It’s August. A time for beach weather, barbecues—and, if you’re a WWE fan, SummerSlam. In 1988, the sports entertainment juggernaut added the premier event to its calendar alongside WrestleMania and Survivor Series. Over the years the “Biggest Party of the Summer” has evolved into WWE’s second-biggest show of the year.
Before the milestone 30th installment of SummerSlam on Aug. 20, here are five matches from its three-decade history to check out on the WWE Network that will fire you up.
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SummerSlam 1988: The Mega Powers (Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage with Miss Elizabeth) vs. The Mega Bucks (Ted DiBiase and André the Giant with Bobby Heenan and Virgil), with Jesse Ventura as special referee
You don’t get more 1980s than this main event tag team match at the inaugural SummerSlam, held during one of the peak periods in WWE history. Madison Square Garden was already abuzz after witnessing the Ultimate Warrior ending the Honky Tonk Man’s record-breaking Intercontinental Championship reign. Fans wondered if the normally dastardly Ventura would remain an impartial referee in this collision. In the end, Savage would help things along, making “The Body” count the three despite Ventura’s hesitation. One of the most memorable moments involved Elizabeth, who removed her skirt to distract The Mega Bucks. Although tame by today’s standards, the visual of “The First Lady of Wrestling” doing such an act would have gone viral if Twitter had been around in 1988.
SummerSlam 1992: Bret Hart vs. the British Bulldog for the Intercontinental Championship
This event was the first and only time WWE held a major Pay-Per-View event outside of North America. More than 80,000 fans packed Wembley Stadium in London to watch brothers-in-law battle for Intercontinental gold. The energy of the crowd, which included Hart’s sister and Bulldog’s wife Diana Smith, coupled with the in-ring action, makes this a must-see. It was hard for me not to include Hart’s stellar match with Mr. Perfect a year prior, but the historical context of this one gives it the edge. Bulldog and Hart headlined a show that included “Macho Man” against Ultimate Warrior. Even though Bulldog dethroned Hart, I’d say they both left winners that night.
SummerSlam 2000: Edge and Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz (Matt and Jeff) vs. The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray and D-Von) for the Tag Team Championship in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Match
These three teams fought in a series of gimmick matches prior, so it was a natural progression taking it to another level with a bout that put TLC matches on the map. They were out to impress and steal the show, which the combatants certainly did. This human demolition derby saw many death-defying maneuvers, like Bubba Ray crashing through tables and Jeff Hardy dangling in the air while grasping at the tag team titles. These superstars put their bodies on the line and raised the bar for other matches of this type to come. They made such an impact that WWE went on to create a Pay-Per-View named TLC and based it around the concept. In 1995, Shawn Michaels met Razor Ramon for the Intercontinental Championship in a ladder match at SummerSlam. Three years later, Triple H and The Rock did the same. These are also great choices to view, but TLC from 2000 is something to behold.
SummerSlam 2002: The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar with Paul Heyman for the WWE Championship
2002 was a transition year for the league in a sense, with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin out of the picture at the time and The Rock making Hollywood moves. WWE was looking to build up a new certifiable main-eventer and saw Brock Lesnar fitting the role. The pieces were being put in place for the imposing athlete’s ascension to the top after winning the King of Ring. Defeating The Rock solidified Lesnar’s position in the eyes of the fans and colleagues. You don’t get any more definitive than when you pin “The Great One.” The emerging Superstar became the youngest world champion in WWE history. He would hold on to that until Randy Orton gained the title in another history-making moment in 2004. Thinking of all Lesnar has gone on to do in WWE and UFC, perhaps SummerSlam started it all when he took down the Scorpion King. Speaking of SummerSlam 2002, go back and watch Shawn Michaels triumphantly return to the ring against Triple H. They tore the house down.
SummerSlam 2014: John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar with Paul Heyman for the WWE Championship
I know I picked another Brock Lesnar match here, but I chose this one because never before have we ever seen John Cena lose in such a one-sided affair. It was complete dominance from the “Beast Incarnate” on the leader of the CeNation right from the bell. Having been there, you could feel the shock and disbelief from the sold-out Staples Center in Los Angeles as Lesnar hit 16 German suplexes and two F5 finishers to win the title. You felt for the children as tears trickled down their cheeks watching their hero decimated. The incredible win came months after the “Beast Incarnate” shockingly ended the streak of The Undertaker at WrestleMania 30. I wanted to include The Undertaker and Edge’s great Hell in a Cell match from SummerSlam 2008. But the fact WWE went in such a different and violent direction in the “PG Era” with Cena-Lesnar put it over the top for me. The company would try a similar strategy of shocking an audience at SummerSlam 2016 with Orton-Lesnar. I just don’t think it had the same emotional impact.
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Of course, there are many other matches within the annals from the “Biggest Party of the Summer” to choose from. That’s a testament to the men and women who strive to leave a lasting impression on the WWE Universe each year. I’m sure we’ll see much of the same in 2017.
What’s your favorite SummerSlam match? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.
These and other classic matches can be streamed on WWE Network.
SummerSlam 2017 airs live, August 20, 7/6c, Pay-Per-View and WWE Network