WrestleWatch Vault- WWE Summerslam 2008
Well, the votes were cast and here we are! With Summerslam right around the corner, I thought it was only right to dive back into the Vault and re-live another classic Summerslam! We had a few choices, gradually narrowed down on Twitter. They were 1992, 2000, 2008 and 2015. Given that the first poll had a 3 way tie, I very well may do reviews for the other ones at some point in the future. I'm almost up to Summerslam 2000 in my WWE Network binging, so that would make a lot of sense for the next one. Anyways... I haven't done a proper WrestleWatch review in a minute, I might be a little rusty! Let's do this.
So in 2008, I was watching WWE but interest was waning for me. I started watching WWE in the Attitude Era, but I was a Ruthless Aggression kid through and through, having access to wrestling on a much more regular basis from 2002 onwards. 2008 was the end of that era though. The Benoit tragedy of 2007 turned WWE on its head, and it led to Vince and co. producing a far more safe and sanitised product. In essence, 2008 was the beginning of the PG era. The cool, unique set designs were largely replaced by massive HD LED screens, and the violence, language and sexuality were being toned way down.
On the positive side, we weren't all the way down the rabbit hole yet. We still had a scantily clad Maria on a jetski as part of the Summerslam promotional material, and one of the featured matches on the Summerslam 2008 card was Edge vs. Undertaker in a Hell In A Cell match. Probably one of the best examples of where the tone of the product was at this time was the Cena vs. JBL feud from a month or two prior. The build saw the line that made me start to re-evaluate my whole fandom- "JBL is poopy". However, the pay-off at the Great American Bash was a violent Parking Lot Brawl that wasn't PG at all.
WWE was also carried in 2008 by some stellar storytelling in one particular feud. Post WrestleMania 24, the feud between Chris Jericho & Shawn Michaels was by far the most compelling television on any WWE brand. They feature in a key part of this show that is burned into my brain as I write this preview, before I even watch the show back... but we'll get to that later.
It's time for the Biggest Party of the Summer!
Wait, sorry, they labelled this one "the Biggest Blockbuster of the Summer". The intro video is movie trailer esque highlighting the big matches on the card. The stage has a cool cinema inspired look. Seems like a theme fit for Hollywood... but JR welcomes us to Indianapolis, Indiana. The commentators all chime in to for introductions and a little more match hype before we throw to the action. Of note, Jim Ross has been shifted to Smackdown at this point, and Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler are the Raw announce team.
Match 1: MVP def. Jeff Hardy (at 10:10)
Thoughts: Hardy comes out to his epic "No More Words" theme, but there's a bit of a rebuilding process for him here as he's coming off a suspension. This match starts high-energy, but not in the usual Jeff Hardy way, as both men are aggressively brawling. We get a little trademark Hardy flash with a slingshot leg drop for a near fall, but MVP soon turns the tables with a belly to belly suplex into the turnbuckles. He grounds the high-flier for an extended period, working over the legs and back- smart strategy. Hardy eventually mounts a comeback and scores with Whisper In The Wind. He goes up top to hit the Swanton, but instead dives to the outside to wipe out an interfering Shelton Benjamin. That distracton allows MVP time to avoid the Swanton, and score with the Drive-By Kick for the win. Hardy pays his dues a little here, and we have good action to kick off Summerslam. (***)
Backstage interview as Maria is with Santino Marella & Beth Phoenix. Or as Santino calls them, Glamarella. "It's a phenomenon," he says. Maria- Santino's former girlfriend- shoots back, "Like your unibrow?" Beth grabs Santino and gets in Maria's face, saying, "he's all mine."
Match 2: Winner Take All- WWE Women's and Intercontinental Championships- Beth Phoenix & Santino Marella def. Mickie James & Kofi Kingston (at 5:25)
Thoughts: Lot of moving parts in this one. A lot played for comedy here as King notes in the intros, "Santino may wear the pants, but Beth tells him what pair to wear." That dynamic is shown as Santino leaps into Beth's arms at one point to avoid a dive from Kingston. Bit of intergender action as Mickie monkey flips Santino and Beth puts the boots into Kofi, but babyface Kofi never hits Beth. The finish comes as Mickie wipes out Santino with the Mickie DDT, and the distraction allows Beth to score with the Glam Slam for the win. Simple stuff, but a good dose of light humour and a big moment for the Glamarella pairing. Santino's act was always one aspect of PG WWE that worked for me. (**)
A recap of the Shawn Michaels & Chris Jericho feud airs. Part of it is HBK saying that he's meeting with his doctors the Friday before Summerslam, and he'll address his future on the show.
Shawn makes his entrance with his wife Rebecca. He talks about his list of injuries over his career- not only his eye injury sustained by Chris Jericho, but a litany of back and knee issues as well. He says that for the first time in his career, after talking about it with his wife, he's going to heed the doctor's advice and retire. The crowd boos, but settle as HBK recaps his career, from Montreal to DX and everything in between. He thanks the fans... and then Jericho's music hits.
Jericho demands that Michaels acknowledge him as the better man and the reason he's retiring. Shawn agrees that he'll sit his wife and kids down and tell them that the reason Daddy can't wrestle anymore is "because of the actions of a vile, selfish, worthless human being". But he wants Jericho to sit his wife and kids down and tell them that Jericho will never be Shawn Michaels. Rebecca pulls at Shawn's arm to tell him to leave, he turns away and Jericho takes a swing... but knocks out Rebecca instead! Chris didn't pull the punch properly and he gave Shawn's wife a swollen lip. Unfortunate, but ultimately added to the intensity of the segment. Rebecca would later look at Chris with a smile and say "is that the best you got?" So no harm done. Five star angle.
We throw to Todd Grisham and Matt Striker for the ECW representation on Summerslam.
Match 3: ECW Championship- Matt Hardy def. Mark Henry (w/ Tony Atlas) (via DQ) (at 0:33)
Thoughts: The actual match lasts all of about 30 seconds. Hardy hits the Twist of Fate early and covers, but Atlas drags him out of the ring and beats him down. Jeff runs out to save his brother. Well... that was all a bit pointless. At least they all got a payday, I guess. (N/A)
Match 4: World Heavyweight Championship- CM Punk (c) def. JBL (at 10:29)
Thoughts: This two had surprisingly good chemistry, with Punk's martial arts style meshing with smashmouth brawler JBL extremely well. Old school psychology with babyface Punk trying to speed the match up with flashy offense, and heel JBL slowing it down with a rudimentary attack. The crowd wasn't yet as behind Punk as they would be in later years- he had recently become world champion through cashing in Money In The Bank and hadn't yet found his groove completely. Cool spot down the stretch where Punk goes for his springboard clothesline, but JBL catches him out of the air with a powerslam. A bad moment where Punk hits the leg lariat but they collide heads on the way down, busting Punk open. He recovers enough to hit the GTS shortly after to retain. Enjoyable stuff for the most part. (***1/4)
Match 5: WWE Championship- Triple H def. The Great Khali (at 10:00)
Thoughts: They go through a lucha sequence for the first minute, trading arm drags and springboard moves, culminating in a double nip up. No, I'm kidding. Both men swing right hands relentlessly. HHH goes for a Pedigree early and Khali powers out of it, as Tazz points out, it may not be anatomically possible. HHH tries to knock Khali off his feet and gets planted with a chokebomb. Weird seeing Hunter play the underdog babyface here, the David to Khali's Goliath. One positive of Khali's ring work- as the crowd chants "you can't wrestle"- simple moves like scoop slams and leg drops look devastating coming from him. Eventually, HHH breaks the Vice Grip, avoids a Khali charging attack, and finally hits the Pedigree. For a Khali match, this was right there with Cena and HBK in dragging something passable out of the big lug. Well done, Cerebral Assassin. (***, so like 7 stars grading on the Khali curve).
Match 6: Batista def. John Cena (at 14:10)
Thoughts: As weird as it felt seeing both major championship matches occur in the middle of the card, it makes sense when you consider the magnitude of this match. Cena. Batista. Two biggest stars of the Ruthless Aggression era. First time one-on one- at least on this big a stage. They probably wrestled in OVW or something. They go through fundamentals before trading big power moves like slams and suplexes. Commentary put over that while Batista has the size advantage, Cena is deceptively strong. Batista goes for the Batista Bomb early, Cena escapes, so Batista takes his head off with a clothesline instead. High impact. They also throw in a little technique as Batista applies the Figure 4 and Cena reverses a Batista Bomb into the STFU (U still intact for now). Incredible display of strength where Cena reverses a powerslam into the FU (not AA), but it only gets 2. Cena then goes for a top rope leg drop but is countered with a Batista Bomb! Apparently that was the move in this match that broke Cena's neck, but he kicks out. The power of Hustle, Loyalty and Respect. An enraged Batista hits one more Batista Bomb.. and now it's over. Damn! (****)
A pre-match video airs for the Edge vs. Undertaker Hell In A Cell match. Edge cheats on his wife (and Smackdown GM) Vickie Guerrero with Alicia Fox. So she puts him in HIAC with the Deadman. Fair.
Match 7: Hell In A Cell- Undertaker def. Edge (at 26:44)
Thoughts: This one gets intense and violent in a hurry. Edge comes in with a furious flurry but Taker drops him with a single boot to the head, and wastes little time slinging him into and around the Cell. The steel stairs also come into play, and Edge is able to use them to gain an advantage. The Rated R Superstar also introduces tables and chairs, and the fighting arena is littered with weapons. A ladder also comes into play, and TLC specialist Edge puts Taker through a table with a chair assisted elbow drop off a ladder! Wild. Taker powers back for a time, but the next big moment belongs to Edge as well as he Spears Taker through the Cell wall! They battle around the announce table area, and Edge scores big again with a Spear through the ECW announce table! Back in the ring, Edge smashes Taker with a TV camera... and we get a kick out! Taker finally gets a moment when Edge gets cocky and goes for Old School- but Taker counters with a Chokeslam through two tables! Taker starts handing out receipts- a Spear, a strike with the TV camera, and a Conchairto. He finally picks up Edge's lifeless body and hits a Tombstone to end it. What carnage! (****1/2)
But that's not all... Undertaker exits the Cell, but when he sees Edge stirring in the ring, not completely dead, he turns around and storms the ring once again. He sets up a pair of ladders, drags Edge up them, and chokeslams Edge off them through the ring! He raises his arms and the hole that Edge's body left bursts into flames. "Undertaker sent Edge straight to hell!" JR proclaims to end the show.
Technically, this Summerslam is labelled as the first PPV of the PG Era, but I never felt like this was overly sanitised, especially in regards to the main event. The only difference it may have made is that no one bladed, but it was otherwise as brutal as most other Cell matches to that point, perhaps even more so in parts. A classic. Combine that with the "dream match" of Batista vs. Cena that absolutely delivered, and a strong undercard with the rest, and you've got a genuinely great PPV more than worth your time. Even Khali couldn't drag this one down.