411's Buy or Sell Wrestling SummerSlam Special: Bret vs. Bulldog, Police Squad, Zeus and More
Posted by Matt O’Connell on 08.18.2013
Is Bret Hart Mr. Summerslam? Did crossovers with No Holds Barred and the Naked Gun series hurt the credibility of WWE's product? 411's Ryan Byers and Matt O'Connell debate all this and more in this week's Buy or Sell!
Welcome back to 411's Buy or Sell: Classic wrestling edition! This is the column in which I reach back into history and drag it screaming into the present, like some wrestling-specific Ted "Theodore" Logan. It's much like 411's long-running Fact or Fiction column. The main difference is that BUY or SELL focuses on topics like pre-1997 mainstream pro wrestling, the U.S. Independent scene, Japanese Wrestling and pretty much anything else that isn't mainstream wrestling (WWE or TNA). This allows for these areas to get a bit more press and for you, our loyal readers, to learn even more about the sport of professional wrestling.
This week, 411's legendary Ryan Byers and myself will enjoy a combative safari through the history of WWE SummerSlam, or, as it is sometimes known, SummerFest.
The inclusion of a fictional wrestler in the main event of SummerSlam 1989 hurt the credibility of the product and also did little to promote the movie from which he came.
Matt O'Connell SELL: I get the idea of introducing Zeus as a wrestler, really I do. You have a movie you want to promote, and so you import one of the characters into the ring. This has been tried a million times in wrestling, and this instance was just about the most successful. It probably helped that the Zeus character was actually a wrestler, and not a cybernetic police officer or a sarcastic serial killing doll or a one-note joke of an SNL character. Still, despite the headscratcher of how a film character was fighting Hulk Hogan, while also fighting some doof named Rip Rogers in empty movie theaters across America, the match garnered the highest buyrate for a SummerSlam until 1998. So I guess I have to Sell, even if Zeus himself was unable to.
Ryan Byers SELL: Much like the Undertaker vs. Undertaker match discussed below, I think that history has made this storyline out to be more ridiculous than it actually was. Nobody ever said that the fictional character of Zeus stepped out of a movie screen and came to fight Hulk Hogan in the real world. The storyline was that the actor who played Zeus in the No Holds Barred film was a fighter and didn't like the fact that he played second fiddle to Hogan, wanting to prove that, in a "real" fight as opposed to the movie's scripted finish, he could go over. It wasn't a "fictional character" who came in to fight Hogan in the storyline, it was an actor who took his role too seriously. Granted, that angle is still a little bit silly, but it's nowhere near as silly as an angle in which a movie character comes to life and attempts to destroy Hulkamania. I agree with the statement that the main event of Summerslam 1989 wasn't good for the product and that it also didn't help promote the movie, but that's got nothing to do with this false concept that the event involved a fictitious character being in WWF match. It's got everything to do with the fact that Hogan's popularity as a babyface was starting to wear a bit thin after six years and the fact that, as intimidating a look as he may have had, Zeus was never any great shakes in the ring.
Despite its fanfare, the Bret Hart/British Bulldog match from SummerSlam 1992 was really an average match inflated by a very hot hometown crowd.
Matt O'Connell BUY: This is a very good match, by which I mean an average Bret Hart PPV match. But I think it is primarily remembered for the absolutely molten crowd, being the apex of Davey Boy's unfairly shortened career, and for main eventing a big-four PPV despite being an IC title match. But the match itself doesn't hold up without all of that, and Bret could have had it with anyone. A good match, yeah; but certainly not the best in either man's career and certainly not in the history of SummerSlam.
Ryan ByersSELL: I've never understood people saying that a great match is not as good if you take away the crowd. One of the primary goals of a professional wrestling match is to elicit a reaction from the live crowd, so, if it's getting that great reaction, the match is doing its job well and can't be called "average." And, quite frankly, if I'm watching a match either on tape or on television, the live crowd getting into it more often than not tends to result in me enjoying the match more than I otherwise would have. Separating the match from the crowd is virtually impossible and, with no offense meant to anybody who might disagree, smacks of an effort to be an elitist and/or a contrarian. That being said, even if I attempt to play this game and analyze the match without the audience being factored in, I still disagree with the statement. No, the match isn't exactly a five star classic, but it exceeds the standards for a WWF pay per view main event in 1992, which you have to keep in mind was still coming out of the hottest and heaviest period of the Hulk Hogan era. It's even more impressive if you look at the match in retrospect and accept as true Bret Hart's assertions that the Bulldog was blown up very early in the match and we're basically seeing the Hitman wrestle himself for over twenty minutes.
The generally awful Underfaker angle from the summer of 1994 is somewhat redeemed by the revelation that the entire thing took place in the same continuity as the Naked Gun series.
Matt O'Connell BUY: Does it make me a hypocrite to make fun of the WWE for importing Zeus but fully support the inclusion of Frank Drebin? Maybe, but I'm not backing down. In the wrestling business, you can't really complain about how stupid something is if it works; the Undertaker himself is a prime example of that. And the Nielsen vignettes were classic stuff, cheesy but wonderful. They may have been part of the build-up to a truly awful match that is best forgotten, but let's never forget the brief, glorious moment that Police Squad! invaded the WWE.
Ryan ByersSELL: If anything, that makes it worse, not better. Believe it or not, I'm going to compare this to Total Divas. For those of you who have been reading my reviews of that show on this very website, you know that I don't care for it much, and one of the reasons that I don't care for it is that it attempts to convince viewers that it is more "real" than your average scripted television show while simultaneously being so horribly contrived that its worked nature is apparent. I find that insulting to my intelligence. Back in 1994, general WWF programming, much like Total Divas now, was a television program that attempted to convince it viewers that it was more "real" than your average scripted television show. Interjecting Naked Gun's Frank Drebin into the supposedly real WWF continuity (and, in another similarity to Total Divas, confusingly referring to him by his shoot name as opposed to his character name) shattered the entire illusion of kayfabe that the promotion was attempting to create. On its face, the Undertaker vs. Undertaker feud wasn't all that ridiculous. Despite how it is sometimes portrayed in wrestling lore, nobody was ever really suggesting that there was a supernatural clone of the Undertaker that fought the original or that Ted DiBiase's Taker was some sort of mirror universe version of our hero. The storyline was just that the original Undertaker was gone for a while and Ted DiBiase tried to usurp him with an imposter. That's silly, but it's not as insufferably bad as some people make it out to be. It only gets insufferably bad when you throw in a bunch of inane, kayfabe-shattering skits from the files of Police Squad.
Diesel vs. Mabel from SummerSlam 1995 represents the absolute nadir of the the WWF's mid-90's dark period.
Matt O'Connell BUY: The phrase "absolute nadir" is pretty definite, and there were a lot of points in 1995 that could be seen as the darkest hour. For me, the absolute rock bottom came either here or at King of the Ring, and not coincidentally both involved the ascendancy of Mabel. But even though that King of the Ring was probably the worst version of that tournament WWE ever booked, at SummerSlam 1995, Mabel actually main-evented one of the biggest shows of the year, in his pajamas, against the lowest-drawing champion the company has ever had. Frankly, after that match, there was nowhere to go but up.
Ryan Byers BUY: I wasn't that old during the summer of 1995 and I hadn't been a professional wrestling fan for too long, but even I got the feeling that King Mabel was a really lame title contender. Yeah, he was a big guy, and I certainly wouldn't have wanted to get into a fight with him (then or now), but, prior to his heel turn and King of the Ring run, he and his running buddy Mo were essentially the bottom of the barrel in the bleak WWF Tag Team Title picture. Yeah, they wound up getting a championship match at Wrestlemania X, but, other than that blip on the radar and their supposed "shoot" title win over the Quebecers on a foreign house show, they were doing the j-o-b more often than not, despite their impressive size. A guy on Mabel's level being hastily repackaged and shoved into the main event is a clear indication of just how desperate the WWF was at the time to plug holes in its thinning roster. Mabel vs. Diesel wasn't the only issue with the Summerslam 1995 card, though. The whole thing was really light on big name performers top-to-bottom. When you've got "talent" like the Blu Twins, Bob Holly, Isaac Yankem, and Kama all in key spots on your card, you know you're in trouble. (And that's not a knock on the ability of those guys as performers . . . they were just far, far away from being stars.) Heck, the card was so lousy that it has caused people these days to essentially forget about Shawn vs. Razor II, a rematch of one of the most memorable bouts in professional wrestling history.
And now, a brief intermission before the switch. Damn it, Jim, now I can't unsee Hunter's slope head.
Vader should have beaten Shawn Michaels for the WWE championship in the main event of SummerSlam 1996.
Ryan ByersBUY: In some ways it's hard to feel bad for him because he has developed a reputation as a huge dick, but, in other ways, I still feel bad for how virtually everything in Vader's US career went after Hulk Hogan was introduced into WCW. First he got booked into a far-too-one-sided feud against the Hulkster for the WCW Title and then, after an initial push in the WWF, where he had the potential to be a monster heel yet again, all hopes for his career were dashed by run-ins with the Clique. Before that all occurred, he was one of the greatest superheavyweights in professional wrestling history and was putting on great matches across the board during the early 1990s, be it in Japan, WCW, or even Mexico and Europe. Protracted feuds with Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart could've produced some big-man little man classics on par with Vader's legendary Starrcade 1993 match with Ric Flair, and he also would have made a great foil for Steve Austin and even his former WCW rival Mankind as they were establishing themselves later in 1996. There was so much potential for Vader's run in the Fed, and a lot of it seemed to be flushed down the toilet when he lost his title match to Shawn Michaels in such a way that it looked to fans like he was never going to be believably elevated to the role of title contender again.
Matt O'Connell BUY: I'm a huge Shawn Michaels fan, but this would have been the right move. Shawn's babyface title reign was dead in the water at this point, and Vader was a proven commodity as a monster heel champion. This match and the classic against Foley at Mind Games a month later were meant to establish an aggressive streak in Michaels that he had been sorely lacking, but it was too little, too late; Sid of all people would get a babyface pop for cracking Michaels with a camera two months later at Survivor Series. And I'm also a Vader fan; I would have loved to see the big guy have a real run at the top of the WWE, which he never really got.
Bret Hart ought to be considered "Mr. SummerSlam" just as much as Shawn Michaels is considered "Mr. WrestleMania.
Ryan Byers BUY: 1989 against the Brainbusters. 1990 against Demolition. 1991 against Mr. Perfect. 1992 against the Bulldog. 1994 vs. Owen in the cage. 1997 against the Undertaker. Heck, even though they weren't the greatest matches, the 1993 bit against Doink the Clown and Jerry Lawler made for a memorable angle. (At least it was better than what happened in the main event.) I can't think of anybody who has a better combined body of work at Summerslam. Yes, guys like Hulk Hogan headlined more successful Summerslam events, but, if you're making a comparison to the "Mr. Wrestlemania" title, that's really more about match quality than it is box office success. Somewhat coincidentally, I think that if there's anybody who can challenge Bret Hart for the Mr. Summerslam title, it winds up being none other than Shawn Michaels, who has great performances against Razor Ramon in the ladder match in 1995, Vader in 1996, Triple H in 2002, Hulk Hogan in 2005, and in his promo with Chris Jericho in 2008. However, I think we'll still give Bret the nod in this one, if for no other reason than he should have SOMETHING in the record books over Shawn.
Matt O'Connell BUY : The Best there is, the Best there Was, and the Best there Ever Will Be? As far as SummerSlam goes, I'd have to say yes. I mean, just look at his record: the cage match with Owen in 1994; the technical marvel with Perfect in 1991; the tag team wars against Demolition and the Brain Busters. And Bret's final match also took place, fittingly enough, at SummerSlam. So yeah, if Shawn can be Mr. WrestleMania, there's no reason Bret can't be Señor SummerSlam.
I'd like to thank all my readers, and my fellow 411 staffers that participated in this week's round of questions. I hope to see you all this same time next week for more 411 Buy or Sell: Classic Wrestling Edition.