|Royal Rumble 2000 - Madison Square Garden - 1.23.00|
Night and day. That's how I'd compare the WWF product from 1999 to 2000. After Vince Russo left, overly contrived angles, abbreviated matches, and a lack of focus on in-ring all went out the window. In their place were excellent matches, a blossoming talent pool, and storylines that made sense. The 2000 Royal Rumble was the perfect way to kick off what was probably the best single year in the company's history.
The first match saw new WWF star Kurt Angle against a mystery opponent. The roof came off MSG as the surprise was revealed to be former ECW Champion Tazz. While I hated, HATED the extra "z" in his name, Tazz made short work of Angle with a dominant three-minute win. Sadly this was the last time Tazz was used correctly as a WWF wrestler. He faded into the midcard almost immediately after this and transitioned into an announcer role.
An unlikely Match of the Year candidate was next as The Hardy Boyz faced The Dudley Boyz in the first-ever Tables Match. These two teams cut the most blistering pace I'd ever seen, assembling a dizzying array of death-defying high spots which climaxed with Jeff Hardy performing a Swanton off the loge entranceway onto Bubba Ray, and through two tables. This match would be the prototype for the TLC series.
|Shit's about to get real.|
An ill-conceived bikini contest took up ten minutes of valuable airtime and culminated in Mae Young taking her top off, to the delight of no one.
The I-C Title was next, as co-Champions Chris Jericho and Chyna (such a dumb angle, don't ask) faced Bob Holly in a Triple Threat to determine the Undisputed I-C Champ. Not sure why Holly was included - surely the co-Champs should've settled their feud one-on-one. Anyway, Jericho prevailed.
A throwaway Tag Title match was next, as The New Age Outlaws had a quick two-minute win against the Acolytes.
The semi-main went to the WWF Title match. New heel Champion Triple H, whose main event run had thus far been shaky at best, set out to prove that he did indeed belong at the top of the roster by taking on Cactus Jack in a Street Fight. Much as he had done to establish The Rock as a main event heel in 1999, Mick Foley went above and beyond to cement Triple H as a new headliner worthy of carrying the company into the next decade. Triple H himself proved he was more than just a cowardly heel Champion by taking vast sums of punishment over the course of this 27-minute bout. This match featured one of the more grotesque endings I've seen, as Foley took a Pedigree face-first onto a pile of thumbtacks. This was the match where I became a full-on Triple H fan (until mid-2002 that is). Also a Match of the Year candidate (though I think their Hell in a Cell match at No Way Out was even better).
|Dude. Thumbtacks in face.|
The Rumble match itself once again pointed to a very obvious winner, but as with the 1998 edition it was a lot of fun to watch. Though mostly populated with midcard acts, the match featured tons of very over wrestlers who were able to captivate the crowd for over fifty minutes. Predictably the match came down to Rock vs. Big Show, and some creative booking cast doubt on who had actually won the match. This wasn't the best Rumble match ever but it was a fun who's-who of early 2000 stars where just about everyone seemed to have purpose.
|Hold up Rock, I gotta sneeze.....|
Participants: D'Lo Brown, Grandmaster Sexay, Mosh, Christian, Rikishi, Scotty 2 Hotty, Steve Blackman, Viscera, Big Bossman, Test, British Bulldog, Gangrel, Edge, Bob Backlund, Chris Jericho, Crash Holly, Chyna, Faarooq, Road Dogg, Al Snow, Val Venis, Prince Albert, Bob Holly, The Rock, Billy Gunn, Big Show, Bradshaw, Kane, The Godfather, X-Pac
Final Four: The Rock, Big Show, X-Pac, Kane
Long Man: Test (26:17)
The 2000 Royal Rumble event set the bar very high for WWF PPVs that year. It would overshadow all of the other "A" PPVs and remain one of the best shows of 2000. With two MOTYCs and a solid overall lineup, this remains one of the best Royal Rumble PPVs of all time.
Best Match: Hardy Boyz vs. Dudley Boyz - I'd simply never seen anything like this at that point.
Worst Match: New Age Outlaws vs. Acolytes
What I'd Change: Not much. Given that Steve Austin was missing, there wasn't much they could do to stack the Rumble match. I'd certainly skip the bikini contest and give that time to Angle-Tazz and the Tag Title match.
Most Disappointing Match: Outlaws vs. APA
Most Pleasant Surprise: Hardyz vs. Dudleyz
Overall Rating: 9/10
Better than WrestleMania 2000, SummerSlam 2000 and/or Survivor Series 2000? - Yup.
|Royal Rumble 2001 - New Orleans Arena - 1.21.01|
Much of the awesomeness of the WWF circa 2000 continued in the first half of 2001, as exemplified by the 2001 Royal Rumble. Here was a damn near perfect Rumble card. A Match of the Year candidate, a solid WWF Title match, and a pretty excellent Rumble.
To kick things off we were treated to a solid Tag Team Title match, as Edge & Christian defended against The Dudley Boyz. This was pretty basic stuff but it worked well and ended with The Dudleyz winning back the Championships.
The Match of the Night was next, as I-C Champ Chris Benoit defended the strap in a Ladder Match against one of his greatest rivals, Chris Jericho. These two delivered one of their best-ever bouts, creating inventive spots and establishing a gritty, realistic tone throughout. Aside from a slightly anticlimactic finish, this was probably the best singles Ladder Match since HBK-Razor, and easily one of the best matches of 2001.
|Jericho dropkicking a ladder. Oh and some other guy.|
The only bad match of the night was up third, as Women's Champion Ivory defended against Chyna. After three minutes of forgettable action, Chyna suffered a kayfabe neck injury and lost via pinfall. A rather tasteless stretcher angle followed which included Jerry Lawler going into the ring to check on her, echoing the real-life events surrounding the death of Owen Hart.
The WWF Title match got the semi-main slot as Kurt Angle faced Triple H in a rare heel vs. heel matchup. Adding up the tangibles, this match was fine. Both guys worked hard and turned in a fine 25-minute performance. Unfortunately since it was two villains working each other the crowd didn't really have anything to root for and that hurt the bout a little. I'd have preferred an upper-midcard babyface getting a shot at Angle, and then Triple H could've been in the Rumble (Since he was feuding with Austin anyway this would've added some heat and star power to that match).
The Rumble match itself was one of the best they've ever done. This had an epic feel and featured at least two bona fide potential winners in Austin and The Rock. It would clearly be one of those two earning the 'Mania Title shot, but having two legitimate choices made the match more fun. This Rumble also had an entertaining Hardcore segment, where Raven, Kane, Al Snow and others cracked each other with weapons for several minutes. Speaking of Kane, he was not only the long man in this Rumble but also broke the record for most eliminations with 11. That record would stand for 13 years. Despite an ongoing bloody brawl with Triple H outside the ring for parts of this match, Steve Austin would outlast Kane and The Rock, winning a record-breaking third Rumble match. The only complaint here is that they eliminated The Rock before Kane. Once Rocky was gone it was quite clear who was winning.
|I think this is the only time the Rumble winner has been covered in blood.|
Participants: Jeff Hardy, Bull Buchanan, Matt Hardy, Faarooq, Drew Carey, Kane, Raven, Al Snow, Perry Saturn, Steve Blackman, Grandmaster Sexay, Honky Tonk Man, The Rock, The Goodfather, Tazz, Bradshaw, Albert, Bob Holly, K-Kwik, Val Venis, William Regal, Test, Big Show, Crash Holly, Undertaker, Scotty 2 Hotty, Steve Austin, Billy Gunn, Haku, Rikishi
Final Four: Steve Austin, Kane, The Rock, Billy Gunn (??)
Long Man: Kane 53:46
The 2001 Rumble got the formula pretty much exactly right. An epic Rumble match with multiple big names, an amazing I-C Ladder Match, and a solid WWF Title match. Plus only one stinker that was under four minutes. This is about as well-executed a Rumble PPV as we're ever likely to see.
Best Match: Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho
Worst Match: Ivory vs. Chyna
What I'd Change: The Chyna neck injury angle was in very poor taste.
Most Disappointing Match: I guess the Tag Title match by default. But it's not bad.
Most Pleasant Surprise: No real surprises here.
Overall Rating: 9.5/10
Better than WrestleMania X-Seven, SummerSlam '01 and/or Survivor Series 2001? - No, About Even, and Definitely.
|Royal Rumble 2002 - Philips Arena - 1.20.02|
Like a lot of what WWF/E presented in 2002, this show pissed me off on a number of levels. Certain people were not used correctly at all, despite having been on a major roll only a month or two earlier. The return of certain talent sorta cast a gloom over the whole product, and this was the beginning of a pretty infuriating era in the company where common sense took a backseat to ego and politics.
Match #1 was an uninspired throwaway, as WWF Tag Champs Spike Dudley and Tazz (I liked this combination) faced The Dudley Boyz. On paper this looked pretty good, but it was only given about five minutes.
Second was the I-C Title match, as Edge defended against William Regal. I felt zero chemistry between these two, but they faced each other ad nauseum during this stretch. Terribly boring stuff that ended with Regal capturing the Title.
Another bit of filler was next as Women's Champion Trish Stratus knocked off Jazz in less than four minutes.
The first marquee match was fourth, as WWF "co-owners" Vince McMahon and Ric Flair squared off in a Street Fight. This match got pretty decent feedback but I felt no excitement from it at all. Maybe it was their combined age of 110, maybe it was Flair's ring rust, maybe it was just me being sick of seeing Vince try to wrestle. I didn't care about the match and found it a drag to sit through.
The WWF Title was next as Undisputed Champion Chris Jericho defended against The Rock. Echoing the WWF Title situation at Rumble '98, the new heel Champion was feuding with someone else on TV and by all rights should've been booked against that guy at the PPV. In this case "that guy" was Rob Van Dam. White-hot off his stint as part of The Alliance, Van Dam had become the most popular star on the roster and seemed primed to break the ol' glass ceiling as a top-tier babyface. On TV he and Jericho were very clearly on a collision course, and then.......they had a free TV match and the feud was over. So instead of facing RVD here, Jericho faced The Rock. For the third time in four months. Ya know, I can't help but notice the sudden and significant depushing of Rob Van Dam coinciding with with in-ring return of a former heel who was now himself being positioned as a top-tier babyface. Why d'you suppose that would be? Anyway, this Jericho-Rock match was nowhere near the level of their two 2001 PPV bouts, and on TV Jericho was portrayed as just about the weakest Champion of all time (Seriously, the guy beat Austin and The Rock on the same night but weeks later had trouble beating Tazz and Maven, and was featured mostly in opening RAW segments. A more systematic burial of a World Champion I cannot recall.).
|Jericho looks more dominant here than he would during his feud with HHH.|
The Rumble match itself was fairly stacked with potential winners, but it was painfully obvious who was going over. Plus half of the potential winners were given so little ring time as to be non-factors. This could and should've been a pretty spectacular match, but it was all about focusing on one guy who happened to be returning from injury and was built up like a wet-haired, spray-tanned Goldberg. Look at this list of top guys - Steve Austin, Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Booker T, Rob Van Dam, and of course, Triple H. Any Rumble with six stars of that caliber should've been amazing. But this one wasn't. It was mostly really dull. They inexplicably spent a lot of time on the mini-feud between Taker and Maven, which mostly consisted of Maven getting his ass beat. There was no real Long Man in this match (Austin had the longest time with 26:46), which would've been a great spot for Rob Van Dam. Instead RVD and Booker T entered in the final two spots and got a total of two-and-a-half minutes of ring time. These were two wrestlers who should've become major stars in the wake of the Invasion angle, and they were booked like total losers here (Both of them would be mired in midcard hell for most of their WWE runs). The match came down to Hunter and Angle, with Steph's future hubby inevitably getting the win, en route to the worst-hyped WrestleMania main event match of all time. Three words: Lucy. The. Bulldog.
|Congrats on the Rumble win, He-Man.|
Participants: Rikishi, Goldust, Big Bossman, Bradshaw, Lance Storm, Al Snow, Billy, Undertaker, Matt Hardy, Jeff Hardy, Maven, Scotty 2 Hotty, Christian, Diamond Dallas Page, Chuck, The Godfather, Albert, Perry Saturn, Steve Austin, Val Venis, Test, Triple H, The Hurricane, Faarooq, Mr. Perfect, Kurt Angle, Big Show, Kane, Rob Van Dam, Booker T
Final Four: Triple H, Kurt Angle, Mr. Perfect, Steve Austin
Long Man: Steve Austin (26:46)
After seeing the WWF do so many things right for all of 2000 and much of 2001 (minus the Invasion), it got really frustrating to watch them seemingly go out of their way to eff it all up in 2002. Suddenly without competition the company booked things based on ego and political games rather than on what the audience responded to. Look, going into this I was actually excited for Triple H's comeback, as I had become a huge fan of his in 2000 and 2001. But the second he reappeared it was basically telegraphed that he'd be winning the Rumble and going over at WrestleMania, and the entire comeback was shown as an effortless task. I just can't fathom wanting to make a top babyface SO strong that his WrestleMania main event push is presented as a formality rather than as a suspenseful and strenuous journey. 2002 was one of my least-favorite Rumble cards.
Best Match: Chris Jericho vs. The Rock - I didn't even like this match that much. Know what I would've liked? Jericho vs. RVD!
Worst Match: Vince McMahon vs. Ric Flair
What I'd Change: Christ, give RVD the Title match! Put The Rock in the Rumble and you've got a totally stacked field.
Most Disappointing Match: The Rumble
Most Pleasant Surprise: Mr. Perfect looked great here.
Overall Rating: 4/10
Better than WrestleMania X8, SummerSlam '02, and/or Survivor Series 2002? - Nope.
And that does it for Part 5. Tune in Wednesday as the Royal Rumble gets some Ruthless Aggression!
Part 4 Part 6