Friday, July 28, 2023

The History of WWE SummerSlam (2003)

In 2003 the company snatched a stalemate from the jaws of certain victory, with a half-good SummerSlam....

ASummerSlam '03 - America West Arena - 8/24/03

The 2003 edition of the summer extravaganza is probably the most infuriating, in that it was so very close to a great PPV and somehow managed to fall spectacularly short.  With only a few adjustments this show could've been awesome.  Instead it was just a pretty good show that had the stupidest ending since WrestleMania IX.

The show opened with a throwaway World Tag Title match - La Resistance (more or less a carbon copy of the Rougeau Brothers from the 80s) vs. The Dudley Boyz.  This was, I believe, the 387th time these two teams had faced each other in televised matches, but that didn't stop WWE from throwing this match on the show.  Nevermind that the previous month's Smackdown-only PPV had an amazing WWE Tag Title match of Haas & Benjamin vs. Mysterio & Kidman, and literally everyone who bought this show probably would've rather seen that again.  But whatevs.

Next up was Undertaker vs. A-Train (yup, they repackaged the big fat hairy bald dude Albert as the big fat hairy bald dude A-Train).  This was during the year or so where Vince was, CERTAIN that Albert was gonna be a huge main event heel.  He had thrown Edge at him, and when Albert didn't get over they kinda blamed Edge.  Then they started a months-long feud between Taker and Big Show/Albert.  That didn't work either.  A couple months after this show they even stuck Albert in there with Chris Benoit, hoping the latter's impeccable workrate would get Mr. Train over.  By the beginning of 2004 they finally realized Albert was destined to be a midcarder (Until 2012 when they put a bunch of fake Japanese tattoos on his face and called him Lord Tensai, with the intent of feuding him with John Cena).  Anyway, this match is about what you'd expect.  Slow, plodding, and inconsequential.

Third was one of a slew of 2003 PPV matches featuring non-wrestlers (holy jumpin' Christ there were a lot of these), as RAW GM Eric Bischoff faced WWE heir-apparent Shane McMahon.  This whole feud was built around Bischoff coming on to Shane's mom, and Shane vowing revenge.  The angle was super creepy and at the same time defied anyone with more than 150 brain cells to care in the slightest.  The match was a total waste of ten-and-a-half minutes of my life (by comparison the Cruiserweight Title match that got bumped to the pre-show got roughly one-fifth of this running time), and is one of many examples from 2003 of just how delusional the McMahon family was about their own drawing power.  Lotta that still going on......

Not a good first hour for SummerSlam '03.

These two couldn't have a sucky match if they tried.

Finally things picked up in match four with a US Title Fatal 4-Way.  Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit vs. Rhyno vs. Tajiri.  Great, fast-paced action with four of the company's best workers at the time.  Tajiri is very high on the list of super-over guys who were terribly misused by WWE.  He was tremendously exciting to watch and the crowd really dug his matches.  And despite his character not speaking English he generated some great non-racist comedy (a rarity in pro wrestling when ethnic characters are involved) to boot.

Next was the long-awaited WWE Title rematch from WrestleMania 19 - Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar.  These two had easily the best feud of 2003, featuring a trilogy of excellent singles matches, the climax of which was the Smackdown Iron Man match that September.  The SummerSlam match was the weakest of the three, but it was still a damn good title match.  The only issue was the absurd ending, where Angle applied his anklelock and Lesnar reached the ropes multiple times only for Angle to yank him back to the center of the ring.  After four or five times Lesnar finally tapped.  Umm, isn't the whole point of the rope break rule to force a ROPE BREAK?  Why wouldn't the referee have threatened to disqualify Angle for not breaking the hold?  Still a fine match and the best of this show. 

In the death spot was the grudge match between former tag partners Rob Van Dam and Kane.  This really should've been positioned better on the card and led to an extended feud.  Sadly the issue was more or less dropped after this match.  The bout itself was fine, if rather underwhelming, and featured a nice Van Terminator spot with the ring steps.

Now for the main event.  At the time WWE had positioned Goldberg as the main challenger to Triple H's World Title.  The logical move would've been a one-on-one main event of Triple H vs. Goldberg.  It was a dream match between two guys who had real-life animosity, and the fans would've eaten it up.  Goldberg should've been the guy to finally break Hunter's stranglehold on the World Title.  Unfortunately Triple H suffered a groin injury shortly before this and the match was changed to an Elimination Chamber.  Going into this I wasn't terribly excited by the prospect, as I frankly found the original Chamber match to be quite dull (I know I'm in the minority here but it's really one of the weakest editions).

The lineup would be Triple H, Goldie, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, Randy Orton, and Kevin Nash.  One of these six doesn't belong - I can't think which one.  Anyway, the match itself was going swimmingly.  The pace was much faster and more exciting than the first Chamber match (Shawn and Jericho carried the early segments), and the booking was creative to protect the injured Champion: Triple H was set to enter the match 5th, but as soon as his pod opened he ran into a superkick by Shawn.  Goldberg then entered the match and absolutely destroyed everyone.  It was amazing.  He eliminated Orton, Michaels and Jericho in quick succession, and the crowd went absolutely bonkers.  This was the perfect way to utilize a character like Goldberg.  Goldie then targeted the weakened, cowardly Triple H, who hid in his pod as Ric Flair blocked it from being opened.  Goldberg smashed through the plexiglass, popping the audience, and proceeded to annihilate Hunter.  And then everything went horribly wrong.  As Goldberg prepared to level Hunter with a spear, Flair slid a sledgehammer into the ring, Hunter nailed Goldie with it, and pinned him to retain the belt. 

He was like a bald, monosyllabic Superman.....whose Kryptonite was sledgehammers.
And groin-protecting compression shorts.

I'd like to repeat that: the injured-in-real-life Triple H got to retain the belt in a Chamber match against the red-hot-monster-babyface Goldberg.  Apologists have cited the whole "money's in the chase" argument to defend this booking decision, but that argument holds exactly zero ounces of water in this case.  Goldberg is a killing machine.  Period.  His whole gimmick is that he walks in, crushes his opponent, walks out.  It's that simple.  That's the only logical way to utilize a character like Goldberg, and when WCW did that, it worked.  Huge.  WWE on the other hand decided to get tricky, either because they thought they could add dimension to this character, or because the boss's son-in-law (or Vince himself) just didn't want to really put someone new over, much less a WCW castoff (Sorry to start Hunter-bashing, but this was at the height of his reign of terror which basically ruined the RAW brand for a solid two years).

After the match Hunter and his Evolution pals then beat the ever-loving snot out of Goldberg, and the show closed with them standing over his bloodied remains.  Way to push a monster babyface, fellas.  Look, I'm not even a Goldberg fan.  But this was the time to put the belt on him.  Imagine if in 1984 they had Hulk Hogan lose his first title match with the Iron Sheik.  How much would that have damaged the appeal and drawing power of Hogan?  Same kinda thing here.  Goldberg should've steamrolled Hunter to win the belt, gone on a tear killing every other heel on RAW, and then eventually Hunter's cunning could've allowed him to find and exploit Goldie's weaknesses and win back the belt.

Goldberg would win the title a month later in their singles rematch, but by then the bloom was off the rose.  It didn't have nearly the same impact it should have, and Goldberg basically only wrestled Triple H during his three-month title run.  He was clearly just being positioned as a transitional champion which, given the guy's proven drawing ability at that point, was just plain stupid.

SummerSlam 2003 had a lot of potential to be a great PPV but between a terrible first hour and the company displaying some of the worst backstage politics in its history, the show ended up just being a decent SummerSlam. 

Best Match: Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar - had the Chamber ended the way it should've, I'd go with that.
Worst Match: Eric Bischoff vs. Shane McMahon - seriously, they got over ten minutes.
What I'd Change: I think I've covered this.
Most Disappointing Match: Rob Van Dam vs. Kane could've been a helluva grudge match, but it was really just an okay RAW match.
Most Pleasant Surprise: All but the last minute of the Chamber.  I really wasn't looking forward to this, but as my friends and I watched it, we became Goldberg fans for one night, until Hunter's bloated ego came crashing down on the whole proceeding.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Better than WrestleMania XIX? - Ummmmm, nope.


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