Wrestling in the Clinton Years: From the files of Police Squad, SummerSlam 1994

SummerSlam_1994Hello dear reader, welcome to the latest instalment of my personal odyssey through the WWF in the year 1994, part of the much maligned “New Generation” era. Post Hogan & pre Attitude, we find the WWF of the mid 90s a company struggling to catch on with audiences amid a roster devoid of true star power and facing increasing pressure from the burgeoning WCW. History would have you believe that this is a dark time with no real merit or entertainment value, I aim to find out of that’s true as I watch WWF Raw & Pay Per View events throughout the year. This brings me to SummerSlam 1994.

SummerSlam will always hold a special place in my heart. The first wrestling I ever saw was footage from SummerSlam 89 & the first live wrestling event I ever attended was SummerSlam 92 at Wembley Stadium, so I always approach anything SummerSlam related with some excitement, so without further ado, time for this special PPV edition of Wrestling in the Clinton Years to begin. So hot it’s scary, it’s SummerSlam 94.

The date is August the 29th, the place is the brand new United Center in Chicago Illinois, 23,000 are in attendance and Macho Man Randy Savage is first out, mic in hand to welcome us to the show & introduce us to our commentary team for the evening, that team being Vince McMahon & Jerry “The King” Lawler. Lawler & Vince recap the shocking events of a house show the night prior where WWF Tag Team Champions The Headshrinkers were defeated by Shawn Michaels & Diesel, losing their titles in the process. So that’s yet another Tag Title change that didn’t occur on-screen. This may have been a way of promoting house shows as a place were anything can happen, but I fail to see how the switch benefits anyone involved. HBK & Diesel just wander out with the belts (which must’ve been confusing to the live crowd) and the Headshrinkers just look like fools. Anyway, McMahon & Lawler proceed to run down the card & inform is that the British Bulldog is in attendance tonight.

With the introductions & exposition over with, it’s time for the opening contest as now no longer WWF tag team champions The Headshrinkers (with Louis Albano & Afa in tow) take on the million dollar team of IRS & Bam Bam Bigelow, led to the ring by Ted DiBiase.

The casual racism starts early here as Louis turns to a nearby camera & starts talking in what we’re supposed to assume is the Headshrinkers’ mother tongue. In fact he’s just talking gibberish, compounded by Vince on commentary proclaiming “Louis Albano talking whatever language that was”. And all this before the bell even rings.

The match begins with Bam Bam & Fatu starting off. Bigelow takes control on Fatu before missing a charge in the corner and eating a Fatu superkick that gets a 2 count. Fatu attempts to slam Bigelow but Bam Bam’s weight is too much for the future Rikishi, and he crashes on top of Fatu for another near fall. One of Bigelow’s trademark enzugiris floors Fatu once more and Bigelow climbs the ropes for a splash from the top rope, which Bigelow misses. Fatu turns Bigelow inside out with a hard clothesline that gives him an opportunity to tag in Samu and the two Samoans whip Bigelow into the corner & hit a tandem superkick for another 2. Bigelow manages to tag in IRS who does impressively leap frogs a charging Samu but gets slammed twice soon after. IRS ducks a Samu flying crossbody but sails over the top rope as Samu returns the favour, ducking an IRS flying crossbody. Outside of the ring IRS gets his head rammed into the ring steps before being bundled back into the ring. Back in the ring Fatu tags back in but Bigelow on the apron low bridges Fatu during an Irish whip & he tumbles to the arena floor once more. Bigelow works over Fatu on the outside as the referee is distracted with IRS for no other reason than to allow this cheating to occur. IRS has done more than I’ve really seen before than in this match, not once does he really hold down a Chinlock for ages and it shows as the sweat is pouring off him. A hot tag to Samu sees him hitting both Bigelow & IRS with headbutts & back body drops as he runs wild, eventually hitting a 2nd rope diving headbutt on IRS for a 2 count as Bigelow breaks up the pin. The Shrinkers keep control & hit a double headbutt & double front Russian Legsweep on IRS and Samu hits a top rope splash finisher, but Ted DiBiase makes his presence felt as he distracts the referee, allowing Bigelow drags Samu out of the ring, attacks Fatu & then punches Albano off the ring apron for good measure. This incenses Afa who climbs into the ring & attacks Bigelow, which the ref catches & calls for the bell, disqualifying the Headshrinkers. A brawl ensues as everyone fights as DiBiase slinks away and all four wrestlers brawl to the back as officials try to separate them as Fink announces IRS & Bigelow as the winners over the house mic.

This was a fun opener, I’ve been a fan of the Headshrinkers since the beginning of this project, and they showed it here as strong babyfaces and against the talented Bigelow & IRS (who did wonders in the tag format, a far cry from his dull, rest hold filled singles bouts) they flourished in this spirited brawl.

Backstage, Leslie Nielsen is hot on the trail of the Undertaker, wandering around following a series of signs marked “Undertaker trail” until 2 staff accost him before mistaking him for Peter Graves & let him be. Nielsen in full “Frank Drebbin” mode wanders around some more until he happens upon a figure clad in a familiar hat & trenchcoat. My palm reaches my face just as this “undertaker” is “hilariously” revealed to be George Kennedy, who played Nielsen’s boss in Police Squad! & The Naked Gun. This is the theme for the night folks, mercifully they’re brief but no less poorly written.

The WWF Ladies/Womens championship is on the line next as champion Alundra Blayze defends against Bull Nakano, accompanied by Luna Vachon. Flower girls present each competitor with a large bouquet of blooms as Lawler reaches once again into his large back of insults that he hurls at Blayze throughout the match.

The pace of this match can only be described as electric as Bull starts off quickly with a kick and a clothesline before attempting a splash mountain bomb that Blayze escapes from, leading to her hitting Bull with a dropkick but missing a second as Nakano simply sidesteps the champion. Firmly in control Bull viciously whips Alundra by her hair not once but twice in a wince inducing display. Alundra attempts to fight back with punches to Nakano’s stomach as Alundra is on her knees on the canvas but an enraged Nakano blasts Blayze with a hard kick and a hard legdrop.

It’s at this point it became apparent to me that this pairing of the once & future Madusa & Bull is a fabulous combination with Nakano being a big(ger) monster than Blayze but having the mobility & ability to work wonders with her opponent.

“USA” chants rain down from the crowd as Bull attempts a cocky one footed pin only for Alundra to kick out at 2 before Blayze recovers & surprises the Japanese star with a huracanrana that gets a close 2 count as well as a spinning kick that the 123 Kid would be jealous of before Nakano uses her size & power to drive Alundra into the mat with a falling tree slam (a lifting two-handed choke followed by throwing the opponent to the mat). With the champion prone on the mat Bull employs a Boston Crab in an attempt to win via submission but Blayze manages to drag her & Bull to the ropes, forcing a break of the hold. The damage appears to be done as Bull targets Blayze’s lower back, before locking Alundra in the scorpion crosslock currently employed by Paige in modern WWE. Once again Alundra survives as Bull can’t keep the hold on forever but Luna takes an opportunity to attack Blayze as the ref is tied up with Nakano.

After the attack Bull again presciently references modern WWE by locking in Alberto Del Rio’s cross arm-breaker, here referred to as a wrist-lock by Vince on commentary. Once again Alundra survives long enough to comeback with a succession of running “SlingBlade” type moves until she attempts a piledriver but Nakano is too strong, and backdrops Blayze to counter and rocks the champ with a slam and yet another painful looking clothesline. Alundra manages to avoid a corner charge and gets a near fall from a backslide pin on Nakano, but her comeback is shortlived as a second attempt at a huracanrana gets turned into a thunderous Powerbomb that again can’t fail but make the viewer wince. Sensing victory, Nakano climbs to the top and leaps off, attempting to squash the champion under her frame but to no avail as Blayze avoids the airborne assault and after Nakano crashes down onto the mat, grabs the challenger from behind & hits a superb bridging German Suplex for the 3 count & retention of her championship.

This was an astonishing match with an amazing pace & hard-hitting action that puts a lot of men’s matches from the time to shame. In fact it puts most of the matches on this show to shame as I’ll discuss later.

New Tag Team Champions Shawn Michaels & Diesel are talking backstage to Todd Pettingill about Diesel’s upcoming defence of the Intercontinental Championship where neither man says nothing of note.

The second championship match of the show is up next as Razor Ramon (With Chicago Bears player Walter Payton in his corner) challenges WWF Intercontinental Champion Diesel (with Shawn Michaels in his corner).

The match starts off quick as Razor tees off Diesel, rocking the giant champion with punches that send him tumbling out of the ring where HBK gives Diesel some words of encouragement at ringside. Back in the ring the future Outsider kicks Razor in the gut, doubling him over & allowing him to work over the challenger’s back. Razor manages to fight back with a few punches but soon eats a huge clothesline allowing Diesel the advantage, choking the challenger with his foot in the corner.

Once again, brawler Ramon fires back with some more punches but drops his head after whipping Diesel into the ropes and Diesel hair whips Razor down onto the mat. Diesel grabs a sleeperhold on Ramon but the cheers of the crowd soon fire The Bad Guy up & he fights out of the hold by lifting the massive champion in a backdrop and crashing him down.

Referee Earl Hebner starts to count both men down as they lay motionless on the canvas before both champion & challenger struggle to their feet where Razor charges at Diesel who sidesteps, sending Razor careening over the top rope to the arena floor.

Razor lies on the floor, clutching his knee as Michaels uses the distraction to remove a turnbuckle pad before Payton at ringside squares up to HBK, who promptly runs away. With the ref distracted in the ring Michaels interjects himself again and leaps off the ring steps and flooring Razor with a diving clothesline.

A battered Ramon finally crawls back into the ring where Diesel greets him with a series of corner elbows & knees to the gut in the corner opposite the dangerous exposed turnbuckle. Diesel goes to whip Ramon into the steel, but the valiant Hebner puts himself in the exposed corner to stop Big Daddy Cool using it to his advantage. Earl’s gallantry is short-lived as Michaels hops up on an adjacent apron, luring Hebner away allowing the IC champ to take full advantage & whip Razor back first into the unforgiving metal bracket. As Ramon staggers out of the corner in severe pain he’s met with a side slam onto his back that gets a two count. Still on offence Diesel drops Ramon with snake eyes onto one of the still padded turnbuckles and continues to work over the challenger, all the while focusing on Razor’s lower back and liberally helped by Shawn who takes cheap shots whenever the referee is distracted.

Hope returns to the crowd as Razor fights his way out of a chinlock but such hope is brief as a big boot to the face once again drops the challenger. More pressure & injury to Ramon’s back with an abdominal stretch by the villainous champion who grabs the ropes for extra leverage whenever Earl is checking Razor for signs of submission. Such cheating does not go unnoticed and eventually catches Diesel in the act, breaking the hold and allowing Razor to change the tide & apply his own abdominal stretch, but the powerful champion hip tosses Razor to restore his dominance of the match.

Diesel hoists Razor up once again for snake eyes but this time his intended destination for the challenger is that exposed turnbuckle from before. Razor manages to wriggle free however & shoves Diesel chest first into the steel, followed by a roll up for a very close 2 count. Razor’s comeback continues with hard punches & a kneelift to Diesel’s midriff but looks to be cut shirt once more when Diesel leapfrogs over a Ramon charge into the corner, Razor does go through the ropes but lands on his feet and in one quick motion, turns and pulls at Diesel’s legs, pulling him face first to the canvas & dragging him crotch first into the metal ring post. A bulldog from the 2nd rope to follow-up only gets Ramon a count of 2, as does a bodyslam to the champion before once again Michaels interjects by climbing to the apron again only for Ramon to punch him, sending him flying into the guardrail. Diesel recovers enough to attack Ramon from behind, unsuccessfully attempting a Jacknife Powerbomb only to be backdropped by Razor, who signals for his Razor’s edge finisher. HBK once again provides a distraction, drawing Ramon’s attention away from Diesel allowing Big Daddy Cool to attack once more, including hitting an impressive leaping clothesline. As the action gets very back & forth, Shawn grabs the IC title belt and attempts to enter the ring, possibly to use the belt as a weapon. He’s halted though by Walter Payton, and a tug of war between the two over the belt ensues. Hebner abandons the action to admonish Payton (who’d won the tug of war with HBK) at ringside leaving HBK open to enter the ring & help Diesel who was holding Ramon in place for Michaels to deliver a superkick. These never go well though & here is no exception as Razor moves right in the nick of time and Michaels blasts his friend Diesel with what would become Sweet Chin Music. An embarrassed Michaels leaves the ring as Ramon crawls over to a prone Diesel, covering him as Hebner returns to the ring to count the Pinfall that means once again Razor Ramon is WWF Intercontinental Champion. As Razor and Payton celebrate in the ring as the crowd cheers, an angry Diesel hobbles after HBK as he heads to the back.

This was an okay match, but only ever okay. Diesel’s limitations and the reliance on outside interference did hurt the match but it was a fun brawl when the action did pick up pace. What couldn’t be excused was a slow motion replay showing Michaels superkick clearly missing Diesel’s face however.

The centrepiece of what may be one of the most lacklustre feuds of all time is up next but not before the principal players are interviewed backstage by Todd Pettengill as he interviews Lex Luger & Tatanka, where Tatanka blandly repeats the accusation that Lex “sold out” to the million dollar man as Luger blandly refutes. Mercifully this ends and we go to the ring for the showdown between these two.

This match takes an age to start as the two pace around, with much pointing & trash talking before they finally lock up and jockey for position. Luger takes the early going with a side headlock & running shoulder block until Tatanka grabs an armbar & a crossbody. Luger manages a small package for a 2 count & the two then slug it out before Lex hiptosses Tatanka to the mat. Luger then gets a 2 count from a suplex but misses a follow-up elbow drop as the crowd falls completely silent. Vince hilariously tries to cover for the quiet by saying “the fans really don’t know what to think about this match” as Tatanka hits a PowerSlam for another 2 count, then he starts his war dance and rocks Lex with chops, and chops and some more chops culminating in a top rope tomahawk chop, a slam and a trip to the top once more for a diving crossbody that Lex manages to avoid. When the crowd has made some noise in this match it’s mostly to boo both participants which they do as Lex hits a clothesline & calls for the Torture Rack as the main antagonist of this feud, Ted DiBiase wanders out to ringside, carrying a bag. Lex is distracted as he spies Ted at ringside as due to this, Tatanka rolls up Luger for the 3 count & the win. As Ted enters the ring Luger is back up & begins to argue with DiBiase & his bag of cash, kicking the notes out of his hand and cementing his face status. The swerve is in though as Tatanka attacks Lex from behind & beats him down, all with the blessing & encouragement of his new employer, The Million Dollar Man. Tatanka was the sellout all along, turning his back on the fans & joining the corporation as mild boos come from the crowd.

The theory behind this feud was interesting, but having to be carried by two protagonists that aren’t good when required to speak leaves it boring & drawn out. The match itself was dull too, and despite my respect of Tatanka as I started this project as he had some very good matches I struggle to care about a bland heel Tatanka. Especially one that will get absorbed into the ensemble cast of the Million Dollar Coporation. I feel Luger would’ve been a better fit for being the villain here.

After a brief visit to Gorilla Monsoon on the WWF Hotline where he’s chewing gum in a most unpleasant manner, our next dip in quality comes courtesy of Jeff Jarrett & Mabel, accompanied by Oscar.

The bell rings & we’re under way as the two lock up and the much stronger Mabel shoves Jarrett into the corner and then charges at Double J, Jeff manages to dodge though & struts arrogantly. Back to the action and Mabel throws Jarrett with one arm as Jeff attempts an Irish whip. Jarrett is literally running circles around the massive Mabel who mostly stands there. Mabel gets his hands on Jarrett once more, lifting him up by the throat before dropping him back on his feet. Jarrett leapfrogs a charging Mabel and then drops down for Mabel to run over in the classic sequence. Mabel stops running though & delivers a massive elbow drop to Jarrett’s back. Mabel then dances. A clothesline over the top rope sends Jarrett outside where he shoves Oscar (the rapper manager of Mabel) into the ring steps before tripping Mabel as he attempts to leave the ring & make the save. With his opponent on the canvas Jarrett stomps Mabel & hits a diving fist drop (which Mabel doesn’t sell). Back on his feet Mabel can’t be knocked down by Jarrett, even after a 2nd rope axe handle. Jarrett again leaps from the ropes but is caught in a Bearhug but soon fights out and Jarrett soon gets a sleeper hold on the massive Mabel. The future King of the Ring backs into a corner to shake Jarrett loose but Jarrett soon locks the sleeper hold on again. Recent history repeats itself as once again Mabel backs into the corner to remove Jarrett from his back. Mabel then catches Jarrett with a wheel kick for a 2 count as we cut to the stands to see Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz (a character designed to mock Major League Baseball) who is roaming the stands brandishing a sign proclaiming that he’s on strike, presumably to mock a players strike occurring at the time.

Jarrett flies at Mabel with a crossbody but is caught and dropped by what would become Mark Henry’s World’s Strongest Slam. Jarrett escapes the pin attempt by getting his foot on the ropes. Jarrett comes back with not one, but two heelish eye rakes and then mysteriously heads outside to attack Oscar once more. Mabel makes the save though, grabbing & holding Jarrett in place for Oscar to slap him & gain some retribution, before Mabel squashes Jeff against the ring post.

Back in the ring Mabel climbs to the second rope and dives off but misses Double J & crashes to the mat. Jarrett’s subsequent pin attempt only gets a 2 count. Jarrett then goes for a sunset flip on the giant Mabel but Mabel’s counter to that is just to drop down in an effort to crush Jarrett. Jarrett is quick to avoid it and as Mabel crashes & burns once more, Jarrett seizes his opportunity and pins Mabel to win this awful match. After the bell an angry Mabel chases Jarrett to the back.

Thankfully it’s over and we can carry on. I felt sorry for Jarrett who had to do everything here.

It’s intermission time as the cage is to be set up for the next match where Vince takes the house match & introduces the fans to the two “super-sleuths” who are attempting to solve the mystery of the Undertaker. We’re shown Nielsen & Kennedy in the aisle as at the entranceway, a silhouette of the Undertaker appears to loud cheers, but disappears as they turn around to leave. Comedy.

Todd next gives a lengthy recap of the entire Bret and Owen feud right from Survivor Series 93 through Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania 10 to now and this steel cage match for the WWF Championship. We’re aslo shown the ring crew assembling the old Blue Bar steel cage (my personal favourite design of cage) as Stuff & Helen Hart are interviewed as well as pretty much the entire Hart family, including Bruce, Bulldog & turncoat Jim Neidhart.

After all that it’s time for the match itself and it sets a hell of a pace as Owen jumps Bret as he enters the ring. Owen in fact starts off strong, teeing off on his brother with heavy punches and hard European uppercuts. Bret fires back with an atomic drop & a hard clothesline until the dastardly Owen takes Bret’s eyes to regain control. Owen soon attempts to whip his brother into the unforgiving cage but Bret blocks it and hits a DDT after kicking Owen in the gut.

Bret is the first to attempt escape and climb the cage but is soon brought down by Owen and floored by an enzugiri, before Owen attempts to climb his way out. He nearly makes it over the top but is brought back in at the last second by Bret and suffers a back suplex from the top rope. Bret then attempts to leave through the cage door but his foot is grabbed by Owen & he is thwarted and whipped into the corner which every time makes a loud metallic rattle that makes everything sound much more devastating.

Bret again attempts escape through the cage door after a running bulldog but Owen stops him and makes a lunge for the cage door himself the two brothers take turns in diving for the door and being stopped by the other.

This begins a series of dramatic escape attempts by both Harts, each coming closer & closer to victory before being pulled back into the match by the other and fighting it out in efforts to incapacitate the other. Major highlights of the sections between escape attempts include a fist fight between the two while both are perched on the top rope, a stunning missile dropkick from the top rope by Owen and repeated attempts by Owen to send his brother face first into the steel cage, each try coming up short until Bret slingshots his younger sibling into the metal.

The match’s biggest moment comes as Owen attempts escape by climbing the corner of the cage. He’s very nearly successful until Bret catches up with Owen and in a stunning, jaw dropping moment suplexes Owen from the very top of the cage, sending them both crashing to the canvas in a heap. Bret is the first to stir and crawls to the cage door once more. Owen is up soon after & grabs Bret’s ankle, dragging him back and locking his brother in a sharpshooter. To huge cheers Bret reverses the hold into a sharpshooter of his own before leaving a hurt Owen and climbs the cage but once again is thwarted by a resilient Owen and the two crash to the mat once more. Owen is the next to attempt escape and makes it to the other side of the bars & seemingly a first WWF championship reign but Bret follows & the two fight on the cage, slugging it out until Owen’s legs get caught in the cage and he’s hung upside down helpless as Bret drops to the floor to retain his title as the crowd comes unglued.

The celebrations are short-lived as in the crowd Neidhart blindsides British Bulldog, sending both him & his wife Diana over the guardrail before Anvil attacks Bret, taking him back into the cage with Owen and locking the door allowing Owen to beat Bret down as the men of the Hart family in attendance attempt to scale the cage & help but are fought off by Owen & Jim until Bulldog fight his way in. The cowardly Owen & Anvil leave the cage & escape as the cage door is opened & the Hart family fills the ring to tend to a beaten Bret.

I doubt I could express the sense of drama in this match, every escape attempt looked like it could be the match finish and the two brothers put on an absolute clinic of wrestling. This match may not have had much in the way of cage related violence, only once does anyone make contact with the steel outside of climbing, but it was a fantastic display of pacing & plotting. Never did it drag or become boring this is easily the best match I’ve personally seen during the course of Clinton Years, even better than their Wrestlemania 10 match in my eyes, although the two are close.

Time for the main event of the show as we get a rundown of the saga of the two Undertakers, starting from Royal Rumble up until now and afterwards Ted DiBiase returns to ringside to introduce his Undertaker. Evil Taker enters but sadly reveals his fakery by not having the gliding, ethereal walk down. Howard Finkel then introduces “The One, The Only Undertaker” as Paul Bearer appears alone & gestures to a gaggle of Druids wheeling the Undertaker’s signature casket to the ring. The casket is opened & Bearer retrieves its contents, a brand new larger urn as the lights dim. Bearer opens the urn, which contains a bright, blinding light that beams out of it, heralding the Undertaker’s appearance.

Clad in new purple attire, Undertaker makes his way to the ring, the gliding walk intact as the crowd goes even more ballistic than they did for Bret earlier, including the signature raising of the lights. All of this is wrestling pantomime at its very finest. The problem occurs when the match begins.

Two men wrestling that slow, zombie-taker style is not conducive to a pleasant viewing experience as this match would be very dull to run down. Very little of note happens until the real Undertaker hits 3 tombstone PileDrivers before pinning the fake, dumping him in the casket & celebrating before an adoring crowd who are seemingly happy that the match had ended. They were silent throughout the non-action but make noise as thunder & lightning fills the arena to end the show.

After Randy Savage says his goodbyes, we cut backstage as Leslie & George discover the casket unattended & seemingly empty. The faker-taker is nowhere to be seen it seems. The hapless duo then find a sealed Halliburton case & thus proclaim “the case is closed” in possibly the worst visual joke I’ve ever seen to close out the show. What a low note to end on.

SummerSlam 94 is far from the best WWF event ever, but it is also far from the worst. The cage match is a spectacle to watch, as was Nakano vs Blayze which on any other show could have walked away with match of the night honours. Sadly the dull as ditchwater Luger vs Tatanka match squandered the potential of the feud & too many shenanigans in the IC title match took the edge off the match. However the show is an entertaining watch and does almost hold up to scrutiny 20 years later which is more than you can say for some events.

If you’ve made it this far thank you very much & if you’ve enjoyed it please share this review & tell the world about Wrestling in the Clinton Years.

Martin Dixon.

 

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