WWE SummerSlam 2002: A Retrospective By The Wrestling Classic

ss 02 mobile

Hey Yo! It's The Wrestling Classic here with another article for ONE37PM. It’s not another list like most of you are used to me writing every month but instead it’ll be a retrospective piece. An article where we reminisce and review one of the most memorable PPVs in WWE history - SummerSlam 2002.

This month we take a look back at arguably the greatest SummerSlam event of all time in Summerslam 2002. It is the biggest event of the Summer and one of WWE’s big four premium live events. Due to both WCW and ECW being out of business at the time, the 2002 WWE roster was stacked. The WWE was also in their first brand extension era where Raw and Smackdown were competing against each other. Eric Bischoff and Stepanie McMahon were recently announced as the General Managers of their respective brands. And as business rivals, they both watched SummerSlam 2002 go down in a shared office throughout the duration of the event.

Jim Ross and Jerry "The King" Lawler commentated on the Raw matches, while Michael Cole and Tazz called the SmackDown matches. SummerSlam 2002 took place in Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York in front of roughly 15,000 fans. And thankfully, those attendees were treated to the in-ring return of a beloved legend, breakout star moments, and just a whole lot of good wrasslin'.

Now join me as I reminisce over the greatness produced by SummerSlam 2002!

RELATED: The 15 Best WWE Celebrity Appearances, Ranked

1. Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio

Match Rating: A

As I mentioned beforehand, Eric and Stephanie were forced to share an office to watch the event unfold. This dynamic between them was fun to watch since this was during the era when both GMs could steal talent from each other's shows simply by convincing them to make the jump. There were no trades necessary, which led to a highly competitive atmosphere in WWE at the time. It's interesting how this was the first time Stephanie played the part of a babyface since 1999. Plus Eric's presence in WWE still felt pretty fresh here. The image of Eric and Stephanie in the same room together is something a lot of fans never thought they would see.

2. Ric Flair vs. Chris Jericho

SS 98 2002 65

Match Rating: C+

The next match on the card was a grudge match between the legendary "Nature Boy" Ric Flair and the self-proclaimed "King of the World" Chris Jericho. Flair kicked off 2002 as the co-owner of the WWE, then fully in charge of Raw to eventually become an active member of the Raw roster. Jericho was the WWE Undisputed Champion as the year began but lost the title belts at WrestleMania X8. He originally got drafted to SmackDown initially, but soon returned to Raw as he couldn’t personally work under Stephanie. Coming into this match, Flair was the beloved babyface while Jericho was the despised heel.

This match was decent and competitive, but never really entered a higher gear to take it to that next level of quality. Flair was dealing with confidence issues in 2002, which resulted in him feeling insecure about his status in wrestling and his overall in-ring prowess. The original finish called for Flair to win with a small cradle - however, "Naitch" defeated Jericho with his trademark Figure Four Leglock submission hold.

In one of his autobiographies, Jericho told the story about how he wanted to tap out to Flair to hopefully boost his confidence (which should clue you into how much respect Jericho had and still has for Flair). This bout might not have been that great. But considering who the participants were and it being at SummerSlam, it's still a pretty cool in-ring contest.

Backstage Paul Heyman could be seen giving Brock Lesnar a pep talk about his big WWE Championship match against The Rock that was main eventing the show. This was during the era when Lesnar was dubbed the "Next Big Thing" and man was he ever!

3. Edge vs. Eddie Guerrero

Match Rating: B-

The Un-Americans (Christian, Lace Storm, and Test) cut a backstage promo with Jonathan Coachman. This was a short-lived stable that started on SmackDown but defected to Raw shortly after. Simply put, they were a crew of Canadians that disliked everything America and its citizens.

4. The Un-Americans (Christian and Lance Storm) (c) vs. Booker T and Goldust (WWE Tag Team Championship)

booker t ss 02

Match Rating: C

The fourth match on the card was contested for the WWE Tag Team Championship. Booker T and Goldust were the fan-favorite odd couple that started teaming together in 2002 while Booker T was still part of the now-defunct nWo. The Un-Americans formed when Lance Storm pointed out that the WWE had a long history of discriminating against Canadian wrestlers. Soon after, Christian and Test joined the group.

This match was a solid tag team encounter, but I have to admit - it just isn't something I was ever too invested in, even way back in 2002. All four guys are incredibly talented individuals and they clearly were working hard during this match. Goldust took most of the heat from this match by getting beat up the most by the heels until he could get that hot tag to Booker. Booker came in like a house of fire when he finally got tagged in, only for there to be a ref bump to bring it to a disappointing end. Test came out to the ring to interfere by hitting Booker with a nasty big boot while the ref was down and allowing the Un-Americans to capitalize to retain their tag team titles.

I feel like if the titles had changed hands here, this match might have been way more memorable. Sadly, Christian and Storm were able to retain due to the numbers game advantage. This match only ran a total of roughly ten minutes.

A clip aired of Jamie Noble and Nidia at hanging out WWF New York. For those that don't know what that even is, it was a popular club/restaurant set up in Times Square that WWE used to own. It was a hotspot for fans to watch WWE PPVs for local New Yorkers and they always had talent there to host every now and then.

Fans were treated to even more spicy backstage banter between Eric and Stephanie. This segment made a ton of sense since the following match they were set to watch featured a Raw superstar competing against a SmackDown superstar.

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

Chris Benoit v Rob Van Dam SummerSlam 2002

Match Rating: B+

The next match was another clash between two of WWE’s most memorable workhorses (which was a common thread during this show). Ans this time, it featured Raw's Rob Van Dam and SmackDown’s Chris Benoit going head-to-head over WWE's lauded midcard title. This match had plenty of high stakes attached to it because this was prior to Raw and Smackdown having their own definitive championship titles. The WWE Intercontinental Championship was the only midcard title for both shows until the United States Championship was introduced to SmackDown following this event. This meant whoever won this match would have the honor of bringing the IC Championship to their respective brand. Benoit was a heel during this period, while RVD was an immensely popular fan favorite.

This was the first match to go over 15 minutes on the card. The first part of the show felt like it flew by and I think that's partially what made SummerSlam 2002 so enjoyable. These two began this match with a furious pace but slowed it down midway through for a more methodical approach. Both men worked different styles but similar to Mysterio/Angle, they complimented each other perfectly. Benoit was on the offensive for most of the match and would cut off RVD anytime he would catch some steam. It was the perfect way to get the fans more strongly behind Van Dam once he finally made his triumphant comeback.

The finish to this match came when RVD countered a top rope suplex from Benoit, which left an opening for him to land a huge Five Star Frog Splash to claim the IC championship. The psychology and selling by both men were great - those factors helped push this match to a strong level of overall quality.

Bischoff gloated backstage to Stephanie about the IC Championship coming back to Raw. Stephanie laughed off his constant disrespect before walking off in a huff. The following night on Raw, fans learned that Steph leaving the room led to her striking a deal with Lesnar and Heyman to make the Undisputed Championship exclusive to SmackDown if he was to win the belt. Stephanie proved she could manage to be one step ahead of "Easy E."

6. The Undertaker vs. Test

Match Rating: C

7. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (Unsanctioned Street Fight)


Match Rating: A+

This was the match that most of us were looking forward to the most on this show.  The anticipation was off the charts for this one as it was Shawn Michaels' triumphant return to the ring after four years since retiring in 1998 due to a back injury. Michaels had returned to the WWE on Raw in a full-time capacity as a member of the re-booted nWo. However, the group would disband pretty soon after "HBK's" shocking return. Triple H left SmackDown and returned to Raw once his ex-wife Stephanie became the GM of SmackDown. This roster change resulted in the reuniting of the two old friends from back in the day.

When it seemed as if we were going to get a D-Generation X reunion in 2002, HHH crushed everyone's dreams by turning on "HBK" and thus becoming a heel. Things would get extra personal between the two when HHH viciously attacked Michaels in the parking lot. Michaels eventually returned to challenge "The Game" to an Unsanctioned Fight since he wasn’t sure if he could still go like he used to. Michaels clearly wanted the freedom of anything goes rules to get revenge on his former best friend.

This match definitely lived up to all the hype! It also proved to everyone around the world that Michaels was still in the argument for the greatest overall in-ring performer of all time. HHH was the perfect first opponent for HBK after his four-year retirement since both men trusted each other and Triple H was willing to do anything to make HBK feel as comfortable as possible. This fight started off with a bang and quickly evolved into a hardcore brawl. HHH beat down Michaels by focusing on his back, which scared most fans since they knew he was returning from having back surgery. Both men got busted open as the match wore on. HHH played the part of the methodical assassin by targeting the injured back of Michaels. HBK soon made a comeback and even ended up performing a top rope flying splash onto HHH through a table set up outside the ring.

Michaels eventually brought a ladder into play, which he chose to climb to the very top of to drop a flying elbow onto HHH. All these high spots got a huge ovation from the crowd and helped the match crescendo to its finest moments. HBK earned the ultimate victory after HHH tried to counter his Sweet Chin Music finisher into a Pedigree, only for Michaels to counter it for a pinfall victory. After all the drama, near falls, and overall storyline going into this match, it made sense to have the finish come off as if Michales emerged victorious with an out-of-nowhere pin rather than a definitive win in his first match back.

In his first match back in four years, HBK went nearly thirty minutes (which says a lot about his level of self-confidence at the time, even if he was a bit concerned about his level of in-ring rust). After the match, HHH did the unthinkable by using a sledgehammer to further injure HBK's back - this further cemented Hunter's positioning as the villain of all villains. This post-match attack was also a smart way to get Michales off TV for a while after experiencing such a joyous moment, as he got stretchered out by EMTs soon after. Nobody knew for sure if this was a one-time situation for Michaels or if we’d ever see him wrestle again.

Fortunately, "The Showstopper" caught the wrestling bug again and popped back up on WWE TV to enjoy a second run with the company as an active wrestler before retiring in 2010. This is one of my favorite matches of all time that I remember being super excited for at the time and I still remember the feeling of joy watching it for the first time. I was a fan of both guys but was mainly a huge Michaels fan since he was one of the first wrestlers I remember watching live on TV rather than on old wrestling tapes. This match featured violent high spots due to its nature of being a hardcore brawl, but both men employed a ton of psychology in order to tell the fans a logical story in the ring. Michaels returned as if he had never left!

There was an in-ring promo segment between the HBK/HHH match and the main event to allow the fans to get a bit of a breather.

So the segment saw Howard Finkel come to the ring to get a few things to get off his chest. Trish Stratus made an appearance here looking as gorgeous as she always does. Leading up to this event, Stratus slapped Fink and even pushed him into a pool of mud. Fink wanted an apology while indirectly calling Trish a skank. Trish would flirt with Fink, which led to him saying something along the lines of Trish having the "puppies" while he had the "wiener." This all ended up being a setup for the other ring announcer Lilian Garcia to slap and kick Fink right in the "balls!" Trish and Lilian celebrated after embarrassing poor horny old Howard.

I enjoyed this segment when I was a youth. But I think I was just so enamored with Trish, to be honest. This was all pretty silly now after watching it back. Those lovely-dovey feelings hit me so hard when I was trying to be all cool, calm, and collected when I met Trish earlier this year (2023) to interview her. And of course, she was awesome in person. Side note - it's wild how this show didn’t have a single women’s match on it, especially since the division was definitely still around and healthy in 2002. Imagine the fan uproar on social media if that happened in today’s WWE!

Lastly, rest in peace to "The Fink." He is truly one of the most unforgettable voices of the golden era of the WWF. He was the company's first employee and stayed loyal to it until the very end of his life.

8. The Rock (c) vs. Brock Lesnar (WWE Undisputed Championship)

Match Rating: A-

Final Thoughts

wwe summerslam 2002 shawn michaels vs triple h 4g16pommq5g51krhtv979s5fn

Overall Grade - A+

SummerSlam 2002 is my personal favorite Summerslam and arguably the greatest Summerslam of all time. I literally watched it back as I wrote this retrospective. The crowd was hot, the card was stacked, and there were no dud matches to speak of. Thankfully, the worst matches on this show were decent at best.

Only two matches went over 15 minutes and only one of them went nearly 30 minutes. The show flowed effortlessly because of it! There wasn’t a match that felt like it overstayed its welcome. I know other fans might say Angle vs. Rey could have used a few more minutes, but I think it was perfect because it wrapped up at just the right time. The match lengths are something this event and arguably the greatest WrestleMania of all time, WrestleMania X-Seven, have in common. Not all matches need to be a marathon to be great. A longer match duration doesn't guarantee it will be a bonafide classic.

That being said, Michaels' return match against HHH will always be special to me. Lesnar defeating Rocky for the WWE Undisputed Championship to usher in a new era for the company will always be a significant moment in WWE history. This was just an overall great SummerSlam that I don’t think has been topped yet in the 14 years of SummerSlam that came before it and the 21 years of SummerSlam that followed it.

All the SummerSlam's have had their own great moments and some have even gotten close to the top quality of this one, but none have just had that perfect balance that SummerSlam 2002 had.

I hope you all enjoyed this retrospective of Summerslam 2002. Tell me if you disagree and let me know what you think over on social media. Ya dig? Oooh Yeah!

Instagram - @thewrestlingclassic

Twitter - @twcworldwide

Youtube - thewrestlingclassic

Weekly Podcast - TWC Show

Website -

Did you like this article?
Thumbs Up
Thumbs Down