The Notorious Column Special Edition: 101 Wrestling Matches Every Fan Should Watch (Part 4)
Part 4 of a 10-part series.
I know I promised this part a few weeks ago, but I finally got around to doing it. With the 25th annual Summerslam around the corner, this playlist will feature all Summerslam matches that were and are still memorable to this day, some for good reasons, some…not so much. In fact, let’s get the not so much out of the way.
28. Summerslam 2010: Team WWE vs. The Nexus. On the morning of June 8, 2010, the WWE had eight new superstars on their hands following their assault on John Cena, CM Punk, and basically everyone (and everything) around the ringside area at the end of the previous night’s RAW. For the next two months, the seven renegade rookies (Daniel Bryan’s choking of Justin Roberts got him fired) would assault WWE superstars, officials, legends, even the chairman himself. By the end of August 15, 2010, those seven renegade rookies became afterthoughts at the hands of Team WWE, led by John Cena and a returning Daniel Bryan. Sure nearly every member of the group won the next night, but the damage was done.
Now that we got that out of the way, here are twelve matches that are worth your time. Note: don’t get angry that this list doesn’t include the 2000 classic between The Hardys, Dudleys, and Edge and Christian. Bonafide classic. But it’s in a previous part in the series already.
29. Summerslam 1994: Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart for the WWF Championship. Though more brutal and more violent matches have been introduced since, the steel cage match has traditionally been a feud ender, keeping the rivals in to settle their differences, and all others out. In this case, it was blood brothers and blood rivals Bret and Owen Hart being kept in the classic blue cage, and on the outside, the rest of the Hart family. It’s a 30-plus minute epic that ended when Bret managed to escape and retain the WWF Championship. Interestingly enough, not a drop of blood was spilled. It didn’t exactly settle the feud, as Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart stormed the cage, threw Bret back in, and the “King of Harts” and “The Anvil” did a number on the Hitman. Other members of the Hart clan did their best to get Bret out and eventually did when brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith finally evened the odds for Bret. Not surprisingly, it’s a Wrestling Observer Newsletter five-star special. (Side note: having Undertaker vs. Undertaker go last over this was plain criminal.)
30. Summerslam 1992: Bret Hart vs. The British Bulldog for the WWF Intercontinental Championship. The match above would not be possible if it weren’t for this match. This was Hart’s biggest opportunity to date: a main event spot at Summerslam against his brother-in-law and Englishman Davey Boy Smith. In front of over 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, Hart made Bulldog look like a billion bucks. Yeah, it’s essentially a carry job by the Hitman. Yeah, it’s also the match that catapulted two careers: it was the Bulldog’s first singles championship, and it proved Bret was ready for the main event, as he would win the WWF Championship less than two months later. And yeah, it has a blink-and-you-miss-it finish.
31. Summerslam 2008: The Undertaker vs. Edge in a Hell in a Cell match. One of those brutal and violent matches introduced in the last twenty-five years was the Hell in a Cell match, a derivative of the steel cage match, but while you can escape the enclosed cage with a roof, you cannot win that way. There have been some truly brutal ones, like the Undertaker and Mankind match from 1998 and the 3-on-2 handicap match from 2006. I’m pretty sure neither included a three-table sprint to a spear by Edge or a spear through the cell. I’m also pretty sure neither of those included a post-match chokeslam off the ladder into the fiery pits of hell. This one did. It’s the last Hell in a Cell match worthy of its name. Interesting little nugget: not an ounce of blood was drawn in the match.
32. Summerslam 2002: Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels in an unsanctioned street fight. I watched this one on PPV as it happened, and it was genuinely one of my favorite moments as a wrestling fan. This was Shawn Michaels’ first match since a back injury forced him to retire in 1998. And Triple H was uberevil at this point in his career after killing a teased DX reunion the month before. Would we get a 50% HBK? 80%? 100%? Nope. We got 150% “Mr. Wrestlemania” Shawn Michaels here. And it was awesome. The match was better than anyone could have expected, and the storytelling was brilliant, as you felt every shot to the back Michaels took. We leapt to our feet as HBK won his comeback match, then we damn near cried when Triple H nailed Michaels with the sledgehammer post-match, leaving many fans fearing for his life and well-being.
33. Summerslam 1998: Triple H vs. The Rock for the WWF Intercontinental Championship. Every once in a while, you get an undercard match that one of the competitors are so impressive you get the feeling they’re a superstar in the making. It’s even rarer that you get two in the same match, as was the case at the end of the Triple H-Rock encounter in Madison Square Garden. Already rivals for a year and a half (it was The Rock that defeated Triple H for his first singles title the year before), the leaders of the WWF’s two major factions (D-Generation X and The Nation) might as well have fought to the death to prove their superiority. And the People’s Elbow to a prone Triple H on the ladder…damn. Not a lot of blood spilled, but they told a hell of a story and, while the degenerate won, both men in reality, were climbing the career ladder. The Rock would be WWF Champion just three months later; Triple H won his first world title one day after the next year’s Summerslam. The two rivals would be attached at the hip until 2002.
34. Summerslam 2005: Hulk Hogan vs. Shawn Michaels. As it turned out, it would be their one and only one-on-one match, as injuries to Hogan prevented a planned trilogy from happening. It would be the face of the WWF in the mid- and late-1980s versus the face of the WWF’s New Generation. The buildup is remembered for (in order of appearance) Shawn Michaels on his knees begging for Hulk Hogan to wrestle one more match, Shawn kicking Hulk’s head off on the 4th of July, Shawn on “Larry King” as Hulk Hogan, and of course, “Who’s your daddy, Montreal?”. The match itself is remembered for Shawn dropping on a deck and flopping like a fish. There’s overselling, and there’s Shawn Michaels overselling. That’s better remembered than the match or the outcome. The match was still pretty epic though.
35. Summerslam 2000: The Rock vs. Triple H vs. Kurt Angle for the WWF Championship. Personally, one of my favorite matches ever. The title seemed secondary to the story that Kurt Angle was in “homewrecker” territory in the Triple H-Stephanie McMahon marriage. As for the match, it began horribly, horribly wrong. As Triple H was trying to pedigree Kurt through the Spanish announcer’s table, the table buckles and Kurt goes down and out with a concussion. The match is essentially one-on-one with Triple H and The Rock (you know, the WWF Champion) for the first half, but Angle, the trooper that he is, returns late in the match to make an impact. In the end, the love triangle would cost everyone involved in it. Notice I didn’t say The Rock. He kept his eye on the prize and won one of the most emotional Summerslam main events ever.
36. Summerslam 1988: WWF Champion “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan vs. “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant. It was billed as Mega Powers versus Mega Bucks. Why talk about the match and why it’s memorable when I can just skip to the ending and show you why it’s memorable? In the words of Carlos Mencia, look at the picture. And imagine the sound of 20,000 people (and male libidos everywhere) going completely apeshit. Yes, Ted and Andre. THAT…JUST…HAPPENED. (Side note: same night, Bulldogs and Rougeaus go to a twenty-minute draw, and Honky Tonk Man gets CRUSHED by Ultimate Warrior in under a minute.)
37. Summerslam 1991: “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase vs. Virgil for the Million Dollar Championship. This event is remembered for many things: Randy Savage and Elizabeth’s wedding, Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior tag teaming to face Sgt. Slaughter, General Adnan, and Col. Mustafa, The Legion of Doom becoming the only team to win the AWA, NWA, and WWF Tag Team Championship, The Mountie going to jail, and Bret Hart defeating Mr. Perfect for the Intercontinental Championship (in what would be Perfect’s last match for over a year). But one of the bouts featured one of the most satisfying payoffs in wrestling history: Virgil, the bodyguard, finally getting one over his boss, Ted DiBiase, and with a backfired heel tactic, no less, to become the only man to beat DiBiase for the Million Dollar Championship. In a story as old as time itself, the oppressed employee wanted to get back at his abusive and overbearing boss. It started at that year’s Royal Rumble, carried over to Wrestlemania, and ended in a moment where everyone who was under the thumb of an obnoxious, abusive boss and wanted to get back at said boss felt good. Really good.
38. Summerslam 1997: The Undertaker vs. Bret “Hitman” Hart for the WWF Championship (with Shawn Michaels as the special guest referee). You just knew there were gonna be shenanigans aplenty with this one. Stipulations: if Hart lost, he would never be allowed to wrestle in the States again. If Michaels tilted the match in The Undertaker’s favor in any way, he would be banned from competing in the States. After nearly a dramatic half-hour, Shawn Michaels, taking the chair away from Bret Hart after nailing Undertaker, got spat on by Bret. That, as we all know, is a reason to go. Shawn swung, and killed the Deadman dead with the chair, and Michaels, realizing the consequences if he didn’t count, counted the fall and gave Bret his fifth and last WWF Championship. This night would be the first ripples of the resurgence of the WWF in the Monday Night Wars with WCW. (Side note: that same night, Mankind channeled his inner Superfly Jimmy Snuka against Triple H in a cage, and Stone Cold Steve Austin overcoming temporary paralysis to win his first legitimate singles championship in the WWF.) Arguably, this is one of the ten most important nights in WWF history. Hmmm… gives me an idea for a countdown.
39. Summerslam 2002: The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar for the Undisputed WWE Championship. To say that the most electrifying man in sports entertainment/entertainment/sports got crushed would be an understatement. He got CRUSHED. That’s better. Brock Lesnar was the irresistible force/immovable object that was heading for the WWE title and greatness whether we liked it or not (in the case of the Albany crowd, liked it). The People’s (and defending) Champion gave Brock everything he had, but the Next Big Thing proved to be just that, becoming the youngest world champion (at the time) ever, knocking off the record held…by The Rock. For what it’s worth, the buildup to the match (via the training videos) was pretty damn epic.
40. Summerslam 1993: Yokozuna vs. Lex Luger for the WWF Championship. Many of the matches above showed how to build a match to its inevitable conclusion right. This one…not so much. On July 4, Lex Luger came down from a helicopter and body slammed WWF Champion Yokozuna aboard the USS Intrepid. The slam heard ‘round the world would lead to Luger’s tour across America aboard the Lex Express and one and only shot at the WWF Championship (thanks to contract shenanigans from Jim Cornette and Mr. Fuji). Luger’s steel-plated elbow (from a motorcycle accident a year earlier) KO’d the champ, but out of the ring. Luger wins, balloons drop, and babyface wrestlers celebrate, unaware that the title can only change hands on a pinfall or submission, not countout, as had happen in this bout. That killed Luger as a main-event threat, and Bret Hart would eventually be the man to ascend to the throne. (Turned out to be the right call.)