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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents - Ranking the Summerslam Main Events (#24-#23)
By Dave Fenichel
Jul 10, 2017 - 12:35:33 PM

Hi kids.

I’m back with Part 4 of my newest column series, “Ranking the Summerslam Main Events”. In this edition, I’ll review #23 and #22 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)

Question of the Day #1: What was your least favorite Undertaker feud and why?

Question of the Day #2: Do realistic MMA style finishes have a place in the WWE product?

23. The Undertaker v The Undertaker (Summerslam 1994)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

The angle itself was pretty fun and well executed. The Undertaker was completely decimated at the Royal Rumble 1994 during his Casket Match with Yokozuna. The entire heel roster came out and destroyed him. This led to the casket being lit on fire with the Undertaker inside, some weird lightning bolts, and the Undertaker being resurrected and lifted to the top of the arena. It was really a crazy sight.

The Undertaker was gone from television. Almost immediately after Wrestlemania X, fans began “reporting” Undertaker sightings at various places that a regular person would visit. For those of you not old enough and having trouble visualizing this, it was almost a spoof on the Bigfoot sightings that people would report on frequently. I found these segments to be funny and a good way to build interest in the Undertaker’s inevitable return.

Enter Ted Dibiase. Dibiase was a manager at this point in his career. He claimed that he had found The Undertaker and he would be returning soon. They played off the idea that Dibiase was the person who originally brought The Undertaker to the WWE, and that he was the only person who would be able to find him. Instead, we got “The Undertaker”. This was Brian Lee in costume. He really didn’t look anything like the Undertaker. They were both tall, tattooed, and had long hair. That’s where the similarities ended. Nonetheless, the WWE costume department did an excellent job, and the layperson bought it.

“The Undertaker” would wrestle squash matches for a while until Paul Bearer made his return. Bearer rightfully claimed that Dibiase’s Undertaker was a fraud, and that he still spoke to the real Undertaker. While the match wasn’t made right away, this led to an incredibly funny series of sketches. The WWE hired Leslie Nielson as a detective to investigate the situation. Nielson famously played the role of “Frank Dreben” in the Naked Gun movies, a hapless police detective who couldn’t do anything right. Predictably, he unleashed his comedic genius while ultimately resolving nothing. To me, this was a great way to keep a feud going when the main participant wasn’t going to be on television. It worked for me.

As a result, The Undertaker v Undertaker was made for Summerslam. I was very interested in this storyline, but it fell into the same trap that others on this countdown did. The feud treated as the main event was the World Title Steel Cage Match between Bret and Owen Hart for the World Title. That feud was fantastic, and it was the primary focus point of the lead into Summerslam 1994. Ironically, given the build, match execution and aftermath, Bret v Owen would have ranked incredibly high on our countdown had it been the main event. Alas, we got Undertaker v Undertaker instead. Although a good storyline, it cannot be ranked amongst the best builds of all time as a result of not being the primary selling point of the show.

Did the Match Deliver?

Heck no it didn’t! Listen. I’m the Eternal Optimist. By name, I try to find the positive attributes of everything that I discuss in my columns. I can’t find a single good thing to say about this match.

Where do I even start? The crowd was really hot going into the match. There was a certain level of curiosity relating to the Undertaker’s appearance. As soon as he showed up, it was over. No one cared anymore. Brian Lee might have been able to pull off a passable Undertaker impression when he was squashing a jobber. When they were side by side, the differences were obvious to all.

The match was absolute trash. It shouldn’t have been. The Undertaker, even early in his career, was an above average worker. Brian Lee was surprisingly decent in the ring as well. Unfortunately, all of that was lost in the concept of the match. The idea was to have each man mirror the other’s actions. It might have sounded good on paper, but it was a disaster. The result was the slowest pace match that you’ve ever seen. Nine uninspiring minutes felt like an hour, and not in the good way.

The best part about the entire match was that it ended. When even the Eternal Optimist can’t find a positive quality behind said match, you know you’re dealing with one of the worst matches in history.

What was the historical impact?

None. The Fake Undertaker went away forever and not a minute too soon. This storyline was merely a vehicle to reintroduce the real Undertaker. He continued to go about his business as a strong upper mid-carder and/or second headlining act. The Undertaker is really an interesting character to follow from the standpoint of his career path. He is revered for all of the great matches that he’s been involved in, but he’s also been involved in so many terrible ones where he was pitted against the flavor of the month big worthless monster with a gimmick. We can chalk this up to being one of the many. I’d say that this is the worst match he’s ever been involved in, but Giant Gonzalez was once a thing.

The Last Word.

Only a solid but mid-card like build prevents this absolute stinker from reigning supreme as the worst Summerslam main event of all time.

Brock Lesnar v Randy Orton (Summerslam 2016)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

I begrudgingly have to admit that it did. There’s a lot not to like about the circumstances surround this match in hindsight, but the build was quite good. There wasn’t an obvious Summerslam feud for Lesnar last year. There was a large groundswell of support for Lesnar to face Orton. People referred to this as a dream match. Anyone who tells you otherwise is having revisionist history.

The WWE announced Orton as Lesnar’s Summerslam opponent, and it was well received. Orton had been out of action. While he has received mostly apathy from the fans in recent years, he was relatively popular at this time last year. I thought the Highlight Reel segment at Battleground where he RKO’s Jericho was strong. They did a good job of portraying the RKO as a devastating finisher that could take down Lesnar.

In fact, “strong” is the word I’d use to describe this feud in general. They were both booked incredibly strong in the build-up. Both were allowed to hit their finishers on each other, and both used Heath Slater as fodder to look good. What you ended up with was a well-balanced feud that saw both men showcase their strengths.

The backstage sit-down interviews they each conducted added to the feud. I really appreciated the references to their respective OVW tenures. I loved how Lesnar dismissed him as a star as opposed to his own status as a mega star. I loved how Orton talked about Lesnar’s steroid problems in the UFC. Both men cut incredibly deep with their words, and it felt personal.

All in all, this was one of the better built main events in Summerslam history.

Did the Match Deliver?

Here’s where it starts to go downhill. I need to make something crystal clear. Orton v Lesnar never had a chance to be good. Brock Lesnar needs a certain type of wrestler to put on a great match. He needs to either face someone with massive power that can match him with his physicality, or he needs a high flyer that will bump all over the ring for him. Randy Orton is neither of those things. Instead, he’s a slow, plodding, methodical worker. That type of style was never going to work when paired with Lesnar.

With all that said, this match was even worse than I expected it to be. Lesnar didn’t have his working shoes on. This was the Brock Lesnar squash at its worst. The match was unusually short for a Summerslam main event, no more than fifteen minutes. 8-9 of those minutes were Brock Lesnar standing around after a suplex. Orton doesn’t even bump well, so the suplexes looked terrible.

The ending was absolute trash. The WWE tried to capitalize on Lesnar’s UFC stature. As a result, he won by “TKO” after busting Orton open with elbows. I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe that they would go with a dusty finish two years in a row in the same market. NYC wasn’t having it, nor should they. It was a horrible ending to a horrible match.

All in all, this match was a dumpster fire from the minute it started until its completion. At no point was I remotely entertained. This match receives zero points, and may god have mercy on its soul.

What was the Historical Impact?

Many people want to argue that this match had a tremendous impact. The theory behind this viewpoint is that Vince and the WWE brass promised Randy Orton a title win at Wrestlemania 33 should he agree to eat elbows from Lesnar and bleed. This theory is completely ridiculous to me. This was 2016, not 1987. The WWE dictates to the wrestlers what will and won’t happen, not the other way around.

I don’t believe that this match had any impact on Randy Orton. What it should have told the WWE was that Orton was no longer the star he used to be. If you can’t keep the crowd interested when squaring off with Brock Lesnar in 2016, you’re no longer a guy to build around. Unfortunately, the WWE didn’t receive that message. Instead, Orton won the Royal Rumble, won the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania and has been at the top of the card ever since.

All that said, I will argue that this match had some historical impact. The most noteworthy part of the match were the “Goldberg” chants after the bell during the beat down. This sent a message to the powers that be. If NYC wants to see Goldberg, he’s going to be popular everywhere. Thus, they pulled the trigger on a reboot of their feud thirteen years prior. It worked. Survivor Series, The Royal Rumble and to an extent, Wrestlemania 33 were all built around Goldberg v Brock Lesnar. That’s pretty incredible.

The Last Word.

Due to an absolutely terrible match and low historical impact, not even a solid build can save Brock Lesnar v Randy Orton’s Summerslam 2016 main event from landing near the bottom of our countdown.

That’s a wrap kids. As always, I can be found on Facebook at David Fenichel or on Twitter @FFFightLeague. Sound off below!

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