TOPS: WWE SummerSlam

The pinnacle of WWE’s summer is SummerSlam – one of the “big four” premium live events. SummerSlam is generally reserved for the hottest angles and feuds post-WrestleMania. This year, the event is headlined by “The Tribal Chief” Roman Reigns, who has ruled over WWE for 700 days, and “The Beast” Brock Lesnar in a Last Man Standing Match. Once again, the legendary Paul Heyman is set to be an x-factor.

This year’s event will also feature the year-long build/culmination of “The Man,” “Big Time Becks” Becky Lynch vs. Bianca Belair for the RAW Women’s Championship, in addition to Liv Morgan vs. “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey for the SmackDown Women’s title, and the SummerSlam debut of Logan Paul (vs. The Miz). I wonder which, if any of these moments/matches will crack my Top 10…

As is, here are my Top 10 favorite wrestling matches and moments from “The Biggest Party of the Summer:”

10. Sable and ? vs. Marc Mero and Jacqueline (SummerSlam 1998)

If you were a wrestling fan in the mid-1990s, you knew the history between Sable, Marc Mero, and Jacqueline. If you weren’t a wrestling fan in the 90s, you still likely knew Sable.

At SummerSlam 11 in 1998, Marc Mero and Jacqueline were scheduled to face Sable and a mystery partner in a Mixed Tag match, the culmination of their feud. It was here that WWE Hall of Famer Edge made his pay-per-view debut. In the end, Sable had mixed it up with Mero and ended up with the pin over her ex-husband, and ultimately a victory over one of her greatest rivals.

I loved this match because at the time, WWE was wild. It wasn’t unusual for the women to mix it up with the men, which was great for character development and match dynamics.

9. Tag Team Championships: Tables, Ladders, and Chairs (SummerSlam 2000)

The Attitude Era in WWE was known for it’s genre-pushing programming, which was oftentimes marked by absurd angles, extreme risk and violence, blood, and sex. An innovation on this front was the Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match made famous through the tag team division rivalry of the Dudley Boyz (Team 3-D), Team Extreme (the Hardy Boyz & Lita), and Edge & Christian.

At SummerSlam 2000, Matt Hardy was pushed from a ladder and fell through double-stacked tables, Edge & Christian were dumped off a ladder by an interfering Lita, Jeff Hardy was left hanging on a title belt, Edge viciously speared Lita, Team 3-D punished Christian through a table, and more. Edge and Christian emerged victorious in the first-ever TLC match, but the rivalry was far from over. It carried through to the next year with TLC II at WrestleMania X-7, which Edge & Christian won again.

8. Women’s Championship: Naomi (c) vs. Natalya (SummerSlam 2017)

Natalya Neidhart is the lone female graduate of the famed Hart Family Dungeon. Her arrival, as the first third-generation superstar in WWE, should have revitalized the women’s division. At the time, she was in the company of stars like Beth Phoenix, Mickie James, Melina Perez, Victoria, and Gail Kim. But for some reason, Natalya and the other wrestlers oftentimes took a backseat to the Diva Search models WWE was hyped on during the “Divas” Era.

Those of us who were avid women’s wrestling fans wanted more. We didn’t want to see Natalya saddled with The Great Khali. We didn’t want to see her with a farting gimmick – and we didn’t want to see her paired with Beth Phoenix for a watered down “Divas of Doom” tag team. We wanted Nattie as we knew she could be – as a wrestler and women’s champion.

In 2017, patience was rewarded (albeit long overdue). Natalya def. Naomi at SummerSlam to become the SmackDown Women’s Champion. The match was competitive and was a showcase of two skilled wrestlers – and when the dust had settled, we finally got the moment we knew Natalya deserved for a decade. As an added bonus, Naomi submitted to the Sharpshooter, a move made famous by the Harts.

7. Chyna & Eddie Guerrero vs. Trish Stratus & Val Venis (SummerSlam 2000)

The “9th Wonder of the World” Chyna had a crowning moment at SummerSlam in an intergender match for the Intercontinental Championship. After press slamming and pinning Trish Stratus, per the rules of the match, Chyna became the two-time Intercontinental Champion (Val Venis was the champion heading into the event). To date, she’s the only woman to have ever held the prestigious title. As an added bonus, this occurred during the special point in her career with “Latino Heat” Eddie Guerrero.

I remember being “letdown” that WWE didn’t put Trish Stratus over Chyna through some nefarious heel plot – but in hindsight, the right choice was made. This moment was really cool – and was actually commemorated with a “Battle Pack” action figure set, which featured Chyna and Trish Stratus in their SummerSlam gear.

6. Stardust vs. “The Green Arrow” Stephen Amell (SummerSlam 2015)

WWE has an obsession with featuring “celebrity guests” in big moments. This is nothing new – if it wasn’t for the likes of Cyndi Lauper (and the Rock & Wrestling connection) in the 1980s, and her relationship with MTV, WWE might not have ever grown into the global conglomerate it has become.

In 2015, “The Green Arrow” Stephen Amell, who was starring in the popular series Arrow (2012-2020) was the chosen one. At the time, Cody Rhodes was working his Stardust gimmick – so the story wrote itself. Stardust was the comic book villain that the hero needed to overcome. As was common practice, the wrestler carried the match against the celebrity – and Cody Rhodes’ work, combined with Stephen Amell’s surprising performance led this to being one of my favorite SummerSlam matches and moments.

5. Legacy Fulfilled: Randy Orton vs. Chris Benoit (SummerSlam 2004)

From the onset of his debut, Randy Orton was a known-to-be-destined great. At SummerSlam 2004, he defeated Chris Benoit to claim his first World Heavyweight Championship. His victory made him the youngest-ever world champion at the age of 24. This was the catalyst for what came next – the end of Evolution, the stable of Ric Flair, Triple H, Batista, and Randy.

I loved this moment because Randy is one of my all-time favorites. It helps that he’s always reppin’ St. Louis, too.

4. Women’s Championship: Sasha Banks (c) vs. Charlotte Flair (SummerSlam 2016)

Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair were in the middle of their historic feud, which saw each of the women crowned champion on multiple occasions throughout 2016. The booking at the time saw Sasha overcome Charlotte in key matches and moments, but Charlotte would remain undefeated on pay-per-view. “The Queen” defeated “The Boss.” Their feud would go on to shatter the proverbial glass ceiling as they would main event Monday Night RAW (which hadn’t been done since Trish Stratus vs. Lita in 2004), and become associated with several first-ever moments (ex. first-ever women’s Hell in a Cell match, which was also the first time two women headlined a WWE pay-per-view).

Personally, I’d have loved for Sasha Banks to have retained the championship here, but Charlotte reclaiming it made it that much sweeter the next time Sasha defeated her. To this day, I’m still clamoring for this feud to be revisited. These women are electric.

This match was also significant for its time investment – on a show where women were either regulated to gimmick matches, 5-minute affairs, or “Diva Dodgeball” if they were included at all, Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair delivered a 15-minute classic. No gimmicks, no BS – just wrestling.

3. Universal Championship: Finn Bálor vs. Seth Rollins (SummerSlam 2016)

SummerSlam 2016 featured “The Demon” Finn Bálor vs. Seth Rollins to determine the first-ever WWE Universal Champion. Finn had ridden his star-making wave of success in WWE NXT and was on a collision course with Seth Rollins since his arrival on the main roster. After 20-minutes, Bálor emerged victorious and became the only person in WWE history to become a world champion in their pay-per-view debut.

However, this moment was short-lived due to a shoulder injury Bálor sustained. He vacated the title 22 hours later and was gone from WWE for the next eight months. Sadly, Bálor’s yet to recapture that main event spot.

2. “The Best” CM Punk (c) vs. “The Beast” Brock Lesnar (SummerSlam 2013)

I’ve never been a fan of Brock Lesnar – but his in-ring work speaks for itself.  He’s one of the most violent and intense people I’ve ever seen compete in a WWE ring.  When he came face to face with “The Best in the World” CM Punk – fans were treated to one hell of a no disqualification match.

Built on the feud between Paul Heyman and CM Punk, Lesnar maintained his enforcer status and emerged with a victory.  Punk gave his all but it just wasn’t enough to overcome a thrashing from “The Beast” in this high-drama encounter.

I’ve rarely ordered pay-per-views (when that was a $50 affair) for just one encounter but from the moment this match was made (despite not being a Lesnar fan) I knew it was one I had to see.  This was a SummerSlam classic – and a match people talk about to this day.

1. Trish Stratus vs. Charlotte Flair (SummerSlam 2019)

Trish Stratus delivered a career great performance a decade after the conclusion of her Hall of Fame career.

This was a dream match for the ages. My all-time favorite WWE Superstar, Trish Stratus, returned to face “The Queen” Charlotte Flair. Heading into this match, I suspected this would be a “passing of the torch” moment – and I wasn’t sure how Trish would fare in her first singles match in 13 years! Trish’s dedication to her legacy was evident through the showcase she gave (as was Charlotte’s prowess in the ring).

Despite the result reading Flair def. Stratus, it’s hard to ignore the significance of the moment and the match. There was a period of time when women wouldn’t even be booked on the SummerSlam card – and when they were? It was a 5-6-minute match (or less). Having a female legend return for a feud was (and still is) a rarity in WWE. That always was the challenge for the women’s division – but as she did throughout her entire active career, Trish Stratus blazed another trail.

The match showcased how great Charlotte is as a heel, and as an in-ring talent. It showed how Trish always succeeded as a babyface – and one of the ultimate underdogs in the history of professional wrestling. Trish reinforced what made her great – the lost art of “selling,” which she always did supremely against more powerful opponents. More importantly, this match, despite its quick-build, had emotional investment. After the final bell, Trish Stratus took a final bow to a “Thank you, Trish” chant. It was a deserved moment for a woman who had just delivered a career great performance, a decade after the conclusion of her Hall of Fame career.

Do you remember these matches and moments? Or what are your favorites?

-Bobby

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