Before you get ready for SummerSlam tonight on the WWE Network, remind yourself that the WWE has a history of building up great feuds and turning them into the spatial definition of disappointment. You’re looking forward to that Brock Lesnar versus Roman Reigns feud, Nobody, but don’t set yourself up for disappointment. The WWE is just as likely to drop the ball as they are to score a touchdown, and just in case you need a reminder, here are 5 matches from SummerSlam history that had great feuds with terrible pay-offs.
SummerSlam 2005: Edge Vs. Matt Hardy
In 2005, Matt Hardy leaked that his at-the-time girlfriend had cheated on him with much-better-looking Edge. At the time, the Lita and Kane were in the middle of a storyline in which Kane unleashed the demon and through hellfire and brimstone knocks up Lita only to have it killed by Gene Snitsky. Because of the news, fans turned against Lita and as a babyface. The WWE was irate that people were getting invested in things other than dead babies and fired Matt Hardy over the whole situation. In 2018, heel and babyface wrestlers are wishing each other happy birthday and congratulating each other on Twitter, but, in 2005, if your girlfriend cheats on you then you better suck it up, buttercup.
Because the WWE is confused on how humans work, the chanting didn’t stop and fans were quickly turning Lita into a heel whether they liked it or not. The WWE realized that ignoring the problem wouldn’t make it go away, so they set up an angle where Lita and Edge would get together on the show so they could rub it in Matt Hardy’s face in front of millions instead of just on the internet. To further the angle, Matt Hardy would be rehired and attack Edge at ringside with the commentators acting like they don’t know who Matt Hardy was and playing it off as if he was just a fan, AKA anyone who ran into Matt Hardy in an airport during that timeframe.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the plan wasn’t ever to build up what could have potentially been a heated feud between Matt Hardy and Edge, but rather job Matt out to Edge every chance they got to squash the chanting. And it worked. Their match at SummerSlam started out with plenty of prospect but ended in Matt Hardy getting beaten up so badly that they had to stop the match. That’ll teach Matt to let his girlfriend cheat on him, the jerk.
SummerSlam 1994: Undertaker Vs. Undertaker
If you were ever curious what the Undertaker would be like without any of that pesky crowd reaction getting in the way, boy is there some great news for you! In 1994, The Undertaker had taken a half a year long hiatus from wrestling to do whatever it is that deadmen do on a vacation (note: Weekend at Bernies?) In reality the Undertaker has been injured at the Royal Rumble by Yokozuna and had to take some time off to heal. In the meantime the WWE were playing off the story as though Undertaker were missing, even conducting fake interviews with people claiming to have seen him much like the “I’ve seen Elvis” craze.
During the summer, the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase revealed that he had found the Undertaker and he worked for him now. Paul Bearer responded by saying that no, he in fact still had the Undertaker. This turned into a long, drawn out “nuh uh – uh huh!” argument between two adults that accumulated into a match at Summerslam 1994 with an Undertaker vs. Undertaker match. Immediately the differences were noticeable, so much so, in fact, that the fans stopped caring unanimously and it was like watching an actual funeral. Everyone was quiet, the atmosphere was sad, and everyone spent the next few days questioning God’s intentions.
SummerSlam 2007: Batista Vs. The Great Khali
The Great Khali wasn’t exactly known for his technical mat skills and Batista wasn’t exactly Eddie Guerrero either, so the 2007 SummerSlam was being built around massive strength. For months leading us to this big match, WWE was portraying the Great Khali as unbeatable and putting his move over as deadly. Big names were falling to the Vice Grip including Ric Flair and Bryan Kendrick. It looked like the Great Khali was really crushing skulls with that move. Batista was being built up as the Roman Reigns prototype, not to be confused with John Cena’s Prototype which is just John Cena but with slightly stiffer movement.
The only problem is that two weeks before SummerSlam, Batista speared the Great Khali which knocked him right on his ass, meaning that any question as to whether or not Batista could take down someone as big as Khali was now answered before the match even took place. To make matters worse, the following week they had Great Khali smash Batista’s head with his Vice Grip move, which seems silly because no one was curious to find out if Batista’s skull was somehow more solid than everyone else’s. The WWE has given away that Batista can take down Khali and Khali’s Vice Grip can take down Batista, so, congratulations, this match is basically a normal match like any other match except this one involves the Great Khali and no one wants that.
The match ends with Great Khali using a chair to get himself disqualified with the commentators claiming that Khali wasn’t sure if he could take out Batista, so he had to cheat his way out. This would have been more impressive going into it if we hadn’t already known that Batista was capable of spearing Khali or that the Great Khali can take out literally anyone including Batista. After giving away every aspect of the much prior to the match, the WWE flipped off the fans with a big “to be continued” ending.
SummerSlam 2005: Shawn Michaels Vs. Hulk Hogan
This depends on your definition of a poorly paid off feud. If you were looking forward to a Shawn Michael’s classic, or a Hulk Hogan whatever you call his matches, then you were going to be extremely disappointed. If you were looking for a Looney Tunes match with Bugs Bunny being redrawn as Shawn Michaels and Hulk Hogan being redrawn as Hulk Hogan from the Saturday Morning cartoon, this is your jam.
The set-up was your typical Shawn Michaels feud. In fact, the entire angles were designed to play off Shawn’s own trope of turning on his partners. The show where Hogan and HBK tag together and win the tag team titles seemed to be ending with them celebrating, and while that’s pretty standard today, that would have been crazy in 2005 when RAWs and Smackdowns were shows people watched. Then, it happened. “It.” You know “It.” Shawn Michael’s superkicks the orange right off Hogan’s skin to end the show. Shawn displays his incredible acting skills by looking both menacing and a little disappointed in himself while Hogan does what he calls selling on the mat.
As HBK retells the story, Hogan was supposed to lose the original match and HBK was supposed to lose a second match down the road. That was the plan all the way until the day of the pay-per-view, which is when Hogan decided he only wanted to do one match and then split. Hogan has been notorious for changing plans just before they’re executed. As a result, HBK went into the match acting like a cartoon. He sold every punch as though he was being hit by a semi and every kick as though he was being hit by the same semi who only knew one move. Shawn Michaels went flopping around the ring over selling everything in comical fashion and it’s hard to watch Hogan try to play it off as though he was actually doing that to him. Hogan won, ran away, and the next night HBK cut a promo about how Hogan won and ran away, and then instantly moved on to the next feud. Never to be mentioned again — until HBK did the exact same feud with John Cena a few years later.
SummerSlam 2013: John Cena Vs. Daniel Bryan
On paper, you’d think this match wouldn’t possibly fail. In fact, you could say that if we’re technically count the end of the feud to be the moment someone is pinned, then this match did pay off. Too bad that the WWE agrees, and the pay-off absolutely was during the pin. What happened after the match still has people ripping their hair out to this day.
John Cena was given the opportunity to pick any wrestler he wanted to face him at SummerSlam for the WWE title, and naturally John Cena picked Daniel Bryan, which is Minority Report levels of nepotism. The build-up is what makes the pay-off even more disappointing. Daniel Bryan claims that John Cena is the WWE corporate wet dream and that they don’t want Daniel Bryan anywhere near the title. As a result, the WWE decides to include a fair and impartial referee. Once we get the joke that Brad Maddox would be that person out of the way, Triple H claims that position. John Cena’s promos are tiny moments of self-indulgence while Daniel Bryan is excited that, finally, they were going to be able to put on the match that the fans deserved.
We all know the rest of the story. Daniel Bryan did, in fact, beat John Cena during John Cena’s “job to everyone” world tour and won the title. That pay-off seems worth it. Unfortunately, seconds later Triple H turns on Daniel Bryan with a Pedigree which allows Randy Orton to cash in the money in the bank briefcase and win the title. So, you’re probably thinking that Daniel Bryan gets to retaliate, right? After all, Daniel Bryan spent every promo up to that week talking about how the company didn’t want him holding the title. You clearly don’t work for the WWE creative team. The following month Daniel Bryan does win the title, only for Triple H to overturn the decision and strip Daniel Bryan of the title. After that, Daniel Bryan faces Randy Orton for the title yet again, only to end in a double disqualification from outside interference. The following month? HBK cost Daniel Bryan the title by superkicking him at the end of the match. Great news though, because the following month Daniel Bryan wasn’t even involved in the title match! Oh, you wanted something else? Oops! Then, the following month they wrote in John Cena into the title scene and Daniel Bryan into a feud with Bray Wyatt. That’s kind of the same thing, right? Happy now?