Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rasslin' Ramblings: The Best of SummerSlam

While I've been laid up here at home the past few days, aside from comics, the Internet and the love of my fiancee, my main diversion from the raging rapids of blood and headaches my nose and forehead have become has been the wonder that is WWE Classics On Demand, World Wrestling Entertainment's fantastic cable showcase of the zillions of hours of footage they have from pretty much every wrestling library in history.

One show I caught for the very first time this weekend was the inaugural SummerSlam, which took place back in 1988. There have been 20 SummerSlams in the intervening years, with edition #21 coming up next Sunday, and at this point I've seen all but two (2006 and last year's).

So since I'm still immobile and I'm sure the rest of you have nothing better to do either, let's do a top ten list (that does not include 2006 or 2008)!

Ben Morse's Best of SummerSlam GO!

10. SummerSlam 2004
I figure a lot of folks have blocked this one from their mind since the main event/big moment features Chris Benoit, but that lasting image aside, I have fond memories of this event. I had just graduated college and was living at home for the summer with my old man. Aside from that, this show also had a sick opener with Rey Mysterio, Billy Kidman & Paul London against Spike Dudley & The Dudley Boyz, a fun Triple Threat match for Edge's Intercontinental title with Chris Jericho and a just-coming-into-his-own Batista as challengers, a nice little mat-based showdown between Kurt Angle and Eddie Guerrero as well as a rough and tumble hardcore Last Ride match with John Bradshaw Layfield defending his WWE title against The Undertaker.

9. SummerSlam 1988
Yeah, as noted, I just watched it yesterday so it's fresh in my mind, but this was a rock solid show from an era that wasn't always. Awesome opener with The British Bulldogs and Fabulous Rougeau Brothers going to a time limit draw, a decent midcard World Tag Team title defense from Demolition over The Hart Foundation and then of course the classic moment of The Ultimate Warrior ending The Honky Tonk Man's year-plus Intercontinental title reign in under a minute. But the main event makes the show as the Mega Powers team of Hulk Hogan & Randy Savage faces the Mega Bucks alliance of Andre The Giant & Ted DiBiase with Jesse "The Body" Ventura as special referee and the whole things just feels like a big deal from the word go.

8. SummerSlam 1990
The first SummerSlam I ever watched as a kid, I guess this makes the list more for nostalgia's sake than anything else. The Hart Foundation beating World Tag Team champions in a 2/3 Falls match with the help of the debuting Legion of Doom was actually some pretty decent wrestling, but most of the show was just filler junk like The Warlord vs Tito Santana and Bad News Brown vs Jake "The Snake" Roberts; of the double main event, The Ultimate Warrior's World title defense in a Steel Cage against Rick Rude was ok, but even as a kid I saw the bloom coming off the Hulk Hogan rose as he beat Earthquake by DQ. The big moment of the show for me was watching my favorite wrestler at the time, "Texas Tornado" Kerry Von Erich, win the Intercontinental title from Mr. Perfect (and this is one of those shows where I don't try to look back and think of how many of the guys I just named are no longer living).

7. SummerSlam 2005
The first and only SummerSlam I watched from my rat-trap apartment in Highland Falls, New York, this show had a so-so undercard balanced out by some really good man event matches. In particular, the Eddie Guerrero vs Rey Mysterio Ladder match and Edge vs Matt Hardy grudge match were let-downs, but probably just because they were built up so much. The Undertaker definitely brought out the best in Randy Orton, John Cena and Chris Jericho always match up well, and then Batista had a surprisingly good No DQ match with John Bradshaw Layfield. The main event, however, was a bit of a wild card, as retired legend Hulk Hogan came back for one more match to take on the iconic Shawn Michaels. It was a bit goofy and Michaels maybe looked a bit foolish overselling Hogan's offense to the nth degree, but I found this to be a fun little match and it left me with a good feeling about the show.

6. SummerSlam 2001
The WCW/ECW Alliance feud of 2001 isn't looked back at by many wrestling fans as a particular highpoint in WWF/WWE history, but there's no question that period churned out some excellent matches. As always, the opening match is key, and for SummerSlam 2001, Lance Storm and Edge made sure the event hit the ground running with a hot tussle for the Intercontinental title. Decent midcard matches capped by Chris Jericho beating Rhyno and then Rob Van Dam beating Jeff Hardy in a Ladder match for the Hardcore title that I can still recall the high spots from to this day because they were so innovative and those two were just magic together particularly right when RVD debuted in the WWF. Another eternally great pairing at the time was Steve Austin and Kurt Angle, who had a blowout match for the World title, and then The Rock brought the house down with his first match in months against Booker T and showed why he's probably the most charismatic dude in the history of sports entertainment.

5. SummerSlam 1997
As the ultra-intense feud between the Hart Foundation and America was at a fever pitch, SummerSlam 1997 was the boiling point and every match felt like the stakes were sky high. Mankind and Hunter Hearst Helmsley rocked the house out the gate with a rare Steel Cage opener, leading into a solid midcard with Goldust, Brian Pillman, Ken Shamrock, Davey Boy Smith, et al. doing their thing. The semi-main event of Owen Hart vs Steve Austin for the Intercontinental title was an aggressive showcase for "Stone Cold" that took on new meaning when Austin suffered a broken neck midway through and still finished the match. The Undertaker and Bret Hart showed what pros they were by putting on a great capper for the World title despite the Austin stuff casting such a shadow.

4. SummerSlam 2000
By the time this SummerSlam rolled around, the WWF was well on its way to putting World Championship Wrestling out of business and had accumulated an incredible roster of talent in the process. This show had a nice sprinkling of everything as Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit held a technical classic of a 2/3 Falls match, Steve Blackman and Shane McMahon had a fun garbage match for the Hardcore title and the trio of The Rock, Triple H and Kurt Angle had a textbook high octane main event despite Angle doing down with a concussion midway through. But my favorite match on the card was the first ever TLC match between Edge & Christian, the Dudley Boyz and the Hardy Boyz for the World Tag Team titles; the Ladder match those three teams had at WrestleMania XVI was a spectacle, but this was the next step in their jaw-dropping evolution.

3. SummerSlam 1992
Of all the early SummerSlams, this is the one that gets the most critical love, and I'm definitely onboard with that crowd. First and foremost, it was held outdoors in London's Wembley Stadium, giving it a classic, epic scope and feel that's tough to replicate. Beyond that, it's really a one-match show, but more on that later because there are some other little highlights. One is definitely the Legion of Doom riding to the ring on Harleys; their match against Money, Inc. was whatever, but that entrance just rocked. Shawn Michaels against Rick Martel in a "no hitting in the face" match was also an entertaining bit of business. The World title match between Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior didn't live up to their WrestleMania VII classic, but the guys still had an undeniable chemistry. Then however there is the one match: Bret Hart vs Davey Boy Smith for the Intercontinental title, one of the all-time classic wrestling clinics. It's over 25 minutes of scientific brilliance between two guys in their peak and a real showcase of pro wrestling as performance art; the crowd was hot, the moves were crispt and the finish was fantastic.

2. SummerSlam 2002
2002 was a transitional year for WWE, the summer in particular, as the "Attitude Era" stars like Steve Austin and The Rock were phasing out while newer stars like Edge, Rey Mysterio and Brock Lesnar were making their mark, and this is the show where they really got a chance to do that. The opener between Mysterio and Kurt Angle is tough to top, as Angle is just the best and Rey pulled out all the stops in his WWE pay-per-view debut. Edge/Eddie Guerrero is a match that makes a lot of lists as a "forgotten classic," which is weird, because if so many people list it...never mind, it's just good. Ric Flair vs Chris Jericho is another excellent match as it is two seasoned pros who are very unselfish when it comes to their work. I actually remember the vignettes building to the Rock/Brock Lesnar main event more than the match itself, but Brock was always just fun to watch, and his intensity level is what I think best embodies this show. However, no doubt the highlight of this SummerSlam for me was my favorite wrestler of all-time, Shawn Michaels, coming back from four years in a retirement I was sure would never end and stealing the show in a Street Fight against Triple H; watching HBK splash HHH through a table was just a dope fanboy moment for me.

1. SummerSlam 1998
I was 16 years old, had just gotten my license, and watched this from the basement of my house in Newton with my buddy Matt Corley. For me, 1998 was the very height of the WWF's "Attitude Era" with the big players like Steve Austin, The Rock and DeGeneration X all coming into their own and me being at the perfect age to enjoy the product they were putting out. As with the WrestleMania of the same year (XIV, which I went to in Boston), SummerSlam 1998 stands out to me as a show with no really bad matches on it (ok, Kaientai vs The Oddities wasn't stellar, but it was good for comedy). I give Val Venis vs D'Lo Brown credit I don't think it gets from a lot of folks as being one of the most underrated opening matches in pay-per-view history and setting a great, exciting pace. The Rock/Triple H Ladder match for the Intercontinental title is a bit of a lost classic and a good indication of rad matches to come from those two. But the centerpiece, no doubt, was the Steve Austin/Undertaker main event for the World title; I can think of few relatively short-term wrestling feuds that were built better than this one, and even though I was pretty 100% sure Austin would win, the match still told a great story and really opened my eyes as to what Undertaker was capable of. Interesting aside: Corley and I had just finished up summer camp where one of our co-counselors was a 20-something black British dude chiseled out of granite named Tundi; in the middle of this show, T calls me and tells me he's in Newton (he was supposed to be travelling the country) and needed a place to crash, so I had to go pick him up and missed the main event (don't worry, I taped it).

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