April feels like about four years ago, but it’s actually only four months ago. At that time, I put out a list of horror-fueled moments from WrestleMania. Now that the next of the WWE’s “Big Four” is coming up very soon, it’s time to have a look at the scarier, spookier moments from The Biggest Party of the Summer. Admittedly, it was a little harder to come up with such a list, and even then, some of the moments are barely worth coverage. Which blockbuster moments stood out as the weirdest and wildest of SummerSlam’s thirty-plus year history? In no particular order, here are just a handful.
“The Fiend” Debuts at SummerSlam 2019
To say that the booking for the cult leader incarnation of Bray Wyatt was shoddy is being a bit generous. His character couldn’t buy a win when it counted the most, and even when he finally got his long-overdue run with the WWE Championship, it ended in one of the more mediocre title matches in WrestleMania history. That said, save for this year, the Show of Shows may not have been the best for Wyatt, but SummerSlam absolutely has, and it was at last year’s show that he premiered his new, far more menacing alter ego, “The Fiend.”
With a haunting mask designed by SFX legend Tom Savini, and a lantern bearing the visage of the head of Wyatt’s former look, “The Fiend” made a statement in his new pinstripe black and red pants, entering the arena to an updated version of his old “Live in Fear” theme courtesy of Code Orange. He would then steamroll Finn Balor, who for some reason wasn’t in his Demon King costume (can you imagine that showdown, yes please), in just over three minutes, taking what could have been the death slot between world title matches and making a shocking and meaningful moment out of it. As “The Fiend” looks to lift the Universal Championship from his former Wyatt Family charge Braun Strowman this year, it’s worth looking back at the genesis of the demented character, and how he’s managed to stay compelling from the jump.
Ring of Fire at SummerSlam 2013
Staying on the topic of Bray Wyatt, his former persona was cultist of the swamp, leading his disciples Erick Rowan and Luke Harper on a mission of retribution and destruction, all for the mythical Sister Abigail. How do you get over the latest spooky gimmick? Have him face the horror villain come to life that is “The Big Red Machine” Kane in your debut match, that’s how. Facing the demonic super heavyweight in a Ring of Fire match was an interesting way to debut this rambling roughhouser, but damn if it didn’t work.
Though not the Inferno Match that Kane and Undertaker made famous a decade and a half prior, the bout did what it needed to do: establish a new nightmare by having him dispatch the old nightmare both during the match, then have his cronies decimate him after the bell. Opening a major show such as SummerSlam is a tall order for anyone, but “The Eater of Worlds” made his mark in his first outing.
Taker vs Taker at SummerSlam 1994
Following the ascension of The Undertaker at Royal Rumble, Ted DiBiase promised that The Deadman, the man that he brought into the WWF four years prior, was back from the beyond, and soon, a new Undertaker was on television. This version was played by Brian Lee, who went as far as to train with Undertaker to nail down the moveset and the mannerisms of the man he would play doppelganger to. Before long, Paul Bearer declared that the fix was in, and that the real Undertaker would be back to destroy the imposter at SummerSlam.
Should this have main-evented the show it was on? Even without the power of hindsight, which informs us that the Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart steel cage match was easily one of both men’s finest hours in their careers, absolutely not. But when they’ve tapped the mainstream and brought in Frank Drebin himself to investigate the disappearance of The Undertaker, you know that this angle is going to be a marquee match. This was more spectacle than anything else, but for a wrestler that made returns a big hairy deal, this first major one somehow still hits the deepest.
Brock Lesnar Wounds The Viper at SummerSlam 2016
Regardless of your opinion of his part-time status, Brock Lesnar is a legitimately frightening individual. Skyrocketing to great success in amateur wrestling, pro wrestling, and MMA, The Beast Incarnate has earned that nickname through his ruthless, take no prisoners approach. In the first Pay-Per-View of the second Brand Split, Lesnar took on another Ohio Valley Wrestling graduate, “The Viper” Randy Orton. In a shocking turn of events, the match didn’t end in a pinfall after a series of F-5s, nor did it end with Brock locking in a Kimura Lock.
No, this match added a shocking level of violence, as Lesnar legitimately cracked Orton in the head with his elbow multiple times, drawing blood from The Legend Killer the hard way. The match was called for Lesnar on a TKO, with blood pouring from Orton’s head. Bear in mind that this was in the main event of the show, which means things ended off on a buzzworthy note, but imagine having to explain to your children why the MMA guy busted the wrestler guy in the dome till his head caved in. Even scarier is the fact that very few people had no idea that the finish was going down the way it did, prompting veteran Chris Jericho to confront Lesnar backstage in a fight that nearly got very real, very fast.
Boiler Room Brawl at SummerSlam 1996
I’ve covered this match previously, in part 1 of my In Defense of Cinematic Wrestling column, but it’s such a game-changing match that it needs more coverage. Debuting in the WWF the night after WrestleMania XII, Mankind was a sadistic, unhinged face of Mick Foley, making a statement by going after The Undertaker. In the first of what would be many unique stipulation matches, the two took part in the first Boiler Room Brawl, a no holds barred match that originated in the bowels of the arena, before ending in the ring. The winner would be the first to retrieve the urn from Paul Bearer.
One of the earliest cinematic matches in WWE history, this was a wild affair, with all stops being pulled out. Being that this was in the pre-Titantron days, the crew pulled out television sets to set around ringside, so that the audience could see the carnage unfold backstage. Most memorable from the match was the Cactus Elbow that damaged Foley’s sciatic nerve, as well as the ending of the match, which saw Paul Bearer turn on Undertaker, handing the urn to Mankind after bashing the Deadman in the head with it. Say what you will about today’s cinematic affairs, but this one walked so the Firefly Fun House could run.
Carnage in the Chamber at SummerSlam 2003
The Elimination Chamber is one of WWE’s most consistent stipulation matches. Devised in storyline by then-RAW General Manager Eric Bischoff, the six-man match combines all of the best parts of Hell in a Cell, Royal Rumble, and Survivor Series elimination matches into one Satanic structure. The second-ever Chamber match saw World Heavyweight Champion Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Chris Jericho, Randy Orton, and Goldberg do battle for the Big Gold Belt.
The story here came in the dominance of Goldberg, scoring three of the first four pinfalls in the match, bringing the match down to himself and Triple H. One of the greatest and most lasting visuals of the match was Goldberg nailing Chris Jericho with a Spear through the plexiglass of one of the chamber pods. It appeared as though the former Atlanta Falcon would end the Reign of Terror and win the title, but a sledgehammer supplied by Ric Flair was the dominant Goldberg’s downfall. Did this misfire taint the match’s shine? Somewhat, yes, but it is still one of the earliest examples of a hellish specialty match, one that still is held every year today, on the Elimination Chamber (or No Escape, if you’re in Germany) Pay-Per-View.
Limousine Last Ride at SummerSlam 2004
John “Bradshaw” Layfield may have been the most unlikely WWE Champion in history, at least until Jinder Mahal came along. For his first high-profile title defense, though, he would face The Undertaker. The match itself was what it was, but it unfortunately ended in a disqualification, meaning JBL would keep his championship intact. It was what happened after the match that would make headlines and put an exclamation mark on the Texan’s first title match on a Big Four show.
After fleeing the ring following the final bell, The Deadman and The Wrestling God fought over to JBL’s limousine, and after a scuffle, the two ended up on the roof of the longhorned limo. Before long, the Texan was chokeslammed through the roof of the limousine, giving Undertaker a visual win, despite coming away without the WWE Title. Fun fact, though: the spot was nearly blown by a fan who jumped over the barricade to climb onto the hood of the luxury vehicle. Considering that the hood was gimmicked for the stunt, this could have ended very poorly had the dunderhead completed his vie for his 15 seconds of fame.
Kama in the Casket at SummerSlam 1995
Casket Matches are one type of contest that are forever connected with The Undertaker, especially when talking about the earliest incarnation of the legendary superstar. At the 1995 event, Undertaker took on “The Supreme Fighting Machine” Kama in such a match, and while the result may have been a foregone conclusion, the fact that the real life Mark Calaway and Charles Wright were good friends helped give this match the chemistry and smoothness it needed to be serviceable, if not a fun time.
The last moments of the match saw both competitors fall into the double-wide casket, with Kama crawling out slowly. The Undertaker rose up, lid of the casket cracked, and began to drag Kama towards the interior, in a sequence less pro wrestling and more real-life horror movie. The action briefly returned to the squared circle, before a Chokeslam sent the crowd into a frenzy. One Tombstone Piledriver later, and Undertaker had subdued Kama enough to roll him into the casket, shutting the lid and claiming the win.
Rivalry Renewed at SummerSlam 2010
Kane cashing in the Money in the Bank briefcase on Rey Mysterio for the World Heavyweight Championship was a jaw-dropping beginning to The Big Red Machine’s third World title within the company (first WWF, then ECW World, now the Big Gold Belt). As such, the Master of the 619 demanded his title rematch for SummerSlam, in a losing effort following a Chokeslam. Motivated by the prospect of the luchador being the man who attacked Kane’s brother The Undertaker, putting The Deadman in a “vegetative state,” The Devil’s Favorite Demon kept the match at a slow, methodical pace, slowing down the lightning-fast masked man enough to punish him for his misdeeds.
The strange part was the red casket brought to ringside, which was revealed to have The Undertaker inside. The Deadman confronted Rey before announcing that it was Kane who attacked him, cementing the champion as a heel and leading to a renewal of the Brothers of Destruction’s eternal rivalry.
The Demon King is Crowned at SummerSlam 2016
The goddamn jam belt.
Did this match ruin SummerSlam? Maybe not. But the Brooklyn crowd shat all over this, if only because of that new red belt. When WWE World Champion Dean Ambrose was drafted to SmackDown at the beginning of the new brand split, RAW needed a new top champion and title, and so the Universal Championship was born. The tournament final saw Seth Rollins challenge Finn Balor. In a shocking turn of events, the upstart Balor, who had only been drafted to RAW from NXT one month prior, upset The Architect and snagged the title for himself.
The night had to be snakebit in some respect, as not only did the title belt earn the ire of the crowd, but after a hard powerbomb into the barricade, Balor injured his shoulder, which he even popped back into place on his own mid-match. Despite his fighting through the pain, the injury forced Balor to relinquish the title the following night on RAW. It definitely took some of the air out of this stunning moment, but for just a little while, the New Era felt like it was off to a red-hot start.