With this year’s SummerSlam just days away I thought it’d be a fun idea to count down what I feel are the ten most impressive bouts from the event’s illustrious history. As the PPV which cemented the star power of Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Rock, Triple H and Brock Lesnar among many others, WWE’s second biggest night of the year after Wrestlemania, SummerSlam has had its fair share of classic moments and matches which meant that I was truly spoilt for choice when having to decide on ten key clashes which I think show the event in the best light.
So what better way to hype yourself up for this weekend than reminding yourself of some of these epic encounters and becoming caught up in the best of what the WWE’s mega-show has had to offer since its inception in 1988. Featuring gravity defying bumps, hardcore violence, blood soaked passion, unparalleled competitive intensity, star-making bouts and a heck of a lot of ladders, this is my word on the ten greatest SummerSlam matches.
10.) Intercontinental Championship: Rey Mysterio vs Dolph Ziggler (2009)
“Ziggler tried to raise the stakes but it was Mysterio that cashed in.”
After months of being placed in monotonous feuds with monsters such as Mike Knox and Kane in late 2008 it seemed that many people had forgotten just how great a worker Rey Mysterio really was. He made sure to remind everyone with a scintillating performance in the Raw Elimination Chamber match in February 2009 however and proceeded to steal the show at almost every PPV that followed throughout the year including a tremendous feud and series of matches with Chris Jericho and this highly charged Intercontinental title defence against Dolph Ziggler.
Its energetic matches like this that prove the worth of a mid-card title with two competitors trying to steal the show to prove why they belong in the main event scene. Featuring impeccably timed manoeuvres, fluid counters, reversals, the progression of Dolph trying to ground Rey and then trying to match his pace all added to a genuinely unpredictable bout that made its fifteen minutes running time fly by. And luckily for the crowd stood on the edge of their seats towards the end this wasn’t even the best match on the card.
The Moment that stole the Summer: The mesmerising top rope hurracanrana that resulted in Rey winning the match.
9.) Intercontinental Championship: Owen Hart vs Stone Cold Steve Austin (1997)
“You can put my arms up behind my back but you can’t shut up the fingers”
Unfortunately all that anyone ever seems to remember about this fine match is the infamous finish in which Owen Hart botched the piledriver that led to Austin breaking his neck. With Stone Cold temporarily paralysed inside the middle of the ring a very weak and confusing finish then transpired in which, after what felt like a century, Austin finally mustered the strength to take down his opponent for the pinfall so that he could win the bout as planned. The injury effectively diminished Austin’s technical repertoire but it was also a cruel blessing in disguise as on the sidelines he ended up cutting up some of his best promo work to further cement his claim of being the toughest S.O.B in the business.
Regardless however this match is all kinds of awesome up to that finish. Owen is sublime as a petty heel with his squeaky trash talk, premature celebrations and dirty, desperate tactics (I’ve seen few matches where someone actually works the fingers on offence but it’s a great storyline touch) whilst Austin counters with a relentless fighting spirit and an all guns blazing brawling attitude. Like the match listed above this contest made the Intercontinental Title look like a million dollars; a recurring theme which you might observe throughout the remainder of this countdown.
The moment that stole the Summer: A dazed Austin being helped up the ramp on the shoulders of two referees. He likely had no idea how iconic this image would later become.
8.) WWE Title: The Rock vs Brock Lesnar (2002)
Sometimes a match becomes great for its worth as a spectacle as opposed to its technical prowess and this high profile clash is definitely an example of that. What took place in the Rock vs Brock match was an intriguing changing of the guard as the people’s champion was met with jeers and the crowd accepted Brock Lesnar as the new face of the company in winning his first world title.
This contest was filled with jam-packed fun moments from Rock mocking Brock’s entrance, both men kipping up at the same time and engaging in a stare down, Rock’s look of exasperation as his usually immortal clotheslines came bouncing off Brock’s solid frame and an awesome finishing sequence which saw Brock take Rock’s head off with a monster clothesline to deter a people’s elbow attempt, Brock then going for an F-5 only for The Rock to land on his feet and Brock reversing a Rock Bottom attempt into a successful F-5 second time of asking.
It’s definitely not a work of art, but it is a fantastic blockbuster.
The Moment that stole the Summer: Brock Lesnar pins The Rock to become a world champion after just six months in the company.
7.) Tables, Ladders, Chairs Match for the Tag Team Titles: Edge and Christian vs The Hardyz vs The Dudley Boyz (2000)
“How do you learn to fall of a damn ladder without hurting yourself?”
Outside of Rock and Austin the thing that I remember most fondly from the Attitude Era is the rejuvenation of the tag team division. The hardcore environment of these types of matches played a big part in that as these duos were allowed to go out there, put their bodies on the line and steal the show in the process.
This match was no different, entertaining from bell to bell as a breathlessly paced spot fest with each opponent basically taking it in turns to destroy each other with various weapons. There are several eye catching moments from Edge taking the Dudley Boyz and himself off the ladder backwards via a Russian legsweep, Jeff executing a leapfrog ladder legdrop onto Edge, The Dudleyz planting Christian through their table with their 3-d finishing move and Bubba moving out of the way of Jeff’s swanton bomb as the charismatic enigma comes tumbling through two tables. Most impressively of all not a single high risk move is botched in spite of the nerves that must have been building up in anticipation of each one.
This is quite simply mindless entertainment at its very best.
The Moment that stole the summer: Bubba Ray Dudley being toppled off a ladder and crashing into the middle of four tables positioned together on the outside.
6.) WWF Title: Kurt Angle vs Stone Cold Steve Austin (2001)
“I’m going to do the same thing I did in the 96 Olympics. I’m bringing the gold back home!”
The irresistible combination of Kurt Angle’s overwhelming passion coming up against Austin’s ferocious tenacity resulted in one of the most adrenalin fused, furiously paced title clashes of the last twenty years.
Few men have ever handed out an ass-whooping like Stone Cold and watching him manhandle Kurt Angle in parts of the match with aggressive stomps to the corner, face-first whips to the outside ring post and brutal head smashes to the announce table is as impressively vicious as it comes. Meanwhile a blood drenched Angle fighting his heart out in response and matching his opponent’s intensity is euphoric in its construction.
Unfortunately this otherwise five star classic is marred towards the end by a crappy multiple referee run-in spot that results in a lame disqualification finish. The previous twenty minutes deserved more.
The Moment that stole the Summer: Kurt screaming “woooo” as he locks in the Ankle lock on Austin alongside the security barricade.
5.) Tables, Ladders, Chairs Match for the World Heavyweight Championship: Jeff Hardy vs CM Punk (2009)
“I see now why you people love Jeff Hardy so much. It’s because you are all weak. What you people need is a straight edge world champion.”
In the summer of 2009 Smackdown was undoubtedly the best wrestling show in the world as it presented a series of engaging feuds and high quality matches involving the likes of Edge, Chris Jericho, John Morrison, Rey Mysterio and of course CM Punk and Jeff Hardy. These two men had a feud that pretty much wrote itself what with Jeff Hardy’s notorious substance abuse and Punk’s straight edge lifestyle. The creative team capitalised on this obvious goldmine resulting in a feud that felt both highly personal and managed to avoid the usual cliches that provide the inciting incidents for most rivalries.
This TLC match thrilled with some great spots but what really impressed was the fierce emotion behind them. For example Punk knew that a top rope supplex onto a ladder would hurt himself as much as his opponent but he goes through with it anyway because the pain that it will inflict will make the ordeal seem worthwhile.
Similarly Jeff Hardy thwarting Punk’s humiliating attempts at trapping his face in a chair, and then venomously attacking his rival with the weapon itself perfectly captures the process of a man losing control of his emotions in the heat of battle. It leads to a swanton bomb attempt off a gigantic ladder which like earlier Hardy knows will do just as much damage if not more to his own body than his opponent. On this occasion however the impact of the move would prove to be a big game changer for the Straight Edge Superstar.
The moment that stole the summer: Jeff lays Punk out on the announce table and lands a swanton from the biggest ladder I’ve ever seen.
4.) Unsanctioned Street Fight: Shawn Michaels vs Triple H (2002)
“I used Shawn Michaels to get to the top just like Shawn Michaels used me to stay at the top. Now I am the showstopper, now I am the Icon!”
After four and a half years away from the ring, the world’s best wrestler in 1998 miraculously proved that he was sill one of the best wrestlers in the world within his first comeback match.
There must have been some nerves at the start but after a few fluid exchanges the smile began to appear on Shawn’s face and he didn’t shy from hiding his enjoyment in a dominant five minute opening stretch. Hunter soon wiped that smile off his face however as he took control with a brutal beat-down and disrespected his former ally with a close up D-X “suck-it” chop and a brutal whipping assisted by Shawn’s own belt. With Hunter relentless and Shawn seemingly dazed it was J.R. Who did a beautiful job of adding emotional intensity to the match as he begged Shawn to allow himself to be pinned after having already done more than enough to make both himself and everyone else proud.
One sweet chin music later however and to quote Dusty Rhodes there was “pandemonium and chaos” developing amongst the pumped crowd. Sure enough Shawn began to indulge in some trademark HBK antics from the kip-up to the iconic elbow drop from the top of a ladder. Whilst it would have been more satisfying to see the Heartbreak Kid prevail with say a moonsault to the outside as opposed to an anti-climatic and sneaky pinfall, this clash still stood tall with its fine storytelling, authentic brutality and raw emotion.
The Moment that stole the Summer: Shawn Michaels making a flamboyant entrance on his way to a match that most thought they’d never get to see.
3.) Intercontinental Title: Bret Hart vs The British Bulldog (1992)
“I think we’ve seen just about every wrestling move there is to see thus far.”
Accompanied by a glorious Wembley atmosphere with football horns, whistles and fans screaming for their British hero throughout, both Bret and the Bulldog engaged in a wrestling classic that pretty much tore the house down.
Packed with gripping rope exchanges, take-downs, holds, reversals and a hard hitting plethora of top rope moves and counters, punches, kicks, whips and supplexes, this was a bout that the fans never wanted to end and the cheer for the Bulldog when he prevailed must surely rank as one of the all time wrestling pops.
The increasing look of fatigue and exasperation on each competitors face only made the match seem all the more important and courageous.
The Moment that stole the Summer: Bret somehow turns a rope-assisted crossbody into a neckbreaker whilst in mid-air.
2.) Intercontinental Title Ladder Match: Shawn Michaels vs Razor Ramon (1995)
“And hanging in the balance the Intercontinental title, yes it is glistening from high above.”
Whilst their wrestlemania ladder match is more famous and ground breaking, it actually pales in comparison to this contest in regards to quality.
Indeed what transpires in this fight is a psychologically sound and captivating tussle where the divide between face and heel is perfectly balanced. Ramon methodically traps Shawn’s leg in the ladder frame, smashes him against the ladder and cruelly lets the object slowly fall onto his fallen opponent’s carcass and seems to enjoy every minute of it as any self-respecting bully should. Michaels on the other hand plays the face role to perfection with eye catching ladder assisted moves, sick looking bumps and athletic, dare devil risk taking.
In the end it effectively promotes the ladder match as a sadistic environment as opposed to a pantomime and that’s what helps to make it stand out so well still over fifteen years later.
The Moment that stole the Summer: Shawn’s painful looking supplex bump to the outside.
1.) Steel Cage Match for the WWF Title: Bret Hart vs Owen Hart (1994)
“You used to pick on me and tease me and bully me and then I got bigger and I got stronger and I got meaner and I started beating you.”
This match is proof that you don’t need blood to engage audiences in gimmick matches. Rather than excessive violence it relies on the thrilling suspense of one man looking to escape the cage whilst the other valiantly tries to stop him. The closer each competitor finds himself to escaping, the more excitable the crowd get and the more rewarding the action becomes. It all culminates in a wonderfully creative finish with both Harts on the outside of the cage and Owen trapping his foot and falling upside down as he is forced to watch his older brother drop to the mat to his freedom and a successful title defence.
Expertly paced so that each each escape attempt feels increasingly threatening, phenomenal work-rate, great manoeuvres, selling and authentic offence makes this one of those rare wrestling matches that is truly flawless.
The Moment that stole the Summer: The supplex from the top of the cage.
So there we have it. These type of lists are always likely to divide opinion so feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below and let us all hope that this weekend’s grand event can continue to steer the company in the right direction. Thanks for reading.