WWE PPV Flashbacks: Royal Rumble - 1/20/2002 - Time to Play the Game

Royal Rumble
January 20, 2002
Phillips Arena, Atlanta, GA

As a new year dawns, a new Road to WrestleMania begins, kicking off with the annual Royal Rumble event. The big story heading into this event was the return of Triple H, who had been out with a quadricep injury for a number of months. The Game returned to a hero's ovation on the first Raw of the year in Madison Square Garden and announced his participation in the Rumble match. It was fairly clear that he was the favourite to win, but it was a fairly star studded list of participants that had an outside shot, as we'll see later on. Also tonight, the rivalry continues as the first ever Undisputed WWF Champion, Chris Jericho, puts his title on the line against the Rock. We also have the return to the ring of Ric Flair, as he does battle with his evil co-owner Mr McMahon. Lets get the road to Mania going. As always, please send your feedback to me on Twitter at @Mpmcc91 and spread the word about these reviews.

The opening video package is all about the Rumble as expected. After our opening pyro we are welcomed to the show by our announce team of Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler.

WWF Tag Team Championship:
Spike Dudley & Tazz (c) vs Dudley Boyz w/Stacy Keibler
Our opening match is an interesting combination stemming from quite the upset a few weeks prior. On the first Raw of the year from Madison Square Garden, the Dudley Boyz once again bullied their brother Spike backstage. This led to Spike challenging them to a tag title match with a partner of his choosing. Spike would choose Tazz, who was back on the roster after the whole Invasion debacle, and the unlikely duo would defeat the Dudley Boyz to become the new WWF Tag Team Champions. The Dudley Boyz were looking for revenge here, and have the Dutchess of Dudleyville herself by their side as usual. Spike has a neck brace on due to a beating he took at the hands of the former champions on the Smackdown before the PPV. The challengers take out Tazz first on the outside, before teaming up on Spike in the ring, connecting with the 3D to their little brother in the early going. Bubba rips off Spike's neck brace and the Dudley Boyz continue their assault, talking trash as they continue to beat Spike down. Tazz eventually recovers and gets up on the apron. He gets tagged in, but D-Von distracts the ref at that moment so the tag is never seen. This allows the challengers to continue to control Spike and get closer to victory. They hit a double flapjack on the runt of the family and go for the Wazzup moments later. D-Von misses however and Spike gets a breath of wind, sending both his opponents crashing into one another. That gives him the chance to get the hot tag to Tazz, and the Human Suplex Machine proceeds to clean house. Spike takes D-Von out with a Dudley Dog, whilst Stacy attempts to distract Tazz. Tazz responds by catching her in the Tazmission. D-Von recovers and counters a second Dudley Dog attempt, but Tazz avoids his charge and locks him in the Tazzmission instead. D-Von taps to a huge pop and the unlikely champions retain their titles at 5:06. This was a fun, quick match to open the PPV. The crowd were into the Spike & Tazz underdog team, although I remember thinking the Dudleyz would regain the titles here. Alas, the reign of the unlikely champions would continue, with this reign serving as a nice way for Spike to get some payback on his brothers whilst also giving Tazz his last really hurrah as an active competitor. He'd be done in the ring in a few months.
Grade: **

We now get a recap looking at the issues between Edge and William Regal. We then go backstage to Lillian Garcia who is with Edge. Edge says that he has an equaliser against Regal's brass knucks and holds up a chair.

WWF Intercontinental Championship:
Edge (c) vs William Regal
This rivalry has continued since Edge successfully retained his title against Regal back at Vengeance. In the weeks that followed, Regal would lay Edge out with the brass knuckles, which led to Edge responding with a steel chair on an episode of Smackdown, with which he busted open Regal's nose. The rivalry continued with Regal challenging Edge to a rematch after laying him out with the knucks on the first Raw of the year. The following week, Regal would pick up a tag team victory over the champion courtesy of the knucks. Edge would get the momentum back on the Smackdown before this show however, nailing Regal with a chair when he attempted to interfere in his match with Test. Anyway, the referee for this one is Nick Patrick, and he searches the ring area for Regal's knucks before the match. He ends up searching Regal's tights and finding them. Edge meanwhile jumps Regal as he argues with the official with the match getting under way. Regal gets a few shots in, but the early going is basically Edge in control as he builds some momentum and goes after Regal's nose. The momentum shifts when Regal tosses Edge to the outside, but Edge comes back with a DDT on the apron after they brawl on the floor. Both men end up going down and we get some more back and forth. Edge goes for the Edgecution, but Regal counters into the Regal Stretch. Edge fights his way to the ropes to break the hold and he then gets the challenger caught in an STF instead. Some more back and forth follows, but Edge comes back and sets up for the Spear. Regal starts to play with his trunks however, and that causes Nick Patrick to check up on him, thinking he's going for another pair of knucks. That allows Regal to push the ref into the way of the Spear instead. Regal then pulls out another pair of brass knuckles and nails Edge with them. With the champion out cold, the ref recovers and Regal makes the pin to win the match at 9:45. William Regal is the new WWF Intercontinental Champion following a solid match, which could have been better with a little more time. I enjoyed it more than Vengeance and I really liked Regal's resourcefulness using the knucks to his advantage. I remember being infuriated with his villainous ways as a kid. After the match, Michael Cole gets a word in the aisle with Regal, and Regal proclaims he won due to the blessed Power of the Punch that he possesses.
Grade: ***

WWF Women's Championship:
Trish Stratus (c) vs Jazz
Special Guest Referee: Jacqueline
Our next title match of the evening sees Trish Stratus continuing her reign as Women's Champion by defending against a new challenger, Jazz, who made her debut back at Survivor Series and had been biding her time until getting her shot at the gold here. Jazz would attack Trish backstage on the Smackdown before this show, with Trish coming in with an injured hand as a result. Jacqueline is the guest referee, which is a role she would randomly fill over the next few months on TV, but she also was defeated by Trish back at Vengeance. Anyway, Jazz takes control in the early moments, but Trish fights back giving us some back and forth. Trish attempts to go up top, but Jazz stops her in her tracks and follows up with a legdrop to the champion. The challenger proceeds to target Trish's injured hand until Jackie intervenes and gets into a confrontation with Jazz. She gives a slow count as Jazz covers Trish moments later in response. Trish comes back and puts Jazz away with the Stratusfaction to retain her title at 3:43. A short match here with a somewhat surprising outcome as Jazz had been build up quite strongly heading into her title shot here. The feud would continue though. The match was decent for the time it had. Trish is slowly improving as well.
Grade: *1/2

Prior to our next match we hear comments from Ric Flair earlier in the night thanks to Jonathan Coachman. Flair's family will be at ringside in the crowd. Flair says he's going to beat Vince, and we go to a video package looking at their rivalry.

Street Fight:
Ric Flair vs Mr McMahon
After weeks of animosity between these two since Ric Flair was named co-owner of the WWF following Survivor Series, things brewed over on the last Smackdown of 2001. Vince and Flair would get into an argument which led to Flair shoving Vince down. McMahon would respond the following Raw by dressing up and impersonating Flair in a funny moment. Flair would interrupt, but Vince would respond by pulling out a lead pipe from his robe and smashing his business partner in the skull with it. The following week, McMahon would beat Flair down again, this time with Jericho helping to do the damage.Vince said that he took pleasure in destroying lives, and he was going to destroy Flair's at the Royal Rumble. And so for the first time since 1993, Ric Flair makes his return to a WWF ring for revenge. Flair gets a great pop from the crowd for his entrance, but Vince shoves him down right away. In great heel Vince fashion, he mocks Flair's strut, which leads to the Nature Boy coming back and beating on Vince in the corner. After some back and forth, Flair busts out the chops, but Vince turns the tide with a rake to the eyes and subsequent clothesline to the 16 time world champion. The fights moves to the floor, where Vince gets his hands on a street sign and busts Flair open with it. With Flair's crimson mask going, Vince tosses him into the ring steps and slams him down. He then grabs a camera from Flair's daughter (yep, thats Charlotte, NXT fans!) and takes pictures of her battered father with it. The action then goes back to the ring with McMahon still in control. He goes to work on Flair's ankle, using the ring post to his advantage before getting Flair in his own figure four leglock. Flair counters though, which leaves Vince writhing in pain until he escapes to the floor and gets his hands on the lead pipe. Vince goes to use it, but Flair goes back to his dirtiest player in the game roots with a low blow. The Nature Boy is now in total control as he chops at McMahon and busts him open with a monitor from the announce table. He beats on Vince some more, biting at him in front of his family before tossing him back in the ring. Back inside, Flair nails Vince with the pipe and then locks in the figure four, which leads to Vince tapping out at 14:55. A really fun fight here that served as a good way to work Flair back into ring shape. Vince gets his ass handed to him like always, and tensions between the co-owners would only escalate from here however.
Grade: ***

We now go backstage, where Michael Cole attempts to get a word with Nick Patrick about Regal using the knucks earlier in the evening. Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley interrupts however. She had returned to TV following the downfall of the Alliance once Triple H returned to action. She says that Triple H would be victorious in the Rumble and starts talking about all the people he will eliminate, when Stone Cold comes up behind her. He continually says "What?" in response to everything she says before scaring her off. Left alone with Cole, Austin says he'll be winning the Rumble regardless of who gets in his way. We then get a video package for our upcoming Undisputed Championship match.

Undisputed WWF Championship:
Chris Jericho (c) vs The Rock
So Jericho won the Undisputed Championship by defeating the Rock and Stone Cold in the one night through some controversy, and now he does battle again with a man that he has developed quite the rivalry with in the Rock. Jericho is still considered the underdog here due to Rock's status, but he's managed to hold onto his title over the past month including a steel match with Stone Cold on Raw a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, Rock defeated the reinstated Booker T on the first Smackdown of the year to earn this title shot. The rivalry continued from there, with Rock picking up a tag team victory over Jericho the next week, making the champion tap out to the Sharpshooter. Anyway, this is where it all counts as these two get set to end the feud that started back in October. Jericho starts out cocky and gives Rock the "Just Bring It" motion, which leads to the Great One unloading on the champ and sending him scurrying to the floor after a Samoan Drop. Rock gives chase outside and spears Y2J on the floor, but back inside the ring, Jericho gets a chance to go on offence. His cockiness continues to show as he attempts to cover Rock with one foot following a suplex which obviously leads to a kick out. Jericho follows up by removing the turnbuckle pad before getting Rock in the Walls. Rock fights out but Jericho remains in control with some more offence. Rock launches a comeback, but Y2J cuts him off and dishes out two consecutive Lionsaults to the challenger. Rock kicks out so Jericho argues with the ref but moments later the challenger has the champ caught in the Sharpshooter. This brings out Lance Storm & Christian, who had formed a loose alliance with Jericho in recent weeks, and they distract the ref whilst Jericho taps out. Rock fights them off, but Jericho responds with Rock Bottom to the challenger for a near fall. Storm & Christian are sent backstage, and Jericho goes for the People's Elbow to add further insult to Rock. Rock gets up before he can connect though, and he sends Jericho to the floor, where the brawl moves over to the announce table. They get on top of the Spanish table and start trading blows, but Rock delivers a jumping Rock Bottom to send Y2J through the other table in a cool spot. By the time he gets Jericho back in the ring however, he manages to kick out at two. Jericho hits another Rock Bottom on Rock and goes for the Walls, but Rock gets to the ropes, forcing the break. The ref gets taken out in some back and forth, and Jericho lays Rock out with the title belt. He then calls for a ref and out comes Nick Patrick, who is apparently still evil at this point. I thought it ended last year. Rock kicks out and hits a DDT on Jericho, but Patrick refuses to count. Rock takes him out with a Rock Bottom and then sets up the People's Elbow on Jericho. There's no ref to count again though. Y2J resorts to a low blow and then sends Rock into the steel turnbuckle that he exposed early on in the match. Jericho covers and gets his feet on the ropes, whilst Hebner recovers and counts the three for Jericho to retain his title at 18:48. A really good match which made Jericho look great as he continues his reign as champion. Yeah there was a lot of interference and shenanigans, but I didn't feel like it took away from the matches in the way it did at Vengeance. These two just had amazing chemistry as I keep saying, and the feud ends here with Jericho picking up some needed momentum as his reign continues. Rock had some pretty big things laying ahead too. Great match that was right on the level with their No Mercy performance.
Grade: ****

We now cross to WWF New York, where Shawn Michaels is in attendance. Its been quite a while since we've seen him on screen, although we'll keep that in the back of our mind for now. He says that a fellow Texan will win the Rumble, and he's picking either Austin or Taker. We then get a video package for the big match as its Rumble time!

Royal Rumble Match:
We start things off with the Fink announcing the rules like usual. Intervals are two minutes between entrants. Our #1 entrant is Rikishi, who made his return towards the end of last year after being sidelined due to injury. We get our first return to the company at #2 as its Goldust, making an appearance in the WWF for the first time since 1999. Cool moment there already. He'd settle into the heel role for a little bit coming off this show. The two men go at it until they are joined by the Big Bossman at #3. We haven't seen him on PPV since 2000. I'm not sure if he was injured or something, but this would end up being his last PPV before sadly passing away in 2004 due to a heart attack. The three men are joined by Bradshaw of the APA at #4, and Bossman cops a stinkface from Rikishi shortly afterwards. Rikishi follows up by tossing Bossman out to score the first elimination of the match. Lance Storm is out next at #5, and as we saw earlier in the night he's formed an allegiance with Christian. We'll see that evolve over the course of the year. Al Snow is next at #6, and he's back to using his classic Attitude era theme now that Tough Enough is over. He's still over here despite his ring days winding down, as the crowd chants 'we want Head'. Billy Gunn, now a heel and simply going by Billy, is #7. Meanwhile Lance Storm gets sent packing by Snow. Billy picks up some momentum from the outset by dumping Bradshaw. We now get our first big name of the match as the Undertaker enters at #8. Despite being a heel, he still gets a huge pop. He's also still the Hardcore Champion. He starts dishing out chokeslams and within moments has eliminated all four guys still in the ring - Goldust, Snow, Rikishi and Billy. We have another return next though, as Matt Hardy comes out, alongside Lita as #9. This was his return after being destroyed by Taker alongside his brother a few weeks ago. He's back to fully being a face after the heel tease at the end of 2001, and the Hardy Boyz would continue for a while yet. Speaking of which, Jeff Hardy also returns as #10. The reunited Team Extreme works together against Big Evil, with Lita getting involved as well. Jeff hits the Swanton, but Taker comes back moments later and tosses the younger Hardy brother. He follows up with a Last Ride to Matt and sends him packing as well.

With Undertaker all alone in the ring once again, the Tough Enough music hits and the #11 entrant is Maven, the rookie who won the competition. He was always a guy I liked as a kid. Lawler is killing himself laughing on commentary, ready to see the new kid destroyed, and Taker decks him with a boot. Taker then turns his attention back to Lita, who is still at ringside. He knocks her off the apron which lead to the Hardy Boyz slugging it out with him again. As Taker sends them packing once more, Maven sneaks up behind Big Evil, and in perhaps the greatest moment of his career, the rookie eliminates the Undertaker! Awesome moment there and Taker is irate. Taker is not going to led it slide and he gets back in and beats the hell out of Maven, taking him to the floor and unloading with a chair. During all this, Scotty 2 Hotty comes out at #12, and gets nailed on the floor by the American Bad Ass as he's dancing to the ring. Taker then brings Maven back into the ring and throws him over the top rope, providing another instance where the rule has changed as to whether eliminated guys can eliminate people from the match, as Maven ends up being eliminated by this. Taker continues to punish the rookie from here, beating him through the crowd and into the concession area, where Taker busts him open at a popcorn stand. Just an awesome use of Taker here that really got people talking about Maven at the time. Back to the ring, Christian has entered at #13. He's still the European Champion. Scotty recovers from his beating and gets in the ring to do battle with Christian. Out next is Diamond Dallas Page at #14, back after the end of the Invasion and now a face. He was starting up a rivalry with Christian at the time, and he soon hits him with a Diamond Cutter. Scotty follows up with the Worm to Christian, but Page eliminates the former Too Cool member moments later. Our halfway point is next as Chuck (that's Chuck Palumbo) is #15, hoping to fare better than his new partner Billy. Another guy we haven't seen in a while is next, as the Godfather returns to his old roots, with the ladies in tow at #16. While all this going on, DDP gets tossed by Christian. Godfather takes a long time to get in the ring and by the time he does, its almost time for the next entrant, as Albert comes in at #17. He was still teaming with Scotty 2 Hotty as the fun loving, hip hop hippo here. He gets eliminated fairly quickly by Christian & Chuck though, and Godfather faces the same fate moments later after missing the Ho Train. Perry Saturn is next at #18, and this would be his last PPV appearance. The roof blows off for the next entrant though, as Stone Cold Steve Austin enters at #19. I remember as a kid thinking he was going to win despite it being quite obvious who the favourite was in hindsight. Massive What chants from the crowd as he quickly cleans house, tossing Christian, Chuck and Saturn out in succession. He's not done there though as he grabs Chuck and brings him back into the ring to give him a Stunner for the sake of it before tossing him out again. Val Venis interrupts Austin's playtime, making his return to action at #20. He's back to his porn star character now that the RTC is history, and is a face once again. Austin unloads on Venis right away though and takes him down with the Thesz press.

Test kicks off our last third of the playing field at #21, with the announcers still putting him over big time and mentioning his immunity. Its going to be interesting to see when that fades away. Test eliminates Venis with a big boot, but he cops a Stunner from Austin moments later. That allows the Rattlesnake to get rid of Test moments later, leaving him alone to prepare for the next entrant. And what an entrant it turns out to be, as Triple H is #22 to a huge ovation. Thats not the only thing thats huge here as he's probably the biggest he's ever been in his career muscle wise in this run too. He stares down with Austin as the place goes nuts. The two huge stars slug it out and the Hurricane is out next at #23. He's a face now that the Alliance is done, which makes sense considering he's a superhero and all. Funny spot as he goes for a double chokeslam to both Austin and Trips, only for them to shrug it off after looking at each other and dumping him over the top. We now get the battle between the old Power Trip partners again, but Faarooq of the APA interrupts at #24. He doesn't last long though, as Triple H gets rid of him within seconds. Another big return next as Mr Perfect is number #25, looking great to a good reaction. He'd stick around a few months as a veteran heel in the midcard but would be released following the infamous plane ride from hell, and would sadly pass away the following year. Yet another great gone far too soon. Kurt Angle joins the mix at #26 and the announcers mention that this is the first time he's been in the Rumble match. Big Show is next at #27. He's still doing a whole lot of nothing, but he cleans house with power moves here upon entering the ring. A fellow big man and Show's recent tag partner, Kane, is out next at #28. He's coming off his awesome performance in the Rumble last year. He and Big Show go at it, with Kane actually slamming Show out of the match. Kane's moment is short lived though, as Austin gives him a Stunner and Angle follows up with an Angle Slam over the top eliminating the Big Red Machine. Big pop for the next entrant, as Rob Van Dam enters next at #29. He hits the Five Star on Angle and mixes it up with the other guys before taking a Pedigree from the Game. The final entrant is Booker T at #30, still a heel after costing Austin the Undisputed title at Vengeance.He cuts RVD's momentum off by eliminating him and follows up with a Spinarooni. Austin gets some payback on Booker shortly afterwards though, hitting him with a Stunner and eliminating him from the match.

That brings us to the final four - Triple H, Stone Cold, Kurt Angle and Mr Perfect. Triple H gets taken down courtesy of a slingshot from Austin, followed by an Angle Slam from Kurt. Angle build momentum with the German combo to Austin, but the Rattlesnake hits a low blow to escape. Angle and Perfect double team Austin, but the Rattlesnake fights back. He attempts to eliminate Perfect when all of a sudden Angle sneaks up and eliminates Austin. I was stunned as I figured he would be in there at the end at the very least. In hindsight Austin going out early made sense though to ensure they got the type of reaction they wanted at the end. Austin pulls Angle out under the ropes and brawls with him outside, tossing him into the ring steps. He follows up by delivering a chair shot each to the three remaining guys before leaving ringside. Perfect double crosses Kurt as he hits him with the Perfectplex to a big pop. Perfect gets tossed by Triple H moments layer though officially ending his time on PPV. I always wonder what could have been for Perfect's run here. Alas it was not to be. We're now down to Triple H and Kurt, with the crowd clearly behind the Game, which is what I alluded to earlier with Austin. If he was in there it would have been split. We get some back and forth until Kurt backdrops Triple H over, and he celebrates thinking he has won. Trips manages to hold on though to prevent his feet from touching the floor, so he's still in it. Triple H pulls himself back in and takes down a surprised Angle with the running knee before clotheslining Kurt out to win the Rumble at 69:22, the longest Rumble to this date. Triple H is going to the main event of WrestleMania coming off his hot return to the ring, whilst Kurt Angle cries at ringside. Another really fun Rumble match for the third year in a row. There were lots of fun spots in the match, some great returns, and some star power. Thats what you really look for in a Rumble. A lot of the entrants towards the end were stacked, which ended up hurting some guys like RVD and Booker who could have used more time in there but had to get dumped quickly, but for the most part the pacing was really good. The stuff with Taker early on was fun and led to one of the greatest Rumble moments ever with Maven eliminating the Dead Man. Then once Austin came in the match really picked up, with this only increasing even more when the Game entered. Triple H winning was the obvious choice here coming off his big return. His road to WrestleMania would be an interesting one though.
Grade: ****

This was a fun show to kick off the new year and the Road to WrestleMania. The Game is back and he's got his ticket to the main event by virtue of his victory in a fun filled Rumble match. Meanwhile Chris Jericho retains his Undisputed Championship by ending his rivalry with the Rock, and Ric Flair makes his triumphant return to the ring by taking it to his evil co-owner. Outside of the Women's title match (which only went for a few minutes anyway) there was nothing bad here. The opening tag was a bit short but still gave us a good moment as the underdog champions continued their unlikely reign with the titles. It was great to see Flair back in a WWF ring, and both the title match and Rumble were both excellent. A strong show to kick off a very interesting year with a major announcement soon to come as well.

Three Stars of the Night:
1. Triple H - back and on his way to the biggest show of the year. The face role was refreshing as it was really his first proper go in the role since rising to the main event scene.
2. Chris Jericho - a very good title defence against the Rock, which whilst filled with overbooking gave a decisive win to Y2J. What would lie ahead now for the first ever Undisputed Champion?
3. The Rock - again, he had great chemistry with Jericho that resulted in a very good title match.

FINAL GRADE: 7.5 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 = 108
Bret Hart = 83
Shawn Michaels = 67
The Rock = 61
Triple H = 54
Mick Foley = 38
Kurt Angle = 29
Randy Savage = 28
Undertaker = 26
Chris Jericho = 25
Owen Hart = 21
Hulk Hogan = 18
X-Pac = 18
Chris Benoit = 16
Jeff Hardy = 16
Diesel = 15
Matt Hardy = 14
Ultimate Warrior = 13
Vader = 13
British Bulldog = 12
Christian = 12
Edge = 12
Ted DiBiase = 10
Razor Ramon = 10
Vince McMahon = 10
Ric Flair = 8
Jim Neidhart = 7
Bubba Ray Dudley = 7
D-Von Dudley = 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
Rob Van Dam = 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
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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