Wednesday, November 8, 2023

The History of WWE Survivor Series (2002)

This installment, if anything, proves that I should likely see a therapist about my wrestling-related issues.  But I'm not wrong.  Read with caution.....

Survivor Series 2002 - Madison Square Garden - 11/17/02

Sweet mother of God this show pissed me off.  Really, on so many levels this show made me want to smash lots of things with a steel girder.  Besides the obvious surface-level stupidity of this not at all being a proper Survivor Series lineup (Not one traditional SS match?  Really?), the booking was so incredibly nonsensical it actually hurt my face.  Some of the matches were fine, but the backstage political games that plagued WWE at the time undermined almost everything good that happened.  So strap on your hip boots, cuz we's about to wade through some shit.

The opening match was a six-man elimination Tables Match. Ooooh, so close to being an actual Survivor Series match, but nope.  During the brand split in early 2002, the company decided to split up not one, but two of their top tag teams, The Hardy Boyz and The Dudley Boyz, essentially gutting the entire division.  Oh, and they made the Tag belts exclusive to RAW so almost no teams even existed to fight over them.  Makes sense.  Anyway, this match saw Bubba Dudley, Spike Dudley and Jeff Hardy face Three Minute Warning and Rico.  It was fine for what it was, but I gave less than a poop.  There's one moment during the match where Jeff Hardy is brawling outside the ring and the participants have clearly been told to pick up the pace and get to the finish.  Rico gets up on the second rope and quite audibly yells, "Jeff! Get in here!"  Well done sir.  The one significant piece of this match was D-Von's run in at the end to help Bubba defeat Rico via a 3-D.  The Dudleys were reunited, correcting one of the two aforementioned tag splits.

Second was a Cruiserweight Title match between Billy Kidman and Jamie Noble.  This was fine.  Seven minutes was enough for them to make an impression at least.

The Women's Title match was next as Trish Stratus defended against her crazed, smitten stalker Victoria (another Trish feud played out in similar fashion a few years later with Mickie James).  Victoria was great as this psychotic character who seemed to harbor romantic feelings for Trish.  She also had Tatu's "All the Things She Said" as her entrance theme, which was fucking fantastic - probably the best entrance theme in the company at the time.  This match was passable and elevated Victoria as an excellent heel champ.

Okay, here's where things get stupid, folks.  The WWE Title match saw the company's newest main event star Brock Lesnar, fresh off cleanly defeating Rob Van Dam, The Rock and The Undertaker in PPV bouts (plus Hogan and Flair on free TV), defend against The Big Show, fresh off defeating almost no one on RAW for months.  Big Show had been floundering for the better part of two years and lost basically every feud he was involved in, only to be traded to Smackdown and immediately given a #1 Contender's spot.  Umm, what?  To make matters worse, the storyline was that Lesnar's manager Paul Heyman legitimately feared for Lesnar's well-being after Big Show attacked him, and was convinced Lesnar couldn't win the match.  Keep in mind Brock Lesnar was undefeated at this point while The Big Show just came off a horribly unsuccessful midcard run on RAW.  Got that?  So Lesnar's manager Paul Heyman didn't think the undefeated WWE Champion could beat his newest challenger who had just spent months losing most of his matches.  Did WWE think their viewers didn't watch both shows?  Also of note: Big Show's most recent PPV match prior to this was at May's Judgment Day, where he and Ric Flair lost a handicap match to Steve Austin.  Yeah there's a credible challenger.

Why is Big Bully Busick beating up Brock Lesnar?

Anyway, the match was a four-minute brawl where the big story was that Lesnar's ribs were injured (to be fair Lesnar was legit injured so he couldn't work a full match).  Lesnar dominated much of the match, lifted Big Show up for an F5 (incredible), and went for the pin, only for Heyman to turn on Lesnar and help The Big Show win the Title.  So let me make sure I'm clear on this.  We're supposed to believe that Paul Heyman was so convinced his guy couldn't beat this perennial midcarder that he "opportunistically" turned on Lesnar, despite Lesnar never having lost a match, and despite Lesnar having THIS match won.  Sorry, did anyone at WWE Creative bother to proofread this garbage before they greenlit it?  This is some of the worst storytelling I've ever been privy to.  None of this made sense, and it wasted the potentially HUGE moment of Brock Lesnar's first pinfall loss by giving it to someone who wouldn't benefit from it (oddly similar to WCW booking Kevin Nash to beat Goldberg).  Oh, and the match wasn't good.

The one really great match on this show was the WWE Tag Team Title match (the company realized that RAW had basically no tag teams left to challenge the champions Chuck & Billy, so rather than the logical option of having the champs wrestle on both shows they created a Smackdown-only set of Tag belts) - a Triple Threat Elimination bout between Champions Rey Mysterio & Edge, Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit, and Los Guerreros.  This three-way feud for the straps resulted in some spectacular television in the fall of 2002, or as it's known by most, The Smackdown Six Era.  The only problem was that the belts changed hands every couple weeks.  Angle and Benoit were the first champions, but two weeks later they lost the belts to Edge & Mysterio, who lost them here to Eddie & Chavo.  But this was a helluva good match (with a slightly anticlimactic third act after Angle & Benoit were ousted), and really the only bright spot on the show.

Yes, I mean that wholeheartedly.  The Tag Title match was far and away the best thing on this card, including the inaugural Elimination Chamber.
RAW GM Eric Bischoff introduced the Chamber as a cross between a Survivor Series match, a Royal Rumble, and WarGames.  Six men would compete for the World Title in a giant domed steel structure.  Two would start the match while the other four waited in individual pods, and then at regular intervals another man would enter the fray.  The object was to eliminate all your opponents by pin or submission.  The six participants were Champion Triple H (literally handed the resurrected World Title after Brock took the Undisputed Title to Smackdown), Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam, Booker T, Kane, and the returning Shawn Michaels.  Shawn had just made a miraculous comeback at SummerSlam but was out three months with a Triple H-inflicted kayfabe injury, and now wanted revenge.  This entire match was basically an elaborate one-on-one bout between Hunter and Shawn.  The other four guys were treated as afterthoughts, particularly once the bell rang.

The first-ever Elimination Chamber!  Featuring Triple H, Shawn Michaels.....
oh, and four other guys.

Rob Van Dam and Triple H started the match and wrestled fairly awkwardly for the first period.  This being a new match type, no one really seemed sure how to properly utilize the Chamber.  RVD did have one highspot where he frog splashed Hunter off one of the pods, but Hunter positioned himself too close and RVD came down knees-first on Hunter's throat.  To H's credit he finished the entire 39-minute match with an injured larynx.  Jericho was the third entrant, Booker T fourth.  Rob Van Dam was gone before Kane entered at the fifteen-minute mark, and Booker was gone a few minutes later.  So the two potential new main event babyfaces were eliminated in the first half of the match.  Super.  Shawn came in last, and after Kane and Jericho were gone it was down to the two former DX buddies.  After a fairly dull 39 minutes, part-timer Shawn Michaels became the new World Champion.

Now look, I'm an enormous Shawn Michaels fan.  Shawn is among my favorite wrestlers of all time, alright?  And I still say putting the belt on Shawn Michaels at this point in time was utterly ridiculous.  He was a just-returning star working a very limited schedule because at that point he didn't know if he could still wrestle regularly.  So rather than create a new and much-needed top RAW babyface in the massively over Rob Van Dam or Booker T, they decided to give Shawn an honorary run with the Title, only for him to drop it back to Hunter the following month.  Just absolutely infuriating.  Remember this was when RAW was The Triple H Show and he did everything he could to never put over anyone who might threaten his position in the company.  Over the course of a year he lost the belt to his best friend, won it back four weeks later, and feuded with two joke contenders in Scott Steiner (who made his debut at this show with an in-ring promo that made him sound drunk off his ass) and Kevin Nash (who even as a babyface was booed throughout his feud with Hunter).

I know most people consider this first Chamber match a classic, but I really don't see it.  I found the match overly long, fairly boring, lacking any urgency or brutality, and wholly counterproductive in building a queue of credible babyfaces for Triple H to fight.  Fortunately the Chamber match would become one of the most fun annual bouts, but with this first one it was clear they didn't know yet what they were doing.

Survivor Series '02 was yet another edition that had no business being called Survivor Series.  Not one traditional elimination match took place, and the company seemed hell-bent against pushing anyone new.  Given how balls-out amazing the Smackdown TV show was almost every week during this time (thanks largely to Paul Heyman's booking) it was incredibly frustrating to watch them fumble around with an awkward, unsatisfying PPV like this one.

Best Match: Edge/Mysterio vs. Angle/Benoit vs. Los Guerreros
Worst Match: Brock Lesnar vs. Big Show
What I'd Change: To simplify things let's leave actual Series-style matches off the table.  First, I'd give RVD the fucking belt in the Chamber match.  Hunter and Shawn could've continued their blood feud for a few months, but RVD should've won and feuded with Jericho for a while.  If Lesnar had to drop the WWE Title here, have Benoit be the guy to do it (as I recall Heyman pushed for Benoit to challenge Lesnar in the early fall but the company went with Taker instead).  Big Show gained absolutely nothing from being the first guy to pin Lesnar - just look at his 2003 resume.  He jobbed out to Lesnar twice, he and a different partner (A-Train) were on the losing end of another handicap match at 'Mania, and by the end of the year he was moved down to the US Title division.  An undefeated streak is a pretty special thing, and if you're going to create one and then end it, you should have some gameplan for who gets to be the one (kinda like when Lesnar broke Taker's streak in 2014).
Most Disappointing Match: Elimination Chamber - I'll say it again; I really didn't like this match very much.  It's honestly one of the weakest editions.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I got nothin'.
Overall Rating: 4/10
Better than WrestleMania X8 and/or SummerSlam '02? - Get the 'F' outta here.  See what I did there?   


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