Monday, July 30, 2018

The History of WWE SummerSlam, part 3 (1994-1996)

Moving right along with the third installment.....

SummerSlam '94 - United Center - 8/29/94

This here is about half of a good PPV.  The summer of '94 in the WWF was largely centered around the Bret vs. Owen feud, which was fantastic.  It would come to a head at SummerSlam, as the two brothers dueled in a steel cage.  Unfortunately the match didn't live up to my expectations, nor was it even the main event of the show.

Bizarrely they decided to have the returning Undertaker (absent since January after losing a Casket Match to Yokozuna) fight his doppleganger in the main event of SummerSlam, without really establishing first that the doppleganger was a fake.  Ted Dibiase showed up on WWF TV and announced Taker's return, then brought him out to wrestle.  And it was fairly obvious this was not Mark Callaway, but not obvious enough that we the audience could see where they were going with it.  It was as though Callaway had been fired and they tried in earnest to pass off impostor Brian Lee as the same man.  Then suddenly there were house show cards being booked with two separate Undertakers, but none of this was mentioned in the actual storylines.  And then the announcement came that at SummerSlam the main event would be Undertaker vs. Undertaker.  Just a very sloppily thrown-together angle.

Wait, why is Taker in the ring with that fan in a Halloween costume?

The match itself was a nap-inducing nine minutes.  Think of how boring it would be to watch two zombies fight each other.  Just slow, plodding, devoid of any selling, and a dead crowd to boot.  Why they thought this should close the show is beyond me.

The real main event of the show was the aforementioned Bret vs. Owen cage match.  And it was pretty good, but not great.  The Bret-Owen match at WrestleMania X was amazing and still holds up as one of the best pure wrestling matches I've ever seen.  The cage match however devolved into a series of quick escape attempts and rather wasted the considerable talents of both guys.  I'm really not sure why this match is considered such a benchmark, when both guys wrestled literally dozens of better matches.  But it was a solid main event that didn't get to be the main event.

There were two other good matches on the card, one of which was an Intercontinental Title rematch between Diesel and Razor Ramon.  This was nothing amazing, but it was a very well-worked big man match enhanced by the outside the ring shenanigans involving Shawn Michaels and Walter Payton.  I'm not sure why there wasn't room on the card for Shawn to wrestle, but oh well.

The other standout match (and the real show-stealer as far as I'm concerned) was the Women's Title match between Alundra Blayze and Bull Nakano.  Alundra (otherwise known as Madusa Miceli) was a highly athletic, accomplished worker and found a perfect foil in the Japanese powerhouse Nakano.  This match was a classic David vs. Goliath contest except with super athletic female wrestlers.  It's also notable for being the first time I ever saw the Scorpion Crosslock performed (currently Paige's finisher) - one of my all-time favorite submission holds.

What a great submission hold.....

The rest of the show is entirely forgettable - Lex Luger vs. Tatanka (in a match built around Tatanka accusing Luger of selling out to Ted Dibiase, only to reveal that he himself sold out), Bam Bam Bigelow/IRS vs. The Headshrinkers (which was supposed to be for the Tag Titles until the night before when Shawn & Diesel won them off the 'Shrinkers, thus making this match pointless), and Jeff Jarrett vs. Mabel (in a match that belonged nowhere near a PPV event).

The 1994 edition felt rather half-assed.  Only three bouts that could be classified as good, a main event that is nigh unwatchable, and three totally inconsequential matches.  Plus Shawn Michaels and Yokozuna didn't wrestle at all.

Best Match: Alundra Blayze vs. Bull Nakano
Worst Match: Undertaker vs. Undertaker
What I'd Change: Obviously Bret vs. Owen should've gone last, and I would've made it a Submission match.  I also would've made the Taker vs. Taker angle much clearer so the climactic bout would've had heat rather than confusion.
Most Disappointing Match: Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart - seriously, this should be a five-star match but instead it's only about three.
Most Pleasant Surprise: The Women's match.  I wasn't expecting much of this and it stole the show.
Overall Rating: 5/10
Better than WrestleMania X? - God no.

SummerSlam '95 - The Igloo - 8/27/95

Here's a show that on paper looks absolutely wretched.  A weak main event, a slew of free TV-caliber matches, a host of top talent missing from the card (seriously, were Owen, Bulldog, Yokozuna, Sid & Luger booked elsewhere that night??), and only one PPV-worthy bout.  Yet somehow this was a pretty good PPV with a host of entertaining matches.

The main event is one of the weakest in SummerSlam history.  In yet another attempt to recreate Hogan vs. Andre, they booked Diesel to face the newest King of the Ring, Mabel.  There was literally zero heat between these two, and if they insisted on doing another Power Wrestler vs. Fat Guy match, why not book Yokozuna to win the KOTR tourney and challenge Diesel?  At least Yokozuna had Championship credibility, ya know, having been a former Champion.  The match was predictably underwhelming and short.

Wait, why is Diesel in the ring with that fan in a Grimace costume?

The real standout of this SummerSlam was of course the Ladder rematch for the I-C belt between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon, the two men who defined the Ladder Match 17 months earlier.  While not up to the legendary status of their first go-round, this is still a damn fine Ladder Match with memorable spots involving TWO ladders (In 1995 the idea of a second ladder being introduced was mind-blowing. No I'm serious.) and a different dynamic being that both guys were now babyfaces. 

I hope Razor got a helluva Christmas gift that year for saving Shawn's life.

As I said before, most of this card was taken up by free TV-type matches, including an excellent hot opener of Hakushi vs. 1-2-3 Kid, a good squash between Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Bob Holly, a jobber match between Skip and Barry Horowitz (what was this feud doing on PPV??), and Bret Hart fighting Jerry Lawler's protege Isaac Yankem (who went on to much better things a few years later) in a rare miss for Bret (he never did have much chemistry with Glen Jacobs unfortunately). 

The unexpected hit of the night was the Undertaker's Casket Match against Kama.  I had no hopes at all of liking this match, but it ended up being one of the better matches of the night. 

All in all while I'm not sure what the company was thinking putting together such a lackluster lineup for the second biggest show of the year, SummerSlam '95 is still a pretty good watch, if not all that memorable.

Best Match: Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon
Worst Match: Smokin' Gunns vs. Blu Brothers (I ask again, why were Owen and Yokozuna, the WWF Tag Champions, not on this show??)
What I'd Change: A lot.  The problem was the overabundance of heels and the dearth of babyfaces.  First, since Davey Boy Smith turned heel just before this, why not book him against his former tag partner Lex Luger?  Swap out the Horowitz match for that.  Next, let's go with Diesel vs. Yokozuna as the main event.  Have Mabel fight Bret perhaps.  Since "it takes a king to know a king," Lawler could've recruited Mabel to go after his sworn enemy.  Third, since Hakushi wasn't going to be pushed long-term anyway, sub in Owen Hart to fight 1-2-3 Kid.  It would still be a blistering match and Owen would've actually gotten on the card.  That just leaves Sid as the one omission, and he obviously wasn't missed.
Most Disappointing Match: Bret Hart vs. Isaac Yankem - Jacobs just wasn't there yet as far as in-ring ability, it was a dumb gimmick, and even Bret couldn't get a good match out of him at that point.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Undertaker vs. Kama
Overall Rating: 6/10
Better than WrestleMania XI? - Yes

SummerSlam '96 - Gund Arena - 8/18/96

The 1996 edition was pretty indicative of the overall roster depth, or lack thereof, at that time.  Almost every PPV event that year had a very strong upper card with not much below the top two or three bouts.  SummerSlam felt a little skimpy as a result.  There was an amazing main event, a couple of decent undercard matches, and a whole lotta filler.

Shawn Michaels defended the WWF Title against monster heel Vader in a spectacular clash of styles.  This match was one of a whole string of awesome HBK main events that year.  Despite a miscue or two (which Shawn rather shamelessly called attention to during the match), and an overbooked pair of false endings, this was one of the best matches of 1996.  Considering how much difficulty Shawn had beating Vader, they probably should've had the planned rematch at Survivor Series, but alas backstage politics put the kibosh on that.

Wait, why is Shawn in the ring with that fan wearing a jockstrap on his face?

The semi-main belonged to the Undertaker-Mankind feud.  In a rematch from King of the Ring, Taker and Mankind battled in the first-ever Boiler Room Brawl - a no holds barred fight through the bowels of the arena.  Unfortunately while this sounded wild and awesome in theory, it was a might disappointing in execution.  The match went very long and didn't really contain enough high spots to sustain it over 26 minutes.  The shock ending came when Taker's longtime manager Paul Bearer turned on him to join Mankind, in one of the few such swerves that actually made sense.  Mankind was booked to clearly have Taker's number, and so Bearer's opportunism was somewhat warranted from a storyline perspective.

The 24/7 Hardcore Title rule was clearly in effect, as Mankind
attacked Taker during his shift as the Cleveland High School
Managerial Custodian.  How rude.....

The third standout was a meaningless midcard bout between Marc Mero and Goldust.  There was little heat for this, but the match itself is pretty good.  Fast-paced and full of solid action, including Mero's debuting Shooting Star Press (the first time I'd ever seen that move).  Not bad stuff.

The rest of the show kinda stunk though.  Owen Hart vs. Savio Vega opened the show and was nothing to write home about, the 4-way Tag Title match (Smokin' Gunns vs. Bodydonnas vs. Godwinns vs. New Rockers) was hampered by Bodydonna Skip being injured and basically unable to get in the ring, Sycho Sid vs. Davey Boy Smith went a paltry six minutes and was instantly forgettable, and Jerry Lawler vs. Jake Roberts was plain awful.  And the red-hot King of the Ring Steve Austin was stuck on the pre-show in a two-minute squash with Yokozuna.  Just baffling.

What resulted was a stitched-together PPV carried entirely by its two top-billed matches that unfortunately weren't quite enough to make it a good show.  The main event is quite a battle though.

Best Match: Shawn Michaels vs. Vader
Worst Match: Jerry Lawler vs. Jake Roberts
What I'd Change: Unfortunately given how thin the roster was, there wasn't much room for improvement here.  I'd certainly have put Steve Austin on the main card, for the love of Christ!  Also I know he was being punished at the time, but give Triple H something to do.
Most Disappointing Match: Undertaker vs. Mankind - Their KOTR match was a hard-hitting slugfest, and this match should've upped the game.  Sadly it failed to reach the same level.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I guess the Mero-Goldust match.  I was expecting very little of that one and it turned out pretty good.
Overall Rating: 5.5/10
Better than WrestleMania XII? - Nope

Part 2                                                                                                                                                Part 4

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