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Cook’s WWF SummerSlam 1996 Review

August 9, 2022 | Posted by Steve Cook
Shawn Michaels Image Credit: WWE/Peacock
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Cook’s WWF SummerSlam 1996 Review  

August 1996 fell during one of the rare periods of post-territorial wrestling history where the World Wrestling Federation wasn’t the top dog. WCW Monday Nitro had passed the WWF up in the Monday night ratings war back in June, the New World Order formed in July, and things were starting to look pretty dire in Stamford. While WCW was starting to assert itself as the worldwide leader in pro wrestling with the help of former WWF independent contractors, the WWF saw some former WCW talents working their way to the top of their card.

The Man They Call Vader had arrived at the Royal Rumble. The night after saw him earn a suspension by attacking WWF President Gorilla Monsoon. Once he returned, Vader was a wrecking machine taking out everything in his path. Similar to what he was in WCW before Hulk Hogan showed up and no-sold the powerbomb. WWF Champion Shawn Michaels was at the peak of his in-ring powers and was as resilient as anyone ever was, but he hadn’t faced anything quite like Vader before.

Mankind arrived in the WWF right after WrestleMania XII and immediately targeted The Undertaker. To the surprise of most, Mankind found a lot of success this way, scoring a victory over the Dead Man at King of the Ring. There weren’t (and still aren’t) very many people that could claim two consecutive PPV victories over Undertaker, but that’s what Mankind was looking to do inside of Gund Arena’s boiler room. While many of us still had problems getting used to Cactus Jack’s new name, it was tough to deny the fact that he was getting a chance to succeed in the WWF.

SummerSlam 1996 took place at Cleveland’s Gund Arena, which is now known as the…Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. OK then. I feel the need to point out that Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated Yokozuna in a match that aired on the Prevue Channel prior to the PPV timeslot. For about a year and a half, WWF would air the Free For All on Prevue for the thirty minutes before their premium live event would air on pay per view television, as a last minute attempt to get people interested in the show. For those of you kids that don’t remember the Prevue Channel, it used to serve as a running guide of what was on the various cable channels, with some random stuff on top like WWF Free For All events. Austin was another WCW cast-off that started working the WWF in the time between SummerSlam 1995 & SummerSlam 1996.

Cook’s WWF SummerSlam 1996 Review

The opening video package discusses Monsters (Mankind & Vader) and Monster Slayers (Shawn Michaels & Undertaker). The spectacular new Gund Arena in Cleveland is packed & stacked. Vince McMahon is joined by Mr. Perfect & Jim Ross at ringside.

Savio Vega vs. The Slammy Award-Winning Owen Hart: Owen has his Slammy and is sporting a Bob Ortonesque cast on his left arm. Owen tries to attack Savio from behind, but Tim White has none of it. Especially since it looked like he was going to use his cast as a weapon. Not saying Owen, a man of high moral fiber, would do such a thing, but it sure looked like it! Savio targets Owen’s weak arm with some wrist locks and arm wringers, then rams said arm into three top turnbuckles. Savio with an armbar. He misses an elbowdrop, then Owen misses a fistdrop. We see Jim Cornette encouraging Vader in the locker room while Vince tries to stir the pot. Savio keeps working the arm. Owen has a brief spurt of offense but Savio hits a monkey flip and goes back to the arm. The tide turns when Savio gets sent shoulder-first into the ring post on an attempted roll-up. Owen goes to the wristlock & works Savio’s left arm because what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. JR talks about Savio’s martial arts skills, which I don’t really remember him having. Then, it’s been awhile since I watched some Savio Vega matches. Owen works the armbar for a minute or two. A single-arm DDT gets a two count for Hart. Owen applies a standing armbar, placing his rear end way too close to Savio’s face. This results in Savio biting Owen’s thigh to break the hold, so Owen entwines Savio’s arm with the ropes instead. Owen keeps working the arm as Clarence Mason makes his way to ringside. Mason was the lawyer for Camp Cornette at this time, and there was some speculation that Mason was trying to snake Corny’s clients. An enziguri gets two for Hart. Savio runs into Owen’s knee in the corner, Owen tries to get a three count with his feet on the ropes and it doesn’t happen. Savio with a rollup for two, then Owen hits the spinning heel kick. Owen runs into a martial arts kick in the corner, so maybe Savio did use more of that than I remembered. Inverted atomic drop and a series of clotheslines for Vega. Savio’s ten punches in the corner were a bit slower than Cleveland was counting. Savio hits a legdrop for two, then a sidewalk slam gets another two count. Owen hits a neckbreaker to turn the tide, and goes up top. Dropkick off the top rope gets a two count. Owen goes up for a moonsault but gets crotched by Savio. Savio hits a back suplex off the second rope, but Owen’s cast was wrapped around Savio’s head. Dumb move by Savio, and Owen takes his cast off to hit Savio with out of the eyesight of the referee. Owen does the Sharpshooter, the referee stops the match as Savio is out.

Winner: Owen Hart (13:23 via referee stoppage)
Match Rating: **1/2

This drug a bit early on, but I did like the cleverness of Owen at the end. A different style of finish you don’t see much of. Afterwards, Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw appears at ringside to yell at the announcers about Savio being a “Puerto Rican dog”. Sounds like the JBL we know. He then cheap shots Vega before leaving with Uncle Zebikaiah.

Todd Pettengil is in the boiler room! He eventually finds Mankind, who says there’s no place like home. He tells Undertaker not to come in, as outside the walls will bring a fate worse than death. Have a nice day! I enjoyed crazy evil Mankind.

WWF Tag Team Championship Four Corners Elimination Match: The New Rockers vs. The Bodydonnas vs. Henry O. & Phineas I. Goddwinn (w/Hillbilly Jim) vs. The Smoking Gunns (c) (w/Sunny): In case you’ve forgotten somehow, the New Rockers consisted of Marty Jannetty & Leif Cassidy. This was the gimmick that drove Al Snow to talking to mannequin heads. Meanwhile, the Bodydonnas are Skip & Zip without Sunny, and Skip is wearing a neck collar. JR talks about how he fractured a vertabre and was still cleared to compete tonight. The WWF had some real quacks for doctors at this point. Vince was rarely more excited at the announce position than when he had some hillbillies in the ring, and he was all about HOG & PIG. The cowgirl look really worked for Sunny. Then again, pretty much any look worked for Sunny in 1996. Yes, 12 year old me was quite the fan. Henry & Billy start the match. Henry shoulderblocks Billy down, as I note how rare it is in 2022 to see Billy at a strength disadvantage. Henry hits some big right hantd and then a wheelbarrow slam. Zip gets the tag from Billy, while Phineas gets the tag from Henry. Zip gets shoulderblocked down. Sunny gets up on the apron to talk to the referee and gives the fans behind the Gunns’ corner a show. Criss-cross on the ropes, and Zip & Phineas tag in Billy & Bart! This was a couple of years before Billy & Road Dogg would take advantage of a similar situation to get the win in a match just like this one. Instead, Bart tags Zip back in. Zip gets tripped up by Mart Jannetty on the outside, and immediately gets pinned. The Bodydonnas are eliminated before Skip can enter the match, which is undoubtedly for the best. Henry gets worked over by the other two teams, as Leif Cassidy comes in to clotheline Henry down. Jannetty tags in and also clotheslines Henry down. Fistdrop by Jannetty, and we get some frequent tags from the New Rockers & Smokin’ Gunns. Cassidy inadvertently clotheslines Billy down, which leads to some drama between the evil-doers. Henry fights back, hits a side slam on Billy for a two count. Both New Rockers come in and accidentally hit Billy. Leif ends up as the legal man, but it’s Marty who eats a Slop Drop for the three count. We’re down to the Gunns & the Goddwinns, and Bart works Henry over. Bart runs into a boot in the corner and gets clotheslined down. After a day & a half, Bart keeps Henry from making the tag. Billy does make the tag and calls Henry a big sissy. Sunny jumps around at ringside while Bart comes back in and continues the offense. Henry hits an inverted atomic drop, but Bart maintains the advantage. Here comes Billy, who gets caught on a Stinger Splash attempt and powerslammed to the mat. Henry finally makes the tag, and Phineas has punches for both Gunns. Henry Cactus clotheslines Bart over the top rope. Phineas hits a Slop Drop on Billy, but the referee is distracted by Sunny & Hillbilly Jim. This leads to Bart hitting a double axehandle off the top and Billy getting the pin to end this thing.

Winners: The Smoking Gunns (12:18 via pinfall)
Match Rating: 1/2*

Pretty dull affair, to be honest. Henry Goddwinn was a decent enough wrestler, but he wasn’t exactly Ricky Morton as far as getting fans interested in a match went. 1996 wasn’t exactly a high point for tag team wrestling in the WWF. Sunny goes on a verbal tirade about how the Gunns are what men should look like, and the people of Cleveland are ugly. A huge picture of Sunny appears like it’s the Russian flag and she’s Rusev.

We see a video of the WWF Superstars doing some things in Cleveland over the weekend. The Goddwinns & Gunns raced each other via train & horse carriage. Shockingly the Goddwinns won. Meanwhile, Jerry Lawler was at Jacobs Field for batting practice, and he gave some tips to Sandy Alomar Jr.. Charles Nagy denies throwing the spitball. Then some of the wrestlers painted a wall. There was also a party thrown by Stridex.

The British Bulldog vs. Sycho Sid: Bulldog is also missing his manager tonight, as Cornette is helping Vader get ready for his big match. Dok Hendrix is with Sid, who says that the man is here to stay. He’s the master & ruler of the world. His entrance takes nearly as long as Undertaker’s did during this time period. Vince mentions that Sid is actually one of the nicest gentlemen you’ll ever meet outside of the ring. Bulldog with a shoulderblock or two, Sid doesn’t move. Sid clotheslines the Bulldog down and slams him to the mat. Bulldog goes outside to re-group. Sid with the headlock! Bulldog tries to pick him up for a suplex, but Sid blocks and hits a headlock takeover. Sid escapes a headscissors and slams Bulldog down for two. Bulldog hits the delayed vertical suplex as Clarence Mason is back out for this match. Bulldog with the ol’ rear chinlock, then he clotheslines Sid over the top rope. Meanwhile, we see Vader warming up backstage while Cornette has one eye on the monitor. Bulldog drops Sid right on the top rope for a two count. Back to the rear chinlock, and Sid fights back. Sid hits one Stinger Splash, misses a second and Bulldog hits the running powerslam. Bulldog doesn’t cover, as Jim Cornette’s arrived at ringside and is yelling at Clarence Mason. Bulldog goes for another powerslam, but Sid slips out and hits a chokeslam. Time for the power bomb! That finishes the Bulldog off.

Winner: Sycho Sid (6:24 via pinfall)
Match Rating: *

Both of these guys could have good matches, but putting them together wasn’t going to result in anything of high quality. At least the fans were into Sid.

Todd is backstage with Marc Mero & Sable, and we see a clip of Mankind calling Sable “Mommy” on Superstars. Mero doesn’t know what to make of it, or of Goldust’s infatuation with Sable, or of anything else, for that matter. This was part of his problem over the years.

Goldust (w/Marlena) vs. “Wildman” Marc Mero (w/Sable): It wasn’t that long ago that both of these men were young up-and-comers in WCW. Much has changed for both men since…Mero used to be more about “mind games” & “theatrics”. Now that’s Goldust’s game. Mero hits a couple of arm drags & Goldust begs off into the corner. Mero gets a cross-body after running off the ropes a few times and goes to an armbar. Vince was always about telling people to grab holds, apparently. Goldust hits his trademark drop-down into a punch, and bodydrops Mero to the floor. Mero then gets sent to the guardrail off the apron and dropped throat-first onto it. Those guardrails always made for a nice noise, it’s not quite the same these days when WWE Superstars go flying into the barricades. Mankind comes down to ringside and calls Sable “Mommy” again. Shouldn’t he be focused on his Boiler Room match? The referees agree and chase Mankind to the back. Meanwhile, Goldust works the rear chinlock. Mero fights out but gets a knee to the gut. Mero hits an elbow off the second rope, then some punches & the inverted atomic drop. Everybody liked using that particular move. Backdrop & a kneelift while the crowd does whatever the opposite of coming unglued is for Mero’s offense. They do wake up for the flip dive to the floor. Slingshot legdrop back in the ring, then a body slam. Mero sets Goldust up, goes up top and hits a Shooting Star press, which JR dubs the Wild Thing. Apparently that’s his new finisher, but it only gets a two count thanks to Marlena’s distraction. Mero gets whipped sternum-first into the corner, and Goldust hits a Curtain Call for the three count.

Winner: Goldust (11:01 via pinfall)
Match Rating: **

Goldust wants him some of Sable after the match and we get some of Sable’s “acting skills”, but Mero comes to her aid. As for the match, it didn’t quite hit that next level you’d think from two guys that knew each other pretty well at this point. One also has to question Mero debuting his new finishing move when it wasn’t going to end the match. I realize this complaint makes me sound like I’m 95 years old.

We see a video package on Ahmed Johnson’s kidney injury at the hands of Faarooq Assad. An Intercontinental Championship Tournament will start tomorrow at 8:57 Eastern on Raw! Remember when these shows started a few minutes early and ended a few minutes late? Ah, memories. Ahmed hopes to be back real soon.

Todd is in the ring, and he introduces Faarooq with Sunny. This was during Faarooq’s gladiator phase, complete with dramatic music and helmet. Even Sunny at her best couldn’t get this thing over. Faarooq says that Todd doesn’t ask the questions, he does. Todd makes the mistake of calling Faarooq a criminal. He should be the IC champion right now! Sunny says Faarooq will be the next IC champion.

Then we get a recap of the issues between Jake Roberts & Jerry Lawler. This is when Jake thought he was a recovering alcoholic, but hadn’t recovered just yet.

Mark Henry comes down to ringside to provide some guest commentary. He comes out to “Stars & Stripes Forever”, since it did such a great job of getting Lex Luger over.

Jerry “The King” Lawler vs. Jake “The Snake” Roberts: Lawler has his own bag out with him, along with several bottles of whiskey. He’s also wearing a Baltimore Ravens jersey and has a Ravens pennant, so he’s going for all of the cheap heat tonight. The Ravens were about to debut in the NFL after moving from Cleveland. The NFL would return to Cleveland, but the city still hasn’t hosted a professionally-run NFL franchise since at least 1996. Lawler says that Mike Hargrove was begging for him to sign a contract after that first pitch the other night. He’s personal friends with Art Modell! King has Jake’s tag team partners tonight, two Jim Beam bottles. He’s got some Mark Henry jokes too, and tells Vince not to drink either of the bottles at ringside. He’ll knock Jake down so we’ll be able to recognize him. Referee Harvey Wippleman has a tough time holding Roberts back once he enters the ring. Jerry’s got something in his bag that Jake’s going to like…a huge bottle of liquor. Even I haven’t seen one that big. Jake gets his snake and wraps it aroung Lawler’s neck. The King heads for higher ground while Revalations goes back in the bag. Here’s the match! Never mind, Lawler’s got the microphone again and he’s offering the Beam bottles to Roberts. Roberts attacks Lawler on the outside and sends his face into the steps. Snap mare and a stomp below the belt by Jake. Bodyslam on the floor by Jake. Jerry gets introduced to the ringpost a couple of times. Lawler gets a drink from ringside and throws it in Jake’s face. Lawler ties Roberts in the ropes and gets a bottle. Jake kicks that away, but gets lifted out of a DDT attempt. Short-arm clothesline for Roberts, he calls for the DDT but Lawler grabs Wippleman and prevents the hold from being executed. Lawler gets the bottle and jabs it into Jake’s throat. That, along with pulling on Roberts’ vest, gets the three count.

Winner: Jerry “The King” Lawler
Match Rating: DUD

The comedy routine was ok, good delivery from Lawler, but the match was pretty awful. Then Lawler pours some Beam down Roberts’ throat before Mark Henry puts a stop to it. It’s pretty tough to watch this stuff while knowing that Roberts still had years & years of struggles before actually kicking his addictions. None of this helped the cause.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bob Backlund is out in the crowd campaigning for President. I mean, it’s not like he’d be the worst WWE Hall of Famer that ever got elected to public office. Give it a few more years and he might not even crack the bottom 5.

We see a video building up the issues between the Undertaker & Mankind.

Boiler Room Brawl: The Undertaker vs. Mankind: Paul Bearer makes his way to ringside with the urn. The winner will be the man that emerges from the boiler room and gets possession of the urn. We cut to Undertaker walking back towards the boiler room. A helpful sign on the door says “Boiler Room: DANGER”. Undertaker enters and looks for Mankind, giving us a tour of the room. Mankind attacks from behind with a pipe. He then cracks Taker over the head with a wooden plank. Taker responds with a trash can lid to the head, and sends Mankind bouncing off the wall. This isn’t exactly a scientific struggle, and our announcers have gone to get some refreshments. Not gonna lie, I haven’t spent a lot of time in boiler rooms so I’m not sure what most of these things Undertaker’s head is being introduced to is. There’s a trash can, with quite the amount of trash inside. Guess Mankind’s been here awhile. Undertaker starts smacking the trash can with a 2×4. Undertaker gets a skid to hit Mankind with, then gets crotched with a piece of tubing. Mankind climbs up a ladder and comes off backwards with an elbowdrop. Undertaker gets hit with a wood plank and looks pretty out of it at this point. We get some technical difficulties as Undertaker makes his comeback. When we return, Mankind has a giant ladder he can climb. This time, Undertaker sits up, and manages to pull the ladder over, sending Mankind into a nice big box of pipes & stuff. They now fight to exit the boiler room. Undertaker gets Mankind with some spray from the fire extinguisher, but Mankind is the first one to exit the boiler room. Mankind tries to hold a door shut behind him, but Taker makes it out eventually. Mankind gets a huge jug of hot coffee and throws it on Undertaker, then makes his way through the entrance into the arena. Undertaker clotheslines Mankind in the aisle. They had monitors set up at ringside for fans to watch the goings-on in the boiler room, which seems a bit problematic to me. Was anybody able to see those things past the first few rows? I mention this since Mankind knocks one of them over. Mankind rams Undertaker into the steps and exposes the concrete floor. Mankind piledrives Undertaker onto the concrete and enters the ring. Or tries, at any rate. Undertaker meets Mankind on the apron and sends him on a Nestea plunge to the floor! Undertaker enters the ring and does his motion to Paul Bearer. Bearer hesitates, oddly, and Mankind sneaks up and locks the Mandible Claw on Undertaker. Bearer seems pleased by these developments, and hits & kicks Undertaker! Undertaker gets smacked over the head with the urn, and Paul presents the urn to Mankind!

Winner: Mankind (26:20 via urn presentation)
Match Rating: ***1/2

This is an odd one to rate. Both guys put everything they had into it. The presentation of the boiler room portion hurt things, the poor lighting and lack of announcers along with the technical difficulties didn’t help. That being said, the turn went over pretty well and there was a ton of effort. It had its moments, but one can see why it didn’t become its own yearly PPV event. We’re not going to see WWE Boiler Room Brawl on Peacock anytime soon, unless Triple H reads these reviews and decides to prove me wrong.

Undertaker is carried out of Gund Arena by his druids.

Dok is backstage with Vader & Jim Cornette. Cornette talks about all the things they’ve proved over the last month and how they’ve all come true.

WWF Championship Match: Vader (w/Jim Cornette) vs. Shawn Michaels (c) (w/Jose Lothario): A random girl appears in the aisleway to give Shawn a kiss. We’ve also got some Clique signs in the front row. I said earlier that Vince liked few things more than hillbillies…one of those things was Shawn Michaels’ entrances during this time period. Vader hits some big shots early, including a short-arm clothesline. Shawn blocks a big boot, trips Vader down and hits some kicks on the mat. Vader tries to toss Shawn out, but Shawn drops down and the momentum sends Vader outside. Baseball slide, then Michaels vaults over the top rope onto Vader. Shawn scares Cornette away and rolls Vader back into the ring. Double axehandle off the top, then a hurricanrana by Michaels. Michaels goes a victory roll, ends up sending Vader to the outside and skinning the cat back into the ring. Shawn gets caught by Vader on another dive and powerbombed onto the floor. Back in the ring, Vader works Michaels over and suplexes him. Michaels takes two big bumps in opposite corners and ends up on the outside. Big backdrop back in the ring, as Vader has selected a part of the body to target. Michaels punches out of a back suplex attempt and flips out of another one. Vader misses in the corner, but clotheslines Michaels down. Michaels skins the cat again, but Vader lifts him back into the ring and tosses him down chest first. Michaels eventually fights back out of a chinlock, but his moves don’t have much effect on the big man. Michaels blocks a sit-down splash though, and clotheslines Vader down. He goes up top, apparently for an elbowdrop, but jumps down next to Vader’s head and kicks him, yelling at him. I gotta say, it didn’t look like Vader was too far out of position. Maybe a weird angle, but nothing that Michaels couldn’t have dealt with. Michaels hits a running crossbody on Vader and both men tumble to the floor. Michaels tries whipping Vader into the apron, Vader reverses, then drops Michaels throat-first on the guardrail. The referee counts 10, and Michaels has been counted out!

Winner: Vader (13:53 via count-

No, hold on a minute. Jim Cornette was at ringside for SummerSlam ’93, and he knows that titles don’t change hands on countouts. He doesn’t mention the SummerSlam ’93 part, but you know he was thinking it. He demands the referee re-start the match. The referees try to take Shawn to the locker room, but Shawn wants to re-start the match as well. He might regret that, as Vader attacks him right away. Lothario and the referee get into an issue, allowing Cornette to use the racket on Shawn. Back in the ring, Vader splashes Shawn in the corner and hits a belly to belly for two. Vader goes for the powerbomb, Shawn punches his way out of it. Flying forearm and a nipup, and Mr. Perfect is outraged. There’s the top rope elbow. Shawn tunes the band up, but Cornette gets involved. Shawn ends up using JC’s racket on Vader, and that’ll be a disqualification.

Winner: Vader (13:53+2:10 via disqualificat-

No, Cornette also knows that titles don’t change hands via disqualifications. Michaels is a gutless, no-good coward! Cornette wants another re-start, and Michaels is ok with that too. Vader misses another sit-down splash and Michaels goes up top with another elbowdrop. Time to tune up the band! Sweet Chin Music gets a 2.98 count. Vader sends Shawn into the referee, then hits the powerbomb. Another referee comes in to make the two count. Vader pulls Michaels over to the corner and goes for a Vader Bomb. No, actually he goes all the way up for a Vadersault, but misses! A moonsault by Michaels gets the three count.

Winner: Shawn Michaels (13:53+2:10+2:56 via pinfall)
Match Rating: ***

By mid-90s SummerSlam main event standards this was pretty great. It was also overbooked and just plain odd. They did their best to keep Vader strong for future endeavors, but Vader still went down the card pretty hard after this. That’ll happen when the top guy isn’t happy working with you.

The final score: review Poor
The 411
What happened in the future affects this show more than most shows for me. You had Shawn Michaels making sure Vader wouldn't main event again. Jerry Lawler probably didn't mean to make Jake Roberts' issues even worse than they already were, but it happened. This show is missing that one classic match to cleanse things over. The Boiler Room Brawl almost got there, but not quite. Michaels vs. Vader could have gotten there if not for the booking and the temper of the champion. At least SS '95 had the ladder match and a better opening match.

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WWE Summerslam, Steve Cook