When a WWE event features two matches at or bordering on perfection, you can't rate it as anything lower than a ceiling-impaling thumbs up. Punk/Lesnar and Cena/Bryan were two very different types of match, and they each rank among the 10 greatest SummerSlam matches in history. Even Uncle Dave, with his paltrier ****1/2 grades, would concede as much.
Perhaps the only thing keeping SummerSlam 2013 from earning the golden accolades that it richly deserves is the fact that the ending made many people angry. Daniel Bryan gets his big moment, only to have it usurped by the snaky Randy Orton and his magical briefcase. And yes, said usurping would lead to an autumn filled with frustration and disappointment for the viewing audience (Big Show is NOT Daniel Bryan), but that shouldn't fall at SummerSlam's feet. The show was an instant classic, and sits with 1992, 1998, 2000, and 2002 as the greatest SummerSlams ever.
10. Conspicuously Absent
One of the hottest acts in 2013 WWE was The Shield, the well-booked trio of tactical baddies that stoically dismantled the opposition. At the time of SummerSlam, all three men wore gold: Dean Ambrose was US Champion, while Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, uh, reigned as Tag Team champs. Yet, despite their popularity and undeniable cool factor, the trio didn't have a presence on SummerSlam's main card.
Ambrose worked the pre-show dark match against Rob Van Dam in a somewhat-lengthy title bout, won by Van Dam via DQ. There were earlier plans for some form of tag match, with Big Show and Mark Henry facing either Reigns and Rollins, or possibly all three Shield members in a Handicap Match, but those were scrapped when Show was a late return from an undisclosed injury.
9. Extinguishing The Fire
It was a helluva way for Bray Wyatt to make his televised main roster debut with the Wyatt character, battling Kane in a bastardized Inferno Match that was dubbed a Ring of Fire match. As a match, it was admittedly pretty lousy, but it didn't stunt the Wyatt character any. There would be time later for WWE creative to do just that.
Interestingly, this match is Kane's most recent SummerSlam outing, as of 2018. Since debuting against Bret Hart under the Isaac Yankem gimmick at the 1995 SummerSlam, Kane would compete at SummerSlam a total of 11 times (6-4-1 record), with his match against Wyatt being his most recent output. In an interesting coincidence, when Kane made his debut as Yankem around the same time Mike "IRS" Rotunda left WWE. Eighteen years later, his potential final SummerSlam match comes against Rotunda's kid.
8. Volunteer Firefighter?
The Ring of Fire match gets points for ambiance, if not actual enjoyability otherwise. As part of the visual configuration of the match, several individuals were planted at ringside in firefighter attire, at least one of whom wasn't a legitimate fireman. The Wrestling Observer noted that the plants were members of the Championship Wrestling From Hollywood roster, but as best research indicates, only one of them was ever identified.
That man would be Scorpio Sky, best known as one-third of So Cal Uncensored with Christopher Daniels and Kazarian. Sky does have a shared history with Kane, going back one year earlier to the Dr. Shelby Anger Management skits, as Sky portrayed the character of Harold. Betcha didn't know that the mononymed Harold was a Los Angeles-based firefighter, now did you?
7. The Fight Before The Fight
The World Heavyweight Title match between Alberto Del Rio and Christian would have been match of the night on a number of other pay-per-views, but had to settle for a noble third at SummerSlam. Del Rio held up his end of a damn good match, despite some noticeable bruising on his face. Turns out, those marks were fairly fresh.
Del Rio was reportedly involved in an altercation at a bar very early Sunday morning, per The Wrestling Observer. The story goes that Del Rio was with Drew McIntyre, and Del Rio confronted a man who made an unkind remark toward McIntyre's date. A scuffle ensued, and Del Rio was allegedly struck with a beer bottle. However, Del Rio would later claim in a radio interview that the marks were from an errant spot in the ring.
6. Premature Punk
The Punk-Lesnar No-DQ Match was in part facilitated by Paul Heyman turning on Punk one month earlier at Money in the Bank. The fight between current Heyman client vs ex-Heyman client may well have been the last true Match of the Year candidate on Punk's part, and if Punk had his way, we would never have gotten the match at SummerSlam.
When Punk took a sabbatical after WrestleMania 29, he had intended not to return to the ring until SummerSlam at the earliest, wanting to be away from the wrestling grind for some time. He returned far earlier than intended, wrestling Chris Jericho at Payback in his Chicago hometown. Punk revealed in the infamous Art of Wrestling podcast that McMahon convinced him to return early, saying he needed him. Punk added that this was the point where he seriously considered getting out of WWE.
5. David Vs. Goliath
In a year where the world sadly lost Leon "Vader" White, we collectively recalled some of the matches that Vader had with Sting, the prototypical killer monster vs. valiant hero slugfests that met high standards for in-match violence and genuine drama. Lesnar vs. Punk was a match that followed that template to a tee, enthralling fans with storytelling and brutality alike.
It was noted by Dave Meltzer that both men reportedly received standing ovations by the other wrestlers once they each made it through the curtain. In any walk of life, peer recognition is always a special thing, and the men and women of WWE must've truly appreciated what they saw that night. And even then, it's debatable as to whether or not it was the best match of the night, given what was two bouts away.
4. Champion's Choice
Ever wonder why we got the seemingly random John Cena vs. Mark Henry one-month feud (with excellent heel turn, mind you) that culminated at Money in the Bank? The Cena-Henry match was essentially a time killer for the WWE Champion, who originally pitched a different opponent for the July pay-per-view.
Yes, Cena went to WWE brass and made the personal recommendation for Daniel Bryan, wanting to wrestle him at Money in the Bank. According to Bryan, Cena told McMahon that he felt it was the biggest potential match that WWE had at the time. McMahon took Cena's confidence in Bryan at face value, but chose to hold off on the match until SummerSlam, since it was a bigger stage. Until then, Cena went with Henry in July, while Bryan was given a slew of wins over upper midcard heels on TV to build him up.
3. Tough As Nails
For all of the flack Cena gets for whatever reason a person might have, he's undeniably willing to perform through unfathomable pains. Even in those circumstances where he shouldn't be putting his body on the line, Cena's not only out there working his ass off, but he's also holding up his end of some truly great matches. SummerSlam 2013 may well be the best example of this.
Cena took the match with a torn triceps that he's sustained nearly a month before SummerSlam. The injury was made evident with the delightful visual of Cena's left elbow sporting a fluid build-up that made it look like somebody had sewn a tennis ball into his arm. Cena gutted out the match, then verbally put Bryan over the following night before leaving to have surgery. He would miss only two months, because John Cena is a goddamn cyborg that enjoys wearing jorts.
2. A Cash-In First
As noted, Daniel Bryan's moment in the SummerSlam sun was ruined by a briefcase-toting Randal Keith Orton, as well as the birth of the seemingly-immortal Authority that looms over every Raw, even from afar. The previously-babyface Orton was turned heel by the impromptu challenge, and it was the first cash-in of its sort.
For the first time ever, a Money in the Bank briefcase was cashed in on somebody that had just won the WWE Championship (note: not the World Heavyweight title) on the same night. Apparently, WWE fell in love with the idea of WWE Championship dual changes involving briefcase cash-ins, because they've done it twice since: Sheamus over Roman Reigns at Survivor Series 2015, and Dean Ambrose over Seth Rollins at Money in the Bank 2016.
1. The Game Goes Bad
Special guest referee Triple H's heel turn on Bryan was the moment The Authority took root, as their dedication toward keeping a "B+ Player" like Bryan away from the WWE Championship was an angle that thoroughly interested WWE fans. For Triple H, the storyline brought out the best version of him, that being the conniving ring veteran who uses his wits and his uninhibited vileness to bring opponents to their knees.
It marked the first time in more than seven years that Triple H worked as a heel. It's hard to believe that there was such a lengthy stretch in which The Game was on the side of good, but it's true - he turned face in the spring of 2006 to reform DX with Shawn Michaels, and stayed babyface ever since, up until the night he pedigreed Bryan.