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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents - Ranking the Summerslam Main Events (#2-#1)
By Dave Fenichel
Aug 10, 2017 - 8:28:25 PM

Hi kids.

Cue Europe, BECAUSE IT’S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN (DADA DA DA….DADADA DA DA). That’s right. After 13 entries, we’ve finally reached the end. Before I reveal the top two Summerslam main events in history, here’s a reminder of what I used for my scoring criteria:

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 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)
#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 1989)
#13. Brock Lesnar v John Cena (Summerslam 2014)
#12. John Cena v Randy Orton (Summerslam 2007)
#11. The Undertaker v Brock Lesnar (Summerslam 2015)
#10. Edge v John Cena (Summerslam 2006)
#09. Lex Luger v Yokozuna (Summerslam 1993)
#08. The Rock v Triple H v Kurt Angle (Summerslam 2000)
#07. HBK v Vader (Summerslam 1996)
#06. The British Bulldog v Bret Hart – Intercontinental Title Match (Summerslam 1992)
#05. The Undertaker v Edge – Hell in a Cell (Summerslam 2008)
#04. Hulk Hogan v Shawn Michaels (Summerslam 2005)
#03. Brock Lesnar v The Rock (Summerslam 2002)

Question of the Day #1: Have at it. What match or matches were you most pleasantly surprised to see ranked better or worse than expected, and what match or matches did you hate to see ranked so low or high?

Question of the Day #2: What should be the topic of my next countdown series?

2. Team WWE v The Nexus – Elimination Match (Summerslam 2010)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

It was fantastic. It’s rare for the WWE to surprise. The Nexus showing up on Raw and attacking everyone Invasion-style certainly accomplished that. The Nexus consisted of Wade Barrett, David Otunga, Justin Gabriel, Heath Slater, Daniel Bryan, Michael Tarver, Skip Sheffield (Ryback) and Darren Young, the 8 members of the most recent Tough Enough cast. There was little reason to think that they would make a tremendous impact. They literally showed up out of nowhere to attack Cena and the ringside crew. The assault was edgy and brutal, and to this day remains one of my all-time favorite segments.

Daniel Bryan was kicked out of the group that night. The WWE was as PC as could be, and they were not happy that he choked someone with a cable. It was ridiculous and the WWE later remedied the situation, but can you imagine if they hadn’t? Anyhow, the storyline was rock solid. The remaining seven members of The Nexus wanted guaranteed contracts. They showed up on Raw the next week and demanded that Bret Hart, acting general manager, meet their demand. When he refused, they attacked him too. This led to Bret being replaced by the “Anonymous General Manager”, who immediately awarded each member of The Nexus a contract. They continued to attack wrestlers and legends for weeks until Cena laid down a challenge – a 7 on 7 Elimination Match. Cena assembled quite the team – himself, Edge, Chris Jericho, John Morrison, R Truth, The Great Khali, and Bret Hart.

This was unique in that the WWE united heels and faces to take on The Nexus. They did an incredible job playing up to the tension between the good and bad guys. Edge and Jericho, both heels at the time, quit the team only to come back. They were presented as a fractured army whereas the Nexus was presented as a cohesive unit at all times.

I cannot begin to tell you how invested I was in this storyline. It felt fresh. The heat on The Nexus was out of this world. I was really excited for Bret Hart to wrestle again. The WWE added a nice wrinkle by having The Nexus attack the Great Khali and introduce the element of a mystery partner to be revealed at Summerslam. This was easily one of the best builds to any Summerslam main event.

Did the Match Deliver?

Absolutely. For starters, the WWE did a good job portraying the Miz as the arrogant heel that he was. He would accept the 7th spot on the team only to reneg on it later. When the night came and he automatically assumed that he’d be handed the spot, it was strong storyline continuity to have his NXT pupil in Bryan be the surprise member of Team WWE. As mentioned above, I’m glad that the WWE quickly realized the error of their ways, and brought him back in a big way.

I loved the pacing of the match. With so many wrestlers involved, they had no reason to use rest holds. The match never felt as long as it was. It was smart to have a brawl involving all wrestlers to get the match started quicklyt. Quick eliminations of Darren Young and Michael Tarver popped the crowd right away. The psychology was on point here. I enjoyed the announcers pointing out that The Nexus always had the numbers advantage, and this was the first time that they were on the wrong end of it.

Little things go a long way. During one of the few rest holds in the match, R Truth did a great job getting the fans to cheer while on the apron. It made sense to follow with two quick eliminations of John Morrison and R Truth in order to balance the teams. I liked that they let Skip Sheffield look strong. It was obvious upon re-watch that the WWE saw something in the artist soon to be known as Ryback, even this early in his career.

As a lifelong Bret Hart fan, it was nice to see him get his moment in the sun. You knew that he wasn’t going to have a long stay in the match, but he was allowed to look good for a while and get his nostalgia pop. Some may dislike his disqualification, but I’m glad that they didn’t force him to do a job. It was smart to have Edge and Jericho combine to eliminate Ryback. It made the fans forget about Bret’s elimination quickly and get back “up” for the match. I have to reiterate how good the pacing was. Just when you felt that the match was about to drag, someone was eliminated. Jericho eliminating Otunga and Slater eliminating Jericho shortly thereafter is yet another example of how good of a job they did to keep the match moving.

I thought it was solid booking to have Edge get eliminated after tension with Cena. Edge was a top heel and had a long history with Cena. It didn’t make sense for them to get along. Jericho and Edge’s attack on Cena after their eliminations was smart. It was necessary to have them do something to reinforce their heel status.

One of my favorite parts of the match was the way the WWE interwove secondary storylines into the eliminations. Daniel Bryan eliminating Slater only to be eliminated after The Miz showed up and hit him with the Money in the Bank briefcase was yet another example. As a side note, isn’t it amazing that The Miz v Daniel Bryan still plays seven years later?

In the end, Super Cena v Barrett and Justin Gabriel was what it was. It was a tremendous mistake from a booking standpoint, but the pop was enormous and can’t be denied. The booking decision aside, this was an incredible match with awesome pacing and smart booking throughout. This easily stacks up amongst the best elimination matches ever and is one of my personal favorite matches of all the Summerslam main events.

What Was the Historical Impact?

Even terrible historical impact counts. This match killed The Nexus. The WWE struck lightning in a bottle and threw it away. The Nexus were massively over. They were the rookies that needed the rub. John Cena got absolutely nothing out of winning the match. The Nexus were never taken seriously again. This was a wasted opportunity to permanently establish The Nexus as major players. Is it so far-fetched to think that Wade Barrett could have become WWE champion and headlined Wrestlemania against Cena? I don’t think it was.

It was even worse than just burying The Nexus. The WWE tossed aside every heel that they were grooming in favor of pushing The Nexus. Guys like Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibiase Jr. had their rises completely derailed and never recovered. So not only did the WWE completely butcher The Nexus’s push at Summerslam, they also ruined the careers of just about everyone else they were pushing towards the main event. Although tremendous, this storyline set the WWE back years.

The Last Word.

Team WWE v The Nexus from Summerslam 2010 at #2 on our countdown is most likely the biggest surprise of the countdown, but it absolutely crushed in all three areas of the scoring criteria. The build was phenomenal, the match delivered and had tremendous ramifications going forward. No matter how you felt about the booking, this match is an absolute classic.

1. Daniel Bryan v John Cena (Summerslam 2013)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

This was a rare moment in time where the WWE did something incredibly out of character. They gave the fans exactly what they wanted. Daniel Bryan’s organic rise had reached a point where he was by far the most popular guy in the company. He didn’t fit the part of being the most popular guy at all. He didn’t look the way the WWE wanted their superstars to look. He didn’t talk how the WWE wanted their superstars to talk. Yet here he was, far more over than anyone else.

What made this buildup special was that the WWE listened. The storyline itself was simple yet perfect. The WWE universe wanted to see Daniel Bryan get his shot at John Cena. Cena got to name his own #1 contender for Summerslam. He chose Bryan. It was a moment where the WWE stopped what they were doing and listened to their fan base. It was completely unexpected. Most assumed that Bryan would be another example of an “internet darling” that was never going to get the opportunity he deserved. Instead, he was thrust into the top spot at the second biggest show of the year.

The amount of interest in Cena v Bryan was incredible. The storyline was rock solid. Vince McMahon berated Bryan over how he looked and acted. It made perfect sense. Bryan was not the corporate champion that he envisioned, and if Bryan wanted to be that guy, he needed to change the way he did things. Vince’s dismissive attitude towards Bryan only served to fuel the fans’ appreciation of him. This ultimately led to Triple H coming to Bryan’s defense, naming himself as the special guest referee as a means to counteract Vince. Unlike many other situations where Triple H needlessly inserted himself into a major storyline, he was very over as a face authority figure at the time. His presence added to the storyline rather than detracted from it.

The interaction between Cena and Bryan was great. The seeds were planted in Bryan’s head that Cena chose him because he was an easy target. This led to one of the most memorable segments in Monday Night Raw history on the go-home episode of Raw. On an episode of MizTV, Cena and Bryan absolutely tore into each other verbally. This one of the all-time great John Cena promos. He took exception to Bryan telling him that he’s a parody of a wrestler and just eviscerated him. Everything that came out of both of their mouths was full of raw emotion. It was the perfect cap to an incredible storyline.

All in all, the buildup to John Cena v Daniel Bryan at Summerslam 2013 was as good as any in Summerslam main event history.

Did the Match Deliver?

This was one of the best matches of all time. To discuss the greatness of this match is a difficult task because there was just so much to like.

You can’t start anywhere else but with the crowd. They were electric. They were Wrestlemania main event loud. They were into absolutely everything that happened from bell to bell. They booed John Cena out of the building and cheered Daniel Bryan like he was Hulk Hogan in the 1980s. Even if the match stunk out the joint, the pure emotion that came from the crowd that night would have carried them through.

The technical wrestling was spectacular. Daniel Bryan is one of the all-time great technicians. Cena is far from a master in this regard, but he can play the part when paired with the right dance partner. Their in-ring chemistry was off the charts. There were so many great chain wrestling sequences with unique reversals. I could not possibly do this match justice by attempting to discuss them all.

The psychology throughout the match was unbelievable on many levels. First, John Cena had an “elbow injury” going into the match. Bryan worked his arm and elbow over constantly. Once again, the little things go a long way. Second, Cena did a great job playing the dominant heel to Bryan’s face in peril. He busted out several powers moves he didn’t normally employ, such as a power bomb and a suplex off the steps onto the floor. This really highlighted his physical authority over Bryan. Lastly, going into the match, Bryan refused to engage in the Japanese ritual of slapping your opponent as hard as you can with Cena. His rationale was that was a ritual for real wrestlers, and John Cena wasn’t a real wrestler. By the end of the match, Bryan initiating the slap duel showed that Cena had earned his respect. The back and forth slaps brought the crowd into an absolute frenzy.

The false finishes were convincing and the actual finish played like a surprise. There were two fantastic false finishes in particular. Cena hitting an AA out of nowhere for a two count was the first. I’ve lost count of how many matches Cena won via that exact sequence. Second was Cena’s reversal of Bryan’s top rope frankensteiner into an STFU. In both sequences, you really thought that the match was over. On the other hand, the actual finish of Bryan hitting Cena with the running knee was unexpected. In hindsight, it seemed obvious that this was the finish that the match was building to. However, this was the first time that Bryan had used that finisher in the WWE, and it shocked everyone.

Last, but certainly not least, was the Triple H heel turn. As I mentioned in the paragraphs describing the build, Triple H was very popular as a face authority figure at the time. No one really saw this coming. It was gut-wrenching to see Daniel Bryan have his big moment taken away from him. The Orton/HHH authority alliance was born this night, and it was awesome.

All in all, this match had absolutely everything. It ages like a fine wine, and is absolutely the best match of all the Summerslam main events.

What Was the Historical Impact?

This was the beginning of one of the greatest wrestling stories ever told. Cena putting over Bryan clean instantly made him “the man”. The impact goes so much deeper than that though. The heel turn post-match was everything it needed to be. It was the beginning of “The Authority Storyline”, a storyline that lasted for years to tremendous success.

Say what you want about how they got there. The subsequent months with the title swapping back and forth between Orton and Bryan and the ill-fated Batista Royal Rumble win were a mess. It doesn’t matter. Without all of that craziness, we never get to the moment everyone wanted – Daniel Bryan reigning supreme to close Wrestlemania XXX. Summerslam 2013 was the starting point of it all. Without this match, Daniel Bryan never gets the Wrestlemania moment that CM Punk so greatly craved.

The Last Word.

How could anything but Daniel Bryan v John Cena at Summerslam 2013 be at the top of the countdown? It was perfect in every way, including all three of our scoring criteria. It is without a doubt one of the best matches of all time.

That’s a wrap kids. I hope that you enjoyed the countdown. I had a blast putting it together. Thank you for reading. Sound off below!

Facebook: David Fenichel

Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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