Bear with me, this one is going to take some explaining. It is a convoluted storyline, fitting Vince Russo and late 1990’s Vince McMahon, but the destination is worth the long and meandering journey.
It starts with Steve Austin retaining his WWF Championship over the Undertaker at July’s Fully Loaded pay-per-view. Undertaker challenged Austin to a rematch (Undertaker lost due to shenanigans from X-Pac), Austin said sure, but Triple H – who had won the #1 contender spot for the WWF title at the same show said no, I get the next match, and Raw ended with the three of them brawling.
To give you a hint to how fast-paced the booking was during the heady 1990s, everything I’m about to write took place on only two episodes of Monday Night Raw. The powers that be really packed a lot into a small package. Take a deep breath and jump on in with me
Austin was attacked and laid out on a stairwell and stretchered out of the building. WWF Commissioner Shawn Michaels, suspecting Triple H and his valet/muscle Chyna to be behind the attack, made a Triple Threat match for Triple H’s #1 contender status featuring the Undertaker, Triple H, and Chyna. Michaels also made himself the special guest ref.
Austin returns to a huge pop and wallops Triple H with a chairshot to the skull (Triple H barely got his hands up in time to absorb the blow) and puts a barely-conscious Chyna on top of Triple H. Shawn Michaels counts the one-two-three (outside the ring) and Chyna is the new number #1 contender at SummerSlam. For the record, this was the same Raw Chris Jericho debuted. A young Curtain Jerker was in attendance and marked out.
Needless to say Triple H was pissed, so on the next Raw (the go-home Raw to SummerSlam) he challenges Chyna in a one-on-one match for the right to face Austin. They have a shockingly decent three-minute match until Mankind, who had been away for a bit, returns and hits Triple H with the ring steps right in the head. Triple H didn’t get his hands up for that one and the sound of his skull resonating off the steps is enough to make your skin crawl. Chyna gets the win.
As a result, Mankind and Chyna now have a match to determine the #1 contender later on that Raw. Triple H interferes and Mankind wins with the Mandible Socko Claw. Triple H stars laying into Mankind when Shane McMahon comes out and makes a match between Triple H and Mankind for the #1 contender status and appoints himself special guest ref. All this was on the same episode of Raw. A slow build? What’s that?!
It gets better: Not wanting to be outdone, Shawn Michaels appoints himself the special guest referee, so we have two refs. Triple H and Mankind have a good match that ends with Hunter reversing a Mandible Socko Claw into a back drop that ends with both guys prone with their arms on each other’s chests. Each ref counts the three and awards the victory to a different guy.
Linda McMahon, well before she blew a hundred million dollars running for Senate twice (segue: bet Vince and Co. wish they had that money back to weather the current financial storm!) makes it a triple threat for SummerSlam – both Mankind and Triple H would face off against Austin.
Before we get to the match, one last thing – Jesse Ventura was the special guest ref. He was the governor of Minnesota at the time and SummerSlam was in Minneapolis. There wasn’t much in-universe explanation behind his involvement, but it was kind of a big deal.
Main Event Time!
After several intermittently long entrances (I miss Triple H's "My Time" entrance music a lot, always makes me nostalgic for the Attitude Era), we are set to go. First thing first, Jesse was the man. He was super over (talk about a hometown pop!) and went out of his way to call a fair match. For example, he kicked Chyna out of ringside (she was back to being both a heel and Triple H’s buddy/lackey despite fighting him thirteen days prior) and later on tossed Shane McMahon out on his ass, even saying "That one was for your old man, you bastard!" The crowd was eating out of the palm of Jesse’s hand all night.
As entertaining as Jesse’s antics were, he was the sideshow in this match. The three men had a damn fine match. It was your typical Triple Threat, in which two guys fight while a third hangs out outside and sells. However, due to Austin’s lingering injuries – his neck was still bothering him from Owen Hart’s unfortunate (and unintentional) piledriver from SummerSlam ’97, and Austin also had some knee pain too – he spent most of the match outside while Triple H and Mankind did the heavy lifting.
Which was fine, because Triple H and Mankind/Mick Foley have great chemistry together. This was squarely in the middle of Triple H’s in-ring prime, before his torn quad in 2001 sapped him of a lot of his mobility. Coupled with the fact that Mankind/Mick Foley had no reservations about getting the everloving crap kicked out of him (and, truth be told, Hunter took some wicked bumps too) and you had a good recipe for success.
The three go back and forth, lots of near-falls and break-ups and a hot crowd. Triple H worked Austin’s knee over and over, and the three trade finishers and break up pins. The crowd loves this, and they also love how Ventura wouldn’t count Triple H as he pinned Austin after a series of chair shots.
Finally, Triple H hits a Pedigree on Austin, makes the pin, only for Mankind to fly in out of nowhere, hit his double-arm DDT on Austin and win the strap! Talk about a Russo swerve.
Everyone and their brother thought Triple H was going to win his first WWF Championship at SummerSlam, so when Mankind won it was shocking. That being said, having Mankind win the belt wasn’t a bad move, it was merely an unexpected move. Contrast that with many of Russo’s later swerves, which were both bad and unexpected.
Oh, by the way – Triple H won his first WWF Championship the next night on Raw. Mankind/Mick Foley wouldn’t win the WWF title again.
Curtain Jerker’s Star Rating – Let’s say somewhere between 3½ and 3¾. I enjoyed this match, and while the build was a mess, at least it was a productive mess.
Up Next - Believe it or not, this was the first time these two wrestled each other at a pay-per-view in a one-on-one match. It would not be the last time they wrestled at a pay-per-view.Also in this series: