SummerSlam was once an event that showcased Hall of Famers clamoring for the WWE Intercontinental Championship, but that tradition has since faded.
Early on, the pay-per-view was home to the title's greatest matches and most enduring champions. Too often in recent SummerSlams, the IC title is either an afterthought or not even a part of the show.
SummerSlam's history reminds us how thrilling the chase for that belt can be. WWE would be wise to go back to that tradition.
The collection of WWE Intercontinental Championship matches at SummerSlam is rich with Ladder matches and technical wrestling displays. It may be tough to surpass what champions and challengers accomplished in the past, but today's wrestlers are frequently not even given a chance.
First Three Years
The first SummerSlam didn't feature a great battle for the IC title, but it certainly was a memorable one.
The Honky Tonk Man had held onto the strap for longer than anyone in its history—454 days. At SummerSlam 1998, a mystery challenger came charging at him. It was the rising star The Ultimate Warrior, who yanked that prize from his waist.
Warrior made history of his own, defeating the champ in just a matter of seconds.
This served to announce Warrior as a powerful force. It remains one of SummerSlam's most unforgettable clashes, even if it was over in record time.
The next year, Rick Rude entered as the champion. The Warrior was there to meet him. His victory marked the second straight SummerSlam that he became IC champ.
Arguably the best match of the event, Rude vs. Warrior showcased two of the company's biggest stars.
The 1990 SummerSlam featured another title change. The Texas Tornado (Kerry Von Erich) knocked off Mr. Perfect. It was not as compelling a match as Rude vs. Warrior or as shocking as Warrior's first title win, but it was an attempt to elevate a newcomer.
The crowd certainly responded to Von Erich's win with great passion. It roared for the fan favorite, something it wouldn't do much during a disappointing SummerSlam.
For much of the decade, the battle over the IC title provided SummerSlam with its peak.
Dave Meltzer gave out high ratings often in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t ProFightDB.com) when that belt was on the line at this event.
|High-Rated SummerSlam Intercontinental Championship Matches in the '90s|
|Year||Opponents||Star Rating out of 5|
|1991||Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect||4|
|1992||Bret Hart vs. The British Bulldog||4.25|
|1995||Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon||4.75|
|1998||Triple H vs. The Rock||4.25|
|Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t ProFightDB.com)|
Hart vs. Mr. Perfect in 1991 remains one of SummerSlam's most well-worked matches. Two in-ring masters put on a clinic in attempt to steal the show.
It did just that, outclassing everything else on the card.
Hart and the IC title would feature prominently the following year as well. SummerSlam 1992 in London pitted The Hitman against The British Bulldog in the main event.
It is one of the rare times that a championship other than the WWE title was defended in the marquee bout. The foes made WWE happy that it decided to do that, producing a classic.
Michaels and Ramon followed their lead, making their Ladder match for the IC title the highlight of SummerSlam 1995.
The fact that there is a debate whether that match or their clash at WrestleMania X is better is a testament to the greatness they contributed to that year's SummerSlam.
The '90s featured low points for the IC title as well, though. There was no match for that championship at SummerSlam 1996. At SummerSlam 1997, the match between Owen Hart and Steve Austin wasn't all that noteworthy.
Austin's broken neck was the story there.
In 1999, after Triple H and The Rock brought back the tradition of great IC title matches to WWE's summer blockbuster, D'Lo Brown and Jeff Jarrett delivered an underwhelming performance. Jarrett defeated Brown, taking home both the IC title and WWE European Championship.
The next decade would feature excellence, just not an overload of it as fans saw in the '90s.
Lance Storm and Edge opened SummerSlam 2001 with a thrilling IC title bout that would have stolen the show at many a SummerSlam. This was too good of an event, though, to have this fun clash conquer it.
In 2002, Chris Benoit vs. Rob Van Dam was very good as well.
Meltzer gave those two matches 3.25 and 3.5 stars, respectively. The run of SummerSlam being the place to see quality IC title action ended after that, though.
No one defended the title at that pay-per-view in 2003, 2005 and 2006.
Edge vs. Chris Jericho vs. Batista in 2004 and Umaga vs. Carlito vs. Mr. Kennedy were solid but nothing like the battles Hart, Michaels and Mr. Perfect had put on. Fans would have taken a repeat of those Triple Threat bouts, though, over what was soon to come.
Rather than SummerSlam be home to the IC title's best, the championship soon became something WWE seemed to just toss onto the card at the last minute.
In 2008, it was part of a mixed tag match pitting Kofi Kingston and Mickie James against Santino Marella and Beth Phoenix. The WWE Women's Championship was also on the line.
Rather than remind fans of the red-hot contests SummerSlam saw in the '90s, it was a lesser version of Chyna and Eddie Guerrero vs. Trish Stratus and Val Venis from SummerSlam 2000.
The last few years, save for one fast-paced match, haven't been much better.
The Staples Center Years
Since Los Angeles has become SummerSlam's regular home, there has been one fantastic match featuring the WWE Intercontinental Championship—Dolph Ziggler vs. Rey Mysterio in 2009.
This is the kind of fluid, thrilling ring work that has had Ziggler develop such a strong fanbase and what has made Mysterio a guaranteed future Hall of Famer. The IC title stood at the center of a hard-fought battle, as it did in years past.
Unfortunately, there have been too few matches of that caliber for the belt at SummerSlam lately.
In 2010, Ziggler and Kingston wasn't nearly as fun as Ziggler vs. Mysterio. It certainly had a chance to be great, but Nexus ambushed both competitors, resulting in a no-contest. That halted the struggle for The Showoff's crown in favor of focusing on Nexus' appetite for calamity.
SummerSlam featured no IC title bout in 2011 or 2013. In between, The Miz and Mysterio put on a solid effort.
Solid, good and decent matches have become commonplace for the intercontinental championship at SummerSlam when it used to be a hub for greatness. Fans still remember Warrior's win over Honky Tonk Man, still have their heart quicken thinking of Bulldog vs. Hart and still drool when thinking of Ramon vs. Michaels.
It's doubtful that a decade or more from now that there will as strong an emotion attached to the majority of recent IC title contests at the event.
If given a match, The Miz has a chance to reverse that trend and produce something more like what we saw in 2009, 1999 or 1989. A stellar performance harks back to the glory days of SummerSlam as the IC title's showcase.