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”?
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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?
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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.
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?
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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?
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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.
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?
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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.
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?
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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?
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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.
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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?
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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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