On August 20th, the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) will for the 30th time host its annual summer extravaganza, Summerslam. First held in New York City in 1988, Summerslam has like any other major sports or theatrical event seen many memorable moments, matches and controversies. Over its 30 year existence, the event has been held in 13 different American states, as well as an event in Canada (2004) and England (1992). In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the ‘biggest event of the summer’ (except perhaps for the Olympics every four years) here are the top 10 matches/moments to be contested at Summerslam.
10.) The Undertaker vs Bret Hart (Summerslam 1997)
A match featuring two of the greatest in-ring competitors of all time, this WWE Championship bout also featured another wrestling icon, Shawn Michaels, as the special guest referee. A back and forth fight between the Deadman and the Excellence of Execution, the match is a great example of superb technical wrestling and storytelling. These two men at the top of their game put on a physically intense matchup, that would ultimately lead to the buildup of another great rivalry. When Shawn Michaels accidentally struck The Undertaker with a steel chair intended for Hart, he was forced to count a pinfall as The Hitman won the title. While a controversial and disappointing end to a great match, it would mark the beginning of a prolonged feud between Undertaker and Michaels leading to the infamous inaugural Hell in a Cell match in October of that year.
9.) Mankind vs The Undertaker, “Boiler Room Brawl” (Summerslam 1996)
Hardcore wrestling legend Mick Foley has pioneered many of the industry’s most bizarre and violent matches, and so who better to be involved in the first-ever Boiler Room Brawl match then Foley (wrestling as Mankind)? The concept is relatively simple, two competitors fight or brawl in the arena’s boiler room using any objects at their disposal as weapons. This includes steel pipes, ladders, chairs, tables, windows, tools, wooden crates or anything else to be found in the confines of this most unusual match setting. The first to escape the room and make it back to the ring wins. The Undertaker himself is not averse to pioneering new match types, and together with Mankind made this inaugural Boiler Room Brawl a match to remember. Featuring many high-flying stunts and bumps from both men, the Boiler Room Brawl match became an instant classic in the emerging “Attitude Era” of the then WWF and one of the reasons why Summerslam was a must watch summer event.
8.) Bret Hart vs Owen Hart, Steel Cage Match (Summerslam 1994)
The in-ring feud between brothers Bret and Owen Hart would reach a boiling point in the summer of 1994 when the older Bret put his WWE Championship on the line against baby brother Owen inside a Steel Cage. Bret Hart, who is inarguably one of the greatest pure wrestlers in history was certainly the most successful athlete in his large family. Owen, the youngest of 12 siblings, had always lived in the shadow of his brother’s great successes. The desire to challenge and prove himself, especially to the elder Hart would culminate in a series of matches (including at WrestleMania X), and most notably their Summerslam encounter. An awesome technical match up, Owen Hart proved again he could go toe to toe with his more experienced brother and that he was one of the great emerging wrestling talents. It’s a wonderful match to watch, even with all the interference involved, and a sad reminder of the immense loss Owen’s premature death in 1999 really was.
7.) The Rock vs Brock Lesnar (Summerslam 2002)
Brock Lesnar has since his WWE debut in 2002, become one of the most physically dominant and successful wrestlers in the company’s history. Facing off against the WWE Champion, The Rock, at the 2002 event, Lesnar solidified his place in history by not only defeating the “People’s Champion” for the title, but in the process becoming the youngest champion in history at age 25. Despite a valiant effort from The Rock, Lesnar’s momentum could not be stopped and with his emphatic finishing maneuver “The F5” put his opponent down for the three count. It was the beginning of a new era, a changing of the guard of sorts and a ‘where were you moment?’ for a new generation of fans.
6.) Rey Mysterio vs Eddie Guerrero, Ladder Match (Summerslam 2005)
Two of the greatest Mexican-American wrestlers squared off in this very memorable and entertaining Ladder Match, that would sadly be the last great match Eddie Guerrero would have before his death just three months later. In the storyline, Eddie Guerrero claimed that he was the actual father of Rey Mysterio’s 10-year-old son Dominick. To settle the dispute once and for all, custody of Dominick was put on the line in a Ladder Match, where the first man to grab the custody papers suspended in the air would win the match and guardianship of the child. While the storyline is obviously far-fetched, it had a surprising amount of emotional realism to it, showcasing once again that the theatrical aspect of wrestling is just as important as the athletic component. Both masters of the Lucha Libre style of wrestling, Guerrero, and Mysterio put on a classic that was accentuated not just by their great wrestling abilities, but their commitment to character building and storytelling.
5.) The Undertaker vs Edge, Hell in a Cell Match (Summerslam 2008)
The Undertaker and the Hell in a Cell Match are almost synonymous with each other, and once again he stepped into the confines of the “Devil’s Playground” against Edge. As the culmination of a rivalry that had been going on for months, this Hell in a Cell would indeed be the final encounter between the two. A physically exhausting and intense match, both ‘Taker and Edge fought hard putting their bodies on the line for that ever-elusive victory. The Undertaker would ultimately win the match and then choke slammed the helpless Edge through the ring canvas from atop a ladder. It was a battle between two greats and a time of renewed respect for the physical toll these matches can have on the competitors.
4.) Steve Blackman vs Shane McMahon, Hardcore Match (Summerslam 2000)
Though not trained as a wrestler, Shane McMahon has continuously proven that he can go head to head with the best of them. His blend of high flying athletics, highlighted by his numerous daredevil stunts, and an aggressive no quit attitude has made likely the best ‘non-wrestler’ to step foot in the ring. In this match for the Hardcore Championship, anything was legal. Chairs, tables, garbage cans, kendo sticks, etc were all fair game. Facing Steve Blackman, an accomplished black belt competitor, the two men used a bevy of weapons. In the end, Shane was sent falling nearly 50 feet or more from the main stage onto some electrical boxes before Blackman delivered a flying elbow. It would not be the first or last such stunt from McMahon, who has amazingly leaped from unimaginable heights on many occasions. It’s not a classic wrestling match most certainly, but this encounter like the Boiler Room Brawl was a reaffirmation of the lengths some competitors will go to just to entertain the fans.
3.) Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Owen Hart (Summerslam 1997)
The meteoric rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin from his WWE debut in 1996 to his first WWE Championship win in 1998 is the stuff of legends. On his way to the highest mountain top in the company, Austin clashed with many foes including both Bret and Owen Hart. In his match against Owen Hart for the Intercontinental Championship, he not only won his first singles title but showed his enduring tenacity. At one point in the match Hart delivered a piledriver that he botched leading to Austin legitimately breaking his neck. It left him with years of pain and paralysis issues, but he miraculously continued in ring competition for seven more years winning the WWE Championship six times. This match once again features the talents of Owen Hart (despite his error that could have killed Austin), now a bona fide star in his own right, and Stone Cold on the path to the greatness that would await him. Though most remembered today for the piledriver incident it’s still an enjoyable and entertaining match from two great athletes.
2.) Davey Boy Smith vs Bret Hart (Summerslam 1992)
It is considered one of the greatest matches of all time and has been ranked by many as the best in the history of Summerslam. Once again featuring Bret Hart in a family battle, this time he put his Intercontinental Championship on the line against his brother in law “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith. In front of 80,000 spectators at a sold-out Wembley Stadium in London, England, the two put on the closest thing to a perfect wrestling match as possible. Smith’s wife and Hart’s sister Diana Hart, was in the audience joining the crowd who were overwhelmingly behind their native son Davey Boy. It’s a further testament to the abilities of these two athletes that they would main event the show with the Intercontinental Championship (a lesser title than the WWE Championship). In fact, the WWE Championship had been contested earlier in the night! When Smith won the match, the crowd erupted with deafening cheers and applause not just for the victor, but for the amazing display of athleticism they had just witnessed. Afterwards, the two men embraced as an emotional Diana Hart raised both their hands. A rare moment of genuine emotion and incredible athletic skill, for a sport ignorantly labeled as ‘fake’.
1.) Shawn Michaels vs Triple H, Unsanctioned Street Fight (Summerslam 2002)
After years of persistent pains and injuries which included back problems that required surgery, Shawn Michaels retired from in-ring competition in 1998. And so, it was to the shock of the wrestling world that he returned just four years later in 2002, attempting to reclaim the glory of his past and pick up where he left off. This match against his former best friend Triple H would mark the first of many, many matches the two would have in a rivalry that would extend nearly three years. The feud became one of the most celebrated ones of the 2000s and it all began with this epic Summerslam bout. Though more of a hardcore fight than an actual wrestling match, there was much uncertainty about Michaels’ ability to perform after four years. Would he have ring rust? Could he re-injure his back and would he simply even be the same “Showstopper” that he was in the late 90s? Michaels proved all the skeptics wrong by not only proving he still had it, but that the best was not in the past but yet to come. In this intense matchup which saw both competitors receive their respective share of a beating, the feeling that history was being made was palpable. This bloody and emotional match brought out the best in both athletes and left an immediate impression on anyone who thought Michaels would never wrestle again. As both an intense physical outing and an emotional homecoming for Shawn Michaels (he would finally retire for good in 2010), this Summerslam match is undoubtedly one the finest and one of the reasons why Summerslam has been the premier summer wrestling event to watch for 30 years.