WWF Royal Rumble 2001 Review feat. Kurt Angle vs. Triple H

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WWF Royal Rumble 2001

WWF Royal Rumble 2001 was one of the best Rumble cards in history from a match quality standpoint. An event that began to set the stage for WrestleMania X-Seven, this show featured a very enjoyable under card, as well as a highly entertaining Rumble bout itself which also marked a historical achievement for Stone Cold Steve Austin.

WWF World Tag Team Championship Match
Edge & Christian (C) vs. The Dudley Boyz

Kicking off the show was a Tag Team Title match between common rivals Edge & Christian and those damn Dudley Boyz. In comparison to other PPV encounters, this one has been largely forgotten, but it isn’t due to quality, because here all four men were able to prove (as if we didn’t already know) that they could have an excellent match without the use of tables, ladders and chairs. Indeed, this followed the standard tag team formula, and it worked to great effect as the New Orleans crowd were fully behind Buh Buh Ray Dudley and D-Von Dudley. I noted the lack of props, but admittedly E&C did try to hit a Conchairto and D-Von did try to get the table, so I guess my earlier point was invalid, even if said tools weren’t put to their desired use. In the end, Edge took a 3D to give The Dudleyz the win, anointing them as Tag Team Champions for only the second time, and their first reign since losing the belts to none other than E&C at WrestleMania 2000. This of course would eventually lead to TLC 2 at Mania X7, also starring The Hardyz. 

WWF Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match
Chris Benoit (C) vs. Chris Jericho

These two had battled throughout 2000, often with the IC gold on the line, and they renewed hostilities just in time for Rumble ’01, and on this occasion, a ladder was thrown in for good measure. Though I feel this match is slightly overrated (partly due to those who seem to have a strange fascination with Benoit, and in some cases liking him more in recent years, which I find utterly weird), it is nonetheless a tremendous battle between two classic rivals. The Walls Of Jericho atop the ladder made its first appearance here, as well as Benoit trying (and failing) to hit his headbutt from the top rung. In the end, Benoit tried to climb back up, only for Y2J to tip the ladder over and send Benoit hurtling to the ringside mats, giving Y2J the win and another of his many Intercontinental Championships. This was a great match, and in any other year, it might have even claimed the Match Of The Year prize, but we were spoiled for choice in 2001, so there you go.

WWF Women’s Championship Match
Ivory (C) vs. Chyna

Chyna was returning here after being spike-piledriven by Ivory and Val Venis of Right To Censor the previous month, but in kayfabe, she was nowhere near ready. Although Chyna dominated Ivory from the opening bell and even got some shots in on RTC leader Steven Richards, an attempted handspring elbow led to her falling to the canvas in great pain, and in the end, this made her easy pickings for Ivory to get the pin. Chyna was stretchered out, as Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler wondered whether we’d seen the last of the Ninth Wonder Of The World. But don’t despair, because Chyna would indeed return and finally dethrone Ivory at WrestleMania. The match was what it was, and with respect to the combatants and the fact that this was more of an angle than a match, this was pretty weak overall.

WWF Championship Match
Kurt Angle (C) vs. Triple H

Another old rivalry resurfaced at Royal Rumble 2001, as Angle once again found himself squaring off against HHH, despite both being heels (the scuttlebutt would have you believe that HHH took what was supposed to be Chris Jericho’s big opportunity here, but since it concerns HHH, chances are it was invented to make him seem even worse away from the ring). By now, Stephanie McMahon was fully behind HHH, but Angle had brought on board Vince’s new, erm, “friend” Trish Stratus. If anything, Steph and Trish had more of an issue in early 2001 than Angle and The Game, and this eventually led to the two ringside females battling it out before heading to the back. The match itself is a good one, an underrated clash actually, but not a classic in an era which saw HHH steal the show on PPV more often than not. In the end, a ref bump led to HHH not being able to capitalise on Pedigreeing Angle, which was the cue for Stone Cold Steve Austin to run in and thwack HHH with the WWF Championship, giving Kurt the pin (Austin had been denied the gold by HHH a few weeks earlier). A quick side-note: HHH had recently debuted his Motörhead theme song The Game, so his entrance was slightly underwhelming here; the tune would already become legendary by the spring (partly due to Lemmy playing it live at WM X7).

Royal Rumble Match

And so it was time for the Royal Rumble 2001 match. Intriguingly, this was the first Rumble since 1998 to feature both Austin and The Rock, and both were massively over babyfaces at this point (duh). Austin was particularly worth watching because he was attempting to complete his big comeback from a neck injury, which he hoped would culminate in WWF gold on April 1, 2001. The Undertaker, Kane and Rikishi had also been pushed strong enough that this 30-man Rumble had five potential winners, even if only two seemed truly likely. Nevertheless, it meant this was the most anticipated and unpredictable Rumble match for a good while.

Jeff Hardy and RTC’s Bull Buchanan kicked us off, before Matt Hardy came in at #3 (what a coincidence!). Bull was quickly thrown out, which led to The Hardyz being alone. They weren’t afraid to fight each other, though they still worked together to throw out Faarooq of The APA. But they battled again (Matt oversold a Jeff punch that clearly didn’t connect), and they ended up on the top rope together before falling to the floor (how, I couldn’t tell you, making this a really bad night for the Hardy brothers). Benefitting from this was, of all people, Drew Carey: he had appeared in backstage segments throughout the night to promote his own PPV, with Vince McMahon suggesting that he promote it even more by actually entering the Rumble (replacing Lo Down, who had won a match on Heat to earn one spot in the big bash). Hence, Carey had the ring to himself, and for a moment, maybe he thought he’d won the thing. So it was a big shock to him when Kane arrived as the sixth entrant, with Drew trying to bribe Kane to not hurt him. Eventually, Kane lifted him up for a Chokeslam, only for then-Hardcore Champion Raven to come in and welly Kane with a kendo stick, allowing Carey to eliminate himself and return to relative safety. All of this earned Carey a Hall Of Fame induction, believe it or not.

With the unusual opening sequence done, the next section of the match took on a more violent feel, as Hardcore Championship luminaries took it in turn to not only enter the match, but to bring weapons into the fray. Amongst those making up the chaos here were Al Snow (who sent a bowling ball right into Raven’s goolies), Perry Saturn and Steve Blackman. After Grandmaster Sexay arrived, Kane decided that enough was enough and eliminated everybody remaining one-by-one, which included a trash can lid whacking Blackman right in the face to send him to the floor. By now, Kane was starting to establish himself as the iron man of the Rumble, and though he was a heel, fans couldn’t help but respect his efforts up to this point. Would number twelve place him in great danger, though? Erm, no: The Honky Tonk Man made a surprise appearance, and even tried to sing his theme song before Kane commandeered the guitar, smashed it over Honky’s head and threw him out. A classic Rumble moment, surely.

Upping the stakes of the Royal Rumble 2001 match was The Rock at #13, and while fans were already invested in the action, this increased their attention greatly. The Goodfather and Tazz were next in, and both were sent to the floor almost immediately. The APA’s Bradshaw withstood the two-pronged attack and lasted much longer (he has friends in high places, what can I say?). From here, the field began to fill up again with guys of value, yet guys who realistically were never going to win. They included Albert, Hardcore Holly, K-Kwik (the future R-Truth; yes, he was around for the Attitude Era) and Val Venis, giving RTC its third entrant into the match. William Regal, the reigning European Champion, seemed to be a dark horse to outlast the other 29 men, but he was actually the next to go courtesy of subsequent entrant Test, who would also beat Regal to win the European gold the next night on Raw.

Number 23 was The Big Show in a big surprise; this was Show’s return to the WWF following a stint in Ohio Valley Wrestling. In hindsight, maybe fans should have seen it coming, but that was the joy of watching wrestling in 2001; nobody was going to spoil moments like this (well except for Channel 4, who went to an ad break just as Show was walking through the curtain in another reminder of why WWF fans in the UK hated their coverage of the product), and so Show appearing was a genuine shock. And he cleaned house, Chokeslamming all in sight and eliminating both Test and K-Kwik. But when he went for The Rock, The Great One was able to fight back and, relatively quickly, Rock eliminated the giant to a huge cheer. That wasn’t enough for Show, though, who had also been denied by Rock in the previous year’s Rumble: he dragged Rock out through the ropes to the floor and Chokeslammed him straight through an announcer’s table. Show was back, and he was a definite heel, for a few weeks anyway.

Crash Holly had the misfortune of making his entrance during this angle, which meant that he was barely acknowledged by JR and The King. The Undertaker was, though, and upon his arrival, it was time to start trimming the field: reforming his alliance with Kane (Taker was a babyface here), The Brothers Of Destruction teed off on the competition, with Taker throwing out Bradshaw, Holly and Venis, and Kane eliminating Crash and Albert. With Rock floored, and Taker and Kane enjoying the ring to themselves, the next entrant had to be someone special to stop them, and so it was … Scotty Too Hotty. He looked worried and deservedly so, and he was eliminated very quickly to no surprise. But then the glass broke, and it was time for Stone Cold to open up a can of w … wait there a minute, though, as HHH attacked Austin in the aisleway and pounded him until he was busted wide open as retribution for earlier on (which in itself was revenge for a few weeks earlier, but bear with me here).

In the meantime, Rock was brought back into the fray, though Billy Gunn arrived to make things a little easier for Dwayne. Number 29 was a real jolt as Haku made a return to the WWF after almost nine years away: Haku was WCW Hardcore Champion just a week earlier as Meng, so it remains to be seen as to whether Haku coming back here was truly necessary, or if it was one last dig at WCW, which would close its doors only two months later. Rikishi was #30 (having earned that opportunity prior to the Rumble), setting us up for the final stretch. Haku and Rikishi began to form an alliance of their own, but with Austin back in, things were about to go Stone Cold’s way. Austin eliminated Haku and Billy; in between, Rikishi stunningly superkicked Undertaker to the floor to get some payback from Armageddon (Taker driving the motorcycle away in the background made me chuckle), and Rock sent Rikishi back to the showers, to paraphrase what Jesse Ventura used to say during the early Rumble matches.

This meant we were down to three men in the Royal Rumble 2001 match: Kane, Austin and Rock. Stone Cold and Rock had one of their typical stare-downs as fans roared in excitement, and surely they would also be the final two. But that wasn’t to be: as Rock held Austin over the ropes, Kane snuck up from behind and dispatched of Rock, claiming his then-record eleventh elimination and capping off an amazing performance. Could he shock the world and beat Austin too to make it to WrestleMania, against all the odds? Erm, not quite, though it certainly wasn’t easy for Stone Cold. Kane sealed his own fate when he brought a steel chair into the ring, which Austin took control of and walloped Kane with a few times before, in the end, clotheslining him to the floor to win the match and move one step closer towards main eventing another WrestleMania, as well as setting a new record of his own, having become the first (and to date only) man to win three Rumble matches, and doing so in the main event spot for the first time. This was an awesome Rumble match with top stars, memorable spots, surprises and everything else which makes a Rumble match the most anticipated stand-alone battle of the wrestling year.

Summing this one up, then, WWF Royal Rumble 2001 is one of the best Rumble PPV events of all-time. Every match bar one is at least adequate, and the Ladder match is superb. But the Rumble match itself is the highlight of the night for me, holding one’s attention throughout from the Drew Carey silliness to the Hardcore brawling to the multiple returns to Austin’s courageous victory, all with Kane surprisingly being the central thread for the duration of the bout. Check out Royal Rumble 2001 again, because you’ll really enjoy reliving one of the final major shows from the Attitude-driven boom period for the WWF.