(Here’s the link for the match on the WWE Network: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31352065/?contentId=31352065&contextType=wwe-show&contextId=summerslam)
I’ve probably mentioned this before, but between late 1999 and early 2001, there was not a better heel in the world than HHH. However, at this point in his career, he was just taking up main event space. At the beginning of 2002, HHH had returned from a serious quad injury to a massive ovation. However, it was clear he had returned too soon (and too big!). He was not the wrestler he used to be. Most of his matches were boring. His sudden heel turn against Shawn Michaels before Summerslam 2002 was wise, as his babyface return quickly soured. However, it also meant that the two would collide at Summerslam. Could HBK, who had been out of wrestling for four years, put on a decent match against the lethargic HHH? Oh yes! The two put on one of the best Summerslam matches ever…
They competed in an ‘Unsanctioned match’, which meant that the WWE had washed their hands of the match. Basically, it was no holds barred! I assume that the ‘unsanctioned’ stipulation was a crutch for HBK or HHH to lean on if either felt like they couldn’t put on a straight wrestling match of a decent quality. If you put weapons into the mix, the wrestlers have to rely less on wrestling and more on hiding their weaknesses with blunt impacts of chairs on heads (or backs, nowadays!). HBK and HHH, whilst relying on the old classic wrestling weaponry such as garbage can lids, garbage cans and chairs, only used them to accentuate the story they were telling in the ring. It did not descend into a weapons-filled, boring bloodbath.
The story told inside the ring was nothing short of brilliant. The old lion, HBK, had returned to fight a former friend who had turned against him. HHH, that former friend, wanted to cripple HBK, who had retired due to an injured back. Did HBK have what it took to fight ‘The Game’? HBK answered with a resounding ‘yes.’ From start to finish, HBK looked like his old self, bouncing around the ring and bumping like a madman. His initial flurry of offence at the start of the match was only a hint that he ‘still had it.’ If the match happened now, chants of ‘you’ve still got it’ would echo throughout the arena. After a mistake by HBK, HHH capitalised and focused on HBK’s back. The rest of the match consisted of HBK resisting HHH’s beatdowns, but not quite battling back until the end.
HBK sells like no one else, and you believe that his back is in agony after HHH executes the backbreaker twice on a folded and unfolded steel chair. You are driven to cheer for HBK, as he repeatedly fights back to little avail. However, when he does his patented flying forearm and nip-up, you understand that his first flurry was not an aberration. HBK is back, and as good as ever. Along with ladders and a table, he shows that the ‘Showstopper’ has begun again. It’s a great sequence of high spots; the culmination of the story between two former friends turned enemies. And the actual end emphasises the story and puts an exclamation point on it.
HBK and HHH had a long rivalry after this match, but I don’t think any of their other matches equalled this first battle between the two D-Generation X members. They had all types of matches, including a Hell In A Cell match to end their rivalry. However, none of them could match the intensity of this Summerslam clash. It had everything: a triumphant return by a wrestling great (which signalled that his wrestling career was far from over), a dominant heel performance (and a return to the heel personality that made HHH a great in the first place), and a story that was told beautifully. Perhaps there was an over-reliance on weapons at times (like the use of the garbage can and accompanying lid), but that is a minor niggle. HBK returned with aplomb, and so did HHH the heel.
(As an aside, watch the opening match between Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio Jr. A short bout, but one of the best opening bouts in Summerslam history)
VERDICT: 9/10. A triumphant return for HBK allayed any fears that he would be a shell of his former self, and HHH wrestled like he had done before his injury. A match that should be in any Top 5 List of Summerslam matches.
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