I wanted to review a show with an Elimination Chamber match this week, and then when I started looking at them I stumbled on a show that seemed especially relevant to the moment. That would be Summerslam 2003, a show from almost 15 years ago that happens to feature most of the major players for this year’s Wrestlemania on it. Goldberg, Triple H, Shane McMahon, Chris Jericho, Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle. 15 years later, they’re headlining Wrestlemania 33.
This was a time where WWE had absorbed WCW and almost all their stars, giving them one of the deepest and most talented rosters in wrestling history. You’d expect this to lead to a great era of wrestling, but instead it ended up being hit-and-miss with arguably more miss than hit. How did they not succeed with all these stars? We’ll take a look at it on this show
Cut straight in for Lillian Garcia to sing the national anthem. That’s unusual, and we get the reason for it when we see what the opening match is.
World Tag Team Championship: La Resistance (c) vs. The Dudley Boyz
Yeah, got the crowd nice and riled up before bringing out the French sympathizers. Pig headed? Sure. Effective? Absolutely. The Frenchies won the belts at Badd Blood from Kane and Rob Van Dam. They shot a hot angle on Monday where La Resistance accosted what appeared to be a soldier in the front row. The Dudleyz made the save and the soldier turned out to be the debuting Rob Conway, who was of course in league with La Resistance.
Basic tag match here. Dudleyz get off to a hot start by jumping Dupree and Grenier in the aisle. La Resistance turn the tide and double team until a hot tag. Dudleys manage to hit the 3D but the referee gets pulled out of the ring. At that point a cameraman sneaks in and blasts D-Von with his camera and La Resistance get the pin. Cameraman turns out to be Rob Conway.
Rating: **. Formulaic but effective tag match. La Resistance had a ton of heat the crowd loved The Dudleys. Good choice for an opener to fire the crowd up.
Spike Dudley tries to make the save but gets beaten down by La Resistance. In a post-match interview Jonathan Coachman is surprisingly dickish, giving La Resistance credit for being clever.
We go backstage to Eric Bischoff, who is warming up for his match against Shane McMahon. Intercontinental Champion Christian complains about not being booked and Bischoff blames it on his co-General Manager, Steve Austin.
Undertaker vs. A-Train
Not a ton of backstory here other than A-Train beating up Stephanie McMahon a few weeks ago when she had a match with Sable. Sable accompanies A-Train here, making it clear he’s Vince McMahon’s muscle.
A-Train was probably the best version of Matt Bloom, but he just never got over. He was in good shape here, had a good look, was good enough in the ring. Just never clicked for him in America. This is a pretty straightforward big man match. They punch each other a lot and throw each other around a bit.
A-Train blocks the Last Ride and hits the Derailer (Baldo Bomb). Referee gets bumped and Train hits a Bicycle Kick. Train brings in a chair and ends up getting blasted with it by Taker. Slow count only gets two. Chokeslam from Undertaker gets three.
Rating: *¼. Wasn’t a lot to that. Just a continuation of Undertaker’s feud with McMahon.
Taker goes for the Last Ride after the match but gets distracted by Sable. Taker goes to Chokeslam her, but Stephanie makes her return and beats her up.
Shane McMahon vs. Eric Bischoff
This match came about when Eric Bischoff refused to give Shane a match against Kane. Kane assaulted Linda McMahon and Tombstoned her on the ramp, so that put Shane on the warpath. So in a strange piece of booking they saved Shane vs. Kane for later. They heated things up by having Bischoff accost and make out with Linda McMahon on Raw before this. So the first three matches have featured jingoism, violence against women, and sexual assault. It was a much different environment at this point.
Bischoff gets on the mic and starts talking about how hot Linda is, which brings out a pissed off Shane.
Shane beats up Bischoff for a bit until Coach interferes. This is Coach’s heel turn. He beats up Shane with a chair and then gets on commentary. Would have been better if this had been used to get over a real wrestler instead of Coach. Bischoff mutes the commentary and Coach gets on a mic to do commentary over the PA. Goes on for a bit before Steve Austin shows up. He beats up Coach and then Stuns Bischoff. Shane pulls Bischoff out of the pin and drops the Flying Elbow through the announce table for the pin.
Rating: Dud. Packed a lot of gimmicks into that time and none of it did much for me. Too much fighting between guys who aren’t real wrestlers.
Fatal Fourway Match for United States Championship: Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit vs. Rhyno vs. Tajiri
I’m so used to the champion walking first that it’s genuinely weird to see Eddie come out last here.
Four talented workers here, so it’s not surprising we get a good match. Fast pace, everyone gets a lot of their shit in. Too many big spots to do play-by-play. Crowd was really getting behind Eddie even though he was a heel.
Rhyno goes to Spear Eddie, but gets hit with the title belt. Love that spot. Tajiri gets trapped in the Tree of Woe, allowing Benoit to hit the Diving Headbutt on Rhyno, but Tajiri manages to break up the pin. Tajiri manages to reverse a Benoit Powerbomb attempt into a Hurricanrana over the top rope, and Guerrero hits the Frog Splash on Rhyno for the win.
Rating: ***. That was a lot of fun. Best match on the show so far.
They go to a recap of Brock Lesnar destroying Zach Gowen. Cole refers to Brock as being “on the lunatic fringe.” I love when nicknames show up before they actually got used.
WWE Championship: Kurt Angle (c) vs. Brock Lesnar
They’ve switched roles since Wrestlemania, Lesnar is now the monster heel as Vince McMahon’s attack down and Angle is the heroic babyface. More natural roles for them. Angle won the title the previous month in a Triple Threat Match against Lesnar and Big Show.
Mat sequence to start. Kurt comes out on top, frustrating Lesnar. Smart wrestling that gets a reaction from the crowd without either guy having to take a bump. Lesnar stalls for awhile until Angle jumps him in the aisle. They go back in the ring for long enough for Lesnar to throw Angle out of the ring with a Gorilla Press. Cole once against calls Lesnar “the lunatic fringe.” I don’t remember that catching on.
This match clicks better than the one they had at Wrestlemania. Brock’s an awkward face because it never feels like he’s weak. For these two it makes a lot more sense for Kurt to be fighting from underneath against the big monster. Lesnar is destroying Angle, targeting his ribs and back. Tide turns when Lesnar hits the post and Angle takes advantage. Rolling Germans from Angle, I was always surprised they let him steal that from Benoit.
Brock shuts down Angle’s comeback with a Belly to Belly Suplex and a Spinebuster. It’s weird seeing Lesnar not just doing German Suplexes. Lesnar goes for the F5, which Angle reverses with a DDT. Angle stalks Lesnar for the Angle Slam and hits. Lesnar kicks out at two. Angle locks on the Ankle Lock, but Lesnar rolls through the referee gets bumped in the process. Vince shows up and blasts Angle with a chair. For some reason he doesn’t have a suit on, just a weird short sleeve shirt that’s mostly unbuttoned. Angle somehow kicks out of the F5 after that.
Angle gets the Ankle Lock and Lesnar taps out.
Rating: ***¾. Damn good match.
Angle sets up a chair and Angle Slams Vince through it! Had forgotten that happened, nasty bump.
Kane vs. Rob Van Dam
Oh masked Kane. One of the hottest storylines WWE ever dropped the ball on. It was still going pretty well at this point, disaster didn’t come until they put him up against Shane. Kane and RVD were tag partners and champions, but Kane turned on him after losing the mask.
If they were serious about rebuilding Kane this probably should have been a straight squash match, but RVD gets in plenty of offense. Kane eventually Tombstones Van Dam on the steps and gets the pin.
Rating: *¼. Stuck in the middle. Either go longer or just have Kane squash him.
They show Bischoff getting stitched up in the training room. Linda walks in and slaps the shit out of him.
Elimination Chamber Match for World Heavyweight Championship: Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho vs. Randy Orton vs. Kevin Nash vs. Goldberg
They originally announced three singles matches: Triple H vs. Goldberg, Shawn Michaels vs. Randy Orton, and Chis Jericho vs. Kevin Nash. In kayfabe, Bischoff changed the HHH/Goldberg match to a No Disqualification Match to allow Evolution to interfere. Steve Austin retaliated by changing the match to an Elimination Chamber match. I think the real explanation was that Triple H had a groin injury and wasn’t up to working a singles match.
Orton is part of Evolution and the tease is that he might turn on Triple H and go for the title rather than help The Game retain. Nash was just going through the motions, I think that was his last match before leaving. Notably his hair is short and blonde here, Jericho shaved his head in a storyline because he was having to cut his hair for The Punisher. Triple H is out third wearing some weird looking shorts. Presumably needed some more support due to his groin injury and didn’t feel his physique was up to par. Goldberg is out to a decent reaction, but his WWE run had been a disappointment at this point.
Jericho and Michaels start the match. The pods open every three minutes here. I think the standard was five minutes, but shorter made sense for what was going to happen here. Jericho and Michaels had all-time great chemistry, so it’s a treat to watch them go at it. Orton is the third entrant. He comes in with a Cross Body off the top rope onto Michaels. Commentary is heavily teasing Orton turning on Triple H, I think they were considering building towards Orton vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania 20 at this point.
Nash is the fourth man in. He puts the hurt on Jericho, with whom he was feuding. Nash really lays everything in here. But he’s quickly eliminated after he gets hit with Sweet Chin Music and rolled up by Jericho. Triple H is entrant #5, but he gets leveled by Sweet Chin Music as soon as his pod opens. Nash gets to keep his heat by Jackknife Powerbombing Jericho and Orton. Michaels and Jericho both blade for no particular reason. That was a hallmark of this era.
Goldberg is, of course, the final entrant. Crowd is wild for him now. Awe-inspiring Press Slam on Orton. Spear on Orton gets three. Goldberg tosses Jericho into the chain wall, then Spears him through the pod wall. That spot always gets a pop. Michaels slams Goldberg, hits the Flying Elbow, goes for Sweet Chin Music but gets Speared. Goldberg is rolling now. Jackhammer on Michaels gets a three count. Spear and Jackhammer on Jericho and he’s gone. Crowd is eating out of Goldberg’s hand right now.
So we’re down to Goldberg and Triple H. Flair tries to keep HHH’s pod closed, but Goldberg kicks through the window. That’s so damn awesome. Goldberg beats up Triple H and The Game blades. Flair manages to pass Triple H his sledgehammer through the chains as Goldberg lines up a Spear. HHH dodges the Spear, hits Goldberg with the hammer, and pins him. Well, that’s a bummer.
Rating: ***¼. That was a lot of fun up until the finish. Awesome run for Goldberg, they finally made him the monster he needed to be. And then they pissed it away. The whole point of Goldberg is no one can beat him. Once he loses he’s just another big guy.
Evolution beats down Goldberg after the match. They handcuff him to the Chamber wall and bust him open. They’re going for Horsemen breaking Dusty’s leg in the cage but there’s not a ton of heat. Crowd was too bummed about Goldberg losing to care.
Overall: Decent show, would have been better if it had been capped with a Goldberg title win. A couple good matches with a lot nothing in the middle. That was sort of the story of this period, they had all the talent in the world but somehow the whole was never quite as good as the sum of the parts. Some bad creative decisions really held things back here. They really should have been building both Goldberg and Kane as unstoppable monsters for a showdown in a few months, but they stumbled over that.