REQUESTING FLYBY: Summerslam Memories (The 2000s)
Aug 10, 2014 - 7:56:23 AM
Summerslam Memories (The 2000s)
I’ve been looking forward to looking back at the 2000s simply because it’s a decade where the in-ring action essentially developed into the kind of product we still see today. In particular, the popularisation of the ladder match in 1999 and 2000 made it a fixture on WWF/E cards, to the extent that an entire pay-per-view is now essentially based around the match type each December. From the early tag team ladders tornado triple threat that was labelled “Tables, Ladders and Chairs” after the favoured weapons of the participants, to singles ladder matches with midcard titles on the line, to the infamous stipulation that saw custody of a child on the line in kayfabe, Summerslam has seen a variety of contests where the aim is to incapacitate one’s opponent and climb to glory. As the gimmick has had such importance at the summer classic, I thought it would be fun to revisit the four ladder matches from the decade and discuss their merits. All four are really great examples of why that particular gimmick became so wildly popular.
The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge and Christian vs. The Dudley Boyz in a TLC Match for the Tag Team Titles at Summerslam 2000
After their instant classic at Wrestlemania 2000, these three teams of young, daring studs were put on a collision course yet again for the summer spectacular. Edge and Christian had escaped from that match with the belts and the two teams they defeated were not about to sit back and let them enjoy their reign. Countless matches and run ins involving tables, ladders and chairs took place, and given the high profile use of tables and chairs in the triangle ladder match at the Showcase of the Immortals, the match was formally titled a TLC match for the first time. Edge and Christian were known for their pun-tastic con-chair-to, the Dudleys were apt to yell “get the tables” and the Hardys would leap off literally anything, but especially ladders. The stage was set for another eyecatching brawl.
With the shock and awe evoked by the ‘Mania bout a thing of the past, the teams choose to go for similar spots, but to up the ante and hit them harder and faster. The tornado stipulation leads to a chaotic and exciting opening with Edge and Christian wildly swinging chairs at the opposing teams and getting unceremoniously dumped outside by the four babyface wrestlers. The risk taking of the Hardys is accentuated early on when Jeff goes for Poetry in Motion but straight into a Bubba chair shot, and the struggle between the two face teams allows E and C back into things. True to their status as canny heels, they go for the ladders early, trying to get out with their tag titles as quickly as possible, but this merely leads to the first round of wince inducing ladder bumps, and boy, could these guys bump spectacularly. It’s real demolition derby stuff and it never lets up.
The set up of a nest of tables always seems somewhat silly from a psychological point of view, since there is no immediate use for them when D-Von sets them up, but one can forgive that in the grand scheme of things when you see Bubba tipped off a ladder to the outside through four tables due to the irony of him being taken out by his own chosen piece of furniture. Jeff Hardy goes for the huge twenty feet in the air Swanton Bomb too, but finds that this time, his opponent is able to bail out; the point is that high risk does not always pay off. There’s a foreshadowing of the run-in filled Wrestlemania X7 rubber match when Lita appears to yank Team Awesome off the ladder to allow Matt Hardy the opportunity to climb, but the ascendency of the former New Brood is soon stopped dead by D-Von making the elder Hardy the third man to go crashing through multiple tables. It is basically a riot of a match where anything can and will happen, and the unpredictablity runs all the way to the finish when E and C smash D-Von and Jeff off the belt holding mechanism with ladders and climb up to retain their titles.
What this second spectacular triple threat between these teams proved was that the first one at Wrestlemania was not a fluke, it was an incredible trick that could be repeated. Knowing this, WWF would go back to the well with these teams again in the greatest Grandaddy of all time, ending an era. More importantly than that even, it meant that the smash and bash form of the ladder match proved its longevity, retaining its popularity among live audiences and the fans at home so that it became one of the more frequently booked gimmick matches in the company. Many of those matches would involve one of these “ladder match specialists” as with the next one on our list. There is certainly no doubt that Jeff, Matt, Edge, Christian, D-Von and Bubba re-defined the way that the gimmick was wrestled through the next decade.
Jeff Hardy vs. Rob Van Dam in a ladder match for the Hardcore Title at Summerslam 2001
A year later, Jeff Hardy found himself on a singles push in the midcard. Having upset Triple H for the Intercontinental Title before the InVasion, before losing it back, he found himself in the Hardcore division as the InVasion kicked off. This put him on a collision course with the only athlete in the newly expanded roster that was more unorthodox than he, a man by the name of Rob Van Dam. The two put on a sensational hardcore match at the InVasion pay-per-view that made everybody sit up and take notice; they quite honestly stole the show. With Hardy having prominently used a ladder in that bout as the hardcore “tool” he knew best, and with Van Dam’s athleticism and background in Extreme Championship Wrestling, it seemed a no brainer to put them in a ladder match at Summerslam, and the two would put on another classic.
Unexpectedly, the two wrestlers start out with amateur wrestling, sizing each other up and building to high spots from a traditional pro wrestling base, a nice touch that shows both men as more cerebral than they’re often given credit for. RVD uses his trademark kicks but in a measure of how well they’ve got to know each other in kayfabe, they’re telegraphed by Jeff. The former ECW man is a natural showboater, and this backfires as he is hiplocked off the apron to the outside for Hardy to hit him with a spectacular springboard tope. It’s then that the high risk style of both men leads to a game of flying chess as whoever can score with more crazy spots will come out the winner.
RVD is the first to get a ladder but Hardy is there to counter, leaping at him out of nowhere; the flavour of the storytelling is desperation, and the whole InVasion angle was predicated on this being a life or death struggle. Jeff then brings a ladder into the ring but Van Dam bounces it off the ropes so it hits him in the face, another example of the unique kind of offense these two were bringing to the table. Hardy then returns the favour with a low blow version, inducing a wince from all observing! A springboard corkscrew moonsault onto a prone Mr Pay-Per-View gets pulses racing again, but it isn’t long before the advantage flows back the other way, as RVD starts to employ his unique offense, such as Rolling Thunder across the ring onto Jeff’s carcass lying on the ladder. It’s all about who can make the climb first, and both men crash and burn, as well as then crashing and burning on their finishers (Hardy misses the Swanton and Van Dam misses the five star). Finally, Hardy is left hanging from the belt, and there’s a massive botch where RVD misses his spectacular attempt at kicking him off the belt holding mechanism with a martial arts kick off the top turnbuckle; Jeff obviously falls down anyway, with the commentators covering the botch by selling the exhausting nature of hanging from the ceiling. Hardy tries to climb again but is pushed onto top rope for the ECW representative to successfully grab the belt.
Despite the slight issue at the finish- which really doesn’t take one out of the action too much anyway- Hardy and Van Dam showed what was possible with a singles version of the crazed tag ladder matches the three teams we discussed at the outset of this piece. They would go on to have another brilliant ladder match on Raw in 2002 to unify the midcard belts within the Intercontinental Title, showing that the extreme pairing were pretty much made for each other.
Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio in a ladder match for the custody of Dominick at Summerslam 2005
However hammy the storyline behind it may have been, the feud between Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio was one that the two men committed to absolutely so it actually became a mightily enjoyable build to Summerslam. Eddie was clearly relishing playing the dastardly heel again after a period as everybody’s beloved hero, Rey was super over and always sympathetic, and the result was a ladder match with a difference. I know we all laugh about funny stipulations like Santa’s Present matches and the like- see Dean Ambrose’s recent Smackdown promo for some more examples- but the custody papers hanging from the ceiling was an interesting change from a title belt at that time.
I think what really makes the match so good is Latino Heat’s absolute determination to be the scowling pantomime villain. He basks in the heat as he struts up the ramp, with the heel remix of his theme music adding to the sinister overall package presented by the man from El Paso. His creepy greeting to Dominick and the “social worker” at ringside is a great touch. He cements his tremendous villainous air in the early going by cheap shotting Mysterio and sadistically throwing the smaller man into the steps and then face first into a standing ladder. As I mentioned before, I always appreciate ladder matches where the participants climb early, because the whole point is to climb and to win! Eddie does that here, but Rey catches him with his high flying offense and gets a great adrenaline fuelled few minutes, including a seated senton all the way to the outside. He too tries to climb while he is in the ascendancy but is stopped in short order.
When it comes to storytelling, this match is right up there with the best, and as I said, the absolute commitment to the angle of the two men is just so very impressive. The Master of the 619 always evokes sympathy from the audience in his desperate bid to keep custody of his son, while Guerrero is obsessed with finally beating Rey and in taking away Dominick out of pure spite. The touches like Dominick shaking the ladder while Eddie is on it, provoking him to climb down and yell “I’m your new daddy esse!” and Vickie’s final intervention where she betrays her husband to effectively save his soul are just brilliant and on the right side of melodramatic. There are plenty of fun spots too, with sunset flip powerbombs and high flying galore, as you’d expect from too luchadores. Eddie always enjoyed being able to wrestle more of a power game against the smaller Mysterio, and the chemistry between the two allows them to construct some unique passages. More of a psychological, story driven contest this one, but still with plenty of thrills. One of my very favourite Summerslam midcard moments.
CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy in a TLC match for the World Heavyweight Title at Summerslam 2009
We all remember, I’m sure, just how wonderful the 2009 feud between Punk and Hardy really was, with the “better than you” heel heat propelling the Chicagoan to hitherto unforeseen heights on the WWE totem pole. The conclusion to the rivalry was superb booking; to finally convince the crowds that the Charismatic Enigma was a fallen hero unworthy of their adulation, the Straight Edge Saviour would have to defeat him in his signature match, the TLC.
Singles TLC matches can be a little awkward considering they were originally designed for multiple tag teams to participate in, but the way that Punk and Hardy went about their match showed that the gimmick can work so long as ample effort is made to construct a story that links all of the violence and risk taking together. As with the Jeff vs. RVD contest from 2001, the match does not start at 100 mph; instead they circle each other and lock up in a very conventional and traditional style. Punk uses his slight weight advantage to back Jeff into corner and stomp mudholes into him, and it’s then that the action spills out of ring to allow Punk to gut shot the champ with a steel chair and then crack it over the exposed back. Again, the psychology of winning the match early is present and correct as the Straight Edge Superstar goes for a quick climb, but the veteran Hardy gets to him, and there’s then a brief flurry of high octane Hardy offense that has the challenger reeling, until Punk catches Hardy in Poetry in Motion and slams him kidney first into the set up steel chair, before shutting his prone body on the ladder in sadistic fashion. The idea is that Jeff’s risk taking style is more dangerous than ever against a calculating strategist like CM Punk and it works fantastically well.
Having taken time to build the pace of the match, the second half is much more smashmouth than the first. Punk gets caught leaping off the steel steps by Jeff swinging a steel chair like a baseball bat, which Hardy follows up with Poetry in Motion into the barricade. A table is set up and Hardy tries to splash the challenger through it, but misses and goes through it, letting Punk off the hook to the extent that he is able to climb to the top of the ladder, only for Jeff to catch him and climb over him! In response, the Straight Edge Saviour gets his opponent in the GTS position, but in a stunning reversal, Hardy turns it into a sunset flip powerbomb. It’s incredible back and forth action, with the storytelling heading towards the idea of a war of attrition. Both bodies are put on the line again and again- Punk hits a superplex onto the ladder, Hardy throws Punk through a table when he goes for a bulldog- and both men go all out to incapacitate their opponent for good.
The finish is one that almost stuns the announcers to silence; the Extreme Enigma goes wild on his hated rival after fighting out of the chair noose spot Punk had inflicted on him time and again through the build. He wears out Chicago Made with a steel chair, strikes him in the head with a TV monitor and slams him onto the Spanish Announce Table. It’s then that the hubris takes over and Hardy climbs to the top of an enormous ladder and goes for the ultimate coup de grace, a Swanton Bomb from its lofty heights. However, even though he hits it flush and drives Punk through the table, it is Jeff who comes off worse. Slowly, ever slowly, amidst silence from the announcers, the Straight Edge Superstar crawls into the ring and climbs to retrieve the belt. At the last, a desperate Hardy throws off the neck brace and tries to pursue his opponent, but it is too late and Punk is the new World Heavyweight Champion.
TLC as a concept is often associated with absolute chaos, but Punk and Hardy showed that the match type can take on a more cerebral, psychological aspect if both competitors are willing to take the time to plan it out that way. I still live in hope of seeing such a version again in the future!
The ladder match was perhaps the defining gimmick of the 2000s and certainly the most popular. These Summerslam editions each had tremendous merits and each remains incredibly memorable. Remember to let me know what you thought of these matches and my take on them below and feel free also to discuss any other memories of the Summerslams of 2000-2009. I’ll be back on Tuesday morning for RAW-QUESTING FLYBY and on Wednesday evening to look at Summerslams 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Until then, you can follow me on Twitter for all manner of wrestling and sporting chat:
Also, don’t forget to listen to The Right Side of the Pond; on Friday, Mazza, ‘Plan, Shinobi and myself discussed our favourite Summerslam memories, Alberto Del Rio and the international roll out of the Network, amongst other things!
Catch you all on the flip.
This is Maverick, requesting flyby!