29 years ago today, Wembley Stadium played host to the last major WWE pay-per-view to take place in Britain, when SummerSlam 1992 came to the capital. The event is fondly-remembered by UK fans of a certain age, and the evening’s main event has gone down as one of the greatest matches in company history. Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart defended his Intercontinental Championship against local hero The British Bulldog, Davey Boy Smith.
The event arrived at the height of the wrestling craze in this country. The WWF (as it was then known) had become a sensation at the advent of Sky Television, as fans weaned on the spit-and-sawdust ‘World Of Sport’ era of domestic grappling saw the glitzy, showbiz presentation of Vince McMahon’s corporate giant for the first time. Names like Hulk Hogan, ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior became household words as this American phenomenon swept the nation. The release of the legendary Hasbro line of action figures, as well as accompanying sticker albums, trading cards and other merchandise, made the WWF a playground favourite. Live tours followed, allowing enraptured TV audiences to finally see their heroes up close without the need for a transatlantic flight.
It was inevitable that the WWF would eventually choose to put their enthusiastic British following on-screen, and so SummerSlam 1992 was moved from its planned location in Landover, Maryland to Wembley. 80,355 fans filed in under the Twin Towers of the old stadium, officially the fourth largest attendance ever for a WWF/E show. Some historians claim this show belongs further up the list, as the numbers for the three events higher in the rankings are all hotly-disputed. What cannot be disputed is that the company leaving their North American base to stage a European card had paid off big-time at the box office.
The crowd was treated to a main event that has frequently been voted the greatest match in SummerSlam history. Bret Hart alleged in his book that he hadn’t been able to reach Bulldog before the match, and that the Englishman arrived in a disheveled condition for the biggest match of his life. Whether by virtue of adrenaline, or the sublime ringcraft of ‘The Hitman’, this is not at all evident when watching the match.
Bulldog arrived resplendently draped in the Union Jack, leaning into his status as a national hero as he was led to the ring by boxer Lennox Lewis. Both Bulldog and Bret were portrayed as babyfaces, or ‘good guys’, at this point in their careers. But the occasion dictated that Hart allow some subtle villainy into his act in order for British Bulldog to shine in front of his home crowd. An extra layer of narrative depth was added by the fact that the pair were brothers-in-law. Diana Smith, wife of Davey Boy Smith and sister of Bret Hart, was present at ringside.
A technical wrestling masterclass from start to finish, the bout ended when Smith countered a Hart sunset flip to roll ‘The Hitman’ up for the pinfall, securing his first Intercontinental Championship. An emotional embrace between Diana, Bret and Bulldog played out under fireworks, and cacophonous cheers, as the first and, as it stands, last major PPV on these shores drew to a close.
The rest of the card reads like a who’s who of the era's grappling A-list. While Hulk Hogan was absent, the Wembley throng was treated to a WWF Championship battle between Randy Savage and Ultimate Warrior, with the iconic Ric Flair at ringside. The Undertaker made a spectacular entrance on the back of a hearse for his bout with ‘The Ugandan Giant’ Kamala, while the legendary Legion of Doom rode to the ring on motorcycles for their win over Money Inc. A young Shawn Michaels contested a memorable draw with ‘The Model’ Rick Martel. Watching the show today, it is full to the brim with Hall of Fame talent.
As SummerSlam 1992 nears its 30th anniversary, the now-WWE is long overdue a return to one of its strongest markets. While in pre-COVID times the company would tour here twice a year, never again has a major PPV event taken place on these shores. Let’s hope Mr McMahon gets nostalgic for the fantastic event his company put on in 1992, and perhaps eyes the new Wembley for a repeat performance.