WWE SummerSlam 2014: 15 Most Memorable Moments in Event's History

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistAugust 4, 2014

WWE SummerSlam 2014: 15 Most Memorable Moments in Event's History

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    Credit: WWE.com

    SummerSlam is an event chocked full of outstanding matches, some of which are recognized as the best in WWE history.

    Among them, however, are solitary moments that have helped the event last nearly three decades.

    Industry icons such as Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Rock and Triple H have created moments in time that have helped alter the course of professional wrestling and created new stars along the way.

    On August 17, World Wrestling Entertainment will present its 27th annual summertime extravaganza, and with matches such as Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena, Roman Reigns vs. Randy Orton and Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt already announced for the show, the potential for memorable moments is high.

    In celebration of the upcoming extravaganza and in preparation for the 2014 broadcast, here is a look back at some of the most memorable moments in SummerSlam history.

An Ultimate Champion (1988)

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    For over one year, the Honky Tonk Man infuriated fans across the country by finding ways to retain the WWE Intercontinental Championship without actually winning a match. He would get himself intentionally disqualified or counted out, holding on to the title while his opponent looked like a world-beater in the process.

    By the time SummerSlam in August 1988 rolled around, anticipation to see the champion not only lose the title but to do so while being utterly dismantled by his opponent was at a fever pitch.

    Originally scheduled to face Brutus Beefcake, the Elvis lookalike found himself without an opponent when Beefcake was savagely attacked and bloodied by "Outlaw" Ron Bass. Who would step up and challenge Honky Tonk Man in front of thousands of passionate WWE fans inside the historic Madison Square Garden?

    The answer came in the form of a sprinting, face-painted maniac named The Ultimate Warrior.

    The 2014 Hall of Famer hit the ring, tore through the villainous champion in seconds and pinned him to the approval of everyone in attendance and those watching at home.

    The roar of the crowd as the referee's hand slapped the mat for a third time and Warrior was announced as the new champion was an unforgettable moment, the first truly great one in SummerSlam history.

"She Took off Her Skirt, Gorilla!" (1988)

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    The main event of the inaugural SummerSlam event pitted the Mega Powers, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, against the Mega Bucks, Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant.

    It was a star-studded affair that featured great tag team wrestling and considerable drama, especially when Savage and Hogan were both dumped to the arena floor late in the bout, leaving DiBiase and Andre standing tall in the center of the ring, questions creeping into fans' minds about the heroes' ability to beat them.

    Then, in an uncharacteristic move, Miss Elizabeth climbed onto the apron and attempted to grab the attention of the heels and special guest referee Jesse Ventura. When her attempts failed, she tore off her skirt, eliciting a thunderous ovation (and dozens of catcalls) from the New York fans.

    Ventura, DiBiase and Andre were stunned, as were commentators Gorilla Monsoon and "Superstar" Billy Graham. After all, no one doubted Elizabeth's beauty, but she had never used her good looks or sex appeal to favor Savage or Hogan before.

    It worked, though, as Hogan and Savage recovered and went on to win the match.

The Hart Dynasty Has Begun (1991)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The 1991 SummerSlam is held up by many as one of the best in event history. There was a little something for everyone on the show, and the fact that it took place in Madison Square Garden and featured so many different types of matches helped enhance the card exponentially.

    Despite all of the gimmick matches, all of the hype surrounding weddings and the attention put on Sid Justice, the most memorable moment of the entire night came in the second match.

    Mr. Perfect limped into the Garden as intercontinental champion, but it was clear his back was causing him excruciating pain. A man's man, he fought through it as he defended against No. 1 contender and second-generation star Bret "Hitman" Hart.

    Hart had made a seemingly successful transition from tag team wrestling to singles competition, and a victory over the talented and respected Perfect for the second-most important title in WWE would cement his status as one of the brightest up-and-coming stars in the promotion.

    Despite enduring a tremendous beating from Perfect, Hart showed great resilience as he fought back and capitalized on an ego-fueled mistake by the champion and locked him in the vaunted Sharpshooter, forcing a tapout and securing the intercontinental title.

    It was a triumphant night inside wrestling's most famous arena for the Hitman. After years of starring alongside Jim Neidhart as one-half of the Hart Foundation, he proved he could succeed on his own. The celebration with father Stu and mother Helen was heartfelt and really added to Bret's monumental evening.

Championship Homecoming (1992)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    One year after defeating Mr. Perfect to win the Intercontinental Championship and embark on a singles run that would end with his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame some 15 years later, Bret Hart entered Wembley Stadium a two-time champion defending in the night's main event against real-life brother-in-law "British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith.

    With Hart's sister and Smith's wife Diana sitting ringside, the Superstars proceeded to deliver one of the greatest matches in WWE history.

    Hart carried the visibly nervous Smith, who was working in front of 80,000 of his fellow countrymen for the first time in his career. Still, despite having butterflies in the pit of his stomach, he did just enough to ensure that the match came off exactly how it should have.

    A sunset flip attempt by Hart was countered into a rollup by Smith, who picked up the win and the title, much to the delight of the Brits who had packed the world-famous sporting stadium.

    The pay-per-view telecast went off the air with the competitors and Diana celebrating in the center of the squared circle as fireworks went off behind them, signifying what should have been the start of a career-making run for Smith.

    That would not be the case, but that is a conversation for another time.

Double the Phenom, Double the Fun? (1994)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    In January 1994, The Undertaker disappeared from television following a loss to Yokozuna in a Casket match at the Royal Rumble. Questions abounded regarding the whereabouts of the Phenom, but no one had any real answers.

    That is, until "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase came forward and claimed to have bought the Dead Man.

    When DiBiase's Undertaker debuted, though, it became clear that something was not quite right. First, he looked a bit shorter than the Superstar fans had come to know over the previous four years. Second, his tattoos did not match up with those of the original. When Paul Bearer called BS on DiBiase's claims, any doubts fans had were substantiated.

    At SummerSlam that August, Bearer led the real Undertaker to the ring for a bizarre one-on-one main event against DiBiase's Underfaker.

    His hair longer, his arms decorated with more ink and his hands wrapped in new purple gloves, the Dead Man stood toe-to-toe with the impostor, and fans knew immediately who the real Undertaker was.

    The sight of seeing the two similar competitors staring one another down was surreal. While the storyline had been absurd and the involvement of renowned actor Leslie Nielsen helped further cement it as a farce, the visual was more than enough to pique the interest of an audience that had just watched a five-star classic between Bret and Owen Hart.

    If only the staredown would have been the end...

A Shocking Betrayal

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    Credit: WWE.com

    For six years, Paul Bearer guided The Undertaker to the ring, standing by his side during wars with the likes of Hulk Hogan, "The Ugandan Giant" Kamala, Yokozuna and Diesel. As Undertaker was faced with his toughest challenge to date, a maniacal and deranged individual known as Mankind, it became apparent that he would need his manager and confidant more than ever.

    The Boiler Room Brawl between Undertaker and Mankind was unlike any match in WWE history. The Superstars attempted to destroy and dismantle one another, the goal being to make their way to the ring and retrieve the urn from Bearer.

    Undertaker appeared to be on his way to doing so, taking his unstable opponent out and kneeling before his longtime manager. In a shocking turn of events, Bearer blasted his charge over the head with the urn and proceeded to hand it to Mankind, signifying the end of one of the most storied partnerships in WWE history and the beginning of one that would have fans scratching their heads and asking, "Why?"

A Devastating Injury (1997)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    World Wrestling Entertainment was surging in the summer of 1997. Ratings had not quite caught up to those enjoyed by World Championship Wrestling, but in many ways Vince McMahon's product had eclipsed Ted Turner's in terms of quality.

    A major part of that was the rise of Steve Austin, a foulmouthed rebel who was as equally prone to flipping the bird as he was stomping a mud hole in an opponent and, in his words, "walking it dry!"

    At SummerSlam in August, Austin would challenge for the Intercontinental Championship held by Hart Foundation member Owen Hart. The rivalry between the Superstars had been raging since the youngest member of the Hart clan scored a surprising pinfall victory over the Texas Rattlesnake a month earlier at In Your House: Canadian Stampede, and their match was to be the culmination of the program.

    Unfortunately, character development and storytelling went out the window, as Austin was on the receiving end of a piledriver-gone-bad and was left nearly paralyzed as a result. Suddenly, the entire future of McMahon's promotion laid motionless in the center of the ring, unsure if he would ever walk again.

    Despite mustering enough strength to perform the worst rollup ever and win the title, then walking to the back with the assistance of the officials, Austin's neck injury left many questioning if he would ever be the performer he was prior.

    He would, but it would not be easy. Still, despite the severe injury and the tremendous rehabilitation necessary to come back from it, Austin was able to continue his meteoric rise all the way to WrestleMania XIV, when he captured the WWE Championship.

The Rock Ascends the Ladder (1998)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The Rock had been through many ups and downs in his young career when he entered Madison Square Garden in August 1998 for SummerSlam.

    He began his journey in Vince McMahon's WWE two years earlier in the same building. As Rocky Maivia, he was a clean-cut babyface with a ridiculous haircut and an even worse outfit. He smiled, was over-animated in his body language and over-pushed by management. The people saw through the generic babyface act and greeted Maivia with boos in every arena he stepped foot in.

    Luckily, a knee injury sidelined him, allowing him to take a step back and work with McMahon and WWE Creative to devise a way to get him over rather than wallowing away as a hated babyface in the midcard.

    Upon his return, he joined the Nation of Domination and quickly began to outshine his veteran partners. He was brash, arrogant, cocky and damn entertaining. A catchphrase machine, he soon had fans chanting along with some of his most popular phrases. "If you smell what The Rock is cookin'" became a household line and The Rock began attracting attention from those outside of wrestling.

    When he took to the ring for his Intercontinental Championship Ladder match against Triple H at the summertime spectacular, there was a noticeable buzz around WWE's first third-generation star.

    He proved why, turning in one of his finest performances of all time. Despite entering the show as one of the most despised villains on the roster, the New York fans showed their respect and appreciation for him and the fact that he bled for his craft by raining down "Rocky" chants on him.

    It was a moment The Rock would build upon. Momentum was on his side, and he would ride it into the Survivor Series three months later, where he would betray the fans' trust by siding with the evil Mr. McMahon and capturing his first WWE Championship, embarking on a run at the top of the card that would result in him becoming the most recognizable star the professional wrestling world had seen since Hulk Hogan.

Shane McMahon Fails the Test (1999)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The summer of 1999 brought with it a love angle involving newcomer Test and Stephanie McMahon, the lovely daughter of WWE Chairman Vince. While most were happy for the two young lovebirds, especially given the traumatic start to the year that Stephanie endured, her brother Shane was anything but approving of the relationship.

    The overbearing and entitled young man did everything in his power to keep his sister away from the talented big man, who had shown flashes of brilliance but had yet to deliver that one defining performance. With no other option, he challenged Test to a match at SummerSlam with a special stipulation: If he won, Test would have to break off the relationship with Stephanie. If Test won, however, Shane would have to butt out and leave his sister alone.

    Despite a card featuring the likes of Steve Austin, Triple H, Mankind and The Rock, it was clear that the most heated program on the SummerSlam 1999 broadcast was the one between Test and Shane, as evidenced by the tremendous response given to them by the fans in Minneapolis.

    The hated Mean Street Posse attempted to interfere on Shane's behalf, while Test was assisted by Gerald Brisco and Pat Patterson. Several stories crossed, and the finished product was one of the best examples of Vince Russo's booking done right.

    Test won the match and embraced Stephanie, and the fans were rewarded for their patience and passion with a happy ending.

    At least for that moment in time.

Michaels' Triumphant Return (2002)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Shawn Michaels' return to the ring at the 2002 SummerSlam event began an eight-year journey that saw him re-establish himself as the best professional wrestler on the planet despite four years of inactivity.

    A teased D-Generation X reunion elicited a tremendous reaction from fans, but it was a shocking betrayal at the hands of The Game that ignited a personal, emotionally charged rivalry between the best friends that would result in the Match of the Year candidate at that year's summertime extravaganza.

    Michaels would have his face thrown through a window and would be confined to a wheelchair. Everything Triple H threw at his friend and mentor was answered with great resilience. The Heartbreak Kid had proved that years of addiction and a crippling back injury could not keep him down, and neither would Triple H.

    Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York was the setting for one of the most vicious and violent beatings in SummerSlam history. Triple H brutalized Michaels, targeting the back of his friend-turned-rival. Each hit, each bone-crushing maneuver and every steel chair smashed into the spine of Michaels left fans cringing. 

    No matter how much pain Michaels had shooting up his back or how badly his body wanted him to quit, his will would not allow it. Channeling his inner-HBK, Michaels fought for his health, his future and his life. And on that night, he proved to be the better man, pinning Triple H and basking in the glory that came with the win.

    He would suffer for his win, a sledgehammer shot to the back necessitating his departure from the arena on a stretcher.

    Michaels' performance in the match would lead to his full-time return to the ring months later, a return that including a World Heavyweight Championship victory at Survivor Series and several show-stealing bouts against the likes of Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Ric Flair and Undertaker.

The Viper Strikes Gold (2004)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Randy Orton was the hottest young star in professional wrestling entering the 2004 SummerSlam, and that year's event would serve as his coronation as the next breakout star in the sport.

    After months spent feuding with Mick Foley in a career-making storyline, Orton dominated the WWE midcard as the intercontinental champion, regularly competing against the likes of Shelton Benjamin, Chris Jericho and Edge while building quite the reputation for himself.

    As he entered SummerSlam, he would be facing an entirely different beast. Chris Benoit was the best wrestler on the planet and, as the world heavyweight champion, had done an outstanding job of restoring credibility and legitimacy to a title that had become Triple H's personal plaything prior to his run with it.

    With a young, relatively inexperienced main eventer in Orton, there would be a great deal of pressure placed on Benoit to deliver a quality marquee bout.

    He did, and Orton performed up to the level of his opponent, ensuring that the top-billed match on the card exceeded expectations. Not once did the champion ever appear to be the challenger's superior, a testament to the performers themselves, who worked well together and delivered a match that was wildly competitive.

    In the end, Benoit followed the time-honored tradition, dropping the belt cleanly to Orton and making a new star in the process. As the third-generation star scaled the ropes and kissed the championship belt, tears running down his cheeks, it appeared as though a new era in professional wrestling was upon us.

    Of course, that would all change one night later when Triple H stole the spotlight away from his young protege, as he was prone to doing, and effectively ended any chance Orton had of enjoying a successful first title reign.

A Hulking Victory (2005)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Shawn Michaels' shocking Sweet Chin Music to Hulk Hogan in July 2005 set up a match between the two iconic performers that would headline that year's SummerSlam event.

    Rather than allowing both to remain babyfaces and having fans choose which Superstar they wanted to support, Michaels dipped into his bag of tricks and reverted back to his "Attitudinal" phase of the late 1990s. He berated Hogan, poked fun of his age and seemingly enjoyed toying with the fans.

    It was a completely different Michaels than the one most had grown accustomed to in the years following his return to the ring and, quite frankly, was a huge breath of fresh air.

    At SummerSlam, he hoisted Hogan on his shoulders and carried the aging Hulkster to one of his best matches in nearly a decade. Of course, he did so while overselling the unholy hell out of Hogan's overplayed signature offense and generally making an ass out of the legendary figure, but the match was still quite excellent considering expectations leading into it.

    Hogan's win over Michaels did little to really enhance his legacy but did give him a huge victory over one of the biggest stars of the 1990s and one of the most respected in-ring performers of all time. For Michaels, it was a loss that was completely forgotten the following night, when he returned to his babyface ways and became the target of the cocky Chris Masters.

Chokeslammed Straight to Hell (2008)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The feud between Undertaker and Edge, which began at WrestleMania XXIV, featured several gimmick matches, including a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match at One Night Stand in June. That contest saw interference from the villainous La Familia stable and a victory for the Rated R Superstar over the Phenom.

    When the relationship between Edge and SmackDown general manager Vickie Guerrero disintegrated in the weeks leading into SummerSlam, she proved vengeful in her matchmaking, booking her estranged husband in a Hell in a Cell match against the Dead Man at the annual pay-per-view event.

    With nowhere to run, nowhere to hide and no one to back him up, Edge was forced to take on his rival inside the steel structure that had been home to so many violent bouts in the past.

    With bloodletting no longer an option, the future Hall of Famers crafted a smart contest that relied heavily on sheer brutality rather than graphic imagery to hook the fans. By the time Undertaker delivered the Tombstone for the win, the fans in Indianapolis had been taken on an emotional roller-coaster ride.

    The devastating piledriver was not the end of Edge's physical punishment, however. After tormenting Undertaker for as long as he did, it was time for payback. The Phenom delivered a chokeslam off a ladder and through the ring. Moments later, fire erupted, creating a visual that suggested Edge had been chokeslammed to hell.

    It was very much a fitting conclusion to a months-long rivalry that dominated the SmackDown brand and further solidified Edge as the top villain in professional wrestling.

Hardy's Leap of Faith (2009)

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    Jeff Hardy and CM Punk's rivalry in the summer of 2009 elevated Punk to a new level of stardom in Vince McMahon's WWE. While fans quite enjoyed the Chicago native as a babyface, it was as a heel that he struck a chord with the general audience and achieved his greatest success.

    Channeling his Straight Edge act from his days in the Indys, Punk openly and harshly criticized Hardy for his past use of drugs. It was a deeply personal rivalry but one that allowed Punk to flourish and showcase his ability to be a complete performer who could carry the company if given the opportunity.

    At SummerSlam in August, he challenged Hardy for the WWE Championship in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match. The bout was every bit as wild and chaotic as previous TLC bouts but sacrificed high risk for more brutal and violent bumps and strikes.

    The one exception to that came in the form of a breathtaking Swanton Bomb by Hardy off a ladder and through the announce table. It was a huge spot, the most memorable from the entire 2009 broadcast. Unfortunately for Hardy, it was not enough to ensure that he retained the title with which he entered the Staples Center.

The Authority Screws Bryan (2013)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Daniel Bryan's victory over John Cena for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam 2013 should have been the coronation of Bryan as the unquestioned top babyface in the industry. Unfortunately for him and the millions of fans who so desperately wanted him to enjoy a sustained run atop the WWE mountain, his dream would turn into a nightmare, courtesy of Triple H and Randy Orton.

    The Game and the Viper conspired to take the WWE title from Bryan in a shocking conclusion to the event. All of the pyrotechnics and the confetti that had fallen following the bearded Superstars' celebration were for naught, as Bryan lost the title and was left lying in a heap at the feet of the COO and the so-called "Face of the WWE."

    The moment started a months-long rivalry between the competitors that would end at WrestleMania XXX, with Bryan's triumphant WWE World Heavyweight Championship victory.