To combat the efforts of Jim Crockett Promotions, Vince McMahon unveiled SummerSlam in August 1988 at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. A tag team match pitting Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage against the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and André the Giant headlined McMahon’s original summertime extravaganza. Nearly three decades after its premier, “The Biggest Party of the Summer” will occur on August 20 for a third consecutive season at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Enzo Amore, who was born and raised in northern New Jersey, debuted last year at WWE’s second biggest annual pay-per-view event alongside his former partner, Big Cass. Amore and Big Cass lost via pinfall to the devious duo of Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens in 2016. Still, the "realest guy in the room" relished showcasing his abilities in New York City’s most populous borough.
“SummerSlam is one of the career highlights for me, if not one of my lifetime achievements,” Amore, 30, told amNY.com.
“It’s just an honor to compete in New York, New Jersey, the Tri-State area, where I’m from. I have so much roots there, so much family. For a kid who grew up going to the [Madison Square] Garden and going to Izod Center, and just watching some of the greats and some of the greatest matches in the history of the business which took place right up there in New York, it’s just one of the most humbling experiences you can ever imagine.”
Professional wrestling is a type of theatrical performance art with elaborate storylines, choreographed matches and predetermined outcomes. Despite its scripted nature, countless things can backfire in real-time that incite controversy. Accordingly, let’s review the 15 most insane backstage rumors and incidents from past SummerSlams.
15 PAUL HEYMAN Got MICHAEL COLE AND TAZZ To Call The MAIN EVENT AT SUMMERSLAM 2002
Brock Lesnar challenged The Rock for the WWE Undisputed Championship at SummerSlam 2002 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. In a seesaw affair between SmackDown’s two brightest talents, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound Lesnar seized control and finished the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Rock with a debilitating F-5 maneuver. With help from his advocate, Paul Heyman, Lesnar became the promotion’s youngest titlist. However, somewhat ironically, Heyman’s greatest triumph that evening occurred outside of the squared circle.
Vince McMahon wanted Raw announcers Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross to call the Lesnar versus Rock affair. Heyman, who was one of SmackDown’s head writers, vehemently opposed McMahon’s choice and insisted that the blue brand’s tandem of Cole and Tazz relay the action. Ultimately, McMahon relented and allowed Cole and Tazz to commentate the main event.
“Paul believed in me, and I’m forever grateful to him for that,” said Tazz, 49. “Without Paul believing in me, I wouldn’t have had the career I’ve had.”
Henceforth, because of Heyman’s stance, announcers handle pay-per-view bouts based on brand.
14 SHAWN MICHAELS REFUSED TO PUT OVER VADER
Distinguished grappler Big Van Vader first appeared in the WWE at its Royal Rumble show in January 1996. The 6-foot-5, 450-pound Vader, who the Los Angeles Rams drafted out of the University of Colorado with the 80th pick in 1978, was incredibly forceful and agile in the ring. Thus, already a legend in WCW and All Japan Pro Wrestling, Vince McMahon cast Vader as an unstoppable heel. Managed by Jim Cornette, Vader lambasted all competitors and became the federation's top contender. Vader was booked to challenge Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship at SummerSlam 1996 at the Gund Arena in Cleveland. McMahon’s creative team scripted Vader to emerge victorious over the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Michaels. Pathetically, “The Heartbreak Kid” complained that Vader was too rugged and he refused to surrender the belt.
“[Shawn] Michaels was a p—y and didn’t like working with (Vader) because he was too stiff,” Cornette explained to 411mania.com.
13 RIC FLAIR WAS SET TO MAIN EVENT SUMMERSLAM 1988
As mentioned in the introduction, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage conquering Ted DiBiase and André the Giant highlighted the inaugural SummerSlam. Nonetheless, that was not Vince McMahon’s original blueprint. McMahon began negotiating with wrestling icon “Nature Boy” Ric Flair in the spring of 1988. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Flair, a 16-time world titleholder who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in April 2008, had been the National Wrestling Alliance’s marquee attraction since 1974. Determined to lure the “Nature Boy” away from his archrivals, WWE’s creative team tentatively scripted Flair to battle Savage for the heavyweight belt at that summer’s extravaganza.
Regrettably, for McMahon, the famously loyal Flair balked and decided to remain with Jim Crockett's outfit. Flair eventually signed a contract to become a WWE performer in August 1991.
12 THE UNDERTAKER & Kane vs. The Shield Was Planned For SUMMERSLAM 2013
Approximately four months after defeating CM Punk to extend his WrestleMania record to 21-0, The Undertaker nearly participated at SummerSlam 2013. The 6-foot-10, 310-pound Undertaker, who hadn’t worked at SummerSlam since overcoming Edge in August 2008, was slated to team with his brother, Kane, against Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. Born Mark Calaway in March 1965, the Deadman was pulverized by Reigns and Rollins on The Raw following "The Show of Shows" on April 8, 2013. The match was reportedly conceived to provide The Undertaker with revenge over his attackers.
Alas, the graying Undertaker was deemed physically unfit to tussle and plans to have him batter Reigns and Rollins were nixed. The Undertaker remained inactive until Brock Lesnar broke his WrestleMania winning streak on April 6, 2014.
11 STING WAS Planned To Team With Reigns & Ambrose Against The Wyatt Family In 2015
Sting was long considered the premier grappler to never compete inside a WWF/WWE squared circle. Finally, at the advanced age of 55, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Sting emerged in Vince McMahon’s promotion at Survivor Series in November 2014. Hereafter, Sting sporadically appeared on Raw to rattle The Authority. Sting’s feud with The Authority concluded following his loss to Triple H at WrestleMania 31 in March 2015. Seeking a fresh angle, WWE’s creative team devised a plot that would have seen Sting partner with Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose to fight The Wyatt Family at SummerSlam in August 2015.
Unfortunately, Wyatt Family member Erik Rowan suffered an injury and the storyline was scratched. Writers mulled ways to include The Stinger at "The Biggest Party of the Summer.” Ultimately, with The Undertaker’s rematch versus Brock Lesnar garnering tremendous publicity, the company’s decision makers chose to sideline “The Franchise.”
10 ROAD WARRIOR HAWK Drove A Motorcycle Drunk At SummerSlam '92
The Road Warriors are one of the most beloved and accomplished tag teams in the annals of sports entertainment. The pair of musclemen, consisting of the 6-foot-3, 270-pound Hawk and 6-foot-2, 305-pound Animal, were booked to meet Money Inc. at SummerSlam 1992 in London. Hawk drove Animal on a motorcycle to Wembley Stadium that evening to face Ted DiBiase and Irwin R. Schyster. Sadly, an intoxicated Hawk missed a parking spot and caused Animal to leap off the bike. Animal suffered serious burns to both of his legs and was forced to perform in pain. Although the intimidating tandem trumped Money Inc., Animal was apparently furious at Hawk and he threatened to sever their longstanding relationship. Hawk dismissed Animal’s words and abandoned his partner.
A shopworn version of The Road Warriors reconciled and fought again as teammates approximately five years later. Tragically, possibly due to decades of abusing drugs and alcohol, Hawk passed away at the age of 46 in October 2003.
9 JESSE VENTURA WAS SUED FOR APPEARING AT SUMMERSLAM 1999
Jesse “The Body” Ventura, a 2004 WWE Hall of Fame inductee, became the 38th Governor of Minnesota in January 1999. Roughly eight months after taking office, Ventura served as the referee for a triple threat championship match with Mankind, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Triple H at SummerSlam 1999 at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Prior to the show, several of “The Body’s” political foes took umbrage with the governor’s moonlighting and they filed a conflict of interest complaint against him.
"The governor repeatedly tries to say this is a class issue or anti-wrestling issue," said David Schultz, the former president of Common Cause Minnesota.
"It's a conflict of interest. If (Bill) Bradley were in office, if he were (paid) to ref a basketball game, he would have the same conflict Ventura does with wrestling."
Ultimately, Mankind was triumphant in the ring and Ventura defeated Schultz in a courtroom. Ventura earned approximately $100,000 plus royalties for his role.
8 SHAWN MICHAELS GOT HURT BEFORE SUMMERSLAM 1990
The Rockers, comprised of Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty, were a formidable tag team in the WWE during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Michaels and 5-foot-11, 225-pound Jannetty were scheduled to meet Power and Glory, consisting of Hercules and Paul Roma, at SummerSlam 1990 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. Michaels neglected to inform WWE’s brain trust that he badly injured his knee the previous day. With Michaels incapable of wrestling, the creative team had Hercules strike “The Heartbreak Kid” in the knee with a chair.
Although Michaels stood ringside, Jannetty wrestled the entire contest and eventually got pinned by Roma. Michaels underwent surgery on his wounded knee and didn’t return until The Rockers were granted a rematch against Power and Glory at the 1990 Survivor Series.
7 THE 1992 SUMMERSLAM WASN’T AIRED LIVE IN THE U.S.
The WWE’s suits are very fortunate that the Internet had yet to gain worldwide significance in 1992. That year’s SummerSlam occurred on Saturday, August 29, at Wembley Stadium in London. Nevertheless, “The Biggest Party of the Summer” didn’t air on pay-per-view until two days later on Monday, August 31. The card across the pond included glamorous matches like The Ultimate Warrior against “The Macho Man” Randy Savage and The British Bulldog versus Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Many onlookers and pundits contend that the bout between The British Bulldog and Hart is the preeminent SummerSlam match in its 28-year history.
As recalled by Jonathan Anderson of Sabotage Times, “By 1992, the appetite amongst UK fans for their first real first taste of live WWE action was palpable, as a staggering 80,000 crammed into the old Wembley stadium to see the icons of professional wrestling.”
While an incredible success, the annual special would have been a disaster if the Internet was a common household amenity in 1992.
6 BRET HART WASN’T INITIALLY PLANNED TO FACE THE BRITISH BULLDOG
As previously noted, many critics and wrestling insiders believe that the bout between Bret Hart and The British Bulldog was the premier contest in the annals of SummerSlam. Somewhat amazingly, WWE’s writers originally penned a main event pitting Bret Hart against Shawn Michaels. Fortunately, because Wembley Stadium in London was slotted as the venue, the creative team deduced that The British Bulldog was a more suitable adversary for Hart. The in-ring classic ended when an intoxicated Smith pinned Hart to capture the Intercontinental belt. In a losing effort, Hart carried Smith throughout the tussle and managed to make the Englishman look sober.
“Davey was high as a kite when he caught his flight because he’d been up all night smoking crack with Jim (‘The Anvil’ Neidhart),” said Hart. “I couldn’t have been more disappointed in Davey, and feared he would end up making us both look bad.”
5 JOHN CENA REFUSED TO LET TEAM NEXUS WIN AT SUMMERSLAM 2010
Team WWE, consisting of John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Edge, Chris Jericho, Bret Hart, R-Truth and John Morrison, overcame The Nexus at SummerSlam 2010 in Los Angeles. Regardless, that wasn’t how the outcome was initially designed. Writers originally wanted the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Cena to get eliminated early and have The Nexus depart victorious. Cena vetoed that storyline and urged the creative team to make him the final contestant.
“John wanted to do things a certain way and we told him, ‘you’re wrong,’” recalled Jericho, 46.
“He did it anyways, and it sucked. And then after, he came over to us and said, ‘I should have listened to you, but I wasn’t seeing it that way.'”
Edge agreed with Jericho and stated, “(Nexus) should have gone over because they were so hot."
4 CHRIS JERICHO CONFRONTS BROCK LESNAR BACKSTAGE AT SUMMERSLAM 2016
Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton headlined last summer’s show. In a particularly curious fashion, the 6-foot-3, 270-pound Lesnar bludgeoned the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Orton with an array of vicious elbow shots to the head. Lesnar was declared the bout’s winner via TKO and Orton sustained minor head trauma and needed several staples to close the deep laceration on his head. The match baffled onlookers and left many wondering if Lesnar trashed the intended outcome and legitimately assaulted Orton. In fact, respected veteran Chris Jericho confronted Lesnar to get answers as soon as the former UFC heavyweight king returned to the backstage area. Vince McMahon and Triple H rushed to intervene before the two got into a brawl.
“I just thought the finish of that match was very brutal and very violent, and I just didn’t know if Randy was OK,” said Jericho. “Basically, there was a face-to-face confrontation and I’ll leave the rest between the two of us.”
3 THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR TRIES TO TAKE SUMMERSLAM 1991 HOSTAGE
The Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan trumped Sergeant Slaughter, Colonel Mustafa and General Adnan in the main event at SummerSlam 1991. Unbelievably, less than 24 hours before the contest, The Ultimate Warrior told Vince McMahon that he wouldn’t perform unless he received an extra $500,000 in cash. McMahon shrewdly agreed to The Warrior’s terms and then fired him following the fight’s conclusion.
“Frankly, you have become impossible to work with, and have completely forgotten your obligations to Titan and WWE fans, both ethically, professionally, and contractually,” McMahon wrote to The Ultimate Warrior in his termination notice.
“Your principal complaint apparently is that you are not being compensated at the same rate as Hulk Hogan, although ‘Hulk’ is a living legend, is still better known to the public, has wrestled longer, is the WWE champion, is in much greater demand for personal appearances, is a bigger star and draw at WWE events, is more dependable and is far more revered and respected by WWE fans and by the public at large.”
2 NAILZ CHOKES VINCE MCMAHON OVER SUMMERSLAM 1992
Nailz, born Kevin Wacholz, manhandled Virgil at SummerSlam 1992. More than four months after his victory at SummerSlam, the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Nailz demanded a larger paycheck than the one he banked for his outing. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound McMahon scoffed at Wacholz’s demands and violence erupted. According to multiple reports, Wacholz floored McMahon and began choking the company’s bigwig. With McMahon struggling to breath and turning blue, several wrestlers and WWF personnel heard the commotion and stopped Wacholz’s assault.
“Wacholz cornered Vince in his office and screamed at him for fifteen minutes," Bret Hart wrote in his autobiography. “Then he knocked Vince over in his chair and choked him violently.”
Predictably, Wacholz was fired for his barbaric actions and a number of lawsuits were filed. Wacholz testified against the WWF owner at a federal trial for steroid distribution and his final comment on the stand was, "I hate Vince McMahon's guts."
1 RANDY ORTON DIDN’T AGREE TO THE BROCK LESNAR ENDING
Vince McMahon and his C-level executives swear that the ending between Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2016 was planned. Curiously, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Orton disputed their accounts.
“The fact that I had a concussion and was out for three weeks and wasn’t able to do anything pissed me off,” Orton, 37, told USA Today.
“It’s a rough sport. It’s a rough business and very physical. A few more people need to respect how things can go sour out there.”
In the weeks preceding their bout, Orton, who has been suspended on two separate occasions for violating the WWE Wellness Policy, mocked the 6-foot-3, 280-pound Lesnar for failing two drug tests after his win over Mark Hunt at UFC 200.
“It only takes one RKO to get to Viperville,” Orton said in a promo. “No enhancement required.”
Many conspiracy theorists surmise that Lesnar was furious over Orton’s remark and he genuinely pummeled “The Viper” as retribution. While the actual truth remains unknown, Orton’s comments are more than a bit interesting.