Tuesday, July 18, 2023

The History of WWE SummerSlam (1996)

The year of Shawn Michaels included a pretty damn weak overall SummerSlam, but that didn't stop Shawn and Vader from putting on a classic....

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 - is that where Randy Orton learned it from?), 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


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