Matthew Roberts’ journey through 2001 WWF/E in the TWM Time Machine brings him to King of the Ring 2001.
You certainly couldn’t say that the build-up, such as it was, to King of the Ring on the TV shows was boring. Admittedly at times, it seemed almost perfunctory and there was the feeling that KotR was a show that needed to be gotten out of the way so Vince could push the button on the WCW stuff. And it made a mess of building up the two Chris’ who were challenging Stone Cold Steve Austin on this show for the World Title. But it wasn’t boring. And with the promise of the first physical confrontation between DDP/The Undertaker, Kurt Angle potentially on triple duty (with an intriguing all heel KotR tournament semi-final quartet) and, erm, a Light Heavyweight Title defence on the cards there was at least a modicum of intrigue heading in. Let’s see how it went down.
After the opening video package (which gives the DDP/Taker stuff as much prominence as the World Title match) and a welcome by Jim Ross and Paul Heyman, Diamond Dallas Page himself makes his way out to the ring, through the crowd. He has to do this as he’s a “WCW wrestler” but at the same time, he has his own theme music. There’s some weird, admittedly normal for wrestling, dichotomy going on in this whole thing where the WWE has made great attempts to at least make the storyline “logical” (i.e. Taker telling Vince to let DDP in the arenas when he shows up) yet at the same time have completely illogical elements at play. Still, DDP is here not because he’s insane but because he wants Taker to make him famous. He won’t be hard to find because he’ll be sat in the front row with his “make me famous” sign.
JR takes the time to tell us that Spike Dudley will have a mystery partner by his side to challenge The Dudley’s for the Tag Team Titles tonight whilst Paul Heyman mentions the “rumours” abounding that either of the Chris’ has been negotiating with WCW and was looking to take the title off Steve Austin tonight and take it with them to that promotion. Why they push this angle on the night of the show itself rather than beforehand is beyond me. Yes, it might have made either Chris a little bit more heelish, but it would have at least given some more intrigue into the match.
King of the Ring Semi-Final: Kurt Angle Vs Christian
Kurt Angle is looking to repeat his KotR victory from last year and also has a match with Shane McMahon on the books tonight. Christian had certainly got to the semi-finals the “hard way” given he had to get past the Big Show and Kane in his earlier matches in the bracket. With two heels at it, the fans decide that Angle is their man for the moment as he tosses Christian around the ring and hits some suplexes. Christian manages to get back in the game by throwing Angle into the steel steps and then the two trade back and forth for a while. Angle is in control but here comes Shane McMahon in a WCW shirt and the distraction causes Angle to miss a moonsault. They move to the finishers and Christian wins this short exchange by hitting the Unprettier. However, Shane pulls Christian out of the ring when he attempts the cover and once Christian gets back in the ring all it takes is an Olympic Slam for the win. A solid opening match that didn’t completely bury Christian (he was on the verge of winning until Shane stuck his nose in) and at least the interference made sense. Shane would obviously want Angle to have to wrestle TWO matches before their encounter. It’s the only chance he has.
Stone Cold is backstage with his wife Debra and our champion needs to find out where Vince McMahon is. Jonathan Coachman doesn’t know but he does want to ask Austin about the rumours that Benoit or Jericho might defect to WCW with the title tonight if they win. Austin is shocked/alarmed by this.
After another re-cap of the DDP/Taker shenanigans Paul Heyman takes the time to talk to DDP at ringside about what’s been going down. As he does this a video comes on the Tron and it’s footage of DDP earlier in the day having some food. Yes, the stalker is now being stalked…but by who?
King of the Ring Semi-Final: Edge Vs Rhyno
Well, the “dream” collision between Edge and Christian is now off the cards and beyond Shane McMahon pulling off anything here there would seem little chance that we’re getting a Rhyno/Angle final. That said, the two have a really good match here. Rhyno is going for it with the brawling and even exposes the steel of the middle turnbuckle, sending Edge sternum first into it. No doubt in classic wrestling fashion that will come back to haunt him. Rhyno is looking to set up the Gore but the two of them collide as Rhyno’s Gore is met by an Edge Spear. Back on their feet Rhyno tries another Gore but lo and behold Edge dodges and Rhyno goes right into that exposed turnbuckle he had used to his own advantage earlier. An Edgecution later and Edge is in the final. I liked this one; it was pleasantly “old school” in many ways.
Earlier on Sunday Night Heat Spike Dudley had challenged his brothers for the Tag Team Titles, promising a mystery partner. He is backstage with his girlfriend Molly Holly. Who isn’t the mystery partner? The commentators ask him who is but he refuses to reveal his secrets. They are confronted by Bubba and D-Von who heel it up.
Tazz is interviewing Chris Jericho backstage and asks him about the WCW rumours. Jericho is non-committal.
World Tag Team Titles:
The Dudley Boyz Vs Spike Dudley & Kane
So THAT is why the WWE didn’t hold off on the much-anticipated denouement to the Kane/Albert feud that had been pointlessly been bubbling a few weeks ago. Or maybe Spike just got lucky that the Big Red Machine didn’t have a match. Spike negates the advantage of having Kane by storming the ring on his own and his initial flurry soon turns to him getting beaten up. Kane eventually gets the hot tag and clears house and it looks like Spike might get his hands on the gold when he hits the Dudley Dog. But it’s not to be. That pin is broken up and when Spike tries again he is met with the 3D and that’s all she wrote. I wouldn’t say this is a classic by any means but it’s an entertaining match with several cool-looking spots. So I approve, despite the last-minute nature of the booking of it.
Post-match the Champions want to put Spike through a table but Kane comes to the rescue and puts Bubba through it before carrying Spike backstage.
There’s yet more DDP stalking videos, as in footage of him going about his business earlier in the day. Edge and Christian are backstage and Edge seems to think there’s a lot of tension between the two but all Christian wants to do is wish his brother good luck for the final. We then go to WWE New York where Billy Gunn is hosting proceedings. Gunn is livid that he’s a former (1999) KotR winner and isn’t even on the card tonight. Truth be told I can’t remember the last time I saw him on TV.
King of the Ring Final: Kurt Angle Vs Edge
Of course with Angle also having the Shane McMahon match coming up the prestigious final of the KotR tournament is the fourth match on the card. Pre-match Angle gets on the mic and tells Edge that as it’s inevitable that he’ll lose anyway he might as well forfeit and allow Angle to rest up for his match with Shane. Edge responds with a stiff right hand to Angle’s face and the match is on. Edge is looking good until Angle hits him with as Belly-to-Belly over the top and to the outside. The commentators even acknowledge that Angle putting on a chinlock is a clever move given Angle has another match to come. After more back and forth the two tease their finishers but when Edge hits a move and goes for the pin Christian chooses the exact wrong time to come down to “help”. The referee is distracted and Angle hits back with a roll-up for two before a ref bump means there is no referee to see Edge tap to the Ankle Lock. Shane McMahon appears and spears Angle. Edge then hits the Edgecution for the three counts and the honour of being 2001 King of the Ring. Perhaps overbooked, the interference nevertheless at least had storyline logic to it. And we’re four for four on “pretty good, but not great” matches for the evening. Unfortunately, the King of the Ring concept wouldn’t be long for this world as this is the penultimate event it would have, with it coming to an end in 2002.
Tazz is interviewing Chris Benoit backstage and brings up the WCW rumour. Benoit looks annoyed but then cracks up and says that’s a good one. After more paranoid DDP stuff King of the Ring winner Edge doesn’t get a coronation and instead gets an interview with Coachman. Christian pops by to congratulate Edge, again teasing the issues between the two that will be forgotten about for a bit when the Invasion kicks in. Elsewhere, Kurt Angle is randomly ranting to some nobodies about what has just happened to him and vows that if any WCW wrestler gets involved with his match against Shane he will ensure they will never work again.
Jeff Hardy Vs X-Pac – Light Heavyweight Title
Because what is a show in the Spring of 2001 without X-Factor being involved. As we saw, they built this one up by having Jeff pin X-Pac in a tag match on TV which again suggests that the Light-Heavyweight title is not a priority. Still, at least it’s now around the waist of someone the company actually wants to book in matches that people see. There’s a fast-paced opening section to this which is then slowed right down. This isn’t a bad match but it’s not great either. We think X-Pac has won but Jeff has his foot on the bottom rope. Jeff counters the X-Factor then overcomes being crotched on the top rope to finally hit the Swanton for the three. A few moments of miscommunication drag this one down but it’s watchable enough.
Backstage, Stone Cold commandeers the phone in Commissioner Regal’s office to ring Vince. It seems as if Vince doesn’t recognise who Austin is when he does speak to him but once we’re over that Austin says he’s worried about the rumours of the Chris’ taking the WWE title over to WCW. It’s amusing enough.
Back in the arena, more stalker videos following DDP are aired so DDP calls out Taker. Another video reveals that it has been Sara who has been filming DDP. Taker comes out and deliberately takes the time to put his gloves on (so as not to hurt his hands) and you can only think that if he’d been this rational in the past few weeks he could have saved himself a lot of trouble. What happens next is inevitable but no less disappointing for that. Taker batters DDP. The few shots DDP gets in are no sold, including nut shots and chair shots. DDP get a hellacious beating and then runs off.
Now I know Taker is a legend. I can quite understand from a character point of view that “the Dead Man” would get retribution for someone going after his wife. But even if the end goal is to bury anything and everything that came from WCW why couldn’t a bunch of WCW guys come to DDP’s aid here. A bunch of them beating up Taker before, say, Kane made the save and saw them off would have done Taker no harm at all. And might have done DDP and WCW some good. But hey, that’s wrestling for you.
King of the Ring:
Kurt Angle Vs Shane McMahon – Streetfight
Now, this is where I will probably diverge from the opinions of many longer-term fans. I simply don’t like Shane McMahon as a wrestler. I don’t see the point. His ludicrous “hard man” posturing is cringeworthy. And whilst I appreciate the guts, the effort and the sheer bloody mindlessness to do some of the stunts he did over the years what did it actually achieve. My main problem with it all (and one that would increase over the years beyond this) is that yes, Shane “gets over” as a result of this insanity. But that’s fairly easy to do when other, you know, actual wrestlers who could evolve into people that fans will pay their money to watch aren’t allowed to do this stuff. And when the stuff they are allowed to do looks tame because we’ve just seen Shane go through glass.
So whilst I can appreciate the effort that goes into the match (and acknowledge that I certainly wouldn’t have gone through what Shane did so willingly given the amount of money he has/had) and have no problems with people enjoying it as a spectacle it’s just not for me. Throwing/attempting to throw someone through glass five times just seems plain stupid. It’s an iconic match on this King of the Ring show and should be watched but you’d never see this amount of brutality on a WWF or WWE show for many years.
Stone Cold is backstage waiting for Vince, looking ever more anxious. But Vince isn’t here and it’s time for the main event.
King of the Ring Main Event:
Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs Chris Benoit Vs Chris Jericho – World Title
Of course, another problem with what we’d just seen is that when you’ve seen Shane McMahon thrown through glass five times who really cares about what is obviously a filler main event that has been poorly built up, ignores wrestling logic (two babyfaces against one heel?) and that no-one in their right minds can conceivably believe that either challenger will walk away with the gold? It doesn’t help here in the early going that a lot of fans still like Austin and don’t want to boo him so the double-teaming by the babyfaces first up doesn’t really do anything for anyone. From there we get the usual “one man disappears/is dead at ringside whilst the other two fight” bits but whilst this might all sound a little uninspiring and pedestrian the fact that we have the workers we do have out there means that it is bound to pick up. And that it does.
Jericho and Austin have some good exchanges, Austin and Benoit exchange a series of suplexes with each other before we get the same “double submission” spot we saw on Raw earlier this week… except this time the referee decides that whilst Austin has clearly tapped we can’t tell which move to force the tap so we have to carry on. This leads Benoit and Jericho to go at each other. Suddenly WCW World Champion Booker T runs through the crowd and attacks Austin at ringside, putting the WWE Champ through a table. Once Austin gets back inside it looks done for but as Benoit hits a Backdrop Superplex from the top on Jericho, it damages the already injured vertebrae of Benoit and Austin crawls over the get the pin. Anti-climatic it may be but bear in mind Benoit was out for about a year after this one. A good, but not a great match.
And “good but not great” seems apt, to sum up, the card as a whole. Nothing is ever really awful but then again nothing REALLY shines. It’s perhaps most remembered for Shane McMahon (and all that is pointless for me) and perhaps Edge winning KotR (when in reality that had little to do with the standing he would go on to create for himself a good few years later). This is a promotional obligation to get through before the “Invasion” can kick in fully. The irony is of course that DDP’s mullering by The Undertaker here foreshadows the WWE’s inevitable decision to win the war they’ve already won by decimating WCW again and that it’s going to be an uphill battle for any of the “enemy” to get any credibility in their new surroundings. Still, whilst as a show in 2001, it has many issues, as a stand-alone watch is not that bad.