The PPV Project – SummerSlam 1996

August 18th 1996. Cleveland, Ohio

SummerSlam 1996 is brought to you by Stridex acne pads. It’s a relief they went into detail about that because for a few seconds I thought Stridex was a brand of condom. Nothing screams ‘aimed a teenage boys’ than a wrestling event sponsored by skin treatment.

It’s the ninth edition of the WWF’s hottest night of the year and our commentary team for the evening are Jim Ross, Vince McMahon and Mr Perfect. For some reason Mr Perfect has gone from guest referee to backstage interviewer to ringside commentator all within the last three months. He might be taking time off from wrestling to let his back heal but Vince still seems to be getting his money out of Curt Henning.

Before the presentation gets under way I need to mention something about dark matches. Despite winning the King of the Ring tournament in 1996 and appearing at International Incident last month against Marc Mero, Stone Cold is nowhere to be seen on the main PPV. His dark match with Yokozuna is referenced on commentary later on but is never shown. It’s actually only famous for the top rope snapping when Yoko went up for a Banzai Drop. It’s not on the version available on the WWE Network yet here it is via the magic of YouTube if watching a large man fall on his back is your thing.

So for all the talk of the promo at King of the Ring 1996 being a game changer, remember they were still making him do dark matches three months on.

Owen Hart was in the main event last month and yet here he is opening this PPV by going up against Savio Vega. Having watched a couple of his matches now I’m not sure where Savio’s appeal was. He’s the ever smiling face who occasionally breaks into a dance. He’s also Puerto Rican and fairly proud of it. Then again Rusev is from Russia and fairly proud of that as well. Vega is probably what Rusev would be if he were a face.

Owen is still wearing the cast over his left wrist which forms the early part of the match as Vega argues with the ref about Owen wearing it during the match. The ref allows Owen to carry on with it which results in plenty of armbars and bashing Owen’s forearm off the turnbuckles.

Camp Cornette’s legal representative Clarence Mason comes down to ringside halfway through the match. He doesn’t actually do anything of note apart from pull a few faces and cheer Owen for a bit. The commentary team wonder of Clarence has been sent here by Jim Cornette. Cornette himself is shown in the back with Vader. Owen has come to the ring alone tonight.

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Eventually, Owen manages to remove the cast behind the ref’s back and batter Vega over the head with it. Owen then snaps on the Sharpshooter and the ref calls an end. The next part is extremely odd. Justin ‘Hawk’ Bradshaw walks down to the ring and starts yelling at Vince. The strange thing is that he’s not close enough to a mic for anybody to hear what he’s saying. He then stomps off to attack Vega who is being helped to the back by the ring crew. I suppose it sets up a future match but it would have been nice to know what Bradshaw was so angry about.

The next match is the Fatal Fourway Tag Team Title Match. Our three main teams in the WWF at this time in The Smoking Gunns, The Godwinns and The Bodydonnas are joined by ‘The New Rockers’ featuring Marty Jannetty and Leif Cassidy. Considering Marty was also in the original Rockers this might be slightly stretching it but then ‘The 50% New Rockers’ doesn’t have a great ring to it.

Nobody seems very sure of the rules on this one. There can only be two in the ring at one time but they can tag anybody else in, it doesn’t have to be their own team partner. Once on member of each team is pinned both members are eliminated and have to leave the ring. This part seems fairly logical apart from when Phineas and Zip take a break from wrestling to tag both Billy and Bart Gunn at the same time. The Smoking Gunns look very worried about being forced to fight each other, the crowd start to get into it and Jim Ross starts screaming about how they “have to make contacts at least once”. Suddenly there’s none of that as they both tag out. Nothing more is mentioned about it.

The Bodydonnas go first, The New Rockers get eliminated next and the match only really starts going when it’s the Godwinns alone with The Gunns. Eventually the Smoking Gunns pick up the quick pinfall to retain their titles. The camera lingers on Sunny again as she gets on the mic to cut a promo about how wonderful she looks. A huge banner with her photo on is dropped from the lighting rig. She’s actually wearing more clothes on the photo than she is in person. Once again The Gunns might be champs but it’s Sunny taking the limelight.

I had to confer with Geordie Alan about the next part. He maintains it wasn’t shown in the UK Sky Sports version at the time because he simply cannot remember it. It shows The Smoking Gunns and The Godwinns ‘racing’ each other to the Gund Arena with Billy and Bart (and Sunny of course, no show without Punch) taking a horse drawn carriage and Henry and Phineas taking the brand new tram system. Shock of shocks, a purpose built tram system beats a horse carrying some muscle bound wrestlers. It seems like an advert for the public transport system in Cleveland. They follow this with some of the WWF’s roster doing good deeds around the city. It features Mark Henry painting a wall which is actually the first time you see him on PPV. Quite why this fills ten minutes of air time I have no idea. My only guess is that, in the wake of the steroid scandal, Vince was desperate for some positive PR.

Next up is everybody’s favourite spokesman for mental health issues Psycho Sid as he takes on The British Bulldog. Once again Jim Cornette is absent for Bulldog’s entrance. Sid cuts a pre match promo about how he awoke one night and heard the fans calling for him. He’s as over as he was last month and the crowd, who have been fairly dead up until now, seem to be loving every minute of him. The ‘U.S.A’ chant rears its head early on.

This is of course until the match starts. It’s a slugfest filled with rest holds and the limitations of Sid become fairly obvious. As somebody to stand next to a wrestler in a body guard style role he’s brilliant, as he was with Shawn Michaels, but alone with all the focus on him he falters. His shortcoming were disguised very well in last month’s six man tag but not here.

Clarence enters the arena once again, coming down to support The British Bulldog. Jim Cornette comes down to yell at Clarence, asking him what exactly he thinks he’s doing down here when he hasn’t been told to do so. All of this commotion means that Bulldog is distracted from pinning Sid after a Running Powerslam. Upon attempting a second one Sid manages to slip out of Bulldog’s grip and chokeslam him for the win. Cornette goes crazy at ringside.

If I were Owen I’d be fairly ticked off that Cornette completely blanked my match in favour of Vader and Bulldog. Perhaps they might go there but I doubt it.

Women always get a strange deal in wrestling. They’re either complete bitches or scared of everything. Sable certainly fell into the latter to start with. She walks down to the ring with Marc Mero as he takes on Goldust. Goldust has talked about his obsession with Sable in recent weeks and Mero wants him nowhere near his woman. Such is the simple foundation for this contest.

As he walks to the ring Jim Ross notes Marc Mero’s new ring attire, mainly a coat with so many diamonds it’s a risk to your retinas. He also mentions that Mero told him earlier today that he would debut a new move called ‘The Wild Thing’ in this match. He didn’t tell J.R what it was, simply saying he’d know it once he saw it. Our commentary team ponder what Marlena must think of Goldust being in love with another women. J.R mentions he’s asked her that and the reply was all about her being happy if Goldust was happy. This is probably a fairly PG way of saying he was aiming for a threesome and she was totally cool with that. Footage is also shown of a recent episode of Superstars in which Mankind walked down to the ring as Mero was wrestling and started to call Sable ‘Mommy’. The poor woman freaked out, understandably so.

The match actually isn’t that bad. Mero was a good wrestler with a fairly dodgy character whilst Dustin Rhodes was a really good wrestler with an even dodgier character. ‘The Wild Thing’ ends up being a Shooting Star Press which Mero doesn’t quite get the full rotation of as he’s at a really awkward angle upon impact. Mankind once again comes down to the ring to chase Sable whilst Goldust has Mero in a headlock. He quickly runs away from the scene once the refs force him to. This seems strange as Mankind is supposed to be hiding out in the boiler room preparing for his match against The Undertaker later. The ending of the match comes suddenly as Goldust, against the run of the match, catches Mero with a Final Cut for a three count.

Ahmed Johnson was supposed to wrestle Farooq Assad on this PPV but the Intercontinental Champion was legitimately taken ill with a kidney problem beforehand. As far as a story line went Farooq attacked Ahmed on screen to rule him out. Instead of a match we are shown a video of Ahmed recovering at home. Farooq comes down to the ring for an interview with Todd Pettengill. Not only is he dressed like some kind of blue gladiator but they’ve given him Sunny as a manager. I’m shocked to say that Sunny is given equal mic time to scream about her ‘modern day gladiator’. Farooq stakes a claim for the Intercontinental title which Gorilla Monsoon has been forced to vacate due to Ahmed’s illness/injury. The tournament to crown a new champion starts on Raw the next night, Farooq reckons they should just give him the title. The crowd seem to have died off.

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Exactly how far should wrestling angles go into real life affairs? Jake Roberts had been having problems with alcohol in his private life and this is seen as an ideal jumping off point for a feud with Jerry Lawler. It’s been revealed that Lawler is scared of snakes. To be honest I cannot recall any of Jake’s opponents over the years that had no problem with reptiles. The Olympian Mark Henry is introduced as he walks down to the ring to provide commentary. He has a slight problem putting his headset on and ignores Mr Perfect as he gives handshakes to Vince and J.R. In fairness, Perfect does pull him up on it. Throughout this match Henry is terrible on commentary. It’s as if he had no idea what pro wrestling is until the day beforehand.

Actually, he probably didn’t.

We get a few moments with Jerry on the microphone saying he’s brought two friends for Jake in the shape of two bottles of Jim Bean (although he does originally say “Jim Bean and Jack Daniels” before realising the bottles are the same so somebody got the order wrong at the convenience store). Jake comes down with snake on tow.

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What follows is a blueprint of a Lawler match in this era as he stalls on the mic before finally getting battered during the actual match. The only change is that he actually wins by shoving a Jim Bean bottle in Jake’s neck. The aftermath involves Lawler pouring Jim Bean down Jake’s throat until Mark Henry gets up from the commentary desk to go and stop him. Lawler runs off whilst Henry picks Jake up. It’s a terrible match based on a worse angle.

Vince McMahon actually says that Mark Henry has no wrestling experience on commentary as this goes on. This coming from a man who has just signed Henry on a ten year contract.

With this being the mid 90’s and ECW being in full swing throwing everything but the kitchen sink at each other there are certain limitations the family friendly WWF can go to as far as ‘hardcore’ matches go. Up next is The Undertaker vs Mankind in the Boiler Room Brawl. Gorilla Monsoon came up with this match, he’s nowhere to be seen in the build up. Paul Bearer holds up the urn in the middle of the ring. The first combatant to get back to the ring and claim the urn wins the match.

We go backstage to see a referee letting a tense Undertaker into the Boiler Room. To be fair to Taker, it’s not often he got a chance to show fear and he does it really well here. The commentary is sparse barring a few moments of Vince saying ‘ouch’ as Taker and Mankind belt each other with steel pipes and bins. At one point Mankind falls from a ladder and crashes onto the floor.

My main problem with this match, regardless of how much they put each other through, is that the backstage stuff goes on far too long. Eventually, after what feels like an hour they leave the Boiler Room itself and move into the corridor leading to the arena. Mankind manages to pour ‘hot’ coffee over Taker as they are cheered on by half the locker room.

As they enter the arena itself it becomes fairly obvious that there’s no big screen. They have set up four TVs on each side of the ring but they’re normal, household sized screens meaning that anybody more than three rows back has been able to see nothing for the last half hour. Said TVs are then used as weapons.

The dramatic part comes at the end when Paul Bearer turns on The Undertaker, shielding the urn from him and giving it instead to Mankind. There’s a moment when Taker is crawling towards Bearer holding out his hand like a confused child. It’s very much a moment of ‘why art thou forsaken me?’.

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Mankind and Bearer leave in victory before a band of Druids arrive to collect the fallen Dead Man and take him away for a long rest and possibly surgery. Usually when the boys in hoods show up it means Taker has some medical time booked off. I’m convinced one of them is his surgeon.

Vader makes his entrance for the WWF Title match whilst having cups thrown at him which Jim Cornette has to duck a couple of times. A thought occurred to me during all of this that we’ve heard nothing from Shawn Michaels so far this evening. No promos, no video footage from outside his dressing room and not much mention of him from commentary. Part of me began to wonder if he was actually in the building. My mind was at ease once his music hit and he walks down the aisle to start the match.

Vader’s WWF run isn’t considered the most successful in retrospect. He’s a far cry from his monster like appearances in WCW against Sting three years earlier. Shawn and Vader to put together a fairly good match though even though Shawn’s attitude does come to the fore a couple of times. It’s mainly noticed when Shawn signals for a top rope elbow on a prone Vader. Shawn then climbs the ropes, jumps and then abandons the move in midair to just land on his feet next to Vader’s head. He has to make out like he meant to do it and J.R makes a big noise about how Shawn was wise enough to know he couldn’t get the elbow done whilst in mid air. Regardless, it’s a screw up and Shawn lets Vader know about it by screaming at him.

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A side note on the commentary here. Towards the end of the match Vader has Shawn up for a Power Bomb which both J.R and Vince describe as a Vader Bomb. For the last few months the Vader Bomb has always been the splash from the second corner turnbuckle. A few moments later Vader drags Shawn over to the corner and J.R says he’s going for the Vader Bomb. It seems that Vader’s move set was so memorable that they’re unsure as to which is his finisher.

Shawn manages to mount a fair bit of offense against Vader with the big man usually coming back with one power move. The balance is tipped when Vader drops Shawn across the guardrail meaning HBK cannot get back to the ring. Vader wins by count out but obviously he cannot take the title that way. Jim Cornette goads Shawn into restarting the match. This carries on until Cornette passes Vader his tennis racket which Shawn uses as a weapon to get himself disqualified. Once again Vader wins but doesn’t get the title. With a gaggle of referees and Gorilla Monsoon in the ring Jim Cornette once again goads Shawn into restarting a second time. After all of this Michaels uses Sweet Chin Music on Vader to finally pin him. We sign off with Shawn celebrating in the ring.

A PPV saved by the main event and the latter half of the match before is how I’d sum up Summerslam 1996. It’s really only worth a watch from the second half onwards because there’s nothing much to hold the attention in the opening. This is apart from the race between the Godwinns and The Smoking Gunns, worth it alone to hear the Godwinns mention how the carriage was ‘lovely and air conditioned’. In the next entry we move onto In Your House 10: Mind Games’ or ‘Shawn, just stamp on the fingers already’.

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