Ah, the “glory days” of the WWE. But are things as good as we remember?
I don’t think I’ve watched SummerSlam 1999 since, well, the summer of 1999 when I was at University and the world seemed full of promise and joy.
After seeing Jesse Ventura laying down the law to Triple H and Chyna about the evening’s main event (which “The Body” was refereeing of course) and Chris Jericho (more on him later) promising to save Howard Finkel’s job; we opened up with D’Lo Brown and Jeff Jarrett clashing for both the Intercontinental AND European Championships. It’s actually a good little match and perfect as an opener, but this is late 1990’s WWE. There has to be shenanigans. Jarrett sends his valet Debra back before the match has started only for her to come out with his opponent D’Lo and if you couldn’t see the swerve to the swerve coming you have obviously never watched a Vince Russo wrestling show before. To end the match, Debra distracts the referee allowing Mark Henry to run in and waffle his mate D’Lo with a guitar and Jarrett picks up the win. As I say, despite the overbooking, this was a fun opener that set the scene well.
Next is a Tag Team Turmoil match with presumably the prize being that you’re next in line for a Tag Team Title shot if you win. It’s actually a gauntlet match and follows the usual pattern. Edge & Christian start off against The Hardy Boyz and they are followed by Mideon & Viscera, Droz & Albert, The Acolytes and The Hollys. If that line‑up doesn’t fill you with dreams of top quality wrestling (once we are past the openers) then I’m with you but there’s a fast pace, things are always happening and it never threatens to get too boring.
SummerSlam then veers off into strange territory. After Al Snow has a conversation with his pet dog Pepper, Road Dogg comes to the ring to announce to the world that he’s going to challenge the winner of the Snow/Big Boss Man Hardcore title match to a championship bout on Raw the following evening. This is interrupted by Chris Jericho, who a few weeks earlier had entered the WWE to great fanfare. Here he is, making his SummerSlam debut…in a promo. And not a very good one at that if we’re taking off any Y2J tinted glasses. Yes, his Raw debut was superb, but already the wheels were coming off for Jericho (and, yes, not entirely down to him either). Road Dogg calls Jericho a “bitch” and then decides he’ll join the commentary for the aforementioned Snow/Boss Man match, which is good when the Hardcore rules take the match backstage and even across the road to a bar because Dogg can follow them. It’s the usual Hardcore Title stuff, but it’s good fun it has to be said.
Jesse Ventura tells Mankind what he expects from him in the main event, although Foley seems more interested in political references that mean nothing to me. After that, we get Ivory against Tori for the Women’s Title, which is as boringly mediocre as you’d expect from a WWE women’s match in 1999. I’m sure we’ve seen worse but that’s by the by.
At least things pick up for the next match as Ken Shamrock and Steve Blackman clash in a Lion’s Den match (a pseudo-UFC style affair) which is at least very hard-hitting and intense. And that’s the thing; it’s presented as something different from the “norm” and the two deliver something that is indeed different from the norm. If Shamrock, in particular, had been a stronger “character” on the mic he could have gone a lot further than he ultimately did in the WWE.
Even in 1999, I was sick of Shane McMahon, so the idea of a preposterously overbooked “Love Her or Leave Her” match with Test is not one that fills me with joy. Lo and behold, it is filled with the usual Shane O’Mac tropes. Yet there are some things to enjoy: the arrival of the Mean Street Posse (as crap as they were as wrestlers) adds to the drama AND stacks the odds against Test. And even though Shane unveils his usual hard-man / look at me I can do insane stunt nonsense; the ending actually sees Shane get his just desserts. Knowing where Test’s career goes subsequently (thanks for that Triple H) and knowing that twenty years later Shane is still polluting the WWE airwaves (to increasingly limited effect) means that this match is something of a bittersweet experience but I’ll admit it’s a very good match.
Memories of The Undertaker and The Big Show from 1999 aren’t all that good – so the next match, where they tackle the champions Kane & X-Pac for the World Tag Team Titles was a very pleasant surprise. The storyline of X-Pac being in the land of giants is well worked and there’s a lot of heat for the most part. Sadly, the same sentiments cannot be shared for the next match, which pit The Rock against “Mr Ass” Billy Gunn. No-one, and I mean no-one, is remotely buying Gunn as being anywhere near the league of someone who should have been going up against Rock on one of the WWE’s A-shows. Gunn bringing out a fat woman, another hilarious Russo speciality I presume, for laughs is the low point of the entire show (and about the only thing on here that is really horrible) and the match merely exists to kill some time until Rock brings out the signature moves and wins.
We finish with the Triple Threat Match for the WWE Championship which saw Steve Austin take on Triple H and Mankind, with special guest referee Jesse Ventura. This is perhaps most remembered for the night that Triple H was supposed to lift his first World Title (in a singles match with Austin) only for Austin to flat out refuse…if we believe the stories anyway. That a barely mobile Mankind was added to the match doesn’t help. But, despite my rather iffy memories of it, viewed today (and through the prism of “sometimes, wrestlers just don’t want to job”) it’s an entertaining match. Ventura is note-perfect in his role as referee, all three men put in some good brawling and the post-match attack by Triple H on Austin saves his heat well (which is a necessity when Mick “I was champion when the title meant something and didn’t change hands every week” Foley is dropping the belt to him the next night). Should Austin have put HHH over here? Quite probably, yes. Did it really matter in the end that he didn’t? Not in the slightest.
So that was SummerSlam 1999. Like many shows of the prime “Attitude Era,” it could never have been said to be boring. Unlike many of the shows of the prime “Attitude Era,” the overbooking and other nonsense are kept to a minimum (although not eradicated completely) and the match quality is both satisfactory AND consistent across the board. All in all, it’s an unfairly neglected slice of entertaining late 90’s WWE action and well worth a look.
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