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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents - Ranking the Summerslam Main Events (#15-#14)
By Dave Fenichel
Jul 22, 2017 - 12:09:23 PM

Hi Kids.

I’m back with Part 8 of my newest column series, “Ranking the Summerslam Main Events”. In this edition, I’ll review #15 and #14 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 crown 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 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 (Summerslam 2001)
#17. Steve Austin v The Undertaker (Summerslam 1998)
#16. CM Punk v John Cena (Summerslam 2011)

Question of the Day #1: What do you believe would have happened had Jeff Hardy not left the WWE in 2009?

Question of the Day #2: Where does Zeus rank amongst all time celebrity involvements in the WWE?

15. CM Punk v Jeff Hardy – TLC (Summerslam 2009)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

It wasn’t bad. It spanned over the course of several Pay Per Views. CM Punk won the Money in the Bank match at Wrestlemania that year. At Extreme Rules, Jeff Hardy beat Edge in a ladder match in the main event. Punk cashed in and won the title. Hardy used his rematch clause at The Bash, but Punk retained the title after he got himself disqualified. This led to another match between the two at Night of Champions, a match Hardy won to regain his championship. They continued to jaw back and forth, leading to Smackdown GM Teddy Long to book a TLC match between the two for Summerslam.

This feud had its pluses and minuses.

The good – the storyline premise was really interesting. CM Punk was straight edge. He didn’t drink or do drugs. Jeff Hardy on the other hand, was a notorious drug user with a past littered with problems. Punk lectured Hardy on how he wasn’t a role model and Hardy fired back by telling him that he needed to get off his high horse and stop telling people how they should live their life. Their characters were polar opposites and made for natural bedfellows. Several years later, people were clamoring for a feud between Punk and Steve Austin for similar reasons. I always imagined a feud between those two would look something like this did.

The bad – While Jeff Hardy was popular, great in the ring and had natural charisma, he just couldn’t carry his side of a main event storyline on the mic. I thought he struggled in many of the segments that required significant speaking on his part. In addition, this never felt like the Summerslam main event. It felt like the secondary title match to Cena v Orton on the Raw side, as well as the feud between DX and Legacy. I was surprised when this went on last. I feel that the WWE didn’t view either guy as a legitimate superstar, and their decision to put them on last had more to do with what they had planned for the match’s aftermath than it did with the main event worthiness of the feud.

Overall, it was a clever storyline, but it felt secondary and never really clicked with me on the level that it needed to.

Did the Match Deliver?

I had to watch this one a couple of times before I could put it into the proper context. In the end, I feel that it was extremely underrated. I’ve always struggled to rate TLC matches. The gimmick itself is so strong that most, if not all versions are at least pretty good.

This particular version was the opposite of what I usually look for in TLC matches. I’m all about the high spots. I want to see a car wreck. I want to see crazy risks and jaw dropping moments. I want to feel as if the wrestlers are in danger. I look for innovation. I appreciate TLC matches that show me things I’ve never seen before.

We didn’t get that here. From a spot standpoint, this was one of the weakest TLC matches the WWE has ever had. Instead, what we got was a great wrestling match. Jeff Hardy and CM Punk did a better job of incorporating the tables, ladders and chairs into their standard move sets than anyone else had before them. As a result, you got a match that had a great flow to it. You never felt like there was a lull in the action as a result of one wrestler waiting around for the other to set up their high spot.

I liked the realism here. If you wanted to knock someone off the top of a ladder, you wouldn’t climb the ladder and start punching them. You’d kick the ladder out from under them. A lot of the action was practical but effective. Hardy and Punk used the ladder to inflict damage more than as a prop for crazy stunts. I really appreciated that.

The match built to one excellent high spot. We’ve seen the Jeff Hardy Swanton Bomb off the top of a huge ladder many times before. I thought they did a nice job changing the spot up by having them go through the Spanish announce table instead of a regular one. Sometimes, less is more. The lack of high spots earlier in the match made this one feel like a bigger deal.

The ending was fitting of the style of match that Hardy and Punk worked. This was a believable ladder match. It made sense to have Punk win after knocking Hardy off the ladder with punches and kicks. It was basic but extremely effective. The aftermath was telling and put a damper on an otherwise terrific match. I felt like this feud was treated as a secondary storyline going into Summerslam. The Undertaker appearance was the reason they got to close the show. Without the Undertaker, this match and feud probably ends up in the mid-card.

Overall, I don’t think the fans have appreciated this match for what it was. Like how I often view ladder matches, they expected carnage. Instead, they got a smart match that holds up very well over time.

What was the Historical Impact?

There wasn’t much. This was the one and only time that Jeff Hardy main evented a big four PPV. To the shock of many, he left for TNA shortly after this match. It felt like a big deal at the time. TNA had picked up WWE wrestlers that were past their prime, but hadn’t snagged a current main eventer until Hardy jumped ship. Many thought this would be the start of a trend, but it was not to be. I think Hardy could see the writing on the wall. Even though he and Punk were the main event of Summerslam, they weren’t treated as such. He recognized that he had gone as far as he was going to in WWE, and left for what he perceived to be greener pastures.

This was an interesting time for Punk. His pipe bomb promo several years later made it seem like he was never given an opportunity prior to 2011, but that was not the case. He main evented for a good chunk of 2009. Unfortunately, his feud with The Undertaker post-Summerslam was a total dud. Punk would eventually have his time to shine, but it wasn’t here.

The Last Word.

This is an oft forgotten Summerslam Main Event. Hardy’s inability to carry his end on the microphone hurt what was an otherwise interesting build, and his move to TNA shortly after rendered any historical impact that this would have had to be meaningless. Nonetheless, the match is simply tremendous and I grow a stronger appreciation of it with each viewing. Punk v Hardy from Summerslam 2009 doesn’t score tremendously well under our criteria, but it was more enjoyable than its ranking would indicate.

14. Hulk Hogan & Brutus Beefcake v Randy Savage and Zeus (Summerslam 1989)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

It sure did! The backstory behind this was that Hulk Hogan starred in a movie earlier that year called “No Holds Barred”. Zeus was this enormously jacked scary looking dude that was the villain in the movie. The movie was wildly successful and the WWE decided to capitalize on its success. On Saturday Night’s Main Event in May of 1989, Hogan came down to the ring for his title defense against The Big Bossman in a steel cage only to find Zeus standing outside the cage door waiting for him. Zeus beat Hogan down and the crowd was stunned.

Fast forward several months to July. Randy Savage and Sherri were on the Brother Love Show when they introduced the newest member of their girl squad – none other than Zeus himself. They immediately laid down a challenge for Hulk Hogan and Brutus the Barber Beefcake. Why Brutus Beefcake might you ask? That’s an excellent question. Brutus was a no-talent stiff. Alas, he happened to be Hogan’s cousin and the Hulkster always looked out for him. Thus, he earns a Summerslam main event spot. Kind of ridiculous, but we’ll let it go given how awesome the rest of this build was.

Hogan and Beefcake accepted their challenge the following week on Saturday Night’s Main Event, but it wasn’t until a couple weeks later where this feud really got hot. On yet another episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event, Beefcake was taking on Randy Savage when Zeus attacked him. He squeezed the life out of the Beefster with his patented bear hug. Hogan charged the ring to make the save, but it was for naught. Zeus ended up locking the bear hug on Hogan as well. Beefcake brought a chair into the ring and the show ended in a standoff between chair wielding good guys and an irate Zeus needing to be held back by Savage. I cannot begin to tell you how hot the crowd was for this. It was an incredible atmosphere. I was watching this on replay and I was instantly excited to see the match. That’s pretty much all you can ask for in a storyline. This was one of the best built main events in Summerslam history.

Did the Match Deliver?

You know, it’s funny. I hadn’t watched this match in at least ten years until I sat down to put this series together. I remember this match being one of the worst matches in wrestling history. Watching it again made me rethink my position. It wasn’t Hart v Austin, but it’s not bad. I think my judgment was clouded by the perception that Zeus was an actor without any wrestling training or skill, and that there was no way the match could be anything but terrible since he was involved.

Instead, I found myself entertained from bell to bell. First off, Savage was in top form. He took all the bumps and they were able to hide Zeus on the apron for the majority of the match. Second, the crowd was unbelievable. They were already red hot for the feud in general, but when Hogan and Beefcake brought Miss Elizabeth out at the beginning of the match as a surprise, the roof blew off the building. The Macho King/Queen Sherri angle was brilliant. They were hated. Everyone loved Miss Elizabeth. This was perfect. Last, and certainly not least, Zeus actually brought something to the table. He was a monster. His offense, although as basic as basic gets, was believable. Most impressive of all, he had great natural mannerisms. He played to the crowd well. At the end of the match in the big blow off showdown between him and Hogan, he did a great job of flailing in an attempt to hold himself up before ultimately dropping to his knees. He wasn’t asked to do much, but he played his part well.

This was a 1980s WWE main event, so they gave the fans exactly what they wanted with the ending. Hogan hit Zeus with Sherri’s loaded purse, leading to a body slam and a leg drop for the victory. Sherri tried to interfere and Elizabeth dumped her over the top rope and into the ring. Hogan hits Sherri with an atomic drop, and Brutus and Liz cut off her hair. Domestic violence was apparently cool in the 80s, so this popped the crowd like you wouldn’t believe. Overall, this was a very entertaining main event, not quite up there with the best of the best matches on this countdown, but definitely above average.

What was the historical impact?

Zilch. Savage and Hogan were both already made men. Beefcake was never going to be a made-man. Zeus was an actor who was never going to have a long term wrestling career. This match, while a great angle with a fantastic delivery, didn’t really have long-lasting impact. Ultimately, the WWE tried to pull off a “No Holds Barred” rematch between Hogan and Zeus towards the end of 1989, but it fell flat on its face.

There’s another crazy backstory surrounding this match that I feel is worth mentioning. The WWE considered having Savage and Zeus win with Zeus pinning Hogan. The idea behind this was that the shock value of Hogan losing would make for an amazing redemption story. The plan would have been to have Hogan v Zeus headline Wrestlemania VI. As bonkers as it sounds, I could see their logic at the time. Zeus was a legitimate draw. Summerslam 1989 has the third highest buyrate in the history of the event. This would have attracted eyeballs for sure.

Luckily for us, the WWE came to their senses. They recognized that Zeus couldn’t work a 1 on 1 main event caliber match. Can you imagine if the WWE had gone through with this? We would have been robbed one of the most memorable main events in history – Hogan v Warrior. Consider this a bullet dodged.

The Last Word.

This match and spectacle doesn’t get the respect that it deserves. It had one of the best builds of all the matches on this countdown and the match was better than it had any business of being. A complete lack of historical impact is the only thing keeping Hogan/Beefcake v Zeus/Savage from cracking the upper echelon on our countdown.

That’s a wrap kids. We’re on a collision course with the top ten. Buckle up and enjoy the ride. Sound off below!

Facebook: David Fenichel

Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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