Thursday, July 25, 2019

The History of WWE SummerSlam (1999)

Vince Russo's final PPV with the company was kind of a mess but still managed to be a very fun show....

SummerSlam '99 - Target Center - 8/22/99

SummerSlam 1999 is one of those PPVs where you know you've basically been fed a platter of garbage, but you kinda couldn't help enjoying it.  This show was essentially the climax of the Vince Russo era as he left for WCW a month later, and the booking leading up to this show was sloppy and nonsensical.  At this point Titles were changing hands on an almost weekly basis so their value took a nosedive and it was sometimes even hard to remember who was a Champion.  The Steve Austin phenomenon had become a bit stagnant and it seemed clear it was time for a new star to break out while Austin took a little break.

That new star was Triple H.  Repackaged as a ruthless, cunning superheel, Hunter made a bold move to go against the grain and not rely on catchphrases or flash.  Rather, he went old-school and just became a big sadistic bully who liked to dissect opponents.

It seemed clear Hunter would be the one to dethrone Austin at SummerSlam, but then the booking took several confusing turns, starting with Chyna winning a #1 Contender's Match on RAW.  Then the following week Hunter got his Title shot back.  Then the following week Mankind was added to make it a Triple Threat (from what I've read this was due to Austin not wanting to drop the Title to Hunter, but I don't know for sure).  Anyway, that's how it ended up, and in a stunning publicity stunt, Jesse Ventura would return to the WWF as the guest referee.

The match itself was your typical 1999-era WWF brawl.  Wild action, little real wrestling, some shenanigans between Ventura and Shane McMahon (it was fun to see Ventura back in a WWF ring).  The match was ok but not great.  Mankind won the Title and then lost it to Triple H the next night, begging the question "Why not just have Hunter beat Austin," which lends credence to the above rumor.  Triple H attacked Austin after the match as a way to write him off the show for a couple months.

WHACK!



The semi-main slot went to a rather underwhelming bout - The Rock vs. Billy Gunn.  Gunn was another guy the company desperately wanted to be a main eventer.  He had split from the Outlaws and adopted the Mr. Ass gimmick (What does that mean exactly?  Did he love his own ass?  Women's asses?  Men's asses?  It made no sense.).  The match was RAW-quality and certainly not worthy of its spot here.  The stipulation required that the loser would have to kiss the bum of this overweight, middle-aged woman Gunn brought to ringside.  More of that classy Russo comedy.

Prior to this debacle there were a pair of good-to-excellent undercard bouts.

The Tag Titles were decided as Kane & X-Pac, an unlikely but awesome pairing, defended against The Unholy Alliance of Undertaker & Big Show.  The match was a really strong twelve-minute piece of storytelling, with X-Pac playing the usual underdog and Taker & Show teasing master vs. apprentice tension.

In a crazy show-stealing Greenwich Street Fight, Test fought Shane McMahon for the right to date Stephanie.  This was the first time Shane really demonstrated his uncanny showmanship in the ring, and he and Test tore the place down for twelve minutes.  Test picked up the win after something of a star performance, seemingly kicking off a big push.  Alas the company did nothing with him for months after this, and Stephanie ended up with Hunter instead (they didn't even do a proper Test vs. Hunter feud for Chrissake).

It's the Test Elbow!  Only hurts half as much as a Real Elbow!

The rest of the show had a bunch of okay matches and one stinker (Ivory vs. Tori).  In basically a duplicate of the previous year's Lion's Den match, Ken Shamrock fought Steve Blackman.  To change it up they added weapons to the cage, but the rules were confusing.  According to the announcers the object was to knock the other guy out, but according to the referee the object was to escape the cage.  Anyway, Shamrock won again, and this was nowhere near as good as its predecessor.

There was also a fun Tag Team Turmoil match involving a gauntlet of six teams.  Edge & Christian had a brief but blistering segment with The Hardy Boyz, and then went on to defeat three other teams before losing to the Acolytes.  The crowd's interest in the bout ended here, and the Acolytes beat Bob & Crash Holly to win the whole thing.

Other than that you had Jeff Jarrett vs. D-Lo Brown for the Intercontinental/European Titles and Al Snow vs. Big Bossman for the Hardcore Title, which spilled into the bar next door and was saved by Road Dogg's hilarious running commentary (seriously, at one point after a punch was thrown, Dogg went, "That was fake.").

SummerSlam '99 was far from a great show, but there wasn't anything really bad on it either, other than the Women's match.  However the overall direction of the company made little sense due to Russo's short attention span, and it was clear some shakeups were needed.  Still this show is light years better than WrestleMania XV.

Best Match: Test vs. Shane McMahon
Worst Match: Ivory vs. Tori
What I'd Change: Make the main event a singles match, and have Hunter beat Austin for the Title directly.  Add Mankind to the Rock-Ass match and make it a #1 Contender's Triple Threat.  Skip the Lion's Den match and have Shamrock fight Chris Jericho.  Finally, if you're going to have Edge & Christian almost run the gauntlet but fall just short, have them lose to the last team, not the second-to-last.  Way to make the final segment of the Turmoil bout totally anticlimactic!
Most Disappointing Match: Probably the main event.  Adding a third guy to this match made it feel very watered down, considering it was Hunter's first PPV main event and really should've been his big moment.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Test vs Shane - I couldn't believe how good this was.  It's something of a forgotten gem.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
Better than WrestleMania XV? - By a country mile.


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