We continue on with WWE’s traditional biggest event of the summer. Summer Slam was always my favourite WWE show during my younger days and I would excitedly look forward to it through the years.
I’m going to break this one up a bit into roughly something like 6 parts, so by the time we reach the end we should be in August and I’ll then leave myself some time to cover WCW Road Wild (Shudder)
Along the way we’re going to see some great matches and some…not quite as good to put it nicely. Regardless I hope we all have fun together!
This week it’s 1998 to 2002
WWF Summer Slam 1998
Champ: Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs The Undertaker
Austin had lost the Title to Kane at King of the Ring 1998 but had won it back the following night, which led to a tag feud between Austin/Taker and Mankind/Kane for most of July. However, during the build up to the match at Summer Slam between Austin and Taker, Vince McMahon started intimating that Taker and Kane were in “cahoots” with one another, in a storyline that dragged out for weeks and didn’t really add much intrigue to the match itself. If you ever wanted some good reviews of those episodes then I suggest checking out the Retro Raw recaps on the Bryan and Vinny Show, as they covered it in great detail and it drove them to madness.
Regardless of the confusion involving Kane, this was still a giant match between two of the biggest stars in the company and the crowd is well up for it. Austin gets an actual glass plate to shatter again like he did at WrestleMania 13, which was an entrance you could get on WWF Attitude if you had a match in the Raw arena. They used that one very sparingly for Austin in real life strangely enough, which is a shame as it would have been cool if they’d done it on the “Big Four” shows just to give Austin’s bouts that extra special feel to them. This one definitely has a big time feel to it and they don’t even bother locking up, instead going straight to the punch up, which the crowd approves of.
A wrestling match suddenly breaks out at one stage, with Austin working and arm bar and getting a school boy for two before trying the same approach Bret Hart did with Taker the previous year by going after his legs. Both guys seem to be having some timing issues here. It’s not ruining the match or anything, but the match itself feels a little bit “off” due to it. Kane eventually wanders out as a way to pay off the whole “cahoots” storyline, but Taker sends him to the back because he wants to do it by himself. They built that story for weeks with the idea that Kane being in “cahoots” would mean that he’d help Taker win, just to pay it off with a quick cameo. Seems like a waste to me.
With Kane gone, both men decide to Attitude Era this one up a bit by brawling into the crowd, with the MSG audience digging that idea a lot. You couldn’t accuse the WWF of not knowing what its audience wanted back then, that’s for sure. The fights heads back to the ring for a bit, but we’re soon outside again, where Taker puts Austin on the Spanish commentary table and attempts to leg drop him through it from the top rope. He badly overshoots it though and ends up landing arse first right on Austin’s bonce, with both men sliding off the table to the floor rather than breaking it. That looked all kinds of unpleasant and Taker gets a two from it back inside the ring.
We get a double down not soon after following a double clothesline attempt, which leads to both men getting up to their feet for the climatic slugfest, with leads to Austin getting the Thesz Press. He tries a Stunner following that, but it goes a bit awry with both men collapsing. Just another example of how both men aren’t really on the same page I guess. Taker gets a choke slam but Austin wriggles out of a Tombstone Piledriver attempt, which leads to Taker dropping him Williams first on the top rope. The Old School Rope Walk looks to come next, but Austin gets Taker back by clocking him right in the Calaway’s on the way down in a nice bit of tit for tat before following up with the Stunner for the three count.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: STONE COLD
This was pretty sloppy but it was also entertaining and the crowd mostly enjoyed it. Taker hands Austin the belt post-match, but he and Kane stare him down ominously from the entrance way whilst he celebrates, which was the tease for the glorified handicap match between the three in the Main Event of Breakdown.
WWF Summer Slam 1999
Champ: Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs Triple H w/ Chyna Vs Mankind
Post-Mania season in 1999 was all about elevating Triple H up the card following his heel turn at Mania XV by having him run through his former DX colleagues before getting a number of wins over The Rock. It wasn’t really working but they stuck with it and just kept pushing him until they found something that worked for him, which finally happened with the whole Stephanie marriage later in the year. There was a big convoluted build to this one, with Triple H losing his Title shot to Chyna, who then lost it to Mankind, which led to a double pin between Mankind and Triple H to set up the triple threat.
There’s a few theories out there as to why the match got changed, with one being that Austin was injured going in so they added Mankind to help disguise it a bit, whilst another is that Ventura didn’t want to raise the hand of a heel at the end of the match due to all the bother he’d been getting for even being involved in the first place. There’s also one floating around that Austin refused to put Triple H over, so they added Mankind so that he wouldn’t have to lay down for him. Regardless of all the reasons, the build was pretty messy and I don’t think they had the actual match itself confirmed until a week out. Thankfully for the WWF they were on such a hot streak at the time that they could essentially book the second biggest Main Event of the year a week out and it wouldn’t really hurt them.
Jesse is back being a referee again, just like he was in 1988, instead this time he’s a trouble shooting babyface referee due to being the Governor of Minnesota and the show taking place there. Triple H has a weird chainmail thing on here, which I think he jettisoned pretty soon after this show. Austin is outrageously over here, with the crowd losing their minds the minute the glass shatters, although they seem to die down almost the instant the actual wrestling starts. The Attitude Era everyone! Come for the pyro and ballyhoo, sit on your hands for the wrestling. At least by 2000 the WWF had managed to get the crowds in the mind-set that they’d actually be willing to watch the wrestling again.
This one is an arena wide brawl from the off, with something happening mostly all the time so it’s not dull at least. Triple H targets Austin’s leg with a chair, which takes him out for a bit so we can move on to usual triple threat trope of two guys going at it whilst another sells out on the floor. Chyna interferes once too often for Jesse’s liking, so he sends her to the back, which gets a decent pop from the crowd. Jesse is probably second only to Austin here when it comes to most over guys in the match.
Triple H keeps going after Austin’s leg, with Mankind even helping out at one point to draw some heel heat, but that alliance lasts about as long as an ice cube in a lime and soda, with Mankind going on to miss the cannonball off the apron, This hasn’t been a bad brawl actually, with all four men doing what they need. It’s not the best triple threat match I’ve ever seen, but it’s pretty good for what it is and the Jesse spots are really well done, as he chews Triple H out for using a chair and refuses to count for a great reaction.
Jesse really is fantastic here and he clearly loves every second of being the centre of attention. He even gets to fling an interfering Shane out of the ring before yelling “That’s for your Old Man!” in a great call back to the ever ongoing squabbles Jesse and Vince used to have in their commentary days. Without Jesse being possibly the most over guest ref ever this one wouldn’t be anywhere near as good, but he elevates it by getting the crowd more jazzed up than they normally would be. We hit the home stretch, with finishers getting exchanged and someone always being there to break up the pin. Eventually Triple H gets the Pedigree on Austin, but Mankind stops the pin and then Double Arm DDT’s Austin for the surprise clean three count. I think the crowd were genuinely shocked by that.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: MANKIND
This was a big upset, as Mankind had only just come back from an injury himself and it seemed like the past few months had all been building to a big Triple H coronation. He would defeat Mankind for the belt the following night, but wouldn’t even last all the way to Unforgiven with the belt. The match itself was fun if not amazing, with Jesse making it for me with his great take no nonsense babyface refereeing. Triple H attacks Austin’s leg with a chair post-match to get his heat back and to also give Austin a reason to take some time away.
WWF Summer Slam 2000
Champ: The Rock Vs Kurt Angle Vs Triple H
Rock had won the Title back at King of the Ring 2000 by pinning Vince McMahon in a six man tag, meaning that Triple H had been able to drop it without getting pinned himself. Rock had feuded with Chris Benoit and Shane McMahon in the meantime whilst Angle and Triple had developed an issue built around a love triangle involving Stephanie McMahon. It was probably one of the best examples of wrestling soap opera, as viewers were hooked, with women especially getting into it all. As a result Rock is kind of the third wheel here and he barely features in the pre-match video package, with Angle and Triple H’s issue getting the most coverage.
Angle had kissed a near unconscious Stephanie on the previous episode of Smackdown and then stupidly stokes the flames by refusing to apologise. This leads to Triple H storming down before the match even starts to have a brawl. Triple H tries to give Angle the Pedigree through the commentary table but the table collapses before he can execute the move properly, which leads to Angle landing on his head and suffering an absolute mother-hugger of a concussion in the process. That was one heck of a fight before the table went into business for itself though.
Angle is scary knocked out after that, to the point that he doesn’t seem to realise that he has to sell it and keeps trying to get up. It’s not unlike a Last Man Standing match that Cactus Jack and The Sandman had in ECW where Sandman kept getting up long past it should have been the finish due to being so concussed he didn’t realise he had to stay down. Triple H tries to keep things moving by grabbing a sledgehammer, which is Rock’s cue to run down and officially start the match. Angle is of course in no condition to perform, so we essentially have a Triple H Vs Rock match going on instead, which is the usual good effort between the two.
This year was the first time they used the yellow, blue and green colour scheme for Summer Slam and that lasted for quite a few years. To this say I still find it weird when they don’t use those colours for a Summer Slam event as it’s so ingrained in my brain that they are Summer Slam colours. Stephanie joins us now and ties to hit Rock with the Title belt, only to clock Triple H by accident to give Rock a near fall before fleeing. Triple H hits Rock in the gut with the hammer and starts working some heat. That’s sure one heck of a believable cut off I’ll give him that and it suits the stipulations seeing as this is technically a No DQ match.
Rock sells the mid-section well and Triple H draws some good heat from the crowd. These two had that special chemistry together and were on a roll when it came to being opponents during 1998 to 2001. Rock starts fighting back, so Stephanie coaxes a still out of it Angle into coming back down to the ring to help Triple H out. This soap opera storytelling worked a treat and is some of the best of its kind in wrestling. Angle does indeed come back down, but he of course tries to steal the pin on Rock for himself in a fantastic near fall that had pretty much the entire arena buying that he was going to win. The crowd was going nuts there, I love it!
Rock manages to respond with a Rock Bottom to Angle, but Triple H breaks up the pin. The hammer comes into play again, as Triple H accidentally punches Stephanie to knock her out and Angle brains him with the hammer in retribution. Rock takes out Angle following that and then drops the People’s Elbow on Triple H to pin him and make up for not actually defeating the Champion back at King of the Ring. After Rock celebrates and leaves with his belt, Angle recovers and carries Stephanie to the back to continue the love triangle angle.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: THE ROCK
This was a really good match, with strong work and an intriguing story being told. The crowd was going nuts for all the big story beats and the match in general was a really entertaining watch.
WWF Summer Slam 2001
Champ: Booker T w/ Shane McMahon Vs The Rock
Ah, the Invasion. For those not around at the time, WCW and ECW both went out of business in early 2001, which led to the WWF bringing them in for a storyline where they would “invade” the WWF and take over. Due to a myriad of reasons (mostly related to the WWF not having faith that the Invaders could get over on their own steam and a general unwillingness to make them look strong at the WWF’s expense) the angle was a big flop, even though most of the 2001 pay per views generally feature some really good wrestling. Booker was positioned as the WCW equivalent to Rock, and they played into it by making him speak in the third person. It came across as phony and only made him look like a lesser star, which is the last thing they needed one of the WCW leaders to be.
Rock wastes no time going for Shane (because Booker is merely the Champion of WCW whereas Shane is a McMahon and thus higher up on the food chain) but Booker is able to hold him at bay for the most part. Rock shines on Booker in the early going, even busting out a La Magistral of all things for a two count, and the crowd is into the idea of him laying the smackdown on the WCW guy. Booker eventually manages to fight back and we get the mandatory crowd brawling section of the match, as this is 2001 and all. It’s not a bad brawl but you get the impression that Booker hasn’t fully adapted to how things are done in the WWF yet whilst Rock looks a bit rusty after being gone for a while to make a movie prior to this.
Booker controls things back inside with his usual heel repertoire of basic moves and chin locks. I’ve just never been into Booker’s in-ring work as a heel and generally find it boring. If it’s character work then he’s a great heel act and super entertaining, but once the actual wrestling starts he’s just never delivered for me. The level of the work just doesn’t live up to the level of the skits and promos. It’s not like they lose the crowd or anything like that, but the heat does dampen down considerably, especially when you take into consideration just how hot the crowd was for Rock in the opening stages.
Shane gets involved by attacking Rock whilst Booker distracts the ref, which leads to the APA coming down to take him out with a clothesline as revenge for Shane costing them a match earlier on the same show. This wakes up the crowd after the boring heat segment, as Booker catches Rock with a Book End for two. Rock does finally make a comeback from that though as we head into the finishing stretch. The People’s Elbow looks to finish, but Shane recovers in time to take the ref, so Rock gives him the Rock Botton on the floor to take him out once and for all. This allows Booker to get a spine buster and a scissors kick, but he stupidly stops to do a Spinarooni, which leads to him getting Rock Bottomed and pinned to look like an absolute plum.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: THE ROCK
This one has just never done it for me, and I’ve watched it quite a bit over the years hoping I’ll like it more and I never do. I’m not sure how you all feel about it, but if you think it’s great then please feel free to share in the comments. For me the heat dragged and the finish sucked as it made Booker look like an idiot whilst also making Rock’s win come across as fluky. That might be acceptable down in the mid-card, but this was supposed to be the Main Event of the second biggest show of the year. It’s certainly not the best way to deliver a supposed “Dream Match” at any rate.
WWE Summer Slam 2002
WWE Super Duper Undisputed Championship
Champ: The Rock Vs Brock Lesnar w/ Paul Heyman
Brock hit the main roster in 2002 after developing his skills in OVW and they immediately gave him a monster push by having him win the King of the Ring and then beating Hulk Hogan clean with a bear hug before leaving him a bloody mess. Rock had come back from making movies again and this was his last brief run as a babyface before coming back as Hollywood Rock in early 2003, for a feud with Hogan of all people. They did a very good build up where they kept physical interaction between the two men scarce and then filmed some videos of them training really hard and looking like athletes, which was a very non-WWE thing to do at the time and gave the match a special feel.
As Brock makes his entrance I notice that someone has a sign with “PORK” on it, which I seem to recall was a bit of a running gag at the time where people would bring PORK signs to events. Do I have that right or have I imagined it? A lot of the Nassau crowd seems to side with Brock on this one, and it was the second time in 2002 that a crowd at a big event had cheered for supposed babyface Rock’s opponent instead of him, which probably got everyone’s brains whirring in favour of the eventual heel turn. Rock doesn’t really get a shine, as Brock destroys him from the opening bell, with Paul getting the odd cheap shot in when he can as well. Even back in 2002 Brock did a good job at being a believable monster, although a less refined one.
Rock does get some flurries now and then, often to a torrent of boo’s, although they are some who are still cheering for him. Rock goes to a Sharpshooter at one stage and surprisingly they don’t do the spot of Brock powering out but instead have Paul provide a distraction so that Rock breaks the hold to attack him, allowing Brock to hit him with a chair in the ribs and then go to the Hogan killing bear hug. Rock sells that big and the crowd buys it as a dangerous move due to Hogan losing to it, which is booking 101 in how to get a move over. The crowd heat is great here, with the opposing fan bases giving it the feel of a real sporting event.
Rock manages to survive the bear hug and fights back with punches to send Brock to the floor, where he preps the Spanish table. Brock takes a fantastic catapult bump into the ring post (he FLEW into that post) and Paul takes a Rock Bottom through the table to pay off all the interference spots, sending the crowd to near fever pitch. The Rock Bottom to Brock follows back inside, which gets two in a great near fall. Rock sells the kick out fantastically, going from shock to anger to calming himself down and readying to go again. Brock pops up with a Brock Bottom, which gets a two in another good near fall. Rock looks to respond with the People’s Elbow, but Brock pops up and mows him down with a clothesline and that leads to finisher counter sequence, which ends with Brock getting the F-5 for the pin and monster pop.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: BROCK LESNAR
This was an excellent match, where Rock sold to make Brock look like a star and then did a clean job, but not before getting some offence in of his own so that he didn’t look weak in the process. It went pretty much perfectly for what they wanted and essentially “made” Brock in one night. The action was good, the crowd was great and the storytelling was on point. Definitely worth a watch if you’ve never seen it.
My interest in WWE was waning at the time due to a combination of getting a bit bored of the product and Heat no longer being on Channel 4, but Brock winning the belt piqued my interest and I started bugging my friend to tape episodes of Smackdown on Sky One for me, so I managed to catch the best period of the “Smackdown Six” Era of Smackdown and it pretty much rescued my wrestling fandom. As a result, this match has a pretty strong personal importance to me as I could have easily given up on wrestling entirely without that period of Smackdown pulling me back in and reminding me why I liked wrestling to begin with. Then I discovered ROH and NOAH not soon after, and I was pretty much a fan for life regardless of how good or bad WWE was because there would always be some form of wrestling that I could enjoy.
Nothing bad on this one and two really strong matches with 2000 and 2002. I’d honestly recommend all of the Summer Slam events from this part actually, as I enjoy all five of them as shows. 2001 and 2002 in particular are fantastic events and well worth a watch just for match quality alone.
I’ll hopefully see you all next week for 2003 to 2007