Summerslam. The biggest party of the summer according to World Wrestling Entertainment. Since 1988, WWE has held the Summerslam pay-per-view event and it's considered one of the company's big four PPVs along with WrestleMania, Royal Rumble and Survivor Series. This year's Summerslam will be the 25th version of the event and it's sure to give us more memories. What I'm here to do is look back at the previous 24 years of Summerslam to pluck out the 25 greatest Summerslam matches of all time.
How did I do it? I looked at every Summerslam card on paper. I used my memory of these matches to jot down (or type in Notepad as it were) the ones that stood out to me. Then I used DVDs, tapes and youtube to re-watch them. I watched every match that could be considered a contender for this list. If I knew a match sucked, like Undertaker vs. Undertaker, then I wasn't going to waste time watching it again.
After watching them, I jotted down a star rating for the match along with some notes and from there I was able to come up with the list. By the way, we're going with Summerslam as the spelling here rather than Summer Slam or SummerSlam. That's the way I like it.
A couple of things to note:
- Obviously it has to take place at a Summerslam PPV. There have been 24 of them. Total number of matches: 194. From that total I've cut it down to 25.
- The write-ups of these matches won't be play by play except for the two matches that occurred at Summerslam 2011 because I covered it live and there's no point in re-writing it again. The majority of the write-ups will be a synopsis. I'll give some backstory in some cases while in other cases I'll talk about the action more. I'll try to touch on what made it great and what you might want to look out for if you're watching the match.
- If the match happened before 2002 I'm saying WWF. If it's 2002 or later I'll call it WWE. My column. My rules.
- The match will be listed with the name of the winner of the match first. You'll also see the year the match took place, what title was on the line if there was one and the match type (ladder, 2/3 falls, etc.). I'll also do my best to list the time of the match rounded to the nearest minute.
- I will include Chris Benoit matches. They happened and I can write about them. Do I enjoy them as much as I did on my original viewing? No, but if the quality is there then it will make the list.
- I won't be posting links to the matches. However, if you search any of the matches on YouTube by the names of the competitor and you put the year of their Summerslam match you'll be able to find them if you're curious about something. YouTube—I love you. That's a whole other column.
- I use the 5-star scale to rate matches. It's the same scale a lot of people use to rate a movie. Just like The Godfather is a 5-star film, I think a match like Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13 is a 5-star wrestling match. I think there are probably 25-30 5-star matches in WWE history. Some people have more. Some people have less. If you strongly disagree all I can ask is that you realize this is my column and I'm using these as a guideline for you the reader.
I believe it's an effective way to judge a wrestling match because saying "pretty good" is too vague. Five stars is another way of saying 10/10 or A+. In the following column every match will be ***3/4 or better. In other words they are all worth your time.
- Here are a listing of matches that were close to making it into the top 25: Martel/Rougeaus vs. Rockers/Tito 1989 (fast paced action), Warrior/Rude 1989 (Warrior got tired so early), Steiners/Heavenly Bodies 1993, Mankind/Undertaker 1996 (too slow), BHart/Undertaker 1997 (they had much better matches), Austin/OHart 1997 (memorable match that would be #27), Hart Foundation/Demolition 1990 (fun tag match that would be #26), Test/Shane 1999 (more of a spotfest than a match), RVD/Benoit 2002, Lesnar/Rock 2002 (on paper sounds great but the chemistry wasn't great), Orton/Benoit 2004 (call this one #28), Hogan/Michaels 2005 (basically Michaels bumping around in a comedic manner at times), Flair/Foley 2006, Cena/Orton 2007 (very average), Mysterio/Ziggler 2009 (a top 30 match), Team WWE/Team Nexus 2010 (maybe if the heels went over). Also some of the worst matches ever like Undertaker/Undertaker 1994, Diesel/Mabel 1995 and Lawler/Roberts 1996 are not going to make it.
- The last rule is the most important: It's my list so it's my order. I won't take anything personally if you disagree. It's just a list. I don't write a lot of list columns even though I get asked to do them all the time. I think for special occasions like this they are warranted in order to relive, start debates and educate those that may not know some of the best matches in the history of WWE. I spent a lot of time on this. I'm proud of it and I hope you enjoy it.
Guerrero had lost the WWE Title a few months prior to JBL while Angle wasn't wrestling post WrestleMania to heal up from his various injuries, which led to him running the show.
The idea was that Angle was so hurt that he had to be pushed around in a wheelchair by bodyguard Luther Reigns. Guerrero won their match at WrestleMania, so this was their rematch after Angle had cost Eddie the WWE Title during a match against JBL.
The story of the match was Angle working on Eddie's ankle the entire time while Eddie did a great job of selling it. Late in the match, Guerrero kicked out of the Angle Slam, which led to a frustrated Kurt taking off Eddie's boot.
That's a nice way of referencing the WM20 match where Eddie won by taking off his own boot. Eddie ended up using the boot as a weapon, faked being hurt Eddie style, then he hit a Frog Splash and Angle kicked out. Great nearfall. I thought that was it. Angle recovered, slapped on the Ankle Lock, dropped down and Eddie tapped. What prevented this match from being better? It only went about 14 minutes.
The pacing wasn't what I would have liked to see, but they are still two of the best workers and they had great chemistry with one another.
Match Rating: ***3/4
Savage was the babyface WWF Champion taking on another babyface in the Warrior. This was a rematch of their classic match at WrestleMania VII a year earlier. The story was that one of the two guys had sold out (meaning turned heel) as an ally of Mr. Perfect and Ric Flair. The question was who?
The UK crowd was really hot for both guys. There were dueling chants early and it made the match special. The first portion of the match, which got about 25 minutes by the way, was mostly a straight up contest between two of the top babyfaces in the company.
Once Flair & Perfect came out it made things much more interesting. Basically what happened throughout the match is every time Flair & Perfect did something, the announcers would automatically claim that they were helping one of the guys. The ref bumps were aplenty, but it was part of the story, so it's okay with me.
Late in the match, Savage hit the top rope elbow and Warrior kicked out at two. You didn't see guys kicking out of finishers too much in the 90s. Warrior powered up, went into his finishing sequence and Flair hit him with a chair. Savage didn't see it. Ref didn't see it. Savage got up looking confused as Vince McMahon told the viewers that Randy didn't know who attacked him. Being the noble babyface that he was, instead of jumping on Warrior with the elbow he ended up leaping outside of the ring at Flair. Ric avoided it, though, and hit Savage in the knee with the chair. Warrior won by count-out, so Macho Man kept his title.
Post-match, the heels went after Savage's knee while Warrior recovered before saving Savage from a chair shot by Flair. Great heat, strong work and more proof that Savage was by far the best opponent that Warrior ever had.
Match Rating: ***3/4
The two biggest faces of WWE from 2005 up until this match met for the "first time ever" here in a babyface vs. babyface clash. While both guys had held major championships over the previous three years, neither guy walked into the match holding a title.
The match was a well built match that featured a lot of power offense, counter wrestling and great nearfalls. Batista even slapped on a Figure Four Leglock to the surprise of everybody. They really worked their asses off here.
It followed the typical main event formula that saw Batista kicking out of what was then known as the FU (WWE had just become a PG company again in 2008) while Cena was able to kick out of a Powerbomb that Batista used to counter a legdrop off the top. It was a move that led to Cena injuring his neck, which led to surgery that kept him out for a few months. Watching it again you can see he didn't land safely. He's a 270 pound guy jumping into the arms of another guy that is spiking him straight down, so it's not an easy move to do.
That kick-out infuriated Batista, who picked up Cena for a Batista Bomb that ultimately led to his victory after 14 minutes. You should never confuse either guy for being a great worker, but they knew how to hit the high points and when. That's what makes this match entertaining to watch.
Match Rating: ***3/4
This was the culmination of a four month storyline that saw Guerrero turn heel while claiming that Mysterio's son Dominick was actually his. It all led to this ladder match that had me very excited considering the talents of the two men involved.
They did some great spots early on. There was Rey drop-kicking the ladder to knock Eddie down, the springboard senton on the floor while Eddie was holding the ladder and the backdrop off the ladder onto the other ladder was just sick. Guerrero did botch a flip powerbomb spot when his hands slipped on Rey's leather pants, but I think he can be forgiven considering how high he was up there while doing that. The athleticism, the hard bumps and the chemistry was all there. There was interference, though.
Dominick trying to knock Eddie off was cool. The visual of that little boy trying to stop the crazy heel was perfect for the storyline. Eddie could have won, but didn't because he was occupied by the kid. The end with Vickie Guerrero (who we didn't know much about at this point) stopping Eddie was logical.
I think the finish could have been something better than her holding Eddie down because if they at least ended it on a spot where Rey put him down it would have been cleaner. Instead, Rey basically won because Vickie held Eddie down. What's interesting is that Vickie actually missed her spot and Eddie was furious about it, which led to him cursing very loudly. In the end it was a satisfying win for the babyface, which wrapped up this four month long storyline.
Match Rating: ***3/4
It's DX vs. Legacy here with Michaels making a big return after not working since WrestleMania. It was the infamous "Shawn Michaels is working as a chef" angle. Remember the superkick on the girl? As much as I love HBK, I wish I could forget that angle.
Hunter and Shawn had an elaborate entrance involving cannons because I guess they felt the need to make dick jokes upon the return of DX. This was an example of how good tag team wrestling can be if you give it time.
This match got 20 minutes. The problem with WWE is they don't give tag matches a lot of time anymore, but in this case there was an exception because two main event level guys were in the match. I think a lot of people believed Legacy would go over because they were the younger guys. Didn't happen.
After a lot of great nearfalls by Legacy, Michaels ended up alone in the ring with Rhodes. The result? Sweet chin music. Match over. It was an emphatic end to an exciting match. Did the match and three month feud really elevate Legacy in the long run? Not really. However, all four guys deserve props for putting on a good match and delivering a hot finish here.
Match Rating: ***3/4
The big deal here was that Jesse Ventura was the special guest referee and this was back when he was the Governor of Minnesota instead of the crazy conspiracy guy that you may know him as now. This was back in the days when WWE didn't do triple threat matches all the time. They had them once in a while, but not as often as you'd see today.
Triple H wasn't yet a World Champion while Austin was working a heavy schedule with his bad neck that would see him miss a year shortly after this. Originally it was going to be Austin vs. HHH. Why was it changed? The belief was that Austin didn't want to put Triple H over. That's why Mick Foley was inserted into the spot. Guess who won to the surprise of most? Foley.
The action was good with a lot of nearfalls, some fun refereeing moments from Jesse and a really hot crowd that made the match a lot of fun. I'll never forget Ventura throwing Shane McMahon out of the ring and saying "that's for your old man you little bastard!" That generated a monster pop because there was a lot of interest in seeing if Ventura would get physical.
The finish had a Stunner that got broken up, then a Pedigree that got broken up and then Foley pinned Austin with the double arm DDT. My reaction was huh? I thought for sure Triple H was winning. That's when the "Austin won't job for HHH" theory started while others thought that Foley was there to win because they wanted a babyface to have his hand raised by the Governor.
What's true? Up to you to decide. Keep in mind that Triple H won the title the next night from Foley and he had that singles match against Austin two months later at No Mercy with Austin putting him over. This was a fun triple threat match for 17 action packed minutes.
Match Rating: ***3/4
This wasn't their first PPV singles match (they had one in 1997), but it was the first one where Austin was a main eventer.
If you were watching during this era you'd know that this was called the "Highway to Hell" match because of all the promotional ads they ran with that slogan heavily involved. Austin was "the man" in the WWF at this point while Undertaker was still doing his babyface gimmick where he was more humanized than ever before. He had slowly become allies with Kane and we'd see the Big Red Machine show up here, but Undertaker told him to leave.
We ended up with a very solid 21 minute wrestling match that turned into a fight at times. The most memorable spot was when Undertaker put Austin on the announce table and then jumped off the top rope with a legdrop. I had seen Undertaker do cool spots like a dive over the top rope before, but this was more impressive. For a near seven-footer to do that move…damn!
If this match happened a few years later they would have likely done the sequence where they kick out of finishers. Instead, nobody hit a finisher until Austin countered Undertaker's "old school" move with an uppercut to the groin (no DQ rules) and hit the Stunner for the win. Shortly after this Undertaker would turn heel and they would have many more matches against one another.
Match Rating: ****
The shortest match on the list came in at under just 10 minutes. Mysterio debuted in WWE a few weeks before this, so he was ridiculously over. It opened a great PPV. This was the perfect example of how you start off an excellent PPV with momentum by delivering with a strong opener. Mysterio got in his 619 and the West Coast Pop, but Angle kicked out.
Angle turned up the aggressiveness and ended up winning via tapout with the Ankle Lock. The timing, the bumping, the counters—it was perfect stuff. Angle looked strong and so did Mysterio. Even though he lost in his PPV debut, there was no shame in losing to a former world champ like Angle.
I'm sure somebody reading this is questioning why a match under ten minutes got the rating that I gave it. Simple. It's Mysterio vs. Angle. They are both supremely talented performers. It was 10 minutes of awesomeness.
They had plenty of other matches against each other on Smackdown in singles, triple threats and tags, but this one is remembered by many because it was Mysterio's WWE PPV debut. It's a quickie, but a damn good one. With another five or 10 minutes on it, this could have been an all-time great match. It's still very good for what I'd consider a short match.
Match Rating: ****
One of my favorite wrestlers when I first started watching WCW in the early 1990s was Big Van Vader, who personified everything that a heel bully should be. He looked mean, he talked with a deep voice and when he wrestled he looked like he was really hurting the guy.
Then you had Shawn Michaels, who is my favorite wrestler ever. He was arguably the best wrestler in the world in 1996 as the champion babyface. It was the perfect scenario for a great match, right? You'd think so, but that's not necessarily what happened. Obviously I liked it enough to give it a rating of four stars. However, it should have been better.
It's a 22 minute match with the first 10 minutes telling a good story. Then the booking takes over. Vader wins via count-out. Then the match gets restarted when his manager Jim Cornette gets it restarted by complaining to then WWF President Gorilla Monsoon. Then Vader wins via DQ. Guess what? Another restart.
Michaels finally makes his comeback, he hits the Sweet Chin Music and Vader kicks out. That one shocked me because they weren't doing the kick out of finishers spot very much in those days. Then they did a ref bump (Earl Hebner took a nasty fall to the floor on this one), Vader hit the Vader Bomb powerbomb and a new ref counted the two count. A missed moonsault by Vader led to Michaels getting back to his feet and he won the match with a moonsault press of his own to retain the WWF Title.
I've read that the original finish was Vader winning the match. It got changed because Shawn didn't want to lose and at that time what Shawn wanted he got. Is it true? Up to you to decide. He's my favorite wrestler ever, but I won't defend some of his actions during this time period when he was using substances. Even he admits his mistakes during this time.
Match Rating: ****
This was a rematch from the month earlier when RVD defeated Hardy to win the Hardcore Title. The winner of this match had to climb a ladder to receive a bag full of drugs. Okay, so maybe that's a joke, but at least those drugs have more value than the Hardcore Title. It's not like the Hardcore Title was ever a valuable prize. At least in this match they cared about it a little bit because of the two guys involved.
This was when RVD first showed up in WWE (as part of team ECW) and Jeff Hardy had a singles run, so there was a lot of freshness to it. I remember this match live and it holds up well. I remember the suplex off the ladder spot very well. The sunset flip powerbomb by Hardy was also fairly new for ladder matches at this point although nowadays they are pretty common.
Those spots preceded the finishing sequence where Hardy was hanging from the title; RVD knocked him down and went back up to grab the title for the win after Hardy took a nasty fall. It was a very good match in front of a hot crowd that was popping for everything that two likely stoned guys were doing. I bet they were like "dude I'm hearing things." Or something. I'm not a stoner, but I'm assuming.
It's nice to remember how good RVD was before he went to TNA where he doesn't seem to care as much and Jeff Hardy was as exciting as he usually is.
Match Rating: ****
This was the second straight year with a triple threat main event for the WWF Title (remember Austin/HHH/Foley at No. 20?) and one of many title matches featuring Rock and Triple H in 2000. Angle fit into the mix because he had a working relationship with Stephanie McMahon, Triple H's on screen wife, that had a lot of potential to be romantic. It almost put Angle in a tweener role instead of the customary heel role that he was doing in these days.
There was a scary moment early when Triple H gave Angle a Pedigree on the announce table and we later found out that Kurt suffered a legit concussion. It was a planned spot because they had Stephanie go to the back with him. While in the back, she convinced him to get back out there.
The final five minutes were as exciting as any triple threat match I can ever remember. There was a lot going on with Stephanie taking a punch from Hunter (he was going for Kurt), Angle hitting Triple H with a sledgehammer and then Rock pinning Hunter with the People's Elbow for the win.
These were three guys with great chemistry that timed everything right, were super over with the crowd (they were really loud for the finish) and ended the show with a finish that left everybody happy as the top babyface won in convincing fashion.
I remember going into the match not knowing who would win. Rock winning made sense, though. A month later Triple H beat Angle to basically win that feud while Rock would drop the title to Angle a month after that. If you miss the days when the crowd was really hot for everything in WWE you should re-watch this 20 minute title match.
Match Rating: ****
The second straight match from the 2000 Summerslam event that will feature one more match on this list. Do you think that was an all-time great PPV? It sure was.
At the time these were two of my favorite performers in the company and I loved the idea of them wrestling in what would be the first Summerslam for each guy. Benoit was the heel coming off a PPV main event loss to The Rock while Jericho was very over as a babyface that the fans wanted to see break through the glass ceiling. This was a two out of three falls match, which is a fancy way of saying each guy is going to get a win before one guy ultimately wins the match by getting the third fall.
The first fall went to Benoit, who made Jericho tap to the Crippler Crossface. The second fall went to Jericho, who made Benoit tap to the Walls of Jericho. From there the action really picked up. I remember thinking how's it going to end since each guy had won with their finishing move? Then I lost my train of thought because Benoit did the Dragon Suplex at one point and I marked out because you don't see such a dangerous move in WWE.
They went with a heel finish, which saw Benoit win by putting his hands on the ropes during a pinfall attempt. This wasn't their best match (check out Royal Rumble 2001 for that), but it's a hard hitting, fast paced 15 minute battle featuring two of the greatest in-ring competitors ever. It definitely holds up well all these years later.
Match Rating: ****
This is a personal favorite for me as far as matches that I remember as a kid because these were two guys that I really enjoyed watching. The Mr. Perfect gimmick was spectacular while Hart was the guy in the Hart Foundation team that I always wanted to see go at it alone.
This was a straight up wrestling match full of action for 18 minutes. In Bret's book and DVD he talks about how hurt Mr. Perfect was with his back injury, yet he wanted to go out there to have this classic match with Bret because they were such great friends with a lot of respect for one another. Twenty years later it's still a great match with a lot of awesome counter wrestling.
The big moment in the match for me was when Perfect put on the Perfectplex and Bret kicked out of it. At that time it was rare for anybody to kick out of a Perfectplex. This was back in the day when kicking out of finishers almost never happened. I realize I wrote that a few times in this column, but it really wasn't a common occurrence like it is today.
There were some great nearfalls that followed that, but the end came when Perfect went for a legdrop. While on his back, Bret caught the leg, got back up and slapped on the Sharpshooter for one of the best counters I've ever seen. It was the (excuse the pun) perfect way to end the match for the Excellence of Execution.
Hart's singles career gained a lot of momentum by beating Perfect because he was a dominant champion. This is how you put somebody over in a clean and effective manner. They are two of the best ever on the big stage in MSG doing their thing. This is when the IC title mattered the most too. It was one of the most memorable matches in the careers of both of these legends.
Match Rating: ****1/4
I was the huge fan of this feud and going into this match I really had high hopes for it. Not surprisingly, these two superstars with very different lifestyles delivered the goods. It was the culmination of a story that involved Punk cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase on Hardy after he had just won the World Title, turning heel on Hardy by going on about his Straight Edge life and then they had a number of great promos building up to this final encounter. This was a very physical match as we expected it to be.
I remember things like Hardy going straight through the table and the powerbomb off the ladder spot always worked as a big pop moment for me. There was that superplex onto the ladder that was brutal too. Hardy's offense with the use of the chair was great because he took so much shit from Punk that as a fan you feel that Punk deserves that. What a way to go out of WWE by Hardy too. He did a Swanton off the ladder onto Punk while he was lying on the table. That ladder was HUGE! (That's what she said.) It was as good as any crazy Hardy jump that there's ever been. They laid there dead for a bit until the refs helped them.
Then they went up the ladder, Punk hit him in the ribs, Hardy fell and Punk won the match after 22 grueling minutes. It's a shame that Hardy left WWE soon after, got busted for drugs a month after this (a trial that is still ongoing two years later BTW) and never got a chance to repeat this amazing feud. If drunken YouTube videos are any indication, the Hardy brothers are not fans of CM Punk. If you can toss the personal beef aside, though, you should appreciate not only the feud that was the best of 2009, but also this epic final encounter where these two had a memorable Tables, Ladders & Chairs match.
Match Rating: ****1/4
I'm going with the play by play format here because I wrote about it live last year and didn't feel like a re-write was necessary.
Christian hits a backdrop over the top to Orton, sending him to the floor. Booker correctly points out that there will be a lot of great counters in the match. That's for sure. Orton comes back and he takes the cover off the English announce table. I guess he did that to make the Spanish table jealous. Christian shoved him off. The champ grabbed the title and ran into the crowd. They brawl down the aisle. There are grown men wearing those red Cena shirts. What's wrong with you? They go back into the ring, Orton charges at him and Christian avoids the charge, so Randy goes crashing shoulder fast into the turnbuckle. The crowd is really hot for this match. There's even a "Let's Go Christian" chant. The champ goes under the ring and he pulls out a kendo stick.
Christian beats him down with some kendo stick shots to the back. He uses it to choke him for a two count. He gets a couple more nearfalls. Orton is bleeding from the mouth now. He always seems to bleed from the mouth. Christian leaps off the middle ropes with kendo stick in hand, but Orton counters with a dropkick. Great spot. Orton hits the powerslam. He gets the kendo stick, but Christian gets his feet up. Orton counters a dropkick with a jackknife cover for two followed by a Thesz Press. They each counter their finishers and Orton hits his backbreaker for two as we hit the ten minute mark. Orton sets up for the punt, but Christian rolls out. Christian goes for a groin smasher (technical term) on the ring post. Orton powers out. He goes under the ring where he finds two tables. He puts one of them in the ring. Christian shoves him back first into the side of the ring, which allows Christian to set up the table on the floor.
To the top rope, Orton superplexes Christian onto the table. Note that the table wasn't set up, so it was on the flat table. It's still a painful bump. The table is partly cracked. Orton sets it up so that it's propped up in the corner. Christian fights back with a reverse DDT. Christian goes for a spear, Orton leapfrogs him and the champ throws Orton to the floor. Orton whips him into the ringsteps, Christian takes it knee first and goes flying over the steps. He comes back and Orton goes face first into the steps. Christian drags him over to the announce tables. Christian clears the Spanish Announce Table of the cover and monitors that were on it. I'm waiting for the Spanish Announce Table to be inducted into the Hall of Fame one day. So many memorable moments. Christian goes for a RKO, Randy counters it and hits one of his own. The table breaks! The table finally breaks! That was impressive as hell. Huge "Randy" chant as both guys are down at the 17 minute mark. This is a very good brawl right now.
Back in the ring after a minute of selling the beating, they go to a finishing exchange and Christian hits the Killswitch. One, two, no! That was an awesome nearfall right there. Christian had a great facial expression selling his disappointment. Christian grabs two steel chairs. He places one under Randy's head and he spits on Orton's face! That's a nice homage to their Money in the Bank match. Orton dodges the chair shot. He cracks Christian in the back with the chair. Christian stands on the apron, Orton charges with the chair and knocks Christian through the table that was placed outside. Orton throws trash cans, kendo sticks and the steps in the ring. Christian charges in, Orton catches him in the powerslam and puts him through the table that was stacked up in the corner. This is a beating now as Orton beats on him with the kendo stick. Orton hits the DDT off the ropes onto a trashcan. Orton had some blood on his hand, so he wiped it off his face. Now Randy's setting up for the RKO. Christian hits him with the Kendo stick. Christian leaps off the second rope and Orton counters into a RKO onto the steel steps! Ouch! Orton covers for the pinfall at 24 minutes. Cole says it's the ninth championship reign for Orton.
Analysis: What a great match this was. It's another Match of the Year contender from these two. They used the weapons well and they meant something because you don't see too many matches with weapons these days. After Christian hit the Killswitch and Orton kicked out he was basically on offense the rest of the time. It was a dominating victory from there. It's a shame that Christian only had a one month title reign. I thought he'd keep it via some kind of interference, but I guess this is the end of the feud unless they do the rematch at the next PPV.
Match Rating: ****1/2
The best feud in WWE in 2003 was between Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar. They had a classic match to main event WrestleMania 19 that saw Lesnar beat Kurt clean. Angle was out of action for a few months following neck surgery, so Lesnar had a good title reign until Angle returned as a babyface to win the title in a triple threat (with Big Show) at Vengeance a month prior to this.
Angle was booked in a match against heel Vince McMahon on Smackdown with Lesnar as the referee. It was inside a steel cage and Lesnar turned heel. That set up this match. This was a really fun match that I enjoyed in its original airing and also when I watched it again recently. I think I liked it more watching it again because the psychology of the match was so good.
The story of the match was Lesnar being a heel beast while Angle kept fighting back from everything Brock did. There was also a focus on Brock's ankle. Kurt did an amazing job of working on it and Brock, who didn't show weakness a lot, was fantastic at selling the pain. Kurt kept going after the ankle and the crowd loved him for it, but Lesnar's a tough bastard that kept hanging on.
Angle put Lesnar in the ankle lock again, Brock was tapping, but there wasn't a ref to see it. Cue Vince McMahon, who hit Angle in the back with a chair. I thought Lesnar was going over here especially after that one legged F5, which was spectacular. That's what I want to see! Sell the pain of a move while you do a move. That's what everybody needs to do more often. When Angle kicked out of that it was shocking. I thought that was it.
McMahon tells Brock to do it again, but this time Kurt gets out of it and slaps on the Ankle Lock. Brock gets the ropes three times although not for long, so Kurt keeps pulling him back. Then Lesnar tapped out at the 21 minute mark. It was surprising because the idea of Lesnar tapping clean was a crazy thought at this point. That's why I liked the match, though.
It was unpredictable and gave us a strong finish. The heels cheated, but they still lost. This is also the match that led to the fun "YOU TAPPED OUT" chants that greet heels whenever they tap out in major matches. I love that chant. A month later they had a 5-star 60 minute Ironman Match on Smackdown. These two had amazing matches together every time. This one is no exception.
Match Rating: ****1/2
If there ever was a match that was a coming out party for two guys this one would be it. Embroiled in a feud for much of the summer, the Intercontinental title hung in the balance as the leader of DX Triple H challenged the leader of the Nation of the Domination, The Rock, who was the Intercontinental Champion.
At this point neither guy was a World Champion, which is hard to believe because between the two of them they went on to win 20 World Titles combined (22 if you count Rock's two as WCW Champion during the Invasion angle). You have to start somewhere right?
While neither guy had the athleticism of a Shawn Michaels, they made the match work without too many crazy spots. Early on, The Rock worked over Triple H's knee and that set up the first half of the match. Hunter kept coming back, showing the kind of toughness and heart that a babyface should.
They fight on the ladder, Hunter falls off, Rock's ready to get the title and then Hunter bounces into the ladder, which knocks Rock off. Then a cool spot as Rock did a People's Elbow while using the Ladder. It looked ridiculous, but the NYC crowd was cheering for Rock because he was so cool at this point.
Hunter comes back, he goes for the title again, but Rock hits a Rock Bottom. Hunter follows that up with a Pedigree. Then Rock's ally Mark Henry, Mr. Kool-Aid, threw powder in Hunter's eyes to blind him and keep him from climbing. Mr. Fuji would have been proud.
They fight on top again except this time Chyna, who was with Triple H, punched Rock in the nuts to send him crashing down. Huge positive reaction to that. The crowd was really loud for the entire match. At the 25 minute mark, Triple H climbed up to grab the IC Title to a massive pop from the NYC crowd even though they had been chanting for Rocky too.
It was a respect thing. Both guys earned their love. A few months after this classic, with the Rock teasing a babyface turn, he went on to win the WWF Title for the first time at Survivor Series by joining up with Vince McMahon.
A year after this match, Triple H would win his first WWF Title. I think it's fair to say that everybody knew these two would be World Champions and in my opinion they had a better match after this (Judgment Day 2000), but this laid the foundation for their careers as main event players in the most successful era in WWE history. They are unquestionably two of the greatest wrestlers in WWE history and this is their breakout match.
Match Rating: ****1/2
Once again we're going with a play by play recap for this one. The special referee was Triple H.
There's not a lot going on early, but the crowd is very loud. There's a dueling "Let's go Cena" and "CM Punk" chant. Early control goes to Punk, who gets a high knee to the face that leads to a nearfall. The announcers are doing a good job of setting up the match and its importance although I really wish Jim Ross was calling the match.
Cena hits a gutwrench suplex for two followed by a fisherman's suplex. Cue the "you can't wrestle" chant as Cena looks out at the crowd. That was fun although I don't necessarily agree. Cena hits a bodyslam followed by an elbow. Punk comes back with a stiff boot to the face. There's a nice "Get Lost Cena You Suck" sign in the crowd.
Punk gained control by dropkicking Cena off the apron, which sent him crashing to the floor. The announcers did a good job pointing out that Cena's endurance is excellent. It's true. He doesn't tire much at all and that's one of the things I like about the guy. We're at ten minutes now as Punk grounds him with a submission. Cena powers out and hits something that looked like a Bossman Slam. That was sweet.
Punk counters a shoulder tackle with a knee to the face. Awesome counter. Cena counters the running knee, then he hits two shoulderblocks and Punk counters the suplex. Punk hits the knee, goes for his bulldog and now Cena hits his suplex. That was a sweet reversal of moves. Cena goes for the STF, but Punk fights out and puts him in a submission. Cena fights out of it and locks in the STF. Punk counters with a key lock submission. Cena counters that into a Crossface variation. Punk makes it to the ropes. That was a terrific sequence of counter wrestling as we reach 14 minutes.
The action picks up with Punk getting a back body drop on Cena that sends him to the floor. Punk dives through the middle ropes to take out Cena. Triple H counts them out. He gets to nine. He stops there, then goes out to the floor and rolls each of them back in the ring. The crowd cheers that move as the announcers point out that this means that we'll definitely have a winner. I liked that spot.
They did the punch sequence so the crowd could do the "yay" (Punk) and "boo" (Cena). Cena wins the exchange with a picture perfect dropkick that got him right in the face. Five Knuckle Shuffle by Cena. The AA is countered into a pinfall, then Cena gets one and Punk powers out to kick Cena in the head. They replayed the dropkick by Cena. It was as good of a dropkick as he's ever done.
Cena hits a Stinger Splash followed by a powerslam for two. Cena goes to the top, but Punk counters with a knee and hits a bulldog off the ropes for a two. Punk jumps off the top ropes, but Cena moves and puts Punk into the STF right in the middle of the ring as we reach 20 minutes. Punk fights out of it. He reaches the ropes.
They have another exchange and there's the first finishing move of the match as Cena hits the Attitude Adjustment. Great nearfall right there. Cena goes up and he misses his legdrop off the top. Punk hits the Go To Sleep. He doesn't hook the leg. Cena gets his shoulder up at two. Punk to the top, he does a Macho Man Randy Savage pose and he hits a top rope elbow. That gets two. He argues with Triple H. There's a "Randy Savage" chant. I'm loving this crowd right now.
They do another back and forth exchange. Punk hits a knee to the face. Punk hits another GTS although he didn't connect very well. As Hunter is counting the pin, Cena's foot is on the bottom rope. He never saw it. The announcers are immediately pointing it out. The camera closes in on Cena talking to Hunter. We can hear Cena say "you missed it." The match went 25 minutes.
Analysis: I think Punk & Cena did an even better job this time around although the ending wasn't as good as their Money in the Bank match. That's why I didn't rate it five stars, but it's damn close. They had some awesome counter wrestling exchanges as well as submissions. The nearfalls were good. It was another special match between Cena & Punk. For all the critics of Cena and the "you can't wrestle" chants the guy proved again that he's very good in big matches. Yes, Punk is the better of the two and that's obvious, but they both did an amazing job here.
Match Rating: ****1/2
I didn't write a lot from 2006 to 2008 (11 columns in total for those three years), but this feud was a highlight of that year along with the Jericho/Michaels feud. That was Raw, this was Smackdown. The Undertaker and Edge had a feud that lasted for much of the year with Undertaker winning at WrestleMania, Edge getting his win back later in the year and then this was the finish to the feud after all the stress that Edge had caused Undertaker.
It also came at a time following WWE's change of direction back to a PG show after being TV14 for about a decade. I remember going into the match thinking how can they pull off a Hell in a Cell match without blood, which was a common theme for these kinds of matches? Of course that was a stupid question because these were two of the best in a hot feud and they did everything right in the match.
What was cool is that Undertaker gave Edge a lot of offense and treated him as an equal rather than the underdog. They pushed that angle in the weeks building up to it, so when the announcers talked about how nobody could hurt Undertaker like Edge you actually believed it in this case. That's how you use the story to build up to a match.
The big spot in the match was when Undertaker was leaning by the cage, Edge came charging in at him and speared him through the side of the cage. They obviously must have gimmicked that part of the cage to allow it to get unhinged easier. Edge continued the assault by hitting him with a monitor to the head and then speared Undertaker through one of the announce tables while running across all of them. It was a very memorable spot.
Undertaker managed to get back up, they went into this crazy sequence of nearfalls that was big move after big move. The big turning point spot of the match was when Edge went for the Old School clothesline only for Undertaker to counter it and chokeslam him through tables. See, what I liked is that they incorporated tables, ladders & chairs into a Hell in a Cell match (they already had a TLC match) so it made it unique. To wrap it up Undertaker did all of his payback spots like the Spear to Edge, a camera shot to the head, a conchairto and then he finished it with a Tombstone for the pinfall at the 27 minute mark.
After the match, Undertaker chokeslammed Edge "straight to hell" as the ring collapsed and lit on fire. Edge was gone for a few months after this to heal up from various injuries. This match should be remembered as a very physical encounter that was part HIAC, part TLC. I liked the mix even with the PG setting.
Match Rating: ****1/2
The term "marking out" is a commonly used phrase by fans of professional wrestling. It's another way of saying that somebody is excited about something that they are watching. When my favorite wrestler ever Shawn Michaels returned to the ring at Summerslam 2002 everybody wondered how good would he be.
Would he be like the HBK that was arguably the wrestler of the 90s or would he be a shell of his former self and somebody that was broken down due to the back surgery he had? Guess what? It was the same old HBK we know and love. The match was a street fight, which allowed them to do some tricks to help the flow of it in case Shawn wasn't up to his normal speed.
The match was a lot of fun and they went long at 28 minutes. Who comes back after four years to work such a long match? HBK. That's who. Hunter was bleeding, Shawn was selling every back bump as if it was going to put him in a wheelchair and everybody watching believed that it would do that. The biggest spot of the match was HBK propping up a table on the floor, laying HHH across it and splashing him off the top. In the ring, he hit an elbow drop off the ladder. I'll never forget him doing the "I'm crazy" hand motion.
The finish saw the superkick get blocked, then the Pedigree countered into a roll though cradle for Michaels. He won the match and everybody was loving it. Post match, HHH hit him twice in the back with his trusty sledgehammer to put Michaels out for a few more months.We didn't know how much longer HBK would work. It turns out it would be another eight years.
This was a very good brawl that really was better than I thought it would be. Who knew that Michaels would come back after four years to be this good again? It was awesome. Watching it live, all I could think about was how all I wanted was to see Michaels walk out of there safe. It was great for HHH too. His face run just didn't work that well in 2002. He's more natural as a heel and this was his first big match as a heel in over a year. He delivered.
The spots they worked were perfect. Everything made sense, everything had the right flow and as is always the case with these guys, the timing was spot on. It's a really fun, emotional match that is one of those memorable ones that will last a lifetime.
Match Rating: ****1/2
This is the first three team TLC match in WWE history, not to be confused with the Tables & Ladders match from WrestleMania X8 in 2000. E&C as the heel tag team champions had the chairs, the Hardys had the ladders, the Dudleys had the tables and what did you get when you put them all together? Tables, ladders and chairs. Oh my.
The match had a lot of moments where guys are falling off ladders, taking chair shots or going through tables making you say "ouch" with everyone. Bubba's full nelson bomb on Christian off the ladder was a sick spot early on. Then there was Jeff Hardy getting shoved off the ladder by Edge, only to land on a prone ladder that ended up slingshotting into Matt's face while he was on the ground.
There were parts of the match where Edge was creaming the Dudleys with really stiff chairshots (those aren't even allowed today), but they barely get a reaction because it seems like nothing compared to the Hardy's legdrops off the ladder or Christian getting tossed off the top landing on Edge while he is sandwiched in between a ladder.
Towards the end, Bubba climbed the "20 foot ladder" in the middle only to be shoved off over the top rope all the way to the stacked tables on the floor. So then Matt gets to climb, but D'Von pushes the ladder back backwards into some tables on the other side of the ring in another sick landing. The finish came when E& C knocked down Jeff Hardy while he was hanging from the titles, unable to pull them down and the champs made the climb to retain after 19 minutes of pain. That one was really dangerous.
I remember thinking the Hardys would win this one because it was in Raleigh, North Carolina, also known as Hardy country. Instead, they kept the belts on Edge & Christian.
There were plenty of title matches and great moments between these teams over the course of a couple years, but this match is always going to stand out in my mind as one of their best moments. The spots they did were done perfectly. They made sense too.
I think it was more than just climb up and get knocked down. How can you not respect and admire these six guys for putting their careers on the line like this? It definitely shorted the career of Edge as we know and you know that it hurt the others too. Do they regret any of it? Probably not. Much respect to all of them.
Match Rating: ****3/4
What a ridiculously fun match this is. If I had to pick my favorite match in the history of wrestling that ended in a disqualification this is it. The work in this match is off the charts good. Austin was in the middle of his run as the top heel after he had turned on the WWF during the Invasion storyline against WCW and ECW. Angle ended up being the top babyface that was defending the WWF even though he had been a heel for the year and a half prior to this match.
In terms of their work, Austin might have had his best year ever in 2001 while Angle was as good as anybody in the business despite being in WWE for under two years. The match was fresh and action packed. Early on Austin hit the Stunner and Angle kicked out.
What does an angry Austin do? He repeatedly rammed Angle's head into the ring post, which drew blood and it added to the story of the match because Kurt looked physically out of it, yet he kept fighting back. There were also memorable moments like the Angle's Ankle Lock on the floor and a belly to belly on the floor that couldn't have been good for Austin's neck.
The last five minutes of the match were heart wrenching as Angle kicked out of the Stunner again, Austin kicked out of the Olympic Slam and Angle snapped on the Ankle Lock. Everybody wanted Austin to tap, but he kept fighting. Then Austin attacked the referees (punch to Hebner, Stunner to Chioda, belt shot to White) and finally the fourth referee Nick Patrick rang the bell, disqualifying Austin at the 21 minute mark.
This match worked on so many levels because both guys were on their games as well as I could ever remember. I can't think of a match where Angle wrestled better as a babyface. Austin was at his heel best here. People who think his heel run didn't work because the crowd was reluctant to boo him need to watch this match. He got massive heat and Angle had them jumping for everything he did too.
A month later Angle won the title clean at Unforgiven in his hometown of Pittsburgh before dropping it back to Austin a few weeks after that. Should I add here that these are two of my three favorite wrestlers ever? You can see why in this match. The other guy in my top three is Shawn Michaels, who has another matchup coming up soon.
Match Rating: ****3/4
Three matches to go. All of them are five stars. Let's find out what they are.
3. WWF Title: Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart (Cage) - 1994
I absolutely loved everything about the Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart feud. The seeds were planted at Survivor Series 1993, Owen turned heel at the 1994 Royal Rumble, then he beat Bret clean at WrestleMania 10 in 1994 (before Bret won the title later in the show) and all of that led to this epic (blue) steel cage match.
I'm not a fan of the blue cage because it looks silly.The silver steel cage is better because it actually looks steel, it looks like it would hurt if you ran into it and that's the point of cage match. The blue cage is more visually appealing because you can see more of the match through the square holes, but it's not something I particularly enjoyed. Still, this is Hart vs. Hart in a cage for 32 minutes. Do you think it's going to be a classic? Of course it is.
I think the best way to describe this match is by saying that these were two guys who were masters of the little things. I noticed it in a lot of their matches. They were always on the same page. You know how sometimes a guy will be in the spot for a move and the other guy is a step slow, so it's botched a bit? Not with these two. It must be a brotherly instinct and the fact that they were born to be professional wrestlers. Another thing I love about this match? It was escape the cage only. No pinfalls or submissions like they do in cage matches now. You can win by either climbing out of the cage or escaping through the door. That's how ALL cage matches should be.
It's hard to describe all of the action because over the course of the 32 minutes there was a lot going on. I really liked how they had some realistic escape opportunities. You had each guy lunging to get out through the door at various times, a lot of smart escape chances and they built up to the big spots well. The two highlight spots were late in the match.
Owen's climbing out of the ring when Bret goes after him. They're right above one of the turnbuckles. Instead of simply pulling him back in, Bret does a spectacular move: a superplex off the top of the cage. You have to remember that this is 1994. Not a common move back then especially at this time in main event level matches. At the same time WCW was having Hogan vs. Flair matches and they were both old back then! A bit after that, Owen had Bret in the Sharpshooter. Bret was able to reverse out of that and put Owen in one of his own. The crowd was going nuts for it!
Then they each climbed the cage, getting to the outside. If you watch it again you can notice Owen hooking his leg on the inside to make sure he didn't accidentally fall out first. Bret rammed him into the cage, Owen went upside down, hanging by his leg and Bret dropped down to retain the WWF Title. It wasn't a dominant victory at all. It was a victory after an evenly fought match that made both guys look strong.
Post match was great too as Bret & Owen's brother in law Jim Neidhart attacked Bret Hart. All of the Hart family was sitting at ringside. They also attacked the British Bulldog, who was another brother in law of the family that was a babyface at this point. This led to Neidhart & Owen double teaming Bret in the cage while all of the other brothers tried to get in until Bulldog finally made it. It was such a great feud. I really love this match. I could have easily put it at No. 1 on this list and had no problem justifying it, but there are two that I think are a little bit better.
Match Rating: *****
After seeing their epic, five star WM10 ladder match I had no idea what to expect for the second ladder match between Shawn and Razor. How could they top a match that had so much heat, psychology and pacing with absolutely no flaws? One way they could do it was by having more time for the action. Another way they could do it was by having a second ladder present just in case the first ladder takes too much of a beating.
There was not much of a feud heading into this one as both guys were babyfaces at the time. Michaels was actually going to face Sid, but they realized how much Sid sucked so they decided to have a ladder match rematch because Summerslam 1995 was a weak show. Shawn was over huge and about to be pushed as the top babyface in the company while Razor was doing solid work as a midcard babyface.
The action in the match is spectacular right from the start.There's a spot where Razor suplexes Shawn over to the top to the floor that HBK takes on the knees, which is crazy to do and it's no shock that he had knee injuries when you see a bump like that. There were some cool counters by Razor where he avoids the baseball slide ladder shot to the ribs and the splash off the ladder, which were both prominent spots in the WM10 ladder match. They also mixed in psychology with Michaels hurting his knee and Razor worked it over very well.
I really liked the finishing sequence. Razor brought in a spare ladder from under the ring, which led to Vince McMahon asking what one was the legal ladder. Yes folks, a legal ladder. Vince sucked on commentary. Where do you think Michael Cole gets his inspiration from? As Shawn started to climb, Razor hit the Razor's Edge off the ladder in another cool spot. They both set up their respective ladders and started to climb up when Shawn hit Sweet Chin Music to send Razor off the ladder.
Shawn fell off his ladder in a bad fall that was unplanned. They had to improvise here, so Razor set him up for another Razor's Edge so Michaels' backdropped him over the top rope in a bump reminiscent to the one Razor took at WM10 on the exposed concrete. Shawn went up again, missed on his first grab, was furious with the ladder because of it and then finally grabbed the belt to retain his Intercontinental Title after 25 minutes of amazing action.
The ladder match between them at WM10 gets more praise, but I think this is the better match. I think one of the reasons why people like the WM10 match more is because it happened first, plus things at WrestleMania are usually glorified more. Others point out that Shawn failed to grab the belt on his first try in this one. That's a very valid point, but I don't see why one small gaffe should mean that this match was worse. This one went seven minutes longer, the time was used wisely, they told more of a story (working over Shawn's knee for example), they built off history and the crowd was hot the entire time. A true classic.
Match Rating: *****
Now for the No. 1 match in the history of Summerslam…
I love everything about this match. I loved it twenty years ago and I think I loved it even more when I watched it again for the purposes of this column. It was in London, England and a lot of people may not know this but it was taped on August 29th and then shown on August 31st in 1992 with just over 80,000 fans in attendance.
The main event wasn't the Savage/Warrior match for the WWF Title, but the Intercontinental Title match between champion Bret Hart and challenger the British Bulldog , who was wrestling in his home country. It was a face vs. face match with the added dynamic of Bulldog's wife Diana being at ringside, who was also the sister of Bret Hart.
The work in the match was special from the beginning. Through a lot of it, Bret was working as a heel because I think he realized he needed to in order to get the crowd totally behind Smith. It wasn't aggressive heel work, but it was basic stuff that helped the match because it built up the support for their countryman. It's interesting to note that Bret Hart wrote in his book about how Bulldog was blown up (aka tired) very early in the match, so he forgot a lot of the things that he had to do.
Bret claims that he carried the majority of the match, which isn't much of a surprise because Bret was such a great technician. You could tell Bulldog had lost it a little bit because of the bump where Bret did a slingshot over the top rope and Bulldog was supposed to catch him. Instead, he was hunched over against the side of the ring where he was trying to catch his breath. Hart ended up grabbing him by the shoulder to pull him down. Like he says on his DVD, he could have easily tore his knee.
Let's jump to the awesome finishing sequence. After a double clothesline spot, Bret wrapped Bulldog up in the Sharpshooter while they were on their backs. He sits in it, the crowd is going NUTS freaking out and Bulldog gets the ropes. "If you don’t like it you shouldn't be here - go do the dishes," is what commentator Bobby Heenan says when they showed Diana Hart-Smith. The Brain is a legend, folks.
Bret whips him into the ropes, does a sunset flip, Bulldog drops to his knees, hooks the arms, leans forward for the one, two and three for what might be the loudest ovation I've ever heard. The new Intercontinental Champion was the British Bulldog. Post match, Bret sold dejection and he even teased leaving, but he hugged his brother-in-law and the crowd popped huge for it as Diana went into the ring for the big family celebration. The match went 25 minutes.
On his DVD and in his book, Bret Hart talks about going into this match with the idea that not only will people think Bulldog got elevated by winning the title, but that Bret would be a bigger star after his performance. He wanted to prove that he could be the top guy in the company. Less than two months later he would win his first ever WWF Title. He was right. It's the perfect example of a match doing great things for both guys.
One guy went over (Bulldog), but the other guy became a bigger star after it was finished (Hart). That's the point of wrestling. It's not about the wins and losses. It's about telling stories, getting over and creating memories to last a lifetime. That's exactly what they did here. I'll never forget how loud that pop was when Bulldog countered Bret, dropped down and cradled him up to get the victory.
At the end of the match, Vince McMahon called it one of the greatest wrestling matches of all-time. Guess what? He was absolutely right. The greatest Summerslam match of all-time.
Match Rating: *****
What's weird about the list is that the top two matches are both babyface vs. babyface. You wouldn't expect that, but it happened. It also helped that both matches got over 25 minutes and featured guys with amazing chemistry. It's not an accident that they had matches on a big stage like Summerslam. It's pure talent.