During the recording of our Best of WWE Summerslam audio, I suggested the Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H match from Summerslam 2002 was the greatest match in Summerslam history. Dusty immediately said, “Well, one of them.” I immediately thought of three other great matches off the top of my head and many more that could qualify for top 10 matches of Summerslam past. So many, in fact, that I’ve stretched my list out to a top 20. Well, 18; I’m only throwing two of them a bone because some people seem to love them for reasons not to be explained by me. So here we go, in reverse order (with the two “honorable mentions” tacked on right away, and five personal favorites to follow), my top 20 matches in Summerslam history.
(20) Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart, Summerslam 1994. If you want to watch two grown men slowly climb a cage and slowly pull each other down for 30 straight minutes with practically no drama attached, watch this match. The best part is the end, when Jim Neidhart and a returning Davey Boy Smith get involved. Otherwise, yawn the night away.
(19) Rock vs. Triple H, ladder match, Summerslam 1998. If Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon revolutionized the ladder match in 1994 and topped themselves in 1995, this one sent the ladder match back to the Middle Ages. In their defense, both men were still coming into their own as workers. But while doing so, they cost me about 28 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.
(18) Chris Benoit vs. Orlando Jordan, Summerslam 2005. Oh, come on, this was funny. OJ looked like a punk bitch, and Benoit drank his coffee all the way to the bank. And eventually Hell.
(17) Edge vs. Matt Hardy, Summerslam 2005. Any time the smarmy asshole Edge gets one up on the chumpy chumpstain Matt Hardy, I’m all for it. Hindsight makes this six-minute ass-kicking even more classic, as Hardy told his Internet fans not to worry, big things were going to happen for Matt Hardy! Ha. Hahaha. HAHAHAHAHA!!
(16) Hulk Hogan vs. Shawn Michaels, Summerslam 2005. Hulk Hogan was so old and decrepit at this point it was embarrassing. And we all knew going into the match that Michaels was not going to win. Little did we know, though, that he would make such a mockery of the Hulkster, overselling everything (and selling some things twice!)… a brilliant performance by the irrepressible Shawn Michaels.
(15) Chris Benoit vs. Randy Orton, Summerslam 2004. A really good match in a really hot town, and no one’s ever gonna see it again.
(14) Ultimate Warrior vs. Honky Tonk Man, Summerslam 1988. “Ohhhh, don’t say that, my man! Don’t say that, brother!” It would only take Honky Tonk Man 32 seconds to regret letting anyone challenge him to end the longest Intercontinental Title reign of all time. I still get goosebumps watching this match.
(13) Test vs. Shane McMahon, Summerslam 1999. One of the few good matches on this show — which I attended live and defended on the Worst of WWE Summerslam audio — mostly because it was such a dog-and-pony show (the Mean Street Posse, Brisco, Patterson and Stephanie all interfering), partly because of the backstory, and partly because no one expected nonwrestler Shane and, well, nonwrestler Test to work so hard. But the crowd ate it up!
(12) Ultimate Warrior vs. Rick Rude, Summerslam 1989. This is definitely the first good match Ultimate Warrior ever had, but to his credit you could tell he’d learned a lot in the previous year working with Rick Rude and others (well, not Hercules). This was the end of Act II in this feud, and it culminated in two feel-good moments: Roddy Piper’s interference and Ultimate Warrior’s regained championship. The promo before (where the Summerslam sign fell and Gene Okerlund yelled “Fuck it!”) and after (with Rude and Bobby Heenan going ballistic) are awesome as well.
(11) Shawn Michaels vs. Vader, Summerslam 1996. Shawn Michaels was in the midst of a hot streak, in-ring, as WWF Champion, even though business was only barely ticking upward compared to the previous few years. Vader entered the WWF in January 1996 and was booked about as monstrous as a guy from WCW would have been, which is to say not like much of one. The two worked hard and overcame some serious overbooking in the finish (three finishes, really) to put on a good main event in a bad time for WWF.
(10) Bret Hart vs. Undertaker, Summerslam 1997. Creatively, WWF was on fire at this point, and the heel leader of the Hart Foundation, Bret Hart, was getting his first real crack at the title, against champion Undertaker, in a while, since being sidelined storyline-wise by Steve Austin and in reality by a knee injury. But Hart came back and tore the house down with slowly-being-humanized Undertaker. Shawn Michaels as guest referee did a good job of playing the third wheel, just in the corner of your eye until the finish in which he was involved. Good, long, 1997-main-event-style match.
(9) Demolition vs. Hart Foundation, 2 out of 3 falls, Summerslam 1990. We didn’t get a lot of 2-out-of-3-fall matches from the WWF at this time, so when Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart had the chance to work a long match with the newly heeled Demolition — including the at-the-time impressive Crush — they made the most of it. Good drama with the third Demolition member at/not at ringside and the Legion of Doom saving the day in the end. And don’t worry, Bret, I thought it would be the two original members as well. Ax was the man.
(8) Undertaker vs. Edge, Hell in a Cell, Summerslam 2008. In my humblest, this and Michaels-Jericho are tied for Feud of the Year in 2008, so I’m surprised this match doesn’t get more love. Edge was at his peak here, Undertaker was in a groove, their feud was phenomenal, and the only screwy thing about this match was the cartoony finish where Edge got “chokeslammed to Hell,” fire and all. Besides that, what, 15 seconds, this was a great Hell in a Cell match (and really saved the show… I mean, Triple H vs. Great Khali??).
(7) Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle, Summerslam 2001. Austin’s heel turn at WrestleMania X-Seven was poorly received and fell flat, until he became the half-corny half-killer who sided with the Alliance as part of the Invasion. Kurt Angle was the new guy and rising star you loved to hate, so when he fought for the WWF’s honor, you finally felt like you could cheer him. Besides the Rock (and with Triple H helpfully on the shelf), the two top WWF superstars at the time suplexed and ringposted their way into Summerslam immortality. Even the ref bumps were great. Now, if it weren’t for that darn DQ finish.
(6) Edge & Christian vs. Hardy Boys vs. Dudley Boys, TLC I, Summerslam 2000. Wow. A great spotfest, a great gimmick match, and six great workers (at the time). And the North Carolina crowd was hot for the hometown Hardys. E&C still came away with the win, though, and kazooed their way to greatness.
(5) Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage, Summerslam 1992. Man, did these two make magic. Their match at WrestleMania VII was excellent, you know, if you can get past the 1,300 elbow drops. This was even better, and had the “whose corner will Mr. Perfect be in?” angle behind it. Two babyfaces locking up in front of 80,000 fans in London working a solid 30-minute match with Perfect and Ric Flair getting involved, and Warrior with a few years of knowledge and destrucity stored in his brain made for an awesome match.
(4) Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon, ladder match, Summerslam 1995. Wade Keller rated this match five stars, and I can see why. I’m a bigger fan of the WrestleMania X version because of the novelty and its placement on such an epic card, but let’s be honest, this one is better by a little bit. And Shawn got his win back. Michaels did kinda fumble the finish, but that’s forgivable; we can’t all go in there for 25 minutes and kill it with a stiff, hard-to-manage object… AND A LADDER, M I RITE!
(3) Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect, Summerslam 1991. From my favorite pay-per-view ever comes a classic. Mr. Perfect’s back was pretty torn up at this time, which we could all tell by the look on his face. But he gutted it out and performed to the best of his capabilities. Bret Hart was still an up-and-coming singles star, but “star” is the key word. They worked hard, tight and crisp, told a great story in 18 minutes, they kept stupid Coach’s interaction to a minimum, and they gave the crowd just what they were clamoring for at the time.
(2) Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog, Summerslam 1992. In front of 80,000 of his fellow countrymen, Davey Boy Smith was given the Intercontinental Title in a match against his real-life brother-in-law Bret Hart, with Diana Hart Smith in the middle of it all. Outside of rednecks and hillbillies, WWF never did much in the way of family angles until here, and it was just the right kind of drama to allow two babyfaces to wrestle, with the professional Bret heeling it up more than just a little. For 25 minutes these two put on a clinic of holds and counterholds and really provided the quality of action rarely seen in the WWF.
(1) Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H, unsanctioned match, Summerslam 2002. Don’t act surprised, I already told you this was my top Summerslam match. Michaels returned to in-ring action after a four-and-a-half-year hiatus, and Triple H was his dastardly sledgehammerin’ self. This nearly 30-minute match should be the blueprint for how to tell a story in a match, as Triple H worked over Michaels’ previously injured back in many imaginative ways, while Michaels continued to make his customary “most resilient WWF superstar” dramatic comebacks. The finish was great and unexpected, and the aftermath, with Hunter bashing Michaels with the sledgehammer, still makes me seethe to this day. They got me.