For all the accusations thrown at the WWE for “botching” the Invasion angle, the company was still very hot coming out of that period. Case in point, the Royal Rumble 2002 show holds the accolade of the biggest buy-rate in Rumble history in terms of purchases as it’s 670,000 here bested the previous record of 650,000 buys for 1999’s version. It was up by around 45,000 on the previous year and 2003 would drop to 585,000.
Of course numbers (either way) don’t always correlate with quality, but let’s take a look at the show. The build-up was, in some ways, the standard Rumble fare (a handful of select main eventers insist it’s their year etc) although it was elevated no doubt by the return of Triple H from his 2001 injury. As noted in our previous retro reviews, the pop for his return was one of the loudest in history. And although the way the WWE went around building up the undercard was a little hit and miss, everything had at least been given some attention.
After a stirring opening video package (showing highlights of previous years) and some loud pyrotechnics, it was time for our opening bout
Royal Rumble 2002:
Spike Dudley & Tazz Vs The Dudley Boys – WWE Tag Team Titles
Ok, so the build-up was little more than the incumbent champions Spike & Tazz having beaten The Dudley’s on Raw a few weeks earlier to win the belts and then the two teams continued to wage war leading up to this match. But for all that at least it had a reason to exist and the fans were certainly into the action.
It was your typical ECW fare in some respects. The dastardly Dudley’s took the attack to Spike, who sold masterfully before a miscue let Spike make the hot tag to Tazz who then finished off D-Von with the Tazzmission. It was all over in five minutes or so but perhaps that was all it needed. A decent enough opener with a pleasing babyface win for the fans.
Royal Rumble 2002:
Edge Vs William Regal – WWE Intercontinental Title
Pre-match we see footage of the dastardly Regal taking out Edge and Rob Van Dam on Raw with his Brass Knuckles and also see Edge getting revenge on Smackdown with a Steel Chair. Edge is interviewed by Lillian Garcia heading in and he says he has the upper hand because he’s got the chair that he “Edge-E-Cated” Regal with. He would get better on the mic in time (as a serious singles wrestler).
After that Edge doesn’t bring the steel chair down but Nick Patrick checks for foreign objects and finds Regal has some knucks in his trunks. The match itself was a decent effort considering the obvious clash of styles between the pair. In the end, the heel outsmarted everyone by finding a second pair of knucks in his tights and using them to get the pinfall win. This was all about the heel cheating to win and there’s nothing wrong with that. Whilst arguably Regal never found a place in the ring in the WWE in terms of his style (in that it was so different to anything else) his “Power of the Punch” run was very effective. It didn’t do a lot for Edge (although as history showed he would get over it) but it was fine as a push for Regal.
Royal Rumble 2002:
Trish Stratus Vs Jazz – WWE Women’s Title
For context, we’re somewhat trying to move away from the “bra and panties” era of women’s wrestling in the WWE here (not that it wouldn’t return to some extent several times in the years to come) but are not yet quite at the stage where the WWE have the workers across the board to do that.
It seems as if Jazz is brought in to add a little legitimacy to the division and give Trish someone to work against who could play their part in a serious match. Trish is still a work in progress here so what we get is a perfectly adequate four-minute match which Jazz somewhat controls without ever quite finishing Trish off, who comes back in a spirited fashion for the win via her patented Bulldog. It’s light-years away from where the women would go in the decades to come, but it’s also light years ahead of where they came from.
Royal Rumble 2002:
Vince McMahon Vs Ric Flair – Streetfight
Wrestling is strange. On the face of it a match between a man in his 50’s who wasn’t a trained wrestler (as such) against another man in his 50’s who whilst one of the “greatest of all time” wasn’t active, was by all accounts having a crisis of confidence and who hadn’t wrestled on a WWE PPV for nearly a decade shouldn’t be any good. And no one would describe this as a technical classic…but boy it was damned entertaining stuff.
In storyline terms, both Vince McMahon and Ric Flair owned 50% each of the company. This match wasn’t to sort that little issue out but more a reason to beat out each other’s frustrations on the other. As this is in Atlanta, Flair is super-over (daughter Megan and son Reid are at ringside to boot) and Vince is, well, Vince. It’s the formula of course, but well-done formula. The two batter and beat each other down and Vince even has time to “borrow” Megan Flair’s camera so he can take some pictures of her bloodied father. Of course, in the end, Flair rallies and busts Vince open (and drags him over to his daughter so she can take some pictures of the bloodied Vince) and picks up the win via Figure Four.
If you’re mean spirited you could pick this apart until the cows come home. If you accept it for what it is, it’s great entertainment.
We can’t have a show without Stephanie McMahon so for no real reason she is backstage to tell Michael Cole that Triple H is going to destroy everyone and win the Rumble. Stone Cold interrupts her to yell “WHAT?” at her about a thousand times. In reality, the fact that the WWE doesn’t ignore the on-screen relationship between Stephanie and Triple H is commendable. It just means that it gives them an “excuse” (if one were ever needed) to keep Steph on TV. She would become a great promo (if never quite “getting” the fact that when the time is right she should ALWAYS get her comeuppance – a fact that was never lost with Vince and his on-screen rivalries) in time. In 2002 she just screeches.
Royal Rumble 2002: Chris Jericho Vs The Rock
WWE Undisputed World Title
Back in the days when the two titles were separate entities the two had clashed over the WCW version of the World title and had some pretty good matches whilst doing so. Of course, Jericho shocked the world at Vengeance by wining the unification “tournament”, defeating The Rock and then Stone Cold to grab both belts.
Whilst he was the least favoured of the four men (Kurt Angle was also involved) you cannot argue against the WWE giving someone “new” a chance to first-event ever” (LOL) Undisputed champion. The problem was it was as if they expected that accolade to be enough to elevate Jericho on its own. Or maybe it was just the way WWE did it at the time (and in many years to come) where a first-time champion has to be portrayed as being out of his depth. And then they wonder why the reign doesn’t get over. But anyway…
The match itself is good if a little notch down from some of their previous matches (see No Mercy 2001) so you could argue it’s a mild disappointment given its position on one of the “Big Four” PPV’s. It keeps you guessing for the most part (perhaps at the time due to it already seeming unlikely that Jericho will headline Mania) and even though Jericho has to summon help in the form of Lance Storm and Christian they are ineffective in general terms. We get the visual of Rock hitting the Rock Bottom but no referee being able to count (so, you know, “he would have won” etc etc) and Jericho hits a low blow and then gets the pin via the old “feet on the ropes for leverage” routine. If we’re being kind at least Jericho cheated off his own back for the win (and wasn’t handed it by interference). But in reality, it was all another sign that we were not supposed to believe Jericho was on Rock’s level. Which he wasn’t, and never would be. But still, “accentuate the positives” and all that…
Shawn Michaels is shown at WWE New York. As he’s a Texan his picks for the rumble are fellow Texans Stone Cold or The Undertaker. Which almost certainly guarantees neither are winning it.
The 2002 Royal Rumble Match
Diamond Dallas Page vs. Chuck vs. Matt Hardy (w/Lita) vs. Al Snow vs. Bradshaw vs. Rikishi vs. Lance Storm vs. Maven vs. Kane vs. Perry Saturn vs. The Hurricane vs. Triple H vs. Scotty 2 Hotty vs. Kurt Angle vs. Albert vs. Val Venis vs. Steve Austin vs. Booker T vs. The Big Bossman vs. The Big Show vs. Faarooq vs. The Undertaker vs. Christian vs. Rob Van Dam vs. Jeff Hardy vs. The Godfather vs. Goldust vs. Mr. Perfect vs. Test vs. Billy Gunn
In many ways, this was one of those Rumble’s where the winner was obvious weeks in advance. As soon as Triple H returned and got THAT pop at Madison Square Garden no doubt was going on to win it. But an “obvious” Rumble winner isn’t a bad thing. Especially when it’s the result that many/most fans want. And despite some strong challengers, Triple H was that man in 2002. This is one of the better rumbles for me.
It’s one of the longest but never seems to get too dull; the big names are spread about a little bit, some advertised returns are a welcome distraction and whilst it’s never really in doubt who might win they do a good enough job of distracting us on the way there.
As daft as it might seem in 2002, the returns of the likes of Godfather, Val Venis and Goldust get nice nostalgia pops, the return of the Hardy Boys (and we’ve forgotten that in late 2001 they were feuding) is a nice touch and there’s lots of entertainment from the “mid-card” where they get to do their spots and pop the crowd. Tough Enough Winner Maven eliminating the Undertaker is an all-time “wow” moment.
Once Austin comes in at number 19 we start to get to move toward the climax., with Triple H not too far behind. The final entries stack the match with those names that are big enough to get a reaction even though they have no chance of winning (Booker T, Rob Van Dam, Kane, Big Show) before we get to a final four of Triple H, Austin, Kurt Angle and a returning Mr Perfect.
Of those Austin has to go first so as not to give fans a chance to choose him over Triple H in terms of support and that only mildly works as fans seem disappointed when Angle eliminates Perfect to leave him and HHH. Trips wrap it up by dumping Angle to win the match.
Perhaps a notch down the ladder than the very best Rumble matches, this is nevertheless a strong match that easily manages to disguise the lack of real jeopardy over the eventual winner.
Whilst not containing any all-time classics, Royal Rumble 2002 is a strong across-the-board card. Nothing on the undercard is at all offensive; the three opening matches are all watchable and whilst the streetfight isn’t the best example of a Mr McMahon match and the Jericho/Rock match isn’t their absolute best they are still two entertaining matches. Throw in a great Rumble match and you have a very good show indeed.