The Royal Rumble is my favourite WWE PPV, so this Tagged Classics collection was one I looked forward to reviewing. The first disc takes us back eight years to 2001 and the beginning of the “Road to WrestleMania”. This era was brilliant and little things like the Attitude Era opening to WWF programming, cutting to WWF New York, Earl Hebner in a WWF’s referee shirt and the wrestlers who were around at the time all add up to a nostalgia trip that never gets old.
Running Time: 391mins (both events and extras)
WWE Royal Rumble 2001
- WWF World Tag Team Championship Match: Edge & Christian v The Dudley Boyz
- Ladder Match for the WWF Intercontinental Championship: Chris Benoit v Chris Jericho
- WWF Women’s Championship Match: Ivory v Chyna
- WWF Championship Match: Kurt Angle v Triple H
- Royal Rumble Match
- Lo’ Down v Kai En Tai – Sunday Night Heat
- Lilian Garcia interviews Kurt Angle
- Fan Prediction on the Royal Rumble Match
- Recap of Drew Cary at the Royal Rumble
Royal Rumble 2002
- WWF World Tag Team Championship Match: Tazz & Spike Dudley v The Dudley Boys
- WWF Intercontinental Championship Match: Edge v William Regal
- WWF Women’s Championship Match: Trish Stratus v Jazz
- Street Fight: Ric Flair v Mr. McMahon
- WWF Undisputed Championship Match: Chris Jericho v The Rock
- Royal Rumble Match
- Pre-show interview with Kurt Angle
- A special look at RicFlair
- Tazz & Spike Dudley review their match
- Post-match interviews
- Triple H returns at Madison Square Garden – RAW (07/01/02)
- Michael Cole interviews Stone Cold Steve Austin – RAW (07/01/02)
Royal Rumble 2001 opens with a battle for the WWF World Tag Team Championships as Edge & Christian defend their titles against Bubba Ray & D-Von, the Dudley Boyz.
If the only exposure you have to Bubba and D-Von is their run in TNA as Team 3D, then it will absolutely astound you when you see the kind of shape The Dudleyz were in at this time in their careers. Both teams, along with The Hardyz, revolutionised the tag-team division in WWE and competed for years, all three teams switching between heel and face at various points and going on an extended run that yielded countless fantastic bouts.
The 2001 Royal Rumble was at the tail-end of the WWF Attitude Era and it’s a joy to listen to a capacity crowd being vocal from the off. Both the champs and the challengers were over, had great chemistry and the fans lapped it up, chanting, booing, cheering and yelling “GET THE TABLES” at the top of their lungs. This is a nice little match, a respite from the usual stunt-fests that made the rivalry famous, with some awesome exchanges, near falls and is a great way to start the night.
Oh, and something else to savour is Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler being on fire at the commentary table, King in his antagonist persona and JR going hyper and making even the most mundane seem like the greatest thing you will ever witness. We also get some funny segments backstage with Drew Carey mixing with Hunter and Steph (getting a “You know Kamala sings now…” reference in for good measure) and The APA discussing their entrance numbers before Crash Holly comes in to warn them that, even though they are friends, he’ll have no qualms tossing them out of the Rumble.
The second match of the night is an absolute blinder and a serious contender for Match of the Year. Chris Benoit, non-wrestling issues aside, was always a good bet for putting on a good performance. Chris Jericho was also a wrestler who performed when it mattered. Putting both together more often than not heralded great-to-brilliant wrestling matches… and this was no different. A totally absorbing pre-match video chronicling why the match is taking place sets the tone and really puts over how devastating their respective submissions finishers are.
Hard-hitting, with dangerous spots and high-risks, this is one of the best IC Title matches you’ll ever see. Wrestled in front of a red-hot crowd, commentated by two red-hot announcers and competed between two red-hot wrestlers, you get the feeling this is a big-time wrestling match and when it ends, you leave with the feeling it was a big-time wrestling match. It’s bouts like this that make you wonder what Benoit v the new guys today would be like. Benoit v Morrison, Punk, Swagger, Jeff Hardy and/or Tyson Kidd would have been awesome, but we’ll never find out. On a side note, knowing what we know now about the condition of Benoit’s brain at the time of his death, the brutal impacts take on a different perspective (especially the missed headbutt from the top of the ladder).
The penultimate regular match is the Women’s Title bout between Ivory and Chyna. The champion, Ivory, was on a roll as a member of the Right to Censor and had laid out Chyna with a spiked-piledriver, meaning the DX-alumni was out for a number of months. RTC were an astounding group of heels (a play on the Parent’s Television Council, a group who wanted to remove everything from TV that didn’t t conform to their puritan viewpoint), even to the point that other heels hated them, and Ivory was their female figurehead. The pre-match video, like virtually all WWE’s production, does a great job of getting the viewer up to speed (a great idea for those who weren’t around first time around) and by the time Ivory makes her entrance, you want her to get her ass handed to her. Chyna’s entrance theme was one of my favourites from that period and her “big gun” arrival was brilliant.
The match is basically a squash, which was logical due to Chyna’s persona, with a nice top-rope snapmare being a move I’d never seen before or since. It’s easy to forget, with the way she is now, how over Chyna was with the fans and how well-booked she was during her singles run. The only problem with the match is the finish wasn’t executed well enough for it to be believable. The idea is a really good one, but it just doesn’t work that well (although King abandoning his position and Billy Gunn racing from the back to check on her did help). It lead to another, better, match at WrestleMania X-Seven, so that’s something.
Kurt Angle, just over a year into his professional career, was a legitimate phenomenon in pro-wrestling. Getting over almost immediately, putting on stellar matches and having a fantastic character, Angle, even this early, showed that he would be one of the best wrestlers in history. His rivalry with Triple H goes back to mid-2000 and the brilliantly-booked love-triangle between the two men and Stephanie McMahon. In the lead up to this match, Vince McMahon and Trish Stratus (at her evil and sultry best) had been worked into the feud and the pre-match video puts across nicely what it all means and how everyone fits in together.
Stephanie, looking lovely, accompanies her on-screen husband (who was almost a face) to the ring as he challenges for the WWF Championship. Trish Stratus, who was, at the time, Vince’s mistress (and in another feud with Stephanie that led to the Vince v Shane match at ‘Mania) came to the ring with Angle. The tension between the two was palpable and you knew it was just a matter of time before they got involved. The match itself is incredibly heated and Triple H (pre-quad tears) was a phenomenal worker at this time.
Both men trade the advantage, pop the crowd with well-timed bursts and have a competitive and believable contest. The inevitable cluster is also entertaining and the last five minutes have the fans (who were vocal from the start) on the edge of their seats. The actual finish is the perfect example of how to do a screw-job, have it make sense AND leave the fans happy. Vince Russo should take notes.
Lastly, we come to the main-event, the Royal Rumble Match itself. The bout starts hot with Jeff Hardy and Bull Buchanan, has a nice little section with Matt and Jeff trying to eliminate each other and ends up with comedian Drew Carey being alone in the ring waiting for the next entrant… who turns out to be Kane. The Big Red Machine’s entrance heralds the “hardcore” section of the Rumble as the main participants in the Hardcore Division get to shine. Raven, Al Snow, Perry Saturn (accompanied down the aisle by the breasts of Terri Runnels), Steve Blackman and Grand Master Sexay all join the fray and try to take care of the masked monster., but all of them end up hurled over the top within a minute of each other as Kane proceeds to set his record for the most eliminations.
Kane (who was in phenomenal condition in 2001) cleared the ring, but only until the next entrant, The Honky Tonk Man (who gets a great reception), enters and sings his entrance theme. Undertaker’s brother doesn’t appreciate the tune, so lamps Honky over the head with his own guitar and hurls him over the ropes as well. Once again, Kane is in there by himself, but #3 is The Rock, so we know that the hardcore and the comedy is over; it’s time to get serious… and the fans, who erupt and find their voice, know it as well.
Things progress nicely and the ten-second countdown seems to come around very quickly as we get wrapped up in the match. Bradshaw, Albert, Hardcore Holly, Val Venis, K-Kwik (Ron Killings) and Test all make an appearance and I got a nice feeling of nostalgia when the characters from that era showed their faces. On a side note, the Clothesline from Hell has always been one of those moves that just seemed brutal whenever Bradshaw hit it.
Big Show made his return and cleans house, chokeslamming everybody in a “show” of dominance… until he gets eliminated by The Rock for the second year in a row. Not taking it kindly, a chokeslam through the announce table gives Big Show a sense of satisfaction. Still, as one giant leaves, another enters the fray. As five guys try to eliminate his little brother, Undertaker makes his way down the aisle on his bike and gets set to answer THE big question going into the PPV: are Kane and ‘Taker going to work together?
The answer comes quickly, both men clearing the ring inside a minute and then standing side-by-side as the clock counts down from ten. Up next, Scotty 2 Hotty, a look of sheer terror on his face. It’s a small moment from the three-hour pay-per-view, but it’s a brilliant one nonetheless. Scotty, who normally comes out jumping around to his music with a huge smile on his face, is almost stoic as he heads down the aisle. No smiling, no dancing, no jumping, just the look of a man who is walking to his eternal damnation. It sells what a threat the Brothers of Destruction are and creates a vast amount of sympathy for the former Cruiserweight Champion.
There’s no such reaction from the next wrestler; Stone Cold Steve Austin. The fans go ballistic when the glass shatters, reminding you of just how much Austin was over during this time period. Unfortunately for Steve, he doesn’t even make it to the ring before Triple H assaults him from behind and kicks his ass, leaving the Texan a bloody mess in the aisle. Billy Gunn, the returning Haku and Rikishi (who won the #30 spot earlier in the week) round out the competitors, meaning one of the seven men in the ring are going to be your winner.;The Rock, Austin, Undertaker, Kane, Rikishi, Haku or Billy Gunn.
Highlights of the last ten-fifteen minutes include Undertaker headbutting Rikishi and then selling the blow himself (Samoans have hard skulls, in case you didn’t know), Rikishi giving himself a wedgie and exposing his big ass, Billy Gunn hitting the Famouser on Austin, only for The Rattlesnake to completely no-sell it and hurl “Bad Ass” over the top straight after it and the moment Austin and The Rock, both down in the corner, lock eyes across the ring.
A lot of people, rightly, remember the image of Austin from WrestleMania 13, the moment he was locked in the Sharpshooter and was trying to escape, blood pouring down his face. That was an iconic sight, but in this Rumble match, there is an image to match it. Austin is down in the corner and Rock is down in the opposite corner. Their eyes meet and Rock actually looks worried as Stone Cold gets to his feet, blood completely covering his face and stares a hole through the People’s Champion’s soul.
Seve Austin at the Royal Rumble.
It’s a sight that really chills to the bone, projects all you need to know about Austin’s personality and sets up a high-octane finish to a great Rumble Match. I was pissed at the time when Kane didn’t win, but in hindsight, this did lead to a great main-event at WrestleMania X-Seven.
With disc one in the bag, we move on to the second disc and the 2002 Royal Rumble. Like the previous disc, the show opens with a bout for the WWF World Tag Team Championships and, like before, the challengers are The Dudley Boyz. Unlike the 2001 Rumble, however, the half-brothers are heeling it up as they challenge little brother Spike and fellow ECW-alumnus, “The Human Suplex Machine” Tazz.
This is a brilliantly-booked and executed five-minute match, with great psychology, a hot crowd and a heated finish. Spike worked his arse off like he normally does, Tazz threw people around like he normally does and The Dudleyz act like bastards, just like they normally do. It comes off fantastically and this is one of the most enjoyable short matches you’ll see.
Match number two is another title bout, this time for the Intercontinental Championship as William Regal tries to wrest the belt from Edge. The story going in was that Edge, after delivering an elevated-DDT onto a chair, had broken the Englishman’s nose. Regal came back and laid Edge out with his brass-knuckles, with the Canadian, in retaliation, smacking Regal in the head with a chair. Everything was set for a heated bout and the guys delivered on that promise. Edge takes some nasty suplexes from Regal and both men lay into each other for close to ten minutes, with great work inside the ring, both in the physical moves and the psychology on show. The fans were lapping it up and the finish was what it needed to be to keep both wrestlers strong and keep the rivalry going.
The next contest was yet another title match, this time with the women being given a chance to shine. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the bookers, because at 3mins 43secs, this is an insult, more so when you consider how good a wrestler Trish Stratus had become and how authentic the aura of Jazz had been put across. Not even having Miss Jackie as the referee could stop this from becoming a toilet-break. A real shame considering what these two could do (and had done) together.
So far, three matches, three TITLE matches in and we’ve had just over seventeen minutes of in-ring action. Of course, with the main-event going at least an hour guaranteed, some concessions had to be made, but surely shaving a few minutes off the last two singles bouts could have been done. Either way, the return of Ric Flair to a WWF ring could have been a disaster. A 53yr-old man who hadn’t wrestled in almost a year going up against a 56yr-old non-worker should, by all logic, have sucked hugely… but it didn’t. For whatever reason, Vince McMahon doesn’t have bad matches and Ric Flair can make a little go a very, very long way. Add in the Street Fight stipulation to allow shortcuts and you end up with a near-15min epic that has emotion, physicality and awesome facials from both combatants.
With blood galore from both men and the fans acting like they’re feeling every blow, this is a stunning contest and one that both Flair and McMahon can be proud of. It’s also the match that caused Undertaker to ask Flair if he’d be his opponent at WrestleMania X8, a request Ric agreed to and at the event, the “Nature Boy” turned the clock back one more time and had a stunning brawl.
The last match before the Rumble itself was another heated encounter. Recapping what went down at Vengeance 2001 in December when Chris Jericho defeated The Rock and Steve Austin in one night (and with no rest between matches) to become the WWF Undisputed Champion. His first defence was against The Rock and Y2J’s run hadn’t been marred by the Triple H/Stephanie McMahon storyline yet. The “THIS IS NOT A JOKE, I AM NOT A JOKE AND YOU WILL NOT LOOK PAST ME, YOU STUPID SON-OF-A-BITCH” promo was astounding and really set the tone for what we were in for at the Rumble.
Jericho and Rock had great chemistry and this is a super-heated contest with near-falls aplenty, moves traded and countered, Jericho hitting the Rock Bottom and a superb finish. I just wish Jericho’s run had been established with more matches and storylines like this than the fact he walked Stephanie’s dog on Smackdown. On another note, Y2J looked great with the two title belts over his shoulders. I’m glad, retrospectively, that Jericho was the only one to do it and the image is unique to him in the context of the Undisputed Championship.
Closing the show, the Rumble Match itself isn’t quite as good as 2001’s, but it is still a good sixty-minute contest. Again, like the previous disc, it’s nice to see some old-school faces and gimmicks as well as seeing what continuity is carried forward from the previous year. Little things like Undertaker eliminating Rikishi (it was the other way round in 2001), who drew #1 this year after being #30 in 2001, Scotty 2 Hotty running into Undertaker when he makes his entrance for the second year running, Kane (after eliminating ELEVEN) only dumping one over the top, but that one was Big Show and he did it himself by actually picking Show up and slamming him over the ropes. One of the main highlights is Maven elmininating ‘Taker in a shocker that actually popped the crowd huge and set up the first real rivalry for the Tough Enough winner.
The big story going into the event was the return of Triple H after being out for around nine-months after tearing his quad. Other people making returns were Goldust (#2) and Mr. Perfect, both of whom were popular with the crowd. Rob Van Dam gets a monster reaction as well and does all his spots before being eliminated by Booker T. The usual list of never-gonna-win-the-Rumble-but-we’re-here-anyway wrestlers are also present and I defy you to watch this event and not get excited when the 10-second clock appears on the screen. Sure, you may be disappointed (sometimes even disgusted) when you see who actually comes out, but that countdown retains its power throughout the match. One of the great highlights is when Hurricane, who enters after Austin and Triple H have stunned each other, grabs the two headliners in a goozle and threatens to chokeslam them both. What’s great about it is that Austin and HHH sell it for a split-second before coming to their senses and hurling the superhero to the floor. The sequence is repeated verbatim later on with Kane, but this time the two wrestlers sell it and mean it.
The closing ten minutes are intense and really draw the fans in, even though the result was never, at any stage, in doubt due to the hype surrounding Triple H and his return. Mr. Perfect gets to deliver a Perfectplex to a great reaction and the fake-out finish comes across really well too, meaning you feel satisfied when the bell rings and the event is over.
The first disc has a few extras on it, the first of which is a decent match between Lo’ Down (managed by Tiger Ali Singh) and Kai En Tai (Taka Michinoku & Funaki). The best part of this is the Kai En Tai entrance as this was during the period when they used the dubbed-voiceover entrance.
The rest of the extras on disc one are interviews with various superstars (mostly from the Sunday Night Heat that was aired right before the PPV). All of them serve a purpose and are a lesson for today’s product; allow the talent to speak and they have a better chance to get over with the crowds. We also get to listen to who the fans think will win the Rumble, but, as normal, they seem to have asked the worst examples of wrestling fans they could find.
The extras on disc two actually surpass the extras on the previous set. A pre-show interview with Kurt Angle is great (and show what a master of working the crowd Angle is), while the post-match interviews with Goldust, Maven, Val Venis and Al Snow (particularly Al’s closing line about needing midget-porn) are nice little bonuses and the out-of-character chat with Ric Flair about his match against Vince is well worth listening to.
We also get Triple H’s pre-Rumble return on RAW from MSG and an interview with Austin as he scares the crap out of Michael Cole (the “WHAT” chant was in full effect at this time), but the highlight, for me anyway, is Spike Dudley and Tazz watching their title defence over again and discussing the moves, psychology and brutality from the match. Tazz consistently calling Spike’s finish the Acid Drop (even after Spike himself corrects him with the WWF’s name for it, the Dudley Dog).
All in all, an awesome set of extras that put a lot of the current releases to shame.
The Royal Rumble, as I said earlier in the review, is my favourite WWE PPV, so having two to review is great. Both events are really good cards, loading with competitive matches, performed in front of a hot crowd and full of big-name wrestlers.
The only disappointing match is the Trish/Jazz encounter from 2002, while the end of Chyna/Ivory just doesn’t work as well as it should. The other matches range from good-to-stunning, with the two Rumble matches both being great examples of how to keep the crowd’s attention over a sixty-minute time-frame. Add in the great extras and you have a package that is fantastic value.
I heartily recommend this set and hope to see more Rumbles in the Tagged Classic collections soon.