Weeks after Stone Cold Steve Austin turned heel, WWE business started to fall. It was the opposite of what they had anticipated; everyone assumed that once Nitro was off the air, everyone would watch Raw. Problem is, what was left of the Nitro audience in fact did not switch to Raw, they switched to something not pro wrestling related at all. Once the Monday Night Wars were over, so was the success that it brought. Not that WWE business TANKED, but ratings fell from the fives to the fours pretty quickly and has slowly gone down to the high 2’s in the last decade. Raw is still one of the most popular cable television shows, always finishing in the top 10. But it’s very clear that now it’s peak years were over, WWE had to move on.
They did the invasion angle way too early to offset ratings woes. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. The WCW invaders were treated like idiots, never outsmarting or gaining the advantage over the WWE guys and by the end it was pretty much WWE faces vs. WWE heels, with the faces winning at Survivor Series and eliminating anything WCW related on cable television for good. To make things worse, if they waited a year they could have brought back a number of the WCW guys and have made the feud interesting. Because after the Invasion angle tanked, Vince McMahon wanted some old faces back. He needed anything that would spike ratings and draw interest. So he turned to the three people that took WCW and made it into the powerhouse that it was for a couple of years. That’s right, everyone’s favorite political trio, the nWo: Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan.
It didn’t work, either. Kevin Nash repeatedly injured himself during this run that kept him off TV for long periods of time. Scott Hall, well, was Scott Hall and in a matter of months he was gone. Hulk Hogan, who had been largely off TV for a couple of years after having a falling out with Vince Russo and WCW, was cheered in every building he went to. People did not want to see the white and black Hollywood Hogan; they wanted to see the red and yellow Hulkster for another run. Nostalgia worked in Hogan’s favor, and soon the nWo angle was switched around from Hogan, Hall and Nash to Hogan becoming a singles babyface and the other two teaming with X-Pac and a few others before eventually being disbanded due to injuries and releases.
The seeds of this started a few weeks before WrestleMania. Rock challenged Hogan, and Hogan accepted…then destroyed Rock with a truck. I have no recollection how Rock survived this, but he did make it to WrestleMania. And on a show that didn’t have a lot of marquee bouts, they managed to have a match that to this day, while not being a five-star classic, still manages to be one of the most memorable WrestleMania bouts of all time.
Of course, we also can’t forget the other big angle going on during early 2002, and that is Triple H’s big return. He tore his quad a few months after WrestleMania that kept him out of action through January. His goal, of course, was to win the WWE title. Stephanie McMahon, who was bounced off TV after the whole Alliance thing ended, came back to TV, siding with Triple H. But since he was a babyface now, this dynamic wasn’t going to work, so she faked a pregnancy in order to keep her marriage with Triple H alive, since otherwise there would be no reason to keep her around since her team lost at Survivor Series. The smartest man in wrestling, however, found a tape revealing the whole thing to be a lie, so he promptly turned on Stephanie. Her response? Aligning herself with Chris Jericho, who had turned heel after the Alliance was rid of and had in fact won the Undisputed title in December of 2001. Since this is an angle involving Stephanie and Hunter, you bet this was emphasized over everything else while Chris Jericho, the world champion, basically served as Stephanie’s lackey. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And that, my friends, finally brings us to WrestleMania!
Kevin Dunn’s Favorite Band Saliva performed their song “Superstar”. It was a very 2002 song.
WWE Intercontinental Championship – William Regal © vs. Rob Van Dam: This was a good back and forth match. Originally, I thought these two would be a complete styles clash, just like Regal’s match the previous year against Jericho, but it ended up becoming a pretty decent match. Regal grabbed RVD’s leg at one point, and RVD went to reverse but Regal instead countered with a half nelson suplex. That was COOL. Regal grabbed a second pair of knux (RVD originally kicked the first pair away) but when he turns around eats an RVD kick and hits the frog splash to win the title. Short, but was fun while it lasted. **¾
Lilian Garcia interviews Christian, asks why he turned on DDP. Christian says once he went back to his winning ways, he didn’t need DDP, just like he didn’t need Toronto. He says it won’t be a good thing for DDP tonight, it’ll be a bad thing. He makes a face that makes me realize how right Vince was when it came to Christian’s face and how he could never become a star. I bet this was THE MOMENT where he came to this realization. Not that having a temper tantrum gimmick helped matters, but still.
WWE European Championship – Diamond Dallas Page © vs. Christian: Christian jumps him early but DDP comes back with a clothesline to the floor. Story of the match was Christian wanted to prove that he was a WINNER. So they have a back and forth match as they trade finisher attempts. He manages to reverse a diamond cutter into an inverted DDT but doesn’t get the win. He freaks out, but then breathes to himself so he doesn’t lose, he has to focus! But focusing isn’t enough as DDP eventually does land the diamond cutter, and that’s it for Christian as DDP retains the championship. **
DDP grabs the mic after. He’s proud of Christian in that he lost, but didn’t lose his temper…in front of 67,000 people and millions of others at home. Christian, of course, proceeds to throw a fit.
Rock promo. After berating Coach for not saying his prayers, he cuts a promo of his own, promising that he’ll be running wild on Hogan.
WWE Hardcore Championship – Maven © vs. Goldust: Yes, this is a match that existed. At WrestleMania. I thought Maven had something when he won the first Tough Enough, but he never really evolved into anything great. I did binge watch that first season, though, and it’s awesome, highly recommended stuff. Goldust lays him out at the bell. Say what you want about Maven, but he did have a good dropkick, as everyone remembers, and lays out Goldust at one point with a dropkick onto a gold tinted trash can. Goldust then takes out a golden shovel. I wonder if Goldust took all this time before WrestleMania started to spray paint all these weapons. Suddenly, Spike Dudley comes in and pins Maven to win the title and bolts as Crash Holly follows him. This’ll play into later backstage segments. As a match, this was a DUD.
Drowning Pool is here to tell us the story of tonight’s undisputed title match. They proceeded to play their song “Tear Away”. This was well done, but I cringed when the lead singer said “MAKE SOME NOISE” and the crowd proceeded to do the opposite. Live bands never work at WrestleMania or any other show, ever. But I get why they do them.
Meanwhile, Crash Holly is beating up on Spike Dudley backstage when Al Snow comes in and crashes through a bunch of boxes. The Hurricane then flies in and pins Spike Dudley to win the title, then escapes.
Kurt Angle vs. Kane: This is one of a couple of matches that have no real reason for being here there than they threw it together at the last minute. Angle jumps Kane with the ring bell before the match starts. I wonder why people haven’t done that more often, that’s actually pretty clever. They had a very WWE style match. Angle worked on him forever and ever until Kane made a comeback. Both got some near falls, including Angle trying to take Kane’s mask off then follows with an Angle slam for a nearfall. Kane goes to the top but Angle manages to leapoff and suplex him off the top rope. Kane counters the Angle slam and goes for a chokeslam but Angle counters and pins Kane using the ropes. Nothing memorable. **¼
Hurricane tries to leave with the title when Godfather’s hos came in and started talking about their boob size. Is this normal conversation between women? Ladies saw Hurricane in a dressing window deal with a broomstick sticking out of his crotch area, came to conclusions, then ran away when Godfather came in and the ladies screamed. Still better than 2015 WWE humor, which says a lot.
No DQ – The Undertaker vs. Ric Flair: Flair jumps him at the bell and they brawl everywhere, including Flair throwing himself with Undertaker over the announce table. Undertaker comes back and beats him up for a good while. He takes him to the outside and lays punches on him, with Flair doing the usual gig job. Man did Flair take a beating here. Undertaker was great being the big heel bully who took great pleasure in beating up the bloodied Flair. He finally comes back by throwing Undertaker to the floor after an old school attempt and smacks Undertaker with a pipe in Undertaker’s motorcycle. He locks in the figure four but Undertaker escapes and hits a chokeslam for a nearfall. Undertaker then takes out the ref, for no real reason since this is a no DQ match, and brings back the pipe. But all of a sudden, ARN ANDERSON COMES OUT AND GIVES UNDERTAKER A SPINEBUSTER. Huge pop for that, it was great. Undertaker comes back and busts open Anderson but Flair comes back and smacks Undertaker with a steel chair but it’s no use as Undertaker gives him a boot. He tries for a last ride, but changes his mind and instead lays out Flair with the tombstone for the pinfall. A hell of a brawl and a match. ***¾
Booker T, wearing glasses, is interviewed. Michael Cole says Edge questions his intelligence. Booker then starts talking about Einstein’s Theory of Relevancy. Oops. The “Booker T being dumb” gimmick sure was gonna get him places, I’m sure.
Booker T vs. Edge: The story to this match is that they are fighting over a shampoo commercial. Think I’m lying? Check the sign in the crowd that says the same thing. Even JR buried this. Some good back and forth here, regardless. Edge went for a hurricanrana off the top rope but Booker T landed on top of Edge’s head. Fun. Booker did a spinaroonie and the axe kick but Edge kicks out. Booker then kicks out of the spear. After a few counters Edge hits the edgecution (lifting DDT) for the pinfall. This was a good match with a goofy background. ***
Between the Booker T/Edge and Kurt Angle/Kane matches, this was not the best booked WrestleMania of all time.
Coach interviews Hurricane. He says he’s not a hurri-perv. Mighty Molly then arrives. “Quick, to the Hurri-cycle!” she says. Hurricane does his pose, only for Molly to attack him with a frying pan and pin him for the title. Ok, that was a good one.
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Scott Hall: Kevin Nash, of course, accompanied Hall to ringside. The “what” chants were in full effect here, and wrestling crowds have never been the same since. Yes, I know when people pay to come to the arena they can say whatever they want. But sometimes these kind of chants kill whatever’s being presented and it’s annoying. Nash interfered pretty quickly when Austin was on the outside. Scott Hall freely had the advantage when Austin comes back with a stunner. Nash pulls away the referee and lays him out, so now it’s a two on one. Hall comes in with a chair, but Austin lays them both out with stunners. He covered, but there’s no ref. Finally one comes in, but Nash destroys him. Shouldn’t there be a DQ somewhere for this? A bunch of referees come out and escort Nash away as Hall hits Austin with a stunner, but he kicks out. Austin fires back with two stunners and that’s it. Overbooked, but it was fine. **¾
WWE Fan Axxess segment. The highlight here was Stacy Keibler being amused at how so many people were fascinated with the replica of her legs and butt.
Four Corners Elimination Match for the WWE Tag Team Championship – The Dudley Boyz vs. The APA vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. Billy and Chuck ©: Saliva came back out to perform the Dudley Boyz theme. Lots of STUFF went on here. The APA ran wild for a while, but they were the first eliminated after Bradshaw got distracted and the Dudleys hit a 3D. Stacy jumped to the apron to moon Jeff Hardy, and Hardy responded by slapping her on the butt. She could sue, you know. Wasn’t Ms. Hancock a lawyer or something? They had a long period where D-Von got the heat on Jeff. Matt finally tags in and makes a comeback. Billy and Chuck throw D-Von off a table and this enables the Hardyz to pin Bubba with the swanton. It was then between Billy and Chuck an the Hardyz. Jeff had it won with the swanton, but Billy hit him with the famouser. Matt takes Billy to the outside where Chuck grabs a belt and smacks Jeff with it for the pinfall. Good stuff. ***
Somewhere around here Mighty Molly got hit by a door and Christian pinned her to win the Hardcore title. I forget where this goes exactly, and I’m not rewinding, so THERE.
Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were complaining backstage when Hogan arrived. He asked them to not come out with him tonight. They were fine with it, until he left where Nash says they’re totally getting involved.
Hollywood Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock: The crowd totally did not buy Hogan being a heel and that was pretty clear from the start. In fact, when the Rock came out he got BOOED. This was clearly a Hulk Hogan crowd. Hogan started off strong, then Rock did a comeback for more boos. Hogan’s offense and selling looked pretty bad. He threw the weakest chops ever and, of course, had the back scratching. Rock went to use the chair on the outside, but the ref took it away, Hogan clotheslined him and took him back to the ring. Ref bump leads to Hogan tapping out to the sharpshooter but the ref is still down. “ROCKY SUCKS” chant. Keep in mind this is not 1997. Hogan comes back with the Rock Bottom but Rock kicks out. Hogan uses his weightlifting belt, but Rock comes back and uses it on Hogan. Rock hits the Rock Bottom but kicks out and starts to HULK UP. He does in fact do so, and hits the leg drop, but ROCK KICKS OUT. The crowd is friggin amazing at this point. Hogan misses another leg drop, then walks into a Rock Bottom, then another, then finishes with the people’s elbow for the pinfall. Hogan was pretty bad here, but the crowd and the way this match was booked made it feel special. ***
Rock gets a mixed reaction as he celebrates. Hogan gets back on his feet and there’s a staredown. Hogan extends his hand, then Rock obliges as he starts to leave. BUT WAIT. Hall and Nash come down to the ring, mad. They jump him because, I dunno, he lost. They beat on him until Rock comes back and they clear house. Then they close WrestleMania with him and Rock doing Hogan gestures.
OH WAIT. There’s still that title match. Oops.
68,237 are in the Skydome. At least, that’s what Finkel says. I wonder what the shoot number is.
Women’s Championship – Jazz © vs. Lita vs. Trish Stratus: The start of the women’s buffer match zone can perhaps be traced to here. Difference is, these women were actually over. Lita jumps Jazz before the bell rings. Faces try to work on Jazz but she’s dominant. Lita’s offense and selling were pretty bad here, and whenever she and Trish worked together it was no good. Jazz easily looked like the best performer out there. Crowd only popped when Lita insinuated she was taking off her shirt, which she didn’t end up doing. Oops. Lita kicks Trish to the outside and Jazz uses the opportunity to hit a perfect plex off the top rope for the win. A total mess. ¾*
Christian arrives in the back and tries to exit via taxi (he doesn’t have a rental?) when Maven sneaks from behind and pins him, winning back the title. He exits in the cab before Christian could do anything. I guess this was a fine series of skits, I don’t know why this needed to be done at WRESTLEMANIA, though.
Undisputed WWE Championship – Chris Jericho © vs. Triple H: To Hunter’s credit, the champion did come out last. Drowning Pool performed his song as he headed to the ring first. Story of the match, JR pointed out right as I typed this, was that Jericho attacked Hunter’s leg before the match on Smackdown or something. So Jericho worked on that throughout the match. Stephanie dug her fingernails into Hunter’s eyes to break up a figure four. So Hunter responds by trying to lay her out with a pedigree, but Jericho comes back and continues the assault on Hunter’s bum leg. He finally gets a opening and shoves Jericho’s shoulder into the ring post. Jericho comes back and throws Triple H to the outside where he sets up for a walls of Jericho on the table. Triple H comes back and tries for a pedigree, but Jericho flips him over where he crashes into the Spanish announce table. Lionsault for a nearfall. Triple H tries to fight back, but gets caught in the walls of Jericho. Triple H breaks free as Jericho grabs a chair. He kicks it away then counters with a DDT. Stephanie arrives in the ring and tries to use the chair but the ref takes it away. She then walks right into Triple H who lays her out with the pedigree for the biggest pop of this match thus far. Triple H then walks right into a HUGE charishot by Jericho on the head for a nearfall. Jericho goes for a pedigree, but Triple H turns it into a slingshot. Jericho latches on to the middle rope and launches off, only for Triple H to kick him in the gut and lay him out with the pedigree to win the title. Well booked match that made sense, but the crowd wasn’t interested as they had seen their main event already, and for a WrestleMania main event it just didn’t seem to deliver. **½
Solid show. As far as work rate goes, wasn’t much of a show though there was some solid stuff, nothing completely memorable. Even the “main event” didn’t deliver like I thought it would. But in the end, it’s a one match show between the two biggest stars of all time in professional wrestling, and that’s what this show will be remembered for.