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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents - Ranking the Summerslam Main Events (#6-#5)
By Dave Fenichel
Aug 1, 2017 - 11:01:30 PM

Hi kids.

I’m back with Part 12 of my newest column series, “Ranking the Summerslam Main Events”. In this edition, I’ll review #6 and #5 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 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)

Question #1: Do white meat baby-faces still work in today’s WWE?

Question of the Day #2: Would the Hell in a Cell gimmick be better served as a special attraction match rather than the basis for its own PPV?

6. The British Bulldog v Bret Hart – Intercontinental Title Match (Summerslam 1992)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

It depends on how you look at it. Strictly from a week by week analysis of how they built the feud, this storyline was very well done. It was announced that The British Bulldog would be the number one contender for the Intercontinental Title, squaring off against Hart at Summerslam 1992. The issue? They were family. Bret Hart’s sister, Diana, was married to the British Bulldog. That made Davey Boy and Bret brother-in-laws. This was the first of many Hart-family storylines.

Both Davey Boy and Bret were classic white-meat baby-faces at the time, so it made sense for there not to be any physical encounters leading up to the match. Instead, the storyline was built around vignettes of various family members giving their insight on the match. The gist behind it was that no one wanted the match to happen, as the tension was “tearing the Hart Family apart”. Bruce Hart sided with Davey Boy, while Owen sided with Bret. Diana was caught in the middle and didn’t know what to do. It made for interesting television. The WWE didn’t do many angles like this at the time, and it worked for me. Knowing that the Pay Per View would be taking place in the Bulldog’s home country of England, Bret started cutting heelish promos, even going as far as to call The Bulldog an ingrate. This entire storyline worked for me and as a big Bret Hart fan, I was emotionally invested.

Alas though, there was a major issue. This wasn’t treated as a main event storyline and wasn’t the focus or the buildup to the show. First, this wasn’t the initially scheduled match. Summerslam 1992 wasn’t even originally scheduled to take place in the UK. It was set for Washington D.C. The planned match for Bret Hart was an Intercontinental Title defense against Shawn Michaels. The WWE pulled a 180 degree turn and rebooked the show for Wembley Stadium. The reason for this was because this was the first major Pay Per View that wouldn’t be involving Hulk Hogan. The WWE was concerned about attendance and with the UK market expanding greatly, saw an opportunity to make more money. Thus, the match was changed to Bret v The Bulldog.

Even with it being The Bulldog’s hometown, this feud was really treated as the second biggest on the show, not the main event. The focus for the build was the World Title Match between Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior. As the story goes, the planned finish for the match was for the Warrior to turn heel and win the World Title. The Warrior ended up backing out on the idea the day of the show in typical Warrior fashion, but that’s not the point. Back in this era of wrestling, Vince would never send the fans home unhappy. A Warrior heel turn and a win in the main event would have done that. Instead, he made the decision to let Bret v The Bulldog headline. Therefore, while the storyline was a strong one, it wasn’t treated like the main event of the show. Because of this, it cannot be ranked as one of the best built Summerslam storylines.

Did the Match Deliver?

We all know the answer to this. Funny story though. This match could have been a disaster. The Bulldog was hospitalized with a staph infection in his knee roughly one month before Summerslam. For those of you not in the know, staph infections are terrible and can be life threatening. I once spent six days in the hospital as a result of one. What’s interesting to me is that Bret Hart never believed that a staph infection was the real issue for Davey Boy. He believed that he had a drug problem that was being hidden. In interviews, Bret claims that he was unsuccessful in his attempts to discuss the match with Davey Boy for a period of two months prior. When he finally showed up to the arena, The Bulldog admitted to him that he hadn’t slept in two days.

Given all of this information and the fact that the Summerslam 1992 was built around a different match, this could have been an absolute train-wreck. Instead, we got one of the best matches of all time. So what made this match so special? There were many factors.

The crowd was ridiculously hot for this match. This was the first Pay Per View in the United Kingdom. With any combat sport, the first big show in a new market always features an amazing crowd. Even moreso than that, the WWE hadn’t previously given the UK fans a main event level hero to cheer for. The British Bulldog was that man. I loved how The WWE brought out Lennox Lewis to accompany him. Lewis was a massive star in his home country, and about to become a massive star worldwide on route to becoming one of the best heavyweight boxers of all time. Judging by the shameless shilling of the future PPV bout between Lewis and Razor Ruddock, I am fairly certain that Vince and the WWE were being paid big bucks to promote his fight. Nonetheless, the celebrity involvement made the match seem like a big event, even if it wasn’t previously promoted as such.

Most important of all, they put on a 25 minute classic. In hindsight, it should come as no surprise. The Bulldog isn’t talked about in the discussion of all-time great workers, but he’s incredibly underrated in the ring. Bret on the other hand, is one of the two or three best workers of all time. They clicked perfectly here. Although also a face, Bret played the heel well. He was a tremendous in-ring general throughout the entire match, working over the Bulldog repeatedly. I won’t go in move by move detail of this masterpiece, as I could not nearly do it justice. However, a couple things really stood out to me.

The psychology of the match fit the storyline well. Throughout the match, whenever the physicality of the match would escalate, they would cut to Diana Hart in the crowd looking incredibly concerned. For what it’s worth, she played her part incredibly well. Second, this was an era where finishing moves were heavily protected. Only Hulk Hogan was allowed to kick out of finishers. Here, both men escaped the other’s finisher. This was a big deal at the time and added to the drama of the match.

I’m a sucker for non-conventional finishers. One of my criticisms of today’s product is that matches tend to only end in finishers or rollups from behind. I like creative endings that are well thought out, and we got one here. The end came when Bret attempted a sunset flip, only for The Bulldog to sit down, hook Bret’s legs with his arms, and score the pin. It was clever, it was unexpected, and it was perfect. The aftermath was very well done. The two men shook hands and ultimately celebrated with Diana Hart in the middle of the ring. This made sense to me. Although Bret played the heel for a night, he was a face and needed to both act and be treated like one. All in all, this match is flawless. Without question my favorite on the countdown.

What was the historical impact?

A tale of two wrestlers.

For the Bulldog, this was the peak of his career. This was the only time he headlined a Big 4 Pay Per View in a one on one match. It was in front of his home crowd and he reigned victorious. It felt like this was the start of very big things for his career. Unfortunately for him, that was not the case. He wasn’t able to maintain the momentum he had built up as a result of this match.

It wasn’t necessarily his fault. The WWE was in the middle of a major steroid scandal. Vince as a result wanted to wash his hands of anyone that was remotely linked to steroids. This meant Davey Boy had to go. He dropped the IC belt to HBK a couple months later, and off he went to WCW. He had decent success there and returned to the WWE for respectable runs in 1994 and again during the attitude era, but never reached the heights of his Summerslam 1992 performance and moment.

For Bret Hart on the other hand, this match was EVERYTHING. He had done a nice job of transitioning from tag team specialist to successful mid-card singles wrestler. It came as a surprise to me when he won the IC title in Summerslam 1991 against Mr. Perfect, but he sure took advantage of the opportunity. I truly think that Bret opened a lot of eyes with how good his Intercontinental Title reigns were. He had a great feud with The Mountie and an all-time classic against Rowdy Piper at Wrestlemania 8.

The strength of those matches and the crowd reaction made people take notice. If Bret could do that in the mid-card, what might he be able to do in the main event? Summerslam 1992 marked his first crack at the top billing, and boy did he deliver. This is the match that firmly solidified Bret’s position with Vince as a top level guy. The Hogan era was over. With the steroid scandal, the WWE could no longer rely on jacked up muscle men. A new type of superhero was needed. Bret Hart became that guy.

Shortly after this match, Bret was given the ball. He defeated Ric Flair for the title, and the rest is history. He became a phenomenal world champion, and one of the greatest superstars in history. In my eyes and in the eyes of many, he’s the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be. None of that happens without this match.

The Last Word.

Cue the hate mail. Most readers that I’ve spoken with had this in their top two. Unfortunately, I simply can’t rank a match with a non-main event build ahead of any of the five matches ahead of it. Nonetheless, from a strictly in-ring standpoint, Bret Hart v The Bulldog is one of the best of all time.

The Undertaker v Edge – Hell in a Cell (Summerslam 2008)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

What a marathon. This dates back to shortly after Wrestlemania 23 in 2007. The Undertaker and Edge were involved in a 3 way feud with Batista. Edge got hurt, and The Undertaker and Batista continued their feud. It culminated in a Hell in a Cell match between the two at Survivor Series 2007. Batista retained his title after Edge made his return and drilled The Undertaker with a camera. Fast forward several months. Edge was world champion. The Undertaker won an Elimination Chamber match for the right to face Edge for the world title in the main event of Wrestlemania 24.

The Undertaker defeated Edge in an all-time classic at Wrestlemania 24. I particularly enjoyed the finish of this match, as the Undertaker used Hell’s Gate, a modified gogoplata submission hold. They had their standard Wrestlemania rematch the following month at Backlash, with the Undertaker once again winning with the Hell’s Gate submission. Traditionally, this would have marked the end of the storyline. It turns out they were just getting started.

The Undertaker held the hold long after the bell. Edge was carted out on a stretcher. That week on Smackdown, General Manager and Edge’s main squeeze Vickie Guerrero stripped the Undertaker of his title. She claimed that the Undertaker’s submission move was illegal. This was heel tactics 101. I loved it. This led to a match for the vacant title between the two at Judgment Day. The match ended with the Undertaker winning by count out. The title remained vacant.

Vickie once again tried to pull strings in Edge’s favor. She upped the ante by putting the title on the line at One Night Stand in a TLC match, Edge’s specialty. She also announced that if The Undertaker were to lose, he’d have to retire. Sure enough, Edge won the match, and Taker rode off into the sunset. This storyline was so logical that it didn’t feel like it spanned over the course of four Pay Per Views.

Fast forward a couple of months. Edge and Vickie were set to get married. The problem? Edge was banging Alicia Fox on the side. WWE weddings never go well, and this was no exception. Triple H interrupted and spilled the beans. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Vickie vindictively reinstated the Undertaker and made a Hell in a Cell Match between the two at Summerslam.

I loved everything about this angle. It was a slow burn and the payoff was fantastic. While the gimmick is stale now, Hell in a Cell was still a big deal back in 2008. It was the ultimate in gimmick matches, the only suitable gimmick to end a feud when all other options had been exhausted. This was strong and sensible booking. Vickie used her power to skew the odds in Edge’s favor when they were together. Once they were broken up, she used her power to skew the odds against him. This is one of my favorite builds to any Summerslam main event. I was beyond excited for the match, an impressive feat considering this was the 5th Pay Per View match between the two in a span of six months.

Did the Match Deliver?

Absolutely. I’m not a huge fan of most Undertaker matches. I don’t think that they age well. One of the major reasons for that is the incredibly slow pace that he operates at. That wasn’t a problem here. They tore into each other from the opening bell. They used the cell early and often. They jumped into big spots right away. Unlike most Taker matches, I didn’t find myself bored waiting for the good stuff to start.

I thought the use of the steel stairs was fantastic throughout the entire match. They brought them into the ring for spots that I don’t remember seeing before. Whether it was Taker hitting Snake Eyes onto the steps, or Edge spearing Taker into them while he was sitting down, the stair spots hooked me far earlier than I usually would be during an Undertaker match. I also really liked how Edge incorporated all of the TLC elements into a Hell in a Cell match. In particular, the spot where he combined all three with a chair-assisted elbow drop off of a ladder through a table was stellar.

Hell in a Cell matches are inherently more interesting when the match goes outside of the cell. I thought Edge’s running springboard spear off the steps through the cell was unbelievable. His running spear from one announce table through the other announce table was equally spectacular. I got a good laugh out of the crowd booing when they went back in the cell. Bloodthirsty savages!

They managed to mix in some decent wrestling for a bit. Edge reversing the Last Ride into another spear was solid. The bread and butter of the match was always going to be the spots though, and it wasn’t long before they jumped back to them. I thought Edge reversing Taker’s tombstone attempt into an electric chair on the steps was innovative. The sheer number of spots that they managed to fit into this match is staggering.

My favorite part of the match is definitely the ending. Once Edge set up two tables stacked on the floor early in the match, you knew that they were going to be involved in the big spot. Sure enough, Edge attempted old school only for Taker to choke slam him off the top rope and through the tables. If this wasn’t awesome enough, the closing sequence had The Undertaker get revenge on Edge for everything that he ever did to him. He used Edge’s own spear against him, he drilled him with a camera and he blasted him with a con-chair-to. A tombstone followed and that was all she wrote. An awesome finish to a great match.

After the match, Edge started to stir while Taker is leaving. Taker went back to the ring, dragged Edge up a ladder, and choke slammed him through the ring. Some typical Taker voodoo followed, and a huge fireball erupted in the hole. This was an unbelievably fitting way to end such a long and bitter feud. I’m usually not a fan of the hocus pocus type shenanigans, but it worked for me here. All in all, this is one of my favorite cell matches of all time, and easily one of the best in-ring matches of all the Summerslam main events.

What was the Historical Impact?

This is where this one falls short. The match itself has historical significance. It is the only time in history that the Wrestlemania main event was also the Summerslam main event. This is not a feat that should be taken lightly. When you consider that the WWE was able to get another 4 PPV matches out of Undertaker v Edge even after a definitive Wrestlemania win for Taker, it’s hard not to give them credit for one of the best feuds of all time.

However, the historical impact was non-existent. This was the definitive end to a lengthy and exhausting feud. It doesn’t get more definitive than The Undertaker choke slamming Edge through the ring and then lighting him on fire. Both men went their separate ways and both were already made men. There weren’t any go-forward ramifications from this one.

The Last Word.

With an A+ feud and an A+ match, Undertaker v Edge at Summerslam 2007 could have vied for the top spot had it had any type of significant historical impact. Instead, it will have to settle for being one of the best Hell in a Cell matches ever, a fitting end to one of my all-time favorite feuds and a lofty spot on our list.

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

Facebook: David Fenichel

Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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