The Count: 4 Times SummerSlam Undeniably Outshone Wrestlemania

SummerSlam has been called the Wrestlemania of the summer, but let’s be honest, most of the time people referring to it as that are doing it with big implied air-quotes in their most sarcastic voice possible. SummerSlam is supposed to be a big deal, but all too often it ends up existing in a dead zone between the Wrestlemania before it and the build to the Wrestlemania to come.

That said, there have been a handful of truly memorable SummerSlams. In fact, there’s been a few Wrestlemanias of the summer that actually outshone that year’s actual Wrestlemania. These are the SummerSlams this year’s event will, hopefully, take after (but probably won’t)…

But first, before we go on, give this article a share won’t you? Let’s get this SummerSlam party rockin’!

SummerSlam 1988

The very first SummerSlam may not have been a hall of fame show from a workrate or star ratings perspective, not that we care particularly about that ’round these parts, but it was pretty much packed butt to gut with memorable moments.

This of course was the show where Ultimate Warrior ended the Honky Tonk Man’s record-setting IC title reign in 30 seconds, which was the first and last time the whole Honky Tonk Man undeserving champion thing has ever really worked. The pop when Warrior wins is unlike anything that could happen today — human beings aren’t capable of expressing that kind of passion any more, especially for fake underpants fighting.

The main event was THE MEGA POWERS in their first ever match against the combined villainy of their most mortal enemies, Andre the Giant and Ted DiBiase. Wrestlemania may have, technically, been when The Mega Powers first formed, but this was their coming out party, and both Hogan and Savage are in all their f*cking deliriously coked-out glory. You can make the case for countless other tag teams being better in the ring or whatever, but in terms of star power, in terms of #1 King Shit of the World teaming up with #2 King Shit of the World, nothing beat The Mega Powers, and SummerSlam ’88 was them at their height. Just look at these glorious assholes…

Damn, those vitamins get results. 

…the match itself is great too. Honestly it kind of transcends regular analysis. At least the kind of analysis I’d apply to a match of 2014. Oh, and yes, the match featured Elizabeth and her magic tearaway skirt.

And thus a very specific fetish was planted in the mind of an entire generation or wrestling fans.  

So, you could say I have a bit of a soft spot for this one. And a hard spot too. Hey-O!

Wrestlemania IV

Wrestlemania IV sounds good on paper. A one-night tournament that ends up crowing Randy Savage the new WWF Champion? Tournaments are the balls, Randy Savage is even more balls, so this was great right?

In reality the show was a shambling, 16-match monstrosity in which the average match length was around three minutes (although maybe that was just my friend’s VHS version) and half the bouts ended in some manner of f*ckery. Until the very end when Hogan helps Savage win the title, the show is just a steady drumbeat of undistinguished, unexciting 80s wrestling stuff happening. It set some awesome things in motion, but the show itself is a rough watch.

SummerSlam 1991

As I mentioned in my recent WWF WrestleFest article, 90/91 was when my unquestioning childhood fandom lapsed as the WWF’s supermen started looking old and sort of lost their way and lame-ass villains like Earthquake and Sgt. Slaughter became the new norm. All that said, you can’t f*cking argue with SummerSlam ’91.

On the undercard you had Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect in what just might be my favorite Bret Hart match of all time. I’ve never been a huge Hart fanatic (I know, I know, revoke my snowmobile license and government issued Best of Gordon Lightfoot CD now) but Hart’s methodical style works when Hennig’s energy is there to balance things out and keep the engine purring.

In the main event you had Hogan and Warrior taking on Sgt. Slaughter, Colonel Mustafa and General Adnan, which was no classic, but Hogan was always better in tag matches, and this was superior to his singles match with Slaughter at Wrestlemania.

Then of course there was the real main event, the kinda weird, reality-fantasy blurring on-air marriage of the Macho Man and Elizabeth that’s served as the template for every WWE wedding since. Snitsky poetry and underpants Al Wilson are directly indebted to SummerSlam ’91, so pay your respects. Is Savage’s feathered wedding hat the best piece of wrestling headgear ever?

This is nice, but it’s going to cause nothing but trouble for Randy Savage’s pimping business. 

Yes. Is Macho Man teasing sincerity by taking off his sunglasses, then saying “I do” with an OHH YEEEAH the best/stupidest thing ever? Absolutely. Are Jake Roberts and Undertaker the most evil wedding ruining buttholes ever? No doubt. If the Savage/Elizabeth wedding doesn’t keep you rapt from beginning to end, I don’t know what to say to you.

Wrestlemania VII

Wrestlemania VII isn’t terrible — Savage/Warrior in particular was really good, although mostly in a “Wow, how did Savage coax this out of the Ultimate Warrior?” sort of way. And what to say about the main event? I didn’t buy Hogan vs. the guy with a noogie as one of his finishers when I was 9, and I don’t buy it now.

I’m preeetty sure this is the exact moment Brock Lesnar’s intestines exploded for the first time. 

SummerSlam 2002

SummerSlam 2002 may be a tad shorter on legendary moments than the last two SummerSlams we’ve discussed, but it’s one of those super rare WWF/E shows that’s good-to-great pretty much all the way through.

On the undercard you have a lot of kind of atypical match-ups, but since everyone was in their primes at the time they work out nicely. Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio is a great opener, Edge vs. Eddie Guerrero was a good match that wasn’t repeated a million times and Chris Benoit vs. Rob Van Dam is kind of, secretly, the best RVD match ever as long as you can stomach the Benoit thing.

In the semi-main you have Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels in an unsanctioned Shawn gets to wear his mom jeans and cowboy boots street fight. This sounds like a massive wankfest on paper, and well, there was certainly some degree of wankage going on, but dammit, it’s a great match. They do a phenomenal job of selling that Shawn’s back is held together with elastic bands and Elmer’s glue and that every back bump could cause his IMMEDIATE DEMISE. Of course it wasn’t the case, and Shawn went on to regularly wrestle for, like, another decade after this, but even when you know the truth, this match somehow still works.

Tuns out Shawn Michaels may have not been entirely truthful about his physical condition. Shocking, I know.  

And in the final match of the show we have Brock Lesnar steam-rolling his way through The Rock to become WWE champion at the age of 25. Sure, Rock fights back and has his hope spots, but for the most part the outcome feels inevitable, and Dwayne goes above and beyond to make Lesnar look like an unstoppable beast. Also, Paul Heyman’s ponytail is downright lush here.

Of course Triple H would immediately poop on Lesnar’s accomplishment by shunting him and the title off to Smackdown then awarding himself the new Big Gold Cool Title for Cool Dudes, but that’s a story for another time.

Wrestlemania X8

The Wrestlemania X8 undercard is full of weird, “Why the hell was this even considered for Wrestlemania?” matches like DDP vs. Christian, Steve Austin vs. Scott Hall and a freakin’ Maven match. Both Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair are also on hand to drag ass through overly long matches. Flair’s match with Undertaker is good, but the Rock/Hulk Hogan match has never done anything for me. Then there was the Triple H/Chris Jericho main, which was definitely the bad kind of Triple H wanking.

This is maybe my least favorite Wrestlemania. Sure, there’s some stinky ones from the early years, but I can kind of view those ones through a historical lens. I watched Wrestlemania X8 as it was happening, at the height of my obsessive fandom and it was a crushing disappointment.

SummerSlam 2011

SummerSlam 2011 was where the Summer of Punk was officially powerbombed into a flaming dumpster by Kevin Nash, but that doesn’t happen until the end — for most of the show that electricity was still in the air, and hey, the Nash stuff may have quickly become depressing, but it was surprising and exciting when it was happening.

The undercard featured some good stuff, including Mark Henry, who was about to go on a tear with his new “Hall of Pain” persona, having a fun clubber-fest with Sheamus, an entertaining little Daniel Bryan/Wade Barrett match and Christian having another great match in his Sisyphusean feud with Randy Orton.

Then there was the main event, which may have actually been better than Cena and Punk’s match from Money in the Bank. The MitB match had the white-hot Chicago crowd behind it, but it was sloppy as shit — Summerslam was overall a more solid match, with lots of clever spots that played off the earlier confrontation. Then Kevin Nash and Alberto Del Rio came out to make me sad, but even with that ending, SummerSlam didn’t exactly face stiff competition from Wrestlemania in 2011.

Wrestlemania XXVII

My God, this show. Royal Rumble winner Alberto Del Rio losing to Edge in the opener like a total goob. The Corre losing to a Kofi Kingston anchored team in a minute. A Snooki match (although the match did feature brown-haired yoga Trish, so major points for that).

Undertaker vs. Triple H was good of course, but I wasn’t terribly emotionally involved with it. Bottomline, this was a Wrestlemania anchored by a handful or Rock promos and a Miz main event. Minus the Undertaker match, there were Smackdowns from early 2013 that delivered the same basic experience as this Wrestlemania.

To be fair, this is a pretty rare sight these days. 

So there you have it — four times the Wrestlemania of the summer was the real Wrestlemania and Wrestlemania was like, uh, the SummerSlam of the spring? You get what I’m saying. Any SummerSlams you look back upon particularly fondly? Hit those comments and share.