WrestleWatch Vault: WWF Summerslam 1998
I'm back, baby! I needed some time to get my mind and body right, and I'm just in time for that big Summerslam comeback, like my boy HB-Shizzle. Last time I wrote one of these bad boys, it was for WrestleMania 36, which feels like a lifetime ago. In recent years, I've mentioned how the years seem to be going faster. Not 2020 though. Coronavirus, or COVID, is still a thing, our state borders are shut, and Kanye West announced a bid to become US president. Would he really be any worse than Trump, though?
So my goal this year was to get fit enough to go to work. And damn, has that ever come to fruition! I was broke earlier this year to the point that I couldn't pay bills, thanks to a silly decision to help a friend that was 100% going to pay me back, honest!... so getting back to work was crucial. It was already a big time personal goal of mine, but now it was necessary if I wanted to continue living where I do and not moving back to Mum's. So I was physically feeling pretty good through most of the year thanks to a lot of hard work and lifestyle changes. In June, I dipped my toes into the water with a day's work. Hey, I didn't collapse at the end of it. Cool. Then two days. Fine. Then came Term 3. One day at a new school became 4, which I was able to handle, and then I was offered 5 the next week. I was a bit sore and tired, but nothing crippling. So life is good, I'm better than I've been in years, physically, mentally, financially... it's all good.
So here we go. I actually wrote this review several months ago. I always planned a Summerslam comeback, depending on how things were going, and I'm happy to say it's best case scenario. Diving into the Vault for Summerslam 1998, with the 2020 instalment right around the corner! I'm now actually nearing the end of 1999 for my Attitude Era binging, so the next Vault review will likely be a 2000 show.
So it's time. After 4 long months.... LET'S DO THIS?!?!?
It's the biggest party of the summer! Or if you live in Australia, the winter. I mean, this year had my 30th birthday, but fuck it, Summerslam still wins. Long considered the second most important event on the WWF calendar, behind Wrestlemania, Summerslam has produced some of the most classic matches and events in the history of the company. Summerslam 2002 remains my favourite WWF/E PPV of all time.
Today, though, we're continuing our journey through the Attitude Era. Considering my initial exposure to the famed period was compilation VHS tapes from my best mate Jason, whatever shows I could find at the video shop, and the WWF Attitude sticker book and PS1 video game, it's been really cool to actually watch- and occasionally evaluate- the AE show by show.
Stone Cold Steve Austin is the hottest thing in the WWF, after defeating Shawn Michaels for the title at Wrestlemania, Vince McMahon targeted him harder than ever, not wanting a redneck like him representing the company as champion. First, he tried with Dude Love. Then, he tried with Kane- who took the belt away from Austin for a whole 24 hours at the King of the Ring. At Summerslam, Stone Cold faces "the conscience of the WWF", the Undertaker. Vince doesn't like Taker either, but he's a far better option than Austin. Also tying into this feud is the fact that Kane, Undertaker's younger brother, is aligning himself with the Deadman in targeting Austin.
On the undercard, the faction warfare between D-Generation X and the Nation of Domination continues, with the animosity between the leaders- Triple H and The Rock- reaching a boiling point. They wrestled at Fully Loaded for Rock's Intercontinental title in a 2/3 Falls match, but it ended in a draw at the 30 minute time limit. They run it back at Summerslam in a ladder match- I believe the first one since HBK vs. Razor at Summerslam 1995- which feels like an eternity before this event, thanks to the drastic changes the WWF has gone through in 3 years.
Sunday Night Heat
A few weeks before this event, the program Sunday Night Heat began on the USA Network. So, prior to the actual Summerslam PPV starting, a live edition of Heat aired from the site of Summerslam, the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City. Or, as a sign in the crowd says- MSG stands for "McMahon's Sacred Ground." Bet Vince loved that one. We get an early look at the Summerslam set- as is customary in MSG, they use a smaller entrance, this time with steel gates bathed in red lighting. I guess it was to hammer home the "highway to hell" tagline they were running with leading into this show.
The ring explodes with a bombardment of fireworks. WWF were not stingy with their pyro budget in the Attitude Era!
The familar cry of "Oh, oh, Shawn" blasts through the speakers, and out comes the Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels, to join JR and Shane McMahon on guest commentary! He gets his full pyro, despite his small role on the headset.
Match 1: Too Much (Brian Christopher & Scott Taylor) def. LOD 2000 (Animal & Hawk)
Thoughts: Very basic match. Originally, Droz came out to team with Animal, but Hawk staggered out and sent him to the back. The storyline was that Hawk was battling some personal problems, and although it's not stated explicitly, it's implied that he's wrestling under the influence of alcohol. HBK notes that wrestling and partying don't always mix- and a younger Shawn knew all about that. Christopher and Taylor- a couple of years before they were "Too Cool", I believe- get the upset victory when Hawk collides with Animal, falling off the top rope when he attempts the Doomsday Device. Just there to advance the story a little more than anything, the action wasn't anything notable. (*)
Sable makes an appearance in a stunning dress, and she is interviewed by Shawn Michaels. HB-Shizzle asks her who her mystery partner will be to take on Marc Mero and Jacqueline. She won't give it up, but notes that it won't be one of the Oddities (who are set to face Kaientai). Sable and Shawn dance with each other for some reason to end the segment.
Match 2: Gangrel def. Dustin Runnels
Thoughts: Decent stuff here, it speaks to how WWF were behind Gangrel to a degree in his early days- he had only debuted in the company a couple of weeks prior, and he got a match in the Garden. Dustin completely dropped the Goldust gimmick to play a religious zealot character that really wasn't catching on, but to his credit, he had noticeably slimmed down from the start of the year. A little back and forth action ends when Gangrel nails the Implant DDT. (**)
Match 3: DOA (Skull & 8 Ball) def. Bradshaw & Vader
Thoughts: Bradshaw and Vader play the "reluctant partners" deal, which was a little too similar to what the LOD did in the opening match for my liking. But we had a bit of a hoss battle there with the smashmouth biker duo, and proceedings end when Bradshaw was out of position- it's speculated that he might not be 100% after losing in the Brawl for All, which may be a shoot. Bradshaw was legitimately knocked out by Bart Gunn 6 days earlier on Raw. No way would WWE let a wrestler in the ring so soon these days. Anyway, Vader collides with Bradshaw, and 8-Ball rolls Big Van up for the win. Quite the fall from grace for a man that was a main eventer in WCW, feuding with Sting, Ric Flair and Cactus Jack. (*1/2)
Backstage, Stone Cold has a sledgehammer- in case he gets jumped by Kane or Undertaker. Patterson and Brisco try to get him to give up the weapon, but to no avail. A hearse rolls up, and Austin, believing Kane or Taker would be inside, smashes the vehicle up with a hammer. Heat ends with Austin getting a forklift and using it to lift the hearse. Chaos!
More pyro! And some knock off porn music blares as Val Venis makes his entrance. "Hello ladies", he growls. "I came, I saw... and I came again!" Attitude Era, ladies and gentlemen!
Match 1: WWF European Championship- D'Lo Brown def. Val Venis via DQ (at 15:24)
Thoughts: This was actually an excellent match to start the show. Val was fairly new to the WWF, debuting in May, and D'Lo was starting to break out of his underling role in the Nation, so both guys wrestled back and forth like they had something to prove. Story of the match was D'Lo's chest protector. JR says that the pec injury should have healed a month ago, while King defends it. Venis rips the vest off D'Lo and puts it on himself to hit the Money Shot (top rope splash) with, but referee Jimmy Korderas stops him, and inadvertently crotches him on the turnbuckle. An understandably frustrated Val shoves him, and Jimmy calls for the DQ. Okay, that's some bullshit. That fuck finish hurts my match rating a little... (***1/4)
Match 2: Handicap Match- The Oddities (Kurrgan, Golga & Giant Silva) def. Kaientai (Taka Michinoku, Sho Funaki, Dick Togo and Men's Teioh) (at 10:10)
Thoughts: This was more fun than it had any right to be. The Oddities gimmick was catching on, but their entrance and victory celebration was cut from the Network, as they had the Insane Clown Posse doing their theme music. However, we see Shaggy 2 Dope & Violent J at ringside with Luna. The last time Kurrgan got a featured spot on PPV was the Survivor Series, and it was bad, but Kaientai make him and the other monsters look amazing by bumping like maniacs. The big men beat the little men, and I got a big time kick out of it all. (**1/2)
Match 3: Hair vs. Hair Match- X-Pac def. Jeff Jarrett (at 11:11- make a wish!)
Thoughts: This was really good action, as you might expect from two young veterans. Really fast and fluid wrestling action, with X-Pac popping the crowd with his martial arts kicks, following by a risky springboard dive to the outside. Jarrett gets control and punishes Pac with the figure four, but the DX rep doesn't tap. X-Factor connects for a near fall. Southern Justice try to interfere, but Pac seizes Double J's guitar and blasts him with it behind the ref's back for the win. (***)
Post-match, half the locker room comes out to hold Jarrett down while Pac shaves his hair. Howard Finkel is there, after Jarrett and Southern Justice shaved his head on Heat, and he's wearing a DX shirt, having the time of his life helping with the clippers.
Interview time with The Rock. He talks about damaging Triple H's leg, making it hard for him to climb the ladder. Rock isn't quite the catchphrase machine he would become, but his charisma definitely shines through. (Side note- the interview begins with a close-up of the IC title, which still had the old WWF block logo. Probably the only part of the Federation's presentation which hadn't yet upgraded to the Attitude scratch logo.)
Match 4: Mixed Tag Match- Edge & Sable def. Marc Mero & Jacqueline (at 8:26)
Thoughts: Edge- making his WWF PPV debut- arrives last as the surprise partner, making his way through the MSG crowd. He starts with Mero, sending him flying around the ring. The Marvellous One retreats to the outside and the future Rated R Superstar takes him out with a wild dive. Early Edge had a much more high flying style in those days. Sable and Jacqueline go at it, but Jackie soon runs away. Sable tries to get Mero with the Sable Bomb but Jacqueline stops her. Sable hits Jackie with the TKO and Mero stops the 3 count from going down. Even though it had the "men vs. men, women vs. women" rule, they didn't shy away from a little intergender action (not that kind of action, get your minds out of the gutter!). Mero takes a top rope... Sable-canrana? A little comedy spot follows when Jacqueline falls face first into Mero's crotch. The finish comes when Edge hits Mero with the Downward Spiral (flatliner) and then splashes Sable onto Mero for the victory. Pretty decent stuff all-in-all, and a good first impression for Edge. (**)
Interview with Mankind, Mr. McMahon and Michael Cole. Mankind doesn't think he'll have Kane by his side to defend the tag titles, but Vince talks him into it. Mrs. Foley's baby boy has 13 words for the Outlaws- "how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" Mankind was beginning his transition from "tormented soul" to a more comedic character- which would turn out to be some of the most lucrative work of his career.
Match 5: Lion's Den Match- Ken Shamrock def. Owen Hart (w/ Dan Severn) (at 9:16)
Thoughts: This was a very unique match, taking place within a separate theatre in MSG, within the confines of a cage that vaguely resembled the UFC Octagon, but considerably smaller. Hart and Shamrock trade takedowns and holds. At one point, Shamrock springboards off the cage and lands a kick. It's the kind of move that MMA fans back then would have thought was "pro wrestling bullshit"... until Anthony Pettis pulled it off for real in 2010. After using the cage wall to pull himself out of Owen's Sharpshooter, he locks the Sole Surviving Hart in the ankle lock for the submission victory, causing Severn to walk off in disgust. Pretty inventive and fun gimmick match, managing to stand out on a loaded card. (***1/2)
Interview with Stone Cold and Michael Cole. He's got his custom Smoking Skull championship belt, which has the new WWF scratch logo. He isn't going to give Vince McMahon the satisfaction of losing the belt to the Undertaker tonight.
Match 6: WWF Tag Team Championship- No DQ Match- The New Age Outlaws def. Mankind (at 5:16)
Thoughts: No Kane in sight. This match seems to be here to fulfill the "hardcore" quotient of the show, a bit of old fashioned carnage from Foley and co. The numbers game is working for Billy Gunn and Road Dogg. Mankind tries to make a comeback, managing to hip toss Gunn through a table in the corner, but soon after gets planted by an Outlaws double powerbomb through 2 chairs. A spike piledriver on the championship belt follows, and NAO rule the tag division once again. Bit of a one-sided beatdown and fairly short, but it accomplished the purpose of getting the tag titles back on an actual team after being a prop in the main event storylines for a few months. (**)
Post-match, Road Dogg does his "tag team champions of the worldddddddddddd!" bit, and they throw Mankind in the dumpster at ringside. Kane emerges from it, with a sledgehammer in hand! He strikes downwards, presumably crushing Foley, and the Outlaws bail. That sonna ma bitch!
The Chris Warren Band come out to ringside to do a live rendition of the DX theme. It's ladder match time.
Match 7: WWF Intercontinental Championship- Ladder Match- Triple H def. The Rock (at 26:01)
Thoughts: This is the match that took both Triple H and Rock from being "future stars" to being just "stars", period. With Chyna at ringside for Hunter, and Mark Henry at ringside for The Rock, the excitement and drama was high. We didn't see the death-defying stunts like HBK and Razor before them, or the Hardyz and Edge & Christian after them, it was more rooted in the psychology of beating each other down to a point where one person could climb the ladder and retrieve the gold. Rock pulled HHH off the ladder leg-first, causing further injury to Hunter's busted knee. Both would use the ladder as a weapon, including when Rock slammed HHH on the ladder, then hit the People's Elbow- which the New York crowd popped huge for. Henry threw powder in HHH's eyes. giving Rock the unfair advantage- so Chyna jumped in and hit The Rock with a low blow! Rock falls from the ladder, and Triple H gains IC gold once again. A true classic match, which elevated both men. (****)
Exclusive home video footage airs of The Rock refusing medical attention. He cuts a promo to the camera, telling Triple H that there is only one People's Champion. Nice little extra thrown in here.
JR and King on camera to discuss the main event. JR strongly hopes that Kane does not get involved. Well, we don't have long to find out!
Match 8: WWF Championship- Stone Cold Steve Austin def. Undertaker (at 20:52)
Thoughts: This had a big fight feel. The crowd has a lot of respect for Taker, but they lose their absolute shit for Austin. One guy had a life-size cardboard cut-out of Stone Cold! How did he get that into the arena? Austin looks in tremendous shape for this one, much more muscle definition, particularly in his traps and abs. Unfortunately, he gets knocked silly in an early spot where he clashes heads with the Deadman. Undertaker, ever the pro, guides him through some slower work until he gets his bearings back a little. Austin comes back with some work on the legs of Taker. Kane comes out, but Undertaker sends him to the back. Big spot follows as Taker chokeslams Austin from the apron back into the ring for a near fall. The action spills out into the rabid NYC faithful. One guy has a sign that says, "Vince fears talent". I never understand signs like these. So, you've paid money for some pretty good seats at the Garden, to watch a bunch of no-talent wrestlers? Okay then. The major spot of the match comes when Taker places Austin on the Spanish announcer's table and hits a leg drop from the top rope onto the table! Wild spot, although the table doesn't break fully, only cracking at first. That kinda sums up the story of the match- they were going for some cool stuff, but a lot of it didn't land right. Back in the ring, Taker keeps the offense up. Austin finds an opening and goes for the Stunner, but they kind of bump heads again and they both awkwardly fall to the mat. Taker hits a chokeslam and goes for the Tombstone, but Austin slips out. A bit of miscommunication as they collide in the corner and pause for a moment, then Taker powers Austin up and crotches him on the top rope. A short time later, quite suddenly, Austin hits a clean Stunner for the win. A bit of a rough match. It felt big time, but Stone Cold was clearly hurt early and they couldn't fully get on the same page from there. The effort was definitely there though. (**3/4)
Respect after the match as Taker hands the WWF Title to Stone Cold. Naww.
This was a strong outing by the WWF in the Attitude Era. Maybe buoyed by the occasion of Summerslam, or perhaps it was the magic of the Garden, but the wrestlers brought a great show to New York City on that night in 1998. Highlighted by The Rock vs. Triple H in a truly classic ladder match that "made" them, top to bottom the WWF had a young, hungry roster, with a crowd willing to spur them on at every turn. Even 22 years later, watching at home on TV, I could feel the heated atmosphere. Highly enjoyable show.
Until next time, take care,