The Top 25 SummerSlam matches of all time, ranked
So, what qualifies a match to be labeled as one of the 25 best in the history of SummerSlam?
To tabulate the rankings of SummerSlam’s best bouts, the editorial staff of WWE.com was charged to consider every clash from WWE’s midsummer marquee event with one simple criterion: The match is as important as the moment. So, even though Ultimate Warrior crushing Honky Tonk Man at the inaugural SummerSlam in just over 30 seconds was impressive in its own right, the battle’s brevity might pale in comparison to some of Bret “Hit Man” Hart’s best contests, or The Undertaker and Edge colliding in a Hell in a Cell Match.
From there, the editors ranked their favorites, and the result is what follows. So sit back, relax and get ready to take a trip down Memory Lane by reliving the spectacular highs and soul-crushing lows of what WWE.com has selected as the 25 greatest matches in the history of SummerSlam, presented by Cricket Wireless.
John Cena vs. Seth Rollins — Champion vs. Champion Winner Take All Match (2015)
The 2015 edition of SummerSlam, emanating from Brooklyn, N.Y., was one for the history books. It was the first time The Biggest Event of the Summer had set up shop somewhere other than Los Angeles since 2008. It was Jon Stewart’s first public endeavor since leaving “The Daily Show.” And it was the first time a Superstar — Seth Rollins — held the WWE World Heavyweight and U.S. Championships simultaneously.
The bout in which Rollins achieved that feat, defeating then-U.S. Champion John Cena in the process, was remarkable. What was also remarkable was how each of the match’s historical signifiers played into the conclusion. Stewart, who had been a rival of Rollins’ before the contest, ran to the ring and whacked Cena with a chair. The Brooklyn crowd couldn’t have screamed louder if an artisanal coffee shop sprouted in the middle of the ring. Rollins got the win to hold two titles at once, and the rest, as they say, is … well, it’s history. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Mankind vs. 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin vs. Triple H — Triple Threat WWE Championship Match (1999)
A match that was refereed by then-Governor of Minnesota Jesse "The Body" Ventura and featuring interference by Chyna and Shane McMahon – in addition to unbelievably physical action – is obviously remarkable for many reasons. Yet it became particularly memorable for being one of Mick Foley’s finest in-ring moments.
In this mind-boggling Triple Threat Match, Mankind and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin forged a temporary partnership early as they double-teamed Triple H. However, alliances were soon off the table and it was every man for himself. Chyna tried to get involved in the match (Ventura would have none of it), and chairs, announce tables and cables were used as weapons. “The Body” refused to make the count for Triple H, who had laid out his opponents in questionable fashion. An interfering Shane McMahon was stunned by Austin and dumped by Ventura. It was truly survival of the fittest, and when Mankind hit a double-arm DDT on Austin for the win and the WWE Championship, it was clear that, on his best night, there were truly none better than Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy. — JAKE GRATE
Alundra Blayze vs. Bull Nakano — Women's Championship Match (1994)
During 1994’s SummerSlam, nobody expected a Women’s Championship Match to essentially steal the spotlight. However, on a hot night from Chicago’s United Center, that’s exactly what then-Women’s Champion Alundra Blayze and Bull Nakano did. It seemed as though Nakano had Blayze’s number from the starting bell, overpowering the Women’s Champion as the sold-out arena chanted “USA! USA! USA!” In fact, Nakano dished out everything to Blayze that she could, but the Women’s Champion just kept fighting back, and ultimately won with a German suplex. A good match isn’t always about the finishing move, though; sometimes, it’s about what two opponents are able to get out of each other. What Blayze and Nakano did that night was bring out the best in each other, one of the top 25 matches to ever occur at SummerSlam and one of the greatest Women’s matches of all time. — KATIE RAYMOND
John Cena vs. Batista (2008)
A dream match six years in the making, John Cena and Batista battled for figurative top-dog status in the semi–main event of SummerSlam 2008, a short time after The Animal was drafted to Cena’s home brand, Raw. The first one-on-one encounter between two of WWE’s most popular Superstars of all time, this SummerSlam matchup was a display of intense physicality that led to what Michael Cole described as a “dead heat.” That is, until Batista finally pinned Cena’s shoulders to the mat after hitting two Batista Bombs. — JOHN CLAPP
'Stone Cold' Steve Austin vs. Owen Hart — Intercontinental Championship Match (1997)
To some, this will forever be remembered as the match in which “Stone Cold” Steve Austin fractured his neck. But Austin’s injury too often overshadows the way in which he competed, challenging the technically savvy Owen Hart by digging his grappling chops. The high-impact matchup vacillated between exchanges on the mat and fierce suplexes and impactful slams, the most beautiful among them being a picturesque German suplex from The King of Harts, which had a bridge so pretty it’d make the City of London envious. Yet, the move that changed the match was Hart’s sit-down piledriver, which compressed Austin’s head and neck down on the mat. Amazingly, the never-say-die Rattlesnake had one burst of the science left in him, rolling up Hart to win his first Intercontinental Championship. — JOHN CLAPP
'Ravishing' Rick Rude vs. The Ultimate Warrior — Intercontinental Championship Match (1989)
There are a lot of Superstars that could be pegged as The Ultimate Warrior’s greatest rival, but there’s a case to be made that the Superstar who brought out the best in him was “Ravishing” Rick Rude. In a 1989 Intercontinental Title rematch, Rude and Warrior grappled to a standstill, with a series of near-falls and a knocked-out referee that generated plenty of suspense, but little in the way of momentum for either combatant. The deadlock finally broke nearly 15 minutes into the match when “Rowdy” Roddy Piper distracted Rude, leaving him prey to his adversary’s arsenal of power moves. Warrior put the champion away moments later with his signature Gorilla Press Slam, granting him his second Intercontinental Title. — MATTHEW ARTUS
Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar (2012)
The “Perfect Storm” of Triple H and Brock Lesnar’s first one-on-one meeting was the type of barbaric fight that more closely resembled a street brawl than a regulated sporting contest. At Triple H’s behest, referee Scott Armstrong made no pretense of enforcing “rules”; rather, his sole responsibility was to declare a victor. In that, he had perhaps the toughest job of all: Even Lesnar’s F-5 and Triple H’s Pedigree — both of which connected in the match — were not enough to end the contest. Instead, it was the Kimura Lock that not only claimed victory for The Anomaly, but also broke The Game’s arm, prompting fear among the WWE Universe that Triple H’s in-ring career had come to a close at The Beast Incarnate’s hands. — JOHN CLAPP
The Undertaker vs. Mankind — Boiler Room Brawl (1996)
The Boiler Room Brawl of SummerSlam 1996 was, bar none, one of the most innovative and brutal matches in WWE history. However, nothing proved as painfully surprising during the contest as the way it ended. That’s saying a lot for a bout that includes The Undertaker, Mankind and the setting of a literal boiler room, with the stipulation that it would end only when one of them took The Phenom’s mystical urn from Paul Bearer in the middle of the ring.
By the time The Deadman and Mankind reached the ring itself, they had used everything from ladders to trash cans to the darkness of the boiler room itself. The Undertaker seemed poised to come out on top, until longtime cohort Paul Bearer shocked the WWE Universe by betraying, and ultimately costing, his protégé the match to a recovering Mankind. — MICHAEL BURDICK
The Hart Foundation vs. Demolition — 2-out-of-3 Falls World Tag Team Championship Match (1990)
Demolition. The Hart Foundation. The World Tag Team Championship, and a 2-out-of-3-Falls stipulation? Sign. Us. Up.
Apart from the obvious appeal of the stipulation, this match was notable because Bret “Hit Man” Hart and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart were at a distinct disadvantage, having to last at least two falls against a team that illegally switched in a fresh man (Crush) at their leisure.
As the best 2-out-of-3 Falls bouts seem to always do, this one came down to the final pinfall. Demolition tried to pull the ol’ switcheroo when Smash and Ax traded places. Luckily for The Hart Foundation, WWE newcomers Hawk and Animal, The Legion of Doom, ran interference. That created an opening for The Anvil and The Hit Man to capture their second World Tag Team Championship. What a rush. — BOBBY MELOK
The Undertaker vs. 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin — WWE Championship Match (1998)
SummerSlam 1998’s WWE Championship Match wasn’t a master class in mat wrestling, but it was something potentially more exciting: A near and total stalemate between The Undertaker and champion “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, two Superstars at the top of their game.
Whenever one picked up momentum, the other had an answer. Undertaker kicked out of a pinfall attempt and “Stone Cold” escaped a Chokeslam. Undertaker tried to go Old School, but when he jumped off the ropes, he was met with a vicious low blow from Austin, setting The Phenom up for a Stone Cold Stunner and pinfall. The competitors didn’t just gain the esteem of every fan watching, but each other’s as well. Undertaker handed the title to the champion and nodded in respect. — JAKE GRATE
Goldberg vs. Triple H vs. Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Nash vs. Randy Orton vs. Shawn Michaels — World Heavyweight Championship Elimination Chamber Match (2003)
It’s only fitting that one of WWE’s most punishing structures hosted a defining moment for WWE’s most punishing Superstars. In the incredibly brutal main event of SummerSlam 2003, World Heavyweight Champion Triple H entered the menacing metal proving ground of the Elimination Chamber to face five of the most dangerous Superstars to ever compete in the squared circle: Chris Jericho, Goldberg, Kevin Nash, Randy Orton and Shawn Michaels.
Ironically, the move that almost took him out might have ended up saving his reign: The King of Kings entered the match fifth and was immediately hit with Sweet Chin Music; by the time he recovered, only Goldberg remained. Outside the structure, though, the ever-crafty Ric Flair was able to sneak Triple H a sledgehammer, which the champion used to counter a Goldberg Spear, retain his title and earn the first of his record four victories inside the grueling steel confines. Dirty? Sure. But when you play the game, you play to win. — JAKE GRATE
John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan — WWE Championship Match (2013)
Daniel Bryan spent 14 years honing his craft around the world and in NXT building to his big moment. When he got it in 2013, as the handpicked opponent of WWE World Champion John Cena, he delivered the stuff of legend.
Bryan and Cena threw down in all-out wrestling match with the supreme prize at stake. “Yes!” Locks, STFs, flurries of kicks and Attitude Adjustments rained down left and right, but where other Superstars faltered down the stretch, Daniel Bryan remained relentless and blasted Cena with a knee to the face to fulfill his destiny. Unfortunately, Bryan’s victory was short-lived as guest referee Triple H delivered a Pedigree to the new champion, allowing Randy Orton to cash in his Money in the Bank contract and deprive Bryan of his moment. Well. For a few months, anyway. — KEVIN POWERS
Bret Hart vs. The Undertaker — WWE Championship Match (1997)
In the main event of SummerSlam 1997, with WWE’s most prestigious title on the line, a classic, hard-hitting contest came down to one miscalculated swing of a steel chair. The stakes were these: WWE Champion The Undertaker defended his title against Bret "Hit Man" Hart, who could never wrestle in the United States again if he lost. And if special guest referee Shawn Michaels didn’t keep it fair, he, too, would never be able to wrestle in the U.S.
As it turned out, the only Superstar whom Hart and The Phenom hated more than each other was the one officiating their match. When Michaels questioned Hart’s use of a steel chair, the challenger responded by spitting in his face. HBK swung for the fences, but Hart ducked and Michaels unintentionally leveled Undertaker. Hart made the cover and HBK was forced to count the reluctant pin, giving the title to The Hit Man. So … Bret Hart screwed Undertaker?— JAKE GRATE
Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie Guerrero — Ladder Match (2005)
Championship titles, guaranteed contracts and other coveted ring-related prizes are all standard Ladder Match swag. However, the SummerSlam 2005 Ladder Match between Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero featured a different type of prize altogether: The legal custody of a child. The unusual prize was a byproduct of a bizarre and sordid ordeal that revealed “Latino Heat” as the biological father of Dominick Mysterio, leading Guerrero to threaten to take back custody of the young boy.
Disturbing as the circumstances may have been, the match was twice as thrilling, and why wouldn't it be? It only featured two of the most graceful and innovative high-flyers to ever compete in the ring. Plus, it had the one element that is too often missing in matches remembered for their grace and innovation: It was deeply personal. — JOHN CLAPP
The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar — Undisputed WWE Championship Match (2002)
Dubbed “The Next Big Thing” by Paul Heyman, Brock Lesnar went from rookie Superstar to main-event player at SummerSlam 2002, completing a remarkable five-month sprint to the Undisputed WWE Championship. Lesnar’s lack of experience proved to be no impediment as the fledgling challenger succeeded at keeping The People’s Champion off-balance throughout the bout. The Rock neutralized Heyman’s influence with a Rock Bottom through the announcer’s table, but his luck finally ran out as Lesnar finished him off with the F-5. The result represented The Great One’s last taste of championship gold for more than a decade, while Lesnar, who became the youngest WWE Champion with the win, showed the WWE Universe that The Next Big Thing had finally arrived. — MATTHEW ARTUS
Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon — Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match (1995)
Matches fought over the Intercontinental Championship, which luminaries such as Shawn Michaels and Cody Rhodes have hailed as the “locker room workhorses’ title,” have a tradition of stealing the show at SummerSlam. For evidence, they usually point to the SummerSlam 1995 Ladder Match between Intercontinental Champion Michaels and Razor Ramon. A rematch of their highly acclaimed WrestleMania X Ladder Match from a year-and-a-half earlier, the return bout was every bit as captivating as the original, even if it receives only a slice of the adulation.
HBK and The Bad Guy broke new ground with their WrestleMania bout, and they only added to their legacy of innovation at SummerSlam. HBK went on to win the bout, and afterward, the WWE Universe rejoiced when Ramon graciously congratulated Michaels on his hard-earned victory. They’re still rejoicing today. — JOHN CLAPP
John Cena vs. CM Punk — Undisputed WWE Championship Match (2011)
There can only be one champion … except for those weird instances where there are two. With WWE’s two biggest stars, John Cena and CM Punk, each sporting a WWE Championship of their own (Punk won the title and left the company, only to return when Cena ended up with the vacant championship), a match was made at SummerSlam between Cena and Punk for all the marbles, with COO Triple H donning the zebra stripes as special guest referee. Punk ended up defeating Cena to unify the twin titles, but his elation was short lived: Kevin Nash burst forth from the crowd and planted Punk with a Jackknife Powerbomb, opening the door for Alberto Del Rio to cash in his Money in the Bank contract and relieve The Voice of the Voiceless of the mantle he had fought his heart out to claim. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Edge vs. The Undertaker — World Heavyweight Championship Hell in a Cell Match (2008)
The Biggest Event of the Summer has an abundance of sizzling moments, but it never got as hot as its hellish main event in 2008. Just months after using every deceitful trick in the book to banish The Undertaker from WWE in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match, World Heavyweight Champion Edge was forced to battle the returning Deadman in his own backyard, Hell in a Cell.
The match that followed was absolutely earth-shattering, and the action could literally not be contained when The Ultimate Opportunist Speared his nemesis through the cage itself. In the end, though, The Phenom not only rise above, but cast Edge down below. After he had avenged his banishment and taken back his World Title, The Phenom sent The Rated-R Superstar to Hell, Chokeslamming him through the ring floor itself. — MICHAEL BURDICK
The Rock vs. Triple H — Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match (1998)
A match between two main-eventers is great, but it’s even more exciting when two Superstars on the cusp square up to prove their place in the spotlight. So, when The Rock and Triple H took their long-running rivalry to New York City in a Ladder Match for Rock’s Intercontinental Title, the result was a SummerSlam masterpiece. From ghastly drops onto the ladder to Triple H breaking The Great One’s nose with the metal rung instrument, the match quickly turned into a gruesome affair. A well-timed low blow helped The Game snag the title, not only establishing him as a player in WWE for years to come, but the ruthlessness with which he would defend his spot. — JEFF LABOON
Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart — Steel Cage WWE Championship Match (1994)
Bret Hart vowed to give his brother a “damn good fight” at WrestleMania X. Luckily for the WWE Universe, he gave them a second that escalated into a war at SummerSlam 1994. Bret and Owen Hart battled in a Steel Cage Match that featured two mat technicians gone extreme, with the WWE Championship and fraternal supremacy as the victor’s ultimate prizes.
Never before was a cage match so expertly contested with a blend of technical prowess and ferocity, let alone between two men raised in the same household. A classic within the blue steel, the match perhaps harkened back to the scenes of an adolescent Bret and Owen quarreling at the Hart house in Calgary, Alberta. This time, however, the entire world witnessed a bout between two fully grown ring legends in one of SummerSlam’s finest expositions. — CRAIG TELLO
Edge & Christian vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz — World Tag Team Championship Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match (2000)
SummerSlam has always been groundbreaking, but its most original match may have been the very first TLC bout in 2000, which blended Edge & Christian’s chair assaults, The Dudley Boyz’s table onslaught and The Hardys’ high-flying ladder excellence into a whirlwind of fast-paced hysteria.
The three-way bedlam that followed proved to be the ultimate thrill ride that did much more than allow Edge & Christian to retain their World Tag Team Championship gold. It would serve as the benchmark for one of the squared circle’s most unique specialty matches in countless contests to come - and a WWE institution that would one day become the namesake for a pay-per-view. — MICHAEL BURDICK
CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar — No Disqualification Match (2013)
The prevailing opinion heading into CM Punk’s “The Beast vs. The Best” bout with Brock Lesnar was that Punk stood little chance against The Anomaly. As it turned out, he didn’t. But the deceptively scrimpy 260-pounder refused to give in, no matter what Lesnar threw his way.
And The Anomaly threw a lot Punk’s way, tossing him around the ringside area like a rag doll. Ironically, however, it was not Lesnar’s strategy or fortitude that was Punk’s downfall, but rather The Best in the World’s own contempt for Paul Heyman: Having locked Heyman in the Anaconda Vise, Punk lost sight of The Beast, and that was all the opening Lesnar needed to pounce and claim victory. — JOHN CLAPP
Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H — Unsanctioned Street Fight (2002)
Best friends turned better rivals in summer 2002 when it was revealed that Triple H had viciously attacked Shawn Michaels in a parking lot and confined HBK to a wheelchair. After The Game’s dirty secret was exposed and Michaels was back on his feet, there was only one course of action: The two “friends” would clash at SummerSlam 2002 in a Street Fight.
Although he had not competed in a match since WrestleMania XIV, a four-year absence caused by a back injury, it was clear early on that Michaels could still go. What may have been unfamiliar to those watching, however, was the brawling style The Showstopper employed. Not only was it a highlight of SummerSlam, but validation for HBK, who told The Game, “I can still fight,” weeks before their bout unfolded. Turns out he could still win, too. — ALEX GIANNINI
Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect — Intercontinental Championship Match (1991)
Historically significant and technically spectacular, Bret Hart’s Intercontinental Title win over “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig is a match that resides in the very top echelon of pure mat wrestling greatness. It may come as little surprise that technical proficiency would not be in short order here, but less obvious heading into the match, however, was its long-term importance. Years later, the match would routinely be pointed to as the first big singles win in “Hit Man’s” storied WWE career.
During the match, Hart endured a ton of punishment prior to amazingly kicking out of the Perfect-Plex, which was at that point an unprecedented sight. The “Hit Man’s” momentum picked up toward the end of the match, and as the Madison Square Garden crowd counted along with each near-fall, it almost seemed as though they were merely waiting for Hart’s meteoric rise to the top of WWE to officially begin. They didn’t have to wait much longer. — JOHN CLAPP
Bret Hart vs. The British Bulldog — Intercontinental Championship Match (1992)
It was the match that turned SummerSlam into a true global phenomenon.
Competing at Wembley Stadium in his native England, The British Bulldog stepped into the squared circle to challenge his brother-in-law, Bret “Hit Man” Hart, for the Intercontinental Championship in the first SummerSlam outside of North America. The raucous crowd of 80,355 spectators — a number that set the SummerSlam record — created an electric atmosphere for the clash as Davey Boy Smith pitted his powerful arsenal against Hart’s tactical superiority.
After escaping The “Hit Man’s” signature Sharpshooter, Bulldog finally won the day, and the title, by reversing Hart’s sunset flip attempt. Gracious in defeat, Hart offered a congratulatory handshake that grew into a warm embrace of the new champion as well as Smith’s wife and Hart’s sister, Diana. The gesture of good sportsmanship put an exclamation point on an iconic moment in WWE lore and, far and away, the greatest match in the history of SummerSlam. — MATTHEW ARTUS