Taking place four weeks after the hotly-anticipated Invasion pay-per-view, SummerSlam gave the world an all-time classic between Kurt Angle and Stone Cold Steve Austin for the WWE Championship (potentially perfect with an ending), a captivating Ladder Match for the Hardcore Title pitting Jeff Hardy against fellow daredevil Rob Van Dam, and the grand return of The Rock, as he challenged for Booker T's WCW Championship. On paper, this is the sort of show that gets people excited, and rightly so.
But even a month after Invasion, the flavour was starting to wear off. The rivalry wasn't WWE vs. WCW in the slightest, as the rebel faction took on too many WWE contemporaries for it to feel like a fresh band of belligerents. Some pay-per-views get called great but have an asterisk next to their name. SummerSlam 2001 would be one of those events.
10. The Watered-Down Army
Where were the Ric Flairs, the Stings, the Goldbergs? Where were the WCW-flavored headliners that would've imbued the Alliance with the necessary solemnity that it needed in order to match WWE's intensity (literal answer: enjoying their lucrative Time Warner contracts that WWE didn't want to buy out)? Aside from Booker T and Diamond Dallas Page (and maybe Lance Storm), the golden circle of the enemy contingent didn't feel particularly strong.
Of the 10 wrestlers on the show that represented The Alliance, only five of them were actual invaders: Booker, Page, Storm, Chris Kanyon, and Rob Van Dam. The others, Steve Austin, The Dudley Boyz, Test, and Rhyno, all had a presence on WWE programming before the purchase of WCW, even if four of the five made their bones in either WCW or ECW (or in Austin's case, both). Contrast that to the 14 wrestlers (out of a possible 19) at the Invasion pay-per-view that were true WCW/ECW invaders, and it's clear that WWE felt the heels needed some making over.
9. A Window Into The Internal Feeling
At the time of SummerSlam 2001, lead announcer Jim Ross was still tabbed as head of talent relations for WWE, a period in which he also penned a regular article known as The Ross Report. In it, Ross would respond to common criticisms from fans while providing updates on injuries and developments, as well as offering his sometimes frank opinions on WWE's product.
In his post-SummerSlam edition of the Report, Good Ol' JR didn't mince words, saying that while he found the pay-per-view to be "good", he'd only give it about "a 6.5 or 7 out of 10". Ross didn't address specific issues, but did note that there were aspects of the show they wish were different in hindsight. According to Figure 4 Weekly, inside reports claimed that post-show issues included the Steel Cage Match, the placement of the Rock/Booker T WCW title match, and the Austin/Angle finish. It's unclear if Ross was referring to any of these topics.
8. Turned Down By An Agent, Approved By Vince McMahon
Although he won the IC Championship from Lance Storm in an exceedingly hot opener, Edge's victory was just as notable for him overcoming botched interference from brother/friend/travel buddy/tandem Scrabble partner Christian. The miscue was meant to serve as a prelude to Christian's impending heel turn, as a foreshadowing of what would be to come.
Initially, Edge pitched the angle as a way to get Christian involved on the show, and to provide some actual juice for the turn when it actually did come to pass. However, Edge claims he was turned down flat by the nameless road agent, who said that a run-in wasn't going to happen. Undeterred, Edge sought out Vince McMahon himself, pitched the same idea, and got immediate approval. Vince overruled the agent, Christian got involved in the match, and everyone was (presumably) happy.
7. Turn Out The Lights (Heavyweights)
The only match of the night that wasn't part of the WWE-Alliance battle for warmed-over supremacy was the Light Heavyweight vs. Cruiserweight title bout that matched up Yoshihiro Tajiri against X-Pac, both of whom were on the WWE side of the fence. X-Pac took home both belts after winning with an X-Factor, following interference from Albert.
This would mark the final time that the Light Heavyweight belt would be defended on a WWE pay-per-view. In short order, the Cruiserweight Title would become WWE's official belt for underbooked, pigeonholed junior heavyweights, while the Light Heavyweight version would officially be abandoned in the spring of 2002. The final actual defence of the Light Heavyweight title took place on a house show in late-October 2001, when X-Pac defeated Scotty 2 Hotty.
6. Not Exactly Highlight Of The Night
Today he's used little more than as just a good veteran hand to have around, but in his younger days, Rhyno was a tightly-wound monster with oodles of potential. His rib-crunching Gore was one of the best high-impact finishes around, and it complimented Rhyno's character penchant for indiscriminately running through everybody in his path. SummerSlam opponent Chris Jericho was no stranger to the Gore (having taken one famous one through the old SmackDown set), but the one he took at the pay-per-view was even scarier.
Jericho endured the charge by coming off the top rope toward Rhyno on the floor, only to be speared out of midair by the heavyweight brute. Jericho's head bounced off the arena floor, knocking him loopy, and possibly concussed. It's unclear whether or not Jericho did suffer a lingering injury, but he was dizzy enough to botch two ensuing springboard manoeuvres.
5. Pushing Through The Boundaries Of Pain
Almost as a rule, wrestlers work through all sorts of acquired aches and pains as touring athletes. Diamond Dallas Page was just one of many examples at the time of the 2001 SummerSlam, performing in the steel cage Tag Team title match with a torn meniscus in his knee. The fact that Page was 45 years old at the time of the match, and had reportedly been working through the injury for more than a month, only earns him even more respect.
One has to feel a little bit bad for DDP, who agreed to forego sitting at home and collecting free money from Time Warner, just because he wanted to be a part of the WWE-Alliance feud. Not only was Page not used to his max potential, but he was made to look rather foolish. That he pushed onward with a bad wheel in his mid-forties only makes it worse.
4. Deviating From The Script
One of the big knocks against DDP as a wrestler is a subjective one. Page is notorious for scripting out his matches to the most minute detail, as he feels that having a pre-configured plan helps him give the most optimum performances. "Macho Man" Randy Savage was a bird of that same feather, but Page's insistence on following plans to the letter earned him some scorn - particularly, from The Undertaker.
Some sources, including Dave Meltzer and Hardcore Holly, noted that Page comprised a script for the Steel Cage Match at SummerSlam, and presented his finished product to Undertaker. This didn't sit well with "Big Evil", and what followed probably was not what DDP had written down - he and Kanyon took a one-sided ass-whooping that did neither man any favours. Page was made to look like a chump, and was even pinned the next night on Raw by Undertaker's then-wife Sara.
3. The Double Main Event: Out Of Order?
After the landslide mess that was the Steel Cage Match, SummerSlam 2001 concluded with an excellent WWE Championship match, followed by a very good, crowd-pleasing WCW Championship match. Austin and Angle, with a concrete ending, is in the running for WWE's best match of 2001, while Rock standing tall to close out the show, provided the necessary smiles.
However, there were reports that internally, some questioned the decision to put Rock vs. Booker T on last, as noted in the Ross Report entry. The logic was that by putting the WCW Championship match on as the closer, they were making the WWE belt look inferior. The logic was that they didn't want an Angle/Austin non-finish going on last, and having Rock win the main event would make for a much happier ending. Since a WWE pay-per-view hadn't ended with a babyface winning in close to six months (Rock defeating Angle at No Way Out), most might agree that it was the right call.
2. The Reach Of The People's Champ
The Rock, WCW World Champion. That was a pretty strange phrase to hear in August 2001, and in many ways it's still odd to hear in this present day. The Rock's victory over Booker T not only allowed WWE to hold the enemy's top belt hostage in storyline, but it afforded Rock a most unusual feat that had amazingly never happened until that night.
With the win, The Rock became the first man to leave consecutive SummerSlams with some form of World Title. Rock retained the WWE Championship at the 2000 event, before completing the back-to-back with the WCW gold. Though others had previously left more than one SummerSlam with a World title (Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan all come to mind), none did it consecutively. The next person to leave two straight SummerSlams with a World title would be CM Punk, who left both the 2008 and 2009 shows as World Heavyweight Champion.
1. It's All Downhill From Here
Four weeks before SummerSlam, the hotly-anticipated Invasion pay-per-view set a record for most buys for any non-WrestleMania pay-per-view in WWE history, with 770,000 purchases (the mark still stands today). It's easy to see why wrestling fans would be so bullish about that sort of monumental event, but the good faith didn't last. The slow fizzle of the Alliance's novelty had dimmed by the time SummerSlam rolled around, for reasons that have been spotlighted here.
SummerSlam managed 565,000 buys, down 27 per cent from the feud's epicentre the previous month. While 565,000 buys is still an incredible number (and is favourably comparable to the 1999 and 2000 editions of the show), it didn't seem to build all that much on Invasion's historic number. The fact that Unforgiven and No Mercy did only 350,000 and 325,000 buys respectively that fall (both mightily down from their 2000 counterparts) was clear evidence that the tire had blown.