James Dixon: This UK exclusive event from April 1998 was supposed to be the second pay-per-view event to take place in the country in the last eight months, with the original plan being a return match for the European title between Shawn Michaels and Davey Boy Smith, with Davey having famously and controversially lost the title to HBK at One Night Only in September. The bout is very much off the table now, with Michaels having worked his last match a week earlier at WrestleMania XIV before embarking on a four year stint out of active competition due to his crippling back injury. Davey on the other hand is long gone from the company, having walked in November when Vince pulled the double cross on Bret Hart at Survivor Series ’97.
Even without that big marquee match, the WWF was still becoming hot enough in the UK that the company felt it could promote Mayhem In Manchester as a pay-per-view event, and that was the intention for the longest time. Unfortunately problems arose when the WWF and Sky Box Office were unable to reach an agreement regarding profit share, and the announcement came late on that this was now just a glorified house show. Both parties missed out on what would have probably been a fairly decent payoff because of stubbornness, and the WWF had invested and wasted a lot of money promoting and advertising the card in the UK. It is probably the most expensive house show ever ran because of that. In an attempt to recoup some of the costs, the WWF cobbled together a film crew and taped the show for this VHS release, though it is not the full card but rather an hour of highlights. The following is what it contains.
“SummerSlam 1991” (sic) says Michael Cole matter-of-factly, as he talks about past WWF shows on British shores. “More than 90,000 fans…” is his next credibility smashing line. You have to give that man credit for his commitment to being well-researched.
The first thing to note is that the camera angles used are horrible; it is like fan cam footage. I get that they probably didn’t film the show as they would have if it was a PPV, but if the WWF knew they were releasing it then they could have at least had a hard cam on it. Instead, everything is shot from the handhelds at ringside, making it almost unwatchable.
Jeff Jarrett vs. Brakkus
We begin with footage of the opener between gargantuan German wrestler Brakkus, who was on the WWF’s books for years, and Jeff Jarrett. Apparently Brakkus is a “great European favourite”. Sure he is Cole, sure he is. This is his only “major” televised appearance. We get just a couple of highlights here before Jarrett beats the roided monster with a figure four leglock. The crowd was actually fairly into Brakkus, and being the babyface European in the opening match he probably should have gone over.
The Godwinns vs. DOA
This ends quickly with Henry getting the duke thanks to a Slop Drop as a heel goes over for the second consecutive match, continuing WWF tradition of really screwing with UK fans when it comes to finishes. Back at Battle Royal at the Albert Hall in 1991, heels went over in every match except the one involving Davey Boy Smith. There is no Brit on the card tonight though. Hopefully the ass-backwards booking won’t continue throughout.
Bradshaw vs. Marc Mero
Cole talks some nonsense about Sable getting more and more respected by everyone, except Marc Mero, and puts over her apparent international popularity. Look let’s get this out there: no-one liked Sable for her in-ring ability or her great performances; horny teenage boys just wanted to fuck her. Bradshaw destroys Mero with a lariat for the first babyface win of the night. Barely anything is shown from this.
Owen Hart & Ken Shamrock vs. The Rock & D’Lo Brown
The camera angle magically changes to the old Paris ring post corner hard cam for this, but they also use insanely close shots for some of it, making it impossible to tell what is going on. D’Lo works in his t-shirt like a fat backyarder, but we do finally see some nice wrestling between him and Owen, though it is all very basic. The stuff they do here is pretty much house show 101, with none of the guys particularly exerting themselves. They don’t need to though, because the crowd is red hot for everything anyway. I hate the camera work on this but I have to say I do love the lighting. Again it is the house show set up so it is just a few spotlights on the ring, but the crowd is completely dark so it looks like an MSG show from the 80s. Kevin Dunn would absolutely despise this. It is one thing I do miss in modern wrestling, because now every show and every venue looks identical. That is by design, WWE wants it to be that way, but it is all too sanitised and clean for me. The other thing of note is the ring, which still has the classic blue aprons with red, white and blue ropes and the WWF “New Generation” logo on the turnbuckle pads. This is the last televised show to feature this set up, with the company immediately after this using black colouring on everything and replacing the logo with the new Attitude scratch variant. We actually get decent highlights of this one, and out of the bouts featured so far it is the best choice for extended viewing, certainly. Shamrock picks up the win for his team after a rana and the ankle lock on D’Lo.
TAFKA Goldust vs. Cactus Jack
Dust is just dressed in his usual gold and black attire rather than the more flamboyant multicoloured fare that he had been sporting around the time. The announcers comment on the camerawork, but they put it OVER of all things, saying how great it is to be brought “right into the ring”. They would think that. Yeah, it’s brilliant not being able to see shit and having everything blocked by the ropes and the referee. This is just punching and a couple of easy bumps before the Rude-Warrior WrestleMania V finish, with Goldust going over thanks to Luna Vachon playing Bobby Heenan. Why would you put TAFKA Goldust over Cactus Jack? So Sable can come in for a catfight with Luna afterwards of course. Sable shows why she is “so respected” with some horrible punches on Luna, before Mero comes down to break it up. It occurs to me that this would have all been more fun if the guys were working under their WCW gimmicks. Sable screeches at Luna on the mic after the match then shoves Mero over for getting in her face. The emasculation and on-screen castration continues.
WWF Tag Team Championship
The New Age Outlaws (c) vs. LOD 2000
These two teams rumble for the millionth time next, with the Outlaws going for “gay heat” as they comfort each other after taking bumps. Gay heat is something Billy would get pretty familiar with over the years. LOD were well past their 80s heyday by this point and the stuff they do is the same tired shit that killed them off as a viable drawing entity in the latter part of their final WWF run. They even go into the heat the same way, with Hawk missing a charge in the corner and hitting the post shoulder-first. After a laborious heat the LOD do their tried and tested comeback, before Chyna prevents the Doomsday Device by hitting Animal with a low blow for the DQ. By low blow, I mean she clips his knee because she is so useless that she can’t even do her ONE SPOT right.
Steve Austin (c) vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
Chyna shows up again for what should have been the main event between Steve Austin and Triple H, which is a match that meant far less then than it would in coming years. This is given plenty of airtime, as it should be given the guys involved, though this is Hunter from an era where he was still unable to lead an exciting match and Austin who was recently back from a broken neck. They run some very simple holds to begin with, before Hunter goes to work on Austin’s notoriously dodgy knee. That is the story of the match, with Hunter severely weakening Austin with the figure four leglock and Chyna getting involved at every given opportunity. The full bout runs a mind-numbingly long 29:13, which quite frankly makes me very grateful that this show is clipped to hell. It’s not even the action so much, which is of course more than passable given the participants, but the camera makes it impossible to enjoy. You just can’t get lost in the action from these angles. The finish is fairly exciting despite that, with the ref getting bumped and Chyna getting involved, only to eat a Stunner before Hunter takes the same and Austin retains the title to a large pop. Probably far more fun live than on tape.
The Undertaker vs. Kane
Inexplicably this is the main event, rather than the red hot new WWF champion. During Kane’s entrance we get a long-angled shot of the ring, which riles me immensely because it is by far the best view I have seen all night, yet it is the first time it has shown up. How intolerable. In a discombobulating turn of events, Taker is forced to wrestle in his street clothes due to his luggage getting lost in transit. It was really strange to see at the time, but looking back it is just embryonic “American Badass” Undertaker. It is still jarring to see him against Kane in this attire in an old-school style setting. The Manchester fans must have wondered just what the hell was going on, because it’s not like they worked an angle to explain it, and this came at a time where Taker was always strictly in character and in gear. Then again we are in Manchester, so the fans probably didn’t even notice anything was different. Taker’s every day dress does make him look an awful lot like a big hairy mosher though, or a bit like Chainz from DOA. Strange that, almost like there is an angle there somehow… Again the match is mauled, reduced from 21 minutes down to about 5, with Taker winning after the Tombstone. Was it good? No idea. It felt like a tacked on afterthought due to it coming after the title match and with the unsettling and distracting sight of Taker sans attire. Without his costume he becomes just another guy and the match doesn’t feel “right” because of it. That is all the insight I can give you.
Summary: A blatant cash-grab release and a real botch job of a tape. There is little of worth contained on the entire thing, other than the novelty of seeing the Undertaker work without his Goth gear two years early and the unique but cheap look of the usually over-produced show. For the only time ever, I actually found myself wishing Kevin Dunn had been there to get the shit together, because this is bootleg quality levels in places. An interesting curio for about five minutes, but the novelty quickly fades and this goes down as one of the most hollow and pointless releases out there. Strong recommendation to avoid.