As we inch closer and closer to WWE SummerSlam 2017, I figured it would be a fun idea to go back and take a look at some of the better matches in the history of the event, and of course, there’s no better way to do that than with a top ten list. I just want to make it clear that these top ten matches are strictly of my own opinion, and this is being written for the sake of discussion, and hopefully to get some of you guys into the SummerSlam spirit even more.
Now, before we get into the actual list, I want to take some time to give the spotlight to some honorable mentions. These matches were all great in their own right, and absolutely deserve a watch, but they’re not in the elite (heh) like the ten in the main list.
- SummerSlam 1992: Shawn Michaels vs. Rick Martel
- SummerSlam 1996: Undertaker vs. Mankind – Boiler Room Brawl
- SummerSlam 1997: Triple H vs. Mankind – Steel Cage Match
- SummerSlam 2001: Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle – WWF Championship Match
- SummerSlam 2009: Jeff Hardy vs. CM Punk – TLC Match
- SummerSlam 2015: John Cena vs. Seth Rollins – Winner Takes All
- SummerSlam 2016: John Cena vs. AJ Styles
Right, those are the matches that just didn’t quite make it. I tried to not let recency bias get in the way, otherwise that Cena/Styles match might have just been on the actual top ten. I also tried to look back at history and take into account the time period, and other factors, due to me not being around to witness some of these matches as they happened. I’m without a doubt missing of the stories surrounding these older matches, and that impacts my enjoyment of them somewhat. As for the actual list, all of the matches are ranked based on when they happened, not on personal preference, in an effort to keep things orderly and to evoke discussion on how others would rank these matches.
#10 Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect (1991)
We’re kicking off this list with the 1991 event, which took place at the world famous Madison Square Garden. Bret Hart, at the time, was known mostly for being a tag team wrestler, with his most famous work being with Jim Neidhart in the “Hart Foundation.” Mr. Perfect, on the other hand, was an established mid carder, having already gone against the likes of The Texas Tornado, Big Boss Man, and even Hulk Hogan. Mr. Perfect was tasked in this match with making The Hitman look legitimate as a singles competitor, and boy, did he succeed, even with the back issues he was having at the time. Perfect did his part to put on a classic with Bret, and gave Bret his first major singles title in the process, with The Hitman winning the Intercontinental Championship from his rival. It was a star making the performance and was ultimately worth all of the effort, as a year later Bret Hart would become World Wrestling Federation Champion, and would be a mainstay in the main event until he left the WWF in late 1997.
Mr. Perfect, on the other hand, is remembered for being one of the all-time great in-ring performers, but I don’t think we take the time to truly appreciate just how important he was to not only Bret Hart but SummerSlam overall. This was SummerSlam’s first true standout match. I mean, even just looking at the 1991 event itself, nobody remembers Hogan and Warrior vs. Sgt. Slaughter and his Iraqi sympathizers, which main evented this show. They remember this match. Perfect helped put the pay-per-view on the map, and he did it, well, perfectly.
#2 Bret Hart vs. The British Bulldog (1992)
We now advance to the very next year, as Bret Hart would once again be featured in a show-stealing Intercontinental Championship Match, this time against his brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith. At this point, there’s been a ton revealed about the backstage happenings prior to this match, including Bulldog essentially being a body that Bret Hart had to maneuver and get a decent match out of. Not only did Bret do “decent,” he passed decent, and went straight to incredible. He and the Bulldog put on a five-star classic match, after having to convince Vince McMahon to put them in the main event of the show (even with a WWF Championship match on the card). Bulldog’s reign as IC champion didn’t last long, as he would drop the title to Shawn Michaels in November, and ultimately leave for WCW soon after. However, Bret Hart would move on to the main event after this, defeating Ric Flair for the WWF Championship before Survivor Series that year. I wouldn’t be surprised if this match was what made Mr. McMahon see that Bret Hart was not only reliable, but also safe, and able to carry the main event.
Regardless of that though, this match stands out on its own for being fantastic, and a feel-good moment. Bulldog was a made man for the rest of his career, Bret Hart became “the man,” and Wembley Stadium got an amazing match. It’s really impossible to overstate how important this match was, and still is. It was only the second time that the Intercontinental Championship was defended in the main event of a pay-per-view, and it’d be the last time it was as well. On top of all of that, the show did huge attendance and was held in the UK, which very rarely happens. Sounds like a win to me.
#3 Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart (1994)
Once again we see a Bret Hart match, as this time he’s defending his WWF Championship against his little brother Owen inside of a steel cage. Bret and Owen’s feud would start in early 1994, and see them first collide at WrestleMania X in what could be considered the greatest opening match in the history of ‘Mania (although Shane/AJ from this year gives it some serious competition). Owen would get the win, and eventually, the two brothers would tear it up again, this time over the world championship. Many consider this to be the best (or at least, most logical) cage match of all time, as both men tried numerous times to escape and constantly stopped the other from doing so.
Much like Mr. Perfect did for Bret three years prior, I believe this match was what truly put Owen on the map as a threat, despite Owen losing. It was an unbelievable match. With the best part being, it wasn’t even the main event! Nope, this match took a backseat to the famous “Undertaker vs. Undertaker” match. I know WWE was different back then, and gimmicks were extremely important, but god damn, come on. Luckily, WWE would never do this again, as they learned their lesson, and realized that the WWE Championship should always main event over a gimmick match.
Don’t watch Over The Limit 2012.
#4 Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon (1995)
1995 was arguably WWF’s worst year ever (though that’s extremely hard to argue against), and this SummerSlam was a good highlight of that, with the main event of this show being Diesel vs. King Mabel. I mean, for fuck’s sake. It’s hard to get much worse than that. No offense to Diesel, as he could be good, or even great, with the right opponent. Unfortunately, Mabel was not one of those opponents. That was the state of their main event scene, meanwhile, in the undercard, Shawn Michaels was building up momentum all year, after failing to win the WWF Championship from Diesel at WrestleMania XI. He’d eventually go on and win the Royal Rumble (again) in 1996 and challenge for the WWF title (again) at WrestleMania.
SummerSlam 1995 played a huge part in Shawn Michaels continuing to get over, as he put on a show-stealing performance against fellow Kliq member Razor Ramon. It was for the Intercontinental Championship, and it was a ladder match. A rematch from their famous WrestleMania X encounter. HBK would be the champion heading into the match this time, and he’d be the champion walking out, in what was in my opinion, these two men’s best ladder match together. Controversial opinion? Possibly. All I know is that Shawn and Razor absolutely saved this SummerSlam from being absolute trash.
#5 Tables, Ladders, and Chairs (2000)
Skipping quite a bit ahead, we land in the year 2000, where WWF was undeniably in the lead in the Monday Night Wars, beating WCW Monday Nitro in the ratings consistently week after week, and were on the way to straight up owning their competition. That feat would happen in part due to the young superstars getting chances in the Fed, and there’s no better representation of that than the first ever TLC match, which took place at SummerSlam 2000. This came merely months after the first ever “Triangle Ladder Match” at WrestleMania 2000, featuring The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz, and Edge & Christian. While that was in a way, the unofficial first TLC match, it wouldn’t be labeled until Mick Foley threw those three teams back together for the biggest party of the summer.
All six of those men were hungry and ready to impress the WWF universe (that sounds very weird to say out loud, try it), and impress they did. It was an incredible, dangerous, exciting performance, that quite easily surpassed their encounter at WrestleMania 2000. On a card also featuring matches such as Benoit vs. Jericho, Rock vs. Angle vs. HHH, and a Shane McMahon stunt, these guys managed to stand out, and did so in tremendous fashion. It’s quite cool looking back at these matches, as everybody but D-Von would go on to become world champions in at least one of the promotions they performed in. D-Von owns a pinfall victory over Triple H though. I’d take that over a championship any day of the week.
#6 Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H (2002)
ARE. YOU. REAAADDYYYYY… to see me mark out? ‘Cause that’s what’s about to happen. Triple H vs. HBK, SummerSlam 2002, Unsanctioned Match. My absolute favorite match of all time, and without a doubt the reason that I still watch wrestling to this very day. Whenever anybody asks me what the magic of wrestling is, I just tell them about this feud, and this match specifically. Four years old me was blown away to learn about this guy named Shawn Michaels, who wrestled in the 1990s and had all these epic matches. I learned that he and Triple H had formed D Generation-X together back in the day, and I was so excited to see them reunite on RAW in 2002. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be, because Triple H had to go and be an asshole and pedigree Shawn at first chance. Then he threw Shawn’s head through a car window, and I hated his freaking guts. Then when HBK did that interview and said he’d be healed by SummerSlam, I just about hurt myself in my overexcited-ness. I was fully on board the Shawn Michaels fan-train, and come SummerSlam, I wanted to see him whoop on Triple H so badly. I’d never wanted anything more than that.
Of course, there was doubt in my mind going into this match, which was played up beautifully on TV. That being, Shawn Michaels hadn’t wrestled in four years. While HBShizzle was in retirement, Triple H was on a path of destruction in the WWE, destroying anyone and everyone who got in his way. Surely HBK couldn’t keep up with Trips? His back was gonna let him down, he was gonna have ring rust, something. There was just no way Shawn Michaels could come back and defeat Triple H. Especially not in a match where weapons were allowed. As I watched HBK make his entrance at SummerSlam that year, I hoped and prayed with all my heart, that somehow he’d make it out of that match with a win. I figured this would be his only match back, he just needed to survive tonight and put Triple H in his place for ruining their friendship. Then the match happened, and Triple H targeted the back. All of my fears were being confirmed. He mocked Shawn, he laughed at Shawn’s pain.
HBK didn’t give up though. He wouldn’t give up, he couldn’t give up. That’s not the Shawn Michaels way. Shawn will fight his opponent until the bitter end, and Shawn will make you as a fan believes in him, that he can keep going, and that he did. There were table spots, ladder spots, chairs and more, but the finish saw Shawn Michaels roll-up Triple H to get the one, two, three. I was elated, my new favorite wrestler defeated that jerk Triple H. He did it. I couldn’t believe it, but I was living in the moment. I celebrated, and then Triple H had to ruin it once again by hitting Shawn in the back with a sledgehammer not just once, but twice. Shawn got stretchered out, and Triple H laughed at the damage he’d done.
There will never be anything like that match again. It was the perfect combination of real life situations, perfect character playing, and me being young and finally being able to appreciate wrestling and what was going on. If Shawn hadn’t been gone for so long and legitimately hurt his back, this match wouldn’t have worked. If HHH hadn’t been so dominant for so long prior to this, this match wouldn’t have worked. The stars all aligned perfectly at SummerSlam 2002. It wasn’t a match, it was a fight. There was a clear cut hero and a clear cut villain, and it made for one magical story.
Thank you Triple H, and thank you, Shawn Michaels. You two made me a wrestling fan for life.
#7 Edge vs. The Undertaker (2008)
We now jump ahead to 2008, and what was considered to be the last pay-per-view of the “Ruthless Aggression” era (by me), SummerSlam. On a show featuring Triple H vs. Great Khali, CM Punk vs. JBL, and John Cena vs. Batista for the first time ever, it was Undertaker and Edge inside of Hell in a Cell that main evented. These two superstars had one of the best rivalries of the modern WWE age, which started after No Way Out 2008. It saw them headline WrestleMania 24, where ‘Taker defeated Edge to win the World Heavyweight Championship, and extend his WrestleMania winning streak (RIP) to 16-0. They would then go on to fight at Backlash, Judgment Day, and One Night Stand. The latter of which saw The Undertaker lose a TLC match, where per the stipulation, he was “banished” from WWE (because those stipulations always last).
Things came to a close when Vickie Guerrero booked Edge to visit hell against The Phenom at the biggest party of the summer, as payback for Edge sucking Alicia Fox’s face on camera while planning his wedding with Vickie, where they’d go on to have the final “real” Hell in a Cell match. There were tables, ladders, chairs, even a cell-breaking spot. So while Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins from 2014, and Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks from 2016 were both very good cell matches, they don’t compare to the classics, and that’s what ‘Taker/Edge felt like. It wouldn’t have been out of place had it happened in 1998. It was damn good, which was to be expected considering ‘Taker and Edge are two of the best to ever do it. Undertaker would get his revenge with a win, and chokeslam Edge through the ring mat to end the show.
#8 Team WWE vs. Team Nexus (2010)
You know, I had completely forgotten that The Great Khali was supposed to be in this match. I only saw it again when searching for a picture to use in this section. Nonetheless, this match came about due to The Nexus running roughshod over WWE for the past two-or-so months. They had debuted by viciously assaulting John Cena (and CM Punk) on an episode of RAW, which ultimately saw Daniel Bryan be fired in real life for choking Justin Roberts with his necktie (which sponsors deemed too violent). That would be the first bit of a ton of bad luck for The Nexus during their run. SummerSlam 2010, however, was the biggest night of the stable’s short life, despite them losing this match. It was a huge platform, and the crowd was really into the storyline. Impossible to fuck up, right? Wrong. John Cena being DDT’d by Justin Gabriel on concrete, only to come back and win despite a two-on-one disadvantage, effectively buried The Nexus, at least at a main event level. WWE would attempt to gain heat back by having Nexus win a 7-on-7 rematch on RAW, and even having John Cena become a reluctant Nexus member, but it was too late, the damage was done.
This match was still a good showing for the NXT boys (and Daniel Bryan) despite that. I’m not sure if we’ll ever see Heath Slater main event a SummerSlam again, for example, but he did great here, and I’m glad he’ll always have this. Same goes for Darren Young, David Otunga, and Darewolf himself. Now, if only WWE had held off on this match until Survivor Series. They could have had Wade Barrett win the WWE Championship at SummerSlam, but no. Either way, it was a good run for Nexus, but it could have been way better.
Lastly, this marks another appearance for Bret Hart on this list. I’d say he has a pretty strong case for being “Mr. SummerSlam.”
#9 CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar (2013)
Speaking of people possibly being “Mr. SummerSlam,” here’s our resident beast, Brock Lesnar, who himself has a decent looking SummerSlam resume. With great bouts against the likes of The Rock, Kurt Angle, The Undertaker and Triple H, as well as shocking battles against John Cena and Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar has consistently been a SummerSlam attraction. However, arguably his best performance at the event came in 2013 when he battled against scorned former Paul Heyman guy CM Punk. In a storyline that was essentially Punk vs. Heyman, the latter recruited his beast to do battle for him against an enraged CM Punk, and what resulted was one of the greatest matches of all time, and in my opinion, Brock Lesnar’s best match to date.
The classic David vs. Goliath scenario was played to perfection by these two men, with Punk being the plucky underdog who you believed just might be able to pull off a win, and Lesnar being the unstoppable beast that he is. Add in a no disqualification stipulation, and you’ve got a match that tore the roof off of the Staples Center in LA. Although Lesnar would win the match, in the end, you left that match respecting the hell out of CM Punk, because he took the beast to the absolute limit.
#10 John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan (2013)
Is SummerSlam 2013 the greatest SummerSlam PPV of all time? Quite possibly. It has stiff competition with SummerSlam 2002 also existing, but it makes a good case for itself, with it being the only event to have two of its matches featured in the top ten list. After Lesnar and Punk brawled their hearts out, Daniel Bryan and John Cena went out to the ring and wrestled their hearts out, and they did it for the WWE Championship. John Cena had defeated The Rock for the title at WrestleMania 29 about five months prior, and Daniel Bryan was at his absolute peak in popularity. It was the perfect storm for these two guys to finally do battle in a legitimate, PPV match. Bryan would ultimately get the clean win, debuting his Knee Plus finisher to put away Cena and win the championship, although it wouldn’t last for long, as once again Triple H ruined everything and helped Randy Orton cash in his Money in the Bank contract to win the title. Such a Debby downer. God dammit Hunter.
This match was the start of Daniel Bryan’s tremendous road to WrestleMania XXX, and what a damn fine start it was. A five-star match, followed by an awesome chase. There’s not really anything better than that in wrestling, is there?
There we have it, the top ten SummerSlam matches of all time. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if you agree, or disagree. What are your top ten SummerSlam matches of all time? Do you think any of the matches from this upcoming SummerSlam will make this list in the future? Lastly from me personally, I want to ask, who do you guys think is Mr. SummerSlam? I really do believe it’s either Bret Hart or Brock Lesnar, but I’d love to hear who else you believe would make the cut.