I was feeling rather nostalgic this week, so I did what most wrestling fans do and went back to watch some wrestling from a time when it all seemed to make sense.
Anytime someone mentions wrestling, we all go back to the same matches and angles because it was the stuff that made us fall in love in the first place. You can really go back to any point between 1998 – 2002 and really find something that jumps off the screen at you. Whether it was the formation of Degeneration-X or the beginning of the Austin era, we were truly spoiled as fans. Hell, it was even a time when we didn’t think Vince McMahon was completely over the hill. One year, in particular, that sticks out though is 2001, and it might be the best year the wrestling world has ever seen.
Now, it has a lot to live up to by the last statement. There have been plenty of years that people point to as revolutionary for the business, but 2001, from top to bottom, really has the stars aligning all at once. Not only did you have two of the biggest stars in the history of the wrestling business in “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock, colliding and peaking at the same time, but you also had a roster of talent that was filled with future Hall of Famers and guys that would fit on anyone’s roster. With WCW and ECW closing their doors early in the year, the WWF (now WWE) had a pool of guys to choose from and had a chance to build some of their own homegrown talents at the same time.
Just take the start of the year, which saw Austin win the Royal Rumble and go on to challenge for the WWF Title at Wrestlemania X-7. It was predictable, but the pop was huge and Austin was at his peak in popularity. Anytime you heard that glass shatter, you knew someone’s ass was about to be whipped. The show had some other solid matches, and it saw newcomer Kurt Angle walking away from the show as WWF champion. Angle was one of the newer guys on the roster but was WWF Champion in less than a year after debuting, so you knew he was going to be good for years to come. The Rock would go on to beat Angle the next month at No Way Out, which set the stage for the showdown of the ages. I recently came across the video package they did for the Rock vs. Austin match and I gotta say, it’s still the best package ever. I highly suggest you seek it out.
The ending of the match also saw Austin turn heel and join forces with Mr. McMahon, something we thought we would never see just a few years earlier. Jim Ross was also at his peak performance around this time and had one of the great calls you will ever hear. Austin becoming champion again was the right call, but this time he would do it in a heel role, rather than the babyface one he had become a star with.
The Alliance was formed in the summer which brought guys like Booker T, and Rob Van Dam into the WWF mix and introduced the fans to guys that had been seen on the other shows in the past. The Alliance angle had the potential to be awesome, but for whatever reason, it never really clicked. They had the guys involved in it, but maybe the star power wasn’t quite enough to put it over the top. Plus, you knew McMahon wasn’t going to put the guys over. He just wasn’t going to. They even had Austin head the group for a little bit and while it led to the iconic “WHAT” chants, the whole thing just seemed forced. Austin would go on to face Kurt Angle for the WWF Title throughout the summer, including an excellent match at Unforgiven 2001, while The Rock would face Booker T. and other guys in the Alliance. This all led to a very underrated Survivor Series match, which saw the WWF prevail and vanquish The Alliance for good. It also had one of the most iconic Raw is War’s ever the following night, and they went into 2002 on a very high note. The thing about this year, in particular, was not only was the Pay-Per-Views strong, but Raw has some great content as well that kept us all on the edge of our seats.
I started talking about the wealth of talent on the roster, which can’t be overlooked when looking at the entire picture. Without a strong card from start to finish, shows would end up falling flat. This didn’t seem to happen as much in 2001, and you had guys that were hungry and ready to make an impact. Angle was someone who came in and was pushed to the main event in short order. I mentioned guys like Booker T. and RVD coming over, but you also had ECW stalwarts like Tommy Dreamer and Rhyno make their debuts. We even saw Diamond Dallas Page come in, although he wasn’t used well and then was out of the company in short order. The tag team division was insane with teams like The Hardys, Dudleys, and Edge and Christian making headlines and having main event matches. Even Kane and The Undertaker joined forces and had quite the run as a team together. One star conspicuous by his absence was Triple H, who suffered an injury in May and missed the rest of the year. All in all, though, this had to be one of the best rosters ever put together. It is a joy to go back and relive the moments that bring it all back to us.
What was your favorite year in wrestling? Hit me up over @collectiveheel on Twitter to let me know your thoughts. I will be back next week with another WCW review in 1999, and I hope to see you all there. Take care of yourselves, and each other. I will be back soon enough with some more Collective Thoughts.