Brock Lesnar and The Rock – The Real Story of SummerSlam 2002

The Rock was visibly angry at the crowd’s reaction after SummerSlam 2002. Brock Lesnar was now the youngest WWE champion of all time (at the time), and Dwayne Johnson left packing for Hollywood.

Moments before Brock Lesnar and The Rock do battle at SummerSlam 2002.
Moments before Brock Lesnar and The Rock do battle at SummerSlam 2002.

SummerSlam 2002 – The Night Brock Lesnar Sent The Rock Packing to Hollywood

SummerSlam 2002 was a stacked pay-per-view. The first three matches saw Rey Mysterio against Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho versus Ric Flair, and Edge taking on Eddie Guerrero.

On any other card, those are all main events.

We also had Rob Van Dam, Booker T, Goldust, Christian, Lance Storm, Test, The Undertaker, and of course, Shawn Michaels and Triple H in their unsanctioned match.

With all that amazing talent and phenomenal matches that take place that night, it’s no wonder the main event has become almost lost in the shuffle.

When a young Brock Lesnar took on The Rock, somehow, Brock ended up with the cheers. The crowd denounced The Rock for leaving them to go off to Hollywood, and they wanted to see Brock send him packing.

Backstory Behind The Feud

Brock Lesnar debuted on WWE television on March 18th, 2002. From the get-go, it was clear he would become a big player after he tore up the Hardy Boyz in his first feud in the company.

Brock would go on to win the 2002 King of the Ring tournament, which had a special stipulation. The winner earned a WWE Undisputed Championship match at SummerSlam.

This is famously around the time that Stone Cold Steve Austin “took his ball and went home,” due to being scheduled to lose a King of the Ring qualifier against Lesnar on television. It wasn’t long before Brock was destroying Hulk Hogan on SmackDown.

“We did this deal with Hulk Hogan where I took Hogan out violently on the WWE Smackdown show,” wrote Lesnar in his book, Death Clutch: My Story of Determination, Domination, and Survival.

“I knew the script, because Paul [Heyman] was the lead writer of the show, and we communicated all the time. Vince kept telling me we needed to make this as memorable a night as possible for the fans, because this was a big moment in my career. I was going to slay The Immortal Hulk Hogan, bust him open, and leave him for dead.”

“Other wrestlers had ‘jumped’ Hogan from before,” continued Brock. “Or “attacked” him to build interest in an upcoming match, but I was going to beat the crap out of him face-to-face. Vince didn’t just want me to ‘get over,’ he wanted me over the top.”

“The Next Big Thing” was on a tear, ripping through all the fan favorites (yes, Hogan counted as a fan favorite in 2002).

By SummerSlam 2002, Lesnar had defeated Hulk Hogan, The Hardy Boyz, Rob Van Dam, Booker T, and Bubba Ray Dudley in dominant fashion. This is all within six months of his debut. It was time for The Rock to fall to Brock Lesnar.

“WWE needed a new champion,” Brock wrote.

“Because Dwayne [Johnson] was taking time off after the show to do a movie, [WWE] wanted to go all the way with [me] because I had to carry the load for the company while Dwayne was off shooting films. Not everyone has what it takes to sell tickets on a nightly basis at major arenas, and sell millions of dollars worth of pay-per-views several times a year. That’s what a champion does. Vince thought I had what it took to pull that off.”

Brock Lesnar and The Rock – Their Night of Battle

The night was August 25th, 2002. The fifteenth annual SummerSlam emanated from Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. As mentioned, the card was absolutely stacked, but two of the matches jumped to the head of the pack for obvious reasons.

The unsanctioned match between Triple H and Shawn Michaels and this WWE Undisputed Championship between Brock Lesnar and The Rock bout were the most anticipated of the whole show, and they both delivered in a big way.

Things started hot with The Rock dropping his title and running to the ring to mix it up. Brock would dominate to start before things got a little more back and forth.

“Rocky sucks” chants were soon sounding out in force, and boos were raining down.

Lesnar would eventually secure the win with the F-5, much to the fans’ delight in attendance (but dissatisfaction for The Rock, who was visibly upset at the crowd’s reaction to his loss).

At just 25-years-old, this would make him the youngest to hold the prestigious WWE World Heavyweight Championship up until this point, a record he would hold until Randy Orton won the title two years later, aged 24.

This is a moment that cemented Brock Lesnar as a main-event caliber talent.

Brock Lesnar sends The Rock packing for Hollywood with an F-5 at SummerSlam 2002.
Brock Lesnar sends The Rock packing for Hollywood with an F-5 at SummerSlam 2002.

“On August 25th, 2002, I became the youngest WWE Champion in history when I ‘defeated’ The Rock. That night changed my life forever.”

Lesnar continued, “I was now in a position to regularly score big paydays for a night’s work and more. I was able to buy a lot of things. I’ll always appreciate what Dwayne did for me and my family. If he hadn’t made me look good, things might have turned out a lot differently.

“Beating The Rock at SummerSlam 2002 made me a true superstar in the eyes of the fans,” Brock maintained. “I didn’t just have any title. I had the ultimate prize in sports entertainment, the Undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

“I wasn’t just another guy in the locker room, or a curtain-jerker, or a mid-card guy, or a guy hoping and praying to catch a break. I was the main event. People paid to see me. And that’s exactly what I wanted, because that’s where the serious money kicks in.”

Brock Lesnar didn’t take to swimming in the shark-infested waters of wrestling. He knew what he wanted, and he went after it. He wanted enough money to take care of his family. He can probably take care of six or seven families now, but that’s not the point. The man has always been about business.

Brock became the “part-timer” fans detest so much, and The Rock was no longer afraid that being associated with professional wrestling would ruin his movie career.

The Rock has since become one of the biggest movie stars in the world. His movies all do big numbers, and in 2016, he became the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. His inclusion in the “Fast & Furious” franchise breathed new life into the franchise, and he eventually nabbed his own spinoff: “Hobbs & Shaw.”

He also has “Young Rock,” which is heavily centered on The Rock’s life in wrestling.

Aftermath

By all accounts, The Rock enjoyed his work with Brock Lesnar, despite the icy fan reaction.

“We poured blood and sweat around the world together,” wrote The Rock on Twitter. “The fun we had. Pleasure ‘Doin’ the honors’ for my boy and the biz.”

In his book, Brock Lesnar also wrote about his time in the ring with The Rock, saying, “[Dwayne Johnson] was going to have his character, The Rock, do a clean job for me because he wanted to grease the wheels for himself when he was ready to come back.

“Dwayne knew putting me over was right for the business, and he was willing to take a loss for the team, on pay-per-view, in front of all of his fans. He saw the talent I had and knew it would be best for the company if there were no questions in the fans’ minds that I beat him ‘fair and square.’

“I don’t know how many other guys Dwayne would have been happy to lose to clean,” Brock continued a paragraph later, “but he did it for me. He knew I could carry the torch for the company until he got back. It wasn’t a gift. It was business.”

This match is a fascinating look into how “dirt sheets” or wrestling coverage can influence fan reception. The fans were only mad at The Rock because he was headed off to make movies. It felt like he was leaving everybody behind. That look behind the curtain had a tangible effect on WWE programming.

Thankfully, it didn’t hurt the quality of the match. If anything, it made it a more interesting watch. So much so, this rematch still comes up and becomes a topic of conversation online.

Paul Heyman spoke about it in 2016, saying, “Notice how The Rock picks fights with Bray Wyatt, or fights with Rusev and John Cena? Notice how The Rock doesn’t pick a fight with Brock Lesnar? Is Brock Lesnar ready for The Rock? Is The Rock ready for Brock Lesnar?"

Heyman’s always working, and although the time has probably come and gone for that rematch, it would still bring big money.

The pairing of Brock Lesnar and The Rock has something of a mythical reputation, but it’s never really talked about in-depth. Their only dance was an underrated match on a card full of gems, and it turned The Next Big Thing into the moneymaking machine the internet will no doubt complain about, should Lesnar return to World Wrestling Entertainment.

Watch Brock Lesnar vs. The Rock at SummerSlam 2002:

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Joseph Finnegan is a longtime contributor here at Pro Wrestling Stories. He is a published author and produced screenwriter, who has earned a BFA in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. He also currently works in the business as a producer/director at a northern New Jersey-based independent wrestling company called Pro Wrestling Magic. You can see their content at the YouTube link below. Joseph's contact info can be found on his portfolio website linked above.