Editors' Choice: What was the greatest SummerSlam match ever?

Editors' Choice: What was the greatest SummerSlam match ever?

This year's SummerSlam has the potential to be one of the most memorable in the event's illustrious history with clashes between WWE Champion Drew McIntyre and Randy Orton, Universal Champion Braun Strowman and "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt, Raw Women's Champion Sasha Banks and Asuka, and more. But before WWE's top Superstars battle at this year's Biggest Event of the Summer, we ask: What was the greatest SummerSlam match ever?

John Cena vs. AJ Styles (2016)

John Cena vs. AJ Styles: SummerSlam 2016 (WWE Network Exclusive)

John Cena and AJ Styles showcase their respective arsenals at The Biggest Event of the Summer: Courtesy of the award-winning WWE Network.

We’ll be here all day if we attempt to list every incredible SummerSlam match because The Biggest Event of the Summer has played host to countless five-star classics. But there’s only one SummerSlam bout that instantaneously launched a Superstar to the top of a brand.

This. Match. Mattered. Was AJ Styles destined to become John Cena’s latest tackling dummy and fade into the background, or was The Phenomenal One primed to show the WWE Universe that he was every bit as good as he claimed and embark on a legendary WWE career?

SummerSlam 2016 was put up or shut up time for Styles, and he delivered in an incredible way, displaying the generational talent that we all knew he possessed while also digging down deep by kicking out of a second-rope Attitude Adjustment to leave The Cenation Leader (and the WWE Universe) in utter shock.

Soon after, a thunderous Styles Clash and the Phenomenal Forearm heard ‘round the world sealed the earth-shattering victory. 

In the aftermath, all AJ did was take total control of the blue brand, endlessly crow that he was “better than John Cena” and capture the WWE Championship while effortlessly stealing the show on a nightly basis. The Phenomenal era had arrived. – JON CHIK

Mr. Perfect vs. Bret Hart – Intercontinental Championship (1991)

Bret "Hit Man" Hart vs. Mr. Perfect: SummerSlam 1991 - Intercontinental Championship Match

Widely considered one of the greatest bouts for the Intercontinental Championship in WWE history, Bret Hart challenges Mr. Perfect at SummerSlam 1991 in a match between two brilliant ring technicians.

Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect is why I work at WWE. I was 7 years old, and SummerSlam was my first PPV. There is very little I remember about that night other than being glued to the TV watching Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect. I didn’t know any match could be this good. 

An explosive crowd witnessed a battle filled with intensity, athleticism and even Hart kicking out of the Perfect-Plex (Bobby Heenan made sure everyone knew he was the first to do that). Within 20 minutes, The Excellence in Execution won over millions by using his relentlessness to overcome Mr. Perfect’s nefarious ways.

It had been years since an Intercontinental Title Match captured this atmosphere, and emanating inside Madison Square Garden certainly helped. Add in memorable commentary and you have the greatest match in SummerSlam history. Nearly 30 years later, this still stands the test of time. – ADAM KIRSHNER

Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman vs. Samoa Joe – Universal Championship Fatal 4-Way Match (2017)

Braun Strowman manhandles Brock Lesnar in unprecedented fashion: SummerSlam 2017 (WWE Network Exclusive)

The WWE Universe erupts as Braun Strowman unloads on Universal Champion Brock Lesnar during The Beast Incarnate's title defense in a highly physical Fatal 4-Way Match with Strowman, Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe: Courtesy of the award-winning WWE Network.

Big E was right about the best type of sports-entertainment – “Big meaty men slappin’ meat.”

There’s no finer example than the main event of SummerSlam 2017, a Fatal 4-Way that featured four of WWE’s most powerful Superstars in an all-out demolition derby for the Universal Championship. Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman and Samoa Joe threw tables, chairs and anything else not bolted down at each other in a battle that left the ringside area utterly destroyed. Despite being stretchered out of the Barclays Center after being driven through two tables, Lesnar returned to the battle and survived a trio of Superman Punches from Reigns, countering a Spear into an F5 to emerge from the rubble of an absolute clash of titans with the Universal Title. – BOBBY MELOK

The Rock vs. Triple H – Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match (1998)

Triple H vs. The Rock - Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match: SummerSlam 1998

The Rock and Triple H have a memorable Ladder Match over the Intercontinental Championship at SummerSlam 1998 in Madison Square Garden.

The Rock and Triple H had one of the most bitter rivalries of the Attitude Era, and the tone was set at SummerSlam 1998 with WWE’s prestigious Intercontinental Championship dangling above the ring at Madison Square Garden. The Rock ruthlessly targeted the degenerate’s knee, but Triple H valiantly limped through the pain. The rivals got creative with the ladder, from Triple H using it for a devastating baseball slide to a special Rock Bottom. Mark Henry blinded Triple H with sand to the eyes, but Chyna stepped in to low-blow Rock, allowing the D-Generation X leader to grab the title. This oft-overlooked match set a new standard for Ladder Matches and established two generational stars. — JEFF LABOON

Edge & Christian vs. Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudleys – TLC Tag Team Championship Match (2000) 

Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz - WWE Tag Team Championship TLC Match: SummerSlam 2000

Edge & Christian defend their WWE Tag Team Titles in the first ever TLC Match.

SummerSlam 2000 was quite the night of nights. From Shane McMahon’s 40-foot fall into the hall of classic Hardcore Championship defenses to Chyna being crowned Intercontinental Champion and the star-studded WWE Title clash between The Rock, Kurt Angle and Triple H, there were many moments that seemed like a sure lock for SummerSlam glory.

But three fearless duos threw some tables, ladders and chairs in the mix to steal the show and change sports-entertainment forever. For the many anniversaries that have passed since the inaugural Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match between The Hardy Boyz, Dudley Boyz and Edge & Christian, op-eds and roundtables still can’t seem to fully contain the magic within this match. It was a fight for dreams. It was a display of true grit. It was a history-rattling moment that continues to stand the test of time. This World Tag Team Title Match remains the bar. — RALPH BRISTOUT

Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H – Unsanctioned Street Fight (2002)

Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H: SummerSlam 2002 - Street Fight

Anything and everything comes into play when Shawn Michaels takes on his former best friend Triple H in a Street Fight at SummerSlam on August 25, 2002.

How could the greatest comeback match ever not also be the greatest SummerSlam match ever?

That’s exactly what transpired when Shawn Michaels made his unbelievable return to the ring in 2002 to take on Triple H more than four years after retiring due to a debilitating back injury.

The WWE Universe — myself included — was absolutely thrilled when we learned we’d see The Heartbreak Kid in the ring at least one more time, against his best friend turned bitter enemy. It was something we thought we’d never see.

But we also had no idea what we could expect. Was he capable of dazzling us the same way he had years earlier so many times? Was it a decision he’d regret?

HBK needed only a matter of minutes to put all doubt to rest and prove he was still The Showstopper of yesteryear — if not better. He stole the show in a triumphant victory over his former DX mate, kicking off a career twilight that would surpass his already-iconic previous exploits. – JORDAN GARRETSON

Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog – Intercontinental Championship (1992)

Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog: SummerSlam 1992 - Intercontinental Championship Match

Family is forced to fight when Bret Hart takes on his brother-in-law, the British Bulldog, for the Intercontinental Championship at SummerSlam 1992 while his sister Diana watches.

Anytime you get Bret Hart or The British Bulldog in a ring, you know you are in for a treat. But when they were set to go one-on-one in front of 80,000 screaming fans in London, it was a given it would be an instant classic.

Forget SummerSlam. You ask any member of the WWE Universe, and every one of them puts this match in their top three of all time. It had everything you could want in a main event. Two of the most gifted wrestlers going toe-to-toe, who just so happened to be brothers-in-law, in Bulldog’s hometown for the prestigious Intercontinental Championship.

Counter after counter, the crowd at Wembley Stadium never sat down, and Davey Boy Smith kept “The Hit Man’s” shoulders down for a three-count and the Intercontinental Title. Afterward, the two hugged it out, and all was once again well in the Hart Family. – MATT ZIMMER

John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan – WWE Championship (2013)

John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan - WWE Championship Match: SummerSlam 2013

Daniel Bryan challenges John Cena for the WWE Championship in the main event of SummerSlam.

By the time the summer of 2013 rolled around, Daniel Bryan already seemed overdue for the spotlight in the eyes of the WWE Universe, as was evidenced by the moment he was chosen as John Cena's hand-picked opponent for that year's SummerSlam (I was at that Raw, the YES'ing was unreal).

Fast forward to the show itself, and you've got an instantly classic back-and-forth main event. Bryan rocked a shirt reading "The Beard is Here" for his entrance; Cena countered with "The Champ is Here" in the very same style, and we were off and running from there. Two Superstars at the top of their game did what they do best, and Triple H as the Special Guest Referee only heightened the electricity in the atmosphere.

When Bryan pinned Cena to win the WWE Championship after nearly 30 minutes of action, the WWE Universe ERUPTED. Bryan had finally reached the top, and just as quickly as that happened, thousands of hearts were broken courtesy of Triple H and Randy Orton, capping off a truly monumental SummerSlam main event that was indeed ... best for business. – STEVE BARILE

The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar – Undisputed Championship (2002)

WWE Network: The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar: SummerSlam 2002

Brock Lesnar defeats The Rock on Aug. 25, 2002, to become the youngest WWE Champion in history at 25: Courtesy of the award-winning WWE Network.

The transition from WWE’s “Attitude Era” to the age of Ruthless Aggression began in early 2002, but it culminated in this once-in-a-lifetime showdown at SummerSlam in 2002. The People’s Champion was enjoying his record-setting seventh reign as WWE Champion, setting box office records and dominating the world of sports-entertainment. Enter “The Next Big Thing.” Brock Lesnar battled The Rock in this main event match, surviving the Sharpshooter, a Rock Bottom and a spinebuster – and even delivering a Rock Bottom of his own to The Great One. The epic encounter also involved The Rock laying the smackdown on manager Paul Heyman, but The Beast evaded the People’s Elbow, delivered an F-5 and became the youngest WWE Champion in history. The magnitude of this match can’t be denied, both for its collision of two colossal in-ring styles and the rise of Brock Lesnar to the top of the food chain in WWE. – BRYAN MERCER

Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart – Steel Cage WWE Championship Match (1994)

Bret "Hit Man" Hart vs. Owen Hart: SummerSlam 1994 - WWE Championship Steel Cage Match

Bret Hart squares off against Owen Hart at the United Center on August 29, 1994 as the two Superstars look to settle their sibling rivalry in a steel cage during a return match from WrestleMania 10.

Anytime a Steel Cage Match pops up on WWE television, the inevitable debate amongst the WWE Universe begins: What’s the best type of Cage Match? Is it the traditional WWE-style Cage Match where you can win via pin, submission or escape? Or, something more akin to Hell in a Cell where escape is not an option?

And that exact debate is why you know you’re discussing an unparalleled all-time classic when Bret Hart and Owen Hart collided in a Steel Cage Match for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam 1994 that could ONLY be won by escape… and is widely regarded as the best cage affair of all time.

There are a lot of moving pieces that come together beautifully (albeit brutally) to make this the history-maker that it is. Bret and Owen’s sibling rivalry had been sizzling for nearly a full year at this point, and virtually their entire family was at ringside for this final collision (make sure to stay tuned for the unreal family brawl that goes down after the match).

Bret and Owen also doubled down on what they displayed in full effect in their WrestleMania X classic from earlier that year. When you put these two in the ring on opposite ends, you get a match that provides not only a lot of Hart, but something so great for your wrestling soul. — RYAN PAPPOLLA

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