Greatest SummerSlam Matches
Summerslam is considered one of WWE’s Big Four pay-per-views alongside Wrestlemania, the Royal Rumble, and Survivor Series and is often billed as “the biggest party of the summer.” Its history is filled with startling betrayals, legendary returns, and iconic moments. Here are 10 matches that stand the test of time:
10. Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar: Last Man Standing | 2022
Summerslam 2022 will go down as the first pay-per-view after the sudden retirement of Vince McMahon. If HHH’s run is filled with main events of this caliber, there is no need to worry about the future. Once during a Johnny Carson-inspired comedy sketch in WCW, Kevin Nash’s Carnac knockoff read the answer “316.” The question? What is the number of times Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker have headlined WWF pay-per-views? The joke could be applied to Reigns and Lesnar at this point. Even people who sleep in their Bloodline T-shirts probably weren’t looking forward to another one. Then Lesnar showed up, donned flannel, and drove a tractor to the ring.
On the surface, there were many things WWE has served up before. Vehicle-based entrances are overdone, but brilliant when they work. Lesnar’s tractor and onsite transformation into “Big Cowboy Ass Kicker” split a decidedly Reigns-heavy crowd in Tennessee. Failed Money In The Bank cash-in attempts are not new. But it was beautiful to see Theory’s punchable face take an F5 through his own briefcase. Paul Heyman begging for him and his client’s life dates back to WCW, yet it’s still great.
Burying the opponent under so much crap they can’t stand up is the default victory condition for Last Man Standing matches. Even so, Roman covering Lesnar with everything in the building and half his family for the win was the perfect ending to a carnival of chaos. Who can get mad when the band plays all the greatest hits during their show?
9. Trish Stratus vs. Charlotte Flair(C) | 2019
The number one rule of show business is to always leave them wanting more. Trish Stratus did just that, retiring when she could still go in the ring. She transitioned from Queen Diva demanding attention to an unassuming veteran who just wants to celebrate the current Women’s Revolution and wait – what, did Charlotte just say about the Attitude Era?
Though both women can work either alignment, Charlotte is her best as a heel and Trish Stratus is a natural babyface. Stratus gave Flair everything she could handle in this contest, including whipping out Charlotte’s own Figure Eight. A casual observer wouldn’t have been able to guess which wrestler had been retired for several years. Stratus injured her knee going all out for her Toronto hometown faithful, which is the worst thing that can happen against Charlotte. This was a wily veteran return done right, making both parties look good but with the current talent eventually going over. It also gave Stratus a classic match in an environment she and Lita laid the groundwork for. Flair got to call herself the “Queen of All Eras” and history proves her right every time she enters the arena.
8. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H Unsanctioned Street Fight | 2002
Speaking of veteran returns, Shawn Michaels lost four years of his career to a back injury. There are usually physical reasons beloved performers retire, thus there are physical reasons their returns are often painful to watch. See Ric Flair’s last several comebacks as evidence. So there was no guarantee what the second stint in WWE would look like for Michaels.
In Michaels’ absence, HHH became the undisputed leader of DeGeneration X and emerged from HBK’s giant shadow. He had no interest in returning to second-fiddle status, and thus attacked his longtime friend in the parking lot. The brutal parking attack foreshadowed a feud that couldn’t be settled with a normal conflict. WWE declared the SummerSlam tilt would be unsanctioned, selling a battle so brutal the company wanted no part of it. Because ordinarily, WWE is all about the safety of the athletes.
In the younger star’s mind, he was saving his friend from delusions of past glory. Elements of this story would return later as both Michaels and Helmsley played roles in ending their mentor Flair’s WWE career. Before SummerSlam, there was no way to know that HHH wasn’t right about Michaels having nothing left to give. The Cerebral Assassin spent the match trying to reinjure Michaels’ back, eventually losing to a roll-up. Not only did he not embarrass himself, but he and HHH put on an all-time great match.
7. Brock Lesnar(C) vs. Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe, and Roman Reigns in a Fatal 4 Way | (2017)
This title defense for Lesnar had no cruiserweights for the big guys to toss around, and no cowardly heel making everyone else do the work for them. No, this was four of the biggest and strongest guys ever to work in WWE tearing the Barclays Center down to its foundation. Braun Strowman truly became the Monster Among Men on this night. He made Lesnar look vulnerable, at one point putting the Beast on a stretcher after driving him through two tables and dropping another on top of him. But because this is peak Lesnar he not only didn’t leave the match, he would retain his title. But Strowman’s star turn was what had people talking in the days afterward.
This is also one of the rare occasions Samoa Joe was booked as a title threat, slapping Coquina Clutches on everyone like a madman and nearly tapping Lesnar out before eating an F5. An ascendant Reigns took the pin from The Beast, but showed the form that would one day make him the “Head of The Table.” It’s hard not to watch this one and wonder “what if” Samoa Joe had reached his full potential, but that doesn’t detract from how much fun it is.
6. Undertaker vs. Edge Hell in a Cell | (2008)
Booking main events and feuds is not as easy as video games or online forums make it seem. Not all superstar styles mesh with each other, and chemistry between two wrestlers is no guarantee. But when it clicks, it clicks. Edge and Undertaker have separately authored so many great moments in extreme style matches, and they added quite a few here. Edge was having a relationship with Smackdown General Manager Vickie Guerrero and persuaded her to ban Undertaker from WWE. But a man called the Rated R Superstar doesn’t always make the best boyfriend. Vickie caught him cheating with wedding planner Alicia Fox and not only brought Taker back but decreed Edge had to fight him in Hell in a Cell.
The two competitors used every weapon imaginable, every tool in their destructive repertoires, and some from their opponent’s bag of tricks. There was sheer terror in Edge’s eyes as he attempted a one-man Conchairto, only for Taker to sit bolt upright and grab him by the throat. This began an exchange culminating in Edge spearing the Deadman through the cage wall.
Undertaker would end any hopes Edge had in a brutal assault including a camera, a Conchairto, and finally a Tombstone Piledriver. Then just for kicks he would chokeslam Edge from a ladder through the ring itself, as flames arose. USA Network, home of the chaos that often leads into these titanic showdowns, picked Undertaker/Edge as one of its favorite SummerSlam matches.
5. John Cena(C) vs. Daniel Bryan | (2013)
The McMahons were trying to convince fans, and Daniel Bryan himself, that he would never be more than a “B+ player.” John Cena had enough hustle, loyalty, and respect to see that Bryan belonged and the Yes! Movement was for real. It’s fitting Cena began his career as “The Prototype,” because he is everything WWE traditionally looks for in a champion. Bryan is the complete opposite, so it meant the world for Cena to challenge him. The leader of CeNation was a true hero for giving the opportunity, but who could root against Bryan with The Authority doing everything to stop him?
While it was a face-vs-face feud, both men had serious beef with each other. Bryan believed Cena was more an entertainer than a wrestler. Cena felt the need to remind Bryan that he was the one giving the title shot the McMahons didn’t want him to have.
Cena worked with a torn triceps that swelled his elbow to an ugly size, adding even more drama. In spite of the bad wing, it wasn’t the Yes Lock that eventually felled the champ. After 26 minutes and Bryan countering two Attitude Adjustments, Bryan would hit a running knee to get the pin, the title, and live his dream.. for five minutes.
Randy Orton appeared with his Money in the Bank contract and Triple H, who had appointed himself referee earlier. He Pedigreed Bryan allowing Orton, a champion much more in the corporate mold, to earn the victory. The confetti from Bryan’s celebration hadn’t even finished falling. It was a punch right to the gut of everybody cheering the underdog and it was meant to be. Manipulative? Most certainly, but it was unforgettable.
4. Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon Ladder Match | (1995)
Many, many years ago the Intercontinental Title was a big deal. Storylines put the IC Title holder over as the no. 1 contender for the World Heavyweight Title. It wasn’t just talk. Legends such as Steve Austin, Randy Savage, and yes, Shawn Michaels all had important reigns with the belt before moving on to bigger and better things.
Sadly, Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall died in March due to complications from hip surgery. But the memories of older fans and wrestlers are leading a new generation of viewers to discover his incredible rivalries. It’s no secret that Vince McMahon was obsessed with giants. The ladder match between Michaels and Razor Ramon at Wrestlemania X shows the beauty that guys who aren’t seven-footers can create in the ring. That match paved the way for countless others, including a couple on this list. It seemed inconceivable that anybody’s ladder match could top it, and nobody else’s could have. Imagine establishing a new gold standard for extreme matches in March, then surpassing it in August. That’s what Hall of Famers do.
The ladders didn’t always cooperate, but that allowed these stars to improvise. Nowadays it is expected that 4-5 ladders must die before a Money In The Bank or TLC conflict is settled. In August of 1995, when Ramon introduced a second one, it was a huge deal. The announce team openly questioned if such a move was legal. With the first match still fresh in everyone’s minds, the competitors countered many of the things their opponent tried at Wrestlemania. Shawn would emerge victorious when he countered a Razor’s Edge attempt into a backdrop, allowing him to grab the belt. It’s almost a straight line from Michaels-Razor Ramon to the TLC concept, and then to the multi-man chaos of Money in The Bank.
3. CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar No Disqualification | (2013)
The biggest party of the summer may never see another event comparable to 2013, with two five-star barnburner matches. It’s likely not a coincidence both featured indy darlings against two wrestlers synonymous with the WWE style of match.
It’s easy to understand why the former NCAA and UFC champ is so polarizing. He has options other wrestlers don’t have and doesn’t ever have to work if he doesn’t want to. Unfortunately, some of the times he doesn’t want to work take place during WWE main events. When he’s interested, however, he has five-star matches in him. His bout with CM Punk was one of those magical nights. After having one of the longest title reigns in company history, it was hard to position the StraightEdge superstar as an underdog. That is until Paul Heyman betrayed him and The Beast’s music hit.
Styles make fights, and the contrast here was wonderful. Punk pummeled Lesnar with strikes and high-risk maneuvers, while the pride of Minnesota was his usual human suplex machine. Both men used their knowledge of MMA. The commentary was on point as well. During a priceless exchange, Jerry “The King” Lawler notes Lesnar’s getting a beating and suggests that he can dish out punishment but not take it. A moment later, he catches a diving Punk in midair and hits a suplex. John Bradshaw Layfield snarks, “You sure bout that, King?”
It wouldn’t be a match between two Paul Heyman Guys without interference from the advocate himself. Thanks to his distraction, Lesnar hit an F5 onto a chair for the win. Brock showed why he earns the big bucks, and Punk served notice he is more than pipebomb promos. The wrestling aficionados over at Cagematch rate this match a 9.39 and it’s easy to see why.
2. Tables, Ladders, and Chairs: World Tag Team Championship: Hardy Boyz vs. Dudley Boyz vs. Edge and Christian(C) | (2000)
When a gimmick match goes on to earn its own pay-per-view, it’s obvious everybody involved got it right. Building from a triangle ladder match at Wrestlemania 2000, three all-time best tag teams in the pinnacle of their careers seared the initials TLC into history. There have been many TLCs since, but there will never be another first time. The spots here have become legendary. The Dudleyz set up a pyramid of tables that Bubba Ray would end up going through. Lita had a save for the Hardyz and paid for it by taking a spear from Edge that bounced her head off a ladder. Even though it took place in the Hardyz’ home state of North Carolina, it was Edge and Christian who would climb the ladder and pull off the win. Despite an entire TLC-based pay-per-view on WWE’s schedule these days, the original hasn’t been surpassed.
1. Bret Hart(C) vs. The British Bulldog Intercontinental Championship | (1992)
As mentioned earlier, the IC title used to be the stuff of legend. These contests usually weren’t the main event, but would often steal the show. No.1 of this list is a prime example.
In this classic, the Hitman battled his real-life brother-in-law, British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith. Interviews with the divided Hart and Smith families ran on every show for weeks leading up to this. Even a Bret Hart fan has to consider their allegiance if his own cousin thinks he’s a pompous jerk, right?
It would culminate before 80,000 in Wembley Stadium and is a textbook on storytelling in a match. Diana Hart-Smith logged almost as much camera time as the combatants, cringing at every blow. In the recent A&E Hart documentary, she explained the emotion looked real because it was. Her husband and her brother really were bashing each other in the head and anything could have happened. Bret Hart mentioned in his book and TV interviews that Bulldog got tired faster than expected, further complicating matters. This was most obvious when Smith wasn’t ready to catch Hart during a slingshot over the top rope. Hitman grabbed him to pull him down and complete the spot.
There are few moments more emotional than seeing Bulldog pull off the upset in front of adoring home country fans. It’s a pro wrestling time capsule because there’s so much that barely happens anymore. It’s babyface vs. babyface, given added weight because it’s a family feud. There’s the IC Title actually being something two men would destroy each other over. Also, Hart looked incredibly strong in defeat. The match elevated both men to superstar status, which is what main events are for.
Honorable Mention: Shawn Michaels vs Hulk Hogan
This is not a great contest in the traditional sense. But for behind-the-scenes insider drama, it’s the Being John Malkovich of matches. The initial plan was for Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels to have a series of three, but egos got in the way. The two icons have differing views on what went on backstage, but what happened in the ring was obvious. Hogan clearly wanted to go over the Heartbreak Kid in a dominant fashion, and Michaels clearly had a problem with that. The Showstoppa did the job in the most hilarious way imaginable, shamelessly overselling every move Hogan did. On a Michaels career retrospective DVD, WWE Producer Bruce Pritchard called it a “parody of a Hulk Hogan match.” If there were any doubts about what Shawn was doing, he cut a sarcastic promo the next night on Raw saying he couldn’t solve Hogan’s “catch as catch can” wrestling style. Michaels declared he lost because Hogan was just too fast and just too young, an obvious shot at a man who didn’t look young when he was 20 years old.
The fiasco is a microcosm of both men’s careers. Hogan had no desire to put Michaels over and decided he wouldn’t do it. The Heartbreak Kid, however, made sure he won the day while losing. He turned the whole thing into camera-winking insider stuff, knowing he is one of the few people who wouldn’t get fired for such antics.