Thursday, July 20, 2023

The History of WWE SummerSlam (1998)

The Attitude Era was in full-swing, and in August 1998 the WWF presented a huge event....

SummerSlam '98 - Madison Square Garden - 8/30/98

The 1998 edition felt like a monumental event.  At a time where the company was still rebuilding from the roster holes left by Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and others, they made the most of things and began manufacturing new exciting characters like crazy.  Led by Steve Austin and the "Attitude" formula, the WWF was riding the biggest wave of momentum in a decade.

SummerSlam was headlined by a huge face vs. face match for the WWF Title - Steve Austin vs. The Undertaker.  This would be Austin's biggest Title defense to date, and the result was a helluva good brawl.  An accidental head collision early in the match knocked Austin loopy for a minute but he gutted it out and managed to deliver a main event-worthy bout that included an insane legdrop-through-table spot by Taker.

Right.  In.  The Dick.

The semi-main spot featured an Intercontinental Ladder Match between the company's two biggest rising stars, The Rock and Triple H.  These two would feud on and off for the next two years, but this is the match that really catapulted both to the next level.  While not a gasp-inducing spotfest like the two HBK-Razor matches, this one featured gritty, hard-hitting action, some outside interference, and a nuclear crowd who cheered for the heel Rock just as much as for the babyface Triple H.  In fact this match led to a brief face turn for Rocky, before he swerved everyone and joined Mr. McMahon's Corporation.

The third-most hyped match was for the Tag belts, as the New Age Outlaws attempted to regain the Titles from Kane & Mankind.  Unfortunately this didn't end up being much of a match due to the storyline falling out of the two heels.  Kane no-showed the match, leaving Mankind in a handicap situation.  The Outlaws made rather short work of him, especially after Kane showed up and bashed Mankind with a sledgehammer.

Look, a UFH!  Get it??

The rest of the card featured numerous enjoyable little matches:

In a unique "Lion's Den" gimmick match resembling a UFC fight, Ken Shamrock fought Owen Hart in the adjacent Madison Square Garden Theater.  This was a rather short but fun battle where both guys made good use of the slanted cage structure.

X-Pac defeated Jeff Jarrett in a fast-paced Hair vs. Hair match, which resulted in Jarrett finally updating his image and ring attire.

Val Venis fought D-Lo Brown for the European Title in the show's hot opener, and the match was  solid if unremarkable.

Edge made his surprise PPV debut in a mixed tag match, teaming with Sable vs. Marc Mero and Jacqueline.  The match was more or less a rerun of the Mero/Sable vs. Goldust/Luna bout from WrestleMania, but this was actually better due to Edge's participation.

The only Fail on this card was an 8-man tag pitting The Oddities (what a pointless stable) vs. Kaientai (what a bunch of wasted talent).  Unwatchably bad, as was everything involving the Oddities.

Overall, SummerSlam '98 was arguably the best edition to date, with two four-star main events and a strong collection of undercard bouts.  The WWF was on an amazing roll with the success of Steve Austin, and continued to build for the future with numerous young stars ready to rise to the occasion.

Best Match: Steve Austin vs. The Undertaker - I like this just a hair better than the Ladder Match
Worst Match: The Oddities vs. Kaientai
What I'd Change: Not a whole lot, other than removing the aforementioned 8-man suckfest.
Most Disappointing Match: Mankind vs. The Outlaws - This was a bit of a bait-and-switch and sadly didn't amount to much.
Most Pleasant Surprise: D-Lo Brown vs. Val Venis - While no masterpiece, it was much better than I expected.
Overall Rating: 9/10
Better than WrestleMania XIV? - Yes


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