#WWF9998 – Castrol Presents Best Of SummerSlam
Arnold Furious: This is a curious beast. It sort of appeared into existence a few years after it logically should have done. The tape covers the best match of each SummerSlam between 1995 and 1999. ’95 is represented by the ladder rematch between Shawn and Razor, probably MOTY in the WWF. ’96 is represented by the Undertaker in a truly different Boiler Room Brawl against Mankind. ’97 by Mankind and Triple H in a steel cage. ’98 sees another ladder match, this time the career making Rock vs. Hunter match that I’ve been meaning to re-watch to see if it really is as overrated as I keep claiming. Finally ’99 is represented by Shane vs. Test, which is one of the all-time surprisingly good matches. ’95 is a no brainer. The ladder match is head and shoulders above everything else on the card. ’96 you could put in a strong argument for Shawn-Vader because it’s a much better match, but it also has a very screwy finish. ’97 is harder because you’ve got Bret-Taker, which is brilliant, but Bret was in WCW, or Owen-Austin, which would be entirely doable if Owen hadn’t died and the whole Hart Family weren’t up in arms about the WWF and threatening lawsuits and such. So that doesn’t leave much but luckily Foley and Hunter had a solid opener. ’98, despite me thinking it’s overrated, the ladder match is an easy pick over X-Pac vs. Jarrett, who doesn’t work here anymore, or Austin vs. Taker, which everyone is sick of seeing. ’99 has a decent main event with Austin vs. Hunter vs. Mankind and it’s almost a surprise they don’t go with that considering the lack of Austin on the tape.
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Razor Ramon
They start extremely fast and Razor has to grab the ropes to avoid the superkick. Shawn then slips out of the Razor’s Edge. 1-1. Shawn and Razor is a good match even without the ladder, but like all ladder matches it’s relatively heatless until the ladder comes into play. I say “relatively”, I’d argue this is one of the best ladder matches, ever, before the ladder comes into play. Shawn makes a point of throwing some bumps in to get the ladies worried for him. One bump is absolutely SICKENING. They try a suplex inside out and Shawn comes down on the rail. He must have been incredibly close to breaking his leg. They do more finisher countering, way ahead of its time, with both being dodged into a double down. They up the stakes by having Razor hit a fallaway slam off the ropes. That gives Razor time to grab the ladder but he’s also remembering WrestleMania X, so as soon as he’s close to the ring he puts the ladder down, therefore dodging the baseball slide Shawn had cued up. As soon as the ladder is in they use it to climb instead of setting spots up, which leads to Shawn taking another sick bump as his leg gets tangled in the ladder as he falls off it. With the ladder still in place Razor becomes the aggressor and stomps it. Shawn’s leg is pretty much screwed so Razor piles the pressure on with continued ladder spots to the knee. It’s smart work from Hall, way beyond his usual approach. The crowd buy into Shawn’s injury stopping him from climbing the ladder, which is perfect. Shawn gets defensive and when Razor tries to javelin him into the ladder he slips out and shoves ‘the Bad Guy’ into the weapon. They both head up and Shawn back suplexes Razor off the ladder. In their first match Shawn took most of the bumps but Razor took all the early ones. It’s almost a reversal of fortunes in this bout. It’s at this point where the psychology changes. Up to this point both guys have been going for the win, now they start to use the ladder as a weapon. Why? Well, because you need to buy yourself time to climb that ladder and as conventional moves aren’t working, the ladder comes into play in a different way. Shawn goes on the offensive by deliberately moonsaulting off the ladder and then following up with a splash off the top. The press connects, the splash does not, probably because it did at WrestleMania X and they wanted to play off that spot by having Razor dodge it this time, like with the baseball slide. The moonsault press was new so Razor took it. They both head up again and both spill outside where Razor pulls out the spare ladder. Shawn goes up and the Razor’s Edge brings him back down. By the time he’s finished messing about we get duelling ladders and Shawn kinda botches kicking Razor off. He’s too far away from the belt so he dives for it… and misses. It’s amazing. It was actually supposed to be the finish, unfortunately. Razor improvises a Razor’s Edge by the ropes, which is the most obvious move to get countered in the business. Nobody else went cuing up their finisher by the ropes as much as Scott Hall. Naturally he ends up on the floor and Shawn botches pulling the belt down again. He throws a hissy fit, forgetting his injured knee, and eventually manages to pull the title down to retain. I find this match almost impossible to rate because it’s easily *****… if Shawn had got the belt down the first time. Or even the second time. His little temper tantrum rather takes the sheen off the finish.
Final Rating: ****¾
Boiler Room Brawl
Mankind vs. The Undertaker
The backstage part of this brawl was pre-taped to give them more energy during the arena conclusion. A camera follows Taker into the boiler room, but then we cut to the other side. Taker’s initial walk into the boiler room is like a horror movie. As soon as Mankind attacks it just becomes a hardcore match. Although, this being 1996, it wasn’t something the WWF had been doing to this point. Like most hardcore matches the guys just bash each other with stuff. Because its pre-recorded they even insert cuts. Not by zooming into something like Alfred Hitchcock in Rope but by inserting “interference” while the crowd boos. Foley occasionally tries to insert his trademarks and that makes sense. Like him hitting the running knee against a roller shutter. The whole thing goes on far too long and there is no chance of it ending in the boiler room anyway, as the winner is the man who escapes, goes to the ring and claims the urn from Paul Bearer, which gives it the same quiet and weird vibe as a ladder match before the ladder becomes involved. Like the last one, in fact. They keep trying for cinematic visuals, which the cameramen aren’t capable of doing because they’re used to action shots. Mick climbs up a ladder, to legitimately 10-12 feet up and takes a bump off it onto a cardboard box. It looks to do nothing to break his fall. He’s way above the Undertaker’s head and that must have sucked to take. Mankind escapes first and tries to blockade the Undertaker in, like the Blues Brothers blocking the door when they’re going to pay the taxes in Chicago at the Honourable Richard J. Daley Plaza. Taker just ploughs through the barricade, without the aid of a SWAT team or machine guns, and they brawl through the locker room area. All the boys stick their heads out, in heel/face alignment, to shout support.
When they finally hit the arena the fans are burned out from 20-minutes of staring at a video screen. It’s only when they hit the ring that you realise how lame the WWF was at the time. Half the arena can’t even see the Titantron, so they set up four monitors, one on each side of the ring, which are 30 inch cathode ray tube TVs. How did anyone see anything? It’d be like going to the cinema and the film being shown on a laptop. They hit the ring and Mick takes a sickening bump off the apron back-first onto concrete. A real cruncher. Taker only needs to claim the urn to win. He drops to one knee and… Paul Bearer turns his back. Mankind hooks the Mandible Claw as the fans catch onto what’s happening. Paul completes his heel turn by giving the urn to Mankind, and then cracking it over Taker’s head. Shocking turn, great idea for a match, not the best of execution. The match is long and poor, and the final few minutes don’t really compensate for all the backstage stuff. Paul’s heel turn was absolutely shocking at the time though. He’d been Taker’s manager for the majority of Undertaker’s WWF run.
Final Rating: **¼
Steel Cage Match
Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Mankind
This is a result of Hunter winning the King of the Ring over Foley. Mankind’s slow burn face turn is complete. The cage will keep the interfering Chyna out as she’s been involved in almost every Hunter match since becoming his bodyguard. Hunter goes right after the door, which is perfect for his character. Their King of the Ring final was a real snoozer to begin with so they switch it here and have Mankind get an opening shine with Hunter trying to run away from him. The cage, as it turns out, doesn’t stop Chyna as she chokes Mankind with a belt between the bars and nut-shots him as he tries to climb out. That sets Helmsley up to hit a superplex, which gets the crowd all kinds of freaked out. Hunter is a little timid in his bump but the alternative might be a broken neck. You have to be sure of your big bumps. This is a more traditional cage match than Bret-Owen from ’94. Put that down to Hunter’s traditionalism. Mankind doesn’t slow himself up though; he just wants to use the cage as a weapon to hurt Hunter, after he was wronged by the king and his queen. Much like at KotR, the crowd go really quiet with Hunter on offence. It’s a combination of Hunter’s boring moveset and the crowd not feeling pain for Mankind, because he can take any pain so there’s no sympathy. Both guys take some sickening bumps into the steel. My favourite is Mankind taking a backdrop over the ropes into the cage. The way he drops into the ropes looks incredibly painful. He pops right back up and Hunter must be thinking there’s nothing he can do to keep Mankind down. Hunter gets tied up in the ropes, which may have been accidental and Chyna has to prevent Mankind escaping; she does by viciously slamming the cage door into his face! Ouch! She lays out the ref for good measure and throws a chair in. Chyna gets into position for a bump off the cage as Mankind slingshots Hunter into her. You can see she’s very deliberate about being in position so she doesn’t blow the spot, but it makes it a bit obvious. The fans buy into it anyway and it’s the biggest pop of the match. As Mankind looks to climb out the crowd chant “Superfly”. Chyna comes in, blowing the finish, and Hunter tells her to get out. Mankind climbs out, but wait… he takes his mask off and climbs back up to the top. If he aimed to create the same goosebumps he got from Jimmy Snuka then it’s mission accomplished. ELBOW OFF THE CAGE! Massive pop. He climbs out again and now Chyna actually hits her cue to jump in and drag Hunter out. Mankind still wins by climbing quicker than Chyna can drag. The match has a couple of hugely memorable spots, especially the enduring babyface elbow drop. Chyna screwed up a few spots, but she was also involved in some of the better moments too.
Final Rating: ***¼
WWF Intercontinental Championship
The Rock (c) vs. Triple H
While the Rock has been champion and a potential star for some time, even feuding with Steve Austin at the end of 1997, this is Hunter and Rock’s first opportunity to steal the show. The terrible DX Band play Hunter down to the ring. They could not play live, could they? Because I didn’t like this match originally I’ve only ever seen it twice. They start out trying to get over each others’ ability. The Rock looks clunky compared to his later career as the WWF’s top guy. Hunter is also lacking in key areas and sets up that Pedigree by the ropes, a’la Scott Hall’s similarly obvious finisher reversal spot. It was like Hunter didn’t trust his opponent to find a counter out and just gave them an obvious one. Lawler points out the ideal way to win a ladder match is to flat out beat your opponent into submission THEN grab the ladder and climb up unopposed. One of the major complaints about ladder matches, apart from setting up spots, is the slow climbing business. That had been largely eliminated by some excellent wrestlers partaking in ladder bouts, but it returns here. Rock is even slow picking the ladder up and carrying it to the ring. Why? Show some urgency! It’s totally out of character. Because Rock takes forever to climb at his first attempt, Hunter can race up the buckles and jump off to stop him. After that single solitary spot they start selling like we’re 30-minutes in! I guess that puts over the brutality of the match but I always felt like Hunter oversold spots, compared to other people. One of Rock’s worst attributes as a worker was his stomps. They looked soft as hell and almost mechanical, like his brain couldn’t process the movement of his boot downward. Rock gets sensible and works over Hunter’s leg, the right one (lucha style), and traps it between the ladder before nailing the ladder with a chair. It’s a good spot but the crowd is surprisingly silent for it. Working the right side confuses Rock a bit too and he frequently sets for spots on the wrong side, leaving him to correct. Rock takes no spots for a couple of minutes and STILL climbs painfully slowly. Why? He took no bumps, no work on his limbs, no work on his back. He was absolutely fine. Why is he climbing slowly? Hunter, you can understand because he’s got a knee injury. The ladder match is all about big spots though and if you can bring the spots, you can forgive the climbing (although the slow climb comes from the weardown of the big spots), but this match is all about psychology… apart from the climbing. Hunter does take a slingshot into the ladder on the floor, followed by a backdrop on the ladder. Again, he’s taking all the big spots so I have no problem with him struggling to climb. Hunter has time to get into an altercation with Mark Henry at ringside AFTER the bump and still get into the ring before Rock can get the belt. I hope Rock lives on one floor because if he had to climb the stairs to get to bed he wouldn’t get there before dawn. The best and most brutal spot of the match is Hunter dropkicking the ladder into Rock’s face. Rock blades off that. Hunter brings the slow, slow, slow climb and the people actually buy it because of his injuries, but Rock knocks him off. Rock breaks out meteorically slow climbing now, taking one step at a time with both feet like he’s wading through treacle. If he went any slower he’d be going backwards. They run a contrived spot where Hunter falls off the ladder and bounces back into it off the corner. It’s at the wrong angle. Rock charges with a ladder and Hunter gets himself a receipt by bashing the ladder with a chair. Selling inconsistencies lead to Hunter getting slammed on the ladder and Rock hitting the People’s Ladder Elbow. Hunter tries to climb but gets yanked off into the Rock Bottom. Oo er, missus. Rock actually manages to climb EVEN SLOWER than before. They have time to show a replay before he makes it to the third rung! Hunter drags him back down into a Pedigree, which is a very familiar spot. In that it just happened, the other way around. This time Hunter exerts so much energy he can’t stand. Mark Henry throws cocaine in Hunter’s eyes but he finds the ladder by touch. Rock climbs up QUICKLY, thus showing what nonsense the rest of the match is and Chyna runs in to low blow him. Hunter, even though he can’t see, pulls the IC Title down and both guys are made as main eventers for 1999. I still persist this is overrated but I’m glad I got the chance to check it out again to make certain. The massive selling inconsistencies are what hurt the contest and Rock just didn’t know how to work a long match. I will give the match credit where it’s due and say that they worked hard at the intensity and making the ladder mean something, but the climbing stuff was just ridiculous. Rock might as well have screamed “THIS IS FAKE” with every rung.
Final Rating: ***½
Greenwich Street Fight
Shane McMahon vs. Test
Here’s a collector’s item; a good match from Test! To refresh your memories this was a “Love Her or Leave Her” match where Test had to stop dating Shane’s sister Stephanie if he lost. Shane was supposed to come down solo but the Mean Street Posse, complete with hilarious injuries (arm in a sling, foot in a cast, neck brace), join him at ringside. Shane has such a tremendous disregard for his own safety that it’s easy to overcome his heat-stealing antics. After all, what happened to Test? Shane takes a few early spots on the floor to demonstrate his willingness to get hurt. Test goes one further and presses him onto the Posse, causing Steph to chuckle while watching on a backstage monitor. That gets the Posse all pissed off and turns it into a 4-on-1. It’s a street fight though, so there’s no DQ. They stay out of the ring, merely feeding Shane plunder, including a signed photo of themselves in a glass frame. Has there ever been a wrestling picture frame that wasn’t shattered over someone’s head? The Ultimate Warrior once even wore a baseball cap to prepare himself for such eventualities. It merits a replay, which fat idiot Pete Gas stands in the way of. Test accidentally boots the ref in the face, not that a street fight needs a ref bump because it’s already no DQ. The Posse give Test another shoeing, which showcases exactly how many of them can actually work (his name rhymes with Blowy Jabs). Test gets dumped on the Spanish announce table and Shane hits an epic elbow drop through it. That merits five replays, which not even Pete Gas can ruin, and two “amazing”s from JR. Pete Gas accidentally hits Shane with plunder, because he really is that incompetent. As the nonsense continues, Pat Patterson and Jerry Brisco run down to beat up the non-wrestlers in the Posse. Test takes care of Joey Abs to even the score. Pumphandle Slam should finish but Test wants to drop the big elbow as a message. I hear Steph digs guys who drop the elbow off the top. Dig it? That gets the pin and Steph runs down, limbs completely out of control, to celebrate. Yeah, that’ll last. I had forgotten how little wrestling there is in this match. It relies heavily on Shane taking silly bumps around the ring. It has half-decent structure and solid pops but it’s not aged well. Recommended viewing instead: Test vs. RVD from the ECW revival in 2006. Test’s best singles match, ever, I’d wager. This one was once, but it doesn’t quite hold up under scrutiny.
Final Rating: ***
Summary: I don’t want to come off like a miserable old bastard here, but some of these matches are not as good as the WWF thinks they are. For my money the Shawn-Razor ladder match is the only one that really lives up to the billing. Of course this shows how many poor matches existed on WWF PPV in the mid-late 90s if this is the best they can manage for a tape release, although you could argue this papers over Vader, Owen and Bret because they’d left the company. Politics leaves you with slender pickings! Seeing as the tape is ultra-rare you’re unlikely to get the opportunity to buy it anyway unless you’re a serious collector. What really irks me is an attempt to do a “best of SummerSlam” tape without Bret Hart. The man was a SummerSlam highlight reel! The Owen cage match, Davey Boy at Wembley, against the Brain Busters back in ’89 and the Mr. Perfect IC Title win. All these matches are ****½ or higher! The dispute with Bret prevented the WWF from acknowledging his existence, or indeed the existence of SummerSlam before 1995. It’s an okay tape but it’s not the “best of” anything in particular really.