It has become the yearly tradition of my friends and I to attend Wrestlemania in person. In fact, I have been to 15 of the last 16 events on the Grand Stage. Not too long ago, Summerslam was an annual summer showcase in my home of Los Angeles, and I was fortunate to go the “biggest party of the summer” every year. Or as Dolph Ziggler hilariously put it in his comedy sketch, “for most wrestling fans, it is the only party of the summer.”
When I was growing up, Summerslam was one of the WWF’s Big Four pay-per-view events, but now it is clearly their second biggest show of the year and a stage for some of their biggest moments.Today we count down the top ten moments in Summerslam history.
- The First Main Event-Summerslam 1988
WWF knew it had to start its summer tradition with a bang, and it needed a hook similar to Royal Rumble and Survivor Series. The first few installments of the event revolved around a huge tag team main event. There was none bigger than the first ever Summerslam feature between the Mega Powers of Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage and the Mega Bucks of Million Dollar Man and Andre the Giant. Jesse Ventura was the special referee and Superstar Billy Graham was on commentary so it was a showcase of Hall of Famers.
The first seeds of the Mega Powers dissension were planted here, and it featured a ridiculous moment when the elegant Miss Elizabeth took off her skirt to distract Dibiase and Andre. You would have thought they had never seen a woman before when the usually submissive Liz finally got involved in a contest. The star power and spectacle of this main event ensured that this would be an annual summer special.
- Ultimate Warrior Ends Honky Tonk Man’s Intercontinental Reign-Summerslam 1988 The second entry on this list also comes from the inaugural Summerslam proving that WWF was intent on making this a blockbuster event from the beginning. The Honky Tonk Man was in the middle of the longest Intercontinental Championship reign in WWF history. He had kept the title by cowardly means retaining through disqualifications and count-outs. Honky boasted that he was the greatest champion of all time, and when it came to getting heel heat, there was nobody better. It was only fitting that his run would end in dramatic fashion when he came to a chorus of boos and challenged anyone in the arena. After a delay, Ultimate Warrior’s music played, and the crowd went crazy as he ran in and destroyed the Honky Tonk Man in record time winning the Intercontinental Championship in an unforgettable moment.
- Shawn Michaels One Man Show Versus Hulk Hogan: Summerslam 2005
The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels and Hulk Hogan was one of the few remaining dream matches between two stars of different eras. Many of us never thought they would ever face off, but when Hulkster returned to WWE in 2005 after being inducted into the Hall of Famer, the seeds were planted for a major Summerslam main event. Michaels said he needed Hulk to be his tag team partner against Muhammad Hassan and Daivari. They competed as partners for months before he gave him Sweet Chin Music in one of the most memorable moments in Raw history.
It led to one last heel run for Michaels where he delivered some of the most memorable promos in wrestling history tearing down Hogan. The actual battle was a one-man-show which Wade Keller said was “one of the greatest performances in wrestling history” carrying Hulk to an epic twenty minute match. It is now mainly remembered for HBK comically overselling Hogan’s offense, but somehow it fit the nature of the bout. This was one of wrestling’s last dream matches, and it lived up the hype thanks to Michaels.
- Chris Jericho Punches Shawn Michaels’ Wife: Summerslam 2008 During the summer of 2008, Chris Jericho and Michaels were engaged in the hottest rivalry in wrestling. In fact, the feud had some of the best storytelling in the history of the industry featuring layered emotions, multifaceted characters and great acting by wrestling standards. Surprisingly neither had a match scheduled for the event, but HBK was going to announce whether he would retire from his recent injury at the hands of Jericho. Michaels and his wife stood in the ring, and it appeared as if he was going to announce his retirement when Y2J interrupted his speech. An intense confrontation led to Jericho mistakenly punching Shawn’s wife Rebecca. It elevated the intensity of an already hot feud. It was the high point of one of the greatest programs in wrestling history and one of the most memorable segments as well.
- Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth: The Match Made in Heaven: Summerslam 1991 This was the only major pay-per-view featuring a wedding as its main event, but it was only fitting because Savage and Elizabeth were the most famous wrestling couple of all time. They had reunited at Wrestlemania 7 after a classic retirement match against Ultimate Warrior. The two were already married in real life for years, but that was never acknowledged on television. They tied the knot in grand fashion in WWF’s home base of Madison Square Garden. Of course, the heavenly matrimony would not last long as Jake the Snake and the Undertaker had planted a snake in one of the gift boxes resulting in Macho Man’s return to the ring and another unforgettable feud.
- TLC Number One: Summerslam 2000 In Summerslam 1995, Razor Ramon and HBK raised the bar in the sequel to their legendary Wrestlemania X Ladder Match. Five years later, Edge and Christian, the Dudle Boyz and the Hardy Boyz took things to an all-new level in the first ever TLC Match. It took daredevil stunts and chaotic action literally to new heights. This would usher in a match that has become a staple of shows ever since, and it was the courageous performances of these three teams that put TLC on the map. Tables, ladders and chairs, oh my indeed!
- Brock Lesnar Squashes John Cena: Summerslam 2014 While the first TLC match featured wild and crazy back-and-forth action and complicated spots, the main event between Brock Lesnar and Cena was a very simply told story executed brilliantly. It was a complete squash that introduced the world to Suplex City. Cena had been the top star in the company for nearly a decade and Brock had just ended Undertaker’s streak. He needed to win the World Championship in grand fashion, but nobody could have predicted his complete domination in this match. It was a viscerally stimulating beat down that had never been done before to the company’s main attraction. Unfortunately, WWE never followed up this unique battle properly, but being in the arena this night was one of the most exciting moments I have ever experienced as a wrestling fan.
- Owen Hart Breaks Steve Austin’s Neck: Summerslam 1997 Owen 3:16 says, “I just broke your neck.” Interestingly a botched move in a mid-card match led to the rise of the biggest main event draw in the history of wrestling. Owen and Stone Cold were engaged in a bitter feud following up the classic confrontations between Bret and Austin. They had a Kiss My Ass match scheduled for Summerslam, but due to a careless piledriver by Owen, Austin’s neck was broken, and he was nearly paralyzed. It was a frightening spot looking at the replay, and it led to Stone Cold having to take months off in-ring action. Ironically it also caused him to further develop his Stone Cold character, and WWF came up with creative ways to use him on Raw. This mishap in Summerslam would lead to Austin and WWF rising to previously unseen heights in the history of the industry.
- Shawn Michaels Returns: Summerslam 2002
In the mid-90’s, Michaels was the biggest star and best wrestler in the world. Unfortunately his daredevil style led to a back injury that would put him out of commission for over four years. Most of us thought that he was retired forever even though there was never an official finale. When HBK returned to join the NWO in the summer of 2002, none of us could have imagined that he would become better than ever and enjoy an eight-year run of some of the best matches in wrestling history.
Although the NWO did not last, Michaels would reunite with his best friend Triple H to reform DX for one night only. Unsurprisingly The Game would betray his former partner and set the stage for an epic Summerslam Street Fight. At the time, nobody knew the condition of Michaels’ back and whether he could perform at his prime level. He answered all doubts with a showstopping performance in one of the most spectacular matches in wrestling history. It was the classic tale of the jealous heel trying to upstage his former mentor. This match should be used as a template in how to tell a story in the ring, and it still stands strong as one of the greatest moments in Summerslam history.
- Bret Hart and Bulldog Change the Industry From the onset of PPV, Vince McMahon had featured cartoonish superheroes like Macho Man, Hulkster and Warrior in his main events. While Savage was a great worker, the company was not recognized for having excellent matches. This was to change on a grand stage in Wembley Stadium in front of over 80,000 people. The Hitman had lobbied for this match against hometown hero Davey Boy Smith, and the two proved to be up to the challenge. They wrestled one of the most amazing matches in wrestling history. Not only that, this signaled a major shift in direction for the WWF where it featured smaller superstars that could execute better stories in the ring. It was around the time of a steroids scandal so the muscle bound behemoths of years past would change to a more athletic based product around stars like Hart and Michaels. This match changed the wrestling industry forever, and it took place in front of one of the biggest audiences in history at Summerslam.