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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, August 24, 2001

SummerSlam's fall from grace

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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Greetings fellow wrestling fans! SummerSlam has come and gone, and I don't have a clue what happened. That's right, five days later and this so-called 'wrestling columnist' neither saw, nor read, nor heard about what went down at the premier North American wrestling federation's third-oldest, second most prestigious pay-per-view. In my defense, though, I must say that I'm neither in Canada nor North America right now, as instead I'm on a long-awaited vacation. But that doesn't stop me from segueing from not having seen SummerSlam to discussing that particular pay-per-view has somehow fallen from grace over the years.

I'll start by admitting a bias and a conflict of interest. For whatever reason, SummerSlam has nearly always been my favourite pay-per-view of the year. Maybe that's because where I live, the ground is covered in snow during Survivor Series, the Royal Rumble, and Wrestlemania, and by the time of King of the Ring, that snow is just melting into this disgusting slush. Terrible, dirty slush. Or, maybe, SummerSlam has just been the best on merit.

Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage at the first SummerSlam.
Video Clip: The Mega Powers crush Dibiase. (2.8 MB)
Let me take you back to 1988. That's right, it was almost fourteen years ago that SummerSlam was first presented. And what a blockbuster card it was, featuring Ted Dibiase and Andre the Giant against Hulk Hogan and Macho Man in the main event. Jesse Ventura was the special referee, and the Megapowers (Hogan and Savage) defeated the Megabucks (Andre and Ted -- wow, that's also the name of a morning radio show in Montreal) thanks to help from a stripping Miss Elizabeth. As you can see, contrary to popular opinion, stripping has always been a wholesome part of wrestling. It just wasn't so weekly, back then. Anyway, you know you've got a good card when the Rougeau brothers taking on the British Bulldogs is your opening match. The wrestling wasn't altogether fantastic, but the card was entertaining and established SummerSlam as something worth doing in 1989.

The following year's effort was a waste as far as the main event was concerned. Zeus was involved, so you'll take my word for it. The Hart Foundation fought a good match against the Brainbusters, though, and I loved just about every match that Rick Rude and Ultimate Warrior had with each other, especially this one.

In 1990, Ultimate Warrior and Rick Rude actually main evented SummerSlam, this time for the heavyweight title, and Rude still brought out the best of Warrior. The Hart Foundation again stole the show, this time against Demolition.

SummerSlam 1991 featured Sgt. Slaughter, General Adnan, and Col. Mustafa against Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior, which may have been entertaining at the time but sure isn't anymore. Still, that's more than made up for by two classic matches on this card: Bret Hart winning his first Intercontinental title against Mr. Perfect in one of my favourite WWF matches ever, and Ted Dibiase taking on Virgil in a match that still makes me laugh every time.

In 1992, SummerSlam took place in London, England at Wembley Stadium. Bret Hart headed up the card against the British Bulldog in an excellent bout, and "Macho Man" Randy Savage had a solid match with Ultimate Warrior too. Shawn Michaels had a half-decent match with Rick Martel here.

SummerSlam in 1993 was not the best of its run, but it did feature the Steiner Brothers in a strong match against the Heavenly Bodies.

In 1994, Diesel fought against Razor Ramon, Bret and Owen Hart put on a classic match, and Undertaker destroyed the fake Undertaker.

I always remembered 1995's SummerSlam for the casket match between Undertaker and Kama. I was a big fan of Undertaker's casket matches, for whatever reason, and this was as good as any. There was another match on this card, I can't quite remember which. I think it had something to do with Shawn Michaels and a ladder. Razor Ramon may have been involved. Some folks think it was sort of good.

In 1996, WCW was getting red hot, but SummerSlam would not be denied. Shawn Michaels defeated Vader in a terrific main event, and Mankind became the first WWF superstar to consistently beat Undertaker, this time in the legendary boiler room brawl. This was also the first year that was littered with "In Your House" pay-per-view events, which was the beginning of the end for the prestige of pay-per-view events, in my opinion.

In 1997, they dropped the "In Your House" and gave the B-team pay-per-views their own names. The WWF was stuck with a lot of crappy gimmicks and feuds at this point, what with their obsession with four-person 'gangs', but Owen Hart vs. Steve Austin and Bret Hart vs. Undertaker make any pay-per-view worth watching, this one included.

The Rock and Triple H fought a stellar ladder match in 1998's SummerSlam presentation, but the main event was the first of many Steve Austin vs. Undertaker matches.

In 1999, Shane McMahon brought out the best of Test in their memorable bout, while Steve Austin, Triple H, and Mankind put on a main event that had everyone guessing, incorrectly, that Austin would not be pinned. He was, and Mankind won the title.

In 2000, Kurt Angle wrestled the majority of the main event with a concussion, and still had a great match with The Rock and Triple H. Edge and Christian, the Hardys, and the Dudleys debut an awesome but dangerous match we call 'TLC'. Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho perform stellarly in a best two out of three falls match.

Finally, this year, SummerSlam has several potentially great matches on the card, including the return of the Rock against Booker T, Steve Austin and Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy and Rob Van Dam, and more. Whether it was a good card, you probably already know, but I don't. I look forward to seeing it when I come back.

That said, there was a point to this little article. Each year, Wrestlemania is given so much hype because of its history. That hype is largely deserved, I think, as if SummerSlam were not my favourite pay-per-view, it would probably be Wrestlemania, my close second. But even inconsistent shows like the Royal Rumble and King of the Ring are treated like time-honoured tradition. I like the concept of both of those events, but the King tournament rarely pans out well, and the Rumble itself is typically predictable. Survivor Series has had some of the worst luck with its themed matches. Yet SummerSlam is almost indistinguishable from No Way Out, Backlash, or Unforgiven in terms of its hype. I can understand that the WWF wants its viewers to buy all twelve shows and so it doesn't make sense to promote their five earliest ones at the expenses of the newer ones, but if they can hype the history of some of the elder pay-per-views, then why, I ask, not SummerSlam?

That's all for this week. No mailbag today, but check back next week (I shall still be away) and you'll see why.

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