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Dive Into The Captivating History of WWE SummerSlam By Revisiting These Iconic Moments

From iconic moments to unforgettable matches, SummerSlam has always lived up to its moniker of “The Biggest Party of the Summer”

By Chris Phelan
Seth Rollins at SummerSlam holding two belts up

With SummerSlam only one day away, the WWE Universe is officially chomping at the bit to witness what will undoubtedly be the hottest and most action-packed night of the summer.

Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar in a Last Man Standing Match for the WWE Undisputed Universal Championship headlines one of the strongest Premium Live Events in recent memory. Can Nissan Stadium handle what may be the last meeting ever between these two larger-than-life Superstars?

Not to be overshadowed by the men, Bianca Belair will also defend her Raw Women’s Championship against none other than Becky Lynch. The last time these two women met at SummerSlam, Lynch handily defeated Belair in just over 20 seconds. What will the end result be in Nashville?

The matches themselves aren’t the only thing the WWE Universe has to look forward to. What memorable moments will unfold before our eyes thanks to Triple H being promoted to Head of Creative just last week?

Will Seth “Freaking” Rollins — now without a SummerSlam match due to the brachial plexus injury Riddle suffered on Monday Night Raw — make his presence known? Rollins isn’t one to sit back and watch events unfold around him, after all …

Needless to say, the 2022 edition of SummerSlam, which premieres on Peacock on July 30, will be one for the history books.

But speaking of history, the yearly event billed as the “biggest party of the summer” has quite a backstory, from its humble beginnings as a standard WWE pay-per-view event to the jaw-dropping spectacle it has become in the present day.

In order to fully appreciate tomorrow evening’s SummerSlam, it’s important to know the history of the event itself, as well as all the major moments that have happened during it.

The First Edition

In 1988, the pay-per-view industry was heating up, and WWE was looking to expand its reach and capitalize on the growing revenue source. With WrestleMania slotted in as their annual major spring event, the Royal Rumble usually taking place in January, and Survivor Series as their fall event, it only made sense to add an annual pay-per-view event that takes place in the summer months.

Thus, SummerSlam was born.

The inaugural edition of SummerSlam featured a main event of the Mega Powers of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage in tag team action against the Mega Bucks, consisting of Andre the Giant and “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. The Mega Powers procured the win in the end in an exciting match.

But the most memorable moment of the 1988 SummerSlam wasn’t the main event – rather, it was a moment that eventually turned into the most iconic incidents of in the history of WWE: When the Ultimate Warrior answered an open challenge and defeated The Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental Championship, quickly ending Honky Tonk Man’s seemingly-never ending title reign after one of the quickest championship matches in history.

The reaction by the crowd in Madison Square Garden that night still gives many in the WWE Universe goosebumps to this day, and it stands as one of the most iconic moments in SummerSlam history.

Right from its inception in 1988, SummerSlam had a reputation for delivering classic moments – and matches. It was clear that WWE had another hit pay-per-view on their hands, and thus the decision to permanently slot the event during the dog days of summer was made.

The 1992 Edition

Considered by many to be one of the greatest technical wrestling matches of all time, the 1992 edition of SummerSlam — coming from Wembley Stadium in London — featured a main event for the Intercontinental Championship.

In front of over 80,000 people, Bret “Hitman” Hart defended the Intercontinental Title against the British Bulldog, who had the hometown crowd’s full support.

This legendary match has to be seen to be believed. No spoilers here, because the match is just that good:

Many experts and historians believe this match represents the high watermark for Intercontinental Championship matches, and we’d be hard-pressed to disagree. On an episode of WWE’s The Bump in August 2020, Bret Hart had this to say about the match: “I put a lot of thought into the match itself, and I just knew and could feel if Davey could hang with me long enough, we were gonna carry this match into the history books,” Hart said. “It was one of my greatest matches for sure, and it may very well be the greatest match of all time.”

The 1997 SummerSlam

What if we told you that in 1997, there was a SummerSlam main event that turned out to be a catalyst for some of the biggest storylines — both onscreen and off — in WWE history?

It’s true.

The 1997 edition of SummerSlam featured a main event of Bret “Hitman” Hart defeating The Undertaker for the WWE Championship when special guest referee Shawn Michaels accidentally hit the Dead Man with a steel chair.

The shocking conclusion to this match not only saw the Undertaker lose his coveted WWE Championship, but it also jumpstarted some of the most famous storylines in WWE history. The wild ending of this match directly led to what many believe to be the best match in WWE history: the first-ever Hell in a Cell Match that took place later that year between the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. But it also indirectly led to the WWE debut of Kane, who appeared near the end of that bloody match to cost his brother Undertaker the victory, starting a feud that would last over 20 years!

As for Bret Hart, the SummerSlam main event would further his feud with Shawn Michaels, eventually leading to the Montreal Screwjob and Hart’s eventual defection to WCW later in 1997.

The 2002 SummerSlam

Let’s fast-forward to 2002, which featured a main event that would sell out stadiums across the world — even today. SummerSlam 2002, hailing from New York’s Nassau Coliseum, boasted one of the biggest main events of all-time: Brock Lesnar challenging none other than The Rock for the WWE Undisputed Championship.

There has never been a WWE Superstar quite like Brock Lesnar. After debuting in March 2002, he rocketed up the ranks at a breakneck speed and found himself in the main event of SummerSlam less than six months later. That’s impressive in its own right.

What’s even more impressive is that he cleanly pinned The Rock — in his prime — and managed to make such a dent in The Great One’s ego that this turn of events caused The Rock to leave the WWE in favor of a new career in Hollywood.

To think that Brock Lesnar is still running rampant in the WWE nearly 20 later is a testament to the physical marvel that the Beast Incarnate truly is. It would be yet another tip in Brock Lesnar’s (cowboy) hat if he were able to defeat Roman Reigns and capture the WWE Undisputed Universal Championship a full two decades after he beat The Rock.

But what’s arguably even more shocking than seeing a young Brock Lesnar defeating the biggest name in sports entertainment in 2002?Realizing that Paul Heyman once had hair! (Oh man, we hope he’s not reading this.)

The 2008 Edition

In 2008 in front of a sold-out crowd at the Canseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, the Undertaker and Edge stole the show as they competed inside Hell in a Cell in one of the most memorable SummerSlam main events of all time.

This hellacious match had it all: drama, action, captivating storytelling, and breathtaking moments. In the end, the Undertaker sealed the victory with a Tombstone Piledriver after an instant classic.

What is most notable though, is what happened after the match. The Dead Man reached the entranceway after his especially hard-fought victory and the WWE Universe assumed the show was ending … until the Undertaker decided to head back to the ring, where he grabbed Edge and delivered one of the most deadly maneuvers in history: Aacatastrophic chokeslam off the top of a ladder that sent Edge crashing through the ring.

It was one of the first times in modern WWE history when a move was so powerful it broke the ring, and a large contingent of the WWE Universe believe that this particular chokeslam was the start of the neck issues that Edge would deal with later in his career. It’s fair to say that from a physical standpoint Edge was never the same again.

But let’s be honest, there isn’t enough space on the entire internet to list all of the iconic moments and matches that have occurred across SummerSlam's history. We haven't even mentioned some of the all-time greats like John Cena, Triple H, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin ,and other Superstars who made their mark on SummerSlam each and every time they performed.

We glossed over many memorable moments and matches because in all honesty, over SummerSlam's 35+ year history, it has been nothing but memorable moments and matches. There’s something about the summer season that injects a certain amount of magic into WWE Superstars when they walk down that aisle and step through those ropes during a SummerSlam event.

On Saturday, July 30, the doors open to the biggest party of the summer once again — and the WWE Universe is invited to witness even more unforgettable moments and matches. Here's to another SummerSlam for the history books!

Make sure to watch SummerSlam Saturday, July 30 on Peacock to catch all the action!