WWF SummerSlam 2001 Review feat. Booker T vs. The Rock

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WWF SummerSlam 2001

WWF SummerSlam 2001 occurred during a major transitional phase not only for the company, but for the wrestling industry as a whole. The previous spring had seen both WCW and ECW fold, with the WWF purchasing WCW outright (WWE would later purchase the ECW trademarks and video library in 2003). During the summer, the remains of the two fallen companies combined together, along with some rogue WWF talent, to form The Alliance, an on-screen threat to the very existence of the Federation. In the meantime, the WWF’s fortunes had dipped with numbers sliding because of a lack of interest in the product, partly contributed to by Steve Austin’s heel turn, The Rock going to Hollywood and Triple H suffering a major injury. Fortunately, Rock was back in town by late July, and this combined with the initial excitement of the invasion storyline meant that energy levels were back on the rise in time for the fourteenth annual SummerSlam.

This show is remembered as something of a turning point, in the sense that, according to critics, The Alliance lost enough times on this card that they lost significant momentum as a whole, meaning that the invasion had peaked and would only become less intriguing before the plot-line was brought to a premature end. But is that really the case, or is it an example of people jumping to extreme conclusions? Let’s take a closer look.

WWF Intercontinental Championship Match
Lance Storm (C) vs. Edge

Opening proceedings was an IC Title match between Lance Storm and Edge. Storm was the best pure wrestler that Team Alliance had to offer, while Edge had recently won King Of The Ring and was beginning to establish himself as a singles competitor. The upshot is that this battle of the Canadians was a strong, underrated opener; there have been better matches to kick off the summer spectacular, but this is a match that is worth tracking down. Christian attempted to interfere on Edge’s behalf, only to spear his brother/friend/whatever by accident instead. But it didn’t derail the challenger too much, as he caught Lance in the Edgacution DDT for the win to claim the Intercontinental Championship, bringing it home to the Federation. Fun stuff here, with Christian and Edge’s, erm, alliance having a heel turn being slowly teased; Christian would ultimately stab Edge in the back two weeks later in their hometown of Toronto.

Six-Man Tag Team Match
The APA & Spike Dudley vs. Test & The Dudley Boyz

Bubba Ray and D-Von had fallen out with Spike due to his relationship with Molly Holly (their romance was presented tastefully, a rarity at this time) before they joined The Alliance, while Test had been accused of being a mole by Faarooq and Bradshaw before he joined them for real, costing The APA their WWF Tag Team Titles in the process. This is alright but unmemorable, serving to fill time and provide several popular performers with a reason to appear on this major card. The heels would triumph after interference from WCW owner Shane McMahon, which would come back to bite him later in the show. It’s easy to forget that Spike was pretty over at this point, and that there were still high hopes for Test to reach the main event level. This six-man bout happened exactly ten years after a similar match at SummerSlam 1991, and a decade before another six-man contest at SummerSlam 2011 in a strange quirk.

WWF Light Heavyweight Championship vs. WCW Cruiserweight Championship Match
Tajiri (C) vs. X-Pac (C)

Next up, we had a battle of the sub-200 pounders that had both respective titles at stake, but with X-Pac still on Team WWF. That this wasn’t a WCW representative (namely, former Cruiser champ Billy Kidman) was a blow to an organisation which had made its Cruiserweight division an important part of its product, though X-Pac still managed to elicit boos despite his WWF allegiance. The match itself isn’t bad at all, as Tajiri was fresh to WWF fans, while X-Pac demonstrated that, while he was staler than a gone-off bottle of milk, he could still deliver in the ring. It’s also easy to forget that the Light Heavyweight Title received a decent push on WWF programming at this time, though that would soon grind to a halt. As it turned out, there would be more outside interference here, with Albert trying to get involved on X-Pac’s behalf only to taste Tajiri’s mist, but with the Japanese Buzzsaw walking straight into an X-Factor that made Pac a double champion. As it turned out, X-Pac would be injured shortly thereafter, and while the Cruiserweight Championship survived, the Light Heavyweight crown did not, and it would never be seen again.

Chris Jericho vs. Rhyno

Match four marked The Man Beast’s biggest WWF singles match to date, as Rhyno collided with Chris Jericho. As with Test, Rhyno seemed like a prospect for main event stardom, but a major neck injury in October would seriously derail his momentum, and Rhyno would never really return to such a position again in the Federation. Mind you, it would have helped him in the short-term had he won his match; instead, he lost to Y2J, making it 2-1 to the WWF on the PPV so far (they had been keeping tabs on the scores at Invasion, but they didn’t do the same here for a very good reason). The match was alright, nothing particularly special but decent enough aside from Jericho slipping off the ropes more than once (which may have been caused by a concussion, to be fair). Despite Stephanie McMahon being the fourth interfering party of the show so far, Y2J managed to overcome the odds and submit Rhyno to the Walls Of Jericho.

WWF Hardcore Championship Ladder Match
Jeff Hardy (C) vs. Rob Van Dam

These two had stolen the show at Invasion, where RVD became Hardcore Champion; Jeff pinned him shortly before this event on Raw, leading to a big rematch under Ladder rules. This seemed to be an ideal stipulation for two extreme high-flyers, and so it proved as they put on another exciting battle. This isn’t as fondly-remembered as their previous PPV encounter, but it is worth going out of your way to see, especially if you’re a fan of high-risk Ladder matches with plenty of hair-raising stunts. Although Jeff is considered a master of the Ladder/TLC match, he didn’t actually win many of them, and that proved to be the case again here, where after what appeared to be a bit of a botched spot, Van Dam was able to unhook the Hardcore Title first to become a two-time Champion. RVD’s rapid rise up the ranks would accelerate, partly because he was the only Alliance member to be receiving huge cheers from WWF devotees.

WWF World Tag Team Championship vs. WCW World Tag Team Championship Steel Cage Match
The Undertaker & Kane (C) vs. Diamond Dallas Page & Chris Kanyon (C)

Up until this point, The Alliance had looked competitive and fairly formidable, but this match marked rock bottom on the night for the faction, as DDP and Kanyon (two of WCW’s better performers in its latter stages) were essentially squashed by The Brothers Of Destruction inside a cage. This was part of the storyline where Page was stalking Taker’s wife Sara, and she would even pin him the next night on Raw to officially end the saga. If it sounds poor, it was, and while Page got his licks in at times, the feud was mostly one-sided and a letdown. Kanyon also didn’t get to shine very much here, and he never would in a WWF environment. The Brothers won of course, though I should mention that, as with Tajiri vs. X-Pac, the two prizes weren’t unified by virtue of this victory (unlike at Survivor Series when unification matches were held to mark the end of the invasion tale). When people say that this show essentially killed off The Alliance as a major threat to the WWF, this match is seen as a major reason why.

WWF Championship Match
Stone Cold Steve Austin (C) vs. Kurt Angle

If you’d have said in summer 2000 that Austin and Angle would collide for the WWF Championship at SummerSlam 2001, nobody would have guessed that Austin would be the heel and Kurt would be the babyface, nor that Stone Cold would have been leading a WCW/ECW rebel unit at that point. They had clear chemistry in some brilliant comedy skits over the summer, before war was declared after Austin turned on Angle at Invasion leading to this title match. However, Kurt still seemed a bit geeky at this point, while despite his second heel turn in four months, Austin still had his supporters. Therefore, to get this match over, Kurt had to look like a million bucks, which is what happened.

Indeed, Austin hit Angle with not one, not two, but three Stone Cold Stunners, and Kurt survived all of them. What’s more, Austin busted Angle open big-time, and it still didn’t deter Kurt, who had Austin in trouble with the Ankle Lock on more than one occasion, as well as hitting a huge Angle Slam. The problem for Kurt, though, was that Austin was finding a way to stay in the fight, and he was also decking referees for fun. This meant that when Kurt had Austin beaten with an Angle Slam, Alliance official Nick Patrick called for the disqualification, which was technically the right decision but was clearly an attempt to keep the WWF Title on Alliance head honcho Austin (at a time when DQ endings to main event matches on PPV was a rarity). Kurt responded by trapping Patrick in the Ankle Lock as Austin escaped. This was a great match, and it helped to set up Kurt capturing the gold one month later in his hometown of Pittsburgh at Unforgiven. Nevertheless, I don’t think that this match should have taken place here, which I’ll explain shortly.

WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match
Booker T (C) vs. The Rock

The final match saw Booker T defend his fifth WCW Title against The Rock, who had returned on July 30, with Booker capturing his attention with a challenge to a match here. The connection was from Booker using a version of the Rock Bottom, the Book End, which didn’t go down well with Rock. In the process of their rivalry, Booker unsuccessfully tried to replicate Rock’s movie success, while Rock obliterated T on the microphone (one segment alongside Chris Jericho was hilarious, though another – where Rock had claimed not to know who Booker was – actually contributed to Sting not coming over to the WWF, with his attitude understandably being that he wasn’t confident in WCW talent being used properly based on comments like this).

As for the match itself, it’s a fun battle, though not the best Rock match that you will see. Booker was still finding his feet in the WWF at this point, which is not a bad thing but it made him look inferior to Rock than other heel adversaries that The Great One had squared off against during this period of his career. Shane McMahon was in Booker’s corner, and yes he tried to interfere many times, only for The APA to avenge his earlier involvement, as Bradshaw absolutely clocked Shane with perhaps the stiffest Clothesline From Hell ever at ringside. In the meantime, Booker had Rock down for the count but celebrated with a Spinaroonie, which backfired big-time as Rock nipped up and drilled T with a Rock Bottom to win the match and the WCW Championship, with WWF wrestlers who were watching backstage cheering his victory on.

On the night, the WWF won five of its seven matches against The Alliance, and two WWF wrestlers competed for a WCW prize in another. Add to that how DDP and Kanyon were demolished, and how WWF wrestlers won both main events (even if Austin retained his title), and it’s easy to see why people soured on the invasion after this card. It’s fine for this to have been a big comeback by the Federation, but it was so comprehensive that The Alliance was made to look a lot weaker as a result. What’s more, Unforgiven wasn’t much better for the invading squad, meaning that the tide really had turned in the promotional conflict. I still enjoyed the storyline a lot, but I can freely admit that it wasn’t what it could have been, to put it mildly.

I mentioned earlier that I don’t think Austin and Kurt should have fought here, because in my opinion, the obvious main event was Austin vs. Rock for the WWF Title, with Booker vs. Angle as your WCW Championship contest. Everybody was anticipating the big rematch from WrestleMania X-Seven between Austin and Rock upon The Great One’s return, and yet it didn’t really happen, because Austin was a face and Rock was a heel by the time they squared off at WM XIX. For unknown reasons, the obvious mega-money rematch didn’t happen at SummerSlam. Had this been the case, Rock could have dethroned Austin while Booker could have retained against Angle, allowing both sides to have a strong champion and heavyweight crown challenger, instead of it becoming so lop-sided that Booker went from The Alliance’s first or second top guy to just another member by the end of the autumn. I realise that it would have denied Kurt his big moment in Pittsburgh against Austin, but since Angle was a heel again by December, this suggests that his big babyface run, while delivering awesome matches, didn’t really work. It’s just one of the many reasons why the invasion is not reflected upon fondly nowadays, though as I noted, I still got a kick out of what did transpired on-screen.

Judged in a vacuum, WWF SummerSlam 2001 is quite entertaining, though a notch below both the preceding 2000 and subsequent 2002 cards. Judged in the context of the extenuating circumstances, though, the show is viewed a bit negatively in spite of the topnotch action in several matches. It’s a card that is worth taking a look at again, but perhaps more as a turning point in the WWF-Alliance war than for the numerous strong matches that it provided.