The 15th Royal Rumble was the last one under the World Wrestling Federation name as the company would officially become World Wrestling Entertainment in the spring of 2002.
They also did the "brand extension" a few months later in 2002 as a way 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. Let's see if they could start it out right with the Rumble.
WWF Royal Rumble
January 20, 2002
The announcers are Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler. The intervals are at 2 minutes for this one.
The #1 entry is Rikishi with Goldust in the #2 spot. 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 The Big Boss Man is in at #3. Goldust's on the top rope, so Rikishi whips Boss Man into him, he squares Goldust 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. 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 ridiculously disgusting, fella. Rikishi eliminates Boss Man. Go wash your face for a couple of hours after that. Bradshaw hits a powerbomb on Goldust. The #5 participant is Lance Storm, who 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 a 18 year veteran. Huge Clothesline From Hell by Bradshaw on Storm. That was a really great spot. 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 him to eliminate him. 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. He cut some great promos. He portrayed a bully really well. Chokeslam for Billy. He chokeslams Goldust over the top to the floor. He throws Snow out. He boots Rikishi and throws him out too. Then he 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. There's Matt Hardy at #9 to a huge pop. Lita jumps in the ring with him. She hits Undertaker with a low blow. She bails as Matt tries to eliminate Undertaker. JR kept referencing the Hardy's problems with Undertaker. When they 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 and Jeff hits a Swanton on Undertaker. They do the Hardy double team, but Undertaker catches Jeff and throws him out. Last Ride powerbomb by Undertaker on Hardy. I always loved that move. He 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 off. Matt and Jeff attack Undertaker because they're sore losers. Undertaker throws them out again. He 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's reaction to it was amazing too. See for yourself.
Undertaker throws Maven out through the middle ropes and beats on him around the ring. Unprotected chair shot to the head! Ouch. Undertaker even takes out a camera guy! 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. He goes back in the ring to throw Maven over the top, which eliminates him. I'm guessing one of the refs told him to put him over the top so that they can say he got eliminated. He 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. He was cut open. Scotty stumbles into the ring to fight Christian. "Yo it's me, it's me, it's DDP" at #14 with his gimmick of the guy that smiles a lot. Christian hits a reverse DDT on him. There's the Diamond Cutter (RKO) on Christian by Page. Scotty kicked him 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. Page quickly throws Scotty out. Now 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 definitely 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. 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. Chuck & Christian eliminate Albert. Godfather misses the Ho Train charge and Christian & Chuck eliminate Godfather. 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. A HUGE pop for #19 Stone Cold Steve Austin. The camera goes to the wide lens shot to show the reaction to Austin as well as his full entrance. He 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. He throws Christian out, stunner for Saturn, he throws Chuck out and then he throws Saturn out. He looks at his watch (not really wearing one), rolls out, grabs Christian, hits a Stunner on him and throws him out again. He does it to Chuck too. Then he 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. Austin stomps a mudhole on him 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 him out and then he hits a Stunner on Test leading to his elimination. Austin goes back to the "checking the wrist watch" 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 HHH do the double clothesline spot. Helms was basically a comedic babyface here. He chokes HHH with his left hand and Austin with his right. They look at eachother like "what's 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. Faarooq comes in at #24 and he's quickly thrown out by HHH in about 30 seconds. Not a whole lot happens while we wait for the next guy. A returning Mr. Perfect is #25. He hasn't been in a Rumble since 1993 due to injuries and also being in WCW. 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. He 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. The final five trot out with Big Show coming in at #27. He headbutts Angle and hits a chokeslam on Perfect. HHH 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 on Triple H. It's Kane at #28 to set up the showdown with Big Show while everybody else is down. He's 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 lowblow and picks him 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. He hits a Five Star Frog Splash on Angle right away. Then he takes down Hunter, Austin and Perfect with kicks. Rolling Thunder 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 left. He quickly throws out RVD leaving us with 5. Spinarooni time by Booker. Austin hits a Stunner and Booker goes flying over the top rope after the Stunner.
Final four: Angle, Perfect, Austin and Hunter. Austin hits a slingshot on HHH leading to Angle hitting the Angle Slam on HHH. 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 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. Chair shots to Angle and Perfect. He even does one to Triple H just for the hell of it. Perfect and Kurt work together, but that doesn't work well. Perfect Plex on Angle to a huge pop! The flying snapmare! Hunter gets back up to eliminate Perfect. We're down to Triple H and Angle now. Angle hits an overhead belly to belly. He's close to eliminating HHH, but Hunter fights back with punches. Hunter charges, Angle hits a backdrop, but HHH 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
- 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.
- 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
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 - Had a lot of energy for his comeback match.
Best Elimination: Maven eliminating Undertaker of course. 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.
Ranking the Rumble matches in terms of star ratings out of five stars:
Here's a link to previous Rumble recaps:
1988 Royal Rumble won by Hacksaw Jim Duggan
1989 Royal Rumble won by Big John Studd
1990 Royal Rumble won by Hulk Hogan
1991 Royal Rumble won by Hulk Hogan
1992 Royal Rumble won by Ric Flair
1993 Royal Rumble won by Yokozuna
1994 Royal Rumble won by Bret Hart & Lex Luger
1995 Royal Rumble won by Shawn Michaels
1996 Royal Rumble won by Shawn Michaels
1997 Royal Rumble won by Steve Austin
1998 Royal Rumble won by Steve Austin
1999 Royal Rumble won by Vince McMahon
2000 Royal Rumble won by The Rock
2001 Royal Rumble won by Steve Austin
The 2003 featured a winner that wasn't even on the main roster a year earlier. It was a sign of times changing in WWE.
John Canton - email@example.com