WWE SummerSlam 2013: Power Ranking the 10 Greatest Performers in Event History
The legacy of WWE's SummerSlam pay-per-view has been built on the backs of Superstars who go above and beyond to deliver memorable performances at the biggest event of the season.
Men such as Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, The Rock and John Cena have given fans matches that will last in memories for a lifetime and continue to build on the legacies of the Superstars that have come before them.
Matches such as Hart's Intercontinental title clashes with Mr. Perfect and British Bulldog have stood the test of time, while Cena's matches with Randy Orton, Batista and CM Punk have gone a long way in continuing the tradition of hard-fought, high-quality bouts.
With SummerSlam a mere four days away, there will be a roster full of young performers looking to make their mark, to build their legacies and the annual summertime spectacular. They will do so in hopes of continuing tradition, in hopes of making SummerSlam the must-see show that every year prior has been.
They will do so because these men set the standard for them.
These are the 10 greatest performers in SummerSlam history.
The men on this list were determined based on their in-ring performances at SummerSlam. Lasting impact on the event will also factor into their placement on this list.
10. Jeff Hardy
The enigmatic, energetic and death-defying Jeff Hardy was a staple of SummerSlam throughout the 2000s. His ladder matches throughout the years set a new standard for the crowd-pleasing gimmick bout and helped launch him to the top of the industry near decade’s end.
A tag team specialist alongside his brother Matt, Jeff made his first appearance at the August pay-per-view extravaganza as a part of a Tag Team Turmoil match in 1999. The Hardys’ appearance on the show was short-lived as they were eliminated in the first fall, courtesy of their most heated rivals, Edge and Christian. A year later, the two teams would cross paths once again, this time with a common enemy in their sights and under much more extreme conditions.
At the 2000 edition of SummerSlam, Jeff and Matt were a part of a three-team Tables, Ladders and Chairs match also involving Edge and Christian and the Dudley Boyz. The match was chaotic and violent with each competitor performing with a crash-and-burn mentality. Edge and Christian would leave the Hardys' home state of North Carolina with the tag titles in their grasps, but it would only be a matter of time (one month, to be exact) before Team Extreme’s title hunt would come to its climax.
One year later, Jeff would get the opportunity to make a name for himself in singles competition as he challenged Rob Van Dam for the Hardcore title in a ladder match. Hardy and Van Dam had spent the better part of two months trading the Hardcore Championship back and forth, and their match at SummerSlam was the culmination of their short-lived, yet intense, rivalry.
At the end of the night, Van Dam would scale the ladder and hold the title high overhead in victory, momentarily ending Jeff’s singles push. The loss to “Mr. Monday Night” would put an end to Hardy’s appearances at SummerSlam for the next seven years. Stints with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling would occupy Hardy’s time. In 2006, he returned to World Wrestling Entertainment and by 2008, he was ready to return to the event he had performed phenomenally at in the past.
The opening contest of SummerSlam 2008 featured Hardy taking on MVP in a battle of two standout SmackDown talents. The feud between the two had been fairly nondescript until Montel Vontavious Porter discussed Jeff’s recently deceased dog, Jack. The comment was a bit exploitative of a real event in Hardy’s life, but it did manage to add drama and personal tension to the rivalry and helped create interest in the match.
Hardy and MVP delivered an entertaining bout to open the show and get the crowd pumped for the remainder of the night’s broadcast. Unfortunately for Hardy, he once again found himself on the losing end of a SummerSlam appearance, thanks in large part to Shelton Benjamin. Benjamin, the United States champion at the time, distracted Jeff long enough for MVP to take advantage and pick up the win following the Drive-By Kick to the head.
One year later, Hardy would be involved in the highest profile match of his career. He entered the Staples Center in Los Angeles as the World Heavyweight champion. The top babyface on the SmackDown roster and engaged in a bitter rivalry with newly turned heel CM Punk over the title, Hardy had his crowning moment as a main event star at the 2009 summer spectacular.
Hardy and Punk brutalized one another in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match that was different from any other in WWE history. Yes, the insane spots that had become associated with the matches were there in moderation, but it was the storytelling exhibited by the performances and the smarter pace they worked at that allowed the match to succeed to the point that it did.
In spectacular fashion, Hardy would climb to the top of a 20-foot ladder and launch himself off with a Swanton Bomb, crashing through both Punk and the announce table. In the end, all of the high-risk offense in the world could not stop CM Punk, who would regain the World Heavyweight title in spectacular fashion.
Jeff Hardy’s run with WWE would end shortly after SummerSlam 2009, but his legacy with the company remains intact. A completely original, charismatic Superstar that captured the imagination of his fans, Hardy gave of himself in each and every one of his SummerSlam appearances, more often than not delivering one of the best and definitely the most exciting match on the show.
Despite an 0-5 record, it is safe to say wins and losses are not what fans remember when they relive the amazing stunts Hardy endured in order to entertain.
9. The Ultimate Warrior
There are certain WWE Superstars whose contributions to sports entertainment go underappreciated, and The Ultimate Warrior is one of them. Never before has one performer been so critically panned yet managed to be a part of one of the most memorable and pleasing moments in the history of a solitary event.
At the inaugural SummerSlam in 1988, The Honky Tonk Man issued an open challenge to any man in the back who thought they were capable of ending his year-long Intercontinental title reign. Moments later, the fans inside the hallowed halls of the historic Madison Square Garden erupted into a huge ovation as the Warrior’s music played and the maniacal Superstar rushed to the ring. Seconds later he had destroyed the Intercontinental champion and put an end to his lengthy reign.
In 1989, The Ultimate Warrior would be fighting to regain the title he had won one year earlier.
With the help of Bobby “the Brain” Heenan, Rick Rude had captured the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania V to the shock of many. At SummerSlam some four months later, he would be dealt the unenviable task of beating Warrior again.
Rude would not be as lucky the second time around. Warrior capitalized on the distraction of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper to deliver a top-rope Warrior Splash and pick up his second Intercontinental title. He would hold onto the title until WrestleMania in 1990, where he would defeat Hulk Hogan to win the World Wrestling Federation title.
The heavyweight champion of the world as he entered Philadelphia for the 1990 event, Warrior would face a familiar foe. Rick Rude had earned a shot at the richest prize in the sport and would have his chance to unseat Warrior inside a 15-foot steel cage. For the second year in a row, the Ravishing One would fall in defeat at the hands of his face-painted foe.
Unfortunately for Warrior, his title reign proved to be less successful than management within the then-WWF had hoped for. The decision was made to take the title off of him, and at the 1991 Royal Rumble, that is exactly what happened. After a phenomenal match with Randy Savage at WrestleMania VII, Warrior returned to pay-per-view main events, partnering with Hulk Hogan in a two-on-three handicap match against Sgt. Slaughter, Col. Mustafa and General Adnan.
Much controversy surrounds the match including claims made by Vince McMahon himself in the 2005 WWE Home Video release The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior that Warrior held him up for more money prior to the giant tag team bout, even threatening not to go through with the match if his demands were not met. They were and he did, but he was immediately fired afterward.
Egos were hurt and pocketbooks emptied in 1991 but by 1992, McMahon and Warrior were once again all about business. In the co-main event of the pay-per-view spectacular, Warrior challenged heavyweight champion Randy Savage in a stellar title bout. Though not as good as their WrestleMania VII clash, the SummerSlam '92 bout was built on the back of a story involving Ric Flair and Mr. Perfect and featured a great deal of mystery and intrigue. In the end, Warrior would win the match by count-out when a sneak attack by Flair and Perfect rendered Savage unable to beat the referee’s count.
The 1992 event would prove to be the final one in the career of The Ultimate Warrior. While he will likely never be confused with a great in-ring performer, Warrior had a phenomenal presence about him that captured the attention of every fan. More importantly, when he was programmed with capable workers, he thrived in his in-ring work. With opponents the likes of Rick Rude and Randy Savage, Warrior was able to shine the brightest he possibly could.
Even if the rest of his SummerSlam appearances consisted of awful matches, which they did not, Warrior belongs on this list simply because of the memorable Intercontinental title victory over Honky Tonk Man in 1988. The fact that the rest of his SummerSlam resume is dotted with solid performances only helps to support his case.
8. Kurt Angle
The only Olympic gold medalist in World Wrestling Entertainment history, Angle’s SummerSlam record is one littered with phenomenal matches and a first outing that could have gone terribly bad.
In 2000, Angle and Triple H were embroiled in a rivalry over the affection of Stephanie McMahon. Angle was the All-American boy who had captured the attention of Triple H’s wife and was rapidly moving up the ranks. When it was announced that both Angle and The Game would challenge The Rock for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam in 2000, most expected that the soap opera-like storyline would play a major role in the match.
Unfortunately for Angle, he would suffer a concussion following a Pedigree attempt through an announce table. As Triple H tried to execute the move, the table broke underneath him and Angle, and both men crashed to the floor.
It was a moment that could have been disastrous had Triple H and The Rock not been phenomenal workers, and it was not the right way for Angle to kick off his career at the August extravaganza. He would reappear late in the match and cost The Game the WWE title, setting up a showdown that would take place the following month at Unforgiven.
In 2001, Angle’s role was reversed. Wherein he was the loud, braggadocios gold-medal winner the year prior, Angle now assumed the role of locker room leader within the then-WWF. He was the top contender to Steve Austin’s heavyweight title and represented the company in their war with the Alliance, a faction of competitors from World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling.
The match between Angle and Austin in 2001 was a bloody, brutal, chaotic and dramatic one that saw Kurt take a vicious and unrelenting beating from Austin, only to stay in the match and never surrender. He fought out of numerous Stone Cold Stunners en route to delivering one of the defining performances of his career.
Controversy would ultimately reign supreme as referee Nick Patrick would call the match and award it to Angle by disqualification, saving Austin’s title reign to the dismay of the audience and a locker room full of WWE Superstars. Angle would snap and attack Patrick to the delight of the several thousand fans in attendance.
2002 would see a shaved, more aggressive Kurt Angle take on the high-flying newcomer Rey Mysterio in the opening contest of the evening. In a completely understated and undervalued performance, Angle never once appeared out of place competing with a much smaller, faster-paced individual such as Mysterio. Instead, he utilized his size strength to his advantage and, ultimately, was able to make the smaller man tap out to the ankle lock.
A year later, Angle entered SummerSlam as the WWE champion. Returning from a serious neck surgery, Kurt defeated Brock Lesnar and the Big Show in a Triple Threat match at Vengeance in July to regain the title he lost to Lesnar at WrestleMania XIX. In a rematch of that wrestling classic, Angle would defend the title against Lesnar at SummerSlam. Unlike the WrestleMania match, Angle would defeat the younger and more physically dominating opponent, forcing him to tap out to the ankle lock in somewhat of an upset.
Angle would return to his villainous ways for the 2004 incarnation of the event, taking on Eddie Guerrero in yet another WrestleMania rematch, this one from March 14’s WrestleMania XX. On that night, Guerrero outwitted Angle and defeated him to retain the WWE title. At SummerSlam, with nothing else on the line other than pride, Angle set out to gain a measure of revenge.
He did just that, catching Eddie in an ankle lock and forcing Latino Heat to tap.
Angle’s final SummerSlam appearance would come in 2005, when he defeated Eugene in a rather unmemorable match to regain his Olympic gold medal.
The Rated-R Superstar, like Jeff Hardy, spent the majority of his early SummerSlam events involved in tag team competition.
In his first WWE pay-per-view appearance, Edge served as the mystery tag team partner for the blonde bombshell Sable. In an entertaining, if basic match, they worked competently together to defeat Marc Mero and Jacqueline.
As the next year rolled around, he and Christian had split away from Gangrel and went on their own collective way. Ultimately, they fared much better than most would have expected, eliminating the Hardys, Mideon and Viscera and Droz and Prince Albert before being dispatched by the Acolytes.
By 2000, Edge and Christian were the top villains in the tag team division and entered SummerSlam as the champions. Having feuded with both the Dudley Boyz and the Hardy Boyz throughout the spring, it was decided that the best way to settle the score between the three teams was in the first-ever Tables, Ladders and Chairs match.
All three teams attacked with reckless abandon until there was only one duo standing. Fortunately for Edge, it was he and Christian that left North Carolina with the titles still in their possession.
When SummerSlam in 2001 arrived, the Invasion angle involving WWE taking on the unholy alliance of WCW and ECW was underway, as was Edge’s long-awaited singles push. The future Hall of Famer was named the number one contender to the Intercontinental Championship, held by Lance Storm, and he made the most of his first real singles push.
Despite mistimed interference, Edge dispatched of Storm and captured the Intercontinental Championship.
A year later, and the Toronto native was one of the top stars on the SmackDown brand and had engaged in a rather intense rivalry with Eddie Guerrero. The two were booked for a singles match at SummerSlam, and the expectations were great. After all, both were among the best performers in the industry at the time.
They did not disappoint.
Guerrero worked over the shoulder of his opponent in attempt to neutralize the threat of Edge delivering the Spear. It did not work. Edge exploded off the ropes, delivered the spear and picked up a huge win over one of the most respected in-ring workers in the industry.
An ill-timed neck injury put a halt to the blossoming singles career of the exciting young star, sidelining him for the majority of 2003. When he returned a year later, he was greeted by a wrestling audience who had grown sick and tired of being told who to cheer and who to boo.
As World Wrestling Entertainment invaded Toronto, the hometown of Edge, the then-Intercontinental champion had become all too familiar with the changing attitude of the audience. Despite being positioned as the top young star on the roster, poised to break out and eventually capture heavyweight gold, the crowd in his hometown turned on Edge, raining down on him with a chorus of boos and choosing to support his opponents in the Triple Threat Intercontinental title match, Chris Jericho and Batista, instead.
Edge would have the last laugh, however, as he retained his title. By year’s end, he would have turned heel and be well on his way to finally achieving the success he dreamed of as a young boy.
2005 would prove to be a very personal year for Edge. News broke of an explicit affair between him and Lita in their very real lives, despite the fact that the latter had been involved with Matt Hardy for quite some time. The intense anger Hardy had for Edge cost him his job until fans demanded his return and Vince McMahon saw dollar bills.
He rehired Hardy and immediately booked him in a feud with Edge. The first of several matches between the two came at SummerSlam. In one of the stiffest, most uncomfortable matches to watch, the two stars beat the unholy hell out of each other until Edge split Hardy open and caused a referee stoppage.
The indecisive finish left a bad taste in many mouths but, fortunately, Edge and Hardy would deliver inside a steel cage a month later at Unforgiven.
In 2006, Edge finally achieved his goal of becoming heavyweight champion by cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase and defeating John Cena at New Year’s Revolution in January. Throughout the year, he bolstered his main event profile, delivering a Match of the Year candidate with Mick Foley at WrestleMania and capturing his second title in a Triple Threat match against Rob Van Dam and Cena in July.
The feud with Cena would help elevate Edge in that first year of his major push, and SummerSlam was a chapter in the overall story told between the two young breakout stars.
Late in their championship match, Edge would take advantage of a distraction by Lita to deliver a shot to the back of Cena’s head using a pair of brass knuckles and score the victory. The celebration proved to be short-lived, however, as Cena would capture the title a month later at Unforgiven in a tremendous Tables, Ladders and Chairs match.
An injury would sideline Edge for the 2007 edition of the event, but he would come back better than ever, earning a main event spot at WrestleMania XXIV as the World Heavyweight champion defending against The Undertaker.
The Dead Man would leave Orlando with the title, and a feud between him and Edge would rage through the spring. The Rated-R Superstar would defeat his rival in June at One Night Stand and regain the title. While he would lose the title to CM Punk shortly thereafter, the stage was set for a final showdown between Edge and Undertaker, and that showdown would take place inside Hell in a Cell at SummerSlam.
Edge would come up short in his attempt to defeat The Undertaker at SummerSlam, but wins and losses did not matter. What mattered was the quality of the performance, and he more than proved himself as one of the most consistently great stars of the current generation with a show-stealing performance against the most versatile Superstar in the history of the company.
Injury once again knocked Edge out of commission in 2009, but he returned in 2010 as a part of a 14-man tag team elimination match, teaming with John Cena, Chris Jericho, Bret Hart, John Morrison, R-Truth and Daniel Bryan to take on Nexus. Edge’s involvement in the match was trivial, really, and served as a disappointment considering it would be his final appearance at the annual pay-per-view extravaganza.
6. Randy Orton
One night in August of 2004 nearly derailed the career of one of World Wrestling Entertainment’s most successful stars of the last 15 years. Despite his victory over Chris Benoit in a World Heavyweight Championship match, Orton nearly suffered from “too much, too soon” syndrome as he was given the opportunity to run with the Big Gold Belt before he was really ready to.
Backtracking a bit, Orton made his SummerSlam debut in 2003, competing in the Elimination Chamber match for the World title against the likes of Kevin Nash, Chris Jericho, Goldberg, Triple H and Shawn Michaels. No one expected the young, talented third-generation Superstar to leave with the title, but it was a statement about the support he had within the company that he was even given the spot in the match in the first place.
From the summer of 2003 until the summer of 2004, Orton underwent a massive push that saw him adopt the “Legend Killer” moniker and lay waste to some of the most respected stars in the industry. He feuded with Shawn Michaels, even beating him at Unforgiven in 2003. He won the Intercontinental title in December from Rob Van Dam and held the title for eight months before losing it to Edge.
When he was announced as the No. 1 contender to the World Heavyweight title and it was revealed that he would challenge Chris Benoit for the title in Toronto at SummerSlam, it was difficult to foresee a situation in which management would pull the proverbial trigger and hotshot the Orton push that quickly.
Then Orton delivered the RKO and pinned Benoit clean and decisively in the center of the ring to close out the show.
The following night on Raw, he did it again. And then he was dumped by Evolution and turned babyface, a booking decision that almost ruined Orton before he ever truly got started. Randy struggled to achieve the level of heat and success he had prior until the rivalry with Undertaker leading into WrestleMania.
Orton pushed the Dead Man to the limit and nearly knocked him, breaking the famed streak and making history. But he did fall just short, as many had before him. He took a few months off to heal up his injury and returned in the summer, immediately targeting the man who handed him his last defeat.
A rematch between Orton and Undertaker was booked for SummerSlam in 2005, and the match did not disappoint. They had outstanding chemistry with one another, which was evident in the match they had. Unlike WrestleMania, this time Orton would leave with his arm raised in victory, thanks in large part to his father, “Cowboy” Bob Orton. The program between Randy and the Phenom would continue until December.
The Legend Killer put his skills to the test in 2006 as he stood across the squared circle from Hulk Hogan. The match was nowhere near as good as Hogan’s match with Michaels a year earlier, and Orton really had little to no shot of actually winning. In the end, like hundreds of wrestlers before him, Randy ate the big leg drop and had his shoulders pinned to the mat for a three-count.
In 2007, Orton returned to the title picture. In the main event of that year’s SummerSlam, he challenged John Cena in a match between the two Superstars everyone expected to lead the company into the next generation. They exchanged hold and counterhold and each delivered their finisher, but at the end of the evening, it was Cena who proved to be one move better than his challenger following the FU.
Missing the 2008 installment of SummerSlam due to a legitimate broken collarbone, Orton returned to the event in 2009. The WWE champion at the time, as well as the leader of the group known as Legacy, Orton entered the Staples Center in Los Angeles for a title defense against familiar foe Cena.
Unlike their high-quality affair from two years earlier, their title match in 2009 was an overbooked mess that really hurt the story they were trying to tell. What could have been another show-stealing match ended up as an underwhelming disappointment.
Randy would stay in the title picture in 2010, squaring off against young up-and-coming WWE champion Sheamus. While the two would go on to have outstanding matches against one another in the future, the Celtic Warrior was not quite the performer he would become, and Orton was still in the process of ironing out his babyface persona between the ropes.
2011 featured a tremendous match between Orton and then-World Heavyweight champion Christian. Under No Holds Barred match rules, the two rivals brought their summerlong feud to an end when Orton caught Christian in midair with an RKO onto the steel ring steps and recaptured the title he had stolen from him a month earlier via technicality.
With SummerSlam 2013 coming up this Sunday, Orton has in his possession the Money in the Bank briefcase, guaranteeing him a shot at the WWE title anywhere and anytime he wishes. Could that be in front of a sold-out Staples Center just after the John Cena-Daniel Bryan match?
5. The Rock
The Great One made his SummerSlam in-ring debut in 1998 as the Intercontinental champion, hoping to steal the show and continue his rise up the rankings in the Attitude Era World Wrestling Federation. When his career as a full-time performer in sports entertainment came to an end, he would be one of the most decorated stars in the industry and a major Hollywood star.
The 1998 event was heavily billed as the “Highway to Hell,” and the main event between Steve Austin and The Undertaker was the most hyped bout of the entire summer. While that match would deliver and the event, as a whole, would go on to become one of the most fondly remembered in company history, it would be The Rock and Triple H’s performance in a ladder match for the Intercontinental title that would steal the show and earn both men heavyweight title reigns over the course of the following year.
With blood pouring down his forehead from a laceration caused by the edge of a ladder, The Rock attempted to scale the rungs and retrieve the title he had carried for the previous eight months. With every moment that passed, the diehard fans inside Madison Square Garden got behind the self-proclaimed People’s Champion and voiced their support with a loud and feverish “Rocky” chant.
Unfortunately, it was not his night. Triple H would overcome interference by Mark Henry and a bum knee to capture the title and put his rivalry with The Rock in the back window. Fortunately for the Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment, the loss would do little to alter his destiny.
In 1999, Rock would battle Billy Gunn in a bout billed as a “Kiss My Ass” match. The loser of the match would be forced to pucker up and do as the match title said. It was Gunn’s attempt to further his profile and take a giant leap in his singles career at the expense of The Rock.
While the attempt at a main event push for Gunn was admirable, no one really expected him to beat The Rock, and he did not. In fact, any chance he had of a legitimate push to the top of the card died the moment Rock shoved his face in a rather large lady’s ample backside.
The 1999 match meant little in The Rock’s development and, instead, gave him something to do at the second most important show of the year.
By the time 2000 rolled around, the Brahma Bull had captured the World Wrestling Federation championship after a lengthy rivalry with Triple H and the McMahon-Helmsley Faction. After successfully retaining his title over Chris Benoit in July, Rock entered SummerSlam as the defending champion, with Triple H and Kurt Angle providing opposition in a Triple Threat match.
Angle would suffer a concussion early in the match and had his involvement in the majority of the bout scrapped. In what was a testament to the talent of both performers, Rock and Triple H delivered a solid and improvised match to conclude the evening’s festivities. Like two ring generals, they worked off of their phenomenal chemistry with one another to craft a match unlike any two less-talented individuals could.
In the end, The Rock would fend off his challengers and retain his title.
In 2001, having completed filming on The Scorpion King, The Rock returned to action and defended the honor of the World Wrestling Federation by defeating the Alliance’s Booker T to win the WCW Championship in a very good, if unspectacular, main event match.
While some may have been disappointed with that match, they were anything but when it came to The Rock’s final SummerSlam appearance in 2002.
His WWE Undisputed Championship defense against Brock Lesnar was the ultimate display of a major star who was willing to pass the torch to a younger star in order to preserve, and ensure, the future of the industry.
Both men were billed as supreme athletes at their physical peaks. Lesnar may have been younger and less experienced, but what he lacked in that field he made up for with raw power and freakish agility. He was every bit the wrestler The Rock was, and he would prove it in the biggest match of his career to that point.
In a back-and-forth match that saw each man counter the other’s finisher on several occasions, it would be Lesnar that caught The Rock with an F5 and captured his first WWE Championship, to the delight of the crowd in Uniondale, New York.
As many are aware by now, The Rock would go on to dominate the box office and become one of the most sought-after stars in Hollywood shortly after SummerSlam in 2002.
4. Mick Foley
In 1996, the man formerly known as Cactus Jack signed with the World Wrestling Federation and was given the moniker of Mankind. The unique, fresh and always thought-provoking performer would make his debut with the company the night after WrestleMania XII, attacking The Undertaker and igniting one of the greatest rivalries of the 1990s.
At that year’s SummerSlam from the Gund Arena in Cleveland, Mankind and The Undertaker would meet in the first-ever Boiler Room Brawl, a dangerous and violent match that started in the bowels of the arena and spilled all the way out to the ring.
In a shocking twist of events, longtime Undertaker manager Paul Bearer would turn on his charge and side with Mankind, aiding him to victory. It was a major victory for the relative newcomer and the first hint of evidence that McMahon’s company may have big plans in store for Mick Foley.
The following year, Mankind had a very organic face turn following a series of interviews with Jim Ross in which he described his childhood and adolescence and being picked on by kids at school. The delivery of the words made Mankind a sympathetic character, one that fans could get behind and support on his quest for pro wrestling glory.
That same summer, he entered a program with Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Triple H to the uninitiated, that began in the finals of the King of the Ring tournament in June and ran through In Your House: Calgary Stampede in July and into SummerSlam in August.
The culmination of their rivalry would take place in a steel cage at the summertime spectacular and would see Mankind transform into alter ego Dude Love. He dove off the top of the cage in the same manner that his idol Jimmy Snuka had when he was a young man watching from the crowd in Madison Square Garden.
It was a coming-of-age story played out in real time for Foley and a moment that, while not as replayed and relived as the Hell in a Cell match a year later, was as great a moment in his Hall of Fame career as any.
In 1998, Foley’s toughness was tested as he defended the tag team titles in a handicap match against the New Age Outlaws inside Madison Square Garden. Originally slated to be Mankind and Kane defending, the Big Red Monster was more concerned with his brother, The Undertaker, and his match with Steve Austin than he was his own tag team partner.
Mankind was brutalized and beaten by the Outlaws and, ultimately, by his own partner. His willingness to take the abuse won over the fans, however, as signs sporting the phrase “Foley is God” began popping up in arenas across the country.
The main event of SummerSlam 1999 was a Triple Threat match for the World Wrestling Federation heavyweight title, pitting champion Steve Austin against challengers Triple H and the recently returned Mankind.
Entering the match, most fans expected Triple H to leave Minneapolis with his first heavyweight championship. It was obvious that he was being groomed for the main event heel spot and by all accounts, SummerSlam would be his coronation.
It was not.
Mankind shocked the world by capturing the title and standing tall in the center of the squared circle, his arm raised in victory by then-governor Jesse Ventura. It was a nice moment for one of the most beloved stars in the sport, even if he was meant to be a transitional champion.
He would lose the title the following night to, you guessed it, Triple H.
Foley’s retirement from professional wrestling would mean he would miss out on appearing in-ring at SummerSlam. When he came out of retirement for a second time in 2006, however, he got his first shot at the annual summertime extravaganza in seven years.
Ric Flair had taken personal shots at Foley in his book, calling the former WWE champion a “glorified stunt man.” As it would anyone, the comments offended Foley, who replied with sharp words of his own in reference to the Nature Boy.
All of this was said in real life, away from cameras or WWE programming. Never one to pass up the opportunity to make money off of a personal situation, however, McMahon’s company capitalized on the heat and booked the two in a rivalry. Their first match, at Vengeance in July, was not quite the match fans expected. Foley and Flair would have the opportunity to make up for it in August, however, as they met in an “I Quit” match.
It was a brutal, bloody affair that saw the legendary figures beat and batter each other with weapons before Flair grabbed a hold of Foley’s friend Melina and threatened her with physical harm. Foley immediately uttered the words “I quit,” costing himself the match.
The following night, the entire ordeal with Melina proved to be a sham as she turned on Mick and helped Mr. McMahon fire the hardcore legend on Raw.
One of the most likable men in the entire sport, Mick Foley crafted for himself a legacy of matches at SummerSlam that went a long way in earning him a Hall of Fame induction in the 2013 ceremony held the night before WrestleMania 29.
3. John Cena
The current WWE champion, whether some fans like it or not, has become an iconic figure in the annals of pro wrestling history. The current face of Vince McMahon’s wrestling empire, he has built a legendary resume for himself since capturing his first WWE title back in 2005 and will look to continue building on that legacy this Sunday night when he steps into the ring for what many believe has the potential to be a Match of the Year candidate against Daniel Bryan.
Even if that match disappoints, however, Cena has gone a long way in establishing himself as one of the great SummerSlam performers.
In 2004, he defeated Booker T in a Best-of-Five series match. It would be his first, and only, SummerSlam appearance without a WWE or World Heavyweight Championship reign on his resume.
A year later, he entered the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. as the WWE champion, defending his title against Chris Jericho. It was the first time that Cena was asked to really demonstrate his skills as an in-ring performer. Jericho was the perfect opponent for him to do that with because he was, and still is, among the most well-rounded performers in the history of the sport.
Jericho helped to carry a still-inexperienced Cena to a solid outing, and the champion was able to successfully defend his title.
By the time 2006 arrived, Cena had been the WWE champion on two separate occasions and was in the middle of a defining rivalry with Edge. The two really helped to elevate each other’s stock throughout the year, and their SummerSlam main event was merely a stepping stone for a bigger, more violent and risky TLC match the following month at Unforgiven.
Edge would capitalize on a distraction from Lita and blast Cena in the back of the head and cover for the pinfall victory. He would leave Cena’s hometown of Boston with the title still in his possession, but his celebration would be cut short as Cena won the Tables, Ladders and Chairs match in Edge’s hometown of Toronto to regain the gold.
In 2007, Cena and Randy Orton delivered a drama-filled WWE title bout full of reversals and counters. Each man delivered their finishing move to the other, but it was Cena who caught Orton off-guard with an FU (later known as the Attitude Adjustment) and picked up the pinfall victory.
A year later, fans were treated to a clash between the two biggest babyfaces of the generation as Cena squared off with Batista in a match bigger than any title bout could have been. The two heavyweights exchanged powerful maneuvers, each with the intention of proving their worth as the bigger star and better man.
In the end, Cena would try a high-risk maneuver but was caught by Batista in a power bomb. The Animal would follow up with a more traditional Batista Bomb and pick up the clean pinfall victory over his peer. It was a huge win for Batista and an unexpected loss for the leader of the Cenation.
In 2009, Cena returned to action in a WWE championship match, once again squaring off with Randy Orton. The match failed to meet the expectations of fans who so enjoyed their first match two years earlier and ended up being more of an overbooked mess that contributed to the continuation of their months-long storyline than a quality title match at the second biggest pay-per-view event of the year.
The Nexus was running rampant across World Wrestling Entertainment in the summer of 2010 and had become a threat to some of the biggest stars in the company, John Cena being one of them. With that said, a huge 14-man tag team elimination match was set for the main event of SummerSlam.
Cena captained a team that featured Chris Jericho, Edge, R-Truth, John Morrison, Bret Hart and Daniel Bryan and led them into battle against Nexus, a renegade group of rookies that touted young Superstars such as Wade Barrett, Justin Gabriel, David Otunga, Heath Slater, Michael Tarver, Darren Young and Skip Sheffield (I hear he is a hungry fellow).
The match was a tremendous effort from everyone involved, especially Cena who overcame a numbers advantage for Nexus and picked off both Gabriel and Barrett to win the match for Team WWE.
The greatest match of Cena’s SummerSlam resume came in 2011, when he challenged CM Punk in a rematch of their instant classic at Money in the Bank. Punk had outstanding momentum behind him as he arrived in Los Angeles for the match. He was unquestionably the hottest star in the sport while, for the first time in his main event career, Cena was simply “the other guy” in the match.
The two performers, who had chemistry between them when working together unlike any other two stars in the industry, delivered a phenomenal title bout that was hurt only by the involvement of Triple H as guest referee. Cena would lose the match, but the fact that he had draped his foot over the bottom rope assured that he did not look too weak in doing so.
A year after his match with Punk, Cena would once again clash with the Second City Saint, this time in a Triple Threat match for the WWE title that also involved the Big Show. A solid match saw Cena and Punk at the center of it, picking up their rivalry over the top prize in the sport, all the while trying to keep the dominant giant from leaving the Staples Center with it.
At the end of the evening, Punk would take advantage of an Attitude Adjustment by Cena to Big Show and cover for the win.
This summer, Cena will be faced with cooling down the hottest act in professional wrestling, Daniel Bryan, if he wants to retain the WWE title he won from The Rock at WrestleMania 29.
2. Hulk Hogan
Love him or hate him, there is no SummerSlam without Hulk Hogan.
With the World Wrestling Federation riding a tremendous wave of success in the late 1980s, Vince McMahon was constantly devising plans to maximize the exposure of his biggest star, and a new pay-per-view event title SummerSlam in August of 1988 not only accomplished that, it also gave him another outlet for him to tell stories on the yearlong road to the following spring’s WrestleMania.
At WrestleMania IV, Hogan had aided Randy “Macho Man” Savage in defeating Ted DiBiase in the finals of the heavyweight title tournament. In doing so, he not only drew the ire of DiBiase, he also added fuel to the fire that was his heated, personal feud with Andre the Giant.
With all four men intertwined throughout the spring and early parts of the summer, it was only fitting that the main event of the very first SummerSlam be a tag team bout, billed as the Mega Powers (Hogan and Savage) taking on the Mega Bucks (DiBiase and Andre) in a match officiated by Hollywood and World Wrestling Federation star Jesse “the Body” Ventura.
Madison Square Garden was the setting for the huge tag team clash. The match did not disappoint as the four top stars in the company delivered a solid main event that saw Andre and DiBiase on the verge of a huge, unexpected win until Miss Elizabeth climbed on the apron and provided a distraction by ripping off her skirt. The misdirection by wrestling’s most classy manager allowed Hogan and Savage to recover and, moments later, pick up the victory.
A year later, Hogan would return to tag team action at SummerSlam, partnering with Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake to take on friend-turned-rival Savage and Zeus, a character played by actor Tiny Lister in No Holds Barred, a Vince McMahon-produced film starring Hogan.
The less said about that match, the better. And, yes, Hogan won.
1990 saw a recovering Hulk Hogan return to the ring to take on the man that had sidelined him for months following WrestleMania VI, the massive Earthquake. Hogan was beaten from pillar to post in the match as his larger opponent targeted the previously injured ribs, but it was Hogan’s determination to never quit, to never give up (sound familiar?) that allowed him to overcome the oppressive offense of Earthquake and sneak out a victory by count-out.
At WrestleMania VII in 1991, Hogan defeated Iraqi sympathizer and American turncoat Sgt. Slaughter to regain the heavyweight title. Four months later, he teamed with the Ultimate Warrior to meet Slaughter, Gen. Adnan and Col. Mustafa in a two-on-three handicap match.
There was little doubt as to who would leave with their arms raised in victory, and the involvement of special referee Sid Vicious did little to change that.
Hogan would not appear at SummerSlam for 14 years. During the majority of that time, he starred for Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling. His heel turn in 1996 spawned the New World Order, a rebellious group of supposed outsiders bent on destroying WCW and all of its top stars.
The storyline catapulted the promotion past Vince McMahon’s then-World Wrestling Federation in the fight for No. 1 company in the industry. The company would not know how to maintain the success, however, and by the time 2001 rolled around, World Championship Wrestling would be out of business and McMahon’s empire would be the only one left standing.
Hogan would make several appearances for WWE in 2002 and 2003 but never at SummerSlam. In fact, fans would have to wait until 2005 for him to return to the “Biggest Party of the Summer,” and he would do so in grand fashion, against the biggest star of the so-called New Generation in one of the very few dream matches left.
Hogan would square off against Shawn Michaels in a match that saw Michaels do everything in his power to both carry Hogan to a suitable main event as well as mock the Hulkster’s very simple, old school offense. Michaels would take a punch and oversell it to the extreme.
Michaels, who detailed his experience working with Hogan in the Shawn Michaels: My Journey DVD release from WWE Home Video, was not fond of Hulk and made it known in the way he reacted to the punches, kicks, and leg drops delivered by the internationally known icon.
Hogan would defeat Michaels in the best match of his return stint with the company and would not appear again until the following summer, when a short-term feud with Randy Orton led to a match between the two at SummerSlam.
Hogan would win that one, too.
There is no denying the impact The Hulkster had on the history of professional wrestling and how he directly influenced the course of SummerSlam. Without his presence, without the success and media attention he brought to Vince McMahon’s promotion and the marketing machine McMahon put behind him, the event would never have existed.
1. Bret Hart
The evolution of Bret Hart as a performer can be traced over the years at the annual August event.
From 1988 until 1990, Hart partnered with Jim “the Anvil” Neidhart in the championship-winning Hart Foundation tag team. Over the course of those three SummerSlam events, Hart and Neidhart competed for the tag team titles on two separate occasions, both of which came against Demolition, and put up a valiant, albeit losing, effort against Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson in a non-title match.
By 1991, Hart had become one of the hottest young stars in the sport and was easily one of the most technically gifted in-ring performers in the business. He had earned a singles push and, after years of being promised one, finally saw his hard work come to fruition when he was awarded an Intercontinental Championship match against Mr. Perfect.
Both champion and challenger delivered performances that would help to define the legacy of the SummerSlam event. Hart would leave Madison Square Garden with the coveted title in his possession, the first singles reign of his storied and Hall of Fame career.
One year later, Hart would once again be a part of the Match of the Year. Taking on his real life brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith, in front of Smith’s fellow countrymen inside Wembley Stadium in London, England, Hart demonstrated the talent of a true ring general. He picked Smith up and carried him to his level, delivering what may very well go down in history as Hart’s greatest performance. He would lose the title in dramatic fashion, but it was difficult to argue that Hart did not come out of the match looking far better than the new champion.
He would ride the wave of momentum from his all-time great SummerSlam main event all the way into the fall, where he would defeat “Nature Boy” Ric Flair to capture the World Wrestling Federation championship for the first time.
In 1993, the drama between Hart and Jerry Lawler spilled over into SummerSlam. What was supposed to be a one-on-one encounter between the two ring veterans, however, ended up being a mess of a match that started when Bret defeated Doink the Clown by disqualification when Lawler, who feigned injury to get out of the match, blasted him across the back with a crutch.
From there, Lawler was ordered to compete and became the punching bag for Hart. In fact, when Bret locked in his trademark Sharpshooter finisher and scored the submission victory, he could not keep his emotions in check. He refused to release the hold, causing the referee to reverse his decision and award the win to Lawler.
A year later, Hart was once again the heavyweight champion and was in the middle of a personal, heated feud with his brother, Owen. The rivalry had taken a toll on the Hart family, who would be seated ringside during the steel cage match for the title. Bret and Owen delivered performances worthy of Oscars, creating drama inside the steel structure despite never needing to use blood or other cheap gimmicks to keep the crowd invested. Bret would leave Chicago’s United Center with his title intact, all the while continuing to build the most impressive SummerSlam resume in the history of the event.
Bret would go on to have great success over the next three years, appearing on two SummerSlam broadcasts and notching wins at each one. In 1995, he defeated Jerry Lawler’s personal dentist Isaac Yankem by disqualification and in 1997, he would win his fifth and final heavyweight title by defeating The Undertaker in a highly controversial match, thanks in large part to an ill-timed chair shot by special referee Shawn Michaels.
Hart’s controversial exit from the World Wrestling Federation in November of 1997, following the so-called “Montreal Screwjob,” seemingly put an end to his involvement in SummerSlam events. There was a great deal of anger between the decorated Superstar and his former employer, Vince McMahon, and it appeared as though the likelihood that Hart would ever appear for the promotion that he helped build and which helped catapult him into Superstardom was small.
Then 2010 came and, 13 years after his much-discussed exit from the promotion, Hart returned to the now-World Wrestling Entertainment. After defeating McMahon at WrestleMania 26, Hart would make appearances for the company throughout the summer. With the rise of Nexus, Hart would play a major factor into the company’s SummerSlam plans.
Bret would team with John Cena, R-Truth, John Morrison, Edge, Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan to take on the faction of newcomers, which included the likes of Wade Barrett, Justin Gabriel, Heath Slater and Skip Sheffield, better known to today’s fans as Ryback.
While “the Hitman” could no longer perform to the level he once did, he brought legitimate star power to that match and helped tutor his younger coworkers. At the end of the evening, Hart’s involvement in the match would be short, but it was a suitable way to get the legend into a high-profile spot on the very show he helped build into one of the company’s must-see presentations.
Hart’s impact on SummerSlam is immeasurable. He delivered performances that made the wrestling at the annual August event as important, if not more, than the high-profile title bouts. His matches were pure artistry that told stories even the most casual of fans could understand and invest themselves in. The matches against Perfect, Smith and brother Owen not only rank among the greatest matches in the history of the event, they also rank among the best matches in the sport’s long and illustrious history.
The greatness of Hart as a performer has never been in question, and it is because of performances like those at SummerSlam that he is remembered as one of the finest in-ring performers and, perhaps, the best technician ever.