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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents - Ranking the Summerslam Main Events (#11-#9)
By Dave Fenichel
Jul 28, 2017 - 11:37:04 AM

Hi kids.

I’m back with Part 10 of my newest column series, “Ranking the Summerslam Main Events”. In tis edition, I’ll review #11, #10 and #9 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 Match (Summerslam 2003)
#26. Mankind v Steve Austin v Triple H (Summerslam 1999)
#25. Bret Hart v The Undertaker (Summerslam 1998)
#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)
#19. The Mega Powers v The Mega Bucks (Summerslam 1988)
#18. The Rock v Booker T – WCW Title Match (Summerslam 2001)
#17. Steve Austin v The Undertaker (Summerslam 1998)
#16. CM Punk v John Cena (Summerslam 2011)
#15. CM Punk v Jeff Hardy – TLC (Summerslam 2009)
#14. Hulk Hogan & Brutus Beefcake v Randy Savage & Zeus (Summerslam 1988)
#13. Brock Lesnar v John Cena (Summerslam 2014)
#12. John Cena v Randy Orton (Summerslam 2007)

Question of the Day #1: When was the moment that you realized Brock Lesnar’s second WWE run had peaked?

Question of the Day #2: Is Edge’s career overrated, underrated or rated exactly where it should be?

Question of the Day #3: What wrestling match and/or moment do you like substantially more you’re your peers?

11. The Undertaker v Brock Lesnar (Summerslam 2015)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

This question was tough to answer.

Whether or not you enjoyed this build comes down to the age old debate of quantity versus quality. This occurred during a time period where The Undertaker was wrestling sporadically. Brock Lesnar was and continues to be a part time wrestler. There was never going to be a tremendous amount of interaction on a week by week basis from them. Instead, we got two amazing segments.

The first occurred at Battleground the month before Summerslam. Lesnar was involved in a hot feud with Seth Rollins stemming from Rollins cashing in and stealing his title at Wrestlemania 31. It seemed obvious to everyone that Lesnar was going to get his title back. Instead, The Undertaker made a surprise return, kicked Lesnar in the junk, and Tombstoned him. The shock value on this was off the charts. There was no reason to think that we’d see The Undertaker again before Wrestlemania 32. As soon as he showed up, you knew that the rematch would be headlining Summerslam.

The second segment occurred on Monday Night Raw the next night. The Undertaker showed up to cut a promo and explain his actions. Lesnar stormed the ring and one of the all-time great pull apart brawls ensued. They couldn’t be kept apart in the ring, they couldn’t be kept apart on the floor and they certainly couldn’t be kept apart backstage. The crowd was so unbelievably hot for this segment. I loved it.

Those two segments were it until Summerslam. I’m conflicted on how I felt about this. On one hand, they derailed the Rollins/Lesnar feud and I’d prefer my storylines to be consistent on a weekly basis. On the other, they had so much past history and were such big stars that the WWE correctly believed that this match sold itself. In the end, I think the “less is more” approach worked here. Brock Lesnar v The Undertaker at Summerslam 2015 was highly anticipated. That’s all you can really ask for from the build.

Did the Match Deliver?

For purposes of the countdown, The Undertaker v Brock Lesnar provided us with another “yeah but” scenario.

The match really is amazing. The crowd involvement was off the charts. From the dueling “Undertaker” and “Suplex City” chants to the countless “This is Awesome” chants, the crowd was as involved and interested in this match as any other match on our countdown.

The in-ring action was great. Both men deserved tremendous credit.

Since his return post-UFC career, Lesnar gained a reputation for not wanting to do more than the bare minimum in matches. He’d sell nothing, hit a few suplexes and finish his opponent with an F5. You could tell that he had a tremendous amount of respect for The Undertaker, as he put a lot more effort into the Summerslam 2015 main event than the majority of his other matches. He busted out a belly to belly suplex, a move I can’t remember him using before. He also sold for The Undertaker. This was a lot more of a 50/50 match than the usual Brock Lesnar beat down.

As for the Undertaker, you could tell that we were closer to the end of his career than to his prime. The crowd chanted “You’ve Still Got It” at him, but it wasn’t true. The Undertaker didn’t still have it. He was blown up five minutes into the match. Nonetheless, he worked through it and gave a tremendous effort. He was pretty old and broken down by this point, yet he took massive bumps. There were countless suplexes, and an F5 through the table. The Undertaker could have phoned this one in and no one would have given it a second thought. He didn’t, and that’s admirable.

Both the drama and psychology in this match were spectacular. I loved the sequence where Lesnar screamed “I’ll kill you” only for an exhausted Undertaker to respond with “You’re going to have to”. It felt like a role reversal from The Undertaker v Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XXVI. We got a great false finish when Taker used Lesnar’s distraction to hit a chokeslam/Tombstone combination, and the “dueling laugh” that followed is one of my all-time favorite moments. I also liked that they paid homage to their Wrestlemania XXX match by having Lesnar hit 3 F5s only for The Undertaker to kick out.

This match was an absolute classic right up until the end ruined it all. Seriously, what was the WWE thinking here? For those of you who don’t remember this mess, here’s what went down. Brock Lesnar had The Undertaker in a kimura. The Undertaker tapped out but referee Charles Robinson was on the other side and didn’t see it. The ring announce rang the bell and everyone assumed that Lesnar had won. Instead Charles Robinson restarts the match, The Undertaker locks in Hell’s Gate, Lesnar throws up the bird and passes out.

This was so horrible on multiple levels. First, there were so many endings to this match that would have been ok. Any type of finish would have worked as long as it was clean and decisive. This was the dustiest of all dusty finishes, and the NYC crowd took a giant dump on it. Second, Brock Lesnar was by far your most marketable star at the time. His entire marketability was based on his invincibility. Why would you mess with that? Lastly, The Undertaker was the face and Lesnar the heel. Why would you book Taker like a heel in this spot? None of it made sense, it came off horribly, and it ruined what was otherwise an amazing match.

What was the Historical Impact?

This was the match that killed The Brock Lesnar phenomenon. As mentioned above, the WWE had an amazing thing going with him. He was a bull in a china shop, an absolute wrecking ball that destroyed everything in his path. MMA and WWE fans alike tuned in to all of his matches like the tremendous spectacles that they were.

That all changed here. Regardless of the circumstances behind it, Brock Lesnar lost by submission and his aura was ruined forever. Sure, Lesnar would get his revenge in Hell in a Cell, but it was too late. Lesnar’s allure has been on a steady decline ever since. He’s still being booked as the big star that he was, but his drawing power has had diminishing returns. The Undertaker beating Lesnar in this manner marked a tremendous misstep on the part of the WWE.

The Last Word.

I can’t help but look back on The Undertaker v Brock Lesnar and feel that it should have ended up far higher on our countdown than it did. Even with such little interaction, the match was highly anticipated. The historical impact, for better or for worse, was sizeable. The match was well on its way to being one of the best on the countdown. The ending took a hatchet to all of the good that came before it. As a result, The Undertaker v Brock Lesnar from Summerslam 2015 ends up just outside of the top 10.

10. Edge v John Cena (Summerslam 2006)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

It was pretty good. The WWE video package led to you to believe that this was the culmination of a feud that began in January of that year when Edge cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase against Cena. The truth is, that feud was short lived and over with by the time Wrestlemania 22 rolled around. Come to the Summer of 2006, RVD had cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase and become champion. Unfortunately, the WWE had to do a rewrite on their storyline plans when RVD and Sabu got busted for pot. As a result, they decided to do a reboot of Cena v Edge.

Despite the circumstances surrounding the need for this rivalry to be renewed, what followed was solid. They started by having Edge beat RVD and Cena in a Triple Threat match to regain the title. The next week, Cena attacked Edge while he was on commentary. This led to a brawl between the two where Edge left Cena laying.

While this was a ho-hum start to the feud, it kicked into high gear with the first of two legendary segments that occurred. Edge and Lita were exhibitionists at the time, and we were supposed to be treated to another example of their sexual prowess. Instead, Cena attacked them in their hotel room and a crazy brawl ensued. I loved every minute of it. It felt very much like the attitude era, and that’s rarely a bad thing.

The WWE booked a world title match between the two for an episode of “Saturday Night’s Main Event” shortly thereafter. Cena won the match by disqualification after Lita slapped him. This led to Cena snapping and putting Edge through a table with an FU. As a result, the rematch was made for Summerslam with the stipulation that if Edge got disqualified, he would lose the championship. This was smart booking. Continuity is king. The only reasonable conclusion to draw after a heel champion’s title is saved via an intentional disqualification is to make the rematch one where the heel champion can’t effectively get DQ’d. This was an excellent example of the WWE not trying to reinvent the wheel.

The second of the two aforementioned epic segments took place on Raw the week before Summerslam. Edge showed up at Cena’s dad’s house and slapped him. This felt fresh at the time. Once again, this was very much reminiscent of the Attitude Era. Overall, this was a fun buildup that had several memorable moments. It doesn’t rank amongst the top builds for a Summerslam main event, but it definitely did the job.

Did the Match Deliver?

This match overachieved in a big way. Cena and Edge had several things working against them going into the match. First, the feud was solid but the crowd didn’t care. They were in Boston, Cena’s hometown, and the crowd was chanting “Yankees Suck”. That’s never a good sign. Second, this was year one of the fans turning on Cena. He was booed mercilessly by the Boston crowd, but we weren’t yet at the point where the WWE was ready to embrace the polarity of Cena. Lastly, Cena wasn’t a bad worker, but he was definitely goofy in the ring. This version of Cena was a far cry from the polished in-ring product that is 2017 John Cena.

One of my favorite sayings is “work smarter not harder”. This match was a perfect example of that. They pushed all of the right buttons to make the “Title Changes on a DQ” stipulation work. It started with Lita sliding a chair into the ring only for Edge to toss it to the floor. They didn’t overuse the stipulation either. They mixed in a nice false finish with Edge accidentally knocking Lita off of the apron and Cena rolling him up for a two count.

There was more excellent psychology when Cena reversed a spear into the STFU. Lita went to hit Cena with the belt but Edge begs her not to do it. This was fantastic stuff that got the crowd involved. Edge was his usual excellent self. He really sold the potential for a tap by lifting his arm up only to pull it down. The crowd popped huge when he finally grabbed the ring ropes. The fact that they were able to bring an indifferent crowd onto their side was very impressive.

The finish was excellent. Following the abovementioned rope break, Lita slipped brass knuckles onto Edge. Cena went to hit an FU, only for Lita to jump on top of Edge. Cena attempted a double FU but only Lita fell off. While the referee checked on Lita, Edge drilled Cena with the knuckles and got the pin.
I loved this. It was old school heel cheat tactics at its finest. In fact, the entire match had a wonderful old school feel to it. It was a perfect example of a smart, psychology driven match that took full advantage of the no disqualification stipulation.

What was the Historical Impact?

Nothing doing here. This feud ended up being pretty stellar, but this was just a step on the path to the finish line. A month later, Edge had the best singles match of his career when he and Cena faced off in TLC. I am generally not a fan of major PPV main events being used to continue a feud rather than end it. While this certainly didn’t help their ranking on our countdown, the decision to use the Summerslam 2006 main event to prolong their feud was absolutely the right move.

The Last Word.
With a very strong match, and solid build, Edge v John Cena at Summerslam 2006 was able to crack the top 10 despite a complete lack of historical impact. History has been very kind to this one.

9. Lex Luger v Yokozuna (Summerslam 1993)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

I’m willing to argue that this was the best built Summerslam main event of all time. Yokozuna was an absolute monster at the time. He was close to 600lbs and could move. He was devastating in the ring and everything he did looked like it was the worst thing that someone could do to you. He was the anti-American heel world champion that the WWE needed.

So what was the problem? The WWE didn’t have a top good guy to get behind. Yokozuna more or less squashed Bret Hart earlier that year at Wrestlemania IX. He had just taken the World Title back from Hulk Hogan at King of the Ring, and was without a dance partner. What good is an incredibly strong heel champion without a baby face to chase him down?

The WWE’s solution? Create an American hero. The angle was simple yet absolutely brilliant. They staged a “body slam challenge” on the USS Intrepid on the Fourth of July. The concept was easy. On the most American of all American holidays, Yokozuna wanted to prove to the world that no American could slam him. This event felt like a huge deal. They had a mixture of wrestlers, body builders and football players participate. Of course, everyone was unsuccessful. It looked like the event would end exactly the way Yokozuna, Mr. Fuji and Jim Cornette claimed it would. Yokozuna had established dominance over the pathetic Americans.

Cue Lex Luger landing a helicopter on the ship. A stare down, one illegal metal plated forearm and a body slam later and America had reigned supreme. This was really a crazy turn of events. Lex Luger was playing “the Narcissist” character at the time, a hated heel. They really turned him face out of nowhere, but man did it work. Following the slam, Luger challenged Yokozuna to a world title match at Summerslam. Yokozuna declined, so the “Lex Express” was born. The concept? Luger would travel in a decked out patriotic tour bus all across the country, meeting little kids and veterans alike.

A lot of people try to downgrade this angle. I cannot understand why. I thought it was the best thing that had ever happened. I was all aboard the Lex Express. I bought a full sized poster and hung it above my bed. He was the new Hulk Hogan to me. I wasn’t alone either. The anticipation for this match was off the charts. For the first and only time ever, the Summerslam main event felt like a Wrestlemania main event. For this reason alone, this is the best built Summerslam main event of all time.

Did the Match Deliver?

Man, they were so close. The match itself is fine. As mentioned above, Yokozuna was an excellent worker for someone his size and Luger was definitely underrated in the ring. I thought the dueling Japanese and American national anthems were a nice touch prior to the match. It was a strange sight to see The Macho Man decked out in red white and blue here. Savage really was the ultimate company guy. He did whatever Vince wanted him to do for so many years. Vince really should have taken better care of him towards the end. That’s a story for another day though.

I hadn’t watched this match in a while. I had expected it to play as a standard Hulk Hogan match, with Yokozuna dominating and Luger playing the face in peril. That wasn’t the case here. Luger controlled a majority of the action, especially early in the match. This made a lot of sense to me. They had gone with the storyline that Luger was Yokozuna’s kryptonite, so of course Luger should be dominating.

Vince and Heenan were gold on commentary, and I really feel like they added to the match. Vince is often viewed in a negative light for his commentating skills, but he did as good of a job putting over the wrestlers involved or the angle itself as anyone. Such was the case here. You could really tell that he wanted to do everything he could to ensure that Lex Luger was viewed as “the man”. As for Heenan, he was fantastic as always. Even all these years later, I laughed every time he referred to Luger’s body slam as a hip toss. Heenan is a national treasure.

I liked the pacing of the match. Yokozuna, Fuji and Cornette used nice heel tactics when they drilled Luger with the bucket following a referee distraction. This further played into the “Luger had Yoko’s number” angle because the only way Yokozuna could turn the tide was to cheat. I thought the psychology of the failed body slam was on point. Little things like this go a long way. The failed body slam reminded the crowd that a body slam was a big deal so that when the actual body slam came later, they were ready to explode. Nonetheless, I need to nitpick the decision to have Luger avoid the Bonzai Drop. I believe that it was Vince’s goal to make Luger his next Hulk Hogan. One of the staples to every Hogan match was that he’d kick out of his opponent’s finisher. Finishing moves were protected at the time, so a kick out was a huge deal. This was a missed opportunity. You could have had Luger kick out of the Bonzai drop and make his comeback. The fans would have drawn the parallel Vince and the WWE were looking for. Instead, it just didn’t seem like a big moment.

Things were rolling along until the finish. Luger made his comeback and body slammed Yokozuna much to the delight of the crowd. He signalled for his patented steel-plated forearm. The crowd was in a frenzy. Finally, Lex Luger’s moment had arrived. Luger destroyed Yokozuna with his forearm and got the three count to reign triumphant! Wait a minute…..that’s not what happened at all is it? Yokozuna fell out of the ring and the match ended in a count out. A count out? Are you kidding me? The WWE blew it so badly here. The finish completely ruined what should have been Luger’s crowning moment. I still can’t believe that they ended a Summerslam main event in a non-finish, much less a main event as important as this one. It was absolutely horrendous and ruins the whole match for me. More on this in a minute.

What was the historical impact?

This match marked a tremendous step in the wrong direction for the WWE. Make no mistake about it, revisionist history be damned – the WWE had their next Hulk Hogan in Lex Luger. He looked the part, he talked the part, the fans bought in and he could actually wrestle. All they had to do was have him go over and become their new champion. Instead, Vince got greedy. This was during an era where everything big happened at Wrestlemania. Vince thought that he could prolong this storyline until then, and have Luger’s big moment be at Wrestlemania X. He was wrong. The fans stopped caring after this non-finish, and Luger’s momentum was derailed.

The WWE should have had their next money maker. Instead, they had to scramble come Wrestlemania time. They put the title back on Bret Hart. I love Bret Hart, but he was not the type of drawing world champion that they needed. The WWE floundered for the next few years. They tried with Diesel, then Shawn Michaels, and had the belt bounce around for a while between Bret, Shawn and The Undertaker. It wasn’t until Steve Austin rose to power four years later that they found their man. The WWE almost went out of business as a result. None of this would have happened if they had given Luger the ball the right way. Thus, the historical impact here was tremendous.

The Last Word

Go ahead, come at me a-holes. Tell me why you don’t think this match should be ranked this highly. Every wrestling fan has their hill to die on and Lex Luger v Yokozuna is mine. It had the best build and tremendous, albeit negative, historical impact. Like was the case with The Undertaker v Brock Lesnar from Summerslam 2015, Luger v Yokozuna from Summerslam 1993 could have very well grabbed one of the top spots on the countdown if they had a better booked ending to the match.

That’s a wrap kids. Thank you for reading. Sound off below!

Facebook: David Fenichel

Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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