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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: The Summerslam Series - It's Time to Have a Nice Day
By The Doc
Aug 8, 2012 - 8:00:36 PM

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QUESTION OF THE DAY (19): WWE's dotcom recently named Edge "Mr. Summerslam." Two years ago, I named Bret Hart "Mr. Summerslam." Who do you think is "Mr. Summerslam" and why??

23. 1993
22. 1999
21. 1990
20. 1989
19. 1996
18. 2007
16. 1994
15. 1995
14. 1991
13. 2003
12. 2000
11. 2004
10. 2006
9. 1997
8. 1992
7. 2009
6. 2001
5. 2011
3. 1998

19. 1996 – It's Time to Have a Nice Day

“The man they call” Vader made a big name for himself in World Championship Wrestling as a dominant World titleholder in the early nineties. Combining an uncanny agility for a man his size with speed and power, Vader provided many a memorable moment during a rough time in WCW’s history. After getting owned by Hulk Hogan, though, he saw the writing on the wall and left for the WWE. He made his debut at the 1996 Royal Rumble and made it clear that it was just a matter of time before it would be “Vader time” in the main-event scene. Shawn Michaels, meanwhile, was the flashy WWE Champion putting on fantastic matches while attempting to keep the struggling WWE ship afloat amidst increasing competition from WCW’s fresh, new product. At Summerslam ’96, Vader challenged Michaels for the title and appeared to be the most legitimate threat to dethrone the champ. The two hooks for watching their match were to see if Vader would become the new champion and to see just how good a match the two could have. HBK had always been known for his ability to carry bigger wrestlers to great matches, but he found himself in the ring with a guy who didn’t need to be carried. Vader was an excellent wrestler. The results were a DQ finish that left HBK still holding the belt and a match quality that has been debated throughout the years. Some critics found it to be one of the finer title defenses of HBK’s 8-month reign, while others thought it was a really good bout that failed to live up to sizeable expectations. I would fall into the latter category, as the mid-match gaffe that saw HBK become livid toward Vader for a botched sequence took me out of the match, mentally, and the restart finish did it no favors.

The only other match on the card worth a second viewing was the Boiler Room Brawl between Undertaker and Mankind. They had numerous battles over the years, but the summer of ’96 really put Mankind on the map and became historically significant for being the first time that anyone had consistently gotten the better of the Deadman. Speaking of historical significance, their match at Summerslam had a couple of memorable notes to its credit. First, this match was actually taped prior to the event. Because of that fact (and also that it took place backstage), it did not have a crowd to play off of. Mick Foley talked about that in his book. Second, once the taped portion of the match had been shown on the big screen of the arena, Taker and Mankind battled live to the ring where the shocking ending took place. Taker’s long-time manager, Paul Bearer, turned on the Deadman and aligned with Mankind, creating for a long running rivalry between the two that spanned several years and led to the debut of Kane. The match was quite good when taken into context. It was very different and not something that I’d like to see done but every so often, but it worked for these guys and opened to door for Foley to show just how willing he was to put his body on the line.

Jake Robert vs. Jerry Lawler provided the third headlining match, but it was not very good and quite forgettable. The story was that Lawler was making fun of Roberts for his past, given the Snake’s character that was focusing on finding God and cleaning up his life. I never personally liked Lawler being involved in rivalries, sans for the feud with Bret Hart. Unless he was in the ring with a wrestler in his prime, he just didn’t have it anymore. Roberts was well past his prime, so this match was an eyesore.

Undercard match worth viewing: Owen Hart vs. Savio Vega (Doc’s Note – Certainly nothing to write home about, but a solid enough encounter that kept Owen in the hunt for better things down the road. Savio was pretty over; he had a good year in 1996)

Match of the night

1) Shawn Michaels vs. Vader (***1/4)
2) Undertaker vs. Mankind (***)
3) Owen Hart vs. Savio Vega (**3/4)

Wrestler of the night: Mankind – I would’ve said HBK, but his little tantrum he threw in the middle of the title match turned me off from that match. Mankind came away from his match with another win over the Undertaker, a new manager and renewed life in his story with the Deadman, and a #1 contendership to the WWE Championship that led to one of the greatest matches in his career the following month.

21. 1990 – The Ultimate Challenge for "Ravishing" Rick Rude

1990 was an interesting year for the WWE. They put the WWE Championship on the Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania VI, having him defeat Hulk Hogan. Yet, it seemed that they were hesitant to get fully behind Warrior as their new top star. Hogan remained a top level babyface and was put into the old classic Hogan storyline of Hulk vs. the latest and greatest mammoth, Earthquake. Despite the fact that Quake was no more than a tall, balding fat guy, he did have an intimidating look to him and the spit that he covered the camera lens with during his interviews hid most of the physical shortcomings that would’ve been more readily picked up on in the era of High Definition TV. He was the tried and true big man to feed to the Hulkster and was an important piece of the puzzle for the WWE to keep Hogan relevant as a babyface while they tried out Warrior in the top spot for several months. At Summerslam, Hogan beat Quake by count out to continue the feud for the rest of the year and into 1991. The match, as you might expect, was nothing to write home about, but it was sufficiently entertaining like most of the Hogan matches for that era. It lacked in substance, but it made up for it with good crowd involvement and unmatched charisma from Hulk.

The Ultimate Warrior, meanwhile, got the chance to once again work with “Ravishing” Rick Rude, who had been instrumental in getting Warrior prepared for the main-event the previous year. The series of matches between the two was technically tied at one, with Rude winning at Mania V and Warrior winning at Summerslam ’89. This was the rubber match, set inside the confines of a steel cage. It’s always a pleasure to see the classic blue cage, but it takes a guy of Rude’s caliber to make the most of an environment like that. The match started out with an interesting twist, as they began the bout from the top of the cage and worked their way back inside of it. I give a lot of credit to Ravishing Rick for putting his body on the line to the degree that he did. He leaped off the top of the cage on two different occasions and, as usual, bumped his tail off to make Warrior look good despite taking the loss. The match was entertaining if not quite good as the previous year’s match. If you get a chance, go back and watch the Warrior’s pre-match promo. I think that had to have been as crazy and over the top an interview as he’d given in his career, with about as much snorting as talking. Honestly, though, call the guy a nut job all you want, but there was a lot of charisma behind all of that jibberish he was speaking.

There were a few other high profile feuds heading into Summerslam ’90, but most of them were derailed by injuries to one half of the storylines. Tito Santana vs. Rick Martel would’ve been a fine edition to the card had Martel not gotten hurt. Their scheduled match was rearranged, as was the Intercontinental title bout between Mr. Perfect © and Brutus Beefcake. The Barber basically broke his face in a parasailing accident. Kerry Von Erich stepped in as a substitute for him and actually won the IC title. Dusty Rhodes and Randy Savage continued their feud from Wrestlemania, engaging in a short match that barely got out of the gate at Summerslam. Of course, that Sweet SAPPH-IRE battled Sensational Sherri, as well. In other action, Jake Roberts beat Bad News Brown.

Undercard match worth viewing: The Hart Foundation vs. Demolition in a 2/3 Falls match (Doc’s Note – This is one of the few reasons that this Summerslam is not at the bottom of the list. It was not often back then that, despite a stacked tag team division, the tag team wrestlers got a chance to have a feature length match on PPV. These two teams took advantage of that opportunity and delivered a very good match)

Match of the night

1) Hart Foundation vs. Demolition in 2/3 Falls (***1/4)
2) Ultimate Warrior vs. Rick Rude in a Steel Cage (***)
3) Hulk Hogan vs. Earthquake (**)

Wrestler of the night: Ultimate Warrior – There were not many nights during his main-event run where he was unquestionably “The Man” on PPV. I can honestly recall just two: Wrestlemania VI and Summerslam ’90. Those were the two most brightly shining moments of Warrior’s career. His work against Rude was second only to his work against Savage, in the ring. So, you could make an argument for the steel cage match with Ravishing Rick being one of the top 5 matches of his career.

15. 1995 – Classic Rematch Highlights Underrated Card

Summerslam ’95 will probably be remembered by those most critical of the WWE for the abomination that was King Mabel challenging Diesel for the World title. That’s fair enough. It was a pretty atrocious piece of work that saw a main-event at a top PPV event once again end with a flying tackle off the second rope, meaning that - in the year 1995 - on two events that also featured Shawn Michaels doing back flips out of the ring in the semi-main-event, we had a move that had become as basic as any other in the heavyweight division and that had subsequently become anti-climactic finish the last match on the card. Mabel was the mid-90s way of the WWE trying to recreate the countless mammoths that had been the bread and butter opponent for Hulk Hogan a decade earlier. Diesel, though, was no Hogan. With all due respect to Kevin Nash, who I used to mark for until he came back last year and couldn’t tie three words together without stuttering, he was not the caliber of babyface that could elicit the response required to carry the company and he did not have the talent to carry a match with a guy as massive as Mabel. It was simply a recipe for disaster to put the two of them in the ring together and expect anything but garbage, proving that the WWE has never cared if a match at the top of their card is going to be God-awful as long as it makes money (which is a flawed theory because if people tune in to see something and it sucks a golf ball through a garden hose, then people won’t pay to see it again).

All the Diesel vs. Mabel stuff aside, Summerslam ’95 was actually not a bad show. It had a terrible main-event, but the rest of the card had some memorable highlights, starting with the rematch of the Mania X ladder match between HBK and Razor Ramon. It’s a shame to see how far Scott Hall has fallen when you see him do things like he did in those ladder matches. He was so very good. It was a babyface match the second go-round, with HBK streaking in popularity and heading toward Wrestlemania XII and his WWE Championship victory. A month prior to Summerslam, he won the IC title from Jeff Jarrett in a helluva match. Razor had been the IC title division’s signature player after winning the unification match with Michaels at Mania X. Though they did not have a feud going on at the time, HBK and Razor had good reason to try and top their previous effort - people would likely pay to see it. In fact, it may have been the saving grace for this event. Following the all-time classic at Mania X was no easy task, but they gave it their all and delivered a ladder match that gets underrated in the all-time sense. If you haven’t seen this in awhile, you ought to do yourself a favor and watch it again. Nothing beats the original and nothing can replace the Mania setting, but they really did an admirable job. My hat will always go off to them, for they had more time to work with and that was not necessarily a good thing for a match of this nature. More time meant more stuff to work in. Kudos to them both; this was one of the finest matches in Summerslam history.

The third biggest match, from a hype standpoint, was pretty much a tie between the Undertaker taking on Kama in a Casket Match and Bret Hart battling a young Kane in the form of Jerry Lawler’s dentist, Isaac Yankem, DDS. I really enjoy some of the Casket matches. There’s just something about those bouts that gave such a cool visual to a kid like me that was an only child using his imagination 24 hours a day. It was easy to get lost in seeing a Deadman put some guy in a coffin. Kama aka the Godfather aka Papa Shango had taken the urn from Paul Bearer at Wrestlemania and turned it into a gold necklace – P-I-M-P. Taker wanted it back and got his revenge. Meanwhile, his brother Kane was saddled with one of his most ridiculous gimmicks. After Lawler lost to Bret at King of the Ring and had to kiss his foot, he went to see his 6’9” dentist. Oh, the evilness of the dentist came to life in Yankem. “Nobody likes the dentist,” I would imagine that Vince McMahon must have assumed. Neither match was all that great, but both were entertaining from the historical perspective of seeing those involved wrestling each other.

Undercard match(es) worth viewing: Barry Horowitz vs. Skip / 1-2-3 Kid vs. Hakushi (Doc’s Note - Where Summerslam ’95 shined was its undercard. Both of these two matches involved talent that was hungry to establish themselves. Though nothing would come of most of their careers, it was a night that showed why X-Pac/Kid would go on to bigger and better things. Horowitz was a good underdog story and his matches with Candido/Skip told enjoyable stories. Hakushi was a bad ass wrestler, if you ask me. His matches with Bret were some of my favorite bouts of 1995)

Match of the Night

1) HBK vs. Razor Ramon (****1/4)
2) Hakushi vs. 1-2-3 Kid (***)
3) Barry Horowitz vs. Skip (***)

Wrestler of the night: Shawn Michaels – One thing that Michaels had sorely lacked in his tenure as a budding headliner leading into Mania season in 1996 was a big win at a major event. In each of his main-event caliber matches that were one-on-one, he’d lost. From Survivor Series ’92 to Mania X to Mania XI, whenever he was put in a big match scenario, he’d steal the show in defeat. Summerslam ’95 gave him a signature victory to accompany his “going the distance” in the Rumble.

14. 1991 – A Match Made in Heaven; A Match Made in Hell

The two major storylines heading into Summerslam ’91 have always taken a backseat, for me, to the three championship matches that led to title changes in the undercard, but let’s recap those events that put the butts in the seats at Madison Square Garden that night. The first was Hulk Hogan teaming with the Ultimate Warrior in a dream team for the era against Sgt. Slaughter, Iron Sheik (going by the name Colonel Mustafa), and General Adnan in Sarge’s dying days as the turncoat character that him to his only WWE Championship earlier that year. The WWE wanted to milk a little bit more out the Wrestlemania main-event, so they paired the two guys that had been most directly affected by Slaughter’s traitorous ways together. Hogan and Warrior had their own history from 1990 on screen, but it was the off the screen issues that were most intriguing, here. Warrior was given a chance to succeed Hogan as “The Man,” but nobody felt that he could do it after holding the WWE title for most of 1990. They pulled the plug on that experiment and went back to Hulk. Warrior was an ego-maniac, though. He wanted the top star treatment and he wanted all kinds of money and when he didn’t get it, he threatened to walk and no show Summerslam. Subsequently, he worked Summerslam, got paid, but was then fired right after. I don’t remember anything about the match itself, other than that the faces won.

Of course, the other top story from this event was the wedding between Macho Man Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth. “The Match Made in Heaven” was one of the few love stories in WWE history that the audience seemed legitimately interested in. I have a hard time imagining a couple in modern times not getting booed out of the building. Weddings have, pretty much ever since August ’91, been reserved only to draw heat on a heel. To their credit, though, Liz and Randy had people wrapped around their fingers. Savage embracing her at Mania 7 after losing his Career match to Warrior was one of the great feel good moments in wrestling history. “Elizabeth…Elizabeth…Elizabeth…I LOVE YOU!” Classic and I’m not afraid to say that. You just have to look at it from the perspective of the fan that watched it happen in that era. Seeing that take place as a kid really hit home and you could tell that the whole thing worked like a charm by the reactions that Savage received from the audiences (mostly still tailored toward families) throughout the rest of 1991 and 1992.

Now, the match that stole the show was Mr. Perfect dropping the Intercontinental Championship to Bret Hart. Perfect was really struggling with a back injury, at the time, to the point that he’d pretty much settled on post-match retirement. However, it didn’t stop him from one of his greatest performances. He made Bret look like a star at a time when the Hitman needed something to really kick start his singles run. You have to ask yourself if Bret would’ve been able to step up to the next level if it were not for being so strongly put over by a guy like Perfect who the fans had come to respectfully dislike enough that it mattered when he lost. Whenever I think of Perfect, I think of this match. When they announced him for the 2007 Hall of Fame, I immediately thought of this match. It was also this match that started the trend of Summerslam being “The” show for the Intercontinental title. Some of the great IC title bouts of all-time took place at the summer classic and it began with this match.

The other two matches that overshadowed the two big angles were the Legion of Doom winning the tag team titles from the Nasty Boys and the Million Dollar Man dropping his Million Dollar Championship to Virgil.

Undercard match worth viewing: Ted Dibiase vs. Virgil (Doc’s Note – The storyline with Virgil finally rebelling against his boss was something that we knew would happen at some point almost from the moment that we first saw Dibiase mistreat Virgil in the late 80s. Dibiase was such a talent that he made the whole scenario work like a charm when the WWE decided to move forward with it. It was a job well done by all involved and Summerslam ’91 was when the feud peaked)

Match of the night

1) Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect (****1/4)
2) Ted Dibiase vs. Virgil (***)
3) Legion of Doom vs. Nasty Boys (**1/2)

Wrestler of the night: Randy Savage – When you get to be in the main-event of a PPV without even wrestling a match, then you know that you’ve accomplished something significant in your career. The fact that he did it in a wedding, of all things – especially considering the business that we’re writing about, here – is even more astounding. I mean, there’s not been another wrestling wedding on PPV and the one and only managed to help draw almost the same buyrate as Wrestlemania VII.

11. 2004 – Orton Becomes Youngest World Champion in History

There are certain Summerslams that I can vividly recall to this day. I started doing Smackdown reviews for LOP in the late spring of 2004, so I felt a more personal attachment to the product back then. By the time Summerslam rolled around, I was as locked into the WWE as I’d ever been. I championed the Smackdown side of things, hoping that it would stand up to what Raw had to offer. I also was at the height of my distaste for Triple H – that maniacal, devious hogger of the spotlight! I so badly wanted anyone but Triple H to be in the main-event of Summerslam against Benoit. Watching the Raw that saw a battle royal to decide the #1 contender, I was supremely excited to see that it would be Randy Orton challenging persona-non-grata for the World Heavyweight Championship instead of The Nose.

In 2004, I felt like I was one of about 6 people on LOP that defended Randy Orton. That was back when people ragged on him like crazy, be it for his mistimed spots or his chinlock of doom or his mega-push that many felt was unwarranted. I saw potential in Orton starting with his 2003 IC title win over Rob Van Dam and did not hesitate to overlook his green mistakes. He had an outstanding 2004 leading up to Summerslam. In the two victories over Mick Foley, Orton gained a lot of credibility as both a character and performer, setting himself up to be a legitimate threat to the World Champion by August. At Summerslam, of course, Orton defeated Benoit in a borderline classic match to become the youngest World Champion in history. There was not much time to celebrate the victory, as the most ill-fated face turn in history came right afterward, but that was a great night for Orton. It was a bittersweet night, however, for fans of Chris Benoit. They’d waited a long time to see him win the big one and, though he did well in a five month reign with the title, the WWE moved on and the main-event chapter of Benoit’s career ended.

Triple H, meanwhile, was relegated to a match with the summer sensation otherwise known as Eugene. If you don’t remember, Eugene was Eric Bischoff’s mentally slow nephew. Nick Dinsmore played the character as well as you could ever imagine, getting Eugene over as one of the top acts in 2004. He wronged the wrong guy, though, when he cost Trips the World title on multiple occasions. Does anyone remember the look on Ric Flair’s face when Triple H, in the lengthy build-up to this match throughout the summer, made Eugene “an honorary member…of Evolution”? I loved that. Eugene held his own against Trips, but The Game won in the end.

Smackdown was going through the JBL era, which was initially hard to stomach since IWC hero, Eddie Guerrero, had to move over to make room for Bradshaw as champion. It all ended up turning out just fine, with JBL having a memorable run, but Summerslam still carried the stench of Latino Heat’s title loss two months prior. JBL’s challenger that night was the Undertaker. Looking back, I think it would be wise for people to go back and re-watch Layfield’s entire run as champion. Many of his matches that were looked at through tainted glasses have become much better over time and JBL should be commended for what he accomplished that year. The match with Taker was solid as a rock – I always dug the double big boot spot, by the way.

My focus, as a reviewer, was on the Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle rematch from Wrestlemania XX. It was an interestingly worked bout, with a ton of focus on Guerrero’s ankle. Eddie was working with a pulled hamstring, if I recall correctly, so the pace of the match was slower than it would’ve otherwise been. I was hoping for a barnburner and instead got a really good match. Back then, I wanted every PPV to have a MOTY candidate – how naïve I was. I had hoped for a really good match from Smackdown’s other top match between John Cena and Booker T, but match 1 in their best of five series for the US title turned out to be a 6-minute throwaway. Cena did have a memorable backstage segment, though, with Randy Orton…a bit of foreshadowing.

Undercard match worth viewing: Edge vs. Chris Jericho vs. Batista (Doc’s Note – It was not anything to write home about, from a quality standpoint, but this was the night in Toronto when Edge got booed like crazy in his hometown, prompting the heel turn that led to the most successful period of his career and helped make him an all-time great and Hall of Famer)

Match of the night

1) Chris Benoit vs. Randy Orton (****)
2) Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle (***1/2)
3) JBL vs. Undertaker (**3/4)

Wrestler of the night: Randy Orton – Hard to deny a guy the honor when he walked away as the youngest champion in history, while also taking match of the night honors. I’m not sure that there was ever a night when Orton seemed more like the future of the company than that one. Interesting to reflect back as that being the biggest night of his career. You’d have figured that numerous other nights would’ve trumped it, by now, but I’m not sure that’s the case.

9. 1997 – Summerslam Dominates Wrestlemania

This was one of my personal favorite Summerslam events. Perhaps it was because the quality of the overall card made me feel more like it was 1997's real Wrestlemania since Mania 13 was, sans for one match, such a lackluster event for its name (Summerslam outdrew Mania in PPV buyrate - only time that's ever happened). There was not an epic, all-time classic on the card at Summerslam '97, but there were three historically important matches that I thought excelled…

The first of the three was, of course, the main-event between Bret Hart and Undertaker, with HBK as the special guest referee. There was a lot more to this than just an on-screen storyline. So much animosity existed between Bret and Shawn and, in real life, Taker was one of those balancing forces that kept the locker room melting pot from boiling over. Shawn and Bret may have hated each other, but they both respected the hell out of the Deadman. While this was a vehicle to start the HBK vs. Taker feud that culminated in the first Hell in a Cell match two months later, it was also a dream match for that era. In a similar fashion as the HHH vs. Taker w/ HBK as ref scenario from Mania 28, Bret and Taker had faced each other numerous times before, but the Summerslam ’97 setting was their biggest stage. Adding the HBK dynamic made it a little more intriguing. The three biggest stars of the pre-Austin era; the three guys that had carried the WWE during some of its darkest days in the same ring for one epic summer classic title match that, when you think a little deeper about it, was a 30-minute portrait of the New Generation in review. Bret and Shawn were constantly tiptoeing around each other, with occasional moments of tension rising to the surface and erupting before our very eyes. The Taker was trying to do his best to take the focus away from their confrontations, caught in the middle whether he wanted to be or not. The match was a great one, with HBK blasting Taker, by accident, with a steel chair and being forced to count his shoulders to the mat for the three count, meaning he had to award the WWE title to Bret. It was not nearly as good back in 1997, but with all the historical elements at play, it’s absolutely fascinating to watch it now.

Another match was going great and was very likely heading toward being the classic that would have boosted this show’s profile just a tad bit more. While it still ended up being extremely significant, it was because of the botched finish instead of Steve Austin’s next bout in his series of amazing matches with the Hart brothers. One regular piledriver that was supposed to be a Tombstone piledriver changed the fate of a match and a career. Austin was dropped ridiculously onto his head, proliferating spinal problems (every wrestler has spinal problems eventually; it’s just the nature of a traumatic business) that would ultimately cut his career short. Let’s not focus solely on that aspect, though. The match was awesome up to that point. What makes the botch even more disappointing is that it was one of Owen’s finest performances, pre-piledriver. He was as impressive in that match as he had been in his matches with Bret three years earlier. Austin was catching fire as a babyface, so it was also one of the biggest matches of Owen’s life and a big responsibility for him to be involved in putting Austin over en route to the main-event. Stone Cold’s ability to make any cover whatsoever should be the first thing that they think of when referring to him as the “Toughest Son of a Bitch.” Quite a “What if” here…

The third wheel in the trio will always be the Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Mankind Cage match that opened the show. I think people sometimes forget that Mick Foley helped mold Triple H into a star long before that run of matches in 2000 that solidified Hunter as a main-eventer. Trips cut his teeth in his matches with the Threes Faces of Foley in the summer of ’97, first beating Mankind in the finals of the King of the Ring tournament and later in a well-known Falls Count Anywhere match on Raw. The Cage encounter was one of my favorite matches of that year. It’s not necessarily what I’d call an overly memorable cage match because we’ve seen so many that were better over the last few decades, but it was a memorable match nonetheless. 1997 was really the first year that Trips showed much potential to be more than a mid-card act, by my account. For that reason, it’s entertaining to go back and view what he did that year. The feud with Foley led nicely into his run as the second banana turned leader of Degeneration X.

Undercard match worth viewing: Goldust vs. Brian Pillman (Doc’s Note – Goldust was such an underrated precursor to the Attitude era, which was a generation built on added touches of realism into the product. Goldust was getting real and very personal in stepping back as Dustin Runnels with his wife and daughter warding off the maniacal Loose Cannon. It was a great storyline and they had a solid match in under 10-minutes)

Match of the night

1) Bret Hart vs. Undertaker (****)
2) Steve Austin vs. Owen Hart (***1/2)
3) Mankind vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley (***1/2)

Wrestler of the night: Bret Hart – You could make an argument that Bret Hart’s run as a heel main-eventer hit its crescendo at Summerslam ’97 by winning the title the way that he did. It was sadly the beginning of the end, as his championship run took a complete backseat to the HBK vs. Taker feud that ensued from HBK’s actions in the match. Nevertheless, he was such an ass hat that you didn’t want to see him win the title (if you were an American, anyway).

5. 2011 – Double Main-Event Competes for Most Excellent Match

The second “Summer of Punk” was an incredible ride, trumping the first one from 2009. CM Punk being elevated to the status of a consistent top star, on the heels of that brilliant promo in late June, got me out of my post-Wrestlemania funk and re-engaged in the product for the warmer months. It was honestly the first time since 2006 that I had paid close attention to wrestling from June to the end of the year and it was all thanks to the Chicago Made Superstar and his loud mouth. I wanted to hear what he was going to say and then I wanted to see how he’d back up what he said in the ring. The fact that the WWE made the call to have a rematch from Money in the Bank between he and John Cena and that they further decided to have each of them hold a version of the WWE Championship (making their match to crown an Undisputed Champion) made me more excited about Summerslam than I’d been in a long time. Just as interesting as seeing the rise of Punk, for me, was watching Cena find a guy that could match his crowd reactions, giving him something new to sink his teeth into. You could tell that Cena truly enjoyed the creative process of facing Punk. It was like he was one of us fans, thrilled to have something to bide our time between the inevitable Mania showdown with The Rock several months later. The Undisputed WWE title match may have ended in controversy, but the 25-minutes prior to the pin was a thing of beauty that some casual fans suggested was better than the MITB match. I don’t agree with that, but it speaks to the hard work put in by both Cena and Punk that anyone would try to argue that.

There was another excellent feud happening during the Punk-Cena saga and that was what became the classic rivalry between Randy Orton and Christian over the World Heavyweight Championship. It culminated in a No Holds Barred match at Summerslam after they traded the World title from May to July. Several amazing matches took place in their series, but none better – in my opinion – than the finale. Edge coming out prior to the match to basically put Christian’s whiny character in his place set the tone and Christian, as usual, did a great job of overcoming what seemed like sure defeat to make it look like he legitimately had a chance to sneak out another win. Orton, meanwhile, was riding a helluva wave of great matches. He and Christian brought out the best in each other and both went on a phenomenal hot streak from April to September, having a quiet game on Smackdown of “Who’s the best?” The story told throughout the late spring and summer had so many layers to build on for their Summerslam match and they did quite well to utilize much of what made each of their other three PPV matches and their TV MOTY special. I thought that this match nearly stole the show right out from under Cena-Punk and kudos to the WWE for giving it the chance it deserved to do just that. Each title match was given about equal time. Summerslam has only had one other two headed monster of match quality comparable to Orton/Christian and Cena/Punk and that was in 2002.

It was a strange decision by the WWE to announce so few matches in advance of the event. I guess they assumed that they could sell the PPV on two rematches, one for the Undisputed WWE title. The third wheel of storylines for Summerslam was the impressive heel character being portrayed by Mark Henry. Starting in June when he first attacked Big Show, Henry went on a rampage that concluded with a World title run and the type of in-ring and mic work that almost made you forget the first 15 years of his career. In the middle of that rocket ship that launched him to the top was a feud with Sheamus, who used Henry’s dastardly act as an excuse to get the fans behind him and turn babyface (which ultimately resulted in a World title run of his own). Sheamus was booked as Henry’s near equal and it is my firm belief that, at one point, a rematch between the two was penciled in for Wrestlemania before Henry got injured. The Summerslam match was a strong enough effort to warrant a major rematch. It was one of the better matches of Henry’s career, to that point, and a sign of things to come.

Undercard match worth viewing: Daniel Bryan vs. Wade Barrett (Doc’s Note – If anyone needs a match to watch that depicts why these two guys could be major players with consistency, then this is a good one with which to start. In 10-minutes, they had a great match that featured several twists and turns, won over the live and PPV audiences, and brought it home with a good finish. Hats off)

Match of the night

1) CM Punk vs. John Cena (****1/2)
2) Christian vs. Randy Orton (****1/4)
3) Daniel Bryan vs. Wade Barrett (***1/4)

Wrestler of the night: CM Punk – He did not walk away the champion, but he did beat John Cena for the second straight PPV and it was his reaction that you wanted to tune in for moving away from Summerslam. It was an important step to take in his career.

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