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Monthly Archives: August 2012

A Flair for the Dramatic

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Scott: So I was listening to the Old School Wrestling Podcast episode on WrestleMania IV today (and yes, that episode is 17 months old) when the guys started discussing how Hulk Hogan’s involvement in the WWF Title tournament, and more so sharing the spotlight with Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth as the credits rolled, somehow takes away from Savage’s title wins and serves to tell the audience that although he’s the champ, he’s not the Hulkster.

Clearly there is a connection to a current WWE story — CM Punk being the champ but John Cena still being portrayed as more important. But I still want to stay in 1988. For starters, Savage’s tournament win, and the entire story of the evening, might just be my favorite thing in wrestling ever. At the time, I looked at it as Hogan endorsing Savage — not quite a torch passing, but solidifying Savage in the fan’s eyes as a good person, a worthy champion. I also agree with Jason Mann of Wrestlespective, who said on Twitter that “Savage’s title win was one time in which Hogan was totally justified in breaking the rules.”

Further, much like at WrestleMania VI, where Hogan lost the title then went to film a movie (after an Earthquake attack, but still…), it’s not like he lost the belt then kept right on being the main event star. Of course, in those days there were about five full months between pay-per-view shows each spring and summer, so it was the perfect time for Hulkster to not be the champ. But I digress.

What I’d really like to do is look at the concept of title victories. As we well know, how you win a title is much more important than the simple act of winning. Daniel Bryan had a decent run as World Heavyweight Champion by escaping against Big Show and Mark Henry, or both at once, but he obtained the title by cashing in a Money in the Bank briefcase. If he ever wins a belt like that at the end of a pay-per-view show, it will be much more significant to his fans.

I happen to think Savage’s win is not cheapened by Hogan’s help because he still had to win three other matches earlier in the night. Plus, Hogan couldn’t get by the scheming of Ted DiBiase, Andre the Giant and Virgil alone, so how could Savage? But I know others disagree. I asked on Twitter about the best title wins in terms of making a star. Martin Dixon  suggested the Chris Benoit victory over Triple H and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XX as  a prime example, and Luke Starr chimed in, noting the story started when Benoit entered the Royal Rumble at No. 1 and last eliminated Big Show to win the shot. Hard to argue with that one.

Woo! Ric Flair wins the WWF Title at the 1992 Royal Rumble.

Obviously the way Ric Flair captured the vacant WWF title in the 1992 Royal Rumble is classic, with a lot of credit going to Bobby Heenan for the way he sold the story as a color commentator. I usually don’t start these things with 500-word rants, but I feel pretty strongly about this one. Now it’s your turn. Give me an example of a great title win that really “made” a given performer. I’d love to hear what tops your list.

• • •

David: As a huge Sting fan, his early matches with Flair were what came to mind first. Specifically, his match with Flair at the 1990 Great American Bash. I know you’re not overly familiar with that time period in WCW/NWA, but that match was the climax of the Sting vs. the Horsemen feud that lasted about 14 months. Most people remember that story line for the cross promotion with Robocop, or the story’s conclusion, which was the infamous Black Scorpion angle. But that match, with Flair putting Sting over and making him look really good in the process was one of the high points of wrestling in 1990 for me… even compared to Warrior/Hogan at WrestleMania VI. That match pretty much set the stage for Sting to achieve the success he achieved.

For what it’s worth, I agree with you and Jason about the WrestleMania IV situation. Hogan’s presence in the final match wasn’t, to me, about cheapening Savage’s victory. It was about Hogan doing something somewhat selfless (for once) and helping even the odds for the Macho Man.

• • •

Scott: On the flip side of the equation are the title matches that have almost zero impact for a variety of circumstances. I continue to find it odd that after the incredible Ric Flair-Randy Savage WWF title match at WrestleMania VIII, the title went back to Flair on an episode of Prime Time Wrestling that aired two weeks after the actual match. Even worse, when Bret Hart beat Flair for the title, it happened at a house show in Saskatoon. The other nontelevised modern era title change didn’t make a ton of sense either, with Diesel squashing Bob Backlund a few days after the horrible Survivor Series 1994 towel match with Hart. I’m sure lots of backstage issues were at play leading to these incidents, and I know NWA/WCW had plenty of similar challenges.

By and large, the WWF royally screwed up the brief Ric Flair run on many levels. Do you think Vince McMahon gets a pass on this because Flair still had some signature moments? If so, is that warranted, or do you consider that one of McMahon’s major failures as a promoter?

• • •

David: In my eyes, McMahon’s handling of Flair is a huge failure. He’s one of the greatest performers in the history of the business, and was one of the top drawing performers at that time. I think the Flair situation is one of the many times Vince McMahon’s ego has gotten in the way of making him money. One of the things I’ve read over the years about Vince, from a variety of sources, is that he prefers to make stars rather than use a star who made his name somewhere else. I think we have a clear example of that with Flair. While he couldn’t deny Flair’s star power and drawing potential, his ego wouldn’t allow him to use him as effectively as he could have. I think the same thing is true, albeit on a smaller scale, of the runs the Steiner Brothers and the Brain Busters had in the WWF. It’s also why I think Sting has been reluctant to ever sign a WWE contract.

Are there any other examples of this I’m missing?

• • •

Scott: Dusty Rhodes and Harley Race are great examples of guys whose WWF runs were pretty much the absolute worst stretches of their careers. I think Vader could have been used better in the WWF in the mid 1990s, but WWF was never a place where monster heels experienced sustained success. I’m not interested in analyzing Lex Luger. When you think of the former NWA/WCW top guys who did at least have some WWF glory, you have to wonder how Sid Vicious gets to sit at the same table as Flair. I’m sure it’s Sid’s look more than anything.

I wonder if the WWE superstardom of Mick Foley and Steve Austin, guys with notable non-McMahon pedigrees, wasn’t a sign of Vince finally realizing how much fun it could be to take a WCW mid-carder and unleash star potential. Of course, Eric Bischoff had already taken Kevin Nash and Scott Hall far beyond their WWF prominence, so maybe Vince was just in tit-for-tat mode

Of course, if you go down that road, you have to give Vince credit for looking at Vinnie Vegas and the Diamond Studd and seeing Diesel and Razor Ramon — not to mention “Mean” Mark becoming the Undertaker.

Thinking back to Flair, what’s his biggest missed WWF opportunity? The easy answer is a WrestleMania main event against Hogan. But I’m even more perplexed he didn’t even wrestle at SummerSlam 1992. And, although a lot more cards would have needed to fall the right way, I always have wondered what a Hulk Hogan-Four Horseman feud might have looked like in early 1991.

• • •

David: When Ric Flair gave Vince McMahon his notice he was going back to WCW, it was decided his last match would be against Curt Henning on Monday Night Raw. In January 1993, Raw featured the two men in a loser leaves WWF match, and it is a really good match. Can you imagine how great it would have been if Mr. Perfect had been healthy and become a good guy earlier than he did? If he had been featured in a longer program with Flair, I think they could have had numerous great pay-per-view matches. They had some other good matches later in the 90s when Hennig went to WCW, but neither man was quite at their early 90s level. That’s a missed opportunity if there ever was one.

The very definition of a pro wrestling stable.

I do have to say a Hulk Hogan vs. The Four Horsemen story line would’ve been great. The Hulkster very rarely had to face a group that was as unified as the Horsemen. Yes, he had to face most of Bobby Heenan’s family, but they weren’t really a group as much as a bunch of individuals who had the same manager. He also had to face some tag teams (the Twin Towers and Natural Disasters come to mind), but none of those groups had the acclaim or, again, the cohesion the Horsemen did in the late 80s and early 90s.

As I think about it, solid stables are something the WWE lacked for most of the early “WrestleMania era.” I can’t really think of any unified groups until Degeneration-X came together in the late 90s. Heenan’s family members would have tag team matches every once in a while, but very rarely would you see multiple members together. Could the existence of a more unified stable have made Hulkamania more interesting for a longer period of time?

• • •

Scott: It’s tough to say. With the WWF being a place where the hero almost always stands victorious, you can sort of see why a true stable never had a chance to succeed. Whereas Crockett/NWA/WCW seemed to be more about the Horsemen dominating and fans waiting to see which hero might be the one to finally put a chink in the armor, WWF was (and to a large extent, still is) much more about an iconic superman warding off all challenges.

Though the WWF was a national promotion, most of what happened (at least at the top of the card) in the latter half of the 1980s appears, to me anyway, to have the feel of storytelling you might find in a regional promotion. A monster would slowly rise to prominence — King Kong Bundy, Andre the Giant, Big Boss Man, Zeus, Earthquake, etc. — only to be slain by the conquering hero. Every so often one of the hero’s allies would run afoul of him — Paul Orndorrf, Randy Savage, Andre — and they could run with that for a stretch.

The short answer is as intriguing as Horsemen-Hogan might appear on paper, it would be difficult to execute to its maximum potential. If it happened in WWF, there would have to be a lengthy period of establishing the Horsemen’s dominance in order to build excitement for them being overthrown, and the WWF of that era simply did not let “the bad guys” have that much of a run. If, say, Hogan had jumped to NWA after dropping the belt to the Warrior at WrestleMania VI, I have a hard time imagining the NWA fans being interested in him being the one to finally bring down Flair’s empire.

• • •

David: You’re right. The traditional NWA fan was not likely to have been interested in 1990 Hogan coming in to try and challenge the Horsemen’s dominance. The question is… why not? Is it because he was too cartoonish? Maybe… but was he really any more cartoonish than Sting? I don’t really think so. Why, then, would they get behind Sting, but not Hogan? Maybe there is something to Vince’s attitude about making stars instead of re-using them… in some cases.

As always, thanks for reading — please feel free to contact us via Twitter or the comments section. Your feedback is appreciated!


Suspended Disbelief

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Scott: Let’s get things rolling. I know we’re both fans of the International Object podcast with K Sawyer Paul and his new co-host Rich Thomas. We both listened to the 50th episode recently, which involved both hosts responding to listener questions. I’m sure you have some thoughts on what you heard, so I’m picking your brain: Which question intrigued you most, and was the answer you heard in line with your own thoughts?

• • •

One of the best wrestling podcasts on the internet.

David: When I was done listening to the podcast, my mind kept going back to one particular question Rich answered. He was asked about why invasion story lines never seem to work in wrestling. His answer was two-fold, and included the idea that invasions never seem to end soon enough, and the idea it’s hard to get the bad guys to work together against the invading force.

I have a third reason invasions never work — wrestling. The best invasions make you question whether what is happening is scripted or not. At some point though, a wrestling match happens… because it’s wrestling. The wrestling match takes away that question, though, because why would a company like WWE or WCW allow wrestlers that don’t work for the organization to wrestle on their show?

Take, for example, the ECW invasion of the WWF in 1996 and ‘97. When Sandman spit beer in Savio Vega’s face during Mind Games, that was interesting, and it worked primarily because as an audience member, I didn’t understand if I was supposed to be seeing this or not. A few months later, ECW “invaded” an episode of Raw at the Manhattan Center… and they put on three matches, with Heyman on commentary. It’s not really an invasion at that point, because it seems fairly obvious Vince McMahon and the WWF are allowing them to be there. If the company being “invaded” is allowing the outside group to be there, then it’s a joint production, not an invasion.

The nWo suffered a similar fate. The initial match at Bash at the Beach made sense to a point, because the wrestlers of WCW were trying to prove something to these Outsiders. Once the nWo officially forms, though, if they’re really an outside force that is invading the arenas, and not on the WCW payroll, why wouldn’t you have them barred from the arenas and arrested on trespassing charges if they showed up? Invasion angles are doomed from the start because, in my opinion, there is no way to make them realistic enough to satisfy. As much as I enjoyed the nWo, it was in a very “that’s just wrestling” sort of mindset.

I saw a tweet from you while you were listening to the podcast that seemed to relate to the question about making a play or movie from a wrestling event. Your tweet involved Savage and Warrior at WrestleMania VII making a good movie plot. Would you care to elaborate?

• • •

Scott: Sure, but first I want to add to your point on invasion angles. Obviously we have to suspend a ton of disbelief to enjoy wrestling — or any form of storytelling, really — but the difficulty comes in realizing we can’t suspend the same disbelief unilaterally.

On the rare occasion when a fan enters the ring, a wrestler or referee subdues him (it’s always a dude) and then security rushes down and takes him away. But when Nash and Hall make their way through the crowd, security is clearing their path. When a wrestler is legitimately, seriously hurt, the show essentially stops while medical personnel flood the ringside area. But when there’s an injury angle, some hapless medic rolls a stretcher down the ramp and takes their sweet time, milking the drama for all it’s worth.

To some extent, we can accept these distinctions. But when the lines are deliberately blurred, it sheds an unfortunate light of confusion on the entire show. At February’s Elimination Chamber, WWE tried portray Chris Jericho’s head injury as legitimate, with the referee giving the “X” sign and so on, then later showing him “recovering” in the back of the arena. Most fans know if they see something on TV it’s intended to be part of the show, but the question remains: why fake something so real when the plot could be advanced the same way without taking that measure?

Likewise, I recall the episode of WCW Monday Nitro discussed during my appearance on the What A Maneuver podcast. It was at the outset of the nWo invasion angle, two weeks before Bash at the Beach. Nash and Hall interrupted a three-way WCW tag team title match, and the show ended with local police officers in the ring, weapons drawn on the Outsiders. You could argue they were merely trying to sell the “realness” of the invasion. But obviously if WCW was that serious about the situation, they’d have kept the men from even entering the arena. You think Ted Turner wanted police officers shooting people on live television? Again, why take the story this specific direction when alternatives were available?

Now if you want to scale it back a bit and get into your primary point, you ask, as Joe Drilling did, why WCW granted Hulk Hogan a title match against The Giant at Road Wild 1996. I suppose you could argue Bischoff was behind it all along, but still, it was far too convenient to play into the invasion story. But I digress.

The question you referenced, as worded on the podcast, was “Which real-life wrestling event would you fictionalize to bring to stage or screen?” After listening to it again, I think the actual intent of the question was to look outside the ring, or to come up with a story where in-ring wrestling is secondary. Think of a 90-minute movie showing all the drama surrounding Rey Mysterio’s WWE Title win that honored Eddie Guerrero. That could be a compelling narrative, especially if told with full disclosure that Rey is an actor playing a part, if that makes sense.

The reason Warrior-Savage sprang to my mind, however, was based entirely on what fans saw on camera. The story is all about Randy Savage, and it ultimately proved not to be a finale at all. But his entire WWF run remains my favorite performance ever because the continuity and evolution of his character spans years, and his actual wrestling matches both defined and enhanced the story. Say what you will about Ric Flair, but for my money Randy Savage is the greatest of all time.

• • •

David: I am not the Randy Savage fan you are, but I certainly give him consideration in the upper echelon of professional wrestlers. That being said, I can’t put him ahead of Ric Flair. When I was growing up, watching Jim Crockett Promotions, Flair was the consummate bad guy. His promos were consistently great, and everything he did in the ring had a purpose. Of course, the two are forever linked due to their great feuds in both the WWF and WCW. As our friends on the What A Maneuver podcast have discovered, their feud was one of the only interesting things happening in WCW in the early part of 1996.

• • •

Scott: I’ll give you this much — Flair blows Savage out of the water in terms of career length and relevance. But at their absolute peaks, both men reliably delivered some of the greatest performances in the history of the art form. I also think Savage’s best stuff holds up a hair better than the Nature Boy’s, but I don’t want to be accused of heresy.

It’s easy to talk about the best of the best, but let’s flip that on its ear a bit. Who would you say is the most overrated of the “top” guys who are now retired?

• • •

David:This is going to be a controversial answer, because I know this person

Retired WWE wrestler, Edge

Is Edge Overrated?

has a lot of fans and is beloved by a lot of people. That being said, my answer is Edge.

He had a good career, and he won a lot of titles, but I think he benefited from a roster that wasn’t as strong as it has been at other times. I think he reaped the benefits from the retirement of The Rock, Austin and others. I also think he gained a bit of renown because of the fans’ apathy toward John Cena.

I like Edge, but I don’t think he would be a legitimate first ballot hall of famer in an independent wrestling hall of fame. Who do you think is overrated?

• • •

Scott: You’re not the first person to rain on the Edge parade, and you won’t be the last. I’m fairly indifferent since I missed a large part of the peak of his career, but I definitely think you’re on to something when you mention how much he benefited from his specific era.

While I know I put you on the spot, I hesitate to get too much into who is overrated because I always feel I have blind spots. For example, I never had much interest in Paul Orndorff, but I think that’s more a function of what I saw of him live (hardly anything) and what I’ve had access to since then. Paul Orndorff might be awesome for all I know, but I just haven’t taken the time to dig into his career. I’ve not seen enough of a lot of older stars — Terry Funk, the von Erichs, the Freebirds … the list is embarrassingly long.

Likewise, if I think about the guys I did see a ton during their primes (Jake Roberts, Big Boss Man, basically anyone who was on WWF TV from 1988 to 1992) and start to wonder if maybe they weren’t really the stars I thought they were as a kid, a couple of minutes on YouTube reminds me quickly why I thought they were great. And ultimately, just because a particular performer doesn’t inspire me doesn’t mean they’re not doing good work. That’s one of the great things about wrestling, how there’s something for everyone if you stick around long enough.

And now I’m going to totally change directions again. This post will be going up before SummerSlam, so let’s spend a little time discussing that show. What’s your excitement level? Do you have any thoughts about how certain stories might progress? Has the lead-in so far met your expectations?

• • •

David: I am looking forward to SummerSlam… somewhat. There are certain matches I’m excited about, but my enthusiasm has been tempered by a few things.

The match I’m most excited about is Ziggler vs. Jericho. I’ve been a Jericho fan since we were watching Monday Nitro in the basement of Stewart Memorial Library on the campus of Coe College. He’s been a consistently great performer for the last decade and a half, and I love watching him wrestle. I’ve also been really high on Ziggler for the last year or so, and I love the story that they’ve been telling so far. However, I’m kind of bummed this match is likely to be a one-off. If you follow Jericho on Twitter, you know he is scheduled to take some time off for some Fozzy engagements. I guess they could revisit the feud when he comes back, but I’d prefer a long feud that doesn’t get interrupted.

I’ve never been a huge Brock Lesnar fan, and I can take or leave Triple H, so that match hasn’t truly captured my imagination. However, I have enjoyed what Paul Heyman has brought to the table over the last few months, and I’m always up for Shawn Michaels’ involvement in a WWE pay-per-view.

That brings us to the WWE championship match. I would be looking forward to this match a lot more if it were just a singles match between Punk and Cena. They’ve had good matches in the past, and I’d look forward to another one. The involvement of the Big Show changes things, obviously. His matches tend to be on the slow, lumbering side, and not necessarily exciting. There is some hope, though. As Brandon Stroud pointed out this week, WWE three-way dances tend to be one-on-one matches with an extra guy laying around at ringside. I can only hope Big Show is the one laying around for most of the match. Honestly, I’m far more interested in what comes after this match as we head into the fall and get closer and closer to the Rock’s title shot at the Royal Rumble.

There is one other match I’m excited about, and it’s possibly the one I’m most anticipating: Santino Marella vs. Antonio Cesaro. I’ve been a huge Cesaro fan since he was wrestling in Ring of Honor under his real name, Claudio Castagnoli, and I’m excited about him having a shot at any title. I don’t think he will win, as the “free for all” type shows very rarely carry a title switch, but I’m glad he’s getting the opportunity. Hopefully it will not be very long before he’s in an actual pay-per-view match instead of pre-show entertainment.

How are you feeling about this weekend’s card?

• • •

Scott: To me the reason I’m not all that jazzed for SummerSlam is it lacks the air of unpredictability of the more recent high profile events. Even Raw 1000 seemed to have more advance excitement as it related to the leading stories.

I suppose I should further refine that point: with other shows (Extreme Rules, No Way Out, Money in the Bank, etc.), I was not only unsure how the plots would develop, I was also excited for multiple outcomes. Looking at the SummerSlam card, if there’s a match I am invested in, there’s really only one thing I want to see happen. For example, I want Punk and Miz to retain their titles, I want Sheamus to lose and I don’t especially care how it shakes out. I wouldn’t mind seeing Ziggler cash in his briefcase over Sheamus or Del Rio, but actually seeing that happen is not something I’d lose sleep over.

I imagine we could easily see the Rock interject himself into the triple threat, though I wonder if the fact Lesnar-HHH will go on last means Rock won’t be around. It seems to me Rock either has to be central to the main story or he isn’t around. I also think it’s unlikely he’d be used for a surprise appearance since there would be no effect on the buy rate.

I’m indifferent to Kane and Bryan. While I enjoy and respect Bryan’s ring work, this story doesn’t motivate me. Same with HHH and Lesnar. Even if Brock murders HHH, is he going to come out on Raw the next night and demand a title shot? Or is he going to disappear until Survivor Series?

As much as I campaign for less pay-per-view shows on the calendar, it seems like it’s been forever since Money in the Bank, and the crescendo to Raw 1000 meant the PPV to PPV storytelling didn’t flow as well as usual. I’m not saying the show won’t be exciting, and there is always potential for “anything can happen” moments. But there’s a reason I’ve had to remind myself three or four times this week that SummerSlam is on Sunday. That’s probably not a good thing.

• • •

David: You’re right. The build to this show has been strange. Not only does MITB feel like forever ago, but to me, Raw 1000 seems like a distant memory. I also agree with your idea of what would be definitively satisfactory endings. I think that’s why I’m looking forward to the aftermath of SummerSlam, because it could be more interesting than the actual event itself.

• • •

Scott: I hear you there. I also feel that’s an important distinction — I’m not bored with the company right now. I’m actually very intrigued by a lot of big-picture stuff, especially all I’m hearing about how talent development is evolving and we could start seeing a whole slew of new faces who are strong workers in all aspects. That might not bode well for the Jack Swaggers of the world, but the three-hour Raw, the new Saturday morning show, the subtle Smackdown changes and more — not to mention the in-ring stuff on the main shows — has me much more invested in the product than I was shortly after SummerSlam last year, which is when the wheels on the Summer of Punk all seemed to fall of at once.

I think that does it for us for now — we need to get this posted before SummerSlam. But taking it back to the beginning of this post, I would love to get some questions from our readers to see what types of things they might like to have us discuss. Breaking down the current product is fun and all, but I’d love to tear into some meaty debates about the past.

• • •

Thanks for reading — please feel free to contact us via Twitter or the comments section. Your feedback is appreciated!

SummerSlam 1992: An Appreciation

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Scott: It’s been quite a wild ride over the last few weeks in WWE, but by now I feel as if almost everything has been said about Money In The Bank and Raw 1000. I’m sure we’ll get sucked back into current events, but for now I want to go a totally different direction. It’s almost August, and to me that’s always meant SummerSlam. The 1988 through 1992 shows are arguably the greatest five-year run for any WWF pay-per-view event, if that makes sense, though 1990 is weak at the top in retrospect. I’m thinking especially about the 1992 show this year as we reach its 20th anniversary. I have my own thoughts on that classic, but what comes to mind first when you recall “The SummerSlam You Thought You’d Never See”?

• • •

Bret Hart

The Excellence of Execution

David: As a teenager, Bret Hart was my favorite wrestler. I was a Hulk Hogan fan when I was younger, but as I got older, I took notice of how great Hart was in the ring, and it made me excited about wrestling. I remember scouring the video store shelves for matches that involved the Hitman, and never being disappointed when I got them home and watched them. He had good matches with an amazing range of opponents from Mr. Perfect to Bam Bam Bigelow (their 1993 match from Spain, which is included on the “Best There Is, Best There Was, Best There Ever Will Be” DVD is great). But two matches have always stuck out for me: the Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII and the match from SummerSlam 1992.

Both matches told great stories, in the build up and the execution, but I think the emotional context of the match with Davey Boy Smith sets it a level higher than the match with Shawn Michaels. I will never forget the interviews conducted with members of the Hart family as the match at Wembley Stadium got closer and closer. Particularly, the interviews with Diana and Helen stood out. As someone who’s always been a bit sappy, the buildup for this match really got me, as did the idea of Davey Boy getting a shot at the Intercontinental Title in his home country, in one of the greatest venues in the world.

Warrior vs. Savage is great, and I enjoy both the Legion of Doom/Money Inc. and the Shawn Michaels/Rick Martel matches. However, when you mention SummerSlam 1992, my mind automatically leaps to Bret vs Davey Boy. In fact, being such a huge fan of Bret Hart, when you mention SummerSlam without a year attached to it, this is the match that springs to mind.

I know you’ve always been a big Randy Savage fan, is that the match that leaps out at you from this card, or do you give the main event more weight?

• • •

Scott: I’m realizing now that my proclaiming the 1998-1992 SummerSlams as a great five-year run is a theory built on the back of great Bret Hart matches. I really enjoyed the two-out-of-three falls match with Demolition at SummerSlam 1990, but the 1988 Demolition match and 1989 opener against the Brain Busters also hold up incredibly well. Obviously his 1991 Intercontinental Title victory over Mr. Perfect ranks with the all-time great matches for that belt. Hart’s run no doubt helped establish the show and its place on the WWE calendar.

But getting back to the 92 show specifically, when I think of that show I think of the spectacle. WrestleMania VIII a few months prior was in the Indianapolis HoosierDome, a massive facility compared to the Los Angeles Sports Arena hosting WrestleMania VII, yet other than its size was incredibly bland. There were some decent fireworks after Savage beat Flair for the title, and it’s always fun to see how the day turning to night affects the overall setting, but nothing aesthetically really makes that show stand out in the manner we’ve come to expect from WrestleMania.

SummerSlam 1992 emanated from London’s iconic Wembley Stadium.

But the Wembley show (discussed in episode 19 of the Old School Wrestling Podcast) looks and feels like the actual precursor to the modern spectacle of the company’s signature show. Perhaps I’m being drawn in entirely by the open-air arena and a few quirky entrances (the LOD motorcycle bit and an the Undertaker’s funeral carriage, though both are tame by modern standards), but I really think the production crew took some chances here that ultimately paid off — even though it would be several years before WWE ran any shows in stadiums of this magnitude.

This also is the first major WWF show without Hulk Hogan since his big-time run began, and it played to remarkable success — Wikipedia reports the show did $2.2 million in ticket sales and more than $1.45 million in merchandise, a staggering amount. I know it’s a common topic to revisit, but can you imagine how the WWF landscape might have changed had Hogan not made a brief return in 1993?

• • •

David: The ending of WrestleMania IX, with Hulk Hogan winning the title from Yokozuna, is often derided as one of the worst decisions the WWF ever made. However, I’m of the opinion the Hulkster’s return was not the worst decision in company history. In fact, if Hogan had been kind enough to pass the torch to someone, the mid-90s may not have been the low point we remember them to be. I can’t help but feel that if Bret had beaten Hulk Hogan cleanly, the fans would’ve gravitated toward him more than they did, and the WWE probably would be a completely different company today.

If Hogan had never come back, as you mentioned, I’m not really sure that much would have changed. When Hogan took his leave of absence in 1992, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and their contemporaries were still in the mid-card. The Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage and Ric Flair were probably the biggest draws in the company at the time, but by the beginning of 1993, Savage was a commentator, and Warrior and Flair were out of the company. Hart had been elevated to WWF Champion, beating Flair in Saskatoon in October 1992, and would carry the belt until the aforementioned WrestleMania. As a Bret Hart fan, I can say I kept watching the WWF because he was champion, but there were few other superstars capable of keeping me there. I know you have written in defense of WrestleMania IX, and I do not hate that show. But when I look at the card, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of star power in early 1993 WWF. If you take away the Money Inc. vs Mega-Maniacs match, there are only four men on that card who ever held the WWF championship, and two of them were in the main event for the title, with Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker being the others, and neither of them was ready to step up and be a main eventer at that point. If Hogan never returns, I’m not sure what changes. Obviously, the end of WrestleMania is different, and if he’s not in the mid-card with Beefcake and Money Inc., he’s not pulling focus from the main event, but like I said, had be been willing to pass the torch to Bret, that would’ve been the huge shift, in my opinion.

Of course, that is ignoring the stuff that was going on outside the ring in 1993 and 1994. As a kid, I was pretty ignorant of the steroid trial and anything else that was going on in “real life” where wrestling was concerned. Were you as sheltered from that stuff as I was?

• • •

Scott: I was aware of the steroid trial, but was not aware how it affected what I saw on TV each week. And while I agree with your general overall assessment of the period, I also think it needs to be pointed out how underused Randy Savage was following his WWF Title loss to Flair in September 1992. Here’s a guy who had been one of the main characters since at least January 1991 (and obviously before, but he was clearly relegated during most of the Ultimate Warrior’s run at the top), was in the hottest program of the summer, who absolutely tore it up in front of 80,000 fans and then, after Survivor Series, got shoved in the booth and trotted out for token Royal Rumble appearances, to host the Yokozuna body slam challenge and for some reason feud with Crush.

The Yokozuna bodyslam challenge, as discussed on episode 73 of the Old School Wrestling Podcast.

Maybe Savage being moved to the background had something to do with the trial, or maybe McMahon really felt he needed to put his best talent on the back burner in order to give Michaels and Hart room to work. But if you look at the way Savage flourished for several years as soon as he got to WCW, you can imagine what might have happened had he been allowed to continue to buzz around the WWF Title scene in 1993 and early 1994. He did some good things to help promote Hart as a top guy in the minds of fans, and maybe it would have been difficult for him to do so as a regular competitor. There are plenty of examples throughout wrestling history of promoters not having a clue how to keep the right mix of talented guys interesting and relevant

And speaking of WrestleMania IX — how dare you overlook the presence of two-time WWF Champ Bob Backlund? Sure, his match with Razor Ramon was pretty useless, but he was a legitimate champion once upon a time. And since we’re breaking down the card, that show features 15 Hall of Fame performers and six or seven more who have strong cases for future enshrinement. I’m not saying any of them are used to the best of their abilities (hearing Savage on commentary throughout the show only underscores how much better two or three matches could have been with him in the ring) but still, the show is not short on talent.

But let’s get back to SummerSlam. I’m really fixated on these first five years of the show for some reason. I don’t know if you’re as intimately familiar with these cards as I am, but I’m curious if you have any other favorite moments you’d like to discuss from the earliest years of this proud franchise?

• • •

David: Wow… I can’t believe I missed Backlund as a champion. That’s a huge mistake on my part. Some might call it egregious.

Bob Backlund

This man was a great champion. David is a dope.

You’ve already mentioned the profound effect Bret Hart had on the first few editions of SummerSlam, and I have to agree. The 1989 opener with the Brain Busters is one of my favorite tag team matches of all time, and the 1990 match against Demolition also was great. But if I step away from my Bret Hart-centric world view for a moment, one of my favorite matches is from the undercard of SummerSlam 1992: Shawn Michaels vs. Rick Martel. Both men are excellent technical wrestlers, and they mixed that technical skill with some comedy to put on a match I think is severely underrated. Sensational Sherri, who is one of the greatest females in the history of wrestling, certainly adds to that match, especially when she pretends to faint, and then keeps checking to see if either man has noticed. She’s also great at the end of the match when she throws a tantrum after both men have fought to the back, leaving her in the lurch.

As I think about that match, I also think about how underrated Rick Martel was. “The Model” is a gimmick that could’ve gone nowhere, and taken the wrestler down with it. Rick Martel had the skill and the psychology to elevate that character, and while he might not have won many titles, he certainly had a great career. Who are some of your favorite wrestlers to be saddled with a gimmick that seemed awful, but somehow worked out?

• • •

Scott: Excellent question. When I was a kid I was a huge Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake fan, and while I still like him nostalgically, I also realize there was a lot to be desired in his performances. Regardless, that doesn’t really get at the intent of your question.

My initial instinct is to go with Scott Hall as Razor Ramon. I had literally no exposure to Hall prior to his Ramon vignettes airing on syndicated WWF shows in the middle of 1992. And I’ve argued Hall’s WCW character is pretty much a distillation of the Razor Ramon persona, as opposed to just genuine Scott Hall (which we can prove by going back to his AWA days). But my larger point is those early Ramon vignettes don’t, to me, give any indication of the performer’s skill level and eventual success.

One other consideration is Bob Holly, who managed to stick around despite his early runs as Thurman “Sparky” Plugg and then Bob “Spark Plug” Holly. I’m not saying he was ever one of the greats, and certainly not even on Martel’s level, but he certainly endured, which is more than you can say for a lot of the guys who debuted during the WWF’s seemingly endless onslaught of career-based characters.

I also feel Jacques Rougeau did some underrated work as The Mountie, but I don’t know if that qualifies under the scope of your question. Suffice it to say the list of great talents saddled with lousy gimmicks is far easier to populate. My go-to example is the re-branding of Tito Santana as El Matador following WrestleMania VII (where he lost, coincidentally, to The Mountie), but I suppose for Tito that meant two extra years of WWF paychecks when the alternative would have been far less lucrative. I doubt WCW would have had much use for him in that era.

Speaking of Santana, have you heard the rumor (probably floated by him) that Santana was in line for the WWF Title in late 1992 to aid a corporate growth push in Mexico and Central America? As the story goes, the title went instead to Bret Hart because Vince McMahon decided a Canadian push would be more lucrative at the time.

It’s a nice story, but after seeing what happened to Santana’s character from the end of Strike Force, save for one somewhat shining moment at Survivor Series 1991, I can’t imagine how he could have been re-introduced as a legitimate world champion contender.

Had you heard that story before? Are there other crazy “what ifs” that are more than just fan speculation?

• • •

The artist formerly known as Tito Santana.

David: I had not heard that, and I don’t buy it either. Tito Santana was a solid talent, and I enjoyed his work, but the idea of putting the WWF Championship on him sounds like a work of pure fiction, or at the very least, Vince trying to make him happy. I’m sure Vince told a lot of people a lot of things in order to get them to work harder, he strikes me as that kind of boss, but that doesn’t mean it was ever going to happen.

There are many rumors and “what ifs” and “could’ve beens” in wrestling, and the fact most of them are probably apocryphal just doesn’t matter. One that may not be apocryphal is about Nikita Koloff. According to his Wikipedia page, Vince McMahon wanted to bring “The Russian Nightmare” to the WWF to wrestle Hulk Hogan. As a fan of Crockett Promotions, that rumor gives me chills. I remember his battles with Dusty Rhodes, Magnum TA and Ric Flair very well, and a feud between him and the Hulkster had great potential. Although, I do wonder how the mid-80s WWF audience would’ve reacted to Nikita, who was far more vicious than Nikolai Volkoff ever was.

One of my other favorites is actually fairly recent, as it occurred last year. When the WWE began running promos featuring a man in a black trench coat, the Internet was rampant with rumors that Sting was coming to the WWE. I’m not sure what to believe about this one. Sting has said he was very close to signing a deal with WWE but TNA offered him more money and more flexibility. There also are some people who still believe the very first of the 2-21-11 promos were supposed to be for Sting, because they were confident he was going to sign and they had to adjust when he went back to TNA. Sting is one of my top three favorite wrestlers of all time, just behind Bret Hart and about even with Shawn Michaels, and probably the wrestler I’m the biggest “mark” for. I’ve always enjoyed his work, and would love to see him get a spot at a WrestleMania. I think it’s safe to say there are a lot of people out there who feel the same way.

• • •

Scott: I am completely indifferent when it comes to Sting. I was aware of him during the early 1990s, but I had practically no regular exposure to him until well into his Crow gimmick in late 1997. I don’t have any problem with the guy, I just don’t care. And while an Undertaker-Sting match at WrestleMania certainly would hold strong appeal for a certain segment of the fan base, I can’t see it being something to build a show around. I have to imagine a large part of the WWE audience — the younger crowd — has never seen Sting wrestle live. Remember, WCW has been gone for more than a decade now. I’m sure this is blasphemy to some, but I wager a larger percentage of the current audience would be more excited to see Booker T get another run at the top than to have Sting show up for a few months.

I’m going to totally switch gears on you right now to bring up one more SummerSlam history point. While I prefer to focus on the 20-year anniversary of the Wembley Stadium spectacle, I also must acknowledge what happened 10 years ago — the last major defense of the undisputed WWE Championship, which lasted roughly nine months. Chris Jericho unified the titles at Vengeance in December 2001, and by September Eric Bischoff awarded Triple H the first World Heavyweight Championship. So we’re going on about 10 years now of having two different top champions. Do you see that ending any time soon?

• • •

David: Your indifference toward Sting has always hurt me…although your “Sting is a Mime” sign when we went to Thursday Thunder is still a favorite college memory of mine. But I digress…

When they started doing the Super Shows last fall, mixing the Smackdown and Raw rosters, I thought we might be headed toward title unification. However, as we’ve been having these discussions, I’ve sort of changed my mind. I’ve mentioned in previous pieces I felt like the writing team was giving us ideas about how they view each show, and how they want us to view them. If that’s the case, then it makes sense to me that there would remain two “World” titles, and we’re going to stay within that particular paradigm for the time being. There’s a part of me that also thinks they could use two top championships to help fill out a the three-hour version of Raw…but isn’t that why you have multiple video recaps, and you show them multiple times? I guess that’s a discussion for a later time.

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