On August 21st, SummerSlam 2016 will descend upon the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. With matches including Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte, Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor, and Randy Orton vs. Brock Lesnar, this could turn out to be one of the best cards in the event’s 29-year history. While many great matches took place over the last three decades, 10 stand out as the best of the best. Let’s take a look at what made the cut.
10. Kurt Angle vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (WWE Championship Match, 2001)
In 2001, WWE bought their long time rival WCW. Although the “Invasion” storyline promised fans their dream of matches between the superstars of WWE and WCW, confusing subplots and inexplicable roster changes between the rival groups left fans mostly disappointed. However, the storyline DID provide fans with an excellent SummerSlam match between WWE champion Stone Cold Steve Austin and Kurt Angle. Stone Cold had recently defected from the WWE to the WCW/ECW Alliance, stating that Vince McMahon was grooming Kurt to be the next big star while leaving him in the dust. This part of the storyline not only lead to Stone Cold once again becoming a heel (bad guy), but it saw Kurt’s first run as a babyface (good guy).
After the two beat the crap out of each other for 22 minutes and 30 seconds, Stone Cold was eventually disqualified for attacking the referees. This didn’t sit well with Kurt, who wanted a definitive victory, so he took his frustrations out on a referee of his own. What made this match great was how it showed yet another side of Kurt Angle. Since his debut in 1999, he had been an arrogant jerk, a comedic buffoon, and a great technical wrestler, but this added a mean streak in Angle that showed while he appears silly at times, he knows when it’s time to throw the comedy and the technical prowess out the window and just beat the crap out of someone.
9. Triple H vs. The Rock (Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match, 1998)
Before they became multi-time World Champions, Triple H and The Rock spent the summer of 1998 fighting over the Intercontinental championship. With both of their teams (DX and the Nation of Domination, respectively) always interfering in the matches, there was never a clear-cut winner, and thus their feud would culminate at Madison Square Garden in a ladder match for the title. The championship belt, hanging 20 feet above the ring, could only be won when a wrestler was able to set up and climb a ladder to retrieve it.
There have been many ladder matches in the WWE, but what made this one special was how the wrestlers approached the issue of the ladder. Most ladder matches revolve around the ladder itself. Who can jump off the highest ladder? Who can use the ladder as a weapon in the coolest way? Instead of yet another ladder focused match, these guys had a regular, hard hitting wrestling match that just happened to have a ladder as part of it. They didn’t use the ladder as a crutch; they used it as an extension to an already intense fight. After some interference from his DX teammate Chyna, Triple H was able to pull the belt down and win the title. The great wrestling in this match helped strengthen the idea that these two were future World Champions. In fact, the next time they would meet each other at SummerSlam in 2000, it would be for the WWE Championship.
8. Brock Lesnar vs. The Rock (WWE Championship Match, 2002)
2002 saw the WWE debut of Brock Lesnar, and it turned out to be one of, if not THE, greatest individual debuts of all time. After dominating opponents like the Hardyz, Hulk Hogan, and Rob Van Dam, the 25-year-old Lesnar became the number one contender to the WWE Championship, held at the time by The Rock. The match took place at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. After a dominating start by Lesnar, the match turned into a back and forth affair, with each wrestler matching the other almost move for move. After surviving The Rock’s two signature moves, the Rock Bottom and People’s Elbow, Lesnar became the youngest world champion in WWE history after successfully executing his own finishing move, the F-5.
While this match was great on action alone, the impact during and after the match are what put it on the list. This was The Rock’s last match as a full-time wrestler with WWE, and his last one as champion for almost a decade. This match was a passing of the torch to Lesnar. Lesnar was supposed to be the heel going into this match, but he connected with the Uniondale crowd, who were very vocal about their support for “The Next Big Thing.” Chants of “Rocky sucks!” were deafening at times. The Rock took notice to this and added fuel to the flame by yelling and taunting the crowd during the match. He knew his job was to help solidify Lesnar as the continuing superstar, and this was an amazing way to do it.
7. Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart (Steel Cage Match for the WWE Championship, 1994)
Before his infamous 1997 feud with Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart spent the majority of the ’90s feuding with his own flesh and blood, his younger brother Owen. It was a classic storyline of “jealous little brother can’t get out of big brother’s shadow” and Owen played the role perfectly. Nothing pleased the fans more than the possibility of seeing this whiny brat get his comeuppance at the hands of the universally beloved “Hitman.” This would take place at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois, inside the confines of a 15-foot high steel cage. There are three ways to win a cage match: pinfall, submission, or escaping the cage with both feet hitting the floor. Sometimes cage matches get repetitive: one wrestler climbs the cage, about to escape, his/her opponent jumps and stops them at the last second, rinse repeat. Even the greatest of wrestlers can fall into that trap. What made this 33-minute match great was the emotional build-up between the feuding brothers throughout the summer made every crawl up the cage or towards the door so intense you didn’t want it to end. It’s like a REALLY great book. You can’t wait to read what happens, but you loved the journey so much you delayed it as much as you could. The added drama of the ENTIRE Hart family sitting at ringside, agonizing over their loved ones fighting and featured prominently by the ringside cameras, added credibility to the storyline and made everything happening in the ring count.
After dual sharpshooter submission holds by each of them, the end came when both Bret and Owen scaled the cage at the same time, only for Bret to get the victory when Owen’s legs got caught in the cage. While this wasn’t the last time the two brothers stood across the ring from each other, nothing would compare to this amazing battle.
6. Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect (Intercontinental Championship Match, 1991)
After losing the tag team championship at Wrestlemania VII as part of the Hart Foundation, Bret Hart decided to go out on his own. Fans were ready to see him go solo because he was considered one of the best technical wrestlers in the company. Mr. Perfect had dominated the Intercontinental Title picture for the better part of two years and was in the midst of his second reign. The match between these two technical savants at Madison Square Garden had all the makings of an instant classic, and it did not disappoint. This was 18 minutes of pure wrestling, with neither wrestler getting a huge advantage.
Although the match wasn’t as flashy as some others on this list, there was significant tension watching two perfectly (no pun intended) matched opponents duel, waiting to see who made the first mistake. That prize went to Mr. Perfect, who, after going for a legdrop, was caught in Hart’s submission hold, the sharpshooter. Mr. Perfect tapped out, and Bret began his first of two Intercontinental Title reigns.
Side Note: This match has HUGE nostalgia factor for me. SummerSlam 1991 was the first WWE event I had bought with my own money. While I LIKED wrestling up to this point, this match made me realized I LOVED it.
5. Hardyz vs. Dudleyz vs. Edge and Christian (TLC Match for the WWE Tag Team Championship, 2000)
Since this was 2000, of COURSE the Hardyz and Dudleyz ended their names with Zs. *Sigh* What were we thinking back then? Well, the lack of spelling judgment did nothing to take away from the awesomeness of this match, the first “Tables Ladders, and Chairs” match (TLC) in WWE history. It stemmed from each team’s strengths: Hardyz and ladders, Dudleyz and tables, and Edge/Christian and chairs. I stated before how ladder matches can turn into a “who can do it better” fest and take away from the match. This did the complete opposite. These three teams decided to take that trope and take it to the next level, using their skill with their specialty to take some extreme risks.
The majority of this match wasn’t about becoming the tag team champs. It was about three tag teams, all proving they were the best in the world with their most jaw-dropping moves. From Jeff Hardy’s swanton (front flip dive) off the ladder through a table, to Bubba Ray Dudley taking a leap through FOUR tables, this match was non-stop action and destruction from beginning to end. They amazingly didn’t even fall into the oft-time problems with matches revolving around tables, ladders, or chairs: the long wait while the pieces are set up for the awesome moves. Because there were three teams at the top of their game and specialties, there was hardly any downtime. While Edge and Christian ended up pulling out the victory and retaining their titles, all three teams put the WWE on notice that a new standard for specialty matches had bet set.
4. Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels (Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship, 1995)
In 1994, Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon fought in a ladder match at Wrestlemania X that many consider the greatest ladder match of all time. I am hard-pressed to disagree, but I’ll be damned if the two hall of famers didn’t give it their all to top that performance the following year at SummerSlam. With both superstars in the babyface role, the crowd was pretty much split down the middle. This match was more vicious and aggressive, with each wrestler using the ladder as a weapon more often and mercilessly attacking their temporarily vulnerable foe. For example, Shawn fell through the rungs of the ladder wrenching his knee, and Razor capitalized on the moment by slamming the sides of the ladder together with Shawn’s knee caught in between. Another moment saw Shawn execute a moonsault from the ladder, while later in the match Razor put Shawn into the Razor’s Edge, from the ladder, which at that height could not have felt good upon landing. Now the match didn’t go perfectly, as sometimes the ladders didn’t cooperate as well as they should, like at the end of the match when Shawn climbed a ladder that wasn’t tall enough to reach the title (which he eventually retrieved to retain his championship). However, the effort they put forth and risks these great superstars took to give the fans something even more spectacular than their previous ladder match definitely makes this the best SummerSlam ladder match ever.
3. Undertaker vs. Edge (Hell in a Cell Match, 2008)
This match wasn’t for a title. It was just two WWE superstars who hated each other so much they were willing to enter the most dangerous match the WWE has to offer, Hell in a Cell (HIAC). Hell in a Cell is a Steel cage that surrounds ALL of ringside, is 20 feet tall, and has a roof. You can only win this match by pinfall or submission. Anything else goes. These two superstars fought for most of the year, trading the World Heavyweight Title back and forth, and the Undertaker taking the brunt of the losses thanks to Edge’s faction, La Familia. However, after a falling out with his on-camera wife, Smackdown’s general manager Vickie Guerrero, Edge was unceremoniously put into a match with the Undertaker, this time within the confines of the “devil’s playground” (the cell’s nickname). After the announcement of the match, Edge was initially scared to enter HIAC with the Undertaker, who by now was a well-established wrestling demi-god and master at HIAC matches. A pep-talk from wrestling legend Mick Foley caused something inside Edge to “snap.” Edge viciously attacked Foley and later the members of La Familia. It appeared that Edge had finally gone crazy enough to willingly get locked inside of a steel cage with the Undertaker.
Although this was Edge’s first HIAC match and he was going up against a hard-to-beat foe with plenty of experience, Edge had been involved in MANY TLC matches and understood how to use the right weapon to get the upper hand against a stronger foe. Even after pulling out all the tables, ladders, and chairs he could, however, Edge was unable to get the win over the Undertaker, who picked up the victory with a Tombstone piledriver. The Undertaker put the icing on his victory cake after the match by choke slamming Edge, the Rated-R Superstar (STILL my favorite nickname of all time), THROUGH the ring, with the idea being he sent Edge straight to hell itself. Fire even spewed from the hole Edge fell through, because of course it would.
2. Davey Boy Smith vs. Bret Hart (Intercontinental Championship, 1992)
Bret Hart is without question one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. The proof is right here, as he makes his third appearance on the list. It’s still another family affair as this time, he defended the Intercontinental Championship against his brother-in-law, the British Bulldog, Davey Boy Smith. While they were evenly matched in wrestling abilities, Smith had a serious hometown advantage as the event took place in front of 80,355 of his countrymen at Wembley stadium in London, England. The match lasted 25 minutes, with Bret’s technical skill meshing well against the power of Smith. With the crowd nearly 100% behind Smith, Bret fed off the crowd’s negativity as the great wrestlers do, acting somewhat heelish throughout the match to rile the crowd up even more. The wrestlers teased and tormented the excited crowd by giving the impression that Smith was about to win, only to have Hart escape and gain the upper hand. Each time it appeared that Smith or Hart was going to gain the victory, the other used the last of their strength to keep going a little longer. Finally, an attempted sunset flip by Bret was reversed by Smith into a pin and the title. To this day, it is one of the loudest crowd reactions I have ever heard on TV.
At the end, and after some hesitation to capitalize on the tension between these two, they shook hands and embraced. This match showed that not every storyline has to be about good guy versus bad guy. When Bret fought Owen, the family was in turmoil over the feuding brothers. With this match, it was just two brothers finding out who the better man was, with a sister/wife at ringside, praying no permanent damage was done.
1. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (Unsanctioned Street Fight)
Our number one match was not only a violent, emotional battle between former best friends, it showcased a triumphant return four and a half years in the making. After a long absence to recuperate from a serious injury, Shawn Michaels teased a return to the ring. He was then betrayed and violently attacked by his longtime DX teammate and best friend Triple H. Triple H was tired of feeling like Shawn’s “sidekick” and wanted HIS time in the spotlight. Shawn wanted revenge, and there was no better place to receive it than in his comeback match. Dubbed an “unsanctioned street fight,” this was an anything goes match, with the two former friends fighting each other from pillar to post with trash cans, ladders, tables, you name it.
This match earns the number one slot because of the emotion behind it. DX was one of the most popular factions of all time. Michaels were not only teammates but best friends in and out of the ring. To see them implode was devastating and amazing at the same time. The mix of a friend’s utter betrayal with the return of who many claim is the best in-ring performer of all time puts this match above all the others. Michaels showed that he could pick up where he left off from years ago and proved he was one of the very best in the business. He wrestled flawlessly, not missing a step. After 28 minutes of fighting, Shawn picked up the win in his first match since 1998 with a simple roll-up, poetic justice against a former “brother” that was out to end his career. Triple H ended up with the last laugh, attacking Michaels with a sledgehammer after the bell.
Rey Mysterio vs. Kurt Angle, 2002
CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar, 2013
John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan, 2013
Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte, 2016 (C’mon, it’s going to be AWESOME)
Eight title matches, three ladder matches, two flat out FIGHTS, and Bret Hart. These are the ingredients that make for a great top ten SummerSlam match list. With this year’s card, it’s only a matter of time before one of the matches from 2016’s SummerSlam makes this list.
So what do you think? Which of these matches is your favorite? Do you have a match you wish was part of this list? Let me know on Twitter or climb the ladder and jump off the top of the cage into the comments below.