Monday, August 6, 2018

The History of WWE SummerSlam, part 6 (2003-2005)

Here are three editions of SummerSlam with very mixed results....

ASummerSlam '03 - America West Arena - 8/24/03

The 2003 edition of the summer extravaganza is probably the most infuriating, in that it was so very close to a great PPV and somehow managed to fall spectacularly short.  With only a few adjustments this show could've been awesome.  Instead it was just a pretty good show that had the stupidest ending since WrestleMania XI.

The show opened with a throwaway World Tag Title match - La Resistance (more or less a carbon copy of the Rougeau Brothers from the 80s) vs. The Dudley Boyz.  This was, I believe, the 387th time these two teams had faced each other in televised matches, but that didn't stop WWE from throwing this match on the show.  Nevermind that the previous month's Smackdown-only PPV had an amazing WWE Tag Title match of Haas & Benjamin vs. Mysterio & Kidman, and literally everyone who bought this show probably would've rather seen that again.  But whatevs.

Next up was Undertaker vs. A-Train (yup, they repackaged the big fat hairy bald dude Albert as the big fat hairy bald dude A-Train).  This was during the year or so where Vince was, CERTAIN that Albert was gonna be a huge main event heel.  He had thrown Edge at him, and when Albert didn't get over they kinda blamed Edge.  Then they started a months-long feud between Taker and Big Show/Albert.  That didn't work either.  A couple months after this show they even stuck Albert in there with Chris Benoit, hoping the latter's impeccable workrate would get Mr. Train over.  By the beginning of 2004 they finally realized Albert was destined to be a midcarder (Until 2012 when they put a bunch of fake Japanese tattoos on his face and called him Lord Tensai, with the intent of feuding him with John Cena).  Anyway, this match is about what you'd expect.  Slow, plodding, and inconsequential.

Third was one of a slew of 2003 PPV matches featuring non-wrestlers (holy jumpin' Christ there were a lot of these), as RAW GM Eric Bischoff faced WWE heir-apparent Shane McMahon.  This whole feud was built around Bischoff coming on to Shane's mom, and Shane vowing revenge.  The angle was super creepy and at the same time defied anyone with more than 150 brain cells to care in the slightest.  The match was a total waste of ten-and-a-half minutes of my life (by comparison the Cruiserweight Title match that got bumped to the pre-show got roughly one-fifth of this running time), and is one of many examples from 2003 of just how delusional the McMahon family was about their own drawing power. 

Not a good first hour for SummerSlam '03.

These two couldn't have a sucky match if they tried.

Finally things picked up in match four with a US Title Fatal 4-Way.  Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit vs. Rhyno vs. Tajiri.  Great, fast-paced action with four of the company's best workers at the time.  Tajiri is very high on the list of super-over guys who were terribly misused by WWE.  He was tremendously exciting to watch and the crowd really dug his matches.  And despite his character not speaking English he generated some great non-racist comedy (a rarity in pro wrestling when ethnic characters are involved) to boot.

Next was the long-awaited WWE Title rematch from WrestleMania 19 - Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar.  These two had easily the best feud of 2003, featuring a trilogy of excellent singles matches, the climax of which was the Smackdown Iron Man match that September.  The SummerSlam match was the weakest of the three, but it was still a damn good title match.  The only issue was the absurd ending, where Angle applied his anklelock and Lesnar reached the ropes multiple times only for Angle to yank him back to the center of the ring.  After four or five times Lesnar finally tapped.  Umm, isn't the whole point of the rope break rule to force a ROPE BREAK?  Why wouldn't the referee have threatened to disqualify Angle for not breaking the hold?  Still a fine match and the best of this show. 

In the death spot was the grudge match between former tag partners Rob Van Dam and Kane.  This really should've been positioned better on the card and led to an extended feud.  Sadly the issue was more or less dropped after this match.  The bout itself was fine, if rather underwhelming, and featured a nice Van Terminator spot with the ring steps.

Now for the main event.  At the time WWE had positioned Goldberg as the main challenger to Triple H's World Title.  The logical move would've been a one-on-one main event of Triple H vs. Goldberg.  It was a dream match between two guys who had real-life animosity, and the fans would've eaten it up.  Goldberg should've been the guy to finally break Hunter's stranglehold on the World Title.  Unfortunately Triple H suffered a groin injury shortly before this and the match was changed to an Elimination Chamber.  Going into this I wasn't terribly excited by the prospect, as I frankly found the original Chamber match to be quite dull (I know I'm in the minority here but it's really one of the weakest editions).

The lineup would be Triple H, Goldie, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, Randy Orton, and Kevin Nash.  One of these six doesn't belong - I can't think which one.  Anyway, the match itself was going swimmingly.  The pace was much faster and more exciting than the first Chamber match (Shawn and Jericho carried the early segments), and the booking was creative to protect the injured Champion: Triple H was set to enter the match 5th, but as soon as his pod opened he ran into a superkick by Shawn.  Goldberg then entered the match and absolutely destroyed everyone.  It was amazing.  He eliminated Orton, Michaels and Jericho in quick succession, and the crowd went absolutely bonkers.  This was the perfect way to utilize a character like Goldberg.  Goldie then targeted the weakened, cowardly Triple H, who hid in his pod as Ric Flair blocked it from being opened.  Goldberg smashed through the plexiglass, popping the audience, and proceeded to annihilate Hunter.  And then everything went horribly wrong.  As Goldberg prepared to level Hunter with a spear, Flair slid a sledgehammer into the ring, Hunter nailed Goldie with it, and pinned him to retain the belt. 

He was like a bald Jewish Superman.....whose Kryptonite was sledgehammers.
And groin-protecting compression shorts.

I'd like to repeat that: the injured-in-real-life Triple H got to retain the belt in a Chamber match against the red-hot-monster-babyface Goldberg.  Apologists have cited the whole "money's in the chase" argument to defend this booking decision, but that argument holds exactly zero ounces of water in this case.  Goldberg is a killing machine.  Period.  His whole gimmick is that he walks in, crushes his opponent, walks out.  It's that simple.  That's the only logical way to utilize a character like Goldberg, and when WCW did that, it worked.  Huge.  WWE on the other hand decided to get tricky, either because they thought they could add dimension to this character, or because the boss's son-in-law just didn't want to really put someone else over, much less a WCW castoff (Sorry to start Hunter-bashing, but this was at the height of his reign of terror which basically ruined the RAW brand for a solid two years and I'm still pissed about it).

After the match Hunter and his Evolution pals then beat the ever-loving snot out of Goldberg, and the show closed with them standing over his bloodied remains.  Way to push a monster babyface, fellas.  Look, I'm not even a Goldberg fan.  But this was the time to put the belt on him.  Imagine if in 1984 they had Hulk Hogan lose his first title match with the Iron Sheik.  How much would that have damaged the appeal and drawing power of Hogan?  Same kinda thing here.  Goldberg should've steamrolled Hunter to win the belt, gone on a tear killing every other heel on RAW, and then eventually Hunter's cunning could've allowed him to find and exploit Goldie's weaknesses and win back the belt.

Goldberg would win the title a month later in their singles rematch, but by then the bloom was off the rose.  It didn't have nearly the same impact it should have, and Goldberg basically only wrestled Triple H during his three-month title run.  He was clearly just being positioned as a transitional champion, which given the guy's proven drawing ability was just plain stupid.

SummerSlam 2003 had a lot of potential to be a great PPV but between a terrible first hour and the company displaying some of the worst backstage politics in its history, the show ended up just being a decent SummerSlam.  I can't believe I still have to be angry about this.

Best Match: Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar - had the Chamber ended the way it should've, I'd go with that.
Worst Match: Eric Bischoff vs. Shane McMahon - seriously, they got over ten minutes.
What I'd Change: I think I've covered this.
Most Disappointing Match: Rob Van Dam vs. Kane could've been a helluva grudge match, but it was really just an okay RAW match.
Most Pleasant Surprise: All but the last minute of the Chamber.  I really wasn't looking forward to this, but as my friends and I watched it, we became Goldberg fans for one night, until Hunter's bloated ego came crashing down on the whole proceeding.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Better than WrestleMania XIX? - Ummmmm, nope.

SummerSlam '04 - Air Canada Centre - 8/15/04

This SummerSlam was a bit underwhelming for me.  I had extremely high expectations for an overall great card with multiple classics, and other than two predictably great matches there wasn't much else going on.  It seemed like there were some time management issues given how short some of the bouts were, but I can't figure out where all that time went. 

The opening six-man between the three Dudleys and Rey Mysterio, Paul London & Billy Kidman was a fine way to kick off the show.  Very quick and exciting, and showcased some nice Cruiserweight action, plus Bubba and Devon.

Second was the payoff to one half of one of the stupidest ongoing angles I can remember: Kane had been stalking Lita, trying to hook up with her.  Lita was dating Matt Hardy at the time, who ran to her rescue.  Kane challenged Matt to a match, where if Kane won, Lita would be forced to marry him.  First, in what universe would any woman agree to marry a guy she hated, if her boyfriend couldn't beat up said creep?  Why wouldn't Lita have just gotten Kane arrested for stalking her and repeatedly assaulting her boyfriend?  Second, in what universe would a marriage under duress be legally binding? 

Kane beat the bejeezus out of Matt to win the match, and Lita ended up having to marry him.  Then Kane impregnated her, about which she was horrified, until Gene Snitsky showed up one day and bashed Kane with a chair, causing him to land on top of Lita, causing a miscarriage, about which Lita was devastated.  So she was upset that the demon spawn her evil stalker husband gave her would never be born.  And then Kane became the babyface in a new feud with Snitsky, only to later feud with Edge, for whom Lita dumped Kane, turning heel in the process.  Unbelievable.  Sorry for the tangent.  This Kane-Hardy match stunk.

Next up was John Cena vs. Booker T in a Best-of-Five series for the vacant US Title, and the company inexplicably put Match #1 on the SummerSlam card.  I was looking forward to this, but being the first match in the series it only went 6 minutes and amounted to very little.

Fourth was a 3-way for the I-C belt - Edge vs. Chris Jericho vs. Batista.  This was a pretty good little match but again was way too short given the talent and prize involved.  Keep in mind this was after a handful of long, well-worked PPV I-C Title matches that year.

The show picked up huge with Match 5, as Kurt Angle and Eddie Guerrero clashed in a rematch from WrestleMania.  This was 14 minutes of awesome, and while not quite as good as the first bout, was still one of the better matches of 2004.

These two couldn't have a sucky match if they tried either.

Triple H fought Eric Bischoff's mentally challenged nephew Eugene next.  This was probably the most tedious angle of the year.  The deal was that Eugene was a huge wrestling fan so Bischoff gave him a spot on the RAW roster.  Eugene's favoritest wrestler was Triple H, but Hunter, being a giant douche, took advantage of Eugene's idolatry and played him against World Champion Chris Benoit.  Eventually Eugene got wise to it all and challenged Hunter to a match.  And that brings us to this instantly forgettable encounter.  It wasn't a bad match per se, but it wasn't good either.  Why the company thought the Eugene character had any legs to speak of is beyond me.

In the semi-main slot was the WWE Title match, as JBL defended against The Undertaker.  This was a pretty dull 17-minute brawl that ended with Taker chokeslamming Layfield through the roof of his limo.  That sounds like a brutal spot until you realize that the limo had an obviously gimmicked roof made out of soft vinyl, neatly perforated to split open on contact.  So it looked reeeeeeally stupid.

Up until this point SummerSlam 2004 was far from a great show, but the main event managed to save it, as World Champion Chris Benoit defended against hot new heel Randy Orton.  They had a fantastic 20-minute match that helped elevate Orton to main event status.  I found the ending a tad weak, as Benoit succumbed after one RKO (a move that's neither a great finisher, nor is it original).  I also thought it was too soon for Orton to take the belt; having Benoit squeak by here and then drop the belt to Orton the following month would've worked much better.  That way Orton's eventual transition to babyface could've been organic and successful instead of the abrupt and disastrous face turn they opted for the night after SummerSlam.  Orton got dumped by Evolution at the end of the show and became a total chump, dropping the Title to Hunter five weeks later.  Regardless, this was a helluva main event and kept SummerSlam '04 from being a middling-at-best PPV.

Oh look, Randy Orton became the youngest-ever
World Champion by beating.....some other guy.

This show was sort of a direction change for WWE, as the next generation of top guys - Orton, Cena and Batista were being primed to take over the main event spots.  Triple H, Benoit, Guerrero and Angle were slowly being positioned to pass the torch, and while I was less than enthusiastic about the OVW Class of 2002, it was the logical next step.  The show itself on paper looked better than it ended up, but it's still a pretty strong PPV.

Best Match: Chris Benoit vs. Randy Orton
Worst Match: Kane vs. Matt Hardy - A glorified squash that could've been good.  Of course Hardy got even worse treatment in 2005....
What I'd Change: Time management.  Several midcard bouts should've been much more substantial but ran well under ten minutes.  I'm not sure where all the time went, other than that ridiculous Diva Search Dodgeball game.  But that was pretty short.
Most Disappointing Match: Probably John Cena vs. Booker T.  That one could've been quite memorable.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I guess the opening six-man tag.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
Better than WrestleMania XX? - Nay

SummerSlam '05 - MCI Center - 8/21/05

The 2005 edition was a strange one indeed.  A dream match main event with no championships involved, two pretty good but rather short World Title matches, Matt Hardy getting utterly destroyed again, Kurt Angle vs. a jobber, and a 30-second squash.  Alrighty then.

In the opening contest, Chris Benoit (going from the 2004 main event to the 2005 curtain jerker) defeated Orlando Jordan for the US Title in 25 seconds.  Umm, ok.  Good rule of thumb for PPV matches: don't ever include a match on the card that's shorter than the ring entrances.  Kinda makes people resent that they paid to see the match.

Match #2 was Matt Hardy's second brutal SummerSlam ass-kicking in a row, as Edge beat him so badly that the match was stopped.  Now just to give you all an idea how moronic this was, Matt Hardy had legitimately been fired from the company a few months back for airing online that his girlfriend Lita was cheating on him with Edge.  Why this is a fireable offense I'm not sure, but I guess Vince just hates a cuckold.  Anywho, the fans lashed out at WWE for firing Matt, demanding that he be brought back.  Vince obliged and smartly used the real-life drama as the backdrop for his feud with Edge.  This was spectacular television and should've led to an absolutely thrilling blood feud between the two.  Unfortunately Matt got his ass handed to him by Edge at nearly every turn and therefore the heat for this rivalry dissipated almost immediately.  Matt got crushed in under five minutes and the match was stopped after Matt bled a lot.  Nevermind that the main event featured much more blood and no ref stoppage.  Matt then went on to lose to Edge several more times before finally beating him at Unforgiven in a cage match.  But by then it was clear Matt wasn't really in Edge's league, and he was moved off RAW shortly thereafter.  This was probably the worst-botched feud since the Invasion angle.

The big-time SummerSlam feel finally arrived in match #3, as old frenemies Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio lit it up in a splendid Ladder Match.  While the angle behind this is one of the stupidest in recent memory - the idea was that Mysterio's son Domenic was actually adopted and Eddie was his birth father (nevermind that if you've seen Mysterio's face or you know what his wife looks like, Domenic is very clearly THEIR son), who wanted custody of the boy.  Hanging over the ring was a clipboard with Domenic's custody papers.  Now, I'm of the opinion that a wrestling match should basically never, ever, ever, EVER resolve any kind of real-life legal dispute.  It's patently ridiculous that any legitimate court would accept a pretend fighting contest as an acceptable way for two parties to come to an agreement over things like marriages, child custody, ownership of a car, intellectual property, etc.  Wrestling matches should resolve wrestling feuds.  That's it.  That being said, this was a helluva good ladder match and thankfully put the stupendously idiotic custody battle to bed.

It wouldn't be a WWE card if at least one tremendous talent weren't totally wasted, so at SummerSlam '05 Kurt Angle was paired with the long-since-irrelevant Eugene in a throwaway four-minute squash.  Remind me again, what was Shelton Benjamin doing that night?  Could Angle not have wrestled him instead?  For the love of Jeezus??

In a 'Mania rematch Randy Orton made his comeback from an arm injury to once again face The Undertaker.  These two worked great together, and this bout was just as good as their 3-star-plus WrestleMania 21 match.  Orton finally got the win here to continue the feud.

It's the Clothesline from Hustle Loyalty Respect.

The show-stealing WWE Championship match was next (oddly in the 6th spot out of 8) as Chris Jericho got his first one-on-one PPV WWE Title match since 2002, and carried the still-clumsy Cena to a damn fine 15-minute contest.  The next night Jericho would repeat this performance before walking away from the company for two years.  It was nice to see him finally get a real title shot after three full years of criminal misuse.

Batista then defended the World Title against JBL in a match I didn't care much about, but it was a solid 9-minute no-DQ brawl.  Batista made convincing use of the ring steps to put his challenger away, via a Batista bomb.

The main event saw the first-and-only-time dream match of Hulk Hogan vs. Shawn Michaels.  Two months earlier on an episode of RAW, Michaels turned heel on Hogan to set this up.  Hogan was then absent for almost the entire build of this match, leaving Shawn to tackle all the hype (which yielded a pretty hilarious Larry King parody sketch where Shawn impersonated Hogan).  The match itself was probably one of Hogan's best, but far from Shawn's.  It was about five minutes too long and featured Shawn extensively beating the tar out of Hogan, bloodying him profusely with a chair (yet no ref stoppage - hmmmmm), and nailing him with the superkick before Hogan's inevitably trite, outdated no-sell comeback.  Seriously, this match really illustrated how comically obsolete Hogan's cartoonishly powderpuff offense was in 2005.  Hogan hit the big boot, which Shawn sold like James Caan being riddled with several dozen bullets in The Godfather.  He looked like a dying fish out of water having an epileptic fit.  Then Hogan paused for what felt like seventeen minutes to mug for the crowd before finally, mercifully hitting his stupid legdrop.  One of the worst-executed "Hogan comeback" endings I've ever seen.  This match really kinda stunk and I question whether it was a dream match we really needed to see.  Originally the plan was for Shawn to win here and set up a steel cage rematch at Unforgiven, where Hogan would've triumphed.  But Terry wanted no part of jobbing to a 220-pounder, so Shawn agreed to lose and they dropped the planned rematch.  The following night on RAW Shawn went back to being a babyface after verbally sticking it to Hogan one last time.  So this match had essentially no consequences and therefore no purpose.

Look at Shawn just bouncing around like a SuperBall for that old fool.

SummerSlam 2005 was a very mixed bag - four of the matches were good to very good while the other four were varying degrees of pointless despite a couple of them having quite a bit of potential.  Following this show the company shifted some talent around and had a decent fall season built on the OVW Class of 2002, but this show sorta feels stuck out of time.

Best Match: John Cena vs. Chris Jericho - an unexpected hit from the inexperienced WWE Champ
Worst Match: Orlando Jordan vs. Chris Benoit - 25 seconds. Why bother at that point?
What I'd Change: Swap out Eugene for Shelton Benjamin and you'd have the match of the night.  Make Matt vs. Edge an actual contest where Matt goes too far and gets DQ'd to set up a rematch, give Benoit-Jordan at least four minutes to have a real match, and cut Hogan's match down to about 16 minutes and force him to come up with a realistic finish.  Or better yet, screw Hogan, he was already way too old to be wrestling, let alone beating a full-time roster member.
Most Disappointing Match: Edge vs. Matt Hardy - what a waste
Most Pleasant Surprise: Cena vs. Jericho
Overall Rating: 6.5/10
Better Than WrestleMania 21?: Certainly not.

Part 5                                                                                                                                             
Part 7

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