Thursday, January 18, 2024

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2002)

This show could've been pretty great with a few major changes....

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 FourTriple 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.

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