It’s that time of year again. This year WWE’s SummerSlam celebrates its 29th birthday. 29 years of SummerSlam! If SummerSlam were human, right about now it’d start worrying about where it’s going to be in five years, should it put a down-payment on a house? Maybe start wearing slacks and start worrying about that retirement fund. But there’s still one solid year of 20’s to go before a decade of thirty-something sets in. So, will 2016’s SummerSlam be a glorious last hurrah before dry responsibilities kick in? I don’t know! I’m not a fortune teller. However, one thing I can do is reflect on the SummerSlams of summers’ past by looking back on what I consider the five best SummerSlams.
Now, it’s important to note that I haven’t seen every SummerSlam. I’ve been around for all of them, but I haven’t viewed all of them. Also, I will point out that these are my five favorite SummerSlams. You may well disagree with some, or all, of my picks. In fact, in the name of healthy debate, I encourage you to do so. Anyway, let’s get into it. In no certain order here are what I believe to be the five best SummerSlams of all time.
1.) SummerSlam 1988.
Aka – “SummerSlam 1.” So, it might not have the best card, but I remember this show vividly. My 11-year-old-self was in awe of the main-event: The Mega Powers vs The Mega Bucks. You have to remember that this was a time long before the internet, or even PPV on demand ( where I lived at least ). My local video store had only 2 copies of this for hire. Each weekend I would bike down there and see if one of these copies was available to rent. After weeks of what seemed like an eternity, I was able to rent SummerSlam 88. It may have been the mother of all squash matches but The Ultimate Warrior flattening The Honky Tonk Man in 30 for the Intercontinental Title seconds was made for 11-year-olds like myself at the time. Looking back, SummerSlam 88 has its shortcomings. The main event really wasn’t all that great. Ted Dibiase was a great heel, but even at that age, I felt as if this feud wasn’t main-event worthy. At a time when getting to see a WWF/WWE PPV was a big deal, it remains a fond memory.
2.) SummerSlam 1989.
Hang on a minute! You might be thinking, “Is he just going to rattle off SummerSlam 1 to 5 here?” Well, not quite. SummerSlam 89 is where I abandon chronology. I was almost going to leave this event off the list, but again, SummerSlam 89 is vividly imprinted in my memory. It was also a much better card than the previous year’s with a great match in The Ultimate Warrior and Ravishing Rick Rude facing off for the Intercontinental Title. The Warrior defeated Rude after Roddy Piper interfered and mooned Rude, to which Rude was apparently mortified!?! It was a great chapter in their feud after Rude took the title off of Warrior at Wrestlemania V thanks to interferance from Bobby Heenan.
The main event was Hulk Hogan and his perennial sidekick, Brutus The Barber Beefcake, vs “The Macho Man” Randy Savage and Zeus. Looking back, this main event was hokey as hell, but a 12-year-old me lapped it up. Earlier in 1989 the Mega Powers of Hogan and Savage had exploded and this was a big deal in my world. They continued their feud into SummerSlam 89. Macho had teamed up with the villain of the god-awful movie No Holds Barred, Zeus, and Sensational Sherri to take on Hogan and Beefer. The WWF had carried over the Hogan vs Zeus storyline from the movie into the PPV itself. It was all pretty dire stuff to watch, but I couldn’t get enough of it at the time. The WWF continued this idea by creating a “No Holds Barred PPV” later on in the year. The less said about that event the better really. One worthy footnote here was that for SummerSlam 89, our TV network was now screening WWF PPVs on regular free-to-view TV. This almost made my mind explode as I could now record the event on my VCR for future viewing. I watched SummerSlam 89 many, many times.
3.) SummerSlam 98.
So between 1990 and somewhere in late 1997, wrestling had somewhat fallen off my radar. It wasn’t being televised ( much ) at all until around 1997 when I stumbled on WCW programming screening late at night. I was amazed to see that my childhood favorites were still going strong there. Soon afterwards I noticed that WWF/WWE was still around, but it was a very different place. It wasn’t as compelling as WCW, until in 1998 when the WWF really hit its strides again and started leaving WCW for dust, but the recent King of the Ring PPV had really stood out and made me take notice. SummerSlam 98 was being televised free-to-air again which just seemed all too perfect.
Although I was very much into WCW at the time, I really enjoyed this event. The card was solid. Nothing special, but decent. At the time I really enjoyed D’Lo Brown’s chicken-shit heel gimmick with the chest protector. For some reason, the Jeff Jarret vs X-Pac hair vs hair match really stuck in my head. Jarret seemed very deserving to lose, and it was the beginning of his character transformation. The Lion’s Den match between Ken Shamrock and Owen Hart seemed a bit awkward, but I liked how different it all was. The main event was great also. For me, Steve Austin was still a bit of an unknown so I was intrigued as to how this main-event would stack up. I was impressed. It was clear to me that the WWF were very different from WCW. Taker’s leg drop to Austin, who was lying on the Spanish announce table, just seemed like an unbelievable move to try at the time. I couldn’t recall seeing anything like it on WCW at the time.
The thing that impressed me the most about SummerSlam 98 was although the WWF seemed smaller, more lower-budget than WCW, they were clearly trying very hard to go in a completely different direction and were intent on making new stars. WCW, on the other hand, were still relying on the stars of yesteryear. We all know how that worked out for WCW in the months and years that followed. From SummerSlam 98 onwards, WWF became must-see TV for me again.
4.) SummerSlam 92.
Wait a minute! I just said I barely saw any wrestling from 1990-97. This is true. However, due to my rekindled fascination with wrestling in 1998, I tried to “catch-up” so to speak. I raided my local video store for tapes of PPVs past. I was in luck. They were all there and were cheap to hire. The wrestling boom didn’t take hold where I lived until around 1999. So in 1998, wrestling still felt like a cool little secret. I watched loads of old PPVs. Some good. Some not so good. The new-generation era, in particular, was clearly a very difficult time for the WWF. There were gems in the rough though.
One such gem was SummerSlam 92. The show’s centrepiece was the Bret Hart vs local hero, The British Bulldog, for the Intercontinental Title. The PPV was touted as a double-main event though with The Macho Man and The Ultimate Warrior fighting for the WWF Heavyweight Title.
The first thing that struck me about this show was the crowd. They were absolutely jacked. UK fans are always noticeably amped up when the WWE comes to their shores, and for this event, there were over 80,000 of them crammed into the stadium. The fact that it was an outdoor arena really added something also. The undercard was ok. The Road Warriors returned with Road Warrior Hawk clearly off his head on something throughout the match. Virgil had an actual match vs Nailz which was nothing to write home about, and Shawn Michaels faced Rick “The Model” Martel. I loved Martel’s model gimmick. He was great at it. His accompanying TV vignettes for the character were awesome.
The main event for the WWF Title between The Macho Man and The Ultimate Warrior was alright but suffered from a screwy finish. In reality, the actual main event was the Bret Hart vs British Bulldog match. The crowd was mental for it, and when the hometown hero, Davey-Boy Smith, came out victorious, the 80,000 in attendance exploded in celebration. Given how the Bulldog ended up, it was very touching to see him have a big moment like this in front of a home crowd.
5.) Wrestlemania 2002.
2002’s SummerSlam was the last Summerslam that stuck in my head for a while. From 2003 to 2013, I only viewed Wrestling sporadically as I traveled around the world for work. The main reason why this particular event stands out to me was because of the return of Shawn Michaels.
I was a big fan of Shawn Michaels and was really disappointed that he got injured/took time off to exorcise demons when he did. Throughout the attitude era, his return was teased several times in the form of appearances every now and then only for him to soon disappear again, either for surgery or the fact that he clearly hadn’t shaken his drug problems. So when he did return in early 2002, I marked out pretty hard. It didn’t take long for an interesting angle between him and Triple H to develop.
In the weeks building towards SummerSlam, Triple H attacked Shawn in a series of bloody backstage assaults. Their blow-off was to be at SummerSlam in an “unsanctioned street fight.” Myself and wrestling fans everywhere had been waiting a long time for Michael’s in-ring return. Four years to be exact. Michaels showed no signs of ring rust at all. The match was sensational with Shawn performing several high-risk spots. Shawn won the match, but Triple H intensified his heel heat by attacking Michael’s afterwards and “crippling” him.
Oh yeah, there were other cool matches too! Ric Flair fought Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero fought Edge, Chris Benoit fought Rob Van Dam for the Intercontinental Title and then there was those other guys – The Rock and Brock Lesnar.
By 2002 The Rock had been one of the biggest stars in professional wrestling for the last four years. At SummerSlam 02, he would face off against Brock Lesnar for the WWE Undisputed Championship. It was a huge deal. Brock was the “next big thing” and this was to be a passing of the torch. Lesnar won the match to become, at the time, the youngest ever champion in the history of the title. It was the beginning of a new era and the beginning of the end of The Rock’s full-time wrestling career. The Rock focused mostly on his career in Hollywood from that point onwards. Brock Lesnar, who was groomed to be the WWE’s next megastar, sort of struggled with the pro-wrestling business afterwards. He is/was a massive star, but he took a very different path to stardom than someone like Steve Austin or The Rock.
Overall, looking at SummerSlam 02’s card, I’d have to say it’s my favorite SummerSlam. The card is very solid almost all the way through with two huge matches thrown in to boot.
So there are my favorite 5 SummerSlam events of all time. Obviously, I had to leave some good shows and moments out, but with almost 29 SummerSlams now, there are a lot to choose from. What are your favorite SummerSlams? Let me know in the comments below!