If you’re too cold, you turn the heating up. If you’re too hot, you drink a cold drink. And if like me you recently watched, reviewed, and suffered through the WORST WWE PPV of all time then you try and counter that by making sure your next blog post is all about (possibly) the BEST WWE PPV of all time. And my oh my was this show some ‘GOOD SHIT’! Emanating from the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Long Island, New York in front of just under 15,000 fans WWE put on a show that had one of the most stacked cards in history, including: the WWE PPV debut of Rey Mysterio, the return to WWE in-ring action (after FOUR YEARS away) of Shawn Michaels and in the main event, a then new-to-Hollywood star The Rock would defend the WWE Undisputed Championship against a young upstart who had just won the King of the Ring tournament… some kid named ‘BROCKKKKK LESNARRRRRR’! In terms of where the company was at in this era pretty much business in all areas was on the decline, but I had heard rave reviews of this show before and have watched matches here and there from it previously, but hadn’t taken the time to watch the full show and really look into it. Having now done just that I can confirm this show was… exceptional! Many will say WrestleMania 17 is the best WWE show ever, however I would argue that show has more than a few absolutely terrible matches, and the end of the show sees the top babyface turn heel and the subsequent run flopped hard. So in my humble opinion I liked to formally declare that SummerSlam from the year 2002 may well be (and in my opinion IS) the best WWE PPV of all time.
Michael Cole welcomed us to the show, whilst also cutting to live footage of fans watching on from ‘The World’ elsewhere in New York City. It would be Cole and co-commentator Tazz calling the SmackDown matches on the show, whilst the familiar voices of Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler would call the action from the superstars of Monday Night Raw. Tony Chimel would be the ring announcer for the SmackDown matches, and the legendary Howard Finkel (more on him later, sadly it’s one of the two real low-points of this show) would do the ring announcing duties for the Raw side.
Kurt Angle defeated Rey Mysterio
Angle came out first to a decent pop, before the typical ‘YOU SUCK’ chants from the crowd. Mysterio’s music played after for what would be his WWE PPV debut… but as Kurt and the rest of us were looking towards the entrance ramp suddenly Rey came from behind Angle and hit a springboard-hurricanrana off the ropes that sent Angle flying. The match got properly underway with a really hot start and the action was pretty fast paced throughout. At one stage Angle dodged a 619 attempt and yanked Mysterio out of the ring, which was a simple yet genius spot. The psychology on display between the two men was fantastic; Angle playing party-pooper to the high flying Mysterio and kicked things up a gear when he pulled down the straps from his wrestling vest. The highlight of the match came not long after; Angle went flying to the outside over the ropes and as Mysterio went to go after him the referee held him back as it appeared Kurt was hurt, so instead Rey went and did a great dive OVER the referee AND the ropes onto Angle on the outside of the ring. Mysterio seemed to have finally gained an advantage at this stage and soon hit a leg drop off a springboard for a nearfall. Soon after Kurt went for an Ankle lock but Rey flipped him into the middle ropes and hit the 619 followed by a West Coast Pop, only for Kurt to kick out at 2 which the crowd went wild for. Both men found themselves perched on the top rope after this, and Mysterio went to perform a top rope hurricinrana only for Angle to reverse it into an Ankle Lock, and as much as Rey tried he had no choice but to tap out to give Kurt the big win. This was a really good opener to the pay per view and although it only went around 10 minutes, I’d have happily seen it go on for another 10. For the time they had they put on a match that was absolutely as good as they possibly could have. Great stuff.
SmackDown GM Stephanie McMahon was backstage bragging about how good her brand was, only to find the Raw GM Eric Bischoff in HER office! They had a back and forth bragging about who had the better brand and who would come out of SummerSlam the better… this was just… kind of there for the sake of it seemingly…
Ric Flair defeated Chris Jericho
The on-screen build up to this match saw Jericho beat down Flair on Raw, and Ric responded later on that night by coming out during a performance of Chris Jericho’s band Fozzy and beating on both Jericho and the set. Away from the cameras the build up was even more fascinating. RIC FLAIR, the 16 time world champion and possible the best to ever do it, was suffering from a lack of self belief around this time. He didn’t think he could… ‘hang’ with the top guys anymore. It took a pep talk from his opponent here to remind him exactly who he was, and in fact it was Jericho who pitched the idea of the finishing move for the match. So we know the Nature Boy wasn’t so confident going in, but I can confirm he could indeed STILL hang with one of the best. These two guys went out there and they had a solid professional wrestling FIGHT! It was really put into context this clash of generations when Jim Ross on commentary pointed out that Chris Jericho was 2 years old when Ric Flair made his debut. They went back and forth for most of the match and they chopped the heck out of one another. Y2J went for the Walls of Jericho only for Flair to counter into an inside cradle for a 2 count nearfall. After Jericho chopped Flair some more he hit a bulldog and followed up with an attempt at the Lionsault, only for Flair to move out of the way. In a big twist of irony it was Chris Jericho who put the Figure 4 leg lock on to Ric Flair and in a very interesting moment Flair got his hand onto the ropes to break the hold, but also tapped the mat as well. Jericho was convinced he had won but the ref told him Flair got to the ropes first so the match went on, Jericho was pissed and in his aggression there was a collision that sent the ref down. And with that in mind the so-called ‘Dirtiest player in the game’ Ric Flair would take advantage and hit Jericho with a low blow, before placing his opponent in the Figure 4, and Chris Jericho tapped out! A really fun match that told the story of the much-loved veteran showing the cocky younger guy that he could still go, and despite his pre-match skepticism I can confirm Ric Flair STILL could go. Really good stuff from BOTH. What’s as funny as Jericho having to remind one of the best ever who he was and that he could still go, is the fact at this time the idea was from Vince for Ric to have this be part of his ‘last hurrah’, one last run with good matches before phasing him out of the ring and into a character-focused role. Ric would not have his last WWE match for another 5 and a half years or so.
Brock Lesnar was warming up and getting ready for his match backstage alongside Paul Heyman, whom reminded Brock that he had killed Hulk Hogan and talked him up huge ahead of his match in the main event against The Rock. Heyman said the line that Lesnar would become the ‘undisputed heavyweight champion of the world’… of course we didn’t know it then, but we would hear Heyman say something along these lines for many, many years to come…
Edge defeated Eddie Guerrero
This is a heck of a card right? So the latest match on this STACKED show saw a vindictive Latino Heat take on a rising star in Edge (who got a HUGE pop when he came out). Edge at this time had the song ‘Never Gonna Stop’ by Rob Zombie which was an AWESOME theme. To give you more of an idea of where these two guys stood in the company at this time, it was alluded to on the ‘Something To Wrestle with Bruce Prichard’ podcast that Eddie was somewhat of a ‘gatekeeper’ and this match was put together with the idea that if Edge could keep up with Guerrero here then they were all good to put the rocket on him. Michael Cole on commentary said of Edge before the match that he was the ‘future of SmackDown’ … which given Edge would retire with just the ELEVEN world title reigns to his name, and most of those coming whilst a member of the SmackDown roster, I think we can say Michael Cole’s proclamation was accurate. So the match itself was really solid and good stuff (you seeing a pattern develop with this show yet?), the main theme was Eddie working on Edge’s injured shoulder with different types of holds and submission moves. They mixed really well together here, one spot where Edge went for a Spear but Eddie dropkicked him in mid-air which looked cool. Edge later hit the ‘Edgecution’ DDT only for Guerrero to kick out at 2 1/2. Eddie would come close himself to getting the win with his signature frog splash right onto Edge’s hurt shoulder only to get a nearfall. But it would be the very popular babyface who would get the big win with the Spear to a giant pop from the crowd. This was really solid stuff and Edge was made to look tremendous by Eddie here. Edge would suffer a big injury in February of the next year that would put him out for over a year but at this stage he was well and truly on the rise.
We had a really funny segment with Jonathan Coachman conducting a backstage interview with the World Tag Team Champions ‘The Un-Americans’ Lance Storm and Christian, with their ‘heavy’ Test in the background. Essentially both Storm and Christian kept up their gimmick and said about how the fans would probably just ‘sit on their hands’. It was simple but really good heel work.
The Un-Americans (Lance Storm & Christian) (C) defeated Booker T & Goldust to retain the World Tag Team Championship
The heels were booed and the babyfaces were cheered, so that alone tells you they told this story well in the build-up. The Un-Americans by the way had with them their symbolic upside-down American flag, which is a genius heat-magnet by the way. There were plenty of ‘USA,USA’ chants throughout as the crowd really got behind the challengers. If you’re looking for a solid wrestling match then you probably couldn’t find four more reliable workers than these guys. They got the heat on Goldust for a while, this led to a hot tag to Booker only for the ref to not see it and as he was arguing with an angry Booker T the heels then got to work on Goldust 2 on 1. With the referee pre-occupied again at another point the Canadian pair of Storm and Christian both grabbed steel chairs and swung at Goldust, only for him to move so they hit one another instead! Again the ref was knocked down and this then led to Booker T hitting the scissor kick to both men, celebrating with a Spinaroonie, hitting the big kick and getting the cover… but the ref was still down! Later Lance Storm went to use the belt as a weapon, but that was thwarted. After this the other Un-American Test ran down and hit Booker with the big boot (Goldust was taken out the picture by Christian at this point), and Lance Storm took advantage to pin Booker T for the 1, 2, 3. A fine match but the finish left the crowd silent. It was a fairly babyface heavy show so I guess you had to have some parts of the party pooped for the good bits to be worth it right? But yet again one thing that can’t be argued is this was all fine work yet AGAIN!
Oh boy… so next up live from ‘The World’ we had Jamie Noble act as the ‘host’ of a ‘make-out contest’ where there were two ‘fans’ on stage and Noble’s on-screen girlfriend Nidia had to choose which one of the two men she wanted to make out with. All in front of a pretty wild group of fans. She chose the lucky winner and passionately kissed him on the sofa that was conveniently near them, all whilst Noble played cheerleader for them. Yes this really happened…
We had some more chat between Bischoff and Stephanie.
(Please forgive me for not writing all that much about the next match. I’m sure you understand why I found it difficult to watch.)
Rob Van Dam defeated Chris Benoit (C) to win the Intercontinental Championship
Benoit of SmackDown was introduced by Tony Chimel and Raw’s RVD by Howard Finkel. This was a pretty tremendous wrestling match, the two had really great chemistry with one another, Van Dam was the gifted high flyer with some fierce strikes and Benoit was a master in-ring technician. Both hit all their big moves and went 16 and a half minutes in what was a great, great match. RVD went for the 5 star but Benoit moved, Benoit locked in the crossface but RVD got to the ropes. RVD eventually won clean with the big frog splash to a big pop from the crowd. Rob Van Dam wins and takes the Intercontinental title with him to Raw in the process.
Stephanie and Eric were backstage AGAIN… Bischoff bragged about the IC title coming to Raw after Van Dam’s win. Stephanie just laughed in his face (this seems odd but as it turns out it’s the tease of the story they tell in the weeks after… more on this later…)
The Undertaker defeated Test
There was a great video package that gave a really good explanation of the whole Un-Americans gimmick. Biker Taker got a big pop coming out (naturally). This was a proper big-man match, it was certainly a change of pace from the rest of the show but given the two matches that sandwiched this one it kind of made sense and was probably necessary. The two men had a proper brawl, Taker did all his usual stuff, Test missed a big boot, Undertaker hit the Chokeslam only for Test to kick out at 2, Taker went for the Last Ride only for fellow Un-American Lance Storm to run in and try and make the save only for him and then Christian too to be batted away by Taker. Among all the distractions Test hit the big boot only for Taker to kick out at 2. Lance Storm handed a chair to Test but Taker kicked the chair into Test’s face. He then hit the Tombstone (which he wasn’t using all that often at this stage, preferring the Last Ride instead more often) for the win. Seeing Taker pick up Test and hit the Tombstone on Test (who was a real GIANT of a man, think like 90s Razor Ramon size) was a hell of a spectacle. Taker ‘The American Badass’ waved the American flag after the match. This was never going to be a classic but for what it was this was perfectly fine.
Shawn Michaels defeated Triple H in a Non-Sanctioned Match
Jim Ross explained it would be Michaels first match in WWE for 1609 days (since 1998’s WrestleMania and the famous match with Steve Austin that saw Mike Tyson get involved at the height of the Attitude Era), which really is incredible isn’t it? They then aired the most absolutely incredible video package before this match. Believe me the one thing WWE usually do pretty well is these sort of recaps, but this promo was truly exceptional and go out of your way to see it and tell me you’re not excited to see the match! It did a terrific job of explaining the story of these two men up to this point: them starting out as the best of friends in the late 90s in DX, Triple H becoming ‘the man’ once Michaels took his injury hiatus, then his subsequent return where they looked to put the team back together only for Triple H to pedigree Shawn. Then as The Game was in the ring he was told by one of the ringside crew that something had happened backstage, where we find Shawn Michaels in a pool of blood having had his head smashed through a car window. Hunter showed great concern, and later with Triple H in the ring and Michaels on video link on the titantron he vowed to find out who attacked him and that all he knew was that he was hit from behind. Triple H vowed to find out who did this. And then we would see the previously grainy CCTV footage of the attack gradually zoom in and un-pixalate to show that the attacker was indeed TRIPLE H! The package would then hype up the match with Michaels saying he was OK to go again and the doctors had told him he would be ready just in time for… SummerSlam! Honestly this video was a work of art and whoever put it together did an unbelievable job of making this match seem just as important and special as it was. There was certainly plenty of hype going in to this one. It didn’t disappoint.
In the least surprising occurrence of the night, Michaels (who was in amazing physical shape) got a GIANT crowd pop when he came out. He was wearing the normal jacket-type he wears but had a white t shirt and blue jeans underneath, he certainly had come dressed for a FIGHT! Jim Ross on commentary (who alongside Jerry Lawler was absolutely exceptional as a vehicle to tell the story of this match, really putting across the emotion that went along with it) hoped that all would be ‘OK’… Triple H got a pretty decent reaction when he came out also despite being the clear heel. He took his time making his way in to the ring to really build up the anticipation for this match.
Triple H dominated early on to really bring what was a hugely excitable crowd back down to earth. He then used both a chair and Michael’s Jeans’ Belt to punish HBK. It was particularly hard to watch when Hunter smashed Michaels across the back with the chair, given Michaels obvious back injury history. The crowd was at this stage absolutely deflated at witnessing their returning hero being properly beat up by the evil villain, and Michaels was absolutely pouring with blood from his head. As Triple H continued to assert his dominance he went to Pedigree Michaels onto a chair, only for HBK to hit a low blow! Michaels then hit Sweet Chin Music to Triple H whilst he was holding the chair and this busted HHH open, and when I say busted open the blood was absolutely POURING from his head. With Shawn exhausted laying on the ring-mat he did the classic HBK kick-up to get back to his feet, and the crowd seeing their hero come back to life in-front of their very eyes LOST THEIR MIND!!! Suddenly they were reminded they were watching one of the best ever make his return, and from then on in we were ON!!! Michaels used the chair himself to launch his assault, and then set the crowd on fire again when he retrieved a ladder from under the ring. They then went back and forth and in this match with no rules, they somehow had a pretty decent ‘rasslin exchange. Michaels would hit a big elbow drop from the top of the ladder he had earlier bought into the ring, which the crowd loved of course. Jerry Lawler said an amazing set of lines basically getting super excited that Michaels was OK and alright, despite this brutal match and he’d comeback after all this time and was still the showstopper, still THE main event. It was subtle but it really was accurate of how the majority of people watching felt and really put across how the fans were feeling too. With Triple H down the crowd reached fever pitch when Michaels went to the corner of the ring and ‘tuned up the band’ ready for the Sweet Chin Music… so Michaels went for the kick, but Triple H caught his leg, spun him around, kicked him in the stomach, set up for the Pedigree… BUT… Michaels flipped Triple H over, rolled him up with a jackknife roll-up, AND GOT THE PIN!!! SHAWN MICHAELS, AFTER FOUR YEARS AWAY, CAME BACK, PUT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS LIFE, AND PINNED TRIPLE H!!! Commentary and the crowd went absolutely WILD! We’d witnessed a wrestling miracle, we were told the story that Michaels had no chance of even being competitive, let alone actually WINNING!?
But of course Triple H destroyed Michaels after the match had finished. He used his signature sledge hammer to attack both Michaels injured back and further damage his already busted-open head. The crowd were obviously furious, as Triple H then staggered away showing too the scars of this absolute war. Michaels was taken out on a stretcher after this to a standing ovation. Now… you may ask what the point was of bringing Michaels back only to have him win, and then get destroyed afterwards. But when you know the background this was actually really clever booking. So at this stage we know Michaels would go on to have many years left as a wrestler, but this was not the plan at the time. Michaels was coming back JUST for this ONE match. So usually when a guy comes in for a one-off, he does the job and puts the guy who is sticking around over, right? Yes that’s what always happens, so why not shock everyone and have the babyface get the win? But doesn’t that do damage to the heel who is staying around? Yes, so you get round that by having him get the heat back afterwards. So with what they did they really got the best of both worlds; the crowd got to see an amazing feel-good moment, and Hunter got to look strong still in defeat with the beatdown that followed. In my opinion this was great booking.
This was the most unbelievable match. It turned out to be the first of many together the two men would have in 2002/2003 but this was the best one. Quite simply a masterclass in ring psychology. For sure Shawn Michaels had a tonne of incredible matches (and many of them came AFTER this classic) but as for Triple H, other than the WrestleMania cell match with The Undertaker some years after this match, this has to be considered arguably his best EVER match.
Next we had… oh boy… so Howard Finkel is ready to announce the next match, but he tells us all he has a few things to get off his chest… so he cuts a heel promo, exclaiming that this was the first time he’d been in this arena since WrestleMania 2. He then referenced the then strike in the MLB saying that they could ‘always rely on the Fink’. He goes on bigging himself up until Trish Stratus comes down to the ring. It was recalled how Trish had ‘got one over’ on Finkel in the past two weeks and now Stratus wanted to apologize, taking a liking to his ‘sexy voice’. Jim Ross somewhere in here said that ‘Trish has stolen Howard’s spotlight, somebody already stole his hair’ which did give me a chuckle. Trish says she has a surprise for Finkel, Howard states to Stratus that ‘you have the puppies, and I have the weener’ (and I thought I was going to vomit). Turns out the surprise was Lillian Garcia, Howard’s rival for the Raw ring announcer’s job. She slapped him HARD and gave him a low blow and the crowd popped.
I’m trying to sell this as an amazing show, and it was. But christ this segment was trash.
ANYWAY… back to the good stuff…
Brock Lesnar (with Paul Heyman) defeated The Rock (C) to win the WWE Undisputed Championship
Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler handed over the commentary duties to Michael Cole and Tazz. They played a great video package ahead of the match; it told how Brock had won the King of the Ring tournament, before The Rock won the WWE title in a 3 way against Kurt Angle and Undertaker at the Vengeance PPV, to set up the mega match with a guy in Lesnar who since his arrival on the main roster had been on an absolute tear, even taking out Hulk Hogan as part of his rampant run to this point. I should mention the amazing visual of Lesnar wiping Hogan’s blood across his own chest like some form of monster gorilla, it was BADASS! The ‘next big thing’ Brock got a massive pop coming out, and The Rock was cheered too as he left the belt at the top of the ramp and sprinted into the ring to get him some of Lesnar as the match got underway. This was a really fun match and although Rock and Lesnar worked as the babyface and the heel (with Heyman helping out Brock at every chance he got), the crowd reactions were the opposite. Michael Cole at one stage said the line about how a Brock Lesnar win would make Paul Heyman millions, which given the events of the time since then is incredible in hindsight. As the match went on the crowd split just grew and grew in favour of Lesnar and away from Rock. We even got ‘Rocky SUCKS’ chants as well as when Rock had Lesnar in the Sharpshooter he could be seen looking up in disgust as the crowd chanted “LET’S GO LESNAR”, and they went crazy when Brock was able to escape the submission hold! Lesnar later got the big bearhug move on Rock (the same move he used to put away Hulk Hogan a few weeks prior), and when The Rock raised his hand up after it had dropped twice prior to tease the finish, the crowd booed heavy when Rock showed he still had life. By the point that The Rock was looking to put Lesnar away with a Rock Bottom the crowd was furious at the prospect of the champion retaining. The crowd really were turning on Rock at this stage, and that only got louder when Rock used a low blow on Lesnar. Rock followed up by catapulting Lesnar into the ringpost on the outside, and would then get his revenge on Paul Heyman for his interference with a Rock Bottom through the announce table, which was… ugly… Rock got back in the ring and hit the Rock Bottom, only for Brock to kick out. Not long after Lesnar hit a Rock Bottom of his own, but of course Rock kicked out. Lesnar escaped from a Rock Bottom attempt and hit the F5, but Rock kicked out! Rock would eventually go for the People’s Elbow to the fury of the live crowd, but as he came off the ropes Lesnar got up and hit a big clothesline, and everyone cheered. Brock then hit the F5 again for the 1, 2, 3 to spark jubilant reactions from the fans in the arena. It should also be noted, and credit to The Rock for this, but he did not move or roll out of the ring after the bell had rung. he stayed DOWN and sold Lesnar’s finish like he was dead. And if that from THE ROCK isn’t doing a favour for Lesnar I don’t know what is. This was a heck of a match! Brock Lesnar had become the (then) youngest champion in WWE history. Cole on commentary during the post match said ‘this monster in on top of the world, the next big thing has arrived’ as Brock celebrated with the WWE title to close the show.
After the show went off the air The Rock did a promo for the live crowd. He went to do the whole ‘Finally, The Rock, has come back….’ gimmick, but he was getting heavily booed. So Rock then said ‘it doesn’t matter where The Rock has come back to’! He went on to say that like it or not he’s still the people’s champion and when he did the “If you smell…” he stopped short, and said that it was no longer ‘sing along with The Rock time’. Knowing he was going away and hearing he was being booed, The Rock went heel impromptu on the live crowd. Just tremendous. He would not have another match in WWE until February of the next year. It was well known going in that The Rock was indeed leaving for a while to go to Hollywood, which may have been the main cause of the negative reaction.
Let me also put this into context… March 18th 2002 the night after WrestleMania (the one where Rock faced some guy called Hulk Hogan), Brock Lesnar came out and laid wast to a few guys in his first appearance on the main roster. A little over FIVE MONTHS later this same young man was beating The Rock in the main event of SummerSlam for the WWE Championship. Imagine someone right now coming to Raw or SmackDown from NXT, having had no prior TV wrestling experience, and then in six months time at a big PPV beating someone like Roman Reigns or Kofi or Seth Rollins for one of the big championships in the main event. Incredible stuff.
The main aftermath of this show saw SmackDown general manager Stephanie McMahon announce she had signed Brock Lesnar to an exclusive deal that would see the WWE Undisputed Championship be solely on the SmackDown brand. This would lead to Raw GM Eric Bischoff creating his own world title in the form of the old ‘big gold belt’, eventually awarding the World Heavyweight Championship to Triple H. Lesnar would defend the WWE Championship against The Undertaker in the months that followed. Shawn Michaels would indeed return full time to in-ring competition and even won the newly created World Heavyweight Championship from Triple H in the first ever Elimination Chamber Match at that year’s Survivor Series. The Boyhood dream would come true, all over again.
This was just THE most fun show to watch. I loved it so much. Great wrestling, brilliant storytelling and the anointment of the new big star at the end of the night.
The feedback from the readers of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter was 99.7% of them gave the show a thumbs up, just 0.3% gave it thumbs in the middle, ZERO gave it thumbs down. The best WWE PPV I’ve ever seen. I could not recommend this show enough. Tremendous.