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Who Competed in the First-Ever SummerSlam and When Was It?

Years ago, the debut of WWE's SummerSlam was action-packed from beginning to end!

By Chris Phelan
The Honky Tonk Man walks Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat to the ropes by his hair during a WWF match

It's been a long July, but thankfully, SummerSlam 2023 is almost here. The August 5 event, taking place in Detroit, Michigan, promises to be one of the most impactful nights in recent memory. Of course, sometimes it's easier to appreciate the scope of SummerSlam if you're well-versed in the event's history. 

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With less than two weeks to go before WWE invades the Motor City, here's a crash course in the humble beginnings of The Biggest Party of the Summer – in fact, you may as well call it SummerSlam 101!

When and Where Did SummerSlam First Take Place?

Hulk Hogan lay son the ground outside of the ring in this black and white photo

When it comes to SummerSlam history, there is only one date and place you need to know: 

August 29, 1988. Madison Square Garden.

New York City set the stage for a recurring WWE event for the ages. Madison Square Garden was the home of many historic WWE events, including the first-ever WrestleMania in 1985 and countless Bruno Sammartino title defenses in the 60s and 70s. It shouldn't come as a surprise that WWE held many of their most prominent events in the Big Apple – not only is New York City in close proximity to WWE headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut but it's widely known that the most rabid wrestling fans in the world live in or around The Big Apple!

In a sense, Madison Square Garden was the only logical venue to host SummerSlam – just too much pro wrestling history has taken place inside the World's Most Famous Arena over the years. 

What Led WWE to Add SummerSlam to the Yearly Event Calendar?

The professional landscape in the late 1980s was considerably different from today's. Back then, WWE was locked in an arms race with rival promotion, the National Wrestling Alliance (known as the NWA – the organization that would eventually evolve into World Championship Wrestling). With the pay-per-view market exploding, both wrestling organizations continuously attempted to one-up the other – usually by adding pay-per-views to their respective calendars. 

By 1988, people noticed a hole in the WWE event calendar. With Royal Rumble taking place in January, WrestleMania kicking off the spring season, and Survivor Series acting as the premiere fall event, there was room for another mega-event during the dog days of summer. Frankly, SummerSlam served a need for the WWE Universe – the fans clamored for a WrestleMania-esque event that takes place during the summer months, and they got their wish with the creation of SummerSlam, also known as The Biggest Party of the Summer.

WWE didn't take the creation of another significant event lightly, so they made sure SummerSlam's debut was jam-packed with some of the hottest matches the WWE Universe had ever seen up to that point!

In fact, the addition of SummerSlam (which unofficially was the final piece of the "Big Four" WWE pay-per-view events) opened the door for even more events to be added to WWE's annual calendar. WWE quickly discovered that the WWE Universe yearned for monthly extravaganzas – a tradition still true today.

Which WWE Superstars Competed in the First-Ever SummerSlam?

Asking which WWE Superstars appeared at SummerSlam 1988 is a loaded question – a more straightforward way is simply to ask, "Who WASN'T part of SummerSlam 1988?" The lineup was filled top-to-bottom with some of the greatest Superstars to ever run the ropes. 

The legendary Bret "Hitman" Hart teamed with his brother-in-law Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart to challenge for the WWE Tag Team titles against Demolition. The Honky Tonk Man saw his impressive Intercontinental Championship reign come to a crashing halt at the hands of The Ultimate Warrior – a moment that still gives us goosebumps nearly 35 years later.

Summerslam 1988's undercard was a who's-who of 1980s WWE action figures come to life. Rick Rude, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Big Bossman, The Junkyard Dog, and Koko B. Ware all found themselves competing on the summer's biggest stage. For the millions of kids who grew up on 1980s WWE action, SummerSlam was pro wrestling's version of an NBA All-Star Game. 

In the night's main event, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage – known at the time as The Megapowers – teamed up against Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant in a thrilling tag team encounter that saw Miss Elizabeth shock the WWE Universe – and the participants in the match – in iconic fashion.

(If you're impressed by the lineup of the 1988 edition of SummerSlam, wait until you read about the Superstars that are slated to participate in this year's event!)

You can tune in to Peacock to watch WWE's SummerSlam on August 5. In the meantime, catch up on all things WWE Universe on Peacock as well.

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