Thursday, July 27, 2023

The History of WWE SummerSlam (2002)

Greatest SummerSlam of all time, comin' atcha.....

SummerSlam '02 - Nassau Coliseum - 8/25/02

One of the best WWE events I've ever seen.  This show ranks up there with 'Mania 17 and 19.  Eight matches, not one of them bad, and a few of them in the four-star range.  Literally the only thing missing from SummerSlam 2002 was a five-star classic.  This show took place during the red-hot RAW vs. Smackdown feud, where GMs Eric Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon were constantly trying to one-up each other each week.  Behind the scenes Paul Heyman was writing Smackdown and just knocking it out of the park every week (this was the beginning of the orgasmically good Smackdown Six era).  SummerSlam '02 is a perfect illustration of how much better the blue brand was at this point.

The show opened in impossibly spectacular fashion with Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio.  This was nine minutes of awesome.  Mysterio was still healthy at this point, and could do absolutely astounding things in the ring.  Paired with a general like Kurt Angle, there was no way this match couldn't be incredible.  My only complaint is that this match wasn't twice as long.

This match was nine minutes of fuckin' great.

Chris Jericho was enjoying one of the worst, most depressing examples of misuse in wrestling history.  He had just been traded to RAW, where there was almost no one really great to work with.  Had he stayed on Smackdown he could've been part of the Smackdown Six (or Seven I guess).  Sadly Jericho went from headlining WrestleMania to floundering in the RAW midcard for the next three yearssince there wasn't an available top heel spot for him there.  He had a brief and unremarkable feud with Ric Flair and bafflingly lost clean to the 53-year-old in this match.  It's a pretty good match, it's just that Jericho deserved so much better.

Smackdown was well-represented by the third match: Edge vs. Eddie Guerrero.  This feud produced a trilogy of absolute classics, the first of which took place here.  Excellent 11-plus-minute bout that showcased both guys as future main eventers.  After you watch this match, go and find their no-holds-barred rematch from Smackdown which took place about a month later.  You will not be disappointed.

Next up was the Tag Title match between Lance Storm & Christian, and Booker T & Goldust.  Booker and Goldust had been paired as an unlikely babyface duo, and managed to get hugely over.  This match is no classic but it's not too shabby either.
The interbrand Intercontinental Title match was fifth, as Chris Benoit defended against Rob Van Dam.  Going into this I was expecting something legendary, and while the match is by no means bad, it was definitely a disappointment.  These two had fought on RAW the previous month in a solid back-and-forth match, and what happened at SummerSlam was a largely one-sided, methodical asskicking by Benoit, leading to RVD pulling out the win in the closing minutes.  This just simply wasn't up to either guy's standards and I can't help wondering if they were instructed not to have a show-stealing match.

The Undertaker had a fairly short but decent match with Test, which I think was sort of designed to help get Test over.  Since Test lost in eight minutes I'm not sure what they were expecting to accomplish, but the match was ok.

The semi-main featured the long-awaited in-ring return of the amazing Shawn Michaels, coming off a four-and-a-half year retirement to face his former best friend Triple H in a Street Fight.  Shawn forwent his usual ring attire, opting for jeans and cowboy boots.  But when the time came, he proved he could still turn it on and tear the place down.  Shawn and Hunter had an epic 25-minute battle that, while featuring the usual no-DQ shortcuts, still managed to be one of the year's best matches.  At the time it was said of Shawn that he picked up right where he left off in 1998, and in the ensuing years he would go on to prove that literally dozens of times, building a second body of work at least as stupendous as his first.

In the main event we got the awesome pure athletic contest of The Rock vs. newcomer Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title.  The buildup to this match was perfect, as they hyped it like a real wrestling contest, showcasing the training regimens of both guys.  I wish more big matches were built up this way.  This match was Lesnar's first great wrestling match and proved that he really was The Next Big Thing.  The Rock very graciously made Lesnar look like a well-rounded monster heel, and the match was simple, direct, fast-paced, and physical.  All in all a flawless way to herald the arrival of Brock Lesnar.  The crowd was completely invested too, exploding in cheers when Lesnar won the Title.  The follow-up to this was less than stellar, but for one night at least, WWE was committed to building a brand new top guy.


SummerSlam 2002, like 'Mania 19, happened at a time where the company was producing a very uneven product, but for one night all the stars aligned to deliver a truly spectacular PPV.  The Smackdown-centered matches mostly stole the show here, but even the RAW content was solid, and Shawn's return to the ring was a great epic fight.  If you haven't seen this show, stop whatever you're doing, log into the WWE Network, and watch it from start to finish.  Do it right now!

Best Match: Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio - I like this just a hair better than the HBK-HHH match.  They were only given nine minutes and no shortcuts, and still managed to steal the show.
Worst Match: Undertaker vs. Test - But even this isn't bad.
What I'd Change: I'd have given the opener another five minutes to nudge it into 4.5-star terrain.  I'd also have given Test a win over Taker to further that feud, and had Jericho beat Flair.
Most Disappointing Match: Chris Benoit vs. Rob Van Dam - Really, this should've been a five-star classic.  Benoit got in way too much offense, which as a technical heel, made for a rather slow, plodding bout.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I wasn't sure Shawn would still be able to deliver on the same level as before, so this was awesome to see.
Overall Rating: 10/10
Better than WrestleMania X8? - Jesus Christ yes.


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