Originating from the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the (then) WWF presented the second annual SummerSlam on August 28, 1989. The announce team consisted of Tony Schiavone, who recently left WCW after the takeover/buy out of Crockett promotions by TBS, and Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Once the introductions are out of the way, they throw to a super cheesy video package of wrestlers doing their finishers and random clips of beach associated things. The video package ends, and we’re sent to the ring for the first match.
Match 1: The Hart Foundation (Bret “The Hitman” Hart and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart) VS The Brain Busters (Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard) w/ Bobby “The Brain” Heenan (The Tag Team Champions)
Despite the tag team champions being in this match, at a major PPV, the titles are not on the line. I’m not sure why, but the announcers claim that the match was signed before Arn and Tully had the belts. Whatever the, actual, reason, this match starts as soon as the bell rings with some great sequences involving Bret and both of the Brain Busters.
Arn loses the momentum to Bret, who works on his arm for a hot minute. They tease a tag to Tully, only for the ref to disallow it due to Tully’s feet being on the ropes to reach Arn’s hand. They continue to work on Arn, until he escapes to make the tag, but Tully fares no better as Bret and Anvil continue to dominate. Every time it looks like the other team is going to start a comeback, the Harts snuff it right out. Tully does a great job selling his desperation to tag Arn in and end the torture, but even a cross body off the top rope, after a small flurry of offense, is no good as Anvil just catches him. In fact, it takes Arn pulling Tully out of a neutral corner, during a Hart double team, to get himself in and swing the momentum in their favor.
Once the Brain Busters are on top they go right to work breaking down Anvil. They tag in and out quite a bit while trying to wear out the big man. They are, for the most part, successful at this until a double clothesline takes out both Arn and Anvil. Arn appears to recover first but a knee from Bret on the outside, as Arn hits the ropes, is enough to get the hot tag to the fresh man. Bret comes in for a nice comeback and even sling shots Anvil over the top rope to deliver a beautiful spear to Tully. Seriously, watch out for that spot because it’s pretty incredible.
Unfortunately, everything breaks down as everyone gets into the ring. During the chaos, Anvil manages to get a pin on Tully but Arn hits him with a diving ax handle from the second rope. Tully rolls out of the ring as Arn hides his head and covers Anvil for the pin and the win.
Heel trickery is the name of the game and almost no one does it better than Arn and Tully. This match is so much fun and such a great example of exciting tag team wrestling. The babyfaces are up most of the match but the heels keep getting in enough offense to keep it interesting. The build up to the finish put me on the edge of my seat while the finish had me cussing and laughing with its timing and trickery. This is as close to a perfect tag team match as you can get.
Match Grade: A+
After the Match they go to an interview with Mean Gene and Dusty Rhodes. This is WWF Dusty so it’s sillier than the Dusty we saw in the NWA, but that being said, he still has that Dusty charisma so it’s a good promo and worth watching.
Match 2: The Honky Tonk Man w/Jimmy Heart VS “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes
Dusty and Honky both make their way to the ring accompanied by some of the best entrance music of any wrestlers at the time. The bell ring, they lock up, and Dusty gets the advantage almost immediately. He works over Honky until Jimmy grabs his leg. He gets distracted chasing Jimmy around the ring as Honky grabs the megaphone and uses it to swing the advantage in his favor.
Honky goes on offense wrenching down on a headlock that keeps Dusty down for a while. The crowd tries to pump Dusty up but Honky snuffs out the comeback before it can ever really get going. This happens a couple times until he releases the headlock and starts in on striking Dusty. This is not very effective, as Dusty quickly regains the advantage over Honky. He does manage to push Dusty into the ref, thus knocking him out, and gets Dusty tied up from behind. He calls for Jimmy to hit Dusty with the Guitar but the big man ducks and Honky is knocked out cold with his own guitar. The ref revives long enough to count the pin and Dusty wins the match. While Dusty is celebrating in the ring Sean Mooney tries to get an interview with Honky, who gives a great performance as a man with no idea where he is or what’s going on.
This would not be a particularly good match if it weren’t for Dusty’s charisma. He connects with the crowd so well and really make you want to root for him. The finish is good, as well. It’s always nice to see a heel gimmick/illegal attack backfire in the babyface’s favor.
Match Grade: B+
During the break in the action the throw back to Mean Gene who interviews Demolition and “King” (formally “Hacksaw”) Jim Dugan. They cut an okay promo about their match later on that night but it’s nothing earth shattering.
Match 3: Mr. Perfect VS The Red Rooster
Mr. Perfect had yet to be defeated in the WWF, so this is meant to be a challenge. The unfortunate thing, for both us and poor Terry Taylor (The Red Rooster’s name prior to WWF), is that there’s no chance Rooster is going over in this one. This match is almost entirely skippable, as it’s a glorified squash match. Perfect does deliver a gorgeous standing dropkick but that’s the one highlight.
Match Grade: D
Next up is a really well done promo with Rick Rude and Bobby Heenan. Rude was better on the mic than many remember and Heenan was one of the all time great talkers so this is worth watching.
Match 4: The Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty) and Tito Santana VS The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers (Raymond and Jacque Rougeau) w/Jimmy Heart and Rick Martel w/Slick
Trigger Warning: Ventura continues to refer to Tito as “Chico”
This is an interesting match as this is one of the first times, by my reckoning, that the former members of Strike Force have been in the ring opposite each other since Martell returned. The tension between the former tag partners fuels this match from beginning to end. In fact, it is so prevalent that the match opens with a six man brawl as soon as the bell rings. The Rockers and Tito clear the ring and the heels regroup on the floor.
Once the dust is settled from the opening brawl, the heels appear to pick up the early advantage as they cycle in and out. Martell makes sure to tag out any time Tito gets into the match until the heels are firmly on top. Tito gets separated from his corner and worked over by the Rougeau Brothers and Martell for the majority of this match. He does get in just enough offense here and there to keep things interesting, but is mostly beat down and subjected to great illegal double-team moves by the heels as they build towards the hot tag. This whole sequence is a great example of the heels controlling the ring and dominating a babyface who has a ton of heart.
The Rougeau Brothers do, eventually, falter as the go for a double team and end up colliding with each other. This gives Tito time to get the hot tag to Shawn who comes in and takes everyone down. Jannetty isn’t tagged but comes in for a double dropkick, which brings in the heels and the whole match devolves into a brawl once again. During the chaos, Martell pins Jannetty, who is not the legal man, but the ref seems to only see the trunks and awards the win to The Rougeau Brothers and Rick Martel.
This is a fantastic match, as you would expect from the amount of talent involved, but the finish is lacking. Not because it’s a bad finish, but because it was just used in the opening match of the ppv. If they had managed to come up with a different ending then this would be a great match but as it is, it’s only good.
Match Grade: B+
The next thing on the card is a video package about the back-story to the upcoming Intercontinental Championship match between “Ravishing” Rick Rude and The Ultimate Warrior. It’s a well done video and fills in any questions about the build up to this confrontation. It is followed by a, true to form, nonsensical promo from Warrior in which he talks about, whatever it is he’s always rambling about.
Match 5: “Ravishing” Rick Rude (Intercontinental Champion) w/Bobby “The Brain” Heenan VS The Ultimate Warrior for the Intercontinental Championship
As is customary, Rude comes to the ring and insults the fat, out of shape, SummerSlam sweat hogs before taking off his robe. Of course, once Warrior’s music hits the place erupts and he’s 100 miles an hour out of the gate. He runs to the ring and shakes the ropes and is, all together, intense and energetic. He, eventually, settles down and the ref and start the match.
Rude starts the match by evading lockups with Warrior until he is caught and thrown around the ring and over the ropes to the floor. Warrior bounces him around outside the ring, then back in, then back out, and then back in. At one point he hits Rude with the title belt on the outside of the ring but doesn’t get disqualified. Rude does a really good job selling Warrior’s offense but still kicking out of his pins to show he wasn’t out of the fight yet.
The Warrior slips up when he goes to the top rope for a big move and Rude hits the rope, causing him to get hung up on the top rope. This gives Rude the advantage, which he uses to work over Warrior’s back. He hits him with a variety of moves until he locks in a nice looking sleeper hold. He manages to take Warrior down to his knees before the hold is countered into a jaw breaker that knocks Rude out and into the referee, who is knocked out as well.
From here, Warrior gets up and no-sells all of Rude’s offense. Once again throwing him around the ring until he gets what would be the winning pin, if the ref weren’t still knocked out. He tries to revive the ref and then goes for the warrior splash but Rude gets his knees up. Warrior is in trouble as Rude is getting two count after two count, until someone starts walking towards the ring. It’s “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and he distracts Rude long enough for Warrior to recover and gain the advantage, once again. Warrior gets in one more flurry of offense, before pinning Rude for the win and the title.
Sometimes two wrestlers have a great match and I’m in awe of them, but sometimes a good wrestler gets a good match out of a rather poor performer and it’s a whole different type of impressive. This match is the later. The fact that Rude was able to get a competitive match out of a notoriously clumsy, stiff, and no-selling wrestler like Warrior is really a huge achievement. It’s not a great match, by most standards, but it’s good and it makes sense. At the end of the day, it might be one of my favorite Warrior matches.
Match Grade: A-
On the heels of this match, we are treated to a series of interviews with Mean Gene, in the back. First up is Mr. Perfect who, basically, just says how great he is. Then, we get Piper who is as crazy and charismatic, as ever, as he talks about Rick Rude and what he’s going to do later. However, Piper is out of there by the time Heenan and Rude get to the interview area. Heenan is irate about what has just happened and demands the match be restarted. Rude is determined to get back his title even if he has to go through Piper to do it. These may be the best promos of the whole evening. Especially Heenan, there’s just something about when he gets angry, where it kicks into another gear. After the interviews they run a video package setting up the Main Event.
Author’s Advice: The next three matches are pretty bad. If you’re watching and wanted to skip directly to the Main Event, you wouldn’t be missing much. I’ve watched them so you don’t have to.
Match 6: The Twin Towers (Akeem and The Big Boss Man) w/Slick and Andre The Giant w/Bobby “The Brain” Heenan VS Demolition (Ax and Smash) and King Dugan
The match opens with Dugan and Demolition taking off their masks to reveal their face paint. Dugan is wearing an American flag painted on his face, which is on brand for him, so it works. The faces go up early and work over Boss Man until he manages to swing the momentum to his side. Andre comes in and gets a bit of offense in but he is so hobbled that he can barely stand up without the assistance of the ropes. The whole match breaks out into a brawl, Dugan grabs his 2x4, and he whacks Akeem across the back with it. The babyface team gets the win.
This match is neither entertaining nor, particularly, good. Seeing Andre barely able to walk doesn’t help in the least.
Match Grade: D
Match 7: Hercules VS Greg “The Hammer” Valentine w/Jimmy Heart *Ronnie Garvin as Special Ring Announcer
Garvin runs through a list insults while introducing Valentine, much to The Hammer’s dismay. Hercules gets up early because Valentine is distracted by Garvin at ringside. Valentine does get the win, by using the ropes for leverage during the pin, but Garvin announces Hercules the winner by disqualification. There’s a short brawl in which Garvin knocks Valentine out with his ‘hands of stone’ punch.
This match never gets going before it’s over. Valentine looks like he’d rather be anywhere else but in the ring and the work is sloppy, at best.
Match Grade: F
There is a short interview with Randy Savage, Zeus, and Sensational Sherri, after the match, that is pretty good. It is revealed that Brutus Beefcake is the one who coined the phrase “Scary Sherri” as well.
Match 8: “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase w/Virgil VS Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka
Author’s Note/Trigger Warning: Due to the racist nature of the commentary and the fact that this writer believes Snuka to be a murderer I will not be reviewing this match.
Match Grade: N/A
Before the Main Event they show an interview, with Brutus Beefcake and Hulk Hogan, that is quite odd, to say the least. Beefcake sounds like a serial killer, as he talks about the blades of his gardening shears, and Hogan goes off about the Hudson river parting like the red sea. I was left with a “what did I just watch” look on my face.
Main Event: “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Zeus w/Sensational Sherri VS Hulk Hogan and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake w/Miss Elizabeth
First thing about this match is that one of the competitors is not a professional wrestler. Zeus is a character played by Tom Lister Jr. in the film, “No Holds Barred”. (He is better known as Deebo in the movies, Friday and Next Friday.) His whole presence in this match is because Vince liked his look and wanted to cash in on the hype from the movie. Zeus was fortunate to get paired with Savage, though, as he was known to script his matches down to the last detail. If you watch you can see him giving Lister instructions during the match. Savage and Sherri really went above and beyond to protect, not only Lister, but the business, as well. If Lister didn’t look like he was even somewhat competent in the ring it would have revealed the man behind the curtain, which was a huge deal at the time, because kayfabe was still very much a thing.
The Second thing you’ll notice is that it takes forever to get the match started. This is, mainly, due to the fact that they stand around in the ring until Hogan tells Finkle to announce Miss Elizabeth as Hogan and Beefcake’s manager.
The bell does, eventually, ring and the heels get up early because Zeus ‘feels no pain’ so he no-sells all of the babyfaces offense. Savage tags in and works over Hogan for a while. He, periodically, tags in Zeus, who is very limited, but Savage has designed the match to cover this up. Zeus puts Hogan in a bear hug, which takes him to the ground, then tags in Savage who shows off his speed and agility as he flies around the ring. It’s all for naught, however, as Hogan gets the hot tag to Beefcake who puts Savage in the sleeper hold.
Despite being in the clutches of Beefcake’s sleeper, Savage manages to tag in Zeus only for him to then end up in the same hold. Savage grabs Sherri’s ‘loaded’ purse and hits Beefcake with it, thus taking him down. Everything breaks down as Hogan interrupts several pins by Savage on his partner. Zeus comes back in and chokes Beefcake for a while until he tags out so Savage and Beefcake can do a double clothesline/ double knock-out spot.
Both men are down, but Beefcake is up first and gets the hot tag to Hogan, who begins to work on Savage. Sherri interferes and Savage takes back over on offense, setting Hogan up for the big elbow drop. He hits the move but Hogan no-sells it. Zeus is tagged in and it’s finally him and Hogan in the ring together on even ground. They go back and forth for a minute until everything breaks down again. During the brawl and confusion, Hogan hits Zeus with the purse to get the pin and the victory.
Sherri tries to interfere in the aftermath of the match, but Elizabeth whacks her with the purse. Beefcake proceeds to get out his scissors so, he and Elizabeth can cut off Sherri’s ponytail before dumping her to the floor. Hogan, Beefcake, and Miss Elizabeth celebrate in the ring as Savage and Zeus carry Sherri to the back.
For having an actor pretending to be a professional wrestler, this is a pretty good match. Zeus doesn’t do too much but he’s effective in his role. Savage manages to carry most of the match on his own but having Hogan and Beefcake as opponents helps his efforts. The finish isn’t super clever but it’s satisfying. We get to see the babyfaces go over and the evil heel manager get her hair cut off. The whole thing feels like a main event match and everyone rises to the occasion.
Match Grade: A
This is a good ppv, but it’s not great. The three matches leading into the Main Event are not good. They use the same finish a few different times and almost every tag match uses a brawl to accomplish something. The matches that are good do stand up well, to the test of time, and the ones that aren’t wouldn’t have been very good at the time they were filmed.
PPV Grade: B