In WWE folklore, SummerSlam is considered one of the landmark events of the year, just behind WrestleMania and arguably Royal Rumble. Over its 30-plus year history, it’s had its fair share of good and bad moments. As we get ready for “the biggest party of the summer” (socially distanced, of course), I decided it’d be ideal to revisit a classic SummerSlam. I put my trust in SteelChair’s Twitter followers to decide which year I should re-watch. Thankfully, it was 2002 that came out on top. I guess I’ll have to revisit 1992 next year?
If you read my recaps of the WWE Ruthless Aggression series, you’ll know my WWE fandom was dwindling in 2002. Although I don’t recall watching the full show at the time, it looked like a promising show, at least on paper. This show was considered a turning point for the company. The top of the card was led by familiar names such as The Rock, Triple H, The Undertaker and a returning Shawn Michaels. However, it is the smattering of exciting newcomers and reliable mid-carders that made SummerSlam 2002 a consistent show.
Kurt Angle vs Rey Mysterio instantly set the bar high for the night with the Olympic gold medalist countering Mysterio’s quickness down with his grounded, technical style. Yet there were flashes Rey’s aerobatic ability as he flips over referee Jim Korderas and the top rope on to Kurt. Angle tried to put on the Ankle Lock but Rey kicked him off to set up for the 6-1-9 followed by a West Coast pop, yet Kurt kicked out. The finish came after Rey tried a hurricanrana from the top, but Kurt slipped out allowing him to secure the Ankle Lock until Rey tapped out.
The brand split of RAW and SmackDown is firmly in place as we saw respective GM’s Eric Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon agreeing to watch the show together backstage. Throughout the night, we would see goading one another, trying to get a psychological advantage.
The first RAW match of the night saw “The King of the World” Chris Jericho take on Ric Flair. Jericho had been playing the arrogant heel in the weeks prior. Flair retaliated by destroying Fozzy’s gear. The back and forth match contest had signature Flair spots (chops and corner punches) and “Le Champion” sending the two-time Hall of Famer upside down into the corner. Jericho tried to take a page out of Flair’s book; going to the top only to be thrown off. He also did his own Figure-Four Feglock, resulting in Flair getting to the ropes. Flair chopped Jericho so hard, bumping into the ref, allowing Flair to low-blow Jericho and put on a Figure-Four Leglock for the victory.
Back on the Smackdown side, we have Eddie Guerrero vs Edge, having recently returned from a shoulder injury. This is what Guerrero targeted throughout the match with a frog splash and headbutts. Yet Edge was resilient, giving Eddie the Edgecution for 1-2-No! It’s no surprise these two had great chemistry together but the finish came quite sudden. Edge reversed an arm-drag off the top, before hitting the ropes to deliver a Spear for the win.
Jonathan Coachman interviews The Un-American trio of Test and WWE Tag Team Champions Lance Storm and Christian. They gave a typical anti-USA promo, mocking the local fans in Long Island. Storm and Christian are out defending the belts against Booker T and Goldust. The structure was your usual heel-dominated tag match. The Canadian pair beat down Goldust with the occasional glimpse of recovery. The crowd was rallying to get Booker in, but he would detract the ref, allowing the champions to attempt and fail to deliver a “Conchairto”. Goldust eventually got the hot tag with Booker picking up plenty of momentum. Storm tries to stop it but ended up dropkicking the referee. Booker delivered an axe kick to both Storm and Christian, along with a Spinaroonie but the ref was knocked out. Test ran down, hit a big boot and allowed The Un-Americans to retain the titles.
After seeing Jamie Noble and girlfriend Nidia host a “make-out contest” at The World restaurant in NYC, Stephanie and Bischoff comment on which brand will come out on top in the night’s only cross-promotion match; RAW’s Rob Van Dam against SmackDown’s Chris Benoit for his Intercontinental Championship. Much like Angle vs Mysterio, Benoit tried to wear down RVD with intense ringwork, blocking his aerial moves. Various Crossface attempts didn’t prevail, allowing RVD to turn the tide with a springboard kick and rolling thunder. Benoit tried to work on his shoulder but a back-superplex was countered by Van Dam into a crossbody. He then took his opportunity to deliver a Five-Star Frog Splash, to win the IC title and to take it to RAW. Bischoff was obviously pleased yet Stephanie responds with a comical, over-the-top laugh preluding what would happen with the Undisputed Championship.
Ahead of The Undertaker vs Test, we see a video package highlighting The Un-American’s stance against America, reminiscent of The Hart Foundation in 1997. As expected, both ‘Taker and Test delivered big moves to each other. The former delivered “old school” and snake eyes before Test blocked a chokeslam. Christian and Lance Storm unsurprisingly interfered but ‘Taker took care of them. Test tried to take advantage with a steel chair but it’s met by Undertaker’s boot. A Tombstone piledriver and America wins once again.
After four years away, Shawn Michaels returned for an unsanctioned street fight match against his former best friend, Triple H. The lengthy contest didn’t disappoint as HBK wasted no time until HHH took advantage of weapons, targeting Michaels’ injured back. A Sweet Chin Music to a chair busted Helmsley open. A flying forearm saw Michaels thrive with adrenaline, doing his signature pop up to a huge response. The contest evened out with HBK bringing a ladder, a table and a fire extinguisher into play. Michaels dived off the top rope through a bloody HHH and the table outside the ring, but he wasn’t done. Back inside, he dropped an elbow off the top of the ladder. A second Sweet Chin Music is prevented yet HBK managed to reverse a Pedigree into a pin for the win. However, HHH got the last laugh having attacked Shawn with a sledgehammer afterwards.
After a pointless segment involving Howard Finkel and Trish Stratus with Lillian Garcia slapping the Fink and kicking him down below, it’s main event time. The Undisputed Champion wasted no time as The Rock ran down the aisle to meet King of the Ring winner Brock Lesnar in the ring. With the help of Paul Heyman, Brock dominated Rock. Throughout there are duelling “Rocky sucks” and “Rocky! Rocky!” chants. Rock took advantage of Heyman distracting the ref with a low blow, hitting Brock with right hooks until he comically dives outside the ring. A slingshot into the ring post to Brock allowed Rock to take care of Heyman with a Rock Bottom through a table. By this point, the match really picked up the pace. Both men hit Rock Bottom’s to two-counts. Brock prevented a People’s Elbow. An F5 was avoided, as did another Rock Bottom before Brock delivered an F5 to become Undisputed Champion. The celebration is short, as the show went off air quickly as Michael Cole states “The next big thing has arrived.”
With the exception of possibly ‘Taker vs Test and the Tag Titles match bringing things down a notch, SummerSlam 2002 was an impressive show from top to bottom. The matches involving Angle, Mysterio, Guerrero, Edge and Benoit showed why they would become so important on SmackDown. While HHH and HBK prolonged feud started on a high point. Lesnar’s sudden rise is justified, as WWE needed someone to fill the main event void left by Austin and Rock.
18 years on and SummerSlam 2002 still has plenty of significance in WWE history, both for its immediate and longterm future. A show well-worth revisiting.
SummerSlam 2002 is available on WWE Network.
Photos and video courtesy of WWE.