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The top 10 SummerSlams in history
With more than a quarter-century of history behind it, SummerSlam has produced more treasured memories than almost any other pay-per-view event. What better way to salute one of WWE’s top tentpole events than to rank its 10 greatest shows in history?
Surely, an endeavor as ambitious as narrowing down the top 10 SummerSlams is bound to stir up a lively debate. Which was better: SummerSlam 2001, with its massive WCW influence, or the Hart Foundation-heavy edition in 1997? Was the record-breaking attendance of SummerSlam 1992 enough to trump the thrills and spills of SummerSlam 2008? These are only a few of the questions considered in preparing the list.
Review our ranking, then cast your vote for the edition of SummerSlam you believe is worthy of being recognized as the greatest of all time. Contenders welcome.
Venue: United Center, Chicago
Date: Aug. 29, 1994
What's notable: First public event held at the United Center; Hart vs. Hart; Undertaker vs. Undertaker; The Kliq collides
MVP: Bret Hart
Move of the night: Bull Nakano’s Sharpshooter-turned-full body lift submission hold
Near fall of the night: Diesel kicks out of Razor Ramon’s top-rope bulldog
Hidden gem: Bam Bam Bigelow & IRS vs. The Headshrinkers
Celebrity sightings: Leslie Nielsen, George Kennedy, Walter Payton
With his dramatic steel cage win over younger brother Owen, Bret “Hit Man” Hart retained his WWE Championship and extended his streak of stealing the show at SummerSlam. But SummerSlam 1994 has much more to brag about than just one of the greatest Steel Cage Matches of all time. The event also buttoned up the summer-long mystery of the two Undertakers, as the original and irreplaceable Deadman wiped out Ted DiBiase’s wannabe Phenom. The sight of The Undertaker delivering a Tombstone onto, well, “The Undertaker” was bizarre to say the least.
Elsewhere on the card, Razor Ramon won his second Intercontinental Title and Tatanka shockingly sold out Lex Luger and the WWE Universe by signing with DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation. Let us not forget the eight-minute sprint between then-Women’s Champion Alundra Blayze and the Treasure Troll-haired brute Bull Nakano, a bout that goes down as one of the finest Women’s/Divas Title Matches in WWE history.
Venue: STAPLES Center, Los Angeles
Date: Aug. 14, 2011
What's notable: Undisputed WWE Championship Match; Alberto Del Rio cashes in his Money in the Bank briefcase; the Randy Orton-Christian summer series hits a boiling point
MVP: CM Punk
Coolest threads: Rey Mysterio’s blue-and-white ensemble
Hidden gem: Daniel Bryan vs. Wade Barrett
Move of the night: Mark Henry body slams Sheamus through a ringside barrier
Celebrity sighting: Cee Lo Green
The 24th installment of SummerSlam was also one of the best, featuring tremendous in-ring action, the big-event feel that has become a hallmark of SummerSlam, and a shocking finale that saw a new champion WWE Champion crowned in a matter of seconds. The opening Six-Man Tag Match of Rey Mysterio, Kofi Kingston & John Morrison vs. The Miz, R-Truth & Alberto Del Rio was unsurprisingly fast-paced and mesmerizing. In a classic “Irresistible Force vs. Immovable Object” showdown, freight trains Mark Henry and Sheamus battered each other as only two super heavyweights can.
Match-of-the-night honors might be split between the two World Championship bouts. Fighting in a No Holds Barred Match for the World Heavyweight Championship, defending champion Christian fell to Randy Orton in a vicious encounter that involved Kendo sticks, the steel ring steps, chairs and tables. The main event, a rematch of the legendary Money in the Bank 2011 WWE Championship Match between CM Punk and John Cena, saw The Second City Saint settle all disputes as to who was the legitimate WWE Champion. The lone sour note of the evening came after Punk’s win, when Kevin Nash interrupted the celebration with a Jackknife Power Bomb. Moments later, the sneaky Del Rio, with the Money in the Bank briefcase and title contract in hand, exploited the opportunity and scored championship gold.
Venue: Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, N.J.
Date: Aug. 3, 1997
What's notable: "Stone Cold" suffers a fractured neck; guest referee HBK influences the decision of WWE Title Match; the blue bar steel cage makes its last appearance at SummerSlam
Move of the night: Mankind drops an elbow from the top of the cage
Crowd jolt of the night: Ken Shamrock belly-to-belly suplexes a half-dozen WWE officials, including Gerald Brisco and Pat Patterson
Politician sighting: Then-New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman
For any card-carrying member of the Hart Foundation nation, SummerSlam 1997 goes by one name, its tagline of "Hart & Soul." With four of the Foundation's five Superstars competing in big matches, and each of those matches carrying serious ramifications, the Foundation was at the “heart” of the festivities. “Loose Cannon” Brian Pillman agreed to wear the dress of Goldust’s valet, Marlena, if he lost to the golden Superstar. (He did.) The European Champion British Bulldog conceded that he would eat dog food if he lost to Ken Shamrock. (He didn’t.)
The Hart brothers, Bret and Owen, both found themselves in championship matches, both of which were classics. Owen memorably lost to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in the match that nearly ended Austin’s career, and The “Hit Man” squeaked by WWE Champion The Undertaker (due, in no small part, to a chair strike by guest ref Shawn Michaels that inadvertently nailed The Phenom). Also on the card, Mankind and Triple H brought their famously intense rivalry into the steel cage, where the masked Superstar claimed victory.
Venue: Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena, Raleigh, N.C.
Date: Aug. 27, 2000
What's notable: The first Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match debuts; a D-Generation X civil war; Shane McMahon's giant tumble
MVP: The Rock
Crowd jolt of the night: Jim Ross smashes a jar over the head of Jerry Lawler’s opponent, Tazz
Best quote: "Where did this glass come from?" — Jerry Lawler asks facetiously, moments after his match. “Hell if I know,” J.R. replies. “What glass?”
Move of the night: Jeff Hardy leap-frogs over a ladder, into a leg drop
For stunt show enthusiasts, few cards can even begin to rival the thrilling action of SummerSlam 2000. From the debut of the game-changing Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match to the ambitious Hardcore Champion Shane McMahon’s no-rules brawl against “Lethal Weapon” Steve Blackman, the first SummerSlam of the 2000s saw one crazy maneuver after another. The TLC Match could be likened to a car crash: The bodies of Edge & Christian, Matt & Jeff Hardy and Bubba Ray & D-Von Dudley flailed all over the arena as the three teams broke new ground in the Ladder Match genre.
The Hardcore Match wasn’t any prettier: After being chased up a 50-foot lighting structure near the entrance set, McMahon was swatted off by a Kendo stick-wielding Blackman. Upping the ante further, Blackman then launched himself off the structure with an elbow drop. Yet, any recap of SummerSlam 2000 would be incomplete if it didn’t call attention to the all-star Triple Threat WWE Championship Match between titleholder The Rock, Triple H and Kurt Angle. Not only was the match top caliber, but it served as a pivotal turning point in the romantic saga going on at the time between Angle and Triple H’s wife, Stephanie.
Venue: Madison Square Garden, New York City
Date: Aug. 26, 1991
What’s notable: "Macho Man" & The First Lady of Wrestling tie the knot; "Hit Man" begins his ascent as a singles competitor; Road Warriors complete a championship trifecta; Andre the Giant's final major WWE appearance; the only Jailhouse Match in WWE history
MVP: Bret Hart
Move of the night: The Road Warriors' Doomsday Device on Jerry Sags
Crowd jolt of the night: Virgil’s stunning Million Dollar Championship win
As well balanced as a cup of Columbian Supremo, SummerSlam 1991 had something for everyone. Whether you yearn for rugged action (the Tag Team Street Fight between The Road Warriors and The Nasty Boys), heroism (Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior beating turncoat Sgt. Slaughter’s three-Superstar team) or technical artistry (Hart’s legendary Intercontinental Title win over Mr. Perfect), SummerSlam 1991 had what you were looking for.
Aside from the nightmarish ending to Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth’s wedding reception (it was crashed by the evil-intentioned Jake Roberts and The Undertaker), the 1991 broadcast was a feel-good event from start to finish. Among its several historic moments was Animal & Hawk’s WWE Tag Team Championship win, a mighty accomplishment that made The Road Warriors the only team in history to have captured the WWE, NWA and AWA Tag Team Titles. The show’s opening bout also featured one of the coolest trios in the annals of white-hat super teams: a dreadlocked Davey Boy Smith, a fire-breathing Ricky Steamboat and a dizzyingly furious Kerry Von Erich.
Venue: Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Date: Aug. 17, 2008
What's notable: John Cena and Batista’s first one-on-one match; Edge goes Spear crazy before being sent to hell; two singles titles change hands in an Inter-Gender Tag Team Match
MVP: The Undertaker
Best quote: “But enough about my manscaping. We have some history to make." — Santino Marella, seconds before his Inter-Gender Winner-Take-All Match
Near fall of the night: Cena kicks out at two and three-quarters after Batista catches his top-rope leg drop attempt and reverses it into a Batista Bomb
SummerSlam 2008 was the ultimate proving ground. Facing the towering JBL, World Heavyweight Champion CM Punk was at his scrappy best en route to solidifying his place in WWE’s upper echelon. In another title bout, WWE Champion Triple H fought The Great Khali in a colossal conflict and did the unthinkable by locking in the Pedigree on the massive Khali. John Cena and Batista, battling for the right to be the face of Raw, collided in a high-energy contest.
And The Rated-R Superstar Edge risked life and limb by entering Hell in a Cell to take on The Undertaker in The Deadman’s signature match. (His spree of Spears in the match, including one through a Cell wall and another onto a table, posed almost as much danger to Edge as it did The Undertaker.) Earlier on the card, MVP and Jeff Hardy, in the fine tradition of SummerSlam openers that came before it, got things off to a rocking start with an exciting, fast-paced duel.
Venue: Madison Square Garden, New York City
Date: Aug. 30, 1998
What's notable: Triple H’s milestone win; Edge’s pay-per-view debut; Double-J gets his ears lowered
MVP: Triple H
Hidden gem: Val Venis vs. D-Lo Brown
Move of the night: The Undertaker’s top-rope leg drop onto Steve Austin on the Spanish announce desk
Best quote: “What’s Jo Jo Miller gonna say when I bring the car back like this? This was my special SummerSlam ride. ... That might be good news for the Brisco Bros. Body Shop, but it’s not so good for me.” — Mankind, after discovering that his hearse had been vandalized
Celebrity sighting: Insane Clown Posse
The Attitude Era was in high gear when “The Highway to Hell” build toward WWE Champion “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s defense against The Undertaker culminated at SummerSlam 1998. The Texas Rattlesnake successfully fended off The Phenom’s challenge in a brutal classic of a title bout, and afterward, the Undertaker respectfully handed the WWE Championship to the Superstar who was the better man that night. On the undercard, Triple H notched a huge Ladder Match win over The Rock to capture the Intercontinental Title in what was arguably the match of the night. Ken Shamrock dealt Owen Hart a loss on Shamrock’s home court — the rarely seen Lion’s Den. After falling to X-Pac, Jeff Jarrett lost his blonde locks, thanks to a Hair vs. Hair stipulation. And circus favorites The Oddities, who were played down to the ring by the Insane Clown Posse, took down the high-flying Japanese contingent of Kaientai.
Venue: Wembley Stadium, London
Date: Aug. 29, 1992
What's notable: Largest SummerSlam crowd in history; only SummerSlam held outside North America; an Intercontinental Title Match main event; The Undertaker's first SummerSlam match
Coolest threads: Sensational Sherri’s bottomless chaps
Crowd jolt of the night: British Bulldog’s pinfall win over Bret Hart
Near-fall of the night: Bulldog stretches to reach the ropes and break Hart’s Sharpshooter
Best quote: This exchange between commentators Bobby Heenan and Vince McMahon during the Shawn Michaels vs. Rick Martel match:
Heenan: Martel does have a way with the ladies.
McMahon: I suppose he does.
Heenan: Of course, so does Shawn Michaels. So do I.
McMahon: What?! Lady giraffes!
With its staggering attendance of more than 80,000 WWE diehards, London's Wembley Stadium provided an epic backdrop to one of the finest sports-entertainment shows ever. The long corridor that stretched from the backstage area to the ring platform played home to all-time great entrances such as The Undertaker's morbid ride on the back of a hearse and The Road Warriors roaring into action on motorcycles. It was beautiful.
In terms of combat, two matches stood out above the rest: WWE Champion Randy Savage vs. Ultimate Warrior and the main event of Intercontinental Champion Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog. With the latter contest, The British Bulldog electrified Wembley Stadium by winning the Intercontinental Title in one of the most gratifying victories ever witnessed. Let it not be misconstrued, however, that SummerSlam 1992 was a two-match show with an incredible host venue. There was also the Shawn Michaels vs. "The Model" Rick Martel match, which rose above the potential constraints of its unorthodox stipulation: At the insistence of Michaels’ second, Hall of Fame Diva Sherri Martel, neither man was allowed to punch the other in the face. (Sherri feared the two mirror-loving Superstars’ good looks were at risk.)
Venue: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.
Date: Aug. 25, 2002
What's notable: The crowning of the youngest WWE Champion in history; Shawn Michaels’ first match in four years
MVP: Comeback kid Shawn Michaels
Hidden gem: Edge vs. Eddie Guerrero
Coolest threads: HBK's Street Fight-appropriate jeans and cowboy boots
Move of the night: Rey Mysterio’s flip senton over referee Jimmy Korderas onto Kurt Angle
The 15th installment of SummerSlam was all about new beginnings. Spurred into action by the betrayal of Triple H, Shawn Michaels was newly embarking on his return to action — a renaissance that wound up cementing HBK's legacy as the best in-ring performer ever. In the Undisputed WWE Title scene, meanwhile, a fearless rookie named Brock Lesnar was challenging for The Rock's championship gold. Though SummerSlam 2002 will be mostly remembered for those two classics — which HBK and Lesnar won, respectively — the entire card was filled with dream matches.
Depth is not an issue for any event that opens with Rey Mysterio vs. Kurt Angle. (Only on a show as stacked as SummerSlam 2002 could a match between WWE Hall of Famers Edge and Eddie Guerrero be considered a "hidden" anything.) Never mind the near-charisma overdose endured by the WWE Universe when Chris Jericho battled Ric Flair. Years after the fact, Jericho recalled that The "Nature Boy” was wrestling with low confidence at the time and seemed to “forget who he was.” Something about facing Y2J must’ve lit a fire under Flair, as he went on to win that match by submission. “I think I was the first guy to tap out to the Figure-Four in about 15 years,” Jericho related to WWE.com.
Venue: STAPLES Center, Los Angeles
Date: Aug. 18, 2013
What's notable: The Beast meets The Best; Triple H turns on Daniel Bryan; Randy Orton cashes in
Hidden gem: World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio vs. Christian
Quote of the night: “Punish him!” — Paul Heyman to a rampaging Brock Lesnar
Move of the night: Daniel Bryan’s running knee to John Cena
Celebrity sightings: Super producer Rick Rubin; the undefeated Maria Menounos
The amazing thing about SummerSlam 2013 is that nobody expected it to be the best SummerSlam ever. Sure, people were psyched about Daniel Bryan headlining a tent pole PPV against WWE Champion John Cena — a relative impossibility just a few years prior. And there was no way CM Punk’s showdown with Brock Lesnar wasn’t going to be awesome. But best SummerSlam ever? Nah. No way.
And then it unfolded. There were thrills (Bray beating Kane in a Ring of Fire Match), shocks (main event guest referee Triple H turning on the victorious Daniel Bryan and allowing Randy Orton to cash in and become the new WWE Champion) and three of the best matches of 2013 (the aforementioned main event, Punk vs. Brock, and Alberto Del Rio’s World Heavyweight Title defense against Christian). Even WrestleManias don’t typically deliver those kinds of results. Forget SummerSlams. This one’s in the running for best PPV, period.