SummerSlam Retrospective: The Rock Runs Into ‘The Next Big Thing’

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SummerSlam 2002 was bar none one of the top 5 greatest PPVs in WWE history and that’s saying a lot. The WrestleMania X8 event was undoubtedly a fantastic one, doing justice to WrestleMania X7 (which we believe is the single greatest PPV in wrestling history), but as far as 2002 goes, SummerSlam was easily the best event.

Interestingly enough, this was also the first SummerSlam event under the new “WWE” banner. Things were changing quite a bit in WWE at this point. While The Rock was the undisputed WWE Champion and a babyface one at that, the sentiment towards him had begun to change. Sure, he was getting cheered more often than not, but the boos that he started receiving was slowly increasing.

It was clear that his mind was less on WWE and more on a career in Hollywood and it was around 2002 that fans truly realized that he was planning an exit strategy from WWE. Of course, there was nothing wrong in that since he had given a few really good years to his company. One can only wonder how different WWE would have been had he stayed, but perhaps it worked out for the best.

However, around the summer of that year, WWE lost another major player – ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. Austin had a major falling out with management after he was asked to put Brock Lesnar over clean in the King of the Ring tournament. While Austin later stated that he had no issues with putting Lesnar over, he felt it was meaningless to do so without any real build and to have it all done in a throwaway match on RAW.

While it is understandable as to why Austin would be furious, he himself later admitted that he regretted the way he handled the entire affair. He would walk out of WWE and not return until much later, eventually retiring at WrestleMania XIX a year later.

Regardless, Lesnar was the future at the time and there was nothing that would stop Vince McMahon from pushing him. The Rock, as great as he was, had a clear role in this match. His role was to truly cement Brock Lesnar as a main eventer and confirm that he is, in fact, the next big thing.

Fans did have an idea in mind as to what the outcome would be. Brock Lesnar was on a previously unseen meteoric rise to the top and The Rock was clearly transitioning into Hollywood. Due to this, The Rock received quite a few “Rocky Sucks” chants during the SummerSlam main event.

When he entered, he came sprinting and wasted little to no time on The Next Big Thing. As it turned out, the two had quite a bit of chemistry together and it translated well in the main event. There were very few superstars with Lesnar’s level of experience at the time who could hang with a big star like The Rock, but as we’ve found out many times over the years in different platforms, Lesnar is no ordinary athlete nor has he ever been one.

His performance at SummerSlam was really one to remember and The Rock must be given credit for his selflessness and willingness to put such a young star over. While we do wish there would have been many matches between these two, we only ever got the one and perhaps that’s for the best.

The Rock did put on a valiant effort but was overwhelmed by The Beast Incarnate, who rose to the occasion in the biggest match of his career to defeat an all-time great and become World Champion. There were very few who became World Champion in WWE as quickly as he did, but the company truly believed in Lesnar and wanted to make him the star attraction of WWE.

In all fairness, The Rock did succeed in his objective of making Lesnar a main event star. From there on, his matches and storylines were front and center, whether he was champion or not. This gave him the momentum to keep going and it resulted in Lesnar main eventing WrestleMania just a year into his WWE main roster run.

In retrospect, it’s quite surreal to look at Brock Lesnar’s first WWE run and what all he accomplished at the time. In such a short span of time, he managed to have an unparallel impact and his star power rose in no time. It’s probably what helped him succeed the most in his non-WWE ventures.

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