This Sunday, live on the WWE Network, is SummerSlam and the debut of Finn Balor in his Demon King persona. Balor, one of the best workers in the business, will challenge Seth Rollins for the just-created Universal Championship.
This should be a match for the ages. The WWE is experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the moment. With guys like Balor, Rollins, AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura, Dolph Ziggler and Dean Ambrose in major angles on top, this appears to be not the Attitude Era, but the Wrestler Era. All of these guys are tremendous athletes, and the WWE finally appears to be responding to the what the fans want: Great wrestlers holding championships, not just the muscle heads. Unless those muscle heads, of course, can work.
Fueled by the popularity of NXT, the WWE is soaring right now, in what appears to be the beginning of another boom period. All of this leads us to Sunday night's SummerSlam and the incredible card headlined by Balor vs. Rollins and Ambrose vs. Ziggler.
SummerSlam, like Wrestlemania, is one of those special cards. It's one of the WWE's original PPV events, and because of that, there's a long history of tremendous and memorable events taking place at the summer spectacular. As we get ready for the big show, let's take a look at how we got here, and some of the wrestlers, managers and characters that helped make SummerSlam so memorable over years.
10. SummerSlam 1988: The Ultimate Warrior pins the Honkytonk Man
The Ultimate Warrior was absolutely on fire in 1988. He had recently debuted from World Class Championship Wrestling and was unlike anyone else. Muscled up, with a manic energy in his feet, the Warrior was a real life superhero.
He couldn't wrestle well, but like Hulk Hogan, it didn't matter. The Warrior had an unteachable presence that made him special. So when The Honky Tonk Man was left without an opponent at SummerSlam because Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake was storyline-injured, who did Vince McMahon turn to?
Yep, the rising young star. No one knew who the Honky Tonk Man's opponent would be. When the music hit, the crowd came unglued and Madison Square Garden has never been quite the same.
9. SummerSlam 1990: The Texas Tornado Kerry Von Erich Pins Mr. Perfect
Picture it: Kerry Von Erich, the kid from the great Texas family, was finally in the WWE. Von Erich had a million dollar-body and the fans loved him. That night Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig was supposed to wrestle Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake (yep, him again), but Beefcake was injured in a parasailing accident and could not compete.
So Von Erich stepped in and created a glorious moment, thanks to the incredible work ability of Mr. Perfect, who was one of the best wrestlers in the world at that time. After an excellent match, Von Erich landed a tornado punch and won the Intercontinental championship, an historic moment for the kid, and an unbelievable SummerSlam memory.
Thank you Mr. Perfect. You'll have to find this match on the WWE Network.
8. SummerSlam 1991: Mr. Perfect vs. Bret "Hitman" Hart
Two of the WWE's greatest workers ever, Mr. Perfect and Hart put on a clinic that will go down as one of the greatest matches in SummerSlam history. Mr. Perfect was ailing with a serious back injury in the match, but he still performed like a boss in putting Hart over.
Wrestling is not about wins and losses. It's about great matches. It's about athleticism linked with wrestling maneuvers to create a spectacle that is unlike anything else in sports or entertainment. Mr. Perfect and Hart were masters at this and when they came together it was pure magic. Hart won the intercontinental title, but this match was simply a celebration of two great workers.
After the match, Hart curiously ripped off Mr. Perfect's singlet and took it home with him as a souvenir. Hart celebrated with his parents after the match in a tear-jerker moment.
7. SummerSlam 1989: Hulk Hogan and Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake vs. Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Zeus
This was not a great match — but it was memorable. For all the wrong reasons. Zeus, aka Tiny Lister, did not belong in a WWE ring. But he was big and the star of No Holds Barred, the terrible wrestling movie featuring he and Hogan. This was all spectacle. Zeus had to be bad to make Hogan look like a good worker in that ring. This match involved Miss Elizabeth, Sensational Sheri, and a lot of really bad wrestling. And Tony Schiavone and Jesse "The Body" Ventura on commentary as a bonus (thank you Randy Savage for giving us something to appreciate about the match).
In the lore of wrestling, this will go down as the worst main event in SummerSlam history. The cartoon era was running wild, and thank you WCW Nitro for changing all of that a few years later.
6. SummerSlam 1992: Bret "Hitman" Hart vs. The "British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith
You put two great workers in the ring and you have high art, professional wrestling style. In front of 80,000 people at Wembley Stadium in England, Hart and Smith headlined the show — for the Intercontinental championship.
Hart was so good during this period and Smith also was an incredible worker. This match was fueled by a family storyline; Davey Boy was married to Bret Hart's sister Diana and Diana was torn between her husband and brother. Diana chose her husband, adding more drama to the match. Smith, in his home country, won the match, but it's not about wins and losses. It's about performances and both of these wrestlers put on memorable performances. Thank you, Bret. Thank you Davey Boy (RIP).
5. SummerSlam 2002: Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H
In his first match back since taking four years off from a back injury, Shawn Michaels proved why his is arguably the greatest in-ring performer of all time. It was like he didn't miss a beat after being away for four years. Michaels took time off to heal from his back injuries and fight against his admitted addiction to prescription pain killers.
No one quite knew what to expect from Michaels. The WWE was so unsure that they put him in the ring with Triple H, his best friend and an above-average worker. Triple H took care of Michaels in the match and Michaels returned, healthier and regenerated after becoming a born-again Christian. This match is memorable because it was the debut of the new and improved Michaels.
This was Michaels as a great wrestler, but sober. He would spend the next few years putting on some of the greatest matches in wrestling history.
4. SummerSlam 2002: The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar
The Rock vs. Brock. Yes, it happened. And Brock sent the Brahma Bull packing, straight to Hollywood. No match with The Rock is ever a classic. The Rock was not a good worker. He has three moves: The Rock Bottom, The People's Elbow and his nip up from his back.
But The Rock can talk.
The Rock had emerged as one of the greatest talkers in the business and was tearing up the WWE. Hollywood called and The Rock has been electrifying the Box Office ever since. But on this night, he passed the torch to a young Brock Lesnar. This was not a great match, but it signaled the arrival of Lesnar, absolutely crushing The Rock and taking his title.
No one quite knew what Lesnar would mean to the company at the time, but it was the beginning of the Lesnar era, one that continues today, as controversial as it may be. If you hate The Rock and love Lesnar, this is the match for you (and on the same show as Michaels and Triple H).
3. SummerSlam 2014: Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena
Here's how a wrestling match is supposed to go: The good guy beats up the bad guy at the beginning of the match. The bad guy comes back and dominates for the middle part of the match. The two battle each other back and forth for the third part of the match. The good guy wins at the end. Hopefully along the way we see some great athleticism, in-ring storytelling and dramatic near falls.
So that's why Lesnar vs. Cena was so memorable. None of that happened. Instead, Lesnar absolutely killed Cena for 20 minutes. He took him to Suplex City before Suplex City was incorporated the following year at Wrestlemania. Lesnar performed 16 German suplexes on Cena. Lesnar squashed Cena in the main event of a PPV. He essentially treated Cena like he were Iron Mike Sharpe. Cena's character still hasn't recovered. A true WTH moment.
2. SummerSlam 1993: Lex Luger vs. Yokozuna
It doesn't get more disappointing than this. Before The Golden State Warriors choked in the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was Lex Luger choking in his big moment to win the WWE championship at SummerSlam.
Luger had slammed Yokozuna on the deck of the USS Intrepid and turned into a baby-faced good guy instantly. He was supposed to defeat Yokozuna for the title at SummerSlam. It had to happen. It needed to happen. It was destined to happen.
It didn't happen.
For reasons that are still more mysterious than the depths of the universe, Luger won that night — by count out, therefore the title did not change hands. Booooooo. Supposedly Luger was bragging about how he was going to win the title and Vince McMahon reportedly punished him and took his opportunity away. Who knows?
What we do know is that the balloons and confetti were released that night, but no title changed hands. BAD BOOKING. Way to take the candy out of the little kid's hand.
1. SummerSlam 1991: The Wedding of Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth
Yes, the WWE finished a PPV with a wedding. Not just any wedding, however. This was between Ms. Elizabeth and the Macho Man.
This may be the only wrestling wedding ever that didn't end in chaos. We were all there for Savage and Elizabeth's rocky road on and off-camera. Savage had turned bad, thanks to his paranoia and fear that Elizabeth was romantically involved with Hulk Hogan. He spent a year feuding with Hogan and other good guys, while Elizabeth disappeared.
The two reunited at Wrestlemania in 1991 and Savage finally put a ring on it, leading up to SummerSlam. There were no shenanigans. Nothing went wrong. They simply got married and the crowd rejoiced that this couple that had been through so much was finally reunited. The fans wanted them together.
In this moment, they were married in real life and on screen. It was an unreal moment that wrestling fans will always remember, even if their marriage didn't last very long.