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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents: "Ranking the Summerslam Main Events (#21-#20)
By Dave Fenichel
Jul 13, 2017 - 10:30:24 AM

Hi kids.

I’m back with Part 5 of my newest column series, “Ranking the Summerslam Main Events”. In this edition, I’ll review #21 and #20 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)
#23. The Undertaker v The Undertaker (Summerslam 1994)
#22. Brock Lesnar v Randy Orton (Summerslam 2016)

Question of the Day #1: When did you first realize that the Hulk Hogan era was over?

Question of the Day #2: What do you think would have happened had Lex Luger not made the jump to WCW?

21. Hulk Hogan & The Ultimate Warrior v The Triangle of Terror (Summerslam 1991)

Did the Buildup Deliver?

No, it was horrible. Like several of the other Summerslam main events of this time period, the WWE regurgitated a Wrestlemania Main Event feud that had long run its course. Earlier in the year, Slaughter and Hogan had a fantastic feud that took advantage of the current state of affairs between the United States and Iraq and led to a blow off match at Wrestlemania VII.

Once Hogan reclaimed his title that night, you had to figure that the feud would wind down. There was house show business to be had, so it made sense to run Hogan v Slaughter in “Desert Storm” matches for the next few months. That’s where it should have died. A new and fresh storyline should have been built for Summerslam, and we would have been good to go. Instead, the WWE threw Colonel Mustafa (The Iron Sheik) and The Ultimate Warrior into the mix. There wasn’t a real explanation as to why they were involved. They were just tossed in. It really was that ridiculous.

They tried to tease tension between the Warrior and Hogan, but no one took that seriously. Likewise, no one thought that the “Triangle of Terror” had any chance of defeating these two superheroes. This was completely lackluster and the WWE didn’t even attempt to bring something fresh to the table. Their feeble attempt included inserting a debuting Sid Justice into the match at the special guest referee. This did little, if anything, to add to the intrigue.

It’s really too bad. The Warrior had just begun a red hot feud with Jake Roberts and The Undertaker. Jake had just turned heel and was simply phenomenal in this role. The WWE could have easily added Hulk Hogan for a tag match and still had Sid as the referee. It would have made for a much stronger, fresher main event. The fans would definitely have gotten behind it. Instead, they completely air-balled the build to this one.

Did the Match Deliver?

It was terrible. Being the Eternal Optimist, I try to see the good in everything and point out the positives. There were very few here. Both The Warrior and Hogan got big pops for their entrances. After that, the crowd was shockingly dead. This was almost unheard of for a 1980s/early 1990s match featuring Hulk Hogan, yet hear we were. This happened in New York City nonetheless. I couldn’t believe how quiet the fans were for the majority of the match.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. With very few exceptions, special guest referees are a bad idea. Sid really wasn’t up for the role here. He did a good job trying to show impartiality by taking Slaughter’s strap away right at the onset of the match. Unfortunately, his inconsistent counts hurt the flow of what was already a bad match. He tried to reprimand Hogan for “cheating” but it didn’t come off as genuine or believable. Sid was not the world’s greatest actor, so this should come as no surprise to anyone.

Once again, I try to see the positives but they just weren’t there. I can’t help but continue to harp on how dead the crowd was. Even the normally booming Hogan chants were muted when the heels took control. The “hot tag” to Warrior wasn’t all that hot. In fact, his comeback barely lasted as it was derailed when he accidentally ran into Sid. The heels took over far too quickly to be effective or keep the crowd engaged. I understand what they were trying to do here, but the pacing and psychology were off the mark.

The match had a few passable moments. Warrior actually did a surprisingly good job of selling the back injury. The second hot tag to Hogan was better, but still not as hot as you would expect. The finish to the match was weird and lackluster. Warrior chased Mustafa and Adnan to the back. Hogan threw poder in Slaughter’s eyes while Sid’s back was turned, and hits the leg drop for the victory. Poor stuff all around here. The highlight of the entire match was post-match. Hogan put Sid over in an incredibly big way by calling him back out to the ring to pose with him. To get the seal of approval from Hulk Hogan in front of the fans was a very big deal, so this was a great way to introduce Sid to the public. Unfortunately, when that is the best part of the match, you know that the match it question was an absolute stinker.

What was the historical impact?

Surprisingly, quite massive. This was a significant moment for everyone involved.

For the Ultimate Warrior, this was the end of his initial run. As most of you may or may not know, he basically held Vince and the WWE hostage over this match. He claimed that he was owed $100,000 in past due money for previous work. He showed up to the arena earlier in the day and refused to wrestle unless Vince paid him. As the story goes, Vince paid up and fired him immediately after the match on the spot. The Warrior wouldn’t return for roughly one year, and he was never a consistent figure on WWE programming again.

This too, marked the end of Slaughter’s main event run. The Iraqi sympathizer gimmick had long run its course, and without it Slaughter didn’t have a place at the top of the card. He went on a campaign to win over the fans by asking for his country back, and became an American hero baby face once again. He was a mid-card act for the next few months but was already out of the picture by the time Wrestlemania VIII came around.

While this was the end of the road for both The Warrior and Slaughter, it was the beginning for Sid. The pop the fans gave him when he posed with Hogan told you everything that you needed to know. The WWE had a star on their hands with massive potential. He was pushed to the moon. This led to a shocking elimination of Hulk Hogan during the famed 1992 Royal Rumble, a monster heel turn, and the first of his two Wrestlemania main events.

Last, but certainly not least, it cannot be ignored how quiet the reaction was here compared to other matches for Hogan. Hogan was an incredibly hot commodity for eight years, an incredibly long time for someone whose act really didn’t change. Inevitably, the fans started to lose interest. I believe that this was the moment when Vince recognized once and for all that the Hulkamania era wasn’t going to live forever. He had dipped his toe in the water by putting the title on the Warrior a year earlier, but still continued to push Hogan as the top draw to massive success. Sure enough, Hogan was on the way out the door in less than one year’s time. The WWE ultimately didn’t find his replacement as a top draw for almost six years. You cannot underestimate the impact that this match had on both the Hulk Hogan and WWE business.

The Last Word.

What a mess. An absolutely awful build with an equally horrendous match. If not for having one of the biggest historical impacts of any Summerslam main event, Hulk Hogan and The Warrior v The Triangle of terror could have easily been the cellar dweller on the countdown.

20. Diesel v King Mabel (Summerslam 1995)

Did the Build Deliver?

Nope. A lot of people want to dump on this match simply because they never viewed Mabel as a main eventer. I disagree with that assessment. Mabel was huge, had a unique look, some natural charisma and a decent move set for someone his size. He could have easily worked as a main eventer with the correct build up. The issue here is far more nuanced than that. Mabel simply wasn’t built up to be a credible challenger in the correct manner.

The WWE fell into the trap of thinking that just because the previous two King of the Ring winners were ready to main event, Mabel would be as well simply by virtue of winning the tournament. This logic was flawed. In 1993, Bret Hart was already a main event level player when he won the KOTR tournament. He had already been a world champion and headlined a Wrestlemania. In 1994, Owen Hart already had an established ready to go feud with Bret over the World Title prior to winning the King of the Ring. Mabel had none of that. Instead, he won the 1995 King of the Ring and was automatically catapulted into the main event of Summerslam against Diesel. The WWE didn’t lay the proper groundwork to Mabel’s main event push, and that is why it didn’t work.

The feud itself didn’t do him or the WWE any favors either. They kicked off the feud by having him interfere in Diesel’s world title defense against Sid at In Your House 2. It was a lumberjack match, and he was one of said lumberjacks. He attacked Diesel while outside of the ring by throwing him into the steel steps. Normally, this would be a perfectly acceptable start to a feud. The issue? Diesel still won the match. Tell me why we should have cared about Mabel attacking Diesel when it didn’t cause him to lose? They did a little better on an episode of Raw when Mabel attacked Diesel after his match with Mo. Mabel laid out both Diesel and HBK, and was made to look like the monster he should have been from the start. By this point though, it was already too little too late.

The best part of the storyline was on the go-home episode of Raw. The British Bulldog interrupted an interview with Diesel to suggest that he and Diesel go after Men on a Mission in a tag team match that night. During the match, The Bulldog turned on Diesel and sided with MoM. This was far more interesting than anything else going on in the feud. The story then became whether or not Lex Luger, the super popular tag team partner of The British Bulldog at the time, would also be joining forces against Diesel. Once again, when the ONLY interesting part of the storyline involves wrestlers outside of the world title challenger, you know that you’re in trouble. The WWE never built Mabel up properly, and it led to one of the worst builds in Summerslam history.

Did the Match Deliver?

I fully expected to destroy this match as one of the worst if not THE worst Summerslam main event ever. The truth? Despite the terrible build and the public perception of the two wrestlers involved, this match was pretty good. I found myself entertained from beginning to end.

Mabel’s theme music and entrance at the time cracked me up. He had this ridiculous king-like musical intro, followed by police sirens and a generic rap entrance. Why the police sirens? Oh yeah, that’s right. It was the early 1990s and black people were bad news….right Vince? Underlying racist overtones aside, I thought it was pretty cool that someone of Mabel’s size was carried in on the throne. I cracked up when they zoomed in on one of the four guys carrying him to show him grimacing in tremendous pain.

The crowd started off pretty dead for the match itself, which should be a surprise to no one. They didn’t do a good job building the feud or establishing Mabel as a credible challenger, so why should anyone care? Nonetheless, I thought both men performed admirably. Diesel in particular, really brought his “A” game. It was interesting to watch him during a big match early in his career. Kevin Nash had a terrible reputation of phoning it in during matches and just doing the bare minimum to get by. This was NOT the case here. He went above and beyond to do everything that he could to make this match memorable. For god sakes, he unleashed a springboard plancha over the top rope and onto Mabel on the floor. This was incredible for someone his size, even if not the most graceful one that we’ve ever seen.

Mabel played his part well here too. There were a couple of power moves where you really felt like Diesel was in trouble. I’m often critical of ref bumps because they look fake and forced. Mabel absolutely trucked Hebner here, knocking him to the outside of the ring with such force that it made sense for Earl to be down. Mo jumped him the ring and the double team began. This brought Lex Luger out to a tremendous pop. Immediately, Diesel clotheslines him over the top rope and onto the floor. This might seem like really odd booking, but it worked for me. With Luger’s tag team partner just having turned on him and the rumors swirling around about Luger’s own allegiance, why would Diesel trust him at this point? Nonetheless, Luger shows his true colors, attacking Mo and sending him running to the back.

During the chaos, Mabel hits Diesel with a belly to belly suplex, leading to an incredibly slow counted near fall. This was a great false finish, as the entire crowd was on the edge of their seats. I am a sucker for false finishes, and they nailed it here. The end came shortly after, with Diesel turning the tide and hitting Mabel with a top rope clothesline. I enjoyed the finish. I am a big fan of any match that ends in a decisive manner other than by finisher or roll up. It’s a rarity, but when done correctly, a breath of fresh air.

Overall, I really enjoyed this match from start to finish. Both Diesel and Mabel gave maximum effort, the psychology and booking were on point and it got the fans excited at all the right times. This is far from a five star classic, but equally far from the dumpster fire that others will lead you to believe it is.

What was the historical impact?

Not earth shattering, but there were ramifications. I believe that Lex Luger’s involvement was to lead to bigger things. Mabel’s part of the main event storyline was clearly over. It looked like a major feud between Luger and The British Bulldog was about to begin, which most likely would have elevated both back to main event status. Instead, Luger bolted for WCW when Nitro debuted in September, crushing all of the plans.

I think the WWE realized that Diesel’s run as world champion was coming to an end. He worked far better as a heel than as a face, and they were out of monsters to feed to him. I think there was a better than 50/50 chance that the British Bulldog would have taken the belt off him in order to set up the feud with Luger. Instead, Diesel’s world title run continued until the next major PPV.

If anything, the biggest historical impact of this match was that the WWE needed to change what they were doing. The buy rate for Summerslam 1995 was only 0.9, a tremendous drop from previous Summerslam shows. Diesel as world champion didn’t work, and it was time to move on.

The Last Word

Many of you have been critical of the countdown thus far because you believe that Diesel v Mabel should have been ranked as the worst Summerslam main event in history. While the build was in fact terrible, the match was much better than any of you clowns want to give it credit. Couple that with some historical impact and the 1995 Summerslam main event doesn’t belong at the very bottom of our countdown.

That’s a wrap kids. Go ahead. Tell me how much you hated Diesel v Mabel. I’ll be here. Thanks for reading, sound off below!

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