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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: Survivor Series 2002 – The Best of its Kind
By Samuel 'Plan
Nov 1, 2017 - 8:47:50 PM

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Just Business: Survivor Series 2002 – The Best of its Kind

It might be galling to some, to consider Survivor Series 2002 as the best entry in the event’s lineage. It doesn’t host a single Traditional 5 on 5 Survivor Series Elimination Match after all, and that is the match upon which Survivor Series was founded. Nonetheless, it remains my opinion to this day that the unspoken of 2002 edition of November’s Big One is the strongest we have ever been provided by WWE. The reason for this opinion is because it ticks every single box I look for defining an outstanding – even a “best ever” – pay-per-view.

Firstly, I’ve always felt like an excellent pay-per-view needs to feel like a single show. That might sound bizarre, but often pay-per-views can feel disjointed, with little to no relation between each match on the card. This isn’t a necessity; great matches are great matches, after all. It does, though, speak to the broad effects of compartmentalising one’s product, as WWE do so severely. Great but unrelated matches are fun; good, closely linkable matches are better, in my mind, helping to create a vibrant sense of shared universe that always evidences WWE at their very best. Shows that result are infinitely more satisfying experiences.

This can occur in one of two ways. Some ‘greatest of all time’ (GOAT) pay-per-views have a story that runs through the show and evolves as the event progresses. Think WrestleMania XXX for a prominent example, or Fully Loaded 2000 for a lesser one. Survivor Series 2002 does not have this. Its nature as an inter-brand Extension pay-per-view perhaps plays a part in denying the event such cohesion. What it does enjoy, though, is the substitute for an evolving story: theme.

This comes down to my performance art perspective, really. If a pay-per-view doesn’t contain within it a long running narrative impacting the events of the show, it can still become greater than the sum of its parts if it bears a shared theme that we can interpret from each of the matches on the card. In the case of Survivor Series 2002, that theme doesn’t just substitute the lack of an evolving narrative across the evening, but also the lack of a Traditional Eliminator too. That theme is simple and apt: survival. Every match on the card can be interpreted as providing various demonstrations, in various tones, of the theme of survival.

Three bouts – the World Heavyweight Championship Elimination Chamber Match, the WWE Tag Team Championship Triple Threat Tag Team Elimination Match and the opening Six Man Tag Tables Match – all demonstrate survival literally, courtesy of their elimination stipulations; but also, especially in the case of the show opener and closer, in the brutality of their environment.

That environmental brutality is shared by the Women’s Championship Hardcore Match. Trish Stratus and Victoria wrestle in an almost feral nature, set against the backdrop of a deeply bitter feud. The resultant action in the match itself is surprisingly ‘hardcore.’ Relative to the division, the tonal sense of survival is impressively striking, and quite easily interpreted.

Two other matches on the card – the Cruiserweight Championship Match and the WWE Championship Match – tell tales of survival in the action itself. In the case of the former, the quick fire, pulse pounding, high impact flurries of offense play heavily on the previously injured neck of the challenger Billy Kidman, heightening the atmosphere of threat and dread and creating a palpable sense of jeopardy. In the case of the latter, Brock Lesnar’s challenge by the Big Show was based entirely around the notion that the Next Big Thing couldn’t survive the challenge of his larger opponent, especially as he wrestles still bearing the scars and bruises of his blood-bath opposite Undertaker in Hell in a Cell some weeks earlier. The action itself then flips the narrative, as it is Big Show fighting for survival against a motivated, ungodly champion and the mitigating factor, Paul Heyman, slaying his own future Beast. Out of the entire card, it is the one match that uses the recurring theme of survival to craft a bitter, darker ending.

Outside this prescient sense of theme, the second element that helps mark Survivor Series 2002 as being the GOAT in its lineage is match quality. Every all-time great pay-per-view needs to play host to at least some excellent matches. Happily, Survivor Series 2002 is a blast from beginning to end, with even the weakest of the bunch being sure to over-achieve.

Many people will remember the opening Six Man Tables Match between 3 Minute Warning and Rico on one side and Bubba Ray Dudley, Spike Dudley and Jeff Hardy on the other primarily for an infamously drug-addled performance by the ‘Charismatic Enigma.’ This is a shame. In being remembered for that, the match doesn’t get its due for being the exhilarating, visually stunning riot that it is. Some of the spot work blows you away for its barely believable visuals, and that helps mean that, to be quite frank, even a stumbling Hardy can’t take away from your enjoyment of the match. In fact, he sort of adds to it in a weird, accidental manner, thanks to the crash-bang aesthetic of it all. It’s no masterpiece, nor particularly clever; but it has plenty of wit, oodles of charm and a whole heap of special effects worth checking out. It’s infinitely re-watchable, and one of Jamal / Umaga’s finest performances. He basically carries the thing.

It is the women and the cruiserweights who, in a weird prediction of things to come, over-achieve the most. Stratus’ and Victoria’s work isn’t all that well-polished, with a couple of clumsy moments and one particular garish example of bad timing. It has plenty of energy though, is performed with noticeable zeal and employs some creative, if simple choreography to craft a match that should rightfully undo any prejudices of those who, like I did the first time, judge the bout on paper heading in.

The same could be said for the cruiserweights too. Jamie Noble defends against Billy Kidman in yet another action-packed match that does not let up for its run time and, most impressively, gets its licks in with the ‘high spots’ while making sure each one of them fits the story of the action. It’s quite an impressive achievement between the two of them, and possibly one of the best pay-per-view offerings of the first take on the division. The feel good win helps a bunch.

The rest of the Smackdown roster wrestles with their infamous motivation in full force. Lesnar and Show have only five minutes to play with, but they maximise those minutes to incredible effect. The lively MSG crowd crackles with energy at the spectacle of Lesnar – in a fashion not dissimilar to Suplex City, but far superior to it because of its lack of lethargy – throwing Show around like a featherweight. Heyman lends some political intrigue, they cram a tangibly painful chair shot in for good measure and the result of it all is a real short-lived gem of a match that is far better than it has any right to be. It even seems to predict the Heyman / Punk feud of 2013, with Heyman turning on his championship client as said client grows increasingly independently-minded….

Does the Triple Threat Tag Team Match need any comment? While Mysterio has a bit of a clumsy evening, messing more than one or two spots up as he shoulders a heavy workload, he can’t take away from the sheer fun that this match is to watch. Eddie and Chavo Guerrero work an ingenious master plan by adhering to their Lie, Cheat, Steal mantra in the most Machiavellian fashion. They play on the clashing egos of Angle and Benoit expertly, and once they’re eliminated (to the vocal chagrin of the crowd!) the action proceeds with a fast pace toward crowning the right pair of winners. Angle and Benoit are on particular form throughout, and when the action decides to weave all six men in you get a timeless classic; watch out for a particularly smooth and seamless Ankle Lock / Crossface combination. In fact, were it not for the circumstances surrounding one member of the match in particular, it would quite rightly get spoken of as a classic of its kind.

Then there’s the Elimination Chamber Match. Those accustomed to the more effects-heavy efforts of later years, and the more blood soaked outings that would follow shortly after this inaugural outing, might find it to be a bit of a slog to get through. This is a story driven Chamber Match if ever there was one, and the sense of discovery provides a large portion of its lasting character. The first Five Star Frog Splash off the pod roof; the first crash through the pod door; the first ‘bumps’ on the grating that eats at flesh; this is a match that doesn’t think about gore as much as it does violence, and is all the more likeable because of its innocence towards the Chamber’s brutal potential. Instead it is all about attrition and creating a tangible atmosphere; and that atmosphere pays off dividends at the climax, when the comeback story of Shawn Michaels culminates with a still-emotive title victory over his then-nemesis Triple H, in typical underdog fashion.

It’s not a perfect match by any means, but it’s damn good, treats each of its star-studded line up with respect and due reverence, and leans heavily in favour of the tastes of those who enjoy an atmospheric, gradually developed story. It also provides two other factors that I believe mark out Survivor Series 2002 as a GOAT: historical achievement and an emotional hook.

All the best pay-per-views have one, if not both of these. Think about the historical achievements of WrestleMania III, for instance, or the emotional hook of Michaels’ return at Summerslam 2002. Through the Elimination Chamber Match, Survivor Series 2002 provides historical achievement – the first ever Chamber bout is a success, and would go on to become an integral milestone in the Road to WrestleMania - and the emotional hook that gives fans a reason to not just care, but feel - Michaels’ attempt to fulfil his comeback with a title victory, and all the “Do you believe?” rhetoric that comes with that mission.

A strong sense of theme shared by every match; a comfortably above-average, if not excellent match quality throughout; historical achievement; an emotional hook; what more could you want from a WWE pay-per-view? Well, if you want great production design then Survivor Series 2002 has it; I especially love its lush black and green colour scheme. If you want a hot crowd that contributes, doesn’t detract from the action then no problem; Madison Square Garden is both vocal and attentive. If you want a notable setting, then Survivor Series 2002 takes place in WWE’s own home of the World’s Most Famous Arena.

Survivor Series 2002 might not have it all, because of its lack of a Traditional 5 on 5 Elimination Match, but it has so many of the general qualifications that, to my mind, mark out an all-time great pay-per-view that such a sin, if one considers it to be as such, can easily be forgiven. I feel still, to this day, that Survivor Series 2002 is the best of its kind, and implore you to re-watch it in anticipation for this year’s own event.

Until next time, let me know what you consider to be the greatest Survivor Series event of all time and why; and why not let me know your thoughts on Survivor Series 2002 as well! Do so in the comments below or over on social media, and thanks for reading!

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store or Amazon today! Simply click here to find mine and a host of other books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP, or on the icon to the left to be taken directly to Amazon!

Click here to add me on Facebook!

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