WWE PPV Flashbacks: Vengeance (7/21/02) - "The Great One Returns"

July 21, 2002
Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI

As the summer of 2002 progressed, there was once again more change in the WWE. Since beating Ric Flair the previous month to regain total control of the company, Mr McMahon decided to shake things up by selecting hand picked General Managers to run the day to day affairs of Raw and Smackdown, effectively taking on the authority figure roles while he went off screen for the most part. The Smackdown GM was a familiar face, albeit with a change in attitude, as Vince appointed his daughter Stephanie to run the blue brand. Last she was see, Stephanie was the vindictive ex-wife of Triple H, but she was brought back to TV as a more mature and fan friendly business woman. The Raw GM was more of a shock however, as in a memorable moment of the red brand, Mr McMahon presented his old rival and former WCW President, Eric Bischoff as the General Manager on Monday nights. No sooner had Bischoff been introduced, we witnessed a surreal moment as the two men who waged war through their companies for years hugged on the stage for the world to see. With the new GMs, Mr McMahon announced that superstars were free to negotiate contracts to jump to the other show if they so desired. We'll see a few of those changes, but the big focus on that front was Smackdown's Triple H, who vowed to make his decision at this PPV. Also tonight, the Undertaker puts the Undisputed title on the line against the Rock and Kurt Angle in a triple threat match, while we have a rematch from the King of the Ring finals as Brock Lesnar battles Intercontinental Champion, Rob Van Dam. Lets get this show on the road. As always, please follow me at @Mpmcc91 on Twitter and spread the word about these reviews!

We kick the night off with the usual video package, and after the opening pyro throw to our announcers - Michael Cole & Tazz from Smackdown! They would call the first half of the show, while JR and King would take over later. They were still working out how to do the announcing for these dual branded shows, but would sort it out the following month.

Tables Elimination Match:
Bubba Ray Dudley & Spike Dudley vs Chris Benoit & Eddie Guerrero

Our first match of the night, coming from the Raw brand, sees the PPV return to action of Chris Benoit for the first time in over a year, after rupturing a disc that fragmented into his spinal collar back at the 2001 King of the Ring. As we saw last month, he returned to Raw and formed an alliance with his old buddy Eddie Guerrero, and quickly got involved in the affairs of former Raw owner Ric Flair. When Bubba Ray Dudley would stand up for Flair, and come to his aid at last month's PPV, the duo of Benoit & Guerrero would turn their focus on Bubba, and his new partner Spike, leading to this match contested under elimination tables rules. That obviously means both members of the opposing team have to be put through the table to win. Despite being a heel, Benoit gets a big pop from the crowd here after being out for so long. Now we know Eddie & Benoit are always able to go in the ring, but their opponents step up to the plate as well, which leads to a really fun opening contest to kick off the show. The Bubba singles push wasn't really working since the brand split, so it made sense to pair him up with Spike to make this second coming of the Dudleyz. The early part of the match sees the heels totally dominating their opponents, with Benoit showing no signs of ring rust. When the Dudleyz make a come back, the crowd are hot for their usual spots, but Bubba ends up going through a table on his own accord with a missed splash, but it doesn't count due to not being an offensive means of going through. Moments later however the Dudleyz continue to build momentum by Spike delivering a Dudley Dog to Eddie, scoring the first elimination of the match. Moments later the score is evened up however, with Benoit throwing Spike through a table on the outside. He goes to follow up with a German Suplex to Bubba through another table moments later, but Bubba counters and sends Benoit through the table at 14:59 with a Bubba Bomb to win the match for his team. While the result was a little shocking, with Benoit just returning to action and all, the loss wouldn't hurt the heels in the long run. This was a fun tables match that got the crowd going to kick off the night.
Grade: **3/4

We now go backstage to Jonathan Coachman, where Eric Bischoff is looking for Triple H. He finds him and asks him why he would even bother negotiating with Stephanie. Triple H blows him off as he'll make his decision later on.

WWE Cruiserweight Championship:
Jamie Noble (c) w/Nidia vs Billy Kidman

Now its time for our first Smackdown match of the night. Since winning the Cruiserweight title from the Hurricane last month at King of the Ring, Noble began to use his newfound glory to finance a larger trailer and outfits for Nidia. In the weeks that followed, he would also kick off a rivalry with a former champion in Billy Kidman. Kidman would pick up tag team victories over Noble on subsequent episodes of Smackdown, leading to Kidman challenging the champion to a title match here at Vengeance. One thing that I have to say about the brand extension and Smackdown in particular is that it actually made the Cruiserweight title important for pretty much the first time since its inception in the WWE. There was time to develop feuds for the division, and the depth of Noble's trailer trash character is an example of that. The crowd was behind Kidman for this one as he busted out some impressive fast paced offence in his efforts to regain the title he lost back in April. The champion would eventually take over however, slowing the pace and working over the shoulder of the challenger. After a bunch of back and forth and momentum changes, Kidman fought back into it and looked to be closing in on victory with a Shooting Star Press from the top. Noble would end up getting out of the way however, and follow up with a Tiger Bomb to pin the challenger at 7:34 to retain his title. Jamie Noble continues to establish himself as the dominant Cruiserweight Champion. This feud would pick up again down the line, but for now Noble focuses on fending off other challengers. A decent enough match for the time it was given.
Grade: **1/2

Backstage, Mark Lloyd is standing by with Kurt Angle, now completely without the wig. He talks up his chances in the main event when he is interrupted by Brock Lesnar & Paul Heyman. Heyman wishes Kurt luck but reminds him that his client has a guaranteed match for the title at SummerSlam.

WWF European Championship:
Jeff Hardy (c) vs William Regal

Now the last we saw of the European title was back at Insurrextion, where Spike Dudley successfully retained the championship against William Regal. Well as I mentioned in that review, Regal would regain the title a few days later on Raw. His reign would come to an end however a few weeks before this PPV on Raw, where he was defeated by Jeff Hardy. Hardy had since moved out into a solo role with his brother going to Smackdown around this point in time, and had actually competed against the Undertaker in an awesome ladder match for the Undisputed title the week prior to beating Regal for this title. Taker would show Hardy respect following the match, which would really start off his transition back into the face role, but more on that later. Back to the European title scene, Regal would gain a measure of revenge on the following Raw by costing Hardy a six man elimination tag by laying him out with a pair of brass knucks after already being eliminated from the match. That pretty much brings us to this one. It was a basic feud to continue Jeff's newfound singles push, but the title would not last all that longer anyway. Of course, Regal is always capable of putting on a solid match with the young talent, and thats basically what we get here for a few minutes. Jeff starts out on fire with the crowd behind him, but Regal takes over after getting his knees up to block a Swanton. Regal begins to work Jeff over with some power offence, but Jeff scores a roll up out of nowhere to get the quick win at 4:16. Regal cries once more. For what it was, but could have been better with another five minutes or so. As I mentioned before, this would mark the end of the European Championship on PPV. The next night on Raw, Jeff would face Rob Van Dam in a unification match with the Intercontinental Championship. RVD would win that match, putting an end to the lineage of the European Championship, which started back in 1997.
Grade: **

Backstage Ric Flair congratulates Jeff Hardy on his win, telling him he has a bright future. Hogan also walks in and does the same. You could tell they had big plans for Hardy down the line here. Jeff thanks the legends and leaves them to talk. Hogan and Flair both have concerns about the war that is going to be waged between Eric Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon.

John Cena vs Chris Jericho
Well, Chris Jericho's slide down from the main event scene continues as tonight he faces off against some rookie who just debuted a few weeks before this show. That John Cena kid surely won't become a big deal or anything right? After spending some time in the developmental OVW territory, Cena would debut on the main roster on an episode of Smackdown a few weeks before this show. He would answer an open challenge issued by Kurt Angle, and declared that he had ruthless aggression to make it in the WWE. Angle would ultimately win the match, but Cena showed great fire and would stick around on the blue brand in the weeks that followed. He would quickly start up a rivalry with Chris Jericho after picking up his first victory at Y2J's expense in a tag match. Jericho was irate after the upset, which led to him challenging the rookie to a singles match here at Vengeance. Now obviously this match is significant as its the PPV debut of the man who would go on to become the face of the next decade of the company's history. Of course, at this point in time nobody would have expected that, so it will be interesting to track Cena's growth over the next few years in these reviews. That said, the match is decent, as Jericho could get a solid showing out of anybody at this point and you could see there was some chemistry with the rookie that could be built on down the line. The angry Y2J grabs a chair and attempts to go after Cena before the bell, but Cena fights him off. Jericho uses his veteran instincts to take control as the match starts back up however and we get some good back and forth. Jericho's lack of focus comes back to bite him however, as he begins to argue with the ref before dishing out a Lionsault. Jericho taunts Cena rather than following up right away though, and as he finally locks in the Walls of Jericho, Cena rolls up his opponent for the upset at 6:21. A decent enough match but this is clearly more memorable based on historical significance. Cena gets the victory - get used to that sentence.
Grade: **1/4

Backstage, Eric Bischoff is waiting outside Stephanie's office with Triple H still inside. A lawyer arrives with some legal documents for Triple H to sign and Bischoff starts freaking out.

Back in the arena, Boomer Sooner hits and Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler make their way out to a big pop and replace Cole & Tazz for the rest of the show. JR & King will always be my favourite announce team purely for sentimental reasons, but I have to give credit to Cole & Tazz - they were an amazing team and would really come into their own on Smackdown. Anyway, we go to a video package for the next match.

WWE Intercontinental Championship:
Rob Van Dam (c) vs Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman

We're back to Raw again with our next match, a rematch from the finals of last month's tournament, although this time the Intercontinental Championship is on the line. Of course that immediately puts the bookers in a corner as they don't want Brock's first loss to be in a midcard title match, and they obviously have bigger plans for him than the Intercontinental title. Anyway, this goes back to RVD interrupting Lesnar's King of the Ring coronation ceremony on Raw. This led to Lesnar challenging Brock for the I.C title later in the night, but he was disqualified when Heyman interfered, setting up a beating for the reigning I.C champ. In the weeks that followed, Heyman would take credit for making RVD a star through ECW, and claiming that his new client would destroy his old creation. In the weeks that followed, RVD and Lesnar would go at it in various tag matches, with Lesnar typically decimating his opponent for the PPV. Now essentially, this was just a match to give Lesnar something to do against a credible guy to bide his time until next month. RVD gets a huge pop from his home state crowd, but nobody expected him to get a clean win over the Next Big Thing here. RVD uses his speed advantage to take control early on nonetheless, but once Brock gets his hands on the champion, he dishes out a beating with his power offence. The action moves to the outside where Brock continues to destroy Van Dam with a stiff slam to the floor, before slowing the pace back in the ring to grind his opponent down. With the crowd still behind him, RVD fights back and we get a comeback from the popular champ as the two men trade blows. RVD counters an F5 attempt but just as it appears Van Dam could actually be capable of doing the impossible with a Five Star, Heyman pulls the ref out to get Brock disqualified at 9:38. RVD retains the title but Brock is not done and he lays the winner out with an F5 after the match. This was decent and a little better than their match the previous month. The result was the only option here as I already mentioned and Lesnar looks like a monster by taking Van Dam out afterwards. Its not like Brock cared about the I.C title anyway.
Grade: **1/2

We go back to the office once more where Stephanie finally emerges, looking upset. Bischoff gloats saying he knew Triple H wouldn't sign the documents, but Stephanie said he did, before walking off. Moments later Triple H comes out and Bischoff yells at him and calls him an idiot for not negotiating with Raw. As it turns out however, Triple H has not yet signed with Smackdown - he was meeting with Stephanie to sign their divorce papers!

No DQ Match:
Booker T vs Big Show

Our next match of the night has its roots in the very end of the short lived nWo run in the WWE. As I mentioned last time, upon Shawn Michaels taking leadership of the group, Booker T was unceremoniously booted from the nWo in the weeks leading up to the King of the Ring, effectively turning him face in the process. With Booker out of the group, Kevin Nash would make his return to action a few weeks before this show, but would pull his quad during a ten man tag match on Raw, putting him right back on the shelf. X-Pac would also be released around this time, leaving Big Show as the only remaining active member (since Shawn was a non-competitor at the time). With the group basically on life support by this point, Mr McMahon would come out to the nWo theme on an episode of Raw and declare that the nWo was no longer in existence. It was an unceremonious end to one of the defining factions of the Monday Night Wars. Now, despite the nWo being done, the issues between Booker and Show were still there. That same night, Booker faced Show in singles action. During that match Show attacked Booker with a chair, getting disqualified in the process. This led to Show demanding Eric Bischoff give him a no DQ match at this show, which the Raw GM did. Anyway, Booker gets some early offence, showing some determination to take down the bigger man which gets the crowd behind him. Nonetheless, Show takes over and goes through his power arsenal as the match takes to the floor. Outside, Booker regains control by making use of the no DQ stipulation, hitting Show with a monitor and putting him through the announce table with a scissor kick in a fun spot. Back in the ring, Show attempts a chokeslam, only for Booker to go low and dish out another scissor kick. The five time WCW Champion goes up top from here and busts out the Houston Hangover for the victory at 6:12. An okay match which was just here to give the newly turned face some momentum with a win. Booker would move onto different things on Raw going forward, while Show would float aimlessly for a while longer.
Grade: **

Up next we check in at the World Restaurant, where this month's guests are Torrie Wilson and new Smackdown diva and ECW alumni, Dawn Marie. They would get to know each other quite well a few months down the line.

Back in the arena, Triple H makes his way out to the ring to make his decision. Big pop as always, but his face run was close to an end at this point. Before Triple H has a chance to say anything, Eric Bischoff interrupts and attempts to convince Triple H to come to Raw for the sake of business and the lack of any personal animosity. This leads to Stephanie McMahon coming out as well. She talks about Bischoff not appreciating Triple H's talent in WCW. After some back and forth, Trips decides its better to stick with the devil he knows rather than the devil he doesn't know. Just as it looks as though Stephanie has recruited him, the familiar music of the Heartbreak Kid hits, and out comes Shawn Michaels. Being a part of the Raw brand, Michaels reminds Triple H of their history and friendship and suggests that they team up once again to cause chaos and make Bischoff's life miserable. The Game thinks it over for a moment and apologises to Steph, taking Shawn up on his offer and signing with Monday Nights. The former DX buddies leave together, while Bischoff remains in the ring to gloat towards Stephanie. Stephanie gets the last laugh however, slapping Bischoff and leaving to continue the tension between the leaders of the two shows. The DX reunion would lead to the unthinkable over the next month.

We now go to Mark Lloyd who is in the Smackdown locker room with Rikishi. Rikishi is disappointed that Triple H has jumped ship as a lot of the young talent looked up to him, but he respects his decision. Elsewhere in the Raw locker room, Jonathan Coachman speaks to Booker T & Goldust, who do their usual hilarious stuff when asked about Trips coming to Raw.

Up next we have a video package for the upcoming match.

WWE Tag Team Championship:
Hollywood Hulk Hogan & Edge (c) vs Christian & Lance Storm

We're back to the Smackdown brand for our next title match of the night, and once again there's been a change in the title scene since the last time we saw these titles. Of course, that was back at Judgment Day when the unlikely duo of Rikishi & Rico defeated Billy & Chuck to win the belts. Their reign was short lived however as Billy & Chuck would win back the titles a few days later on Smackdown with the help of their stylist turning on his newfound partner. Billy & Chuck would hold the titles until the July 4th episode of Smackdown where they were defeated by the thrown together team of Hollywood Hulk Hogan & Edge, who in a memorable moment came out to the theme of Real American. It was a great moment and another fun example of Hogan mixing things up with the midcarders in 2002. Upon winning the titles, Hogan & Edge would have to contend to a new duo that had formed, which we saw teased back at the King of the Ring when Lance Storm & Christian expressed their disgust towards America. At this point going by the name of the Anti-Americans, Storm & Christian would claim that the WWE had a history of discriminating against Canadian athletes. Test would join their cause shortly afterwards and the group would set their sights on the tag titles. At the request of Chris Jericho, who had been feuding with Edge at the time along with his issues with John Cena, Mr McMahon made this match for the PPV. Huge pop for the champions here as expected. You can tell Edge is having the time of his life out there with Hogan as well. JR makes a pretty big slip up when he says that Edge was at ringside when Hogan faced the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania III twice. We'd expect better than that from JR. Anyway, the match starts out in the basic tag formula with the heels working Edge over, while the crowd chant for Hogan wanting him to get the tag. He finally comes in and starts Hulking up after the hot tag, but as he does so the match breaks into chaos, with the referee accidentally being nailed by a Spear aimed at Storm from Edge. With the ref down, Test makes his way down to ringside and takes out Hogan. Rikishi follows to even up the odds for the champs though and he fights the big man off to the back. With Edge and Storm going at it in the ring, Edge connects with a Spear, but we get more interference as Jericho runs down and nails him with a tag title belt. The ref recovers, and Storm picks up the win for the Anti-Americans at 10:00. This would pretty much be the end of the feud here as everyone would go their separate ways after this show. Storm & Christian would find new challengers on a new brand, whilst Jericho would break away from the other Canadians to conclude his rivalry with Edge in a steel cage match on Smackdown, which Edge would win. Hogan in the meantime would vanish from TV before our next PPV, but not before being destroyed by one Brock Lesnar en route to his date with destiny at SummerSlam. What we had here was a fun tag team match to put the belts on the new heel team of the division. It wasn't a step back for Edge at all as he was working with Hogan of all people. Speaking of Hogan, I'm going to miss him going forward. 2002 was such a refreshing year for him.
Grade: **1/2

We go backstage a final time to see Eric Bischoff attempt to sign Kurt Angle to Raw as well. Elsewhere Stephanie promises that despite losing Triple H tonight, she has a plan to rip away the heart of Raw. Time will tell what she means by that. We then throw to another video package as its main event time.

Undisputed WWE Championship:
Undertaker (c) vs The Rock vs Kurt Angle

Alrighty, time for our last match of the night to determine who goes to SummerSlam to meet Brock Lesnar for the Undisputed title. Rock's involvement in this is straightforward as he was ringside for Taker's title defence against Triple H last month at the King of the Ring. Looking for revenge, the Undertaker demanded Mr McMahon give Rock a match with him at this PPV, hence we had a one on one title match set. Things would get a little more complicated on Smackdown however, as Taker put his title on the line against Kurt Angle. During that match, Angle would lock on a submission hold and force Taker to tap, whilst Angle's own shoulders were also pinned to the mat by the American Bad Ass. The match was declared a draw, and as a result, Mr McMahon added Kurt to the PPV title match, making it a triple threat. Rock and Angle would face off on a future episode of Raw, only for Taker to intervene and attack both challengers. They would face off again on the Smackdown before this show, with Taker once more getting involved. He would take Rock out, but Angle would lay out the champion with a chair to end the show. Now, Rock was clearly the returning face here, while Angle was the heel. Taker was in that transitionary period but by the next month would be in full blown face mode, a role he would occupy for the rest of his career. The heel run was a lot of fun, but it was clear that fans wanted to cheer him again, as he gets a big pop here. As far as this match goes, its an excellent triple threat that I think a lot of people forget about due to it being on a minor show. All three men go balls to the wall to put on a match that never really dulls down. Its especially great seeing Kurt back in the main event picture, after spending most of the year thus far having great matches in the Smackdown mid-card and establishing new talent. Speaking of Kurt, he busts out some suplexes like crazy here and the pace never really slows. We get a whole heaps of finishers and near falls that keep the action going on all fronts, with the crowd eating it up. Angle gets busted open about halfway through and ends up going for a chair, but Taker and Rock take him out and trade momentum from there. All three go at it some more and we get a call back to the aforementioned Smackdown match, as Kurt locks in the triangle choke off a Last Ride attempt by Taker, but this time Rock makes the save, only for Kurt to get him in the Ankle Lock. Some more finishers follow and Angle finally delivers an Angle Slam to Taker. He celebrates before covering the champion however, and that proves to be his downfall. Rock catches Kurt in the Rock Bottom and that gets the three at 19:35, with the Undertaker being seconds too late to break up the count. The Rock is the new Undisputed Champion, marking his seventh reign on top, which at the time I believe was a WWE record. He will now meet Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam in what will be an interesting marquee match between veteran and rookie. As for this match, it was excellent. One of the best triple threat matches at that point in time for sure.
Grade: ****1/2

This was a fun show that set up the pieces for SummerSlam the following month. The undercard was really nothing all that remarkable, but it was solid, with nothing on this show being bad. The main event was excellent though and was clearly the match of the night. Its one of those matches that has been lost in the discussion of great triple threat matches I think. Fire up the Network and check it out now. The opener was also decent, and while none of the other matches really got a chance to kick into high gear, there was nothing that overstayed its welcome and that makes for a show thats fun to throw in and kill a few hours with. The big stories coming out of this show were obviously the set up of Brock vs Rock next month at SummerSlam, as well as the seeming reunion of Triple H and Shawn Michaels on Raw, which would lead to something that even at this point in time nobody was probably expecting, especially to the extent of what it would become. The summer of 2002 was an interesting time as with Bischoff and Stephanie taking over the authority roles the show has a different feel to the few before it since the brand split. We would get a few roster changes over the next month or so before things calmed down and the shows developed their own distinct identities to a higher degree by the end of the summer. Rock is on top for now, but with his movie schedule picking up, one had to wonder how long he'd be back for this time around. Overall a decent show, even if most of the grades look a little low.

Three Stars of the Night:
1. The Rock - the Great One makes his PPV return to action for the first time since WrestleMania and captures the gold in an excellent match to become a seven time WWE Champion.
2. Kurt Angle - great to see Kurt back in the main event mix. It was tough to put him above Taker due to all three busting their ass in the main event, but I felt with him being in the midcard for a while he should get this.
3. Undertaker - the title run came to an end, but the heel run which led to it really rejuvenated Taker from where he was a year prior. He put on a great showing tonight to cap off a month of great title matches on TV.

FINAL GRADE: 6 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 = 67
Triple H = 60
Mick Foley = 38
Kurt Angle = 32
Undertaker = 30
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!