For someone who wasn't around at the time, it's hard to explain just how anticipated Brock Lesnar's debut on WWE television was at the time.
A NCAA Division I national wrestling champion, he joined WWE on a big-money developmental deal right out of college—the most lucrative one the company has ever offered—and that immediately got him noticed among pro wrestling fans.
He made his developmental debut in 2000 in Ohio Valley Wrestling, usually teaming with college roommate Shelton Benjamin. While he was green, he clearly had a ton of potential and wowed fans with his ridiculous athleticism.
Even if you weren't watching OVW tapes, you were hearing about this giant rookie who launched his opponents into orbit with suplexes and was able to hit a shooting star press halfway across the ring.
After 18 months in OVW as well as doing untelevised dark matches at TV tapings, Lesnar was called up to the main roster the night after WrestleMania X8 in 2002. With Paul Heyman as his "agent," he quickly made an impression by throwing his opponents all over the ring and winning a series of matches by knockout.
That June, he entered the annual King of the Ring tournament. For the first time, the winner would get a WWE Championship (then the WWE Undisputed Championship) shot at SummerSlam.
After defeating Bubba Ray Dudley and Booker T on TV, he beat Test and Rob Van Dam at the King of the Ring pay-per-view event to win the crown and title shot. The following month at Vengeance, his opponent was determined when The Rock won the title from The Undertaker in a Triple Threat match that also included Kurt Angle.
WWE set out to make the match come off like a really big deal by hyping it differently from the usual big match.
While it did do traditional angles, much of the buildup was centered around training videos like you'd see nowadays on UFC and boxing hype specials. It came off like the most important match either wrestler could have.
SummerSlam 2002 had a ridiculously stacked card—one of WWE's best ever. The show opened with a fantastic Rey Mysterio vs. Kurt Angle match and never really let up. The preceding matches were so good that if the main event didn't deliver, Lesnar's big title win could start with a whimper.
Yes, everyone knew Lesnar was winning, and it made the match better. The crowd at the Nassau Coliseum completely turned on The Rock (leaving to shoot a movie) and cheered Lesnar like the new superstar he really was.
On top of that, the match delivered in spades. It wasn't necessarily the best of the night, but it was a great one.
While in the grand scheme of things, it didn't matter, as he was over like God, worked a safe style and had good matches anyway, The Rock was not a mechanically smooth wrestler for most of his career.
His sharpshooter gets more derision from fans online than even John Cena's STF and WWE announcers got in the habit of calling his awkward-looking suplexes "throws."
In 2002, that changed. He came into SummerSlam off a string of great matches, including what was regrettably his only match with Eddie Guerrero.
Whatever got into him, it may have been the best in-ring run of his career and the Lesnar match was the perfect way to cap it off. It was athletic, hard-hitting and made Lesnar look like a killer. The smooth series of counters at the end was a nice, memorable moment to kick off the Lesnar era.
The next night, WWE set in motion the angle that split the WWE Undisputed Championship into the current WWE Championship and World Heavyweight Championship titles.
Less than two years later. Lesnar was gone from WWE. Oh well.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!