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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents - Ranking the Summerslam Main Events (#4-#3)
By Dave Fenichel
Aug 7, 2017 - 7:48:32 PM

Hi kids.

I’m back with Part 13 of my newest column series, “Ranking the Summerslam Main Events”. In this edition, I’ll review #4 and #3 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 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)

Question of the Day #1: What is your favorite “Legend v Legend” match?

Question of the Day #2: What is your favorite show that you’ve seen live and why?

4. Hulk Hogan v Shawn Michaels (Summerslam 2005)

Did The Buildup Deliver?

Hulk Hogan is the greatest sports entertainer of all time. Shawn Michaels is the best in ring wrestler ever and a top ten overall sports entertainer in history. Let’s face it. A match between these two would have been highly anticipated even if it didn’t have a storyline behind it. With that said, I commend the WWE. They gave them a fantastic storyline to work with.

The storyline started when HBK needed a tag team partner while involved in a feud with Mohammad Hassan and Daivari. His promo asking Hogan to be his partner for “one more match” was the stuff of legends. They defeated Hassan and Daivari at Backlash. For those of you confused, Backlash was a Summer Pay Per View at the time. The WWE has always taken liberties with the timing of their non-major PPV names.

Raw fell on July 4th that year, so the WWE decided to strike while the iron was hot. They trotted out everyone’s favorite American hero for a segment on Carlito’s talk show. Carlito and Kurt Angle beat Hogan down, only for Shawn Michaels to make the save. In the main event that night, Hogan and HBK beat Angle and Carlito in a tag match. Much to everyone’s surprise, HBK dropped Hogan with a super-kick while they were posing together post-match.

This was perfect. No one saw the heel turn coming. Michaels challenged Hogan to a match at Summerslam the following week, and it was on. I loved everything about this storyline. I’m always invested in anything that Hulk Hogan is involved in, so to be getting this legend v legend match with an unexpected face/heel dynamic was amazing. It was great to see HBK work as a heel again. His heel promos were always fantastic, and this was no exception. It’s a shame that his Christian values kept him from working as a heel more late in his career.

I really enjoyed the premise behind HBK’s promos during this feud. He felt that Hogan was living off a reputation that he created twenty years ago, while he was reinventing himself every night. HBK dressing up as Hogan and cutting Hogan-like promos was gold. “Watcha gonna do brother, when HBK won’t lay down for you” is a line that I’ll always remember. Hogan was his usual self, cutting face promos and getting the crowd worked up into a frenzy. Hogan was the absolute best at getting the exact reaction he was looking for from the fans.

Hulk Hogan v HBK, “Legend v Icon” was the most anticipated Summerslam main event ever. I loved every minute of it.

Did the Match Deliver?

Of course did it. How could it not? The crowd response to their entrances and pre-match stare down was deafening. This felt like a Wrestlemania Main Event. Everything about this match was absolutely spot on.

Many talk about HBK’s overselling as “punishment” to Hogan for backstage politics. I think that’s nonsense. Hulk Hogan matches have a pretty specific formula. He dominates early to get the crowd involved. The tide turns and he plays the face in peril. He makes his big comeback and emerges victorious. HBK sells better than anyone else in the history of the business. He used his tremendous talents in this area to add to the match, not detract from it.

HBK used great heel tactics throughout the match. The eye poke, the numerous slaps to the face, and the low blow were all effective in ensuring that the crowd continued to boo everything that he did. I thought Michaels called a great audible when he heard the fans chanting “you screwed Bret”, mouthed “you want Bret?”, climbed off the turnbuckle and locked Hogan in a sharpshooter. Heel HBK is light years ahead of face HBK. I only wish we saw more of him.

I think the physicality that Michaels brought to the match was really underrated. He really beat on Hogan, drilling him with dozens of vicious chops and extremely realistic looking punches. Hogan’s blade job was great. Blood is definitely missed in the current product. I thought the announcers added to the match by using a boxing analogy and comparing Hogan to an older fighter that perhaps shouldn’t have returned for “one last match”. It really played into the narrative being told in the ring.

I loved the twist they did on the standard “Hulk Up” in the middle of the match. No one expected Hogan to go into his routine after HBK missed a top rope elbow drop. The fans really bought into this being the end of the match when Hogan hit his three punches. When HBK drilled both Hogan and the referee with a flying forearm as a reversal to the big boot, the crowd went crazy. This was a pivotal moment in the match, as it cast legitimate doubt as to whether or not Hogan would win.

I’ve heaped so much praise onto HBK and his performance here that I need to take a moment and give the greatest his due. Hogan’s matches are very similar to each other, but there’s a reason for that. You don’t mess with perfection. His formula has worked better than any other in history because Hulk Hogan is the single greatest in ring psychologist that has ever lived. He knows exactly when to play to the crowd, what to say during a match, and what facial expressions and hand motions to employ to ensure that the fans are eating it up with a spoon each and every time. He sold the beating he was taking like an absolute champ. Make no mistake about it, as great as HBK was, this match doesn’t reach epic proportions if Hulk Hogan was not involved.

The finish was exactly what you’d expect it to be but it was just as well received as ever. The roof when off the building when Hulk Hogan kicked out of Sweet Chin Music, “Hulked Up” and finished HBK off. The fans came to see Hogan win, and they got exactly what they wanted. The handshake post-match made sense. HBK was never staying a heel for reasons already mentioned.

All in all, this match was one of the greatest spectacles of all time. Two of the best to ever do it gave the fans in attendance and watching on TV something that they will remember forever.

What was the Historical Impact?

This match was never going to have the impact on their careers going forward that you would traditionally expect from a Summerslam main event. They are made men and nothing that happened at Summerslam could possibly make either of their legacies any better or worse.

Instead, this was a moment in time. You can count the times two of the best ever from different eras squared off on a massive stage on one hand. When it happens, it’s always magic. This was a match that made the wrestling world stand still and appreciate the uniqueness and greatness of what they were seeing. With all that said, the actual historical impact was non-existent.

The Last Word.

Hulk Hogan v Shawn Michaels had an amazing build and a match that both hooked the crowd better than any other on our countdown and nailed the spectacle element unlike no other. As off the charts as this match scored in those two categories, I simply couldn’t put it ahead of the other three matches that remain. Those matches scored strongly across the board. Thus, one of my personal favorites ends up in the #4 position on the countdown.

3. Brock Lesnar v The Rock (Summerslam 2002)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

There has never been a wrestler that rose to the top faster than Brock Lesnar. He debuted right after Wrestlemania with Paul Heyman in tow. He started to wreck everyone, and the fans took to him immediately. It was a perfect pairing – an unstoppable monster and a microphone master. The WWE immediately took notice and decided to capitalize. Brock Lesnar won the King of the Ring Tournament only mere months into his WWE career. With this came an automatic title shot at Summerslam 2002. Like just about everyone else, I was excited. Lesnar was fresh. He was different. He was a beast. I wanted to see whether or not he’d win the world title.

The only catch was that the WWE championship was in limbo. Triple H had defeated Chris Jericho in the main event of Wrestlemania 18. Triple H was terrible as a face champion. After Hulk Hogan turned the clock back 15 years with The Rock at Mania, they had H drop the title to him a month later. Hogan couldn’t work a full time schedule and thus dropped the belt to The Undertaker a month after that. The lack of stability surrounding the world title was an issue as they needed a blockbuster pairing with Lesnar at Summerslam.

Enter The Rock. At the PPV prior to Summerslam, he won the title in a Triple Threat Match against The Undertaker and Kurt Angle. This match is absolutely amazing, easily one of my all-time favorites. In hindsight, this made all the sense in the world. While I didn’t realize it then, it should have been obvious that Summerslam 2002 was all about the rise of Lesnar. In order for him to rise, Lesnar needed to take out the top dog. The WWE had successfully moved Austin out of the way at this point. As such, The Rock was the unquestioned top guy in the company. Thus, he absolutely had to be the guy to square off with Lesnar at Summerslam 2002.

My only issue with the build is that the actual 1 on 1 storyline had less than one month to develop. The WWE attempted to make the most of it and for the most part was successful. They didn’t allow any type of physical confrontation up until the Smackdown before Summerslam. Instead, Lesnar targeted The Rock’s now friend, Hulk Hogan. Lesnar attacked him during a match where he and The Rock had a tag team title shot, and a match between the two was set up for the following Smackdown. The WWE put the #1 contender spot on the line.

Although ridiculous that a match of this caliber would end up on a random episode of Smackdown, there was a tremendous amount of intrigue behind it. Many fans, myself included, still didn’t know what the deal was at the time. We believed that the WWE was going to run a rematch of Wrestlemania 18 between The Rock and Hogan at Summerslam. Instead, Lesnar absolutely destroyed the Hulkster. He locked him in a bear hug and Hogan passed out. You cannot undersell how strongly Hogan put over Lesnar here. Go ahead and compile a list of wrestlers that have beaten Hogan so decisively. Spoiler alert, it’s not many.

The Hogan match gave a steamrolling train even more momentum going into the final weeks leading up to Summerslam. I liked how they had Lesnar continue to taunt The Rock during matches leading up their showdown. When they finally gave the fans the physical confrontation they craved on the go-home episode of Smackdown, it was in the form of a brawl. It was enough to get people excited, but not so much where they didn’t crave more. The end result? We had a blockbuster main event that everyone was amped for.

Did the Match Deliver?

In a big way! This match was billed as a clash between titans and it didn’t disappoint. Given the physicality of both men, the fast start to the match was the right move. There was no need to have a feeling out process. Lesnar’s belly to belly less than a minute into the match set the tone.

The “Rocky Sucks” chants started early and were prevalent throughout the entire match. I have to be honest. I was there in attendance, and did not expect him to get booed out of the building like that. Part of it may have been the New York crowd being the New York crowd, and part of it may have been the fact that The Rock was leaving for Hollywood. However, I believe that the biggest reason was that the WWE fan base was ready for a new star, and his name was Brock Lesnar. The unexpected reversal of the face/heel dynamic definitely added to the match.

If I had to name a minor gripe about this match, it’s the Heyman interference. Brock Lesnar was booked to be an unstoppable monster. There was no need for Heyman to help him by providing distractions. I thought it took away from the battle going on in the ring. I’m glad that the WWE didn’t allow Heyman to factor into the result of the match. The Rock putting Heyman through the announcers table with a Rock Bottom was awesome. It popped an already hot crowd and allowed Lesnar and The Rock to finish the match 1 on 1, the only fitting ending to a clash of this magnitude.

There was so much to like about this match. The dual kip-up spot was awesome. We were used to seeing it from the Rock, but seeing Lesnar do it in stereo was incredible. Seeing Brock sell for someone is a breath of fresh air compared to the nonsense we get from him these days. I thought the bear hug spot showed nice continuity from the part of the storyline involving Hulk Hogan. Lesnar kicking out of the Rock Bottom was a great false finish, and it was a nice touch for Lesnar to respond with a Rock Bottom of his own.

The dualing “Rocky Sucks” and “Let’s Go Lesnar” chants at the end of the match made for an incredible atmosphere live. In fact, the entire ending sequence from the People’s Elbow attempt to the F5 finish was spectacular. Being there live, I remember thinking that this was a good but not great match with an awesome ending. I couldn’t understand why it ranked so highly on the WWE’s list of top Summerslam matches. In hindsight, I was wrong. I underrated this match bigtime. It is without a doubt a classic that deserves its ranking amongst the best in-ring matches in Summerslam history.

What Was the Historical Impact?

As big as it possibly could be on two levels.

This was The Rock’s last match as a full time performer. He was off to Hollywood for good. He popped back in for a rematch with Hogan in February, a final chapter with Austin at Wrestlemania 19, and to put Goldberg over a month later on PPV. He’d show up again out of nowhere for a handicap match at Wrestlemania 20, and that was it. Summerslam 2002 really marked the end of an era.

One man’s goodbye is another man’s hello. This was the launching point for Brock Lesnar. He immediately became “the man” and the focal point of the company. A face turn was inevitable and he went on to headline Wrestlemania 19. He was a dominant force for the entire time he was in the WWE prior to leaving for the UFC. As we all know, he came back years later to dominate in even greater fashion than he did during this first run. Every great superstar has one moment that marks the point where he became a “made man”. For Brock Lesnar, that moment was Summerslam 2002.

The Last Word.

I feel like there was a good distance between the top three on the countdown and everything else. Brock v Rock had quite possibly the biggest historical impact of any match on the countdown and the match is epic. However, the short build, although effective in creating anticipating for the match, wasn’t quite as deep and well-rounded as the builds for the two remaining matches on the list. Nonetheless, Brock v Rock’s incredible presentation makes it a very worthy pick for #3 on the countdown.

That’s a wrap kids. We’re down to the final two. Who will take the top spot? Find out on Thursday. Sound off below!

Facebook: David Fenichel

Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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