We’re nearing the end of summer, and for wrestling fans, that can only mean one thing — SummerSlam. As WWE’s annual summer extravaganza draws closer, the writers and personalities of Place To Be Nation thought it might be appropriate to revisit some of the greatest matches in the event’s prestigious history. 12 voters each submitted a list of 40 SummerSlam matches, ranked 1 through 40. The list of 12 voters includes Brian Bayless, Tim Capel, Marc Clair, Nick Duke, Aaron George, Steven Graham, Jason Greenhouse, Ben Morse, Greg Phillips, JT Rozzero, Todd Weber and Adam Wilcox. A points system was utilized, awarding each match 40 points for a first place vote, 39 points for a second place vote, and so on. Once the points were totaled, we came up with Place to Be Nation’s definitive SummerSlam Top 40. For each match, we’ll list the number of points it received and which voter or voters ranked it the highest.
10. Undisputed WWE Title: John Cena vs CM Punk with Special Guest Referee Triple H — 2011
317 points, ranked by 12 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Aaron George at No. 4
Aaron George: Look I’m the first person to bust on HHH for doing something wrong, but are we really going to hold his terrible refereeing accountable for people forgetting about this forgotten gem. Yep. We are. It’s a shame too because the WWE was coming off its hottest angle since Muhammed Hassan and more than delivered in this main event. I really do think it’s just as good as their classic from Money in the Bank the month prior but missing the insane crowd and palpable tension that forever burned the earlier match in our minds. These two go together like murder and cannibalism. Sure you could enjoy either on their own, but put them together and you have culinary magic. The match actually builds off their previous encounter as counters that worked a month ago are now useless husks strewn about the canvas of change before them. Before you say “That didn’t make sense,” or “What’s this guy’s fucking problem?” Know that I probably don’t have the words or mental capacity to properly describe this masterpiece at this point. It’s one of the greatest matches in SummerSlam history that no one talks about and easily one of the best main events of all time. Objectively HHH’s refereeing did hurt the match a little, his timing was off as were his counts but I think we were all deflated by Alberto Del Rio cashing in so that they’d have a Mexican champ when they toured Mexico. That was a much wiser decision than leaving the belt on the hottest guy they’ve had since Steve Austin. Definitely give this one another show, it’s worth it. Just forget all the stupid shit they did before and after the match and watch two masters work their craft.
9. WWE Title: Brock Lesnar vs John Cena — 2014
343 points, ranked by 12 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Steven Graham at No. 6
Steven Graham: How do you establish a dominant heel? How about you have him squash your number one star in a title match? No other ace in wrestling history would had done what Cena did in this match to put someone over. The uniqueness of this match really puts it into the upper echelon and it may be the greatest squash match of all-time.
8. Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Title: Razor Ramon vs Shawn Michaels — 1995
351 points, ranked by 12 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Steven Graham at No. 3
JT Rozzero: With interim President Gorilla Monsoon looking to make a splash and win over the fans, he decided to mix things up and pulled Sid out of the SummerSlam Intercontinental Title match just weeks before the show. Instead, he granted us all a rematch from WrestleMania X, giving Razor Ramon a crack at his beloved gold, which would hang high above the ring. And with that announcement, the interest for this show shot through the roof. In fact, you could argue this was the true main event of the night. Some questioned if they could repeat the magic, but others noted that both were even more seasoned workers, which could lead to great things. Another difference this time around was that both were now faces, which would assuredly lead to a different dynamic as well. With the King having scampered off with Yankem, Dok Hendrix hops in the booth, which was a nice bonus. As the two traded fists and then took to the ropes, you had to marvel at the speed of Shawn Michaels. He was in such great shape at this point, he just buzzed around the ring. Razor would make the first move for the ladder but Shawn jumped him and dragged him back to the ring. That backfired on the champ, who got taken back to the floor with a vicious suplex off the apron. That was a nasty bump to take this early on. Razor went to work on the back, but Shawn was able to avoid a Razor’s Edge, leading to a double clothesline. Razor was up first and landed another big blow with a fallaway slam off the middle rope. I love that they threw these bombs early, setting the stage for a really brutal match. Razor dragged the ladder inside, but that gave Shawn a chance to recover and he ended up wresting the ladder away and smacking the challenger with it. He would ascend the ladder but Ramon yanked him off, causing Shawn’s leg to get twisted in the rungs in gnarly fashion. Razor went right back to work, mashing Shawn’s leg with the ladder in a few different ways. I loved Razor’s aggression and anger here, not holding back from wrecking the leg and not ashamed to use the ladder, which was wedged between the turnbuckles, for brutality.
Shawn tried to comeback but his knee was too banged up and Razor hoisted him up and spiked him onto the ladder with a shinbreaker. Ramon even followed up with a nice Indian Death Lock, snapping Shawn’s leg back hard to the mat. Shawn landed a few shots to slow the Bad Guy up, but again his knee hindering him from taking advantage. He did muster up enough energy to take Razor off the ladder with a back suplex, giving him the chance to hobble over and prop the ladder up in the corner, which he then slung Ramon into. He followed that with a moonsault off the ladder and the crowd was getting fired up but things turned again when he missed a big splash off the top of the steel. The two would slowly recover and climb towards the gold, leading to a slugfest at the very top and ending with both toppling off into the ropes and eventually out to the floor. Both made it back inside and Shawn tried to scale the ladder again, but Ramon caught him and brought him down with a stiff Razor’s Edge. Ramon had dragged a second ladder in the ring and both men climbed up their respective steps, lunging for the gold. In a great spot, Michaels drilled Razor with a superkick, knocking him to the mat. Shawn would try to reach for the gold, but his ladder was too far away and he took a nasty spill to the mat. Razor popped up and tried for another Edge but Shawn dumped him to the floor, climbed the ladder and after missing again, he scaled up angrily and grabbed his gold to retain. What a fantastic match. They really beat the piss out of each other and upped the ante from MSG. Both took nasty bumps throughout and the crowd ate it all up. It was also good to see Michaels get the win back and fully establish his title reign, beating the last dominant champ. This was easily just as good as their Mania bout.
7. Intercontinental Title: Bret Hart vs Mr. Perfect — 1991
354 points, ranked by 12 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Tim Capel and Greg Phillips at No. 4
Tim Capel: The late (and how it pains me to use that qualifier) Roddy Piper once said that great wrestlers frequently translate to great dancers. After all, what is professional wrestling but a highly stylized partner dance? The coordination, athleticism, and trust necessary – and precisely combined – to create the illusion of a violent athletic competition is nothing short of remarkable.
It’s also exactly the kind of challenge Bret Hart and Curt Hennig thrived on, always eager for an opportunity to step up their game. From bell-to-bell, the “dance” they do here is a mesmerizing display that never lets up. Hennig famously gutted through the match suffering the effects of a severe back injury; if that was dogging him, you’d never know it from his in-ring performance. By all appearances, it’s the dominant, quintessential Mr. Perfect versus a newly-singles, plucky underdog competitor in Hart. But the challenger’s technical prowess is more than a match for the champion, as Hart keeps pace with, and ultimately topples Perfect. He walks away with his first Intercontinental title, kicking off a stellar run of SummerSlam appearances. Bret’s decisive, upset win doubles as a nice little send-off for Hennig, whose future was up in the air going into the match. If he was done, he was going out on a high note with arguably the finest singles match in Federation history up to that.
For years, nobody could touch Bret Hart at SummerSlam. His 1991 victory is the first of many milestones, both for Bret in his singles career and his magnificent outings at this particular event. Not merely good for its time, this match is an all-time classic by any standard.
6. Unsanctioned Street Fight: Triple H vs Shawn Michaels — 2002
365 points, ranked by 11 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Nick Duke at No. 1
Nick Duke: To be honest, there were about five matches I considered voting for at my No. 1 spot. The margin between them all was razor thin, but in the end I decided to go with the one that left the most indelible mark in my memory. Shawn’s return had some apprehension surrounding it. Could he be even close to what he once was? Would the old dickish Shawn rear his head at some point? How bad would the ring rust be? Fortunately, Shawn looked as if he hadn’t missed a beat during his 4-plus year layoff.
And that isn’t to say that the match is all Shawn either. Triple H brings his A-game here, playing the ruthless heel who is willing to brutalize even his best friend. The story told here is amazing, with Shawn slowly regaining his old form and confidence over the course of the match. In the end, Shawn is able to win the match by outwrestling Hunter, but he loses the fight with a brutal postmatch beatdown that set the stage for the two’s recurring feud over the next few years. And what a few years it would be, as Shawn would use this comeback match to begin to cement his legacy as the greatest in-ring WWE performer of all time.
5. Steel Cage Match for the WWF Title: Bret Hart vs Owen Hart — 1994
381 points, ranked by 12 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Brian Bayless at No. 1
Brian Bayless: The seeds of this match were planted all the way back at the 1993 Survivor Series. With the whole family sitting at ringside and later getting involved when the match ended, these two brothers stole the show. This was, without a doubt, the greatest “escape rules” cage match of all-time and certainly in the discussion among the greatest overall cage matches in wrestling history. The dramatic near finishes had the crowd at the edge of their seats and when you combine that with the family dynamic, you get what I consider to be the greatest match in SummerSlam history.
4. WWF Title: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Kurt Angle — 2001
443 points, ranked by 12 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Tim Capel, Ben Morse and Greg Phillips at No. 2
Adam Wilcox: For the disastrous botch that was the Invasion angle, new babyface hero Kurt Angle’s feud with heel Alliance leader Steve Austin over the WWF World Championship was likely the best thing produced by the company during the latter half of 2001. This was a classic Federation main event for the time featuring out-of-control brawling both inside and outside the ring, enhanced by a sick blade job from Angle. The main story of the match was Austin’s inability to put away the challenger, even resorting to the use of the Million Dollar Dream (a call-back to his “Ringmaster” days). Unlike many fans, I am not as pardoning of the finish here, which saw Alliance referee Nick Patrick disqualify Austin due to “Stone Cold’s” excessive abuse of various WWF officials during the bout. An incredibly weak and lame conclusion to a fantastic World Title contest which absolutely affects my overall grade of the match. While I understand the booking rationale of building for next month’s Angle-Austin sequel, keep in mind that this was during the pre-Network days when pay-per-view events were steeply priced, and I feel viewers deserved satisfying finishes to marquee matches as opposed to continuations of an ongoing story.
3. Intercontinental Title: The British Bulldog vs Bret Hart — 1992
445 points, ranked by 12 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Tim Capel, Ben Morse and Greg Phillips at No. 1
Greg Phillips: I know this match like the back of my hand. It’s one of those bouts that just feels epic from before the opening bell. It’s drama of the highest form pro wrestling can muster. It’s the crowning moment for Davey Boy Smith, England’s son who had already enjoyed a tremendous career to that point. And it’s perhaps the greatest achievement in the monumental career of Bret Hart.
2. WWE Title: John Cena vs Daniel Bryan with Special Guest Referee Triple H — 2013
451 points, ranked by 12 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Marc Clair, Aaron George and Steven Graham at No. 1
Marc Clair: I’m not sure if there can be such a thing as a “perfect” match, but this near 30 minute contest which I witnessed live at the Staples Center in August of 2013 may be as close as it gets. After multiple rewatches I feel confident in saying this is one of my favorite WWE matches of all time, so it was a no-brainer for it to rank as my #1 Summerslam match of all time (even if the PTBN consensus knocked it down to #2…*sniff*). Bryan is at the peak of his popularity and is the most over guy in the Staples Center that night, and the crowd treated Cena as a full-on heel, and Cena revelled in it. When met with a “You Can’t Wrestle!” chant, Cena smirked and did a little bow to the crowd before proceeding to spend the next 10 minutes putting on a chain wrestling clinic with Bryan. There were some great spots – such as the pele kick to Cena as he mocked a prone Bryan with the “You Can’t See Me” hand wave, and a cringe-worthy moment where Cena blocks a hurricanrana off the top rope and nearly breaks Bryan’s neck before turning him into an STF – which were worked perfectly into the natural flow of the match. After throwing everything they can at each other, the match descends into Bryan and Cena just laying into each other with stiff punches and kicks until they finally just start slapping each other in the face as the crowd goes nuts for it. This match was also a rarity for WWE Main Events, as it featured no finisher spamming! Cena made several attempts at hitting the F-U, but Bryan escaped every time, and on the last occasion delivered a stiff kick to the Cena’s head followed by the running knee and the clean 1-2-3 in the middle of the ring. Yup, one finishing move the entire match and a clean pinfall! And it was perfect. Some may take issue with the post-match shenanigans involving Hunter turning on Bryan and Orton cashing in his Money in the Bank, but to me it was the perfect stomach punch screw job to contrast with the completely shenanigan-free match proceeding it. Post-match or no, this match is an all-time classic, and my personal favorite Summerslam match of all time.
1. No Disqualification Match: Brock Lesnar vs CM Punk — 2013
457 points, ranked by 12 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Jason Greenhouse, Justin Rozzero, Todd Weber and Adam Wilcox at No. 1
Todd Weber: What makes a great wrestling match? We might as well ask what makes a good movie, book, or television show. It’s a completely subjective endeavor, and you’d get lots of different answers. For me, (and in no particular order), I suppose a great match has to tell a compelling story, feature action that is believable enough to make me “buy in” and (kind of) forget that it’s all pre-determined, and there are contributing intangibles as well (characters you enjoy watching, the crowd, whether the result of the match makes sense). Lesnar/Punk hits all of these for me (and apparently for many other current fans of wrestling), and is a true modern classic. Like so many of Brock’s matches since his return, this match is the best kind of car crash-one just can’t stop watching for fear of missing the next brutal assault.
That does it for our countdown. To see how each voter voted, click here.