SummerSlam. It’s the biggest party of the summer, and, if you work for WWE, apparently no party is complete without suplexes, flaming tables and, of course, Byron Saxton. Since 1988, SummerSlam has been WWE’s second biggest show of the year, bringing together the biggest stars and putting on huge matches for thousands of applauding fans. Like every good Pay-Per-View, SummerSlam can be made or broken by their main event. A great show can be tainted by a poor ending and, equally, a mediocre show can be turned into a legendary night by a single match. SummerSlam is a grand old lady now and, like all old ladies, its life has been filled with some incredible moments and some moments that it just wants to keep drinking until it forgets they ever happened.
On this list, we take a trip down memory lane, reviewing some of the best and worst finales in SummerSlam history. From technical classics to the crowning of new stars to promising young hopefuls having their careers destroyed to backstage politics creating some of the weirdest and stupidest matches in WWE history, we’ve got it all here today, you lucky bunch. So, grab your short shorts, fire up the barbecue and make sure you put on plenty of sunscreen, because this is going to be a scorcher. I’ll let you decide if that’s a good thing or not.
29 BEST: Brock Lesnar vs The Rock For The WWE Championship (2002)
We begin with the crowning moment of one of the biggest stars in WWE history. Brock Lesnar turned more than a few heads when he debuted in WWE in March of 2002, and how couldn’t he? The man looks like if a mountain and a weapons factory had a baby that had a rough childhood and took his frustrations out in the gym and then ate the gym whole. Hyperboles aside, here was a young talent that wasn’t about to be wasted in the midcard. Brock won the prestigious King of the Ring tournament just months after his debut, earning the future Beast a title shot against The Rock at SummerSlam. As the old collided with the new, it was clear that Rocky was going to be taken to his limits by the upstart, being brutally assaulted, Gorilla Press-ed onto the barricade and given a brutal F5 that would see Lesnar pick up his first WWE title at just 25 years of age, the youngest person to win the championship to this day. Brock Lesnar is the perfect example of how, under very strict circumstances, a quick push to the moon can be a great move. It was clear from his looks, power and athleticism that Brock was destined for great things in WWE and having him defeat one of the company’s biggest stars in an epic match helped cement the Next Big Thing as, well, the next big thing. A great match with great consequences, Brock vs Rock will go down as a SummerSlam classic in anyone’s book. Mainly because, if you say anything about it, Brock Lesnar will German Suplex your entire family, all at once.
27 WORST: Team WWE vs Team Nexus (2010)
From the crowning of one promising young star to the destruction of a whole group of young talent. When the Nexus, an evil faction comprised by the rookies of the first season of NXT (it was different back then, very different), burst onto the scene in June of 2010, fans around the world were shocked by what they saw. In one of the greatest debuts in WWE history, all eight Nexus members wreaked havoc on Raw, attacking everyone from John Cena to Justin Roberts, tearing up the ring and laying waste to the commentary table. The Nexus and their leader, NXT winner, Wade Barrett, built up quite the moment when they entered SummerSlam that year and the time was right to pull the trigger on the group and propel them to stardom. Then John Cena happened. Nexus were facing off against Team WWE – Cena, R-Truth (for some reason), John Morrison, Edge, Chris Jericho, Bret Hart (for some reason) and Nexus defector, Daniel Bryan – in a seven-on-seven elimination tag match. Team Nexus should have ploughed through the WWE guys, building more momentum and creating seven top stars on which to build the company. But instead, the match ended with John Cena standing tall, having taken a DDT onto the exposed concrete, which would literally kill you in real life, before pinning Justin Gabriel and finally submitting Wade Barrett to the STF. Ugh. WWE pushing Cena above their next crop of talent was a huge nail in the coffin of the NXT stars, half of whom are no longer with the company and those that are find themselves as jobbers or backstage personnel. On a night that should have been the crowning glory of The Nexus, they instead found themselves humiliated and with nowhere to go. Hustle, loyalty and destroying young talent, apparently.
25 BEST: Randy Orton vs Chris Benoit For The World Heavyweight Championship (2004)
Back to some more young talent on the rise now and it’s the night that is still one of a kind in WWE. SummerSlam 2004 featured a great card that saw Edge, Batista and Chris Jericho square off for the Intercontinental Championship, Kurt Angle tak on Eddie Guerrero and, of course, Kane and Matt Hardy fighting for the right to marry Lita. Yay? The crown jewel of the night was Chris Benoit defending his World Heavyweight Championship against Randy Orton in the main event. Orton’s star was thoroughly on the rise as a part of Evolution and his first SummerSlam main event did not disappoint. In a great battle between two fantastic workers, the two traded submissions, suplexes and big move after big move before Orton countered a Crippler Crossface, delivered the RKO and pinned Benoit to become the youngest world champion in WWE history at just 24 years old. Orton’s journey to the top may have met a roadblock not too soon after this in the form of Triple H. – Triple H: preventing young stars from achieving their potential before it was cool –, but to see this young man achieve the biggest prize in the industry at such a young age was an amazing moment for the fans and got many hooked on the Viper for life. The Legend Killer who became a legend and it all began on this night. Just a shame WWE will never, ever talk about it, and rightly so.
23 WORST: Diesel vs King Mabel For The WWE Championship (1995)
If your one wish in life is to see Big Sexy and the World’s Largest Love Machine clash for WWE’s richest prize on one of the grandest stages in wrestling, then, first of all, you need to see a doctor, and secondly, you’re in luck, you utter nutjob. 1995 wasn’t a great year for WWE; WrestleMania 11 was a steaming pile of, umm, well, you know what, the Kliq were at the height of their backstage politicking and interest in the company was waning as the New Generation struggled to find their feet. With the company’s two biggest future stars, Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, out of the world title picture, Big Daddy Cool Diesel, who’s WWE Championship run was one of the least interesting ever, was left with pretty slim picking when it came to a SummerSlam opponent. But even still, Mabel? Really? Mabel earned his shot at the title by winning the 1995 King of the Ring tournament and the battle was on between the two big men and by battle, I mean it looked like two marble blocks were being pushed around the ring. The action was poor, the finish was awful and the result as clear as day. A truly uninspired match that ended the even on a flat note. Safe to say Mabel wasn’t allowed near the world championship scene ever again. Or any championship for that matter. Poor guy.
21 BEST: Mankind vs Stone Cold vs Triple H For The WWE Championship (1999)
Three of the biggest stars in WWE history for the richest prize in the company at the height of the Attitude Era? Yes please. Following his WWE title win at WrestleMania XV, Steve Austin once again faced the odds when the title was put on the line at SummerSlam against both Mankind and the rising star of Triple H. Whilst many expected The Game or Austin to walk away with the title, it was actually Mrs. Foley’s baby boy who left Minneapolis that night the champion. It’s rumoured that this was partly due to the special guest referee, Jesse Ventura, and his position as governor of Minnesota. Had Triple H, Ventura would have had to raise the hand of a heel, which wouldn’t have been good for his image, even though wrestling is total fake, people, people know that right? Triple H didn’t actually drug Stephanie McMahon and marry her against her will, it’s ok to like him. Anyway, whether that was the reason or not, it would have worked, because when Jesse did raise Foley’s hand in victory, the Target Centre were thrilled to see one of the most endearing figures in wrestling history as champion once again. Mick’s party may have been spoiled the next night on Raw when Triple H beat him for the belt, but, for that fleeting moment, he was once again king of the world. Was great to see Jesse too, even though it was hard at points to tell him and Austin apart. Thank god he didn’t come out in a vest and tights.
19 WORST: Lex Luger vs Yokozuna For The WWE Championship (1993)
If you thought the Mabel and Diesel title match lacked star power, then brother, you’re in for a treat. Following the fiasco that was the main event of WrestleMania IX, Hulk Hogan dropped the WWE Championship back to Yokozuna at that year’s King of the Ring. Many were hoping for Hogan to keep the belt and then take on Bret Hart at SummerSlam, putting the young star over in the process. But, as everyone knows, Hogan does what Hogan wants and he decided that he wasn’t jobbing to Bret. So, with Yokozuna back as the champ, who was going to replace the tall, muscly, blonde patriotic Hogan at the top of the card. Why the tall, muscly, blonde patriotic Lex Luger, of course! Luger had gained some fan support by touring the country in his “Lex Express”, which was basically the Fourth of July on wheels, and body slamming Yokozuna on a US Navy battleship. Damn, how much more American can you get? I’m surprised Luger wasn’t accompanied everywhere by a pair of bald eagles, Elvis Presley and an apple pie baked to look like Abe Lincoln. Anyway, Vince McMahon wanted Luger to win, but the locker room were having none of it, with several threatening to walk out if Luger was given the belt over Bret. So, the main event (which was sluggish and unimpressive in every way, just so you know) ended in a DQ, with Luger winning the match, but not the belt. Not that this stopped him from celebrating with confetti and music though, because ‘Merica. A prime example of the era in which WWE prized looks and size over talent, the one saving grace from this match comes in the fact that Luger didn’t win the belt, on this night, or any other night. Sorry, Lex.
17 BEST: The Undertaker vs Edge In A Hell In A Cell Match (2008)
The only Cell match in SummerSlam history and featured two of the greatest performers of all time. Edge and The Undertaker had a weird but at the same time good feud throughout 2008. Edge banished the Undertaker from WWE by defeating him in a world title match, then Vickie Guerrero, who was dating Edge at the time, got pissed at him because he kissed Alicia Fox (understandable), so brought The Undertaker back and booked this match at SummerSlam. Soap opera drama over, the match was a brutal one, with Edge being tossed around the Cell, Taker being battered by chairs, ladders and other weapons and both men being driven through the Cell wall. The match ended after Edge was Chokeslammed through two tables placed on the outside of the ring and then Tombstoned to give Undertaker the win. It’s the match’s aftermath that is most remembered however; Edge being hoisted up onto a ladder before Taker delivered another Chokeslam, sending Edge (as JR put it) straight to Hell as the Rated-R Superstar crashed through the ring canvas itself. A great match between two legends, the stipulation of Hell in a Cell made this bout extra special as each man was willing to go above and beyond to make the fight feel dangerous. At Undertaker’s age, it probably was.
15 WORST: The Undertaker vs The Undertaker (1994)
Yes, the Undertaker is appearing twice in a row here, or three times in a row, technically. God this was confusing. Ok, so, what happened was, The Undertaker had injured his back and so, to cover this up, he lost a Casket Match to Yokozuna at the Royal Rumble and disappeared from TV. Then, a few months later, Ted DiBiase claimed to have resurrected The Undertaker and began working as his manager. However, Paul Bearer would then show up and claim that DiBiase’s Undertaker was, in fact, a fake and that he and he alone knew of the whereabouts of the real Undertaker. In a weird build up that saw Leslie Nielsen from The Naked Gun come in (for some reason), the stage was finally set; Bearer’s Undertaker vs DiBiase’s Undertaker in a match to determine the one true Undertaker, because, as we all know, the only real way to verified someone’s identity is with a wrestling match. In a match that lasted just over eight minutes, The Undertaker and The Underfaker (ha!) traded the same moves back and forth before Bearer’s Undertaker delivered a series of tombstones for the win. The match was boring, the feud was dumb and this match took place on the same night as the five-star classic steel cage match between Owen and Bret Hart. WHY WASN’T THAT THE MAIN EVENT?! I hate wrestling sometimes.
13 BEST: Triple H vs Brock Lesnar (2012)
When Brock Lesnar returned to WWE in 2012, a whole host of dream match options became available. Losing to John Cena at Extreme Rules may have set Brock back a bit, but WWE were determined to put him over and what bigger star to do it against that The Game. Triple H and Lesnar went back and forth on this match for months before finally agreeing, The Game after revenge for Lesnar breaking his arm a few weeks prior. The match was on and it would be the first time Lesnar would appear on a marquee WWE Pay-Per-View in over eight years. Lesnar and Triple H fought tooth and nail in this battle, hitting each other with the moves that had made them famous. Both men displayed excellent ring psychology with The Beast targeting Triple H’s arm that he had kayfabe broken a few weeks’ prior whilst The Game focused on the problematic stomach that had cost Lesnar his UFC career. With both men kicking out of each other’s finishers, it took a vicious Kimura lock from Lesnar to force The Cerebral Assassin to tap. A great match between two legends, the star power of Brock and the stage of Summerslam all added up to make this battle one for the ages. One might say it was the “Perfect Storm”. And they did, a lot.
11 WORST: Hulk Hogan vs Shawn Michaels (2005)
From two legends who put on a classic to two legends who put on something that resembled more of a cartoon than a wrestling match. Hulk Hogan vs Shawn Michaels was a match plagued with problems from start to finish. Hogan’s appearance at SummerSlam would be his first in fourteen years and, to celebrate, WWE wanted a big opponent for the Hulkster. Michaels was an obvious choice, but things began to fall apart when Hogan changed the format of the match by insisting Michaels turn heel against him, refusing to fight in a face vs face environment. Hogan’s legendary backstage tinkering was beginning to show, but if there was anyone who could out-politic the Immortal one, then it would be HBK. Michaels agreed to lose to Hulk at SummerSlam under the pretence that this would be the first match of many, with HBK eventually defeating Hogan in the future. But, when Hogan cited “knee problems”, plans for future matches were scraped, and Michaels realised that he’d been screwed over in being forced to lose to Hulk. So, in typical HBK fashion, Michaels made the match into a joke. Over-selling everything from the simplest Irish Whip to making it look like the Leg Drop had cut his head off, the match was almost comical to watch and when Hogan eventually won, it didn’t feel like a victory, more like the end of an episode of the 60s Batman TV show. Two of wrestling’s biggest egos colliding head on and the result was an absolute mess. Safe to say that both Hogan and Michaels were moved class and were not allowed to play with each other anymore.
9 BEST: CM Punk vs Jeff Hardy In A TLC Match For The World Heavyweight Championship (2009)
Two of perhaps the most underutilised stars in WWE history colliding in one of the best TLC singles matches ever. On a stacked SummerSlam card that featured D-Generation X vs The Legacy, Randy Orton vs John Cena and, of course, the absolute classic that was Kane vs The Great Khali. The final match on the epic card was a World Heavyweight title bout between CM Punk and Jeff Hardy. Punk’s straight edge character and Hardy’s real life drug problems had been incorporated into one of the most compelling, controversial and real storylines in recent history. Punk was the underdog going in as challenger in this match; Hardy had made his name in TLC matches whilst Punk was making his TLC debut. The match featured a number of incredible spots, including Hardy catching Punk mid-Suicide Dive with a chair shot, both men being Superplexed onto a ladder and the now legendary moment that saw Jeff Hardy perform a Swanton Bomb from the top of a ladder, whilst Punk was stretched out across the announce table. After a brutal battle atop the ladder, Punk managed to win the match and the title, crowning him World Heavyweight Champion for the third and final time in his career. The night was not over, however, as Punk’s celebrations were cut short when the lights in the arena went down and a single bell tolled. When the lights came back up, The Undertaker stood in the ring. The Deadman then chokeslammed Punk, setting up another great feud between the two. A brilliant match between two great performers who knew how to use the stipulation to their advantage. And think of it this way, at least the main event wasn’t John Cena vs Randy Orton for the fourteenth bazillionth time.
7 WORST: Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior vs Sgt. Slaughter, General Adnan and Colonel Mustafa (1991)
Back to the madness now and it’s one of the weirdest matches from one of the weirdest feuds in WWE history. Sgt. Slaughter’s return to WWE in 1990 saw the much-loved character turn to the dark side and support the Iraqis in the Gulf War. WWE’s attempt to stir patriotism among its fan base lead to a much dire situation, with Slaughter receiving death threats from fans furious that he was supporting the enemy. Jeez. I guess it was still real to them. Slaughter won the WWE title at the 1991 Royal Rumble from The Ultimate Warrior, setting up a match for the belt against the walking recruitment poster, Hulk Hogan. Hogan won the belt, thus saving America in the process (apparently), becoming the new champion and setting up a rematch at SummerSlam from WrestleMania VI – The Ultimate Warrior vs Hulk Hogan for the world title. At least, that was the plan, until Hogan pulled the creative control card he so did love to pull. Refusing to lose to the Warrior again, because Hogan losing twice would have destroyed America (apparently), Hogan had the match changed to a three-on-two tag team match, pitting himself and The Warrior against the ultra-evil-because-they-like-a-place-that’s-not-this-place team of Slaughter, General Adnan (formerly known as Billy White Wolf) and Colonel Mustafa (formerly the Iron Sheik). Incredibly, WWE made a match featuring four former WWE Champions terrible. The match was dumb, the ending was cheesy and predictable and it resulted in Warrior leaving the company – Warrior threatened to no-show the event in response to his title match being taken away and, after the event, he was promptly fired. A terrible example of Hogan politicking to get his own way and one of the reasons as to why The Ultimate Warrior never became the mega-star he was destined to be. At least Slaughter cancelled the Iraqi sympathiser gimmick after this. That’s something. Maybe? Possibly?
5 BEST: Bret Hart vs The Undertaker For The WWE Championship (1997)
Back to the good stuff now and perhaps one of the most important matches in WWE history. The Undertaker was going into this match as WWE Champion, facing the polarising challenger, Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart. However, whilst Hart and Undertaker’s was the rivalry that played out on screen, it was the backstage feud between Hart and long-term nemesis, Shawn Michaels, that would really change history. Michaels and Hart’s backstage rivalry was getting out of hand, with the two men’s distain for one another coming to violence behind the scenes. Michaels managed to politic his way into the main event of SummerSlam as a special guest referee, ultimately gifting his rival the belt when a chair shot directed at Bret struck The Deadman by mistake, allowing Hart to pick up the win. Undertaker was, rightfully, furious about this and handled it in a mature and reasonable manner; by fighting Michaels in the first ever Hell in a Cell match. Michaels won the match and became number one contender, leading to a match between Michaels and Hart for the title. At Survivor Series. In Montreal. Yep, this was the match that laid the way for the Montreal Screwjob, which, you could argue, was the day the Attitude Era began and, well, you all know what that did for the company. A great match that helped kickstart one of the company’s biggest eras, SummerSlam 1997 might not be considered a classic, but it might just be the most influential WWE Championship match of all time.
3 WORST: Hulk Hogan and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake vs “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Zeus (1989)
It’s incredible how well-respected and admired SummerSlam is in the modern era, considering how the first few shows looked. Of the first four SummerSlam cards, only three featured WWE title matches. If that happened nowadays, Reddit would explode. One of and perhaps the worst of these non-title matches came at the second ever event in 1989. Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage were fresh off one of the hottest feuds in WWE history and the fans were pumped for a Hogan/Savage rematch at SummerSlam that year. But, of course, WWE did what they did best; ruined a perfectly good storyline in a ham-fisted attempt to promote an outside venture. Hulk Hogan recently made his big-screen debut in the WWE-sponsored film, No Holds Barred, which we can all agree was, a film. The film featured Hogan playing an even more ridiculous version of himself, taking on a corrupt TV exec and an evil fighter called Zeus, played by actor (and remember that) Tiny Lister. In an attempt to promote the film, WWE had Lister appear on their shows in character as Zeus and feuding with Hogan. But, and this is the crucial part, Lister based the feud on the actions of Hogan’s character in the movie. So, to sum this up, whilst Hogan, Savage and everybody else in the company acknowledged and accepted that No Holds Barred and its events were works of fiction, in Zeus’ mind, everything that happened in the film was real, including the ending, in which Hogan apparently kills the main villain by throwing him into a bunch of electrical wires. Right. Anyway, instead of Hogan vs Savage, Hogan, partnered with Brutus Beefcake for no reason at all, took on Savage and Zeus in a tag team match and, of course, Hogan and Beefcake won, following a little help from a purse. It was awful, confusing and robbed SummerSlam of one of its biggest potential matches. Thank god this match never happened again. Wait, hold on, it did? At a Pay-Per-View devoted entirely to showing the movie? And it was in a steel cage? And Hogan and Beefcake won, again? Someone tell me why I watch wrestling again?
1 BEST: The British Bulldog vs Bret “The Hitman” Hart For The Intercontinental Championship (1992)
This. This is why I watch wrestling. The event that made SummerSlam what it is today, SummerSlam 1992 is the only one of WWE’s big four Pay-Per-Views to emanate from outside of North America, coming to fans from the legendary Wembley Stadium in London, England. Allegedly, 80,355 fans piled into the stadium and there was only one man who could entertain such an enormous British crowd – home country hero, Davey Boy Smith, also known as The British Bulldog. Davey Boy would do battle in the main event with his brother-in-law, the Intercontinental Champion, Bret Hart, pushing great matches like The Ultimate Warrior vs Randy Savage for the WWE Championship down the card. Hart and Smith put on a classic; two of the greatest technical wrestlers of their generation with incredible chemistry that could only have come from years of close friendship. After 25 minutes of incredible action, The Bulldog countered a Sunset Flip from Hart into a pin to pick up the three count and his first Intercontinental Championship. Bulldog brought the biggest SummerSlam in history to a rapturous ending with the tens of thousands of British fans embracing their local hero with thunderous applause and the show went off the air with Hart and Bulldog embracing in the ring in the ultimate show of respect. Maybe it’s because of the hot crowd, maybe it’s because of the two men in the match, maybe it’s because I’m British, but this is my favourite SummerSlam match and you’ll struggle to find someone who disagrees with me. An incredible way to bring to a close one of the biggest WWE events of all time and who knows, had we not had this match and gone with Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake vs Kamala and Mikhail Gorbachev or something equally as stupid, we may not have the biggest party of the Summer. If that’s not worthy of the top spot, I don’t know what is.