August 29th, 1988 from Madison Square Garden was the time and place for the first Summerslam pay per view. Since then the dog days show has become one of the premier annual events on the WWE pay per view calendar, second only to Wrestlemania. But what is it about Summerslam that makes it such a huge event? Longevity is one thing. The only two annual pay per views that have run longer than Summerslam are Survivor Series and Wrestlemania. Like Wrestlemania, Summerslam has a history of classic matches that have acted as pivotal moments for WWE storylines.
The first Summerslam had one of the more fun matches in WWE. The Mega Powers vs. The Mega Bucks pitted the top two baby faces against the top two heels. Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage, with Elizabeth in their corner, defeated Ted Dibiase and Andre the Giant, with Bobby Heenan and Virgil in their corner, and Jesse Ventura as the special guest referee. As big as the match was, the function of the bout was to solidify Savage and Hogan as this great force and great friends. When the Mega Powers exploded, the feud was so significant because of the closeness these two men once had, as seen at the first Summerslam. Another noteworthy match was Honky Tonk Man being dethroned of the Intercontinental Championship by the Ultimate Warrior in less than one minute. HTM had the longest I-C Title reign in company history and Warrior took him out like it was nothing.
The few Summerslams would be headlined by tag team matches or double main events. Hogan teamed with Brutus Beefcake to take on Savage and Zeus in 1989, while Hogan and Warrior were featured in their own main event matches in 1990. 1991 went back to the tag team formula with Hogan and Warrior teaming up to face Sgt Slaughter, Colonel Mustafa, and General Adnan with Sid Justice as the referee. It was also the night Macho Man and Elizabeth married, with Undertaker and Jake Roberts attacking Savage at the reception. Also at the 1991 event, Bret Hart defeated Curt Henning for the I-C title in what many view as one of the best matches in Summerslam history.
The 1992 event was unlike any Summerslam before it. The show was held in Wembley Stadium before over 80,000 fans. It was a double headliner, both baby face matches. Randy Savage defended the WWE Title against Ultimate Warrior, and Bret Hart dropped the I-C Title to hometown hero Davey Boy Smith. Many fans still hold the Smith-Hart match as their favorite Summerslam match ever.
Like 1991, the ’92 show featured a good I-C title match, a trend that spread over many Summerslams. The Diesel-Razor Ramon match served as a turning point in the relationship between Shawn Michaels and Diesel. HBK inadvertently cost Diesel the match, causing a rift that would pit the two against one another at the following year’s Wrestlemania. Steve Austin’s I-C title win over Owen Hart at SS ’97 was not only a great match, but memorable for the moment in the match that Hart caused Austin’s neck injury, the one that would eventually end Austin’s career.
For those who haven’t burned it from their memory, the Lex Express rolled in to Summerslam 1993 to challenge Yokozuna for the WWE Championship. Lex Luger was being transformed into the next Hulk Hogan, but it just didn’t take. Luger won the match by count out but was hailed as a hero for the worthless victory. Like Wrestlemania, Summerslam has had its hits and misses. Luger-Yoko was one of those misses along with other matches like Diesel-Mabel, Michaels-Vader, and Michaels-Hogan. But there were always great main events to make up for the bad.
1997 featured one of the best main events in Summerslam history with Bret Hart challenging the Undertaker for the title with Shawn Michaels as the special guest referee. The build for this match was spectacular. There was a hero to cheer, a villain to boo, and a wild card referee. The match itself was one of the best that year and the fallout was incredible. It set up the Taker-HBK program and ultimately led the Hart-HBK match in Montreal.
The following year’s event was truly a blockbuster. The main event had been building for nearly four months. Steve Austin’s main event title defense against Undertaker was a great match. Like the year before, the build was great, the match was great, and the fallout was great. Keeping up with the tradition of prominent I-C Title matches, Triple H defeated The Rock in a Ladder Match. Mid-card feuds are not always built the best but this was an exception. Like the main event, HHH-Rock had been building for the entire summer. Their program continually developed and progressed to a climax that saw both men come out on the other side bigger and better than when they went in.
If one was asked to name the best Summerslam in history, they would probably name the 2002 event. The show featured a great match between Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio, the comeback of Shawn Michaels, and one of the best examples of a changing-of-the-guard match in the last decade with Brock Lesnar defeating The Rock for the Undisputed Championship. This would be the last Summerslam headlined by only one world title.
Soon after the ’02 show, Raw and Smackdown each had their own title. This allowed for the roster to grow as more people could compete for the championship. WWE kept pace by putting on big matches in 2003 with a Wrestlemania rematch between Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar, and an Elimination Chamber main event. Many had expected the ’03 show to feature a match between HHH and Goldberg, but the Chamber was a brilliant move. It allowed for a bigger main event because all six men in the Chamber were connected somehow, it made sense to have them in the ring together. That isn’t necessarily the case nowadays with the Elimination Chamber ppv. It also gave WWE the chance to hold off on the first HHH-Goldberg match until the next month, which was a Raw exclusive ppv. 2004 was another great show headlined by two great title matches. Once match (Taker-JBL) would continue into a great program, the other (Chris Benoit-Randy Orton) was a great match but the aftermath killed Orton’s career for a long time. Nevertheless, WWE was still keeping the show as big as it could be.
Recent years have seen WWE use Summerslam differently than they have in the past. They headlined the show in 2005 by a Hogan-HBK match as opposed to a title match. The 2006 event was headlined by a match that was in mid-program (Cena-Edge), and 2007 was used as a launching pad for the rebirth of Randy Orton into the title picture. But 2008 was one of the more interesting cards in regards to match order. Instead of using the titles to headline the show, they used them as mid-card matches and left the main events to the bigger names. John Cena wrestled Bastia for the first time on a WWE ppv while the night finished off with a Hell in the Cell match between Undertaker and Edge. Taker and Edge had been feuding for most of the year and Summerslam was the culmination of everything these two had been through. It’s a the kind of match that really would make sense to have at Wrestlemania, with a huge program culminating after several matches and months of back and forth, but instead the event has been used mostly as a launching pad for the next big feud that will headline the next three or four pay per views. Perhaps Summerslam is a show that could be utilized as that type of a show in the future.
Last year’s show featured John Cena vs. Randy Orton for the WWE Championship and Jeff Hardy vs. CM Punk for the World Heavyweight Championship in a TLC Match. Orton and Cena used a formula similar to the Vader-HBK match in 1996 where there the match actually ended three different times, the first two having been overruled and the match ordered to continue. However, the ’96 match, while meant to make Michaels look like a fighting champion, only hurt his opponent. It really didn’t work the way it could have. Orton and Cena were able to utilize in a way that made it work and a rematch a must. Meanwhile, the Punk-Hardy match was a perfect main event. A great build, a great match, and fallout that resulted in Punk running Hardy out of the company and launching a program with the retuning Undertaker.
Looking at the 2010 lineup, it has the potential to be one of the better booked shows in recent memory. Judging from the Kane-Rey Mysterio match, we will see a culmination of one feud and the launch of another with Undertaker slated to return soon. Randy Orton’s challenging of Sheamus for the WWE Championship allows different faces in the title picture while John Cena attends to other things, which brings us to the main event. The seven-on-seven match between Cena’s Army and the Nexus harkens back to the Summerslam of old with the Mega Powers and Mega Bucks, yet it also carries its own incredible story that is ever-changing. This match may be a culmination of the events we have seen over the past several months, but it also will determine the direction of all men involves for the next several months. Come this Sunday, Summerslam will once again be a pivotal moment for WWE.