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On this Day in Pro Wrestling History... 25 Years Ago, WWE Creates the First SummerSlam PPV in 1988 (plus more!)
By Mr. Tito
Aug 29, 2013 - 9:04:38 PM
ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... 25 years ago, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) held its first ever SummerSlam event. Enjoying early success on the new Pay Per View feature of Cable Television thanks to Wrestlemania and Survivor Series, the WWE expanded their PPV tent to try a show at the end of summer. The WWE first created Wrestlemania during 1985 (closed circuit television then Pay Per View) and then tried a survival based tag team specialty Pay Per View called Survivor Series during 1987. Survivor Series 1987's success proved that wrestling fans wanted more bigtime events so planning was underway to create yet another super event on Pay Per View. Except this was like a sequel to Wrestlemania without gimmick matches...
SummerSlam 1988, on this day in pro wrestling history, was held on August 29th, 1988 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. That's right, the WWE held the first show at their mothership and the show delivered huge. The WWE opted to switch "Macho Man" Randy Savage from a midcard heel to a Main Event babyface who actually won the WWE Title at Wrestlemania 4. Savage was a fine Intercontinental Champion through 1987 and drew lots of interest for his feud against Ricky Steamboat. The guy was getting naturally over and he had an ace up his sleeve: a beautiful valet named Miss Elizabeth. As a heel, Savage drew heat by belittling her and blaming her for any shortcomings he had against opponents. But as a babyface, Savage could embrace Elizabeth and translate the Macho Madness into something to cheer for.
How Savage won the WWE Title is where it gets interesting... Rumor has it that the WWE wanted Savage to become Intercontinental Champion again by defeating the Honky Tonk Man. Honky Tonk defeated Ricky Steamboat after Steamboat expressed to WWE officials that he'd like more time off to spend with his family shortly after winning the Intercontinental Title at Wrestlemania 3 in 1987. So the WWE put the belt around Honky's waist and then moved Honky Tonk onto Randy Savage where WWE officials wanted to return to Intercontinental Championship to Savage. Honky Tonk went bold and reportedly threatened to jump to the NWA (WCW) promotion with the Intercontinental Title if he was booked to lose the title to Macho Man. This wasn't from the Honky Tonk Man being petty, but his long-term WWE contractual status wasn't certain (no guaranteed contracts back then) and the WWE Creative Team couldn't definitively tell Honky Tonk Man how they would use him after losing the Intercontinental Title. With Savage turned into a babyface yet unable to win the Intercontinental Championship, Vince McMahon and the creative team at the time had to reconsider their use of Savage. He was a highly successful wrestler in the midcard and was capable of putting on great matches. Randy Savage was ready for the main event.
For Wrestlemania 4 during 1988, the booking was going to have "Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase win the WWE Title. But Dibiase helped cause the WWE Title Tournament at Wrestlemania 4 through scheming with Andre "the Giant" to hand him the WWE Title after Andre beat Hogan in a controversial fashion at Saturday Night's Main Event. Wouldn't make sense to give the WWE Title to the heel that caused the title to be vacant anyway. Better yet with Wrestlemania 4... Why give the WWE Title back to Hulk Hogan? Just wasting time to give the WWE Title to Hogan or Dibiase. Thus, with Randy Savage available and him getting over not only as a midcarder, but as a successful Intercontinental Champion, vertical movement for Savage in the WWE made sense. He was ready to become WWE Champion. At Wrestlemania 4, both Hulk Hogan and Andre saw a double disqualification against each other and that cleared the way for a finale between Ted Dibiase vs. Randy Savage. Savage won his first WWE Title but thanks in part to Hulk Hogan successfully interfering with a chair to counter Andre's attempted interference. Hulk Hogan's assistance in Savage's WWE Title victory made them fast friends and the union between Andre and Dibiase already existed... SummerSlam 1988's main event was set.
Actually, the Mega Powers were formed long before Wrestlemania 4, at least unofficially. After a match between Savage and the Honky Tonk Man on Saturday Night's Main Event for the Intercontinental Title during October 1987. Honky Tonk was disqualified when the Hart Foundation (Bret "the Hitman" Hart, Jim "the Anvil" Neidhart) attacked. A brutal beatdown of Savage ensued and Honky, in a rare instance of domestic violence in pro wrestling for 1987, shoved Miss Elizabeth. Upset, she ran to the backstage area to get help. She brought Hulk Hogan with her and he cleaned house. For making the save, Randy Savage shook Hulk Hogan's hand and Savage, Elizabeth, and Hogan would salute fans in the ring. This friendship with Hogan solidified Savage as a babyface and he was quickly getting over. Now, fans could see Savage play a cool babyface who had a really hot chick with him in Miss Elizabeth. Instead of being upset at Savage's antics towards Elizabeth, they could now be in awe of this cool guy with this incredible looking woman by his side. By Wrestlemania 4's tournament, WWE's booking team led by Vince McMahon was convinced that Randy Savage was ready to be WWE Champion.
Hogan's assistance of Savage's Wrestlemania 4 WWE Title victory just poured gasoline over a growing babyface fire... The WWE suddenly went from just having 1 top babyface in Hogan to 2 top babyfaces with Hogan and Savage together with an added bonus of Miss Elizabeth. In fact, Randy Savage was trusted to carry the company while Hogan Hogan had some scheduled time off after Wrestlemania 4 (I believe to film the WWF movie No Holds Barred). Savage feuded with Ted Dibiase, but there was always that Andre the Giant around to attack. After one such attack, it prompted Savage to challenge Dibiase/Andre to a tag match at the new SummerSlam event. His partner would be none other than the returning Hulk Hogan. The SummerSlam hype would bill the teams as the MEGA POWERS with Hogan and Savage while Dibase and Andre were dubbed the MEGA BUCKS. Imagine that, a tag team match that wasn't for a title was able to draw crazy money...
This match-up put SummerSlam on the map instantly and solidified the WWE's early Pay Per View business. The hype helped SummerSlam, in the early days of Pay Per View, draw 500,000 buys and it actually outdrew Wrestlemania 4 which had 485,000 buys. SummerSlam 1988 would remain the top selling WWE Pay Per View until Wrestlemania 5 during 1989 scored more buys with 650,000 buys. It would take Savage and Hogan breaking up as a tag team and headlining Wrestlemania 5 to defeat that buyrate record. It wasn't until 1998 when Wrestlemania 14 had 730,000 buys that Wrestlemania 5's record would be defeated and that was with more homes having Cable television in 1998 compared to 1989. Considering the infancy of the Pay Per View market at the time, the business that Hogan and Savage were able to draw together was remarkable.
The match, itself, at SummerSlam 1988 was as good as expected for matches held at the time and ones that involved the entertainer, Hulk Hogan, and the very limited due to age and injury, Andre the Giant. The Mega Powers and the Mega Bucks went back for most of the match until the end where Andre/Dibiase got the upperhand. Just as they were about to finish Savage/Hogan off, Miss Elizabeth appeared and revealed DAT ASS:
Both Andre and Dibiase, along with special guest referee Jesse Ventura, were stopped in their tracks to observe Miss Elizabeth without a dress. She appeared on the ring aprin and tore it off to shock the heels into eventually losing. For 1988, this was unheard of and got her crazy over in the process. Coming out of SummerSlam, the Mega Powers with Miss Elizabeth were an unstoppable force until the February 1989 edition of the televised Main Event show when the Mega Powers broke up... Savage's became jealous of Hulk Hogan and believed that he was trying to steal Miss Elizabeth for him. This paranoia boiled over at the Main Event television show during a tag match against Big Bossman and Akeem when Elizabeth was bumped to the ground by accident, Hulk Hogan took him to the back, and then Savage was left to fend for himself against those two big wrestlers. Savage was furious and attacked Hogan in a jealous rage about Elizabeth and Hogan wanting a shot at the WWE title. This would set up Wrestlemania 5 perfectly and that show would hold the WWE Pay Per View buys record for 9 years.
SummerSlam 1988 did have other matches, but most only remember 1 other match from this show. Current Intercontinental Champion Honky Tonk Man was set to defend his Intercontinental Championship against Brutus "the Barber" Beefcake but injury (storyline and/or real life) kept Beefcake out of the match. Honky Tonk Man held the Intercontinental Title for a record 64 weeks between 1987 and 1988 and his time had finally come to drop the title. Only so many false finishes, disqualifications, and cheap wins that you could run by fans before it stopped drawing. Honky Tonk Man had a great run with the Intercontinental Title and for much of his reign, he had the "pay to see this guy lose" vibe. Yet time after time, he'd escape the night with the Intercontinental Title still around his waist. The act was wearing thin and it was time for the WWE to move on. Beefcake getting injured was a blessing to the Ultimate Warrior because it enabled 500,000 households watching on Pay Per View and the many afterward renting the VHS copy of the event (including yours truly) to see the Warrior be unleashed and destroy the Honky Tonk Man within moments.
The WWE acquired the "Dingo Warrior" from World Class Championship Wrestling and opted to rename him as the Ultimate Warrior. With facepaint, a chiseled physique, and incredible theme music by composer Jim Johnston (who should be a WWE Hall of Famer!), the Ultimate Warrior was an instant success. Thus, when Honky Tonk Man made the bold challenge for anyone to come down, the fans erupted when they heard the Warrior music and then see him squash Honky Tonk to win the Intercontinental Title. It was quite a sight to see and it made the Ultimate Warrior an instant success in the pro wrestling industry. He would ride the momentum of this night until he was crowned 2 and a half years later at Wrestlemania 6 during 1990. Timing is everything in pro wrestling and the planets were aligned perfectly for the Warrior to win big at SummerSlam 1988.
SummerSlam 1988 was a major success ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY, 25 years ago...
BONUS ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY
SUMMERSLAM 1992 - Held on August 29th, 1992 and held in London, England, it remains the only "Big 4" Pay Per View shows to be held outside of North America. The show actually featured a Wrestlemania 7 rematch between "Macho Man" Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior. That match ended in a countout and is mostly forgotten in the realms of WWE history as it seemed to care more about setting up the Survivor Series 1992 match than be a good match on its own. The bigger match, possibly thanks to the home court advantage of one wrestler was Bret "the Hitman" Hart vs. British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith for the Intercontinental Title. The WWE actually played up real life stuff for this match, as Davey Boy Smith married Bret's sister, Diana Hart. They even involved other Hart family members acting as conflicted between choosing to support Davey Boy or Bret. It added some heat for the match which was probably more important to Davey Boy who was attempting to grow as a singles wrestler. Bret Hart was about to become WWE champion later in 1992.
Fans were heavily behind Davey Boy Smith and exploded when Davey Boy countered Bret Hart's sunset flip with a unique pin involving the legs pushed forward that many wrestlers would use for years to come. Reported booking plans of the time were to have Shawn Michaels defeat Bret Hart for the Intercontinental Title but Hart convinced management to give Davey Boy the big London SummerSlam win instead. Quite possibly, Bret's push for Davey Boy to win in London instead of dropping the title himself to Michaels could have added heat towards Hart vs. Michaels in the future years. Michaels would eventually beat Davey Boy for the Intercontinental Title during November 1992 and Davey Boy would soon leave the WWE for disputed reasons that led to a termination (Ultimate Warrior was also terminated at the same time). Davey Boy would enjoy an all expense paid vacation with WCW during 1993 before returning to the WWE during 1994. He would hold his own as an upper midcarder, but could never capitalize fully on the big SummerSlam 1992 moment afforded to him by Bret.
SUMMERSLAM 1994: If you LOVE the Undertaker, you HAVE to see this show. What if the Undertaker could fight himself? In many fighting games, you can select the same character... Thus, if you were curious to see Ryu vs. Ryu in the Street Fighter games, it could happen. The WWE actually tried this in 1994 for SummerSlam 1994. The Undertaker fought many hosses or lardass wrestlers during the mid-1990's and they all came together to help Yokozuna defeat the Undertaker at Royal Rumble 1994 in a Casket Match. The Undertaker would remain off WWE television until the WWE started staging "sightings" segments of the Undertaker. Then, "Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase claimed to have found the Undertaker and began to manage him for matches. Paul Bearer, the Undertaker's real manager, claimed Dibiase's Undertaker was a fake. The WWE actually employed Airplane and the Naked Gun's Leslie Nielsen to solve the mystery of the Undertaker. Surely, you can't be serious?
Come SummerSlam 1994, the WWE actually ran Undertaker vs. Undertaker. The match was the real Undertaker (Mark Calaway) at 6'10" taking on the fake one with pro wrestler Brian Lee at 6'6" attempting to look like an exact copy (probably had lifts in his shoes). Brian Lee, whom most would know from his "Prime Time" Brian Lee days in Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) or maybe from his Chainz gimmick in WWE later, didn't do that bad of a job looking and acting like the Undertaker. Once the match started, it was quite obvious by style and once the long hair was out of Brian Lee's face who the real deal was. The storyline and hype for the match was probably stronger than the match itself and it was probably just a tune up match for the Undertaker's return from a back injury that truly sidelined him for much of 1994. Plus, it let Undertaker debut the Purple colors into his costumes...
Other than Undertaker vs. Undertaker, you could enjoy a 32 minute Cage Match between Bret Hart and Owen Hart for the WWE Title (which didn't headline the show) along with the Outsiders colliding when Razor Ramon (Scott Hall) defeated champion Diesel (Kevin Nash) for the Intercontinental Title. The match ended with Shawn Michaels accidentally delivering Sweet Chin Music to his bodyguard and friend, Diesel, to allow Razor to become champion. This same accidental kick would also occur at Survivor Series 1994 and break the duo up for good and allow Michaels/Diesel to feud for 1995-1996.
Imagine that... ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY, the Intercontinental Title mattered 25, 21, and 19 years ago at the SummerSlam event. Where was the Intercontinental Title for 2013's SummerSlam? NOT ON THE SHOW!!! (US Title was defended on the pre-game show).
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