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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents - Ranking The Summerslam Main Events, Part 3 (#25-#24)
By Dave Fenichel
Jul 5, 2017 - 1:29:49 PM

Hi Kids.

I’m back with Part 3 of my newest column series, “Ranking the Summerslam Main Events”. In this edition, I’ll review #25 and #24 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)


Question of the Day #1: Do you believe that it was a mistake to cut short Chris Benoit’s title run?

Question of the Day #2: Is 30 minutes too long for a 1 on 1 PPV main event match?



25. Bret Hart v The Undertaker (Summerslam 1997)



Did the buildup deliver?

The build to Summerslam 1997 was fascinating. In order to really appreciate the uniqueness of what was going on, a recap of the landscape at the time is needed. The WWE was absolutely getting their brains beaten in by WCW. A ton of their talent had left for greener pastures.

Bret Hart was part of the most famous double turn in wrestling history at Wrestlemania 13 earlier that year. This was an example of fiction meeting reality. The truth is, Bret Hart was a fan favorite that fans didn’t want to cheer for anymore. The product was changing. It was becoming “cool”, and Bret Hart was not “cool”. As a result, he turned the Hart Foundation into a heel Anti-American faction. It was an interesting dynamic – he was still treated like a hero in his native Canada, but booed mercilessly everywhere else.

Shawn Michaels had left at the beginning of 1997 after he “lost his smile”. Prior to that, he was a face that the fans had turned on. Not much changed when he returned. There was a good amount of irony here. Shawn and Bret were undoubtedly the top two guys in the company. They despised each other in real life because each wanted to be THE man. The reality of the situation was that they had the same problem. They were "good guys” that the fans didn’t want to cheer for anymore. Neither guy had the support to be “the man” anymore. HBK was in limbo at the time.

Lastly, there was The Undertaker. He was the world champion and almost an afterthought. He wasn’t yet at a place where he could carry the company as champion, and it seemed as if the WWE was just biding their time until they got the belt off of him.

So what was the WWE left with? Three headliners who couldn’t carry the company as the top face. It was clear as day that Steve Austin was going to eventually be “the man”, but that was still a little ways off. Summerslam needed a main event, so we ended up with Bret Hart challenging The Undertaker for the title.

The thing is, there wasn’t a feud here. The storyline barely revolved around Bret v Taker. Instead, we had two separately but extremely important feuds. On one hand, we had Bret Hart v Shawn Michaels. They had been at each other’s throats since mid-May. Bret put his foot in his mouth when he stated that he wouldn’t wrestle in the United States again if he didn’t win the title at Summerslam. When Shawn was inserted in as special guest referee, Bret was livid. As a result, a stipulation was added that if Shawn favored The Undertaker in any way, he too wouldn’t be allowed to wrestle in the United States again. This storyline was the focus going into the Summerslam main event. On the other hand, we had The Undertaker feuding with his former mentor, Paul Bearer. We were in the early stages of the “Your Brother Kane Isn’t Dead” storyline. We all know how that turned out.

What makes this build up unlike any other is that the two men facing each other just weren’t feuding. This was a buildup that was all about the surrounding circumstances. Fascinating indeed. It wasn’t good for purposes of our countdown, but it sure was interesting.


Did the Match Deliver?

Bret Hart v The Undertaker at Summerslam 1997 is an unbelievable chore to sit through. The ending was a foregone conclusion. The Undertaker was almost an afterthought. It was obvious to anyone paying attention that we were on a path towards HBK v Bret for the title. Bret Hart was never going to not be able to wrestle in the United States. HBK was never going to not be able to wrestle in the United States. This meant that Bret Hart had to win. Whenever you have a big match with this predictable of an outcome, it’s never a good thing.

The crowd was mostly dead throughout the entire match. I can’t blame them. They weren’t given any reason to care about Bret Hart v The Undertaker. They were given reasons to care about Bret Hart v Shawn Michaels, and they were given reasons to care about The Undertaker v Paul Bearer and soon to be Kane. Bret Hart v The Undertaker was just “there”.

The match itself is awful. It was a half hour long. It was slow and plodding, with the majority of the action being kicks, punches, and Bret working over The Undertaker’s knee. It was beyond boring. These two have shown to have great chemistry together throughout their various matches, but it just wasn’t there at Summerslam 1997. Upon re-watch, I was ready for the match to be over 10 minutes into it. Unfortunately, I had to suffer through another 20 minutes before getting to an ultimately unsatisfying conclusion.

The ending to the match revolved around Shawn and Bret’s hatred for each other. The problem? They didn’t show any animosity towards each other until the very end of the match. The finish where Bret spits in Shawn’s face, Shawn snaps, and accidentally drills Taker with a chair after Bret ducks seemingly came out of nowhere. It was a terrible ending to an equally terrible match.


What was the historical impact?

I flip-flopped on whether this was the first domino in a series of tremendously important events or an irrelevant piece to a puzzle that was already a foregone conclusion. I ultimately settled on the latter.

Bret v Shawn was already happening. The Undertaker v Kane was already happening. Neither of those two iconic storylines were impacted in any way by this match. Instead, it was The Montreal Screw Job that served as the jumping off point for everything that was to come in the WWE.

One could argue that the historical impact behind this match was that it kicked off the legendary Undertaker v Shawn Michaels storyline. I don’t agree. The Undertaker v Shawn Michaels wrestled on two placeholder Pay Per Views until another Big 4 PPV arose and we finally got the HBK/Bret “payoff” that we were waiting for. Their HIAC match is critically revered, but both that and the Casket Match at The Royal Rumble were also placeholders. HBK needed to stay busy until Austin could take over at Wrestlemania XIV, and this was used as a bridge to get to The Undertaker v Kane.

1997 was an amazing year of wrestling filled with tremendous moments historically. Knowing that those earth shattering events were already set in motion and not impacted here, Bret Hart v The Undertaker is simply a match to fill a major Pay Per View slot. Nothing less, and nothing more.


The Last Word.

Man, I loved WWE in 1997. They were slowly building the ground work to take back over the wrestling world. With that said, I would have loved to put Bret v The Undertaker higher on the countdown. Unfortunately, it was poor in all three criteria used. The build was to matches other than Bret v The Undertaker, the match was an unbelievable chore, and it served as nothing more than a placeholder for the tremendously important events that would occur later.


24. Randy Orton v Chris Benoit (Summerslam 2004)



Did the Buildup Deliver?

Nope. I thoroughly enjoyed the time between Wrestlemania XX and July of that year. Chris Benoit was one of my all-time favorite wrestlers. After he won the title, he went on to have some awesome matches with the likes of Triple H, HBK and Kane. Unfortunately, the WWE never really viewed him as “the guy”. He was always booked as a secondary superstar instead of as “the man”.

Enter Randy Orton. I’ve never been a fan. Ever since his debut, the WWE groomed him to be the top guy. The problem? He really wasn’t over. I’d argue that this has always been his problem – he looked and sounded the part but the crowd reactions rarely justified his position on the card. Anyway, from the minute Orton won a 20 man battle royal to become the number one contender in July, the writing was on the wall. You knew that Benoit was going to eat an RKO at Summerslam, and his title run would be over.

The build itself was bad. Orton was made to look incredibly strong while Benoit was booked weakly and almost as an afterthought. The WWE barely even tried here. They had Orton pin Benoit in a six man tag match and that was about it. This is without a doubt one of the worst booked and least hyped main events in Summerslam history.


Did the Match Deliver?

Nope. You would think that since the match took place in Toronto, the home country fans would be behind Benoit and into the match. Instead, they sat on their hands. It’s never a good sign when the fans start the match by chanting “You Screwed Bret” at Earl Hebner. I believe that the fans were quiet here because they knew the $hit sandwich that was being dumped on their plate, and they weren’t interested.

There were a couple of cool moments that got the crowd involved. Orton countering Benoit’s sharpshooter into one of his own, Benoit hitting the guardrail head first after a dive through the ropes, and a series of six german suplexes were all fun. Unfortunately, the other fifteen minutes were just “there”. A buddy of mine, who may or may not be one of the most successful columnists on LOP, referred to this one as a “Smart Technical Match”. I’ve learned that this is his terminology for a terrible match between guys that he really likes and doesn’t want to poop on.

The match was bad. It never built to anything. There was never any drama. Orton’s RKO finish and title win was completely empty. Even the handshake after the match was bad. The WWE spent a ton of time building up Orton as a heel only to turn him face post-match? Why? Oh, that’s right. Triple H was the #1 heel on Raw. The guy banging the boss’s daughter can’t possibly slide down the card. Ok, got it. Man, I try to be positive. I just can’t here. This match is trash.


What was the Historical Impact?

This marked Orton’s first title run. He’s an all-time great. Even if I’ve never been a fan and absolutely hated the way this came about, I can’t discount the significance.
This was the end of Chris Benoit’s run as a main event player. As much as I hate to admit it, the fact that he couldn’t get his home crowd interested at Summerslam 2004 showed that he wasn’t the right guy to carry the company. He maintained a solid level of popularity, but was relegated to upper mid-card status up until the unfortunate series of events that ended his life.

Perhaps the most surprising impact of this match was that it indirectly led to the rise of Batista. Crowning Randy Orton champ at this stage in his career was a bad idea. Turning him face that night was even worse. Thinking that a face Randy Orton v a heel Triple H as the Wrestlemania 21 main event would work was insanity. As a result, there was a gaping hole that needed to be filled. Dave Batista caught lightning in a bottle and sky-rocketed his career. That never happens without the 2004 Summerslam main event setting a series of terrible events in motion.


The Last Word.

Everything about Summerslam 2004’s main event makes me angry. I wanted to rank this one dead last in the worst way. Unfortunately, due to the somewhat significant historical impact, I needed to slot it ahead of the matches that were complete duds on all three levels. Ugh. I hope that I never have to talk about this one again.

That’s a wrap kids. I suspect that this is the point in the countdown where I start to receive hate mail. Sound off below!

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