Tomorrow night, WWE celebrates 21 years of SummerSlam, the “biggest party of the summer” as they’ve been calling recently. There have been 20 SummerSlam Events since 1988. But were all of them really worthy of being called the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th best PPV of the year? Absolutely not. So today I’ve decided to take a look and list what I consider the Top 10 Greatest SummerSlam Pay-Per-Views of All Time! So sit back, relax, and enjoy.
10. SummerSlam 1988
So we begin with the very first SummerSlam in 1988, live on PPV from Madison Square Garden in New York. The whole purpose of the creation of this PPV was for the WWE to compete with NWA’s Great American Bash, hoping to convert wrestling fans to save their hard-earned cash and purchase their show at the end of the summer as opposed to the Bash. This soon became the last of the “Big Four” PPVs, alongside Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, and of course, Wrestlemania. The main event was a highly-anticipated tag team match between Hulk Hogan and WWF Champion Randy Savage, collectively known as “The Mega Powers” against Ted Dibiase and Andre the Giant, collectively known as “The Mega Bucks”. Savage won a 16-Man Tournament at Wrestlemania IV, last defeating Dibiase to become champion. Hogan had teased prior to the show that Miss Elizabeth would showcase her “eenie, weenie bikini”, which is creepy in retrospect considering she is no longer with us.
Besides that huge match, the most memorable part of this Pay-Per-View was the Ultimate Warrior defeating the longest reigning WWF Intercontinental Champion in history – The Honky Tonk Man. Honky was scheduled to face Brutus Beefcake, but prior to the match, Beefcake was hospitalized by “The Outlaw” Ron Bass. Honky came out on the show and challenged anybody in the building to take the title and the undefeated Warrior came out and pinned him in thirty seconds to take the title, beginning the monster four year run that he would have in the WWF. Tag Team wrestling was definitely one of WWF’s high-points during this era, as Hart Foundation vs. Demolition was easily the best match on the show, followed slightly by the Rougeaus vs. The Bulldogs.
9. SummerSlam 2005
It was Legend vs. Icon for the first (and ONLY) time ever – Hulk Hogan went one on one with Shawn Michaels from Washington D.C.. The 7-week build up for this match was fantastic and very easily helped push PPV buys despite the lackluster undercard. On the July 4th Edition of WWF RAW, Shawn Michaels superkicked Hulk Hogan in the face after the two won a tag team match. We all said “Why did he kick him?” and it turned out we’re still waiting for a real answer. Anyways, Shawn turned heel for 7 weeks and chased Hulkster until he accepted the match. Those of you who have seen the match probably know the major political headaches it caused in the back, and in watching the way Shawn bumped, it was easy to figure out what happened. The day after the show, HBK reminded us that pro wrestling was fake on RAW. Thanks Shawn, but it’s not 1997 anymore.
The undercard appeared to be stacked, but disappointed greatly. Edge vs. Matt Hardy had the potential to be the biggest thing in 2005 after the affair that Matt’s real-life girlfriend Lita (Amy Dumas) had with Edge… in real life. This was turned into a hot angle, but when Edge destroyed Matt within five minutes and caused a ref stoppage, they killed all potential box office attraction for the feud. Besides this, Rey Mysterio battled the late Eddie Guerrero in a Ladder Match for custody of Rey’s son Dominick, who Eddie claimed to be the biological father of, because Rey was shooting blanks. This was also Vickie Guerrero’s WWE kayfabe debut, years before she’d be the most hated authority figure in WWE. Kurt Angle vs. Eugene and Chris Benoit vs. Orlando Jordan were both essentially squash matches, the latter going about 26 seconds. The title matches also didn’t live up to the hype, as John Cena successfully defended the WWE Title against Chris Jericho in a decent match and Batista beating challenger JBL to retain in a No Holds Barred Match.
8. SummerSlam 1990
Billed as “The Heat Returns”, it was more like HULK returns. This show, live from the beautiful Philadelphia Spectrum, was billed as a double main event. World Wrestling Federation Champion the Ultimate Warrior defended the title against Ravishing Rick Rude, who had a win over Warrior at Wrestlemania V, in a Steel Cage Match. Besides that, Hulk Hogan was off filming Suburban Commando and to get him off of television, they had him get laid out by The Earthquake John Tenta. Hogan’s buddy Tugboat urged the little Hulkamaniacs to write letters to get him to come back and wrestle Earthquake on this show, in a match he won via disqualification. The whole purpose of him winning via DQ was to continue the feud on house shows and sell out more arenas.
The other main angle coming from this was the ending of the Randy Savage vs. Dusty Rhodes feud when Sweet Sapphire turned on Dusty Rhodes to join Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. They teased this on television when Sapphire would receive strange and expensive gifts and nobody could figure out where they came from. Besides that, the Hart Foundation battled Demolition for the WWF Tag Team Titles in a rematch from Summerslam 88 where the Harts won the belts back in an awesome 2 out of 3 falls match. Plus, the Texas Tornado Kerry Von Erich, fresh off the death of World Class, made his PPV debut here, defeating Mr. Perfect for the WWF Intercontinental Title.
7. SummerSlam 1997
Summerslam 1997 was live from the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey and is one of the more slept on shows. The tag line was “Hart & Soul”, as the show was main evented by The Undertaker defending the WWF Title against Bret “Hitman” Hart, with Shawn Michaels as the guest referee. The match was a very good one, ending with Bret Hart spitting on Shawn Michaels, causing him to swing a chair at Bret, miss, and hit The Undertaker. Shawn promised prior to the show that he would call the match down the middle and not screw anybody, which forced him to count the pin and award the title to Bret for his fifth title reign. This angle also led to two of the most famous matches in the history of the business: Michaels vs. Taker in the first Hell in a Cell and of course the Montreal Screwjob at the Survivor Series later that year.
But what many consider the most infamous moment of the show wound up being a tragedy that forced one of the biggest draws in the business to cut his tenure by a number of years. This was the show that Stone Cold Steve Austin faced Owen Hart for the Intercontinental Title and suffered a stinger after being dropped on his neck, which has caused him problems to this day. Also on the undercard, Mankind faced Triple H in a Cage Match to open the show, climaxing in him jumping off the cage, mimicking his idol Jimmy Snuka. This was in the midst of the “Foley is Good” push of 1997, where they tried to build sympathy for Foley while still making him seem like he was a nutball. It worked!
6. SummerSlam 2003
Summerslam 2003 was built up as a supercard, but almost always gets lost in the shuffle. The show was live from Phoenix, Arizona and headlined by a double main event. Firstly, WWE Champion Kurt Angle defended the title against “THE NEW” Brock Lesnar, who had turned heel a month prior on Smackdown and joined with Vince McMahon. This was the big rematch from their Wrestlemania XIX bout. The match was awesome. Besides that, WWE brought back the Elimination Chamber Match for the World Heavyweight Championship, as Triple H defended against Goldberg, Randy Orton, Kevin Nash, Chris Jericho, and Shawn Michaels. The show was originally built around a singles match between Triple H and Goldberg, but Triple H suffered a groin injury and couldn’t compete at his maximum.
The undercard was loaded with fun matches. There was a four-way for the US Title between Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Rhyno, and Tajiri that I loved. Shane McMahon battled Eric Bischoff after Bischoff tried to have sex with Shane’s mother Linda. Yeah, that was the angle. This also marked the HEEL TURN of Jonathan Coachman, shocking the world! There was also a No DQ match between former tag team partners Kane and RVD, built on the recent “Kane Unmasked” angle on RAW. Plus, Undertaker faced A-Train in a match nobody remembers or cares about.
5. SummerSlam 1994
In 1994, WWF was at the start of the campy “New Generation” era of the company where they hit more brick walls than Randy Orton on a bike. This show, like many of the SummerSlams before it (90-92) had a “Double Main Event”. The first of which was “Family Feud Cage Match” between Bret Hart and Owen Hart, the rematch from their classic Wrestlemania X bout. The match was fine in retrospect, but I feel it’s unbelievably overrated. What really caught my eye was the post-match angle. The Harts were all seated ringside for the bout, including a returning Davey Boy Smith, fresh off a failed run in WCW. After Bret retained the WWF Championship, Jim Neidhart attacked Davey and locked himself and Owen in the cage and proceeded to destroy Bret. This caused the rest of the Hart brothers to actually scale the cage. This angle is STILL to this day lodged in my brain as one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. Wrestling needs more raw emotion like that, but looking back, you could tell Bret and Owen had a blast making that match.
The Undertaker made his return from an eight month hiatus to battle… The Undertaker. This was a major storyline that lasted several months that eventually climaxed with Ted DiBiase claiming to have possession of the Undertaker, which turned out to be a fake “demonic” Undertaker (played by “Primetime” Brian Lee) when the real Undertaker appeared. WWF hired Naked Gun star Leslie Nielsen for a series of vignettes as he was “ON THE CASE” to find the Undertaker. There were a series of backstage skits on the show with Nielsen and George Kennedy hunting down Taker, ending in them finding a briefcase in the back and claiming “the case is closed”. Lame… but hey, I loved it.
There were three other standout matches that really made this show one of the best. Razor Ramon (Scott Hall) had been feuding with Shawn Michaels for months and captured the Intercontinental Title in the infamous Ladder Match at Wrestlemania X. Shortly after, Shawn’s bodyguard Diesel (Kevin Nash) defeated Razor for the title. This was the highly anticipated rematch. Razor came out with NFL legend Walter Payton and the two had an awesome match. The match ended when Shawn accidentally superkicked Diesel in the face, which was only the beginning of a six-month long breakup angle, leading to Diesel’s huge babyface push and low-drawing title reign.
Also, Bull Nakano vs. Alundra Blayze completely stole the undercard. Fans of AJW knew Bull, but fuck, I was 10 years old, and this was my first time seeing hurricanranas, stiff backhands, and high-jump piledrivers. Also, Tatanka had for weeks been accusing Lex Luger of “selling out” to Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation, but it turned out Tatanka was the Native American who sold his land to the white man. Overall, a fun show that holds a special place in my heart for shaping my childhood.
4. SummerSlam 1992
This show stands out. Without a doubt the biggest SummerSlam of all-time in terms of crowd attendance, and how ironic considering it was the first PPV in forever without Hulk Hogan. Over 80,000 people at Wembley Stadium in London came to watch the WWF Superstars. This was the first and up until now, the only, major WWF Pay-Per-View not to take place in North America. The show was loaded with various face vs. face and heel vs. heel matches, but it surprisingly worked. There was a lot of crap on the card (Nailz vs. Virgil, Beverly Brothers vs. Natural Disasters, Crush vs. Repo Man, etc), but the main matches, specially the main event, push it so high on the list.
World Wrestling Federation Champion Randy Savage defended against The Ultimate Warrior in a rematch from Wrestlemania VII in a Retirement Match. The Wrestlemania VII is widely regarded by most (including me) as the greatest match in Warrior’s career. This match was fine, but didn’t even come close to the epic first encounter. The final match on the card was hometown hero The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith (w/ THE Lennox Lewis) vs. Bret “Hitman” Hart for the WWF Intercontinental Title. That’s right, the IC belt main events a major PPV. Who’da thunk it!? The match was built up around not only the IC title, but the fact that Davey Boy married Bret’s sister Diana. Diana was torn in the middle and my childhood memory of her saying “I’m afraid they’re going to destroy each other” still gives me chills. The Bulldog/Hart main event match is still considered the greatest match ever at SummerSlam, and is without a doubt one of the greatest pure wrestling matches in history. Worth going out of your way to see.
3. SummerSlam 1991
SummerSlam 1991 was the second SummerSlam held from the Garden and was a spectacular show. The tag line “The Match Made in Heaven / The Match Made in Hell” is still one of the most brilliant ones ever. The Match Made in Heaven was the marriage between Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth, beginning WWE’s long and disastrous obsession with “wrestling marriages”, which is a terminal disease the business STILL suffers from today. Fuck wedding angles, but this one had legitimate emotion and a lot of people loved it. Then… as Vince McMahon said in the intro… “Nuptials turn to NAPALM” as Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior battled The TRIANGLE OF TERROR~! – Sergeant Slaughter, Col. Mustafa, and General Adnan.
SummerSlam 1991 was loaded with huge title changes, great matches, and memorable moments from top to bottom. Bret Hart defeated Mr. Perfect to capture the World Wrestling Federation Intercontinental Title in one of the greatest matches my eyes have ever witnessed. Virgil defeated Ted DiBiase in one of the most emotional underdog wins of the era. Virgil was DiBiase’s man-servant for many years until DiBiase went too far. Roddy Piper took Virgil under his wing and trained him to fight DiBiase and capture the Million Dollar Championship. You could hear Piper putting this match over on commentary – a thing of beauty. Plus, the Road Warriors Hawk and Animal won the WWF Tag Team Titles from the Nasty Boys in a Street Fight, becoming the first team to capture the NWA, AWA, and WWF Tag titles. Also on the lighter side of things, two law enforcement officers got it on as the Big Boss Man battled The Mountie in a Jailhouse Match, where the loser had to spend the night in prison and most likely get raped. Awesome. Nick Hogan needed to do the job here.
2. SummerSlam 2002
My friend Louie’s favorite SummerSlam. The show that was focused on making a new star and the return of an old one. Another “Double Main Event” situation here. Brock Lesnar debuted four months earlier and ran through the entire WWE locker room and was undefeated. He had notable wins over both Hardys, Ric Flair, RVD, Hulk Hogan, and others, and now set his eyes on the Rock’s WWE Undisputed Title. In the Nassau Coliseum, the crowd turned on Rock and cheered newcomer Brock as he went in and captured the WWE Championship. The second half of the double main featured Shawn Michaels facing Triple H in a “Non-Sanctioned Street Fight”. Triple H had recently turned on Shawn and smashed his face through a windshield, forcing Shawn to come out of retirement to face Hunter. Shawn ends up winning the match with a flash pin, but Triple H laid him out with a sledgehammer and Shawn did a stretcher job. This would mark the start of a nearly 2 year long feud between the two, ending in a 45 minute Hell in a Cell Match at WWE Badd Blood 2004.
The undercard was STACKED with matches that, while they weren’t high profile, were great wrestling matches and wet dreams for a lot of the hardcores. Ric Flair vs. Chris Jericho was fun. The interpromotional match between Raw’s Rob Van Dam and Smackdown’s Chris Benoit had been anticipated for years (mainly by ECW fans), and we got it here. Edge vs. Eddie Guerrero is another match with two studs, and Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio definitely lived up to the hype. Definitely a stacked show.
This show won “Best Major Show of 2002” by Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Okay so… number one is……
1. Summerslam 1998.
The 1998 SummerSlam, dubbed “Highway to Hell”, in the midst of the Attitude Era, is easily the SummerSlam event of all time. The third SummerSlam from Madison Square Garden (all three from the Garden have been good) was headlined by WWF Champion Stone Cold Steve Austin defending against the Undertaker. Both men had been on the “Highway to Hell” throughout the entire summer and they would finally collide here. Undertaker cost Austin the title against Kane in a First Blood Match at King of the Ring 1998 before Austin won it back the next night, which really began the build. The main event was a great match ending with Austin getting a clean pin over the Undertaker with the Stone Cold Stunner, something you NEVER saw in those days (Taker losing clean that is).
The undercard was loaded with characters who were so over that it was unreal to imagine. Everybody seemed to be over at the time. X-Pac defeated Jeff Jarrett in a Hair vs. Hair match, shaving the golden locks of the guitar swinger. Sable and mystery partner Edge (who was a newcomer to the WWF at the time) faced Marc Mero and Jacqueline in a Mixed Tag Match. Owen Hart faced Ken Shamrock in the UFC-influenced “Lion’s Den Match”, a first in the WWF. New Age Outlaws captured the WWF Tag Team Titles yet again from Mankind, who was turned on by his partner Kane and hit with a sledgehammer in a dumpster.
But the real highlight of the show other than the main event was The Rock defending the WWF Championship against Triple H in a Ladder Match. I still point to THIS match as the match that made both men major players in the business. While the Michaels/Ramon Ladder Match at Wrestlemania X in that very building set a new standard for ladder match innovation, this match took that one and multiplied the violence level ten times. We saw sick ladder spots here that we’d never seen before in the WWF, with both Triple H and Rock fighting to get that top spot. Triple H won the match, but both men would be made into stars, to the point that Rock would win the WWF Title at the Survivor Series just three months later.
Well that does it for my look at the top 10 SummerSlams ever. SummerSlam 2008 looks STACKED, but will it hold up to these fabulous cards. Only one way to find out…