SummerSlam will never be WrestleMania.
WWE can try everything, they can invite the Green Arrow and Jon Stewart, they can make the show four hours long, they can pay the Undertaker more than once a year, but nah. It will never quite reach the heights of the cross-cultural heights of the Grandaddy.
That being said, SummerSlam is still one of my favorite shows of the year. It’s been running every year since the late ‘80s and while they’re have been plenty of house-show stand-ins, it’s mostly been treated as the dark middle chapter in the WWE’s long-term storylines. Last year we got Brock Lesnar brutalizing Cena in the cleanest, most emasculating way he’s ever been beat. This year we’re getting an Undertaker/Lesnar sequel that most thought would happen at a distant Mania,if ever at all. While it reveals some laziness in WWE’s booking, SummerSlam is one of maybe three pay-per-views each year that actually matter.
So with that, we’ve decided to rank all the SummerSlam main events from worst to best. From 10 minute Ultimate Warrior smackdowns to submission chaining to SO MUCH TRIPLE H, you’ll read about a lot of bad wrestling and a lot of great wrestling. Naturally we start with the time Undertaker wrestled himself.
27 -SummerSlam1994 - The Undertaker vs. The Undertaker (seriously)
One of the worst matches in SummerSlam history is also probably the weirdest. Did you know that in 1994 WWE ran an angle where Ted DiBiase hired his own Undertaker? Two Undertakers!
Paul Bearer gets mad and summons the real Undertaker (you can tell from his purple gloves) to go fight the fake Undertaker, which leads to a match that’s basically just a series of mirrored moves and awkward silence. The crowd is completely dead, probably because they’ve got no idea what’s going on. Which is understandable! Because again, this is a match between two Undertakers.
Commentary has to quantify everything by saying either “Paul Bearer’s Undertaker,” or “Ted DiBiase’s Undertaker.” About halfway through Vince, sensing he’s booked a bomb, just yells “THIS IS VERY STRANGE”–which might be my favorite moment in the history of pro wrestling announcing.
It’s about eight minutes long, which is mercifully short, considering how bonkers the pacing is. I say bonkers, because there’s a spot in this thing where fake Undertaker tombstones real Undertaker, then real Undertaker gets up and tombstones fake Undertaker like nothing happened. Maybe this would work in Chikara, but not here.
26 - SummerSlam 1990 - Ultimate Warrior vs. Ravishing Rick Rude
Why was Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan great? The breathless spectacle, the outstanding, hilariously homoerotic test of strength, the legitimate chance that Hogan could pass the torch, basically everything but the actual ring work.
Ultimate Warrior knows three wrestling moves. Rick Rude knows about eight. Thrown together in a middling main event with one of those old-school blue steel cages that are only like eight feet high, and, well, there’s not a lot to get excited about. Warrior was consumed by his own afterburners after he climbed the mountain, but he’s still super over here. He eats the steel pretty good and Rude puts him over with grace, but this is mostly the shoulder tackles and gorilla presses you’re accustomed to. But hey, we all love big Warrior pops, even when they’re the culmination of a nice-cold nothing match.
25 - SummerSlam 1995 - Diesel vs. King Mabel
Just try to imagine how chunky a Diesel/Mabel match would be. Are you picturing two guys slowly staggering around the ring, hitting each other with big sloppy clotheslines? Yeah you pretty much got it. This might be the worst worked match in the history of SummerSlam (the Luger interference didn’t help), and I kind of love it for that. Diesel and Mabel are so unrefined in their offense that there’s something kind of cathartic about the floppy belly-to-belly suplexes and leg drops. Within a year Diesel would be out of the company and Mabel would be switching gimmicks to one of Undertaker’s minions, and that gives this match a weird sense of impermanence.
Once upon a time Diesel was world champion and buddies with Lex Luger. Mid-’90s WWF was weird.
24 - SummerSlam 1991 - Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior vs. Sgt. Slaughter, Col. Mustafa, and General Adnan
For a while there SummerSlam was used to rehash the older, better feuds from the same year’s WrestleMania.
Case in point, here we have a quasi-rematch between Hogan and Slaughter, who previously put on one of the more underrated Mania mains back at VII. That was a match where Hogan ripped apart the Iraqi flag and beat Slaughter to death with his fists of American steel.
So naturally a few months later Hogan teams with the other overpowered guy in the company and vows to destroy whatever remaining heat the feud had as brutally as possible. That’s right, we’re talking about a handicap match! A handicap match that goes for 10 minutes without a single moment where the babyfaces are in any believable danger!
Okay yeah, it’s not very good, but you probably knew that. I don’t need to watch Hogan scream at foreigners, that’s what TMZ is for. The only redeemable thing is Sgt. Slaughter. Sgt. Slaughter bumps so freaking hard for Hogan and it’s awesome. He’s the most kayfabe useless wrestler in the universe. None of his offense does any damage, and he’ll flip over and bounce on his head if you breath on him. Face Hogan vs. Heel Slaughter is the most one-sided matchup in the history of wrestling, and damn it, watching him throw his face from the top rope onto the mat because Warrior touched his calf is good enough to get this out of the basement.
23 - SummerSlam 1993 - Yokozuna vs. Lex Luger
Lex Luger was never good. But technically speaking, neither was Hulk Hogan. The kerfuffle over Hogan’s departure and Luger’s ascendance to the red, white and blue throne has always confused me. Why is it surprising that Vince McMahon replaced his older middling performer with a great look with a younger middling performer with a great look?
SummerSlam ‘93 comes in the shadow of Mania IX which is easily the worst WrestleMania ever, and I’ve always found Yokozuna’s arch-heel status at this time confusing. Not that Vince decided to turn a fat Samoan into a Japanese sumo wrestler, that much is entirely expected. But why does this Japanese sumo wrestler hate America? World War 2 was a long time ago, does the WWE thrive on a mindset where all non-Americans are trying to destroy our way of life? Wait, don’t answer that, I think I already know.
Anyways, this match is boring and very Luger-y, in that it reeks of desperation. Lex goes over with a count-out, which causes confetti to fall from the sky and all the faces to come streaming from the locker room to celebrate with him. Um, it’s a count-out. That means he didn’t win the belt. Why is this heroic again? When John Cena beat Lesnar by DQ last year he didn’t act like the score was settled, that’s… that’s just not how wrestling works.
Maybe that’s why Luger never got over, he was getting booked as a total underachiever.
22 - SummerSlam 1988 - The Mega Powers (Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage) vs. The Mega Bucks (Andre the Giant and Ted DiBiase)
This is where the SummerSlam brand began. The third ever WWE pay-per-view tradition, just ahead of Survivor Series and WrestleMania. SummerSlam wouldn’t grow into its “the other big WWE show” stature for a few more years, and it shows with this very redundant match at the top of the card. Andre The Giant was coming off a Mania where he got bodyslammed by the Hulkster in the most famous pro wrestling moment of all time, and The Mega Powers were a full program away from EXPLODING. So instead we’re served up one of the least dramatic SummerSlam main events of all time. No titles, no stakes, a family friendly Miss Elizabeth T&A distraction–you know the deal.
It’s not awful by any means. DiBiase bumps like a dead fish, Jesse Ventura does some awesome heel referee bits, and there is something kind of wistful about a peak, All-American Hogan that can take you away from all the current unpleasantness. But there’s still something offensively inauspicious about it. The first WrestleMania put Mr. T against Jimmy Snuka! The first SummerSlam featured four guys wrestling the exact same match they’ve done dozens of times before.
Also, a quick word on Andre the Giant. Andre is one of the true legends of the sport, but I wish there was an easier way to prove that. I’ve read the hallowed accounts of his headscissors and top-rope action, but man, I don’t think there’s a single non-depressing Andre match on the WWE Network. He logs maybe four minutes here, and takes about 30 steps. Unfortunately, the Andre The Giant I know is the guy who listlessly trudges to the corner to rub his butt on Hulk Hogan–without bending too much so his knees/back/everything don’t give out. Let’s put a bigger spotlight on The Giant’s golden years please.
21 - SummerSlam 1989 - The Mega Powers (Hulk Hogan and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake) vs. Macho Man Randy Savage and Zeus
The second ever SummerSlam main was better than the first, which is surprising because this match features 100 percent more Brutus Beefcake. The star here is Zeus, a guy named Tom Lister who was barely a wrestler. Vince believed in this guy so much that he was in the top-billed feud the second he walked through the door. Zeus no-sells 95 percent of Hogan’s offense. Like a hard no-sell. That’s a very rare privilege for a guy who’d be out of the company before the year was up.
The match is good mostly because nobody seems bored, which is basically what killed the first SummerSlam–it’s hard to build momentum when you’re working around a broken Andre the Giant. Zeus eventually eats a pin after Hogan pops up from a Macho Man elbow and starts to HULK UP. Nobody, not even The Rock, can deal with a hulked up Hulk Hogan. Zeus goes from Brock Lesnar to 2014 Ryback in a couple of minutes. So it goes in the Hulkamania era.
20 - SummerSlam 1997 - Bret Hart vs. The Undertaker
Here’s an unfortunate secret: long matches are only good some of the time. I’ve made fun of nine minute glorified Hogan squashes as main events in this very article, but I’m certainly not delusional enough to say that Sgt. Slaughter and company vs. Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan would be better if it was longer, that’s just crazy talk.
I had high hopes for Hart/Undertaker. These are two guys I like! And there’s the added historical drama of knowing a few months later the Montreal Screwjob happened and Bret Hart’s WWE legacy changed forever! But man, I don’t need to see thirty minutes of basic wrestling moves and ref bumps. At one point, Undertaker breaks out of Bret Hart’s sharpshooter and commentary says something like “NOBODY HAS EVER DONE THAT BEFORE” which is just an abject lie. It reminds me of how John Cena and Randy Orton have had excellent matches, but occasionally they’re thrown together for no reason and all the energy disappears and the wrestling drifts away into the ether without anyone remembering.
Bonus points to Shawn Michaels’ cartoonishly over-exaggerated guest-reffing. Shawn Michaels wrestled in four decades but he always sold anger like his limbs suddenly turned into spaghetti.
19 - SummerSlam 1999 - Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Mankind vs. Triple H
I watched this. I know I did. I watched it a couple hours before writing this blurb, but I honestly can’t remember anything about it. The only thing that comes to mind is that it was kind of sloppy, which makes sense considering it involved Mankind, Steve Austin, and a peak-beefcake Triple H. Mankind goes over, which is cool, but…yeah. Not exceptionally bad! But also not anything at all.
18 - SummerSlam 2010 - Team WWE vs. Team Nexus
Outside of context, this is a good match. A 30-plus minute 7-on-7 clash with an elimination stipulation. It gives you peak Miz, a darling returning Daniel Bryan, old-man Bret Hart, and babies like Darren Young and David Otunga. The Nexus was on fire and inarguably the most exciting thing WWE had cooked up in years.
Unfortunately, there is context. And that context is John Cena kicking out of a DDT on the floor and proceeding to beat the remainder of The Nexus by himself, effectively destroying any momentum the stable had. Five years later, Justin Gabriel is out of the company and Wade Barrett is barely above jobber status.
So I’m slotting it here. There are worse matches ahead on this list, but none that will make you quite as angry. Tell me I’m getting worked, whatever, fine. There’s a difference between being worked and being exasperated by a company too afraid to pull the trigger.
17 - SummerSlam 1998 - Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Undertaker
Sometimes The Undertaker is awesome. A great Taker match goes beyond mere wrestling and becomes something about FIGHTING SPIRIT and the RELENTLESS ENCROACHMENT OF DOOM. My favorite match of all time, Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker at WrestleMania 25 is the perfect example of that, just pure life and death in the squared circle.
But sometimes The Undertaker isn’t awesome and is just a big guy who can’t sell a stunner. Unfortunately SummerSlam 1998 is that version. There’s a reason WCW lifers continue to trash Taker, it’s right here in the listless brawls, the creaky grapples, and the botched table spot. Austin and Undertaker wrestled dozens of times, and this is probably one of the least memorable. It also ends with him sitting up after the pin and handing over the belt with respect, which really isn’t too far from Hogan kicking out of the Ultimate Warrior’s splash at three.
16 - SummerSlam 2012 - Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar
The weird thing about Brock Lesnar’s return to the WWE is that it was kind of inauspicious for a while. He was immediately put in a feud with Triple H which culminated in a super-boring 40 minute dirge at Mania (which Hunter won). Then they had a rematch at SummerSlam where Brock made Trips tap and led to a post-match bit with Triple H standing in the ring looking bewildered and commentary talking about how he’s probably going to retire (wasn’t that supposed to happen after he lost to the Undertaker twice?)
I don’t know, I’m probably underrating this thing, but it’s a bummer to see one of the most mythical characters WWE has ever built get wasted against Triple H. Nothing against him! He’s just not the guy you want to see returning behemoths face off against first (looking at you, Sting.) CM Punk, John Cena, and even Roman Reigns got more heat out of their respective Lesnar feuds than Trips could ever muster.
15 - SummerSlam 2001 - The Rock vs. Booker T
Oh, WWE Booker T. You were doomed from the start. You were a great champion and a remarkably lovable dude in WCW, but once that invasion angle hit the writing was on the wall. Triple H cut one of the most racist promos in WWE history on you, and you still lost to him at WrestleMania. You teamed with Goldust for a while, won King of the Ring, and lost to Triple H again. Then you were caught juicing and skipped town for TNA. It could’ve been something man! Unfortunately this is the same company that booked Sting to lose.
Anyways, this match against isn’t bad, and actually something of a historical curiosity. Between the Steve Austins, Randy Ortons, John Cenas, and Undertakers, would you have ever guessed that once in the early 2000s a SummerSlam was main evented by The Rock and Booker T? One guy who’d never sniff the main event again, and another who’d be out of the company in a few more years.
Anyways, they go through the motions, Booker T hits a spinaroonie, and it’s over in about 15 minutes. Not bad! WWE should do this more often. Like, why not let Stardust job out to Seth Rollins in the main event one of these days? Maybe if Cody Rhodes was a former member of a rival company it could happen!
14 - SummerSlam 1996 - Vader vs. Shawn Michaels
The Man They Call Vader never hit his stride in the WWE. He was huge, HUGE, in WCW, the ideal monster heel. This is a man who kicked out of WCW Hogan’s leg drop at one. He wore a crazy institution mask long before Mankind made it cool. I still have no idea why he never got over when he switched companies. Maybe he lost to Shawn Michaels too much?
This is 1996, which means WWE wrestling is slowly emerging from its prehistoric period to represent something you and I might like to watch. Shawn Michaels is probably the best wrestler of all time, so his headscissors, suicide dives, and flippy turnbuckle sells are all on point. Vader leaves about an inch and a half short with every punch, but his suplexes are believable, so its all good. At one point Michaels goes for the elbow, but Vader is out of position, so Michaels lands on his feet and starts shoot-kicking him in the head screaming “MOVE.” Ah mid-’90s Shawn, transcendent in both talent and childishness.
The match is fine, but it makes you wish you were watching Michaels/Undertaker. Or better yet, it makes you wish that Vader was nurtured into the ass-kicker he deserved to be instead of one of the many what-if curiosities in the WWE gimmick graveyard.
13 - SummerSlam 2005 - Shawn Michaels vs. Hulk Hogan
The objective take is that this match is super mediocre. Hulk Hogan had no business main-eventing a WWE event at 51, and he only punched a ticket because “IT’S HOGAN’S FIRST SUMMERSLAM SINCE 1991” was an easy thing to market in the mid-2000s Ruthless Aggression doldrums. Michaels is a genius, and offered up his trademark sniveling heel work, but at the end of the day we’re still talking about a middling performer doing scoop-slams in the midst of a midlife financial crisis.
That being said, it’s still one of my favorite SummerSlam matches of all time. Shawn Michaels bumps cartoonishly hard for Hogan, basically trying to take the piss as loudly as he can while still doing the job. There’s scuttlebutt that this feud was originally supposed to be a face vs. face, legend vs. legend toss-off, like, say, that Rock/Cena program. Instead Hulk demanded that Shawn work heel, so he responded by overselling everything in Hogan’s limited, dated offense. It’s one of the most hilarious, cringe-worthy matches WWE has ever produced. It’s also when I fell in love with Shawn Michaels. I had no idea it was possible to make wrestling look passive-aggressive.
12 - SummerSlam 2011 - CM Punk vs. John Cena
Remember the Owens/Cena feud? That was a lot of fun right? But you probably mostly remember the first match at Elimination Chamber, which makes sense because it was KO’s first main-roster in-ring appearance, and possibilities were endless. We’ll always remember when Kevin Owens beat John Cena and then sorta remember the other two matches where John Cena beat Kevin Owens. All the matches were great! But the unique circumstances cause us to focus on the biggest moment.
That’s kinda the same situation with the Cena/Punk feud. This match at SummerSlam is perfectly solid but it’s basically a rehash of their Money in the Bank classic with a murkier finish. So we don’t talk about it because it kind of doesn’t matter. You simply can’t capture the energy of that Chicago crowd more than once, just like you can’t recreate the zeitgeist of the “SUMMER OF PUNK,” which might be why Phil Brooks is learning Muay Thai right now.
11 - SummerSlam 2000 - The Rock vs. Kurt Angle vs. Triple H
This is such a weird match. It literally starts with Trips giving Angle a pedigree on the announcers’ table, which puts him in a stretcher for the first three acts. The Rock and Triple H have a very Rock and Triple H sequence (a lot of clotheslines and goofy looking punches) and eventually Stephanie McMahon wanders out to try and hit The Rock with the belt. She misses and hits Triple H instead, which culminates in a moment at the end of the match where Triple H tries to hit Kurt Angle with a sledgehammer and hits Stephanie instead.
So between the stretchers, the interference, the prop gags, and the Haitchness this match is an overbooked mess, but I still kind of love it. My favorite kind of Triple H is least-reasonable-man-in-the-universe Triple H, and he’s just so goddang mad here. It’s a bit of a shame Kurt got written out early because a Trips/Rock/Angle title clash could’ve been pretty awesome, but this works too.
10 - SummerSlam 2014 - John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar
It’s really hard to rank this one. On one hand, it’s perhaps the most historically relevant modern WWE wrestling match next to, like, Lesnar/Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX. John Cena puts over Brock Lesnar cleaner than any of the other jobs he’s done in the SuperCena era. Lesnar brutalizes him over and over again with visceral, wince-inducing German Suplexes. Cena gets maybe 45 seconds of genuine offense and even lands an Attitude Adjustment, which Brock Lesnar laughs at. It’s probably the most effective brutalization since they stopped bleeding on television.
But is it a good match? I mean, sorta? The spectacle of Cena getting squashed was plenty exhilarating, but it’s kinda weird to have a Summerslam main event with barely any wrestling in it. I basically spent my entire time watching this wondering if I was getting punked, and I’ll remember that feeling forever, but it’s not something I’m super inclined to watch over and over again. However, I’m all for WWE subverting their tropes, so I’m stashing it here at 10, knowing that it sorta exists outside the continuity.
9 - SummerSlam 2007 - Randy Orton vs. John Cena
It’s hard for me to look at this match objectively because Randy Orton and John Cena have wrestled each other so much over the last decade. However, it’s probably one of the three best things they’ve ever done together. Sometimes these old matches can be kind of wonderfully quaint, like Cena kicks out of RKO which isn’t a big deal AT ALL in 2015, but the crowd pops so hard for it in 2007. Then Cena puts Orton away with one AA, which is crazy because everybody from Stardust to Brock Lesnar kick out of AAs all the time now. So yeah, a totally fine match, I’m happy I watched it again, but it’s just kind of impossible to recommend it.
8 -SummerSlam 2003 - Shawn Michaels vs. Goldberg vs. Triple H vs. Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Nash vs. Randy Orton, Elimination Chamber
I might be overrating this match. It’s in an elimination chamber, so the ceiling is only so high. But honestly, the meat of it is just Goldberg killing people. Goldberg is booked like it’s 1998. He eats Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton, and Chris Jericho alive with his jackhammer which always, always looked like it hurt. I love it because I love Goldberg, and even in his nerfed, post-streak WWE form, he’s still pretty enthralling.
The finish is great too. Triple H finally gets out of his cage and grabs a sledgehammer from Ric Flair, and puts Goldberg away with one cheap shot to retain the championship. If you recall, this is the exact same sequence (minus Flair) they used to justify Trips going over Sting at WrestleMania.
They should let Triple H beat all of NWO at the same time next WrestleMania to cement his WCW-tarnishing legacy.
Anyways, this match is surprisingly awesome. It’s a bunch of guys you like doing big bloody moves in a cage. I mean, Goldberg is the only thing making it feel like something more than a house show, but that’s the point right?
7 - SummerSlam 2002 - The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar
This match came out right after Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels, which was awesomely bloody, full of pathos, and prominently featured a returning HBK. The Rock and Brock Lesnar could never stack up to that, but this is still pretty excellent! You get to watch Rocky work straight-up heel, because by the early 2000s his Hollywood intentions were clear and the fans had turned on him, and his floppy cartoon bumps work well with Lesnar’s ridiculous mack-truck offense. This match served as the coronation for Brock; handing him the gold, ending Rock’s career, and cementing him as the most dominant force in WWE, but he’d be out of the company two years later. That gives this thing a weird retrospective wistfulness. If Brock hadn’t left this thing might feel like Austin/Hart, but now it just feels like the most 2002 match ever.
Seriously though, if you’re only familiar with Lesnar’s recent work, this is a match to seek out. Brock’s gotten better with age, but it’s super fun to watch him work an upstart never-say-die gimmick. He was a lot closer to John Cena than you might think.
6 - SummerSlam 2009 - CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy
This might be the most underrated SummerSlam match in the whole catalog. Jeff Hardy’s body was operating at, like, maybe 50 percent by the summer of 2009, which was forcing his brief, unremarkable main event push to come to a close. WWE was keen on releasing him from his contract so he could heal his neck, his back, his leg, and everything else. The only bit of housekeeping left was to move the belt to another streaky-haired upstart the Hot Topic kids loved–CM Punk.
Late period solo Jeff Hardy is rightfully maligned, and CM Punk didn’t peak until a couple years later, but this match is crazy. They barely wrestle, opting instead to launch their inky bodies from the tops of comically huge ladders over and over again. This is, of course, how Jeff Hardy made his money, and it sorta feels like this was his final middle finger to a company concerned enough about his health to stop paying him. These days Jeff Hardy is touring the indies, and this match makes you wish WWE would burythe hatchet and give him a call. Picasso had Dora Maar, Scorsese has the Stones, Hardy had massive, double-sided ladders.
5 - SummerSlam 2006 - Edge vs. John Cena
The mid-2000s was not a great time to be a WWE fan. The glory days of the Attitude Era were long over, and the biggest stars of that period were either retired or wrestling with replaced hips. D-Generation X was revived out of pure desperate cynicism, and Big Show was holding belts.
One of the few bright spots was the feud between Edge and John Cena. Outside of maybe CM Punk, I don’t think Cena’s ever had a better foil. Heel Edge is a Disney villain, and I don’t care how smarky you are, watching a dude slobber all over Lita and then punch the good guy out with brass knuckles is some truly unforgivable heel work.
Edge and Cena’s matches were never great, but they were always very good. I can even forgive the bizarre finish where Lita tries to run interference by jumping on top of Edge while he’s in the AA, which still doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes I think about how I’ll never be able to see Edge’s pre-spear crazy eyes again and I can barely handle it.
4 - SummerSlam 2004 - Randy Orton vs. Chris Benoit
Hey look! It’s a Benoit match!
So here’s the thing with Randy Orton. In his current state, a multi-champion lifer who’s happy playing the veteran and gatekeeper, he wrestles super slowly. He swags around the ring, hits 15 doves poses, and takes 20 minutes to put you in the ropes for his DDT. That’s okay, he’s earned it, and there are moments where I really like insufferable headstrong Randy Orton.
However, at the beginning of his career, Randy Orton was super jumpy and technically prescient and completely capable of working a chain-wrestling barnburner with a master like Benoit. It features one of the sickest submission-counters-into-RKOs you’ve ever seen, which is saying something, because there are tons of sick submission-counters-into-RKOs. This is the main event that put Randy Orton as a serious next-generation contender, and Benoit engineered it beautifully. It’s the old guy losing a fraction of a step to a legend killer, complete with post-match handshake and pep talk.
Go back and watch this thing. WWE will never talk about for obvious and understandable reasons, which is a retroactive bummer just like the classic Mania XX main event where Benoit won the belt in the first place.
3 - SummerSlam 2008 - Edge vs. Undertaker
I wrote about this match in our best Hell in the Cell matches a while back. Let’s see what I had to say.
“My dark horse top-5 choice, and perhaps my personal favorite of the many times Taker/Edge clashed in the ring. Hell in a Cell has meant progressively less in the PG era; we’re talking about something that earned its reputation from blood, gore, and horrifying bumps. There’s only so many ways you can make a steel cage look dangerous when you’re charging into it back-first. 2008’s SummerSlam arrived in the dying vestiges of the PG-13 era, and unsurprisingly, it’s the last time Hell in a Cell felt truly violent.
This is one of those matches that probably infuriates a lot of wrestling purists. Every single memorable thing about it is a prop spot. Edge going through two tables! Undertaker getting his head smashed between chairs, busting open his neck! Edge spearing both of them through one of the walls, and then delivering a second spear through the announce table! Edge gets about 20 minutes of offense before Taker finally wakes up, counters with Old School, and kills him with a Tombstone, which inevitably summons a lot of moaning about “pacing.” Seriously, who cares?! It’s the returning phenom against the most evil man in the world! Edge tries to use all of his hokey TLC tricks to try and steal a win in Taker’s trademark format, and he almost does it before his luck runs out. Living proof that ring psychology is alive and well in the realm of ladder spots.”
Man, I sure do miss Edge.
2 - SummerSlam 1992 - Bret Hart vs. The British Bulldog
The biggest little match of all time. Davey Boy Smith, aka The British Bulldog, was never a main event talent, but after Vince McMahon decided to bring his upstart SummerSlam to Wembley Stadium, there was really only one guy to call. Bulldog challenged Bret Hart for his Intercontinental Title and earned the win in front of 80,000 of his countrymen. The match is a 25-minute barnburner, with tons of momentum swings, submission breaks, and prototype-Cruiserweight flippy nonsense. It’s the best match of the Davey Boy’s career, and probably the greatest tease in WWE history. There was no way Bulldog wasn’t leaving the building champion, but that was easy to forget when Bret Hart rolled into one of the most dramatic sharpshooters of his career. If there’s one thing Vince McMahon has always done well, it’s book matches that take advantage of a one-sided audience’s energy.
My only issue? Hart puts him over with a sunset flip. I get that you need to keep your hometown champ strong, but could he at least win off of something a little more definitive than a roll-up?
1 - SummerSlam 2013 - John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan
The coronation that wasn’t a coronation. When Cena put CM Punk over at Money in the Bank 2011, he needed a distraction from big John Laurinaitis to justify a three-count for some scummy, doughy, indie-backed hardcore kid. John did work an injury angle at SummerSlam 2013, but his shoulders still hit the mat for perhaps the most definitive, non-Lesnar three count of his career.
At the time a lot of dirt was shoveled on the ending, which involved a (completely transparent) post-match Triple H pedigree so Randy Orton could cash in, but that pain has dulled considering how much WrestleMania 30 was Daniel Bryan’s show. Instead, I look back on Cena/Bryan the way I wanted to look at it at the time–a really, really great wrestling match featuring two guys who always manage to make the minutia of wrestling much more poetic and thrilling than their peers. Let’s hope this isn’t the last time we’ll see these two fight each other. Get well soon Daniel.