SummerSlam is, historically, WWE’s second-biggest show of the year. With that elevated status comes greater expectations, however, and too often that’s when WWE tends to disappoint. For all his cockiness and boasting, Vince McMahon really only thrives when his back is against the wall and everyone is counting him out. And, on account of his stupendous stubbornness, the only times he ever feels his back against the wall is when he’s knee-deep in bad ratings, low buy-rates (or, in today’s terms, bad subscription numbers), poor attendance and fan apathy. In other words, the only times Vince is ever stirred to make positive change is long after fans have (temporarily) quit in frustration.
Usually Vince just skips happily along, oblivious to bubbling fan-unrest, and keeps pushing his agendas, his re-re-recycled ideas and his antiquation ideas of what a pro wrestling show should be. But this is WWE, and if you can count on nothing else, you can count on the WWE’s hype machine (which is second to none) to stir the emotions and arouse excitement in even the most jaded fans for at least a few times a year. And you can also count on those much-hyped shows to end up disappointing more often than not, since behind the veneer and the smoke and mirrors is the same set of monkeys with typewriters being overseen by a sleep-deprived septuagenarian egomaniac.
The second half of WWE’s year always depends on a great SummerSlam. With the NFL season hot on its heels, a good SummerSlam is WWE’s last hope to hook viewers for the remainder of the year, before the Road to WrestleMania kicks in. Usually the hype machine can build up the interest for the show, but also just as usually Vince drops the ball. Here are fifteen times SummerSlam fans were treated, not to excitement and fireworks, but to the sad trombone of bad booking and bitter disappointment.
15. Undertaker Gets His Win Back A Year Too Late - 2015
At WrestleMania XXX, Brock Lesnar ended The Undertaker’s undefeated streak. The only comparable event to it would be Bruno Sammartino’s 1971 title loss to Ivan Koloff. Naturally WWE revisited the feud but they inexplicably waited 18 months to do so. By the time they did, Lesnar was the hottest babyface in WWE, which forced the beloved Undertaker to play the heel. By 2015 the window had closed on it and the rekindled feud never found a spark to keep the fans interested. It main-evented the wrong SummerSlam, coming a year after fans had quit caring about it, dragging the whole event down.
2 Hulk Hogan Ruins Macho Man's Moment - 1988
After four years of Hulk Hogan dominance, Vince McMahon put the WWE title on Randy Savage at WrestleMania IV. Immediately, the charismatic Macho Man dominated the pro wrestling landscape, selling out house-shows at least as well as the Hulkster had before him. Hogan, however refused to step out of the spotlight.
When the time came to premiere a new PPV event, Vince decided the first SummerSlam needed Hogan’s star power in the main-event (I wonder who convinced him of that). WWE went with The Mega Powers against The Mega Bucks (Ted DiBiase and Andre The Giant).
Thus instead of showcasing the new champ in a big singles match, SummerSlam ended with a mediocre tag match featuring Hulk Hogan’s “hotdogging” and spotlight-stealing.
13. Hogan Again...This Time With Zeus! - 1989
One year after Hogan horned-in on the first SummerSlam he was again WWE Champion, and again a tag match was the show-closing bout. This time, however, Savage wasn’t his tag partner but his opponent. Macho Man’s partner? Zeus. Hogan's partner? Brutus Beefcake.
After WrestleMania V, WWE produced a film entitled “No Holds Barred” (a vanity project for both Hogan and McMahon). It flopped (surprise), so Vince took the villain of the picture—Zeus—and brought him to WWE. Spoiler alert: It flopped too and once again Vince’s obsession with keeping Hogan atop the WWF (to diminishing returns) ruined a SummerSlam main-event.
12. Vince McMahon Stops Daniel Bryan Before He Starts - 2013
Moments after Daniel Bryan defeated John Cena to win the title, Randy Orton cashed-in his Money in the Bank contract and stole the championship. If Vince had gotten his way that would have been the end of Bryan’s main-event run, with Randy Orton and John Cena continuing to dominate the top of the card. Instead, fans hijacked live events in a way they’ve never done before or since, ensuring Bryan’s push to the main event the following March.
Forget that, though: SummerSlam 2013 ended with the guy who should have been the next face of the company being pushed aside for the boring meathead Vince was more comfortable with. Don't let WWE tell you the plan all along was for Bryan to get his moment at WrestleMania. If WWE had gotten their way, Orton and Batista would have headlined in New Orleans.
11. CM Punk Wins... Then Gets Buried - 2009
When CM Punk won the world title in 2009 he proved he was a legit main-event talent. The climax of this championship run came in the stellar SummerSlam 2009 main event, where he defeated Jeff Hardy in a TLC match. No complaints there; what kills it was what happened after: The lights went out, Undertaker returned and Punk was taken out. Two months of being booked to look like a chump followed, and Punk lost the title in the opening match of the Hell in a Cell PPV. Watching SummerSlam back becomes a sad affair, as a great title run begins its descent into irrelevance and defeat.
10. CM Punk Wins... Then Gets Buries (AGAIN) - 2011
Fast forward a couple years and Punk is once again champion, only this time he’s also the hottest thing the company had on its hands since the Attitude Era. After defeating John Cena at SummerSlam, Kevin Nash (!?) appeared out of nowhere and attacked the champ. That brought out Alberto Del Rio who cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and just like that, the hottest storyline in a decade went up in smoke. Punk’s feud with Nash went nowhere, his feud with Del Rio played second-fiddle to John Cena and even though he won back and held the title for over 400 days, he never regained the momentum that he lost at the end of SummerSlam.
9. Vader's WWE Run Is Deflated - 1996
In the mid-90’s the diminutive Shawn Michaels had loads of charisma but lacked the size Vince typically craved in a top guy. Meanwhile Big Van Vader should have been a megastar in WWE. He had everything Vince wanted: He was big, charismatic, and had a distinct look. But in those days, HBK was the man and HBK was a turd. SummerSlam 1996 should have been Vader’s coronation. A big, dominant title run that ended at WrestleMania 13 should have followed. Instead, politics and sandbagging turned what could have been a dream match into a disappointment. Vader lost and thus lost the aura that “unstoppable” big men are supposed to have.
8. HBK Delightfully Sabotages Hogan's Moment
Fast-forward a decade later and HBK was a changed man, but when the opportunity arose, he went back to his old bag of tricks. This time the opponent was Hulk Hogan, though, and Hogan was a better politician than Michaels could ever dream of being. Unable to convince Vince to give him the win, Michaels resorted to showboating throughout the match. It’s great entertainment and was comeuppance for Hogan’s spotlight stealing in the late-80s, but it was a farce. Really everyone loses here: Hogan gets embarrassed, Michaels eats the pin and the fans had to watch as one of the great last Icon vs Icon matches in WWE turned into a farce.
1 The Gulf War Ends When Vince Says So! - 1991
Vince gambled WrestleMania VII on the belief that the Gulf War would be a year-long affair. The backdrop to the real-life conflict would be his heel champion, Iraqi-sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter, feuding with patriotic Hulk Hogan. Instead Schwarzkopf decided to up and end the War in February. Vince forged ahead and WrestleMania VII ended up being his biggest financial disappointment to that point. You’d think “Well I guess he learned his lesson…” But nope: SummerSlam rolled around and even though the Gulf War was long-finished, Vince kept pushing the Iraq storyline.
Once again a tag match was featured, this time with Hogan’s old nemesis Iron Sheik teaming up with Slaughter, while Hogan tagged with The Warrior, who was fired following the event after holding out for money. The whole thing was mildly-insulting and totally-embarrassing.
6. Triple H Wins (Again)
Let’s break this down: Triple H was the champion, and hated. Goldberg was the new superstar, and beloved. SummerSlam was the event, the big stage. Everything kind of pointed to one obvious finish, right? So how did we end up with Triple H retaining the World Title over Goldberg? Sometimes the company makes bad decisions and you think “well I see what they were thinking, it just didn’t work out…” And sometimes they do things so entirely moronic you have to wonder if maybe they were intentionally screwing up. This was one of those times. Goldberg was never hotter in WWE than he was coming into SummerSlam. The iron was hot, but Vince didn’t strike.
5. Go Home SummerSlam 2004, You're Drunk
To start with, the main-event featured Randy Orton winning his first World Title against someone, I can’t remember who. The fact that his reign ended 30 days later shows that Vince had little faith in him as a babyface champ. Under that was the WWE title match between JBL and Undertaker. The Phenom was JBL’s first title challenger and no one expected his reign to last more than a few months. SummerSlam was the first of many cheap wins for him (which killed the crowd for the next match, incidentally). And there’s…Eugene? Triple H’s big SummerSlam match was against…Eugene? Bad, Vince, bad.
4. Send In The Clown - 1993
In 1992 Bret Hart won the WWF title from Ric Flair in an untelevised match. He then lost the title to Hulk Hogan by way of Yokozuna. Then, instead of getting his promised-match (and title win) against Hogan, he won King of the Ring and entered a feud with Jerry Lawler. Not a great start to his “main event” run, no? SummerSlam should have been his mulligan. Instead, Vince became enamored with Lex Luger and stuck Bret in the undercard to wrestle Doink. Bret would then wrestle Jerry Lawler as it was revealed Lawler had been faking an injury.
Naturally Bret's match stole the show while Luger and Yokozuna stunk up the joint, ending SummerSlam '93 on a very sour note.
3. The UnderFaker - 1994
Not to be outdone, SummerSlam 1994 also ended on with a whimper after Bret worked to elevate it to great heights. Never one to see Bret as “the guy,” Vince constantly undercut him in the booking, even while champion. In this case, he gave the main event spot to Undertaker, who wrestled the affectionately-dubbed “Underfaker” (Brian Lee, the future “Chainz”). These were not the days of Undertaker putting on five-star matches, those were handled by Bret Hart, who put on a five-star cage match with his brother Owen and then watched as Taker and Faker put the SummerSlam crowd to sleep.
2. Stop The Show... For The Love Of God, Stop The Show! - 1995
Determined to out-suck the last two, SummerSlam 1995 features the worst-booked uppercard in SummerSlam history. To start with, there’s the (admittedly brilliant) ladder match between Razor Ramon and HBK. It was a rematch from WrestleMania X…18 months prior. By this point both were babyfaces, and commentary spent the match in fits trying to give the audience some emotional hook to make the contest compelling. Then there’s the main-event, between the worst-drawing WWE champ ever, Diesel, and the least-exciting title-challenger ever, King Mabel. It was a match so bad I don’t even know how to finish this sentence. Oh and Bret Hart wrestled a demented dentist. Just because.
1. 2010 - #LolNexusLol
SummerSlam 2010 might just be the overall worst edition in the show’s history. The six-match card featured such memorable moments as “Big Show defeating CM Punk’s three-man stable single-handedly” as well as the infamous Melina vs. Alicia Fox match, and—always-exciting - Randy Orton vs Sheamus! But the real crown-jewel of suck was the main-event, which pitted John Cena’s team vs. The Nexus in an elimination tag match. Nexus was hot as fire going in, but of course, Super Cena prevailed, popping up unfazed from a DDT on the outside to defeat the final two Nexus members, in their most important match yet, all by himself. That was the end of The Nexus, the hottest angle the company had in years. Boo.
Maybe this year will be different. On the other hand, expectations are high...
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