If someone were to ask you what the best matches in SummerSlam history were, you could probably rattle off the usual suspects: Bret/Bulldog, Shawn/Triple H, Bret/Owen, TLC, Cena/Bryan, etc. Like WrestleMania, SummerSlam has a storied history of in-ring excellence, and the best of the best have gained a consensus through the years.
Today, we're going to look at some of the lesser-appreciated SummerSlam matches that just don't get their due. After 30 years of SummerSlam, there are bound to be some heated battles that get caught up in the shuffle, perhaps existing a notch or two below sheer greatness. But these are nonetheless wonderful showcases that deserve a second look, and certainly a first look if you've never seen them before. We here at Cultaholic always seek to expand the horizons of our constituents and continue to do so here as we provide this list of underappreciated SummerSlam classics.
10. Rick Rude Vs. The Ultimate Warrior - 1989
We've seen what levels of "superb-itude" that Warrior could reach when he had Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage leading him by his warpaint-covered nose. In the category of "Wrestlers That Could Have Awesome Matches With Warrior", Rude may not get the headlines that Hogan and Savage have earned, but he was as compatible an opponent for Warrior's untamed fury as anyone could be. They made magic at WrestleMania V, and the sequel was even better.
Rude and Warrior had a sheer power-based wrestling match, exchanging big moves in what felt like a template for future WWE main event-style matches - in 1989, no less. The best spot may have been Rude's knees-first Piledriver/accidental Ganso Bomb. Warrior would ultimately (pun kind of intended) regain his IC title with a little assist from Roddy Piper, capping off what was certainly his best WWE match to date.
9. Ted DiBiase Vs. Virgil - 1991
If you ever need proof that a heart-stopping, brilliantly dramatic match doesn't need to feature 20 two-counts and a metric ass-ton of intricate reversals, here it is. Virgil, coached by Roddy Piper (who was on commentary), was fixing to stick it to former employer DiBiase by winning his Million Dollar belt before a supercharged crowd at Madison Square Garden, and the blue-collars on hand were electric for former menial sidekick Virgil.
The final sequence, in which the ref is out and DiBiase toys with a battered, beaten Virgil was tremendous, but made even better with Piper blowing a gasket at the announce table. When Tom Phillips said that, as a commentator, it's not his job to stand out, matches like this give him the finger, because Piper helped make this match flirt with a four-star rating. Seriously, stop reading this list, and go watch it now. The eighth entry onward will be waiting here for you.
8. Diesel Vs. Razor Ramon - 1994
Sticking the Kliq members in matches with one another was always a sure recipe for success - aside from Triple H's later matches with an older, less-mobile Kevin Nash, what not-so-good ones can you think of? Nash was something of a surprise breakout star in 1994, as his Kliq association brought out the very best of him. That much is evident when Diesel and Razor fought over the IC belt, with Shawn Michaels and NFL icon Walter Payton as the respective seconds.
Diesel and Razor delivered a very good power-based match, augmented by Chicago-area icon Payton trying to keep the conniving, cunning Michaels from running interference. The finish helped set up the future Michaels/Diesel divide, while the match also demonstrated that even two bigger men can deliver inside the ring together. The frequent interference may have felt like smoke and mirrors, but the match didn't require it in order to be good.
7. D-Lo Brown Vs. Val Venis - 1998
There wasn't much of a tangible story reason for Venis to challenge for Brown's European title at the 1998 SummerSlam. On a show driven by Austin and Undertaker's summer-long "Highway to Hell", the Rock/Triple H acrimony, the questionable alliance between Kane and Mankind, and other heated story points, this match just felt like a way to get two skilled performers involved in order to round out the undercard.
The match itself may not have been memorable, but it was a very well-worked, scientifically-sound opener, with an absolute minimum of BS until the DQ finish. I look at SummerSlam 1998 like the original Expendables movie: a lot of wild, out-of-control brilliance, but Expendables had one truly-grounded acting scene (Mickey Rourke's painful recollection of a life he didn't save), while SummerSlam had one unvarnished "pure" wrestling match. At least, pure by 1998 standards anyway.
6. Lance Storm Vs. Edge - 2001
Canadians and the Intercontinental title are the pancakes and maple syrup of wrestling, in that life is always better when the two are combined. Kicking off the 2001 SummerSlam with Alliance soldier Storm taking on rising hero Edge is also a positive life alteration, even if it sadly spelled the end of Storm as a major singles threat.
With a torrential pace, a hot crowd, a colourful finishing sequence, and a bit of misdirection (Christian almost costing Edge, but Edge winning anyway), Storm and Edge got the show off to a wonderful start. As noted in the 2001 SummerSlam "What Did We Learn" piece, Edge had to lobby for Christian's involvement in the match, appealing to Vince directly. That little extra dash added some important drama, especially with Christian's heel turn looming.
5. Kurt Angle Vs. Eddie Guerrero - 2004
It's happened plenty over the years - a WrestleMania match comes off so well that the temptation to have a return bout at SummerSlam is quite strong. Angle missed a few months of action after he and Guerrero helped tear the house down at WrestleMania XX, but continued to hound Eddie as SmackDown's GM. When Angle was cleared for a return, SummerSlam would be the stage of their sequel clash.
The rematch doesn't quite touch the WrestleMania original, but it holds its own as one of the better matches of the night. The callback to Guerrero's boot-related trickery at 'Mania, with Angle being wiser to possible attempts at chicanery, was a nice touch, and deserved a little more credit for the ambitious continuity.
4. Ric Flair Vs. Mick Foley - 2006
It's hard to believe, but the sentence "Ric Flair and Mick Foley fought tooth and nail in a bloody match that stole the show" is both factual, as well as a sentence that isn't said nearly enough. For whatever reason, the "I Quit" match between the two undeniable legends from the 2006 SummerSlam collects more dust than the contents of your attic - people seem to have forgotten that the match took place.
It's a bit of a geek-show, much more 'hardcore' (weapons-wise and spectacle-wise, anyway) than the usual matches in which Flair ends up bleeding a gusher, but the intensity and the visceral drama were engrossing enough. Perhaps it's because of the weirdly-tacked-on inclusion of Melina in the angle, or it was the fact that there hardly seemed to be a clear babyface throughout the story, but the match did quite a lot to make up for the little flaws.
3. CM Punk Vs. JBL - 2008
Ahh, Punk's forgotten World title reign. There were no Best in the World or Straight Edge clean-living overtones to the run, just plucky, long-haired Punk being portrayed as scrappy and hard-working. His match with JBL went on fourth out of seven matches at a sadly-overlooked SummerSlam, with their match being the most criminally overlooked of the lot.
The match was a pretty hard-hitting affair, designed to make Punk look strong against an opponent notorious for his blistering strikes and raw power. The hardest hit wasn't even intentional, as Punk and JBL bonked heads on the landing after a Punk Heel Kick, busting the back of Punk's head open, and leaving JBL looking groggy. The match was mostly textbook otherwise, but it was a good kind of textbook, giving Punk a strong win that is, unfortunately, all but forgotten.
2. Daniel Bryan Vs. Wade Barrett - 2011
It was the shock of shocks when unassuming, diminutive Bryan won the Money in the Bank briefcase the previous month, seeing as his pay-per-view resume in 2011 was lighter than three strands of tissue paper. His match with Barrett was his first one-on-one pay-per-view bout in nine months, and he would make the most of the circumstances, even in defeat.
Both men looked strong in what resembled beautiful mayhem, a bare-knuckle, padded-boot brawl with elaborate wrestling mixed in. It was the sort of no-frills, unfettered wrestling match you'd expect out of Bryan, and it was a treat to see Barrett hold his own in that type of contest. The events of the ensuing World title matches would cast shadows over Bryan vs. Barrett, but I'm more than happy to carry a torch for the match.
1. Alberto Del Rio Vs. Christian - 2013
Talk about a respectable bronze - when you have what amounts to a very good ***1/2 star match on a pay-per-view that includes CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar and Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena (both of which at least hover around perfection), you kinda have to take third place with a smile. There's some solace here - WrestleMania X had Bret/Owen and Shawn/Razor, and the third-best match on that show (Savage/Crush? Bret/Yoko?) doesn't quite sniff Del Rio/Christian.
Christian and Del Rio had great chemistry together, and while I personally prefer their match from Extreme Rules 2011 (geez, *another* forgotten gem), this was less gimmicked and more about the competitive work, as Christian fought through Del Rio's focus on the shoulder to almost get the win, only to succumb to the Cross Armbreaker. When this is the third best match of a pay-per-view, you're probably watching an awesome pay-per-view. And you were, because it was.