Thursday, August 14, 2008

WWF Summerslam '88

In less than a week I’ll be attending SummerSlam ’08 live in Indianapolis and as a way to get myself in the mood I decided to spin a disc of the original, first-ever Summerslam, none other than the ’88 edition from the historic Madison Square Garden in NYC. Adam, a big fan of hypothetical and other assorted questions, once asked me what my favorite era in wrestling was. Now, I know he’s a big fan of ’99 ECW (no, I’m not kidding) and Jessie’s a big ’92 WCW fan, but for my money, ’88 WWF is about as good as it gets. There’s a great mixture of big names, solid workers, entertaining valets and managers, and some of the best commentary teams ever assembled. Speaking of calling the matches, Gorilla Monsoon (recently inducted into our Hall of Fame) and “Superstar” Billy Graham do the duties, and while Monsoon’s good, sans for sayings “it’s a happening” at least one hundred times, Graham is pretty awful, sounding like a raspier and stupider version of Dusty Rhodes, laughing a lot and saying “brother!”

1. British Bulldogs vs. Fabulous Rougeaus - 5

I liked the first match, granted, it was a time-limit draw so the ending is kind of anticlimactic but its still real good while it lasts. From previously reading Dynamite Kid’s book, I recalled him having some personal heat with the Rougeaus, so that ratcheted up my interest in this one considerably. The Rougeaus are great heels, doing really good, exaggerated heel selling, and doing a lot of little cocky things, like Raymond shrugging when a ref reprimanded him, as if saying, “Hey, I know I cheated, what do you want?” The Bulldogs start hot, but most of the match is the heels working over Davey Boy Smith’s left leg. Smith does a decent job selling the damage, and the heels are entertaining enough to keep it from getting dull, but once the faces finally embark on their comeback Smith quickly forgets to sell the injured limb.

2. Bad News Brown vs. Ken Patera - 2

I’m kind of a closet Kan Patera and Bad News Brown fan, mostly from nostalgia, so it hurts me to not hand over here and tell you how blatantly awful their match together was. Patera just does moves, really without any foresight or direction, just randomly lumping them together and it exposes how bad he is. Brown’s selling is circus-level silly, taking big, flat back bumps, and it doesn’t help that he’s doing them to Ken’s sub par shit, either. Patera’s selling is real basic, but there is one particular moment that I won’t forget, selling in the corner Patera started rolling his eyes back in his head, even the announcers were shocked about that one. Ghetto wins with the “Ghetto Blaster”, I’ve always loved that name, his patented jumping kick to the back of the skull.

3. Rick Rude vs. Junkyard Dog - 3

Rude, known for his outrageous trunks, really outdoes himself here rocking tan-colored trunks with airbrushed images of Junkyard Dog’s face both on his crotch and asshole. There’s a bit of a style clash happening here, but the match doesn’t go long enough to really exploit it too much. Rude’s doing his best, selling stuff over-the-top and oozing charisma, but JYD sells like someone spiked his pre-match drink with some sleeping pills, as when he’s falling to the mat you could run into the other room and grab a bag of chips and return by the time he’s flat on the mat. Watching closely I could tell that Rude wasn’t thrilled motivating the bigger man to work, as I picked up on Rude putting a little extra stink on one clothesline making sure JYD went down. Rude pulls down his trunks to reveal another pair, these with Jake Roberts’ wife Cheryl’s face airbrushed on both sides, leading Jake to run down and clear the ring leading to a disqualification.

4. Powers of Pain vs. Bolsheviks - 4

This is an interesting clash on paper and in reality it was just as awkward and chaotic as you’d imagine. The Bolsheviks run most of the match, mostly working over Warlord, and while Boris and Nikolai throw some pretty stiff shots, Warlord’s selling leaves a lot to be desired, as through their whole offensive section Warlord never truly leaves his feet, occasionally getting battered to his knees but never completely down. I guess he’d been watching too many Road Warrior videos. Barbarian looked pretty good, with some nice explosiveness, but this just never gelled.

5. Ultimate Warrior vs. Honky Tonk Man - 2

Ultimate Warrior was a mystery opponent, filling in for the allegedly injured Brutus Beefcake, and this was his big opportunity to get his first major championship. The match only lasts a half-minute or so. I gave it one point for historical significance and Honky doing a good job being selfless and making Warrior look immortal, and a second point for the sheer intensity of the crowd after Warrior wins—talk about a fucking pop! Eat your heart out Triple H.

6. Dino Bravo vs. Don Muraco - 3

These guys are just way too similar, and too vanilla, to do anything exciting in the time allotted. There are a lot of kicks to the gut, and in the way of offense, not much else of note. Bravo’s sells are better than Murcao’s, as at least Dino does some facial acting, even if it’s usually short-lived. Bobby “the Brain” Heenan joins on commentary for this one, really helping it out, as his bickering with Graham is priceless. Muraco wasn’t totally blown up yet, but he still wasn’t very good here, especially in the last stretch where his selling consisted of him lying immobile on his back. The finish was flat and didn’t come off right as they were trying to do a sequence involving a momentarily distracted Muraco, but in actuality Bravo just stumbled behind him and then did a really awful sidewalk slam.

7. Demolition vs. Hart Foundation - 5

Here’s two of the era’s most beloved tag teams on display, and while Jim and Bret are clearly the more competent in the ring, there’s something to be said for the dynamic appearance and persona of Ax and Smash as crowds simply reacted to the face-painted duo clad in leather and studs. Bret showed signs of his future greatness, taking a solid sternum-first bump into the buckles and making his opponents look good. I get it that Ax’s name is, well, “Ax”, but I never realized how much he did the double axe handle, similar to when Hogan’s character Rip in No Holds Barred knocked Zeus off the ledge of that TV control room balcony. This is fairly solid but the Jimmy Hart and Mr. Fuji interference bogs it down to just passable.

8. Big Boss Man vs. Koko B. Ware - 4

Boss Man would see better days, as this, still fairly early into his WWF tenure, wasn’t his best stuff. He was still quick and mobile for a bigger guy, at this point his gut was at an all-time bulge, but he got ahead of himself and didn’t seem composed enough. Koko always was better than acknowledged, showing it here, with several real nice dropkicks and generally selling well. Boss Man got the pin with his patented “Boss Man Slam” although that move wasn’t well established yet and came off sloppily as he barely got Ware a few feet off the mat.

9. Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs. Hercules - 5

I liked this match more than expected for two main reasons. One, and primarily, Roberts’ selling was the most realistic of the entire show. He actually emotes and displays the pain and anguish with a sense of realism that’s rare. Secondly, Hercules is a guy who, when provoked, can really sandbag a match real quick. I saw him do it on an old house show against Sid and he made Sid’s powerbomb look like kids stuff by completely not selling it. Here though he looks inspired, as he keeps right up with Roberts and moves around and is more active than dare I say I ever remembered him being. My two favorite moments are when Roberts, out on the apron, reaches behind his head and literally snapmares Hercules from in the ring all the way out the floor, and the match-ending DDT that the crowd popped huge for.

10. Mega Powers vs. Mega Bucks - 6

The main event could be argued as both good and bad, with the positive outweighing the negative clearly for me. The cool thing about this one is that each team has a designated workhorse, DiBiasi and Savage, who look great and carry the match; then they also both have two epic stars, Andre and Hulk, who bring the crowd into it wildly. Hogan is far from graceful, but there’s far too much excitement and chemistry abound that it’s hard to focus on any of the match’s inherent flaws. In a classic SummerSlam moment, Miss Elizabeth climbs onto the apron and pulls off her skirt revealing her skimpy underwear, much to the shock and surprise of the heels and their paid-off guest referee Jesse Ventura. It was a big moment as to that point Elizabeth was always shown in such a respectful and demure fashion—sadly I wonder if she wasn’t wearing those same scandalous panties when she overdosed on Lex Luger’s ample pill supply. Damn it, Lex, you killed Liz!

The faces are triumphant but would later go on to have a historic feud and be the main event at WrestleMania V, but that’s another review for another time. As for now, I’m days away from SummerSlam ’08 live and I can’t wait. I’m doubtful Indianapolis will have the same energy as the raucous MSG crowd back in ’88, but I hope some of that earlier magic will be in the air, as well as the birth of some new legendary SummerSlam moments.

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