The 1980's was a pivotal period in professional wrestling's storied history. Vince McMahon Sr. was contending with Jim Crockett for industry supremacy. Crockett would fire first, with the birth of the Starrcade event. Vince Sr. would fire back with an idea of his own. That idea was called Wrestlemania. As we all are well aware of by now, Wrestlemania was a complete game-changer. Not only did this give The World Wrestling Federation control wrestling production as we knew it, but it would also light a fire inside Sr. to press forward in coming up with more ideas, to widen the competitive gap between the WWF and the rest of the world.
It was the summer of 1988 and the inaugural SummerSlam pay-per-view was on its way. While Crockett had relied on closed-circuit television to air his special events, such as Starrcade, McMahon had rolled the dice and made the complete transfer to pay-per-view broadcasting. On August 29, 1988, the first SummerSlam went live on pay-per-view, to an impressive PPV audience of 1,800,000 buyers. Dubbed "the biggest party of the year," the first ever SummerSlam was indeed a huge success.
As the years have passed by, SummerSlam has remained a yearly fixture, ever since it's inception in 1988. In fact, SummerSlam is one of the WWE's original "Big Four," which includes Wrestlemania, SummerSlam, Royal Rumble and Survivor Series. Each year, there is a headlining bout to cap off the show, and each year’s main event has varied from big time tag matches to various gimmick bouts, including Hell in a Cell matches. Regardless of the type of match, each main event is intended to be the primary selling match for the event. Some have been a huge success, while others have tanked miserably.
In this column, we will take a look at the top five matches to ever main event a SummerSlam pay-per-view.
5: 2011- CM PUNK VS. JOHN CENA
It was the “Summer of Punk" as the Second City Saint was set to take on John Cena in a clash to once and for all, name and outright champion. In this tale of two champions, the battle would be an intense back and forth brawl with plenty of exciting spots and near falls. After a near 25-minute war, Punk stood tall as the winner of the match, capturing the true, undisputed WWE Championship.
Just as Punk was catching his breath, following the long battle, Kevin Nash attacked the newly crowned champion, which led to a golden opportunity for the Money In The Bank winner, Alberto Del Rio, to cash in on someone else's misfortune. That is exactly what happened. Del Rio made the run-in, got the quick pin and just like that, a half-hour championship war was negated for an 11-second cash in, sending home Alberto Del Rio as the new WWE Champion.
4: 2000 - THE ROCK VS. TRIPLE H VS. KURT ANGLE
It was the dawn of a new millennium and the chance for two challengers to take The Rock's WWF Championship away from the paws of the Brahma Bull's grasp. This ended up being a brutal, edge-of-the-seat type of contest. This match could've easily taken a higher spot in this particular ranking, even the top. It was that good. This match was indeed a treat to watch.
When it was all said and done, three warriors entered the battlefield, but only one would emerge the victor. Unfortunately for the two challengers, The People's Champ had just a little more fuel in his tank, which resulted in Rocky retaining and leaving The Tarheel State with his title in tow.
3: 1992 - BRET 'HITMAN' HART VS. THE BRITISH BULLDOG
Over 80,000 rabid fans packed the historic Wembley Stadium in London to witness a match for the ages as Bret Hart defended his WWF Intercontinental Championship against The British Bulldog.
The London fans erupted as The Bulldog made his way down the aisle, accompanied by the hometown hero and reigning Commonwealth Heavyweight Boxing Champion Lennox Lewis. This was destined to be a historic event counter from the beginning of the storyline. With the close family ties and the tremendous amount of respect they each had for the other, this is what main event attractions should feel like.
After nearly a full half-hour of highly competitive, top-tier action, the final minutes were a legendary exhibition of what fundamental wrestling is supposed to look like. But only one man could leave with the Intercontinental Title. That man was the NEW WWF Intercontinental Champion, The British Bulldog.
2: 2013 - JOHN CENA VS. DANIEL BRYAN
On this particular night, the odds were certainly stacked against Daniel Bryan. After months of ridicule and constant criticism from Triple H and the Authority, Bryan now found himself with his back against the wall, because not only did he have to face John Cena for the WWE Championship, he also had to contend with the fact that the same detractor, Triple H, as the special a guest referee, not to mention there was a Viper lurking someone nearby impatiently waiting to cash in his Money In The Bank contract at even the slightest of opportunities.
John Cena and Daniel Bryan gave the fans a match worthy of a curtain call. This bout could have easily gone in either competitors’ favor and would've been just as historic. However, the ball bounced into Daniel Bryans court one too many times and when the bell rang, the WWE had a new champion and his name was that of the supposed "B player," the ‘American Dragon’....Daniel Bryan. Unfortunately, just as the celebration began, Triple H kept his word and planted Daniel Bryan with an unexpected Pedigree, allowing Randy Orton a chance to slither in and cash in his contract, pin the newly crowned champion and take the title as the show came to a close.
1: 2009 - JEFF HARDY VS. CM PUNK
On a personal note, the 2009 SummerSlam was one of my absolute favorites of the entire SummerSlam series. This particular year featured what is known as a Super Card, which essentially means the show had multiple main events. As far as 2009, this year featured a total of four main event matches, including a tag team match where Degeneration X members Triple H and Shawn Michaels battled Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase Jr. from the Legacy stable. Also, in ECW action, Christian defended his ECW title against William Regal and in another co-main event, Randy Orton defended the WWE Championship against John Cena. And of course the main event of mention here at our number one spot, Jeff Hardy defended his World Heavyweight Championship against CM Punk, in an unbelievable TLC match, with the title suspended high above the ring.
As soon as the bell rang for the final contest of the evening, Jeff Hardy went into offensive mode, making a mad dash for the title, suspended above the ring. However, there was no chance Punk was letting it go down that quickly, not at least without a fight and a fight is exactly what we would see. In the moments following, Punk and Hardy battled back and forth, exchanging a fury of set's, one right after another.
In the closing moments, after over 20 minutes of heart-stopping action, Hardy had Punk laid out on the announcer’s table, then climbed the to the top of a ladder and dove off with a suicidal Swanton Bomb, which is typically a finisher that ordinary people don't get up from. Unfortunately for Hardy, Punk isn't an ordinary man. Both men crawled from the rubble of an annihilated announcers table and struggled to make their way to the title. As the two superstars finally reached the top of the ladder, they both exchanged blows and the crowd waited in awe to see which one would finally succumb to the strikes. At last, Punk nailed Hardy in the ribs with a set of blows that Jeff couldn't sustain and the defending champion fell to the canvas, allowing Punk to capture the belt.
During the closing celebratory moments, the lights went out and The Deadman appeared. The Undertaker went after CM Punk, delivering a devastating chokeslam, letting the newly crowned champion know that he was now a marked man.