The Attitude Era. When wrestling fans hear those words, there’s an instant reaction. For me, it’s near-painful nostalgia. Between late 1997 and mid-2002, I went from age 18 to 23 years old. Young, happily married (to the woman I’m still with today for the record), without children yet, and almost constantly out of my mind, I wasn’t in the target demographic…I literally was the target demographic.
The then-WWF had the most stacked roster in the history of the business and the creative couldn’t lose; I’ll die on that hill. There’s a reason that hardcore fans and casual viewers alike feel it’s the golden era of professional wrestling. It was a truly awesome time to be a wrestling fan, and I feel that we’re approaching another of those eras in the highly cyclic business that is “sports entertainment”.
In the summer of 2001, the company was in a period of serious transition after the acquisition of WCW prior to WrestleMania X-7 (which also happens to be the first WrestleMania I attended). The roster size had doubled and the storylines were apt to get mighty convoluted mighty quickly, so the WWF started a long-running WCW/ECW invasion angle that would last through WrestleMania until Survivor Series to sort it all out and decide who stays and who goes from the deceased company. Fans were treated to some dream matches (RVD vs. Jeff Hardy and Booker T vs. The Rock were highlights). Fans also endured some moments that were notorious flops (I’m looking at you, Buff Bagwell). One thing is for certain, however: The Invasion angle (and the rivalries it spawned) dominated storylines through to the end of The Attitude Era.
SummerSlam 2001 fell squarely in the middle of all the inter-promotional madness of the Invasion, serving as the metaphorical spine of that particular storybook. As one of the “Big Four” pay-per-views in the company, SummerSlam is littered with iconic moments and unforgettable matches. So, how does the last SummerSlam of The Attitude Era stack up? Dive into this tasty card with me, ya’ filthy animals.
WWF Intercontinental Championship Match: Lance Storm (Alliance Champion) vs. Edge (WWF Challenger)
Two fellow Canadian über talents open the show with a match that would set the tone for any big show. Lance Storm says “If I can be serious for a minute…”, and I’m already in stitches. His character and in-ring ability combine to make him one of the most underappreciated workers of the era. Matching him with someone as rangy and physical as Edge is a killer matchup. Aside from an early flurry by the future Rated-R Superstar (still such a young’un here), the matchup is an eleven-minute, rapid-fire, tit-for-tat exchange with just enough submission attempts from Storm to keep it honest. Their natural chemistry makes eleven minutes feel like a solid twenty. The end features a run-in from Christian (still being sold as Edge’s brother at this time) that goes all kinds of wrong before Edge capitalizes on a Storm slip and nails that incredibly flat pseudo-DDT for the win and the IC strap.
Winner and NEW WWF Intercontinental Champion: Edge
After the match, we see Test and the Dudley Boyz with a frosted-tipped and skinny Michael Cole. Test explains that the WWF didn’t appreciate his talents, so he joined up with an Alliance team that will. He’s full of p**s and vinegar; Test was a better promo than I remembered.
Then we go backstage to Lillian Garcia and the Ayatollah of Rock n’ Rolla! This is prime Y2J. He’s at that wonderfully outlandish place in his career where he’s so full of himself that it borders on a parody, but his comedic timing and delivery may never have been better. He calls Lillian Garcia by the name Vivian before tearing into a rant about Stephanie McMahon doing the captain of the football team…and the baseball team…and the basketball team (you get the idea) that’s as p**s-your-pants funny as it is extremely un-politically correct. Jericho is in rare form here. It would only be a couple of weeks before he would start feuding with The Rock and give us some of the best verbal sparrings in the history of the business. Stephanie and Rhyno are in a world of trouble, I think.
Spike Dudley & The APA (WWF) vs. Test & The Dudley Boyz (Alliance)
Man, I love a good six-man tag when tables and a Clothesline from Hell are involved! This is one of those matches that doesn’t last long, but it doesn’t really have to. Everyone gets their moment to flatten someone else, but it’s Test that does the heavy lifting in this one (talk about a guy who never came close to realizing his scary potential). He tosses everyone around, but it’s little Spike Dudley (whom Paul Heyman keeps referring to as “the bully of Dudleyville”) who attempts an Acid Drop and subsequently eats one of the ten most ugly table tosses ever courtesy of the late Andrew Martin. I’m pretty sure Spike shaved a couple of years off his life with that one.
Back in the ring, the APA are wrapping it up with the dreaded Farooq Spinebuster followed by my favorite clothesline ever, Bradshaw’s Clothesline from Hell. None of them saw WCW owner Shane McMahon come flying in with a chairshot, however.
Winners: Test & The Dudley Boyz (The Alliance)
Edge celebrates post-match in the WWF locker room with Hardcore Holly, Al Snow, Lita, and Matt Hardy (among others) before Christian comes in to brag about getting a shot at the European Championship next week. There’s trouble brewing there. Cut to the lovely Debra (then-wife of Alliance leader Stone Cold Steve Austin) and Shawn Stasiak. J.R. calls him goofier than a pet coon, and that’s about the long and short of it. He wants to impress Stone Cold, and you can smell the running comedy bit as it approaches.
“Title for Title Match” for the WCW Cruiserweight Championship & the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship: X-Pac (WCW Cruiserweight Champion) vs. Tajiri (WWF Light Heavyweight Champion)
This one is an old-school cruiserweight match with two of the best smaller wrestlers of their era. X-Pac and Tajiri complement each other extremely well. It’s a quicker match, but you get to see the Tarantula from The Japanese Buzzsaw and there are enough kicks to make up a whole damn drumline.
X-Pac steals the win after a run-in and some light interference from the world’s hairiest pincushion, Albert. It’s the night’s only neutral match; both are WWF superstars with no Alliance affiliation. This leads Paul Heyman to overly congratulate X-Pac in a recruitment bid that’s vintage ECW-style Paul Heyman.
Winner and NEW WWF Light Heavyweight Champion/WCW Cruiserweight Champion: X-Pac
The next backstage segment takes you all the way to WWF New York (remember that place?!) for a visit with Perry Saturn. He’s desperately searching for Moppy. He’s putting out the word in hopes of finding his true love, a damn mop with a face on it. He also has an actual milk carton that damn near made me blow my soda through my nose. As a shockingly faded 22-year-old, I found the Moppy story hilarious. Now? Not so much. Perry Saturn should’ve had a rocket strapped to his ass; he was every bit the equal in the ring of Chris Benoit (only with a quarter of the camera time). It’s kind of sad, really…but I digress.
The next segment visits Stephanie and Rhyno in their private locker room. She’s pretty p****d, as you would imagine, and she works Rhyno into a foaming-at-the-mouth Manbeast. I’m starting to get kind of geeked about Jericho and Rhyno.
Chris Jericho (WWF) vs. Rhyno (Alliance)
The pre-match hype really pushes the fact that Chris Jericho has never beaten Rhyno, to the point where you’d have to be dense to wonder who was going to win. Rhyno makes Y2J look like a million bucks with his signature smashmouth offense, highlighting the affair with a Gore to the floor through the ropes that is a legit “Holy Shit” moment loudly and vociferously acknowledged by the increasingly rowdy crowd. This was the match that turned up the heat on a crowd that was fairly quiet until that point.
Once Jericho forces himself on Stephanie with an extremely smooshy kiss, the crowd officially goes into overdrive. After some back-and-forth false finishes, Jericho slaps in the Walls of Jericho. Rhyno (in the best shape of his career) guts it out until Jericho switches that much more famous finisher up for the far superior (and infinitely more old-school painful) Liontamer. Rhyno taps like a drunk man. Meanwhile, Stephanie cries like a baby and throws a tantrum, looking picture-perfect doing it.
Winner: Chris Jericho
Backstage, William Regal is pacing when The Rock arrives. He’s concerned for Rock’s physical state after being put through a table on Raw by WCW Champion Booker T. The Rock doesn’t need concern. All Booker T did was p**s The Rock off. The Great One is posing some questions to Regal, but before he can get to “Do you smell it?”, Shawn Stasiak rushes in like a house of fire. Rock steps calmly aside. After Stasiak knocks himself unconscious on a loading bay door, The Rock finishes his questions. And you smell it. Of course you smell it.
Hardcore Ladder Match for the WWF Hardcore Championship: Jeff Hardy (WWF Champion) vs. Rob Van Dam (Alliance Challenger)
Every WWF pay-per-view has a show-stealer match, and you can usually call it ahead of time. Everyone knew this would the show stealer, and these two lunatics delivered in inspired fashion.
They open with sustained flurries of aerial offense in those notoriously close quarters on the floor at ringside. Once the ladder comes into play, a series of see-saw face smashes with the ladder give way to a diagonal corner-to-corner Rolling Thunder by RVD on Hardy while draped across a corner wedged ladder that sends the crowd into mild hysterics. In 2001, RVD (much like Rhyno in the match before) was in the best shape of his career.
The pace and physicality of this match are ludicrously intense. At one point, RVD suplexes Hardy from the top of the ladder. That is immediately followed by Hardy hitting RVD with a Sunset Flip Powerbomb that lands quite flatly (from the top as well). The two finally drag themselves back up simultaneously before Hardy takes the BIG fall and RVD finally seals the deal.
Winner and NEW WWF Hardcore Champion: Rob Van Dam
Back in the Alliance Locker Room, Booker T is hanging with Shane McMahon as the WCW Championship (a.k.a. The Big Gold Belt) hangs by its strap in the background. Shane has a present for Booker in a big, red box. It’s a pair of bookends (GET IT??) made from pieces of the table that Book put the Rock through the previous Monday. It’s a touching moment in a self-aggrandizing lovefest that ends in Booker T dedicating this match to his boss, Shane McMahon. Get your tissues.
“Title for Title Steel Cage Match” for the WCW Tag Team Championships & the WWF Tag Team Championships: ‘The Brothers of Destruction’, Undertaker & Kane (WCW Tag Team Champions) vs. Diamond Dallas Page & Kanyon (WWF Tag Team Champions)
This match is essentially the blow-off for the DDP Stalker angle with the Undertaker and his then-wife, Sara. A story that was effectively creepy while still being somewhat poorly received, the conclusion wraps it up in a nice little bow in the form of a ten-minute squash match.
DDP and Kanyon spend the entire match trying to get away while eschewing any real thought of offense. Never fear, though—The Brothers of Destruction issue one of their best beatings to the perverts from the Jersey shore. An odd and sloppy tornado-style match, it’s worth the watch for the extremely snug beating issued by Deadman, Inc while Kane rests on the turnbuckle like he’s Shawn Michaels in 1997. It’s not a great match by any stretch, but it’s a classic SummerSlam blow-off that the fans ate up. I know I sure ate it up at the time; I didn’t learn to appreciate Diamond Dallas Page until years later (thanks, DDP Yoga!)
Winners and NEW WCW & WWF Tag Team Champions: The Brothers of Destruction, Undertaker & Kane
In the trainer’s room, The Rock is explaining to the trainer that it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than one Rock Bottom through a table to take The Great One out of SummerSlam. The Rock says he’s ready. A guttural yell signifies the charge of Shawn Stasiak, who once again goes flying by into another solid object and thus into unconsciousness. The Rock doesn’t even grin as he steps coolly aside, and you have to love that. The Rock says you’re looking at the new WCW Champion. Cut to the WWF locker room, where everyone is nervously awaiting the WWF Championship match between Austin and Angle.
WWF Championship Match: Stone Cold Steve Austin (Alliance Champion) vs. Kurt Angle (WWF Challenger)
As the opening match in what was the defining rivalry of the Invasion, Austin vs. Angle had the job of laying the groundwork and setting the standard for a months-long program between two men with a colorful and bloody history. The intensity and raw physicality are off the charts from the opening bell. Stone Cold worked a different style as a heel—more of a Ric Flair-on-steroids with an extra dash of f**k off thrown in for good measure.
The early portion of the match consists of flurries by Angle that are countered by an eye rake, errant thumb, or low blow by The Texas Rattlesnake. Not to be content with playing classic heel though, Austin even breaks out the Cobra Clutch a’la The Ringmaster. The SummerSlam moment of the match is the butt-ugly, closed fist beatdown Austin lays on Your Olympic Hero outside the ring. For my money, it’s the most legitimately physical slugfest in the event’s history; those punches are straight meaty.
Along the way, Angle kicks out of three Stone Cold Stunners while Austin knocks out three different refs en route to a DQ! Very few wrestlers were more fun to watch wrestle submissions than the 1996 Olympic gold medalist, and very few wrestlers were more compelling trapped in a submission than Stone Cold Steve Austin. This match set the bar high for a killer rivalry. The DQ finish keeps the title with Stone Cold and The Alliance in this “further the feud” match (the longest on the card at 22:30).
Winner by Disqualification: Kurt Angle. Still WWF Champion: Stone Cold Steve Austin
WCW Championship Match: Booker T (Alliance Champion) vs. The Rock (WWF Challenger)
Shane McMahon is at ringside for this one, so you know you’re in for a potential screwjob here. There’s an unfamiliarity between the two that’s clear in the early going. You’ll even note a 2-count where Booker T doesn’t actually move a muscle but somehow kicks out!
Once the weirdness settles, though, each man gets through his run of signature offense before Shane just has to go and insert himself into the situation. The arrival of The APA causes the joint to erupt almost as loudly as they did for The Rock’s entrance before Shane eats a Clothesline from Hell on the floor that still hurts. After eating a Rock Bottom on the very same floor, Booker T takes advantage. Looking to put The People’s Champion away, Book takes a moment to treat us to a Spinaroonie…and that’s all The Rock needed. One Rock Bottom later (no theatrics on that) and you have a new WCW Champion!
Winner and NEW WCW Champion: The Rock
Looking back on it nearly 20 years later, SummerSlam 2001 is every bit as strong as I remember. It’s a real time capsule of that transitional time, a PPV that felt experimental in many ways. The commentary with J.R. and Paul Heyman is a bit grating at times because it’s so steeped in the Invasion story itself; it gets old after a while.
Still, there are a ton of memorable moments—the sheer stupidity of Shawn Stasiak, an incredible ladder match between two freak show athletes, The Brothers of Destruction at their absolute coolest, sleazy heel DDP, perhaps Austin’s best heel persona, a heavy dose of classic Rock promos, and Y2J doing Y2J things like the G.O.A.T. that he is.
It is remembered as the Golden Era of wrestling for a reason, after all.