The thirty-third iteration of SummerSlam is currently planned to take place in the WWE Performance Center, with a new location possibly being revealed closer to the time. In those thirty-three years, its reputation has grown to the point that the event is renowned as the second biggest WWE event of the year.
With a back catalogue of classic moments, it’s a wonderful opportunity to bask in some of the best SummerSlam matches from the last three decades.
1. WWF SummerSlam 1992 Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart (c) vs. The British Bulldog
The first ever major WWF pay-per-view to take place outside North America, SummerSlam 1992 would be based at Wembley Stadium in London.. An attempt by WWF to take advantage of growing popularity in the UK, the main event would feature the Intercontinental Champion, Bret Hart, defending against his real-life brother-in-law, Davey Boy Smith. According to Smith’s wife Diana, Smith suffered a legitimate staph infection in his knee prior to the match (though Hart himself doubted this).
With over 80,000 fans, the atmosphere and reaction for Smith was awe-inspiring, with boxer Lennox Lewis seconding Bulldog. The match’s opening moments would see both men rely on their strengths, Hart utilising his technical wrestling and Smith going for a power advantage. Hart would focus his attack on Bulldog’s midsection, preparing for the Sharpshooter as well as hindering Bulldog’s power game.
Despite this, Smith would be willed on by his countrymen to help escape Hart’s finisher and gain a clean victory when he would reverse Hart’s Sunset Flip with a pinfall of his own. With Hart admitting afterwards that Bulldog was blown up within three minutes and had forgotten everything, it’s a tremendous show of what a ringmaster general Hart was.
2. WWF SummerSlam ‘94 Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart (c) vs. Owen Hart
Two years on, Bret had cemented his place in the main event, winning the WWF Championship at WrestleMania X from Yokozuna. At the time, Bret was also involved in a feud with his younger brother Owen, having begun at Survivor Series ’93 when Owen was the only Hart brother eliminated after miscommunication. Owen would turn on Bret at that year’s Royal Rumble, the two facing off in the opening match of WrestleMania, with Owen winning. This victory was unfortunately overshadowed by Bret’s winning of the WWF Championship.
With Owen’s victory over Bret and his winning of the ’94 King of the Ring tournament, the two were booked to face one another in a Steel Cage match. From the moment the bell rang, the two embittered brothers would battle to escape and win the championship, leapfrogging over one another in sequence. Despite the lack of blood, the tension was palpable as they kept the crowd on the edge of their seat. Eventually, Bret would trap Owen’s leg in the cage and escape to retain his championship. A lesson in intensity and tension, the pace never relents as both Harts set a golden standard for cage matches.
3. WWF SummerSlam ‘95 Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon
During one of WWF’s weakest years, there were few shining lights due to a time of painful transition. This was exacerbated by the stranglehold The Kliq had gained on the company, but this would ironically help generate one of the few positives of the year, a Ladder Match between Kliq members Michaels and Ramon for the Intercontinental Championship. Despite the lack of build-up, there was tremendous anticipation due to having previously battled one another in a classic Ladder Match at WrestleMania X.
The early stages featured both men aiming for their finishers to take control, with Ramon’s power advantage winning out. Ramon attempted to hinder Michaels by focusing on the left leg, but the champion would battle back with babyface fire, including a Moonsault Press off the ladder. The two men even introduced the concept of a second ladder, with Michaels successfully retaining his championship to a huge ovation. Several moments would tie back to the original Ladder Match, building upon their history wonderfully.
4. WWF SummerSlam 2000 Edge & Christian (c) vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz
The year 2000 is fondly remembered as one of the strongest periods in wrestling, and one of the major reasons was the tag team division. All three teams gained prominence as champions, encompassed by their excellent Triple Threat Ladder Match at WrestleMaia. This match would build on the history between them, incorporating three different weapons that had personal connections to each team. Whether the Hardy Boyz having become fan favourites after several Ladder Matches, the Dudley Boyz wreaking havoc by sending many through their beloved tables, or Edge and Christian attacking Matt with chairs, this match was built on the legacy of all three teams.
There are several moments that resonate throughout history, regularly replayed when discussing the history of SummerSlam. Whether Jeff attempting a Swanton Bomb through a table, Bubba Ray being sent through four double-stacked tables, Matt being sent through another two double-stacked tables, or a brutal Spear by Edge to Lita, this hellacious car crash would become a favourite of many fans, an undisputed highlight of tag team wrestling as a whole. An original classic rarely replicated.
5. WWF SummerSlam 2001 ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin (C) vs. Kurt Angle
In among the maligned Invasion angle, there were some rare moments of brilliance, including a feud between the Alliance turncoat ‘Stone Cold’ and the WWF loyalist Kurt Angle. After a reign as WWF Champion the previous year, Angle’s growing intensity and viciousness would allow the two men to create an unforgettable series of matches. More than that, it offered Angle an opportunity to gain much-deserved respect from a WWF audience used to hating him, during a year when Angle was busting out great matches regularly.
The early brawling in this match would transition into a story of Austin focusing his attack on Angle’s damaged left leg, while Angle himself had begun utilising a dreaded Ankle Lock as his new finisher. Despite Angle being left bloodied, he would show the heart of a champion as he refused to give up, kicking out of the Stone Cold Stunner at a time when it was strongly protected, sending the crowd wild. A desperate Austin would be forced to attack three WWE referees before Nick Patrick of The Alliance would disqualify him, allowing Austin to escape with his championship. A rare moment when a disqualification finish actually intensified the quality of the match, but most importantly, Angle proved he was a more than capable main eventer.
6. WWE SummerSlam ‘02 Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels
After a debilitating back injury that would seemingly end his career, Michaels would surprisingly begin feuding with former best friend, Triple-H. In a shocking turn of events, Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff would announce an Unsanctioned Street Fight at SummerSlam. Clad in jeans and boots, Michaels would help weave a superb story in a performance that belied his four years away from the ring.
With the nefarious Helmsley attacking the back of Michaels, including a sequence of backbreakers, and an impassioned desperation from Michaels, the crowd would quickly grow in support of the veteran. For many young fans, including myself, it would be their first viewing of a talent spoken of, and would help reinvigorate Michaels. This would begin an eight year resurgence that possibly eclipsed his original respected career.
7. WWE SummerSlam 2008 Edge vs. The Undertaker
Since May 2007, when Edge would cash in the Money In The Bank Briefcase he stole from Mr Kennedy on an injured World Champion The Undertaker, these two legends had battled multiple times. From matches featuring Batista in a Triple Threat at Armageddon 2007, to a minor classic in the WrestleMania 24 main event, rematches at Backlash and Judgement Day, and a TLC war at One Night Stand 2008 that would see The Undertaker lose and be fired, the two men brought the best out of each other. In the end, a vindictive Vickie Guerrero would rehire The Undertaker to face Edge.
A rare occurrence of a modern day long-term feud, this sixteen month rivalry would feature a Spear through the cell and a broadcast table, a Chokeslam from the trop rope through two tables, and the use of steel steps, chairs, and cameras. After a bitter battle, The Undertaker would vanquish his opponent with a Tombstone Piledriver, before sending the ‘Ultimate Opportunist’ through the ring with a thunderous Chokeslam off two ladders. With Edge’s recent return this year, it’s an opportune time to relive some of his best work.
8. WWE SummerSlam ‘13 Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman vs. CM Punk
At the only SummerSlam event to garner two entries on this list, we would see the tale of an unrelenting beast taking on the cunning intelligence of the ‘Straight Edge Superstar’. With former confidante Heyman now backing the former UFC fighter Lesnar, vengeance was paramount for Punk. In a hard-hitting, physically demanding brawl between the two, both men would exchange submissions and chair shots in an attempt to gain the victory.
Unfortunately, Punk’s desire for revenge would end up costing him, as his determination to injure Heyman with the Anaconda Vice would leave him open for a succession of chair shots and a thunderous F5 from Lesnar. Considering that at this point, his return had consisted of losing to Cena and a pitiful feud with Triple-H, this victory was a major impetus for Lesnar. It’s likely that this match would help cement the decision for Lesnar to defeat The Undertaker and maul John Cena in the next twelve months.
9. WWE SummerSlam ‘13 John Cena (c) vs Daniel Bryan
Later the same evening, the WWE Universe would get the opportunity to witness their beloved fan favourite, Daniel Bryan, challenge for the WWE Championship. In the midst of the ‘Yes Movement’, Cena was offered the opportunity to choose his own challenger for SummerSlam, picking the brilliant technician. Despite the disagreement of Vince McMahon, and a horrendous elbow injury sported by the champion, this match was highly anticipated.
In a match that would represent the tremendous growth in Cena as a performer, the two competitors would put on an old-fashioned wrestling clinic. With Bryan focusing his attack on Cena’s left elbow in preparation for his No-Lock, and Cena drawing on his extensive power and strength, the fans were unable to guarantee the more likely winner. In the end, the debut of his Running Knee would end Cena’s reign, in a moment of huge celebration. The heartbreak that would follow with Randy Orton would have repercussions for the WWE roster for years to come.
10. WWE SummerSlam ‘16 John Cena vs AJ Styles
Three years on from Cena’s match with Bryan, he had become newly appraised from the fans for his in-ring work, leading to a fantastic match with recent debutant Styles at WWE Battleground. With Cena losing and a rematch planned for SummerSlam, it seemed certain for Cena to claim back a victory. Instead, in a hard-fought battle that would include a top-rope Attitude Adjustment, Styles would achieve a clean pinfall victory with his patented Phenomenal Forearm.
An instant classic that would elevate Styles to a main event mainstay, going on to become WWE Champion twice, one reign lasting over a year, with a combined length of over 500 days. It would even be named as Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Match of the Year, and deservedly so.
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