Another SummerSlam is in the books, and overall, it was a good show. One of the matches featured Ryback defeating The Miz and Big Show to retain the Intercontinental title. However, it was a far cry from the classics of yesteryear.
Just like WrestleMania is known for its world title matches, a hallmark of SummerSlam was the stellar Intercontinental Title bouts. They weren’t just great in-ring spectacles, but they often served as a defining moment for a wrestler’s career.
Bret Hart’s impressive back-to-back performances for the coveted title played a prominent role in ascension to the main event scene.
Many long for the days when “the biggest party of the summer” produced unforgettable IC Title matches.
Let’s look at Ten Best Intercontinental Title Matches held at SummerSlam.
10. Rey Mysterio vs. Dolph Ziggler: Summer Slam 2009
This match happened right around the time where the IWC jumped on the Dolph Ziggler bandwagon. Both men matched each other move-for-move in an exciting opening contest that energized the entire show.
While Mysterio went in and walked out as champion, many people felt this was the time to give Ziggler his first big win. Still, it was evident after the match that ‘The Showoff” has the goods to be a star even in losing.
9. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Owen Hart: Summer Slam 1997
The historical significance of Austin’s career-altering injury overshadows the exciting match he and Owen had before a hellacious sit-out piledriver.
WWE was in a transition period during the summer of 1997. Stone Cold Steve Austin found his footing as the anti-hero babyface, and no one got under the rattlesnake’s skin like Owen Hart.
New Jersey’s Continental Airlines Arena hosted the first-ever “Kiss my Ass Match.” Austin would have to “pucker up” if he failed to wrestle the IC Title away from Owen.
Crisp action and lots of trash talk highlighted the affair. Both wrestlers had the crowd in the palm of their hand. What was a classic in the making became something much worse.
While Austin was able to battle back and become the biggest star in the history of the wrestling business, his first I.C. title win will always be remembered as the moment where his career was irrevocably shortened.
8. Edge vs. Lance Storm: Summer Slam 2001
Despite the utter failure of the Invasion Angle in 2001, it produced a handful of great moments. One of them was the opening contest of Summer Slam, pitting the Alliance’s Lance Storm against WWE’s Edge.
Storm was the first WCW/Alliance wrestler to appear on WWE television and win a major singles title. Storm played his role very well as the fans wanted Edge to win, and he did just that.
The two Canadians produced a great match that serves as an example of how the first match can set the pace of an entire show instead of simply being a “curtain jerker” affair.
7. Razor Ramon vs. Diesel: Summer Slam 1994
SummerSlam 1994 is known for the amazing Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart cage match and the underwhelming Undertaker vs. Undertaker encounter. Diesel vs. Razor Ramon for the Intercontinental Title is a forgotten gem on this card.
The two Clique members had been feuding throughout the summer. Diesel had stolen the gold, and “Da Bad Guy” wanted it back.
The champ had Shawn Michaels in his corner, and Razor enlisted the services of NFL Hall of Famer Walter Payton.
Diesel and Shawn Michaels came into the show riding a wave of momentum. They defeated the Headshrinkers the night prior at a house show to capture the Tag Team Titles.
Diesel and Razor played the crowd like a fiddle with every bump of the canvas. Michaels got involved, and Walter Payton found himself in an unusual defense role. ‘Sweetness” shut down HBK allowing Razor to pin Diesel to win his second IC Title.
SummerSlam was the inaugural event held in Chicago’s United Center, garnering a sold-out crowd of 23,000 fans.
6. Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Benoit: Summer Slam 2002
SummerSlam 2002 is considered to be the best incarnation of the event from top to bottom. The Intercontinental Title match more than did its job in adding to that aura.
The brand extension was in its infancy as Chris Benoit jumped from Raw to Smackdown right after winning the title from Rob Van Dam. A rematch clause was the only thing that made this inter-brand match possible.
Benoit’s intensity, coupled with RVD’s high-impact athleticism, produced a wrestling fan’s delight. In the end, RVD’s recaptured the gold and brought it back to Eric Bishoff’s Raw.
5. Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon Ladder Match: Summer Slam 1995
Sequels often fail to live up to the original. The second Ramon/Micheals Ladder Match, however, is arguably better than its predecessor.
The rematch gets lost in translation due to the historic nature of their encounter at WrestleMania 10.
The dynamic was different as both men were babyfaces, but when the bell rang, Razor played a subtle heel and turned up the aggression while using the ladder as a weapon.
Shawn Michaels’ push towards the world title was in full swing, and he needed to pull out an outstanding performance. Both men did exactly that as Michaels retained the title.
4. Honky Tonk Man vs. Ultimate Warrior: Summer Slam 1988
Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake was initially scheduled to face the Honkey Tonk Man for the Intercontinental Title at the inaugural Summer Slam. Thanks to a sneak attack from “Outlaw” Ron Bass a week before the event, Beefcake was taken out of commission.
The night arrived, and Honky didn’t want to know who his opponent was because he didn’t care since he said he would beat any man. The Ultimate Warrior ran down the ring, and Honky sold every punch, clothesline, and big splash like he had been shot.
1-2-3, and the Warrior won the title, much to the delight of the fans inside the Garden. Later in the evening, Honky proclaimed that he would fight any man, but he never said anything about fighting a Warrior.
Even though Honky Tonk Man lost the title in 30 seconds, it was the way he sold everything that made this such a momentous occasion and helped propel the Warrior to greater heights.
3. The Rock vs. Triple H Ladder Match: Summer Slam 1998
WWE was running on all cylinders in 1998 as the Attitude Era was in full swing. Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker were the two babyfaces in the company while budding superstars The Rock and Triple H shared the number two spot.
Both men were itching to break through and become the company’s top star. However, while they each held various titles and were very much over with the audience, they were both missing that star-making match to put them over the top.
The Rock and Triple stole the show that evening as they brought their own flair to the ladder match. Triple H won the I.C. title that night, but it was clear afterward that keeping either man in the mid-card ranks would be a fool’s errand.
The Rock went on to win the WWE title three months later, and Triple H would turn on D- Generation X and capture that same belt a year later.
2. Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect: Summer Slam 1991
In 1991, Mr. Perfect was one of the top heels in the WWF, while Bret Hart was primarily a tag team wrestler who just started to branch out into singles competition. Perfect had battled the likes of Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior, so it seemed highly unlikely that the “Pink and Black Attack” could dethrone the perfect champion.
Madison Square Garden held another classic as Hart didn’t just hold his own; he matched Perfect move-for-move and hold-for-hold in a thrilling contest. Hart won his first singles title that night and was also made into a star. Perfect deserves a lot of credit for wrestling the match with a hurt back. He could have pulled out, but he respected the” Hitman” too much to do that.
1. Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith: Summer Slam 1992
Summer Slam 1992 was the first and only time a major WWE pay-per-view took place outside North America. It was also the first and only time that an Intercontinental championship match would headline a pay-per-view as well.
Some wrestlers have great matches that will always be remembered in some way, shape, or form. Others have that once in a lifetime, career-defining match that cements your spot in the industry. Davey Boy Smith pinned Bret Hart to win the Intercontinental title in front of 78,927 screaming fans in Wembley Stadium. Hart lost the title, but he gained so much more in defeat.
Bret carried the match from bell to bell in an exciting contest where the fans loved Bulldog and booed Hart’s every move, and he didn’t do anything heel-ish. He just worked over a national hero until he made one mistake that cost him the victory. The fans were not smartened up back then, so it made Bret Hart’s rise to prominence more intriguing.
I attribute it to subliminal psychology. He lost, yet fans walked away from that match in this euphoria of excellent wrestling, and even though you couldn’t articulate it at the time, our subconscious was saying, “Thank you, Bret.”
He was untouchable after that match, and merely setting him up for a third IC title run would have felt empty and flat because he ascended higher than his perceived destiny of mid-card status. Sometimes a promoter realizes that it’s time to push the guy who everyone on their roster has their best matches with.
42 days later, Bret Hart defeated Ric Flair to win his first world title. Bret Hart confirmed at his Hall Fame induction speech in 2005 that this was the best match of his career, and it’s not hard to understand why.