Survivor Series 2002 is, of course, the event in which Shawn Michaels ascended to the top of WWE one last time, mining the most of a nostalgia run that had begun beautifully with a win over Triple H at the prior SummerSlam. Six years after being booed out of the Garden in his World title loss to Psycho Sid, Michaels had something of a redemption moment inside the brand-new Elimination Chamber.
The event had its ups and downs, as well as a handful of genuine shocks, not to mention a good share of exciting matches. It's fair to say that the 2002 Survivor Series was an ambitious event, one of the better shows of an admittedly uneven time.
10. A Few Rough Patches
The opening match of the pay-per-view broadcast pitted Bubba Ray Dudley, Spike Dudley, and Jeff Hardy against Rico and Three Minute Warning in an elimination tables match (this counts as a Survivor match, as far as I'm concerned). The match was hard-hitting and brutal, and climaxed nicely with the return of D-Von Dudley to both the Raw roster, and the Dudley family.
The match wasn't without its difficult points, in particular moments involving a less-focused Jeff Hardy. Aside from some noticeable stumbles and botches from the future Charismatic Enigma, Hardy proved to be late for one particular spot, which Rico broadcast to the world. When Jeff was supposed to prevent Rico from performing a top rope manoeuvre, Hardy was out of place, causing Rico to audibly cry out, "C'mon Jeff, goddamnit!" Not Hardy's finest hour.
9. Insert Tarantula Joke Here
WWE had themselves a new star in the Women's division in the form of Victoria, the sinister and deranged villainess that brought some icy sadism to the scene. Victoria bested Trish Stratus at the 2002 Survivor Series in a hardcore-rules match to capture the Women's title, the first of two that she would hold.
The match marked the first time that the WWE Women's title changed hands at Madison Square Garden in 17 years. The belt would change hands on four occasions in a 16-month stretch inside the building in 1984-85, culminating with The Fabulous Moolah (disguised as The Spider Lady) defeating Wendi Richter for the belt in a legitimate screwjob in November 1985 at the Garden, culminating in Richter quitting the company for real.
8. More Garden Variety
Perhaps the biggest shocker of the evening (aside from Matt Hardy's V1 hand gesture) was Big Show's WWE Championship victory over the previously-unbeaten Brock Lesnar. Show took down the invincible champion in barely four minutes, with an assist from unscrupulous manager Paul Heyman, who double-crossed his client. So much for having a streak that would mirror Bill Goldberg's.
Keeping with the Madison Square Garden theme from the previous entry, it's interesting to note that this was the only WWE Championship change at the Garden in a 15-year stretch. Show was the first man to win the belt inside the venue since Psycho Sid beat Michaels six years to the day earlier, and the last to do before CM Punk defeated Alberto Del Rio in 2011. In other words, the last three WWE Title changes inside MSG have taken place at Survivor Series, and the last four have been in the month of November (Diesel over Bob Backlund in 1994).
7. Battered Brock
It was mystifying that WWE would take the belt off of Lesnar, especially in favour of an ice-cold Big Show. There seemed to be no logic in doing the switch, though it was apparently a necessary move. Lesnar wasn't in the best physical shape at the time of the match, and needed to step away for a little bit.
It had been noted from a few sources that Lesnar worked the brief match with broken ribs, while Lesnar would later add in his book that he also had a torn PCL in his right knee. In spite of this, Lesnar still managed to hoist the 500-pound Big Show up for an F5, because Brock is goddamn frightening. Lesnar would work a rather infrequent schedule for the weeks to follow, before rejoining the road full time in early 2003.
6. Birth Of The Chamber
As noted, the Elimination Chamber would see its debut on this night, the domed steel cage with holding cell "pods" and mesh flooring, giving fans a combination of a Survivor Series match, a Royal Rumble, and WarGames all in one. In fact, its very conception was something of a make-good for the absence of the latter gimmick match on WWE programming.
Triple H, admitted mark for classic territorial and old-school wrestling, had lobbied long and hard for WWE to co-opt the WarGames concept, and he wanted it for that year's Survivor Series. WWE (read: Vince) had long resisted the signature match of his old rivals, and the Chamber was actually invented as a compromise, a WWE "spin" on the caged mayhem and bloodshed of War Games.
5. A Solid Number Two
It's not often that the phrase "Shawn Michaels looked like crap out there" is apt, but it's a true statement regarding Survivor Series 2002. And make no mistake, I don't mean his actual in-ring performance - I mean his outfit. Michaels wore these brown, faecal-coloured tights that were a stark contrast from the red, white, and black heart prints that were the HBK norm. And Michaels knew they looked bad.
According to Michaels, WWE seamstress Julie Youngberg was working on some earth-tone tights for him, but was unable to properly finish them, resulting in the turd-tacular look that we got. Bruce Prichard would add that Michaels, in general, wasn't fully prepared, as the boots that he wore were his actual everyday boots instead of wrestling gear. Michaels also noted that he wasn't initially planning on working Survivor Series, so he cut his hair shorter and wasn't properly dieting two weeks out from the match. Still, he's Shawn, so he was fantastic in the ring.
4. Evening At The Improv
Since the Chamber was the first match of its specific type, there weren't any standards to live up to, no specific template to follow. Although a group consisting of Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, Booker T, Kane, and Rob Van Dam boasts some great minds and tons of experience, they essentially had a blank slate to work with, and no concrete idea how to get the most out of it.
As Chris Jericho would note, he and the other competitors arrived hours early with the intent of trying to figure out how to make the 40-minute match work. Even then, nothing exactly was bullet-pointed, as they threw around loose ideas, but really, they were just going to have to follow their guts come match time. Jericho also added that the entire final sequence between Michaels and Triple H was done on the fly, as planning hadn't even made it that far come match time.
3. Silent Game
There were a few disastrous moments during the Chamber match, one of which had potential to be absolutely catastrophic. Rob Van Dam perched himself atop one of the retaining pods in the early going, and went to land an aerial attack onto a downed Triple H. The jump was compromised by the lack of headroom for Van Dam, resulting in kind of a flat fall that would see RVD's knee smash into Helmsley's throat.
The botch caused Triple H's throat to immediately swell up, and concern quickly set in. Bruce Prichard indicated that they had wanted to get him out of the match then and there, but Helmsley insisted on continuing. Communicating was difficult for Triple H, but breathing was the bigger issue. After finishing the match, the now-former champion was held overnight at a local hospital to ensure that he didn't potentially suffocate due to the injury.
2. General Disarray
Although not as big of a deal as your World Champion suffering a potentially fatal injury in the course of a main event match, the Chamber was also compromised by a clusterschmazz of a different sort. If you've seen a Chamber match, you know that the four confined wrestlers are released from the pods at timed intervals, and knowing the order is paramount to whatever plan is in place.
According to Jericho, Michaels was supposed to enter fifth, then Kane last. When Kane was dispatched into the bout in the fifth spot, things were thrown off, so to improvise, Jericho (who admitted to being rather angry by this screw-up) had Kane launch him through one of the empty pods. In a case like this, a ring general like Triple H could've calmly circled the wagons and come up with a new plan, but his limited communication due to the injury made that harder.
1. One For The Road
This time, the Garden crowd had Shawn's back, as he Superkicked a wounded Triple H en route to capturing the relatively-new World Heavyweight title. The feelgood moment was a good capper on what had been a mostly great pay-per-view with a handful of troubling instances. As for Michaels, the reign would only last four weeks, but he would remain atop the card through various feuds over the next seven years.
Somewhat surprisingly, it was the last time Shawn Michaels ever held a singles title in his career. He would reign twice more as a Tag Team champion (with John Cena in 2007, Triple H in 2009-10), but his days of golden singles glory were behind him. His matches would remain largely unchallenged in quality, and when you're the most talented worker on the roster, you don't need belts to affirm your greatness.