In the 30 years since its 1988 debut, SummerSlam has become one of the WWE's signature pay-per-view events and played host to some of the most memorable moments in the company's history.
There have been too many to count, but certain memories stick out in the minds of fans around the world -- and ESPN's staff is no different. Five writers -- Brian Campbell, Tim Fiorvanti, Nic Atkin, Sean Coyle and Matt Willis -- each broke down two of their favorite SummerSlam memories heading into this weekend's show.
Some of the memories are good, some not quite so good, but each represents a major milestone that rings through in some fashion to this day. Rather than rank these moments, we've elected to break them down in chronological order, starting with the very first SummerSlam.
1988: Honky Tonk Man (c) vs. The Ultimate Warrior
Talk about a high-energy, high-impact moment to get someone over.
Less than a year after making his WWE debut, The Ultimate Warrior was launched into superstardom by winning the Intercontinental title as a "surprise" opponent against long-reigning champion The Honky Tonk Man. It was a glorified squash match, one in which Warrior won without even using his finisher, but it stands the test of time as a memorable moment from the inaugural SummerSlam in New York's Madison Square Garden.
The Honky Tonk Man's original opponent, Brutus Beefcake, was unable to compete after a storyline attack from "Outlaw" Ron Bass weeks earlier on WWF Superstars, complete with a red "X" on the screen censoring Bass as he split open Beefcake's head with the spur of his boot. The replacement opponent wasn't announced until seconds before the match started, with Warrior entering the arena with his patented full sprint to the ring. The 27-second match ended the title reign of The Honky Tonk Man, who never even got his red jumpsuit off, at 454 days, a mark that remains the longest in WWE Intercontinental championship history to this day. (Campbell)
1989: Hulk Hogan & Brutus Beefcake vs. Randy Savage & Zeus
The summer of 1989 was a busy one for Hulk Hogan. He had his first headlining role in a feature film -- the WWE financed and produced "No Holds Barred," released that June -- and he was knee-deep in a red-hot feud against his movie co-star, Zeus, played by actor Tiny Lister.
The buildup to the movie and their SummerSlam payoff match were massive. Sadly, both were also massive disappointments, although the film has gone on to cult status. The reason the match fell flat was that Zeus couldn't wrestle. At all. Like, not even a little bit. WWE clearly knew that, which is why it hid him in a tag team with Savage, the best worker in the company. The general public, however, did not know, because Zeus was booked strong in the lead-up, limited to one-sided beatings and angry glares.
The saving grace for the main event was that it showcased the rematch between Hogan and Savage, who met five months earlier at WrestleMania V. Their short-lived tag team, The Mega Powers, had dissolved, and Beefcake had become Savage's replacement in the rebranded Mega-Maniacs. But the stain of Zeus' comical no-selling and Neanderthal offense was unavoidable. Even worse, it was contagious. Late in the match, Hogan was on the wrong end of Savage's finishing move, the flying elbow drop, and instantly stood back up like it didn't happen and began to "Hulk up."
In many ways, the match was a precursor to the cartoonish, over-the-top style the WWE would adopt in the early 1990s. (Campbell)
1992: Intercontinental championship match: Bret Hart (c) vs. British Bulldog
Not only is SummerSlam 1992 the only major WWE pay-per-view to date to have taken place outside of North America, but the 80,355 assembled at London's Wembley Stadium constituted the company's fourth-largest live crowd ever. They witnessed a masterpiece of a main event between hometown hero the British Bulldog and Bret Hart for the Intercontinental championship. Hart considered it the greatest match of his career, especially because no one watching was any the wiser he had carried Bulldog, his brother-in-law, through the whole thing.
As Hart detailed in his biography, "Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling," Bulldog was breathing hard after just a few minutes. "Bret, I'm f---ed!" he said. "I can't remember anything." Mindful that Davey Boy needed to save energy -- the match would end up going 37 minutes -- Hart called every spot in the match, even telling him which facial expressions to use.
With Hart pulling the strings, they had the crowd in the palms of their hands. There was a wave of relief and excitement in the crowd when Bulldog managed to reach the ropes after Bret applied the sharpshooter. Nobody had ever escaped Hart's finisher before.
The finish is as memorable a moment as SummerSlam has ever produced. Hart went for a sunset flip, but Bulldog fell forward, hooking Bret's legs with his forearms. One, two, three. There was a deafening roar as Rule Britannia boomed through the stadium. Bulldog was handed the Intercontinental title, and he embraced his wife, Diana, and was in tears as she joined him in the ring. (Atkin)
1994: Undertaker vs. Undertaker
Early 1994 was a dark time for fans of The Undertaker. After losing a casket match to Yokozuna at the Royal Rumble, "The Dead Man" disappeared from WWE airwaves for months. After a few months, post-Wrestlemania X, "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase claimed to have found the Undertaker, with one twist: Rather than being fueled by the all-powerful urn, which was always carried by Paul Bearer, The Undertaker was now driven by the immense sums of money that DiBiase had in his possession.
Bearer claimed DiBiase's Undertaker, who began to compete in matches on WWE TV over the coming months, was an impostor. The look was the same -- all-black outfit, black hat and black coat -- but the new Undertaker's accents were grey instead of purple. As SummerSlam approached, Bearer claimed that the real Undertaker -- his Undertaker -- would return to face off with and dispatch this pretender to the crown.
At SummerSlam, fans got a taste for the kind of over-the-top entrance that would become The Undertaker's calling card for the next two decades. Bearer held a giant urn in the ring that produced a single beam of light, seemingly summoning the real Undertaker to the ring in the darkness. As the two Undertakers stood in the ring, identifiable only by their difference in gloves, ties and socks, The Million Dollar Man and Paul Bearer simultaneously prepared their fighters, who mirrored each other exactly.
The match itself was only OK, but Bearer's Undertaker -- the real deal -- devastated his opponent with three tombstone piledrivers. The imposter was rolled into a waiting casket and never seen again. (Fiorvanti)
2000: Hardcore championship match: Shane McMahon vs. Steve Blackman
Shane McMahon is an admitted adrenaline junkie. That was never more apparent than on Aug. 27, 2000, at SummerSlam in Raleigh, North Carolina. Before that event, fans had gotten a taste of Shane's dare-devilish nature as he dove off steel cages and crashed through tables. In fact, we got a glimpse of things to come at SummerSlam in 1999, when Shane leaped off the top rope, dropping an elbow on Test through the announce table in a Greenwich street fight. As exciting as that was, it didn't compare to what would happen the following year.
Fittingly, Shane was the hardcore champion heading into SummerSlam and feuding with Steve Blackman. Their hardcore title match turned into more than the typical trashcan lid, cookie sheet flailing affair.
It turned into one of the most memorable moments in SummerSlam history.
The ending sequence of the match saw Shane climb up the side of the set next to the entrance ramp, which reached almost 40 feet in the air. Steve Blackman followed him up and ultimately caused Shane to plummet in what would be one of the biggest falls in the history of sports entertainment. Since that moment, Shane McMahon has gone on to perform several more of the riskiest and most dangerous stunts we've ever seen in the WWE. (Coyle)
2000: WWE world tag team championship triple threat tag team TLC: Edge & Christian vs. Dudley Boyz vs. Team Extreme
The build-up to SummerSlam 2000 centered heavily on the triple-threat match for the WWE championship match featuring The Rock, Kurt Angle and Triple H. A match on the undercard would ultimately steal the show and redefine the history of the WWE tag team division: the first Tables, Ladders and Chairs match.
The champions, Edge and Christian, squared off with the Dudley Boyz and Team Extreme (aka the Hardy Boyz), and while the teams had previously squared off in ladder matches or tables matches for various prizes and championships, this match raised the stakes by including the signature weapons for each team -- and all six men answered the call with a show-stealer.
The final count was eight tables broken, nine moves off ladders and seven significant chair shots. Each wrestler in the match played a major role in big spots, either taking or giving: a Bubba Bomb to Christian off the ladder, Jeff Hardy's missed Swanton Dive off a ladder through two tables, Bubba Ray's fall off an in-ring ladder through four (only three broke) tables outside the ring, Matt Hardy's backward fall off an in-ring ladder through two tables, D-Von's fall from hanging from the belts. The Hardys' manager, Lita, was also involved, knocking Edge and Christian off a ladder and onto the ring ropes and later getting speared on the outside.
The result of the match was Edge and Christian retaining their titles. The lasting impact was raising the bar for multi-man matches for the rest of time. (Willis)
2002: Unsanctioned match: Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H
Shawn Michaels, perhaps the greatest performer in the history of sports entertainment, had been out of the ring since 1998 for various reasons -- injuries, addictions, you name it. After a four year hiatus from the WWE, this was his return match, and there was no guarantee he'd be around afterward.
After the briefest of reunions between the two former leaders of D-Generation X, one that lasted less than one segment on an episode of Monday Night Raw, the spark to the feud was lit as Triple H turned on Michaels with a pedigree in the middle of the ring. That set the stage for the unsanctioned street fight at SummerSlam 2002.
The match itself simply has to be seen. It featured storytelling at its finest: emphasis on Shawn Michaels' previously injured back, Triple H's relentless pursuit to officially end Michaels' career and the kind of high-octane, high-risk offense we were used to seeing from Michaels in years past. Add in superb commentary from Jim Ross, and you have yourself one of the most memorable matches in SummerSlam and WWE history.
This feud and match accomplished two important things as we slowly shifted away from the Attitude Era. The most obvious was the return of Shawn Michaels, who would go on to have close to eight more years of greatness. It also took the venomous, cerebral, villainous character of Triple H to a new level as he attacked Michaels with a sledgehammer after the match had ended. We were left with Triple H grinning on his way out of the ring and Jim Ross asking, "How in God's name can that human being be from this planet? Does he have no conscience? Does he have no heart? Do you have no soul? ... Do you realize what you've just done?" (Coyle)
2005: Hulk Hogan vs. Shawn Michaels
The main event of SummerSlam 2005 provided fascinating insight into what happens when egos collide inside the squared circle.
In 1994, when Hulk Hogan joined WCW, Shawn Michaels stepped in to fill the main-event void in the then-WWF. Both were pivotal figures during the Monday Night Wars, leading two of the biggest wrestling factions of all time: Hogan led the NWO, and Michaels led D-Generation X. Fast forward to 2005, and things had changed.
Both found themselves in the WWE, with Hogan's career winding down, and neither wielding the kind of political force they enjoyed in their heydays.
It was billed as "Legend vs. Icon." It might not have been as magical as Hogan vs. The Rock at Wrestlemania 18, but this bizarre dream match was no less memorable. From the first bell, Michaels maniacally launched himself into backflips and threw himself around the ring, even through the ropes to the outside, after every shoulder barge and punch from Hogan.
The 18,156 in attendance at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., already whipped into a fervor by the first-time meeting of these two all-time greats, could tell something was up. It has since been suggested Michaels was overselling, allegedly because he was unhappy at having to lose the match to an aging Hogan. The finish would seemingly be the smoking gun in that argument. After getting hit with Hogan's patented big boot, Michaels hit the mat, got back up to his feet and then did a front flip back onto the canvas again, ready to receive Hogan's Leg Drop finisher. (Atkin)
2009 World heavyweight championship: Jeff Hardy (c) vs. CM Punk
It might be hard to remember now, but for a significant portion of his early WWE career, CM Punk was a fairly straightforward good guy. Through his time in ECW, which included a run with the ECW championship, and his first Money in the Bank win, the character that Punk portrayed was a straightforward caricature of the classic babyface, albeit in a far different shell to the one fans were used to.
After cashing his briefcase in on Edge to win the WWE world heavyweight championship for the first time, Punk's first title reign was a disaster. After just a few defenses, he was taken out by Randy Orton before he could defend his title on the Unforgiven pay-per-view, and he failed to regain his title in a return with the new champion, Chris Jericho.
Punk's second Money in the Bank win would start to define the character he would become for the rest of his time in the WWE. Rather than cashing in on a heel like Edge, Punk's second cash-in came on all-time fan favorite Jeff Hardy, kick-starting a transformation in Punk and signaling the beginning of the end for Hardy's most recent WWE run. It would be a memorable, career-defining feud for both players involved.
Hardy won the title back at Night of Champions, but by that point, Punk's promos had taken on a serious edge and anger that were transformative to his character. He brought Hardy's issues with substance abuse to the forefront and aligned himself as the polar opposite to that abuse. Despite the truth behind Punk's words, Hardy could do no wrong.
Punk won the title back in a TLC match -- Hardy's specialty -- at SummerSlam 2009. As he kicked Hardy off the ladder, grabbed the title and held it aloft, Punk started a new chapter to his career. He'd beaten one of the crowd's all-time favorites, fair and square, and Punk officially dispatched Hardy from the company for good the following week on TV in a cage match. The moment that truly solidified Punk's turn in character, one that would carry him through some of the best moments of his WWE career, was his entrance on SmackDown the following week when he impersonated Hardy, makeup, outfit and all. The boos that rained down on him proved why Hardy was his perfect foil, and it also proved why this feud and their match at SummerSlam played such a pivotal role in that transformation. (Fiorvanti)
2013: WWE championship match: John Cena (c) vs. Daniel Bryan
The "Yes Movement" was a fan-generated swell of support, the likes of which the WWE had never seen before. It had its roots in Daniel Bryan's 18-second loss at WrestleMania XXVIII, but it truly began to pick up momentum more than a full year later at the 2013 edition of SummerSlam -- ultimately kick-starting the eight month path to Bryan's crowning glory at WrestleMania 30.
Prior to WrestleMania, WWE Champion John Cena was given the right to pick his own opponent, and he chose the hottest superstar in the WWE at the moment, which was Bryan. The lead-up to the match focused around two key aspects -- the lack of respect paid to Bryan by WWE management, and Bryan's lack of respect for the in-ring ability of Cena.
The storytelling leading up to the match was brilliant, but the in-ring action of the match far surpassed it. Technical wresting and false finishes kept you on the edge of your seat for more than 25 minutes and, finally, a running knee from Bryan earned him his very first WWE championship victory (after previous world heavyweight championship reigns).
But the story was just getting started. Bryan's championship reign lasted all of four minutes before Randy Orton approached ringside, special guest referee Triple H hit Bryan with his patented Pedigree, and Orton cashed in his briefcase to be handed the title.
This moment set up the conflict between Bryan and the newly-formed "Authority", led by Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. While there were twists and turns to come on the way to WrestleMania 30, the crowd was unequivocally behind Bryan from this moment on. (Willis)