WWE's Boys of Summer
For many WWE Superstars, summer doesn't just deliver a scorching heat wave; it brings about a momentous wave of change. With a single championship triumph, major upset or spontaneous decision, regular summers can be transformed instantly into unforgettable ones. In turn, the WWE Universe is left with lasting memories that make our faces light up every time we reminisce about them.
Since the first annual SummerSlam took place in 1988, everyone has anxiously awaited The Biggest Party of the Summer each year. It's an event that has catapulted performers like Brock Lesnar to the WWE elite and captured the hearts of millions watching worldwide with one-of-a-kind victories like British Bulldog's triumph over Bret Hart at Wembley Stadium.
However, that one show does not tell the whole story of a Superstar's summer. The actions and matches that both precede and follow the marquee pay-per-view are sometimes just as important, if not more, when it comes to changing how a WWE competitor is remembered for years to come.
With that in mind, we present 20 WWE summers that burned ever so brightly through the thick humidity and stifling temperatures. Each of these Superstars truly deserves to be one of WWE's "Boys of Summer" because of their game-changing seasons over the last two-plus decades.
Now's a good time to loosen up that collar and pump up the A.C. …
20. The Nexus (2010)
When the season one NXT Rookies surrounded the ring like sharks on the June 7, 2010 edition of Raw, everyone — the Superstars, commentators and entire WWE Universe — was totally in the dark about the devastation that would be witnessed next. The week after winning the first season of WWE NXT, Wade Barrett wasted no time making a monumental impact by leading a havoc-causing invasion of the main event between John Cena and CM Punk. The heinous attack included the rookies dismantling the ring, assaulting Superstars and personnel, and destroying equipment as Raw went off the air.
The group of dangerous rebels would come to be known as The Nexus and, under Barrett's guidance, they changed WWE's landscape and made life hell for Cena all summer long. The Nexus went on to lose a pivotal showdown against Team WWE at SummerSlam, but each member undoubtedly left their mark in a short period of time.
19. Ultimate Warrior (1988)
Nobody in Madison Square Garden saw Ultimate Warrior coming at SummerSlam, but they sure felt the magnitude of his power that night. Like a flash of lightning, Ultimate Warrior tore through the arena and pummeled The Honky Tonk Man before he even had a chance to take off his entrance attire. All it took was 31 seconds for Warrior to press slam, splash and strip Honky Tonk of his coveted Intercontinental Championship, a title which he held for a record 454 days.
The jaw-dropping victory was a sign of big things to come from Warrior, who went on to capture his first WWE Championship one year later at WrestleMania VI.
18. JBL (2004)
Even the most skilled stock market prognosticators wouldn't have been able to predict JBL's rise in summer '04 as the longest-reigning WWE Champion in 10 years.
JBL felt right at home in a Texas Bull Rope Match against Eddie Guerrero at The Great American Bash, whipping Eddie Guerrero across the arena floor and powerbombing him through the Spanish announce table. There was a furious race to touch all four turnbuckles in the climactic finish, but the power broker from Sweetwater, Texas, edged out Guerrero for the WWE Title victory.
The crafty Superstar faced a very tough title defense matched up against The Undertaker at SummerSlam. However, The Deadman was disqualified when the referee caught him trying to turn the tables on JBL and use his WWE Championship as a weapon.
17. John Cena (2006)
Losing the WWE Championship on an ECW-branded pay-per-view may have been utterly devastating to some Superstars, but John Cena did not let a defeat to Rob Van Dam ruin his whole summer in 2006. Instead, the Cenation leader bounced back with a victory over Sabu in a Lumberjack Match at Vengeance, followed by a strong showing against WWE Champion Edge at Saturday Night's Main Event before Lita's dastardly tactics spoiled Cena's opportunity.
Cena got another chance at the WWE Title, though, when he faced Edge again at Unforgiven in September. Competing in his very first Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match, Cena didn't let Lita decide the outcome this time around, as he gave the extreme Diva a serious Attitude Adjustment to take her out of the match. The Rated-R Superstar received an even more ravaging AA — through two tables stacked together — to secure Cena's hard-fought third WWE Championship.
16. The Undertaker (1998)
The vision of Mankind being flung off the top of Hell in a Cell by The Undertaker at King of the Ring became the most unforgettable moment of 1998, as well as the most lurid example of why the Cell has earned some pretty intimidating nicknames. From start to finish, The Deadman was merciless in his attack on Mankind in their legendary encounter, setting the tone for his strong summer.
Undertaker inflicted more punishment on Mankind at Fully Loaded: In Your House, where The Phenom won the World Tag Team Championship alongside "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. A defeat to The Texas Rattlesnake at SummerSlam was a blemish on his seasonal big-match record, but The Demon of Death Valley got his vengeance by pinning Austin a month later at Breakdown: In Your House in September.
15. Hulk Hogan (1989)
Hulkamania appeared unstoppable in summer '89, just a few months from The Immortal One's huge WWE Title victory over Randy Savage at WrestleMania V.
In July, The Hulkster shined on Saturday Night's Main Event with a convincing win over The Honky Tonk Man. Yet the challenge was much tougher for Hogan at SummerSlam as he teamed up with Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake to take on Savage and the mighty Zeus. Adding another obstacle into the mix was "Sensational" Sherri, who constantly looked to give the team of Savage and Zeus an edge by any means necessary. Sherri's loaded purse wound up being the equalizer for the wrong duo, however, as Hulk used it to clobber Zeus, and then followed with a scoop slam and his signature Leg Drop for the victory.
The Immortal One's second WWE Championship reign endured throughout the summer and beyond, lasting almost an entire year at 364 days.
14. Kurt Angle (2003)
If there was any single performer who appeared to have figured out how to stop Brock Lesnar in his tracks — or at least derail him — it's Kurt Angle.
The Olympic gold medalist had a terrific summer in 2003, with his three biggest matches all involving Brock. First, Angle nailed Angle Slams on both Big Show and Lesnar in a Triple threat Match at Vengeance to win the WWE Championship. Then, despite the meddling attempts of Mr. McMahon to cost Angle the WWE Title, Angle managed to defeat Lesnar at SummerSlam by masterfully countering the F-5 into an Ankle Lock which made “The Anomaly” tap out.
On the heels of that sensational encounter, Angle and Brock had one of the best fights of their careers during the Sept. 18, 2003 SmackDown. The supreme athletes battled for 60 minutes in the first WWE Iron Man Match on network television. Angle came up just short of conquering Brock a third time as Lesnar survived with a 5-4 scoring edge and the WWE Title as time expired.
13. Mankind (1996)
Defeating The Undertaker once is a milestone in itself; notching two victories over The Phenom in the same summer is a rare and remarkable feat.
At King of the Ring, Mankind went right for the supposed source of The Deadman's power as he grabbed the urn and tried to hit Undertaker with it. Paul Bearer was able to get it back, but when he tried to turn the tables and use it as a weapon to whack Mankind, the move backfired and Undertaker was the one bowled over. The misstep allowed Mankind to lock in his fearsome Mandible Claw for the win.
The circumstances were far different in the rivals' historic Boiler Room Brawl at SummerSlam, but the end result was the same. This time, Bearer shockingly betrayed The Deadman and sided with Mankind, who came out on top following another Mandible Claw. Sandwiched in between those two wins, Mankind also toppled Henry Godwinn at In Your House: International Incident in July to keep his momentum rolling.
12. Batista (2005)
With Evolution in his rear-view mirror, 2005 was the opportune time for Batista to unleash the full force of The Animal within. Holding the World Heavyweight Title for a record 282 days, Batista racked up a number of standout victories through the year, including a pair of convincing performances that summer against WWE's elite.
In June, Batista went to war with Triple H as the two former allies met inside Hell in a Cell with the title on the line. From a steel chain to a chair wrapped in barbed wire, The Game pulled out all the stops in an effort to dethrone The Animal. Despite the severe punishment, Batista retained his title by planting Triple H with a Batista Bomb right as he moved to strike with his sledgehammer.
Another vicious bout awaited Batista at SummerSlam as JBL selected a No Holds Barred stipulation for their title matchup. But the stipulation choice backfired when JBL tried to use the ring steps and instead was driven into the hard steel by a second Batista Bomb.
11. Shawn Michaels (1996)
Arguably, Shawn Michaels' summers of 1995 and 1996 were equally special in the WWE Hall of Famer's career. One year, The Showstopper was dazzling WWE fans as an Intercontinental Champion, and the next he had already skyrocketed to his first WWE Title reign — one that lasted an impressive 231 days.
Proving his mettle as the WWE Champion, HBK defeated British Bulldog in a back-and-forth clash fraught with interference at King of the Ring. Two months later, Michaels went toe-to-toe with Vader at SummerSlam for nearly 30 minutes in a match that left The Icon physically drained from withstanding so much punishment from his much larger and more powerful opponent. Still, HBK dug down deep and found the strength to pull off the decisive top-rope moonsault to retain his title.
10. Triple H (2003)
Imagine having to fight in a Hell in a Cell Match and an Elimination Chamber Match in one summer. Yeah, triple-digit temperatures don't stack up to that type of punishment.
That's exactly what Triple H had to endure in 2003 as he first successfully defended his World Heavyweight Title against Kevin Nash inside Satan's Structure at Bad Blood, and then retained the championship by surviving a war in the Chamber with Nash, Goldberg, Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton and Chris Jericho at SummerSlam. The King of Kings' World Heavyweight Title reign lasted 280 days — the second longest in WWE history — before he would finally lose the title gold in late September.
Summer '03 was also an especially memorable one for The Game because his stable, Evolution, had just begun its meteoric rise to dominance in WWE.
9. Bret "Hit Man" Hart (1997)
There is no shortage of classic Bret Hart matches at SummerSlam. The "Hit Man" always turned the heat up another notch at The Biggest Party of the Summer, and 1997 was no exception as Hart toppled The Undertaker to capture his fifth and final WWE Championship. Even before Bret's crowning moment, however, The Excellence of Execution had notched an important victory in July when he led The Hart Foundation over "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's team at In Your House: Canadian Stampede, which was hosted right in Hart's hometown of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Following his big win at SummerSlam, the "Hit Man" went on to successfully defend the WWE Title against The Patriot at Ground Zero: In Your House in September, and fanned the flames of his unpatriotic behavior by choking his opponent with the American flag.
8. Edge & Christian (2000)
You needed more than the benefit of flash photography to capture all the action from Edge and Christian's matches in summer 2000. A frenzied Triangle Ladder Match at WrestleMania ushered in their first World Tag Team Championship reign, but it was the later sweltering months that solidified the bodacious duo as the must-watch tag team in WWE.
At King of the Ring in June, Edge and Christian prevailed over three other tandems in a Four Corners Elimination Match, a contest which included their rivals, The Hardy Boyz. Then, after escaping a battle with the APA at Fully Loaded with their titles, the "fightingest" World Tag Team Champions engaged in their most incredible fight yet at SummerSlam. Raising the bar for hardcore innovation, E&C dazzled the WWE Universe as they conquered The Dudley Boyz and The Hardy Boyz in the first-ever Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match.
7. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (1998)
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin definitely felt the heat from multiple angles in summer '98. As his fierce rivalry with Mr. McMahon grew increasingly chaotic, Austin also had his hands full with dangerous competitors like Kane and Mankind in the WWE Title picture. In June, a mere two weeks after battling in Raw's first Hell in a Cell Match, The Texas Rattlesnake lost his WWE Title in a savage First Blood Match to Kane at King of the Ring. But "Stone Cold" quickly struck back in a big way, reclaiming the title from The Big Red Monster the very next night on Raw.
Austin's summer only got better from there as he teamed up with The Undertaker at Fully Loaded: In Your House to win the World Tag Team Championship over Kane and Mankind. The toughest S.O.B.'s alliance with The Deadman didn't last long, however. When SummerSlam rolled around, there was "Stone Cold" defending his WWE Championship against his former tag team partner. Remarkably, Austin kept Undertaker's shoulders pinned to the mat for the three-count following a "Stone Cold" Stunner — a feat that even impressed The Phenom as he nodded to the champ in respect.
6. "Macho Man" Randy Savage (1991)
"Elizabeth … Elizabeth … will you marry me?"
Before "Macho Man" Randy Savage stammered through those six words, the crowd had already erupted with glee as they watched Savage get down on one knee to propose to Miss Elizabeth. One month after that emotional episode of “WWE Superstars of Wrestling” aired in July, Randy and Elizabeth were married in a "Match Made in Heaven" at SummerSlam. The ceremony had it all — a touching first dance, a joyous bouquet toss and, unfortunately, even some party crashers in Jake "The Snake" Roberts and The Undertaker.
From Kane and Lita to Edge and Vickie Guerrero, the WWE Universe has seen many power couples unite in the years since, but there will never be another "Mr. and Mrs. Macho," as Gene Okerlund dubbed them. By baring his love for Miss Elizabeth for the whole world to witness, Savage became the summer's biggest Superstar without participating in a match at SummerSlam.
5. Randy Orton (2009)
Randy Orton went to hell and back in summer '09 to keep his WWE Title — with the sledgehammer contusions to show for it. The Viper battled Triple H at The Bash in a grueling Three Stages of Hell Match, running the gauntlet of a single, Falls Count Anywhere and Stretcher Match, but it was two pay-per-view contests later that summer that really tested his resolve as a champion.
First, The Apex Predator had to tangle with The Game and familiar rival John Cena in a Triple Threat Match at Night of Champions, a bout which nearly saw Orton lose via submission before drilling Cena with an RKO to retain his title. Then, in a 20-minute showdown with the Cenation leader at SummerSlam, The Viper once again scraped by and used the RKO as his out-of-nowhere equalizer to hold the championship gold past Labor Day.
4. The Rock (2000)
In the summer of the new millennium, The Rock kicked off the longest of his eight WWE Title reigns by winning a match that was as unpredictable as it looked on paper. The main event at King of the Ring in June was a Six-Man Tag Team Match between Triple H, Mr. McMahon and Shane McMahon against The Rock, Kane and The Undertaker, but due to a unique stipulation, whoever notched the pinfall would become WWE Champion. Leave it to The Great One to charge through the chaos and Rock Bottom The Chairman for the decisive blow.
There was no time to rest for The Most Electrifying Man in All of Entertainment, as he successfully defended the WWE Title one night later against Triple H and Kurt Angle in a Triple Threat Match on Raw. After winning another exhausting clash in the main event of Fully Loaded in July, The Brahma Bull locked horns with Triple H and Angle again at SummerSlam, this time having to overcome relentless interference from Stephanie McMahon to emerge with his title reign intact.
3. British Bulldog (1992)
Can one victory make a Superstar's summer legendary? To find out the answer, just listen to the roar of more than 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium after British Bulldog stunned Bret Hart to win the Intercontinental Championship.
With boxer Lennox Lewis accompanying him to the ring, British Bulldog soaked in the love from London and fed off the electric energy throughout the 25-minute SummerSlam main event. In a spellbinding finish, British Bulldog managed to escape Hart's Sharpshooter and countered a sunset flip to pull off the emotional upset. You'd be hard-pressed to find a greater SummerSlam match — and more impactful summertime moment — than British Bulldog's first and only Intercontinental Title triumph.
2. Brock Lesnar (2002)
Paul Heyman wasn't kidding when he dubbed Brock Lesnar "The Next Big Thing" soon after he made his destructive debut on the March 18, 2002 edition of Raw. A mere three months later, the monstrous Superstar from Minnesota won the prestigious King of the Ring tournament to earn the right to challenge The Rock for the WWE Championship. But to keep his opportunity at The Great One's title at SummerSlam, Lesnar fixed his beady eyes on The Immortal One, Hulk Hogan, and dispatched of the WWE Hall of Famer with a rib-crushing bear hug on the Aug. 8, 2002, SmackDown.
If the WWE Universe wasn't already convinced Brock was a freak of nature, his outstanding physical performance at SummerSlam sealed the deal with a fury. After dodging the People's Elbow and blocking two Rock Bottoms, Lesnar sent The Brahma Bull crashing to the canvas with an F-5 as he became the then-youngest WWE Champion in history at 25.
1. CM Punk (2011)
It's the only summer in WWE history to merit an unofficial title bearing a Superstar's name, as well as to inspire WWE fans to compose YouTube tribute montages dedicated to his meteoric rise. The defining moment of the "Summer of Punk" is the scathing verbal tirade that The Voice of the Voiceless launched on the June 27, 2011 Raw, but the end result of CM Punk's "pipe bomb" was the birth of one of the most explosive WWE Champions of all time.
When The Second City Savior defeated John Cena in an instant classic at Money in the Bank and left the Allstate Arena with the WWE Title (just as he proclaimed he would), Punk sparked a buzz that turned the entire WWE Universe on its collective ear. The Straight Edge Superstar went on to successfully defend his title in a terrific rematch against Cena at SummerSlam before Alberto Del Rio cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and swiped the title away. Undeterred in his mission to be called "Best in the World," Punk barely lost to Triple H at Night of Champions and persistently clawed his way back to the top to seize his second WWE Championship.