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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents - Ranking The Summerslam Main Events (#19-#18)
By Dave Fenichel
Jul 17, 2017 - 10:41:54 AM

Hi kids.

I’m back with Part 6 of my newest column series, “Ranking the Summerslam Main Events”. In this edition, I’ll review #19 and #18 on my list. As a reminder, here are the criteria that I used to determine rank.

Did the Buildup Deliver? (Was it main event worthy, were people excited about it);

Did the Match Deliver? (Technical pieces as well as crowd engagement); and

What Was the Historical Impact? (Did the match lead to bigger and better things, both on an individual and storyline level).

Here’s where the countdown currently stands:

#29. Brock Lesnar v Triple H (Summerslam 2012)
#28. The Ultimate Warrior v Rick Rude – Steel Cage Match (Summerslam 1990)
#27. Triple H v Goldberg v HBK v Randy Orton v Chris Jericho v Kevin Nash – Elimination Chamber (Summerslam 2003)
#26. Mankind v Triple H v Steve Austin (Summerslam 1999)
#25. Bret Hart v The Undertaker (Summerslam 1997)
#24. Randy Orton v Chris Benoit (Summerslam 2004)
#23. The Undertaker v The Undertaker (Summerslam 1994)
#22. Brock Lesnar v Randy Orton (Summerslam 2016)
#21. Hulk Hogan & The Ultimate Warrior v The Triangle of Terror (Summerslam 1991)
#20. Diesel v King Mabel (Summerslam 1995)

Question of the Day #1: Where does The Mega Power storyline rank on your all-time list?

Question of the Day #2: What was the single most insulting aspect of WCW Invasion storyline to you?

19. The Mega Powers v The Mega Bucks (Summerslam 1988)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

The buildup to Summerslam 1998’s main event was very similar to the buildup for all Summerslam main events during the early days. Back then, there wasn’t weekly episodes of Monday Night Raw that required new and fresh storylines to be continually created. You had WWE Superstars – a show that aired every Saturday but rarely featured any of the main event talent. Because of this, feuds and storylines could last for the majority of the year.

That is exactly what you got with The Mega Powers v The Mega Bucks. The big blow-off to Wrestlemania IV saw Randy Savage defeat Ted Dibiase to become the world champion. They continued to “feud” for the remainder of the spring and into early summer. Instead of coming up with a new storyline, the WWE(F) decided to run with a variation of the Wrestlemania storyline for Summerslam.

On Superstars in early July, Randy Savage cut a promo on their makeshift stage only to be interrupted by Andre The Giant. Ted Dibiase attacked savage during the distraction and knocked him off of the stage. He and Andre double teamed Savage while Virgil held Miss Elizabeth and made her watch. A week or two later, Savage challenged Andre and Dibiase to a tag match at Summerslam against him and a mystery partner. A week or so after that, Dibiase and Andre accepted. It was announced that Jesse the Body Ventura, a notorious hater of good guys and the color commentator at the time, would be the special guest referee. On the next episode of Superstars, Savage announced that Hulk Hogan would be his tag team partner, and the match was on.

Other than that, there wasn’t much to the build. There was a segment on Brother Love’s show where Dibiase made it seem like Jesse Ventura was being paid off to be partial towards them. That was it. This was 1980s WWE booking 101. Less was more. Something like this could never fly in today’s landscape. Could you imagine the WWE running the same main event angle at Summerslam after having the blow-off match at Wrestlemania earlier that year? Nonetheless, the notoriously easy 1980’s crowds, mainly because half of them still thought wrestling was real, ate this up with a spoon. While far from the strongest builds in Summerslam main event history, there was a good amount of anticipation for the match. In the end, that’s all you can ask for.

Did the Match Deliver?

Like most 1980s main events, it was a technical disaster but had tremendous crowd support. Spots were botched and the pacing of the match was all over the place. Still, there was plenty to like.

You had to wonder how two tremendous egos like Hogan and Savage would co-exist from a backstage politics standpoint. I found it fascinating that they came out to Savage’s theme music but Savage had to wear Hogan’s gear to match. I liked how they dove right into Jesse Ventura’s credibility before the match started. Jesse moving the tag ropes per Dibiase’s instructions and getting in Hogan’s face got an immediate heel reaction.

The pacing of the match was funny. The first five minutes were the faces just destroying Dibiase with double team move after double team move. Dibiase sure takes a great beating. I guess it made sense being that Hogan and Savage had never teamed before and therefore they needed to establish their cohesiveness right off the bat, but it is still odd on re-watch. On the other hand, Andre’s offense is incredibly believable. He repeatedly sat on Hogan and you felt it through your computer screen and/or television set.

As I’ve already mentioned, I absolutely hate special guest referees. While Jesse did an ok job throughout the match being too busy admonishing the faces for nothing while completely ignoring the heel tactics, his lack of experience as a referee and slow oddly paced counts took more away from the match than his persona and presence added. I don’t think the crowd really ever bought into Jesse’s shenanigans as being a credible threat to Hogan and Savage’s victory. Dusty Rhodes on commentary did a phenomenal job of showing outrage over it, but the live crowd didn’t have that benefit.

I hate to harp on the pacing, but it really was off here. There were two different hot tags that ultimately went nowhere. On the other hand, the ending was both completely ridiculous yet incredibly satisfying to the live crowd. The faces were on the outside and the heels were in the ring. Ventura was supposed to be counting them out, but Dibiase and Elizabeth both ended up on the apron. Miss Elizabeth then rips off her skirt. In the 1980s, this is the equivalent of The Kat going topless on Pay Per View. The heels were distracted and the cameras immediately cut to Hogan and Savage on the outside giving each other the most homoerotic handshake that has ever taken place. It was as if they were both thinking “man, I can’t wait to double team her later”. Anyway, Savage hits Andre with a double ax handle off the top rope to clear him from the ring. A Hogan slam, a flying elbow from Savage, and the patented leg drop puts Dibiase down for the three count and sends the fans home happy.

This was what you got in the 1980s. You were given ridiculous shenanigans, poor technical wrestling and an ending that did what it needed to do for the live crowd. This match was hardly awe-inspiring, but far from the worst on the countdown.

What was the historical impact?

You can’t have The Mega Powers “explode” at Wrestlemania V without the Mega Powers first being born. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Of course in wrestling, all good friends must eventually beat each other’s brains in. Anyone who read my Wrestlemania countdown knows that I hold the Mega Powers arc in high regard as one of the best angles in the history of wrestling. This was the match that started it all. Thus, the historical impact was high.

Here’s a crazy behind the scenes story of The Mega Powers v The Mega Bucks. This match was dangerously close to not happening. Vince McMahon and Ric Flair were in serious negotiations to have Flair come in from WCW. The plan would have been to run Ric Flair v Randy Savage as the main event. From the sound of it, Flair was on board but Vince ultimately didn’t want to pay him the money he asked for.

Can you imagine what would have changed had this happened? Flair probably wins the title. The Mega Powers never form, thus never explode. We probably get our dream match of Hogan v Flair at Wrestlemania V instead. We surely don’t get the best Royal Rumble of all time in 1992. I’m not sure what other dominoes would or wouldn’t have fallen, but just those events alone would have qualified for a significant shakeup in the history of the business.

The Last Word.

Summerslam 1988 marks a turn on our countdown. This is the first match that I hold in high regard. While neither the build nor the match were classic, both did what they needed to do at the time. The historical impact was significant. Combined, this allowed the Mega Powers v The Mega Bucks from Summerslam 1988 to land in the middle portion of our countdown.

18. The Rock v Booker T – WCW Title Match (Summerslam 2001)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

For those of you not in the know, this was the period of time immediately following WWE purchasing the now-defunct WCW. The general consensus was that the entire storyline was not handled well and flopped as a result. I was not nearly as offended by the Invasion storyline as most. I was fine with Shane McMahon becoming the de-facto owner. I was comfortable with some of the biggest stars from WCW not being involved (Hogan, Nash, Hall, Flair, Sting, Goldberg). I was even on board with top WWE stars defecting to the other team. With all that said, I absolutely hated the storyline that took place between The Rock and Booker T leading into Summerslam 2001.

This match could have been something special. While most of the big WCW stars didn’t come over during the first round of moves, Booker T did. He was at the top of the food chain in WCW. He was the last world champion. He had a tremendous amount of credibility. The Rock was absent for months leading up to their encounter. The WWE viewed him as the top guy, even with Austin still around. The WWE felt so strongly about this that they turned Austin heel and had him join the alliance. As such, the only storyline that should have been here was the battle between the #1 WWE guy and the #1 WCW guy. It would have sold itself.

So where did they go wrong? I’m very rarely critical of Vince McMahon, but his ego absolutely got in the way here. He had already won. WWE had conquered WCW. The battle was over. He now owned WCW and this was a perfect opportunity to use WCW’s name value to generate a tremendous amount of business. Instead, he felt the need to remind everyone at every turn that WCW was a second rate company. As a result, Booker T was presented as a second rate champion. His finishing move was The Bookend, a move identical to the Rock Bottom. The WWE pounced on this by portraying Booker’s finisher as a cheap knockoff. They had him start calling himself “The Book”. They had him claim that it was his “Spinarooni”, not The People’s Elbow, that was the most electrifying move in sports entertainment. All of this made him look like an absolute chump, not the revered champion that he was.

Even worse was the unacceptably bad decision that was made the week before Summerslam. Despite the horrible portrayal of Booker T and WCW during this storyline, there was still a good amount of interest in what many viewed as a fantasy dream match. So what did they do? They gave it away for free! That’s right, The Rock v Booker T happened for free the week before Summerslam! Worst of all, the match ended cleanly with The Rock pinning Booker T! Why would anyone care about The Summerslam match when the Rock already reigned victorious six days earlier? The entire debacle was unbelievably bad booking on the part of the WWE, some of the worst they’ve ever done.

Did the Match Deliver?

This is the part of the series where I needed to put aside my anger and personal bias and attempt to be objective. With that said, I’ll keep this short and sweet. The match is excellent. The Rock was at the top of his game. He had adopted a more high impact style and really hit his big spots well. Booker T, as always, was absolutely fantastic in the ring. They had good chemistry and the match itself doesn’t have any real issues. Additionally, Shane McMahon played his part well here, taking the necessary beating from The Rock to the crowd’s delight.

I struggle to view this match in a bubble. I simply can’t get past how ridiculous the booking was and what it stood for. Because of how poorly they portrayed Booker T, and because of how Rock squashed him just a week earlier, at no point in the match did I feel like Booker T had any chance to win. This was simply a showcase for The Rock and yet another way for Vince and company to show that WWE was so vastly superior to WCW. The Rock wins with the People’s Elbow in a ridiculous display of overkill.

If I was being biased, I’d flunk this match. They could have put on the reincarnation of Savage v Steamboat from Wrestlemania III and it still would have left a bad taste in my mouth. For purposes of the countdown, this match scored well. The in-ring work was strong as was the crowd involvement. I’m going to leave it at that before I start raging again.

What was the Historical Impact?

Pretty strong on multiple levels here.

This was the beginning of the end of the WCW angle. While I don’t hate a lot of the early booking of WCW during this storyline, I abhorred this. The WCW champion and title were completely devalued. Sure enough, the WWE killed the whole thing dead several months later at Survivor Series when WWE beat WCW to “put them out of business”. Luckily, the WWE managed to come to their senses and hit the reset button by the end of the year. The subsequent angle leading to combining both titles and crowning Chris Jericho as the Undisputed Champion was a home run.

For Booker T, this one hurt. He should have been the lynchpin of the entire storyline and treated as the main event player that he was. Instead, he was treated as a second rate copycat. As a result, he was squaring off against Edge in a squash match at Wrestlemania 18 for the right to be in a shampoo commercial. It was a tremendous fall from grace. Fortunately, his overall talent eventually won out. Booker T recovered nicely. He went on to have multiple world title reigns and a Hall of Fame worthy WWE career. Nonetheless, this match prolonged his rise and set his career back tremendously.

Lastly, this was The Rock’s return from a four month absence for what ultimately ended up being his last year as a full time WWE superstar. I’d argue that his last year was ultimately his best. The WWE choosing him to main event Summerslam 2001 instead of Austin was a telltale sign. He ended up being the sole survivor in the WWE v WCW match at Survivor Series 2001 after pinning Austin. It was he, not Austin, that squared off with Hulk Hogan in one of the most epic matches of all time at Wrestlemania 18. Post-Wrestlemania, he regained the Undisputed Championship and put over Brock Lesnar in his final appearance at Summerslam 2002. The Rock’s last full time year was incredible, and this was the jumping off point.

The Last Word.

When taking into consideration the strong match and large historical impact, The Rock v Booker T probably deserved to be ranked higher than where it landed on the countdown. However, the build was so unbelievably bad that I wanted to rank this match dead last on principle alone. As such, #18 on our countdown seems like a reasonable compromise on my part. There might not be a storyline and match result that I hate more that The Rock v Booker T from Summerslam 2001. If I never have to write about this match again, I’ll be a much happier Eternal Optimist.

That’s a wrap kids. I’m excited to be moving onto the portion of the countdown containing matches that I actually enjoyed. Sound off below!

Facebook: David Fenichel

Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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