On March 17th 2002 the then WWF took their flagship show, Wrestlemania, north of the border to the SkyDome in Toronto, Ontario, Canada for the second and treated 68,237 people to one of the biggest main events in the history of pro-wrestling as generations clashed when Hollywood Hulk Hogan battled The Rock – there is however, the matter of the rest of the near four-hour extravaganza…
This coming from Canada we don’t America The Beautiful to open the show, so we don’t have to sit through a cringe worthy hyper-patriotic video package. Unfortunately what we do get is something that will mark this show and, I think, is one of the reasons it fails to reach the heights of its predecessor, a performance of a generic nu-metal single from Saliva.
To give things a bit of context, Wrestlemania 18 comes a year after what is widely considered the best show WWF have ever put on Wrestlemania X7 (or 17 for those who prefer a conventional numbering system). That show came weeks after the collapse of WCW and ECW and it was clear WWF was in celebratory mode.
This show however comes after the, generally, failed ‘Invasion’ storyline where WCW and ECW tried to take over WWF, so we come in here to a show packed with some of the biggest names in wrestling history but a general lack of creative direction as WWF tried to work out what its place is in a world with, essentially, no competition.
After Saliva’s woeful performance (live music rarely works in the context of a pro-wrestling show despite many efforts to make it work) we get a fairly standard intro video where all the big names hype what Wrestlemania is but for the most part don’t tell us anything about the matches or stories we are going to see, which makes for a somewhat low-key opening that fails to entirely excite as I feel it should.
Intercontinental Championship – William Regal (c) vs Rob Vam Dam
The show kicks off with what should be a big match, as the WWF’s second championship is contested between two bonafide superstars of the business. Seeing William Regal with a belt is always a treat for me, but it is in more recent times that his contributions have been properly appreciated. That said in terms of in ring performance both men here are arguably in their prime.
Things start off a little shaky as they both have such different styles but they are soon gelling well and both exhibit their own styles brilliantly with Regal’s villainous side and RVD high spots looking great, and Van Dam sells Regal’s throws and neckbreakers like only he can.
Unfortunately the match is only a very short one so while its non-stop action and manages to make both guys look pretty good, despite a clean pinfall win for RVD, it ends just as it feels like its starting to get going. But it does a decent job of getting the crowd going.
European Championship: Diamond Dallas Page (c) vs Christian
This crowd reaction is soon lost though as we get a generic heel promo from Toronto native Christian where he says he’s moved to Florida and a video fails to raise any excitement for this match stemming from DDP trying to help Christian with his proto-DDP Yoga gimmick.
Christians entrance is awesome with his then new ‘At Last Your On Your Own’ opera-metal theme and general cocky heel shenanigans but DDP elicits little response and it’s just strange seeing a guy who was a top name in WCW in this lower-mid card position.
The match itself is ok, though the crowd take a long time to warm up and its hard to find any investment in it as the meat of the storyline is at best basic, and even for the live crowd is only really a week long. As it goes on there are a few nice Diamond Cutter and Killswitch (Unprettier) counters but DDP’s win falls flat and his following ‘self-help’ promo and Christian’s temper tantrum get no response from a crowd who seem more interested in getting their signs on camera.
Business picks up briefly next as we get a promo from The Rock which serves to demonstrate just why this man is the mega-star he now is.
Starting off with his comedy shtick he gets interviewer Jonathan Coachman to ‘say his prayers’ a la Hulk Hogan, before kicking him to the curb and expertly hyping his upcoming encounter with the aforementioned legend. The crowd aren’t totally behind Rocky but still sing along and, as we will see later, its clear this is the match they all came to see.
Hardcore Championship: Maven (c) vs Goldust
Third match of the night and third for a belt, this highlights one of the problems with the WWF at this time was that there were too many belts flying around which meant the main championships felt less special. This is a problem they’ve yet to really find a suitable solution for, but it’s not as bad now as it was at this time.
This match is largely pointless and features one of the worst Van Daminator style spots I’ve witnessed, but really it is nothing but an angle setting a series of backstage segments across the show. So it ends with Spike Dudley running in and using the 24/7 rule (which grew very tired very quickly) to win the Hardcore title and escape through the crowd pursued by Crash Holly as we the have to sit through a song by Drowning Pool, supposedly helping to tell the story of tonight’s world championship match.
All this serves to do however is kill the crowd who had already calmed considerably thanks to the nonsense hardcore segment.
The musical performance is followed by a backstage hardcore segment that sees Al Snow in a golf cart before Hurricane swoops in to pin Spike for the belt.
I’m not going to go into detail on all of these segments as they are many and pointless throughout the night but they do nothing but make the notion of championships pointless and do nothing to develop any stories or make anyone actually look any good and just seem to entirely kill any momentum the show manages to build.
Kurt Angle vs Kane
Kurt Angle comes out first and looks in prime shape, which is amazing, and starts to cut one of his fine heel promos before Kane’s pyro goes off and out marches the Big Red Machine. Here Kane is the good guy looking to avenge an injury he sustained at Kurt’s hands a few weeks prior which leads to JR saying the phrase ‘head trauma’ about a thousand times in the opening couple of minutes.
Commentary team JR and Jerry Lawler are on fine form all night but it’s here, as Lawler picks up on JR’s repetition that their famed chemistry really comes into own.
Its evident throughout the crowd really don’t care about this story which seems very one-dimensional considering the semi-main event level of the two guys involved and the differing styles of the two men never really gel, though Kurt is a total machine and looks as good as he can.
A belly-to-belly suplex on Kane is a particularly impressive looking throw, but it all leads to what is a solid match rather than the kind of stand out Kurt Angle is more than capable of delivering – the slightly botched roll up ending doesn’t help matters either.
Following some more hardcore nonsense that feels like the bad bits of WWF during the Attitude era we get a fine promo package hyping…
The Undertaker vs Ric Flair – no disqualification match
In the video Undertaker is set up as a real bad ass heel who has targeted Flair’s family and friends to get this match with the 16 time world champ who had been acting as co-owner of the company for the past few months, so this sees Flair’s return to the ring following the final Nitro a year and a bit earlier.
‘Taker gets a huge initial pop when Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’ hits despite being a bad guy and Flair gets a reasonable, if not stellar, reception, but is in surprisingly good shape.
Most of the match see’s the pair battle in and out of the ring with punches and Flair’s knife-edge chops and it isn’t too long before Flair is bleeding all over the place and genuinely wearing the proverbial ‘Crimson Mask’. Despite the general lack of actual wrestling the pair manage to tell a great story of Flair fighting back in the seemingly insurmountable face of the younger, bigger, monster heel while JR and Lawler really get the whole thing over excellently on commentary.
The highlight of the match comes when ‘Taker hits a full top rope superplex on Flair which is astonishing to see from the 6’10” Deadman and 50-something year old Flair, who JR reminds us suffered a broken back in his younger days.
The match ends following a vicious looking spinebuster from Arn Anderson who appears from no where but it’s not enough to keep ‘Taker down who fails to deliver The Last Ride to Flair but just goes for a Tombstone, which the crowd love, as the Deadman goes 10 and 0 at Wrestlemania.
Booker T vs Edge
Backstage Michael Cole is with Booker T who does his best to live up The Rock’s promo earlier but entirely fails. Considering he’s feuding with Edge about a shampoo advert though this isn’t surprising.
Both guys are perfectly adequate, though Edge has yet to hit his Rated-R Superstar peak and Booker T is still stuck in his Invasion-era gimmick so the angle hampers them and fails to engage anyone.
The match is generally ok despite a botched top rope hurricanrana spot, Edge’s Spear has yet to become a bonafide finisher and when he wins the crowd go mild, despite, as I said earlier, his being from Toronto – the Canadian crowd are nothing if not contrary at times.
More backstage hardcore stuff leads into…
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Scott Hall (w/ Kevin Nash)
Following a video package doing a decent job of hyping the return of the nWo as Vince McMachon’s hired goons and their attacks on Austin we get a match that, a few years prior, could have torn the house down and, for the first part here, does a good job of heading in that direction.
Despite both being a little past their prime the duo tell a great story and hit some nice spots, with Hall in particular looking far better than I think anyone expected at the time.
Unfortunately typical nWo shenanigans strike as Nash gets involved and soon the ref is knocked out. At this point they beatdown Austin briefly but he fights back hitting stunners on Hall and Nash completely killing any sense of threat The Outsiders might have had going forward as they can be easily overcome by one man.
Nash is eventually sent to the back and some kind of order is restored for Austin to hit two more stunners on Hall and get a clean pinfall win.
The return of the nWo was, much like the Invasion, another angle that almost entirely failed. The popularity of Hogan (more of which later) and this outcome at Wrestlemania, led to the faction being watered down barely a month into their run and the cynic in me suggests this may have been Vince McMahon’s intent to further discredit WCW and the things they did that were (initially at least) superior to WWF’s product – thankfully this run for the nWo is now mostly forgotten but for the purposes of this show it leads to a promising match falling flat.
Tag Team Championship: Billy & Chuck (c) vs The Dudley Boyz vs The Hardy Boyz vs APA
Following the previous year’s run of TLC matches this had a lot to live up to and entirely fails. Things start off reasonably well as the APA clatter everyone with stiff powerslams and spinebusters and a great looking Clothesline From Hell, but they are soon eliminated in forgettable fashion while the Dudleys set up a table on the floor.
For a while the Dudleyz and the Hardyz have a very standard tag match as Billy & Chuck watch on before D-Von is sent through the table and Bubba is pinned leaving us with the Hardyz and Billy & Chuck.
For the second time this match the Hardyz hit their standard double team spots and the match ends with a belt shot from Billy to Jeff Hardy leading to a pinfall win for Billy & Chuck who retain while no one in attendance cares, including most of the guys in the match it seemed.
Hollywood Hulk Hogan vs The Rock
Many things get hyped by WWE as being ‘Wrestlemania Moments’ but when Rock and Hogan face off in the middle of the ring with the crowd genuinely losing it we witness one of the biggest moments in the now 30 year history of the show.
It’s soon evident that for this one the roles are reversed from even a week before and Hogan is face so Rock switches masterfully into heel mode, being one of the few wrestlers to be able to genuinely deliver either at the drop of a hat and the pair spend the next 15 minutes or so telling a gripping story of who really is the top icon.
As the match goes on both men hit their finishers and survive, with Hogan’s ‘Hulking Up’ seeing the crowd become even more unglued, and it finally comes down to a Rock Bottom and a People’s Elbow and The Rock getting his hand raised.
What follows is a handshake that really does feel like Hogan passing the torch in a way he hadn’t done previously. Storylines briefly kick back in as Hall and Nash attack Hogan, banishing him from the nWo, before The Rock and Hogan run them off, hug and then Rock lets Hogan do his posing before both men walk to the back together.
While the actual wrestling isn’t the best this is a true classic match that shows just what WWE/F can do when at its best in terms of character, story and performance.
Women’s Championship: Jazz (c) vs Lita vs Trish Stratus
The crowd are clearly exhausted after Hogan/Rock so give very little to this messy three-way contest.
The high point comes at the matches conclusion as Trish takes a nasty looking bump into the turnbuckles and then out to the floor before Jazz hits Lita with a spectacular if scary top rope fisherman’s suplex ending a real nothing of a match.
We then get our final hardcore segment that sees Maven pin Christian and escape in a taxi resetting the Hardcore Championship to where it started the night and making all these segments entirely pointless.
Undisputed WWF Championship: Chris Jericho (c) (w/Stephanie McMahon-Helmsely) vs Triple H
With the crowd still reeling from Hogan/Rock, Triple H is played to the ring by Drowning Pool as they massacre his theme that is usually done by Motorhead. This doesn’t help the crowd any and nor does the fact, from my point of view, that Hunter is meant to be the face, but with no video package to explain things the story is at best unclear.
Jericho then comes out with Triple H’s on-screen (at the time) wife to little reaction and the two engage in what is a decent match but, in the circumstances, can’t compete with what it follows and comes across as one of the worst outings these two performers could give.
The biggest crowd reactions come when the Triple H/Stephanie story comes to the fore, which does a huge disservice to both Jericho and the championship and throughout the divide between face and heel is never quite clear enough to make either man be the fan favourite.
In the end this is a very transitional show as the Attitude era has yet to be finally put to rest but the next direction for the WWF hasn’t really been confirmed either. With a roster as packed with stars as this the show really should have been better but too many of the stories and angles are underdeveloped and focus is, more often than not, misplaced.
This combined with too many distracting segments of nu-metal performances or backstage ‘hardcore’ activity leads to a show that is watchable and fine but unbalanced and fails entirely to live up what it could and should have been.