With SummerSlam just weeks away at the time of writing, we thought it good timing to look back at the top 10 moments in the history of the event.
From its first event in 1988, SummerSlam has been a consistently strong card. Shorn of the over the top gimmicks of WrestleMania or the one match focus of the Royal Rumble, many consider SummerSlam to be the best pure wrestling card in the WWE’s calendar.
Let’s look back at the 10 times it was at its best.
10) Michaels flops, Hogan strops (2005)
Despite both being around the company for around two decades, give or take a few years, 2005’s event gave us the first one on one match between Shawn Michaels and Hulk Hogan.
The feud started a few weeks earlier with HBK shockingly turning on Hogan after forming an alliance of sorts after WrestleMania. This short run was the only time that Shawn Michaels took on the heel run in his post-back injury comeback. And boy, did he relish it.
The sleazy Heartbreak Kid of old character came back out and Michaels was clearly loving it. The highlight of the build unquestionably being the practical joke played on the crowd in Montreal when he convinced them their hero Bret Hart was making his return.
This dickish behaviour carried on in the match itself when Michaels hilariously but curiously decided to massively oversell Hogan’s offence. Clearly this was Shawn Michaels protesting the creative in his own, formerly trademark style. The old Shawn really was back!
You could see Hogan go from anger to exasperation as HBK flopped around and acted like he had been shot out of a cannon for every lick of Hogan’s famously light offence.
After the big leg drop finish, Michaels popped right up and marched to the back and promptly turned back face the next night, kissing goodbye to a rematch.
9) Demolition are doomed (1990)
This match was one of those occasions where you just knew what the finish would be but you cared more about how they got there than when they went.
The previously-beloved Demolition were at the end of their run here. With Ax suffering from a heart condition due to an allergic reaction to shellfish, newcomer Crush had recently joined to ease his in-ring burden and also add another wrinkle to the team’s heel act.
The Hart Foundation, meanwhile, were probably at the peak of their face popularity and this feud came together purely born out of competition for the titles rather than any soap opera sideshow.
The two out of three falls bout was a minor classic with every tag team face vs heel trope you could name brought into play masterfully, not least the old third man switcheroo between Ax and Smash.
The finish saw the newcomers, The Legion Of Doom march out to put a stop to Demolition’s snide tactics and allow Hart and Neidhart to take the victory and the titles in an amazing feelgood finish.
The only slight sore point was that the expected feud between LOD and the team many considered a rip off of their Road Warriors gimmick never really materialised.
8) Brock Lesnar massacres John Cena (2014)
It is easy to forget now that going into his WrestleMania XXX match with The Undertaker, the shine had seriously come off Brock Lesnar. In the two years since he rejoined the company, he had lost high profile feuds to John Cena and Triple H and the WrestleMania match was thought to be just another notch on Taker’s streak.
Not so. The Brock Lesnar coming into this match, looking to snare his first championship gold since his return, was possibly the biggest wrecking ball of a superstar in WWE history.
The match saw the biggest star in WWE, John Cena, squashed mercilessly by Lesnar. It was a brutal destruction designed to position The Beast as the most powerful superstar in wrestling history. And it worked. It REALLY worked.
This match had everyone watching staring open-mouthed at the brutality went from bell to bell and the victory, when it came, was absolute.
Not only had WWE crowned a new champion that night, they had cemented Lesnar as the most powerful superstar in company history. A push that still resonates today.
7) Randy Orton cashes in (2013)
When a stunningly good match meets a stunningly good angle, wrestling history is created in the alchemy.
The face vs. face main event between Daniel Bryan and John Cena for the WWE Championship was amongst the best matches in WWE that year. It is easy to forget, in fact, just how many truly excellent matches Cena has under his belt in WWE.
After a heart-stopping match, the crowd erupted when Bryan emerged victorious to snare the WWE’s top title. What a moment in itself!
The fun and the glory was short-lived though as Mr Money In The Bank Randy Orton sauntered down to ringside to cash in his briefcase on the new champion.
Bryan was ready for him it seemed. That is, until Triple H, who had been the special referee in the main event, shockingly hit the Pedigree on Bryan and left him easy pickings for Orton to rob of the title.
Now THAT is how you do a heel turn. That this match led directly to the start of The Authority and then Bryan’s crowning moment at WrestleMania XXX makes it all the more special.
6) Daniel Bryan returns (2010)
Who can forget the debut of the Nexus faction on Raw in 2010? Not Daniel Bryan, that’s for sure. It was the night he got fired.
In the midst of one of the most shocking Raw angles of all time, Bryan was pictured choking out ring announcer Justin Roberts with Roberts’ own tie.
It turns out, that’s a bit of a no no.
So as the angle moved towards SummerSlam, Nexus was a seven man unit rather than an eight and they challenged John Cena and WWE to face than at the PPV with whatever team they could muster.
A decent squad it was too. Cena was joined by WWE Hall of Famer Bret Hart, Chris Jericho, Edge, John Morrison and R-Truth. The latter two being legitimate semi-main event stars at that point.
That still left one man to find. The ever-obnoxious Miz thought it should be him. Even to the point of making his way out on to the stage as the introduction of the seventh man was about to take place.
His annoyance was surpassed only by the roar of the crowd when Bryan’s music hit over the PA system and the returning Bryan purposefully marched out to take his place opposite his old teammates. What an electric moment it was.
As for the match itself, well, that was crap. Turgid action and the wrong team won. Super-Cena at its zenith. But forget that. The mystery partner reveal was one for the ages!
5) A ‘Perfect’ title change (1991)
SummerSlam 1991 was the first WWE event this writer ever saw. At the time I was 9 years old and nothing grabbed my attention more than those unreal looking giants in face paint and red, spiky shoulder pads. The sign of two police officers duking it out with the ‘evil’ one going to jail was close behind.
The point was, as a child, they were my major takeaways from the show and in fact, the two acts responsible for making me a wrestling fan.
But watching it back later on, SummerSlam 1991 is about one thing. The Intercontinental Title match between Mr Perfect and Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart.
This was Hart’s coming out party as a singles wrestler and it stands up today as one of the best pure wrestling matches ever. Mr Perfect, career-shortening back injury and all, gave everything he had to make Bret Hart look like the best wrestler on the planet, including letting him kick out of the Perfect Plex.
It was a masterclass and the Madison Square Garden crowd erupted when Hart won the belt with the famed Sharpshooter.
It’s easy to forget just how beloved Bret Hart was in 1991. And that was before he had done anything of note as a singles wrestler. This match truly laid down the marker for one of the greatest careers wrestling has ever known. Both men showed they are almost without peer in that ring across all of wrestling history. Breathtaking.
4) A star is born (1988)
Another entry, another iconic Intercontinental Title change.
The Honky Tonk Man came into SummerSlam as the longest reigning IC champion of all time. His 454 day run still holds the record today.
At the first ever SummerSlam, Honky was supposed to defend his title against Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake. Brother Bruti however pulled out of the bout after suffering a (kayfabe) injury at the hands of Outlaw Ron Bass the week before.
Mr. Tonk Man needed a new opponent and he would find out their identity at the PPV. Much to the hip-swivelling champ’s chagrin, that challenger was The Ultimate Warrior.
An undefeated force of nature that had grabbed the attention of the fans upon entry to the company months earlier. His super-high energy style, facepaint, colourful gear and Greek god physique had people in awe.
When he charged to the ring on this night and mowed down the champ in seconds, he cemented his stardom and delighted fans who were so long riled up by Honky’s sleazy, cheating shenanigans that allowed him to keep the belt for so long.
The Warrior might have proved to be a flash in the pan eventually but make no mistake, when it comes to star making booking, it doesn’t get much better than this.
3) Skirting the issue (1988)
Sticking with 1988, we shift to the main event and a tag team match that pitted the four biggest superstars in the company at that time.
The maniacal team of Ted DiBiase and Andre The Giant, known as The Mega Bucks, squared off against the iconic duo of Hulk Hogan and WWF Champion, ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage. The Mega Powers, as they were known, was the tag team made up of the two biggest faces in the company and naturally, were the wildly popular favourites going into this match.
The odds were stacked against the babyfaces from the start. The not-all-that-young Bucks had Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan and Virgil in their corner and the fully paid off Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura acting as special guest referee.
An equaliser was most certainly needed and that came in the unlikely form of Savage’s wife, Miss Elizabeth.
With the heels’ cheating seemingly putting them on the path to victory, Elizabeth hopped on the apron to seemingly remonstrate with Ventura. While doing this, she shocking ripped off her skirt to reveal red bikini bottoms!
Scandalous by the standards of the time, this act rendered DiBiase, Andre and even Ventura so utterly dumbstruck that they were left prey for the Mega Powers to overpower them and grab the victory, even if Savage did have to forcibly count to three with crooked ref Ventura’s arm.
2) The resurrection of an Icon (2002)
By the time SummerSlam 2002 rolled around, Shawn Michaels had been retired almost four years. His back injury suffered in a casket match with The Undertaker at Royal Rumble 1998 had proved too much for HBK to overcome and his last match saw him dropping the WWE Championship to ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin at WrestleMania the same year.
By 2002, fans had come to accept that Michaels had wrestled his last match. Despite him making regular appearances as a commentator, commissioner, referee and general pest, his in-ring career was over.
Or so we thought.
When Michaels was attacked by a mystery assailant on Raw that year, it was soon revealed that his ‘best friend’ Triple H was the culprit and Michaels subsequently challenged him to a match at SummerSlam.
The street fight, as it became, was billed as unsanctioned, with the WWE refusing to be responsible to further injury to Michaels’s back.
And oh what a match it was. It was that rare beast that fans of all persuasions truly believed in. Every bump, every high spot, every dive made us wince. We at home knew how fragile HBK’s back was and it felt like the danger of him being crippled was more than just storyline. It was real.
Both men, masters of their craft, had everyone watching by the short and curlies. After a wonderful, violent, emotion filled match, Michaels took the feel good win which let us all explode with a mixture of joy and relief.
A capper though was put on the night by Triple H attacking HBK after the match and drilling his back with the infamous sledgehammer.
The absolute git!
1) As if we would choose anything else! (1992)
For British wrestling fans, the absolute pinnacle of wrestling came in August 1992 when SummerSlam rolled into Wembley Stadium.
The main event of the night, as you likely don’t need reminding, saw Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart defending his Intercontinental Championship against his brother-in-law, The British Bulldog.
This writer was in the crowd that night as a 10 year old boy and it was nothing short of era-defining to be part of that atmosphere. Both men had their fair share of the vocal 80,000+ fans cheering them on. The split was probably 60/40 in Davey Boy’s favour.
Even if the match itself had been a dud, the occasion would put this on or near the top of this list. That the two men had one of the greatest bouts in WWE history means its position is completely unchallenged.
The emotion of the night cascaded down from the top of the iconic twin towers (The towers on the stadium, not the Big Boss Man and Akeem tag team) all the way to the ring and it never let up.
When Bulldog secured the three count, a nation of wrestling fans roared in approval. Just go back and watch it now. That finish is simply spine tingling.
The greatest SummerSlam moment in history by a margin and it would be hard to believe it will ever be topped.