WWE always tends to save its biggest storylines for WrestleMania season, but they’ve also always made sure to stir something up in the summer months. It only makes sense to do so. SummerSlam has long been WWE’s second biggest pay-per-view, with some even dubbing it, the WrestleMania of summer, so obviously to sell the event, interesting angles have to take place leading up to it.
After the big blowoff of WrestleMania, new storylines usually start to creep up in June and culminate at SummerSlam in August, possibly a little past the event. WWE has mostly done this in the pay-per-view era, so we’ll now go back to the blockbuster summer storylines in WWE history.
10) Kane Unmasks, 2003
Kane had enjoyed a successful career, but had gone as far as he could with his mask and limited speech. A new dimension needed to be added, so the decision was made to unmask him.
After losing a match in which his mask was at stake, Kane took it off and evolved into a more sadistic monster. The announcers reacted in horror, as Kane’s face had burn marks and scars. However, inexplicably, Kane would then adopt a normal looking face from then on.
Ultimately, they could’ve done more with Kane when the initial buzz from his unmasking was still there, but this was a big time moment nonetheless.
9) Kurt Angle, Triple H, Stephanie McMahon Love Triangle, 2000
Love triangles usually can get very silly in wrestling, but this one actually helped all those involved and entertained the audience.
Kurt Angle was in the midst of the greatest rookie year in the history of professional wrestling. At this point, he already had won the Intercontinental and European titles as well as the 2000 King of the Ring.
He then began to pursue Stephanie McMahon, who was only the on-screen wife of Triple H at the time. He insisted he was only her friend, but suspicious act after suspicious act told us otherwise. The Game certainly didn’t believe Angle and their feud boiled through the summer, onto Unforgiven, when Stephanie finally picked a side, sticking with her husband.
At SummerSlam 2000, as hard as it is to believe, The Rock, then champion, was the third wheel in the Triple Threat match with Angle and Triple H.
This storyline gave Angle a chance to shine as an entertainer, actor and talker. He passed the test with flying colours and would become WWE champion by that October.
8) Austin vs. McMahon Ends, Sort of… 1999
With McMahon appearing to have turned a new leaf, it was revealed his newfound humanitarianism was all an act; he was revealed as the “Greater Power” running the Corporate Ministry.
This led to Linda McMahon naming Stone Cold the new C.E.O. of the company. In order to get Stone Cold removed from office, Vince and Shane McMahon agreed to put their ownership at stake in a Ladder match at King of the Ring, which they won.
However, Austin countered with another challenge for Fully Loaded. If he were to retain his title against The Undertaker, Vince would have to stay away from WWE shows and be removed from operations. If Stone Cold lost, he would never again be given a shot at the WWE championship.
Austin came out on top and McMahon disappeared from WWE programming… Until the fall came around. Different era, folks. However in fairness, if we’re going by the biggest storylines, how many years were more people watching RAW than in 1999?
7) Steve Austin vs. The Hart Foundation, 1997
Austin had his breakthrough moment in 1996 with his Austin 3:16 promo, but he was only given a hot feud when Bret Hart returned in the fall of 1996.
By the next summer, Austin was taking on the entire anti-American Hart Foundation. When he wasn’t in direct contact with Bret, he was taking on Owen Hart, the British Bulldog or Brian Pillman.
Eventually for this summer, Austin feuded with Owen Hart, which led to their Intercontinental title match at SummerSlam. This is where Austin suffered the neck injury that would ultimately shorten his career.
Still, the injury didn’t stop him from participating on WWE programming and his time away from in-ring wrestling led to him cutting more promos, raising some hell and making him even more popular than when he did wrestle.
The only way the feud would’ve been any better would’ve been for Austin and Bret Hart to have the one final climax where Austin would take the title from Hart, likely at WrestleMania 14 in a WM 13 rematch (which was the original plan).
6) Legend vs. Icon, 2005
Hogan had been inducted into the Hall of Fame at WrestleMania 21 and fans had began clamouring for “one more match” as has become the norm when a legend goes into the hall.
Hogan’s comeback seemed to be in a tag match with HBK, but after Michaels turned and super kicked Hogan, we knew more was coming. That was a clash of two generations, the Legend vs. the Icon at SummerSlam 2005.
HBK reminded everyone just what a great heel he was in his previous WWE run and attacked Hogan on the mic. He even cut an unforgettable promo on a Montreal crowd that summer.
The match wasn’t all that great, save for Michaels’ ridiculous over-the-top selling of every Hogan move. The two shook hands after the match and HBK was once again a fan favourite, but HBK sure was on fire that summer.
5) DX Reunites, 2006
People have mixed opinions on the 2006 version of D-Generation X which involved much older versions of Triple H and Shawn Michaels. The bottom line was, it created a stir, a lot of funny moments at the expense of Mr. McMahon and gave us something to talk about for the summer.
With the longtime rivals Triple H and HBK finding a common enemy in Vince McMahon, they agreed to come together and put their differences aside. They reunited DX and took on McMahon and his cheerleader goons, the Spirit Squad.
Sometimes you can’t take wrestling too seriously, and need to just sit back and enjoy the comedy aspects.
DX’s feud with the Vince and eventually Shane, led to a tag match at SummerSlam which the rebels won, and finally a Hell in a Cell match at Unforgiven with Big Show added to the McMahon camp.
Considering the merchandise sales of DX merchandise and the nostalgia factor, this was bigger than people give it credit for.
4) The Nexus Forms, 2010
What could’ve been. After being embarrassed on Season 1 of NXT, all of the show’s rookies united to take out their frustrations on all of the WWE.
It began by creating a moment blurring the lines between fiction and reality. With Wade Barrett leading the charge, the group of rookies attacked the ringside area, taking out everyone and everything in their path.
They attacked John Cena, who was competing in a match with CM Punk, they destroyed the ring, the set, the announce tables, and took out every announcer and ringside worker. It was a huge angle which kicked off the Nexus taking no prisoners in trying to destroy the WWE.
It led to a big showdown between a team of the Nexus and team WWE at SummerSlam. Unfortunately, once Cena scored the win for team WWE, the Nexus lost a ton of heat and dwindled through the fall months.
3) InVasion, 2001
Once again, an angle that should’ve been so much more. Having just bought WCW, an invasion storyline was planted where WCW superstars would invade the World Wrestling Federation.
The problem was, McMahon didn’t acquire the contracts of many top WCW stars, so he tried to make do with WCW mid-carders and rely on WWE guys defecting to WCW to make the storyline work. He also added ECW to the mix to form the alliance with WCW.
This created a huge mess. Shane and Stephanie McMahon became the on-screen owners of WCW and ECW, while Vince was fighting for his company. Stone Cold Steve Austin defected to the alliance (makes perfect sense, right?) and just about every former WCW employee did the same.
Eventually the storyline spilled into the fall and ended in a Survivor Series elimination match. Just imagine if the likes of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Sting and Goldberg were involved. It would’ve easily been the biggest summer angle WWE history, and possibly the biggest angle, period.
2) Shawn Michaels Returns… And Stays, 2002
Shawn Michaels returned to WWE programming in 2002 and it seemed the WWE was building up to a comeback match after a back injury kept the Showstopper out of the ring for four years.
HBK and HHH teased a reuniting of DX, but Triple H betrayed his best friend, saying he had only used Michaels to get to the top of the WWE. It would then be revealed that Triple H attacked Michaels in a parking lot, attempting to squash any comeback attempt by Michaels.
HBK challenged his former best friend to a match at SummerSlam.
For all intents and purposes, it was meant to be a one-off comeback match for Michaels, but something amazing happened. He was better than ever! In their 30-minute brawl, HBK was jumping off ladders, flying through tables and hadn’t missed a beat in his years away from the ring. He and Triple H put on arguably the match of the year.
This convinced the WWE and Michaels himself, that he could return to the ring full time and did he ever. He wound up having an eight-year run, retiring for good in 2010. Not only did we get the hot summer storyline and payoff at SummerSlam, we got eight more years of Shawn Michaels.
1) CM Punk’s Pipebombs, 2011
CM Punk (Phil Brooks) was a very unhappy employee, not getting the opportunities he felt he deserved and had made up his mind to leave at the end of his contract in July of 2011.
The powers that be decided to give him a chance to air his grievances on a live episode of RAW. In a monologue that broke the fourth wall and gave the viewers a look into reality, Punk delivered perhaps the promo of the decade and one of the greatest of all time.
This escalated the stakes of his feud with Cena and the WWE machine. Facing Cena for the WWE championship at Money in the Bank that July, in his hometown of Chicago, Punk vowed to win the title and leave the company with it.
His contract was actually expiring after that day of July 17, so no one knew what to expect.
Week after week leading up to the event, Punk cut promo after promo and was must-see television, something hard to do in wrestling nowadays.
Punk wound up winning the title from Cena in Chicago, in what was an all-time classic. The building captured an electricity so hard to come by. This unfortunately was the peak.
Punk returned just eight days later, far too soon to sell the angle that he had actually left with the title. His rematch with Cena at SummerSlam was good, but Kevin Nash getting involved, Alberto Del Rio winning the title killed a lot of buzz from the feud.
While Punk was still delivering great promos and matches, the WWE messed with a good thing a little too much and by the fall, the initial angle had lost its heat.
Luckily, Punk was as popular as ever, and would win the title at Survivor Series, going on to hold it for 434 days, the longest reign in the past 25 years of the WWE.
The Summer of Punk is still fresh in our minds and why we’re still missing Punk in his sudden retirement earlier this year. This was an epic summer angle and one by which all others will be measured.