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Ranking the WWE PPVs of 2002

Alex loves writing about WWE and critiquing their major shows.

ranking-the-wwe-ppvs-of-2002

Twenty years ago, the World Wrestling Federation went through some changes. For one, they had to change their name to WWE. It feels prescient that the name change occurred in a year with some major upheavals. Steve Austin, The Rock, and Hulk Hogan all left. But John Cena, Batista, Randy Orton, and Brock Lesnar all made their big debuts (among others) on WWE TV. It was also the beginning of the famous brand split where the roster was divided up between Raw and Smackdown. These changes had a big impact on the PPVs as well, so here’s the ranking from worst to best.

ranking-the-wwe-ppvs-of-2002

Honorable Mentions: The UK shows

I typically only discuss the UK exclusives when there's something to talk about, and we have a big one. Insurrextion is known for two things. It was the last WWF show, but that fact is overshadowed by the Plane Ride from Hell—an event so notorious there was an episode of Dark Side of the Ring that covered it. Like most UK shows, it’s only OK, with a Triple H-Undertaker main event where the ring rope broke.

Rebellion deserves a mention because it’s actually kind of good. Fans will talk up the 02-03 era of Smackdown and for good reason. Even with the Undertaker taking time off for the birth of his kid, Edge stepped in for a pretty good handicap match between Lesnar and Heyman. There was of course a lot of padding, but an Angle/Benoit vs. Guerreros was a scene stealer. And the show began with a solid Booker T/Matt Hardy bout.

The Legacy of KOTR 02 is a match that never even happened.

The Legacy of KOTR 02 is a match that never even happened.

King of the Ring

Despite classics in 98 and 01 (and 93), this is the third time a King of the Ring has made the bottom of this list. (Let’s not forget the awfulness of 95.) This is also sort of a stealth bad show – if you saw Taker vs. Triple H, Flair vs. Guerrero – would you assume it was bad? For one, the company was reeling from the recent departure of Steve Austin. Entire articles have been written about Austin leaving because someone thought it would be a good idea for him to job to Lesnar in a tournament qualifier. Since Austin was feuding with Guerrero and Flair, their match felt cobbled together – likely why they underdelivered. (I grind my teeth thinking about how we missed an Austin-Guerrero feud.)

Angle vs. Hogan sounds like a dream match, but it devolved into comedy. Trish Stratus vs. Molly Holly is hard to watch for Jerry Lawler fat-shaming (the not at all fat) Molly. Triple H vs. Undertaker is surprisingly dull since both men were working hurt. The Rock and Paul Heyman’s commentary almost helps but not enough. There’s a reason people remember Undertaker’s ladder match with Jeff Hardy from Raw. Speaking of Raw, that’s how this show feels - like an extended episode of Raw. There are actually some good matches – like RVD vs. Jericho and it’s entertaining seeing Lesnar’s rise through the tournament. Yeah, there’s nothing atrociously bad, but this one is just dull. Easy to see why KOTR was discontinued as a PPV.

ranking-the-wwe-ppvs-of-2002

No Way Out

After four years, having a show with the initials NWO finally paid off. Fans rightfully criticize WWE’s reboot of NWO (especially since they were basically backstage goofs in their final weeks), but we got the original trio. That’s the big news of the night… and honestly, the only thing people remember about this show. Once again, we have a stealth mediocre show with matches that sound awesome on paper. This show is actually a few steps ahead of KOTR simply for being okay and having no actual bad matches.

After the big NWO debut, we saw Tag Team Turmoil, RVD vs. Goldust, Spike & Tazz defending their titles. Nothing wrong, but nothing special. Edge and Regal did the best they could with a pole match. But the main events just didn’t measure up. Rock vs. Taker, Angle vs. Triple and Austin vs. Jericho – all three are good matches, but they never kick into the next gear we’d expect from those talents. Honestly, the highlight of the evening may be the Rock verbally destroying the NWO. This show’s alright and watchable, but you can do better.

ranking-the-wwe-ppvs-of-2002

Backlash

The last (American) WWF PPV got off to a good start with Tajiri defending the cruiserweight gold against Billy Kidman. Scott Hall beat Bradshaw in a match that hardly got his heat back. Billy & Chuck continued winning against Al Snow & Maven in an okay match. Jazz and Trish Stratus had a decent match – impressive considering this was not a peak era for women’s wrestling. Eddie-RVD was good, and Angle-Edge was easily the match of the night.

A Steve Austin-Undertaker match sounds promising, but for whatever reason, they just didn’t bring their A-game. Lesnar squashing Jeff Hardy wasn’t that great, but it did sell Lesnar as an unstoppable monster. Triple H defended his title against Hulk Hogan in a match where they had very little chemistry. It picks up with some interferences, and Hogan got the big nostalgia win – at least making the fans happy.

The name change was abrupt enough that they still had WWF on at least one poster

The name change was abrupt enough that they still had WWF on at least one poster

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Judgment Day

I didn’t plan the shows making the transition from WWF to WWE to be back-to-back. Honestly, I chalk it up to the WWE trying to find its identity with so many big changes happening at once. The show began with Rob Van Dam vs. Eddie Guerrero – worthwhile but basically a warmup for their classic ladder match. There was some rubbish. But it’s the kind of rubbish that can be entertaining in a crass way. Billy and Chuck defended their titles against their own manager. Trish Stratus and Stacy Keibler had a so-so match that devolved into a Dudley brawl – including future Drax the Destroyer Batista as D-von’s muscle. Goldust and Booker T have a runner that’s juvenile, but I’m sorry to say it made me laugh.

The main event was a little sloppy – especially Hogan sandbagging Taker’s chokeslam. But it’s also weirdly entertaining – likely because Hogan understood his limits and kept it short. Brock Lesnar continued murdering the Hardys, but having Heyman get the pin made him look like a monster AND a jerk. Edge and Kurt Angle had another banger that led to Angle’s now trademark shaved head. Austin had an entertaining handicap match against Flair and Big Show. History has, for some reason, written out Triple H and Chris Jericho’s hell in a cell match (unless you count a series of tasteless Tim White sits). But it’s worth checking out.

Love this cover where they dug out old stock photos from ages ago, even back to when Big Show had long hair.

Love this cover where they dug out old stock photos from ages ago, even back to when Big Show had long hair.

Armageddon

First of all, the production – the theme, the animations, and especially that fiery set – was AWESOME! The show itself? A little hit and miss. After winning the World Heavyweight Title and committing to a full-time schedule, Shawn Michaels returned the belt to Triple H in 3 Stages of Hell. Sounds awesome right? Well, the match is GOOD, but it would have been stronger if they had focused on one good match instead of three. There are impressive spots – HBK’s cage dive, the fiery 2x4 – but there’s a lot of stalling between them. This one has a bit of a try-hard vibe.

There are duds on this show. Edge vs. A-train started okay but ended with a lousy DQ finish. Batista made his PPV debut against Kane but was clearly growing. The women’s title is meh, making me appreciate the strides women have made. On that note, there’s a whole segment dedicated to the infamous Al Wilson-Dawn Marie-Torrie Wilson love triangle. Bad? Stupid? Oh yeah, but there is a so-bad-it’s-good quality.

The show began with a 4-way elimination tag where lovable goofballs Booker T and Goldust won the gold. They’ve had better, but Guerrero and Benoit had the match of the night. Kurt Angle was hastily turned babyface so he could win the title from Big Show, but their match was a bit of a hidden gem. Angle actually breaks out the high-risk moves to topple powerhouse Big Show.

Even if you're a horndog, this is not as promising as it looks

Even if you're a horndog, this is not as promising as it looks

Unforgiven

No Austin. No Hogan. No Rock. And Shawn Michaels wasn’t ready for a full-time schedule. And the company had to book a PPV. Honestly, they did a mostly good job. A lousy Billy & Chuck vs. 3-Minute Warning match led to a cringeworthy segment where Bischoff had lesbians throw themselves onto Stephanie McMahon. And Rikishi gets involved for some reason. Luckily, nothing else is that bad. Edge vs. Guerrero and Angle vs. Benoit are the best matches of the night. Triple H and Rob Van Dam had a good match as well – even if it was the beginning of the dreaded Reign of Terror. Undertaker “just wasn’t feeling” a loss to Lesnar so their decent main event ended in a double-DQ. In broad sweeps, this show is pretty good. But most of the good stuff was done better on other shows. Though if you want the greatest hits of the year 2002, here it is.

Wrestlemania 18

Hogan and The Rock – two wrestlers so famous that even non-fans know who they are. And they finally met. And the Rock got booed out of the building. Joking aside, even though there have been better grapplers in the history of the business, the Rock and Hogan had such chemistry in the ring – likely because they knew how to electrify the crowd. (It’s still irksome that we never had Austin/Hogan, but if we had to have only one...) These two may have stolen the show, making it easy to forget that there was a lot of filler. Some fans may snicker at the running gag of the hardcore title saga. Edge vs. Booker T was clearly cobbled together over a phantom shampoo commercial. While it was still a decent match, Angle-Kane was such a random pairing.

It's not all bad news though. Scott Hall vs. Austin is either one of Austin’s worst Mania matches or an unintentional comedy classic. With a ref sliding halfway across the ring and Scott Hall’s hilarious overselling, I put it in the latter. The show opened with RVD winning the IC title from William Regal, starting ONE person’s undefeated streak. Speaking of which, heel Undertaker looked like a killer in his street fight against Flair. I love the visual of him counting out his 10 wins. The main event between Triple H and Jericho is famous for being underwhelming, but I’d still call it a good match on face.

Once again, anyone expecting Austin would... still get a good show. Just not Austin

Once again, anyone expecting Austin would... still get a good show. Just not Austin

Vengeance

On this night, a young up-and-comer named John Cena made his pay-per-view debut. Jericho wrote in his book that it was his idea to do the honors for Cena. I feel like people forget this match because it wasn’t quite his debut and he hadn’t debuted his rap gimmick. If you want to watch that milestone, you can catch a good show around it.

Even the one segment where Triple H decides between Raw and Smackdown is even a little entertaining, as HBK convinces Hunter to move to Raw. (Yes, Smackdown was almost the Triple H show.) The tables and Cruiserweight title match got the show off on the right foot. For a match ending in DQ, Lesnar-RVD is entertaining. (Now you know where the visual of Brock with the IC belt came from.) Hulk Hogan actually did the honors (by way of Edge, but still), dropping the tag titles to the Unamericans. Booker T beat the Big Show with a rare Houston Hangover in a fun no-DQ match. But the main event stole the show. In a contender for the best main event of the year, the Rock won the Undisputed title against Angle and Undertaker. Yeah, this one is nonstop from the opening bell with all three men copying each other’s finishers. If you haven’t seen this one, see it!

ranking-the-wwe-ppvs-of-2002

No Mercy

When Triple H and Kane faced each other, they were uniting the World Title with the Intercontinental title. Plus, Kane was the tag team champion. And they still gilded the lily with the infamous Katie Vick storyline. The match itself is actually kind of good. But when a storyline introduces necrophilia, it could be Omega-Okada and that still wouldn’t wash away that taste.

The tag match pitting Edge and Mysterio against Benoit and Angle was voted Best Match of the Year by the Wrestling Observer, and it was well-earned. No Mercy began on a weird note as a solid tag match ended with a ring break. Good job to Chris Jericho for making lemonade out of his lemons and going for a moonsault (instead of his trademark Lionsault). That was followed by Dawn Marie vs. Torrie Wilson – beginning their hilariously bad storyline.

RVD vs. Flair, and the Cruiserweight Title were solid enough for the mid-card. But if you’ve seen it, you won’t forget this show’s main event. Katie Vick made many of us forget the Lesnar-Undertaker feud ventured into gross territory as well. Maybe we also forgot because it was such a good match. And if fans remember anything, it’s the Undertaker bleeding. And bleeding. By the end of the match, Taker was covered in more blood than Carrie White! An excellent Hell in a cell with visuals fans will never forget.

Royal Rumble

This may be the last great PPV under the WWF banner. The big story of the night was Triple H’s comeback from his torn quad, going from biggest bad guy in the business to beloved babyface. Triple H won a fairly entertaining Rumble that featured returns from Goldust, Godfather, and Mr. Perfect (who was totally done dirty). It also featured the brief Undertaker/Maven feud – AKA one of the only reasons anyone remembers Tough Enough winner Maven.

Undercard matches on the Rumble can fall flat because they’re rushed or because wrestlers doing double duty will pace themselves. But most of the undercard is alright. Spike and Tazz defended their tag titles in a serviceable underdog tale. The women’s title and IC title matches are fine. Mr. McMahon vs. Flair is entertaining in the way most McMahon matches are. Jericho proves he and the Rock are great opponents for each other, in the best match of the night.

ranking-the-wwe-ppvs-of-2002

Survivor Series

The number one choice is pretty predictable, but if someone wanted to make an argument for this being number 1, I’d understand. Survivor Series begins on a high note with a 6-man tables match and continued with a solid cruiserweight title bout. Victoria and Trish Stratus had a rare hardcore match. Paul Heyman turning on Lesnar so Big Show could win the title was clearly a cover for Lesnar’s injury. But for a short match – and the circumstances - it’s kind of entertaining. There’s also some accidental comedy when Scott Steiner debuted and forgot he was on a TV-14 show.

The Triple Threat tag match is pretty good as the 6 men involved were tearing down the house in that division. But it’s also easy to see why most of them moved on from the tag scene. But this night saw the first-ever Elimination Chamber match. With a murderer’s row of great Raw wrestlers, all 6 put on a clinic. (And my reference is oddly relevant since Triple H came close to death after an errant RVD splash). Shawn Michaels has been self-deprecating about wearing the ugliest brown tights ever, but you’ll forget about it in this stone classic where he has an emotional title win.

Summerslam

It’s funny thinking that the best show of 2002 and the worst show were only 2 months apart. Summerslam 02 is another show that is legendarily good, largely because it’s all killer, no filler. After only a few months on the main roster, Brock Lesnar finally became the next big thing by beating the Rock for the Undisputed title. (And don’t forget, in the build Brock practically murdered Hulk Hogan.) And while not as remembered as Mania, fans were not exactly taking kindly to the Rock at this point.

The only skippable part of the show is a weird segment during Howard Finkel’s bizarre heel turn (which fans would likely forget if not for this show). But most of the matches are good – beginning on a high note with Angle-Mysterio and featuring other bangers like Jericho-Flair, Edge-Guerrero, and RVD-Benoit. Even matches that don’t sound so great like the Unamericans vs. Booker T & Goldust, and Taker vs. Test are decent enough.

But the highlight of the evening was the comeback match for Shawn Michaels. (And yes, I’m aware of the match he had for his wrestling school.) At the time, many people – including Michaels – thought this would be one and done. And if HBK would only have one more match, he was going to make it count. (It’s easy to forget that it took Michaels a minute to get back to a full-time schedule.) Michaels and HHH had an absolute clinic, one of the best matches of the year on the best show of the year.

Best of 2002

© 2022 Alex deCourville

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