Ever since 1988, SummerSlam has become a staple of the WWE landscape. Rightfully dubbed the Biggest Show of the Summer, the yearly PPV is seen by many wrestling fans, superstars, and company officials as the second biggest show of the wrestling calendar – only taking a backseat to the Showcase of the Immortals itself, WrestleMania.
To be specific, the inaugural event took place back on August 29th, 1988, emanating from the mecca of professional wrestling, Madison Square Garden, and it became one of the ‘Big Four’ along with Royal Rumble, ‘Mania, and Survivor Series. That first edition was a stacked card headlined by The Mega Powers of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage taking on the villainous team of The Mega Bucks pairing of Ted DiBiase and André the Giant. More notable than that match, though, was a certain up-and-comer by the name of The Ultimate Warrior dethroning The Honky Tonk Man to become the Intercontinental Champion.
From there, the event continued to go from strength to strength, and the WWE regularly uses the PPV to showcase some of its biggest matchups of the year. But not only has the event had some huge matches over the years; there are also some major controversies that have surrounded SummerSlam over the past three decades. So, let’s take a look at the 15 most shocking stories behind the Biggest Event of the Summer.
15 The SummerSlam 2004 Mystery Main Event
When it comes to SummerSlam 2004, the WWE tries to keep the specifics of that show quiet. Sure, they often laud how Randy Orton famously became the youngest World Champion by taking home the gold at that PPV, but the company is a little sketchy when it comes to elaborating further on things.
Of course, the man who walked into that SummerSlam as World Champion was none other than Chris Benoit. Obviously, Benoit would tarnish his legacy when he brutally murdered his wife and son before committing suicide in 2007, and as such, the WWE have distanced themselves from Benoit in subsequent years.
So, when it comes to SummerSlam 2004, the WWE plays down that particular event, and newer fans may be scratching their heads as to why. Much like certain other PPVs – notably, WrestleMania XX – the WWE has to brush SummerSlam 2004 under the rug due to the actions of one of that show’s biggest stars.
14 The Hogan/Michaels Farce
In terms of wrestlers who've been notoriously hard to work with over the years, Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels are two names who instantly come to mind. Of course, Michaels found God, and so that made his past behavior excusable to some people upon his return to action in 2002, but 2005’s SummerSlam saw The Heartbreak Kid revert back to his old ways.
And in fairness to Shawn, this time, his ridiculous behavior seemed justified. When it was decided that Hogan and HBK would feud, the Hulkster began to play politics, brother. With Hulk adamant that Michaels needed to turn heel for the rivalry, HBK reluctantly agreed. From there, the plan was for Hogan to win at SummerSlam, Michaels to win a rematch, and then, that left the option of a rubber match on the table.
Just as SummerSlam was getting set to happen, Hogan decided he could only wrestle the one match – which he, of course, was to win – and so Shawn showed his frustrations by overselling The Hulkster’s offense to a laughable (if not totally entertaining!) extent.
13 Brock Was To Destroy Daniel Bryan
One of the most famous and shockingly one-sided, brutal matches in SummerSlam history saw Brock Lesnar absolutely dominate John Cena to become the WWE Champion. However, whilst a comprehensive, dominating win for Lesnar was always the plan, initially, The Beast was supposed to destroy another grappler at that 2014 event.
While the thought of ultimate underdog Daniel Bryan going up against Brock Lesnar is a dream match that gets wrestling fans salivating, we were all so close to actually getting that dream bout to happen at, you guessed it, the 2014 edition of SummerSlam.
Lesnar was penciled in to decimate D-Bry at the Biggest Show of the Summer, but the injury that saw Bryan relinquish his WWE Championship after WrestleMania XXX also meant he was on the shelf for SummerSlam – and so, it was John Cena famously brutalized by Brock.
12 Hogan Refuses To Have His Legend Killed
Back in 2006, Randy Orton had carved out a career for himself as the Legend Killer. The likes of Jake Roberts, Ric Flair, Harley Race, Sgt. Slaughter, Dusty Rhodes, and Shawn Michaels had all been disrespected or taken out by Orton, and SummerSlam that year saw the perfect opportunity to have Randy continue his momentum by taking out one of the biggest legends the business has ever seen: Hulk Hogan.
On the premise that the WWE would help promote daughter Brooke’s debut album, Hogan agreed to the match and to lose to young Randall Keith. As is ever the case with The Hulkster, though, he began to change his mind as the event loomed large.
Playing his creative control card, the then-53-year-old Hulk refused to lose to the 26-year-old Orton. Hogan would go on to pin Randy clean in the middle of the ring before leaving the company.
11 The Bulldog’s Condition
To many longtime wrestling fans, Bret Hart defending his Intercontinental Championship against Davey Boy Smith at SummerSlam ’92 is seen as one of the very best matches of all time. While the match itself still holds up to this day, more recent years have seen some interesting new information come out regarding how the bout was put together.
As Bret himself has discussed, it turns out that Davey Boy’s drug issues caused all kinds of problems with the bout. In the weeks prior to the PPV, the Bulldog had been regularly smoking crack, often with Jim Neidhart. On the day of the show, Bret had laid out the match with Davey Boy… only for the Englishman to completely forget how the match was supposed to play out once he got out in front of the Wembley Stadium crowd.
Hart would completely carry Bulldog to one of the greatest matches of all time, which is a testament to just why The Hitman is revered as one of the greatest to ever lace up a pair of boots.
10 Brutus Beefcake Missed Out
Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake was actually meant to win the Intercontinental Championship at two different SummerSlam shows, yet ended up not actually competing in either of the PPVs in question.
In 1988, Bruti was booked to beat Honky Tonk Man for the gold, but a week before the show, he was storyline-wise injured by “Outlaw” Ron Bass. According to Beefcake, the real reason for this was because The Ultimate Warrior threatened to quit the company unless he won the IC belt – which he promptly did at SummerSlam ‘88.
Then, in 1990, Beefcake was set to beat Mr. Perfect for the Intercontinental Title but was put on the shelf due to a horrific parasailing injury that required reconstructive surgery. At that time, Kerry Von Erich would step in and take Perfect’s title.
9 The Lasting Effect On Steve Austin
Of course, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is rightly seen as one of the biggest stars that the wrestling business has ever seen. To put it simply, Austin was the hottest star of the hottest time in the history of the industry.
Despite his success, though, the Texas Rattlesnake had years taken off his career due to one of his first SummerSlam matches.
At the 1997 edition of the PPV, Austin successfully defended his Intercontinental Championship against Owen Hart. Unfortunately, a botched piledriver from Hart left the Bionic Redneck with a broken neck and temporary paralysis.
In the short term, this caused Austin to vacate the IC and Tag Team belts, but in the long term, this injury led to a whole host of ongoing neck issues that ultimately saw Stone Cold retire in 2003.
8 The Hogan/Warrior Rematch That Never Was
After the monumental battle between Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VI, many people don’t know that the plan was for a rematch to happen over a year later.
With Warrior winning that first match to become WWF Champion, Hogan decided to play politics and have the Parts Unknown native lose his belt to the nefarious Sgt. Slaughter at Royal Rumble ’91 purely so that Hulk could be the one to dethrone the villainous Iraqi sympathizer at WrestleMania VII. After that, the plan was for SummerSlam ’91 to see the hotly-anticipated rematch between Hogan and Warrior.
Of course, that never actually happened, with The Hulkster using his pull to get the SummerSlam main event changed to him and Warrior teaming up to go up against Sgt. Slaughter, Col. Mustafa, and General Adnan. Hogan’s logic? Fans wouldn’t want to see him and Warrior do battle once more. Right, because it had nothing to do with him not wanting to lose his belt to the facepaint-adorned ball of energy again…
7 Chyna Was Meant To Headline The 1999 Show
Chyna did become the #1 contender for Austin’s belt in the build-up to the PPV, and the original plan was for The Ninth Wonder of the World to defeat Stone Cold and become the first ever female WWF Champion.
Ultimately, McMahon had a change of heart, and Chyna would lose her #1 contender spot to Mankind. From there, a triple threat match between Austin, Mick Foley, and Triple H headlined SummerSlam, with Foley being the one to take Austin’s WWF Championship.
6 Mr. Perfect Was Majorly Banged Up
An all-time great SummerSlam match is Mr. Perfect defending his Intercontinental Championship against Bret Hart at the 1991 edition of the PPV.
While that match is rightly thought of as a legendary classic, what some may not know is that Curt Hennig was majorly beaten up going into the show. In fact, The Perfect One was suffering from a broken tailbone and had several bulged discs in his back. So bad were the injuries, Hennig would actually retire after the SummerSlam bout. Given the restrictions caused by Perfect’s severe injuries, this makes the stunning battle between Hart and Hennig even more impressive in hindsight.
Of course, Perfect would end up coming out of retirement toward the end of 1992.
5 The Ultimate Warrior Holds Up Vince
At SummerSlam ’91, the main event saw Hulk Hogan team with The Ultimate Warrior to take on the nefarious team of Sgt. Slaughter, Col. Mustafa, and General Adnan with the recently-arrived Sid Justice serving as the special referee.
Of course, Hogan and Warrior would get the easy win, but there was far more going on behind the scenes before the match even got started.
Unhappy at his payoff for WrestleMania VII, Warrior decided to hold-up Vince McMahon leading up to, and then on the day of, SummerSlam. When the day of SummerSlam came, the former WWF Champion refused to wrestle in the main event unless Vince gave him the money he demanded. Despite Slaughter offering to “persuade” Warrior, as per the old school mentality of the business, McMahon agreed to pay Warrior what he demanded… and then promptly fired him after the show was over.
4 The Hogan/Savage Rematch That Never Was
Sensing a common theme here? I mean, anybody would think that Hulk Hogan hated to do business when it involved him maybe not being the all-conquering, all-smiling hero who always saves the day.
In yet another case of Hogan pulling strings to get plans changed, SummerSlam ’89 was originally supposed to be headlined by The Hulkster defending the WWF Championship against “Macho King” Randy Savage – the man Hogan defeated for the gold at WrestleMania V.
What actually happened was Hulk shot down that proposed rematch, instead believing it would be better for business to have him team with Brutus Beefcake to battle Savage and Tiny Lister, whom Hogan had appeared with in the awful No Holds Barred movie. And so, the monumental main event of only the second SummerSlam was lackluster and only served to yet again position Hulk Hogan as ‘the man’ and to help promote his sucky movie.
3 Shawn Michaels Publicly Embarrassed Vader
In 1996, there was huge optimism when the WWF began featuring Vader at the top of their cards. Having become a major name over in Japan, Vader had then established himself as a big-time player in WCW before ending up in the WWF.
As part of his push, there was a moment in time when Vader was due to beat Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship at SummerSlam ’96. Unfortunately, in a classic case of ‘Shawn being Shawn’, Michaels would decide that he didn’t want to play ball.
Not only did The Heartbreak Kid get the match changed so that he retained the title; he also then shockingly berated Vader loudly and publicly during the match in a show of complete unprofessionalism.
2 Bret Hart Vs Hulk Hogan
One of the dream matches that fans were cruelly robbed of was Bret Hart vs. Hulk Hogan. Sure, a brief farcical bout happened in WCW, but there was a point where the two were to do battle in the WWF in a ‘passing of the torch’ sort of deal.
At WrestleMania IX, Hart had lost his WWF Championship to Yokozuna – who then promptly lost the belt straight to Hogan in an impromptu match. From there, Vince McMahon’s plan was for a meeting of two babyfaces as Hogan would drop the belt to The Hitman at SummerSlam ’93.
Instead, Hogan would refuse to do the J.O.B., citing that Hart was too small to be taken as a legitimate threat to him. The Hulkster would then agree to lose the gold to the much larger Yokozuna at the King of the Ring show before he then left the company ahead of ultimately ending up in WCW.
1 The Creation
The first SummerSlam PPV took place back in 1988, but do you know the reason behind the creation of what would go on to become a longstanding staple of the WWE calendar?
Back in 1983, Vince McMahon created WrestleMania in order to compete with the success of Jim Crockett Promotions Starrcade. After that, Survivor Series debuted in 1987 and aired on the same night as Starrcade ’87, and McMahon followed this up by launching the Royal Rumble on free network TV in January 1988.
By the time WrestleMania IV decimated Clash of the Champions, Crockett would file for bankruptcy and ultimately sell his company to Ted Turner – who, in turn, turned the company into WCW. McMahon seized the moment, seeing how he could dominate the PPV market, and so created SummerSlam to tighten his stranglehold on the industry.
Sources: WWE, Wikipedia, PWTorch