The Story Of WWE SummerSlam 2001 - A Bad Show With Great Matches
A microcosm of The Alliance's many, many woes
Does a negative match result negate its overall quality?
That seems to be a good question for the modern wrestling armchair judge, the one who painstakingly has to decide if a match is a true, genuine, certified, bonified, top-shelf four-and-a-half star match of the year candidate, or if it's "merely" four-and-a-quarter stars.
These are important distinctions to make, you know.
A better question would be, "Can a show with many good to great matches still leave you feeling a bit sour?"
One might objectively have to say yes - especially if they ever sat down and watched the 2001 SummerSlam.
The year 2001 in WWE was one of high-quality matches and events, but also one of wasted opportunities and bullet-to-the-foot booking. And SummerSlam 2001 is, in many respects, a one-night microcosm of the strange duality carried out by the Federation in that year.
SummerSlam took place just four weeks after this little pay-per-view called Invasion. Actually, "little" is greatly underselling the anticipation - the Invasion pay-per-view drew more pay-per-view buys than any non-WrestleMania in WWE history (and yes, that counts all SummerSlams and Royal Rumbles). 770,000 homes paid to witness what should've been pro wrestling's ultimate holy war - the WWF army battling an insurgency of snarling reprobates from WCW and ECW, an event that had heretofore only existed in our dreams.
And it was like a dream, in that it was too good to be true. The fact that a number of WCW's top guys were still on lucrative Time Warner contracts (which the WWF didn't want to buy out) meant that the only imported World champions from WCW were Booker T and Diamond Dallas Page. That, and Vince McMahon lost faith in "the WCW style" early on, so he had a bunch of established WWE talents defect to "The Alliance", watering down the novelty very early on.
Invasion wasn't an awful show, but it felt like a major missed opportunity.
The diminished mojo only carried into August, with the configuration for SummerSlam.
The Alliance was nominally victorious at Invasion, but they hardly demonstrated the violent whimsy of the once-cool New World Order. In fact, once WWE champion Steve Austin defected to The Alliance (his second heel turn in under four months), the group mostly became docile lambs that heeded the orders of he, the McMahon children, and sometimes Paul Heyman.
Outside of Austin, not many wrestlers in The Alliance felt like a threat. Rob Van Dam did, even if nobody in the crowd could bring themselves to boo him. DDP, meanwhile, was rather unconvincing in the role of a creepy stalker - he'd have been better served just being the never-say-die tough guy that had been his calling card for a time in WCW, albeit as a righteous heel.
As for Booker, he often came out much worse for wear in promo battles with The Rock. Granted, Rock always gets the verbal upper hand, but the five time WCW champion didn't exactly stand on even ground with "The People's Champ" in the run-up to their WCW title bout at SummerSlam.
Speaking of SummerSlam, what a card it was.
If you put any stock into Dave Meltzer's opinions on match quality, this is how he rated each of the eight matches from the main card:
1. Intercontinental: Edge (WWF) defeated Lance Storm (Alliance) in 11:16 (***1/4)
2. Test and The Dudley Boyz (Alliance) def. Spike Dudley and The APA (WWF) in 7:19 (**3/4)
3. Light Heavyweight/Cruiserweight Title for Title: X-Pac def. Tajiri in 7:33 (***1/4) (NOTE: Both men were in WWF and the match was non-Invasion related)
4. Chris Jericho (WWF) def. Rhyno (Alliance) in 12:34 (**1/4)
5. Hardcore Title/Ladder Match: Rob Van Dam (Alliance) def. Jeff Hardy (WWF) in 16:33 (***1/2)
6. WWF and WCW Tag Team/Steel Cage: The Undertaker and Kane (WWF) def. Diamond Dallas Page and Chris Kanyon (Alliance) in 10:13 (*)
7. WWF World: Kurt Angle (WWF) def. Steve Austin (Alliance) by DQ in 22:30 (****1/2)
8. WCW World: The Rock (WWF) def. Booker T (Alliance) in 15:19 (***)
Your mileage may vary on ratings if you've seen the event, but perhaps not by much.
By most objective measures, the match quality on the night was pretty good, and puts SummerSlam up on the pedestal with the Royal Rumble, No Way Out, and (of course) WrestleMania X-Seven as the best pay-per-views of a very eventual year.
However, match quality doesn't exactly allow SummerSlam 2001 to hold up.
While it's true that a pay-per-view with at least five matches three stars are better is usually an easy thumbs up (especially if one is a ****1/2 epic like Angle vs. Austin), the text doesn't necessarily tell the tale.
Actually, maybe the allegiances listed in the parentheses tell *part* of the tale.
Let's start with the potency of that Alliance.
You'll notice that on the surface, The Alliance only won two of the seven matches they were active participants in: Test and The Dudleyz winning a throwaway six man tag, and Van Dam regaining the Hardcore title from Hardy in a ladder match.
Seeing as how the Invasion was barely out of the larval stage, perhaps it was a little too early for the villainous faction to take such a shoeing. When The New World Order wreaked havoc on WCW, it was a looooong time before the home team got anything resembling an upper hand on the almighty black-and-white-clad baddies.
Though it has to be said that while The Alliance only actually won two matches, they got a moral victory in a third: Angle's DQ win over Austin meant that Austin retained the WWF title, albeit through really maddening chicanery. Angle had Austin down for the count, but when Alliance referee Nick Patrick ran in, he DQed Stone Cold for striking a prior official, leading to lots of, shall we say, "bovine feces" chants from the fans in San Jose.
The match itself was excellent, one of Austin's last match of the year-caliber bouts. But that "turd in the punch bowl" ending did negate the thrill of seeing Angle keep fighting back from underneath, like some sort of cyborg that doesn't destruct easily.
But it's hard to necessarily fault the WWF for going with that finish, crowd outrage notwithstanding. September's Unforgiven would emanate from Angle's native Pittsburgh, so holding off on the title change until then was the wiser play.
Little consolation for the San Jose crowd at SummerSlam, though.
So The Alliance got two and a half victories out of a possible seven, which was a less than encouraging sign for where this all-encompassing angle was headed.
Less encouraging was the state of The Alliance itself.
In all, ten different wrestlers represented The Alliance at SummerSlam, and only half of them were genuine imports.
One thing that helped water down The Alliance was a deluge of WWF defectors. As noted earlier, there was a lack of faith in WCW talents who apparently "didn't know how to work", so the group got a blood transfusion of type-WWE Style.
What was meant to be the continuation of a feud between outsiders vs. insiders only boasted five true outsiders: Storm, Van Dam, Page, Kanyon, and Booker. The rest of The Alliance representation consisted of three men who converted to the ECW cell (The Dudleyz and Rhyno), bitter mercenary Test, and Austin, who took over as unquestionable group leader.
The Mike Awesomes and Shane Helms and Billy Kidmans and Sean O'Haires, they were nowhere to be seen. And you can forget about the headliners still collecting Time Warner paychecks from their couches.
As for the five actual invaders, check out the booking.
Storm lost what was a very good match to Edge, but he immediately became secondary to the budding acrimony between Edge and Christian (the latter of whom ran late-match interference).
That was child's play compared to Page and Kanyon, who lost an absolutely one-sided cage match to The Brothers of Destruction. This was 24 hours before DDP did the honours for Undertaker's then-wife Sara on Raw is War.
Booker and Rock had a competitive match, but damned if Booker didn't look a little silly doing his spinaroonie, before aimlessly walking into a fatal Rock Bottom for the finish.
Van Dam was the only actual import who came away from SummerSlam feeling like a star on the rise.
In all, SummerSlam was a pretty good show from a quality standpoint. It did 565,000 buys, good for sixth most in SummerSlam history, but clearly down from the 770,000 buys done by Invasion the prior month.
The momentum was cooling quickly, and SummerSlam did very little creatively to stem that tide.
There'd be more defectors in the coming months (Christian, Angle, William Regal), watering down the idea of rival promotions colliding. Those who came in as WCW invaders were rendered "just-a-guy" before long, if they hadn't been already.
By the time The Alliance limped to its doom at Survivor Series, even fans clamouring for this Invasion viewed it as a mercy killing.
There are many pay-per-views that leave us with this feeling. Yeah, the matches were great, but the booking, the implied direction, and overall "quality control" leave you wanting. You can't in good conscience call it a thumbs down, because the wrestling was good to great.
But it's a show with great matches that you just can't fully recommend. And that's SummerSlam 2001 in a nutshell.