WWE King Of The Ring 2002 Review feat. The Undertaker vs. Triple H

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WWE King Of The Ring 2002

Unbeknownst to fans when it was first held, WWE King Of The Ring 2002 would be the tenth and final KOTR event to be held on PPV. It was sad because I personally liked the concept, and while it couldn’t compare to Royal Rumble or Survivor Series, it was still an annual tradition to look forward to. Sadder still is that the last KOTR supershow wasn’t particularly good, which might explain why the event was abandoned, to be fair.

King Of The Ring Tournament Semi-Final Match
Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Jericho

Kicking things off, we had a battle between the then-Intercontinental Champion RVD and the former Undisputed Champion Y2J (I should mention that the Brand Extension was underway by this point, so Raw and SmackDown narrowed their participants down to two apiece for the PPV itself; for some reason, instead of there being one inter-brand clash in the final itself, we had three on the night, including this one). These two had delivered a great Hardcore Championship match back at Unforgiven 2001, and in a straight wrestling environment, they managed to create a very exciting contest again. Van Dam was superbly over by this point, and though Jericho (who had sidelined KOTR 2001 winner Edge a few weeks earlier, which would trigger a post-PPV feud between the two Canadians) was trying to find his true place on the roster after being demoted from the main event scene, he was more than capable of putting on a hell of a show. In the end, Van Dam caught Jericho with the Five-Star Frog Splash to advance, but Y2J attacked him afterwards and locked the IC Champion in the Walls Of Jericho.

King Of The Ring Tournament Semi-Final Match
Brock Lesnar vs. Test

In the other cross-brand semi-final, we oddly had two heels going one-on-one. Lesnar was just getting himself really noticed as the new dominant force, and this night had the potential to be crucial for his development. Test, meanwhile, was still in a prominent position within the company, but fans had started to lose enthusiasm in a man once thought to be a future WWF Champion. Their match here wasn’t particularly good; to sum it up, midway through a guy in the crowd behind the announcers stands up and dances for no reason, and that left more of an impression on me than the action did. Lesnar won with an F5 to make it an all-Raw final (which had to please die-hard SmackDown followers). Post-match, Lance Storm and Christian complained about both Canadians losing out to Americans, which would lead to the Un-Americans forming (with Test joining in as well) shortly thereafter.

WWE Cruiserweight Championship Match
The Hurricane (C) vs. Jamie Noble

This was the climax of an intriguing storyline where Hurricane, who had just become Cruiserweight Champion, was receiving messages from an unknown person. It turned out to be Nidia (talk about a letdown), but she then set Jamie Noble, making his on-screen WWE debut, to attack Hurricane. That led to this match, which was a pretty good bout based, of course, around aerial offence and cool counters from two of WWE’s lighter performers. Hurricane was becoming pretty popular with his superhero persona at this time, but it was decided that the stereotypical redneck Noble needed the win and the title more. He earned both after some interference from Nidia allowed him to pin Hurricane following a Tiger Bomb, with Nidia preventing the superhero from escaping the cover. This would be the beginning of a Noble/Nidia storyline romance, and some of their sex-based segments have to be seen to be believed, especially in 2020.

Eddie Guerrero vs. Ric Flair

There’s an interesting back-story here. Stone Cold Steve Austin was meant to face Latino Heat in a feud that he apparently suggested, though he was also at odds with Raw “owner” Ric Flair. But he famously walked out on June 10 prior to Raw in protest at having to lose to Brock Lesnar in a KOTR qualifier, and while he eventually returned, he would only wrestle a few times in 2003 before retiring after WrestleMania XIX. In the meantime, Guerrero needed a new opponent, and so Flair was suddenly turned babyface to set up this match. The bout was okay but it had no real reason to exist (everybody knew it was filler for the lack of Austin being around), and it had an odd ending to boot: after Chris Benoit interfered on Eddie’s behalf more than once, Bubba Ray Dudley of all people interfered to even up the odds, and after a Bubba Bomb on Eddie, Ric scored the pin. This would trigger “one more run” for Flair, which depending on your point of view was either a positive or a negative, considering the guy was 53 at this point.

WWE Women’s Championship Match
Trish Stratus (C) vs. Molly Holly

If you wonder why the WWE women’s scene is derided from this era despite some very skilled competitors being on the roster (such as these two, who meshed well together to put on a good match), consider that Molly’s dislike of Trish’s more sexual personality was secondary to the constant reminders (mostly from Jerry Lawler on commentary) that Molly was, at the time, a virgin. In other words, making fun of someone for allegedly not having sex. This sends out a really bad message to people, especially those who might have issues with attracting a male or female themselves. Anyway, if you can ignore that aspect of the match, this was better than most women’s bouts during this era, and we also got a second title change of the evening after Holly pinned Trish by using the tights. The super-over Stratus had been dethroned, but she would reclaim the Women’s Championship by beating Molly in a rematch at Unforgiven.

Kurt Angle vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan

By now, the appeal of the Hulkamania revival was starting to wear off a bit, as Hogan was finding himself losing a little more regularly than his Hulkamaniacs might have expected. On this night, he faced Kurt Angle, who had lost his hair to Edge at Judgment Day, and with Kurt having angered Hulk because of his “problem with bald people, brother!” Though Hulk’s 2002 run had peaked by this point, he was still very popular, as the fans in Columbus, Ohio were fully behind the legend against the dorky and hilarious Angle, who was wearing a clearly-fake wig to hide his chrome dome. This match was pretty basic but very effective, and it had the fans invested throughout. At one point, Hogan managed to remove the wig, which only frustrated Angle. But Kurt was about to surprise everyone, as he countered a Legdrop attempt into an Ankle Lock, and even more shockingly, Hogan tapped out! Yes, Angle, the laughing stock of headline heels at this time (and I mean that in a good way), had managed to submit the iconic Hulk Hogan clean as a whistle. In hindsight, this is when Angle started to become more serious, because if he was capable of pulling off this sort of victory, then he was a real force to be reckoned with.

Before the next match, we had a legendary backstage segment. Booker T and Goldust were discussing The Rock being in the building, with Goldie having dressed up as Rock and trying to imitate The Great One. This, of course, led to Rock himself confronting the new tag team, and the subsequent banter was absolutely priceless. It’s rare that Booker is only the third funniest man in a segment, but that was the case here because Goldust was truly hysterical trying to imitate Rock in the creepiest manner imaginable, and Rock reacted to the ridiculous antics of the gold-wearing “freak” as only he could, while T tried desperately to keep a straight face. Check this out if you can, because it’s arguably the highlight of the whole evening.

King Of The Ring Tournament Final Match
Rob Van Dam vs. Brock Lesnar

It was now time to determine the 2002 King Of The Ring, with RVD and Lesnar meeting for that prestigious honour. It feels like a match that was suddenly cut short for time, because just as they’re starting to build momentum, it ends: Brock caught Van Dam, who was attempting a reverse crossbody off the ropes, and drilled him with an F5 for the pinfall win. Brock Lesnar was King, and as per the announcement from Vince McMahon the previous Monday, by winning KOTR, he would now face the Undisputed Champion at SummerSlam. This was unofficially used in previous years, but it could have been a game-changer for the tournament, which again has me sad that it didn’t continue properly after this night (though it did pop up again in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2015 and 2019). It certainly worked wonders for Lesnar, who entered this night as a promising young monster, and just nine weeks later, he was the top dog in the company and on his way to becoming one of the more famous competitors of the 21st century.

Before the main event, Triple H had a brief backstage reunion with Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, X-Pac and The Big Show of the nWo. Besides Show, all were former Clique members, and though this was just a tease, it would be the trigger for the faction’s attempts to recruit HHH. As it turned out, the nWo itself fell apart before that could happen, but Plan B led to Shawn Michaels coming out of retirement, so it all worked out well in the end (well, unless you’re Kevin Nash whose quadriceps tear instigated the nWo’s demise, or X-Pac who was fired shortly thereafter … okay, so it all worked out well for Shawn in the end).

WWE Undisputed Championship Match
The Undertaker (C) vs. Triple H

Considering that The Undertaker and Triple H are responsible for three great WrestleMania matches (including one that was still fresh in the memory from WM X-Seven), it’s odd that they have also been responsible for some rather boring bouts against one another. This unfortunately was one of those, as it was nowhere near as exciting as people were hoping for. HHH was blamed, since he was starting to struggle for in-ring consistency to such an extent that he would eventually become a legitimately loathed figure over the coming months and years. Heyman joined Jim Ross and The King on commentary to discuss who might end up facing Brock Lesnar, only to be chased away by The Rock, who was here specifically to watch this match (he might have regretted his decision after actually watching it). As it turned out, Rock himself got involved in the action, and after he and Taker exchanged blows, The Great One accidentally clocked The Game with a chair, which eventually allowed Taker to retain his title (the only time during a six-month span that the top belt didn’t change hands on an American PPV, oddly). Afterwards, Rock laid the smack down on The Dead Man, only to take a Pedigree from HHH, who had to stand tall because he’s Triple H, dammit! Rock would face Taker and also Kurt Angle at Vengeance the next month, where he became the new Undisputed Champion in one of the best triple threat matches of all-time.

WWE King Of The Ring 2002 had its moments, but I suppose it’s understandable as to why the concept was binned after this show. The tournament still had legs in my opinion, especially with the Raw vs. SmackDown element added to it, but we were about to embark on a new era of Ruthless Aggression, and it was decided that KOTR had outlived its usefulness by now. Plus, the card itself is hardly a great show to watch back, with only one of the tournament matches leaving a lasting impression. Still, it makes for a fun three hours overall, with the highlights being RVD vs. Y2J, Angle vs. Hogan and the hilarious banter between The Rock, Booker T and Goldust.