December 15, 2002
Office Depot Center, Sunrise, FL
With the eventful year that was 2002 drawing to a close, it was time for the final PPV of the year, as after taking a year off, the Armageddon event returned to the schedule. Much like last month, the Raw brand took the top billing this time around, as new World Heavyweight Champion, Shawn Michaels was set to defend his title against the former champion Triple H in a rematch from SummerSlam. This time however, the match would be contested under Three Stages of Hell rules, with the two former friends to do battle in a street fight, inside a steel cage and if necessary, in a ladder match for the gold. Meanwhile on Smackdown, with former champion Brock Lesnar spending the month on the sidelines to heal up from injuries and get ready for the year ahead, the new champion, Big Show, would put his WWE title on the line against the newly turned face Kurt Angle. All that and more on the event that would put a cap on what has been a rollercoaster of a year. Lets dive in.
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After the opening video package and pyro we were welcomed to the show by Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler, who would be calling the Raw action. As usual, our Smackdown team consisted of Michael Cole & Tazz.
World Tag Team Championship - Elimination Match:
Chris Jericho & Christian (c) vs Dudley Boyz vs Booker T & Goldust vs William Regal & Lance Storm
With the Smackdown tag division getting the chance to shine over the past few shows, we now get the Raw titles on the line as our only tag title match on the show. Of course, Chris Jericho & Christan are still the champions here and have been chased by Booker T & Goldust for the past several months. That story is really the main focus of this match, with Goldust beginning to question his spot in the team, claiming to be the weak link. After a loss on Raw to the UnAmerican remains of Storm & Regal (who had been building momentum as a duo heading into this show) Goldust told Booker to find a better partner, but Booker would spend the build to this show attempting to restore Goldust's confidence and saying that he wasn't going to choose another partner. Meanwhile, the Dudley Boyz are also back in the mix after reuniting at Survivor Series. They would become a key part of the division again over the next year, but tonight they take a backseat to the sentimental favourites of BookerDust. Thats reflective in the booking of this match as we start things out with all four teams going at it, with Storm & Regal particularly busting some out some good teamwork while the Dudleyz hit their usual spots. Both teams exit fairly early however, with Storm hitting a leg drop from the top to Bubba allowing Regal to pin him for the first elimination of the match around five minutes in. Barely moments later however, Goldust would get a confidence booster as he hit a powerbomb on Regal, allowing him to pin him for the second elimination. With things down to Jericho/Christian and Booker/Goldust, the match picked up as this feud had clearly been the focus of the division going back to October - or even August if you switch in the old Christian/Storm team that the challengers were chasing. The crowd really got behind the challengers, whilst Lawler on commentary continued to emphasise that Goldust was the weak link. The champions dominated Goldust for a while, working him over before the Bizarre One got the hot tag to Booker who came in and cleaned house. The champions would ultimately resort to cheating, with Jericho hitting Booker with the title belt followed by a Lionsault for a nearfall, but it was not enough. Jericho would respond with another belt shot attempt only for Booker to avoid and connect with a Book End for the victory at 16:43. A solid match to open up the show even if nothing compared to what was going on over in Smackdown's tag division. This was the right time for the titles to change as the crowd were really invested in Booker and Goldust. They put over the win as meaningful as Booker tells Goldust that he wasn't a weak link after all in a post-match interview with Jonathan Coachman in the ring. I do wonder why this wasn't a straight up tag match as the two other teams were pretty much after thoughts heading in, but its not like they hurt things by being involved. Interestingly enough they would be the focus of the division in a month as despite the long chase, the reign of the new champions would be short lived due to other plans ahead. For the moment however, this was a cool one.
Backstage, Brock Lesnar was interviewed by the newest member of the Smackdown team, Josh Mathews. Brock promised to make an impact in the WWE title match later on. More on that later.
Edge vs A-Train
We now go to the blue brand as the rising Edge takes on A-Train, who is the newly repackaged Albert, now set up for a push as a monster heel. The reason for this match taking place goes back to a match between Train and Rey Mysterio on Smackdown, in which Train crippled Mysterio's leg with a steel chair. With his partner sidelined, Edge would also fall victim to Train's wrath, as later that night, the big man would cost Edge a fatal four way number one contender match by assaulting him with a chair. Edge is out for revenge tonight in what was a very different type of match for him at the time. If you looked back at Edge over the course of the year, he was mostly in the ring with experienced workers as he grew into his role as a singles performer. Tonight however its up to him to carry the match, so its another test in a way. Train wasn't terrible or anything - he was a decent power wrestler, but obviously a drop off from the talent Edge had been accustomed to working with on PPV at this point. Despite the odd pairing, we get a decent enough match here, with A-Train being put over hard on commentary, so you can tell there were big plans for him going into 2003. He would dominate much of this match with his power offence, while Edge would rally the crowd behind him in his comeback attempts. Edge gets a good near fall off a Spear as the match goes on, after Train brought a chair into the match, frustrated that a Derailer (Baldo Bomb) was unable to get the job done. From here we get a lame ending with Train getting angry and hitting Edge with a chair, drawing the DQ at 7:12. They wanted to keep both guys strong, but it was a bit of a cop out. After the match however, Edge gets the revenge he was after as he nails Train with a stiff looking chair shot. This was fine for what it was and better than you may have expected, even if it was just there in the grand scheme of things.
We now go backstage to Big Show and Paul Heyman. Show is upset about Brock being in the building and promise to get involved in his match, so Heyman assures his champion that we will talk to Stephanie McMahon and deal with it.
Chris Benoit vs Eddie Guerrero
The run of the Smackdown Six continues as these two men who know each other quite well lock up to show why Smackdown was the better brand at this point in time. Eddie is one half of the WWE Tag Team Champions here along with Chavo, while Benoit has fully turned face after months of flirting with the role while teaming with Angle. Obviously these guys have recent history in their battles over the tag titles, but more recently they crossed paths in the aforementioned number one contender fatal four way on Smackdown. In that match, Benoit would eliminate Eddie, but unhappy with that, Latino Heat would subsequently hit Benoit with his title belt, causing the Wolverine to also be eliminated from the contender mix. Thats basically the reason for this match taking place. Its not like you needed an extravagant storyline to put these two up against each other on PPV after all. As I've continually said in these reviews, Cole & Tazz do a great job on commentary here, putting over the history of these two men competing all over the world and their technical prowess. We kick things off with some mat wrestling exchanges between the two and both men put on a show, although for some reason the crowd don't really seem to get into it. That said, its some great action so I'm not sure what the go was there. Eddie takes over as the heel working over Benoit as the match continues and things kick into high gear as both men trade suplexes as the Wolverine gets back into it. They really don't hold back and are super stiff with each other as they bust out the Germans before spilling to the outside after a Frog Splash from Eddie is not enough to keep Benoit down. With the action taking place out of the ring, Chavo Guerrero comes down to assist his uncle and nails Benoit with his title belt while the referee is distracted. Chavo continues to make his presence felt at ringside from here, but ultimately Benoit fights him off and is able to focus back on Eddie as the two competitors trade momentum back and forth. They both go for a submission win towards the end of the match, with Benoit attempting his Crossface, while Eddie resorts to thr Lasso from El Passo. After some hard fought submission exchanges, it is Benoit who locks in his hold long enough to pick up the tap out victory at 16:47. A really good match between two of the better performers in the company at the time. Chavo's involvement took things down slightly, but it made sense with the Guerreros being tag champions and their cheat to win philosophy. The booking made sense as well with Benoit in line for a big push over the next month. A bit of a forgotten high quality match here that seems to be overshadowed by the other stuff on this card for some reason.
We now go to Stephanie McMahon's office as Paul Heyman comes in to complain about Brock. She says that Lesnar's recent suspension has been lifted and that she is going to allow Brock to be at ringside for the WWE title match if he chooses, despite Heyman's protests.
Following a recap of the recent developments between Dawn Marie and Torrie Wilson centred around Marie's romantic involvement with Torrie's father, Dawn and Al Wilson make their way out to the ring. Dawn plays footage on the screen of what happened on the most recent episode of Smackdown as she invited Torrie to her hotel room. The idea was that Dawn had told Torrie that she really wanted her, and that she would call off the wedding with Al if Torrie spent the night with her. We get some HLA as they end up making out, while Al calls for the footage to stop to major heat from the crowd. Tazz is great tearing Al to shreds on conmentary through all this. This seemed like something that could have aired on Smackdown, but hey, the crowd were eating it up.
Kane vs Batista w/Ric Flair
We now go back to Raw for an in-ring PPV debut as the former Deacon Batista looks to establish himself as a dominant monster on Monday nights. No longer carrying around the donation box that we saw last time he was on PPV, Batista would quickly align himself with Ric Flair on Raw, who would take on an advisory role for the young star. Their allegiance would lead to a major group soon enough, but we're not at that point yet. I can't actually recall much of a feud here, but with Kane out of the world title picture, he now settles into the role of a veteran to put over the next monster on the roster here. He's cooled considerably from his return a few months prior, but it was a fine use for him now that his cup of coffee as a world title challenger was over. Of course, Batista is still very green at this point, so what we get is a pretty basic power match. Both men trade blows while Flair is good in his role as a semi-active wrestler/manager here, interfering to help his protege at every chance he gets. After some choppy action including a botched powerbomb attempt from Batista, the Animal walks away from this one the victor, after putting the Big Red Machine away with a Batista Bomb at 6:38. A quick match to establish Batista, but it was still early days for him. He'd have an important role on Raw as the new year progressed.
Backstage again, this time we see Kurt Angle as he is looking for Brock Lesnar's locker room.
In the arena again, John Cena, now complete with rapping gimmick after first busting it out in a Halloween segment a few months back on Smackdown, makes his way out, accompanied by his sidekick B-Squared, who we used to know as Bull Buchanan. Just filler to get Cena on the show here as he raps while dissing the fans.
WWE Women's Championship:
Victoria (c) w/Steven Richards vs Trish Stratus vs Jacqueline
Before the big two matches to come we have our final undercard contest of the evening as three divas from the Raw brand compete for the Women's Championship. Of course, the main focus here is on Trish and Victoria, with Victoria beating Trish last month in a great women's match af Survivor Series to win the title. Since winning the title, Victoria was determined to take out every other performer in the division. In the weeks that followed she would also target Jacqueline, who hasn't competed on PPV since this time a year prior. Jacqueline would actually pick up a non title win over Victoria on Raw heading into this show to make it seem like she had a chance, but in reality, she was just in this to take the fall as you wanted to stretch out Trish's chase longer after being the face of the division for the past year. By the way, Victoria has recently formed a relationship with Steven Richards and he joins her at ringside here. She also has her awesome new theme music performed by Tatu. Anyway, as far as the match itself goes, it was fine for what it was supposed to do in filling out the card. Its nowhere near what we saw last month between Trish and Victoria to say the least. All three ladies get their chance to take control as go at it, with Stevie having an active role at ringside as well. As the match draws to a close, Trish starts to build momentum and looks to be closing in on the title once more, but Victoria breaks up a nearfall on Jackie following a Chick Kick. She then uses the title belt to nail Jackie to pick up the pinfall, retaining her title at 4:28. As I said, Jackie was just here to take the pin. The rivalry between Trish and Victoria would continue into the new year.
Backstage, Kurt Angle has found Lesnar. He tells Brock that he should be the champion and still would be if it wasn't for Heyman's betrayal at Survivor Series. Angle tries to convince him to come to ringside for the upcoming match, but Brock simply tells him he won't regret getting his suspension lifted. Kurt then leaves to go out for the match, but not before putting in a video of Survivor Series for Brock to watch once more. This leads us in to a video package for the Smackdown main event of the night.
Big Show (c) w/Paul Heyman vs Kurt Angle
Alright, so last month at Survivor Series, Paul Heyman turned on Brock Lesnar, resulting in his new client, the Big Show, pulling off quite the upset at the time to become the new WWE Champion. On the next episode of Smackdown, Lesnar was out for revenge on his old mentor, however after tearing apart the locker room and beating up Matt Hardy in his search, Stephanie McMahon told Brock that he needed to let his injured ribs heal and that if Brock continued to go after Heyman or Show, she would have to suspend him. Later that night, Paul Heyman gloated about inserting a clause into the Survivor Series contract stating Brock was not entitled to a rematch, which led to Brock going after Show with a chair. Later that night he would strike yet again, hitting Show with an F-5 and giving chase to Heyman during the champion's match with Edge. As a result of his defiance, Stephanie suspended Brock the following week and announced a four way elimination match to determine the new number one contender between Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Edge and Eddie Guerrero. It was a great match that was ultimately won by Angle, who had pretty much become a defacto face after gaining popularity while teaming with Benoit over the past few months. Angle's celebration was cut short however as he would be chokeslammed by Show moments after his victory. With Show's dominance playing into his mind, Angle would approach Brock at an autograph session and ask him to be at ringside for his title shot if he got his suspension lifted. Brock said he'd think about it and Stephanie would indeed lift Brock's suspension in time for this show. Despite this, Show would get the last laugh heading into the PPV as he would picked up a tag team victory over Angle on the Smackdown before the PPV to set this one up. Now, the whole storyline was about setting up a future rivalry between Kurt and Brock, and with Mania season looming, it was pretty clear Show was just playing the role of the transitional champion to set that up. It wasn't a bad use of him though as the past month in the title picture really built Show back up after being a joke for years. You can tell Show is motivated as well, since he keeps up his end of the bargain to put on an entertaining match with the great Angle, who has been a highlight of Thursday nights this year. Of course, Angle has and will have way better matches, but considering where Show was a few months back, this is good stuff. The early part of the match sees the champion in control using his power and size advantage. Tazz mentions that Heyman had a great deal to do with Show's new focus, and there's probably some truth to that since he was booking Smackdown at the time. After taking an initial beating, Kurt fired back with the crowd really behind him despite not having much of a real face turn. He would get a near fall on an Angle Slam to the champion, and also almost had Show tapping to the Ankle Lock. As Kurt continued to build momentum however, the A-Train would head back out to ringside and attempt to help Show, only for Brock to make his much anticipated appearance for the save. After fighting off Train, Lesnar hit Show with an F-5, allowing Kurt to cover for the win at 12:36. Kurt Angle is the new WWE Champion and he gets a good ovation despite Brock doing the damage for him in the end. Perhaps there was more to this than met the eye. Nonetheless, the interference was justified due to A-Train coming out first so the face role for Kurt fits for now.
With the Raw main event up next, we cross to WWE New York to hear from Rob Van Dam, who was conspicuous by his absence on this card. He predicts Shawn to retain the gold, which leads us to a video package for the match.
World Heavyweight Championship - Three Stages of Hell:
Shawn Michaels (c) vs Triple H
Our last match of the night stems from Shawn Michaels returning at the Survivor Series to win the World Heavyweight Championship in the first ever Elimination Chamber match. Of course, that same match would see Triple H legitimately injured when his throat was crushed by a botched RVD frog splash, causing the former champion to miss the next night's Raw. The Game would return a week later however, attacking Van Dam during a world title match with Michaels, with Triple H explaining that he wanted to win back his title from Shawn himself. Triple H's interference would lead to a number one contender match between the Game and Van Dam a week later in which Michaels acted as the guest referee, with Triple H ultimately emerging victorious. Despite the Game's win, Michaels would brawl with his hated rival, laying him out with some Sweet Chin Music. The following week, Eric Bischoff announced that due to the hatred between Michaels and Triple H, their match at Armageddon would be contested in three stages of hell - a street fight, a steel cage match, and if necessary, a ladder match. The two men would continue to brawl heading to their rematch, with Michaels getting the upperhand on the Raw before the PPV as he dived off a trailer into a dumpster containing Triple H outside the arena. This was a highly anticipated match as their first singles meeting since the classic at SummerSlam, even if the result was fairly predictable, with Michaels not yet back on a full time basis. Many thought he'd only be around to Mania around this time. Thankfully he had many more Manias in him. Anyway, big pop for Michaels as expected here. Triple H comes out with Ric Flair, but the referee ejects him before the match gets started, perhaps seeing his interference in the Batista match earlier. We kick things off with the street fight and they start out slow, with Triple H taking the early advantage as he uses anything he can get his hands on while working over the previously injured back of his old best friend. Its a good brawl, but not quite on the level of their SummerSlam clash, although that clearly had more emotional investment with it being Michaels big return that nobody thought would happen. Back to the match at hand, they end up fighting up to the entrance area, where Triple H pulls out a barbed wire 2x4 and uses the fire in the set to set it alight. Shawn manages to avoid the following shot however and gets a burst of wind, taking the fight to the Cerebral Assassin with the weapon as the crowd chants "Holy Shit". Trips gets busted open and the action returns to the ring. Once there however, he clips Michaels' knee and connects with the Pedigree to take the first fall at around the 20 minute mark. That leads us into the cage match, and in a good spot we see Triple H throw a whole bunch of weapons into the ring as the cage is lowering so that he can use them in the fall to further destroy Michaels. The cage walls come into play as well as expected, and Michaels joins his opponent in the busted open club as a result. Despite the punishment, Shawn comes back, which leads to Flair running back down to ringside as the two men trade blows on top of the cage. At the order of Triple H, Flair sets up some tables to try to help his man step down to escape, but instead both men go crashing down into the ring off the top. Flair now enters the ring with a chair, but Michaels fights him off, busting the Nature Boy open as well. After a few chair shots to Hunter, he gets rid of Flair with a super kick and then lays out the Game with another. Michaels then delivers an elbow drop through a table from the top of the cage for the pin to even things up at one fall apiece at around 30 minutes overall. That leads us into the ladder match and the punishment to both men continues. The stiff shots continue as Michaels suplexes Triple H onto the ladder as they go at it some more. In the end however it is the tables that were set up by Flair in the previous fall that comes back to haunt Michaels, as he climbs to retrieve the title, only for Trips to push the ladder over, sending Michaels crashing through them. With HBK out of it, Triple H climbs the ladder at retrieves the belt to reclaim the World Heavyweight Championship once more at a total time of 38:45. That pretty much ends phase one of this feud, but we will definitely see more down the line. For now though, this was a decent blow off, even if it wasn't as good as the match at SummerSlam. As I said before, the bar was set so high there that it was really unfair to even draw the comparison. This was still a high quality main event at allowed the two top guys on Raw to put on a brutal showing for almost forty minutes. Triple H was particularly impressive after a few subpar singles title matches since turning heel, but we'd see a lot worse over the next twelve months. This night would mark the beginning of what many would refer to as the Triple H reign of doom, but we'll see how it develops over the next many shows. Michaels has had a great showing in all three of his PPV matches this year, and as he closes out 2002 you wondered what was next for him with Triple H moving onto new things. A good, but not quite great end to a very interesting year.
Well, we have reached the end of one of the most chaotic and eventful years in WWE history. We have a new company name, new titles, a brand extension and theroster is a completely different one to that we started the year with. 2002 has definitely been an interesting year to track as we kicked off a new era that would take us through the next couple of years. As for this show, it was a decent one, with both world title matches delivering quality action and storyline progression, along with a few gems in the undercard in Benoit/Eddie and the tag team opener. It was surprising that Scott Steiner did not make an appearance at this show after his memorable debut last month in the Garden, but he'd get in the mix the following night which would lead to some...interesting matches. But thats for another time. For now we get ready for another road to WrestleMania. We have some idea what that will look like as far as the Smackdown main event goes, but the Raw field is wide open at this point. The next few months will see a few more twists along the road.
Three Stars of the Night:
1. Shawn Michaels - delivered the goods once again. We'll be seeing him a lot in these rankings over the next many years.
2. Triple H - the reign begins as he regains the most prestigous prize on Raw.
3. Chris Benoit - a very good match against Eddie Guerrero that set him up for a great showing in the new year.
FINAL GRADE: 7 out of 10
And as an added bonus before we get to the overall performance tally, here are the 18 best PPV matches of 2002:
1. WWE Tag Team Championship: Edge & Rey Mysterio vs Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit - No Mercy (*****)
2. Unsanctioned Street Fight: Shawn Michaels vs Triple H – SummerSlam (*****)
3. The Rock vs Hollywood Hulk Hogan - WrestleMania X8 (*****)
4. Undisputed WWE Championship: Undertaker (c) vs The Rock vs Kurt Angle – Vengeance (****1/2)
5. Chris Benoit vs Kurt Angle – Unforgiven (****1/2)
6. WWE Championship – Hell in a Cell Match: Brock Lesnar (c) vs Undertaker – No Mercy (****)
7. Hell in a Cell Match: Triple H vs Chris Jericho – Judgment Day (****)
8. Undisputed WWE Championship: The Rock (c) vs Brock Lesnar – SummerSlam (****)
9. Edge vs Kurt Angle – Backlash (****)
10. World Heavyweight Championship – Elimination Chamber Match: Triple H (c) vs Shawn Michaels vs Rob Van Dam vs Kane vs Booker T vs Chris Jericho – Survivor Series (****)
11. Undisputed WWF Championship: Chris Jericho (c) vs The Rock – Royal Rumble (****)
12. No DQ Match: Ric Flair vs Undertaker – WrestleMania X8 (***3/4)
13. World Heavyweight Championship – Three Stages of Hell Match: Shawn Michaels (c) vs Triple H – Armageddon (***3/4)
14. Edge vs Eddie Guerrero – Unforgiven (***3/4)
15. Chris Benoit vs Eddie Guerrero – Armageddon (***3/4)
16. Hair vs Hair Match: Edge vs Kurt Angle – Judgment Day (***3/4)
17. WWE Tag Team Championship: Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit vs Los Guerreros – Rebellion (***3/4)
18. WWE Tag Team Championship – Elimination Match: Edge & Rey Mysterio (c) vs Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit vs Los Guerreros – Survivor Series (***3/4)
ALL TIME PERFORMANCE TALLY:
What I do here is add the three stars of the night with each review so as to keep track of who we can say overall is the greatest PPV performer to any given time. First place scores 3 points, second 2 and third 1.
Steve Austin = 111
Bret Hart = 83
Shawn Michaels = 76
The Rock = 67
Triple H = 66
Kurt Angle = 41
Mick Foley = 38
Undertaker = 31
Chris Jericho = 30
Randy Savage = 28
Chris Benoit = 26
Hulk Hogan = 25
Owen Hart = 21
Edge = 19
X-Pac = 18
Jeff Hardy = 16
Diesel = 15
Matt Hardy = 14
Ultimate Warrior = 13
Vader = 13
British Bulldog = 12
Christian = 12
Ted DiBiase = 10
Razor Ramon = 10
Vince McMahon = 10
Ric Flair = 8
Jim Neidhart = 7
Bubba Ray Dudley = 7
D-Von Dudley = 7
Rob Van Dam = 7
Jerry Lawler = 6
Dynamite Kid = 5
Arn Anderson = 5
Roddy Piper = 5
Mr Perfect = 5
Marty Jannetty = 5
Bob Backlund = 5
Shane McMahon = 5
Brock Lesnar = 5
Eddie Guerrero = 5
Ricky Steamboat = 4
Ax = 4
Smash = 4
Bobby Heenan = 4
D’Lo Brown = 4
Rikishi = 4
Kane = 4
Greg Valentine = 3
Tully Blanchard = 3
Tanaka = 3
Bam Bam Bigelow = 3
Sato = 3
Jake Roberts = 3
Hakushi = 3
Yokozuna = 3
Savio Vega = 3
Ken Shamrock = 3
Chyna = 3
Brutus Beefcake = 2
Paul Orndorff = 2
Andre the Giant = 2
Rick Rude = 2
Sgt Slaughter = 2
Jeff Jarrett = 2
Rey Mysterio = 2
Chavo Guerrero = 2
Jesse Ventura = 1
Texas Tornado = 1
Tito Santana = 1
Virgil = 1
Scott Steiner = 1
Rick Steiner = 1
Lex Luger = 1
The Roadie = 1
Billy Gunn = 1
Bart Gunn = 1
Marc Mero = 1
Flash Funk = 1
Animal = 1
Hawk = 1
Taka Michinoku = 1
Test = 1
Big Show = 1
Dean Malenko = 1
Scotty 2 Hotty = 1
Rhyno = 1
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