After being away from professional wrestling for a year, I didn’t see this coming. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon in August, 2003 and I was suddenly energized and genuinely excited about one of my favorite pastimes. The WWE had manipulated me into making an impulse buy of the SummerSlam pay-per-view later that evening. Now, it isn’t uncommon for wrestling fans to take a sabbatical from the hobby and I was no exception. After watching consistently from late 1997 to SummerSlam 2002, I resigned myself to other interests and hobbies and nary a thought of mine had gone into the world of wrestling for a calendar year. But that short commercial spot for SummerSlam 2003 reignited my soul. I didn’t know what an Elimination Chamber was, but I definitely knew who the guy gunning for the World Title was. It was Goldberg.
After watching this hype commercial, featuring Metallica’s St. Anger as the theme song (an admittedly awesome choice), waves of emotions rushed back to me. I thought of my friends from college who read Wrestleline daily (like me) and broke down the previous night’s Raw with me at every lunch on Tuesday. I waxed nostalgically about all the wrestling video games we would play and the hours spent customizing wrestlers and unlocking everything. I missed this, and in just a couple of hours I would be sitting down to watch what I hoped would suck me back in to being a super fan again. I’d have to find where Scott Keith posted his reviews and I wondered if a wrestling video game at the time rivaled No Mercy for the Nintendo 64. The main event for SummerSlam 2003 was fresh to me and the possibility of one of the titans of the Attitude Era winning a championship in the WWE was bewildering. I didn’t know what had happened in the months prior, nor really cared (although I did cram to catch up and kill time). Goldberg was in the WWE and he was going to win the World Title.
The Elimination Chamber featured six wrestlers and was the second iteration of the match, with the first coming at Survivor Series 2002 the year prior, and had a great lineup of superstars competing for HHH’s title. I was a big Shawn Michaels fan and his return at SummerSlam 2002 was a fitting way to close the book on my first run as a hardcore wrestling fan. Seeing HBK in action again was exciting, as well as a perennial favorite, for me, Chris Jericho. I hadn’t seen Kevin Nash since he hurt himself in 2002 but his pedigree spoke for itself. I had no idea who Randy Orton was but they laid out his objectives well. Ric Flair and HHH had a faction and the story going into this match was HHH holding the belt at all costs.
The buzz for the match hit a crescendo when Goldberg made his elaborate entrance. He scowled at the camera as he left his personal locker room after his music hit. Goldberg entered through a vast amount of sparklers to a big pop from the crowd. This was just like 1998! Where was my WCW/nWo Revenge game for the Nintendo 64? The story for the match was laid out as expected. The bigger guys were safe in their Elimination Chamber pods while the best workers in the match (HBK and Chris Jericho) renewed their battle from their classic match earlier in the year at WrestleMania. After a certain interval the next wrestler would come out. First Randy Orton and then Kevin Nash made their arrival. The crowd was mild in their response, instead choosing to start a Goldberg chant. I was chanting along with them.
The champion, HHH, was next but he was conveniently super kicked by Shawn Michaels and put right back in his pod due from the collision. HHH sold the injury for what seemed like forever, refusing to come out and ingrain himself with the match and other wrestlers. Nash would be eliminated by a Michaels’ super kick into a roll-up by Jericho for the cover. With bodies strewn across the maniacal device, the last Elimination Chamber entrant was released and the pop from the crowd was huge. Goldberg wasted little time putting over his strength and being a straight-up ass-kicker. First Randy Orton ate a spear and was pinned. Next, Chris Jericho was speared into his pod. Michaels did his best to put over what a monster Goldberg was as he bumped around and soon both he and Chris Jericho had been victims of a spear and Jackhammer.
HHH was all that was left between Goldberg and the belt and the squash didn’t stop here. First Goldberg kicked in HHH’s pod door (again, he had been hiding and hadn’t done anything in the match so far) and took the battle to the champ in this tiny space. A flurry of punches led to some forehead grating as HHH now bled. For a brief second HHH got in some offense of his own before Goldberg reversed him and clotheslined him hard to the metal grating of the Chamber’s floor. Things were academic at this point. The crowd was thriving on what they were witnessing and as HHH stumbled towards the ring, Goldberg geared up for his signature spear.
What happened next was groan-inducing. Ric Flair slipped HHH his sledgehammer, which he hid from Goldberg as he made his way back into the ring. As Goldberg charged, HHH walloped him in the skull with the sledge, pinning him to retain his World Heavyweight Championship. The crowd was not happy and this prospective WWE Universe mainstay was not either. HHH had barely been in the match – he literally hid in his pod after the super kick – with his participation coming down to grinding Goldberg into the metal mesh for two seconds and using the sledgehammer to win. As it would turn out, HHH was masking a groin injury and was extremely limited going into the match. Instead of losing the title to Goldberg at SummerSlam, it was decided to make the switch at the next PPV, Unforgiven, after a one-on-one match. Goldberg’s eventual win was as deflating as the result of the Elimination Chamber. The iron was hot in Phoenix on that August evening and a huge opportunity was lost.
I didn’t remember anything else about SummerSlam 2003 except for the ending to the main event. Disgusted, I would not get back into wrestling for another 15 months, skipping the rest of 2003 and almost all of 2004. Ten years later, I couldn’t recollect the rest of the card at all. Brock Lesnar wrestled Kurt Angle! Shane McMahon fought Eric Bischoff and Kane and Rob Van Dam tried to destroy each other. Where was I when this was happening on that August night in 2003? The Elimination Chamber had corralled my excitement of what possibilities laid ahead. After the show went off the air that night, I went back to my vices at the time and didn’t look back. My daydreams of the afternoon prior sadly vanished as the show faded to black.