|King of the Ring 2002 - Nationwide Arena - 6.23.02|
2002 was the final year of this PPV as interest in it had waned and by 2003 WWE sorta stopped caring about elevating new people for a while. The show definitely went out with a whimper with the exception of that year's tournament winner. This edition was, I believe, the first time it was officially announced that the KOTR winner would get a WWE Title shot at SummerSlam.
The semifinals included a very solid but slightly underwhelming (and controversial) Chris Jericho vs. Rob Van Dam match. These two had teased a feud six months earlier while Jericho was the Undisputed Champion, but never got a PPV match out of it. So here they were in the semifinal bracket. The match was absolutely fine, and by default ended up stealing the show, but I think I, like many people, were expecting an instant classic. Fans took to the interwebs in droves criticizing the match, and Jericho took the comments very personally. While many of the comments were admittedly harsh and unnecessary, I can't disagree that this wasn't up to the level Jericho and RVD were capable of.
|This was fine.|
The other semifinal pitted Test against WWE's newest developmental call-up Brock Lesnar, who had taken RAW by storm and decimated the Hardy Boyz on numerous occasions. Now he was being very quickly elevated to prepare him for much bigger things. Infamously of note is that WWE had originally planned for Lesnar to defeat Steve Austin in a tournament qualifying match on RAW, with no buildup whatsoever. Austin wisely refused, citing what a colossal waste hotshotting such a huge match would be. This of course led to Austin's WWE hiatus for the better part of a year. Lesnar and Test were both accomplished big men and aside from a couple awkward moments this was a strong, hard-hitting brawl. The finish was oddly booked, as Lesnar needed a Paul Heyman distraction in order to win. Not sure why they protected a midcard heel like Test against their chosen new star, but the match was fine.
|Yeah this was a great idea. Idiots.|
The finals would thus be Rob Van Dam vs. Brock Lesnar. Going into this show I figured RVD would win the tourney given how green Lesnar was. I thought Lesnar would destroy Van Dam after the match and set up a feud to keep RVD occupied till SummerSlam. But I clearly underestimated Lesnar's prodigiously emerging skills and the company's commitment to getting him over. Lesnar made pretty short work of Van Dam, wrapping the match up in under seven minutes. This was also decent but really should've been a full-length match; once again the importance of the tournament was lacking.
The non-tourney bouts were quite varied, both stylistically and in terms of quality. Jamie Noble and The Hurricane got a cushy 12-minute slot to put together a sturdy if uneven Cruiserweight Title match in which Noble captured the belt (and during which Jerry Lawler reached new depths of philandering creepiness by ogling Nidia the entire bout), and Molly Holly defeated Trish Stratus in a garden variety Women's Title match. This really should've gone a good twelve minutes considering the talent involved.
The three big matches were all pretty disappointing. Ric Flair, subbing for Steve Austin, faced Eddie Guerrero, in a match that wasn't nearly as good as it should've been. Flair hadn't quite recaptured the magic or confidence of his earlier years and came off as a second-rate substitute for Austin. It's such a shame the Austin-Guerrero feud never really happened, since Austin specifically handpicked Eddie as someone with whom he could have some great matches.
Next Kurt Angle wrestled Hulk Hogan, a dream match of sorts, but one in which they were limited by Hogan's age and diminishing athleticism. Angle was also still wearing a ridiculous wig/headgear after having his head shaved off by Edge, which was pretty distracting. Fortunately the wig fell off here and he'd never use it again. Angle also made history by submitting Hogan with an anklelock. But the match itself was middling.
The main event was originally supposed to take place two months earlier at Backlash. Then-Undisputed Champion Triple H was slated to face The Undertaker, but the company in its infinite wisdom took Hulk Hogan's gigantic babyface reaction at WrestleMania to mean that fans wanted to see him win the belt one more time. So Hogan defeated Hunter at Backlash only to lose the belt to Taker a month later at Judgment Day. This post-Mania season was as nonsensical as they come. Anyway, now Taker would defend against Hunter in a plodding 24-minute showing culminating in an overbooked appearance by The Rock, who'd been absent since just after 'Mania with movie commitments. The Rock attempted to interfere on Triple H's behalf but it ultimately backfired and Taker won with a rollup. Then all three of them hit each other with finishers to close the show. Meh...
|WrestleMania 28 this was not....|
As I said, the King of the Ring series sadly failed to end on a high note, and WWE replaced it in 2003 with the generic Bad Blood title. I considered this KOTR one of the more disappointing shows of the year, as nothing really stood out. The tournament bouts all had potential but only the opening match got adequate time. Flair vs. Guerrero wasn't nearly the classic Austin vs. Guerrero could've been, and the main event fell horribly flat as an overly muscled Triple H and an unmotivated Undertaker kinda went through the motions. There wasn't anything terrible on the show, but it was still not a great way at all to end an annual tradition.
Best Match: Chris Jericho vs. Rob Van Dam
Worst Match: Undertaker vs. Triple H
What I'd Change: Well for one thing I wouldn't have asked Austin to lose a free TV match with no buildup to Lesnar, when that shit could've main evented WrestleMania. Idiots. Also, where the hell were Edge and Booker T on this show? The company just hadn't at all figured out how to make the brand split work (That started to fall into place about a month later) and were still relying on Attitude Era tropes that weren't cool anymore. The main event should've been shorter too, so the tourney matches could've breathed.
Most Disappointing Match: Guerrero vs. Flair
Most Pleasant Surprise: That Brock was more ready than I thought
Overall Rating: 5.5/10
Truth be told I do miss the KOTR PPV. The tournament itself was rarely presented well; if it was a one-night bracket most of the matches got shortchanged, and if only the semis and finals were included on the PPV the tourney felt less important. But several rising stars were able to use the tourney as a major stepping stone, and when the PPV was good it was great. The 1996 and 2001 editions are still two of my all-time favorite PPVs and it was often a fun show with a unique format. Sadly whenever they've brought back the tournament as a free TV event it's been various degrees of horrible, and winning said tourney has resulted in a career nosedive. So it's unlikely this event will ever be resurrected in its proper form. Oh well.
Before I go, here's how I'd rank the ten PPVs, plus my Top 20 King of the Ring matches.
Top Ten King of the Ring PPVs
Top 20 King of the Ring Matches
20. Edge & Christian vs. Hardy Boyz - 1999
19. Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Mankind - 1997
18. Bret Hart vs. Razor Ramon - 1993
17. Undertaker vs. The Rock - 1999
16. Jeff Hardy vs. X-Pac - 2001
15. Too Cool vs. Edge & Christian vs. Hardy Boyz vs. Test & Albert - 2000
14. Steve Austin vs. Kane - 1998
13. Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Jericho - 2002
12. Ken Shamrock vs. The Rock - 1998
11. Steve Austin vs. Vince & Shane McMahon - 1999
10. Undertaker vs. Mankind - 1998
9. Shawn Michaels vs. Steve Austin - 1997
8. Steve Austin vs. Marc Mero - 1996
7. Bret Hart vs. Diesel - 1994
6. Steve Austin vs. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho - 2001
5. Bret Hart vs. Bam Bam Bigelow - 1993
4. Undertaker vs. Mankind - 1998
3. Shawn Michaels vs. British Bulldog - 1996
2. Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect - 1993
1. Kurt Angle vs. Shane McMahon - 2001
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