When I first watched WWF wrestling as a six year old, we got four major shows a year and SummerSlam was ranked second in importance only to Wrestlemania. And if Wrestlemania was the show that was stacked with celebrities and spectacle, SummerSlam tended to be the show that actually delivered the best matches of the year. This was the event that gave us Bret Hart vs Mr Perfect, The Ultimate Warrior vs Ravishing Rick Rude and The Brain Busters vs The Hart Foundation.
Even in recent years, the show has delivered more often than not. The last five years have given us classics such as Brock Lesnar vs CM Punk, Chris Jericho vs Shawn Michaels and John Cena vs Daniel Bryan. Even when you had the occasional clunker in the main event like the notorious Undertaker vs Undertaker in 1994 at least it was something different and hey, we got to have Leslie Nielsen turn up reviving his Frank Drebin routine.
With that said, here’s a list of my all time top ten SummerSlam shows. The best of the best. When ranking one show against another, I factored in great matches (e.g Bret Hart vs Owen Hart), memorable moments (Honky Tonk Man vs Mystery Opponent) and the best crowds (Wembley Stadium).
10. Summerslam ’94
IRS and Bam Bam Bigelow vs The Headshrinkers
Alundra Blayze vs Bull Nakano
Razor Ramon vs Diesel (c), IC Title Match
Tatanka vs Lex Luger
Jeff Jarrett vs Mabel
Bret Hart (c) vs Owen Hart
The Undertaker vs The Undertaker
Summerslam 94 is a show thats remembered by wrestling fans for a couple of reasons. One, it features the classic Bret vs Owen cage match that clocks in at nearly half an hour and thats before you get started on the post match battle involving The British Bulldog and Jim Neidhart. Secondly, it has the infamous Undertaker vs Undertaker main event which must surely hold the record for the quiestest crowd for a WWF headline match. There’s almost no booing or cheering. I don’t even think the crowd is bored. They just seem…confused. Seriously, you could hear a pin drop.
I’m actually quite fond of this show. I used to own it on VHS tape and I watched it a bunch of times over. The card is pretty solid from top to bottom. Alundra Blayze vs Bull Nakano is an excellent match and you get to see a lot of holds used by both women that weren’t very common even in the men’s division. Razor Ramon vs Diesel is probably the best match between these two men and historically the outcome of the match sows the seeds for Kevin Nash’s year long title run that he would start just three months later.
Of course the best thing about the show is the Bret Hart vs Owen Hart match which is given plenty of time and I believe is the best bloodless cage match ever aired in the WWF. The two wrestlers absolutely throw the kitchen sink at each other. There’s mat wrestling, brawling, big bumps off the cage, you name it, they do it. I absolutely loved the feud between the Hart brothers and this match is probably the best of Owen’s career.
Highlight: Bret Hart vs Owen Hart. The build up. The match. The aftermath.
9. Summerslam ’88
The British Bulldogs vs The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers
Bad News Brown vs Ken Patera
Ravishing Rick Rude vs Junkyard Dog
The Powers of Pain vs The Bolsheviks
The Honky Tonk Man (c) vs Mystery Opponent, IC Title Match
Dino Bravo vs Don “The Rock” Muraco
Demolition (c) vs The Hart Foundation, Tag Team Title Match
Big Boss Man vs Koko B Ware
Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs Hercules
Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage vs Andre The Giant and Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase
Summerslam‘s reputation for delivering better and longer matches than Wrestlemania starts with the first match on the first ever show. A twenty minute time limit draw between The British Bulldogs and The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers that is an absolute wrestling clinic.
There’s three good reasons why I ranked the inaugural Summerslam show in the top ten.
Firstly, look at that card. It’s practically a who’s who of every major Rock ‘N’ Wrestling era superstar during the formative years of the WWF where they became household names and began appealing to a nationwide audience during the Eighties. Junkyard Dog, Koko B Ware and Jake the Snake don’t necessarily work the most amazing matches on this show but the crowd absolutely loves them and they are some of the most colourful characters of their time.
Secondly, The Honky Tonk Man went into this show having held the Intercontinental Championship belt for eighteen months. A cowardly heel champ – Honky ducked challengers and won unconvincingly for months and crowds were dying to see him get his comeuppance. At Summerslam 88 he cockily issues an open challenge and just when you think the call will go unanswered, we hear the pulsing rock chords of The Ultimate Warrior’s theme song as he storms the ring. The crowd goes absolutely nuclear and the rest is history.
Lastly, the main event is the peak of the good times for the Mega Powers – the alliance between Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage. Their blood feud would culminate in a main event at Wrestlemania V but before all that, they were an unstoppable tag team. The two biggest babyfaces in the company working together to battle the Million Dollar Man and Andre the Giant. This is a fun main event tag match with four legendary wrestlers at the peak of the careers. And who can forget Miss Elizabeth? Certainly not anyone who watched this show. In one of the more unique finishes to a wrestling match, Miss Elizabeth takes off her skirt (!) to distract the heels allowing Macho Man and Hulk Hogan to take advantage and pick up the win.
Highlight: The Ultimate Warrior’s first ever title win and Miss Elizabeth with no pants.
8. Summerslam ’97
Mankind vs Triple H
Goldust vs Brian Pillman
The Legion of Doom vs The Godwinns
The British Bulldog vs Ken Shamrock
Los Boricuas vs The Disciples of the Apocalypse
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Owen Hart (c), IC Title Match
Bret Hart vs The Undertaker (c)
Summerslam 97 is an interesting card that blends the stars of the New Generation era (Bulldog, Owen, Savio Vega) with some of the upcoming names that would become the major stars of the Attitude era (Shamrock, Austin, Triple H). The curtain jerker is a match between pre-fame Triple H and Mick Foley, a couple of years before either wrestler became main event calibre performers. You can already see on this show that the seeds are being sown for what would eventually become the Attitude Era – for instance, there’s a match between Goldust and Brian Pillman which has cross dressing stipulations (!).
The double main event is why you need to track down this show. The IC Title match is famous for Owen Hart breaking the neck of Steve Austin who becomes momentarily paralysed and then unbelievably, he still moves (barely) and finishes the match. Everything leading up the the neck break is absolutely golden and this is a great showcase of Austin’s anti-establishment character before he was feuding with Vince McMahon.
The main event is a half hour war between Bret Hart and The Undertaker with Shawn Michaels and the special guest referee. I like this match because its a chance to see Taker working a main event style that isn’t the Deadman era moveset where he moves at a snail’s pace. Nor is it the modern Undertaker moveset which is largely influenced by MMA. This match sees Taker working classic wrestling holds and counterholds. As ever, Bret Hart is able to get the absolute best out of his opponent and Taker really rises to the occasion.
Highlights: The Hart Brothers doing their thing in the two title matches.
7. Summerslam ’89
Dino Bravo vs Koko B Ware
The Brainbusters vs The Hart Foundation
Dusty Rhodes vs The Honky Tonk Man
Mr Perfect vs The Red Rooster
Rick Martel and The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers vs Tito Santana and The Rockers
The Ultimate Warrior (c) vs Ravishing Rick Rude, IC Title Match
Jim Duggan and Demolition vs Andre the Giant and The Twin Towers
Greg Valentine vs Hercules
Ted Dibiase vs Superfly Jimmy Snuka
Hulk Hogan and Brutus The Barber Beefcake vs Macho Man Randy Savage and Zeus
Another great Summerslam show from the early years is Summerslam 89 which has four matches run fifteen minutes or longer. Considering that the WWF was often considered to be inferior to WCW in terms of in-ring talent during this era, this is one of the rare instances where the WWF line up was stacked with talented wrestlers (The Rockers, the Rougeaus, the Harts, the Brainbusters etc) and they were all given plenty of time to do their thing. Better still, the shorter matches that pad out of the rest of the card are a lot of fun too. Who doesn’t love a spectacle like Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Demolition brawling with the three biggest, fattest giants in the company? We are also treated to the rare sight of The Ultimate Warrior getting defeated and the main event is a lot of fun too. Zeus was an absolutely terrible wrestler (he literally has one move…a chokehold) but he has a bizarre and terrifying presence and is backed up by Randy Savage who covers the ringwork like a pro.
Highlight: The amazing promo before the main event by Macho Man, Zeus and Sensational Sherri. I’m guessing a mountain of cocaine was consumed just moments before hand because…holy cow.
6. Summerslam ’90
Power and Glory vs The Rockers
The Texas Tornado vs Mr Perfect (c), IC title match
Queen Sherri vs Sapphire
The Warlord vs Tito Santana
The Hart Foundation vs Demolition (c), Best 2/3 falls
Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs Bad News Brown
Nikolai Volkoff and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan vs The Orient Express
Randy Savage vs Dusty Rhodes
Hulk Hogan vs Earthquake
The Ultimate Warrior vs “Ravishing” Rick Rude
If you’re wondering why this show is rated so highly, Summerslam 1990 has one of my favourite tag team matches of all time on it in the form of The Hart Foundation vs Demolition. Both teams are hugely over with the crowd and Demolition had recently turned heel after reclaming the tag title belts at Wrestlemania VI. The match has a 2/3 falls stipulation and is made awesome thanks to the peerless ringwork from both teams, a molten hot crowd, Roddy Piper going bananas on commentary and the WWF PPV debut of The Road Warriors who storm the ring at the end of the match.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s some other nice stuff to check out on this show too. Kerry Von Erich getting his one and only title win in the WWF. Marty Jannetty working solo against Power and Glory and almoooost pulling off an upset victory. And The Ultimate Warrior vs Ravishing Rick Rude cage match in the main event is a refreshing change from Hulk Hogan and the match builds nicely on their match up at the previous year’s Summerslam. Rude (along with Savage) always managed to get the best out of Warrior.
Highlight: No doubt about it, Demolition vs The Hart Foundation.
5. Summerslam ’02
Kurt Angle vs Rey Mysterio
Ric Flair vs Chris Jericho
Edge vs Eddie Guerrero
The UnAmericans (c) vs Booker T and Goldust, Tag Team Title Match
Rob Van Dam vs Chris Benoit (c), IC Title Match
The Undertaker vs Test
Shawn Michaels vs Triple H, Street Fight
The Rock (c) vs Brock Lesnar
Summerslam 2002 probably has one of the most stacked cards of any era. Look at that line up. Other than Test and maybe Lance Storm, every one wrestler is a major star who has won multiple championships in the company. This PPV also has some outstanding match quality right across the card. It starts with a superb big man/small man match up between Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio which has comedy, technical wrestling and high flying moves all crammed into its ten minute running time. RVD vs Benoit is a fun little clash of styles and then after you fast forward through The Undertaker vs Test, you get a fantastic double main event. Shawn Michaels vs Triple H was Michaels’ big in ring return after a five year absence and he absolutely blew everyone away with his incredible athleticism and amazing selling of his back injury.
The main event is as big of a deal in 2015 as it is in 2002. Brock Lesnar and The Rock absolutely tear the house down with an absorbing clash that has intensity, athleticism and at the very end…a new star being created as Brock goes over The Rock and becomes the youngest champion in company history. This is the match that made Brock a main eventer and he’s never looked back since.
Highlights: Rock vs Brock is a fantastic match and also happens to have one of my favourite pre-match hype packages which shows the insane workout regiments that these guys do. The crowd turns on The Rock in this match which lead to him returning as a heel and tearing the Toronto crowd a new one.
4. Summerslam ’91
The British Bulldog, Ricky Steamboat and Texas Tornado vs The Warlord and Power & Glory
Bret Hart vs Mr Perfect (c), IC Title Match
The Natural Disasters vs The Bushwhackers
Virgil vs The Million Dollar Man
Big Boss Man vs The Mountie
The Legion of Doom vs The Nasty Boys
IRS vs Greg Valentine
Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior vs Sergeant Slaughter, Colonel Adnan and General Adnan
Summerslam 91 must be one of the most crowd pleasing events that the WWE has put together. On this one show you have Bret Hart’s first ever singles title win, Virgil finally getting payback on the Million Dollar Man after years of mistreatment, The Mountie getting thrown into jail, The Legion of Doom’s first ever title win in the WWF and the two biggest babyfaces in the company defeat a representation of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. All this before a rabid Madison Square Garden crowd who enthusiastically cheer their lungs out for the duration of the show.
Everyone knows the best thing about this show is Bret Hart vs Mr Perfect which is a classic match (with Perfect working through a bad back injury) but seriously…this is one of the most feel good shows the company has ever put together. For fans who grew up watching this era, seeing Virgil take it to Dibiase and seeing LOD dismantle the Nasties…it was a pretty great time.
Sadly it is also the last PPV appearance by Andre the Giant whose acromegaly condition has rendered him immobile.
Highlight: Bret Hart vs Mr Perfect. The match that made Bret a star.
3. Summerslam ’92
The Legion of Doom vs Money Inc
Nailz vs Virgil
Shawn Michaels vs Rick Martel
The Natural Disasters vs The Beverley Brothers
Crush vs Repo Man
The Ultimate Warrior vs Macho Man Randy Savage (c), WWF Championship Match
Tatanka vs The Bezerker
The Undertaker vs Kamala
The British Bulldog vs Bret Hart (c), IC Title Match
Summerslam 92 is one of my favourite shows the company has ever put on and it speaks to the quality of the Summerslam shows over the years that this isn’t #1. It has a unique feel thanks to its setting in Wembley Stadium before 80,000 fans who are all there to see the British Bulldog main event against Bret Hart.
Of course, the rest of the card is no slouch either. Sure there’s a handful of ordinary matches (Repo Man, Nailz, The Bezerker…) but you also get a top notch match between Shawn Michaels and Rick Martel in a unique heel vs heel match that was a feud over the managerial services of Sensational Sherri. This is a great match to see Shawn Michaels carve out his credentials as a singles wrestler one year after Bret Hart.
There’s also a terrific title match between Macho Man Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior. Everyone remembers the retirement match from Wrestlemania VII but I feel like this match is a worthy follow up. Both guys put on some of their best work and the crowd is on tenterhooks the whole time because they’ve been lead to believe that one or the other will turn heel and align with Ric Flair and Mr Perfect.
Of course the main reason to watch Summerslam 92 is the main event between Bret Hart and the British Bulldog. I have seen this match over a dozen times and it stands as one of my favourites. Of course, having read Bret’s book and watching the match with a more discerning eye, its easy to see that Davey Boy Smith appears to get stagefright and blows a couple of moves, genuinely hurting Bret in the process. It’s to Bret’s credit that he’s able to lead the British Bulldog through the match, keep his composure and ensure the match is of the quality that it deserves to be. The Wembley crowd erupting for the final sequence of moves where Bulldog picks up the win is still a sight to behold.
Highlights: Bret Hart vs British Bulldog with Bobby Heenan relentlessly picking on the Hart family. Wrestling doesn’t get much better than that.
2. Summerslam ’00
Right To Censor vs Too Cool
X-Pac vs Road Dogg
Chyna and Eddie Guerrero vs Val Venis (c) and Trish Stratus, Mixed Gender IC Title Match
Jerry Lawler vs Tazz
Steve Blackman vs Shane McMahon (c), Hardcore Title Match
Chris Jericho vs Chris Benoit, 2/3 Falls Match
Edge & Christian (c) vs The Hardy Boys vs The Dudley Boys, TLC Tag Titles Match
The Kat vs Terri
The Undertaker vs Kane
The Rock (c) vs Kurt Angle vs Triple H, WWF Championship Match
Wrestlemania X-7 is considered by many to be the pinnacle of Attitude era PPVs but I would put Summerslam 2000 at a close second. It has all the ingredients of what made wrestling at the time so popular. There’s a classic traditional wrestling match between Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho that is a technical marvel, the first ever TLC match which features some absolutely death defying bumps, an entertaining main event where The Rock and Triple H make up a match on the fly when Kurt Angle gets concussed. Oh, and there’s something called a ‘Thong Stinkface Match’. That’s pretty much the Attitude era in a nutshell.
Summerslam 2000 is also noteworthy for being the one show where Steve Blackman looked like he could become a huge star as he defeated Shane McMahon by knocking him off a twenty foot high perch in a crazy finish to the Hardcore Title match.
There is the occasional drab patch on this show (Lawler vs Tazz, the worst Taker vs Kane match ever) but the highs are so great that it doesn’t matter. The TLC match between Edge & Christian, the Hardy Boys and the Dudley Boys is one of the craziest matches the company will ever do, the Canadian Chrises put on a technically flawless match and the main event storyline is perfect wrestling soap opera – a jealous Triple H becomes distracted from his quest to regain the WWF title when he suspects his wife is having an affair with Kurt Angle. Entertaining chaos ensues.
Highlights: Can’t go past the TLC match. It’s amazing no one was seriously hurt.
1. Summerslam ’13
Rob Van Dam vs Dean Ambrose (c), United States Title Match
Bray Wyatt vs Kane
Cody Rhodes vs Damien Sandow
Alberto Del Rio (c) vs Christian, World Heavyweight Title Match
Natalya vs Brie Bella
Brock Lesnar vs CM Punk
Dolph Ziggler and Caitlyn vs Big E Langston and AJ Lee
John Cena (c) vs Daniel Bryan
Summerslam 13 is one of the all time great PPVs. The undercard is solid. There’s some handy work put in by some wrestling legends (Rob Van Dam), pay off matches for long running feuds (Rhodes vs Sandow) and the in-ring debut of Bray Wyatt, one of the brightest prospects for the company’s future.
Then we get the double main event. Firstly, there’s CM Punk vs Brock Lesnar in what would turn out to be Punk’s last great match before abruptly quitting the company the following year in January. And what a match it turned out to be. A lot of Lesnar’s ring work since returning to the WWE has been booked in a certain ‘main event style’ where there is an excess of suplexes and finishing moves. The match with Punk is different. Punk vs Lesnar is structured more like a traditional wrestling match. There’s holds and counter holds. Submission moves and reversals. An aggressive run of offence from the domineering Lesnar. A barnstorming comeback from the babyface Punk. The conniving Paul Heyman an ever-present distraction on the outside. To my mind its the best match either wrestler has had in the WWE. It’s pretty much perfect.
If that wasn’t enough, later that night we get John Cena vs Daniel Bryan. After twelve months of being the hottest performer in the company, Daniel Bryan would finally have his moment to shine in a main event against the company’s evergreen champion John Cena. After a thrilling back and forth match up, Daniel Bryan would stun the crowd by hitting Cena with a running knee and defeating him for the championship belt. That moment would start a feud with Triple H that would run all the way through until Wrestlemania the next year in what now looks like Daniel Bryan’s one and only main event run as his body succumbed to injuries accumulated throughout his career.
This double whammy of outstanding main event matches – that showcased the best of Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Brock Lesnar and John Cena – are enough to make this my favourite Summerslam PPV of all time.
Only by a fraction though.
To be honest, I could probably change the order of the top three depending on my mood. You can’t really go wrong with any of them and they represent the best of three different eras in the company.