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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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