All right! Time to set the Wayback Machine for another look at the history of this glorious pseudo-sport we call professional wrestling!
Summerslam (sorry, SummerSlam) 2019 is coming close to fruition, so why don’t we look back at the very first of these babies, on August 29, 1988. I was in my final year of high school, getting ready for a university career that is yet to end. We didn’t get the video of this in Australia until November (after final exams), so myself and my mate Paul watched it together, and my recollection was that we actually quite enjoyed it at the time.
I have not watched the whole show, I don’t think, since the mid-90s, so this will be a whole new experience for me (sort of). And that is also because this is not my old video tape, but a file sent to me by a friend in the USA some ten years ago (if you’re out there, Garry – cheers, mate!) on a USB stick. I have no idea where he got it from, because there’s no watermarks on it, and it’s longer than my video cassette version. I have not watched it, by the way, since I got it. No reason to. Until now, I suppose.
Okay, before I hit the show, this is the show where Jesse Ventura was guest referee for the Mega-Powers v the Mega-Bucks, which has gone down in infamy for a very singular event that just would not hold or work today. But we’ll get to that.
However, what this means is that we have “Superstar” Billy Graham doing commentary duties with Gorilla Monsoon. Even back in 1988, Paul and I knew that was not a good start.
We are in Madison Square Garden!
Even on my file, the first match starts less than 3 minutes in!
Match 1: The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers v The British Bulldogs
The Rougeaus, if I remember correctly, had just turned heel, and were trying to move to the USA. And The Bulldogs haver Matilda with them. She’s a bulldog. Now, remember, I don’t do play-by-play, so if you’re expecting some sort of high-level analysis, sorry. But some of the moves here are damn impressive. Davey Boy landing on his feet to face his opponent after a monkey flip was so cool. There’s a few rest-holds, but not many, as this match is sort of in that area between old school tag team wrestling and the newer, faster, double-team moves tag team wrestling we know today. And the crowd is into it. When the Bulldogs don’t tag while the ref’s back is turned, the crowd tells him they did. Little things like that are missing today. This is a really good match, where even the rest-holds by the heels are done in a way that seems to mess with the crowd. And Davey Boy’s selling is sublime. He was vastly under-rated for a lot of what he brought. And, oh man, Dynamite Kid would have been a HUGE star today. Ending comes when Davey Boy crotches Jacques on the top rope from a power slam, then hits the power-slam headbutt double team on Jacques… and the bell rings! 20 minutes time limit draw! Wow! That did not feel like 20! Great match. I enjoyed it. And the brawl continues, all the way back to the locker room. “Take it back to the locker room and finish it in the showers if you have to!” says Graham. Oooo-kay.
(Wrestler/Manager Death Count: 2 from 4)
We see footage of Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake being raked across the head by Outlaw Ron Bass’ spurs, so he is not going to be able to fight the Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental Title tonight. Hmmm… who could they get to fill his shoes? I wonder… Pretty damn graphic for the time, to be honest, but the red “censored” cross was silly.
Match 2: Bad News Brown v Ken Patera
Bad News jumpstarts the match. Patera is not looking good here. My memory is hazy, but I think he’d been to prison for something, and the WWF gave him a chance to get his life back on track by going back to wrestling. I don’t remember seeing him before his “comeback”, though, so I don’t know. This match is really nothing special, and after the opener and the recap of the attack on Brutus, it looks even worse. Ending comes after around 6 ½ minutes when, after a monumental corner botch, Patera runs into the corner post and BNB hits the enziguri ghetto blaster for the win. Nothing to see here.
(Wrestler/Manager Death Count: 1 from 2)
Well, this must be from the original broadcast because I have an advert for the Leonard/Lalonde boxing match, scheduled for Nov 7 on PPV. If I was interested, I’d look it up, but… meh. (Okay, I was a boxing tragic; I know Leonard won and unified a couple of titles.)
Gene Okerlund with the Mega-Powers. This must be during the “on-again” phase of their off-on-off-on-off-on-off-on-again relationship because they look pretty cool with one another. But the interview was just standard OTT Macho/Hulk weirdness. And, I will say this now, I love standard OTT Macho/Hulk weirdness.
Match 3: Rick Rude (with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan) v Junkyard Dog
Oh, goody. A JYD match. No-one does the opening crowd insult like the Ravishing One. Never before, never since… and they were legit taking photos of him in the crowd. He’s got JYD on his tights with head front and back… eww. For so many reasons… eww. Rude jumpstarts the match, but JYD fights back. This is a dull match, going along fine and dandy in its own dull, inoffensive way, until, at around the 6 minute mark, the JYD tights are removed by Rude, to reveal a pair with a woman’s face on them. Oh, that’s right! The Mrs Snake Roberts feud! Cheryl Roberts, Graham reminds me. And, inevitably, Jake comes out to kill Rude, giving Rude the DQ win.
(Wrestler/Manager Death Count: 3 from 3)
We recap the ending of the match. Whoever did Rude’s tights did a really good job.
Mean Gene with Honky and Jimmy Hart talking about who the new contender will be and they don’t care.
Match 4: The Bolsheviks (with Slick) v The Powers of Pain (with the Baron)
Slick apparently thinks illiteracy is equated to not knowing to stand up. Volkoff does the Soviet national anthem. And this is also jumpstarted by the heels. Essentially an extended squash for the PoP, as no-selling is their move du jour. Despite that, the match is not terrible. A bit of fun, but the crowd is essentially dead. Shame. After around 5 minutes or so, the POP basically hit Zukhoff with a series of double team moves to kill him and get the pin.
(Wrestler/Manager Death Count: 1 from 6)
Survivor Series (2nd annual) advertisement, followed by Gorilla shill.
And now… the Brother Love Show. Oh, FFS. Look, he was the perfect heel, but even back in ’88 I hated having my wrestling shows interrupted by talkerizing. Further, the southern preacher character meant nothing to us in Australia. And he’s got Hacksaw Jim Duggan with him. After watching the 2011 AWE show and comparing it to this 1988 show, nothing changed. At all. This was all about… something.
Another boxing advert. Gorilla and Graham talk about the match.
Match 5: Intercontinental Title Match: The Honky Tonk Man (with Jimmy Hart) (c) v ???
This is the ONE time ever in the history of wrestling when a mystery opponent lived up to the hype, because HTM stands there and demands an opponent, and then…
That familiar music hits, and…
Match 5: Intercontinental Title Match: The Honky Tonk Man (with Jimmy Hart) (c) v The Ultimate Warrior.
And faster than you can say, “Hell, yeah!”, Warrior wins the IC Title! This made SummerSlam 88 for me. I was such a Warrior mark.
(Wrestler/Manager Death Count: 1 from 3)
And that pop when he won the title? I have NEVER heard anything like it since. I don’t care what you say, that was the biggest wrestling pop EVER and Paul and I screamed like little kids. Best. SummerSlam. Moment. Ever.
A look back at Macho Man and a few others having fun at last year’s SurSer. The 5-team-a-side tag team elimination was fun, but not as much as the SurSer88 10-team on each side elimination later on this year. That was awesome! Viva La Conquistadores!
Mean Gene is with Sugar Ray Leonard, hyping the Nov 7 boxing match. Did McMahon invest in it or something? This goes on for a long time. And then we see highlights of Leonard v Hagler. Ahh, the days when boxers were actual household names and not the answers to really hard trivia questions… Now Lalonde v some other schmuck. Wow. That’s a lot of boxing. Hang on, now a Donny Lalonde promo. What is this? 9 minutes on boxing! This was so NOT on my Coliseum Home Video cassette tape!
Now a hype promo for the main event tonight.
Bobby Heenan interrupts the commentators. He waffles on about the participants in the main event. A rare miss from Heenan.
Match 6: Don Muraco v Dino Bravo (with Frenchy Martin)
When did Muraco have ‘Superstar’ from Jesus Christ Superstar as his theme music? Wow. That would be so overdubbed today! I think I prefer Muraco as a heel, and Bravo not wrestling at all. Oh, hang on, Heenan’s joined us on commentary. This match is a lot shorter on video, and the cuts actually change the flow of the match drastically. I don’t mind Muraco, and when he’s on offence, the match is quite good. But when Bravo takes over it’s rather hit or miss. This is better than I remember. Heenan and Graham talk about Bravo’s bogus strongman record, ignoring the match. Muraco goes for a body slam, knocks into the ref, which makes him lose balance, giving Bravo the chance to hit his side suplex/slam thing and get the pin. Definitely better than I remember.
(Wrestler/Manager Death Count: 2 from 3)
Another Survivor Series plug.
Sean Mooney is with Jesse Ventura, talking about his position as guest referee. Ventura gives a good promo.
Match 7: Tag Team Titles: The Hart Foundation v Demolition (with Mr Fuji) (c)
Jimmy Hart is also with the champs, having been dumped by the Hart Foundation as they turned face. This is 10 minutes long and is not too bad as far as matches of the era go. Bret Hart is already such a great wrestler, and Jim Neidhart shows just how agile a big man could actually be. So good. Demolition are no slouches either, but the Harts make them look second rate. Now, I liked the match, but after the opening tag match it felt like it was stuck in second gear. Having said that, Hart’s selling is a thing of beauty. And at the time, Paul and I were pretty pissed off at the ending, but now I’m much (much, much) older, it was what it was, when Jimmy Hart’s megaphone gets involved and allows the champs to retain. The 2 out of 3 falls match between these teams (when there were 3 members of Demolition) was a better match, but these teams had some cool chemistry in the ring.
(Wrestler/Manager Death Count: 2 from 5)
Another boxing promo.
Mean Gene with the Honky Tonk Man and he is not a happy camper. One of his better promos.
Match 8: Big Boss Man (with Slick) v Koko B. Ware
Slick distracts Koko to start and Bossman takes over. Back and forth match a bit, but it was essentially to showcase Bossman. Now, he gets a bit of hate, but I liked him, and he had a match with Vader in WCW that was really good. I prefer him as a face. Another big man with some good skills. He wins after 6 minutes with a the bossman slam. Inoffensive match, not bad, not great; nowadays we’d call it a Raw second hour match.
(Wrestler/Manager Death Count: 1 from 2; we’ve already counted Slick)
Sean Mooney with Ultimate Warrior and all the faces. A typical Warrior coked-to-the-eyeballs promo. You know, after the blandness that is current WWE, I miss Warrior’s insanity. (I am such a mark!)
Match 9: Hercules v Jake “The Snake” Roberts
The crowd loves Jake. Hercules overpowers Jake to start, but it is just so slow. This is, again, not bad, just dull and boring… and the announcers talk about Heenan (he’s not at ring-side with Herc) and Rick Rude, not the match. Jake does a sweet move where he holds the headlock even while being back suplexed. Jake is regarded for his awesome promo skills, but his in-ring work is often under-rated and his selling was spot on. He was great in the ring when motivated. Look, this is dull. That’s it. Dull. After 10 minutes (yes, 10 minutes) of which 4 minutes was chinlocks and headlocks, a faster paced ending saw Jake eventually sneak out of a body slam and hit the DDT for the pin. And we get the snake to end it. I miss Damian.
(Wrestler/Manager Death Count: 1 from 2)
We recap the Mega-Bucks v Mega-Powers feud. Nicely done. Everything is shown. You don’t have to have seen TV to know now why this is going on. And it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and there’s no announcers ruining what we see. How come things have got worse in 30 years, huh?
Match 10: The Main Event: Ted Dibiase & Andre The Giant (with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Virgil) (The Megabucks) v “Macho Man” Randy Savage (world champ) & Hulk Hogan (with Elizabeth)
Jesse Ventura is your special guest referee. He sends all managers to the floor… and then changes the tag ropes to different corners. Why? Even now, over 30 years later, it makes no sense. Now, back in the day, Paul and I called the ending of the match. We got that bit wrong, but we got the rest of the match spot on. Megapowers dominate to start, Hogan plays face in peril for a while, tag, Savage plays face in peril, Hogan comes in to save… but then Hogan is put down by Andre. That we didn’t see coming. And that brings us to the second best SummerSlam moment ever (numbers 1 and 2 in the same show?). Miss Elizabeth takes off her skirt to reveal wonderful legs and bikini bottoms, distracting Jesse, Andre, Virgil, Bobby and Ted. I mean, sure, some-one looking like her was almost unheard of in wrestling, but to make them all forget a match was going on? Seriously? Paul and I called bullshit straight away, and sure enough, it gave the faces time to regroup, shake hands, and, after 15 minutes, we had the ending we didn’t call: Hogan slams DiBiase, Savage drops the elbow, Hogan drops the leg, Jesse reluctantly counts the three, Mega-Powers win. We just thought Hogan would take all the glory, slam and pin Andre, you know the drill. But he shared the spotlight.
(Wrestler/Manager Death Count: 3 from 6; we’ve already counted Heenan)
Total Wrestler/Manager Death Count: 17 from of 34. 50%. Why has so much of my childhood died?
For those playing at home, my favourite ever SummerSlam match was Bret Hart v Davey Boy Smith at Wembley Arena in 1992. (Number 2, TLC in 2000; Number 3 Rude v Warrior, ’89.)
Anyway, that’s my take of SummerSlam ’88. What do you all think? Please, comments, questions, etc. are always welcome. My mate Steven will answer for me (or I’ll log on as him) and let’s have some discussion here!