Just blame it on Lex Luger. Blame it on the fact that he was such an uncharismatic person that he was on the yellow brick road to the WWF championship and still didn’t win it. When Hulk Hogan left the WWF after losing the belt to Yokozuna, Vince McMahon had his replacement. He was tall like Hogan. He was blond like Hogan (well maybe a young Hogan with more hair). And he was more muscular than Hogan. Vinnie Mac’s kind of guy right? He was going to be the one to take the torch that Hogan left and he was going to run with it. There were some problems though. He couldn’t connect with the fans. He couldn’t wrestle an entertaining match. And after McMahon pushed him as hard as he could, he pulled the plug. It was the SummerSlam of 1993 where the Lex Express was going to ride into town and snatch that championship belt from the dreaded Yokozuna. When Lex didn’t win the belt that night, I knew McMahon didn’t think he was going to be the guy. They put all that marketing effort into a guy who WCW wouldn’t even put their money behind. It was a mistake for McMahon, but hey, he gave it his best to try to replace Hogan.
If not for Lex being terrible, history could’ve changed, and not for the better.
The guy who was supposed to be passed the torch from Hogan before Hogan decided he would only lose to someone bigger than him (Yokozuna) was Bret Hart. He was already given a small reign as champion when it was time to take the title off Ric Flair. But he lost it in that horrible match on a horrible PPV (Wrestlemania IX unless you’re Alan) with a horrible ending in which Yoko won the title, only to lose it to Hogan in an impromptu match. Let’s just say that Bret was the back-up plan. It didn’t need to be like this had Hogan only lost the belt to Bret at SummerSlam in 1993 before he balked at doing a job to someone as small as Hart. It probably didn’t even cross his mind that Bret would’ve probably carried him to the best match of his career, thus making him look strong in losing.
The WWF was struggling at the time to try and connect again with the fans. They started Monday Night Raw the year before and were drawing nice ratings even if house shows were struggling. But this was Wrestlemania, and for one night, all was forgotten. And where better to have it than Madison Square Garden in New York where the original Wrestlemania was held.
Vince McMahon had it right on his plate. The biggest dream match in the history of professional wrestling. And he flinched.
In the summer of 1991, Ric Flair was unhappy with what was going to be a pay cut with WCW. He was scheduled to lose to Lex Luger at the Great American Bash, but was then subsequently fired as he didn’t want to drop the title without a new contract. Instead, Luger faced Barry Windham in a cage match with very little buildup and started a very forgettable championship reign. Across WCW arenas around the world, the loudest chants weren’t for Sting, or the newly crowned champ. The loudest chants were for Ric Flair. I went to a WCW event in the fall of 1991 and throughout most of the show was a chant of, “We want Flair”. But Flair was gone. He showed up on WWF television in the fall and had the old ten pounds of gold with him. Immediately, fans expected he and then WWF Champion Hulk Hogan to battle. It was a dream match that everyone had been wanting to see for at least 8 years. He started to become a thorn in Hogan’s side immediately. When Hogan lost the belt to the Undertaker at the Survivor Series, Flair was in the middle of it. And then on This Tuesday In Texas, which was just 5 days later on PPV, Hogan supposedly won the title back, but it was the held up. The title would be decided at the Royal Rumble. Ric Flair won the match by wrestling for close to one hour and outlasting everyone. It would seem that the logical challenger would be Hulk Hogan. Vince McMahon could then show the world that his champion was better than the old NWA champion. And it could be decided on the biggest stage in wrestling. Wrestlemania VIII was held at the Indiana Hoosier Dome. It could have been perfect. But McMahon flinched.
There were a couple of reasons why Vince would’ve flinched. For one, they went to Hogan vs. Flair very soon around the house show circuit and after a few runs, it wasn’t special anymore. And also, Vince has always been about pushing bigger guys. He saw a star in Sid Justice, formerly Sid Vicious. Sid was a huge guy with a jacked up physique who was supposed to be someone WCW was going to try and utilize as a top heel. He had one title match against Sting, but didn’t win it in an odd finish that saw Barry Windham dressed up as Sting and taking the pin. But the real Sting came out and then pinned Vicious. Yes, it was hoaky. But Vince came calling and Sid left WCW for New York. Initially, Vince put Sid with Hogan after SummerSlam 1991. Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior beat the team of the Iron Sheik who was at the time Colonel Mustafa, Sgt. Slaughter and their manager, General Adnan. Sid Justice was the referee. When Hogan and Warrior won, it was Hogan and Justice celebrating in the ring with Warrior no where to be found. If McMahon was going to flinch on the Flair vs. Hogan deal, this would be his backup. But who would Flair then wrestle?
In a hokey, but still effective storyline, Ric Flair promised the fans that he “had” Elizabeth before Randy Savage married her. The line was, “She was mine, before she was yours,” as if Elizabeth was some sort of property. Flair then showed pictures of himself with Elizabeth to further “prove” he was with Elizabeth before Savage was. Mean Gene Okerlund showed some investigative journalism later to prove that the pictures of Flair and Elizabeth were in fact doctored. Talk about going a long way for a storyline. Curt Hennig and Bobby Heenan promised to show some risque pictures of the lovely Elizabeth at Wrestlemania where Flair would defend his belt and against Savage. Talk about bait and switch. There were no pictures of Elizabeth. Instead of giving the WWF fans their dream match, Vince decided that Ric Flair vs. Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice was a better fit.
After the huge main event at Wrestlemania VI where The Ultimate Warrior beat Hulk Hogan for the World Heavyweight Championship, it was pretty much etched in stone that they would have a rematch at Wrestlemania VII. And after selling a ton of tickets at the Skydome in Toronto for Wrestlemania VI, Vince was going to try to do it one better. Actually he was going to try and do better than Wrestlemania III at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit where they claim to have put 93,000 butts in the seats. Wrestlemania VII with the Hogan vs. Warrior rematch was going to take place at the LA Coliseum, which can hold over 100,000 people. If you’ve ever seen Wrestlemania VII, you’ll know that Hogan vs. Warrior part two never happened, and it wasn’t held in the outdoor stadium in Los Angeles. Wrestlemania VII was held in the LA Sports Arena which barely holds 15% percent of what the LA Coliseum did, and it was main evented by Sgt. Slaughter as the champ and Hulk Hogan as the All American belt chaser.
How did we get there? Well, after Hogan was beaten by Warrior, the WWF struggled without Hogan. House show business was down and people weren’t really paying to see Warrior like they were Hogan. Let’s face it. Warrior was fun to watch jump up and down while shaking the ropes, but he wasn’t going to be the man. He was horrendous on interviews, couldn’t wrestle for long periods of time despite his awesome physique, which tells you a little bit of how he got that physique, and simply didn’t draw as well as Hogan did as a champion. Also, the Persian Gulf War was going on at the time, and Vince McMahon decided it would be topical if the main WWF storyline carried the same timeliness. Enter Sgt. Slaughter. But not as you’d think. This time the Sarge was as an Iraqi supporter with General Adnan and later, Col. Mustaffa, who is most well known as the Iron Sheik, in his corner. It’s a horrible storyline if you think about it. It was a fake sentiment created by a storyline that took advantage of a war situation. Typical classy wrestling.
Since there was no way the WWF was going to sell anywhere near the number of tickets needed for the LA Coliseum, they opted for the smaller LA Arena, but used the excuse that because the Iraqi supporting Slaughter was so hated, they were worried things could get out of control in an outdoor stadium and thus had to move indoors. But they never answered the question as to how they would fit all those fans who bought tickets into the smaller arena. It’s because they never sold enough tickets.
Dubbed, “The Ultimate Challenge”, Wrestlemania VI was a one match show. Everything on WWF TV at the time was done to build up this match. And there was good reason. It was the most important match for the company since Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant at Wrestlemania III. Hulk Hogan was on his way out to do a movie and the WWF needed The Ultimate Warrior to be the man to take his place. Actually, they needed someone hip to rejuvenate Hogan’s slightly stale act too. Warrior was probably the right guy since his popularity was at an all time high. But technically, the money in Warrior was in him chasing the title, not being the one to hold it for very long. Thinking back, it might not have been bad to give it to Rick Rude or Ted DiBiase, and then have Warrior chase them for the championship, rather than having Hogan drop it to Warrior. But then again, this was one of the biggest money matches in the history of the company. The Warrior was already Intercontinental Champion and his popularity was nearly as high, or higher at the time, than Hogan’s. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into people paying money to see him. It was a short lived feud, and one of the reasons babyface vs. babyface feuds don’t work is because once the match is over, the feud is probably over unless someone turns heel.
The build up was incredible for this match. They first touched each other at the Royal Rumble. They both threw everyone else over the top rope and the two of them were in the ring together. They both went into the ropes. Hogan dropped down, Warrior jumped over him, Hogan missed a clothesline as Warrior ducked it, and then they hit the double clothesline that put both of them on the floor. Then they finally came to blows at Saturday Night’s Main Event as they teamed up together in a match. After they won the match, the Genius and Mr. Perfect jumped them, dumping Hogan out of the ring. Warrior fought off both guys until Hogan came back in the ring and Warrior accidentally hit Hogan. It was at this time that I figured out, even as a young wrestling fan, that the belt was going to switch hands at Mania. When Warrior hit Hogan, there weren’t many boos. It was exactly what the WWF had wanted. Someone else who could take the ball and run with it. At least, thatâ€™s what they had thought, though it didn’t necessarily happen that way.
The rest of the card was very suspect. There weren’t any other top matches, and probably the hottest secondary feud was Dusty Rhodes vs. Randy Savage. They faced off in an inter-gender tag team match. It was Dusty Rhodes and his valet, Sapphire vs. the Macho King Randy Savage and Queen Sherri. The match was a joke, but in an interesting twist, Elizabeth came down ringside to support Dusty and Sapphire. It was never shown that she hated Savage, only that she hated Sheri. This was important, because Savage and Elizabeth would get back together at the following Wrestlemania in one of the greatest love stories ever seen. Rhodes and Sapphire won the match thanks to Elizabeth who tripped up Sherri. Sapphire had no wrestling experience and did one suplex that only looked like a suplex because Sheri bumped big for her. And, she should’ve stayed out of spandex.
Tomorrow night, WWE celebrates 21 years of SummerSlam, the “biggest party of the summer” as they’ve been calling recently. There have been 20 SummerSlam Events since 1988. But were all of them really worthy of being called the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th best PPV of the year? Absolutely not. So today I’ve decided to take a look and list what I consider the Top 10 Greatest SummerSlam Pay-Per-Views of All Time! So sit back, relax, and enjoy.
10. SummerSlam 1988
So we begin with the very first SummerSlam in 1988, live on PPV from Madison Square Garden in New York. The whole purpose of the creation of this PPV was for the WWE to compete with NWA’s Great American Bash, hoping to convert wrestling fans to save their hard-earned cash and purchase their show at the end of the summer as opposed to the Bash. This soon became the last of the “Big Four” PPVs, alongside Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, and of course, Wrestlemania. The main event was a highly-anticipated tag team match between Hulk Hogan and WWF Champion Randy Savage, collectively known as “The Mega Powers” against Ted Dibiase and Andre the Giant, collectively known as “The Mega Bucks”. Savage won a 16-Man Tournament at Wrestlemania IV, last defeating Dibiase to become champion. Hogan had teased prior to the show that Miss Elizabeth would showcase her “eenie, weenie bikini”, which is creepy in retrospect considering she is no longer with us.
Besides that huge match, the most memorable part of this Pay-Per-View was the Ultimate Warrior defeating the longest reigning WWF Intercontinental Champion in history – The Honky Tonk Man. Honky was scheduled to face Brutus Beefcake, but prior to the match, Beefcake was hospitalized by “The Outlaw” Ron Bass. Honky came out on the show and challenged anybody in the building to take the title and the undefeated Warrior came out and pinned him in thirty seconds to take the title, beginning the monster four year run that he would have in the WWF. Tag Team wrestling was definitely one of WWF’s high-points during this era, as Hart Foundation vs. Demolition was easily the best match on the show, followed slightly by the Rougeaus vs. The Bulldogs.