WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Event Poster
August 18, 1996
Gund Arena, Cleveland, Ohio.

If you were to believe the advertising, World Wrestling Federation's Summerslam 1996 was to be a show with only two matches on it. 

Those two matches -a WWF title match between Shawn Michaels and Vader- and a Boiler Room Brawl pitting The Undertaker against Mankind had set up at the previous month's In Your House: International Incident, and for all intents and purposes were the two main events upon which the whole show was to be based around.

But what about the undercard?

On a show which promised to save the best til last, would Summerslam 1996 deliver a host of long-since-forgotten hidden gems?

Would the Boiler Room Brawl and the World Championship match merely serve to cap off an all-round great card?

Or would this really be literally a two match show?

Let's head to Cleveland, Ohio to find out, shall we?

The Battle of the Monsters vs. The Monster Slayers 

Just in case you were in any doubt as to which bouts the WWF were focusing on tonight, the 1996 Summerslam began with a dramatic opening video in which future tag team partners Mankind and Vader were depicted as monsters, and their respective opponents Undertaker and Shawn Michaels were made out to be heroic "monster slayers."

It was videos like this that really hooked me as a kid. Some 21 years later, I still think they did a great job in making tonight's two biggest bouts seem like truly epic battles which transcended mere wrestling and took a certain an otherworldly quality.

Welcome to Summerslam 

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Jim Ross, Vince McMahon and Mr. Perfect are our commentary team
After another brief video introduced us to Cleveland landmarks like the Rock 'n' Roll hall of fame, we were welcomed to tonight's show by our commentary team of Jim Ross, Vince McMahon, and Mr. Perfect.

As per the standard, the trio quickly ran down tonight's card before taking us to our opening match.

Savio Vega vs. Owen Hart

I'd love to tell you that there was some storyline behind this one, or at least a basic reason for Savio Vega and Owen Hart wanting to fight each other.

As far as I can tell however, the two were randomly paired together in an effort to create an enjoyable opening contest on one of the biggest pay per view events of the year.

Did they succeed?

Yes and no.

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Savio Vega faced Owen Hart in the opening match
In other words, the early parts of this match were entertaining: Savio worked over the supposedly "injured" arm of Owen, before Hart himself took control and returned the favour.

Eventually however, this plot point took a backseat, and what we were left with was a somewhat sloppy bout that failed to hit the mark.

Not bad, but not great either.

Of note however, is the fact that Jim Cornette did not join Owen Hart at ringside, opting instead to spend time backstage getting Vader ready for his upcoming title match.

Instead, Cornette's new legal representative (and manager of the recently returning Crush), Clarence Mason made his way to ringside to cheer on the Slammy Award Winning Owen Hart.

The ending came when Owen used his cast to knock out Vega, then applied the Sharpshooter for the win.
Your Winner: Owen Hart 

Post match, Justin 'Hawk' Bradshaw and Uncle Zebekiah came out, yelled at Vince McMahon, then went after Savio, continuing on a rivalry which seemed to have no end in sight, even though I suspect most fans really wished it did.

Todd Pettengill Interviews Mankind

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Todd Pettengill interviewed Mankind in the boiler room
Taking us to the depths of the arena, Todd Pettingill gave us a guided tour of sorts around the boiler room that would serve as the battleground for tonight's Mankind vs. Undertaker bout.

After telling us that the room was "dark and ominious" about a hundred times, Pettengill stumbled -almost literally- upon Mankind himself.

In true "derranged" form, the man formerly known as Cactus Jack licked one of the pipes before warning The Undertaker not to enter the boiler room.

World Wrestling Federation Tag Team Championship Four Team Elimination Match
WWF Tag Team Champions The Smoking Gunns (Billy & Bart Gunn w/ Sunny) vs. The Body Donnas (Skip & Zip) vs. The Godwins (Henry O. & Phineas I. Godwin w/ Hillbilly Jim) vs. The New Rockers (Marty Jannetty & Leif Cassidy)

Call me crazy, but going into this match, I actually had, if not exactly high hopes, at least an expectation that this match would be better than most fans would be willing to admit to. 

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Sunny led the Smoking Gunns into battle in a 4-way tag team match
I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I think both the Body Donnas and The Godwins were better wrestlers than their goofy gimmicks would have you believe. Give Marty Jannetty a few spots to showcase why he was still a solid in-ring performer, and let champions The Smoking Gunns prove why they were always more entertaining as heels, and you had the makings of a decent match. 

Unfortunately, this was one bout which not only failed to live up to its potential, but served to give everybody who wrote this one off before it even got started the chance to utter a very smug "I told you so."

For the most part, this was simply a match between The Smoking Gunns and The Godwins, with Skip, Zip, Leif Cassidy (Al Snow) and Jannetty all putting brief cameo appearances before being eliminated. 

Whilst this did give us a few all-too-fleeting moments of entertainment, it mostly made for a dull, sloppy, and horrible match in which the only thing worth watching was Sunny.

Finally putting us all out of our misery, Phineas looked to have the win over Billy Gunn, only for Sunny to make the necessary distraction before Bart could attack, drape his fallen partner's arm over a groggy pig farmer, and steal a win for his team.
Your Winners and STILL WWF Tag Team Champions: The Smoking Gunns 

After loitering on the outside for what felt like forever (presumably waiting for The Godwins to leave), Sunny led her boys back into the ring and invited all the girls in the audience to "take a look at what real men are supposed to look like."

Somewhere in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, Rick Rude was no doubt gearing up to file a copyright infringement lawsuit.

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Sunny revealed a picture of herself after her team beat the Godwins, The Body Donnas, and The New Rockers
Not that anybody would have been paying attention. All eyes were squarely fixed on the former Body Donna as she lambasted the women in the audience for being out of shape before revealing a giant picture of herself as her "gift" to the Cleveland faithful.

This, apparently, was just one step in Sunny's huge push as one of the company's top stars that year. Looking back, I'm still all in favour of it, though that may have more to do with the fact that, as a perpetually horny 12 year old kid (as I was when Summerslam 1996 was originally broadcast), I was absolutely besotted with Sunny.

Truth be told, I still have a thing for her to this day.

Looking Back at Summerslam Week 

Thankfully, your writer was given a much-needed chance to go take a cold shower and calm down from the Sunny thing, as Vince McMahon introduced us to a video package showing us some of the activities that went down in Cleveland as part of a Summerslam promo / community outreach programme.

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Savio Vega worked on community outreach during SS96
This included a bizarre "race" between The Godwins and The Smoking Gunns, the latter riding a horse and carriage to the arena and the former taking the train.

This was supposed to determine which was faster - a train, or a horse and carriage. If you seriously need me to tell you who won that one, you're as stupid as this whole idea was.

Elsewhere, we also saw Jerry 'The King' Lawler failing to get members of the Cleveland Indians to show him how to throw a spitball, The Undertaker and Paul Bearer apparently giving a way a whole funeral package in some sort of morbid prize draw, The Godwins signing autographs, and a whole bunch of superstars painting over some graffiti with a bunch of little kids.

Doc Hendrix Interviews Sid 

After The British Bulldog's entrance (sans Jim Cornette) for the next match, we were taken backstage, where Doc Hendrix asked Sid about the huge support he'd received from the fans since returning to the WWF. 

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Sid addressed his popularity before beating the British Bulldog
In a true manic fashion, Sid delivered an entertaining response in which he claimed that the fans had always wanted 'The Man' to be back in the ring. 

Tonight, The Master and The Ruler of the World promised to destroy Davey Boy Smith, laughing like a crazed psychopath the whole time. 

Honestly, it saddens me that Sid only had limited runs at the top. Despite not being the most athletic of in-ring performers, he had an undeniable presence, and a charisma that was just off the charts. 

The British Bulldog  vs. Sycho Sid 

Once again, Sid was over as hell with the live audience, working the Cleveland crowd into a frenzy before stepping into the ring to face Davey Boy Smith. 

Unfortunately for the big man, his popularity was of little used to him as the Bulldog took control in the early going and dominated the bulk of this fairly average match. 

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Sid got his ass kicked by the British Bulldog but won the match
As the man from Wigan, Greater Manchester took systematically worked over his rival, Clarence Mason returned to ringside, just as he had done in the earlier Owen / Savio match. 

Sadly, this was to be Dave Boy's undoing. Just as he hit his patented power slam, Jim Cornette rushed to ringside, apparently to ask Mason just what the hell he thought he was doing. This was enough to distract the Bulldog, preventing him from making the pinfall that would have no doubt guaranteed him a victory. 

The distraction gave Sid time enough to recover, and when Davey Boy did return, setting up for a second powerslam, Sid slipped out of harm's way, drilled his opponent with a chokeslam and powerbomb, and picked up the victory, putting this so-so match to bed once and for all.
Your Winner: Sycho Sid 

Prior to our next match, we were shown a short commercial in which two aliens visited a teenager who was watching WWF. The clip seemed to suggest that watching pro wrestling made you irresistible to smoking hot girls.

Having been a fan for 25 years, I can categorically state this absolutely not true. 

Then again, maybe that's just me. 

A Word With the Wildman 

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Wildman Marc Mero and Sable talk about Mero's match with Goldust
Over the past several weeks, both Goldust and Mankind and had grown increasingly obsessed with Sable, the latter stalking her around the ring and calling her 'mommy,' and the former apparently just wanting to bang her, or something. 

Naturally, that had outraged Sable's husband, Wildman Marc Mero, and gave us a match tonight. 

Before we got there however, Mero gave a rather drab interview to Todd Pettingill in which he claimed that, whilst he didn't understand mind games, he did understand how to beat Goldust up, and would do so in their upcoming contest.

Goldust (W/ Marlena) vs. Marc Mero (w/ Sable)

Despite having a solid story behind it, despite Marc Mero's recent excellent form in pay per view matches against Stone Cold Steve Austin and Hunter Hearst Helmsley, and despite Goldust being no slouch in the ring either, the two just couldn't put together an entertaining match here. 

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Goldust faced Marc Mero in a boring match
Rather the two engaged in a long, dull bout that not only sent the live audience to sleep but almost made your writer give up on the whole idea of following Summerslam 1996 to the end. 

Seriously, it was painfully boring, so much so that even the commentary team gave up on it at one point and began telling us about Ahmed Johnson's injury instead. 

It was also stupid too. 

At one point, Goldust was dominating Mero with -of all things- a Chinlock of Doom. It was at that point that Mankind raced to the ring to terrify Sable. The referees came out and sent Mankind packing, all of which went unnoticed by Mero. 

Honestly, would it not have made more sense to Mankind come down when Mero was winning, therefore distracting him so that Goldust could get the upperhand again? Isn't that what heels do?

Apparently not in this scenario it isn't. 

To make matters worse, Mero debuted his new shooting star press finisher (dubbed 'The Wild Thing') only for Goldust to make a complete mockery of it by kicking out, hitting the Curtain Call, and winning this dreadful, dreadful match.
Your Winner: Goldust 

Afterwards, Goldust attempted to smooch with Sable, only for Marc Mero to recover and send his nemesis packing.

About five people gave a damn.

Intercontinental Championship Tournament Announced

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Ahmed Johnson had to forfeit the Intercontinental Championship
Up next, we reminded that Ahmed Johnson had been put on the shelf with severe kidney bleeding (or something to that effect) after being attacked by Faarooq Asaad (Ron Simmons in a ridiculous Roman gladiator gimmick).

This meant that not only would Ahmed have to forefeit the Intercontinental Championship, but that he would also have to give up his WWF title shot against Shawn Michaels that he won in a recent Raw Invitational Battle Royal.

What would happen next -according to WWF President Gorilla Monsoon - is that we would have a tournament for the IC title, whilst the last four men who were in the ring before Ahmed won the battle royal would go at it again in a "Sudden Death" battle royal.

The winner of that (it was Goldust btw) would go on to face Michaels on a special Raw episode called Raw Championship Friday.

The announcement ended with a shot of Ahmed Johnson holding the Intercontinental Championship belt upside down, before cutting back to an interview in which he promised to ignore doctors orders and do whatever he wanted to ignore the fans.

Sunny and Farooq Want the Intercontinental Championship 

Ron Simmons earliest World Wrestling Federation gimmick really was a mess, wasn't it?

I just can't imagine the creative meeting where they looked at a star who just a few years prior had received a huge push as the first African American champion, then gave him an Arabic name, a weird Roman gladiator costume, and a theme that sounded like something off a Super Nintendo game.

Just to complete this hodge-podge of ideas, they gave the African Arabic Roman American Gladiator a manager in the form of Sunny, who at the time was doing her sexy cowgirl thing with the Smoking Gunns. 

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Sunny and her new man Farooq gave an in-ring promo
All that aside, the two did put together quite the impressive heel act as they joined Todd Pettingill in the centre of the ring for a live interview. 

I say 'interview,' Farooq essentially told Todd to can it before insisting that he should be the Intercontinental Champ by virtue of beating up Ahmed Johnson.

Sunny then claimed that it didn't matter, Farooq would win the upcoming tournament and become the next champion because what Sunny wants, Sunny gets.

Jerry 'The King' Lawler vs. Jake 'The Snake' Roberts

There were times when the cartoonish, cowardly-heel act Jerry Lawler played in mid-90s WWF worked like a charm. 

Unfortunately, this wasn't one of those times. 

Immediately turning this from a match into a bad stand-up comedy routine, Lawler spent the first few minutes making jokes about Jake 'The Snake' Roberts' real life alcoholism before Roberts himself finally made it to ringside. 

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Mark Henry made his WWF PPV debut on commentary for Jerry Lawler vs. Jake Roberts
What followed was a few minutes of sloppy, uninspired brawling, followed by Lawler jabbing Jake in the throat with a bottle of Jim Beam, pulling his tights, and getting the win. 

More apparent hillarity followed, with Lawler pouring a bottle of Jim Beam down Roberts' throat, cracking wise about Jake wanting a beer chaser and then attempting to drown him with the second bottle, only for newcomer Mark Henry to make the save. 

Speaking of The World's Strongest Man, he was literally the only funny thing about this match, and that wasn't intentional. 

During Lawler's stand-up routine, The King pulled out two bottles of booze which he introduced as Jake Roberts' tag team partners.

Henry laughed out loud at this -and several other jokes- before suddenly remembering that he was supposed to be the babyface and remarking: "Actually, that's not funny."                                                                                                
That however, wasn't the funniest part. 

Half way through the math, Lawler took a soda from a fan at ringside and threw in his opponent's face. Seeming genuinely concerned for the fan's risk of dehydration, Henry asked: 

"But what's that fan gonna do for a drink, now?"

Honestly, I can't explain it, but there was something about the earnestness in Mark's voice that was at once both endearing and hilarious.

Anyway, this sucked. Let's move on.
Your Winner: Jerry Lawler

"That wasn't an athletic contest we just witnessed," said Jim Ross as Henry helped Roberts to the back.

No shit, JR. No shit.

Meanwhile..somewhere in the crowd, Bob Backlund continued to campaign for his presidential run.

Time for the Boiler Room Bra 

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - The Undertaker enters the boiler room for his match with Mankind
No, that's not a typo. Remember at Wrestlemania 12's Hollywood Backlot Brawl when Vince McMahon continually referred to it as a Hollywood Backlot Bra? 

He did the same thing here, introducing a Pettingill-narrated video package for our next match as being about "The Boiler Room Bra". 

As Paul Bearer made his way to the ring with The Urn in tow, McMahon even referenced the Hollywood Backlot Bra. 

Honeslety, I'm crying with laughter here. 

Boiler Room Bra(wl)
The Undertaker (w/ Paul Bearer) vs. Mankind 

Clocking in around the 30 minute mark, this was by far the longest bout on the card so far. 

As a 12 year-old kid watching this at the time, I thought length alone made this one of the most tedious matches I'd ever seen. So you can probably imagine how much I was dreading it, especially after what had so far turned out to be just a horribly dull show. 

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Undertaker and Mankind Brawl Backstage in the Boiler Room Brawl
Imagine also then, how pleasantly surprised I was to find that -on a second viewing some 21 years later- the Undertaker vs. Mankind Boiler Room Brawl was far better than I ever remembered it. 

Sure, this wasn't an instant wrestling classic, but then it was never intended to be. 

What it was, was a captivating piece of storytelling which achieved the one thing I believe all pro wrestling should be constantly trying to achieve: 

Suspension of disbelief. 

OK, so the action was mostly Undertaker and Mankind throwing each other into things and whacking each other with pipes and bits of wood, but there were times when your writer couldn't help but flinch, wince, and double over as though feeling how much this "fake" stuff must have really hurt. 

And when Mankind was thrown from the top of a ladder by Undertaker and splatted -kidneys first- onto the cold, unforgiving concrete? That was a true holy shit moment in every sense of the word. 

Having seen the direction that pro wrestling / sports entertainment would take in the years that followed this match, the move may not appear to be all that special to some, but it's worth noting that nothing like this had ever really been seen on WWF telivision before. 

What we were watching here was a first. It was different, it was groundbreaking, and it was truly engaging. 

Helping matters was the fact that commentators barely spoke a word, as if even they were stunned into silence by what they were witnessing. Only the occasional "ohh" from Vince McMahon or a sombre "amazing," from JR reminded us that they were even there. 

A personal highlight for this fan came when the two made it out of the boiler room and brawled through the backstage area, with the likes of The Godwins and the Body Donnas shown rooting for the Dead Man whilst Steve Austin and Bradshaw came out of the same locker room to cheer for Mankind.

Eventually, the two brawled to the ring, where Foley took a sick bump from the apron to the exposed concrete, allowing Undertaker to climb into the ring, kneel before his long time manager Paul Bearer, and reach out to collect the urn.

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Paul Bearer turned heel on Undertaker and joined forces with MankindGaining possession of the urn, you see, was the only way to win this match. Yet just when it looked like the whole thing was over, Bearer refused to hand it over.

Instead, he walked into the corner and cackled fiendishly whilst Mankind returned and slapped on the mandible claw.

Again, Undertaker went for the urn, again, Bearer refused, this time cracking his now former charge over the skull with it to cement his heel turn.

All it took then, was for Bearer to hand over the urn, establish an alliance with the deranged Mankind, and give us the very first plot point in the story that would eventually lead - 14 months down the line - to the debut of The Undertaker's brother, Kane.
Your Winner: Mankind

Afterwards, masked druids (which were actually members of the roster in big, black, hooded cloaks) carried The Undertaker to the back to the sound of Gorean chanting. McMahon and JR sold the whole thing like Bearer had literally just murdered the man he'd managed for six years.

Jim Cornette Promises a Victory for Vader

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Jim Cornette promised a victory for Vader in the WWF title match
Backstage, Jim Cornette ranted and raved to Doc Hendrix about the upcoming main event. 

As the Mastodon huffed, and puffed and grunted, Cornette said that - just as at last month's In Your House- he promised us a victory for his man when Vader went one on one with the WWF Champion, Shawn Michaels. 

That match was next. 

World Wrestling Federation ChampionshipWWF Champion Shawn Michaels (w/ Jose Lothario) vs. Vader (w/ Jim Cornette)

As the two combatants made their way to the ring, our commentary team sold the defending champion Shawn Michaels as a complete underdog who seemingly had no chance of leaving Cleveland with his title.

WWF / WWE SUMMERSLAM 1996 - Vader dominated his WWF Championship match against Shawn Michaels
For the majority of this truly enthralling bout, that certainly seemed to be the case.

Vader demolished HBK from pillar to post. He battered him inside the ring, he battered him outside the ring, and whilst the champ did get a few shots in (an impressive suicide dive among them), it was the challenger who dominated more or less from start to finish.

Don't mistake this for a squash of any kind however.

What we got here was a brilliant main event which made Vader look like a true monster (or as Jim Ross called him - "A Manster - half man, half monster" ) whilst eliciting a groundswell of sympathy for the babyface champion.

The Mastodon even technically beat the Heartbreak Kid not once, but twice. The first time came as a result of a countout, whilst the second saw Michaels disqualified for whipping the piss out of both Cornette and Vader with Cornette's tennis racket.

Each time however, James E. challenged Michaels to continue the match. Michaels accepted, and looked to lose his title to a Vader Bomb, only for Cornette to once again get involved, demanding that the challenger instead use his top rope moonsault to win the match.
Michaels moved, hit a moonsault of his own, and scored what was essentially an upset victory.
Your Winner and Still WWF Champion: Shawn Michaels.

Having survived a brutal assault, Michaels grabbed his title and celebrated, bringing this wholly disappointing show to an end.

Disappointing is just about the best word for it too. 

At the start of this review, we discussed how WWF Summerslam 1996 had been promoted mainly as a two match show. 

Whilst those two matches definitely delivered, the rest of the card ranged from dull to outright dreadful, a shame really, since bouts like the opening tag match and the Mero/Goldust match had the potential to be quite fun. 

The Boiler Room Brawl (or Bra, if you prefer) and that awesome championship match were enjoyable, but even they were not so good as to warrant sitting through what was probably one of the worst over all pay per views of 1996.

I'll be back again soon with the In Your House Mind Games review. Until then, thanks for reading, and be sure to join me on Twitter for more Retro Pro Wrestling - @Retropwrestling

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  1. I remember the huge nWo sign in the crowd that night. lol