SummerFest Countdown: 2002

The SmarK Rant for SummerSlam 2002 Live from Long Island, NY. Your hosts are JR & King for RAW matches, and Cole & Tazz for Smackdown matches. You know what would be awesome? If both teams did commentary for the whole show on separate audio tracks, and when the DVD is released you can just switch audio streams to pick who you want to listen to. Or even live, using the SAP feature. (Does anyone even use SAP anymore?  Is that still a thing?)  Opening match: Kurt Angle v. Rey Mysterio. (Smackdown Six IN THE HOUSE!) Rey attacks from behind and gets a headscissors from behind Kurt’s back. I’m still waiting for someone with a deathwish to take a reverse rana bump – a rana applied to the rear. (Seen it in the indies.  Doesn’t look great.  I think Jack Evans is the only one who can take it.)  Angle quickly takes him down with the anklelock, but Rey flips out of it and sends Kurt into the corner. He tries the 619, but it misses and Rey gets yanked onto the floor. Back in, Angle stomps away and gets a suplex. Rey’s attempt at a bulldog is turned into a german suplex, but Rey rolls him up for two. Angle lays him out for two. Backbreaker gets two. Angle chokes away and slugs him down, and then blocks another headscissor attempt with a backbreaker. Nice spot. Into a half-crab, but Rey cradles for two. Angle puts him down again. Rey gets a jawbreaker and fires back, but Kurt blocks a sunset flip and fires off a suplex. Rey reverses the Angle Slam and dumps him. The ref gets in the way of a highspot, so Rey vaults over him and hits it anyway. Back in, springboard legdrop gets two. Kurt counters to an anklelock, but Rey counters that and hits the 619 on a dazed Angle. West Coast Pop gets two. Man, Angle is just bumping all over the place for Rey. Leg lariat and Rey goes up, and then dodges the Pop-Up Superplex. He gets too cute, however, trying a top-rope rana, and Angle counter-balances his weight and takes him down with an anklelock that probably sounded better on paper than it ended up looking. Rey taps at 9:20. Good hot opener, as Angle finds new ways to make everyone on the planet look like a million bucks. *** It astounds me that the WWE has Kurt Angle, Ric Flair and Chris Benoit under contract – the three people in North America who can elevate just about anyone to their level in any match – and can’t find something better to do with ANY of them. But hey, if Angle is doomed to fight Rey and Kidman in ***+ 10-minute matches every show, that’s a risk I’m willing to live with. Chris Jericho v. Ric Flair. Some people might have had high expectations for this, but I’ve seen their match on Thunder from 1998 and I wasn’t getting my hopes up. This match was one of those rare occasions where the actual match should have been secondary to the participants talking each other’s ear off week after week. For some reason they tried a more physical build to the match, as they attacked each other and rarely ever used interview time to hype the match. They do the psyche-job on each other to start, and Flair takes him down for two. Jericho hammers away and gets a clothesline. Backdrop suplex sets up an elbow, which misses. Flair starts chopping and dumps Jericho, and more chops back in result. Jericho returns fire and Flair can’t even do his Flip properly, which has to be the ultimate humiliation for him. They brawl outside and Jericho drops him on the railing and they head back in. Jericho slugs him down and gets a dropkick for two. The good old wrist tape gets used for some choking, and they slug it out. (In a world without blading, what purpose does wrist tape even serve anymore?)  Flair loses that battle. Jericho argues his right to choke Flair out to the referee, with his primary defense being that he’s the King of the World. However, since he apparently left his King of the World ID card at home, the ref forces a break. He opts for a suplex instead and goes up, but Flair slams him off. Wow, that’s the first time I’ve seen Flair actually use that strategy AGAINST his opponent. Flair chops back and gets a backdrop suplex for two. Jericho reverses a suplex, but Flair reverses the Walls for two. Jericho chops again to set up a bulldog, but misses the Lionsault. Flair goes to a half-crab (which looked like an attempt to try the Walls of Flairico) but Jericho reverses to a figure-four. Flair taps just as he makes the ropes, and Jericho thinks he’s won. I’m pretty sure if you submit, you submit, regardless of your placement in the ring, actually, but this IS wrestling, if you know what I mean. (Isn’t that really a ridiculous part of the wrestling thing? – if you’re literally screaming that you quit but you happen to be holding the ropes at the time, it doesn’t count.  Given that this is the case, why don’t bookers then use that trope to their advantage by making someone look badass and get a submission move over?  The other guy wouldn’t even have to lose, because he could yell and scream in submission but be in the ropes, so you get the move over and then the victim can go on to win anyway.)  Jericho crotches himself and Flair finishes with the figure-four at 10:23, which is just ridiculous because Flair didn’t even so much as kick Jericho in the knee to build up to that. Plus 10 for effort in getting the move over, minus several million for style. ** (I’m sure Jericho had no problem doing the job for Flair.)  I should note, by the way, that I’m willfully ignoring the porn-level acting by Eric and Stephanie in their pointless backstage interludes, as well as the ridiculous Nidia stuff from the World. Edge v. Eddy Guerrero. Edge gets a flapjack and they jockey for position, and Eddy pounds away. Criss-cross and Edge gets a slam for two. Edge ties him up and spears him, but makes the classic babyface boner of trying the same move twice, and misses in dramatic fashion. They brawl outside and Eddy goes for the arm. Back in, Eddy stomps him and takes him down by the arm. Armbar takedown from the top gets two. That is, as they say on the continent, MOTHERFUCKING SWEET, DUDE. (I’m very worldly, you know.)  Eddy works a hammerlock and stomps him down. Into a crossface-chicken wing of all things, but Edge fights free…and fights right into a Herb Kunze armbar. That’s some sweet matwork from the Master of the Mullet. Backdrop suplex on the shoulder leads into a wristlock, but Edge powerslams him. Backdrop, but he runs into an elbow. Edge with the bulldog for two. Eddy gets dumped and Edge follows with a bodypress to the floor. Back in, they head up and Edge reverses a superplex attempt into an inverted powerbomb for two. Eddy blocks a spear with a dropkick to the shoulder, however. The frog splash misses. Edge gets the Implant DDT for two. Another try is reversed to a Northern Lights suplex, on the shoulder, for two. Neckbreaker sets up another try at the frog splash, but Edge follows him up. Eddy fights him off and frog splashes the shoulder for two. Edge spears him out of nowhere (with the BAD SHOULDER) for the pin at 11:45. Edge sold like a champ for the whole match, but that finish was just inexcusable – if you spear a guy with your injured shoulder, you should crumple to the mat in pain. (I hope someone got FIRED over that one!) Well, the sudden outburst of psychology has not gone unnoticed by me, at least. ***1/4 WWE tag title match: The Un-Americans v. Booker T & Goldust. Goldust gets a butt-butt on Christian for two. He grabs an armbar on Storm and an atomic drop, and Booker comes in with an elbow and a sideslam. Kneedrop gets two. Goldust comes back in, and a cheapshot turns the tide to the heel side. The banter with JR & King is really weird, as King tries to bash Canada and JR steers things towards the bad people just being generally anti-American, rather than pro-Canadian. Talk about generic heels – they don’t even get home cities anymore (it’s just “Canada” in the ring intros) and their whole shtick is based on not liking America. Hell, bring in Alex Wright and let them defect to Germany and be neo-Nazis – at least it’d be politically correct to hate them, then. Christian could be all “Aryans totally reek of superiority!” and it’d draw MILLIONS. Or not. Anyway, Christian chokes away, and gets a backbreaker for two, as Goldust is YOUR freak-in-peril. I think the main problem with the face team here is lack of a catchy nickname. The wittiest one that I’ve had readers send to me so far is “Black Gold”, which is fine so far as you want to compare them to crude oil. Or maybe I’m just bitter because “Midnight Ass Rockers” never took off for Billy & Chuck. (And why DIDN’T it?) Goldust rolls up Storm for two, but Christian cuts off the tag. False tag follows (you’d think after 12 tag titles that Booker would know not to fall for that trick – but then he DID lose them 12 times, as well) and allows more heel shenanigans. Goldust fights them off and cradles Christian for two, but they collide. Storm draws Booker over, and thus no tag is made. That’s a pretty cool little spot that you don’t see anymore. (You don’t see much tag team wrestling at all in WWE now, full stop.)  Concerto misses, however, and Goldust makes the hot tag to Booker. He slugs away on Christian and gets a forearm. Missile dropkick gets two. Flapjack and the ref is bumped, so of course Booker chooses that moment to hit the double-axe kick on both heels and do the Spinarooni. Some people just never learn. Test runs in, punts him with the big kick, and Christian gets the pin at 9:36 to retain. That’s either setting up the lamest feud ever between Booker and Test, or setting the stage for Black Gold to make one last challenge in MSG and win the titles. (The second one.)  Either way, I found the match a major disappointment, with generally lethargic work from everyone. ** Intercontinental title: Chris Benoit v. Rob Van Dam. You know, it’s been said before, but this title has become so devalued and associated with meaningless midcard matches between guys with nothing better to do that they’re almost better off just scrapping it and going with the World and tag titles as the only belts in the promotion. (And this was when the title almost still meant something!  And in fact they did scrap the title two months after this.) I mean, come on, bully for great matches, but do you think anyone is even gonna MENTION this match tonight on RAW outside of “RVD brought the title back to RAW”? The belt has just become another crutch for lazy booking – as HHH/Shawn shows, fighting for pride can be just as effective as fighting for a belt. Especially with the kind of scrotum-less booking that results in a plotline of “Heel gets shot at belt and wins, face remembers rematch clause, face wins rematch” with no further development from the writers. (AKA Every storyline with John Cena ever) Where’s the chase? Where’s Rob bitching because Benoit jumped to Smackdown to duck him? Where’s Benoit defending against a Smackdown guy on the PPV and a pissed-off RVD storming the ring (the only way he legally can – on a PPV) to give the fans a taste of an interpromotional feud without wasting it on a meaningless match? Instead we get the focus on Bischoff & Stephanie as they play legal games with each other. Oh, no, Dawn Marie’s incompetence gave Bischoff the upper hand this week. Well whoop-de-fucking-doo. Anyway, I digress. Rob kicks away and Benoit bails. Once again, Rob is free to kick like a REAL MAN instead of a neutered WWE Superstar, because Benoit is the shit and Fit Finlay is at ringside. Fit’s the kinda guy who would wrestle RVD, get kicked in the face by one of Rob’s supposedly dangerous kicks, and then complain afterwards that the cartilage of his nose is still intact and thus Rob wasn’t putting his heart into it. That’s the kind of positive locker room influence you need – not Undertaker lecturing guys about how they can’t work, but FIT MOTHERFUCKING FINLAY lecturing guys on how they’re all pussies if they can’t take a little contact in their kicks.  (AMEN!  There was SO MUCH whining from people when RVD started in WWE about how he couldn’t work because of his kicks hurting too much and how I presume they didn’t want any of the giant piles of cash that pushing him even harder would have generated.) Back in, Benoit takes him down into a headlock, but he misses a charge and Rob cross-bodies him for two. German suplex turns the tide, however. Benoit goes for the neck, and short-arm clothesline gets two. Backbreaker gets two. Snap suplex gets two. Benoit goes to a standing armbar and elbows him down, but Rob cradles for two. Monkey-flip, but Benoit lays him out and starts chopping. Rob goes up and misses the moonsault, and Benoit misses the flying headbutt. Chris, PLEASE, retire that move. As cool as it is to see the throat-cutting sign again, another neck injury isn’t worth the pop. (Or worse…)  Rob misses the frog splash, and Benoit gets his first crossface of the evening. The major problem with the match comes up here, as Rob sells it like a chinlock due to his seeming inability to appear motivated for ANYTHING. (THC is a hell of a drug.  As I’ve noted before, that’s why I don’t smoke pot.  Motivation is a tough sell for me at the best of times, and I don’t need anything that’s gonna me even LESS likely to finish whatever project I’m working on.) RVD makes the ropes, and Benoit goes back to chopping him. Rob goes up for a quick move, but gets tossed into the railing and then into the post. Back in, Benoit gets a shoulderbreaker (is he trying to have a competition with Eddy or something to see who can bust out the most phat psychology?) and slugs him down for two. The audience gets distracted by someone telling stories of when the Islanders didn’t suck, so Benoit goes to a surfboard until security tosses the guy. I bet it was that trouble-maker Becker. Rob powers out, but Benoit holds the wrists and turns it into a strait-jacket choke. Rob rolls out of it, but Benoit takes him down again. You see, this is called wrestling. Not sports entertainment, but actual honest-to-god professional wrestling. Move, counter-move. Not hard. Trust me, if that’s all the fans are fed, that’s what they’ll pop for eventually. Rob gets his own takedown, but Rolling Thunder is reversed into another try at the crossface. Rob still can’t quite get his head around what he needs to do. Here’s a hint: Scream in agony and act like you desperately want to get to the ropes. Rob tries to reverse, but Benoit reverses that reversal into a cradle that gets two, and he sends Rob into the post for wasting his time. Back to the hammerlock, which is then modified into a rolling northern-lights suplex sequence, with each one focused directly on the arm, leading into another try at the crossface, and BY GOD if Rob doesn’t start selling that arm I’m gonna go postal. Benoit is just serving this match up on a silver platter for RVD and the lesson doesn’t seem to be registering. (Perhaps Undertaker was right and Rob doesn’t know how to work?)  Rob tries another reversal when making the ropes fails, so Benoit grabs his other free arm, positions himself between RVD and the ropes to prevent another escape, and then bridges up into a dragon sleeper. My god where’s Ricky Morton to scream like a girl and dramatically clutch his arm when you need him? (Probably spending his child support money on hookers and blow, judging by his recent troubles.)  Rob reverses that sleeper to his own unique interpretation of the crossface, but Benoit dropkicks the arm. Rob comes back with a springboard dropkick for two. Spinkick and Rolling Thunder get two. See, now how is he supposed to believably cartwheel around the ring when Benoit has spent 15 minutes pulverizing his arm? Spinkick gets two. Rob goes up, but gets crotched and superplexed. He reverses in mid-air, however, and both guys are out. Rob is up first, frog splash finishes at 16:29 and all the titles are now on RAW. You know, it’s kind of a shame, because RVD has all the credentials for being the pre-eminent pretty boy babyface, but he can’t sell worth shit and the fans don’t want to boo him enough to make him a heel. Thus, he’s stuck in the midcard and probably won’t go any further up the ladder. The crowd wasn’t into this much, but then Rob didn’t give them much reason to make an emotional investment into it. Notice how the gradual shift to in-ring realism has suddenly exposed guys like Van Dam and the brawling HHH as not being able to keep up with the times? Well, maybe it’s just me, but if they let Brock Lesnar start to show what he can do on the mat, the WWE main event style may in jeopardy of…gasp…changing with the times! (Brock did kinda do that with the Angle series, but then Cena came along and it went right back to the status quo again.)  Anyway, the big gap in psychology hurt this a lot, but it was THAT close to being a classic and unfortunately just couldn’t get over the hump. ***3/4 Undertaker v. Test. If anyone needs to take a break to pee, now would be a good time. I’ll wait. Test overpowers him, but Taker works the arm. Clothesline gets two. Ropewalk is blocked as Test crotches him, and they brawl outside. Back in, Test chokes away. Corner clothesline and he goes to an armbar for absolutely no reason. See, that’s the OTHER factor preventing submission-based mat wrestling from having any real impact – guys just using armbars as restholds with no rhyme or reason behind it. Taker gets a backdrop suplex, but Test slugs away. Slug being the operative word for this match. Taker DDT gets two. He gets his ropewalk and snake eyes, but Test stops a chokeslam. Another one hits, and the Un-Americans run in. JR doesn’t condone their Un-American activities, by the way. Him and Senator McCarthy both. (Now there’s the angle for Linda to play – just start accusing everyone of being commies!)  No DQ, of course, as Taker fights off all three and tombstones Test as an afterthought for the pin at 8:18. Always nice to see the guy with the worst match on the show get the title shot at the next PPV. Not actively horrible, but given the matches preceding and following it, fuck ’em if they think I’m giving it a break. 1/2* And really, hearing JR gush with American pride as Undertaker waves the flag is a bit silly, especially since Undertaker SHOVED HIS FACE IN VINCE’S ASS. Well, forgive and forget I guess, but MAN JR has a short memory sometimes. Official WWE Non-Sanctioned Match: HHH v. Shawn Michaels. Shawn is sporting his 1995 Smoking Gunns attire tonight, probably concealing leg braces or the like. HHH also takes us back to the past, shaving for the first time in what seems like years. He looks kinda like Homer Simpson without the beard. And almost as bald – check out the Michael Bolton Baldness Denial going on here. (Shawn’s got it worse these days.)  Another couple of years of shooting steroids and he’ll look like Kurt Angle. Say what you will about him “just working out”, but you don’t go from thick blond hair in 1997 to thin straggly hair and a bald spot in 2002 without some chemical assistance. Unless he’s got cancer, I guess. They slug it out and Shawn takes him down and dumps him. He follows with a pescado and they head back in, and do a chase on the way. Shawn finds a garbage can, but gets dumped on the railing. Back in, Shawn gets a clothesline and goes up for a double axehandle. Superkick misses and HHH gets a sadistic backbreaker and another one to show that he really means business. The psychology here is a gimme in terms of getting it over – it’s well known that Shawn has a crippling back injury, so any punishment at all to the back is amplified 100 times in the fans’ minds. It’s a great shortcut – you can skip 10 minutes of working the body part because one move, in the minds of the fans, is enough to damage the back again. HHH whips him into the corner and slugs him down. Elbow to the back gets two. I feel like singing “You always hurt the one you love”. Good old Spike Jones. HHH get a chair and blasts Shawn in the back for two. Shawn reverses a suplex for two, but walks into a facebuster and gets DDT’d on the chair for two. HHH uses Shawn’s own belt for some S&M-styled foreplay. Then it’s off under the ring, where he finds his trusty sledgehammer / phallic symbol, but Shawn fights him off. Man, this match works on so many levels, even the sick ones. HHH goes to an abdominal stretch instead, and that provokes an argument with Earl Hebner about using the ropes, which is of course completely ludicrous because the ref has no authority here. They head up and Shawn gets crotched and hung upside-down in position for either a chairshot to the ass or some spanking, depending on which level you’re reading this recap. HHH sets up the chair and drops Shawn’s back on it, which is just such a sick spot that I have to wonder about Shawn’s sanity. Sideslam on the chair gets two. Ditto. Pedigree, but Shawn goes low to block. HHH stalks him with the chair, but Shawn superkicks it back in his face to reassert his manhood in the relationship. A bigtime bladejob for HHH results. Shawn’s facial bleeding earlier in the match, by the way, was pretty much the first appearance of the legendary blood capsule in like 10 years, but I can understand not wanting to mutilate yourself for a one-shot match. Shawn fights back with the forearm and kip-up, and suddenly he’s on fire again like a revivalist preacher. Chairshot and Shawn dumps HHH and batters him right back with the belt. He even uses Hugo Savinovich’s boot, which might be a tip of the hat to his match with Diesel in 1997, but I doubt it. He finds a ladder and harpoons HHH with it. Catapult into the ladder gets two. HHH baseball slides the ladder back into him, and they head back in. Shawn superplexes him for two. Sunset flip gets two. HHH hits him with the high knee for two. He grabs the stairs, but that backfires and Shawn dumps him. A table gets set up and HHH ends up on it, and then through it via a splash. Ladder gets set up in the corner back in the ring, and Shawn drops the elbow and cues up the band. Superkick misses, but he reverses the Pedigree for the pin at 27:23. He probably should have just gone over clean with the superkick, but that’s not important. **** HHH attacks him and Shawn does the stretcher job to close out the match. (Of course I upgraded this to the full monty on rewatch recently.  Hope there’s no long rants coming up to make me look foolish.)  Now then. Yes, it was a great match, but there’s mitigating circumstances. First, the greatness of the match was based on two primary things: Shawn Michaels knowing the EXACT moments to make his babyface comebacks, and Shawn Michaels bumping like a man on enough painkillers to tranquilize Anna Nicole Smith with the knowledge that he is never going to wrestle again. The match stood out in stark contrast to the mat-based wrestling surrounding it, and thus seemed different and edgy, even though it wasn’t really. The booking was extremely protective of both guys, and the question you have to ask yourself is this: Who does it help? Does it help Shawn Michaels, retired for four years and back into retirement again now? Does it help HHH, already a big star and no longer needing the rub given by Michaels? Does it help any of the guys below them who had to watch HHH sleepwalk through matches with people he should have been elevating and then lecture them about needing to work harder? Notice how HHH gets motivated – wrestling a Clique buddy who he is only all too willing to show ass and sell his ass off for. Does it help the people above them who have been trying for 4 years to get out from Shawn’s shadow, only to have him try to steal the show again? What it comes down to is that sometimes a great match shouldn’t necessarily BE a great match, when a good one would have done just as well to show that Shawn could still have ANY match, period. I’m not saying that everyone should start deliberately dogging it so as not to show up the main-eventers, but did we really need Shawn splashing HHH through a table and diving off a ladder? The story of the match – Shawn gets his back beaten to a pulp but comes back because he has heart and guts – was enough of a story without all the ga-ga on top of it. Sometimes less is more. And think about this – what if Shawn had done his comeback match against Brock Lesnar and sacrificed his bad back to the bearhug in the name of getting Brock over as a career-killer? That would be a worthwhile goal. This, as it is, was good, but at best served only as an egofuck for HHH & Shawn in terms of usefulness to the promotion. If HHH was really serious about doing what’s right for business, he’d go out on RAW tonight and make someone a star, no excuses, no self-serving bullshit non-finishes, no inspirational speeches before and after. But who needs action when you’ve got words?  (Of course, I was wrong about Shawn’s comeback and freely admit it.)  WWE title: The Rock v. Brock Lesnar. Speaking of action rather than rhetoric, you get the Rock, whose entire purpose as champion is to make Brock Lesnar into a main-eventer. Do you think he whines to Vince about that? Do you think being the biggest star in the business and yet being nothing more than a sacrificial lamb for the Next Big Thing bothers him in the least? Brock gets a belly-to-belly for two. Backbreaker and the crowd gets on Rock with a “Rocky Sucks” chant. Well, they cheer for the Islanders, so what do they know? Brock works the ribs in the corner and tosses him, where a beating follows. Back in, Brock gets another suplex for two. Rock slugs back, but Paul trips him up and Brock stomps away. Powerslam gets two. Crowd gets on Rock again, so he starts using his subtle heel persona. Brock stays on the ribs, but hits the post and Rock gets a backdrop suplex. Both do the kip-up at the same time, and Rock slugs away, but can’t knock him down. DDT gets two, however. Rock goes after Heyman, and gets the Sharpshooter, pissing off the crowd, and they start chanting for Lesnar. Rock goes after Heyman again (Brock really should have powered out of that), which allows Brock to get the HULK-BUSTER ’02 bearhug. He holds it and gets a couple of near-falls. Rock’s comeback draws boos. Infidels. Rock goes low, not helping his cause any. Lesnar goes back to the ribs, and Rock fights back again and spit-punches him out. He preps the table and puts Heyman through it, finally dislodging the Yankees cap, and sends Brock into the post. Back in, Rock Bottom gets two. Brock should have just popped up and no-sold. Small thing, but Rock is leaving anyway. BROCK Bottom gets two. Rock makes one last go with the spinebuster, but Brock DOES no-sell that, and MURDERS Rock with a lariat. One F5 later, and we have a new champion, clean in the middle at 16:03. *** Lesnar should send Rock a Christmas card and 5% of his paycheque for the rest of his career because of this match. Now will the fans buy it? (Spoiler:  They did.) 
The Bottom Line: Best WWE PPV of the year, by far. (That’s not saying much given the dogshit we put up with in 2002, but yeah, this was some damn good stuff.)  Everything top-to-bottom (except UT-Test, but who cares about them?) was solid and the lesson about wrestling replacing brawling seems to be FINALLY sinking in with the thick-skulled management. Whether or not Brock Lesnar signals the start of a new era is definitely up in the air, but at least they’re trying, and I never fault people for trying too hard. (Except for Shawn Michaels and HHH, apparently.) Thumbs way up.