Top critical review
The WWF learns its lessons
on 29 August 2014
I bought these two classic Summerslams as, for some reason, I had never seen either before (actually I may have seen ’89 as a kid but I remember nothing about it). I have reviewed them both separately.
Considering this was the first ever Summerslam event, it is curiously low key and lacking in spectacle. No fireworks, no pageantry to speak of, and no Vince McMahon yelling throughout. I’m no fan of Vince’s commentary skills, but one feels they may have been better employed to sell this event than Gorilla Monsoon and Billy Graham’s dull play-by-play and non-existent banter. With Jesse Ventura and Bobby Heenan utilised elsewhere on the show, there is little to keep the viewer interested from a commentary perspective.
This problem is accentuated by the middling to poor standard of in-ring action. Very few of the matches are notable and none would be worthy of inclusion on any ‘best of’ collection. We kick off with a promising match between the British Bulldogs and the Fabulous Rougeaus, which is mildly entertaining in parts, albeit too long and indeed goes to a time limit draw. Some might say a bizarre piece of booking for the opening match of a new pay-per-view. This is followed by Bad News Brown vs. Ken Patera, an uninspiring match on paper and only slightly better in reality. Things go up a notch when the excellent Rick Rude enters the fray with Junkyard Dog, but the match is not particularly memorable. We are then treated to surely one of the worst-conceived matches ever when four talentless lumps face off in the form of the Bolsheviks and the Powers of Pain. The resulting fare is predictable.
With the matches failing to inspire, things are made worse by interminable, recurring advertisements, video spots and interviews to promote an upcoming boxing match in Las Vegas between Sugar Ray Leonard and Donny Lalonde. It transpires Vince McMahon was promoting the fight and therefore wanted to give it as much airtime as possible. Sadly it simply serves to slow down the show and lose any modicum of momentum.
The next match provides some interest in that long-time Intercontinental Champion the Honky Tonk Man was to defend the belt against a mystery opponent. This opponent proves to be the Ultimate Warrior and the resulting squash lasts less than a minute. This was probably fun at the time but in hindsight its brevity just highlights the dullness of the rest of the card. Speaking of which, the next match is a complete non-event featuring Dino Bravo and Don Muraco, which appears to interest no one - the only high spot being Heenan’s appearance on commentary. Somewhere in amongst all this is a horrible interview skit between Brother Love and Hacksaw Jim Duggan, which I would encourage even the die-hard to skip.
Of the three matches leading up to the main event, all promise more than they deliver. The Hart Foundation and Demolition had some great title matches over the years, but this isn’t one of them. A lively encounter between Big Boss Man and Koko B. Ware is an improvement, albeit oddly placed on the card (incidentally, Ray Traylor must be deserving of a WWE tribute DVD by now). Jake Roberts then takes on Hercules in another awkward affair that flatters to deceive. This leads us to the main event. The ‘Mega Powers’, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, take on the ‘Mega Bucks’, Ted Dibiase and Andre the Giant. This is a main event straight out of a house show, and looks like it. The match holds almost no interest beyond the actual appearance of the participants, who raise the bar in star power quite considerably. Ultimately the finish is as expected, although granted the image of Miss Elizabeth’s underwear is *ahem* memorable and was probably quite shocking at the time.
All in all Summerslam 88 was not a good start for the event which would become an annual fixture. Perhaps lessons would be learned ahead of 1989’s instalment…
I’m happy to say that the 1989 edition of Summerslam was a vast improvement on the first year. There is far more energy about the event, the matches are better and the quality of the commentary is in a different league. The excellent pairing of Tony Schiavone (during his relatively short WWF stint before becoming synonymous with WCW) and Jesse Ventura call the action and raise the standards immediately. It was a rare moment of humility from Vince Mcmahon to allow an actual specialist commentator like Schiavone onto a pay-per-view, something he would only repeat in future with Jim Ross.
As stated, the matches on offer are of a higher quality all round. The opener is an exciting tussle between the Hart Foundation and the Brain Busters – Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard – which is better than anything on the previous year’s card. This is followed by another fun battle between Dusty Rhodes and the Honky Tonk Man. It is clear that the matches are much better received than in 1988,which suggests the leg work had been done beforehand to get fans on board.
A short and rather pointless match follows between Mr. Perfect and Terry Taylor’s dire ‘Red Rooster’ gimmick, which results in a routine victory for Perfect. This in turn is followed by an entertaining six-man tag (or as entertaining as these stop-start matches can ever be) involving the Rockers and Tito Santana facing the Fabulous Rougeaus and Rick Martel. The match is well-booked, featuring as it does four or five excellent wrestlers who are proficient at story-telling wrestling. Hey, 1988 - this booking stuff really isn’t rocket science...
The first ‘big’ match of the night is an Intercontinental title bout between Ultimate Warrior and Rick Rude. It’s a very good bout and owes a lot to Rude putting the Warrior over for the baying crowd who were urging the latter to victory. Then, in amongst several interview spots we are served up a second six-man tag, which may have been pushing it. Demolition and Jim Duggan take on Andre the Giant, Akeem (AKA the One Man Gang) and Big Boss Man. In fairness it’s another decent match and doesn’t drag as these things sometimes can.
As the build-up starts for the main event, we get two relatively uninteresting singles matches. The first features Greg Valentine and Hercules, and is thankfully kept short as it mostly serves to build some kind of feud between Valentine and guest ring announcer Ronnie Garvin. Whether this feud was ever resolved has probably been lost in the annals of history due to lack of interest. Following this, Ted Dibiase takes on Jimmy Snuka in a reasonable match which ends in a dull count-out finish, something common in the WWF at the time.
And so, we are led to the main event. Clearly a lot of build-up had gone into this and I can imagine being swept up in it had I been watching at the time. Randy Savage had recruited the monster Zeus, who is impervious to pain, to defeat Hulk Hogan who in turn allies himself with Brutus Beefcake (a man with very little going for him bar his in and out of ring friendship with Hogan). Sadly, Zeus is actually the Hollywood actor Tiny Lister Jr. who had starred with Hogan in the dreadful ‘No Holds Barred’ wrestling movie. His wrestling ability being non-existent, he employs the bear hug and the choke hold as his only maneuveres. Still though, the match delivers as a proper main event. Savage is his usual faultless self while Hogan performs as consistently as ever. Sherri and Elizabeth get involved too. It’s a good finish to a very reasonable card which definitely suggests improvements were made on the previous year.
Summerslam would go on to become a huge event for the WWF/WWE and remains so to this day. These two events show it in its embryonic stages. In all honesty, the WWF had similar issues with all of their flagship PPVs in the 1980s – the first Survivor Series, Royal Rumble and even Wrestlemania all fell flat in some respects – but quickly learned lessons and improved on them in following years. I for one am glad they did.