Another Summer Slam is in the books and overall, I thought 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 Summer Slam was once the stellar Intercontinental title encounters. 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 large role in ascension to the main event scene while the power of the Warrior nearly blew the roof off of Madison Garden in his rapid pursuit of the gold.
I long for the days when biggest party of the summer produced some of the great I.C. title matches of all time. So, let’s look at ten best held at Summer Slam.
10. Rey Mysterio vs. Dolph Ziggler: Summer Slam 2009
This match happened right around the time where the IWC started getting 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, even in losing, it was evident at the conclusion of the match that ‘The Showoff” has the goods to be a star.
9. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Owen Hart: Summer Slam 1997
The Summer of 1997 was the beginning of a transition period in WWE, and for that matter, the industry at large. The Hart Foundation were the top heels in the United States due to their anti-American agenda, but they were loved everywhere else around the world.
Stone Cold Steve Austin was just starting to find his footing as the anti-hero babyface. Even though his rivalry with Bret Hart is one of his most memorable programs, no one got under the rattlesnake’s skin quite like Owen Hart.
All roads lead to the Continental Airlines Arena for the first ever “Kiss my Ass Match” with the Intercontinental title on the line. Austin would’ve had to pucker up if he failed to wrestle the belt away from Owen.
This match is primarily known as the horrific moment when Owen Hart legitimately spiked Austin on his head with a sit out piledriver. Owen had to stall by parading around the ring while referee Earl Hebner feverishly checked on Austin who went numb. Austin regained just enough feeling to roll up Owen for the 1, 2, and 3 to capture the gold.
Austin nearly having his career ended due to a broken neck was such a big news item, that people forgot that the match before the injury was pretty good. There was heat between the superstars for a while as Owen reportedly never apologized for the injury.
While Austin was able to battle back and become arguably 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 Edge representing WWE.
Storm was the first WCW wrestler to appear after a surprise run-in during a match on Raw, so it was only fitting that he was the first member of the Alliance to win a major singles title in WWE.
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. Storm played his role very well as the fans really wanted Edge to win, and he did just that.
7. Razor Ramon vs. Diesel: Summer Slam 1994
Summer Slam 1994 is primarily known for the amazing Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart steel cage match and the underwhelming Undertaker vs. Undertaker encounter. A match that gets lost in the shuffle is the Intercontinental title match between Diesel and Razor Ramon.
The two Clique members had been feuding throughout the summer of 1994. Diesel had stolen the gold from Razor, and Da Bad Guy wanted it back. The champ had Shawn Michaels in his corner, and the challenger enlisted the services of NFL Hall of Famer Walter Payton.
Diesel and Shawn Michaels came into Summer Slam riding a wave of momentum as they defeated the Headshrinkers the night prior at a house show in Indianapolis, Indiana to capture the tag team titles.
The 23,000 fans inside the United Center that evening were the first patrons of Chicago’s premiere arena and got their money’s worth. Diesel and Razor played the crowd like a fiddle with every bump of the canvas.
Shawn Michaels got involved and Walter Payton found himself in the unusual role of defense as he eventually shut down HBK as Razor pinned the big man to win his second I.C. title.
6. Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Benoit: Summer Slam 2002
Summer Slam 2002 is considered to be the best incarnation of the event from top to bottom. The Intercontinental tittle match more than did its job in adding to that aura.
The brand extension was only five months old as Chris Benoit had jumped from Raw to Smackdown right after winning the title from Rob Van Dam. RVD’s 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 be as good as or better than the original. This rematch, however, is actually really good, it just often gets lost in translation since the first Razor and Shawn ladder match at WrestleMania 10 is one of the greatest matches of all time.
The dynamic was different this time as both men were babyfaces but when the bell rang, Razor played a subtle heel as he turned up the aggression while using the ladder as a weapon.
Shawn Michaels’ push towards the world title was in full swing, and this was not only a win he desperately needed to get back, he needed to pull out a great performance as well. Both men did exactly that as Michaels retain the title.
Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake was originally 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.
Three slaps of the canvas, and the Warrior wins the I.C. title in thirty seconds, 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 help propel the Warrior to greater heights.
WWE was running on all cylinders during 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 what was a tremendous 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 afterwards 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 of 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 life time, 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 and yet, fans walked away from that match in this euphoria of awesome 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 comes to the realization that it’s time to push the guy who everyone on their roster is having 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.