We’re less than two weeks away from Summerslam and the show’s build has been flying by so fast that it’s almost impossible to keep up with what is on the card. There is so much stuff being thrown onto the show almost every week (there were four matches added to the show on this week’s Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live alone) that the card is just all over the place. That shouldn’t be the case for a show as important as Summerslam, but let’s think about this for a second.
This year’s Summerslam is going to be the thirty second edition of the show and yet, after all this time, I’m not sure what the show’s big draw is supposed to be. Just looking at the other of the Big Four shows, you have the Royal Rumble and Survivor Series with their namesake matches and WrestleMania is the biggest show of the year. Summerslam is the Biggest Party of the Summer, but that doesn’t mean much when the rest of the Big Four could be called the biggest show of the spring, fall and winter. WrestleMania as the Spring Spectacular doesn’t have the best ring to it (though I could certainly go for a new Spring Stampede).
Summerslam has always been the least important of the Big Four Shows. Not only was it the last one to get started (assuming you count the 1988 Royal Rumble as the first edition, even though it wasn’t on pay per view), but it rarely comes off as all that important. Normally it is four months removed from WrestleMania and there is no big signature match to help carry the show over the finish line. It is undoubtedly one of the most important and always strongest show of the year, but other than it being old, there isn’t anything that makes it stand out among others.
It started off like this:
So where does that leave Summerslam? That’s what we’re going to look at today. Summerslam was added to the pay per view schedule because it was clear how much money those things could bring in. That was the case in 1988, but the problem is what came before them. WrestleMania 3 had the biggest match of all time, Survivor Series 1987 saw the followup between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant and WrestleMania 4 featured Hogan vs. Andre III and the tournament to guarantee a new WWF Champion. The first two Summerslams? Tag matches, including one that focused on the unstoppable force that was Zeus.
What I find interesting is that this isn’t a new issue. Think back to the first few years of Summerslam. Three of the first five shows were headlined by tag matches, the WWF Title match main evented one of the first five shows and the title didn’t change hands until the tenth edition. You would get a fair amount of Intercontinental Title changes, but that isn’t the most important thing in the world. Right away, the show doesn’t exactly feel all that important.
At the same time, it rarely felt like Summerslam was a show where major stories culminated. Look back at the first few main events and how many of them were the big blow off to a story? Hogan vs. Andre the Giant had already wrapped up in 1988, Hogan vs. Zeus wrapped up in December and Hogan vs. Slaughter was long past done in 1991 (and the show was headlined by a wedding, which started another three months of feuding). It’s like these shows are just stops in the road instead of something that matters in their own right.
How much of the same thing is true today? Consider some of the bigger Summerslam main events of the last ten years. You have Daniel Bryan returning to fight the Nexus, which went on for several more months. Daniel Bryan wins the WWE Title, which turns into another eight months of stories before he FINALLY wins it for good. Brock Lesnar beats a bunch of people, often in a match that is either a one off moment (Randy Orton) or to set up another match (Undertaker).
That’s not even counting the big random mixture of styles of shows in between the opening years and the last few years. You have all kinds of stories and matches for Summerslam, which kind of defines the thing as well as anything else can. There just isn’t anything that stays consistent in the whole series’ history, which means it’s almost impossible to really have the show running as a traditional major show. When you can go from a glorified house show in the early years to the biggest show of the year in 1998 to a show where a lot of stories either start or continue in the modern era, it’s kind of hard to find that clear of a pattern.
Then became this:
While Summerslam is one of the Big Four, it really comes off as a show more in line with something like Fastlane or Great Balls of Fire or Stomping Grounds. Of course it’s bigger and often better than that (Summerslam has rarely had a problem with quality), but more like those other shows, Summerslam feels a lot more like those minor shows. Yeah you have some big name matches here or there, but it’s really just a show that is taking place in August of every year.
As bad as that might sound, it’s not the worst thing in the world. How many gimmick shows over the years have been booed out of the building because the concept is a bad idea? Having a show built around Money in the Bank, a Fatal Four Way match (I still can’t get over that one) or the Cell doesn’t come off as a good idea most of the time, so why not have one of the Big Four shows built up the same way?
Summerslam might not have the big flashy match or prestige that makes it seem as important as others, but that’s kind of where it shines. The show is the culmination of the summer stories, but how many times are the summer stories terrible (Diesel vs. King Mabel anyone?) or not exactly worthy of a big blowoff anyway? That’s where Summerslam can save things. No these stories aren’t going to be all these great ideas that everyone is dying to see, but they took place at Summerslam and that alone makes them feel so much more important.
So what exactly is Summerslam’s identity? As lame of an answer as this might sound, the show is really just what it is: the biggest show of the shows that don’t have anything unique about them. That leaves some issues with the show’s history, but it certainly hasn’t stopped Summerslam from being one of the most important shows of the year. Fans have been taught that it is the second most important show of the year and while that may or may not be true, it is still something that is going to get all the attention that you can ask for, which is better than almost anything else.
And now it’s more like this:
That’s going to be the case with this year’s Summerslam as well. There isn’t some big match or even any major matches save for maybe one, but the show is going to be a big deal because it’s Summerslam and by definition it is an important one. That says a lot to the legacy of Summerslam as more often than not, it is the name alone that carries the show to whatever level it can reach. That’s Summerslam’s identity: it’s the show that is famous for being famous rather than any one major moment or show or even match. You don’t get that very often in wrestling but that’s what make it, and Summerslam, so unique.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his Amazon author page with 28 wrestling books. His latest book is the History Of In Your House.
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