Thursday, May 23, 2024

The History of WWE King of the Ring (2001)

Time for my personal favorite of the bunch.....

King of the Ring '01 - Continental Airlines Arena - 6.24.01

Going from the 2000 edition to the 2001 King of the Ring is like stepping out of a Justin Bieber concert and being handed a million dollars.  The 2001 incarnation was a thousand times better than its predecessor, and this would prove to be the end of the WWF's amazing 18-month creative run, before the Invasion Angle began in earnest to ruin everything.

The tournament portion was once again reduced to just the final three bouts, leaving plenty of room for the non-tourney matches to dazzle.  The 16-man field was whittled down to four friends, all on the heel side of the aisle - Rhyno, Edge, Christian, and Kurt Angle, or Team RECK.  But Edge was slowly morphing into a babyface singles star and this tourney would prove his launching pad.

Angle vs. Christian and Edge vs. Rhyno were both pretty short but quite watchable openers, and Edge's final bout with Angle, while certainly not at the level of Bret vs. Bam Bam, was a damn sight better than most previous KOTR finals.  One of the subplots going into this was the possibility of Angle winning back-to-back tournaments, but also the fact that he might have to pull triple duty as he was booked to fight Shane McMahon later on.  Edge won the final and began his climb through the singles ranks, while Christian began to show jealousy of his tag partner that would lead to their split and subsequent feud.

Angle was almost a two-time KOTR

As I said, the non-tourney matches provided the meat of this show.  After a lackluster Dudley Boyz vs. Kane & Spike Dudley bout (the WWF tag division would never be the same after Edge & Christian split up), the final three bouts comprised an amazing trilogy.
First was Jeff Hardy vs. X-Pac for the Light Heavyweight Title.  X-Pac had developed bad heat to the point that later such crowd responses were dubbed "X-Pac heat," but he could still go in the ring.  This was seven-plus minutes of pretty spectacular highspot wrestling and Jeff retained after a false ending where X-Pac had Jeff pinned but the ref missed Jeff's foot on the ropes.

The last two matches provided an amazing one-two punch, starting with Kurt Angle's aforementioned match with Shane.  Shane had of course purchased WCW and interrupted an Angle segment by threatening that WCW would soon be invading the WWF.  Angle, fighting for Vince's honor, would meet Shane in a Street Fight.  What ensued was one of the goddamndest matches I've ever seen.  For 25 minutes these two beat the bejeezus out of each other all around the arena, and the visual I'll always remember is of Kurt hitting an overhead belly-to-belly suplex on Shane into one of the glass panes in the entranceway.....except it doesn't break.  And Shane lands on his head.  I can't imagine how petrified Kurt must've been at that moment.  I also can't imagine being the owner's son, a non-wrestler, and saying "Yeah I think tonight I'll let a guy throw me through two panes of glass."  Say what you will about Shane McMahon, but that guy's got balls.  After nearly killing his boss's kid twice, Angle won with an Angle Slam off the top rope.  This match was absolutely incredible and for me the Match of the Year 2001.

Oh dear Jeezus.....

The main event was a huge deal for me, as the two Chrises, Jericho and Benoit, challenged WWF Champ Steve Austin in a Triple Threat.  Both Jericho and Benoit had separately come up short in title matches on RAW and Smackdown in previous weeks, but now Austin had to face them both.  The match was a step below Angle vs. Shane but was still a very worthy main event.  At one point Booker T interfered, putting Austin through a table and firing one of the first shots of the WCW Invasion.  Austin suffered a minor back injury as a result of the spot, but he finished the match, eventually capitalizing on a Benoit top-rope superplex on Jericho, and covering Benoit for the pin.  Benoit would take a year off for spinal fusion surgery, while Jericho was one of the top WWF stars in the Invasion Angle.  But this was a helluva match.

This match may or may not have happened.

The 2001 KOTR for me is the best edition in the event's ten-year history.  Not one match on the show was bad, the main event was a good four-star affair, and the Angle-Shane Street Fight stands as one of my favorite matches of all-time.  On top of that a rising singles star was established in Edge.  Sadly the ensuing Invasion Angle would go down as the most botched storyline in wrestling history, but this PPV is one of the all-time greats.

Best Match: Kurt Angle vs. Shane McMahon
Worst Match: Dudleyz vs. Kane & Spike
What I'd Change: Very little.  Maybe the anticlimactic finish to the main event, but that's nitpicking.
Most Disappointing Match: Nothing really
Most Pleasant Surprise: I had no idea Angle vs. Shane would be that good.  I expected something along the lines of Shane vs. Test from two years earlier, but got an epic Match of the Year.
Overall Rating: 10/10


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