Thursday, August 27, 2015

My Favorite Events--WWF SummerSlam 1995

Twenty years. Two full decades. I won't lie and say that it feels like yesterday, because it honestly doesn't. It was the Summer of 1995 and the World Wrestling Federation was bringing a pay-per-view extravaganza to Pittsburgh for the first time. In those days before the WWF began taping shows in large arenas, we hadn't even had a Monday Night Raw in the 'Burgh. My one and only live wrestling experience to that point had been a WWF house show in early 1992. Despite lineups that appealed to me in the time between, we just didn't find time to go back. Now that SummerSlam was coming to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, I knew that I had to be there.

Although the Internet was beginning its rush into mainstream consciousness, the way to get tickets was still largely restricted to a physical box office. The on-sale date was July 8th, a Saturday morning. We purchased our SummerSlam tickets at the TicketMaster location in the Kaufmann's department store in the Monroeville Mall. There weren't any living dead hanging around, but I'll always remember the girl in front of me in line. She appeared to be a few years older than me, but not by much. In her then-trendy halter top and overalls, she somehow convinced her father to purchase a front row ticket for her alone. As far back as we were in line, those ringside tickets must have been a small fortune as she did end up getting one. She is visible on the show itself, most notably during the ladder match entrances, clad in the famous Shawn Michaels "all-over" shirt. In my mind, she's still in those overalls. Regardless, I had my tickets and eagerly anticipated August 27, 1995.

That Spring and Summer had, in a way, introduced a new side of pro wrestling into my life. Growing up I'd had plenty of friends who liked wrestling, but none who truly loved it as I did. Occasionally one would get into it a bit deeper for a spell, but I was the only real consistent fan among those that I knew. Then came along cyberspace. I hesitate to use the term "Internet" again, as my first introduction to this much larger world was through something called a BBS, which stood for Bulletin Board System. These were small, independently owned and operated programs where you could chat, play games, send and receive e-mail, and share files. If you were remember the original America Online, picture that on a much smaller scale. Since you used your phone line through your computer to dial into these BBSes, you generally only joined local systems. It was through these BBSes that I got my first taste of just how things worked in wrestling (I'd always known the "predetermined" aspect) and finally met some fans who were just as hardcore as I was.

Chatting and sharing anticipation with these fellow Pittsburgh fans only helped to build the anticipation for SummerSlam. Somewhere along the line, I also learned that WWF Champion Diesel and WWF Women's Champion Alundra Blayze would be appearing the day before SummerSlam at a local Giant Eagle supermarket. Even when the business is an alleged slump, free autograph signings are usually packed. This was no exception. I left with a few autographs, some really cool promotional bumper stickers, and the feeling that Kevin "Diesel" Nash was sort of a jerk. He just didn't say anything. My opinions of him have since changed for the most part. On the flip side, Alundra "Madusa" Blayze was nice and cordial as she still is today. My dad caught a cool snapshot of me in my one second of eye contact with Nash.

The day of the show was fun, although there really wasn't much on the event itself that went unseen by the cameras. Waiting on the outside to get into the Civic Arena, one odd did thing did happen. For some inexplicable reason, The Fabulous Moolah made her way from the direction of the arena through the large crowd. An audible wave of "It's Moolah!" carried through the gathering of fans, but I've otherwise never learned anything more regarding her appearance.

Some alleged "fans" will tell you that the show was bad, but it wasn't. Even today it holds up, especially when put into perspective of the time. Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon had a superior ladder match to their overrated WrestleMania encounter, Diesel fought King Mabel in an attempt to recreate the Hogan magic formula of "Super Babyface Champion versus Monster Heel", and the rest of "The New Generation" rounded out a fun undercard. The show also saw my first live title change when Bertha Faye defeated Blayze and anytime you get to see Jinsei "Hakushi" Shinzaki wrestle live is a real treat.

The now very rare program was available as soon as we entered the building, and we immediately bought one. It's wider than a magazine, but not quite as long as other programs from that era. Shirts were also available, as was a cool laminated poster that my dad surprised me with after returning to our seats from a restroom break.

It was the beginning of a new era for wrestling in Pittsburgh, an area that had been largely ignored since the days of Bruno Sammartino. It was a very different WWF just three years later when The Undertaker flung Mankind off the top of Hell in a Cell. I was present for that too, with a unique perspective of the moment being eye-level with the top of the Cell. Still, there was something special about SummerSlam.

Without trying to sound too much like Kevin Arnold, it really was the beginning of my "wonder years." I was about to begin the seventh grade, I was beginning to see what the world was really about, and "overall girl" would be forgotten in favor of other females that were more than just a glimpse in a store line, even if they didn't care for wrestling. The Federation was running on "Diesel Power," and Pittsburgh truly "felt the heat."

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