(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon – WWE SummerSlam 1995
It’s one of the biggest rematches of all time and many fans have even called it the best match in WWE SummerSlam history.
Even though this year’s SummerSlam has already come and gone, we’re still in the season. Some people reading this might be feeling nostalgic and may want to go revisit some old matches from previous SummerSlam events. And today we revisit a true classic which, funny enough, wasn’t even planned for.
It’s the ladder match between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon from SummerSlam 1995.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
There really wasn’t any real angle or background to build up this match. The original plan was for Michaels to wrestle Sid but Vince McMahon changed his mind and went in a different direction instead. So this match was just thrown together at the last minute without any build and was expected to tear the house down and be the one match people wanted to see.
But could Michaels and Razor do it? Could they not only deliver an excellent match with such little promotion but also meet the extraordinary standards they set over a year earlier with the most iconic ladder match to date?
This match originally took place on August 27th, 1995. It was rated ****3/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer and the full 5-Stars by TJR’s John Canton. Let’s see how well it holds up.
They shove each other and then Michaels sends Razor into the ropes. Razor holds on to block Sweet Chin Music, fully aware of how dangerous that move is. Michaels fights out of a corner and goes for a corner whip but Razor reverses it. Michaels goes for the flip over counter thinking Razor’s chasing him but Razor’s one step ahead and goes for the Razor’s Edge. But this time Michaels escapes, aware of how dangerous Razor’s finisher is.
The two wrestlers trade armlocks until Razor hits some shoulder thrusts. Michaels fights out and goes for another corner whip but Razor reverses it and puts so much force into his throw that Michaels flies to the floor. Razor goes up the entrance ramp on the opposite side from which Michaels got thrown and goes after the (one) ladder. But Michaels tackles him from behind. Michaels drags Razor back to the ring and tries to suplex him over the rope. But Razor blocks it and reverses. Razor suplexes Michaels right onto the floor.
Michaels tries crawling up the entrance ramp but Razor throws him back into the ring. Michaels makes a minor comeback and goes for a back body drop. Razor counters into a Razor’s Edge attempt. Michaels escapes and Razor ducks another superkick. Double clotheslines send both men down. Michaels gets up first but Razor overpowers him and sends him into different corners with lots of force. Razor lands a second-rope fallaway slam and brings the ladder to the ring. Michaels goes to dropkick it into Razor’s face but Razor sidesteps and punches Michaels to the mat. The crowd’s going wild as Razor sets up the ladder in the ring. He makes his first climb but Michaels knocks the ladder over. Michaels hits Razor with the ladder and get his chance to climb. Razor tries pulling Michaels down but only manages to ‘expose’ Michaels to the audience as Michaels kicks him back. Razor manages to knock the adder over but Michaels’ foot gets caught between two rungs. I’m not sure if that was planned or not but a lightbulb goes off in Razor’s head. he traps Michaels’ leg in the ladder and stomps on it to further destroy Michaels’ leg. Michaels finally gets his leg free but Razor lands some knee smashers onto the ladder. Common sense psychology, you just love to see it. Michaels tries to get up but Razor clips the back of Michaels’ knee using the ladder. Razor follows with a scoop slam that has Michaels’ back hit the mat and his legs hit the ladder. Michaels tries lifting himself up using the ropes but Razor kicks his bad leg from behind after setting the ladder up in a corner. Razor goes for an Irish whip into the ropes but Michaels doesn’t even make it three feet forward as he just crumples to the mat. Razor works over that leg some more and goes for a Figure-4 but Michaels uses his free leg to kick Razor into the ladder. Razor hits it stomach-first. Michaels finally makes it to his feet but Razor quickly shuts it down with a knee crusher onto the ladder. He follows with some hip presses onto Michaels’ bad leg against the ropes, but on the third one Michaels again uses his free leg, this time to boot Razor over the rope and to the floor. But Razor gets up almost immediately and smashes Michaels’ leg into the side of the ring and then into the ringpost. Razor returns to the ring as Michaels fights up to his feet. He hits some desperation punches and goes for an Irish whip but Razor reverses it. Michaels slowly staggers towards the ropes and into a drop toehold into a deathlock from Razor. Razor stomps on Michaels’ thigh and then lets the ladder fall onto his bad leg. Razor sets up the ladder and starts climbing but unbeknownst to him, Michaels starts climbing the turnbuckle behind him. Michaels somehow hits an ax handle that sends Razor off the ladder.
Razor goes for a slam into the ropes but Michaels ducks behind and pushes Razor into the ladder instead. Razor gets up first and climbs one side but Michaels climbs up behind him…and lands a back suplex off the ladder. Michaels gets up and sets the ladder up in a corner. Michaels fires back with punches. He tries to Irish whip Razor into the ladder but Razor reverses and – wait, Michaels reverses Razor’s reversal. Razor hits the ladder instead. Razor hits the ladder so hard he ends up on the apron. Michaels whips Razor into the ladder in a different corner and hits a flying forearm. He slams Razor and sets up the ladder near a corner. Moonsault body block. Michaels sends Razor down and punches and then climbs to the very top of the ladder. Diving splash… misses!
Both wrestlers take a long time recovering. They start climbing from opposite sides of the ladder. Both are hurt and exhausted and are climbing much more slowly than earlier. Michaels can’t even make it up one rung while Razor slowly starts getting higher. Michaels basically has to pull himself up with his arms just to keep pace with Razor. The two make it to the top and start trading punches. Razor lands a head-butt but Michaels jerks the ladder. Razor falls to the floor and Michaels gets crotched on the top rope.
After some recovery time, Michaels grabs the ladder and tries to ram Razor with it. But Razor ducks, sending both Michaels and the ladder to the floor. The crowd gets even louder as both wrestlers recover at ringside. Michaels returns to the ring but Razor surprises everyone by pulling out the standby ladder (which was available in the event the first one broke). Michaels sets his ladder up and climbs but Razor cuts him off. Razor’s Edge! Desperation move by Razor. Both wrestlers collapse.
Razor sets up his ladder as Michaels starts stirring. Michaels crawls over and set up his ladder next to Razor’s as Razor’s already climbing. Both wrestlers are within reach of the title belt but Razor’s taller and starts grabbing for the belt. Michaels kicks Razor off his ladder but his ladder is slightly too far away. He reaches out, misses, and falls to the mat. Razor gets up first and teases another Razor’s Edge. But Michaels counters with a back body drop over the rope and to the floor.
Michaels climbs the ladder and reaches for the belt but his hand slips and he falls over. He tries one last time. He reaches out and grabs the belt! Michaels retains his title!
Winner and STILL WWF/E Intercontinental Champion after 25:03: Shawn Michaels
As expected, this match DID live up to the hype. Michaels and Razor stole the show and put on a MOTYC-level match here. It was far and away the best WWE match of 1995. And compared to othergreatmatches from elsewhere from the same period, it didn’t look too bad in comparison. This is why the older stuff is better: this was a wrestling match with a ladder as an added storytelling device and not a ladder war with bits and pieces of wrestling contained therein.
The first ¾ of the match was outstanding with Michaels getting his leg absolutely demolished. Razor did some smart things by targeting that leg with creative yet logical moves. Michaels sold the leg like a master, from being unable to stand, to falling during an Irish whip, to barely being able to mount any consistent offense. For that part of the match, the ladder was more of an add-on, an extra tool for Razor to use in a wrestling context to destroy Michaels’ limb. It was one of the most psychologically-sound matches out of WWE in years, possibly decades. Michaels shined as a face-in-peril here so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he was getting wild cheers throughout the match.
And speaking of psychology, these guys made great use of placement here. The main ladder wasn’t under the ring; it was at the top of the entrance ramp. The wrestlers had to earn/fight their way to the ladder before it could even be used. There was a sense of reward and accomplishment there which isn’t found in more modern ladder matches because they’re everywhere and their use is so watered down. And when Razor pulled out the second ladder, there was a logical reason behind its existence: it was a back-up in case the first one broke, which had a high chance given how strong both wrestlers were and their penchant for high-risk moves. Razor introducing the second one didn’t devalue the first one because the second one’s use was borne out of desperation and need instead of getting a cheap pop by bringing out another weapon.
There was also some great adaptability and ‘learning’ going on here that helps make longer matches better. Early on, Razor was able to throw Michaels into the corners easily, but later on Michaels adapted by countering this move at a critical moment. It’s always great seeing a wrestler suffer something early on and then learn from it later on in the same match. These two wrestlers didn’t go nuts with overly complex or overcomplicated motions; instead, they kept things simple and did the same moves more than once in the same match but the later repeats were tweaked ever so slightly to keep the match fresh and unpredictable, which in turn made the match more exciting and the loud crowd even louder.
But for all that greatness, the match wasn’t without flaws. Things unraveled ever so slightly towards the end with some minor hiccups. Michaels’ airtight and incredible selling started to unravel towards the end as he went for his dives and began his comeback. And while Michaels selling for Razor made Razor look dangerous and compelling, the same wasn’t true of the inverse. Michaels’ offense on Razor looked weak light. It was hard to believe that he was hurting Razor badly enough to slow Razor down and keep him down for the same amounts of time as Michaels himself was down. Razor’s selling was hard to believe at times simply because Michaels hadn’t done much to convince viewers that Razor was that badly hurt. That changed once Michaels started hitting bigger moves and using the ladder more, but for the steps leading that comeback, Razor shouldn’t have come across as that badly weakened.
As for the ending itself with Shawn falling and climbing again, some people think that the botch hurt the match but I disagree. It wasn’t absolutely perfect but it underscored how unpredictable ladder matches were. Michaels showing frustration was silly, but it didn’t feel too out of place given how ladder matches were still considered unexplored territory at the time.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Had the closing stretch gone a bit better, this match really would’ve been not only a perfect 5-Star match but probably better than its 1994 predecessor. It wasn’t the flashiest match by any means, but it was a sound and compelling wrestling match that was sorely needed at a time when WWE was at its nadir in terms of overall quality. After more than 25 years of ladder match change and evolution, this match holds up better than many that have come afterward.
In fact, it very well might be the single-greatest match in SummerSlam history.
Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.