve victory.
Speaking of an Edge, he and Christian teamed up to battle the Hardys and Dudleys in the first official Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match for the tag team titles. Though the Triangle Ladder match at Mania that year featured all of the same weapons, it was a longer match and there was no pre-bout expectation that each man’s specialty gimmick would come into play. This time around, there would be a lot more pressure to top the previous effort, get even more creative, and deliver in less time. The TLC match cut a blistering pace and featured spots that should’ve included a warning label for motion sickness. I’ll always be proud of those men for putting their bodies on the line to put themselves on the fast track to greater success in wrestling, while also saddened that it took them punishing their bodies to that extent to draw the reactions required of headlining acts. Is not the definition of insanity to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result? These men knew that they would take it to the extreme after Mania 2000 and they were asked to do it again at Summerslam and again at Wrestlemania X-Seven and again on Smackdown…it was an absolutely insane time in tag team wrestling and, all the while, it was insanely memorable…
Another rematch taking place at Summerslam was the next in the long line of Undertaker vs. Kane feuds. Taker had returned from injury as a biker a few months prior. Keep in mind that this was during my hiatus from wrestling, so when I returned to fandom a year after this and saw Taker riding to the ring on a motorcycle, I was very disappointed. I was never fond of the Biker Taker, with few exceptions. Humanizing the legendary Deadman was not something that I cared to see, but as I studied history and reached Summerslam 2000, there he was wrestling his still inhuman brother again. Therefore, my logical thought process was that Taker should lose. Unfortunately, Taker tried to humanize Kane by taking his mask off and exposing him to the world. We didn’t get to see Kane’s face until three years later, but this was a night that sparked your curiosity to know the face of the Big Red Machine.
The rest of the card was a mixed bag of both really strong mid-card bouts and completely forgettable matches. Focusing on the good stuff, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit had a damn good two-out-of-three falls match and Steve Blackmon defeated Shane McMahon for the Hardcore Championship. Shane is well-known for the risks that he took during his on-again, off-again career and Summerslam 2000 provided one of his most memorable. He and Blackmon climbed the set during the climax of their match. The end result was Shane free falling backward from what appeared to be 20 feet in the air, crash landing below in the most protected way possible. The enduring video replay of the spot is Shane just falling from so high above. It’s quite a visual.
Undercard match worth viewing: Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho in a Two-out-of-Three Falls match (Doc’s Note – I never personally thought that Benoit and Jericho had all that much chemistry in the ring with the exception of their classic ladder match at the Royal Rumble in 2001 where everything just seemed to come together magically for that one night. In all of their other matches, I kept waiting for the greatness to ensue, only to see each match fall well short of expectations. They had a lot of good matches, but few great ones and this is one of those solid outings. If you’ll be watching it for the first time, I warn you not to get your hopes up)
Match of the Night
1) Tables, Ladders, and Chairs 1 (****1/2)
2) The Rock vs. Triple H vs. Kurt Angle (***3/4)
3) Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho (***1/4)
Wrestler(s) of the night: Edge, Christian, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, D’Von Dudley, and Bubba Ray Dudley – This is another one of those instances where multiple guys deserve to be recognized for their achievements. TLC was such an incredible stunt brawl. Every installment in that series is just wince-inducing to witness. The creativity shown by each man to execute such amazing spots with mostly flawless execution should be applauded.
1992’s Summerslam was best remembered for its main-event, easily one of the top 5 matches in Summerslam history and a bout that makes a strong case for being the definitive greatest, but it also featured a rematch of one of my all-time favorite Wrestlemania matches between Randy Savage and Ultimate Warrior. Anytime that a Wrestlemania rematch has taken place in a high profile situation at Summerslam, I have always viewed that particular Summerslam a little differently. Wrestlemania is the be all and the end all of wrestling events, in my opinion. Seeing a return match at Summerslam – mainly the first rematch – between wrestlers that battled on the grandest stage helps elevate the Summerslam at which the rematch took place.
In a dream scenario, a rematch is bigger than the original and there are usually just two ways to ensure that said scenario becomes a reality; the first is to put a man’s career on the line and the other the WWE Championship. Well, given that Warrior-Savage 1 at Mania was a “Career” match, the second bout had to be for the WWE title. Savage lost to Warrior at Mania VII, ending his career, but he came back from retirement and ultimately won the title at the next year’s Mania from Ric Flair. Interestingly, Warrior had gone into a “retirement,” of sorts, himself. He, too, was making a comeback that led to a big moment at Mania VIII. While their Summerslam title match did not feature the heated animosity of their Mania bout, they did get a chance to adequately follow it (in-ring). Mr. Perfect had been telling the world that he was in the middle of a bidding war to be the manager of both Warrior and Savage, a false claim to ensure that his actual client, Flair, would be able to stick his nose in the title match business at Summerslam. Warrior and Savage were having a great match when Flair and Perfect got involved, allowing Warrior to gain a count out victory and take his record in big match scenarios against Savage to 2-0. Considering the brilliance of the main-event for the Intercontinental title, the Warrior-Savage match served to boost the ’92 Summerslam’s profile. Not many Summerslams can claim to have multiple 4-star matches; especially the early ones.
Even though the WWE title match was a rousing success, nobody thinks of it when they think of Summerslam ’92. Some might even (incorrectly) refer to the event as a “one-match show.” You cannot blame those folks; the Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog clash was absolutely fabulous. The venue was perfect. The weather held up for the open air stadium. Over 80,000 British fans packed Wembley Stadium and were given the chance to see their countryman, Davey Boy Smith, tackle the Hitman, Bret Hart, for the world’s third most prestigious wrestling championship. The atmosphere was unique. The home stadium for England’s football national team, Wembley seemed more like it was hosting a major soccer match than a wrestling exhibition. That was, in large part, thanks to Bret putting together a highly dramatic piece of work filled with numerous twists and turns that you might expect from England taking on West Germany in the ’66 World Cup Final. The Bulldog would eventually become a very good in-ring performer, but he was still a little rough around the edges as of ’92. To expect that he could be involved in a match this good was unrealistic. Thus, it was one of the finest performances of Bret Hart’s career, as he captained the effort en route to a match that stole not just the show, but Match of the Year honors. It vaulted Bret to the main-event, as Vince sat ringside for a direct view of Hart’s excellence in executing a classic in the first (and maybe only?) IC title match to go on last at a WWE PPV (w/o the WWE title also on the line). After a performance like that, it gave Vince the confidence in Bret that he could carry the ball. For Davey Boy, it was the biggest moment in his career. Never again would he win in such a pressure packed situation in front an audience so large. Imagine the air horn for a moment, if you will, as we chant…(Toot-toot, toot-toot-toot, toot-toot-toot-toot), “BULLDOG!”
The last match of significance on the card was the final bout for the Legion of Doom, as we originally knew them. They had lost the tag team titles to Money, Inc. (Ted Dibiase and I.R.S.) earlier in the year and this was LOD’s chance at revenge, even though the straps weren’t up for grabs. It was the opening match on the card and it was a good match. Animal got the hot tag late in the game and came back with a torrid flurry of powerful offense. The Road Warriors gave Money, Inc. their comeuppance. Yet, Hawk made the decision not to go back to the U.S. after the show. Animal worked their remaining dates with a new partner and then the L.O.D. disappeared for a few years. History shows that it strained Hawk and Animal’s relationship when Hawk bailed. They eventually got back on the same page, but it was never the same.
Undercard match worth viewing: Shawn Michaels vs. Rick Martel (Doc’s Note – This was a solid outing for the young Heartbreak Kid, who was on the verge of IC title success a few months later, but the structure of the match prevented it from being what it could’ve been. They weren’t allowed to hit each other in the face. To their credit, they accepted the challenge and did well)
Match of the Night
1) Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog (****1/2)
2) Randy Savage vs. Ultimate Warrior (****)
3) Legion of Doom vs. Money, Inc. (***)
Wrestler(s) of the night: Davey Boy Smith and Bret Hart – It cannot help but be a tie for this event. You cannot separate the two when the match vaulted Bret to “top guy” status and gave Bulldog the night of his professional life.
Summerslam ’09 was best known for two things and each involved the competitors in the main-event for the World Heavyweight Championship. Perhaps the most internet friendly of the great memories of the event was it being the culmination of the first of two WWE “Summers of Punk.” CM Punk had long been a damn good wrestler with a nice following of loyal supporters from his days in the indies, but fans like myself had been wondering if we were ever going to see this incredible all-around performer that we’d been hearing about since his debut three years earlier. I was disenchanted with Punk, personally. I was disappointed when he won MITB again because I thought he was awfully bland for a character that had been so very hyped by several people whose opinions I respected. Then, he turned heel. That’s all it took. From that point on, it was like a light bulb going off in the collective heads of all the doubting fans. “Oh, that’s what they were talking about.” He won the World title, lost it, and then got this rematch with TLC rules. His opponent was the other half of the best known aspect of Summerslam ’09: Jeff Hardy. The enigmatic superstar reached the pinnacle of his career with this main-event. Never before had he been a bigger star and never will he likely be again. Jeff Hardy’s near two-year run as a headlining singles star culminated in his TLC match with Punk. A month later, he was gone. In recent years, the WWE have likely moved on for good. On that night, though, Hardy was as big a star as there was in the business at the time and, as he often did when put in the spotlight, he delivered big. The Punk vs. Hardy match is arguably one of the top 5 matches in Summerslam history and without question one of the top 10. Their feud and this match were very memorable.
You also had the renewal of the Randy Orton vs. John Cena rivalry. Orton was the WWE Champion and Cena decided it was time to get it back, igniting the greatest chapters (and, to this point, the final chapters) of their lengthy story. Orton was in the midst of the best year of his career, as a character. He was one of the few reasons to watch Raw during that year where they had all those damn guest hosts cluttering the overall direction of the brand. If it were not for Orton’s psychotic mannerisms, I’m unsure I could’ve handled even fast-forwarding through most of Raw on my DVR. Cena was the natural final opponent for the height of the “Apex Predator” persona that carved up the McMahon family earlier that year. The match at Summerslam was merely a stepping stone to the rest of their PPV matches (of which there were three more). Orton lost via DQ, then via count out with Mr. McMahon anonymously restarting the match. Orton retained the title on both occasions and once more before a “fan” jumped into the ring and attacked Cena, distracting everyone long enough for Orton to regain his wits and connect with the RKO to beat Cena definitively.
Degeneration X reformed for the final time and for their “Last Stand” just prior to Summerslam. HBK had disappeared after Wrestlemania and his first loss to Taker. HHH needed his help to ward off the Legacy, Ted Dibiase and Cody Rhodes, who had cost him the WWE title on numerous occasions and spent the better part of the summer beating him down without remorse. HBK came back and the dynamic duo was reunited, only for Legacy to put a stop to their celebration. The DX entrance in Los Angeles on this night was quite impressive, as they rode in on a tank, ready for “war.” An interesting method to pyrotechnics lit up the arena via the tank’s secondary gun and main cannon, creating a nice atmosphere for the top match to start the second hour of the show. It was a coming out party for the young guys, as they hung with the all-time classic team for about twenty-minutes, dominating in spurts and really impressing with their “big game” attitudes. Rhodes, in particular, emerged as a natural top level performer that looked right at home in the ring with two legends. Although Legacy lost, they were the real winners of the match, being made to look like legitimate threats in the WWE. Kudos to Trips and HBK for making them look so good when they honestly could’ve mowed through them and moved on.
Undercard match worth viewing: Dolph Ziggler vs. Rey Mysterio (Doc’s Note – This was the first PPV match in which I’d seen Ziggler wrestle and, damn, was I ever instantly impressed. He and Mysterio had a great opening match that was high octane in pacing and full of false finishes down the stretch that could’ve legitimately ended the match. Had I been paying as close attention to wrestling at that point in ’09 as I had been earlier and later that year, I might’ve been higher up on Ziggler a lot quicker. This was certainly one of the better opening matches in Summerslam history)
Match of the night
1) CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy (****1/2)
2) Degeneration X vs. Legacy (****)
T-3) Dolph Ziggler vs. Rey Mysterio (***1/4)
T-3) John Cena vs. Randy Orton (***1/4)
Wrestler of the night: Jeff Hardy – People always talk about CM Punk being the guy who came out of the Hardy vs. Punk feud looking the best, but Jeff was in the most high profile World title feud of his career, culminating in a great main-event that was a fitting end to his WWE career (on PPV, which is where my memory first goes when thinking of a superstar’s career). Punk has achieved greater heights, but this was the most significant match in Hardy’s career.
WCW and ECW vs. WWE
One would like to follow the above with, “Enough said,” but unfortunately history would inevitably insert a caveat about the inequities of the dream feud from the outset that prevented it from being what it should have been. For once, let us sit back and not dwell on the negative side. Instead, let us appreciate some of the brighter sides of the Alliance battling Vince. The storyline may have been a little one-sided and very much lacking in key players that might have made a WCW/ECW vs. WWE feud awesome, but the quality of the actual in-ring product from Summerslam ’01 to Survivor Series ’01 was pretty damn good. Love the TV product at the time or hate it, there was still a helluva roster full of guys eager to prove themselves at every level and in every division. Summerslam ’01 was proof positive of that fact.
Opening with a match for the IC title, Summerslam ’01 first featured the young and hungry future Hall of Famer, Edge, in the midst of his first legitimate singles run defending his championship against the historically underrated Lance Storm. Those two set the tone for the rest of the night with a performance that nicely continued the Summerslam legacy of Intercontinental title matches. Two matches later, X-Pac and Tajiri unified the WCW and WWE versions of the Cruiserweight title in one of the better eight-minute PPV matches that you’ll see from the WWE. It was somewhat of a quiet coming out party for Tajiri and a last hurrah for X-Pac. The red hot Chris Jericho had a damn good match with Rhyno at the height of his feud with Stephanie McMahon, whom Y2J had targeted with many a promo during that summer. This wasn’t the breast – I mean, the best – Jericho match in the mid-card, but it was high quality work. Lastly, before we’d ever reached one of the three main-events, Rob Van Dam and Jeff Hardy nearly stole the show with a ladder match for the Hardcore title that showed what both would one day be capable of as featured, headlining acts at the top of the card. Had RVD connected with his springing back roundhouse kick to a title-hook-holding Hardy in mid-air, then this might’ve been remembered as one of the great ladder matches of all-time. As it was, it is remembered as being very good.
The first of the main-events was a tag team title match that took place inside a steel cage. The champions, DDP and Kanyon (formerly of the WCW’s Jersey Triad), had made a habit of antagonizing the Brothers of Destruction. DDP debuted a couple of months prior, revealing himself to be the stalker of Taker’s wife, Sara. Taker thoroughly kicked his rear end up and down the King of the Ring PPV, but DDP did not give up on his quest to be “made famous.” Kanyon and Kane joined their respective partners, DDP/Kanyon won the WWE tag team titles, and the Bros. of Destruction won the WCW tag titles. Taker and Kane won the cage match to unify the belts, temporarily. The match was pretty good, albeit a representation of the WCW vs. WWE feud in its being one-sided.
The WWE Championship match between Steve Austin © and Kurt Angle was, by far, the match of the night. Angle was coming off a very good couple of months where he began rounding the corner into one of the elite workers in the business. Good God that man was a prodigy, was he not? Less than three years after he had begun training to be a pro-wrestler, he was out there having a classic match against one of the other greatest of all-time. Austin was trying so hard to be a heel and, low and behold, it actually seemed to work on the San Jose crowd that night. He was going nuts as a character, giving new meaning to the phrase “tough love” in regards to his relationships with his underlings in the Alliance. Angle had been a heel just a couple of months before, but I think it was his matches on Raw with Chris Benoit (the steel cage match where he did a moonsault off the top) and at King of the Ring with Shane McMahon – both iconic leaps forward for Angle’s performance level – that made the audience take notice and turn him into a protagonist. Since both were trying to get over new characters, it made for an interesting dynamic between them. The match at Summerslam made Angle sympathetic for the first time and showed that he could successfully play the role of the main-event babyface should the need arise. Angle vs. Austin was an underrated series of matches in 2001. Had their match at Summerslam not ended with a DQ, it honestly could have ended up right there alongside Rock vs. Austin from Mania as the best match of the year.
Speaking of The Rock, his bout for Booker T’s WCW Championship was the last match on the card. They had a good match, but it was not anywhere near on the level of Angle-Austin. The Rock had come back as sort of a WWE savior after Austin had turned to the Alliance. His initial challenge was overcoming the 5-time WCW Champion and taking the Alliance’s top prize to counter Austin having taken the WWE’s title when he defected. To the WWE’s credit, Booker was one of the few guys to come over from WCW that was actually made to look like a star. It was pretty amusing to see him counter the Rock’s ridiculous People’s Elbow with the equally if not more ridiculous Spinaroonie. By ridiculous, I mean that in the kindest way possible, as I was quite entertained by Rock and Book attempting to “out electrify” each other. The Book End vs. The Rock Bottom. The People’s Elbow vs. The Spinaroonie. Though Book could not beat The Rock, he did a nice job trying and their match turned out to be a really solid piece of work. It was arguably the second biggest match of Book’s career behind only his title match with Trips at Wrestlemania two years later.
Undercard match worth viewing: X-Pac vs. Tajiri (Doc’s Note – There were numerous options, but I think that you should check out the CW/LHW title unifier if you get a chance because it’s a forgotten gem that never gets any publicity. I think Pac gets a lot of heat on the net and I’m not sure why. When healthy, he was one of the better workers in the game for a number of years. I look at this as the last great match of his WWE career)
Match of the Night
1) Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle (****1/2)
2) Jeff Hardy vs. Rob Van Dam (***3/4)
3) The Rock vs. Booker T (***1/4)
Wrestler of the Night: Kurt Angle - Even though he lost the match, his work against Steve Austin catapulted Angle to a new level in the WWE and he never looked back.
Steve Austin and the Undertaker are two of the most iconic stars in wrestling history, so it’s interesting when you think about them never having faced at a Wrestlemania. They did, however, have one classic encounter at Summerslam the last time that the event was held in Madison Square Garden. I’ll never forget that poster with the two of them fighting each other with pieces of the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building nor will I ever forget the theme song chosen for that event: “The Highway to Hell” by AC/DC. It was truly the definition of what the main-event at the second biggest PPV of the year should be. The match itself was clunky and disoriented in execution, at times, but they made it feel like a fight instead of a wrestling match, which to me made the difference. It may have been sloppy, but it was still a classic. To this day, watching this bout in the right mindset takes me back to the part of the Attitude era that I really enjoyed – before it got to be about too much shock TV and pushing the envelope past entertainment and to just downright stupid.
The match that stole the show was The Rock vs. Triple H for the IC title in a ladder match. They had such a great rivalry throughout their careers, but one of the things that has always drawn me to their work as main-event players was that they started their series in the mid-card and then worked their way up to the headlining status and then took the next step up to feuding over the WWE Championship. The height of their upper mid-card story was when each were heading up popular factions. Rock was the IC Champion and had been for all but about a minute of the previous nine months when Triple H faced him at Summerslam in a battle of (even at that point) sure-fire future Hall of Famers (based on their predicted upward trajectory). This ladder match of theirs was not the typical exhibition in high spots. In fact, of any ladder match in history, this was probably the least spotty of them all. Neither were known for their high risk bump taking, so they relied on their animosity toward one another and the story that naturally flowed from it to make this, still, one of the great ladder matches of all-time. It was the biggest match in their careers to date and they delivered in spades, putting on a thrilling performance that was a roller coaster ride of emotional investment for the fans. A match of that nature carries with it a higher importance on who comes out the victor, for it feels like the winner not only walks away with a win on that night but with a clearer picture of who’s going to be the first to move up the figurative ladder of success. Interestingly, the winner (Triple H) waited another year to take that next step, while Rock went on to win the WWE title a few months later. Trips fell a year behind Rock…
As would become commonplace throughout the Attitude era, the matches that involved Rock, Austin, and Triple H were the clear-cut #1 and #2 matches on the show. Whatever was left was a mixed bag of more important than you’d ever see today matches from the mid-card featuring a wide variety of talents that much TV time had been invested. X-Pac was one of the era’s underrated stars and was a borderline headliner in his Hair vs. Hair match with Jeff Jarrett. Their match at Summerslam was one of the best on the show and a reason why the event ranks so highly on the list. If you’d ever wondered what made Jarrett lose his signature blonde locks of length in favor of the crew cut that he wore for so many years, then this match is your answer. Mick Foley was always hovering around the main-event back then, but he slipped down into the tag team division with various partners in 1998. This time, Kane was his partner, but the Monster abandoned him against the New Age Outlaws (another vastly underrated borderline headlining act of the era), allowing Billy and Dogg to regain the tag titles. Ken Shamrock and Owen Hart were also top level mid-carders in ’98 and their feud that summer produced some very unique matches that stand the test of time. They had a match in Stu Hart’s Dungeon in July that went over surprisingly well and then fought inside the Octagon (the Lion’s Den) at Summerslam in a very good match. The Den was set-up in the theatre connected to MSG and had a unique separate, smaller crowd.
Undercard match worth viewing: Ken Shamrock vs. Owen Hart in a Lion’s Den match (Doc’s Note – There were several candidates on this card, but Hart-Shamrock was such a different type of match that you really should see it. Owen was one of the few guys that I think could pull off that sort of match with Shamrock and it really put the World’s Most Dangerous Man in his element and kept his star shining. I loved that year of Owen’s career. I respected the hell out of him for sticking around despite what happened with Bret)
Match of the night
1) The Rock vs. Triple H in a Ladder match (****1/4)
2) Steve Austin vs. Undertaker (***3/4)
3) Jeff Jarrett vs. X-Pac in a Hair vs. Hair match (***1/4)
Wrestler of the night: The Rock – He’d never been in a great match prior to this one. That was the one part of his game that I thought was lacking as of the summer of ’98. Triple H had proven he could get it done, which made their 2/3 Falls match the month prior all the more disappointing (in that it should’ve been great, but was merely good). It seemed clear that Rock was a step behind his peers in the wrestling department, as of July '98. The ladder match in August '98 gave Rock that much needed boost in his in-ring profile and showed what he was capable of.