NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- WWE (WWE) aired its 27th annual SummerSlam pay-per-view on Sunday, Aug. 17 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The show has evolved to become the second-most important event on WWE’s calendar and has become unofficially known as “The WrestleMania of Summer.”
This year’s installment featured John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Stephanie McMahon’s return to the ring after more than a decade and Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins.
SummerSlam has a rich history and has delivered some all-time classic matches in its quarter-century history. So let’s take a look back at the 15 best matches in the pay-per-view’s history. Instead of ranking these, we’ll take a journey through time chronologically.
Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect (1991)
Get ready to see Bret Hart appear on this list a lot.
Mr. Perfect was the Intercontinental Champion during the fourth annual SummerSlam, and rising star Bret “The Hitman” Hart challenged him for the belt. Hennig was headed out the door thanks to some back injuries, and he made Hart, his friend in real life, look fantastic before he left.
The Hitman kicked out of the Perfect Plex and then locked in the Sharpshooter. The champion tapped out and Hart suddenly looked like a legitimate threat to take out the top dogs in the company.
Bret Hart vs. The British Bulldog (1992)
See? What did I tell you about Bret?
This match for the Intercontinental Championship is arguably the greatest in SummerSlam history, if not one of the greatest in the history of pro wrestling. The two real life brothers-in-law delivered a technical masterpiece filled with counters and momentum switches.
The Bulldog had a legion of U.K. fans in his corner (the match was in London) along with boxer Lennox Lewis. The challenger used his power game to try and win the advantage while Hart, the champion, used his technical prowess to gain the upper hand.
The finish was truly something special. The two men clothesline each other, but Bret recovers first and locks his brother-in-law in the Sharpshooter. The crowd goes ape and Bret’s sister/Bulldog’s wife, Diana Hart, watches from ringside. Davey Boy Smith makes it to the ropes to break the hold, but Bret still has the advantage. He whips Smith off the ropes and does a sunset flip, but the Bulldog goes down to his knees, hooks Bret’s arms and puts his shoulders down for the three count. Bret Hart, The Excellence of Execution, and one of the greatest technicians of all time, lost because Bulldog outsmarted him and countered his move.
If you’ve never seen this match, watch it ASAP. It’s one of the truly brilliant matches and finishes in the sport, and the ovation for the new Intercontinental Champion will give you goose bumps.
Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart (1994)
Okay, I swear I’m not doing this on purpose. Bret just happened to have some classics in the early 90s.
This matchup between two brothers is a classic cage match for the WWF Championship that has aged very well. It began when Owen, the challenger, entered the cage and immediately assaulted his brother, but Bret battled back with a DDT. From there, each man got a few opportunities to try to escape the cage.
Owen tried to escape, but Bret dragged him back into the ring by his hair. Owen buried Bret with a piledriver, but the Hitman recovered and tossed his brother into the cage wall. Owen again tried to escape, but Bret suplexed him from the top of the cage back into the ring.
Owen stirred and locked Bret in the Sharpshooter, but the Hitman got out of it and returned the favor. The 32-minute affair ended when Bret threw Owen’s head into the cage and the challenger’s leg got trapped between the bars. Remember, this was the old-school blue steel cage. Bret then climbed out to retain the title.
What followed this barnburner of a match? Undertaker vs. Underfaker. Let’s just move on…
Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon (1995)
This was a rematch of their classic Intercontinental Championship ladder match at WrestleMania X from earlier in the year. That was the first ladder match in WWE history, but the sequel more than lived up to the original.
The belt was again on the line here with the champion HBK defending against Razor in a 25-minute bout. Razor worked Michaels’ leg for most of the match, but the champ had enough power left in him to deliver some Sweet Chin Music off the ladder and retain his championship.
As has happened several times in SummerSlam history, this classic penultimate match was followed up by a stinker of a main event. In this case, Diesel vs. Mabel for the WWF Championship.
Stone Cold vs. Owen Hart (1997)
This is the match in which Owen Hart infamously delivered a piledriver to Austin that could have ended the Rattlesnake’s career. Austin somehow found the strength to roll up Owen after the botched maneuver to get to the finish and capture the Intercontinental Championship, but he was out of commission for a while after this contest.
Most fans remember the match for the finish, but Austin and Hart had a fantastic bout prior to the ending. Smartly, WWE kept Austin on television during his recovery, and fans’ appetite for the future Hall of Famer grew while he was unable to compete. Stone Cold would, of course, capture the WWF Championship in early 1998 and went on to become one of the biggest stars in history.
Bret Hart vs. Undertaker (1997)
This is the last time Bret appears on this list. I promise.
Fans can argue for hours about what truly kicked off the Attitude Era in the late 1990s. Some point to Stone Cold’s “Austin 3:16” promo at King of the Ring in 1996. Others say it was Austin’s first WWF Championship win at WrestleMania 14. But as far as we’re concerned, this match truly started it all.
But before we get to that, let’s consider the match itself. Bret Hart was a heel everywhere but in Canada, while Undertaker was the WWF Champion. Shawn Michaels, whom you could argue was Hart’s true rival in this match, became the special guest referee for the bout. The stipulations said Hart had to win or he’d never wrestle in the U.S. again, while HBK had to call the match down the middle or face the same fate.
Hart and Taker put on a great match with solid ring psychology. Hart worked Taker’s leg to set up the Sharpshooter and needled Michaels throughout the entire match. He also locked Undertaker in a Figure Four around the ring post in an incredibly cool move. But Taker got in his moments, too, including a chokeslam from outside the ring back into the ring, as well as a Sharpshooter of his own.
The match comes to a climax when HBK gets knocked down and Bret uses the opportunity to crack Undertaker in the head with a steel chair. He nearly gets the pin and the title, but Michaels sees the chair and starts to argue with Bret, who spits on the referee. An enraged HBK takes a swing with the chair at Bret, who ducks and Michaels accidentally smashes Taker. Bret covers him and HBK reluctantly counts the three to give his rival the title.
The match itself is great, but the ripple effect was even greater. Consider the chain of events that occurred after this match. HBK would face Undertaker in the first Hell in a Cell match at Badd Blood, which led to the introduction of Kane along with the now-famous match type. The rivalry between Shawn and Bret culminated at Survivor Series in 1997 for the title in the infamous Montreal Screwjob.
Michaels also turned heel and formed D-Generation X with Triple H, one of the most famous stables in the history of wrestling. HBK would face Taker again at the 1998 Royal Rumble in a Casket Match and would injure his back so badly that he had to retire for four years. But not before he dropped the belt to Stone Cold at WrestleMania 14. Austin would then feud with Vince McMahon, which propelled the WWF ahead of rival promotion WCW and eventually allowed McMahon to purchase his competition in 2001.
Without this match, there might not have been an Attitude Era at all.
The Rock vs. Triple H (1998)
The Rock and Triple H were embroiled in a feud for the Intercontinental Championship in August of 1998, and both men were on the cusp of becoming mega-stars in the Attitude Era. This brutal, punishing match featured multiple highlights and finishers, including a People’s Elbow to Triple H with a ladder underneath him.
The Rock smartly worked Triple H’s previously injured knee and hammered it with the ladder. Triple H would retaliate with chair shots to The Rock, who was wedged inside a ladder. Hunter stirred after a Rock Bottom and a People’s Elbow, pulled The Rock off the ladder and hit a Pedigree. Mark Henry threw flour in Triple H’s eyes, but he felt his way up the ladder anyway. The Rock met him at the top and Chyna low blowed the champion to help Triple H win the title and receive massive cheers from the Madison Square Garden crowd.
The Rock would capture his first WWF Championship at Survivor Series later that year, while Triple H would win the main prize in mid-1999. But both stars were made in this match.
Edge and Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz (2000)
These three engaged in a series of classic TLC matches in 2000 and 2001, and this was the first one to officially have the “TLC” moniker, as the match at WrestleMania 2000 was simply a “Triangle Ladder Match.”
This contest had everything you’d expect from a contest among these three teams. Jeff Hardy flings himself off a ladder as he tries to deliver a Swanton Bomb to Bubba Ray Dudley on a table outside the ring, but Bubba moves and Jeff crashes through the table onto the ground.
Edge and Christian, the champions, throw Bubba Ray through four tables stacked outside the ring. D-Von Dudley pushes Matt Hardy off a ladder in the ring to the outside through, you guessed it, two tables. Jeff Hardy nearly grabbed the title belts but Edge and Christian knocked over the ladder to leave the daredevil suspended in the air by the belts. Christian then drilled Jeff with a ladder and the champions retained their titles.
The three teams would have yet another classic TLC match at WrestleMania X-Seven a few months later.
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle (2001)
The setup for this one is odd to say the least. Stone Cold had turned heel at WrestleMania X-Seven when he won the WWF Championship. But then WWF bought WCW and eventually ECW, which began the horribly disappointing Invasion storyline. In order to continue to work as a heel, Austin betrayed the WWF and became the head of the Alliance, the faction of WCW and ECW wrestlers.
Kurt Angle, the former WWF Champion who was a nerdy heel for most of his time in WWF to that point, decided he had had enough of Austin and wanted to bring the title home. Prior to the pay-per-view, Angle took the WCW Championship from Booker T for less than a week and then set his sights on Austin at SummerSlam.
This match preceded The Rock vs. Booker T for the WCW Championship in the main event, The Rock’s first match since the night after WrestleMania X-Seven. Austin and Angle tore the house down with a brutal, intense contest that went for 22 glorious minutes.
These two men through everything at each other. Austin survived an Angle Slam and escaped the ankle lock. He broke out the Million Dollar Dream, which he had not used since his days as the Ringmaster except for the all-time classic with The Rock at Mania earlier in the year. Angle bled thanks to Austin bashing his head off the turnbuckle.
But this match became a true classic because Angle kicked out of not one, not two, but three Stone Cold Stunners, a feat that was unfathomable at the time. An enraged Austin took out three WWF referees. He nailed Earl Hebner in the face, gave a Stunner to Mike Chioda and then smashed Tim White with the WWF title belt. Angle delivered the Angle Slam to Austin, and WCW referee Nick Patrick then came out to the ring. But instead of counting the pin, he disqualified Austin for assaulting the referees. The title could not change hands on a DQ, so Austin retained the championship.
Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (2002)
This was Shawn Michaels’ first match since WrestleMania 14 in 1998. Many fans assumed Michaels would never wrestle again after his back injury, but the Showstopper had it in him to return for what was supposed to be a “one night only” affair at SummerSlam in 2002.
Triple H and HBK reformed DX that summer for a grand total of what felt like 15 seconds after Triple H kicked his best friend in the gut and Pedigreed him. From there, Michaels was attacked by a mystery assailant (Triple H). Hunter said he didn’t do it (he did it) and would find out who did (everyone knew it was Triple H). Shockingly, Triple H revealed himself as the attacker (it wasn't shocking at all) and said Michaels was weak. HBK responded by saying he would see him at SummerSlam.
Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff then announced an Unsanctioned Street Fight at the pay-per-view between the two former friends. Let’s ignore the absurdity of the WWE announcing, promoting, scheduling and advertising a non-sanctioned match. Let’s ignore that a WWE official counted the pinfall in this non-sanctioned match, which took place in a WWE ring during a WWE event. Let’s ignore all that because this match was that great.
After a four-year absence, HBK hadn’t lost a step. He used quick strikes to attack Triple H, but "The Cerebral Assassin" smartly gained the upper hand with multiple backbreakers. Michaels responded by smashing his friend with a ladder and hitting a splash to a prone Triple H on a table outside the ring to the floor. Michaels also hit his signature elbow drop off a ladder.
The finish occurred when HBK went for Sweet Chin Music, which HHH reversed into a Pedigree. But before he could plant the Showstopper’s face into the mat, Michaels reversed the Pedigree into a pin and got the three count. Triple H, ever the sore loser, hit his friend with a sledgehammer twice and Michaels went out on a stretcher.
Fortunately, HBK would decide shortly thereafter to resume a full-time schedule and delivered many more classic matches.
The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar (2002)
This match featured two tremendous athletes at very different points in their careers. The Rock was a mainstay of the Attitude Era who had begun his burgeoning film career with The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King. Brock Lesnar had just arrived on the scene by demolishing everyone in his path, including the most famous wrestler in history, Hulk Hogan. This part can’t be understated. Lesnar, who had only been in the company for a few months, squeezed the breath out of Hogan and made him pass out, then beat him repeatedly with a steel chair and opened him up. It was clear Lesnar was indeed “The Next Big Thing.”
The two clashed at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island and the crowd was on fire. The Rock was still a fan favorite, but it was clear the champion, in the midst of his then-record seventh reign, had one foot out the door into Hollywood. Lesnar was fresh and the crowd went nuts for him. So nuts, in fact, that they turned on The Rock with some “Rocky Sucks” chants. Rock, to his credit, rolled with this and adjusted his performance accordingly.
Brock worked Rock’s injured ribs, but the Great One made a comeback and knocked the Beast out of commission for a bit. Lesnar’s manager, Paul Heyman, tried to get involved, only to eat a Rock Bottom through the announce table for his troubles. Rock then delivered a Rock Bottom to Lesnar, who kicked out of the finishing move. Lesnar retaliated with a Rock Bottom of his own, which the crowd loved.
But the champ was not out just yet. He tried to deliver a People’s Elbow, but Lensar sprang up, floored The Rock with a clothesline and then planted him with an F5 for a clean victory. The changing of the guard had been completed.
Undertaker vs. Edge (2008)
This match came about thanks to Edge’s cheating on SmackDown general manager Vickie Guerrero, who decided the appropriate punishment was to lock Edge inside the hellish structure with the Phenom and let Taker destroy him.
But the match defied expectations, as Edge reached down to a darker place for this bout in order to beat Taker at his own game. Edge had the advantage for most of this match from the get-go. He speared Undertaker into the ring steps and smashed him with a chair several times, including one wicked shot to the throat. He put a prone Taker on a table, climbed a ladder and jumped off with a chair in hand to drive the Deadman through the wood.
But Edge was not done. Taker tried to mount a comeback but Edge leapt off the ring steps and speared him through the cell wall. He followed that up with a spear through the ECW announce table (Edge did a lot of spearing in this match). But the Rated-R Superstar finally slipped up when he tried to do Taker’s “Old School,” only for the Deadman to catch him on the top turnbuckle and chokeslam him through two tables.
Undertaker then mounted his true comeback. He hit Edge with a camera, some chairs, a spear and a Tombstone Piledriver to win the match. But the Phenom was not done. As he walked up the ramp, he noticed Edge moving in the ring. So he came back, set up a ladder and chokeslammed him through the ring. To put the exclamation point on it, Taker did his supernatural thing and lit the hole on fire.
Keep in mind this all happened during the beginning of the PG Era, which made it all the more exciting.
CM Punk vs. John Cena (2011)
It would have been hard for these two men to top their all-time classic at Money in the Bank just a month earlier, but man did they come close with this one. The match was to crown an undisputed WWE Champion, as both Punk and Cena had a claim to the belt.
These two men have always had tremendous chemistry in the ring and their matches just spark whenever they lock horns. The crowd ate this match up, as Punk and Cena did some old-school mat wrestling and eventually spilled to the outside.
Triple H was the special guest referee for this match and both men were down on the outside for a count of 10, but he refused to end the match that way and instead tossed both of them in the ring to continue the fight. From here, the action intensified as each man hit his signature move and the crowd started to get hyped. Punk then hit the Go To Sleep and covered Cena, who put his foot on the bottom rope. But Triple H missed this and counted three to make Punk the winner.
Of course, things went off the rails from here. Kevin Nash showed up to attack Punk and Alberto Del Rio cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE Championship just moments after Punk’s triumph. But the fizzling of the “Summer of Punk” takes nothing away from the greatness of this bout.
CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar (2013)
Barring a return down the road, this match is CM Punk’s last great gift to the WWE fans. The no-disqualification match between “The Best” and “The Beast” was a co-main event last year (we’ll get to the other match shortly) and delivered in spades.
The buildup to this one was simple. Paul Heyman turned on Punk and the Second City Saint wanted to rearrange his former manager’s face. One small (actually, very large) problem: Brock Lesnar was in between the two, and Punk would have to slay the monster to get his hands on Heyman.
The size difference here was downright absurd. Punk is muscular, but Lesnar is a freakish human being who made Punk look small next to him. The match began with Lesnar brutalizing and overpowering Punk. He tossed Punk around with ease, beat him with a steel chair and leapt onto the Second City Saint after he covered him with part of the announce table.
After Lesnar nearly decapitated Punk with a clothesline, he slapped on the Kimura Lock. But Punk would not give in and reversed the move into a cross arm breaker, followed by a triangle choke hold that almost did in Lesnar.
Heyman was more of a factor than usual at ringside, as he continually taunted Punk and broke up multiple pinfall and submission attempts. Punk managed to get his hands on Heyman and locked him in the Anaconda Vise, but the distraction allowed Lesnar to smash Punk with a chair and then deliver an F-5 onto the steel to finally put Punk down for good.
The crowd ate up the brutal affair and cheered Punk wildly as he headed back to the locker room.
John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan (2013)
Last year’s main event for the WWE Championship featured the fan favorite Bryan against the champion Cena, who had been atop the WWE mountain for nearly a decade. Fans loved the bearded wrestler so much that Cena, who had the opportunity to hand pick his opponent, decided to give Bryan a shot at the belt.
The buildup to the match between these two good guys was superb. Bryan was trying to prove that he could do more than just wrestle great matches and “give it his all.” He wanted to prove he could be champion. He claimed that Cena was “a parody of wrestling.” Cena, ever the company man, made it clear that WWE was the big time and that he could take anything the former independent wrestler could throw at him.
The story told in this match and the athleticism displayed were nothing short of beautiful, especially considering Cena’s elbow was quite injured and would require surgery shortly thereafter. Bryan took advantage in the early going but soon found himself on the wrong end of Cena’s powerful offense. Each man landed his signature maneuvers, but neither could put the other away. Eventually, the two combatants were drained and resorted to throwing haymakers at each other.
The finishing sequence was remarkable. Bryan went for a diving headbutt, but Cena caught him, hoisted him up on his shoulders for the Attitude Adjustment and proclaimed the fight over. Bryan countered Cena’s finisher into an inside cradle and got a two count. He kicked Cena square in the head, moved to the corner and charged the champ with the running knee to the face, which fans affectionately dubbed “The Move That Beat John Cena.” Bryan pinned Cena cleanly and special guest referee Triple H counted the three to make Daniel Bryan the champion.
Of course, Hunter would Pedigree the new champion moments later to allow Randy Orton to cash in his Money in the Bank contract, which would start a months-long saga for Bryan to get back to the top of the mountain at WrestleMania 30.
Did your favorite SummerSlam match make the list? What other matches would you include? Do you agree or disagree with our choices? Let us know in the comments below.