Sunday, 10 August 2008

WWF Summerslam '88 - Retro Review

With this year’s edition of Summerslam not that far away, I’m going to start a new tradition with this review. Many of you will know that before each year’s Wrestlemania, I review a past Wrestlemania. So why not do that with the second biggest show of the year? So this time I’m going to go back to 1988 and Madison Square Garden for the very first Summerslam, headlined by The Mega-Powers, WWF Champion Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan, taking on The Mega-Bucks, Ted Dibiase and Andre The Giant. Handling commentary for this one are Gorilla Monsoon and Superstar Billy Graham, because Jesse Ventura has other things to do, and you’ll find out more about that later.

The show begins with tag-team action, with the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers facing the British Bulldogs, who are accompanied to the ring by their mascot Matilda. Sadly this was before Jacques and Raymond got that great theme tune, and before they even got Jimmy Hart as their manager. Now this is the type of match that makes you yearn for the gold old days, when the creative team actually gave a damn for the tag-team division, and you actually had to tag your partner’s hand to make a tag, and not just pat them on the back. Both teams looked good in this opener, with Davey Boy and Dynamite providing the explosive speed and power, and Jacques and Raymond providing the cunning and the crafty breaking of the rules. It’s a match that seemed to go on forever, but forever held my attention, but sadly, just after Davey Boy threw Dynamite on to the prone Raymond, the bell rang as the time limit expired. A very, very good opener.

After a video showing Ron Bass putting Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake out of action, with a great big CENSORED sign across the screen when Bass draws blood (my how times have changed), it’s on to the second match, featuring Bad News Brown and Ken Patera. This one began early, with Brown attacking the former Olympian before the bell, before Patera regained control for a few moments. It then evolved into what can be described as not the most technical of matches, with Brown brawling his way through, and Patera almost getting the full nelson locked in, only for Bad News to counter by going to the ropes. The end came after Patera missed a corner attack and rammed his own should into the poster. Bad News then connected with the ghetto blaster kick and the strongman was history. A couple of blown moments here, but not that bad.

After some promotion for the Donny LaLonde and Sugar Ray Leonard fight, and the usual kind of interview from The Mega-Powers, it’s Rick Rude, with his manager Bobby Heenan, against the Junkyard Dog. JYD is at his exuberant best here, with the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand, while Rude is, well Rude, one of the best in the game at that time. Rude dominates for the most part, trying everything he can think off in an attempt to put the Dog away, although pounding on JYD’s thick cranium doesn’t seem to have any effect. But when Rude pulls down his tights to reveal a second pair underneath, carrying the image of Cheryl Roberts, her husband Jake “The Snake” comes charging down the ring and attacks Rude, giving the match to the Ravishing One via disqualification. Needless to say the Dog isn’t that happy. As for the match, Rude was clearly the star here.

After the Honkytonk Man says he’ll defend the Intercontinental title against anyone following Beefcake’s withdrawl through injury, Slick introduces his tag team of The Bolsheviks, Nikolai Volkoff and Boris Zhukov, before they face The Powers of Pain, the Warlord and the Barbarian, and their manager the Baron. Not a great scientific match this one, but that wasn’t to be expected considering who was involved, and when you’ve got four big guys like these, you kind of know what you’re going to get. The face-painted guys beat on the Russians for a while, before the Russians paid them back in kind, before the Barbarian pinned big Boris after a flying head butt off the top rope. Not pretty, but good fun nonetheless.

A break from the wrestling action follows, with an in-ring episode of The Brother Love Show. I really couldn’t stand this guy back then, but then, considering he was a heel, and I didn’t like him, I guess that meant that he was doing a very good job. His guest for the evening was none other than old Hacksaw himself, Jim Duggan. It’s the usual verbal sparring job between Brother Love and Hacksaw, with Duggan eventually sending the face-painted one running for cover after he threatened to stick his 2X4 where the sun don’t shine.

The first title match of the evening follows, with the Honkytonk Man, accompanied as always by Jimmy Hart, defending his Intercontinental title against a mystery opponent…..the Ultimate Warrior. The Warrior comes racing down to the ring, connects with a couple of punches, a shoulder block, a clothesline, and a big splash to get the title winning pin. Certainly an explosive performance from the Warrior here, although his match at the next Summerslam was a whole lot better.

Following a look at the 1987 Survivor Series, in an effort to promote the upcoming show, and a quite lengthy segment promoting the Robinson/LaLonde fight, which really has no relevance to this review, it’s back to the action, with the original Rock, Don Muraco, taking on Dino Bravo, accompanied by his manager Frenchy Martin, in a battle of the powerhouses. It’s the slow methodical approach with Bravo and Muraco, and in it’s own way it’s also a very entertaining brawl, with Bravo getting the victory with his side suplex. Not bad.

After Sean Mooney interviews Jesse Ventura about his role as the special referee in the main event, it’s time for more title action, with The Hart Foundation challenging Demolition, accompanied by their devious manager Mr. Fuji, and the Hart’s former manager Jimmy Hart, for the WWF Tag-Team titles. Two years letter these two would take part in a best of three falls classic at Summerslam ‘90, and while it’s not as good as that match, it’s still another good example of tag-team wrestling at it’s best, with two distinct styles, the power and brawling game of Ax and Smash against the technical expertise of Bret Hart and the crazy style of Jim Neidhart. The majority of the match sees the face-painted ones take Hart apart with their superior power, beating down on him before he makes the hot tag to the Anvil, who proceeds to clean house, able to match power with his opponents. But in the end it was because of Jimmy Hart that his former charges lost. As the referee was trying to stop Neidhart attack Fuji, Hart came running back down the aisle, after having been chased away by Neidhart, tossed his megaphone to Ax, who clobbered the Hitman as he was covering Ax. When the referee returned his attention back to the match, the first thing he saw was Smash covering the Hitman. A three count later and they had the title retaining pin. Good stuff here, but if you want a better example of these two teams against each other, go forward a couple of years.

After the Honkytonk Man complains about his title loss, Slick’s charge the Big Boss Man faces Koko B. Ware. This was before the Boss Man underwent his weight loss program, and became a far better wrestler for it. Oh, and Koko has that damn bird with him as well. It begins with the Birdman getting a fast start on the former prison guard, but it isn’t long before the Boss Man uses his size and power advantage to good effect. There’s a slightly botched spot later when the Boss Man executes a big splash off the top rope, and Koko has a brief comeback until the Boss Man takes him down with his sidewalk slam. Not bad I suppose, but this isn’t the best example of the Boss Man’s work from this period.

Following this is a well-spoken interview from the Ultimate Warrior, offering a few high-browed comments about his title win. Well, a little lie there, because it was the usual incoherent babbling interview. Then it’s on to more action, as Hercules, without his manager Bobby Heenan, taking on Jake Roberts. A very good match this, with two distinct styles, and another good example of Jake’s WWF work. Hercules is good as the evil heel and member of the Heenan Family, a perfect foil for Roberts as he dominates the Snake for the most part with his power-based game. But in the end it’s the master of ring psychology who comes out on top, countering a body slam attempt with a quickly executed DDT. Great stuff here, and needless to say, Herc gets to meet Damian afterwards.

Main event time, and following a small video package showing the lead-in to the match, it’s time for The Mega-Powers, WWF Champion “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan, accompanied by Miss Elizabeth, taking on The Mega-Bucks, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase and Andre The Giant, accompanied by Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Virgil, with Jesse “The Body” Ventura as special referee. The match actually takes some time to start, because Ventura spends a great deal of time explaining the rules to the two teams, and changing the corners where the tag ropes were. As a spectacle, this match is great, and even though I’ve never really been the biggest Hulk Hogan fan, I have to admit that this was a good performance. The Mega-Powers should great continuity early on as they took Dibiase apart, before the Mega-Bucks recovered enough to double-team Hogan. Of course, we get the usual Hogan double clothesline moment, as well as some good exchanges between Savage and Dibiase, before we get Hogan hulking-up, before we get that moment. After Hogan and Savage were sent out of the ring, Elizabeth climbed up onto the ring apron, and ripped off her dress, something which we see Divas do with great regularity these days, and something which was quite surprising back then. This gives Hogan and Savage the chance they need to recover, and after Savage scores with his top rope elbow on Dibiase, Hogan follows up with his leg drop before going for the cover, with Ventura hesitating before he made the final count, giving the victory to the Mega-Powers. A good and very enjoyable match, and a good main event.

In conclusion - I really enjoyed taking this trip back in time to see the first ever Summerslam, and although there were some moments that were somewhat lacking, overall it was a great show, with the opening and main event matches being the standouts for me.

But my reliving of these moments was tinged with a slight hint of sadness, when you consider that out of the forty or so wrestlers and managers who performed on this show, nearly a quarter of them are no longer with us, with most of them having died quite young - Davey Boy Smith, Bad News Brown, Rick Rude, Junkyard Dog, Dino Bravo, Big Boss Man, Hercules, Andre the Giant and Miss Elizabeth, and you can raise that number by two more if you include referee Joey Marella and announcer Gorilla Monsoon.

So while Summerslam ‘88 can be a good trip down memory lane, it’s also a good way of remembering just how good those wrestlers were.

One criticism though - why was the promotion for the Sugar Ray Leonard/Donny LaLonde fight, the first (and only) time Vince McMahon has ever promoted a boxing event, left in for the original VHS release? What was the point of including it? I’m left scratching my head on this one, and it leaves me wondering if it’s still included in the “Tagged Classics” release that Silvervision put out over here.