Since 1988, SummerSlam has been WWE’s second biggest show of the year. As we count down the days to the 2016 edition, the Top Ten will rank the annual event’s matches year-by-year to determine the best SummerSlam matches of all time.
This time around, we go back to the beginning, with the inaugural event from 1988!
SummerSlam 88 – August 28, 1988, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
It was a pretty calm Monday in New Jersey on the day of SummerSlam 88. I had already called my local cable operator to order the show, but the universe had other plans. A brown out wiped out the power in my neighborhood that whole day, and no electricity meant no TV, which meant I was shut out from watching the show! I was devastated! While Prime Time Wrestling showed some of the matches from the pay-per-view, it was a long time before I got to see the whole card – especially the main event.
For those wondering, the World Wrestling Federation had Monday nights locked down long before Monday Night Raw debuted, as Prime Time Wrestling was a staple to start off the week. But the last week of August meant no Prime Time on the USA Network, which instead would show the US Tennis Open, live from Flushing, Queens. As an added bonus for those of us with the MSG Network, house shows at the World’s Most Famous Arena frequently took place on Mondays, with the network airing the show. So, with no regular Monday TV show that week, why not put on a pay-per-view?
Of course, the card as a whole was terrible, especially the first half of the show. The first-ever SummerSlam pay-per-view was – much like the first WrestleMania – nothing more than a glorified house show put on for a national audience. Even the best of the card is pretty mediocre.
Best Match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan defeated Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant. While 1988 was a pretty lackluster year for big events, it mainly served as the backdrop for the ongoing Hogan-Savage story, leading to the eventual feud in 1989. The slow burn is definitely part of this match, as Hogan promised Elizabeth in an “itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny yellow bikini, brother” as the team’s secret weapon in the lead-up to the show. This, of course, would be paid off by the First Lady of Wrestling taking off her skirt while Savage and Hogan were recovering on the floor to distract special referee Jesse “The Body” Ventura, DiBiase, Virgil and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. The only one NOT distracted was Andre, who kept yelling at Ventura to count the MegaPowers out of the ring, to no avail. Jesse was too busy looking at Liz’s legs… and he had the gall to call Hogan lusty! Hogan and Savage did the mega-handshake and forced The Body to count the three on DiBiase for the win in a fun match which, if the show had a better undercard, would not have been the best of the night. But we’ll always have Liz’s legs.
Worst Match: Bad News Brown defeated Ken Patera. What a tough decision… There were at least three matches fighting for worst match of the night here, but strong man Ken Patera’s involvement here with Bad News takes it. The show wastes a pretty hot opener by throwing this steaming pile of garbage out there to follow up? What a terrible decision.
Even Worse: For the most part, late-1980s WWF matches are not workrate spectaculars, but shows are generally improved by enjoyable commentary. This was not the case here. With Ventura off the mic with his referee duties, “Superstar” Billy Graham slid in to the color commentary chair alongside Gorilla Monsoon. Now, I’ve heard Graham be much worse than he was at this show, but he was still terrible here. My favorite Graham riff from the show comes right from the opening segment, discussing the main event:
“And the one thing I believe that overshines the appearance of Jesse “the Body” as a special referee is the return of Hulk Hogan, my personal friend and hero, the man that I call the man with the bionic biceps!”
At least you know right off the bat it’s going to be a trainwreck.
Most Memorable: Miss Elizabeth’s legs may be a highlight of this show, but the most memorable event of SummerSlam 88 is the Intercontinental Title match. Originally scheduled to be between champion Honky Tonk Man and Brutus Beefcake, the match was left in limbo when “Outlaw” Ron Bass put the spurs to the Barber’s face. HTM, who had held the title for 14 months at this point, didn’t want to know who his new opponent was. He didn’t care. And then Ultimate Warrior’s music hit and within a minute, we had a new Intercontinental Champion. The match also produced some of the best backstage post-match interviews of the show.
“Honky Tonk Man, you thought it was something out of a comic book, but this is real life! … I won’t be hard to find, I’ll be on the next spaceship to Parts Unknown!” – Ultimate Warrior.
“I said I would wrestle anyone, but I didn’t say I would wrestle the Warrior!” – Honky Tonk Man
“I can’t make sense out of that one, brother.” – Superstar Billy Graham.
What A Waste: Jake “The Snake” Roberts and “Ravishing” Rick Rude were in the middle of a blood feud at this point, with Rude hitting on Roberts’ wife Cheryl. So the smart thing to do was to put them in separate, heatless matches. Rude’s match with the Junkyard Dog ended in a disqualification when Roberts interfered, taking umbrage with Rude revealing tights with Cheryl on them mid-match. Later in the show, Roberts fought Hercules in a 10-minute snoozer. This is a typical 1980s house show tactic to keep business going, but for a big event like this, they should have just gone with a blow-off match.
Rebook: While the tag team title match between Demolition and the Hart Foundation and the opener between the British Bulldogs and the Rougeau Brothers were some of the better matches on the card, I think shuffling the matches there would have resulted in better matches, A Harts-Rougeaus match could have led to the brothers’ eventual pairing with recently-fired Foundation manager Jimmy Hart. And a brawl between Demolition and the Bulldogs could have been a lot of fun.
Rebook, Part II: Ric Flair was heavily rumored to be involved in this show, either as the guest of Brother Love (instead of the eventual guest, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan) or as Savage’s opponent in the main event. Can you imagine how different 1988-1989 WWF would have been if Flair debuted here? I think it may have been for the worse. No MegaPowers exploding at WrestleMania V, instead Flair beats Savage for the belt and leads to a Hogan-Flair main event. Flair likely joins the Heenan Stable (where else would you find Horsemen?) along with the Brain Busters and Rick Rude becomes the team’s fourth. Ah, what could have been…
The Top Ten!
*DISCLAIMER* The Top Ten is for discussion purposes only and is in no way an official or authoritative list. It is simply my opinion.
1 – “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan defeated Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant (1988)
2 – Ultimate Warrior defeated Honky Tonk Man (c) – Intercontinental Title (1988)
3 – British Bulldogs vs. Fabulous Rougeau Brothers (Time Limit Draw) (1988)
4 – Demolition (c) defeated the Hart Foundation – Tag Team Titles (1988)
5 – Big Boss Man defeated Koko B. Ware (1988)
6 – “Ravishing” Rick Rude defeated Junkyard Dog by disqualification (1988)
7 – Jake “the Snake” Roberts defeated Hercules (1988)
8 – Powers of Pain defeated The Bolsheviks (1988)
9 – Dino Bravo defeated “The Rock” Don Muraco (1988)
10 – Bad News Brown defeated Ken Patera (1988)