Column: Will Summerslam break the cycle of “biggest letdown of the summer” this year?
From 1996-2005, WWE’s annual summer blockbuster was among my favorite pay-per-views of the year. There was something about SummerSlam that oozed a cool vibe for me personally. It had been my first exposure to the industry of professional wrestling way back when I was 6 years of age: SummerSlam 1996 on Sky Sports.
I remember watching Paul Bearer’s shocking betrayal of his longtime friend and ally, The Undertaker, to aid the deranged Mankind in the first ever Boiler Room Brawl match. I saw a 400+ pound behemoth moonsault onto a lightning quick, sharp talking Heartbreak Kid in an effort to win a coveted title, as Vader challenged Shawn Michaels. It hooked me in, I never looked back. For that, I’m always going to have a soft spot for SummerSlam.
There was something larger than life about SummerSlam. It did feel like that summer party, big event under the August sun and the big action movie of the season (something WWE later tapped into for promotion). In my opinion, the trend continued for years, as SummerSlam became one of the integral huge PPVs of the year and delivered fantastic matches and memorable moments:
- Undertaker and Bret Hart putting on a wrestling match and Stone Cold breaking his neck at SS’97.
- Triple H and The Rock breaking the glass ceiling and becoming the next big things in their ladder match at Madison Square Garden in 1998.
- Mankind becoming WWE Champion in a triple threat match presided over by WWE Hall of Famer and then-Governor of Minnesota, the incomparable Jesse ‘the Body’ Ventura in 1999.
- 3 gutsy young teams leaving it all in the ring in the very first, death-defying TLC match in the first SummerSlam of the new Millennium.
- Austin and Angle creating an instant classic and the return from Hollywood for the Rock at the beginnings of the WCW-ECW invasion in ’01.
- 2002 saw the return to action of Shawn Michaels after a 4 year absence from the ring to show he was still the Showstopper and the ascension of Brock Lesnar to the top of the WWE food chain.
- The Elimination Chamber loomed heavy over SummerSlam in 2003 and produced one of the more exciting outings for Satan’s Structure.
- Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle locked horns in another classic and Randy Orton made history as the youngest World Heavyweight Champion in 2004 when he defeated “the man who shall not be mentioned“.
- In 2005, Icons met Legends when Hulk Hogan faced Shawn Michaels and Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio battled for custody of Mysterio’s son in an intense, drama-filled ladder match.
Just reading some of those moments is enough to put it in perspective, that once upon a time, SummerSlam had hit its stride. The whole card, from opener to main event, was more often than not fantastic. As previously mentioned, it felt big, exciting and as if it was THE must-watch wrestling event of the summer.
But if you ask me, something happened in the following years. Despite being touted as the Biggest Party of the Summer and WWE’s summer WrestleMania, a high accolade for an event when it’s held to as much prestige as WWE’s top-tier, marquee spectacle. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some standout matches, but the moments are far from consistent. At least, not as much as they used to be. Maybe it was lack of ‘ready’ talent, a storyline not formed well enough or simply that they were dud events, but something hasn’t clicked completely for SummerSlam in quite some time.
There may be the feeling WWE are just simply trying too hard to make it huge, whereas previously, it just ‘became’ huge from the quality of the buildup to the execution of the performers and production on the night. Their association with Los Angeles for the past five years has done wonders for their image and ethos that its a summer event for a ‘summer’ city, full of glitz and glamour, but the sheen has worn off. There have been a handful of matches in recent years, worthy of 4 or more stars and this is a shame when you look at how many there would have been 8 years ago.
SummerSlam 2007 was exceptionally poor and saved only by the return of the King of Kings Triple H, the same man who had a letdown of a match with Brock Lesnar at last year’s event (which was thankfully forgotten about by their 2013 battles). Did anyone really care about SummerSlam 2010 in any capacity? I don’t think I did. 2011 was saved by Orton and Christian’s climactic battle for the World Heavyweight Championship. I can’t explain it: I just think SummerSlam has lost it’s ‘slam’ in recent years.
But that could all change on August 18th when SummerSlam is held for the 26th time, the 5th time consecutively at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles. The stars could align, the fates could be on the ready and WWE could deliver a blockbuster worthy of the hype, pomp and circumstance (nod to the Macho Man there) that its been ploughing into us. After the phenomenal Payback and Money in the Bank events, I have to say that I’m hopeful that a new, fresh, talented roster can take control and propel SummerSlam back into the stratosphere.
Look out for CM Punk and Lesnar to shock and surprise, Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow to potentially steal the show, Daniel Bryan to prove his worth to the naysayers, The Shield to showcase their unique brand of ‘justice’ and Dolph Ziggler to have yet another great outing as he continues to rise to the top of the breakout star mountain. Oh…and then there’s always the very real possibility that the WWE Universe could be following the buzzards with The Wyatt Family.
What are your thoughts and feelings on SummerSlam through the years and how this year’s event could be shaping up.