Part 3 is here! If you missed the first two, read those and then continue here: Part 1, Part 2.
50. Bret Hart vs Jerry Lawler (1993)
Taken singularly, this is a hell of a good match, as Hart and Lawler meshed wonderfully with their clashing styles, Bret all excellently executing things, and Lawler the cornpone Mempho heel, jabbering with fans and being all cartoonishly dastardly. Bret was good at going with just about anything, and he knew how to work that smaller circuit, heat-getting style, both as a heel and a babyface, because he'd done it in Stampede plenty as a younger man. Early WWF Lawler was a treat, honestly, because he brought his rasslin stylings to the WWF and didn't really change a whole lot to try and fit in. There he was, all 5'9" and fairly unimpressive build, getting mad heat with WWF audiences because it's not really that hard to do if you're well schooled at being a cheap a-hole, and Lawler had 20 years of great experience in that field. The finish of Bret winning clean with the Sharpshooter, then being DQ'd for refusing to let go, is more great stuff, as Lawler gets to claim a victory, Bret clearly actually won and is his superior, and Hart showed that he was looking for more than a W against the King.
49. Sheamus vs Alberto Del Rio (2012)
Not as much heat as the match deserved, but that's the pre-match booking (and months of it, on both guys) telling WWE they didn't do their job with this match, since Sheamus and Del Rio both brought the goods. From 2012-13, Alberto Del Rio was delivering as many great performances in the ring as anyone in WWE, but audiences just never quite bought him as a top star. Really, I don't even know why. His promos were a little repetitive, but that can't be the only thing. If there's an "it" factor, Alberto had just about everything but it, by which I mean "it."
48. Kurt Angle vs Eddie Guerrero (2004)
This is a weird match that I liked a lot more in '04 than I did ten years later on a rewatch. In fact, I really loved this match at the time. Maybe if you haven't seen it a bunch of times already, you will love it the way I did then. It's very different, but I find the pacing very strange now, as it feels almost like some mat wrestling gimmick match for the first third, then it's war of attrition stuff for a few minutes, and then they just sort of run into the finish. One of the main complaints about this match is that it was too short, but I never thought that, really. Now, I get what people might have meant. I mean, they packed in a lot for the time they had, but it missed those moments of breathing time that could have made it more dramatic. That said, the Toronto crowd was kind of horrible for this show, and I don't know if anything could have made this the classic it should have been. I used to prefer this to their WrestleMania XX match, but I don't think that's the case any longer.
47. The Undertaker vs Randy Orton (2005)
Though not as good as their WrestleMania encounter, this one is wildly underrated, as it had the crowd hot, delivered strong action, and picked up about where they'd left off. Orton and Taker had good chemistry. The finish with Randy's dad "Cowboy" Bob "Ace" Orton Jr running in with a bunch of bad makeup on as a fan interrupting the match, leading to a distracted Taker turning into an RKO, wasn't the clean finish of a competitive sporting event some people seem to expect out of professional wrestling, but it kept the heat going.
46. The Rock vs Triple H vs Kurt Angle (2000)
This isn't really a triple threat match, as Angle is attacked by HHH for talkin' love talk ‘bout HHH's lady before Rock can even get in, and THE DAMN HAMMER gets involved, and Angle is carted out before he can really be in the match. So it winds up Rock vs Hunter again, a feud that felt "classic" already, about two years after it started. They put in some quality, and then Stephanie talks Angle into going back out to save her husband. Angle does, kinda, but then tries to win himself. Eventually, The Rock just retains. It's a good Rock-HHH match with some Angle fun thrown in.
45. The Undertaker vs Mankind (1996)
The Boiler Room Brawl wasn't terribly well-received at the time, as it featured little crowd noise, since they recorded it in the back. And this was long before they had gigantic TV screens all over the set, so there were two TVs smaller than the ones in your living room right now sitting ringside to go along with smaller than we're used to video screens. But the match is interesting and the work put in by both Taker and Mankind is strong. Mankind elevated Taker to a new level with his arrival, finally giving him a proper foil who could give him good matches. This match has aged nicely. It's an oddity and even something of a novelty, but it's a very good story, and features Paul Bearer doing the unthinkable, turning on his Undertaker.
44. Shane McMahon vs Test (1999)
Nothing was expected of this match, which was Shane McMahon's first, and Test was still pretty green, too. This "Greenwich Street Fight" gave them the chance to just have a brawl, but even still, it didn't figure to be any good. This revealed a lot of ignorance of how things work among the internet dorks I knew at the time, including myself, as I was 17 then, and 17 year olds are pretty dumb. What we didn't count on was that (1) a brawl can make anyone palatable if the guys go all out, and these two did, and (2) the majority of the audience, which was not us, was emotionally invested in the storyline of Test courting Stephanie McMahon, and Shane objecting. It was love against the odds, a time-tested story, and it worked. Wrestling is about way more than "movesets" and workrate. It's not an actual athletic competition, and it's not a scored routine like figure skating or something. It's about stories, physically and emotionally. This one delivered on both counts.
43. Rey Mysterio vs Dolph Ziggler (2009)
Rey Mysterio has had a really nice SummerSlam career, all things considered. He never had the huge amazing big-time match at Mania (actually, he's never really had one of those in his WWE singles career), but he delivered every time out there. It's kind of wild to go back to 2009 and watch Ziggler, and realize that in 2014, after taking plenty of guff and not getting to the spots he may very well deserve, as he believes that he does, there's no difference in the effort he puts in today. He's still this guy.
42. Edge vs John Cena (2006)
The first third of SummerSlam 2006 was lousy. The rest of the show was a hoot, including this war of a main event between Edge and Cena, who were two of the company's three main stars for that "era," if eras last a few years, and considering Steve Austin was only on top from 1998-2001, sure, yes, a few years can be an era. The Edge/Cena/Orton/And The Rest! time was not the peak of WWE creatively or business-wise by any means, but there were a lot of great matches at the top of the card. This match is booked exceptionally well, which bumps it a bit more than the usual Edge-Cena match, which I always thought lacked just a little something. But that could just be me.
41. Chris Benoit vs Randy Orton (2004)
Outside of some character changes and getting more adept at using his body language for things, and also getting more muscular and having facial hair and way more skull tattoos, Randy Orton is pretty much as good as he was the night he won the world heavyweight title for the first time in 2004, dethroning Chris Benoit to beat Brock Lesnar's record as the youngest world champion in WWE history (though not really, since it was a different title, but whatever). Orton had his best-ever match with Mick Foley at Backlash 2004, so that sort of tells you how much I like Randy Orton's last 10 gruesome years of being a guy who deserves every bit of hate John Cena gets and then some, because he doesn't have the library of classic matches Cena does, but Orton always turns heel when it's time for him to turn heel (since he's a natural heel), and Cena just keeps being the hero, which I guess is the real issue, because even if he's better, for staleness, no one tops white bread hero Cena. Anyway, Benoit put Orton over beautifully on this night, and then WWE flubbed the whole thing and cut Orton's legs out from under him as soon as they could. It was weird.
40. Mankind vs Hunter Hearst Helmsley (1997)
An underrated cage match, an underrated Foley-HHH match, and an underrated match in general. I'm a big fan of the chemistry these two had, and Foley not only helped legitimize HHH as champion in early 2000, after Hunter had floundered for a bit in late '99, but he helped elevate him in '97, too, with a really fun summer feud. Mankind got to dive off the cage here, having opened up his shirt and removed his mask to reveal a Dude Love heart "tattoo," but he'd also sweat a bunch and it had largely rubbed off. Chyna crushes Mankind's skull at one point with the cage door.
39. Randy Savage vs The Ultimate Warrior (1992)
For all of the Warrior's faults in the ring, he had great chemistry with Savage, which resulted from the fact that their dueling psychotic personalities dovetailed nicely, whether Savage was heel, as he was for their 1991 classic at WrestleMania VII, or face, as he was here. The story building up to this match was that Mr. Perfect (and thus Ric Flair) would be in the corner of one of these men, but it was a mystery which man it would be. Flair and Perfect made their way to ringside about halfway into the contest, interfered against Savage first, then Warrior a few times, then Savage, then both, and we wound up with a countout win for the Warrior, with Savage keeping his title. They didn't match the greatness of their Mania epic, and the Flair/Perfect bit hurt some of the match's overall flow, but this was another case of Savage's hyper attention to detail and putting matches together really bringing the best out of the Warrior. They didn't have the prettiest matches by any means, but they knew how to wring every ounce of drama they could of their showdowns.
38. Ric Flair vs Mick Foley (2006)
There are a million reasons to think this match is listed too high, and I would be open to them. For me, though, this is a late-career clash of two of my all-time favorite wrestlers, maybe the last match either of them had where I think the juice was worth the squeeze. Both bleed all over, because they're Ric Flair and Mick Foley, and Flair takes advantage of Foley's softening over time. Would Cactus Jack have relented and said "I quit" just because Flair was going to hit Melina with a barbed wire baseball bat? Actually, maybe. Even at his most demented, when pushed, Foley's characters wound up having some kind of heart buried deep down. Flair, when he was at his most ruthless, which he taps into for this match after taking a brutal beating early, had no heart, and still does not. That's the difference. And that's why Ric Flair wins, and why he should have won.
37. Steve Austin vs The Undertaker (1998)
The drama was big, and the match felt huge at the time. Undertaker had a legitimate shot to win, in part because they'd shown in June that they weren't against taking the belt off of Austin, even if only for a day, when Austin lost to Kane at King of the Ring. So Undertaker had a chance here, and that always helps a title match. This wasn't the prettiest match, and really the two of them never got together to have a great match, because the timing just never lined up right to put them together for one, but it's a really good main event brawl with a hot crowd at MSG, where both guys were favorites.
36. Shawn Michaels vs Vader (1996)
One of my most overstated arguments is probably my feelings on Michaels-Vader. They should have been the best feud of the 90s. It was perfect. But Shawn didn't like Vader, didn't want to work with Vader, and damn sure didn't want to lose the title to Vader, which he was supposed to in this match, so the legend goes. Instead, we got a really weird series of finishes, as Michaels was first counted out, then convinced to come back, then disqualified, convinced to continue (both times by Jim Cornette), and then he just, you know, won. Vader never really got back into the main event picture as anything more than filler. Two months after this, he was losing to Sid on PPV, and Sid took the belt from Shawn at Survivor Series, and outside of a great performance in the Final Four PPV main event in February '97, Vader was just a big mid-card guy from here. He got the shaft in the WWF, and Shawn Michaels is largely to blame. And for what it's worth, what they did do here, which was far weaker than it should have been, was quite good. Take away the frustration of what it's not, and it remains a hell of a match.
35. Kurt Angle vs Rey Mysterio (2002)
Angle and Mysterio had underrated chemistry together, and I always loved the way they worked. This was Rey's first WWE PPV match, as he'd just come into the company. He and Angle opened the 2002 SummerSlam, and tore it up, setting a killer pace, with Angle getting to play big tough bully, which he's great at when he gets the chances, and Mysterio as the world's best underdog, which he's been most of his career. It's tough to go back to 2002 and watch Rey, because he could still fly, and he'd already slowed down significantly from 1996-97; when you compare it to what he is now, it's not sad because Rey's so much worse, because that's just the ravages of time, but as a reminder of our own decaying selves, and our mortality and vulnerability. HEY! THIS IS A FUN CONVO!
34. Booker T vs The Rock (2001)
The first (and last) WCW title match in SummerSlam history saw Booker T in the final match of the night, quite absurdly, defending against The Rock. It was a natural rivalry, as they shared a finisher (Rock Bottom vs Bookend), and they meshed nicely in promos and what have you leading up to the match. This was also Rock's big return to PPV after going off to shoot a movie or whatever he was doing, I don't remember, exactly. For having little experience working together, Booker and Rock delivered a hell of a match, also in an unenviable position of having to follow the Austin-Angle war that preceded them, which really should have gone on last, but with the way the two matches were booked to end, this was the right call, since the fans could go home happy with The Rock as the new WCW champion, kipping up to drop a spinaroonie-finishing Booker T with the Rock Bottom for the win.
33. Alberto Del Rio vs Christian (2013)
On a card that had two really exceptional matches in the two main events, Alberto Del Rio and Christian put on a third great match, which might have made 2013 the best SummerSlam of all-time, in terms of the quality of the show. I suppose if you thought that ending was just too gross to bear, you might disagree. While Punk and Lesnar did a Lesnar match, and Cena and Bryan did the ultra-epic final showdown between good and good, Alberto and Christian went out and had a top-level match of their own. Alberto had been showing a great mean streak, and it came into play here, too, as he viciously attacked Christian's injured shoulder and finished him with an armbar. They only got about 12 minutes, but boy did they make them all count.
32. Ken Shamrock vs Owen Hart (1998)
Maybe I'm crazy, but this is a truly excellent match. It's the Lion's Den Match, following July's Dungeon Match at Fully Loaded. Whereas that match didn't have a live audience reacting in the Dungeon, this one did, as the WWF put together an Octagon-like structure in The Theater at Madison Square Garden, downstairs from the main arena, where the rest of the show was held, and sold tickets to watch on big ("big") screens and get to see this match live and up close. The heat was good, and the action was non-stop. Shamrock was good at the fake shoot style, and Owen could hold his own with that, too, since it sort of echoed the way he was trained. Dan Severn is cageside as Owen's coach, but he bails when Shamrock gets the ankle lock and Owen asks for the towel to be thrown, leaving Owen to tap out.
31. Lance Storm vs Edge (2001)
You know how sometimes a couple of good wrestlers have a match on a pay-per-view, and then they have the really good match you expect them to have? That's this match. Storm and Edge were both operating at a high level in 2001, with Edge on the way up and Storm comfortably plateaued at as relevant as he'd ever get in his career. This is a terrific straight up wrestling match. Storm carries this one somewhat, as Edge was yet to really break through as a singles guy, and this might have been Edge's best singles match to this point. He'd start topping it not long after this, though, and would eventually have much better matches. Edge won the I-C belt here, returning it to WWF territory after its stay in the Alliance. THE ALLIANCE!
30. The Ultimate Warrior vs Rick Rude (1989)
Rude had upset the Warrior at WrestleMania V to lift the Intercontinental title, and Warrior was looking to regain it at SummerSlam, since that was the next pay-per-view. Rude and Warrior had a certain weird chemistry in that Warrior didn't actually look like a better wrestler when in with Rude, but he was somehow able to seem like he looked like he was a better wrestler when in with Rude, if that makes sense. It might not. Warrior looked no more crisp or accomplished against Rude, but Rude's goofy selling worked with Warrior's sloppy, rudimentary offense, and their personalities were a nice mix, too, as Rude's arrogant sex machine gimmick just sort of bounced off of Warrior's insane painted man from another planet persona. Rude couldn't mock Warrior with hip gyrations, he could only offend his mighty and noble spirit. Roddy Piper interferes at the end of this to hurt your star rating, but it's a hell of a match, and was by far Warrior's best match to this point.
29. Steve Austin vs Triple H vs Mankind (1999)
SummerSlam '99 was built around Jesse Ventura, now Governor of Minnesota, returning to the WWF to referee the main event in his home state. This became a triple threat through sort of weird circumstances, and Mankind winning the belt was a "through the back door" sort of thing, and a definite upset. HHH won his first WWF title the next night on RAW. It's a really well-done three-way brawl, which nicely set up HHH's big title win. Hunter didn't truly get over as champion until January 2000, though.
28. Bret Hart vs The Undertaker (1997)
SummerSlam '97 is a really underrated show. The Mankind-Helmsley cage match is really good, Shamrock-Bulldog is fun, Owen-Austin is great, and this match is great, too. This is a match with two big names at a key point in WWE history that never really gets its due. Bret and Taker both put in a monster effort in making a good, long match that has a true main event feel. The crowd is hot, in part because Bret was hugely over as a heel, in part because Undertaker might have finally given him what's for after a summer of badmouthing the US of A, and in part because Shawn Michaels is really great as the special guest referee, playing the role far better than most anyone has ever done. After calling the match down the middle all the way, Michaels eventually loses it and takes a swing at Bret with a steel chair, missing and hitting Undertaker. This kicked off a great Michaels-Undertaker rivalry in the fall of '97 that stretched to Royal Rumble '98 (and was renewed later with arguably the two best matches in WWE history), and it marked Bret Hart's fifth and final time winning the WWF title, which would of course set up the Montreal Screwjob three months later at Survivor Series.
27. Chris Jericho vs Dolph Ziggler (2012)
Jericho's last few part-time comebacks have mostly left me a little cold, but they do work in the sense that he can still wrestle his ass off. His 2012 feud with Ziggler, who poked that Jericho couldn't win the big one, while Jericho claimed Ziggler would never be Chris Jericho, worked nicely. We sort of saw the same "older guy vs new hotshot that is kind of reminiscent of him" thing with Jericho and Shawn Michaels before this, and of course it's been done many times over in the history of rasslin. Of course, it was a little weirder here, since Jericho had won The Big One, but whatever. The worst part of this match is when Michael Cole fails to acknowledge (or understand) the obvious relevance of Ziggler's "C'MON, BABY!" pin on Jericho.
26. Owen Hart vs Steve Austin (1997)
To this point, despite breaking out as a top star toward the end of '96 following his King of the Ring win in June, Austin had never won a singles title. This was to be his first step toward the WWF title. It was, but he also got his neck broken by a messy sit-out tombstone piledriver from Owen Hart. If that had gone even a little bit more wrong, the Attitude Era might honestly never have happened. Who knows where we'd be today? The WWF was rebounding artistically in '97, but business was still not good, and they were being creamed by WCW. This match has an understandably weak finish, as Austin heroically but quite limply rolls Owen up for the win after the bad piledriver, but other than that, it's a great match between two guys who had a lot of chemistry. Though it wasn't quite Austin's first crowning moment as a babyface like imagined, it still wound up leading him to his first WWF title at the next WrestleMania, and the Austin Era kicked off, anyway.
TOMORROW! Nos. 25-11 in part four!