When WWE created SummerSlam in 1988, few could have imagined the show would be established as one of the original “Big Four” of Pay-per-view events and one of the key shows of the year. For over a quarter-century, SummerSlam has been one of the highlights of WWE, a place where key storylines converge and pushes along some big stuff. The show has had its low points to be sure, but so many more great ones set it apart. Something about the summer months just adds to the fun of wrestling, sparks it up and WWE has enjoyed pushing “the heat is on” as a tag line for the show over the years and so many times, it’s fitting.
We’ve had some great matches at SummerSlam but sometimes it’s not just about the matches; nothing gets a fan going more than seeing history - moments that define the PPV. A title change, a wild bout or just some whacky stunt, SummerSlam has given all of those over the last two-plus decades and in droves. Here are fifteen of the best moments in the history of the show, all of which remind you why SummerSlam is one of the best of WWE’s shows over the years. They'll definitely get you excited for this year’s edition.
15 Undertaker Rises
In 1992, the Undertaker wasn’t quite the legend he is today but he was getting there. He’d turned face and was beginning to move into the period where he’d battle other big men, taking them on with his unique style that won over fans.
At SummerSlam ’92, he was facing Kamala and Undertaker made a great entrance riding the back of a hearse down the aisle. The match itself was short and slow as they’d battle it out with Kamala disqualified after interference from Kimchee and manager Harvey Whippleman. Kamala attacked the Undertaker, splashing him off each of the three ropes, leaving him dead on his back.
As Kamala exited, however, the Undertaker sat right up and the cameras caught the utterly priceless look of shock and horror on Kamala’s face. It was funny as he’d literally fall over himself trying to get away as the Undertaker stalked him, with Bobby Heenan killing it on commentary, declaring “That man is not human!” Maybe not a good match but the ending did help push the aura of the Dead Man that would continue to this day.
14 The Mountie Goes to Jail
To pay off a long feud at SummerSlam ’91, the Big Bossman and the Mountie went at it in a match with the stipulation that the loser would have to spend the night in a New York City jail cell (and this was when NYC was really nasty).
The match itself was no great shakes with the Bossman pinning the Mountie after a hard slam. But the post-match antics were unspeakably brilliant as the cops came down to handcuff the Mountie and the cameras following as they dragged him backstage, to the garage and threw him into the paddy wagon with the Mountie screaming every step of the way.
On commentary, Roddy Piper gloated about “doing the Jailhouse Rock” as Bobby Heenan moaned over the Mountie’s fate. For the rest of the show, the cameras would cut to the Mountie at the police station as he was fingerprinted, photographed and tossed into a cell with an overly friendly cellmate. Now that’s how you give a heel his comeuppance.
13 The Beast Unleashed
Even with his great look and size, Brock Lesnar was still a mostly unknown entity in 2002 in WWE. But, realizing they had something truly special, the company made no mistake pushing him hard, giving him big guys to take down easily then shocking everyone by having Brock beat Hulk Hogan clean and with a bear hug to boot. Thus, Brock was set against The Rock for the WWE title at SummerSlam and their encounter would be quite amazing to watch.
With word of the Rock heading to Hollywood, the fans were backing Brock as the match started and as it continued, that support would just grow more and more. The two went at it hard with Rock seemingly thrown by the hostile fan reaction as Brock would fight back against all his hard moves for an amazing encounter.
In the end, Brock was able to block a Rock Bottom into the F5 for the pin, which the fans cheered for wildly. Brock celebrated as it truly felt like a new era in wrestling had arrived, marking the beginning of his rise to fame as one of the best fighters of current times.
12 Going Out With a Bang
No one realized it at the time but SummerSlam 2009 would be Jeff Hardy’s last with the company before he returned to TNA. He and CM Punk had been having a wild feud for a while over the WWE title, trading the belt back and forth with Jeff going in as champion. It was a TLC match, right up the alleys of both men and they went all out with wild leaps, hard hits and Jeff’s always epic Swanton off a ladder through a table.
It was a harsh battle but in the end Punk managed to scale the ladder to win the title but the celebration was cut short by the bell sounding, the lights going out and when they came back on, the Undertaker was lying in Jeff’s place to chokeslam Punk. A so-so ending but a great match that highlighted both men’s abilities. Jeff, in one of his last big WWE bouts, reminded you of the great performer he is.
11 Shane Takes a Fall
A big joke in WWE is how Vince McMahon wants to be a wrestler but is a terrible worker. Shane, however, has shown a great ability in the ring, backed up by an utterly insane desire to do stunts that would make Jeff Hardy back off.
At the 2000 show, he defended the Hardcore title against Steve Blackman. Blackman dominated most of it, with Shane taking some savage hits from a kendo stick and a leather strap. Test and Albert came to help but Blackman fought them off while Shane scaled the large stage area, roughly 35 feet over the floor. Blackman followed as they punched it out and then Blackman smashed him with a Kendo stick, sending Shane falling 30 feet through a table.
Blackman easily got the pin but the fact Shane put himself on the line like that is still impressive and shows Vince isn’t the only McMahon with some serious cajones.
10 The Dragon Roars
In 2010, the battle lines were drawn when Nexus formed and pulled off a massive attack on anyone in their path in WWE. Daniel Bryan was to be their leader but was apparently fired after choking an announcer with a tie during a fight.
At SummerSlam, John Cena organized a band of WWE guys, heels and faces alike, to take on Nexus in a grand fight. The Miz was to be the final member but instead Cena announced a replacement for the match: Daniel Bryan. This was a huge shock as WWE had kept quiet about Bryan returning so the fans responded big time as he charged in to help them fight his old teammates off in a huge brawl.
Bryan himself would show good stuff as the elimination battle went on, with Cena finally getting a hard-won victory. But the big story was how this really elevated Bryan and would boost him to his current status of superstar, the rare case of WWE knowing what they had and actually using it well for a true SummerSlam surprise.
9 A Classic Reborn
Everyone knows the WrestleMania X ladder match between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon is a classic that elevated both men majorly. But their 1995 encounter may actually be better. The show was looking bad but thankfully WWE decided to put this on to push it and having both men be faces with Michaels the one defending, giving the match more of a spark.
What made it stand out was that both men used the flow of that original battle to spice up this one. When Ramon got the ladder onto the apron, Shawn tried a baseball slide but this time, Ramon dodged it and punched Shawn on the outside. He also smartly worked on Shawn’s leg to weaken him and the fans were going wild seeing their two favorites go at it big time.
It was a back and forth affair before Shawn managed to rise up and get the belt to retain. The rare case of the sequel living up to and even surpassing the original, and why both men were great SummerSlam performers.
8 Suplex City
Critics of John Cena tend to say he doesn’t like to put other people over. But in 2014, Cena ended that mantra big time with his encounter with Brock Lesnar for the World title.
Calling this a match isn’t even fair as it was Lesnar from the start, hammering Cena down and finally pushed by WWE as the monster he should have been. The highlight was of course Brock hitting Cena with roughly fifteen German suplexes, each nastier than the last. Cena tried a brief offense with an Attitude Adjustment but it wasn’t enough as Brock just kept coming hard and Cena couldn’t handle it.
In the end, a massive F5 finally ended the slaughter to let Brock win the championship in resounding style. A terrific battle that shows Cena can put a guy over and damn well too, while pushing Brock as this wild animal.
7 HBK vs Hogan
Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels: two of the biggest stars WWE has ever known as well as two of the biggest egotists and backstage politicians wrestling has ever seen. Is it any wonder that a match between them would be a wild showcase?
Michaels had turned heel to attack Hogan on RAW a few weeks earlier to set this up and WWE did a great job pushing this as the star of the ‘80s against the star of the ‘90s. The two went at it in a surprisingly hard-fought figh,t with Hogan doing a real blade job as Shawn kept up his fighting.
Naturally, the clash of pride would come to the fore as reportedly, Shawn wasn’t happy with the idea of Hogan going over and thus went out of his way to massively oversell Hogan’s offense as well as his famed “Hulking out” comeback, doing flops that bordered on pure acrobatics. Hogan wasn’t happy but went along with it to get the win.
A good match but truly fascinating to watch as two men known for wanting the spotlight for themselves do battle for the limelight, thus making it a great encounter on multiple levels.
6 The Match Made in Heaven
Randy Savage was known for helping craft his own matches and storylines so it’s no surprise he would be able to craft a big one here. While he and Elizabeth had been married off-screen for years, the relationship was kept secret to fans, easier to do in the pre-Internet era. At WrestleMania VII, Macho Man lost a “retirement” match against the Ultimate Warrior and reunited with Elizabeth there to go out a fan favorite. After a while as commentator, Savage popped the question to Elizabeth in the ring and she said yes.
So SummerSlam ’91 ended with the two having a glorious in-ring wedding; Savage wore a great white version of his ring outfit, complete with cowboy hat, while Elizabeth looked gorgeous in her wedding gown. Surprisingly, the ceremony went off without a hitch, although it would be revealed Jake Roberts and the Undertaker crashed the reception. Sadly, the two would divorce for real a year later but still a great moment to pay off their long relationship for fans.
5 The Perfect Victory
For years, SummerSlam was a showcase for the Intercontinental championship and this was one of its best. After rising high for a while, Bret Hart was finally ready to take it to the next level as a singles worker, challenging Mr. Perfect for the IC belt.
What made the match remarkable was that Curt Hennig’s back was majorly screwed up and he should have been nowhere near the ring. However, Hennig wanted to give Bret the rub of the title win and Bret always appreciated that. For fifteen minutes, the two put on a brilliant wrestling clinic, going hard and fast against each other, providing amazing back and forth battling with Bret’s parents shown watching in concern as it went on.
Perfect tried to drop his leg across Bret’s crotch but Bret managed to grab it, locking his own legs around it and turned them around, rising to counter into the Sharpshooter. Perfect was in so much pain that the move wasn’t even fully applied before he hastily submitted and the crowd went wild. When Perfect hit some kicks, Bret tore the man’s singlet off, wearing it like a trophy as he celebrated his first singles title. A great match that would kick off one of the best careers in WWE’s history.
4 The Comeback Kid
In 1998, Shawn Michaels’ career was apparently over after taking a bad bump, having to leave just after dropping the WWE title to Steve Austin. It looked like a return to in-ring action wasn’t to be. But after major back surgery, Shawn made talk of a return and so an angle was shot with HHH turning on Shawn to beat him down badly and naturally Shawn wanted revenge in a no-holds-barred fight.
Many doubted it would be any good with Shawn away for so long but as it turned out, those doubts were unfounded as Shawn not only came back but in fighting style. After being beat down for a while by HHH, Shawn exploded on offense with flying elbows, smashing HHH with a garbage can and pulling out a ladder to splash Hunter through a table. It was amazing as the crowd was totally on his side as he eventually flipped a Pedigree attempt into the pin.
Shawn was beaten down afterward but had proven he still had it and thus “one more match” turned into several more years to cement his legacy as one of the best in WWE history. Shawn likes to talk about being “Mr. WrestleMania” but SummerSlam is a grand showcase for him as well.
They had shown their stuff already in the ladder match at WrestleMania 2000. But it was at SummerSlam that the Hardyz, the Dudleyz and Edge & Christian combined forces to give fans one of the wildest battles wrestling had ever seen.
The first true TLC match for the tag team titles, the three went in and basically beat the hell out of each other with chairs, hard shots, blows and ladder falls that had fans gasping. It was already wild before Bubba Ray told D-Von to “get the tables!” and it just increased from there. Lita even got involved and was speared down by Edge as we saw Jeff do a swanton off the ladder through a table. Let's not forget the stunning bit where Bubba was sent off the ladder through four tables stacked outside.
In the end, Edge and Christian were able to climb the ladders to win the match and keep the belts but it was still a stunning spectacle just made better by the crowd reactions and how the tag team scene of the time was so hot thanks to these six amazing stars.
2 The Warrior Rises
It’s odd that the longest-reigning Intercontinental champion ever was one of the worst workers you can imagine. The Honky Tonk Man was basically a wrestling Elvis impersonator who won the belt on a fluke and kept it mostly by cheating or getting himself deliberately disqualified. Fans hated it and hoped he would lose yet he kept escaping with the title time and again.
At the very first SummerSlam, he was scheduled to defend it against Brutus Beefcake but Beefcake was taken out by Ron Bass and no challenger set. Coming to the ring, HTM got on the mic to declare anyone could come out, he didn’t care who it was.
A pulsing rock beat filled the arena and the fans rose up as the Ultimate Warrior charged down and in the space of just 30 seconds, completely destroyed Honky Tonk to win the title. The pop from the Madison Square Garden crowd when the three count was made was massive, the fans overjoyed to see HTM finally dethroned.
The irony of the longest IC title reign ending in the shortest match of the time was hysterical and it instantly elevated the Warrior to super-stardom. It’s still one of the best moments of the show and helped cement the card as a huge deal.
1 Hitman vs Bulldog
Originally, the Intercontinental championship was going to be a mid-card bout in 1992 with Bret Hart defending against Shawn Michaels. But when the show was moved to Wembley Stadium in London, WWE saw a huge opportunity and instead made it the main event with Bret defending against the British Bulldog.
WWE built it up quite well, noting how Davey Boy was married to Bret’s sister, Diane, and teasing a lot of tension between the two men. While Bulldog had a huge ovation, Bret had cheers as well as the two went at it tooth and nail.
In his autobiography, Bret says Davey Boy was blown up early and thus Bret had to call a lot of the action. But you wouldn’t know to watch it as both men mixed up well, a great technical battle as they tried to keep it clean but tempers flared with some slapping and the crowd was enthralled. It was a back and forth battle before Bret went for a sunset flip and Davey Boy fell forward to roll him up for the pinfall.
The pop in the stadium was one of the biggest you can imagine as the British fans went wild. After a tense moment, Bret handed the belt to Davey Boy as they celebrated with Diane. Still, it's the best SummerSlam match ever and a great showcase for how good the card can be.