|Image Source: Lords Of Pain|
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Produced By: WWF
Date: August 30 1998
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, New York, USA
In the first of a series, I will look back at previous WWF/WWE Pay-Per-View events, beginning with one of the most memorable shows of the Attitude Era, SummerSlam 1998.
The build-up to this event was phenomenal. The feud between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker slowly gathered pace over the summer, and even in the weeks leading up to the card, physical contact between the two was limited. Meanwhile, it had just been recessed that The Undertaker and Kane were together; how would this affect Austin’s chances of retaining his crown? Add to that the ongoing Austin-McMahon rivalry and the fact that this was the apex of The Monday Night Wars which meant all kinds of crazy booking situations (e.g. a Kane-Mankind Hell In A Cell match on Raw the previous Monday), plus Austin’s surging popularity, and this event felt massive; it could have been a WrestleMania given the hype and the action it promised.
The sub-title for the show was Highway To Hell, and in line with this, the theme song for the event was Highway To Hell by AC/DC. This normally doesn’t matter but for this particular card, it had a big impact in helping to hype the event; the promo videos were adrenaline-pumping like few that the WWF has ever produced. Click here to see one which is far more exciting than any that you’ll see for WrestleMania 31.
The first match was Val Venis challenging D-Lo Brown for the European Title. Val was a fresh newcomer with a porn star gimmick which, in 1998, was beloved by fans; D-Lo, meanwhile, was starting to show off his own skills, although he got heat for wearing a chest protector. On this night, that would be a factor for Val would take it off D’Lo and wear it himself, but the referee’s attempts to get it off him and further disputes eventually led to Val shoving the referee and being disqualified, which would be followed by an angry Venis hitting the official with a Money Shot. A decent opener but a disappointing DQ ending then.
Match two was a handicap affair between Kai En Tai (who had recently been involved in a too-ridiculous-to-explain feud with Val) and The Oddities. The freaks entered with their music performed live by Insane Clown Posse. The Oddities were astonishingly over considering their place on the card and, whilst they had not long formed, this short mismatch victory would prove to be their WWF highlight. For their opponents, this began a downward spiral, although Taka Michinoku and Funaki would hang around for a few more years; in fact, Funaki somehow lasted until 2010. Indeed!
Next up was X-Pac vs. Jeff Jarrett, which was a good match, the best on the show thus far. The former 123 Kid was starting to gain popularity based on his in-ring skills (since his return he had mainly been cheered for his association with DX) whilst Jarrett was slowly morphing from the country singer character to the arrogant redneck with a tendency for smashing opponents with guitars. This was a big step in Jarrett’s metamorphosis as, following Pac’s win, he cut off Jeff’s long hair as per the stipulation. I honestly don’t remember how their feud escalated to the point that a Hair vs. Hair match was required, but it was good to see the annoying Jarrett get shaved by X-Pac and some friends, including Howard Finkel who had been shaved bald by Jarrett on Sunday Night Heat (incidentally, this was the first PPV to be preceded by the recently-launched Heat after years of the Free For All).
Next up was Marc Mero and Jacqueline against Sable and a mystery partner, who turned out to be then-newcomer Edge. In contrast to nowadays, where few stars are truly over, when unveiled here Edge got a big pop despite only being around for a few weeks at that point, and he made the most of it with a strong showing and nice exchanges with Mero. He had a hand in the finish too, as Sable did a backwards roll for Edge to lift her and slam her onto Mero splash-style for the win. Sable got the attention at the time, but it was Edge who was the star of his first PPV bout, an early sign of how Edge would light up the WWF/WWE in the years to come.
Following this was a Lion’s Den match between Ken Shamrock and Owen Hart (accompanied by Dan Severn), a UFC-style fight held in a circle-ish cage within the theatre section of MSG. This was a very physical and completely believable shoot-style fight, helped by the rabid New York fans in the side-section of the Garden. In the end, Shamrock secured a submission victory with the Ankle Lock as a frustrated Severn walked out before the finish. Strangely, I don’t recall the much-teased Shamrock-Severn fight ever really happening, and despite this match acting as strong evidence of how popular the no-nonsense World’s Most Dangerous Man was, he would turn heel just a few weeks later.
We were then supposed to get a Falls Count Anywhere bout between Kane and Mankind and The New Age Outlaws for the Tag Team Titles. But Kane was nowhere to be found, as his alliance with Undertaker seemed to now take priority over his championship combo with Mankind. So, the masked man (who had already inadvertently been attacked on Heat by Austin, who smashed up a hearse thinking Taker and/or Kane were in it, but it turned out that this was Mick Foley) had to go it alone against Road Dogg and Billy Gunn. He actually put up a good fight, and seemed to be in control when he hip-tossed Billy through a table. But the numbers won out, and a spike piledriver led to the Outlaws once again becoming “Tag Team Champions Of The Worrrrrrrrrrrrrrld!” Post-match, the new champs put Mankind in a dumpster which they had brought to ringside, not knowing that inside there was Kane, who drove a sledgehammer into the face of his partner. By the way, this was the first ever WWF appearance of the weapon which would later become synonymous with Triple H.
Speaking of HHH, he was up next against The Rock in a Ladder match for the Intercontinental Title. Rock had been champion since December of 1997, and in that time he had truly blossomed, from a villain who fans hated more for the feeling that he was being over-pushed due to his Samoan wrestling family lineage (sound familiar?) to a bad guy who was so cool and so funny that fans were really starting to warm to him and even occasionally cheer for him. As for Triple H, after years of indifference, he was finally gaining true popularity as leader of the new D-Generation X, and a win here would really spotlight him as one of the WWF’s true rising stars.
This match was the culmination of a months-long rivalry, the centrepiece of the larger feud between DX and the Nation Of Domination. And in the building where Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon had contested their famous Ladder match at WrestleMania X, HHH and Rock had a great bout of their own. There were many big moves (which were wrestling-based; in the pre-TLC days, these matches weren’t about the stunts), such as a Rock slingshot into a Ladder, the conversion of a Rock climb into a Pedigree and a People’s Elbow on HHH on a Ladder.
Mark Henry and Chyna were at ringside, and the latter would prove crucial, as a Chyna low blow denied Rock and allowed HHH to win the match. The pop that greeted Triple H’s win was huge, and the subsequent DX celebration showed that this was the apex for the 1998-9 version of the group (I forgot to mention that in Hunter’s entrance, the DX theme tune was performed live by The Chris Warren Band). Meanwhile, despite his lengthy title reign ending, Rock’s performance and the positive crowd reaction were strong indicators that he would one day become one of the WWF’s biggest names. But nobody knew how quickly that would happen, and certainly no-one could have predicted just how big a star that The Rock would become.
It was now time for the main event between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker. Both had big entrances (Taker looked like the devil incarnate as he walked through the gates of Hell-style entrance way, and a Rattlesnake screen smashed as Austin arrived), and both were greeted very positively (Taker hadn’t completed his heel turn yet). The match starred with fisticuffs and some good exchanges, one of which actually legitimately knocked Austin out for a few seconds. The fight then went through the crowd and eventually to ringside where Taker performed an insane top rope Legdrop onto Austin, who was on the Spanish announcer’s table.
As the match continued, Kane walked to ringside to help Taker, but was told by the Phenom to return backstage, as he planned to win this one himself (adding to the mystery of their collusion). That would prove to be an error: after Stone Cold survived a Chokeslam, Austin intercepted an attempt at the move which would later become known as Old School, and follow it up with a match-winning Stone Cold Stunner. Afterwards, Undertaker handed the WWF Championship to Austin, essentially endorsing him as the main man in the World Wrestling Federation, although the subsequent stares by Taker and Kane at Stone Cold showed that the feud was far from over.
This was a very good main event, but I felt that something was missing. Perhaps an intrusion by Vince McMahon which could have led to one of the participants decking him, or some sort of ref bump which could have seen Taker try to win with a chairshot. I’m not sure what it was, but something was lacking which prevented it from being remembered in the same way as Austin’s clashes with the likes of Dude Love and, later, The Rock, or Taker’s recent matches with Kane and Mankind. Still, it was only a slight disappointment if anything, and the match officially crowned Austin as the undisputed king of the WWF.
SummerSlam 1998 marked the first peak for the WWF Attitude Era. Many of the most memorable names from the year (Austin, Taker, DX etc), from the top of the card to the bottom, were completely in their element here, and there were some of the most memorable matches of the period here as well. When you think of the characters from that time, and you think of them in their “vintage” forms, you’re likely to think back to their appearances on this show.
Fortunately, this great era would improve even more in the future, as more new characters would be added (The Brood, The Hardyz, Chris Jericho etc), and some would be subject to revamps which would make them even more entertaining (Mankind, The Rock). And that’s what the Attitude Era was so memorable: for the entertainment it provided. But this card showed that the matches could still provide a good helping of excitement too from a wrestling standpoint, and so whilst one or two matches could have shone a bit more, SummerSlam 1998 still stands out as one of the most fondly-remembered events of the Attitude Era.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent