It’s Summerslam weekend, which means everybody is waxing nostalgic for various classic Summerslam matches and moments.
And yet here I am, unable to think about anything else but a random TV special WWE produced before a Summerslam, 27 years to this very day.
During the early 1990s, WWE would lead in to their big PPV offerings with a one-off broadcast on the USA Network. And in 1991, 1992 and 1993 that broadcast was known as the Summerslam Spectacular.
They would hype the upcoming purchase-only event in hopes of increasing the buyrate, but the in-ring content would be little more than routine wins for acts set to be featured prominently on the PPV.
Matches such as Bret Hart vs Skinner, Razor Ramon vs Blake Beverly and Virgil vs Barry Darsow in a mask aren’t going to leave much of a legacy once the upcoming Summerslam has been hyped and the company moves onto the next big show. However, the very last bout in the short-lived tenure of this concept is a true diamond in the rough.
On August 22, 1993, eight days before WWE presented Summerslam 1993, they landed on USA with the third and final Summerslam Spectacular at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie, New York. In the main event, The Steiner Brothers defended the tag team titles against former champions Money Inc.
With Ted DiBiase set for non-title action on the PPV with the duty of minting the newly-babyface Razor Ramon and the Steiners moving on to defend their belts against newcomers The Heavenly Bodies at Summerslam itself, it was decided this particular title feud would be blown off on the TV lead-in. Oh, and it was a steel cage match. Old-school Federation-style blue bars, escape only.
Now, before you groan: yes, the style of cage WWE made famous in the 80s and 90s was indeed a watered-down variant of the classic, far-more-painful-looking mesh fence. And it’s always difficult to really get into a grudge match in which the aim is to run away before your opponent does.
And yet, 2vs2, the ‘blue bars and escape’ style came to life in a manner few saw coming.
The key to this was a particular distinction to the rules of this cage match. You see, both members of a team had to be out of the locked cage, with their feet on the ringside floor, at the exact same time in order to win. And if you did get out, you could also try to climb back in, if you needed to.
These unique parameters turned a neutered cage cliche into the grounds for advanced tactical warfare between two pairs of tag team veterans. Someone would get out, only for their partner to sustain a 2-on-1 beating and force the man on the outside to re-enter and prevent the opponents casually exiting after giving the partner a good kicking. Two foes would escape and then battle on the outside while their colleagues exchanged blows inside the cage.
Considering this was the TV show to get people to buy Summerslam, all four took some championship-level bumps in this one. Scott Steiner dives off the top of the structure at one point!
There are also plenty of big falls from escape bids – including a massive superplex off the cage wall delivered by The Million Dollar Man, in what would turn out to be his final in-ring main event.
It’s worth adding that this came five years before the Monday Night Wars and the Attitude Era made TV matches trumping PPV efforts commonplace. Fans who attended or tuned in expecting little more than Shawn Michaels’ routine Intercontinental title defence over Bob Backlund were being treated to a cutting-edge duos classic unfolding before their very eyes.
One of those viewers was eight-year-old me, who had snuck into his brother’s bedroom while he was out on a date in order to get TV time. My parents weren’t pleased that I did so without permission. Rick, Scott, Ted and Irwin ensured it was worth the verbal shellacking.
And they saved the best ‘til last with a brilliant finish: after exercising every possible scenario and near-finish, the champions regained the upper hand. But although Rick made it back out of the cage, Scott was halted and beaten down by both challengers.
Money Inc made simultaneous climbs in an effort to regain the belts, but while DiBiase got to the floor, Rick wisely met IRS coming down and stood beneath him, leaving Schyster to land seated on the Dog Faced Gremlin’s shoulders. With his partner stuck, Ted rushed over and rained down punches and forearms to Rick’s midsection, hoping he would buckle and let Irwin fall before Scott recovered and made his own escape.
Resilient Rick dug deep to stay vertical throughout the beating, clinging onto the bars to keep IRS stuck in the air. Meanwhile, Scotty started to scale the other side of the cage and landed one moment before his brother finally succumbed to the pressure.
The live crowd popped at the grandstand finish, and so did I at home.
Jim Ross and Gorilla Monsoon added perfect drama to the conclusion on commentary – and having new recruit JR take the lead reined in Gorilla’s worst traits and allowed both to do what they did best, hammer home the emotion of the story.
Everything about this low-key banger was thoroughly enjoyable, and it both baffles and saddens me that no tag team cage match in the near-three decades since has taken inspiration from this exact formula, because it’s gold.
The Steiners would continue their strong 1993 at the PPV the following weekend with another great title defence vs the Bodies in their home state of Michigan, though their overall WWE spell wouldn’t last a great deal longer. DiBiase did business as smoothly as he always did by putting over Razor as the hot new fan favourite before riding off into the sunset, later returning to commentate and manage. Schyster’s own outing on the event saw the 1-2-3 Kid do everything in his power to make an IRS singles match exciting. He came about as close as anyone ever did, too.
And in August 2019, WWE finally saw the light and added Summerslam Spectacular 1993 to the Network as part of their Hidden Gems subcategory. What are you waiting for? Go watch the match!