From The SkyDome in Toronto, ON
March 17, 2002
One year after rolling the dice on a Stone Cold Steve Austin heel turn, the WWF found themselves in a rather unusual position. It had been a few years since the promotion needed to make any desperate moves or decisions, the last one being to put on a raunchier product. From there, it was smooth sailing for Vince McMahon and company, as there was no force that could trip up the surging juggernaut.
Wrestling’s popularity started to wane after WCW’s dissolution, as part of the fun for a number of fans was watching the entities compete for viewers. Interest picked up at the start of WCW‘s Invasion (spiking when ECW got involved, and The Rock returned from filming The Scorpion King), but the majority of fans were let down by the complete mismanagement of what could have been wrestling’s biggest moneymaker.
After WCW’s final ashes were shoveled away, ratings still remained an issue. Monday Night Raw dipped below 4.0 on October 22, 2001, the night after a PPV. It was the first time Raw had submerged below that level in several years.
Honestly, there was little for the WWF to worry about. Fans seemed to be burnt out on wrestling, as America can tend to get when one trend fades and a new one captures their minds, but that didn’t mean it would stay that way forever. A hot angle, a new talent, anything could jump start wrestling with volts of electricity into the business’ chest.
McMahon, however, seemed impatient. Austin was turned back face, doing increasingly silly things like fighting in churches and supermarkets to try and rekindle his bad ass image. It wasn’t working.
In a desperate move, Vince McMahon went out in January 2002 and rehired three men, one of them would change the course of WWF forever.
In January 2002, after Ric Flair (now part owner of the WWF after buying Shane and Stephanie McMahon’s stock in a consortium) had thoroughly embarrassed Vince McMahon, the WWF Chairman suffered what appeared to be a psychotic breakdown. The result of his newfound disillusionment was a belief that the WWF had “terminal cancer”, and he was going to put it out of its misery before Flair or anyone else could.
To do that, he brought in the original three members of the New World Order: Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Hollywood Hulk Hogan.
[adinserter block=”2″]Hulk Hogan found himself face to face with The Rock one night after No Way Out, and Rock laid down a challenge for WrestleMania X8 to determine the greatest wrestler of all time. Hogan, returning to the WWF after nine years away, accepted. Moments later, after Rock laid out Hogan with a Rock Bottom, Hall and Nash jumped the “People’s Champion”, and the nWo took turns beating him down.
After Rock was stretchered out, he was placed into an ambulance, which was then t-boned by Hogan, driving the front end of a tractor trailer.
The New World Order also turned their attention to the WWF’s other hero, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin took Scott Hall hostage on one episode of Raw, resulting in Hall’s humiliation at the hands of a frontline soldier that wasn’t going to back down from a siege. Hall responded by breaking a cinder block on Austin’s leg shortly thereafter.
With Rock vs. Hogan and Hall vs. Austin signed for WrestleMania, it seemed that the New World Order was overshadowing the World Title picture.
Chris Jericho would be that champion, having unified the WWF and World Heavyweight Championships at Vengeance in December, beating Rock and Austin in concurrent matches. However, despite the win, it seemed that Jericho had trouble gaining steam as champion. Other than a great match with Rock at the 2002 Royal Rumble, Jericho was often undercut as champion. He had barely beaten Rikishi and Maven (the winner of WWF’s Tough Enough) in title matches on Raw, and Jericho had only gotten 10% of the offense in a narrow win over Austin at No Way Out.
Facing Jericho on the grandest stage was Triple H, who had returned in January eight months after a brutal quadriceps tear. Two weeks after returning, “The Game” won the 2002 Royal Rumble, last ousting Kurt Angle, and the comeback run was on.
During this time, Hunter and Stephanie McMahon had a marital falling out, including a marriage renewal gone awry days before No Way Out. Stephanie aligned with Jericho, a long time enemy, in order to stick it to her soon to be ex-husband. Jericho, sadly, was reduced to sycophantic duties, including walking the couple’s bulldog, Lucy. Jericho’s limo accidentally backed over the dog, adding an unusual layer of vengeance to an already bizarre feud.
Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler (who returned to the WWF in November) would call the action from ringside. Instead of a national anthem, Saliva opened the show with the song “Superstar”, while later playing the Dudley Boyz to the ring with their new song “Turn the Tables”. Drowning Pool performed “Tear Away”, as well as a newer rendition of Triple H’s song “The Game” for when he made his main event entrance.
WWF Intercontinental: Rob Van Dam def. William Regal in 6:19 to win the title
(Exciting and creative opener, though scary for a moment when Regal dropped Van Dam on his head with a half nelson suplex. Match was a bit more dramatic than Regal’s opener from a year earlier)
WWF European: Diamond Dallas Page def. Christian in 6:08
(The storyline of this match was that Christian was now prone to temper tantrums, complete with theatrics, when things didn’t go his way. Yeah, that’s way better than his “Captain Charisma” spiel)
WWF Hardcore: Maven went to a no contest with Goldust in 3:15
(Spike Dudley ran in and stole the pin. This would lead to Crash Holly, The Hurricane, Godfather, Al Snow, Mighty Molly, and Christian involving themselves in the 24/7 chase, with Maven yet regaining. Yay)
Kurt Angle def. Kane in 10:45
(An underrated match in WrestleMania annals, Angle and Kane worked a smart match based around Angle trying to get a submission. The crappy pinfall ending needs to be seen, however)
Editor’s Note: Reportedly Sting vs. Kurt Angle was the original plan here.
Street Fight: The Undertaker def. Ric Flair in 18:47
(Another underrated match. Flair and Taker bled buckets, Arn Anderson ran in to give Taker the spinebuster, and Taker gave Flair an old school Tombstone to win. Oh, and that’s then)
Edge def. Booker T in 6:32
(I think we can all agree that this was Edge’s worst WrestleMania match ever. It’s probably Booker’s also, until 22. You know why? THEY’RE FIGHTING OVER SHAMPOO!)
Stone Cold Steve Austin def. Scott Hall in 9:51
(Austin had no interest in trying here. Hall was dogging it less than he was, and that says something. Austin walked out for the first of two times in 2002 after this match)
WWF World Tag Team: Billy & Chuck def. The Dudley Boyz, The Hardy Boyz, and the APA in 13:50
(It bears noting that neither Dudley Boy or Jeff Hardy have ever won at WrestleMania. That said, this match sucked, except for Stacy Keibler’s self-induced wedgie. Mmmm)
The Rock def. Hollywood Hogan in 16:23
(A truly unforgettable match, and no fan who witnessed it will ever forget it. The Toronto fans turned on Rock, hailing Hogan as a prodigal hero. Hogan ran through his classic Hulkamania offense, and damn near blew the roof off the arena when he “Hulked Up” late in the match. After Rock won, Hall and Nash turned on Hogan, Rock saved, and the two posed together to deafening cheers. Unreal)
WWF Women’s: Jazz def. Lita and Trish Stratus in 6:16
(Talk about dead in the water. This match didn’t stand a chance after Hogan and Rock, which should have been the main event. At least Trish looked good in her white shorts with the red Maple Leaf)
WWF Undisputed World Championship: Triple H def. Chris Jericho in 18:41
(Speaking of dead, Jericho knew going into the match (having seen Hogan/Rock) that there was no way the fans were going to buy into his main event. The largely dead crowd barely reacted when Triple H won with the Pedigree. It was a good match, but just badly positioned)
ITS PLACE IN HISTORY
[adinserter block=”1″]WrestleMania X8 will always be remembered for that Hogan vs. Rock classic. It’s a good thing to look back on with fondness and a twinkle in your eye, as fans of all ages were reduced to their pre-pubescent selves watching it. Wrestling became real again for over twenty minutes.
However, this is where the problem lies.
Hogan’s nostalgia act popped the crowd for weeks afterward, but the luster wore off when people realized that Hogan wasn’t Rock or anyone else in terms of being relevant, fresh, hip, or able to work the faster-paced modern WWF style.
But McMahon didn’t care.
By summer, Shawn Michaels was lured out of retirement, although he proved to still be an excellent performer. Over the next several years, WWF (soon to be WWE) juxtaposed nostalgia acts who were guaranteed to pop the audience with time-tested routines, with newcomers fresh from the development territories with no personalities, that had no chance of getting over.
It became a self-defeating system, one that WWE relied on as a lazy fail-safe. As long as Hulk Hogan, and others, kept coming back for a payday in exchange for a time-warp moment, the desire to build new stars took a backseat.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.
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