WWE SummerSlam is called the “biggest party of the summer” for a reason. In many ways, the event has become the second-biggest show of the WWE year (only behind WrestleMania). At worst, it has always been a member of the big four alongside Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, and Survivor Series. When SummerSlam time rolls around, it’s fair to expect WWE to pull out all stops and deliver a star-studded show.
This expectation comes off the back of decades’ worth of precedent. Many SummerSlam events over the years have hosted unforgettable matches. Some of these bouts were instant classics while others aged like fine wine as the performers involved built up their legacies.
It’s time to take a look at some of the top SummerSlam matches of all time. Matches on this list weren’t solely graded on quality. Other factors were also considered, including the storyline involved, overall impact, and at least to some degree, persona opinion. Without further ado, let’s dive into it.
Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog (1992)
This event was historic, as it was the first major WWE PPV outside of North America. The disputed attendance of 80,355 fans remains one of the highest numbers in WWE history.
SummerSlam 1992 was headlined by an Intercontinental Championship match between Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith. Leading up to the match, the duo’s status as real-life brothers-in-law played a large part in the on-screen storyline, which crafted a heated program that left fans on the edge of their seats. As for the match itself, Hart and Smith put on a classic that is widely regarded as one of the best matches of all time, let alone in SummerSlam history. Hart showcased his excellent technical wrestling while Smith demonstrated his impressive power.
Smith scored the win, much to the London crowd’s delight. The match cemented both men as genuine stars for years to come, though Hart would eventually climb to the top of the company and win the world championship multiple times.
Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon (1995)
Sequels rarely live up to the original, but that didn’t necessarily prove to be true here. Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon clashed in a classic Ladder Match at WrestleMania X. The bout set the table for countless Ladder Matches to come. Ramon and Michaels ran it back at SummerSlam 1995, as they faced off in the first Ladder Match in WWE history.
Unfortunately, the match didn’t have much of an on-screen build. But what it lacked in storytelling ahead of time, it more than made up for with remarkable in-ring action. Unlike their WrestleMania match, Michaels was a fan favorite, so the WWE Universe was split in rooting for both men. The two foes upped the ante from their previous match, as they put their bodies on the line time and again. Michaels was a human highlight reel as he hit a suplex off a ladder. Razor was equally impressive, and altogether, the two stars made magic together.
Within a year, Razor left WWE for WCW and changed the game as a member of the New Word Order. Michaels, on the other hand, went on to reach the next level by winning the Royal Rumble and the world title. Given their respective ascensions, the SummerSlam match carries plenty of retroactive significance as well.
Becky Lynch vs. Bianca Belair (2022)
The 2022 clash between Becky Lynch and Bianca Belair was a year in the making. “The Man” made her stunning return at SummerSlam 2021 and defeated “The EST” in 26 seconds to win the SmackDown Women’s Championship. Belair then went on a year-long quest to regain the gold. This journey featured multiple losses in title matches, but Belair persevered and eventually scored some sweet payback when she beat Lynch to win the RAW Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 38.
The two foes faced off again in a buzzworthy bout at SummerSlam, arguably the match of the night. The match was even more impressive when it was later revealed that Lynch suffered a separated shoulder. The scene after the match often gets the spotlight, as Damage CTRL (Bayley, IYO SKY, and Dakota Kai) debuted. But there’s no doubt that Belair and Lynch put on one of the best matches SummerSlam has ever seen.
Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle (2003)
Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar were two of the top stars all throughout the Ruthless Aggression era. They helped carry the company into the post-Austin/Rock years. Their rivalry heated up in 2003 as they traded the title back and forth. Lesnar beat Angle to win the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XIX, and Angle took the title back by winning a three-way match with the Big Show at Vengeance.
Lesnar then aimed to earn a rematch, and Vince McMahon told him he’d have to beat the chairman himself in a Steel Cage Match. As it turned out, Lesnar turned on Angle and aligned with McMahon, who then granted him a title match at SummerSlam. The bout wound up including plenty of Attitude Era shenanigans, including a ref bump and some involvement from McMahon, but stellar in-ring action from Angle and Lesnar produced a match for the ages. Angle scored the win, though Lesnar later regained the title anyway. Still, the bout itself was a fun mix of great wrestling and semi-overbooked goodness.
Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect (1991)
In 1991, SummerSlam hadn’t quite established itself as a marquee event. It had already featured some great matches, including the classic Mega Powers versus Mega Bucks match in 1988. However, the show was still building its reputation compared to WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, and Survivor Series. As fate would have it, a great match between Bret Hart and Mr. Perfect went a long way toward doing that.
Hart challenged Mr. Perfect for the Intercontinental Championship, and they put on a wrestling clinic that was ahead of its time. On a show that was headlined by Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior teaming up to face The Triangle of Terror, Hart and Perfect easily had the match of the night. The bout also marked the first of Hart’s many singles title wins in WWE.
The Rock vs. Triple H (1998)
Triple H’s match with the Rock at SummerSlam 1998 launched both stars to new heights, as it came at the head of a heated feud between their two stables, D-Generation X and the Nation of Domination. The two foes waged war over the title for months, and it reached a boiling point at the biggest party of the summer. They would battle it out in a thrilling ladder match, and in the end, Chyna helped Triple H score the win.
In addition to being a heart-pounding match that has stood the test of time, the bout marks a clear point where both Triple H and The Rock started to reach the next level on their journey to becoming face-of-the-company level players.
John Cena vs. CM Punk (2011)
This one comes with admittedly a little personal bias, as the Summer of Punk storyline is an all-time favorite. Putting that aside, at the time of the match, Punk’s feud with Cena was coming off their all-timer at WWE Money in the Bank, and WWE kept the momentum going by having Cena win a WWE Championship after Punk “walked out.” Punk returned and the stage was set for a thrilling battle to crown the true champion.
Throw in Triple H’s involvement as the special referee, and you had the recipe for a fun time. Punk and Cena always delivered in the ring, and this SummerSlam match was no exception. “The Second City Saint” picked up the questionable win, as Cena’s foot was on the rope. He was then attacked by Kevin Nash, who made his surprise return. To cap off the night, Alberto Del Rio cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on Punk. Looking back on it now, this marked the turning point for the Summer of Punk. In the moment, the sequence of Punk’s win, Nash’s return, and Del Rio’s cash-in was hard to top, at least in terms of shock value.
These are just a few of the top matches in SummerSlam history. Maybe the passage of time will skew the perception of other matches. Plus, there’s no telling what could join the lineup with SummerSlam 2023 and beyond. Hopefully, there will be plenty of great options, and we can’t wait to find out.