WWE PPV Flashbacks: King of the Ring (6/23/02) - "The Next Big King"

King of the Ring
June 23, 2002
Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH

In 2002, a tradition born in June of 1993 came to an end as the WWE hosted the last ever King of the Ring PPV. We didn't know it at the time, but the 2002 event would be the last time the event got its own event. While it started off as a strong show in the early years, it became quite hit or miss in the years that followed, and as we saw the previous year, the tournament was over within the first hour of the event. It was probably for the best that the event did come to an end as its hard to market a PPV primarily around a tournament of unknown matches, and the event was nowhere as prestigious as the Rumble. In a last attempt to make the tournament mean something however, this year the event had a huge stipulation - the winner would receive a guaranteed Undisputed Championship match at SummerSlam. Speaking of the Undisputed title, the Undertaker defends that title tonight against Triple H, while the Rock has vowed to be at ringside after returning on Raw before this PPV. It was quite the crazy time in the WWE - Steve Austin had walked out on the company, Shawn Michaels was back on the scene as a manager and new leader of the nWo, and Mr McMahon had regained total ownership of the company by defeating Ric Flair on Raw thanks to interference from Brock Lesnar. Lets take a look at how the summer of 2002 kicked off.

Our opening video package is all about past winners of the King of the Ring tournament. It was surprising to see the footage of Austin in there as this was weeks after he walked out. In the arena we get the opening pyro as our announce team of Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler welcome us to the show.

King of the Ring Semifinal Match:
Rob Van Dam vs Chris Jericho

Much like the previous year, we only have the semifinals onwards for the tournament tonight. Both semifinals are inter-brand matches by the way, as the first round and quarter finals took place on Raw and Smackdown heading into the event. On the Raw side here we have Rob Van Dam, who is once again the Intercontinental Champion, having blown off his feud with Eddie Guerrero in the awesome ladder match on TV that I mentioned in the last review. To get to the semi-finals he's picked up victories over Eddie in the first round, followed by X-Pac in the quarterfinals. Over on Smackdown we have Chris Jericho, who defeated Edge in the first round and the Big Valbowski (Val Venis) in the quarterfinals. RVD was clearly the crowd favourite here, whilst Jericho would enter a weird little period for the remainder of the year after being in the main events for early 2002. This was a good combination to get the show started though, as you knew you were in for at least a solid match with these talents involved. The match starts out a little shaky though as they go back and forth from the opening bell. Nonetheless they establish their chemistry after a few minutes and the action picks up from there. RVD gets some cool offence including a nice somersault plancha before Jericho takes over and dictates the pace. He exposes the turnbuckle and sends Van Dam into it, but he stays in the game as the match continues with both men busting out their signature spots but being unable to connect for a win. As the match winds down, Jericho locks RVD in the Walls but the popular I.C champion fights to the ropes, forcing the break and coming back with a series of kicks to his opponent. He continues to ride the momentum from there and puts Jericho away with the Five Star Frog Splash for the victory at 14:32. This was a pretty enjoyable match that gave both guys a chance to shine as they kicked off the show. RVD moves on to the final later in the night. In any other year he would have been a decent choice to win the tournament. This year's winner is a given however. Good match here from two guys that can go putting a popular superstar in the finals.
Grade: ***1/4

Speaking of the given winner that I just alluded to, we go backstage to Brock Lesnar, who is being fired up by Paul Heyman. Heyman compares Brock to Godzilla as the Next Big Thing looks to add the King of the Ring tournament to his credentials.

King of the Ring Semifinal Match:
Test vs Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman

From a solid opener we move on to a rather unusual combination as both men in our other semifinal are heels. Anyway, Brock is the Raw guy, having defeated Bubba Ray Dudley in the first round, followed by Booker T in the quarterfinals. Rumour has it Brock was actually supposed to beat Austin in the quarterfinals but Austin balked on the idea which was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back in terms of him sticking around with the company. Austin has since said that he didn't have an issue with putting Brock over, but that he wasn't going to do it in a throwaway match with no build. I understand that logic even if he handled things the wrong way - if you are putting Brock over Austin in this tournament, thats your final match. No offence to RVD, but he's no Austin! Anyway, Test is a total afterthought here, representing Smackdown after defeating the Hurricane followed by Hardcore Holly to get to this point. Now despite Test being the sacrificial lamb and nothing more here, the announcers still put him over big time which makes you wonder if the plans for that big push were still on the cards here. He plays the de facto face in this match which is a power battle between these two big guys. The crowd is surprisingly into it as well. Its not a great match, or even an exceptionally good one, but considering my expectations heading in, this was better than I was thinking it would be. This looked like a total squash on paper but what we get is some hard hitting power moves and a showcase for Brock against a larger opponent than he had faced to this point. Heyman was his usual entertaining self outside as well pulling for the Next Big Thing. After a fairly competitive match that saw Test get a decent amount of offence in, Brock busts out the F-5 to move on to the finals via pinfall at 8:18. Way better than anyone could have expected going in for a bizarre combination.
Grade: **

With the semifinals concluded, we go to the Raw locker room where Jonathan Coachman asks Bubba Ray Dudley for his prediction for the tournament. Bubba says he'd like to see RVD pull out the victory, he doesn't see anybody stopping Brock.

Over in the Smackdown locker room, Mark Lloyd attempts to conduct a similar interview with Christian & Lance Storm. Storm is disgusted by the lack of Canadians in the finals after Jericho and Test both lost their matches. This would kick off an interesting storyline over the next few months.

Speaking of Smackdown, Michael Cole & Tazz are up in the rafters again just like at Judgment Day. They hype the upcoming Cruiserweight title match before throwing us to a video package looking at the build.

WWE Cruiserweight Championship:
The Hurricane (c) vs Jamie Noble w/Nidia

Alright, first and foremost, the Hurricane is the new Cruiserweight champion, having defeated the former champion Tajiri, along with Billy Kidman, in a triple threat match a month or so ago on Smackdown. Since winning the title the resident super hero of the blue brand started receiving cryptic messages which would lead to the debut of Tough Enough's Nidia, who was revealed as being the Hurricane's ex-girlfriend. Nidia would confront the Hurricane on an episode of Smackdown and mock him for his super hero costume, which led to him being jumped by the debuting Jamie Noble, a former WCW cruiserweight who feuded with Hurricane in the Jung Dragons/3-Count rivalry of 2000. A week after making his debut, Noble would attack Hurricane after his match against Test, and stole the superhero's mask after beating him down. The following week Noble would defeat Billy Kidman to earn a Cruiserweight title shot at the PPV, but Hurricane would gain a measure of revenge afterwards, chokeslamming his challenger and regaining his mask in the process. It was a rather unique build as it was very storyline driven for a division thats normally focused purely on the in-ring action. As a result, Nidia plays a large role in the match, interfering to distract the champion at any chance she gets. The match doesn't kick into the high gear you would be expecting as a result, but it was still decent. They start off with a fast pace until Noble takes the advantage and works over the champion. The Hurricane fights back with the support of the crowd though and starts building moment despite the aforementioned efforts of Nidia on the outside to assist her new boyfriend. This leads us to the closing moments of the match where Hurricane looks to have the match won with a chokeslam to Noble, only for Nidia to push him off the top as he looks to fly afterwards. Noble follows up with a powerbomb, and while Hurricane gets a foot on the rope, Nidia proves her worth again by knocking it off without the ref seeing, allowing Jamie Noble to score the three and become the new Cruiserweight Champion at 11:38. A fun little match that despite the interference from Nidia played a good role in establishing the dynamic of the new redneck couple on Thursday nights. Noble would become the focus of the division going forward whilst Hurricane would have a change in scenery soon enough. Oh yeah, Nidia was smoking hot as well.
Grade: **1/2

We now see footage from earlier in the night on Heat of the Rock arriving in the building. We follow that up with a video package for our next match between Ric Flair and Eddie Guerrero.

Ric Flair vs Eddie Guerrero
This is where you really see the result of Austin leaving the company causing a number of storylines to be fast tracked or completely scrapped to keep things moving. After losing his I.C title to RVD in the ladder match on Raw, it looked as though Eddie Guerrero was in line for a feud with the Texas Rattlesnake, as he and the recently returned Chris Benoit (who was actually drafted to Smackdown in April but came out as a member of the Raw brand on his return in Edmonton) beat down Austin as he continued to defy Ric Flair's authority as the owner of Raw. The following week Austin defeated Flair in a match that stated Flair would become Austin's servant as a result of the loss. The storyline would not get the chance to play out however, as Austin would walk out the following week, and with the big Austin/Lesnar match unable to take place, Mr McMahon instead showed up and challenged Flair to a match for total ownership of the WWE. This essentially put Flair right back into the face role as he would accept the challenge, only to be destroyed by Brock Lesnar, allowing Vince McMahon to pick up the victory and therefore taking control of both shows once more. Flair would stick around however, announcing that he felt he had one more run in him, and would become a member of the active roster. His speech was interrupted by Eddie & Benoit however, as they blamed Flair for driving Austin out of the company, thus depriving them of their chance to take him out themselves. With Benoit still not quite ready to make his return to action, Flair challenged Eddie to match at the King of the Ring, which Latino Heat accepted before the two former Radicalz members beat down their old boss. Whilst the build was really thrown together, this was a pretty decent showing, and it was cool to see Flair back in the mix as a full time wrestler. At the time nobody could have foreseen how long he would remain in that role, much like another man we'll be seeing in action down the line. Meanwhile Eddie has been great since returning to the company in April, so he definitely deserves this chance to lace his boots against the Man. He's out alone here to start, and the two men trade offence with the crowd heavily behind the Nature Boy. Flair proves that he's the dirtiest player in the game, as despite being back in the face role he's not hesitant about busting out a thumb to the eyes or a low blow. Eddie takes over for a bit and works over Flair's legs, busting out a Figure Four, only for Flair to avoid a subsequent Frog Splash and lock in a Figure Four of his own. The burst of momentum for the Nature Boy brings Chris Benoit out to ringside though. Eddie distracts the ref to allow Benoit to put a beating on Flair outside the ring, complete with a Crippler Crossface on the floor. While the damage is done, the ref suspects something and ejects Benoit from ringside. This brings out Bubba Ray Dudley however, who had been getting a little face push in the midcard on Raw at the time. He sneaks in and hits a Bubba Bomb on Eddie to even things up and Flair comes back in and covers Latino Heat for the victory at 16:50. This got a lot of time, and while it wasn't a classic by any stretch, it was a really enjoyable match between two greats. Flair's honeymoon with the fans continues with his aborted heel run and he comes out victorious thanks to an assist from Bubba here. Flair would get his real chance as a heel again later down the line. Some will complain about Eddie not getting the win over an ageing Flair here, but this was his first match back as a regular performer and you had Bubba play a role in the decision. That would lead to a feud between Bubba and the Eddie/Benoit combination going forwards on Raw so it all made sense. The match was a way of resetting the key storylines on Raw after Austin left the scene, but we got some fun stuff here.
Grade: ***

We now cross to the World Restaurant in New York, where William Regal and new debut Christopher Nowinski are waiting to be served. They complain about the waitress who says she is still in school. Nowinski rips on her, saying that he's a Harvard Graduate.

WWE Women's Championship:
Trish Stratus (c) vs Molly Holly

After detouring with Stacy and the Dudley Boyz last month, Trish Stratus continues a rivalry that we saw teased at Backlash in her next PPV title defence. Molly has had issues with Trish ever since turning heel after splitting from the Hurricane in April. It all started when she attacked Trish with a paddle on an episode of Raw, and since then, Molly has used every chance she's had to attack Trish, including assaulting her before her match against Jazz on PPV two months ago. The rivalry escalated on a recent episode of Raw as Trish teamed with Spike Dudley against Molly and William Regal. In that match, Molly would use Regal's brass knucks to score a pinfall over Trish. The sneak attacks would continue in the weeks that followed, and Molly would pin Trish in a non-title match to earn this shot, giving the challenger the momentum heading into this show. Now, Molly is a very capable wrestler and she would become one of the steadying forces in the division over the next year or so, but this was around the time that Trish was coming into her own as well. She's spent the past six months improving greatly since being thrown in the deep end as champion. This match is not great though, and its particularly hurt by Lawler on commentary who spends the whole match ripping on Molly for her "junk in the trunk". It had become the thing to tease Molly about on TV, but I don't see how its meant to be a bad thing. Both women are very attractive. Anyway, Molly gets a good amount of time in control here as she establishes herself as a player in the divas division. Trish comes back as Molly misses a Molly-Go-Round attempt but its not enough to put her challenger away. Trish rolls Molly up in the closing moments of the match, but the challenger reverses into a roll up of her own to score the win with a handful of tights at 5:41. Molly Holly is the new WWE Women's Champion and she becomes the new heel that Trish will chase for the next few months as she continues to grow as the face of the division.
Grade: *3/4

We now cross to Mark Lloyd who is standing by with the recently shaved bald Kurt Angle, who is wearing a strap on wig as he has been ever since Judgment Day. Angle claims that he is the only American Hero as Hogan never did anything to deserve that moniker. They face off next, and back in the arena Cole & Tazz hype the match before throwing it to a video package of the feud.

Hollywood Hulk Hogan vs Kurt Angle
This rather unique pairing had a simple build on Smackdown heading into this show. After losing the Undisputed title at Judgment Day, Hogan confronted Mr McMahon who had interfered in his match with the Undertaker at our last PPV. During that confrontation, Kurt Angle would interrupt and nailed Hogan with a lead pipe. Hogan retaliated later in the night by costing Angle a steel cage match against Edge to blow off that rivalry. This led to Angle challenging Hogan to a match at King of the Ring, a match that the Hulkster was all too happy to accept. Later in the night, Hogan teamed with Triple H to face Angle and the Undertaker. The heel team was victorious by disqualification in that match, but afterwards Hogan would embarrass Kurt by ripping off his wig. As a result, Kurt is out for revenge on the Icon. Again, this feud is a great example of how awesome Hogan was on the roster in 2002 - he's mixing things up in the midcard to put someone else in Kurt Angle. And that's exactly what happens here. Its so refreshing compared to what many think of when they immediately think of Hogan. The Hulkster starts out on offence as he throws Kurt around, but Kurt takes over and out wrestles Hogan. He delivers an Angle Slam, but this leads to Hogan Hulking up and in the process of this, he rips off Kurt's wig to a big pop from the crowd. He would pretty much stop wearing the wig after this PPV to become the Kurt we are all familiar with. Anyway, Kurt is furious that Hogan has exposed his baldness, so he goes for a chair, and we get the spot from Backlash where he misses a shot only for the chair to bounce off the ropes and hit Kurt in his own head. This gives Hogan to opening to go through his usual big boot and legdrop combination, but it doesn't end the match. Instead, Kurt grabs Hogan's leg and catches him in the Ankle Lock! Hogan struggles to get to the ropes but Kurt keeps him trapped in the hold which causes the unthinkable - Hulk Hogan taps out to the Ankle Lock at 12:08. A huge moment there and possibly Hogan's first submission loss in his illustrious career. That's how you put the Ankle Lock over in a big way. Now the match wasn't up to the standard of Kurt's previous PPV battles with Edge, but you didn't expect that going in. Hogan's body wasn't what it used to be, but he still busted his ass on this night to put on an entertaining match, and thats what you asked of him at this point in his career. I really love the Hogan run of 2002, and this match is another example why. Kurt moves back into the title scene over the next month, whilst Hogan has an interesting detour before putting over another big star to wrap up his year.
Grade: **3/4

We now go to the odd couple team of Booker T and Goldust backstage. Booker is now a face after hanging around with Goldust after being booted (literally) from the nWo by Shawn Michaels. Goldust is dressed up as the Rock and does an impersonation when all of a sudden the Great One himself walks in. He asks Goldust what in the blue hell is wrong with him and talks him down in the fashion that only the Rock can. Hilarious segment to get Rock on camera before the main event.

King of the Ring Finals:
Rob Van Dam vs Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman

Its an all Raw final here, which is fine with the main event being from Smackdown. Of course, the result of this one was never in doubt from the moment Lesnar was entered into the tournament. RVD has the support of the fans but Brock Lesnar was viewed as the future of the company at this point in time - hence the Next Big Thing title. The match was essentially a glorified squash for Brock to stamp his ticket to SummerSlam in what was one of the biggest pushes to the top for a rookie of all time. RVD gets some offence in though and he attempts to take the early advantage with a series of kicks to Brock's legs hoping to take them out from under him. Brock's strength proves to be too much though, and he levels Van Dam with a nice powerbomb before taking over with some power offence. He slows things down, locking the I.C champion in a bear hug, but RVD fights back and gets a last burst when Lesnar is sent into the ring post off a charge. Heyman interferes to cut off a Five Star attempt at victory for Mr Monday Night and from there its just a matter of the inevitable. RVD comes off the top again, but Lesnar catches him and delivers the F-5 to become the 2002 King of the Ring winner at 5:43. Fine for what it was. The monster push continues as Lesnar has a guaranteed title shot at SummerSlam. This rivalry will go on to our next show however.
Grade: **

Backstage Triple H is ready for his title match, but he runs into Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, X-Pac and the Big Show of the nWo. Its the Clique, with Show playing the role of Hall! Shawn tells Triple H he has friends in the nWo, but Triple H says he's fine on his own. We'll see this relationship develop over the next few months. It would lead to something nobody imagined.

From here we get our hype for the main event and video package.

Undisputed WWE Championship:
Undertaker (c) vs Triple H

This all started as Taker continued his bullying ways since winning the Undisputed title at Judgment Day. He challenged the youngster Randy Orton to a match on Smackdown, and after successfully retaining his title, Triple H made his way to the ring to confront Big Evil. The Game demanded a title shot, but Taker would walk off and cost Triple H a match against Test later in the night. After the loss, Taker assaulted the Game with a steel chair, injuring his arm in the process. The following week, Mr McMahon announced a number one contenders battle royal would take place to select who from the Smackdown brand would be next in line to face the Undertaker for the title. The battle royal ended in controversy, with Triple H and Hollywood Hulk Hogan's feet both hitting the floor at the same time. This led to a match between the two later in the night, with the Game coming out victorious to earn the shot at the American Bad Ass. While all this was going on, the Rock had returned to WWE TV after filming his latest movie since Mania. He made an appearance on Raw, ripping into Austin for taking his ball home and telling him to get the F out before announcing on the Smackdown before this show that he would be at the King of the Ring during the Undisputed Championship match. He does not make his way out at the start of this one though, which leads to JR & King wondering where the Great One is as Triple H and the Undertaker get this thing under way. They are not alone though, as Paul Heyman has stayed at ringside from the previous match and joins them in the booth, talking up Lesnar's title shot at SummerSlam. Now, Triple H and the Undertaker had a really good match back at WrestleMania X-7 (with both guys in opposite roles at the time) but this doesn't come anywhere close to that. Its not terrible like some would have you believe, but its still a pretty weak main event for a show that hasn't really had a stand out great match. The action starts out as a brawl all over the place with the crowd into both men despite Taker still being a heel. Both men would actually have a change in attitude soon enough. Where the match loses the crowd is when the Undertaker goes on offence and slowly works over the injured challenger. Heyman is the only thing that keeps this interesting at this point as he talks about the Rock not coming out because Brock supposedly punked him in the locker room. After avoiding Snake Eyes from the champion, Triple H launches his comeback and goes for the Pedigree, only to be sent right into the referee, knocking him out. Cue the music and out comes the Rock to wake up the crowd! He runs off Heyman as the two competitors take to the floor again, only for Taker to cheap shot the Great One. Rock responds by getting in the ring to deck the champ with a chair only to accidentally hit the Game instead. We get some finishers from there from all three men, but Taker kicks out from a Triple H cover after a Rock Bottom from the Great One. The Game follows up with a Pedigree, but Taker hits a low blow out of nowhere and rolls Triple H up for the three to retain his title at 23:44. The start and finish of this match were pretty entertaining, but the middle portion with Taker on offence really dragged things down. If the match had been maybe seven minutes shorter it would have been better as that whole part seemed like they were just killing time until Rock could come out to liven things up. Not a great title match to end the evening.
Grade: **

After the match, Rock gets in a confrontation with the Undertaker, but Triple H recovers and Pedigrees the Great One for the accidental chair shot earlier. Taker responds by chokeslamming the Game and we end the show with the Undisputed Champion standing tall.

This PPV came at a very strange time for the WWE, as major changes had (and would continue to) take place. The loss of Stone Cold Steve Austin called for a shaking up of the storylines and roster, and we would see the effects of that going forward into the summer. Right now the only thing clear is Brock Lesnar is getting pushed to the moon as he'll be main eventing SummerSlam for the Undisputed title less than six months removed from his debut on the main roster. The WWE would attempt to establish some new stars over the next few years as most of the stars of the Attitude era would fade away from regular competition and Brock was the first example of that in this era. As far as the main event scene goes otherwise, it seemed as though a triple threat between Taker, Rock and Triple H was likely based on the ending of the title match, but that wouldn't happen. Also we have the variable of Shawn Michaels in the mix. It was a very interesting time, and a time of change, but this wasn't a great show. The opener was the match of the night, and while decent was nothing earth shattering, whilst the Flair/Eddie and Angle/Hogan matches were a fun watch. The main story of this night was the rise of the undefeated Next Big Thing. The rest was just there for the most part.

Three Stars of the Night:
1. Brock Lesnar - the Next Big Thing continues to rise up the ranks faster than anyone imagined possible.
2. Rob Van Dam - a solid performance in the opener and a good fan favourite that had the crowd behind him despite being taken out by Lesnar in the tournament finals.
3. Hollywood Hulk Hogan - it wasn't a great match from a traditional standpoint, but I really enjoyed it for what it was. Hogan as the veteran that worked with a whole heap of guys on a weekly basis in 2002 was so much fun.

FINAL GRADE: 3.5 out of 10

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 = 67
The Rock = 64
Triple H = 60
Mick Foley = 38
Kurt Angle = 30
Undertaker = 29
Chris Jericho = 29
Randy Savage = 28
Hulk Hogan = 25
Owen Hart = 21
X-Pac = 18
Chris Benoit = 16
Jeff Hardy = 16
Diesel = 15
Edge = 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
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
Brock Lesnar = 3
Brutus Beefcake = 2
Paul Orndorff = 2
Andre the Giant = 2
Rick Rude = 2
Sgt Slaughter = 2
Jeff Jarrett = 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
Eddie Guerrero = 1

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @Mpmcc91 Thanks for reading!