For a wrestling fan, the arrival of the season means that SummerSlam is just around the corner, and that generally means good things. For 30 years, SummerSlam has held a vital spot on WWE's schedule, as many of the storylines that built up over those warmer months would (usually) culminate just in time for the start of football season, as well as the first day of school.
Even before SummerSlam earned prime real estate on WWE's calendar, the summer months had been a plum spot for some of WWE's most memorable feuds to play out, whether for championship gold, or over personal issues. This list will take a look back at some of the best summertime scores that have needed settling over the last few decades.
10. Triple H Vs. Kurt Angle (2000)
This one loses some points because the angle didn't really take shape until well into July, when Angle began showing outward affection toward Stephanie McMahon. Stephanie seemed to reciprocate Angle's kindness platonically, but turned to him a little more when Triple H and Trish Stratus were caught in some compromising positions.
You know an angle is special when The Rock takes a backseat to the two heels in a Triple Threat WWE Championship main event (with Rock as champion, no less), but that's just what happened at the 2000 SummerSlam. The McMahon-Helmsley-Angle love triangle was credited for piquing the interest of a number of female viewers, prior to its rather abrupt conclusion at Unforgiven 2000. In the meantime, however, the distrust, miscommunications, and outright hostility between the three made for great TV.
9. John Cena Vs. CM Punk (2011)
Can't help but feel like this should've been higher on the list. By late August, Punk was tooling around with Triple H and Kevin Nash while Cena was going after hastily-inserted WWE Champion Alberto Del Rio. Given the scorching start to the 'Punk vs. the corporate leviathan' angle, hopes were high that the rest of the story would match it.
The initial 'pipebomb', the interest in Punk's ensuing antics, and the main event at Money in the Bank all hit the bullseye of an angle destined for Academia. The Punk was brought back much too soon (the self-exiled champion was only gone eight days), and all the intrigue went out the window. The smoking hot four weeks earn it a place on this list, because those four weeks were exceptional, but goddamn, it should've been more.
8. The Rock Vs. Triple H (1998)
The only two heels to have won at WrestleMania XIV were being fast-tracked up the card, and for good reason. The respective leaders of The Nation and D-Generation X, who themselves would war throughout the summer of 1998, would be pitted against one another, with the intent of using each man's boundless momentum to catapult them into the main event tier.
In three straight pay per views, Rock and Helmsley crossed paths: a brief altercation at the 1998 King of the Ring, a 2-Out-Of-3 Falls match at Fully Loaded for Rock's IC title that ended in a draw, and a famed ladder match at SummerSlam, in which Helmsley captured the belt. Triple H may have gotten the gold, but Rock came out the bigger star, as evidenced by the fans practically turning him babyface.
7. Shawn Michaels Vs. Chris Jericho (2008)
A way-underappreciated feud that gave us the best work of Jericho's entire career, and easily Michaels' best overall work since the silly DX reunion in 2006. After Jericho damaged Michaels' eye by smashing his face into the Jeritron 5000 in early June 2008, the feud between the two men would continue all the way into early October, with classic matches and unforgettable images to come.
Three weeks after Michaels cost Jericho the IC title at Night of Champions, Jericho beat Michaels to a bloody pulp (targeting the eye) at the Great American Bash. Jericho disrupted Michaels' attempt at retiring at SummerSlam, only for Jericho to accidentally strike Michaels' wife Rebecca during the ensuing altercation. From there, Michaels beat Jericho senseless at Unforgiven, only for Jericho (now the World Heavyweight Champion) to eke out a victory in an all-time classic Ladder Match at No Mercy. Jericho's bitterly-cold promos and Michaels' righteous anger meshed seamlessly for one of the best feuds in a long time.
6. Bret Hart Vs. Owen Hart (1994)
Although the feud actually began with friction the previous November, and Owen's vicious heel turn in January, there was still plenty of juice leftover to take the Hart brothers' angst through to SummerSlam and beyond. As far as the summertime portion of the feud goes, Owen became obsessed with beating Bret once more, this time for the WWE Championship.
Owen won the 1994 King of the Ring tournament with help from brother-in-law Jim Neidhart (who ensured that Bret kept the WWE title earlier in the night, so that Owen's chance at winning it from him would be preserved). The family divide continued into a highly-heralded Steel Cage match at SummerSlam, with Bret narrowly retaining the gold over Owen. Rematches would follow as the feud began to fade (including a No Holds Barred match weeks before WrestleMania XI the following year), but SummerSlam was functionally the conclusion of the feud's best stuff.
5. Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs. The Hart Foundation (1997)
Austin's issues with Bret Hart stretched back to the previous autumn, but it wasn't until spring that Bret circled the wagons and got his family to rally around him. Austin reluctantly joined other Americans like The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, and more in attempting to bring down the five-headed machine that was The Hart Foundation, resulting in some of the most exciting WWE action in some time.
Canadian Stampede was the pinnacle of Austin's war against the Harts, as Bret and company defeated a five-man team captained by Austin in front of thousands of raucous Calgary-ites (as well as extended Hart relatives at ringside). The accident in the Austin-Owen Hart match at SummerSlam brought the angle to a sudden and disquieting conclusion (Austin would continue the rivalry with Owen and Owen alone), but it can't be denied what the USA-Canada angle did to jump-start the quality of WWE programming at the time.
4. Bret Hart Vs. Jerry Lawler (1993)
It seemed like a colossal step down for 'The Hitman' when he was pulled from the World title scene in favour of working with a part-time wrestler in 43-year-old Lawler. As it turned out, the heat garnered by Lawler through assaulting Hart and thumbing his nose on Hart's family was incredible, and Bret was just the hero to put 'The King' in his place.
It began when Lawler disrupted Hart's coronation at the 1993 King of the Ring, continued with Lawler harassing Stu and Helen Hart in the crowd at a Raw one month later, and would've continued until Survivor Series before Lawler was pulled from the shows due to real-life legal issues. SummerSlam was the height of the feud, as Hart attempted to break Lawler in half with The Sharpshooter, legitimately hurting him (a partial shoot, as revenge for Lawler injuring Bret's face with a careless crutch strike). It may not have been a World title feud, but it made for better TV than Lex Luger vs. Yokozuna did.
3. Hulk Hogan Vs. Paul Orndorff (1986)
Before SummerSlam, there was The Big Event. It's on WWE Network, so you might wanna give it a look. WWE packed 64,000 fans into Toronto's CNE Stadium for a championship bout pitting The Hulkster against 'Mr Wonderful', a bigger crowd than all but one SummerSlam (the Wembley one from 1992). The feud began at a TV taping in June 1986, in one of the greatest heel turns ever.
Orndorff had been dogged by WWE's heels, who labelled him "Hulk Jr", the inferior half of he and Hogan's partnership. When Orndorff's attempts to prove that he and Hogan saw each other as equals fell flat, he went mad, and ultimately double-crossed Hogan after a tag team match. Orndorff saddled up with Bobby Heenan once more, and gunned for Hogan's belt, which he was unable to win at The Big Event. The feud stretched into the early months of 1987, most famously with a Steel Cage match on Saturday Night's Main Event.
2. Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs. The Undertaker (1998)
It was called the 'Highway to Hell'. The road to SummerSlam 1998 inside Madison Square Garden was paved with a three-month story arc that began with Undertaker nullifying Vince McMahon's attempts to unfairly take away Austin's WWE Championship at Over the Edge, basically in exchange for a title shot of his own.
Undertaker had accidentally cost Austin the belt a month later at King of the Ring, to brother Kane in a First Blood match (Austin regained it the next night), but the coincidences didn't end there. Undertaker and Kane's not-so-subtle conspiring began manifesting more clearly, and what began as a respectful rivalry culminated with a different sort of deck-stacking against Austin. The intrigue led to the most-bought SummerSlam in history, and Austin retaining the gold after a lengthy brawl.
1. Bruno Sammartino Vs. Larry Zbyszko (1980)
Actually, this feud encompassed the first two-thirds of 1980, but it would reach its climax at the famed Showdown at Shea on August 9. For those that don't know the story: young Bruno protege Zbyszko found it hard to escape the shadow of his legendary mentor, and challenged him to an exhibition match to try and prove his mettle. Zbyszko struggled in the match, and resorted to beating Sammartino bloody with a wooden chair out of frustration.
The two would battle tooth and nail in mostly non-televised bouts, with Zbyszko drawing unreal heat for his treachery (irate fans took to either attacking him outright, or damaging his car in the parking lot). The Shea Stadium card that August drew more than 36,000 fans to New York City, who witnessed Sammartino beat Zbyszko senseless in a Steel Cage match, leaving his one-time student in a bloody heap on the canvas. There's a reason why both the match and the feud are so fondly remembered - because every step, every moment, of it was immaculate.