The Best And Worst Of WWF SummerSlam 1988

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WWE SummerSlam 2018 happens this weekend, so to help celebrate that, we’re going back in time 30 years (!!) to recap the inaugural SummerSlam event, WWF SummerSlam ’88, in our own, inimitable vintage Best and Worst style.

If you’ve never seen the first SummerSlam, you can watch it on WWE Network here. If you like what you read, follow it up by jumping about a decade into the future and reading what went down at the 1997 show. That one has 100 percent more Sunny GIFs.

And now, the Best and Worst of WWF SummerSlam 1988.

Before We Begin, Here’s What You Need To Know

I was going to write a big intro piece recapping specific character histories and going through the angles show by show, but fuck it, I’m never going to top in-his-prime Mean Gene Okerlund describing it as, “the most fun you can have with your clothes on.” There’s sexual intercourse, then there’s watching Dino Bravo wrestle Don Muraco, then everything else.

Let’s meet our announce team.

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Running play-by-play is the legendary Gorilla Monsoon, whose wrestler name has still never been topped. Brother’s name was MONSOON comma GORILLA. If you aren’t familiar with his work, he’s a reformed Mongolian savage who in his old age was basically Filburt from Rocko’s Modern Life. He’s the king of the blu-blockers, and if you grew up watching any kind of pro wrestling in the 1980s, he’s one of the voices you associate with it. No exceptions.

With him for this event is Superstar Billy Graham, a former WWF Champion who is less like a cosmic televangelist and more like Big Poppa Pump’s grandpa. Yes, he’s wearing a pink and yellow tye-dyed shirt with a glittery crucified Jesus face on the chest. He’s a true legend, but to get a good idea of his color commentary, imagine if Dusty Rhodes completely abandoned being colloquial and charming and just did the same bad Hulk Hogan impersonation over and over for three hours. BROTHER THIS BRUTUS BEEFCAKE IS DOING A DROPKICK BROTHER, LOOK AT HIM!

Note: It was Graham’s look and persona that influenced Jesse Ventura, who then influenced Hulk Hogan, so hearing Graham call Jesse reffing a Hogan match is the closest to a Russian nesting doll as wrestling gets.

Best: Tag Team Wrestling, Clap Clap Clap-Clap-Clap

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Read the following sentence and tell me if I’m describing a World Wrestling Federation closed circuit broadcast in 1988, or a WWE pay-per-view in 2018: The main-event scene is mostly for kids and casuals, and you’re more likely to find the good wrestling matches in the Intercontinental and Tag Team Championship divisions. Something something, then, now, forever.

Up first is a show-opening 20-minute tag team draw (!!) pitting The British Bulldogs against The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers. I mentioned this on our podcast when we talked about the passing of Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart, but one thing I appreciated about a lot of WWF tag teams over their NWA counterparts is that teams in the latter, while technically brilliant or objectively trendsetting — more on that when we get to the two (2) fake Legions of Doom on this show — felt like one singles star split into two. The Rock ’n’ Roll Express, the Midnight Express, and yes, even the Road Warriors could’ve just been one guy. The WWF had two really spectacular tag teams that did the opposite: the Hart Foundation, and my personal favorites, the British Bulldogs. They went with the big strong guy and his fast little tech wizard friend motif, and for the kind of storytelling the WWF did in the mid-to-late ‘80s, that’s perfect.

If you’ve only seen the cut-up seven-minute version of the match that ended up on Coliseum Home Video, head to the Network and check it out. If you want a quick look at why the Bulldogs are my favorites from this era, the last move they hit before the time runs out is Davey Boy Smith military pressing Dynamite Kid into a flying headbutt. It’s basically Colossus and Wolverine pulling off the Fastball Special. Lovely. Also, on the Rougeau tip, pro wrestling really put in decades of work conditioning us to boo Canada, didn’t it?

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Later in the show we get an even better match: The Hart Foundation against Demolition.

As mentioned, one of the things that hooked me on WWF television in the ‘80s and managed to at least momentarily drag me away from my beloved blood-and-guts southern rasslin’ was their tag team scene. I really liked young Bret Hart, I loved the Dynamite Kid, and so you don’t think I’m making this up to sound like the coolest smark in the room, I also loved the Killer Bees. They were two mostly harmless, mostly lame dads who’d get their asses kicked until they could sneak under the ring and put on matching bee masks, thus invoking TWIN MAGICKS to confuse and cheat their opponents. And they were underdog good guys! Looking back they were terrible, but back then it was like, “IT’S THE BUMBLEBEE GUYS.”

One team I really didn’t like as a kid were Demolition, which has been a point of contention among pretty much every wrestling friend I have since I was born. I loved the Road Warriors, and Demolition were the fake-ass Road Warriors. It was like somebody saw the Road Warriors and said, “let’s get rid of them being big and tough and scary, visibly age them about 10 years, and switch out their gear for studded S&M harnesses.” And they were managed by here by ersatz Oddjob and a 1950s rock ’n’ roll colonel? Jimmy Hart’s a really difficult wrestling character to describe. Oh, and they eventually gave us a decade of Crush. Their entrance theme was the best thing about them by a mile. I know you love them and think they’re cool, it’s fine. They’re Demolition. It’s fine.

The Hart Foundation doesn’t even get an entrance, and they end up losing via a combination of cheating — Ax smashes Hart with the other Hart’s megaphone while he’s trying to ax Smash — and Bret being in his Ricky Morton phase where he’s mostly there to do some swell wristlocks and dropkicks and spend the next 10 minutes getting the dogshit beaten out of him. The crowd loves the babyface Harts, though, and that’s going to be very exciting for Bret for the next decade, or however long it takes him to run afoul of any murderous rednecks.

Worst: A Pimp Named Slick (Is Back)

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Not all the tag team wrestling is good, though, as we’re also treated to matches like The Powers Of Pain vs. The Bolsheviks, which doesn’t make a lot of sense for a number of reasons. One, how funny is it that I just wrote about Krusher Kruschev, former fake Russian now pretending to be a fake Sexy Road Warrior, and now we’ve got a team of fake Russians going up against another team of fake Road Warriors? Two, why in the world is the evil Russian team managed by a pimp? Isn’t being a pimp the most capitalist thing in the world?

Here’s the thing about Slick: he’s great. He really is. Most of the classic 1980s WWF managers were a lot of fun, and I like that instead of them being team specific, there were just four or five “sports agent” types who worked for the company and built rosters of representative talent. That makes a lot more sense than bringing in two extra similarly-themed guys to help you do your new wrestling job. You had guys like Bobby Heenan, Lou Albano, Mr. Fuji, and so on. But Slick being a combo understated pimp and eventually overstated reverend made it weird when he’d, say, manage a team of evil Russians, or better yet, manage an evil police officer from Georgia.

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The Bolsheviks get hossed to death by The Barbarian and Shittier White Barbarian, sure, but Slick has much better luck managing a young Big Bossman to a victory against Koko B. Ware in the show’s most, “oh, right, these guys are BOTH Hall of Famers” match. Koko was well into his “bird man” era and had long left behind the days when he’d gloriously beat jobbers within an inch of their lives and Bossman still sort of wrestled like a jobber and hadn’t found his groove yet, so this isn’t very good. If it’d happened 10 years later, Bossman would’ve fed Koko his own bird.

Best moment: Gorilla Monsoon saying Big Bossman’s nightstick “weighs about 25 pounds.” Bossman should’ve used it to bat Koko into the 2,000 pound ring steps.

Worst: Who Booked Worse Dennis Stamp?

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Worst match of the night by a mile goes to Ken Patera vs. Bad News Brown. The guy who looks like a member of Foreigner dressed as Evel Knievel for Halloween is aging Olympic strongman Patera, probably most famous for once legitimately going to prison for throwing a rock through the window of a McDonald’s. This is the guy Grimace should’ve turned on in a tag team match, not the Macho Man. To say 1988 Patera’s bad at wrestling is to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what the word bad means, as he’s not even executing basic moves properly. For example, please enjoy him whipping Bad News Brown into the corner and somehow MISSING THE CORNER.

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Mean Gene’s face in this promo is my face for this entire match. Poor Bad News Brown spends the entire thing about a second away from snapping and beating him down for real, and God bless him for having the restraint.


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From the August 11, 1997, Best and Worst of Raw:

… Here’s what you need to know: God made the concept of pure masculinity in all its highs and lows into one extremely jacked man with a mustache and granted it two powers. One, he was very good at airbrushing. Two, if he kissed you, you fainted. He was so good at his job he made me feel sexually unsure about myself when I was six years old. I didn’t even know what sex was, but I was like, “welp, I’m not good enough!” He was so easy to hate because he was so much better at MAN than literally everyone else.

No. 1: The shots of 1980s women marking out for Rick Rude and taking pictures of him with increasingly hilarious old-timey cameras is one of my favorite things that ever happens. Look at this, it looks like Shinra built that lady’s camera.

No. 2: I wasn’t kidding about Rude being good at airbrushing, which he proves in two incredible moments here. In the first, he reveals that he’s airbrushed his opponent’s (the Junkyard Dog’s) face on both his crotch and butthole, in excruciating detail, in multiple poses. Here’s a fun exercise: Click this link to look at the GIF while you’re at work or in public, then try to explain what you’re looking at to somebody who doesn’t watch wrestling.

If that’s not enough, Rude later reveals that he’s the Mil Mascaras of sexually aggressive pants and that he’s wearing a second set of airbrushed tights under the first, this one featuring the face of Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts’ wife. Please enjoy this spectacularly masculine gentleman going on international television to unveil MULTIPLE LEVELS OF SEXUAL THREAT while executing a top rope jumping punch. Holy shit.

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Rick Rude is the greatest pro wrestler of all time.

The match ends here when Jake appears from the ether and attacks him, preventing us from 5-10 more minutes of hip swivels and JYD bumping for everything that happens by going completely stiff and slowly falling backwards like a toppled Frankenstein. Snakey Jake returns later in the show for a forgettable but completely watchable win against Hercules Hernandez, which would’ve been better if Herc had taken his underpants to a flea market or a boardwalk somewhere and gotten them decorated with sunsets over palm trees and messages about how they’re “together forever.”

Worst: Player One Vs. Player Two

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Look at that picture and tell me it doesn’t look like one of those old NES wrestling games where there were only like four characters, and if you picked the same one twice you’d get a palette swap.

Nipping on the heels of Ken Patera vs. Bad News Brown is Don Muraco vs. Dino Bravo. Muraco is one of the hidden gems of the early 1980s WWF, but he’s a little past his prime here, and going up against a man who arguably never had a prime, “Canada’s Strongest Man” Dino Bravo. Bravo’s fresh off lifting weights for like twenty minutes at the 1988 Royal Rumble in one of the worst segments in wrestling history, and a three-minute match against Muraco at WrestleMania IV that apparently necessitated a rematch. Bravo “wins,” and the only highlights are when they cut to the crowd for anti-French Canadian propaganda.

Note: Dino Bravo was managed by a guy named “Frenchy Martin,” who is so subtle and complex a character he makes Slick look like a character from Mulholland Drive.

Best: Bobby Heenan

The Brain sits in on commentary for this one, though, and we’re thankfully given at least a few moments of Gorilla/Bobby. Bobby, in true Bobby Heenan fashion, spends the entire time making sure Billy Graham gets shitted on.

Heenan: “Does Graham get a lot of fan mail?”
Monsoon: “Does Graham get a lot of … I assume he does.”
Heenan: “He’d get a lot more, but he ran out of stamps.”

TO HIS FACE. He also gloriously dumps on Muraco:

Heenan: “All Muraco is good for right now is going back to Hawaii and changing the oil on the buses that go from the beach to the airport.”
Graham: “Have you told him that in person?”
Heenan: “I would, but I can’t find him.”

*chef kiss*

Worst: Oh No, It’s Jim Duggan

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The good news is that it’s younger, Ray Jackson from Bloodsport Jim Duggan and not the cheating-ass, trifling-ass Jim Duggan we know from the Best and Worst of Nitro. He’s interviewed by Brother Love for no discernible reason whatsoever, besides Love accusing him of having “no love” in him and ranking his personal patriotism below Dino Bravo’s. Duggan just keeps calling the fake pro wrestling televangelist parody who can’t ever actually mention God a “phony” over and over, so his entire presence here is just that one jerk from Family Guy.


Best: The Thing You Remember About This Show

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In the long long ago, before every chickenshit secondary champion was trying to be the Honky Tonk Man, there was The Honky Tonk Man, a chickenshit secondary champion. He was so good at having and keeping the Intercontinental Championship without actually wrestling or doing anything that it became infuriating, and after one year, two months and 27 days of calling himself “the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time,” fans were desperate to see him get his ass kicked. So much so that they were willing to cheer for Brutus Beefcake, a barber so bad he carried around gardening shears instead of scissors and accidentally cut a bunch of holes in his own pants.

Beefcake doesn’t make it to the match, though, because random cowboy Outlaw Ron Bass attacked and bloodied him, causing this scene (above) on WWF TV. WWF’s old use of the giant CENSORED “x” was magical when we were younger, because it made even pedestrian wrestling attacks look like mass murders. Basically Bass’ attacks gave him a small cut on his forehead, but the big red X made it look like he’d been slaughtered and gutted in front of us. They’d use it for things like Rick Rude getting his pants pulled down, too, and you’d be left to imagine Rude hanging dong in Madison Square Garden or whatever instead of just running away with a centimeter of butt crack showing. Really good production, looking back.

So the Honky Donkey Man shows up to SummerSlam without an opponent, and is so arrogant he stands in the middle of the ring shouting about how they can send him ANYBODY to beat. You should never say that, because while the World Wrestling Federation locker room contains a lot of Sam Houston or Koko B. Ware types, it also may from time to time contain insane space monsters who will run at you until you’re dead.

Cue the music.

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In one of the most famous title changes in WWE history, THE ALLLLLLLLtamet Warrior (™ Vince McMahon) sprints out and beats Honky in about thirty seconds, cementing him as an irrational fan favorite for pretty much the remainder of his career. Aside from a few punches, that GIF is the entire match. Honky never has time to get disqualified or counted-out, and this enraged Martian gorilla goes backstage to snort into a microphone about how he’s gonna jump on a space ship back to Parts Unknown, presumably to a distant world in which queering makes the world work.

Warrior sucked really badly, but The Ultimate Warrior was a special thing for a hot minute, and this is why. It’s the same thing that worked for Goldberg. Sometimes wrestling fans are sick of how wrestling works, and just want to see a freakish human show up, bludgeon his opponent for like half a minute, then leave.

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We’re The Mega-Bucks, And We’re Here To Mega-Fuck

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Here’s what you need to know about the main event: For the past couple of WrestleManias, Andre the Giant and Ted DiBiase have been working together in one form or another to end Hulkamania and control the World Wrestling Federation and the WWF Championship. This led them into a pre-SummerSlam beef with the Macho Man Randy Savage, who they ended up agreeing to have a tag team match with, assuming Savage is a friendless psychopath who would never be able to find a partner.

They forgot that he’s kindred spirits with the world’s MOST friendless, MOST psychopath — Hulk Hogan — and that ends up being the match. It ties together what happened at Mania 3 with what happened at Mania 4, connects them to SummerSlam, and sets the stage for WrestleMania 5. It’s really brilliantly done, honestly, and a testament to how much fun it used to be to get invested in year-long or YEARS-long stories, and not dispose and flush entire WWE cycles from monthly pay-per-view to monthly pay-per-view.

The match itself is surprisingly good, probably because Andre’s a spectacle, Hogan’s the most popular wrestler in the world despite having the technical prowess of a trout, and Savage and DiBiase are both legendary super-workers. It’s basically guys tagging in and getting off their offense, and Savage occasionally ending up in the ring with Andre and getting the shit shoot beaten out of him. See Hogan’s comments in the HBO Andre doc for more on that. To make things even worse for the babyfaces, the heels have paid off special guest referee Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura and have him in their pocket. He shows up to ref dressed as a pirate. Just a straight-up pirate.

How do Hogan and Savage overcome these seemingly insurmountable odds? They’ve got a secret weapon. In the thematic grandfather of all those times Maria Kanellis got on the ring apron to distract someone with her butt in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Miss Elizabeth whips off her skirt at the end of the match to reveal bikini bottoms.

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Everyone’s so shocked by Virtuous Princess Elizabeth showing booty cheek that they’re instantaneously paralyzed and drained of their hit points, allowing Hogan and Savage to blast them with all the specials they had saved up and win the match. Because of course they win the match, it’s 1988.

The best part is that afterward, Hogan scoops Elizabeth up under his arm and celebrates with her like she’s his valet and wife, causing Savage to rightfully be like “WTF” and, for the first time, notice Hogan’s jealous eyes.

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What’s great about that is that it starts the story that would lead into WrestleMania V. The Mega Powers — who could unlock a new level of mega power by doing a ridiculous handshake every wrestling fan ever loves to do — are forced to EXPLODE like so much Neo-Tokyo due to Hogan’s creepiness and Savage’s insane jealousy. Hogan keeps trying to have Elizabeth in his corner during Saturday Nights Main Events, and keeps accidentally putting her in danger. Savage gets pissed about this repeatedly, and after a rough couple of pay-per-view miscommunications, Mach flips the hell out on him. They end up one-on-one in the main event of WrestleMania, which Savage wins cleanly because he’s totally justified in Hulk Hogan being a terrible person and an inferior pro wrestler in every imaginable definition of the job.

Just kidding, Hogan no-sells his finish, Hulks Up, and knocks him out with the armpit of his knee to the chest. Because Hulk Hogan. But that would’ve been fun, wouldn’t it?