Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The History of WWE SummerSlam, part 1 (1988-1990)

From the wrestling-obsessed maniac who brought you the History of WrestleMania series (me, obviously), welcome to The History of SummerSlam!!

Since 1988 WWE's SummerSlam has been the flagship PPV of the summer season.  More often than not it's the secondary tentpole of WWE's calendar, almost like WrestleMania's little brother.  Storylines are built throughout the season, and when done properly, culminate with the summer spectacular.

As a fan I've found over the years that SummerSlam is almost an underrated series - WrestleMania gets so much hype and attention (and I tend to rewatch those matches so frequently), I often overlook how many great matches and moments have taken place at the #2 show of the year.  Recently during a few hours of boredom I began comparing each SummerSlam to its corresponding 'Mania show (i.e. SummerSlam '88 vs. WrestleMania IV, etc.) and found that over the years SummerSlam has been the best PPV of the year just as often as the Grandaddy.  Many times the little brother has overshadowed his attention-grabbing counterpart.  Don't believe me?  Let's take a trip down WrestleMemory Lane!

SummerSlam '88 - Madison Square Garden - 8/29/88

The inaugural 'Slam followed fairly closely the formula created by the original WrestleMania.  Madison Square Garden?  Check.  Huge tag team main event?  Check.  Special guest referee?  Check.  Odd assortment of house show matches between guys who weren't really feuding?  Check.  Pretty strange really. 

The main event of this show was enormous - for the first time ever WWF Champion Randy Savage would team with Hulk Hogan as The MegaPowers against common enemies Andre the Giant and Ted Dibiase.  The announcement of this match blew my 12-year-old mind, as did the addition of guest ref Jesse "The Body" Ventura.  The match itself falls into the same category as Hogan-Andre '87.  Not great from a workrate standpoint but a whole helluvalotta fun.  The angle with Elizabeth stripping down to her skivvies as a distraction was pretty stupid, particularly since they failed to deliver on the promise of a bikini.  But otherwise a fun match.

Look at 'em.  The MegaPowers.  Wait, how come Savage had to
adopt Hogan's colors?  Savage was the Champion!

The rest of the show featured some strong star power, even if none of the major undercard feuds were represented here.  Jake Roberts (then feuding with Rick Rude) faced Hercules in a well-worked match.  Rick Rude (then feuding with Jake) took on the Junkyard Dog.  The Rougeau Brothers (then feuding with The Hart Foundation) took on The British Bulldogs in a solid opening bout.  The Hart Foundation (then feuding with the Rougeaus) challenged Demolition for the Tag Team belts in probably the best match of the night. 

It almost played out like an extended Saturday Night's Main Event, as though this was a hype show for something else. 

One of the most memorable moments was The Honky Tonk Man issuing an open challenge after his scheduled opponent Brutus Beefcake was sidelined with a kayfabe injury.  Instead the red-hot Ultimate Warrior exploded into the ring and made short work of HTM, becoming the new Intercontinental Champion.

God I was stoked HonkyTonk finally dropped the I-C belt.

SummerSlam '88 may have used the first 'Mania as a blueprint, but it ended up becoming a formula unto itself, as the next three installments followed suit to a certain extent.  It's not a great show by any means, but it's fun to watch and holds up much better than WM1, or WM4 for that matter.

Best Match: Demolition vs. Hart Foundation
Worst Match: Bad News Brown vs. Ken Patera
What I'd Change: I'd probably set up more matches between guys who were actually feuding.  How did Jake vs. Rude not take place on PPV once their feud started?  Yes they fought at WM4 but that was before they aired the angle with Jake's wife and therefore the match lacked any heat.
Most Disappointing Match: I suppose the I-C Title match could've been an actual match, but it got such a pop and was so appropriate for Warrior's character I can't complain too much.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Probably said surprise of Warrior suddenly winning the I-C Title, ending the 15-month reign of The Honky Tonk Man.
Overall Rating: 5/10
Better than WrestleMania IV? - Yes

SummerSlam '89 - Meadowlands Arena - 8/28/89

The sophomore 'Slam holds a special place for me.  It was far from a perfect show but at the time it just felt like a big deal, and from a star power perspective it was a pretty stacked PPV.  I was at the Saturday Night's Main Event taping a month prior when the company started building in earnest toward SummerSlam, so I really got into the hype for this show.

Following the tag team main event template from the previous year's show, the WWF continued the huge MegaPowers feud by teaming Hulk Hogan up with Brutus Beefcake against Randy Savage and Hogan's onscreen nemesis in the film No Holds Barred, Zeus.  The fact that WWF Champion Hogan's main feud for the summer of 1989 was against costar "Tiny" Lister who, according to the storyline "became lost in the character," was truly moronic.  But they built Zeus up as an invincible killing machine who was impervious to chair shots.  Sadly they didn't bother teaching him how to wrestle, as his moveset consisted of choking, punching his opponents' trapezius muscles, and more choking.  The match itself was very similar to the 'Slam '88 main event, but not as good.  Savage worked hard to make the match exciting though, and despite one of the stupidest endings ever (Hogan completely no-sold Savage's elbowsmash and then knocked Zeus out with Sensational Sherri's tiny purse - what was in there, a roll of uranium quarters??) it was still a fun, dumb 80s main event.

Watch your junk goin' over those ropes, Zeusy-boy.

The undercard however had a triumvirate of awesome bouts. 

In the opener, new WWF Tag Champs Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard wrestled The Hart Foundation in one of my all-time favorite tag matches.  These were the two best teams in the company at the time and they completely tore it up.  Not sure why this wasn't a Title match if the Harts were gonna lose anyway, but whatever, it's still boss.  Best WWF match of the year says I!

This move always blew me away. 
Neidhart slammed his own partner on top of Tully.

SummerSlam '89 featured two big six-man tag matches, one of which was great - The Rockers & Tito Santana vs. The Rougeaus & Rick Martel.  This match was action-packed and incredibly fast-paced.  All kinds of great teamwork and reversals here.

The final killer match on this card was I-C Champ Rick Rude defending against The Ultimate Warrior.  Their 'Mania 5 bout was strong, but this match blew that one away.  16 minutes of excellent power wrestling resulting in Warrior's second I-C Title, plus it marked the beginning of Roddy Piper's comeback!

The rest of the show ranged from mediocre (Ted Dibiase vs. Jimmy Snuka, Mr. Perfect vs. Red Rooster) to bad (Dusty Rhodes vs. Honky Tonk Man, Demolition/Jim Duggan vs. Twin Towers/Andre), but there wasn't anything really offensive on this show, and the three great matches plus the entertaining-if-silly main event made up for all the shortcomings.

Best Match: Brain Busters vs. Hart Foundation
Worst Match: Honky Tonk Man vs. Dusty Rhodes
What I'd Change: Given what a flop No Holds Barred would end up, I would've elevated a new monster heel WRESTLER to align with Savage.  Zeus really had no business in a wrestling ring.
Most Disappointing Match: The Demolition six-man.  This looked to be an epic match but only went about 6 minutes or so.  Also on paper, Mr. Perfect vs. Terry Taylor looked pretty good.  However since Taylor's gimmick at the time was to act like a male chicken that kinda ruined it.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I actually wasn't looking forward to Warrior vs. Rude.  I enjoyed their first match but was a little sick of both guys by SummerSlam.  As it turned out this was one of both guys' best bouts.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
Better than WrestleMania V? - Yes

SummerSlam '90 - Philadelphia Spectrum - 8/27/90

What a mess this show was.  They tried to cram 10 matches in, only 9 of which happened due to a forfeit, the WWF Champion was given an opponent who was never built up to be a World Title contender, thus stripping the main event of any suspense, and Hulk Hogan was once again paired with an obese monster heel.

First we'll highlight the good parts: The Rockers fought the new tag team of Hercules and Paul Roma, dubbed Power & Glory in more of an angle than a match.  Shawn Michaels was "injured" at the outset, leaving Marty Janetty in a handicap situation.  But it was a nice introduction of the new heel team, who unfortunately never got much traction after this.

The Hart Foundation once again challenged Demolition for the Tag belts, this time in a 2 out of 3 falls match.  And once again the Harts stole the show at SummerSlam, supplying 15 minutes of solid tag team action.  The Harts finally won the Titles and the recently-debuted Legion of Doom were set up to feud with their WWF imitators.

The main event cage match between The Ultimate Warrior and Rick Rude was a pretty good ten-minute bout.  Nowhere near as good as their 'Slam '89 match, but not bad at all.  Unfortunately Rude hadn't ever been positioned as a serious WWF Championship challenger and since Warrior defeated him the previous year (and a month before this PPV on Saturday Night's Main Event) there wasn't much heat for this match.  Rude would leave the WWF shortly after this.  Sadly for Warrior he was never really pushed as the #1 guy in the company after winning the Title from Hogan.

The blue bar cage.  Must've hurt like a sonofabitch to get thrown into that thing.

Now for the rest of the show.  Hogan's match with Earthquake is nigh unwatchable; yet another Hogan vs. Big Fat Dude match that tried unsuccessfully to recapture the magic of Hogan vs. Andre.  They added The Big Bossman and Dino Bravo as the two corner men to create more intrigue, begging the question: Why not just make this a tag match?

Randy Savage was completely wasted in a two-minute squash of Dusty Rhodes, and his manager Sherri Martel beat Dusty's valet Sapphire by forfeit when Sapphire sold out to Ted Dibiase.

The other major bout was Mr. Perfect defending the I-C Title against a mystery opponent, because for the second time Brutus Beefcake had to miss his scheduled Title shot, this time due to a real-life injury caused by a parasailing accident.  Beefcake's substitute was WWF newcomer Kerry Von Erich (one of my all-time least favorite wrestlers), who made short work of Perfect to win the belt.

Add three other forgettable midcard matches and you have yourself a show very indicative of the piss-poor WWF PPVs in 1990.  They weren't doing very much right at this time and it was evident in all their major shows.

Best Match: Demolition vs. Hart Foundation
Worst Match: Jim Duggan/Nikolai Volkoff vs. Orient Express - Really?  This was on an actual PPV?
What I'd Change: I'd trim some of the fat to allow the two best matches - Harts vs. Demolition and Warrior vs. Rude - to be much longer.  I'd probably make the Hogan match a tag match just to make it a little faster paced.  I'd give Savage a real match to work with, whether that means giving him and Dusty a good 10-12 minutes or giving him a fresh opponent.  How does Savage only get two minutes?
Most Disappointing Match: Savage vs. Dusty.  I say again, two minutes??
Most Pleasant Surprise: Not much really.  What little I expected to enjoy, I did.
Overall Rating: 3/10
Better than WrestleMania VI? - Yes, but they're both garbage.

                                                                                                                                                         Part 2

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