In honor of the 30th anniversary of SummerSlam, SI.com’s Week in Wrestling has compiled a unique section of notes, quotes, and anecdotes celebrating the hottest event in pro wrestling of the summer.
• The Honky Tonk Man was part of one of the most iconic SummerSlam moments of all-time when he dropped the Intercontinental championship to the Ultimate Warrior in 1988.
“When it came to the Warrior, that was a four-month deal that I knew ahead of time,” explained the Honky Tonk Man. “We had to keep it under wraps, so most of the locker room didn’t even know. The buildup was done so, so well that it threw everyone off track and no one had an inkling that it was going to be the Warrior.”
The Honky Tonk Man was scheduled to defend the Intercontinental title against Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, but a storyline injury allowed the Ultimate Warrior to take his place and win the title in just thirty-one seconds.
“Madison Square Garden exploded when the Warrior ran out,” he said. “That was actually the one time when I worked for a company that I had creative control, and Vince said, ‘I don’t care how you do it, just get him over.’ I knew it needed to be short, and Vince said, ‘Do whatever you want.’ So that was all mine, and it did three things. It didn’t hurt me – I was already hated. I wanted every person out there to think they could beat me, and I had eight-year-old kids saying they could beat me. It made the Warrior an overnight sensation, and it created the superstar they wanted. Hogan had just given Vince his year’s notice that he was going to Hollywood to make movies, so they needed somebody, and the Warrior was the guy.”
• The “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase helped main event the inaugural SummerSlam at Madison Square Garden in 1988. The match offered some of the most recognizable names in the history of wrestling, as Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage teamed up to battle DiBiase and Andre the Giant with Jesse “The Body” Ventura serving as the special guest referee.
“When I was younger, everyone would tell me, ‘Kid, the older you get, the faster the years will fly by,’” said DiBiase. “I’ve been out of wrestling for 20 years, and the very first SummerSlam, which I was in, was 30 years ago.”
Andre the Giant was quick to decide whether he liked or dislike someone, and DiBiase is forever grateful that Andre respected and enjoyed working with him.
“I was still in college when I met Andre,” said DiBiase, whose adopted father, “Iron” Mike DiBiase, starred as a professional wrestler. “I was playing football for West Texas State University, which is now West Texas A&M, and Andre came to town in the Amarillo wrestling territory. That was the Funks’ territory, and they asked me to take Andre out after a show. We went to a pub, and Andre asked our waitress for a big trash can filled with beer and ice. I remember she looked at me and I said, ‘Do it.’ Andre could make a beer can disappear by wrapping his hand around it. We hit it off from the beginning, and Andre either liked you or he didn’t. He was usually a pretty good judge of character.”
DiBiase also shared details of his upcoming documentary,The Price of Fame, which is the story of DiBiase’s life that airs in select theaters throughout the United States on November 7.
“I really want people to see from this story that the things that are truly important and rewarding in life are not power, money, position, or prestige,” said DiBiase. “Those things will all make you happy for a little while, and they’ll give you some pleasure, but they’re fleeting. As a minister, I believe God let me climb to the top of the mountain, and I found out the hard way. I was 38 years old when I really woke up and saw myself for who I was and what this all really meant. Whether you’re a wrestler, a football player, or an executive working for a company, the bottom line is that all of those things aren’t what are going to bring you true joy and happiness.
“I have found much greater joy in serving my family, providing and fulfilling the needs of my wife and children, as well as my community. The story is my story. It’s about wrestling, and it takes fans behind the curtains through the redemption of my personal life, my marriage, and the relationship with my children. I think people are really going to enjoy it.”
• JJ Dillon will forever be known in wrestling as the manager and mouthpiece for the Four Horsemen.
Dillon, who hosts “The JJ Dillon Show” podcast on MLW Radio, left WCW in February of 1989 for a front office position with the World Wrestling Federation, effectively ending his managerial career.
Dillon was asked if there was any potential of replacing Bobby Heenanbefore SummerSlam‘89 as the manager of the Brain Busters, who were former Horsemen Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, in the WWF.
“Tully and Arn are one of the greatest tag teams of all time,” said Dillon, who is a WWE Hall of Famer. “They also had a great run as the Brain Busters with Bobby Heenan, who is still the greatest wrestling manager of all-time and set the bar by which all the rest of us are judged.
“When I went to work for Vince McMahon, I knew exactly what my role with Vince was going to be. I was brought in to work on the creative side. I loved being a wrestler and I loved being a manager, but this was best for my longevity in the business. I was very comfortable with the understanding, and I handled attention to detail, travel, and talent contracts, which extended my career for nearly 20 years.”
• Jake “The Snake” Roberts will forever be remembered for ruining the wedding reception between the “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth after the 1991 SummerSlam.
“That was supposed to lead into a WrestleMania [VIII] match,” said Roberts. “My favorite moment in my career was when that damn cobra chewed on his arm a few weeks later. It was awesome.
“We worked our asses off to build that storyline. Randy and I were just naturals. We could have wrestled each other for at least nine years.”
• Bret Hart was known as the “Excellence of Execution” in wrestling, and some of the most memorable moments of his career occurred at the annual SummerSlam pay per view. Hart wrestled his brother Owen Hart at the 1994 SummerSlam for nearly a half hour in a steel cage.
“We never wanted to have a cage match,” said Hart. “The truth was, I would have liked to have had a ladder match against Owen. We couldn’t do that because Shawn Michaels had used the idea at WrestleMania [against Scott Hall]. A cage is generally a gory, hardcore match with a lot of blood. I didn’t want to have that kind of match with Owen. We were two brothers feuding, but we didn’t want to come across like we’d kill each other to win. We didn’t go the blood route, but nearly every great cage match has blood.
“The way I described it in my book is a cage match without blood is a chocolate sundae without the chocolate sauce, but Owen and I never wanted the image of us bleeding on each other so we went without blood. We told the wrestlers’ story. We wanted to tell the suspense of getting in and out of the cage, and we were proud of the match. I thought it was a beautiful story.”
Hart also wrestled The Undertaker at the 1997 SummerSlam for the WWF championship.
“That was my last great WWF match ever, and I’m always grateful for that moment with Undertaker,” said Hart. “We were two pros who really had respect for each other and enjoyed one another, and we loved working together. He told me one time, ‘Wrestling you is one of the few chances I have to show I can wrestle.’ That meant a lot. Our match was really well planned out and orchestrated, and that was one of my favorite matches of all-time.”
• Al Snow connected with SI.com for his weekly advice column, Inside Al's Head, and looked back on his SummerSlam ‘99 match with the Big Boss Man in a feud that revolved around a Chihuahua named Pepper.
“I remember it very well,” said Snow, recalling that the program with the Boss Man ultimately led to a “Kennel from Hell” match that September. The story was, unfortunately, based off a cruel joke played by the late Mr. Fuji.
“Vince Russo had watched Son of Sam, and the killer thought he heard voices from a Chihuahua, and the inspiration for the whole angle was Mr. Fuji serving someone their own dog for dinner. I’ve heard from several people that actually did occur.”
Snow, who is now running the Collar X Elbow clothing line, noted that a performer’s willingness to buy into a story–even if it seems ludicrous–is paramount to success in pro wrestling.
“You really have to understand the direction and vision of the story,” said Snow. “In this case, I think I fell short several times, not really knowing where or what we were trying to achieve in terms of the business we were trying to conduct. I didn’t look thoroughly enough at the bigger picture, and then therefore was not able to capitalize to the fullest extent on the storyline.
“Vince will always tell you, ‘If you’re not into something, you can’t do it.’ If you’re not into it and it’s going to fall flat, they’ll pass on it.”
• The 2005 SummerSlam is still remembered for a ladder match between Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero for custody of Mysterio’s son Dominick, who was eight at the time of the match.
“Dominick still remembers the match,” said Mysterio, whose son is now 20 and looking to pursue his own career in pro wrestling. “He remembers the whole storyline, but he was too young at the time to capture the moment or enjoy it. We’ve actually spent time together recently and watched the vignettes leading up to that SummerSlam pay per view. The best learning process is watching videos and studying matches of people whose style of wrestling you love.”
The ladder match took place three months before Guerrero unexpectedly died at the age of 38, and Mysterio still recalls moments of the match with clarity.
“I was stuck on the ladder and Eddie was climbing it,” said Mysterio. “For some reason, [Guerrero’s wife] Vicki wasn’t going to the ring and she needed to be there. And Eddie was yelling at the ref, ‘Where the f--- is Vicki?’
“He was really pissed. My own wife was backstage, and she never saw his temper until evening. Vicki eventually made her way to the ring and we had a good finish, but when we came backstage, Eddie went in storming. Then he eventually apologized, and said it was such a beautiful feeling to be in the ring with me. Those are the moments you hold onto to keep his memory alive.”