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.
If you missed the first installment of the countdown, be sure to check it out here.
30. Boiler Room Brawl: Mankind vs The Undertaker — 1996
109 points, ranked by 6 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Todd Weber at No. 9
Todd Weber: Sometimes excellent “big picture” booking can contribute to quality of a wrestling match. Case in point, I like the Boiler Room Brawl from 1996’s Summerslam much more than I normally would enjoy a match of this type because of how strongly Mick Foley’s Mankind character was pushed. It was rare for the Undertaker to lose during a feud even once back then, cleanly or otherwise, and the fact that he (and the WWF) was making the former Cactus Jack look so good and so credible makes me recollect this match quite fondly. This match led to Foley actually headlining the next month’s PPV, Mind Games (Foley calls that particular main event his best and favorite match).
Now, being in the arena for a match like this is just not much fun (you’re basically paying to see what you’d see on TV without that live-match energy) but as one who watched Summerslam 1996 on PPV, I really, really loved it at the time. It’s a wild fight with stiff shots and brutal action. Foley’s other Boiler Room Brawls weren’t nearly as memorable as this one, and the Undertaker would eventually get those wins back, but in the “big picture” of things, UT and this feud MADE Mankind. In my opinion, this match outshone the card’s main event of HBK/Vader (which wasn’t half-bad itself, just perhaps a bit over-booked and overly dramatic).
29. Lumberjack Match: Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose — 2014
121 points, ranked by 6 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Nick Duke at No. 9
Nick Duke: One of WWE’s hottest feuds of 2014 was appropriately featured at one of WWE’s highest profile events. However, when the lumberjack stipulation was announced, I have to admit my anticipation for the match dropped several levels. To call this match the best lumberjack match in WWE history isn’t really a good way to describe how entertaining it was because there haven’t really been any great jumberjack matches before this one. I loved how it was almost booked in reverse — rather than the lumberjacks exerting violence upon the competitors to keep them inside the ring, Ambrose and Rollins pretty much tore through everyone at ringside to get to one another, whether it was inside the ring, around the ring, on the entrance ramp or in the crowd. And while the finish left a little to be desired, this was still an extremely fun brawl that gave two of the company’s youngest stars a chance to shine bright.
28. World Heavyweight Title: Alberto Del Rio vs Christian — 2013
128 points, ranked by 6 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Steven Graham at No. 9
Steven Graham: It’s kind of a shame that this match happened on the show it did, as it gets overshadowed by two all-time classics. This match should not be over looked, as it is a classic title match. Christian was one of the best babyface workers the WWE has had in decades and had the crowd completely in his corner. Del Rio was a great dick working on the arm all match. The finish was dramatic as anything. If you slept on this due to the greatness of the rest of SummerSlam 2013, check this out again in a vacuum, you will not be disappointed.
27. Shawn Michaels vs Hulk Hogan — 2005
141 points, ranked by 8 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Nick Duke at No. 6
Nick Duke: Your enjoyment of this match probably swings entirely upon how much affinity, if any, you have for the “Hogan formula.” To be sure, the basic structure of the match is one we’ve seen countless times before. Where it differs, however, is in the nearly flawless execution. Shawn was in the midst of his career resurrection here, becoming possibly the best in-ring performer on the planet in the process. And to be honest, most would have said even that wasn’t going to be enough to lift this one to anything above decent. But, to his credit, Hulk also brought his working boots that night and the end result is what many have called the best match in Hogan’s career. While I won’t go that far, it is easily the best match of Hogan’s post-WCW career, and one that I revisit often when I want to see Hogan performing well. Shawn was willing to heel it up a little bit here, and his selling near the end is absolutely hilarious. Sure, it may be distracting for some, but for me, it was much appreciated. Shawn’s promo the next night aside, the two worked well together. It was a showdown that had to happen at some point while both guys could still go, and in my admittedly biased opinion, the right guy went over in the end, brother.
26. Ladder Match for Custody of Dominick: Rey Mysterio vs Eddie Guerrero — 2005
154 points, ranked by 8 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Steven Graham at No. 7
Marc Clair: This match took place during my “dark period” when I wasn’t regularly watching wrestling so I only discovered it in recent years, and man-oh-man was I missing out. While there have been many great ladder matches in Summerslam history – some which I ranked higher than this one – there may be no other filled with more raw emotion. The storyline saw the lying, cheating, stealing Eddie Guerrero facing off against Rey Mysterio for the custody of Rey’s son Dominik, who Eddie was revealed to be the biological father of. Whatever the story lacks in plausibility is more than made up for by the amazing effort put in by two of the greatest workers of all time. Over 11 years after the HBK-Razor classic at Wrestlemania X and after countless TLC matches, these two still found innovative ways to use the ladder to help tell the story of the match. We saw a 6-1-9 through a ladder, the three amigos suplexes with the 3rd amigo landing on the ladder, an electric chair attempt turned into a Mysterio powerbomb off the ladder, and Eddie backflipping Rey and landing him right on a ladder in the corner in a nasty-looking spot. Eddie plays the scumbag heel to full effect, scolding Dominik after he tried to shake the ladder to get Eddie down, with his “Give me a hug! Don’t you love me” and the classic line “I’m your new daddy now, ese.” In the end, it looked like Rey was down for the count, only to see Eddie’s wife Vicki turn on her husband, push him down from the ladder and then cling to him as Rey retrieves the briefcase with Domenic’s custody papers. For added emphasis, Rey comes back to the ring to deliver a briefcase to Eddie’s head, getting his final revenge over Guerrero in the perfect ending to an amazing ladder match. This is a Top 5 ladder match of all time in my view, and you’ll find many of the other contenders later in this very list.
25. Bret Hart vs Doink the Clown; Bret Hart vs Jerry Lawler — 1993
162 points, ranked by 9 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Tim Capel at No. 9
Tim Capel: Two great tastes taste great together as old school Memphis heel chicanery meets the unbridled intensity of a classic Stampede showdown. It’s quite the departure for a promotion somewhat at odds with itself in the latter half of 1993, having washed its hands of Hulk Hogan, but not quite ready to embrace a New Generation (if you will). As it is, the entire angle serves as a side story and time-filler leading up to the Bret Hart extended apology tour. This winds up providing a much-needed shot in the arm for the summer months. The segment (an important distinction) is easy to overlook, given how much of a slump the company was in as a whole. On re-watch, however, I found that it held up marvelously and just kept creeping up my list. In the way that the Mega Powers and Mega Bucks colliding at the first SummerSlam was a treatise in holding the line, here Hart and Lawler give a master class in crowd control. On paper, what we’re looking at are two individual matches, but they are impossible to evaluate separately. I was afraid that caveat would split the vote; fortunately, sensibility prevailed as the consensus regarded this as one continuous block of storytelling. And what a story it was.
Lawler plays the crowd like a fiddle from the moment he hobbles out on crutches with a heavily bandaged knee. With conviction, he launches into an absurd sob story involving a little old blue-haired lady, a busload of school children, and a violent car crash – in the process, making sure to get a dig in on the host city – and seemingly takes himself out of play, to a chorus of boos. After such a farce, ANY babyface on the roster would look like a hero just for existing in opposition to a dickhead like Lawler. However, we’re dealing with THE consummate good guy in Bret Hart. The inclusion of a still-edgy evil Doink as Lawler’s honorary court jester to do his dirty work is inspired, and that leads to quite a serviceable little match. But we’re not done. It was, predictably, a set-up as the cowardly Lawler capitalizes on a softened-up Bret (amid Bobby Heenan’s earnest call, “It’s a miracle!”). Once again, the crowd is poised to riot. As Lawler exits, favored deus-ex-machina figurehead Jack Tunney appears and orders him back to the ring. We’re getting the match that was scheduled after all. Thus, with the backing of every soul in the arena, Bret Hart rallies with a cathartic, legendary ass-whipping, then slaps on the Sharpshooter and doesn’t let go. The fans go bug-fuck crazy. In the end, Hart’s win is overturned for refusing to release the hold. A “triumphant” Lawler is stretchered out with his hand held high, a visual we’ll see revisited by similarly great chicken shit heels in the years agead. The fans are unperturbed by this outcome – it’s just salt in the wound, putting more heat on both guys even after the tension of the feud had reached its climax. Bret earns the moral victory while Lawler gets the ‘W’ next to his name in the record books. Everyone goes home happy.
That’s to say nothing of the little touches coloring the proceedings along the way. The entire locker room emptying and unable to pull Bret off Lawler should take me out of the moment and destroy any ability to suspend my disbelief. Instead, I find it all the more endearing. (My no-prize explanation is that everyone hates Lawler so much that they’re barely making any attempt to aid him.) Plus Bruce and Owen Hart in the stands leading the charge, inexplicably having dressed their best for a Shania Twain concert at the finest… barnyard? in all of Calgary. The Brain being the Brain. (Upon seeing Lawler emerge on crutches, Heenan steps into the role of co-conspirator without missing a beat: “Uh oh. I didn’t wanna say anything…”)
More story than match, but a technical clinic was out of the question. It simply couldn’t go any other way (not that the ring work is anything to shake a stick at). If this wasn’t high on your list, do yourself a favor and give it another look. The seesaw of emotions you’ll ride watching these two masters of their craft is a credit to the beauty of sports entertainment.
24. Ladder Match for the Hardcore Title: Rob Van Dam vs Jeff Hardy — 2001
163 points, ranked by 10 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Greg Phillips at No. 8
Greg Phillips: I have a very controversial take on this match, but I’m cool with that. In my view, this is the best singles ladder match in SummerSlam history, and one of the best two or three in WWE history. That’s how highly I think of this brutal, breathtaking display from the impossibly athletic RVD and the completely insane Jeff Hardy. RVD was over from the moment he walked into the then-WWF in 2001, and he instantly forced the other high flyers to up their game. Why? Because, frankly, nobody else on the WWF roster could do the things Rob could.
Rolling Thunders on ladders, rolling springboard moonsaults halfway across the ring, no-hands somersault dives, you name it. And on this occasion, Jeff elevated his game to match RVD every step of the way. Both guys found innovative ways to use the ladder that Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon never would’ve dreamed of. Was there a botch or two? Sure, but I can forgive that when the level of innovation and execution is this high.
RVD’s momentum was so high after this one that by October he was main eventing a pay-per-view. For Jeff, this was one of his last great matches in his initial WWE run. This match probably took a year or two off both guys’ careers, but they left a forgotten classic in their wake. Unfortunately, matches like this tend to be forgotten when they’re on such a stacked card, particularly one with a match even more memorable.
23. WWF Title: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs The Undertaker — 1998
170 points, ranked by 8 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Ben Morse at No. 7
Ben Morse: If WrestleMania XIV marked “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s coronation as the top star in the WWF, SummerSlam that same year not only cemented that status, it upped it to encompass the whole industry and solidified a renaissance for the Federation. With as hot as the WWF got in 1998, Undertaker remained the biggest bullet they could fire, and pairing him against the “Rattlesnake” for the biggest show of the summer represented a true “super match” the likes of which had begun to feel rare in recent times.
By 1998, the wrestling industry had already moved into the monthly pay-per-view grind several years earlier, which made the halcyon days of building to Hogan-Andre a thing of the past, but Austin-Taker managed to somehow get more than the standard 30 days of hype. Dating back to May’s Over the Edge, Undertaker stepped up when no other member of the WWF roster would to equalize the odds for the beleaguered champion in his war against the nefarious Mr. McMahon; “The Deadman” would quickly reveal that while morality factored into his choice, he also had designs on the title and felt Austin now owed him a favor. Over the next few months, the “Highway to Hell” leading to the SummerSlam championship bout enveloped many other players, notably McMahon as well as Taker’s younger brother, Kane—had the estranged siblings mended fences?—and even led to a brief Tag title reign for the rivals. The storytelling and depth put into the feud made it feel bigger than just about anything in recent memory.
When it came to the match itself, it really didn’t even need to deliver that much, as it already felt big enough, but Austin and Undertaker, prideful professionals through and through, insisted on making sure to have a spirited brawl with few opportunities for the crowd to catch its collective breath. Extra credit to Taker, as legend has it “Stone Cold” got knocked loopy early on and had to be led through much of the match; still, both guys have their working boots on, and deliver a fight that lives up to the build.
22. WWF Title: Bret Hart vs The Undertaker with Special Guest Referee Shawn Michaels — 1997
184 points, ranked by 10 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Aaron George at No. 9
Aaron George: In the 90’s there weren’t two guys I hated watching more than Bret Hart and The Undertaker. Time and hindsight have refined my tastes for both men, but at the time I was expecting a total stinker. Then I re-watched this one about two months ago and holy shit did I fall in love with this match. Right off the bat I’ll tell you it’s slow, but it’s good slow. Bret works the leg and Taker fights back in a way that only heightens then match rather than harms it. The added stipulation of Bret never wrestling in the US again should he lose really called into question how they were going to get themselves out of this match. Was Bret going away? Would they renege on the stipulation, or would the seemingly invincible Undertaker finally drop the title? Michaels is also spectacular as the referee. He has just enough history with both guys to be precise with all his little nuances towards both. It really is a beautiful dance. The three top workers in the company (perhaps the industry) moving around one another and building heat and tension like no one else. Everyone is just always in the right place at the right time. Undertaker gets pushed off Bret only to be right in Michaels’ face. Bret turns to cheat and runs right into HBK. If you’d told me they sat down and planned every step I’d believe you. Knowing they surely didn’t makes this one even more magical. The finale is possibly the single best choreographed thing I’ve ever seen in wrestling. Michaels’ accusation followed by Bret’s spit punctuated by Shawn planting Taker with the chair and the Hitman dodges the errant shot is PERFECT. It’s a moment that can only exist in pro wrestling, where athleticism and true emotion collide in a sublime moment. A moment topped immediately with Shawn knowing he has to make the three count all the while understanding the beating and scrutiny that would soon befall him. The ending is flawless in its execution which the crowd’s cries of “No” only confirm. This match made me love these three guys more than I did before. That’s a tough thing to do seeing as I’ve bedded two and a half of them.
21. The Brain Busters vs The Hart Foundation — 1989
192 points, ranked by 10 out of 12 voters; highest ranked by Todd Weber at No. 3
Todd Weber: Having spent the better part of the ’80s watching “The Superstation” (TBS) at 6:05 every Saturday night, I am a sucker for the fantastic tag-team wrestling of that era. This match, which kicked off the second yearly installment of the venerable Summerslam, is a fantastic representation of how good tag-team matches could be back then. What a way to open a Pay Per View! This match has a little bit of everything I love about tag classics. There’s terrific chain wrestling in the opening sequence between Bret and both Brainbusters. There’s classic heel double-teaming a plenty from Blanchard and Anderson. There’s fun heat sequences and hot-tags. Hell, even JIM NEIDHART has some fun power spots here. Bobby Heenan’s inimitable energy and a hot crowd really push this one over the edge for me. It’s a shame that this card didn’t feature an actual tag-team title match, but you can’t hold that one against the performers. This might actually be the Hart Foundation’s peak, and I wish these two teams had worked more matches together during the Brainbusters’ brief WWF tenure, but this nearly-perfect classic stands the test of time.
Check back tomorrow as we reveal the matches that finished 20-11!