Previously on the SummerSlam 1998 Kickoff Show: Stone Cold Steve Austin used a forklift and a sledgehammer to destroy a hearse, Shawn Michaels dirty danced with the air between Sable’s knees, and Jeff Jarrett shaved Howard Finkel’s head to send a message to X-Pac.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWF SummerSlam for August 30, 1998.
Best: To Serve And Protect
This banger of a SummerSlam opens with a European Championship match between two of WWF ’98’s most underappreciated in-ring talents: D’Lo Brown, and Val Venis.
Up until this point, D’Lo’s mostly been the lackey of Faarooq (and then The Rock) in the Nation of Domination, and while he’s gotten called a Blue Chip Prospect™ by JR a few times and has stolen some big wins via luck and an Iron Mike Sharpe’s forearm-quality chest protector, he’s still low on the totem pole. In contrast, every issue Val’s had so far in his WWF run is because of the totem pole, which got him laid by the thinking man’s wrestling crush but also almost got his dick chopped off with a samurai sword.
Venis earns a ton of street cred here by stepping through a Canadian porn star-sized loophole in D’Lo’s “splash them while wearing a loaded umpire costume” strategy: if you’re wrestling a guy who cheats by wearing a chest protector, why not take it off of him and put it on yourself? It’s the same question I have whenever anybody starts chopping Roman Reigns in his flak jacket. Don’t you wanna, I don’t know, pull that down or tear it off first? You’re just breaking your own wrist by slapping kevlar over and over. Val then loses some of those points by throwing around the referee who didn’t bother to check D’Lo’s vest before the match, but is now mad that someone else figured out how to use it. Shame.
Ultimately this feels like Vince McMahon’s ultimate pay-per-view undercard match; it’s 15 minutes of great action with characters we’re ready to love and ends with some contrived bullshit, hoping we’ll be sold enough on the first 90% to pay to watch them re-do it with a finish later.
Worst: How To Literally Bury A Faction
Sure, you’ve watched your favorite wrestlers get “buried” on WWE TV, but have you ever had to watch four of your favorite guys from Michinoku Pro get pinned at the same time by one fat guy in an Eric Cartman t-shirt while someone at Madison Square Garden holds up a “GOLGA IS A RETARD” sign in the background? Good times.
The WWE Network version of the match is also notably missing the live musical performance and post match celebration from the Insane Clown Posse, who only incidentally remain in the footage at all. Thankfully the original version still exists on DailyMotion, so jump to 1:45 to see what you missed.
“Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this! Hands like this!”
Thinking back, it’s kind of Shakespearean that the Insane Clown Posse, of all people, appeared alongside or competed in high profile wrestling matches for WWE, WCW, ECW, and promotions all across the country, but since they’re at odds with WWE and WWE owns all the footage and writes the accepted “history” of wrestling, ICP’s not part of it.
Best/Worst: Don’t Piss Me Coif
On the Sunday Night Heat SummerSlam Kickoff Show, Jeff Jarrett and the Slack-Jawed Mafia attacked and shaved the head of announcer Howard Finkel to send a message of [checks notes] totalitarian hair styling to X-Pac ahead of their hair vs. hair match.
Roughly an hour later, The Fink returned to the ring with a message of his own: bald is beautiful, suck my diiiiick.
Nothing in the world will ever say, “affluent older man,” quite like wearing a t-shirt over dress clothes. It’s like when old executive dudes put basketball jerseys over their business attire, and in the same family as tucking a baseball jersey into jeans.
Pac vs. Jarrett is (in retrospect, at least) my favorite match on the entire show, and there’s an absolute treasure trove of stuff in here young wrestlers should pay attention to and steal. The pace and acknowledgement of the rhythm of the audience is first and foremost, but there’s also stuff like the atomic drop into the ring post transition, the Ric Flair Memorial Bronco Buster counter, and my favorite thing in the entire match: Jarrett jamming his shoulder into Pac’s stomach through the ropes to set up a sunset flip, and then Pac just moving to the side so Jarrett can’t follow through. Little things like that increase the realism of what you’re trying to do tenfold, even when the finish of your match involves a guy having to avoid a pair of threatening pig farmers as they attempt to smash him in the head with a novelty acoustic guitar.
The only downside is the actual haircut, which is a weirdly hard thing to do for wrestlers. Too many hair vs. hair matches don’t involve any rehearsal or testing of the equipment, so you’re left out there stranded for like 10 minutes while the crowd watches you fiddle with faulty clippers. They give out pretty early here thanks to Jarrett’s stringy, sweaty hair, and the camera cuts to Method Man (way too far back in the crowd to be top-tier Wu Tang) dancing with his family while they try to cut shave a man bald with tiny scissors.
On the next Raw, Jarrett shows back up with a much better haircut. This wasn’t a, “loser gets a better haircut,” match, it was hair vs. hair! They should’ve at least given us a week or two of embarrassed, bald Jarrett before he got his Slapnuts hair.
Worst: Hooray For The Worst People In The World!
In a swerve that makes absolutely no sense, we find out that the hearse Steve Austin destroyed on Sunday Night Heat didn’t belong to Kane and The Undertaker, despite us watching them drive away in a hearse together at the end of Raw a couple of weeks ago. Also the fact that they grew up together in a funeral home. No, the hearse belonged to Mankind, who thought it’d be a good idea to rent a hearse for the evening, drive it into the arena, and pull up to a hammer-wielding Stone Cold while he waits for the hearse driving guy to pull up in a hearse. Smart!
Mankind’s informed that Kane isn’t going to be here tonight, meaning he’ll have to defend the WWF Tag Team Championship against the New Age Outlaws by himself. He doesn’t want to do it until Papa Vince McMahon shows up and uses the MRS. FOLEY’S BABY BOY AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN gambit to convince him otherwise.
What results is one of those WWF matches where they could’ve easily done a double-turn, but instead just had some babyface characters act like total pieces of shit and get cheered for being awful to a heel. The New Age Outlaws had been dastardly heels fairly recently, so I see what they might’ve been thinking, but they’ve been crowd-hyping do-gooders for a minute now. Mankind’s been a heel, but ever since King of the Ring ’98 he’s been on a slow trek toward heroism. So the next step for these characters is a 2-on-1 handicap match where the good guys easily beat down the bad guy, smash him in the face with weapons, powerbomb him onto steel chairs, and then triumphantly throw him in a dumpster “where he belongs” while everybody cheers? You never get the impression that we’re supposed to think the Outlaws are going way too far, or that they’re pretty shitty for wrestling a 2-on-1 handicap match orchestrated by their evil boss, and they still do all the crowd pandering. Weird choices.
To make things even worse, Kane materializes in the dumpster and the Outlaws just kinda hang back and chill while he murders Mankind with a sledgehammer. Because he was trusting? Because he lost the tag titles in a 2-on-1 match while his partner hid in the garbage? I don’t know.
Best: The Book Of Daniel (Severn)
Another highlight of this generally awesome undercard is the Lion’s Den match between Owen Hart and Ken Shamrock. It’s basically the 1998 pro wrestling idea of a 1998 MMA fight, held inside a giant reusable K-Cup filter, housed in a separate theater for a separate crowd within Madison Square Garden.
It features Owen making three critical mistakes:
- 1. Believing that he could learn one submission hold and then use it to defeat an actual MMA fighter in an MMA fight
- 2. Trusting Dan Severn to have his back and teach him what he needs to know to beat Ken Shamrock, when Severn’s entire character as a pro wrestler was, “gets bored with pro wrestling quickly,” and entire strategy as a fighter was, “grab a hold, lie down on the ground, and let the time run out”
- 3. Practicing the Dragon Sleeper without thinking about how easily someone could do the Bret Hart sleeper counter in a cage with slanted walls
Great plan, Owen. What’s next, challenging Mark Henry to a Picking Shit Up match?
Consejo Sable de Lucha Libre
There’s also the mixed tag team match pairing up The Unstoppable Sable and her mystery partner The Edge against Johnny B. Wild and his Girlfriend from the Neighborhood, Jacqueline. Looking back, there was a real cuckold vibe to the ongoing Sable/Marc Mero story, as he seemed obsessed with getting into these mixed tags with or against her and having her pick up the slack while he gets his ass kicked.
Here, Sable polishes Mero off with a top rope headscissors and some Canadian lucha libre courtesy of Vampiric Damon Striker. The move (which lives inside the head of the Statue of Liberty, apparently) looks like it hurts so much Jim Ross is like, “HOW MANY MEN IN AMERICA WOULD VOLUNTEER TO BE MARC MERO??”
Best: Top Of The Card, Ma
Finally we have the two main events, which are the reasons everybody remembers and loves this pay-per-view.
Firstly there’s the Intercontinental Championship ladder match between TWO YOUNG STALLIONS, The Rock and Triple H, as they bust their asses to officially make names for themselves on an important show, in an important match, in WWE’s most important location. They’re really smart about it, too, seeing as how the Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon ladder match from WrestleMania X happened in the same building and can’t really be topped. Instead of going for big spots and modern WWE ladder contrivance, they work a logical, emotional, and physically focused match revolving around The Rock trying to injure Triple H’s leg to keep him from being able to climb. It’s similar to the Owen vs. Bret Hart cage match, in a way, as it actually uses the stipulation to tell a pro wrestling story, instead of the other way around.
There’s also some important character stuff happening here, too. Triple H is proving for probably the first time that he’s actually tough, and doesn’t just talk a big game. Without this match, we might’ve never gotten 20 years of HHH as the CEREBRAL ASSASSIN KING OF KINGS or whatever. Your mileage may vary. The Rock ALSO proves he’s tough, getting busted open and just generally kicking H’s ass the entire time. Without this, Rock might’ve never elevated himself from funny, charismatic mid-card heel to top-tier guy.
It also ties together all the faction warfare, with Chyna only getting involved once Mark Henry starts trying to interfere on Rock’s behalf. She lets HHH handle himself for most of the match, but when Mizark steps in, she forearms him in the face and knocks him on his ass. Ah, young love. Eventually she figures out that (1) the match is no disqualification, and (2) more Nation guys are going to show up and pull some shit if she doesn’t help her man, so she throws one big decisive nut-shot at the very end to keep Rock from climbing the ladder. H gets up to the top on one leg, pulls down the Intercontinental Championship, and has the first great match he’s ever been an active participant in making great. Before this, it was just Mick Foley wrestling a Ric Flair mannequin.
It’s the end of a great night for D-X, with both Triple H and the Outlaws winning gold, X-Pac claiming Jeff Jarrett’s precious hair, and Chyna proving she’s the glue that keeps the operation together. If only Shawn Michaels had been Sable’s mystery partner to bring it full circle!
The night ends with the HIGHWAY TO HELL featuring Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker fighting for the WWF Championship. While it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of two Godzilla-sized wrestlers sword fighting with the Statue of Liberty’s arm and the top floors of the Empire State Building, it’s probably the best one-on-one match these two ever had, and represents two of WWE’s most important characters of the ’90s at the peak of their charisma and in-ring abilities. Austin’s finally figured out how to completely change his style after the neck injury from the previous summer, and Undertaker’s finally wrestling dudes who know how to wrestle instead of constantly being in there with overweight cartoon characters, slow-moving mystical creatures, and 8-foot tall naked Argentinians.
The story of the match is that Stone Cold Steve Austin isn’t an idiot, so he knows he’s going to have to (for lack of better phrasing) fight fire with fire. He’s not going to go into this wrestling a catch-as-catch-can respect match; he’s going to take every short cut he can, avoid the rising tides of complete McMahon domination, and punch a dead man in the balls if he has to.
That’s how he ends up winning, too, which makes the promise important. He says he’ll take a cheap shot, and then wins when The Undertaker goes for Old School (… or just School, I guess, since it’s 1998?) and Austin, who earned a Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! star for finisher reversals only moments earlier, uppercuts him in the stuff. Chekhov’s Nut Shot! The champ retains, Undertaker realizes that he might’ve underestimated what a terrible person this guy can be, and Stone Cold asserts without question that he’s the top star of the company and a legendary WWF Champion.
This show has my highest possible recommendation, especially if you’re into the EVERYTHING CRANKED UP TO 11 late ’90s WWF style. Even the worst parts of the show — the mixed tag and the Mankind stuff — are fun to watch, even if they don’t make a lot of sense. Thankfully they left Drunk Hawk and Southern Justice on the pre-show. Go watch it!
On The Next Raw
We’re headed for a Breakdown® with Jeff Jarrett’s new hair, Tiger Ali Singh’s man-servant getting lucky in the grossest way possible, and the Brothers of Destruction handling losing with grace and dignity. Just kidding, they ruin the entire show for two hours. It’s fun. See you then!