Summer 2002. I was still at university. The world was my oyster and I didn't have a care in the world. Fast forward 15 years later and I'm a dad and I still haven't grown out of watching wrestling. The more things change the more things stay the same. That old adage can certainly be applied to WWE as well. This year Brock Lesnar is appearing in the main event of Summerslam and 15 years ago he was walking down the aisle with Paul Heyman by his side and fighting for the top title in the industry as well.
Of course things were very diferent back then. This was Brock's absolutely insane first year on the main roster, destroying numerous people with every appearance and Heyman's "Next Big Thing" soon became THE Big Thing in WWE. Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Bubba Ray Dudley, Booker T, RVD and even Hulk Hogan all took on the newest sensation in quick succession leading up to Summerslam. Lesnar's victory at King of the Ring solidified his title shot at Summerslam and the rest was history.
The 2002 event wasn't all about Brock Lesnar however. The card was stacked with bonafide legends such as The Rock, HBK, HHH and Kurt Angle all in their prime. Guys like Edge, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit were all going out there and giving it their all to try and break through to the next level. The brand split had created some exciting scenarios and Raw's Eric Bischoff and Smackdown's Stephanie McMahon were always trying to one-up each other with talent acquisitions and feuds. Most importantly the Nassau Coliseum crowd were HOT and ready to eat up absolutely anything that was put in front of them.
Opener: Kurt Angle vs Rey Mysterio
Is Kurt Angle the best wrestler of all time? Is he my favourite wrestler of all time? These are questions that I've never been able to answer. He COULD be but his time in TNA/Impact Wrestling/whatever they're called these days calls into question what Kurt could have been. All I know is Kurt seems to be able to put on good to great matches with absolutely anyone and that speaks volumes. Not that Kurt needed to try hard here against a motivated and fresh Mysterio. It's only when you look back at WCW and his early WWE career that you realise quite how much Rey's work has slowed down and changed over the years. He's still fully capable of having decent matches but it's the sheer speed of his matches that takes your breath away. Counter after counter, flips and suplexes and all manner of things are thrown into a ridiculously short match but these guys almost steal the show at the first attempt. Definitely one of the best PPV openers and candidate for one of the best 'short matches' ever. Angle goes over but we all win.
Edge vs Eddie Guerrero
It's always quite weird looking back and seeing guys at a lower level than you've become accustomed to. With everything Edge went through on his journey it's hard to believe that back around 2002 he wasn't necessarily seen as one of the prime candidates to move up to the main tier of talent, but then you could say the same for Guerrero and Benoit etc. Guys who were putting on great matches night after night but just needed that something extra to push them forward. Here both men work well together but it's clear they're a few years away from anything greater but with Heyman behind these guys on Smackdown the landscape was about to change in the next few years. This was a solid match but more interesting from a historical perspective especially considering where both men's careers went after. An Edge win only led to further matches together but that was never a bad thing.
Unsanctioned Street Fight - Shawn Michaels vs Triple H
This is the kind of match and feud that keeps my heart in wrestling, especially WWE. When people say that NJPW or ROH etc are delivering better matches that may be the case but nothing can quite compete with the emotional connection I have with a company I've been watching since the 80s. The story of HBK coming back after a career ending injury was something you couldn't have written any better, and the emotional connection with his best friend HHH made this feud something really special. It's a brutal and beautiful match with HHH at his heel best and Shawn showing that babyface fire that made him one of the greatest of all time. Each hit to Shawn's back is felt by the crowd and every time he comes back there's such an amazing applause and desperation from the crowd that is rarely felt. And to know that Shawn went on to have his best run with the company after this show is quite frankly ridiculous. One of the top Summerslam matches of all time without question and no doubt one of the best both men ever delivered.
WWE Undisputed Championship - The Rock vs Brock Lesnar
The meteoric rise of the future MMA star was a real surprise at the time and yet somehow it felt completely warranted. Lesnar was a beast like no other with a combination of speed, strength and natural wrestling ability that no one had ever seen. To see him challenge for the main title only a few months after his main roster debut was incredible and yet he never looked out of place. On the other end of the spectrum you had The Rock who was a true superstar but heading towards the end of his regular WWE career. We all know where he ended up! The Rock does a great job here of putting over Lesnar – not that he needed to – and this really feels like a changing of the guard. Very rarely do WWE strap a rocket to the back of an unproven guy and give him the ball to run with but here they feel solidly behind Lesnar. It's a competitive enough match that makes it look like The Rock has a fair chance but in the end Brock is just too much for him. The Rock would actually disappear for six months after this and come back as a heel due to his 'Hollywood' persona, and what happened to Brock Lesnar? Well that's a tale that continues right through to this year's PPV.
Other matches: Flair and Jericho had a fun but forgettable contest, while not-so-dead Undertaker had a pointless affair with Test which was more about the American flag than anything. Lance Storm and Christian faced one of my favourite pairings ever in Booker T and Goldust, and RVD had a Intercontinental Title fight according to the WWE Network. Doesn't mention who against strangely..
Summerslam 2002 was a solid affair bumped up by a few memorable moments in WWE history – Shawn's epic return and Lesnar solidifying himself as one to watch really early in his career. For those reasons alone it's enough to make it one of my favourite Summerslams of all time.