The summer season means a lot of different things for a lot of different people. For kids in school, it usually means a welcome, extended break that usually gets old after the first few weeks. For adults, it might mean vacations with families or friends. For me, it means hurricane season and lots of sweating. And for wrestling fans, it means SummerSlam. In recent years, SummerSlam has been billed as the “Biggest Party of the Summer,” and WWE tries to make it seem like the second-biggest show of the year. It’s probably more accurate to label Royal Rumble as the second-biggest show, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is that it’s a big deal. WWE has also decided that, going forward, the event will be held in Los Angeles, with week-long festivities like WrestleMania week. Sure, why not? SummerSlam has always been built around “hot” feuds, so it makes sense to try to make it a bigger deal, since there’s no real gimmick to it.
So, SummerSlam. Over the next several weeks, I will be taking a break from Disasterpiece Theatre to post reviews of each SummerSlam event from the past 25 years. For those of you who have read John’s Royal Rumble and WrestleMania reviews, this will follow a slightly different format. During my first draft of this, I wrote each match in play-by-play style, but the finished product was over 8,000 words. To avoid burning readers and myself out on this project, I’ll look at each match as a whole, mentioning what I like and dislike. Additionally, I don’t do star ratings, because I feel like star ratings are a lot like Whose Line Is It Anyway?—everything’s made up and the points don’t matter. Feel free to comment with your own star ratings, if you want, but you won’t see any here. After this first show, I will start ranking the shows based on how much I liked them, sort of like John did with WrestleMania, but without the points. I may even make a list of my favorite matches through the years. This is new for me, so I welcome your feedback. Let’s get to it.
August 29, 1988 – Madison Square Garden
Gorilla Monsoon kicks off the show by welcoming us to New York City and Madison Square Garden. Then we get a very 1980s video package, highlighting the main event between the Mega-Powers and the Mega Bucks. Gorilla Monsoon has called this a “happening” three times in the last 30 seconds. His broadcast colleague for the event is Superstar Billy Graham, because Jesse Ventura is the guest referee for the main event. It’s frightening how much Hogan looks like Graham, now.
Match One – The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers vs. The British Bulldogs
Result: Time Limit Draw at 19:05
What I Liked: It’s really great to watch two solid tag teams have a lengthy match after so many years of awful tag team wrestling in WWE. Little things, like the heel team distracting the ref while the face team makes a tag that the ref doesn’t see, are what make tag team wrestling fun and special. This match was full of quick tags, with some key double-team moves to keep the crowd guessing. Even though the match was almost 20 minutes, it never really dragged. That’s a sign of a good match. It’s interesting to watch guys like Dynamite Kid, and to see the influence he’s had on the current generation of wrestlers (i.e. Davey Richards). I also don’t think the Rougeaus get much credit from “The Internet” for always being a solid tag team. They were great heels, and they proved it during this match. Jacques even tried to get a “USA!” chant started, but the crowd booed the crap out of him. Dynamite Kid’s trunks were on backwards.
What I Didn’t Like: First of all, Gorilla Monsoon is the type of commentator who needs a heelish foil. I liked Ventura as his broadcast colleague, because he called Monsoon out when he was being a hypocrite. That happened several times during this match, as Gorilla mentioned how dastardly the heels were when they swapped out without tagging, but he never mentioned it when the Bulldogs did it. Not even a “turnabout is fair play”-style comment. There was an extraordinary number of monkey flip attempts in this one. It was almost as if the stipulation was “The first one to hit a monkey flip wins $10 billion dollars.” That was comical, but tedious. Finally, the finish. Prior to the match, there was no mention of a time limit, and the match ended at just over 19 minutes. I don’t really know why this match had a non-finish, but no one was particularly happy about it. I think the Bulldogs should’ve pulled out the victory. But no one asked me to book the match.
Post-match, the Rougeaus sucker punch the Bulldogs who chase them to the back. Superstar suggests that they finish it in the showers. Ok…
Gorilla Monsoon announces that Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake will not be able to compete against The Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental Championship, and we see a video of Outlaw Ron Bass attacking Beefcake on Superstars. I miss things like this. Bass uses a cowboy spur to rake across the face of Beefcake, then we get a giant red X that says CENSORED over the screen, but you can still see Beefcake’s face. It’s hysterical.
Match Two – Bad News Brown vs. Ken Patera
Result: Bad News Brown wins via pinfall in 6:30
What I Liked: There aren’t a whole lot of positive things about this match. It was short, but it felt much longer. That’s what she said.
What I Didn’t Like: Neither of these two guys were ever particularly exciting. This was just a bad match. Gorilla said Bad News’ victory was an upset, but that’s a little ridiculous, especially since he just won the battle royal at WrestleMania IV. The crowd wasn’t into this, and I don’t think they were ever really into anything Bad News did until his feud with Piper in 1990. They tried to have a back-and-forth match, but it just didn’t really click.
Backstage, Gene Okerlund is with the Mega-Powers (which might be the silliest tag team name ever…why couldn’t they be the Macho Maniacs or something?) and Miss Elizabeth. Hogan says Hulkamania and the Macho Madness together are the strongest force in the universe, and that Savage has a clear conscience (?). The WWF Champion, Randy Savage mentions that Elizabeth is their secret weapon. Because revealing your “secret weapon” is always the best strategy. The Mega-Powers do their Secret Handshake as Hogan asks the Mega Bucks what they’re gonna do when the Mega-Powers do something that rhymes with “do.”
Match Three – Ravishing Rick Rude w/ Bobby Heenan vs. Junkyard Dog
Before the match, Rude orders his music to be cut, then asks all of the “fat, ugly, inner-city sweathogs” to “keep the noise down while I take my robe off and show the ladies what a real, sexy man looks like.” Hit the music. He has JYD’s face on his tights, which is a little weird…
Result: Ravishing Rick Rude wins via DQ in 5:30
What I Liked: I used to play a drinking game with old WWE PPVs, where every time Monsoon refers to a sneak attack as a “Pearl Harbor job,” you drink. I drank when this match began. For those who are unfamiliar with Rick Rude, he was basically the Dolph Ziggler of the late-80s and early-90s. He was really good at making everyone else look great. At the end of the match, Rude goes to the top, then pulls his pants down to reveal a second pair of tights. These had Jake Roberts’ wife’s face on them. It was awesome, and it prompted The Snake to hit the ring, causing the DQ. He felt bad about it afterward, because he cost JYD the match, but it was cool to see their feud progress here, even though a match between them would have been better. Any time Bobby Heenan is on my TV is good.
What I Didn’t Like: Throughout the whole match, Monsoon and Superstar kept referring to how hard JYD’s head was, because every black dude/Samoan/Fijian/other non-Caucasian had in WWF had an impossibly hard head. At one point, after Rude connected with a double axhandle off the top, one of them said, “That must have caught him on the forehead, or maybe around the nose, because otherwise he wouldn’t have knocked him down with that.” There was really no point for this match to happen, because the sole purpose was to further the Roberts-Rude feud, and the same thing could have been accomplished on Superstars or Wrestling Challenge or whatever. I think Rude and JYD could have had a decent match with a little more time, but that wasn’t the point. The match succeeded in its purpose, but it just seemed like time filler. After the match, Monsoon called it “a beauty.” It wasn’t.
Backstage, Okerlund is with Intercontinental Champion, The Honky Tonk Man, and his manager Jimmy Hart. Okerlund reiterates Beefcake’s injury. Hart says Beefcake is scared to wrestle The Honky Tonk Man. HTM calls himself a humanitarian and begs the World Wrestling Federation for an opponent. Okerlund reminds him that he will have a match against a “very formidable man.” Okerlund almost announces who the opponent will be, before HTM cuts him off. Apparently HTM also knows who it is, but he wants to surprise everyone.
Match Four – The Bolsheviks w/Slick vs. The Powers of Pain w/ The Baron
Result: The Powers of Pain win via pinfall in 7:00
What I Liked: First of all, I always enjoyed Volkoff being interrupted while singing the Russian national anthem. I don’t think he ever made it through the whole thing. The Powers were introduced from Parts Unknown, which is between Death Valley and Dudleyville, and that’s always cracked me up. They usually saved “Parts Unknown” for their zanier characters, but I think even Brutus Beefcake was billed from Parts Unknown at one point. Boris Zhukov worked his ass off in this match, probably taking more bumps than the other three guys combined. It doesn’t mean it was a good match, but he tried. The purpose of this was to establish the Powers as a threat to Demolition, and those two teams would feud later. Considering I don’t think the Bolsheviks ever won a match, I’m not sure how much this victory mattered, but they looked impressive, and that’s all that mattered. I’m mostly surprised that this lasted 7 minutes. Again, that’s what she said.
What I Didn’t Like: This was a match between four guys who were all close to or over 300 pounds. It was slow and boring for the most part, even though the Powers hit some nice power moves. It was hard to believe in Warlord being the “babyface in peril” because he was bigger than everyone else in the match. Volkoff, who mostly succeeded because “Cold War” hit one of the worst-ever roundhouse kicks, and I hope he never attempted it again. When I was a kid, I loved seeing these huge dudes pretend to destroy each other. Now, I’ve been spoiled by good wrestlers, so it’s far less entertaining. I think it was silly for the WWF to have two Road Warrior knock-offs on the roster, and I really think these two were intended to actually fill that role, but I guess Demolition got over better, so it ended up being them.
The bell rings for a Brother Love segment? He loves you. This guy is probably the slimiest character ever, and I love it now. I hated him as a kid, but Bruce Pritchard was so good in this role. A lot of people don’t remember, but Brother Love was actually Undertaker’s first manager. Brother Love tells us that tonight is a very special night, because the WWF promised Brother Love a very special guest. They also promised him that it would be someone who needed to learn a lesson of love. Aaaand, it’s “Brother” Hacksaw Jim Duggan, with the 2x4 in hand. Duggan came out for two reasons: 1) HOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! and 2) Brother Love is a phony. Brother Love accuses Duggan of not having love in his heart, as the crowd boos. New York hates love, I guess. “Don’t you ever dare question the patriotism of Hacksaw Jim Duggan!” I would never. Duggan politely requests that Brother Love cease discussion of his 2x4 being a weapon. “This is the WWF! It’s not Sunday School!” Uh oh. Brother Love is poking Duggan in the chest, so Duggan threatens to put his 2x4 where the sun doesn’t shine. That means his butt. Brother Love runs away before Hacksaw can follow up on his threat. Segment was kinda pointless, but the crowd loved Hacksaw.
Match Five (Intercontinental Championship) – The Honky Tonk Man vs. ?????
The Honky Tonk Man comes out to one of my favorite terrible theme songs of all time. He’s defending the IC title against a mystery opponent. He was the longest-running IC champion ever, at this point (an unbroken record, still), and Superstar says he’s been champion for over 2 years. That’s because Superstar went to the Gorilla Monsoon School of Making Stuff Up, because he won the belt in June of 1987, and this is August of 1988. In case you’re as bad at math as I am, that ends up being 14 months.
“And his opponent…” Finkel doesn’t finish the sentence, because he doesn’t know who it is. Honky Tonk Man says, “Get me somebody out here to rassle, I don’t care who it is!” After 45 seconds, Ultimate Warriors music blasts through the arena, and he sprints to the ring, attacking HTM with punches before the bell. The crowd is going INSANE.
Warrior slams HTM, hits a flying shoulder block off the ropes, followed by a clothesline that sends HTM on his back. Honky hasn’t even taken his jumpsuit off. Warrior comes off the ropes and hits a big splash for 3, ending the longest Intercontinental Championship reign ever in just 30 seconds. The crowd comes UNGLUED.
Result: Ultimate Warrior wins the Intercontinental Championship via pinfall in :30 (duh)
What I Liked: Considering the match was so short, I went ahead and stuck with the play-by-play. This was a great way to put Warrior over as one of the top guys on the roster. He spent the next year or so feuding with Rick Rude over the Intercontinental Championship, which was good, because Rude made Warrior look as good as he could. As far as this match goes, it was one of the better ways to utilize a squash, because EVERYone wanted to see Honky Tonk Man lose that belt, and Warrior was the perfect guy for him to lose it to at the time. A real match between these two wouldn’t have been great, nor would a match between Honky Tonk Man and Brutus Beefcake, so everyone wins.
What I Didn’t Like: There wasn’t really anything I didn’t like about this match. It made sense to do it the way they did it, and I didn’t have to watch a full match between these two. I was really getting annoyed with the announce team by this point, though.
Post-match Warrior celebrates with the belt, beginning the rise of one of the most intense superstars in WWE history. I never liked him very much. For the record, he’s dressed almost exactly like Kerry Von Erich here, who was “The Modern Day Warrior” in World Class and NWA.
We’re about half-way through the show, so we get another look at the same very-80s “video package” promoting the main event. WWF used to run intermissions during their PPVs, so it’s possible that that’s what was going on there.
Bobby Heenan is at the announce booth to make a special report on what the Mega Bucks and Mega-Powers are up to.
Heenan: “Andre right now is reading The Wall Street Journal. DiBiase has four suitcases open, and he’s counting the money. Virgil is standing in the corner, enjoying it all.”
Monsoon: “What are the Mega-Powers doing?”
Heenan: “I’ve heard from my sources that they’ve put their dresser in front of the door. Nobody can get in. They’re screaming, they’re begging—“
Monsoon cuts him off, while Superstar tries to send him away. I miss Bobby Heenan.
Match Six – “The Rock” Don Muraco vs. Dino Bravo w/ Frenchie
Heenan has joined Monsoon and Superstar on commentary. Superstar is griping about Bravo’s weight-lifting demonstration not being official, so he’s not really the World’s Strongest Man. I guess he’s gonna try to tell me Mark Henry also isn’t the World’s Strongest Man, nor is Ken Shamrock the World’s Most Dangerous Man. Whatevs, Superstar.
Result: Dino Bravo wins via pinfall in 5:30
What I Liked: In case you haven’t noticed (through reading this or watching wrestling in the 80s), managers played a huge role in wrestling. I don’t care about Frenchie at all, but having him in Bravo’s corner gave people a reason to hate Dino Bravo. These two decided to try the monkey flip thing again, and I swear it was some sort of joke at this point. I don’t think there would be this many monkey flip attempts on a Rob Van Dam DVD. Probably the best part of this match was Bobby Heenan on commentary.
What I Didn’t Like: In case you’re a younger reader, most wrestlers used to be big, burly, legit tough guys who could probably rip your arms off without breaking a sweat. As a result, they weren’t super athletic, but they always looked like they were going to kill their opponents. That’s what this was. It was a basic match that didn’t really do anything for either guy, except get them on the card. Following this, Bravo would go on to have a boring feud with Ronnie Garvin, and Don Muraco didn’t stick around too much longer. Superstar Billy Graham insists on ending every sentence with “brotha” or “my man.”
Sean Mooney is backstage Jesse “The Body” Ventura, who is the special referee in the main event. Ventura claims this is the best decision WWF President Jack Tunney has ever made. And he claims he never took money from Ted DiBiase—DiBiase walked up and put money in his jacket pocket, and he’s not a fool. If someone wants to give him money, he’s gonna take it. Ventura always was one of the more reasonable people in wrestling.
Match Seven (Tag Team Championship): The Hart Foundation vs. Demolition w/ Mr. Fuji and Jimmy Hart
Result: Demolition retains the Tag Team Championship via pinfall in 11:00
What I Liked: Demolition came down to the ring with their manager, Mr. Fuji, and the Hart Foundation’s former manager, Jimmy Hart. I thought that was great—as the Foundation’s manager, Hart should know all of their weaknesses, so it was smart on Demolition’s part. Demolition’s S&M gear is not remotely intimidating, and it doesn’t help when Smash pops his pecs every 8 seconds. Bret Hart was awesome in this match. I don’t really know how else to put it in words. All four of these guys did a good job, but Hart always had a way of making things look more “real,” and that’s what made his matches special. The finish was fine—after Neidhart had finally had enough of his partner being double-teamed and beaten down, he just charged into the ring. The ref was distracted long enough for Jimmy Hart to toss Ax his megaphone, blast Bret with it, then allow Smash to get the cover.
What I Didn’t Like: I would have preferred if this match ended in a draw after 19 minutes, or at least got a little more time. It felt rushed to me, but because they didn’t have as much time as the opener, everything was very fast-paced. These were two of the most dominant teams in the WWF in the late-80s, and their feud was really fun. I don’t usually get caught up in match length, as long as they have time to tell a story, but I felt like this one could have benefited from a little extra time.
Backstage, Honky Tonk Man is very unhappy about losing to Ultimate Warrior.
Match Eight – Big Boss Man w/ Slick vs. Koko B. Ware
Result: Big Boss Man wins via pinfall in 6:00
What I Liked: Koko B. Ware’s entrance music for this match was the song “Piledriver,” which is the most ridiculous song probably ever. Look it up on YouTube, if you’ve never heard it. Aside from that, this was a glorified squash. Boss Man did bust out Andre’s tied-up-in-the-ropes spot. I wonder if he caught hell for that later.
What I Didn’t Like: Big Boss Man was pretty new in his career at this point, and he was much heavier than probably any other point. And he seemed pretty lost in there. It’s matches like this one, though, that make me scratch my head at the thought of Koko in the WWE Hall of Fame. I remember him most for this loss, his loss to Rick Martel at WrestleMania VI, and when he tagged with Owen Hart. Doesn’t matter. If you’re watching the DVD, you can skip this one.
Uh oh. Post-match Boss Man gets the nightstick and blasts Koko with it, sending him to the outside. He also had his handcuffs, so I thought he might work on him some more.
Backstage, Warrior says this:
“AHHHHH! HONKYTONK MAN, YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SOMETHING LIKE OUT OF A COMIC BOOK, BRUDDER, BUT WE’RE TALKIN ABOUT REAL LIFE! I WAS SITTIN IN PARTS UNKNOWN, WAITIN FOR THE NEXT SPACESHIP TO A HIGHER PLACE (?), AND THE LIGHTNING BOLTS CAME DOWN FROM THE SKIES, AND THE WARRIORS SPOKE, AND THEY SAID MAKE IT TO THE GARDEN! WELL, THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR SHOWED, AND HONKYTONK MAN, YOU GAVE THE CHALLENGE! AND THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR, AND THE LITTLE WARRIORS WITH ALL THEIR PAINTED FACES ROSE TO THE CHALLENGE, AND THEN CONQUERED! I’VE TAKEN ALL THE LITTLE WARRIORS THROUGH ALL THE DARKNESS AND ALL THE PAIN AND, HONKYTONK MAN, IF YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME, OR ANYBODY THINKS THEY CAN TAKE ON ALL THE WARRIORS, I’M NOT HARD TO FIND! I’LL BE ON THE NEXT SPACESHIP TO PARTS UNKNAAAAAHHHHH!!!”
Match Nine: Hercules vs. Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Result: Jake “The Snake” Roberts wins via pinfall in 10:00
What I Liked: The story of this match was that Jake was having a hard time with Hercules because he was focused on Rick Rude. I don’t really remember when that feud blew off, but his inability to focus made this match more interesting than it would have been, otherwise. I can probably count on both (maybe one?) hand the number of times Jake Roberts won a match on PPV with the DDT. This was one of those times, and I was surprised. It’s exactly what should have happened, but I’m just not used to seeing it. Roberts is one of the all-time greats who never held a major championship, and that’s a shame. Roberts carried Hercules to a decent match, then tried to put his snake in Hercules’ mouth after the match. Wait, what?
What I Didn’t Like: Hercules was never super great in the ring. He had a good look, and he could do some cool power moves, but he was another one of those brawny dudes who didn’t do much. If he were still alive, I wouldn’t tell him that to his face, because he could have broken my arm by staring at it, but it made this match less enjoyable. Instead of getting a 15-minute match ((that didn’t seem like it was trying to last until the time limit expired (WrestleMania IV)) between Rude and Roberts, we got two mediocre matches with lesser opponents. They should’ve put Hercules with JYD in some sort of chain match. That would have been ugly.
Next, we get a recap of the feud between the Mega-Powers and Mega Bucks, which basically started at WrestleMania IV.
Main Event – The Mega Bucks w/ Virgil and Bobby Heenan vs. The Mega-Powers w/ Elizabeth (Special Referee: Jesse “The Body” Ventura)
Result: The Mega-Powers win via pinfall in 15:00 (duh.)
What I Liked: The feud was super hot, so it made perfect sense for this to be the main event of one of the biggest shows of the year. I’m not really sure why Jesse Ventura had to be the special ref for this match, but I didn’t mind. He looked ridiculous in a bandana, puffy shirt, and jeans, but he fit well in the role of “Guy who might screw over the babyfaces for money.” Before the match started, he established himself as the authority figure by forcing the managers to ringside (as if they were going to stand in the ring the whole time), then he moved the tag ropes to adjacent corners for some reason. Whatever, do what you want, Governor. Three of the four men in the match did a really good job. DiBiase was one of the hardest-working heels ever, and he basically had to do this match by himself, because Andre couldn’t do much. I still wish we could have seen a proper DiBiase-Hogan feud for the title. Savage and Hogan took turns getting beaten up, but they were so ridiculously over that the crowd was hot for pretty much everything that happened. Remember when Hogan said Elizabeth was their secret weapon? Well, at the end of the match, the Mega-Powers got knocked to the floor, Liz jumped on the apron and ripped her skirt off, distracting The Mega Bucks long enough for the faces to recover and get the win. It was perfect, and it was shocking because women in wrestling hadn’t really been used like that before. Most of today’s fans could care less, because they’ve seen half the Divas roster naked already, so Elizabeth standing on the apron in what was probably a one-piece swimsuit is no big deal. In 1988, it was huge. One of the best parts about this whole thing was that it was a story that basically started at WrestleMania III, and it lasted until Survivor Series 1989. Of course there were twists and turns along the way, but it was long-range storytelling, and that’s something that really can’t be done anymore.
What I Didn’t Like: As much as I respect Andre the Giant, his offense is the shits. He basically sat on people or choked them in this match, and every second he was in the ring just felt like a waste. For some reason, the Mega-Powers thought the coolest thing ever was a slow-motion handshake. It wasn’t. It looked ridiculous, and these two did that handshake at least four times during/after the match. I’m surprised there weren’t lighting and sound effects to go along with it. I expected Bobby Heenan and Virgil to be more involved in the match. Really, all they did was drop their jaws and yell at Ventura when Elizabeth took her clothes off.
Final Thoughts: SummerSlam 88 wasn’t a great show. It was filled with 5-6 minute matches, most featuring guys who could have had better matches with better opponents. The show built up some talents who needed to be built up, and it progressed some stories that maybe could have ended here. Really, the only noteworthy event from this show was Ultimate Warrior’s IC Championship win over Honky Tonk Man. It’s kind of like the first WrestleMania. That first show wasn’t about what happened on the show, it was just that it happened. This was pretty new territory for the WWF, but they would grow this event over the course of the next few years to where it truly was a landmark PPV with important matches. In other words, it became the “biggest party of the summer.”
That’s it for this one. Like I said in the intro, I welcome your feedback. From now until SummerSlam, I will be posting these twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I hope you enjoy them as much as I (hope to) enjoy re-watching the last 25 years of this classic event. Thanks for reading.