The Wrasslin’ Essay: SummerSlam Is More Than Its Main Event

here’s no need to bury the lede: This is already the biggest and most important WWE SummerSlam of all time. Such a statement might seem bold or sensational, considering the...
WWE SummerSlam promo
There’s no need to bury the lede: This is already the biggest and most important WWE SummerSlam of all time. Such a statement might seem bold or sensational, considering the show is still more than 24 hours from getting underway, but if you analyze the card WWE is presenting and consider the history of the event, it’s the only logical conclusion. For the first time ever, SummerSlam has a chance to actually deliver on the oft-implied promise that it is the second WrestleMania.

To truly appreciate the greatness of this year’s card, it’s important to consider how SummerSlam began its 27-year history. When it first appeared during the waning years of Hulkamania, SummerSlam was a showcase of top stars rather than a high-stakes battleground. The company’s centerpiece, Hulk Hogan, was generally featured in highly-gimmicked tag matches that saw shenanigans such as a blatantly partial heel referee (Jesse Ventura in ’88), a non-wrestler main eventing (Tiny Lister in ’89), and a three-man team of woefully past-their-prime competition (Sgt. Slaughter, the Iron Sheik, and Adnan Al-Kaissie in ’91). Throughout its early history, SummerSlam was all about giving the fans just enough of the top star to get them to fork over additional money without actually having to give anything of substance away.

Contrast that to John Cena’s role on this year’s card.

The face of the PG Era isn’t playing for easy cheers surrounded by contrivances, but rather putting the United States Championship that he single-handedly breathed new life into on the line in an attempt to capture the richest prize in wrestling, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Meanwhile, the cowardly heel champion , Seth Rollins—who has held onto his title by hook, crook, interference, or disqualification since WrestleMania 31—is finally running up against the standard bearer for all that is good and right in the WWE Universe. That’s a WrestleMania-worthy storyline right there, and it’s proudly being presented in August. The very presence of this match on the card shows WWE’s commitment to elevating SummerSlam to a can’t-miss, ‘Mania-level event.

The incredible build towards the rematch between Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker is another sign that this will be the most significant SummerSlam in WWE history. While the Deadman’s WrestleMania undefeated streak has been his calling card for the last decade, he has had a career worthy of the title “Mr. SummerSlam.” While his earliest SummerSlam matches against the likes of Giant Gonzalez, “The Supreme Fighting Machine” Kama, and, well, “The Undertaker,” were heavy on mood lighting and light on wrestling, he made a significant mark at Attitude Era SummerSlams against Bret Hart and Steve Austin, putting on strong matches against the top main event workers of his era. None of those matches, however, could possibly equal the hype of this Sunday’s bout.

One final historic hallmark of the SummerSlam brand has been the signature, show-stealing midcard match. Mr. Perfect and Bret Hart put on one of the greatest matches in WWE history in the third spot of the ’91 card, and Bret famously followed up the next year at Wembley by main eventing a secondary title match against Davey Boy Smith. The 1997 edition of SummerSlam also featured the spectacular Intercontinental Championship match between Owen Hart and Steve Austin—which might be better remembered if it hadn’t ended with Austin barely able to walk following Hart’s piledriver.

Whether it’s a strong singles match such as those or a memorable tag encounter like 2000’s TLC, SummerSlam’s have more often than not provided a great match somewhere on the card outside the main event.

Follow contributor David Gibb on Twitter at .

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