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Throwback Thursday: Looking back at WWE Summerslam 2002

Each and every Thursday, I will look back at a different event pay-per-view event wrestling history via the WWE Network. Want to see a certain event covered here? Send your suggestions to @VaughnMJohnson on Twitter. Last week, I looked back at Summerslam 1999.

Throwback Thursday: Looking back at WWE Summerslam 2002

Brock Lesnar after winning the WWE Undisputed Championship. (Photo courtesy of the WWE Network)
Brock Lesnar after winning the WWE Undisputed Championship. (Photo courtesy of the WWE Network)

Each and every Thursday, I will look back at a different event pay-per-view event wrestling history via the WWE Network. Want to see a certain event covered here? Send your suggestions to @VaughnMJohnson on Twitter.

Last week, I looked back at Summerslam 1999.

Summerslam 2002

Date: August 24, 2002

Venue: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.

Match results:

- Kurt Angle def. Rey Mysterio

- Ric Flair def. Chris Jericho

- Edge def. Eddie Guerrero

- World Tag Team Championship – The Un-Americans (Lance Storm & Christian) def. Booker T & Goldust

- WWE Intercontinental Championship – Rob Van Dam def. Chris Benoit

- The Undertaker def. Test

- Street Fight – Shawn Michaels def. Triple H

- WWE Undisputed Championship – Brock Lesnar def. The Rock

Observations:

- I’m going to start off by saying that this was not only one of the greatest Summerslams of all time, but one of the best pay-per-views from top to bottom of all time. Every match on the card meant something. There was no such thing as a time-filler on this card. Even The Undertaker-Test match, which probably would be as close to a time-filler as you could get on this card, had a pretty big angle behind it. How was WWE able to build a card full of meaningful matches? The answer is that the WWE had built up a fantastic mid-card. That’s probably the only feasible way. Granted, did it help that a lot of its stars made names of themselves before they got to the WWE? I would think so, but guys like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho had been with the company multiple years by that point and a guy like Rob Van Dam debuted with the company the year before. Regardless of the reasons, this show had meaningful matches that made for some great wrestling throughout the card. There were no bathroom breaks on this show.

- This was the first Summerslam after the brand split took place between Raw and Smackdown earlier that year. What stood out to me the most was how superior the wrestling was on Smackdown was to Raw at this point. Raw had the bigger names such as Triple H, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels and Jericho, but Smackdown boasted a roster of unbelievable in-ring performers such as Kurt Angle, Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Edge.

- Smackdown was on such a roll at this point that it was given the main event of this show with Brock Lesnar challenging The Rock for the WWE Undisputed Championship. The build up for this match warranted it being in the main event. The WWE presented this match not as two heated rivals with a personal issue, but as two world-class athletes vying for the richest prize in the business. It was a build that the UFC has perfected since then, and the WWE has inexplicably abandoned. Everyone knows that professional wrestling is a scripted show with a pre-determined outcome, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be an air of realism surrounding certain matches, especially big ones like this. The build to this match made you believe that despite all of the craziness that comes with pro wrestling, that this had some realistic aspects to it. I think the fans appreciated then and would still do so today.

- The match itself between Lesnar and The Rock was fantastic, as most would expect between two thoroughbreds like these two. Besides the great action, the most interesting was the crowd reaction from the fans in Long Island during the match to each competitor. Lesnar was cheered like a conquering babyface despite being a terror since he debuted earlier that year. The Rock, on the other hand, was booed despite being one of the biggest babyfaces of all time heading into the match. Why? The answer is that fans began to resent The Rock for going back and forth between the WWE and his burgeoning career in Hollywood. The Rock was no longer theirs. The fans had to share him now with other forms of entertainment. Unfair or not, that’s how they felt at the time. No one could truly fault The Rock for pursuing these lofty goals. It has certainly paid off for him in the long run, but the fans looked at Lesnar as a wrestler’s wrestler. Plus, they all felt that it was his time to shine, which it was.

- Lesnar’s time to shine came faster than anybody that I could remember. He debuted on WWE television the night after WrestleMania in March. Five months later, he became the youngest WWE Champion in history. Lesnar was only 25 years, one month and 13 days old when he pinned The Rock for the title. As a current 25-year-old, it makes me think I could have done a lot more with my life by this point if Lesnar could win the WWE Championship. Before anyone goes crazy, I know that Randy Orton was younger when he defeated Benoit for the World Heavyweight Championship at Summerslam two years later, but that was the World Heavyweight Championship, not the WWE Championship.

- The Rock being the consummate pro that he is reacted to the fans booing him, which essentially made him the heel during this match. After the match, The Rock cut a heel promo that was not aired on television. He then took off for more work in Hollywood before returning the next year with a new heel persona that was very entertaining. That heel persona began to bubble on this night.

- While The Rock was one his way out of the door, Shawn Michaels made his triumphant return to a WWE ring on this night where when went up against Triple H in an unsanctioned street fight. This was Michaels’ first match since WrestleMania XIV in 1998. He took the next four years off to fix his badly injured back and to fix himself as a person. It was essentially a mini-retirement. When Michaels returned, he worked with Triple H in a classic match. The most amazing thing about this match was that Michaels showed little to no rust in first match in four years. Michaels hadn’t worked any matches during his hiatus. Not one, but his timing was still impeccable. He hadn’t lost a step. The (heartbreak) kid still had it. The match itself told a great story that mostly based around Michaels’ injured back. Triple H worked Michaels’ back for the majority match, which undoubtedly helped Michaels gain the sympathy of the fans. It only added to the match.

- The only problem I had with the Michaels-Triple H match was the notion that it was unsanctioned. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but that was the most organized unsanctioned match I’ve ever seen. There were entrances, there was a referee and there was a pin fall. If the WWE wouldn’t sanction the match, then why would it look like the Islanders had won the Stanley Cup when Michaels made his entrance? If the WWE didn’t sanction the match, why was there a referee in the ring? Jim Ross tried to explain that all the official could was count to three, why would the WWE supply an official for a match it didn’t sanction. It didn’t make sense to me.

- What I didn’t have a problem with was the opening match between Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio, which tore the house down. At this point, Mysterio was still legitimate cruiserweight that wasn’t beating heavyweight wrestlers, which made him a considerable underdog. Despite that, he had people believing he might have been able to actually sneak one out over Angle. Kudos must to Angle for being open-minded. A lot of guys like him probably wouldn’t have given Mysterio as much as he did because they wouldn’t see it as believable, but Angle made Mysterio look like a million bucks.  

- After two decades in professional wrestling, Ric Flair made his Summerslam debut against Chris Jericho on this night. I personally thought Jericho should have won the match, but the match was good nonetheless.

- The Un-Americans was a pretty cool faction that garnered a ton of heat. Wearing the American flag upside down not even a year after the horrible events of Sept. 11, 2001 legitimately infuriated fans.

- Before the main event, ring announcer Howard Finkel was forced to play a heel for some reason. It didn’t gain too much of a reaction because no one wanted to boo or hate Finkel. He looked so uncomfortable having to make fun of the Long Island women.

Vaughn Johnson Sports Producer
About this blog
The Squared Circle is a one-stop shop of pro wrestling news, recaps and observations. You can also enjoy interviews with some of your favorite stars from the world of professional wrestling both nationally and locally. Reach Vaughn at vjohnson@philly.com.

Vaughn Johnson Sports Producer
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