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Ranking the WWF PPVs of 2001

Alex loves writing about WWE and critiquing their major shows.

ranking-the-wwf-ppvs-of-2001

2001 was something of an odyssey for WWF. The year started with one of the best PPV trilogies in wrestling history (and spoiler, they will make up the top three). But it was also the year of the Invasion. This was one of the most notorious feuds in history. Dozens of articles have been written on the angle, it was voted worst feud of the year, it begat dozens of misguided heel/face turns, it’s considered one of the biggest missed opportunities in wrestling history, and it was so bad that this writer gave up watching wrestling for years even though I was obsessed with it at the time. But looking back on it, several of the shows were pretty good. Alas, certain tropes from this angle also hindered many shows that could have been classics. Invasion stars looked like chumps, and almost every match had some kind of run-in.

Honorable Mention: Rebellion

I've excluded UK exclusives because they often felt like glorified house shows in broad sweeps. But this deserves a mention because it's actually pretty good. I might actually rank it ahead of some of the "proper" PPVs. Yeah, there was some house-show quality rubbish like Big Show squashing DDP. But there are some hidden gems in this show. We get a rematch between Austin and Rock (where Austin shows his comedy chops) and Kurt Angle vs. Jericho. Plus, Edge and Christian duked it out in a cage match. So yeah, check this one out.

Not the first one to point this out, but that hideous McMahon fusion ended up being of the defining images of the Invasion angle.

Not the first one to point this out, but that hideous McMahon fusion ended up being of the defining images of the Invasion angle.

Invasion

It seems appropriate that the show that more or less defined 2001 would bottom out this list. But out of these ranking articles, this may be “Best of the worst” as most of this show is watchable. There’s nothing as bad as Kennel from Hell or the Hardcore Evening Gown Match. And there are at least two great matches. The Inagural Brawl is pretty good, even if begot Austin’s maligned heel turn. The highlight of the show is a hardcore match between Rob Van Dam and Jeff Hardy – one of the few dream matches on the show.

One of the valid criticisms of the invasion angle is that WWF hired a lot of mid-carders while big names like Hogan and Sting sat out their contracts. And this show suffers from that more than any other. A lot of the big names they could get – Booker T, DDP – were in the main event. So the rest of the show feels like they pulled names out of a hat. Even talented guys like William Regal and Raven couldn’t do much with the poor cards they were given. Plus, there was some male gazing fan service with a bra and panties tag match. As tacky as that was, at least it sounds like something men would want to see. Was anyone clamoring for Earl Hebner vs. Nick Patrick?

Backlash

I feel a little bad for ranking this one so low because it’s still a solid show. But there was so much better in the year – possibly the result of having three legendary shows in a row. The big selling point was Triple H and Steve Austin—two guys who literally tried to kill each other but aligned by virtue of being heels—facing The Brothers of Destruction with all the gold on the line. This match is pretty good, but I’d recommend the famous Raw match where Hunter tore his quad over this.

Angle and Benoit had a good Ultimate Submission match, but those two had better without frills. Shane vs. Big Show and the Duchess of Queensbury match are amusing if you enjoy crass comedy. One hidden gem is a hardcore match between Raven and Rhyno. These two rarely got chances to shine with the company, but on this night, they proved their worth.

ranking-the-wwf-ppvs-of-2001

Judgment Day

Another show that fell into good but not great. Because of Triple H’s quad injury, we may never know how the Two-Man Power Trip story might have played out. But this show had Austin vs. Undertaker and Triple H vs. Kane with their respective singles titles on the line. Both are worthwhile if you’re a fan, but we’ve seen better from these guys.

There was some filler—like Rikishi against Regal, a hardcore title match, and an entertaining tag team turmoil that started the Benoit-Jericho alliance. The best of the night was a two out of three falls match between Angle and Benoit. It was essentially 3 stages of Hell since the final fall was a ladder match. Because Chyna quit the company, this would be the last women’s title for a while. After this, there was a sort of TV match renaissance with the aforementioned tag match on Raw, Austin vs. Benoit, and TLC 3. All 3 of these are more worthwhile, but Judgement Day is okay.

ranking-the-wwf-ppvs-of-2001

Vengence

Chris Jericho has mentioned beating Austin and Rock in the same night like Al Bundy talks about his 4 touchdowns (no doubt for heel heat), but that is an accomplishment. The three-part main event for the undisputed title is the main reason to watch the show. The main MAIN event between Austin and Jericho isn’t the classic we’d expect from those two, but like Survivor Series 98, I’ll cut it some slack for one-night storytelling.

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The rest of the show is hit and miss. With so much attention on the Undisputed Title story, the booking team’s minds were likely elsewhere, and again several matches feel like they were pulled out of a hat. The Hardy Boyz imploded in a match where Matt and Jeff just didn’t have chemistry as opponents… at least not until 2009… or until Matt Hardy was Broken. Edge defended his IC title against William Regal in an okay match. The Undertaker beat RVD for the Hardcore title. File that under Yes, that really happened.

Unforgiven

I praised Invasion for having nothing too awful. They made up for that with this show, which had the infamous Brothers of Destruction vs. Kronik match. This match is pretty bad with every spot looking just wrong, and the Undertaker loudly calling out spots. Probably the height of hilarity is Bryan Adams just casually walking into a ring post.

Fortunately, the rest of the show is watchable to good. A four-way, a US title and an odd handicap match for the WCW title were decent. Edge and Christian imploded in an okay match but they would do better. Rob Van Dam was one of the only people to come out of the Alliance with his dignity in check and stuff like his hardcore title win over Jericho is a big reason. Austin and Angle may have used up their A-material a month prior, but they still had a good headlining match. It’s weird that Angle lost the title less than a month later. Were they trying to make the hometown happy? Was it because the 9/11 was fresh in people’s minds? Either way, Angle winning the gold is a feel-good moment.

ranking-the-wwf-ppvs-of-2001

Summerslam

Ranking these shows can be tough because Unforgiven had more good matches, but this show had no major stinkers. The weak link of the evening is the Brothers of Destruction squashing DDP and Kanyon – when both of those guys deserved way better. While I doubt anyone really believed the Rock would join the Alliance, his comeback was a big deal. His match with Booker T is pretty good, even if listening to JR bury Booker is hard to listen to. (Seriously, how can you can call the People’s Elbow dignified and then call an impressive breakdance move a joke?) Though it is pretty cool that two black wrestlers headlined Summerslam.

Most of the undercard—Edge vs. Lance Storm, Jericho vs. Rhyno, and even X-pac vs. Tajiri—were all good. But only two months into the Invasion storyline and the overabundance of run-ins and title changes were already rearing their head. RVD and Jeff Hardy had a ladder match that, while not as good as their Invasion match, is still pretty good. In a rare instance, the match of the night ends in DQ. Austin and Angle had a wild brawl that saw Angle get bloodied, Austin roughed up refs, and Angle actually connected a moonsault. I normally hate DQs in big matches like this, but it did help sell how underhanded the Alliance was. Plus, JR fumbling his words with Paul Heyman’s reaction is priceless.

Excellent match, but where are actual WCW/ECW guys?

Excellent match, but where are actual WCW/ECW guys?

Survivor Series

The end of the road, the final showdown for the WWF vs. Alliance storyline. When a match is the culmination of a storyline that takes up half the year and the match takes up a third of the show, it better deliver. Yeah, it’s pretty easy to roast the fact that Booker T and RVD were the only guys who represented the other companies. But the winner-take-all match was a 45-minute nailbiter with plenty of twists and turns.

The rest of the show has its highs and lows. Tajiri and Regal probably could have done better, but there’s only so much they could do with less than 3 minutes. Christian and Al Snow had a similar problem, but their match was a little better. The women’s title was reactivated in a so-so 6-pack challenge. Edge’s IC title defense against Test and the Steel Cage match for the tag titles were both winners. Plus, we finally saw the end of the ill-fated Invasion angle. Sadly, that also meant the end of the brilliant Heyman/Ross commentary team, but you can’t win them all.

ranking-the-wwf-ppvs-of-2001

King of the Ring

What is it about the King of the Ring and brutal matches? Three years prior, the Undertaker and Mankind had their all-time classic Hell in a Cell match where Foley was injured. Angle and Shane must have thought “Hold our beers.” Angle vs. Shane may be the best McMahon match ever. In between normal but entertaining street fight spots, Shane McMahon was legit hurt when Angle tried to suplex Shane through glass that was stronger than planned. Not to mention, it was Shane's idea for Angle to keep throwing him until the glass broke. Rumor is that Vince was so distraught that he almost broke character to check on him. And who can blame him?

The rest of the undercard was mostly good. The only real weak link of the evening was a highly promoted meetup—not an actual match, that’s important—between Undertaker and DDP. It was the beginning of their tasteless feud where DDP was portrayed as a stalker and Taker basically just murdered the guy. The King of the Ring tournament itself so frequently fell on its face, but besides okay matches, it told the story of Shane actually helping Angle because he wanted him to be tired for their match.

A rare light heavyweight title match is serviceable, and the tag match pitting the Dudleys against Spike and Kane is decent—even if there’s a noticeable botch midway through. The Triple Threat main event was good but lacked that certain spark that would have made it exceptional. It is noteworthy for the brief period where they wanted Booker T to be a babyface.

ranking-the-wwf-ppvs-of-2001

No Mercy

This is another rare example of a show that’s watchable from top to bottom… mostly. Horn dogs might enjoy the lingerie match between Keibler and Wilson, but anyone looking for substance can skip it. The Hardys opened the show with a solid match against Hurricane and Storm. Test and Kane surprisingly had a good match, as did The Dudleyz against Tajiri and Big Show. Upping the ante from Unforgiven, Edge and Christian duked it out in a ladder match.

Some of the Invasion tropes wearing out their welcome hurt some of these matches. Undertaker vs. Booker T was good, but it was frustrating seeing Booker treated like a dope. The two world title matches put up a good fight for match of the night. The Rock and Jericho had excellent chemistry, making sense because of their personalities. The triple threat was an excellent bout that—making sense or not—actually tried to represent a WWF guy, a WCW guy and an ECW guy. Whether that logic succeeded, it’s a pretty epic main event.

Royal Rumble

2001 started off with a bang, and one of the best Royal Rumble PPVs full stop. Not everything about this show is gold. The Chyna-Ivory match is meh, and even a little tasteless in hindsight. Edge and Christian vs. the Dudleyz isn’t spectacular but does its job in getting the show started. It was a weird choice to have Triple H and Kurt Angle face each other, when neither were faces. Though they were talented enough to carry a good match.

The highlight of the night was a ladder match for the IC title between Jericho and Benoit. I can understand why this might be hard for some people to watch, knowing what we know now. But this is an epic bout where both guys showed how creative they could be with the stipulation. The Rumble itself is pretty entertaining with a murderer’s row of wrestlers from the Attitude era. Though it also included Drew Carey. People like to make fun of this, but it’s not like anyone was hurt by his appearance. Though it overshadowed the slightly funnier Honky Tonk Man return. A bloodied-up Austin looked like a hero by toppling the monstrous Kane to become the only 3-time Rumble winner.

ranking-the-wwf-ppvs-of-2001

No Way Out

Triple H and Steve Austin had some good matches before, some weird matches, but this was the feud-ender. Because NOTHING was topping this. 3 Stages of Hell entitled a 2 out of 3 falls match but every fall was a new gimmick and this match truly felt like 3 great matches in one. It’s an epic encounter and the two sell their willingness to destroy each other. And for some reason, it wasn’t the main event. I’m guessing they wanted to remind fans that guys not named Austin could headline shows.

The show begins with one of the weak links – a weird hardcore match with run-ins galore. It wasn’t boring, at least. Jerry Lawler losing to Steven Richards is mainly remembered for the abandoned storyline of his ex-wife joining Right to Censor. Trish Stratus vs. Stephanie McMahon is basically just male gazey fan service… but for some reason, it’s kind of good. The four-way IC title and tag tables matches feel like the company was pairing the spares, but they’re entertaining. The Rock won back the WWF title against Angle, in a match that was pretty good… except for a ref botch… and an inexplicable Big Show interference.

ranking-the-wwf-ppvs-of-2001

Wrestlemania X-Seven

Seriously, how COULD it be anything else? Not just the best PPV of the year, but one of the best PPVs ever. Fans will gush over this show and with good reason. But one of the low-key awesome things about this show is: Whatever style of wrestling you want, this show delivers. Want technical stuff? Benoit and Angle delivered. Want a hardcore spot fest? There’s TLC 2. Want comedy? There’s the gimmick battle royale. Yeah, I don’t care if it was garbage in the ring, seeing so many silly gimmicks and hearing Heenan and Okerlund on commentary made it fun.

It's easy to forget there is in fact filler on this show, but those matches range from innocuous to over quickly enough. We saw the first McMahon vs. McMahon in an entertainingly cartoony match. Benoit and Angle had one of their many technical classics. Taker and Triple H had a weirdly booked but still fun match. In TLC II, Edge & Christian, the Hardyz and the Dudleyz SOMEHOW toppled the previous spectaculars they already had.

While everybody loves this show now, I actually remember a few publications criticizing the repeat matches. But here’s the thing: When Austin and Rock faced each other in 99, they were the top face and top heel. When they faced each other on this show, they were the biggest stars in the business. And out of all the great matches they’ve had, this may have been the best of their best. It’s weird thinking that they tried to make Steve Austin a heel in Texas. Even palling around with McMahon, the crowd still cheers him. Overall, this is such a classic, that I don’t even know what else to add to it.

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© 2022 Alex deCourville

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