The 15th Royal Rumble was the last one under the World Wrestling Federation name as the company would officially become World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in May 2002.
They also did the brand extension a few months later in 2002 to get more people on the shows with some being exclusive to Raw while others were exclusive to Smackdown. Due to all that it was a big year for the company. Plus, it was around this time that WWE signed NWO members Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall to return to the company. There was a lot going on during this period, that’s for sure.
I haven’t been mentioning PPV buyrate numbers for every Rumble PPV, but for this one, it’s interesting to note that the 670,000 PPV buys are the most for any Royal Rumble in WWE history. That number was helped by the fact that in the UK, they had to buy the PPV instead of getting it free as they did in previous years. If that was the case in 1999 with 650,000 buys, perhaps that would have been the record. Anyway, this was a very successful show for WWE.
It was another Rumble match that seemed like it had an obvious winner since Triple H was coming back from a torn quad injury back in May 2001. After seven months out of action, could he win the Rumble? Let’s go back to 2002 to see what happened.
This was written a few years ago. I have added some updated thoughts in blue font because there’s always more to say.
WWF Royal Rumble
January 20, 2002
Phillips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia
The opening video package showed some highlights of famous Royal Rumble match moments over the previous 15 years of Royal Rumble events. It also featured some of the key players for this year’s event.
There was an impressive pyro display to start the broadcast. The fans in Atlanta were very loud with Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler on commentary for the show. There was a shot of WWF New York looking packed as well.
The Dudleys entered with manager Stacy Keibler for the opening match. Lawler was very excited to see Keibler. That’s certainly understandable. The team of Tazz and Spike Dudley were the champions and Spike had a neckbrace on after an attack from the Dudleys earlier in the week.
WWF Tag Team Championships: Tazz and Spike Dudley vs. The Dudley Boyz – Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley (w/Stacy Keibler)
Pre-match notes: Tazz and Spike were babyface champions while The Dudleys were heels. Tazz and Spike won the titles from the Dudleys on the January 7th Raw, so that was 13 days earlier.
Bubba dumped Spike out of the ring, then Tazz was sent to the floor and the Dudleys hit a double team neckbreaker. The Dudleys hit a double team neckbreaker on Spike, Bubba hit a neckbreaker on Spike and Bubba took the neckbrace on. Bubba hit another neckbreaker on Spike followed by a suplex. D-Von tagged in with a flipping neckbreaker like Mr. Perfect, who is in the Rumble match later. Bubba hit a suplex with Spike selling it like a big deal. Spike with a boot to the gut that he turned into a Dudley Dog neckbreaker. Tazz got the tag, the referee was distracted by D-Von and that led to the Dudleys hitting a double flapjack on Spike that was huge because they lifted Spike up very high as they delivered the move. D-Von went up top, he jumped off for a headbutt, Spike moved and D-Von hit the match. The Dudley accidentally clotheslined eachother because Spike move. Tazz got the hot tag with clotheslines, an overhead suplex on each Dudley and a bridging suplex on D-Von for a two count. Spike went up top and connected with a cross body block on Bubba. Spike hit the Dudley Dog on Bubba. Keibler was on the apron, Tazz avoided a slap and slapped the Tazzmission on her. D-Von hit Tazz in the back, Stacy bumped to the floor. D-Von sent Spike to the floor. Tazz slapped on the Tazzmission submission on D-Von and D-Von quickly tapped out to give the champs the win at 5:06.
Winners by submission: Tazz and Spike Dudley
Analysis: ** It was fine for the time given with Spike doing a good job of selling the neck injury, then Bubba and D-Von were excellent in selling the comeback moves of the faces. The finish put over the Tazzmission as a deadly finisher even though Tazz didn’t have a lot of in-ring success in WWE. The title reign of Tazz and Spike lasted 43 days, so it’s not like they were long term champions.
(A short match to open the show with the faces getting the win to show they are a credible team since they beat one of the best teams ever. Simple booking.)
They showed replays of Raw when William Regal used brass knuckles to pin Edge in a tag team match. On Smackdown, Edge used a steel chair on Regal, Test and referee Nick Patrick, which the fans loved since Edge was a babyface.
Edge was interviewed backstage by Lilian Garcia. Edge had a steel chair with him to show that if Regal wants to play dirty, he can play with the best of them.
William Regal made his entrance. It was noted by JR that the IC Title has changed hands five times at Royal Rumble matches. Edge got a solid reaction from the crowd as a babyface on the rise. Edge had the “Never Gonna Stop” theme song at this point. Referee Nick Patrick checked to see if Regal had brass knuckles and he found them in Regal’s tights, so the referee removed them.
Intercontinental Championship: Edge vs. William Regal
Pre-match notes: Edge was the babyface Intercontinental Champion and Regal was the heel challenger. Edge won the IC Title two months earlier at Survivor Series 2001.
Edge with two clotheslines and a back body drop on Regal. Regal got some offense with a knee to the ribs followed by a running knee to the face as fans chanted “Regal sucks” at him. Edge with a backslide for two, but Regal came back with a punch. Edge hit an enziguri kick, but Regal came back with a release German Suplex with Edge taking the bump by doing a flip. Regal continued the attack with a forearm to the face. Edge countered a double underhook slam into a back body drop, but then Regal came back with a double arm powerbomb for a two count. Regal with a running forearm. They battled on the apron with Edge hitting a DDT on the ring apron. In today’s wrestling, we see apron bumps all the time, but we did not see them that often in 2002. They went back into the ring where they did a collision spot that knocked down both guys. Edge got some momentum going with a forearm, then a spinning heel kick and a suplex for two. Regal with a suplex that launched Edge across the ring into a bump on his head/neck and Edge came back with a clothesline. Regal countered a move into the Regal Stretch STF submission, but Edge was close to the ropes, so he grabbed the bottom rope to break the hold. Edge tripped up Regal leading to the same submission, but Regal got to the ropes to break it. Edge with a dropkick into the ropes leading to a rollup for two. Edge went up top and he hit a spinning heel kick on Regal, who reached into his tights for brass knuckles that he put on his left hand. Edge charged for a Spear, Regal pulled the referee in front and Edge hit a Spear on the referee. Edge leaned over and Regal punched Edge with the brass knuckles on his left hand. The referee crawled over for the slow count as security took away a fan’s “You Suck” sign and the referee counted the one…two…and three for the Regal win at 9:45.
Winner by pinfall AND NEW WWF Intercontinental Champion: William Regal
Analysis: **1/2 This was a solid midcard match with a crafty finish leading to the title change. Regal was an old-school heel that cheated at all times, which was a big part of the story of this match. I think they could have done a better job of making it look like Edge might win since they didn’t really have many nearfalls here. The story was about Regal cheating to win. This feud really didn’t do much to help Edge.
The replays showed that Regal used the brass knuckles. Referees checked on Edge after the match.
Post match, Regal was interviewed by Michael Cole. Regal said that he was blessed with a gift of the “Power of the Punch” and he left with the IC Title. The announcers bickered about what happened.
(I enjoyed the “Power of the Punch” run for Regal. Heels cheating to win are fine with me. Edge did fine after this without the title anyway, so Regal winning by cheating was a good move.)
The entrances took place for the Women’s Title match with referee Jacqueline out first, then challenger Jazz and Trish Stratus the champion was last. They showed a clip of Jazz attacking the left hand of Stratus on Smackdown, so Trish had her left hand taped up.
WWF Women’s Championship: Trish Stratus vs. Jazz (Jacqueline was the special referee)
Pre-match notes: Trish was the babyface Women’s Champion while Jazz was the heel challenger.
Jazz attacked as soon as Stratus got into the ring. Jazz hit a back body drop followed by a splash for a two count. Stratus got a sunset flip for two, then they kept rolling around getting nearfalls and Jazz took control with a forearm to the face. Jazz sent Stratus across the top rope. Jazz with a leg drop across the throat. Jazz stretched Trish’s left arm across the bottom rope. Jacqueline made Jazz move back, so Jazz pushed Jacqueline and when Jazz got a pin attempt, Jacqueline was a bit reluctant to count. Stratus with a jawbreaker, but then Jazz came back wrenching the left arm of Stratus. Jazz wanted a slam, Stratus got out of that attempt and Stratusfaction hit the Stratusfaction bulldog off the ropes for two as Jazz countered it and Trish also kicked out of a pin attempt. Jazz came back with a DDT for a two count. Jazz with a running clothesline on Stratus against the turnbuckle two times, then a corner charge and Stratus got the boot up. Stratus hit a bulldog for the pinfall win at 3:43.
Winner by pinfall: Trish Stratus
Analysis: *3/4 It was a decent match with Stratus doing a nice job on the comeback to get the win. This was early in Trish’s wrestling days when WWE was trying to make her look legit as the champion by beating a tougher woman like Jazz. I thought they could have told a better story with Jazz working over the left wrist of Stratus even more than she did because then it would have been better to see Trish make the comeback from that.
(It’s too bad it was so short. That’s how WWE booked the women’s division a lot of times in this era. There was a simple story here where Trish looked tough because she overcame the hand injury and found a way to retain the title.)
There was a clip from earlier in the night showing Ric Flair arriving to the arena with daughter Megan (now married to Conrad Thompson) and son Reid, who sadly passed away far too young. Flair said he was ready to face Vince McMahon.
A video package aired to set up Vince McMahon vs. Ric Flair. It started on November 19, 2001 when Flair returned to WWE (after eight years) to reveal he was a co-owner of WWE with Vince. They had arguments all the time with Flair saying that he was going to wrestle Vince at the Royal Rumble. The story continued with cheap attacks, bloody battles and more leading to Flair announcing it would be a Street Fight.
Ric Flair made his entrance in one of his blue robes and he got a big pop. They showed daughter Megan and son Reid at ringside taking pictures.
Analysis: Flair has talked about this match saying he wasn’t sure he was up to it due to not wrestling that much in the final years of WCW before he came back to the WWF, but he looked pretty good.
Vince McMahon entered looking huge with Lawler getting excited about how jacked Vince looked. This may have been the biggest Vince ever looked in terms of his muscles and Vince was very tanned too.
Street Fight: Vince McMahon vs. Ric Flair
Pre-match notes: Vince was the heel and Flair was the face. Vine was the older of the two men at 56 years of age while Flair was a month shy of his 52nd birthday.
Vince shoved Flair on his ass followed by some ridiculous flexing and facial expressions. Flair sent Vince into the ropes followed by Vince doing a shoulder tackle and fans chanted “Asshole” at Vince, which was a familiar chant in this era. Vince with a kick to the ribs, then a shoulder tackle and a back elbow. Vince connected with a huge chop, but then Flair unleashed some huge chops leading to “Woo” chants from the crowd. Vince did an eye gouge followed by a clothesline. Lawler kept talking about how jacked Vince looked with JR correctly saying that Lawler was too excited about Vince’s body. Correct statement. Vince whipped Flair into the corner with Flair not being able to do his bump over the top to the apron, so Vince knocked Flair off the apron to the floor. Vince had a street sign that was at ringside and hit Flair in the head with it two times. Vince sent Flair shoulder first into the steel barricade. Flair did a blade job after that, so he was busted open from the forehead like he was many times in his career. Vince hit Flair in the head with a trash can and Vince sent Flair into the ring post. Vince whipped Flair into the steel steps and he gave Flair a body slam at ringside. Vince grabbed Megan’s camera at ringside and took pictures of Flair’s bloody face with it. Back in the ring, Vince slapped on a leg bar submission and then some knee drops to the left leg. Vince also twisted the left foot of Flair. Vince drove Flair’s left knee into the ring apron two times followed by Vince ramming Flair’s left knee into the ring post with Flair screaming in pain. Vince slapped on the Figure Four Leglock submission move that Flair used throughout his career and Vince did a good job in applying the hold. Flair managed to turn it over, which drew cheers from the crowd.
Vince left the ring and he brought a lead pipe into the ring. Flair finally got some momentum going with a low blow uppercut to the groin before Vince could hit him with the lead pipe. Flair left the ring with hard chops to the chest, Flair sent Vince into the barricade and Flair hit Vince with a TV monitor. Vince went under the table to blade himself, so Vince was bleeding from the forehead as well. Flair brought Vince over to his family where Megan and Reid taunted Vince, Flair with a chop and Flair brought Vince into the ring again. Vince was begging off, Flair with punches, then Flair hit a low blow kick to the groin and Flair hit Vince in the head with the lead pipe. The fans popped big for that. Flair slapped on the Figure Four Leglock, Vince was screaming in pain and Vince tapped out with both hands to give Flair the win at 14:55. The fans popped huge for that finish.
Winner by submission: Ric Flair
Analysis: *** It was typical of a Vince match in this era that was heavy on storyline and he never had great athleticism, but they always found a way to put on an entertaining match. They did a nice job of having Vince dominate most of the match, then Flair made the comeback and found a way to win as you would expect. I liked the weapon spots they did. It wasn’t excessive. It was just part of the story. The blood helped to tell the story of the match that made it a very personal match and a big win for Flair, who should have won as the babyface in the match as well as the guy that’s an actual wrestler.
(There are stories about this match with Flair talking about how he wasn’t that confident about his in-ring abilities at the time because Flair barely wrestled in the last year in WCW. I thought they did a good enough job here. The fans were into it. The match was fun.)
There was an interview with referee Nick Patrick that was conducted by Michael Cole. Patrick said nothing as Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley showed up while Patrick left. Stephanie said that the beating Flair gave Vince is nothing compared to what Triple H will do in the Royal Rumble. Stephanie named off wrestlers that Triple H would destroy in the Rumble match including Steve Austin and said she wished Debra would be at ringside so they can destroy her. (Stephanie and Debra had a memorable backstage fight on Raw in the build-up to the Rumble match.) Austin walked out of a room down the hall and he walked up to Stephanie from behind. Austin shouted “what” at her repeatedly, the fans joined in, Stephanie was unable to say anything and Austin kept shouting “what” at her, so Stephanie ran away screaming. Austin did the “what” routine at Cole as well, he said he’s going to eliminate 29 pieces of trash while mentioning Kurt Angle, Triple H and The Undertaker while adding he’s going to win the Royal Rumble. Cole asked if the bottom line was one word and Austin said “what’ In reply to that.
Analysis: The “what” chant originated in the summer of 2001. Austin was a heel at that point. By the end of 2001, Austin was a face so almost all of his promos incorporated the “What” chant in a way that would lead to the fans chanting it even more. I loved Austin, but some of these promos were annoying.
A video package aired about the WWE Undisputed Champion Chris Jericho defending the title against The Rock. Jericho won the WWF Title from The Rock at No Mercy 2001 three months earlier. The Rock won a match against Booker T to earn this title shot. Jericho told Rock he was not a joke, Rock said he was very serious and they had a staredown. I remember the “tick tock” promo from The Rock very well.
The Rock got a huge ovation as the challenger in the match. He was a six-time WWE Champion going into this match. Chris Jericho was up next as the Undisputed WWF Champion, which meant he was carrying the WWE Title and the former WCW Title with him. JR commented that it would seem like Jericho was the underdog in this match.
Analysis: Jericho beat The Rock at No Mercy in October 2001 to win the WCW Title for the first time in his career. Rock won it back two weeks later, then Jericho beat Rock for the title again at Vengeance in December 2001 and Jericho also won the WWF Title from Steve Austin at Vengeance. I remember going into this match thinking Rock would probably win the titles. I was wrong about that. We didn’t know Rock/Hogan would happen at WrestleMania two months later.
(I really liked this rivalry. While you could say that each guy had better rivalries with other wrestlers, this was also one of the best rivalries of Rock and Jericho’s careers respectively.)
Undisputed WWF Championship: Chris Jericho vs. The Rock
Pre-match notes: Jericho was the heel Undisputed WWF Champion while The Rock was the babyface challenger.
The match began with some trash talking as Jericho put his hand in Rock’s face and told him to just bring it. Rock was aggressive with a Samoan Drop for a two count. Jericho left the ring, Rock chased him back in the ring and tackled him. Jericho came back with a forearm. Jericho trash-talked Rock followed by a slap to the face, Jericho missed a corner charge and Rock sent Jericho face first into the mat. Jericho hit a stun gun that sent Rock into the top rope. Jericho got in some chops, Rock broke free and Jericho hit a spinning heel kick. Jericho with a suplex followed by the “c’mon baby” cocky pin that Jericho always used to do. Jericho took the turnbuckle pad off while referee Earl Hebner was looking at Rock. Rock powered out of a Walls of Jericho attempt, but Jericho stopped him with a back elbow (almost looked like the Judas Effect that Jericho would start using nearly 20 years later). Jericho went up top and hit a missile dropkick for a two count followed by a chinlock from Jericho. After about a minute of that, Rock came back with punches and Jericho put him down with an elbow again. Jericho went up top, so Rock backed into the ropes to crotch him on the top. Rock hit a superplex with his feet on the middle ropes instead of the top rope. Rock fought back with punches followed by an overhead throw (almost like a suplex) across the ring. Jericho with the whip into the turnbuckle followed by the bulldog out of the corner. Jericho hit the Lionsault off the middle rope. Jericho hit another Lionsault and this time he covered for a two count. Jericho argued with referee Earl Hebner, which included Jericho and Hebner shoving eachother. Jericho went to the middle ropes, he jumped off, Rock caught him and Rock slapped on the Sharpshooter submission to a huge pop. Jericho’s buddies Lance Storm and Christian went to the ring with Storm distracting Hebner and Jericho tapped out, but the referee never saw it. Rock punched Storm and Christian out of the ring. Jericho followed that with a Rock Bottom for a two count. That was a good nearfall. Referee Nick Patrick made Storm and Christian got to the back. Storm is one of Jericho’s best friends that started wrestling with him in the early 1990s while Christian is another fellow Canadian, so that’s what their connection was. Jericho continued the offense with a running back splash on Rock’s chest. Jericho teased a People’s Elbow, he ran the ropes, The Rock kipped up to his feet and tossed Jericho over the top to the floor. That was a cool spot that popped the crowd. Rock sent Jericho face first into the steel steps as referee Hebner left the ring with them. Rock cleared off the English announce table while Lawler told him to go to the Spanish announce table. Jericho sent Rock into the Spanish announce table and Jericho cleared off the Spanish table. They went on the Spanish table with Jericho teasing a Rock Bottom, but Rock fought out of that and Rock gave Jericho a Rock Bottom through the English announce table. That drew a huge pop from the crowd and it looked great.
Analysis: If you want to be picky you could say this should have been a disqualification finish since the referee didn’t count them out of the ring for several minutes. JR did a good job of saying the referee was lenient with them.
Rock sent Jericho back into the ring and Jericho kicked out at the last possible moment. Rock tried for a Rock Bottom in the ring, but Jericho elbowed his way out of it and Jericho slapped on the Walls of Jericho submission. The fans were screaming about it as Rock tried to fight it and Rock managed to get his right hand on the bottom rope to break the hold. Rock came back with an inside cradle for a two count. Jericho sent Rock into the ropes, Rock jumped off with a forearm, Jericho moved and Rock hit referee Hebner with the forearm to knock him down. Jericho followed up with the WWF Title and he hit Rock in the head with the title. Referee Nick Patrick went into the ring to count the pin that was just a two count. Rock came back with a kick to the gut followed by a DDT for two, but referee Nick Patrick didn’t count the pin attempt since Patrick was a heel referee sometimes. Rock gave Patrick a Rock Bottom. Rock hit Jericho with the spinebuster followed by the People’s Elbow to a huge pop. Rock covered, but there was no referee there to count it as JR and the fans counted for several seconds showing that Rock should have won. Jericho hit a low blow kick on Rock, then he sent Rock face first into the exposed steel (remember that Jericho took the turnbuckle pad off) and Jericho got a ROLLUP OF DEATH~! while putting his feet on the ropes for leverage. The original referee Earl Hebner did a slow count for Jericho to get the pinfall victory at 18:48.
Winner by pinfall: Chris Jericho
Analysis: ****1/4 This was an outstanding match and one of the best matches they had together. The win by Jericho was as cheap as it gets, which was fitting for his character while it also protected Rock. The referee bumps were a way to make it look like Rock should have won the match, yet Jericho managed to find a way to get the win. I thought it was booked well even though I know some fans hate referee bumps. Look at how cheap that finish was with the low blow, the exposed steel and the feet on the ropes. It was as cheap as you get, yet it worked perfectly. Sometimes you need to do those kinds of endings and in the case of Rock, it’s not like he was hurt that much by it. He’s the freaking Rock after all. This was about getting Jericho a meaningful win and I thought it worked perfectly.
(I didn’t love the finish because they went with the dreaded ROLLUP OF DEATH~!, but it was WWE’s way of giving Jericho a cheap win and giving Rock an out for losing. The crowd was really into it. Very good for a WWE Title match.)
Jericho left with his two titles while Rock was down in the ring selling the low blow and the steel hitting his head. JR complained about it while Lawler supported the win for the heel Jericho.
Analysis: The win by Jericho meant that he beat The Rock in World Championship matches at three of the last four PPVs: No Mercy, Vengeance and Royal Rumble. None of the wins were clean, but they helped Jericho become a more credible wrestler in WWE.
There was a shot of WWF New York with Shawn Michaels standing on the stage. Michaels said that the match between Ric Flair and Vince McMahon was a treat to watch. Michaels had two picks to win the Royal Rumble and they were fellow Texans – Steve Austin and The Undertaker.
Analysis: At the time of this interview, we had no idea Michaels would ever wrestle again at SummerSlam 2002 about seven months after this.
There was a video package hyping up the Royal Rumble match showing a lot of the interaction between the key guys in the match like Triple H, Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Kane, Rob Van Dam and others.
30-Man Royal Rumble Match
The intervals are at 2 minutes for this match as Howard Finkel went over the rules and Lawler said to wrap it up because it’s only a one hour match.
The #1 entry is Rikishi with Goldust in the #2 spot. This was Goldust’s return to the WWF after leaving about three years earlier. He had many departures and returns in his career. Goldust turns his back on him and takes a punch to the back. Goldust avoids elimination. I have to say Goldust throws some of the best punches in wrestling history. Rikishi comes close to eliminating him again. Rikishi dominates to end the time period as Big Boss Man is in at #3. Goldust’s on the top rope, so Rikishi whips Boss Man into him and Rikishi squashes both of them. Wow, great flip bump by Rikishi off a Boss Man clothesline. Here’s Bradshaw of the APA at #4. It’s about two years before he would become JBL. Bradshaw with a big shoulderblock on Goldust as Boss Man works on Rikishi, but Rikishi turns it around and delivers the Stinkface to Boss Man. It seemed extra long too. That’s disgusting, pal. Rikishi eliminates Boss Man. Go wash your face for a couple of hours after that. Rikishi with a Samoan Drop on Bradshaw, Goldust with punches on Bradshaw and Bradshaw hits a powerbomb on Goldust. The #5 participant is Lance Storm, who is in his first Royal Rumble after joining the company in the summer of 2001 after WCW closed. Storm with two clotheslines on Goldust and then Storm gets stunned across the top rope by Goldust. The four guys pair off a bit, but nobody really gets close to being eliminated.
What does everybody want? Al Snow at #6. Ross mentions he’s an 18-year veteran. Snow with a clothesline on Storm. Huge Clothesline From Hell by Bradshaw on Storm. That was a great spot while Rikishi hit a superkick on Goldust. Crowd chants “We Want Head” for Al. It’s another gimmick for #7 Billy Gunn, who is just “Billy” now as part of the heel Billy & Chuck tag team. His name was always Billy Gunn in WWE, but he had so many variations of it throughout his career. Storm nearly gets eliminated by Snow, but he hangs on and they fight on the ring apron. Snow kicks Storm to eliminate him. Bradshaw nearly got rid of Goldust, so Billy eliminates Bradshaw leaving us with four guys. A huge name at #8 as The Undertaker comes out to a massive reaction. He was in his heel “Big Evil” American Badass persona here. I loved this version of the guy. Taker cut some great promos and he portrayed a bully really well. Taker with a Chokeslam for Billy. Taker chokeslams Goldust over the top to the floor. Taker throws Snow out, Taker boots Rikishi and hits a clothesline to send him out too. Taker throws out Billy. That’s four eliminations for The Undertaker in under two minutes. The look with the leather pants, the tank top and the short hair is very different too as The Undertaker was the only man left in the ring. There’s Matt Hardy at #9 to a huge pop. Lita jumps in the ring with him. She hits Undertaker with a low blow kick. Matt with a neckbreaker on Taker as Lita joined Matt in stomping at Taker. She bails as Matt tries to eliminate Undertaker. JR kept referencing the Hardy’s problems with Undertaker. When WWE turned Undertaker heel in late 2001 they used a lot of people to do it and it absolutely worked. It’s Jeff Hardy at #10, who saves Matt from elimination. They work together on Undertaker with Lita joining the fray as well. Undertaker comes back with a double clothesline. They double team Undertaker with Matt hitting the Twist of Fate neckbreaker and Jeff hits a Swanton Bomb off the top rope on Undertaker. They tried the Hardy double team move in the corner, but Undertaker catches Jeff and throws him out. Last Ride powerbomb by Undertaker on Matt. I always loved that move. Taker throws Matt out. That’s the 6th elimination for Undertaker, who is alone in the ring again.
The #11 spot belongs to Tough Enough 1 winner Maven, who was a rookie. Lawler starts laughing. Undertaker boots him down right away. Undertaker puts Maven on his shoulder, but he sees Lita standing on the apron and shoves her down. Matt and Jeff attack Undertaker because they’re sore losers. Undertaker throws them out again. Taker stands by the ropes, tells them to get their asses out of his ring and then Maven dropkicks Undertaker in the back to eliminate him! “MY GOD MY GOD I DON’T BELIEVE IT!” says JR. He calls it the biggest shocker in the history of the Rumble. I agree. The crowd is going absolutely crazy as Maven has this “oh shit what did I do?” kind of look on his face while Undertaker is pissed off. This was classic. Everybody was talking about it during the match and the next day. Undertaker throws Maven out through the middle ropes and beats on him around the ring. Taker hit Maven with an unprotected chair shot to the head! Ouch. Undertaker even takes out a camera guy by shoving him off his ass! It’s time to turn it up for #12 Scotty 2 Hotty. He’s too busy dancing to notice The Undertaker, so Undertaker decks him with a right hand. That was hilarious. Taker goes back in the ring to throw Maven over the top, which eliminates him. I’m guessing one of the refs told Taker to put him over the top so that they can say Maven got eliminated. Taker throws Maven into the crowd and continues to beat on him up the aisle. They show Undertaker beating on him by the concession area. “Christian, Christian, at last you’re on your own!” is #13. If the song doesn’t give it away, he was a heel by this point. Undertaker leaves Maven lying by the popcorn stand. Maven’s head went through the glass of the popcorn machine. Maven was cut open and bleeding from the forehead while Undertaker ate some popcorn.
Analysis: This entire sequence with Taker working with Maven and Hardys was booked brilliantly. Kudos to whoever came up with it. It is honestly one of my favorite Royal Rumble moments ever.
(This really is one of my favorite Royal Rumble match eliminations ever. Did not see it coming. I thought it was so cool.)
Scotty stumbles into the ring to fight Christian, who was the European Champion. “Yo it’s me, it’s me, it’s DDP” at #14 with his gimmick of the guy that smiles a lot. DDP with a clothesline on Christian, but then Christian hits a reverse DDT on him. There’s the Diamond Cutter (RKO) on Christian by Page. Scotty kicked Page through the ropes to the floor. Bulldog to Christian followed by the WORM by Scotty. This move was very over, in case you didn’t know. Right after that, Page throws Scotty out. It’s time for Chuck (Palumbo) at #15 of the Billy & Chuck team. I’m sure they got a lot of chicks with this gimmick. Speaking of chicks, every time I saw DDP in the WWF I was hoping his ridiculously hot wife (at the time) Kimberly would show up with him. She never did. She’s one of my favorite women in wrestling in terms of looks.
It’s Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy time as The Godfather comes out at #16. The announcers push that The Godfather has gone legit with his ho’s because he has an escort service now. He brings out 12 ladies that dance with him at the entranceway. The camera only shows Godfather for nearly two minutes as JR tells us that DDP got eliminated by Christian and Chuck. They show it on the replay as Christian dumped him out with a back body drop. Godfather gets in the ring finally as Albert comes in at #17 to Scotty 2 Hotty’s music because they tried a deal where he was Scotty’s partner. It didn’t really work. JR calling him the “Hip Hop Hippo” was fun, though. Albert got in some punches on Chuck followed by a running splash. Albert with a pump kick on Godfather. When Albert tries to eliminate Godfather, Chuck and Christian eliminate Albert. Godfather misses the Ho Train charge, so Christian & Chuck eliminate Godfather with a double clothesline. The #18 spot belongs to Perry Saturn as the crowd seems upset that The Godfather is gone. It’s okay because he’s gone legit now. There wasn’t much happening here with Saturn in the match. A HUGE pop for #19 “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who is still the only 3-time winner in Royal Rumble history. The camera goes to the wide lens shot to show the reaction to Austin as well as his full entrance. Austin was back to being a babyface after the heel run for much of 2001 and he was doing the “WHAT?” chant very often. The crowd chanted “WHAT?” for him. Austin throws Christian out and a Stunner for Saturn, Austin throws Chuck out and then Austin throws Saturn out. Austin looks at his watch (not really wearing one) just like he did five years earlier in the 1997 Rumble, rolls out, grabs Christian, hits a Stunner on him and throws him out again. Austin does it to Chuck too. Austin sits on the apron yelling “WHAT?” to the crowd. There’s the returning Val Venis at #20, who comes out slowly while they show some ladies in the crowd. Venis looks as muscular as ever, so JR put him over for being in great shape. Austin stomps a mudhole on Venis in the corner as the crowd chants “WHAT?” along with every stomp. Val comes back a bit, taking Austin down, but Stone Cold comes back with the Thesz Press.
The final third of the match begins with Test entering at #21 sporting his “I can’t be fired because I’m immune” gimmick. You can tell they were really high on Test here because JR was pushing him hard. Maybe if his name wasn’t as awful as Test he could have capitalized on the push attempts they gave him. Test accidentally boots Venis, so Austin clotheslines Venis out and then Austin hits a Stunner on Test leading to his elimination. Austin goes back to the “checking the wristwatch” gimmick leading to the next entrant Triple H at #22. This was his return from the torn quad injury he suffered in May of 2001 in a match where he teamed with Austin against Jericho & Benoit – a nearly five star match by the way. They did a fabulous job of hyping his return with video packages, leading to a big return on Raw prior to this event that garnered one of the biggest pops ever in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. There’s a huge staredown here. Hunter looks as jacked as ever, by the way. They start throwing punches as the crowd goes nuts. There’s The Hurricane at #23 as Austin and Hunter do the double clothesline spot. Helms was basically a comedic babyface here. Helms chokes Hunter with his left hand and Austin with his right. They look at eachother like “what’s with this guy?” and they throw him out. That was classic right there. Hunter gets Austin down with a clothesline, but he can’t get him out yet. Austin hit Hunter with a spinebuster. Faarooq comes in at #24, he hit a spinebuster on Austin, but his momentum was quickly stopped. Hunter with a kick to Faarooq, Austin with a Stunner to Faarooq and Farooq’s taken out by a Hunter clothesline at about 35 seconds. There’s not much that happens while we wait for the next guy. A returning Mr. Perfect is #25. Perfect hasn’t been in a Rumble since 1993 due to injuries and also being in WCW. Perfect was in control of Hunter and Austin with punches and kicks. The action slows down for the three of them as we await the next man.
It’s Kurt Angle at #26, who is entering his first Rumble (he had matches at the previous two Rumbles) and he’s also sporting the hair that he would soon lose. Angle was in his heel role here as the crowd chants “you suck” in his direction. You’ve got four of the best performers in WWE history in the ring right now, all of whom have a lot of great matches under their belts. Austin and Angle are my second and third favorite wrestlers of all time after Shawn Michaels while Perfect was one of my childhood favorites and I’ve usually enjoyed Triple H’s work. It was Big Show up next at #27. Show headbutts Angle and hits a chokeslam on Perfect. Hunter and Austin double team Show, but he hits a double clothesline on them. Angle goes for a German Suplex that doesn’t work very well. Show dominates everybody with headbutts, kicks and clotheslines for the entire two minute period. There’s a chokeslam from Show on Triple H. It’s Kane at #28 to set up the showdown with Big Show while everybody else is down. Kane is still sporting the mask while JR hypes up the record 11 eliminations he did the year before. Show and Kane start throwing punches. Show hits him with a boot and they do a double choke spot. Kane hits a low blow and picks Show up to bodyslam Show out of the match. I don’t remember that elimination, but that was pretty sweet.
Austin hits a Stunner on Kane and Angle eliminates Kane with an Angle Slam over the top rope. They would have a match at WrestleMania. The year before was the Rumble where the big men like Kane and Show got a chance to shine. Not this one. It’s Rob Van Dam to a huge pop at #29 for his first Rumble match. RVD hits a Five Star Frog Splash on Angle right away. RVD takes down Hunter, Austin and Perfect with kicks. Rolling Thunder by RVD on Austin. Hunter hits a Pedigree on RVD to keep him down. Everybody is out. Perfect hits a suplex on Angle. The #30 spot belongs to Booker T, who enters his first Royal Rumble as a heel. We’ve got six men left. Booker quickly throws out RVD leaving us with 5 men in the ring. Spinarooni time by Booker. Austin hits a Stunner and Booker goes flying over the top rope after the Stunner. Great sell there although Booker’s first Rumble appearance lasted only 33 seconds. Austin gave Booker the double middle finger salute.
Final four: Angle, Perfect, Austin and Hunter. Austin hits a catapult on Triple H into the turnbuckle leading to Angle hitting the Angle Slam on Hunter. Angle hits three rolling German Suplexes on Austin, but Austin fights back with a low blow to break free. Angle and Perfect nearly eliminate Austin. Austin nearly eliminates Perfect, so Angle charges in and dumps Austin out of the match. Austin was the longest man in the match at 26:46. Austin pulls Angle out of the ring to beat on him, so Angle follows and throws him into the ring steps. Austin grabs a chair and goes back in the ring. Austin with chair shots to Angle and Perfect. Austin even hits Triple H with a chair just for the hell of it. All three guys were down in the ring as Austin left to cheers. Perfect and Kurt work together, but that doesn’t work well as Angle nearly eliminated Perfect. Perfect with the Perfect Plex on Angle to a huge pop! The flying snapmare by Perfect! Hunter gets back up to eliminate Perfect.
The match is down to Triple H and Angle as the final two men in the match. Angle hits an overhead belly to belly. Angle’s close to eliminating Hunter, but Hunter fights back with punches. Hunter charges, Angle hits a backdrop, but Hunter hangs on with his feet dangling. Hunter comes back with the knee to the face, Angle stumbles towards the ropes and Hunter clotheslines him out to win. The crowd gives him a massive pop.
Winner: Triple H
The match ended at 69:22.
FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS on the Royal Rumble match
– The winner of the match was obvious from the moment they said Triple H would be in the match. It was the right call to have him win after an emotional comeback and it didn’t hurt the match at all. The booking was so strong and the work in the match was pretty good too. A very fun match that’s also the longest 30-person Rumble in WWE history. I remember thinking at the time that Triple H and Austin would be the final two, but it made sense to do Triple H and Angle since Kurt was a heel, so that would lead to more cheers for Triple H’s win.
– This was Steve Austin’s last Rumble, which we didn’t know at the time, and I think it might have cemented his legacy as the best performer in Rumble matches. He really shined in them. They were perfect for the explosiveness of his Stunner finisher. It also suited his offense, which was mostly punch & kick based, but also realistic. Even though he was only in 6 Rumbles (others like Kane and Michaels were in more than double that number) he was a major factor in all of them except his first one in 1996. He also held the record for most career eliminations with 36 until Michaels passed him in 2010.
– In re-watching this match, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed the “Big Evil” run of The Undertaker. It was so much fun. His promos were very good, he played the bully as well as anybody and he worked with a lot of people like the Hardy’s and Maven in this match that he normally never would. I realize that the Deadman version of the character is what made him famous, made him unique and made him a shitload of money, but from an entertainment standpoint I really enjoyed Big Evil in 2002. My favorite Undertaker year ever is 1997 with 2002 likely in second place.
– I missed Christian’s “at last you’re on your own” theme song. It was cheesy and a bit catchy too! It fit his character.
– I know I’ve touched on it a few times, but it needs to be said again. The Maven elimination on Undertaker is legendary. It might be the best elimination in Rumble history, really. It was a total shocker in a company that doesn’t know how to book shockers too often. There wasn’t much of a feud that followed it, sadly, but they could have elevated Maven if they wanted to. Clearly they had no intention to do that. Here’s a clip.
FACTS & OPINIONS about the Royal Rumble match
Person that lasted the longest: Steve Austin at 26:46.
Most Eliminations: Steve Austin and Undertaker with 7.
Best Performers (3): Steve Austin – This was his last Rumble and he was great in it. It’s a shame they didn’t do more with him at WrestleMania X8.
Undertaker – I absolutely loved him in this match. He carried the first third of it very well.
Triple H – Hunter had a lot of energy for his comeback match.
Best Elimination: Maven eliminating Undertaker of course. That’s the best surprise elimination in Rumble history, in my opinion. Kane bodyslamming Big Show out of the ring was pretty great too.
Match Rating: ***3/4 A notch below the year before due to some slow spots in the middle third, but another excellent Rumble for the third year in a row. The stars really carried while they did a nice job of having some funny moments as well as some memorable spots throughout. Even though it was an obvious Triple H win, it was still an enjoyable match.
(It’s a really good match. Predictable? Sure, but there were a lot of stars in the match and a lot of fun moments from the first half with Undertaker to the bigger names like Hunter, Angle and Austin towards the finish. Once again, the crowd was hot for it and they loved that Hunter won to complete his comeback.)
After the match, Triple H celebrated in the ring. Angle left looking frustrated. JR was yelling about how Triple H returned after a career-threatening injury to win the Royal Rumble. There was more posing from Triple H to end it.
The show had a run time of 2:43:50 on WWE Network.
Show rating (out of 10): 8
It was the third straight year where I thought the Royal Rumble was an outstanding PPV although my rating for 2000 and 2001 were higher with a 9 out of 10. I think what prevented this one from being at that level is because the undercard matches were not as good as the two previous years other than the Jericho/Rock match, which was excellent. I did enjoy Flair/Vince as a story although it was hardly a technical wrestling classic. The Rumble match was really well booked even with the obvious Triple H win. They had some cool stories throughout the match with Undertaker’s memorable spot with Maven and the Hardys, Mr. Perfect was a nice surprise, the Austin interaction with Triple H was excellent and the last few minutes with Hunter/Angle were outstanding. I like this show a lot.
(I stand by the rating. It’s an awesome show especially in the second half with the Jericho/Rock match and the entertaining Royal Rumble match.)
Best Match: Chris Jericho vs. The Rock (****1/4 out of 5)
Worst Match: Trish Stratus vs. Jazz (*3/4)
Five Stars Of The Show
- Chris Jericho
- The Rock
- Steve Austin
- The Undertaker
- Triple H
Five of the biggest names in WWE history right there.
That’s all for me. Check out the full list of my WWE PPV Review archive right here. Thanks for reading.