Ranking the 10 Greatest WWE SummerSlam Matches of the Last Decade

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistAugust 9, 2021

Ranking the 10 Greatest WWE SummerSlam Matches of the Last Decade

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Over the past decade, SummerSlam has developed into the WWE pay-per-view fans of professional wrestling turn to for the best in-ring action. It has very much usurped WrestleMania in that regard, setting aside over-the-top pageantry in favor of badass in-ring performances.

    In that time, John Cena, Brock Lesnar and CM Punk raised the bar for the event, turning in all-time classics that have boosted the legacy of the event while enhancing their own reputations as the best in their field.

    Which matches of theirs earned a place on this list of the top 10 of the past decade, and who else joined them on the countdown of pro wrestling masterpieces?

    Find out with this ode to excellence at The Biggest Party of the Summer.

10. Submission Match for the Raw Women's Title: Becky Lynch vs. Natalya (2019)

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    The Submission match for the Raw Women's Championship between Becky Lynch and Natalya set the bar high for the 2019 SummerSlam extravaganza.

    A tense encounter that started with an exchange of strikes before evolving into counter-wrestling and submission seeking, it captivated the fans in Toronto and had them split between compatriot Natalya and the company's red-hot top star.

    The champion, a consummate showwoman with a knack for adding insult to injury, applied Natalya's own Sharpshooter to a chorus of boos. By the time The Queen of Harts applied the move herself, the Canadian fans were ready to see a new champion crowned.

    Instead, Lynch grabbed hold of her opponent's arm, applied the Disarmher and earned the submission victory.

    What would have been a damn good match under any circumstances was enhanced exponentially by the fact that both women had such established and respected finishing holds. Every attempted armbar or leg lock meant more because fans knew it could be the end of the match at any time.

    What felt like a step down for Lynch after ruling the wrestling world earlier in the year was instead one of the best matches of her entire year-plus reign as champion, thanks in large part to the underrated excellence of Natalya and a red-hot Canadian crowd.

    A crowd that would influence other matches on this countdown.

9. The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar (2015)

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    The Undertaker's return in the summer of 2015 was fueled by revenge. A year earlier, Brock Lesnar shocked the world by ending his unbeaten streak at WrestleMania, a 21-year odyssey that had come to define The Deadman's career. The Phenom rose once more to silence the braggadocios Lesnar at SummerSlam and bring their epic rivalry to a close.

    What ensued was a heavyweight brawl between two of the hardest-hitting badasses in WWE history. Undertaker weathered the early storm, shaking off Lesnar's pre-bell attack to bloody The Beast and leave him reeling. Lesnar recovered and answered, welcoming The Deadman to Suplex City.

    When Lesnar applied the kimura late in the match, though, the timekeeper erred and rang the bell. The distraction allowed Undertaker to deliver a low blow to his foe and apply Hell's Gate, which saw The Beast tap out, awarding The Deadman the victory.

    The match itself was a superb battle between the big men, unraveled only by the overbooking in the closing moments of the contest. Did Lesnar really need to be protected against the freaking Undertaker? Could he not have just eaten a Tombstone and called it a day?

    The finish set up another match at Hell in a Cell, sure, but they could have gotten there strictly on a best-two-out-of-three story.

8. Charlotte Flair vs. Trish Stratus (2019)

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    Overconfidence nearly proved Charlotte Flair's downfall as she battled the iconic Trish Stratus in one of the marquee bouts of the 2019 SummerSlam pay-per-view.

    Flair controlled a large portion of the match, working over Stratus and taunting the Toronto crowd, making their support of their hometown hero that much louder and more passionate.

    Stratus fought her way back into the contest, engaging Flair in a chop-off. A big boot from The Queen halted the seven-time champion's comeback, and the Figure Eight ended her night in heartbreak.

    After the match, Stratus acknowledged the crowd in a manner one would if they were saying goodbye. It remains to be seen whether that was, in fact, Trish's last in-ring performance. But if it was, the match was a phenomenal display of the underdog spirit and grittiness that defined her as one of the company's true success stories of the 2000s.

7. WWE Championship Match: John Cena vs. CM Punk (2011)

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    There was no chance in hell CM Punk and John Cena were ever going to duplicate the excellence of their Money in the Bank match, but that didn't stop them from trying. Each man entering as a recognized WWE champion after weeks of convoluted television, so the match had the added billing of a "Champion vs. Champion" bout.

    Throw in the drama of Triple H as guest referee, and you had a huge match at the top of one of WWE's most prestigious events.

    A dramatic, counter- and reversal-filled contest that kept the fans in Los Angeles on the edges of their seats throughout, it saw two Superstars in the primes treating the top prize in the sport like it was worth everything.

    In the end, Punk leveled Cena with Go To Sleep—and the referee missed Cena's foot on the bottom rope—to earn the victory and title.

    Just barely a step below their previous contest, this was a main event-worthy bout that highlighted both Superstars and set the stage for Kevin Nash's shocking return moments later and Alberto Del Rio's successful cash-in of his Money in the Bank briefcase.

    The less said about those two things, though, the better.

6. Universal Championship Match: Seth Rollins vs. Brock Lesnar (2019)

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    Brock Lesnar teed off on the injured ribs of Seth Rollins like a shark smelling blood in the water in the finale of SummerSlam 2019. Using his strength, size and ferocity, he expertly targeted the injured body part in hopes of flattening Rollins with the F5 and retaining the Universal Championship.

    But the resilient Rollins rocked Lesnar with a superkick, delivered a splash through the announce table and then added a stomp and a frog splash. It was all for naught, however, as The Beast kicked out. With frustration and disbelief setting in, Rollins allowed himself to walk right into an attempted F5, only to slither free and deliver a second stomp for the win and title.

    The match was a perfect example of Lesnar at his best. As the attacking predator, he sometimes gets a little too overzealous, and his prey is able to seize an opening and take advantage of it. In this case, Rollins was able to go back to the stomp that netted him the title five months earlier at WrestleMania, using it effectively here as he captured the gold once more.

    And as we will see later in this countdown, Lesnar's reputation as a big man who seems to enjoy working with smaller opponents continued.

5. Fatal 4-Way Match for the Universal Championship (2017)

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    Take four destructive badasses, stick them in the same ring with the Universal Championship up for grabs and let them kick each other's asses for 20 minutes. The result? A wild, chaotic, car-wreck of a main event that had fans buzzing.

    Braun Strowman, in the midst of his best run, obliterated the seemingly unconquerable Brock Lesnar, throwing an office chair at him before driving him through an announce table and sending him to the back on a stretcher.

    Roman Reigns then wiped out Strowman before grappling with Samoa Joe in a pairing that made up the heart of the match. Then, like every 1980s slasher movie, the monsters came back to life, reinserting themselves into the chaos.

    Lesnar flattened Joe with an F5 moments after Reigns dispatched of Strowman with a spear. That allowed The Beast to do what he does and put down Reigns with the F5 for the win and successful title defense.

    This was a good, Attitude Era-esque main event that properly portrayed its performers and made Lesnar look like an even more unbeatable force, all while planting the seeds for the Reigns rematch that would take place months later at WrestleMania.

4. John Cena vs. AJ Styles (2016)

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    John Cena and AJ Styles had an all-timer in 2016 at SummerSlam, yet it still only places fourth on this list, a statement on the in-ring excellence that has dominated at the event over the past 10 years.

    As he did with Punk five years earlier, Cena worked the same reversal-heavy match he does with most of the smaller wrestlers to come out of the independent scene. There were counters galore, leaving fans to wonder who would hit the big shot that would end their opponent's night in defeat.

    By the time Cena grabbed hold of Styles and delivered a top-rope Attitude Adjustment, most assumed it was over and that the franchise star would earn another hard-fought victory over an opponent who could have used it more.

    Then Styles kicked out and the crowd in Brooklyn, New York, erupted.

    Disbelief setting in, Cena tried for another Attitude Adjustment, but Styles reversed into a Styles Clash and added a Phenomenal Forearm for the clean pinfall victory.

    The chemistry on display was something special, the sort of thing you see between competitors who have worked with each other countless times in arenas all over the world. That this was only the second singles bout between them speaks to the excellence of the performers involved and their ability to feed off the audience.

    Just a special, special match, and one that most probably wouldn't mind revisiting before Cena and Styles hang up their boots.

3. WWE Championship Match: Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena (2013)

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    For years, Daniel Bryan had been told he wasn't WWE Championship material. In the buildup to SummerSlam 2013's main event with John Cena for the prize that had eluded him for years, he had even been told by Stephanie McMahon on live TV that he was merely a "B+ player."

    Hell bent on proving his detractors wrong, he set out to have a classic main event against a guy who had hand-picked him to be his challenger. The only problem? Cena suffered a torn triceps and entered the match with an enormous ball of muscle rolled up to his elbow.

    In one of the gutsiest and most selfless performances of his career, Cena put over Bryan as a championship-worthy opponent. He endured an ass-whooping and fought his way back into the match but succumbed to a straight kick to the head and the running knee to the face as Bryan won the dramatic, 5-star affair.

    What came after, including a shocking betrayal by guest referee Triple H and a successful Money in the Bank cash-in by Randy Orton, helped enhance what was already an excellent match and ended the show on a monumental storyline development that would play out all the way through WrestleMania.

2. No Holds Barred for the World Championship: Randy Orton vs. Christian (2011)

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    Perhaps the most underrated match in SummerSlam history is the No Holds Barred match for the World Heavyweight Championship pitting Randy Orton against Christian.

    The two future Hall of Famers began their rivalry the night after Extreme Rules in April 2011 when Orton ended Captain Charisma's run with the title a few days after it started.

    After months of trading the title back and forth, and Christian developing into a sneaky, cowardly main event heel, with Orton set to put him away for good in the penultimate match of SummerSlam.

    The high spots in the match escalated, much like the feud itself, culminating in Christian springboarding off the ropes and directly into an RKO on to the ring steps. The finish popped the crowd, with the creativity of it a welcome change in an industry that had become stagnant and repetitive.

    Orton won the title from there, and while some argued that Christian should have retained and ran with the title for a while, it was the fitting conclusion to their rivalry and a reminder that the third-generation star and his pesky rival were simply unable to have a bad match.

1. No Disqualification Match: CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar (2013)

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    The best match WWE has presented in the past decade, regardless of setting, is the No Disqualification match between CM Punk and Brock Lesnar at the 2013 SummerSlam event.

    Punk, fueled by a shocking betrayal at the hands of former friend Paul Heyman, sought revenge as he battled the monstrous Beast Incarnate.

    Lesnar treated the longest-reigning WWE champion in recent history like a ragdoll, tossing him around the ring with reckless abandon. Punk, like a great underdog fighter, found openings and battled his way back into the competition.

    Late on, he even appeared to have Lesnar beat until Heyman's well-timed interference provided a distraction that Punk simply could not ignore. As he put his hands on his former advocate, Lesnar rose from the mat, blasted the Straight Edge Superstar with a steel chair and emphatically ended his night with an F5 on to said chair.

    Punk's gutsy performance, the story the babyface and heel told and the added emotion of Punk's fractured relationship with Heyman helped the match achieve a max-star rating and stand head and shoulders above the best that WWE has produced since.