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25 Years Ago: WWF's Summer Slam 1996!

When I began 9th grade in the fall of 1998, I was more than just nervous about starting high school.  I was extremely jealous of two of my friends.

If you read my recent feature about "Summer Wrestling Memories" (if you haven't yet, please CLICK HERE to do so), you'd have read about my time doing some backyard wrestling with my two good friends.  My parents didn't really like that I was into wrestling and wouldn't encourage it by buying shirts, posters, or tickets to live events. But these two?  They had it all.  

Everything, including tickets to SummerSlam 1998, with the main attraction featuring the two hottest acts in pro wrestling:  Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker.  

I was definitely a WCW fan, but I definitely wanted to be there to see it with a headline act like that.  To make matters worse, it was at The Garden!  Madison Square Garden was our "home" arena just 30 minutes down the Palisades Parkway and was the mecca of pro wrestling! 

I never even bothered to ask my parents for tickets because I knew the answer would be a resounding NO.  Come to think of it, Joe and Andrew never asked me if I wanted to go with them either because I'm sure they knew I wouldn't. 

So, I was definitely jealous when they both were wearing the t-shirts from the show on the first day of school.  They both had several great stories of their trip into the city, and I was green with envy.

That's how SummerSlam 1998 went for me, but for today let's take a look two years earlier in 1996 to make it a nice even 25 years ago.  Just as the Monday Night Wars were starting to heat up, WWF SummerSlam took place in Cleveland, Ohio, as Shawn Michaels took on Vader!  

If you'd like to read about WCW's summer tent pole event from that year, Bash at the Beach, CLICK HERE to read about the night Hulk Hogan changed wrestling and pop culture history in one night.

Join me on a road trip down memory lane into the summers of yesteryear as we look back on the 1996 WWF SummerSlam! 

SummerSlam is an annual Pay-Per-View event, produced every August since 1988 by the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment.)  With the tagline "The Biggest Party of the Summer," SummerSlam is one of the company's original "Big Four" Pay-Per-View shows, considered the second most important behind Wrestlemania.  

1996 would be the 9th event in SummerSlam history and followed WWF's "In Your House 9:  International Incident" the month prior.  "International Incident" was a PPV event from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on July 21st, that featured a "6-man tag match" as the Main Event as "Camp Cornette" took on "The People's Posse."  

"Camp Cornette," led by legendary manager Jim Cornette, was the team of Owen Hart, British Bulldog, and Vader.  They faced off against  "The People's Posse" of WWF Champion Shawn Michaels, WWF Intercontinental Champion Ahmed Johnson, and "Sycho (Psycho)" Sid.  Camp Cornette emerged victorious after Jim Cornette, who had previously promised to personally refund everyone's PPV purchase if his team lost, interfered in the match to help his team cheat and win.

The Ultimate Warrior was originally scheduled to be in this match but quit the company (or was fired, depending on who you ask) over storyline content.  He was replaced somewhat last minute by Sycho Sid.

A month later, on August 18, SummerSlam took place at the Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, in front of just under 17,000 fans.

Farooq Assad (the great Ron Simmons) was supposed to face Ahmed Johnson in his WWF debut match for the Intercontinental Championship, but Ahmed Johnson was injured (as he was frequently) and could not appear on the show.  Instead, Farooq was interviewed by Todd Pettengill and was associated with the most popular manager in the WWF, Sunny.  

Before the event, in what WWF called a "Free for All" match, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin defeated Yokozuna when the ring ropes "broke" under Yokozuna's weight in only 1 minute and 52 seconds.  The match aired for free on the TV Guide channel in an effort to drum up last-minute interest for the evening's Pay Per View spectacle.

Meanwhile, during the "Free for All" programming on the TV Guide channel, radio legend Todd Pettengill hosted the "Bikini Beach Blast-Off" party.  A pool was set up for the wrestlers to enjoy (in storyline), while Todd would interview guests to hype the show later on in the evening.  Guests on this episode included Sunny, Sable, Marc Mero, The Smoking Gunns, Goldust, Jerry Lawler, Who (Jim Neidhart), The Bushwhackers, Hunter Heart Helmsley, and the champion himself, Shawn Michaels.  

We saw the great Owen Hart defeat Savio Vega in the show's opening match, followed by a Four-Way Elimination Match for the WWF Tag Team Championship.  

Billy and Bart Gunn (The Smoking Guns), who had won the Tag Team titles back in May, defeated The Godwins, The New Rockers, and The Bodydonnas to retain their Championship titles.  

Both "The Godwins," made of Henry O. Godwin (get it, HOG?) and Phinneas I. Godwin (PIG), of "The Bodydonnas," Skip (Chris Candido) and Zip (Tom Prichard), were former tag champs in just the months prior.  "The New Rockers," made of Marty Jannetty and Leif Cassidy (Al Snow), were a rather forgettable combination.  As Bruce Prichard says, just adding "NEW" in front of something means it's likely terrible.  "The New Rockers" was severely lacking, in my opinion. While Al Snow is great in his own right, the team needed its former member, the current World Champion, and this particular evening's main event star, Shawn Michaels.    

After the Tag Titles match, Sycho Sid defeated The British Bulldog in a follow-up from the previous month's "In Your House" show.  This was followed by a somewhat forgettable match featuring the (at the time) controversial Goldust defeating "The Wild Man" Marc Mero.  Mero would eventually be forgotten by the company, having been outshined by his wife, Sable.  Personally, I always loved Mero and really enjoyed his Little Richard knockoff gimmick Johnny B. Badd.

In a 4 minute match, "The King" Jerry Lawler defeated Jake "The Snake" Roberts.  Lawler was coming off of his fun feud with Bret Hart and a run as World Champion in Jim Cornette's Smokey Mountain Wrestling.  This somewhat tasteless feud with Roberts began when Lawler, who had been feuding with The Ultimate Warrior, was suddenly without a dance partner when Warrior was fired/quit just a month prior.  One day in June, acting as a color commentator for one of Jake's matches, Lawler made fun of Robert's long history of alcohol and substance abuse.  Making fun of his addiction was scripted and was used to attack his new "Born Again" persona.  I thought it was tasteless, but it eventually led to the "Austin 3:16" promo that sold BILLIONS of dollars worth of t-shirts, so... what do I know? 

Olympic hero and future WWE Hall of Famer Mark Henry ran in and saved Roberts after Lawler smashed Jake with a bottle and tried to force him to drink.

The short match between Lawler and Roberts gave way to a mix of pre-taped and live wrestling featuring The Undertaker and Mankind.  Mick Foley/Mankind's story is for another day, but this match 'made' him a Main Event level star in the WWF.  The Undertaker, alongside longtime manager Paul Bearer, and Mankind created new drama in an innovative new "gimmick match" for the WWF.

The winner of this first match was to escape the arena's boiler room.  Any weapons found in the room could be used.  It was used as a way to get pipes, tools, and ladders involved with the match.   Interestingly enough, Mankind/Mick Foley appeared in every Boiler Room Brawl in WWF/E history, and over in WCW, Jerry Flynn was involved in every one of that promotion's Boiler Room Brawls. 

While historic in the minds of fans, the match was a poorly lit spectacle that eventually leads to Paul Bearer turning his back on The Undertaker.  Bearer cracks The Undertaker over the head with his urn and hands it to Mankind, who wins the match.  While the match itself may have been lackluster due to the limitations of actually fighting in a giant, dark boiler room, this match stole the show and is the match everyone remembers from this Pay Per View.

Finally, we arrive at the Main Event of the evening as Shawn Michaels defends his WWF World Heavyweight Title against Vader.  Michaels used his smaller size and speed over the much larger Vader.  Vader drops Michaels on his injured back across the guardrail and gets back in the ring for a count-out victory.  Except, in the WWF, the Title doesn't change hands on a count-out victory, so Vader's manager Jim Cornette demands the match be restarted.  Michaels gets into the ring, and the match resumes, much to the crowd's delight.  

Shortly after the match restarts, Michaels uses Cornette's tennis racket on Vader and gets disqualified.  Vader wins the match, but again, does not win the title.  

The match restarts a third time at Cornette's insistance.  After a "ref bump" saves Michaels when there is no one there to count to three, Vader hits several finishing maneuvers before HBK can reverse Vader's patented moonsault into one of his own.  He then pinned Vader for the victory and to retain his title.

Vader, in my opinion, was misused in the WWF.  He was one of the fastest-moving and most agile of the "big men" of wrestling, and his time in Japan and WCW was legendary.  He may have gained a little weight, but he still was a massive, fast-moving big man.  While he may have been booked poorly in his run with the WWF, he technically won twice in this match.  He also scored a pinfall victory, but there was no referee there to make it legal.  He also, at one point, kicked out of Shawn Michaels' finishing move, called Sweet Chin Music.  I believe that Vader was the first to ever do that.  

Following SummerSlam 1996, the WWF started working their way to the next of the "Big 4" events, the next being "Survivor Series" in November.  

The next Pay-Per-View event was "In Your House 10:  Mind Games" in September.  On that show, Mark Henry made his official in-ring debut in a victory against Jerry Lawler.  The Undertaker moved on from his Mankind feud and defeated Goldust.  Farooq (Ron Simmons) defeated Marc Mero.  

Sycho Sid defeated Vader during the evening, and then in the Main Event, WWF World Champion Shawn Michaels defeated Mankind (and Paul Bearer) by Disqualification.