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Warrior vs. Honky Tonk: The memorable classic that was ultimately underrated

Their SummerSlam encounter was an underappreciated masterpiece. Until now.


When it comes to matches and their star ratings, some experts and observers will tell you that a crowd’s reaction is a critical component in judging a match’s quality. But when a performance involves one or more participants that a critic is less than enamored with, or it doesn’t adhere to a style they like, subjective reviews can fall short of giving a match the credit it deserves.

On this date (Aug. 29) in 1988, the Ultimate Warrior challenged the Honky Tonk Man at WWE’s inaugural SummerSlam for the Intercontinental Championship. According to the Internet Wrestling Database, one of the industry’s online stat-houses, the match received a negative half-star.

And so, on its 35th anniversary, I’m here to plead its case and present an alternative rating.

As I see it, pro wrestling is like an action movie. Without good storytelling, compelling characters, and proper presentation — necessary elements for a film — the fight scenes don’t matter. And the story of the Honky Tonk Man and the Ultimate Warrior was a masterpiece that was more than a year in the making.

In June 1987, Honky Tonk captured the Intercontinental Championship from the uber-popular Ricky Steamboat. For the next fourteen months, the evil Elvis impersonator assaulted Randy Savage’s manager, Elizabeth, ducked challengers, and purposely got himself counted out or disqualified as a means of keeping his gold, all while endlessly reminding fans and foes alike that he was the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time.

Months later, the Warrior debuted in WWE and began slowly rising through its ranks while making a connection with the audience through his vibrant yet unhinged personality and straightforward assault on every opponent. In short, this dude was an ass-kicker. And a recipe that’s stood the test of time in wrestling is pitting an ass-kicker against someone who needs their ass kicked the most.

In the summer of 1988, Warrior was still earning his stripes while ol’ HTM was on a collision course with Brutus Beefcake, who he and his manager Jimmy Hart had screwed over months earlier at WrestleMania IV with their cheating and shenanigans. But Honky Tonk would need a new opponent for WWE’s debuting summer spectacular when Beefcake was injured in an angle weeks before the show.

When Honky Tonk and Hart rolled into Madison Square Garden, their hubris was at an all-time high. So much so that once Honky Tonk entered the ring, he grabbed the house mic and barked, “Get me somebody out here to wrestle! I don’t care who it is!”

The Garden audience groaned in disgust as they and a worldwide audience anxiously waited to see who would step up to rip this paper champion.

And then the Warrior’s music hit.

A tidal wave of excitement washed over MSG, and the Honky Tonk Man’s cocky smirk swiftly gave way to a wide-eyed look of concern because he knew what we all knew.

The party, HIS party, was over.

Like a flash of lightning, the Warrior stormed the ring and unleashed a blitzkrieg on Honky Tonk, who didn’t even have time to get out of his jumpsuit. Meanwhile, the roar of the crowd grew with each punch.

“Boom! Boom! BOOM!”

In between strikes, the Warrior worked in one wrestling move, a body slam, before winding up and delivering a thunderous clothesline that knocked the wind out of Honky Tonk, sending him crashing to the mat. In the blink of an eye, Warrior hit the ropes and divebombed his adversary with a splash, wrapping him up for the pin.


In mere seconds, the Warrior liberated an entire fanbase from the oppressive sovereignty they had painfully endured for fourteen months. Anger and frustration turned into unrestrained joy, and a new star was born.

This was professional wrestling at its finest, yet its initial star rating was insulting, as it clearly didn’t factor in one critical element: the crowd’s response.

Was the match short? Yes, very.

Was there a sophisticated exchange of moves, spots, and false finishes? No.

But was the match entertaining, and were the fans satisfied? Absolutely.

The audience was emotionally invested from start to finish as they watched the cowardly heel get his comeuppance in a manner most fitting, resulting in a title change that electrified a sold-out arena.

Revised Rating: 5-Stars

Alright, Cagesiders, while I petition the Internet Wrestling Database to honor this revised rating, tell me what you thought of the match and which underrated classic you feel deserves better in the comments section.

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