I write this review for two reasons. The first is to round out WR's WWF in 2002 catalog. The second is to analyze if one of the most beloved Royal Rumble shows holds up today. Let's find out!
Opening video package: Odd. First, the good. Because most of the ex-WWF guys' Time Warner contracts are wrapping up, they now can use historical footage without any legal or ratings consequences. 2002 was, arguably the first year WWF's flagship events from the 80s could be treated with historical reverence, and that really showed in the presentation and the commentary. Plus, we also get the standard "Top six guys talk about why they're going to win the Royal Rumble" promos. Next, the straight up odd. Val Venis, The Godfather, Goldust, and Mr. Perfect, our surprise entrants, are just straight up spoiled, even before the promo parade It's odd to see WWF realize that the potential of a legend winning the Rumble draws money, but not quite realizing that surprise legends are integral to the Rumble. Also the big singles matches get plugged in the graphic, but get no video package air time.
The Dudleyz (D-Von and Bubba Ray) (w/ Stacy Keibler) vs Tazz and Spike Dudley (c)
Man, 11/12 year old NWK did not get Stacy. Like, they're too afraid to even show booty on PPV, and I refuse to believe Stacy would wear camo unless she was paid to. Also Tazz and Spike will never not be a bizarre tag team combo, even having reviewed the next month's show already.
The Dudleyz go full Road Warriors immediately, each champion getting the backdrop/neckbreaker 3D. They work neckbrace-wearing Spike's neck. Bubba gets mouthy, and Spike hits his finisher for the hot tag but the ref doesn't see it. The Dudleyz proceed to work that special kind of magic they can only work with Spike until Tazz gets tagged in and runs wild. Stacy tries to distract, but the sequence that follows allows D-Von to be distracted for the Tazzmission, and the champs retain.
This felt similar to Tazz and Spike's match at No Way Out the next month, but with a team that's willing to go above and beyond to work with them.
Edge vs Regal feud recap: Awesome! Regal uses brass knuckles to beat Edge on Raw, and so Edge turns to the tables when Regal tries to interfere in a match on the next Smackdown. This results in Edge getting a chair and attacking Regal, his opponent Test, and the referee. This is brilliant as there's nothing more that a wrestling crowd loves more than a pissed off, badass babyface.
Edge promo: Interesting. He's still in "Totally reeks of awesomeness" mode, but he sounds like an unhinged, angry threat all the same.
Edge (c) vs William Regal
The referee puts his hand's down the front of Regal's jocks to pull out his brass knucks. Lawler goes into full Bobby Heenan mode, admonishing the babyface for things the heel was doing, calling the ref a pervert etc.
Edge, as you might imagine, starts out hot. Regal comes back with a stiff looking forearm. Subsequently, Edge hits the world's wackiest Ghetto Blaster to come back. Regal hits a gnarly looking Regalplex to come back just as quick. Edge counters a tigerbomb only for Regal to roll through the pin attempt and hit the Tigerbomb. Regal lays in more strikes after a 2 count sending Edge out of the ring. Edge hits a Complete Shot on the apron that JR calls a DDT. In classic Nick Patrick fashion he tries to count a pin while Edge's feet are on the outside. Double down. Edge hits a big firey comeback which really doesn't fit the 50/50 nature of this match. Edge no sells being dropped on his head by a Regalplex because he is Kenta Kobashi, and there's another double down after a clothesline. Finish attempts and fall finishes. Edge accidentally spears Regal and the ref, and Regal has produced a second pair of knucks! Regal knocks him out and gets the long cover for the win.
This had all the makings for the match of the night, but there were lots of strange looking moves and sequences. That said, it was built on a fun core.
Michael Cole interviews William Regal: Regal officially coins his finish The Power of the Punch. Classic promo.
Trish Stratus (c) vs Jazz
Jazz jumps Trish at the bell, but has to transparently fake punches to let Trish get her jacket off. They trade pinfalls lucha style before Jazz gets to power Trish around. Jazz works the hand and gets into it with Jackie when she doesn't break. This leads to the world's wackiest schoolboy countered into a sitting pin sequence. Jackie hesitates and only counts 2. Trish fights back into it but Jackie works the arm/hand more Trish hits Stratusfaction and Jazz just flips the pin because she can. Jazz kicks more ass. Trish hits a bulldog out of nowhere for the win.
This match was strange. It seemed to get a lot of wrestling tropes wrong, reversing pins, kicking out of finishers, getting winning pins on random moves and etc.
Ric, Reid, and Megan Flair arrive at the building: The Flairs ignore Coach as Ric just woos around. Mostly to establish the Flair kids being on hand.
Mr.McMahon vs Ric Flair package: While this has one of the underrated McMahon promos of all time ("I enjoy destroying lives, it turns me on"), this feud is one of the more half baked ones Vince has ever been in. Ric bought Shane and Stephanie's shares after the invasion, and Vince engages in some mild antics to voice his displeasure.
Ric Flair vs. Mr. McMahon
This is played as both Ric Flair's final match (HA!) and a dream match (I have issues with this. Like, I get Ric was the kayfabe authority figure when WCW got bought, but who in their right mind was spending the summer of 2001 going "You know what I wanna see? Ric Flair vs Vince McMahon!"
This is a weird match right off the bat. It's designed to be 80s pantomime, but while Ric is selling, he's still getting Flair Flops and Ray Stevens turnbuckle bumps in, so like, people are popping? We get serious though when Vince clotheslines Ric off the apron and hits him in the head with a metal sign. On commentary, Lawler gets into that thing he does where he parrots McMahon's hook for the feud, so he's squealing about Vince getting off and Jim Ross sounds mighty uncomfortable. Vince pioneers the selfie by stealing Megan's camera and posing with himself and a bloody Flair. Vince works the leg a bunch in the ring, culminating in the Figure 4, which really pops the crowd. Vince, to his credit, takes time to sell the figure four getting turned on him. Usually don't buy the "reverse the pressure" chestnut for this reason. This is to get a metal pipe to use on a still prone Flair. Flair gets a low blow and the crowd rejoices! Flair fires up on the outside, and knocks Vinnie over the announce table with a monitor so he can blade. Ric commandeers the other monitor to watch the replay, and the replay is guerilla filmed through the monitor. Super cool. Now Flair mugs for Megan's camera, biting Vince. This was great! Flair runs wild and now HE has the pipe, and cracks Vince's skull with it! Figure Four and Vince taps!
You wanna know how I know Ric Flair is the greatest of all time? He put on the match of the night so far with Vince McMahon of all people. This was full of flourishes and the happy ending that makes pro wrestling great!
Michael Cole interviews Nick Patrick, but is interrupted by Stephanie McMahon, who is interrupted by Stone Cold Steve Austin: Michael Cole has made it his personal mission to get the decision reversed on Regal/Edge apparently, but Stephanie McMahon interrupts. This segues into the one time the "What?" part of Stone Cold's career was ever relevant or funny. Thanks for ruining wrestling for a decade Steve! Stephanie is really bad at playing off of Stone Cold, so it looks fake. Michael Cole's reactions throughout are near-perfect though.
Some guy in the crowd has one of those programmable red LED signs you can program words or phrases, into, and he programmed WHAT. Those things are freakin' expensive and you bought one for THIS?
Rock vs Jericho video package: Jericho wins both belts at Vengeance, Rock wins a number 1 contender match, Jericho throws a tantrum during a promo about how he is to be taken seriously, then for some reason Rock sobers up and recycles the "Tick tock" promo from No Way Out 2001. This is like "John Cena at height of when I hated professional wrestling" levels of boring.
Chris Jericho (c) vs The Rock
Jericho gives Rock the "talk to the hand- Just Bring It" combo early, and Rock starts out firey. Jericho oh so briefly makes a comeback, until Rock takes it again, but a big spot sees Jericho have the momentum for real this time. Jericho gets his heel antics over, including the foot on the chest pin after a suplex, which someone should bring back. Jericho makes a big show out of removing the turnbuckle pad while the ref is distracted with Rock. Rock gets back into it with some punches but Jericho takes control again. This gets the crowd super eager for a comeback though. Jericho has Rock in a chin lock for so long Ross and King have segue to talking about the Royal Rumble match. Rock fights out, but Jericho gets momentum back. He goes to the top rope well one too many times and gets crotched. We get some chops and a superplex double down next. Rock fights back into it but Jericho, again, gets momentum back. We get the rare double lionsault for a two count. Rock blocks a missile dropkick and locks in the sharpshooter. The Un-Americans interfere as Jericho taps out, but Rock fights them off, and Nick Patrick appears to make sure the Canuks go to the back. Jericho steals Rock's finishers, but gets thrown out of the ring on a People's Elbow attempt. We get some announce table head slam schenanigans, Jericho goes for another Rock Bottom, this time on the announce table, but Rock hits Jericho with it instead. The leap to get from announce table to announce table was impressive, but Rock looks like he took most of it. Rock gets a two count. Rock gets the ropes on Walls of Jericho. We get a ref bump and a belt shot from Jericho. Rock kicks out when Nick Patrick runs down.. Damn, when will this end? Nick won't count. We get a Rock Bottom to Nick, a Spinebuster and a People's Elbow to Jericho. A low blow, exposed turnbuckle shot (kudos for this, genuinely forgot it was exposed, and extra leverage nets Jericho the cheap win and he retains!
As the match concluded I thought it reminded me a lot of Gary Wolfe vs Shane Douglas at Barely Legal 1997, so I went back to see what I'd said about that match.
"They do A LOT of false finishes, and by that I mean they seemed to cycle through all of the weapon and interference spots they could think of. Which would've been forgivable if the babyface had won. But no Douglas wins with his finish."
While Jericho won in a way that was consistent with his antics at least (and in a way that was still shocking), this match went on for WAY too long with way too much going on, all of which could've been forgiven if Rock had beaten the odds and won. What could've been a match on par with Jericho vs Austin next month is barely above McMahon vs Flair, and that's almost entirely because Jericho and Rock are two of the best ever.
Shawn Micheals interview at WWF New York: Micheals puts over Flair vs McMahon and says the two Texans, Taker and Austin, are his favorites to win while wearing the world's gaudiest Texas flag shirt. Meh.
Royal Rumble 2002 video package: Strange. They do the thing Royal Rumble video packages do where they center around the three guys who're most plausible to win the thing (Triple H, who had just returned, Austin, who gets his "What?" remixed in with the music, and Taker, because he's on a meanstreak). It seems like a minimal number of guys to pretend can win , but to their credit they've been involved in exciting in-ring segments, one of which actually pays off (!) tonight.
Because we just got a super exciting main event, we need a cooldown, so Rikishi and Goldust are numbers 1&2. I prefer tame first and second entrants to the big beginning pops. While I understand the merit, I prefer the slow build. Also Rikishi, the unique guy with a weird gimmick of this generation, and Goldust, the guy who filled that role in the last generation, is a great parallel. Number 3 is Big Bossman, who gets eliminated via Stinkface/Super Kick after a while. Lance Storm gets murderized by a Clothesline from Hell. I like how this isn't like a modern Royal Rumble where people are pealing off finishers left and right upon entering. I like that they're getting the chance to realistically try to eliminate people. I also like how a finisher doesn't necessarily mean elimination, as Lance counters with a low blow.
The first mini-arc of the Rumble starts when Undertaker shows up and clears the ring, only for The Hardys (who Undertaker had injured to get back to back numbers and wrestle an impromptu handicap match (complete with Lita interference) with Taker until they're both eliminated. Next one out is Maven who immediately gets pulverized. The Hardyz run interference again, and in the commotion in, for my money, the best Royal Rumble moment of all time, Maven eliminates Undertaker! I think the magic of the Rumble is that in kayfabe anyone can eliminate anyone, and this is the closest anyone's ever come to bottling that magic. Unfortunately, we get one of the only flaws in this Rumble, and that's that with Undertaker pulverizing Maven, and next entrant Scotty 2 Hotty to a lesser extent. all around the building, that we have an empty ring for entirely too long, which must be hell for the live crowd. Not worry though, because Christian gets a Diamond Cutter and a Worm. Jim Ross goes off every time #15 Chuck is on screen for some great comedy. Godfather is #26, and he's got an escort service, which is hilarious character progression we don't often see from guys with wackier gimmicks. Godfather has a super long entrance, so long we miss DDP's elimination.
The next arc starts when Stone Cold clears the ring. The next two entrants, Test and Venis, work over Austin but Austin perceivers. Triple H is next, and this is treated as the big standoff, which is unique for this deep in the match. They team up to eliminate Hurricane and Farooq one by one, and then we get Mr.Perfect, who, in my opinion, is only topped by Edge's return in 2020. It's like time stood still for Mr.Perfect. Jim Ross incorrectly says Perfect's first Rumble appearance was in 1993, when it was in 1989. Maybe as not to make Perfect look old? Angle's out, and they weed their way to the final four, which includes withstanding a Big Show asskicking, and getting to see Kane lift Big Show for the elimination, an immediate Five Star Frogsplash on Angle. As an aside, there's probably something to be read into Booker T getting eliminated in 30 seconds at #30 in Georgia, but that's none of my business Austin is eliminated first and cleans house with a chair, effectively putting everyone on the same playing field, which is huge for someone like Perfect. I appreciate that we wait until now to get the Perfect Plex/Neck Snap combo from Perfect, only to be eliminated. The only problem is that runner up Kurt Angle doesn't feel like as much of a threat as Austin or even Perfect, but makes sense given where the next month of TV goes.
This was as close to perfect as a Royal Rumble can get. Arcs for the purported favorites intersecting and playing a large role in each other, upsets, Legends who are treated like viable potential winners, midcarders getting the chance to pop the crowd are all perfect ingredients for a near perfect Rumble, the only blemish being the empty ring time and, to a far nitpickier extent, Godfather's long entrance.
I would recommend this show, for Flair vs McMahon and the Royal Rumble match itself. Jericho vs Rock is decent, but both guys would spend the next two months having better matches.