Let’s not mess around. These are the five greatest SummerSlam matches of all time. You might as well just copy and paste this into Wikipedia when you’re done reading.
5. Bret Hart vs. The British Bulldog (Wembley Stadium, 1992)
Bulldog beating Bret in his home country is what sets this match apart. We very rarely run pay-per-view shows in London, but the crowds are great there. And SummerSlam 1992 had one of the best ever: 80,000 people, screaming, inside Wembley Stadium, for a hometown guy — totally electric. And then on top of that, you had the family angle, with Davey’s wife, Diana, being Bret’s sister — and her watching from ringside. The emotion going on there was unlike anything I’d ever seen in a WWE match. It was wild. When you see the way Davey reacted after he won the title … people talk about our industry all the time, real or fake or what have you. But that’s as real as it gets. Not entertainment or television real — human real. That match had raw, human emotion, grounded in a story about a family. You can try to fake that sort of stuff — but good luck making 80,000 people scream.
As for the match itself: It’s probably the best match Bulldog ever had. From reading Bret’s autobiography, I know that a lot of time went into that match, from a technical perspective. He wanted to make it special for Davey Boy — and came up with a pretty sweet finish in the sunset flip. Looking back on it now, considering all of the stuff we do in the ring in 2015, it’s a move that might not pop out at you. But at the time, man, it was super-revolutionary. WWE had never seen that crazy of a reversal before. The way that Bulldog sort of sits on Bret and ties him up, in one fluid motion — incredible. Bret and Bulldog made an Intercontinental Title match at the end of August feel like the main event of WrestleMania. It was just a really cool match and a really cool moment — for our industry as a whole; for SummerSlam as an event; and for me as a fan. Simply put, it’s a classic.
4. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H (Nassau Coliseum, 2002)
Another one that stands out to me is Shawn Michaels’ return match in 2002. Shawn retired in 1998 with a pretty bad back injury, after losing to Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14. If you go back and watch that match, you can see how much pain Shawn’s in — though he still somehow guts it out and puts on a show.
Of course, 1998 was before the Internet was a huge presence in the WWE world. And so when Shawn retired, you just didn’t know a whole lot of information.
This meant that his comeback — at SummerSlam 2002 — was pretty much shrouded in mystery. Like: How hurt is this guy? What sort of physical shape is he in? Shawn was my favorite WWE Superstar, so as a fan I was excited and nervous at the same time. And he was very upfront about it himself, leading up to the match: Talking on television about the honest fear he had that he wouldn’t be the same guy he once was. I think a lot of his old confidence, that famous swagger he was known for in ‘96, ‘97, ’98, when he was The Man, was gone now. “I don’t know if I can still wrestle,” I remember him saying. “But I know I can fight.”
The match was billed as an “unsanctioned street fight.” You really just didn’t know what was going to happen. You were holding your breath. As it turns out, Shawn was right. He wasn’t the same. He was better.
Edge and Christian vs. The Hardys vs. The Dudleys (Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena, 2000)
My No. 3 choice kind of goes overlooked in WWE history. When most people think of the “Tables, Ladders and Chairs” match, they either think of WrestleMania or TLC. But while Edge and Christian, the Hardys and the Dudleys had a triple-threat ladder match at WrestleMania 2000, everyone forgets that the first-ever “TLC” match was actually at SummerSlam, later that year. By SummerSlam 2000, the three teams had kind of all carved out their niches: Edge and Christian were the chair guys, giving out “con-chair-to” after “con-chair-to.” The Hardys were the daredevils, jumping off ladders in these eye-opening ways. And the Dudleys were, of course, putting everyone in sight through a table. And that, to me, is when a “gimmick” match can be special: when it doesn’t feel like a gimmick at all — but rather a logical next step in the story being told.
To be honest with you, in a lot of ways this match revitalized the tag-team division. Before that, it had kind of been ho-hum for a stretch. A lot of teams were just two singles stars, thrown together, and put into feuds that wouldn’t add up to much. But “TLC” completely changed the game: both as far as what a tag-team match and feud could look like, and then also, just in general, as far as where WWE could go from a stylistic perspective.
It was so innovative. And it really capitalized on the Internet, right when that was exploding as an essential part of WWE culture. You had backyard stuff. You had Mick Foley jumping in his house on mattresses, and guys trying crazy things in their own homes. ECW was huge. It was an era of “extreme,” ushered in by this more underground set of fans. WWE recognized that movement, then developed it and refined it. And it was really these six guys: The Dudleys, who obviously came from ECW and were no strangers to tables there. Edge and Christian, these two fearless Canadians. And then these two kids from the Carolinas, Matt and Jeff. I think it was the right place, at the right time, with the right talent, in the right match. And that’s WWE at its best, for me: where you can have this crazy, crazy, never-before-seen thing … but then at the same time, it makes perfect sense.
2. Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins (Staples Center, 2014)
This one was a lot of fun. As exciting as (I’m sure) lumberjack matches were in 1979 or whatever, they were … how to put this diplomatically … not known to be quite as exciting in 2014. And so, when Dean and I were faced with the prospect of having that type of match at SummerSlam — we weren’t necessarily stoked. I think we felt more handcuffed than excited.
But then we started to put some ideas together. And we realized pretty quickly that there was this very cool story that we’d be able to tell. I’d been running from Ambrose, ducking and dodging him, all summer long. Finally, at the end of the summer, he was able to get his hands on me. So — what kind of match does he pick? The match designed to keep both competitors inside of the ring. The match you can’t run from. A lumberjack match.
It fit. But at the same, like I said, we were aware of the lumberjack’s perceived limits. And I think we both felt a little extra-motivated by that — and by how Dean and I are always wanting to upend expectations. We wanted the crowd to be expecting one thing, and get another. And I guess our way of breaking through those limits was to break through them — literally: we busted the lumberjack and took the match up into the people. And then we went down, and around, and just sort of … got caught up in it. It was unreal. Eventually — amid 14,000 people — we crowd-surfed back. It was just chaos, from beginning to end. And I mean that in the best way. In terms of executing the match, the madness was part of the fun. I don’t think anybody in L.A. that night was expecting that level of insanity. So it was just really cool to be a part of such a legendary type of match — but at the same time, to take our shot at reinventing it.
1. Seth Rollins vs. John Cena (Barclays Center, 2015)
I wasn’t going to put myself at No. 1. I really wasn’t. But if I’m going to make this list, I have to do it right.
This Sunday, live from Barclays Center, John Cena and I are going to put on the greatest SummerSlam match of all time. And I just think you have a right to know that. You have a right to know the truth. You’ve got John Cena, the United States champion, the 15-time WWE champion, who has epitomized all things WWE for the past decade-plus. And then you have me, not only the reigning WWE champion — but the greatest WWE champion of all time. The leader of the future generation. The NXT generation. And you’ve got me vs. him, but you’ve also got the fans. You look at John’s fans and a lot of them are very young. They love the bright colors and the catchphrases. The larger-than-life superhero, the “Super-Cena” persona he puts on. And then there’s me. And I’m the complete opposite of that. I’m clad in all black and I don’t really have any catchphrases. I’m gritty. I’m raw.
And a lot of what I’ve accomplished gets done in the ring. I’m known to be a strong technical performer. John’s known for running his mouth. That’s what he’s good at. I think you just have two contrasting styles and directions in this company, its past vs. its future, and it’s going to be extremely polarizing. But you also have two of the greatest performers, in my opinion, in the history of WWE. Throw in the fact that I gruesomely broke John’s nose last month. (Did I mention it was gruesome?) Throw in the insane atmosphere that you know the Brooklyn crowd is going to bring. Throw in the fact that it’s title vs. title — someone is walking out of Barclays as the first person ever to be WWE Heavyweight champion and United States champion at the same time.
And then, of course, add to all of that the fact that we’re on the same card as Taker vs. Brock. Because — while there is not much common ground between John and me — there is one thing we absolutely agree on. And that’s our philosophy going into a big show: Steal it.
We’re both going to bring our A+ games. And when we do, it will be the greatest SummerSlam match of all time.