WWE PPV Flashbacks: Summerslam (8/25/02) - "The Next Big Champion"

August 25, 2002
Nassau Coliseum, Long Island, NY

Returning to one of the sites of WrestleMania 2, the biggest event of the summer was a highly anticipated show for a number of reasons. The main event was highly intriguing as the new Undisputed Champion, The Rock, was set to face off against the main event untested Brock Lesnar. With the chance of a new star emerging, the show also saw the unexpected return of an old one though, as Shawn Michaels was scheduled to return for one match only against his former best friend Triple H, after the Game turned on him the night after signing with Raw at the behest of HBK back at Vengeance. The match was huge at the time as everybody pretty much figured Michaels was done by this point. What would be even more shocking was that this one match would end up starting up a second career run for the Showstopper as we will see over the remainder of the decade. But more on all that later, for now, lets dive in to the 2002 edition of SummerSlam. As always, please follow me at @Mpmcc91 on Twitter and spread the word about these reviews!

We start the night off without a video package but go straight into the arena. For the first time since the brand extension started, they've worked out how to handle commentary duties as the Raw team of Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler, and the Smackdown team of Michael Cole & Tazz will handle their respective brand's matches, as would be the case for the next eight years or so. JR & King begin their tradition of sitting up near the stage on this show as well, as would become a feature of Raw from Bischoff taking over.

Rey Mysterio vs Kurt Angle
We kick the show off with a recent debut on the Smackdown brand as Rey Mysterio of WCW fame makes his long awaited arrival to WWE PPV. The masked sensation from San Diego actually lost his mask in his WCW run, but he came into WWE with the mask again, which was definitely the right move. After weeks of vignettes on the blue brand, Mysterio would debut back in June, defeating Chavo Guerrero on an episode of Smackdown. He would quickly start up a rivalry with Kurt Angle in the weeks following Vengeance, as he would pick up a shocking victory over the Olympic Gold Medallist in a six man tag leading to numerous run ins between the two in the weeks that followed, with Angle doing his best to humiliate Rey and promising to make him tap out at SummerSlam. This was obviously a fresh match to open the show with, and the crowd were keen to see Mysterio on the big stage. While Kurt has dropped down the card from the main event last month, this is fine use of him for now considering the title picture is occupied for the time being. Mysterio actually surprises Angle and pops up behind him in the ring rather than making his entrance to continue the mind games and knocks him off his feet to start the match. The match never slows from there either as its all about Kurt trying to catch Mysterio for long enough to apply the Ankle Lock, only for the smaller man to keep two steps ahead of his opponent. Angle resorts to some nice power offence as the match goes on, grinding Rey down and working over his back. Rey fights back however and uses his fast pace to rebuild momentum, with the announcers doing an awesome job of putting the new star over as well. It looks like Mysterio is going to score the victory with the 619 followed by the West Coast Pop, but Angle kicks out and follows up with the Ankle Lock. That's enough to get Mysterio to tap out at 9:20. A really fun opener that set the pace for the opener the night ahead. Rey Mysterio was unlike anybody else on the WWE roster at the time, and despite the loss, Angle winning doesn't hurt him at all here, as he puts on a fantastic showing with one of the blue brand's best. Very much in contention for best opener in SummerSlam history.
Grade: ***1/2

In the back, Eric Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon discover that there is only one GM office at the arena, so they agree to watch SummerSlam together. We'll check in on them later.

Ric Flair vs Chris Jericho
Our first match from the red brand sees the in-ring run of the Nature Boy continue as he takes on a new member of the Raw roster. This goes back to an episode of Raw a week after Vengeance when Ric Flair faced the Rock in a non title main event and vowed to have an important announcement afterwards. Rumours were running rampant that the announcement was pertaining to Flair's retirement (which is quite hilarious in hindsight), but we would not find out as the Nature Boy was interrupted and assaulted by Chris Jericho with a steel chair. Of course, Jericho had been a part of the Smackdown roster since the draft, but as Mr McMahon had allowed superstars to re-negotiate their contracts with Bischoff and Stephanie, Y2J had decided to make a change to Monday nights. The following week, Flair would get some payback by costing Jericho a match against RVD, which led to Jericho challenging Flair to a match at SummerSlam. Tension would escalate to the Raw before this PPV as Jericho and his band Fozzy would perform on stage, only for Flair to interrupt and smash up the instruments leading to their showdown on PPV. Anyway, the already hot crowd remains into this one as they get behind Flair as he attempts to shut up Y2J. At this point in time we still didn't know how much longer Flair had as an active competitor so it had a special feel to it. Another thing I've noticed rewatching these shows is how young Flair looked here, despite still being an older guy, compared to today. He has not aged well this past decade, that's for sure. Flair was regaining his confidence in the ring by the month here and he puts on a solid match with the floundering Jericho who hasn't won a match on PPV since before WrestleMania at this point. Flair busts out some of his cheap tactics to the delight of the crowd as well as a series of chops. Jericho comes back and works over Flair's back and locks in the Walls. Flair fights out of it, so Jericho instead attempts a Figure Four on his opponent. Flair resorts to a low blow however and counters into a Figure Four of his own, causing Jericho to tap at 10:22. A bit of an upset as far as the result was concerned. The crowd were happy Flair won, but I think Jericho needed the win a little more here. Nonetheless, the feud would continue into next month as Jericho would settle into his role as a upper midcard heel on Raw.
Grade: **1/2

Backstage, Paul Heyman gives Brock Lesnar a pep talk for the biggest match of his life tonight. He talks about Brock taking out Hogan on Smackdown and claims that he is in the Rock's head going into their title match.

Edge vs Eddie Guerrero
Up next we have another roster jump as we head back to the blue brand for our next contest. On the Smackdown following Vengeance, Stephanie McMahon announced that she had signed Eddie Guerrero to her show (along with another superstar as we shall see later on). In the weeks that followed, Eddie would start up a rivalry with the popular young star by the name of Edge. Edge would team with the Rock to take on Eddie & Benoit in tag team action, and in that match Edge got the pin on Eddie. Eddie was infuriated and that leads to the singles match between the two here. It was a fairly basic feud at this point that was essentially designed to give Edge another talented guy to work with as he was built up, similar to his feud with Kurt Angle earlier in the year. Eddie would become associated with Smackdown for the remainder of his career as well, so the move paid off for both men. Cole & Tazz are once again great on commentary for this one, and they really push both guys hard as the future of Smackdown. Eddie starts the match out in control, working Edge over and working the shoulder of his opponent. Both men get their chance to shine as the match continues on and you can tell Edge is becoming better and better at carrying his own weight in matches like this rather than having to be carried by the more experienced guy. In a way his 2002 is similar to the way we've seen Trish Stratus thrown in with experienced divas to improve her ring work, although Edge was obviously no slouch to start out. Despite Eddie's relentless attack on Edge's shoulder, the popular star fights through and ends up connecting with a Spear to his opponent. That keeps Eddie down for the three and Edge gets another big win at 11:47 to continue his roll of momentum on Thursday nights. An excellent showing for both men as they used the time they were given to the maximum and put on a really enjoyable match that the crowd ate up. This was another feud that was just getting started as well.
Grade: ***1/4

We now head back to Jonathan Coachman, who is standing by with Lance Storm, Christian & Test. The now renamed Un-Americans rip on America and say they can't wait to beat their opponents up next.

WWE Tag Team Championship:
Lance Storm & Christian (c) vs Booker T & Goldust

As we get to another match, we have more roster changes, this time in the form of the reigning WWE Tag Team Champions. Lance Storm & Christian (along with their fellow Un-American member Test) made the jump to Raw shortly after Vengeance, bringing their newly won titles with them. Since arriving, they have started feuding with the odd pairing of Booker T & Goldust who we have seen develop great chemistry in backstage segments over the course of the year thus far. A few weeks before this show, Booker & Goldust picked up a non-title victory over the champions setting up their shot at the gold here tonight. Meanwhile the Un-Americans continued to earn the resent of the fans for their actions against the U.S and carrying around the upside down flag to the point where even Lawler, still essentially a heel announcer at this point, wanted to see them lose. Storm & Christian had developed into a nice heel team to centre the division around after floating aimlessly on their own for much of the year until this storyline started. Booker & Goldust on the other hand were big time fan favourites, and that fan support would grow and grow throughout the rest of 2002. What we get here is a solid, albeit not earth shattering tag team match. The faces start out strong before we settle into the pattern of the heels working over Goldust until Booker finally gets the hot tag to clean house. With the crowd sensing the reign of the Un-Americans may be coming to an abrupt end however, Test makes his way out and delivers a boot to the face of Booker. The interference allows Christian to cover the former WCW Champion for the Un-Americans to retain the titles at 9:37. A fine tag match to fill out a spot on the card and continue the reign of the cheating champions. The crowd were not pleased with the result, but the challengers would continue the chase and it didn't make sense to end Storm & Christian's reign just a month in.
Grade: **1/4

Its now time for our monthly cross to the World restaurant in New York where we are joined by the reigning Cruiserweight Champion, Jamie Noble, along with Nidia. Noble gets Nidia to make out with a fan before we head back to the arena.

Back in the GM office, Bischoff and Stephanie argue over who will win the upcoming interpromotional match, and therefore which show will gain the Intercontinental Championship.

WWE Intercontinental Championship:
Chris Benoit (c) vs Rob Van Dam

Heading into this show, the Intercontinental title had become involved in the next part of the war between the two brands. A week after Vengeance, Chris Benoit defeated Rob Van Dam on Raw to become the new Intercontinental Champion. Of course, at the time, Benoit was a member of the Raw roster and nothing more was thought of the title change. That changed later in the week on Smackdown, when Stephanie McMahon announced that she had signed Benoit to a contract, and as a result he was bringing the I.C title with him. Raw was not without a remedy however, as Stacy Keibler, still in her role of assistant to the GM of Smackdown at the time, presented Eric Bischoff with a copy of a contract which revealed that RVD was entitled to a rematch. Bischoff announced the match would take place at SummerSlam with the winner determining whose brand the I.C title would be defended on. This interpromotional rivalry in the early days was something I really liked about the brand extension which made for interesting TV. They would try to replicate it years later with the Bragging Rights PPV, but it never worked. Bischoff and Stephanie had great chemistry as opposing brand leaders and really made it seem like they were running separate entities in this timeframe. Oh yeah, having two strong in ring performers like RVD and Benoit going at it doesn't hurt things either. By the way, JR & King do the commentary for this match if you were wondering. This is a solid match between two great wrestlers, although my expectations were slightly higher given the talent involved. Still, Benoit is not showing any ring rust since his return to action. Things start out slow with both men feeling each other out and pacing themselves for the battle ahead. Benoit eventually gets Van Dam in the crossface, but RVD fights out and we get some back and forth as both men get their share of near falls on each other. Benoit really takes the fight to the challenger as he chops away and works over the shoulder of RVD in hope of doing some damage for a future crossface attempt. RVD really takes a beating as Benoit busts out the Germans, but the popular challenger won't stay down. RVD's hair actually comes out of his pony tail during the match which is a different look for him. Anyway, after attempting to build momentum with a few spots here and there but constantly being decimated by Benoit, RVD finally gets things together and delivers a Five Star Frog Splash for the win at 16:30, bringing the title back with him to Mondays. This was a solid match, but with some of the matches we have already seen (and are yet to see) on this night, this kind of gets overshadowed by the other great stuff on this PPV. Fun match though with Benoit put over as a machine while RVD's heart gave him the win in the end.
Grade: ***

Back in the GM office, Bischoff gloats over his guy winning the previous match, but Stephanie just laughs before leaving. JR & King wonder what that was about. Remember that line last month about ripping away the heart of Raw? We'll find out what Stephanie meant by that in time for our next show. We then throw to a video package of the issues between the Un-Americans and the American Bad Ass.

Undertaker vs Test
As I mentioned earlier, Test jumped to Raw along with Storm & Christian shortly after Vengeance. The feud leading into this match would really complete the Undertaker face turn that I said had slowly started heading into the last PPV. The American Badass would quickly be targeted upon the Un-Americans coming to Monday nights, as they would attack during a match pitting Taker against newcomer Christopher Nowinski. The Un-Americans would lay Taker out with the help of a steel chair, and Test got on the mic afterwards, gloating about what they had did to America's Badass. Test would continue to take shots at Taker in the following weeks, including picking up a victory over him in an eight man tag match on Raw. Taker would agree to face Test at SummerSlam and said that he was fighting for his country, regaining the respect from the fans that he had demanded for months. Now this match was probably the worst on the card, but it was actually better than you might have expected looking at it on paper. Taker was back in the groove by this point after being reinvigorated by the heel run, and he gets a pretty solid match out of Test. Now this is obviously a huge spot for Test, and as we've been seeing for the past year or so now, the announcers have really been putting him over as a guy to watch in the future. After this show I think that slowly fades away and he becomes just another guy for the most part. I think his current spot on the card was probably his ceiling anyway, which isn't a knock on the guy as I enjoyed him in this role. This was a power match as you could tell going in, and the two guys try to outdo one another in the early going. Test takes control and the pace slows only for Taker to make a come back and deliver a Chokeslam. He's unable to capitalise though, as Christian and Lance Storm head back out for the distraction, only to be thrown aside by Taker. Test uses the opportunity to connect with a Big Boot on his opponent, but Taker kicks out. Moments later, the American Bad Ass hits a Tombstone on Test for the win at 8:18, sticking it to the Un-Americans with a US flag celebration after they retained their titles earlier. The match was okay, and as I said, it was a big spot for Test, but this was just to give Taker a win as he'd be back in the main event scene shortly after this show, albeit with a change in scenery ahead.
Grade: *3/4

Up next we get a video package chronicling the story behind the return to action of the Showstopper. This is the feud I always associate with the awesome theme of this PPV - Fight, which is on the Anthology album from back in the day.

Unsanctioned Street Fight:
Shawn Michaels vs Triple H

Here's the first of two huge matches tonight as we see the return to action of Shawn Michaels for the first time since losing the WWF title to Steve Austin back at WrestleMania XIV. Now, since returning to television, Michaels has been tied to his old buddy Triple H, and was the influencing factor in the Game choosing to sign with Raw last month at Vengeance. The night after that show, Michaels and Triple H held a reunion of D-Generation X, however as the two were running through their catchphrases, Triple H did the unthinkable, laying his best friend out with a Pedigree! The next week, Triple H cut a promo explaining his attack on Michaels saying they were never best friends and simply used each other to get to the top of the business. The Game was interrupted however by a ring crew member who gave Trips some news that sent him to the back to find Shawn laid out in the parking lot having his head been rammed through a car windshield. Triple H vowed to do everything he could to find the man responsible for the assault, but a few weeks later when Shawn Michaels confronted his former friend via satellite, HBK told Triple H that he knew it was him. In a great moment, Triple H's face turned to an evil smile as he replied "you're damn right it was me", and the heel turn was in full effect. Triple H said Michaels was not the superstar he once was anymore, but Shawn cut him off by telling him that while he wasn't in the best of shape right now, his doctors advised him that he would make a full recovery in time for SummerSlam. Triple H accepted the challenge, but Eric Bischoff announced that the match would not be sanctioned as he was not going to be held responsible for what the two men did to each other at the PPV. On the last Raw before the show, Michaels made his return and laid out the Game and the stage was set. Now words cannot describe how huge this whole angle was at the time. Many thought this would be Michaels' last match without question, but nothing could have been further from the truth as we will see going forwards. It was also refreshing to see Trips back in the heel role - he had come back with a strong fan support in January, but it had petered out by this point, and being the villain was a far more natural role for him. There's definitely a special big match feel in the air going into this and JR and King put over the fact that Michaels has not been in a ring for over four years. Michaels quickly shows that he has no ring rust whatsoever though, and he starts out by taking the fight to his former buddy, using his speed advantage, only for Trips to take over and target the well documented injured back of the Showstopper. Michaels doesn't stay down though and puts on a valiant fight with the crowd firmly behind him. Both guys get busted open really putting over the hatred in this feud. They pull no punches and bust out some tables and ladder spots, including an impressive diving elbow off the top from HBK. This is one of those matches that writing cannot do justice - go and check it out and you won't be disappointed. In the end, Shawn goes for Sweet Chin Music, only for Triple H to avoid it and attempt the Pedigree. He is unsuccessful though and we get a huge pop as Shawn rolls through and pins the Game at 27:20. Just an excellent match that exceeded all expectations. Nobody expected Michaels to go out there on the same level that he had in the past at the time, and Hunter was definitely the right (and only) guy to put him in there with due to their friendship behind the scenes. They tore the house down and the crowd knew they were witnessing something special. The celebration is cut short for Michaels however, as during his celebration, Triple H nails him in the back with a sledgehammer before walking off with a sadistic smile on his face to a chorus of boos. Now that ending made things even more intriguing. Triple H gets his heel heat back, but perhaps of greater note is that if this was Michaels last match, he wouldn't have gone out like that. We'll see where this story goes from here. It will simmer on the back burner for a while, but these two definitely have some unsettled business. This match would have been capable of headlining a show, but we still have one more huge match to go.
Grade: *****

At this point, Howard Finkel gets on the mic and talks himself up. He was doing a weird little feud with Lillian Garcia at the time which would lead to Lillian taking over the Raw ring announcing duties. He's interrupted by Trish Stratus however, who recently slapped Finkel on Raw and pushed him into a pool of mud. She pretends to hit on Finkel before telling him the real gift she has for him is Lillian. Lillian comes up behind and kicks the Fink in the groin before celebrating with Trish. Just a bit of filler here. Lillian would take over Raw ring announcing shortly after this, although Finkel would continue to do PPVs and this little heel thing would quickly be dropped.

From there we go to a really good video package highlighting the main event and showing the two men preparing for the huge title match.

Undisputed WWE Championship:
The Rock (c) vs Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman

As we know, Brock Lesnar earned this title shot by virtue of his King of the Ring victory, whilst Rock won that awesome triple threat at Vengeance to win the Undisputed title. The two men would cross paths on the episode of Smackdown following that PPV where Rock teamed with Hollywood Hulk Hogan for a title shot against Lance Storm & Christian. Brock would show up and take out Hogan to cost the challengers their title opportunity. Hogan wanted to face Brock for his number one contender status, so the two would face off on Smackdown, only for Brock to decimate the Icon, writing Hogan out of storylines until the new year in the process. The following week, Brock would cost Rock a match against Chris Benoit, and the two would have numerous run ins and confrontations over the weeks heading into SummerSlam. We would also get some great packages showing Rock and Brock training which really put over how important this match was. It was definitely a huge spot for Lesnar - he wasn't even on the main roster at Mania and here he is competing for the biggest prize in the company. The push was in full effect and Rock was here to be the guy to establish the Next Big Thing as having arrived. In fact, for the second big show this year, the crowd actually turns on Rock and starts cheering for Lesnar, which would have some implications down the line. Despite Brock being a Raw guy at this point, Cole & Tazz handle commentary duties for this match and they really excel in the role, whilst Heyman is his usual amazing self on the outside as well. As for the match, it is another really awesome match that keeps the momentum of the show rolling. Brock starts out in charge as he uses his power advantage, and Rock uses his speed and agility to attempt to take down the Next Big Thing. For the most part Brock remains in control as he targets the injured ribs of the Great One, but Rock gets a burst of energy and hits a belly to back suplex sending both men down. Both men spring back up, but that allows the Rock to move in and he locks in a Sharpshooter, only for Heyman to provide a distraction with a chair which brings his client back in control of the match. Brock unleashes the bear hug that he used to take out Hogan, but Rock fights out. However the crowd seem more and more in favour of Lesnar, which the announcers also acknowledge. Rock reacts like a pro and you can see some of the same facials from Mania as the match goes on. Rock regains momentum and dispatches Heyman with a Rock Bottom through the announce table and follows up with another to Brock for a near fall. The crowd is going crazy by this point as we get some finisher attempt and counter sequences in the closing minutes of the match, but in the end it is Brock Lesnar who comes out victorious, hitting Rock with an F-5 to win the title at 16:01. And with that, Brock Lesnar has become the youngest WWE Champion in history to date. An awesome match and a huge moment for the guy that the WWE looked towards as its future. This was a changing of the guard match in a lot of ways, as the Rock would take some more time off after this show to film another movie. He'd be back in time for Mania season but it was very clear that his time as a regular performer was coming to an end sooner than later, and some of the fans would begin to resent him for that as we'll see in a couple of months. For now, the WWE is running on the momentum of the Next Big Thing, but the next 24 hours would have some interesting implications on the title scene. What we had hear was a crowning moment and another awesome match to cap off an awesome night.
Grade: ****

A really strong show all round, with only the Taker/Test match really being below average. We had two awesome main events and some very good matches in the midcard as well. I think SummerSlam was a better show overall than WrestleMania in 2002, and there's a very strong case for this being the greatest SummerSlam of all time as well. Prior to this one it was 1998, but I'd put this one ahead due to being stronger overall. There's another that jumps out at me in recent history that might give this one a run for its money, but thats a long way down the line. Overall a very good show that really capped off a period of great change in the way the brand extension was carried out after the rushed end to the McMahon/Flair feud. Heading into our next show things would settle down and Raw and Smackdown would develop distinct identities and Brock winning the title here would play a huge factor in that as we shall see next time. An excellent show. That's really all there is to say.

Three Stars of the Night:
1. Shawn Michaels - as 2002 started, people would think you were crazy suggest Shawn Michaels would have one more match, let alone have it be five stars. They'd think you were even more insane if you suggested it would only be the beginning as well. Tonight, HBK proved that he was still the Showstopper.
2. Triple H - back in the heel role and delivering a classic. He'd be thrust into another position by our next show that would draw much backlash from fans.
3. Brock Lesnar - while I have to give Rock credit as well, this was Brock Lesnar's night. The jury was out on whether he would truly be able to deliver in a main event level match on a major show. The company believed in him, and the Next Big Thing silenced his doubters on this night.

FINAL GRADE: 9 out of 10

What I do here is add the three stars of the night with each review so as to keep track of who we can say overall is the greatest PPV performer to any given time. First place scores 3 points, second 2 and third 1.

Steve Austin = 111
Bret Hart = 83
Shawn Michaels = 70
The Rock = 67
Triple H = 62
Mick Foley = 38
Kurt Angle = 32
Undertaker = 30
Chris Jericho = 29
Randy Savage = 28
Hulk Hogan = 25
Owen Hart = 21
X-Pac = 18
Chris Benoit = 16
Jeff Hardy = 16
Diesel = 15
Edge = 15
Matt Hardy = 14
Ultimate Warrior = 13
Vader = 13
British Bulldog = 12
Christian = 12
Ted DiBiase = 10
Razor Ramon = 10
Vince McMahon = 10
Ric Flair = 8
Jim Neidhart = 7
Bubba Ray Dudley = 7
D-Von Dudley = 7
Rob Van Dam = 7
Jerry Lawler = 6
Dynamite Kid = 5
Arn Anderson = 5
Roddy Piper = 5
Mr Perfect = 5
Marty Jannetty = 5
Bob Backlund = 5
Shane McMahon = 5
Ricky Steamboat = 4
Ax = 4
Smash = 4
Bobby Heenan = 4
D’Lo Brown = 4
Rikishi = 4
Kane = 4
Brock Lesnar = 4
Greg Valentine = 3
Tully Blanchard = 3
Tanaka = 3
Bam Bam Bigelow = 3
Sato = 3
Jake Roberts = 3
Hakushi = 3
Yokozuna = 3
Savio Vega = 3
Ken Shamrock = 3
Chyna = 3
Brutus Beefcake = 2
Paul Orndorff = 2
Andre the Giant = 2
Rick Rude = 2
Sgt Slaughter = 2
Jeff Jarrett = 2
Jesse Ventura = 1
Texas Tornado = 1
Tito Santana = 1
Virgil = 1
Scott Steiner = 1
Rick Steiner = 1
Lex Luger = 1
The Roadie = 1
Billy Gunn = 1
Bart Gunn = 1
Marc Mero = 1
Flash Funk = 1
Animal = 1
Hawk = 1
Taka Michinoku = 1
Test = 1
Big Show = 1
Dean Malenko = 1
Scotty 2 Hotty = 1
Rhyno = 1
Eddie Guerrero = 1

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @Mpmcc91. Thanks for reading!