Every WWE Summerslam Main Event, Ranked From Worst To Best

Triple H and former WWE Superstar CM Punk don’t like each other. Both men have been equally candid about this; they’ve given out-of character interviews about their relationship. And one of the funnier anecdotes (and the one that relates to this gallery) was their quibbling over the definition of “main event.”

When Punk complained about never getting to main event WrestleMania, Triple H replied that Punk had main-evented Wrestlemania 29–that there were four main events. Punk responded (correctly) that there’s only one main event; it’s the match that goes on last.

Main eventing a WWE pay-per-view is an honor, because it’s a declaration of faith by the company. They expect the fans to wait, sometimes for over three hours, to watch you perform, and they expect your match to send the fans home happy, and be one of the best outings of the night.

To celebrate the 31st edition of WWE Summerslam this Sunday, August 19, we’re counting down all 30 SummerSlam main events, from worst to best, These are matches that WWE sold its “biggest party of the summer” on. Did they deliver?

Make sure to check out our schedule for Summerslam weekend along with our predictions, And check in with GS Universe starting at 5:00 PM ET on Sunday. We’ll have live coverage of the entire event, starting with the pre-show.

30. Diesel (c) vs. King Mabel

Location: Pittsburgh Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA

Date: August 27, 1995

This was a slow, dull confrontation, between a guy whose main draw was his height, versus another guy who was simply dangerous in the ring. At one point, Mabel sat on Diesel’s back with all of his weight, and Diesel’s legs went numb. After the match Vince McMahon was ready to fire Mabel on the spot (NSFW language) for his recklessness. Diesel intervened, although Mabel never got a shot at the world title again.

29. The Undertaker vs. The Undertaker

Location: United Center, Chicago, IL

Date: August 29, 1994

This is traditionally considered the worst main event in Summerslam history. But what keeps it from being dead last is the “real” Undertaker’s entrance; Paul Bearer brought a massive urn with a spotlight inside, and shone it all over the arena. Also, hindsight is 20/20; we may scoff at this now, but WWE fans were invested in this storyline at the time (though they lost some interest during the actual match).

28. Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton

Location: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY

Date: August 21, 2016

This was bizarre. Orton and Lesnar were having a decent (though not great match) when Lesnar took off his gloves and split Orton’s head open. The gush of blood puddled in the arena, and the audience gasped. The WWE was so intent on swerving their audience–making them wonder whether this was “real” or not–that they sacrificed good storytelling, not to mention Orton’s health, to do it. Awkward, and extremely irresponsible.

27. Team WWE vs. The Nexus

Location: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

Date: August 15, 2010

In one elimination match, Team WWE buried seven wrestlers’ careers. This was The Nexus’ first big league exposure on a massive stage; surely, they could win the first fight, even if they were going to lose the entire feud. But Vince McMahon wanted a happy ending to his pay-per-view. And Cena decided put himself over, beating two men to take the team win. Edge disagreed. Chris Jericho disagreed. And after the match, Cena admitted he was wrong too.

26. The Ultimate Warrior (c) vs. Rick Rude

Location: Spectrum Field, Philadelphia, PA

Date: August 27, 1990

This is actually one of Warrior’s better matches. He was a spectacle wrestler, not a technical wrestler, but fortunately, he was working with Rick Rude, who was one of the best workers in the company. The steel cage also adds some extra drama and variety, which forces Warrior to move out of his comfort zone, beyond his typical 5-10 minute match.

25. The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar

Location: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York

Date: August 23, 2015

This was a decent match undone by bad editing and a bad ending. Here’s the finish: Brock Lesnar locks in the Kimura Lock. Undertaker taps. The bell ringer rang the bell. But since the referee didn’t see the tap, the match continued. And while all this was being sorted out, Undertaker hit Lesnar with a low blow and locked in Hell’s Gate, forcing Lesnar to tap out. It had the effect of making Undertaker the babyface in the feud, look like a cowardly cheater, and the cameraman forgot to show the Undertaker tapping, which made things extremely confusing for the viewers at home.

24. Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake vs. Randy Savage and Zeus

Location: Meadowlands Arena, East Rutherford, NJ

Date: August 28, 1989

It’s filled with bad 80’s schtick, and lots of run-ins and interference by Sensational Sherri. But despite this, Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan are so magnetic and charismatic, that the match works the way it’s supposed to. Beefcake also does well, and Zeus, while not a trained wrestler, holds his own and gets carried by the other three.

23. Hulk Hogan and Location: Gund Arena, Cleveland,Ultimate Warrior vs. Sgt. Slaughter, General Adnan, & Colonel Mustafa

Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Date: August 26, 1991

This was right in the midst of Slaughter’s Iraqi sympathizer heel turn, which got him legitimate death threats and heat. He teamed with Colonel Mustafa (Iron Sheik) and General Adnan in a handicap match against Warrior and Hogan. The American were the victors, and everyone went home happy. The match itself was just okay. You could tell that none of them were tag specialists; everyone worked the match like a singles competition, and they barely showed any team cohesion.

22. Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Vader

Location: Gund Arena, Cleveland, OH

Date: August 18, 1996

Vader was one of the stiffest competitors in WWE. He hit people, for real, and Shawn Michaels didn’t want to work with him (NSFW language) because of that. Perhaps that’s why this match never gelled together the way it should. There’s also a moment where Vader forgets what he’s supposed to do, and Shawn Michaels kicks and berates him right in the ring. Classy.

21. Booker T (c) vs. The Rock

Location: Compaq Center, San Jose, California

Date: August 19, 2001

World Heavyweight Champion Booker T came into WWE as a part of the Invasion, which merged the WCW, ECW, and WWE rosters together. But rather than establishing him as a legitimate, charismatic threat, WWE sent The Rock out every week to bury him and make him look like a fool. This match, where Rock scored a decisive win, was simply the icing on the cake.

20. Yokozuna (c) vs. Lex Luger

Location: The Palace, Auburn Hills, MI

Date: August 30, 1993

This was a match that sounded better on paper than in practice. The body contrast between the Yokozuna and Luger made for great spectacle television. And at SummerSlam Yokozuna worked a longer match than he usually did (though he was out of breath by end). Luger, meanwhile, played his All-American-Boy routine to the hilt, and the fans loved him for it.

19. Triple H (c) vs. Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Nash vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Randy Orton vs. Goldberg

Location: America West Arena, Phoenix, Arizona

Date: August 24, 2003

It’s hard–extremely hard–to make a match with six participants any good, even in the Elimination Chamber. There’s too much going on, and it’s difficult to latch onto a single storyline and follow it through. This match also took place during one of Triple H’s most dominant runs; as the de facto leader of the Evolution stable. He was nearly unbeatable, causing fan fans to respond negatively.

18. Stone Cold Steve Austin (c) vs. Triple H vs. Mankind

Location: Target Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Date: August 22, 1999

Fans have a tendency to look at the Attitude Era through rose-colored glasses. Although the era was high on charisma and personality, the matches were often little more than messy looking brawls. This match is one of them. Austin and Triple H have great chemistry, but Mankind (Mick Foley) doesn’t mesh particularly well with either of them in this bout.

17. Edge (c) vs. John Cena

Location: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts

Date: August 20, 2006

Edge was really good at drawing heat and hatred from the audience. Cena, as a 100% babyface, was his perfect foil; they always had excellent matches together, especially when Edge found new ways to cheat. And in this match, Lita slipped Edge some brass knuckles while being held in the fireman’s carry position, and Edge walked away with the win. Ultimate opportunist indeed.

16. Chris Benoit (c) vs. Randy Orton

Location: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Date: August 15, 2004

Benoit was coming off an emotional high after winning the World Heavyweight title at Wrestlemania XX. But then at Summerslam, Orton ended his fairytale by taking beating him for the title. And best of all, he did it cleanly, and as a heel. It was clear that the company had faith in the young Superstar; the Legend Killer was on his way to becoming a legend himself.

15. Stone Cold Steve Austin (c) vs. The Undertaker

Location: Madison, Square Garden, New York, NY

Date: August 30, 1998

This match, like a lot of pre-2000 Undertaker matches, is a pretty non-scientific affair. It’s solid bout, but there’s nothing to make it stand out from any Raw main event. They brawl. Then they brawl some more. Austin hits the Stunner. He gets the pin. And so forth.

14. Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H

Location: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

Date: August 19, 2012

For about a year, Lesnar had a storyline that involved him breaking Superstars’ arms with his patented Kimura Lock. Triple H wrestled this match after having his arm “broken” once. And during this match, he had it “broken” once again He would finally pin the Beast the following year at Wrestlemania 29.

13. John Cena (c) vs. Randy Orton

Location: Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, New Jersey

Date: August 26, 2007

These two have faced each other way too many times over the years, and fans have gotten sick of it. So watching the first title match between them can feel a little tedious; they went on to have better matches (like their Iron Man match) with higher emotional stakes. Still, it’s good, solid match out of OVW’s two best graduates, and it does nothing wrong, per se, other than being the first of many.

12. Hulk Hogan vs. Shawn Michaels

Location: MCI Center, Washington, D.C.

Date: August 21, 2005

The stories behind this match are hilarious. Shawn Michaels, unhappy that he had to lose to the Hulkster, reportedly did his best to oversell Hogan’s offense. And watching the match, with this rumor in mind, is great fun. Michaels always bumped hard, but he takes it way too far here. performing forward flips and backflips like a fish out of water. As a technical match, it’s a mess. As an example of “sports entertainment,” it’s a classic.

11. John Cena (c) vs. Brock Lesnar

Location: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

Date: August 17, 2014

That evening, John Cena took 16 suplexes to the back of his neck and head. He was dominated from the start to the finish of the match; not once did he launch anything resembling a threatening offense against Lesnar. It’s a great match for its sheer novelty value; Cena never loses like this, ever. And until his squash loss again the Undertaker at Wrestlemania 34, he never did so again. It felt like we were watching something that we weren’t supposed to see.

10. Jeff Hardy (c) vs. CM Punk

Location: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

Date: August 23, 2009

Jeff Hardy is forever associated with tall ladders and high places, and in the main event of 2009’s Summerslam, CM Punk was able to beat the Enigma at his own game. Lots of daredevil-type antics went down in this tables, ladders, chairs match, and both men risked their personal safety for the sake of entertainment. No matter if you “plan” to dive off a ladder, it’s going to hurt a whole lot.

9. Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Samoa Joe vs. Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

Location: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York

Date: August 20, 2017

It might be a little early to put this match so high on the list, but it was truly that good. It was a clash of giants: four men, all heavyweights and super-heavyweights outdoing each others’ feats of strengths. The definitive star of this match was Braun Strowman, who dumped a table on top of Lesnar and made the Beast look vulnerable, for the first time in a long time.

8. The Undertaker (c) vs. Bret Hart

Location: Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, NJ

Date: August 3, 1997

This match was good right up to the ending, which is when it became great. Bret spat on Shawn. Shawn swung a chair at Bret’s head. Bret ducked. And Shawn hit The Undertaker instead, costing the Dead Man the match and his title. Michaels and Hart’s real-life animosity gives this confrontation, which Michaels refereed, a little extra bite.

7. The Undertaker vs. Edge

Location: Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana

Date: August 17, 2008

The Hell in the Cell has always been a place for the Dead Man to shine. And as good as this match was, it was the aftermath that remains burned in people memories. Undertaker slammed Edge off a ladder and through the mat. Moments later, the hole belched out a massive fireball. “Undertaker sent Edge straight to hell!” Jim Ross rasped excitedly.

6. John Cena (c) vs. Daniel Bryan

Location: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

Date: August 18, 2013

Babyface vs. babyface doesn’t always work out, because it divides the audience’s sympathies. But Daniel Bryan was such a likable underdog that it didn’t matter; everybody was firmly on his side; he has the effect, like Kevin Owens does and like Roman Reigns does, of elevating his opponents’ game. When he won, the audience was ecstatic; finally, their hero was champion. And of course, that’s exactly when Triple H knifed him in the back and sent Randy Orton out to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase. Especially in the past ten years, WWE has made a habit of giving SummerSlam a “bad” ending. But for an all-too-brief moment in 2013, everything was good.

5. The Rock (c) vs. Kurt Angle vs. Triple H

Location: Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina

Date: August 27, 2000

For the young fans who seem him today as the Raw General Manager, it’s hard to imagine how agile and smooth Kurt Angle was as a young man. But this match is a testament to how well the Olympic gold medalist could work with a variety of opponents. He could have a technical masterpiece with Chris Benoit. He could have a drag-out fight with Triple H or Brock Lesnar. And he could have a “sports entertainment” showcase with The Rock. This triple threat is legitimate gold, with great pacing and a ton of suspenseful, close finishes.

4. CM Punk (c) vs. John Cena (c)

Location: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

Date: August 14, 2011

This match, to determine the undisputed WWE champion was first-rate storytelling and action. This was post-pipebomb tweener Punk, taking on WWE company man Cena. It’s not as good as their Money in the Bank match months before, but that’s a tall order to fill. The rematch was wonderful too, and it was only compromised a last-minute swerve, which saw Alberto Del Rio cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase and steal the title.

3. The Rock (c) vs. Brock Lesnar

Location: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, New York

Date: August 25, 2002

This was a passing of the torch. With a brutal, definitive F-5, Brock Lesnar pinned The Rock to become WWE champion. In one corner you had the most charismatic Superstar of his generation. In the other, you had a veritable monster, who at 25 years old became the youngest WWE champion, after being on the main roster for less than a year.

2. The Mega Powers vs. The Mega Bucks

Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Date: August 29, 1988

The first Summerslam main event was also one of its best. You had four legendary Hall of Famers–Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase, and Andr√© The Giant–all doing battle in the squared circle. you have an interference by the lovely Miss Elizabeth, who exemplified beauty and class as Savage’s valet. The Mega Powers would eventually split and fight at WrestleMania V. But this was their finest moment before it all went to hell.

1. Bret Hart (c) vs. The British Bulldog

Location: Wembley Stadium, London, England

Date: August 29, 1992

As a general rule, Bret Hart never lost cleanly. But when Bret Hart took on his brother-in-law, the British Bulldog at Wembley Stadium, he made an exception. This match has everything: Hart’s finesse, Bulldog’s raw power, and the combined communication skills of two Stu Hart’s dungeon graduates. The English audience was ecstatic for their countryman to win gold, which added a high stakes emotional component.

The best wrestling matches are equal parts precision, athleticism, and showmanship. Bret vs. Bulldog has all three, which makes it No. 1 on our list.


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