Ranking SummerSlam #9: 1998 - Steve Austin vs. Undertaker

Or…the one that headlined the most-purchased SummerSlam ever

Much like 1999’s edition, this SummerSlam had a convoluted build. To be fair, it wasn’t as distorted as the one a year later, but it still takes a flow chart to understand what was going on. Here’s my best effort at explaining the build.

WrestleMania XIV was a changing of the guard for the WWF. Shawn Michaels, one of the lynchpins of the WWF, retired with his back problems, coming back at SummerSlam in 2002. Late-Attitude Era heavy hitters like the Rock, Triple H and Mankind were in the midcard. For instance, Triple H won the European title, the Rock retained the Intercontinental title, and Mankind teamed with Terry Funk to win the Tag Team belts. Looking back you could see the seeds of something great with those three, but they were just seeds, not yet flowering plants.

(Speaking of changing of the guard, this was the first WWF event to feature the Attitude Era "scratch" logo on the ring aprons. Also, the night after Mania featured the debut of the Attitude-Era WWF Championship, the one that looked like this

It was basically the Steve Austin Show from April 1998 onward. His enemy wasn’t another wrestler, or even a manager in the conventional sense of the word. He sparred with Vince McMahon himself, in a feud everyone who has ever hated their boss and felt like kicking him in the gut, hitting a Stunner and pouring beer all over his unconscious body can relate to. Needless to say, ratings went through the roof.

Vince had a few avatars to get the belt off Austin. He started with Dude Love, who couldn’t win the belt off Austin despite a heavily stacked deck. Discarding the Dude, McMahon turned to Kane, who beat Austin in a First Blood Match at the King of the Ring. However, being the Attitude Era, things were never simple: Austin lost because the Undertaker swung a chair (aimed for Mick Foley, who was back to being Mankind) which hit Austin, who gigged to lose the match.

At the time Undertaker was a tweener who alternatively hated and felt sorry for his half-brother Kane (the two had fought at WrestleMania 14) but he still felt a sense of obligation toward the maniacal Kane. It would have been kind of sweet if it wasn’t a walking undead mortician and a red-suited demon, but Tolstoy once said that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, and these two were an unhappy family.

For some reason McMahon was determined to prove that the Undertaker and Kane were working together. Undertaker, wearing a Kane mask, won a #1 contender’s match against Mankind. McMahon wasn’t happy that the tweener ‘Taker and not the heel Kane was fighting Austin and made a match between Kane and Mankind (the WWF Tag Team Champs) and Austin and the Undertaker for the tag belts.

If you've been paying attention this long you can see where this story ends – Austin and ‘Taker won the belts, despite (or maybe because of?) feuding with each other. While WWF/WWE has turned this trick a few times since – Cena and Batista leading up to SummerSlam 2008 comes to mind – this was the first time I can recall this happening.

The two defended the tag belts for a few weeks until dropping it back to Kane and Mankind on a Raw. All the while, Undertaker kept denying he and Kane were in cahoots, despite McMahon’s insistence they were allies.

Finally, on the go-home Raw to SummerSlam, the charade was dropped and it was revealed that Kane and Undertaker were allies the entire time. Austin looked like he had no chance in hell to keep his WWF championship

Main Event Time!

First of all, go watch the Rock-Triple H ladder match for the IC title from this card. Just a great performance from two guys who everyone knew at the time were headed to bigger and better things.

SummerSlam was at Madison Square Garden, which meant two things: 1. A rabid crowd and 2. The traditional small entrance way, where the crowd is practically on top of the ring and ramp. We had a fantastic crowd, full of what we would now call "smarks" or "internet fans." There were dozens of ECW signs and there was even a "Goldberg is da man" sign that spent a few seconds on camera before the inevitable cutaway.

Undertaker came out to this strange music. It was more rock-n-roll and heavy pounding chords than his usual entrance theme. Here’s how you know Austin was over: just the anticipation of the glass shattering in this theme got people cheering. The actual glass shattering led to a massive pop.

The match itself was very good. It was not a technical masterpiece – you had a post-neck injury Austin and the Undertaker, not Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle – but that doesn’t detract from the match. The crowd loved everything these two did and they did a lot. The fact that the crowd was on almost literally on top of the action certainly helped add to the intimacy of the whole thing. It was sort of like watching a great band play in a small club.

Also the psychology was basic but good. Austin, like just about every Undertaker opponent before or since, worked the leg, while ‘Taker worked Austin’s arm. Very elementary stuff, but there’s nothing wrong with that, especially when you have two guys who both know how to work and know how to sell.

After some brawling in the stands Kane came out. ‘Taker shooed him away and he spent the rest of the match standing in the short entryway looking intimidating. The high point of the match is when Undertaker launched himself off the top rope with a legdrop to a prone Austin on the Spanish Announce Table. Cool spot.


The crowd loved this and just about everything else these two did. (via

Austin wins clean with a Stunner (one of the few times I can remember the undead version of the Undertaker losing clean as a sheet). After the match ‘Taker does his classic sit-up and threatens to attack a beat-up Austin. Instead he grabs the WWF title and hands it to the champ without a word.

Austin would eventually lose the strap and gain it back again in time to wrestle the Rock at WrestleMania XV on an otherwise forgettable card.

Curtain Jerker’s Star Rating – 3¾-4 sounds about right. Fun match, fun feud

Up Next - A great match where the guy who won was fed to another guy with a huge ego for no discernable reason nor benefit.

Also in this series:

#10 - Cena vs. Orton

#11 - Triple H. vs. Mankind vs. Steve Austin

#12 - Punk vs. Cena

#13 - The Rock vs. Booker T

#14 - Michaels vs. Vader

#15 - Elimination Chamber

#16 - Cena vs. Edge

#17 - Michaels vs. Hogan

#18 - Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar

#19 - Hogan/Savage vs. Andre/DiBiase

#20 - Team WWE vs. Team Nexus

#21 - Rude vs. Warrior

#22 - Hogan/Beefcake vs. Savage/Zeus

#23 - Luger vs. Yokozuna

#24 - Hogan/Warrior vs. Slaughter/Mustafa/Adnan

#25 - Diesel vs. Mabel

#26 - Undertaker vs. Undertaker

The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Cageside Seats readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cageside Seats editors or staff.