Posted by Joe Giachetti
1998 was a year for the WWE that represented the beginning of a boom period. The wrestling business as a whole was heading into a very successful time in the late 1990’s. WCW had turned the corner and was going strong with the nWo angle, taking over the Monday Night ratings battle. However, during the year of 1998, WWE officially turned the corner for themselves. After changing their plan of attack and going with more “attitude” in their product, they started generating stars that fans and viewers wanted to see. Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Degeneration X and others rose to the forefront, changing the business forever. Growing up watching wrestling, 1998 was to me one of the most fun and entertaining years in the wrestling business for WWE. After WrestleMania 14, a new era began with Stone Cold Steve Austin as the WWE Champion. In an ironic twist, the owner of WWE Vince McMahon became his chief rival. Characters and storylines were changing. It was time for a new beginning. Let’s take a look back at the summer of 1998 and the road to SummerSlam that year.
On Monday Night Raw the day after WrestleMania 14, the owner and CEO of WWE came to the ring with a brand new WWE Championship title. The new WWE Champion, Stone Code Steve Austin shortly followed, grabbing the new title from Vince McMahon. Vince made Austin an offer. He could do things Vince’s way as the new champion, the “easy way” or he could do them the hard way, going against what Vince expected from the champion leading his company. That conversation ended with McMahon receiving a Stone Cold Stunner, kicking off a feud for the summer and beyond that would become one of the most famous in wrestling history. A few weeks later McMahon would actually agree to challenge Austin for the WWE title on Raw in one of the highest rated segments of the year. Mick Foley would interfere as Dude Love, establishing himself as Austin’s first challenger for his newly won title. Foley would represent McMahon and go on to challenge Austin for the title at the next 2 pay per views unsuccessfully in some wild and brutal matches. Austin’s next challenger would be The Undertaker. In a storyline that took many twists and turns involving Austin, Taker, and his brother Kane, Kane would actually win the WWE title for a day at King of the Ring 1998 only to see Austin win it back the next night on Raw. Undertaker would finally get his shot at SummerSlam in 1998, with Austin and the fans unaware of what his relationship with his brother Kane was at this time. Would Kane help Taker to defeat Austin for the title? Or would Taker go into the match alone and fight Austin man to man. As it went, Kane did not interfere in the match and Austin would defeat the Undertaker with a Stone Cold Stunner in a highly entertaining main event from Madison Square Garden.
Also on the night after WrestleMania 14, Degeneration X made some significant changes. The leader, Shawn Michaels, suffered a crippling back injury leaving him unable to wrestle. HHH came to the ring and ran down Michaels for losing the WWE Championship the night prior, then proclaimed himself the new leader for Degeneration X. He then re-introduced Sean “X-Pac” Waltman to the WWE. Later the same night, the New Age Outlaws would also officially join the group, starting a new era for DX. While they would start off as heels, they would quickly turn fan favorite and begin a feud with the Nation of Domination. The Nation would also undergo some changes as The Rock would become their new leader, kicking out Faarooq and adding Owen Hart. This would lead to an Intercontinental Championship feud between the champion The Rock and HHH. Highlights of the feud would include the famous DX impersonation of the Nation as well as a 2 out of 3 falls match between Rock and HHH at Fully Loaded in July. It would culminate in a superb ladder match at SummerSlam from Madison Square Garden where HHH would finally overcome The Rock to become the new Intercontinental Champion.
It’s also worth noting that in the summer of 1998 the WWE introduced some new stars to their audience. From the DX/Nation feud, the returning X-Pac would feud with relative newcomer D-Lo Brown over the European Championship, adding another layer to the feud between the two factions. Another new character debuted that summer with somewhat of a controversial gimmick, that of a male porn star named Val Venis. Venis would start on a modest undefeated streak and be challenging for championships later that year. There was another impact newcomer that started his career in WWE that summer, and his name was Edge. With a character of a loner who entered through the crowds for his matches, he would build momentum and make his pay per view debut at SummerSlam as Sable’s mystery partner against Marc Mero and Jacqueline.
The summer of 1998 represented a new era for the World Wrestling Federation. New stars were featured on top with fresh, entertaining feuds. The mid-card allowed for some fantastic matches and gave the wrestlers an opportunity to showcase their talents to establish themselves as fixtures in the company. The summer of 98 was an important and successful time in the history of WWE.
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