SummerSlam is easily one of WWE’s most beloved PPV series, having been around since 1988 when Vince was looing to expand his PPV calander, with this show being the last of the ‘Big Four’ shows to be initated (although the first Royal Rumble was only aired on TV, not PPV, so this show was not the last to be aired on PPV). But how did this great tradition start? How did that first event, SummerSlam 88, go down? Does it live up to it’s importance of being the very first SummerSlam?
Join me now for my Retro Review as I look back at this very historically important show.
Welcome to SummerSlam
We open with the old WWF ident, and I can’t begin to explain the warm, fuzzy feeling this invokes inside me when I see it. “The WWF—what the world is watching!” intones Mean Gene as the WWF logo hovers in a blue and orange sky. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world as a kid, and I still do.
After some scene-setting shots of the streets of New York and the outside of Madison Square Garden, we get a snazzy opening video where slow-mo shots of the Mega Bucks and the Mega Powers, as well as Bobby Heenan and Jesse Ventura, collide against a purple background as the very eighties-sounding, classic SummerSlam theme ushers us into the first in what would become one of the WWE’s most important, long-lasting show.
It’s fascinating in hindsight how many of the things we’d associate with the early SummerSlams are already in place from the start: the theme tune (which would certainly appear over the next couple of years), the logo, the blue aprons with the classic orange logo brandished across them. SummerSlam really had its identity set right from the start, unlike the presentation of the Survivor Series early on. Although this is the only one of the early SummerSlams that I can recall that had the year alongside the logo on the apron: SummerSlam 88. I guess they knew it would be a regular event, even then.
Gorilla welcomes us to the show from his vantage point high above the ring, and he’s joined by former WWF World Heavyweight Champion ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham for what I believe is the only time Graham would commentate at a PPV. I’m not sure if the face on his jumper is meant to be Jesse Ventura, but man is it garish. Graham bigs up Hulk Hogan, which is very kind of him when you consider how much of Graham’s gimmick Hogan stole.
The sound of boos forces Gorilla to send us to the ring as we kick into our first match.
The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers vs. The British Bulldogs
I’m not sure if this match was before or after Jacques Rougeau forced the Dynamite Kid to get dental work done, but it would be around this time, I’m sure. If the match was after, then this must have been an awkward encounter!
Basically, The Rougeaus are playing the epitome of 80s wrestling here, by being heels that come from somewhere that wasn’t America (or Britain). Crazy to think now, but these types of gimicks were really successful then, with fans loving to chant “USA! USA!” at those dastardly foreign heels. The Rougeaus always played it so well though, looking somehow innocent waving their little Stars and Stripes and pretending to love America.
This was a great old-school tag team match, with plenty of separating the ring and isolating people from their partners. The Bulldogs isolated Raymond in the early parts, using a combination of speed and power to keep him down the Rougeaus got the upper hand and isolated Davey Boy, slowing the pace down and punching Dynamite on the apron so as to cause a distraction for double teaming. Dynamite exploded in and did little to show how much pain he was in with his back but the Rougeaus eventually got the jump on him and beat him down with some lovely double team moves (Raymond throwing Dynamite into a Jacques gut buster was a particularly nice moment).
The Rougeaus kept the pressure on with double team moves and blatant cheating, which on one occasion prevented the ref seeing a Dynamite roll-up and a tag to Davey Boy. The Rougeaus were always very effective heels. Eventually, Dynamite just gets fed up and chops Jacques hard to the mat to make the hot tag. Things break down and Davey Boy gorilla press slammed Dynamite onto Jacques but the bell rings before the ref can count—it’s a time limit draw. The Rogeaus make to shake hands with the Bulldogs afterwards but sucker punch them instead, running away as the Bulldogs chase them all the way to the back.
This was a very enjoyable, solid opening encounter that felt a tad overlong during the Rougeaus beatdown of Dynamite, and the time limit draw ultimately felt like a bit of a cop-out, but otherwise, this is perhaps a bit of a lost gem in the SummerSlam canon and is definitely worth checking out.
Brutus Gets Beatdown
We see clips from that past weekend’s edition of Superstars where ‘Outlaw’ Ron Bass attacked Brutus Beefcake during the Barber’s match and choked with a whip before digging into his forehead with a spur in a genuinely violent moment—certainly for late-eighties WWF. The big red cross across the screen with white letters stating ‘censored’ was a cute move as you could still see glimpses of Beefcake’s blood beneath, rendering the cross useless, but it was a legit intense moment and actually pretty gripping. Gorilla goes on to say that Beefcake will not be calling Intercontinental Champion Honkey Tonk Man tonight but there will be a defence against the number one contender. This is the set-up for one of the most famous moments in SummerSlam history, here at SummerSlam 88.
Ken Patera vs. Bad News Brown
Bad News Brown had been a big star in Stampede and in Japan as Bad News Allen and I always thought they could have done more with him in the WWF, but he wasn’t a Warrior or Hogan and so they didn’t. This was Ken Patera’s run with the WWF after his stretch in prison and is pretty universally derided by fans and critics alike.
You can see the reason why here. Patera was just past his prime. This is a basic punch-kick fest and the crowd, although enthusiastic for Pantera at first, pretty quickly goes to sleep. In fact, they only really wake up for when Bad News moves and Patera posts himself before Brown finishes him with the Ghetto Blaster (such an underrated finisher). The are definitely audible cheers mixed in with the boos as Bad News wins. Moving swiftly on…
Backstage, Mean Gene has The Mega Powers in front of a green screen with their logo on it. I can’t remember that happening a lot on PPV at the time. Apparently, Elizabeth is their ‘secret weapon’ and the last thing the Mega Bucks will see is ‘the kiss of death.’ This point is then undersold by Elizabeth innocently blowing the camera a kiss. As we shall see, it wasn’t a kiss that was the secret weapon…
Ravishing Rick Rude (w/ Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan) vs. Junkyard Dog
The Rude audience insult for this match: “inner city sweathogs.” The old ones are the best. Even better are the pink tights he’s wearing with JYD’s face plastered all over them. That did make me laugh. JYD is over with this crowd. The Dog pounds Rude to start, knocking him out of the ring before pulling him back by the hair and pounding him some more. I didn’t expect to say Rude was the one letting the side down, but he’s clearly just filling in time as he goes to the rest holds. ‘The Brain’ gets some cheap shots in, because he’s ‘The Brain’, of course. JYD tries to smash Heenan off the apron and gets kneed in the back by Rude and dropped with a Russian legsweep. It’s then that Rude pulls his masterstroke.
Perched on top of the turnbuckles, Rude pulls his tights down to reveal another pair underneath emblazoned with the face of Cheryl Roberts—Jake Roberts’ then-wife. Rude drops a fist from the top before swivelling those hips with Cheryl’s face front and centre. This brings out an irate Jake, who sells his anger really well, pounding on Rude and knocking him to the outside before being pulled away by the ref and kicking the ropes in frustration. JYD didn’t look best pleased to be losing by DQ, with Jake then doing his best to apologise.
As a match, this was pretty much nothing, but as an angle, which in reality was all it was, it was very effective.
Backstage, the Honkey Tonk Man is extremely blase about Brutus not appearing and demands that the WWF send anyone out to face him, but he doesn’t want to know who because he loves surprises. This would not end well for Honkey.
The Bolsheviks (w/Slick) vs. The Powers of Pain (w/The Baron)
While the wrestling here wasn’t particularly notable (I’ve never been a fan of The Bolsheviks, even as a kid), what I did find striking on this watch was how this match almost functions as cosplay for a match you might have seen under Jim Crockett Promotions in 1986.
With their red trunks and singlets and Russian gimmick, The Bolsheviks are bargain basement Koloffs with only a portion of the talent. The Powers of Pain, meanwhile, are The Road Warriors, right down to the face paint and the symmetry between Barbarian and Animal and The Warlord and Hawk’s haircuts. Vince couldn’t get the Koloffs and he would only get the Road Warriors later, so he made his own versions. Cute. What makes it all the more amusing is that Vince had already introduced Demolition as his own version of The Road Warriors, and they were less of a clone team than The Powers of Pain.
This was simply designed to put The Powers of Pain over and it worked, with their powerslam-diving headbutt finisher proving particularly popular with the Garden Crowd.
Hacksaw Duggan Has No Love—But He Has a 2×4!
I used to love the Brother Love segments as a kid, even if I didn’t understand why they were interrupting the wrestling. I don’t know if the segments or the gimmick stand up nowadays, but I always remember them fondly.
Here, the good Brother (no, not them) was here to instruct Hacksaw Jim Duggan on bringing more love into his life. Brother Love did make the mistake however of comparing Duggan to Dino Bravo and questioning Duggan’s patriotism, which saw Duggan threaten to stick his length of good ol’ wood in Brother Love where the sun don’t shine and then give him a count of five to leave the ring before swinging the 2×4 at him.
Not a classic by any means, but I enjoyed it for what it was: good fun.
Intercontinental Champion The Honkey Tonk Man (w/Jimmy Hart) vs. The Ultimate Warrior
This is still one of the most famous moments in SummerSlam history and with good reason. The Honkey Tonk Man had been the champion for 454 days, still the longest IC title reign in WWF/E history. He had beaten pretty much anyone and everyone, often by bending the rules, so the WWF audience was desperate to see who would finally be the one to unseat Honkey.
What helped here is that no one in the live audience expected The Ultimate Warrior to appear at SummerSlam 88, so when his theme music kicked in and he charged down to the ring like a bull on speed, the crowd went wild. The Warrior was mega-over and this was the start of WWF giving him his mega-push. 30 seconds, three punches, a bodyslam, a flying tackle, a clothesline and a big splash and history was made. The bell rings and the crowd pop is insane!
A very masterfully designed and executed moment, and still of the greatest SummerSlam moments ever.
Don Muraco vs. Dino Bravo (w/Frenchi Martin)
This would be the last major match Don Muraco would have with the WWF, as far as I am aware. Dino Bravo did not enjoy the same success as he had as a heavyweight champion for Canada’s International Wrestling promotion. This was a rematch from their WrestleMania IV Heavyweight title tournament encounter.
Considering how talented both men were in their prime, their 1988 matches were a disappointment, but then they weren’t meant to be anything more than filler on the card. Bravo won a rather sluggish match here after Muraco dropped Frenchi (complete with ‘USA Is Not OK’ sign) to the floor with a well-placed fist, only for Dino to drop Muraco with a sidewalk slam. Pretty forgettable.
Backstage, Sean Mooney interviews Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura about his role as a special ref in the main event. In particular, Mooney to know why ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase put a was of dollar bills in his pocket. I can’t argue with Jesse’s argument—that if someone puts money in your pocket, you’re not going to give it back—but he doesn’t convince anyone that he’s not been bought off.
WWF World Tag Team Champions Demolition (w/Jimmy Hart & Mr Fuji) vs. The Hart Foundation
Simply put, this is the first classic match to take place at SummerSlam. A great old-school tag team match, the Hart Foundation were insanely over with the fans, having not long turned face, while Demolition are an excellent foil, more than capable of looking after themselves in the ring but utilising short cuts and cheap shots for that all-important heat.
The Hart Foundation started strong, keeping Demolition on their toes with a combination of Bret’s speed and brains and ‘The Anvil’s’ brawn. It took Bret ramming himself straight into the corner post for Demolition to get the advantage. Ax and Smash worked on the hurt arm, ramming Bret into the ring post outside, as well as using their managers to their advantage by having them distract the ref so the Demolition boys could double team Bret.
The Hart Foundation gave the people false hope when Bret made the hot tag to ‘The Anvil’, only for the ref to send Jim back outside as he was distracted by Demolition when the tag happened. So you can imagine the size and intensity of the pop when Bret finally did make the hot tag. ‘The Anvil’ exploded into action, with an especially impressive slingshot dive to the outside really standng out.
Unfortuantely for The Foundation boys, a distraction allowed Ax to nail Bret with Jimmy Hart’s megaphone for the win and to retain the titles. An brilliant match with an ending that allowed Bret and Jim to still look strong, this would pay-off when The Hart Foundation would finally take the tag titles from Demolition at SummerSlam ’90.
Backstage, a dazed and confused Honkey Tonk Man tells ‘Mean Gene’ that he agreed to wrestle anyone, but he didn’t agree to wrestle a warrior. Not usually a condition that comes up, I’d imagine. Honkey proclaims he will get his title back, but he never did.
Big Boss Man (w/Slick) vs. Koko B. Ware
Out of all the matches on the card you could reasonably describe as ‘filler’, this was the best of those matches as Koko put on a solid effort, looking really impressive with a diving headbutt onto the Boss Man as he was tied up in the ropes and nailing a big missile dropkick on the big man.
Ironically, this was meant to be a showcase for the Boss Man as it was his first WWF PPV match. And yet, it was by no means a squash. Good for Koko but not so good for Boss Man, who didn’t look as dominant as he should. Still, we probably got a better match out of it, with Boss Man hitting the side walk slam for the win. Boss Man looked massive here. He really slimmed down a few years later—check out how slimmed down he was in 1991!
Backstage, The Ultimate Warrior give a batshit crazy promo to Sean Mooney where he says he’ll take on any and all comers. They know where to find him: he’ll be riding the next space ship to parts unknown! My favourite bit was the little glance askew Mooney gives to someone off-camera, the expression of which appearing to say “the crazy b**tard’s off on one again.”
Hercules vs. Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts
Another where there isn’t neccesarily a lot to say, oddly enough. It’s just kind of there. Jake, at least, is captivating, burning with his usual cool intensity. Hercules, however, seems to have a thing for chin locks in this match that take up a bit too much time. ‘The Snake’ however makes the match watchable and his DDT seems to come out of nowhere in the end and lands with a beautiful snap for the 1-2-3. Hercules is notable for being one of the few superstars to just take Damian crawling all over him instead of jumping up and running away as soon as he felt the cold slither of scales upon him. It’s one thing he has over Earthquake, anyway…
The Mega Powers (Hulk Hogan & Randy Savage w/ Elizabeth) vs. The Mega Bucks (Ted DiBiase & Andre the Giant w/ Bobby Heenan & Virgil) (Special Guest Referee: Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura)
We get a pre-match video recap of the events leading to this match, and while it’s quite primitive compared to today’s standadrd, it does go to show that the WWF was a lot more forward thinking at the time compared to the competition.
If you are more familiar with comtemporary wrestling than the 80s grapples, it’s understandable that this might not seem like a big main event. You can a get a tag team main event like this between big stars any week on Raw or SmackDown, or even AEW Dynamite. But consider this in the context of the time. This was only the first year where the WWF put on three PPV’s in a year. Three. Wow. Also take into account that weekly TV featured a lot of matches with enhancement talent, and you realise that a big match with actual big superstars in it on PPV was a big deal. And certainly it feels like a big deal, what with Jesse Ventura leading a sense of intrigue and importance to proceedings and the crowd being super-hot.
This is actually a really fun little match, with Bobby and Andre starting by trying to shake Jesse’s hand (playing up to the idea that Jesse is on the take) and Hogan and Savage starting off hot and actually working well as a team, with quick tags and double-team moves and everything—like a propert tag team! Colour me surprised, but they do make an actually good team together. Andre was pretty much immobile at this point, so DiBiase does a lot of the heavy lifting and he does it well, bumping like mad for both Hogan and Savage and also looking good on the offensive. They make the most of Andre, having him come in for brief bursts, headbutting Savage and sitting several times on Hogan’s chest.
The ending is still one of the most famous WWF moments. Hogan and Savage are out on the floor after being attacked by Andre and Jesse is trying to count them out. But then Elizabeth, the secret weapon, appears on the apron. Elizabeth pulls the bottom of her dress off to reveal her underwear (it actually looks like the bottom of a wrestling leotard in all honesty), the idea being that this gesture is enough to hypnotise the opposition to stop the count and allow Hogan and Savage to get back into the ring. It’s sexist nonsense of course, but it actually does stop Andre and DiBiase and it does stop the count, although Jesse honestly looks more confused than aroused. Still, it give Savage the chance to nail Andre with a flying axehandle, and a flying elbowdrop on DiBiase, followed by the legdrop from Hogan is enough to earn the pinnfall victory. Famously, Jesse tries a slow count so Savage slams his hand down for the third and final slap of the mat.
So: a very fun main event that doesn’t follow the usual Hogan formula, makes good but sparing use of Andre and lets DiBiase shine. Works for me!
SummerSlam ’88 is a strange show in some respects. Yes, by the standards of the time, a lot of WWF PPV’s had a bit of filler on them. However, the Brown-Patera, Bravo-Muraco, Powers of Pain-Bolsheviks and Roberts-Hercules matches aren’t great and slow the show down.
However, the good points are very good. There are three great matches (all tag matches too: Bulldogs-Rougeaus, Demolition-Hart Foundation and Mega Bucks-Mega Powers), a daft but fun Brother Love segment, an all-time great moment with the Ultimate Warrior dethroning the Honkey Tonk Man, and even a decent match between The Big Boss Man and Koko. On balance,considering this was the first SummerSlam too, instantly making it important whatever the quality, the good outweighs the bad and it’s actually a very enjoyable show overall. It’s certainly better than the PPV that proceeded it, WrestleMania IV, and even the show after it, Survivor Series ’88, making it the best WWF PPV of 1988 by my reckoning, even if it’s not perfect.
This is how the legacy of SummerSlam begins. It would only get better from here.