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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents - Ranking the Summerslam Main Events (#8-#7)
By Dave Fenichel
Jul 30, 2017 - 8:14:02 AM

Hi kids.

I’m back with Part 11 of my newest column series, “Ranking the Summerslam Main Events”. In this edition, I’ll review #8 and #7 on my list. I am especially excited to have reached this point in the countdown. I believe the top 8 matches on the countdown are far superior to everything that came before them. We have reached the cream of the crop. 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 1988)
#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)

Question of the Day #1: What was the best angle that Triple H and Stephanie McMahon were involved in?

Question of the Day #2: How did you feel about Vader’s WWE run?

8. The Rock v Triple H v Kurt Angle (Summerslam 2000)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

This was a fun angle that was not to be taken too seriously. I enjoyed it tremendously. The storyline surrounding the main event was an emerging feud between Kurt Angle and Triple H over Stephanie McMahon. Through no fault of his own, Triple H kept getting caught in compromising positions with Trish Stratus. This led to Stephanie losing her mind on him like any irrational wife would, and venting to Kurt Angle as a “friend”. During a six person tag in which all three were on the same team, they reigned victorious. Triple H was outside of the ring leaving Angle and Stephanie together. They hugged. Triple H got mad. It got awkward.

This led to a tremendous amount of additional awkwardness, comedy and overall distrust between Triple H and Angle. The idea was that you really didn’t know whether or not Stephanie was interested in Kurt. Kurt played the “aw shucks” guy really well up until the moment he kissed Stephanie, and Triple H played the jealous husband to perfection. Last, but certainly not least, Stephanie McMahon’s presence on TV was not the overdone stale character that you see today. She added tremendous value to the storyline here, something that may seem hard to believe for fans of the current product.

This storyline was somewhat similar to the 1999 Main Event previously discussed on the countdown. In both triple threat matches, the main feud existed between the two challengers. There were several differences that made this version’s build exponentially better than that one. First, it was given the time to build. It wasn’t a rushed clusterf*ck angle that tried to fit six weeks of storytelling into two episodes of Monday Night Raw. Second, unlike in 1999, The Rock was very involved as world champion. From the minute the WWE announced both Triple H and Angle as co #1 contenders after their double pin on Chris Jericho, the WWE did a great job incorporating the Rock into the Triple H/Angle/Steph drama through weekly tag team and six man tag matches.

The final build to the match added a nice touch with Vince as the concerned father pulling both men aside and telling them that he was tired of his daughter calling him crying on the phone. As a result, Triple H and Angle needed to get on the same page or they’d both lose their title shots. The go-home show saw them do just that, working together to leave The Rock laying. All seemed well until Smackdown that week. Triple H was left laying, Angle abandoned him, and kissed Stephanie backstage. This was the perfect ending to add uncertainty to the entire storyline. Because of everything mentioned above, what you ended up with was a fun and enjoyable feud that made you care about the triple threat title match at Summerslam 2000. Mission accomplished.

Did the Match Deliver?

There were issues, but the good outweighed the bad. First off, Kurt Angle cut an amazing promo in the ring prior to the match. His line where he said “I’m sorry….for not kissing her a hell of a lot sooner”….had me rolling on the floor.

I loved the psychology at the beginning of the match. It was a smart decision to have HHH come out and brawl with Angle prior to the Rock coming out to join the fray. The real heat was between Kurt and HHH. It made sense for them to have some time in the spotlight by themselves. On the flip side, it also made sense for The Rock to wait. The match hadn’t started yet, so he didn’t have to worry about the pin happening without him being present. Why not let them tear each other apart?

Unfortunately, you can’t talk about this match without talking about Kurt Angle’s injury. For those who haven’t seen it, during the brawl prior to The Rock’s entrance, HHH attempted a pedigree on Angle on top of the Spanish Announcer’s Table. The table broke prematurely, they went tumbling, and Angle suffered a legit concussion. Trust me when I say this….he was OUT. The injury changed the entire match. Everyone involved did a fantastic job trying to cover up the injury – from HHH chasing down Kurt on the stretcher to Steph coming out to show support for Triple H and then interjecting herself. Nonetheless, a one on one match without Angle this was not supposed to be, and the improvised match gets incredibly slow in the middle as a result. There was nothing that they could do about it, just an unfortunate fact of life.

The match is a chore to watch until they cut to the back to show Stephanie begging a legit-concussed Kurt Angle to get off the stretcher. Steph screaming “Do it for Me Kurt, go help Hunter” and Kurt’s response of “I’ll do it for you Steph” was priceless to me. This led to an amazing sequence that saw Steph drag Kurt down to the ring, with the distraction allowing HHH to hit The Rock with a Pedigree only for Kurt to pull him out of the ring at the count of two. The crowd erupted for this. It was shocking to see the WWE allow Angle to take bumps after what happened to him. This would never fly in today’s WWE.

We ended up with an equally amazing ending to the match. HHH goes to punch Angle, he ducks and Steph gets drilled. I feel like there should be a “that’s what she said” joke in here, so there you go. I made one. Anyhow, Angle uses the distraction to drop Triple H with a sledgehammer shot to the dome. The Rock takes advantage, knocks Angle out of the ring, and finishes Triple H off with a People’s Elbow. Awesome ending here, and the crowd loved it. The cherry on top of the Sunday came when Angle scooped an unconscious Steph up and carried her to the back while HHH was left laid out in the ring. Clearly, this was not the end to the storyline.

All in all, this match is difficult to put into context. Kurt Angle’s injury caused major changes to the match on the spot. The improvisation led to the majority of the match being boring to me. However, the ending was amazing, and the crowd was hot throughout. I’ll remember this match as an entertaining spectacle that could and would have been much better under other circumstances.

What was the historical impact?

This was Kurt Angle’s first World Title match on a major stage, and it came on the second biggest stage in wrestling. Angle’s career took off like a rocket from day one. You could see the writing on the wall. He won the European and Intercontinental titles leading up to Wrestlemania 16, and when he lost both at Mania, you knew he was heading for bigger and better things. After winning the King of the Ring, you knew it was his time to shine.

Kurt was heading to the world title regardless, but I think his performance here opened a lot of eyes. He was hurt very badly but managed to pull it together and finish the match. I think this showed everyone, including the backstage brass, that he was a lot more than a retired amateur wrestler looking for the next thing to do in his life – that he had the right mentality and passion for the business to be incredibly successful.

Sure enough, Kurt Angle won the world title less than two months later and the rest is history. He’s one of the best in ring performers ever and one of the best overall WWE performers ever. This match served as his first big moment.

The Last Word.

The Rock v Triple H v Kurt Angle scored well across the board but didn’t blow me away in any of the three categories. Nonetheless, a well-balanced presentation allowed Summerslam 2000 to snag the #7 spot on the countdown.

7. HBK v Vader (Summerslam 1996)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

Sometimes, less is more. HBK v Vader was one of those instances. This wasn’t the most complicated feud or well thought out storyline that the WWE has ever produced, but it was effective. The build to the match started when Vader’s team beat Shawn’s team in a six man tag match during the main event of In Your House. The end came when Vader pinned Shawn after a Vader Bomb.

As a result, Vader was instantly established as a credible threat to Shawn’s title, and the match was made for Summerslam. There wasn’t a lot of physical interaction between Vader and HBK in the remainder of the lead up. On the go home episode of Raw, Vader attacked HBK from behind and left him laying with a Vader Bomb. This was simple, yet effective.

The entire premise was that Vader was too big and too strong for HBK. It was a foregone conclusion that he would beat HBK for the belt at Summerslam. There was nothing that HBK or “The Kliq” could do about it. Vader had a tremendous amount of credibility as the legit monster that he was. He had a reign of terror in WCW prior to jumping ship. He absolutely destroyed the previous monster of the WWE in Yokozuna. The WWE played up to the fact that Vader outweighed Shawn by 200lbs. The build was effective in the same way that the build to Brock Lesnar v The Undertaker at Summerslam 2015 was. This match was a perfect example of how good quality storytelling can get the job done despite infrequent interactions between the superstars involved.

Did the match deliver?

Of course. I had very high expectations going into this match. HBK is one of the two best workers ever. He was especially good when paired against big men. Vader is one of if not THE best big man worker of all time. I expected magic. Not only did they deliver, but they exceeded my expectations.

The optics of this match were fantastic. Girls were crying in the crowd. Vader taunted the fans to tremendous heel heat. When Vader started to dominate right away, you really got the feeling that Shawn Michaels didn’t have a chance. Shawn always showed up big in matches, but he really came to bump here. The slingshot over the top rope into an attempted hurricanrana only to be caught and power bombed onto the floor was an awesome sight. The story of the match was clearly how Vader’s strength and power was winning out over HBK’s speed and agility. Even when HBK would gain the upper hand, it was short lived and seemed like it was for naught.

There were some great sequences early in the match. I loved how Vader had an answer for all of HBK’s trademark moves. HBK tried to kip up back into the ring but Vader caught him in mid-air and tossed him like a lawn dart. Michaels tried to do a baseball slide between Vader’s legs, only for Vader to catch him and step on his throat. Even the botched spot in the match had me entertained. Vader was apparently supposed to move out of the way of HBK’s top rope elbow. Vader didn’t move, so Shawn instead landed on his feet, started kicking him in the head repeatedly, all the while screaming “MOVE” as loud as he could at him. Not their best moment, but I was rolling on the floor.

Another spectacular sequence occurred when HBK hit a flying cross body block that sent both men to the floor. This was the start of the “controversy” behind this match. Vader press slammed Shawn throat first onto the steel guardrail, leading to a count out. Jim Cornette cut a tremendous heel promo on HBK, attempting to goad him into restarting the match. HBK obliged.

The entire portion of the match between the count out and the disqualification was solid gold. Tremendous heel tactics from Cornette and Vader led to HBK blasting Vader with the tennis racquet and getting DQ’d. Once again, Cornette taunted HBK and the ring filled up with officials. Gorilla Monsoon re-started the match and we were off to the races.

Before I get to the finish, I feel the need to address this entire sequence and psychology of the match. The majority of the fan base uses this sequence as a reason not to consider this to be an all-time classic. The rationale behind this is that HBK was the face, and a heel Vader shouldn’t be “screwed” out of the title match due to count outs and disqualifications. I think this is garbage and couldn’t be further from the truth. The entire build was that Vader was too big, too strong and too tough for Michaels. He dominated the match only for a series of unfortunate incidents to cost him his chance to win the title. Being that he was so dominant, why wouldn’t he and Cornette want the match to be re-started? This booking was not only unique for its time, but made perfect sense. The haters are simply being silly and trying to revise history. Rant over, back to business.

If the point was to make Vader look like an absolute monster, mission accomplished. I was shocked when the WWE allowed him to kick out of Sweet Chin Music. This wasn’t the everyday occurrence that it is today. Shortly thereafter, a ref bump led to a power bomb and a phantom three count for Vader without the referee. Once again, it was surprisingly to see a heel be on the short end of the stick in a situation like this, but with Vader being so dominant it was the right move.

Finally, Vader set HBK up for his patented Vader Bomb. Cornette instructs him to take it one step further and hit a moonsault. Vader obliges, HBK moves out of the way, and hit his own moonsault for the win. This was a wonderful and unexpectedly finish to a spectacular match. I’ve been championing the cause of non-finisher finishes throughout the entire countdown, so it should come as a surprise to no one that I enjoyed this one. This was an absolute classic, a match that ages like a fine wine and is easily one of my top three in-ring Summerslam main events.

What was the historical impact?

Much more significant than you would think.

HBK really killed Vader dead here. Rumor has it that the original plan was for Vader to win the belt at Summerslam, but Michaels threw a fit backstage and the finish was changed. This would explain why Vader was booked to look like a monster the entire match. It really felt like the WWE had set up Vader to continue to have a monster run and eventually become champion. Instead, he never rose to this level on the card again. He was slowly de-pushed and eventually faded away into obscurity. It was sad to see what Vader ultimately became in the WWE. He deserved much better than he got.

Perhaps the biggest benefactor of all this was the man who has benefitted more from WWE audibles than anyone else in history. That man is Sid. Much like in 1992 when he landed in the Wrestlemania VIII main event after Hogan v Flair fell through, Sid was the man who HBK ended up dropping the strap to after he declined to do the job to Vader. Sid was re-established and the sequence of events that followed allowed him to main event Survivor Series, The Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania XIII. Ladies and gentleman, may I present to you the luckiest man in professional wrestling, the man they call Sid.

Last, but certainly not least, was the impact on HBK. I was surprised to hear a good amount of boos in this match. I remember him being booed out of the building during his Survivor Series title loss to Sid, but this Summerslam match seems to be the beginning of the end in his popularity. Maybe it was because he wasn’t a Hulk Hogan like larger than life character, maybe it was his backstage reputation at the time leaking onto the screen, or maybe it was because dressing up and dancing like a hooker didn’t endear him to the predominately male audience. No matter the root cause, fans were done with HBK. Summerslam 1996 was the first domino. The jeers became louder and louder. In the end, I don’t think HBK lost his smile because of his drug problem, or because he didn’t want to put Bret Hart over at Wrestlemania XIII. I think HBK lost his smile because he couldn’t stand the idea that his run as face champion was in the process of failing. Summerslam 1996 changed the landscape of the WWE, plain and simple.

The Last Word.

We’re at the point in the countdown where every match remaining killed it across the board. The match and historical impact of HBK v Vader scored near the top of the list. However, while the build was effective, it wasn’t quite on the same level as the remaining matches to come. Nonetheless, HBK v Vader is an extremely underrated main event that is deserving of the #7 spot on the countdown.

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

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