This is one of my favorite professional wrestling matches ever. That doesn’t mean I think it’s the best match ever, but as a wrestling fan it’s right near the top as a favorite. Why? Because the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels is my favorite wrestler ever. When he retired at WrestleMania 14 in 1998 I thought that was his last match. He ended up having back surgery and then over four years later he was back for this match against Triple H at SummerSlam 2002 in Long Island, New York.
Michaels came back to WWE a couple of months before this in a “manager” type role supporting his buddies during a forgettable NWO return. After Triple H lost the Undisputed WWE Title, a big deal was made about what show he’d be on. He chose Raw because of his “best friend” Shawn Michaels. Soon after that on Raw, they formed Degeneration X again, Triple H did his usual “are you ready” spiel, turned on Michaels and shockingly hit the Pedigree on his retired best friend.
There was more to the story as Michaels was beaten up backstage by somebody mysteriously. Triple H denied any wrongdoing and he tried to find out who did it. Then we found out that Michaels obtained a video, we saw some grainy video and it was revealed that it was Triple H. Michaels said he was hurt bad, but would be fine by Summerslam. Raw GM Eric Bischoff said the match was on, but it would be an unsanctioned match meaning there’d be no rules.
I had a lot of questions before the match took place. Would he be like the HBK that was arguably the wrestler of the 90s? Would he be a shell of his former self? Would he be somebody that was broken down due to the back surgery he had? Was he risking his health by participating in another match that could hurt his back even more? The questions were legitimate because we really didn’t know what was going to happen.
Michaels started out on fire as they brawled on the floor. When Triple H got control he focused on the back of Michaels. Every time he hit a backbreaker or move on HBK’s back we cringed because we didn’t know what shape it was in. We knew it was operated on, but did that mean it was 100% healed? Probably not.
As the match continued, Michaels was busted open, but it was tame compared to some of the blood in his previous matches like the first Hell in a Cell match against Undertaker in 1997. Every time Triple H tried to fight back, Triple H hit him in the back. There was great interplay throughout with Triple H and ref Earl Hebner too. Hebner kept trying to tell Triple H to take it easy, but Hunter wouldn’t let up since it was an unsanctioned match.
The violence continued as Triple H hit a backbreaker on a seated chair as well as the sidewalk slam on a folded chair. Michaels got the momentum back with a low blow out of desperation (no rules!) followed by a superkick into the chair, which then hit Triple H in the face leading to a double moment where both men were out. Triple H was bleeding too.
Michaels decided to bring out a weapon that he knew all too well: a ladder. The biggest moment of the match was HBK setting up a table on the floor, laying Triple H across it and splashing him off the top the ladder. I’ll never forget when he did the hand motion by his head as if to suggest he was crazy for doing it. Maybe he was, but that’s why we loved him. In the ring, Michaels hit an elbow drop off the ladder too.
The finish of the match saw Michaels attempt a Superkick, but Triple H caught his foot. Triple H went for the Pedigree, but Michaels countered into a roll through pinning combination with his back on Triple H’s chest. Hebner counted the pinfall and Michaels emerged victorious after 28 grueling minutes as the crowd gave him one of the loudest ovations you will ever hear.
As usual, Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross put it in perspective: “In 25 years I’ve never seen as much courage and a will to win!” His Hall of Fame partner Jerry Lawler was shocked by it too: “What about that! What about that!” They might be the best announce team in pro wrestling history and they were at their best during this match.
Michaels had his hand raised by referee Earl Hebner, but he couldn’t really celebrate because Triple H hit him in the back with his trusty sledgehammer. Michaels collapsed. With Michaels on his knees, Triple H hit him in the back again and Michaels ended up leaving on a stretcher. JR: “Triple H is going to rot in hell for what he did tonight! Do you have no soul you son of a bitch? Do you realize what you’ve just done!” We didn’t know when we’d see Michaels in a match again. It turns out the next match would be about four months later.
The match was an excellent brawl that was better than I thought it would be at the time. Who knew that Michaels would come back after four years to be this good again? I’ve seen Triple H remark over the years that only one person could do that and it’s Michaels. He’s probably right.
When it was over, I had no idea if Michaels would wrestle again. I figured this might just be a one-match thing. I remember watching it live with a group of friends and this was one of the most emotional matches I can ever remember. We were rooting on Michaels as if we were ten years old again. It reminded us why we became fans in the first place and why we still watch as adults.
Everybody talks about the performance of Michaels, but Triple H was amazing too. His run as a good guy in early 2002, as fun as it was for a couple of months, just didn’t work that well. He’s more natural as a villain and this was his first big match as bad guy in over a year. He delivered in every way. The spots they worked were perfect. Everything made sense, everything had the right flow and as is always the case with these guys, the timing was spot on. Really fun, emotional match that is one of those memorable ones that will last a lifetime.
This was a very good brawl that tugged at our emotions as much as any match in wrestling history. Who knew that Michaels would come back after four years to be this good again? It was awesome. Watching it live, all I could think about was how all I wanted was to see Michaels walk out of there safe. It was great for Triple H too. His face run just didn’t work that well in 2002. He’s more natural as a heel and this was his first big match as a heel in over a year. He delivered.
I’ll never forget Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H at SummerSlam 2002. It was a really fun, emotional match with memories that will last a lifetime. It was pro wrestling (or sports entertainment if you want to call it that) at its absolute best.
Here’s my full writeup of the SummerSlam 2002 match between Shawn Michaels and Triple H.
Unsanctioned Street Fight: Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels
Pre-match notes: Triple H was the top heel in the company. I’ll refer to him as Hunter during the review. Michaels was the legendary face making his return to the ring after over four years on the shelf due to injury. Michaels wrestled in jeans and cowboy boots while Hunter was in his traditional wrestling tights and boots.
Michaels attacked with punches right away. Hunter pushed him off, Michaels fought back and Michaels did a leap frog followed by a toss over the top to the floor. Michaels with a slingshot plancha over the top onto Hunter on the floor. They battled on the floor with Michaels whipping Hunter into the ring post. Michaels brought a garbage can into the match, so that allowed Hunter to drop Shawn chest first against the barricade. Michaels with a trash can lid to the head, skin the cat by Michaels back in and a trash can to the head of Hunter. Michaels jumped off the top with a double axehandle. Michaels wanted a superkick, Hunter avoided it and hit a backbreaker with Michaels selling like it big time. Triple H did another backbreaker. Hard whip into the corner by Hunter leading to Michaels going back first into the turnbuckle. Another hard whip into the corner by Hunter followed by a crotch chop taunt. Hunter brought in a chair leading to a hard chair shot to the back of Michaels. The crowd reacted to every back bump in a big way. That got a two count. Michaels got a rollup for two, but Hunter came back with a knee to the face facebuster. Hunter hit a DDT on the steel chair for a two count. Michaels did a blade job from that because he was bleeding from the forehead. Hunter took off Shawn’s belt and whipped Shawn in the back with it. Hunter punched Shawn in the face while the belt was around his fist. Hunter brought in a sledgehammer, ref Earl Hebner tried to stop him and that allowed Michaels to come back with punches. Hunter put down the sledgehammer. Hunter with a hard whip into the corner followed by an abdominal stretch. When Hunter grabbed the ropes, Hebner yelled at him, so they got into a shoving match. Hebner yelled at Hunter to knock it off even though it was legal in the match. This was a ref showing compassion. Michaels tried to fight back, Hunter put him on the top rope, Shawn punched him off and Hunter shoved Hebner into the ropes to crotch Michaels on the top. Chair to the back by Hunter drew more heat from the crowd. Triple H hit a backbreaker onto a chair that was opened up, so it was on the seat of the chair. That got a two count. Sidewalk slam on the chair by Hunter for another three two counts as fans chanted “HBK” for Shawn. Hunter wanted a Pedigree, Michaels fought out of it and hit a low blow punch to a big pop. Well played. Both guys were down. Hunter grabbed the chair, he walked towards Michaels and Michaels hit a huge superkick into the chair that knocked down Hunter at the same time. Both guys were down again because Shawn was too hurt to make a cover. Triple H bladed and he was bleeding way more than Michaels.
The Michaels comeback began with the flying forearm followed by the kip up by Michaels that drew a huge ovation. There was a back body drop by Michaels followed by a chair to the head. Hunter got his left hand up to soften the blow. Michaels whipped Hunter over the top rope to the floor. Michaels hit Hunter in the back with the leather belt followed by a trash can to the head. The fans chanted “We Want Tables” as Michaels took off a boot from a Spanish announcer and hit Hunter in the head. JR called it a “heel for a heel,” which is pretty good. Michaels hit a DDT onto the steel steps at ringside. Michaels pulled out a ladder from under the ring with the crowd cheering loudly. Michaels hit Hunter in the head with the top of the ladder. Michaels with a catapult that sent Hunter into the ladder that was against the ring post. Hunter was bleeding a lot. They went back into the ring with Michaels getting a two count. Hunter with a baseball slide into the ladder that went into the ribs of Michaels. They went back to the top rope with Michaels hitting a superplex for a two count. Michaels got a sunset flip for two. Hunter came back with a high knee to the face for two. Hunter brought the bottom half of the steel steps into the ring. Michaels with a drop toe hold that sent Hunter face first into the steps. Clothesline by Michaels that sent Hunter over the top to the floor. Michaels grabbed a table from under the ring and set up the table on the floor. Michaels hit Hunter with a fire extinguisher leading to Hunter landing on the table. Michaels went up top, did the “crazy” hand gesture and hit a splash off the top rope through Hunter on the table. That drew a massive pop and I remember cheering with my buddies at that moment. The fans chanted “holy shit” for that. Michaels set up a ladder against the turnbuckle, Hebner held the ladder steady and Michaels jumped off the ladder with an elbow drop to the chest of Hunter. Michaels fired up with the crowd cheering loudly for him. Michaels tuned up the band for the Sweet Chin Music superkick, Hunter caught the foot and wanted a Pedigree. Michaels flipped over with a bridging pin and covered for the pinfall win at 27:50. The fans went wild for this! It was a great moment. JR: “In 25 years I’ve never seen as much courage and a will to win!”
Winner by pinfall: Shawn Michaels
Analysis: ****1/2 This was such an awesome match and it’s my favorite match they had together in terms of singles matches (the WrestleMania 20 triple threat is better). I have reviewed a lot of the other matches they had. This one is the most special because of the story going into it with Michaels selling the back injury and that was the focus of Triple H’s attack all match long. At nearly 30 minutes it is a bit long, but I don’t think it hurt the match at all. It’s not like they did a lot of rest or submission holds to stretch the match to nearly that long. There was a lot of action with plenty of believable nearfalls. The finish was perfect. I know some people don’t like it when a guy wins a match without their finish, but I think it was the right call in this match because it showed that Michaels barely beat him. I like how the match was a mix of big spots by Michaels while also featuring a lot of psychology since Hunter kept going after the back of Michaels. The match was an excellent brawl that was better than I thought it would be at the time. Who knew that Michaels would come back after four years to be this good again? I’ve seen Triple H remark over the years that only one person could do that and it’s Michaels. He’s probably right.
Michaels was helped to his feet by ref Earl Hebner and Michaels kissed Hebner on the cheek. The celebration ended because Triple H hit Michaels in the back with his trusty sledgehammer. Michaels collapsed. With Michaels on his knees, Hunter hit him in the back again and Michaels was out on the mat. Hebner called for help. Hunter did a crotch chop over a fallen Shawn Michaels.
Analysis: It was a huge post match angle that got massive heat on Hunter for being a jerk that attacked a guy in the back after Hunter lost the match. It worked perfectly. Even though Hunter lost this match, a few weeks later he was handed the new World Heavyweight Title on Raw.
The doctor and EMTs went into the ring to check on Michaels. JR: “Triple H is going to rot in hell for what he did tonight! Do you have no soul you son of a bitch? Do you realize what you’ve just done!” Hunter limped to the back with a smirk on his face. Michaels was shown being put on a stretcher. A replay aired of the finish of the match. Michaels was shown getting wheeled out on the stretcher. The crowd didn’t know how to react to it.
Analysis: When it was over, I had no idea Michaels would wrestle again. There were no reports out there saying he would wrestle again. A lot of us thought it was one and done. The good news is that Michaels ended up okay after the match, his back held up fine and it turns out that Michaels would be back in action about four months later. Not only that, but Michaels wrestled for another eight years before retiring in 2010.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.