WASHINGTON—For Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels, Summerslam inflames a dispute about their wrestling legacies. For WWE world heavyweight champion Batista, Summerslam represents a homecoming. For WWE owner, Vince McMahon, Summerslam connotes a whimsical trip into trip into the past.
Those were some of the featured storylines Tuesday as the WWE held a pep rally-styled press conference to kickoff its signature summer pay-per-view event, to be held here Aug. 21.
In front of a raucous crowd of 500 fans shoehorned into a concourse of the MCI Center, WWE stars promoted their matches at the 18th annual Summerslam.
Much of the session was devoted to the headline attraction between Hogan and Michaels, which pits two of the most contrasting wrestlers of the last 20 years—Hogan, the charismatic, though less flexible superhero, and Michaels, the under-sized, ultra-talented high flyer.
In his remarks, Michaels, hailed as, “one of the greatest in-ring performers in the history of sports entertainment” by RAW general manager Eric Bischoff, was sharp and cutting as he derided Hogan, and, by extension, his superhuman aura.
Turning to McMahon, Michaels noted sarcastically that the WWE impresario once referred to him as, “a good little hand.” Playing off a decidedly pro-Hogan crowd, Michaels lumped fans into the same niche as McMahon.
“A lot of you continue to overlook me and pay more attention to the image and the puppets that [McMahon] sticks in front of you,” Michaels said. “Guys like me have had to work twice as hard, and put in more time and more effort. Well, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
To emphasize his disgust with the McMahon-produced version of the WWE, Michaels stalked off the stage at the introduction of Candice Michelle, saying, “I am not going to sit out here while a Diva comes out after me.”
Hogan appeared at the end of the event and, while more subdued than his Summerslam foe, mocked Michaels and tag partner Marty Jannetty, who first appeared in the WWE as The Rockers in 1988. “Both of these guys together were almost as big as I was,” he said.
To Hogan, the purpose of the Summerslam main event is to put Michaels in his place and preserve the hallowed echelon of Hulkamania. “Shawn Michaels is in the crossroads. He’s walking this thin line between greatness and disaster,” Hogan said.
The biggest cheers, though, were reserved for hometown hero Batista, a Washington native, who squares off with former champ JBL in a No Holds Barred match.
Just five years ago, Batista worked as a bouncer at a bar near the MCI Center. He admitted he got misty-eyed when the raucous crowd starting chanting, “Welcome back, welcome back” as he approached the rostrum.
Now, having risen to the top of the mat game in meteoric fashion since his 2002 WWE debut, Batista was soft-spoken and reflective about defending the world title in his home town. “My roots are very deep,” he told reporters later. “I don’t know if people really realize what a big deal it is to me.”
For his part, JBL was at his bad cowboy-best, running down the nation’s capital at every opportunity. “I’m not opposed to kicking someone’s ass in D.C.,” he told one heckler. “I can out drink Ted Kennedy,” he told another.
In a one-on-one session with reporters, JBL said he thought the no-holds-barred stipulation works to his advantage against Batista.
“Texas wrestlers tend to be your Stan Hansens and your Bruiser Brodys. They’re brawlers; they’re not technical wrestlers at all,” he said. “This is my type of match, where you’re able to tear up a lot of stuff. It’s the way I broke in, so it should be my forte.”
In another promo, Randy Orton vowed to continue his role as the “Legend Killer” in his Summerslam match with The Undertaker, who was not at the festivities.
“I know what my destiny is. I know what my destiny has in store for me. The Undertaker is a legend, but I am sure everyone out here knows that Randy Orton is the legend killer,” Orton said.
And Kurt Angle vowed to get his Olympic gold medal back from the neck of the popular, but slightly slow-witted, Eugene character, a program that has been building on TV for several weeks. Angle asked Bischoff for permission to break both of Eugene’s ankles. “He doesn’t even know what [the medal] stands for. He think it’s a toy,” Angle scoffed.
As for other wrestlers, McMahon said in a question-and-answer session that Ric Flair and HHH will be back in action, “whenever they feel like it. The door’s wide open.”
He also shrugged off a question about the fate of former WWE champion Brock Lesnar, quipping only that he doesn’t expect Lesnar, who left wrestling for a failed shot at football, to be playing in the NFL this fall.
There was some serious demolishing going on, though by accident. The bunting and drapes that served as a backdrop for the event took the biggest bump of the day, as Angle accidentally knocked them down as he stood up from his chair and simulated a brawl as Michaels approached Hogan for a face-off.
The drapes and assorted metal standards crashed to the floor, exposing an idle food court nearby. The commotion momentarily halted the Michaels-Hogan standoff.
Bischoff stepped in with a bit of nifty improvisation, saying, “something tells me that this is just the beginning. They are going to tear down the house at Summerslam.”
John Cena, who was sitting next to Angle, later called the series of events a classic moment in news conference annals.
“I was cracking up,” the WWE champion later chuckled. “I couldn’t hold it in. Best press conference moment, ever.”
In brief remarks, McMahon noted that the MCI Center is just a few blocks away from the long-since-demolished Franklin Hotel in which his father’s Capitol Sports promotion, the forerunner of the WWE, had its offices.
With a bit of wistfulness, McMahon recalled cavorting down the streets of Washington in Dr. Jerry Graham’s red convertible in 1959, “flipping people off,” as he recalled with a laugh.
“This Summerslam is going to mark a homecoming for me and for our company, and I can guarantee you it’s going to be one Summerslam that you will never, ever forget.”