Let the build for King Of The Ring begin in earnest! It’s the 3rd of June 2002 and we’re in the American Airlines Arena of Dallas, Texas for episode #471 of WWE Raw! Your main event tonight: Stone Cold Steve Austin takes on Ric Flair in a…”No Punches Allowed Pure Wrestling Match”? OK…
So, before we go any further, we have to talk a bit about Stone Cold. On the Friday before this show he was the guest on Byte This!, WWE’s effort to ape sports talk shows that are a much bigger deal in the States than anywhere else in my experience, hosted by Kevin Kelly. Byte This! hopped between kayfabe and non-kayfabe at will, but I don’t think anyone would have expected what happened that evening. Kelly set Austin up to refute internet rumours that he was unhappy, and he responded by burying the company spectacularly, saying everything sucked, that the direction the WWE was going was wrong and that the writing recently had been “pretty shitty”. He went on to say he hadn’t been happy since before Wrestlemania, criticised the brand split and described Brock Lesnar’s character as “lame”. It was the sort of thing that, if someone in a similar position said the same today, it would make major ructions, but was perhaps diluted in impact in 2002, since many fans didn’t have the bandwidth to watch Byte This! But it made a big stir internally, with Vince McMahon going on the same show a week later to try and downplay the crisis, and the whole thing accelerated Austin’s unceremonious exit from the ‘E: this is going to be his last show for a while, but we’ll discuss the final descent into true clownshow status at the next Raw.
Oh, and the thumbnail for this one on the WWE Network gives away a major plot devlopment, albeit one I was expecting any day now. Oops. Get it together curators.
New Attitude splash and we cut backstage straight away where Flair, Anderson, Guerrero and Benoit discuss some manner of evil scheme. Flair, Guerrero and Benoit head to the ring, and are followed by a conga line of security guards. What nefarious activities are they up to?
“Across The Nation”, pyro and JR/King welcome us to Dallas. Tonight we have Trish vs Torrie in a lingerie match, so you know King is excited. Also, Kevin Nash has a major announcement to make. Jeez, I wonder what that will be?
Out comes the Nature Boy, Latino Heat, the Crippler and their entourage. Security surround the ring as Flair gets on the mike. “I love it when a plan comes together”. Cue footage of the ambush on Stone Cold last week. Benoit takes the mike, and plays up his “very special appearance” on Raw. He reminds us that the injury that has put him out for a year was at the hands of Austin. Continuity! Though as I recall it was more self-inflicted than anything. He’s run out of patience and last week was the beginning of a long and painful payback. Eddie’s turn. Sign of the night is “Eddie: #1 With A Mullet”. Guerrero says his IC Title was stolen last week. He felt like he was losing his “latinoism”, but he got it back after Frog Splashing Austin.
Flair again, says Stone Cold will want to wrestle tonight, I wouldn’t be so sure Ric. But Austin can’t wrestle because he is still benched. If Austin has a problem with that he can say it to AA, and he’ll bring him to the ring. The titantron lights up, and looks like Stone Cold got in ahead of Flair, as he is operating Anderson like a marionette in Flair’s office. Flair just missed Austin beating the living hell out of his enforcer. He isn’t happy sitting at home, and he wants Benoit or Guerrero, or he will do to Flair what he did to AA.
Flair says he won’t be bullied by Austin. Besides, Guerrero has a match tonight, and Benoit isn’t medically cleared (and is still “property of Smackdown”). Austin has little time for this but suggests that if he can’t have either Guerrero or Benoit, then why not Flair and Austin right here in Texas? And if Austin wins, he’s off the bench. If he loses, he’s back on it. Flair accepts, but with one condition: it’ll be an “ol’ time wrestling match”, not a bar fight. And if Flair wins, Austin will be on the bench for the rest of his life. Well, Flair is going to get his way one way or the other. Flair says Austin is no match for the Nature Boy as a wrestler. Austin wonders if Flair likes “nature or boys”, Jeez, lays in a few more stomps on Arn Anderson, and decides nature is calling right now. Que Anderson getting squirted with a yellow liquid from off-screen. Wow, this segment turned stupid real fast. Austin says it’s better to be pissed off than pissed on. Broken glass. Ric Flair is upset. I am upset. This was going so well for 80% of it.
After the break, the bell is ringing for the opening contest, way to take up too much time at the beginning!
Stevie Richards (c) vs Bradshaw (WWE Hardcore Championship) (Special Guest Referee: Jacqueline)
What is happening here? You can’t do a special ref match with no build! Bradshaw on the offensive early, what’s he done to deserve this shot by the way, after getting punked by Big Show last week? Clubbing blows, Richards back with strikes, but then eats a big boot off a reverse whip. Bradshaw has a bullrope, replete with cowbell, and Stevie takes a shot to the head. Now he has a lasso, hits a pumphandle slam and ties up Richards’ legs, to the delight of the Texan crowd. Bradshaw finds more rope, and a saddle, then adds some bullhorns. I do not like where this is going.
Richards gets free of the rope and lays in some trash can lid shots. RVD and Bubba Ray taking on Guerrero and Lesnar later JR announces, before King starts audibly drooling over the womens match. Richards caught off a running crossbody attempt, and Bradhaw hits a Fallaway Slam. Suddenly Spike Dudley is in the ring with his own ref, gets two on Richards before Bradshaw pulls him off. Spike laying in shots, to the second rope but then big booted out of the ring. Bradshaw dodges a Richards attack, hits the Clothesline From Hell, and Jackie counts the fall in under three.
Winner (and new WWE Hardcore Champion): Bradshaw, how long will he hold it though?
Verdict: Maybe I should wait till this is all over…
Justin Credible is in the ring to attack Bradshaw, gets overpowered quickly and then has a trashcan dumped on his head. The new Champ puts in a few stomps through the can, and the crowd is happy. Crash Holly comes charging down the ramp with a trash can and takes a big boot through it. Bradshaw warns Jacqueline away when she looks like she might be thinking about it, then slips on the ringsteps when he tries to play to the crowd. Man this was messy.
Backstage, the nWo is in session, and arguing. Nash has his announcement later, and it effects all of them. Booker T and X-Pac have King Of The Ring qualifying matches later that they have to win, and suddenly Goldust is here, with a Texan accent and a mike. He wants to know if the announcement later is Goldust joining the nWo. Nash says no, but T suggests that if Goldust beats X-Pac later he should be allowed to join. Nash agrees, to Pac’s disgust. I should note that Pac’s bandana is over his eyes for a good portion of this one. That match is up next.
X-Pac vs Goldust (King Of The Ring Qualifying Match #1)
Pac out in the Kane mask, still waiting for that comeback. No sign of a bracket or anything, so it’s unclear if this is last 32, last 16 or a Quarter-Final, but I think it was 16. Probably looking at two matches a show up to the PPV. Circling, big “X-Pac Sucks” chants and Goldust tries for a “Too Sweet”, and gets a kick to the gut instead. Inverted Atomic Drop gives Rhodes the advantage, choke takedown, stomps, then Pac hung up on the rope which he oversells like crazy. Hip smash gets two, then Pac ducks a clothesline and nails a spinning heel kick. Scoop Slam, beatdown, then chops and kicks in the corner. Goldust set-up, but nobody home on the Broncho Buster.
Goldust with elevated punches, then a choke, then he hits his own Broncho Buster, which looks not so great. Looking for another but X-Pac has a boot up to hit Goldust’s “golden globes”, nice. X-Factor ends it in just under three-and-a-half.
Winner (and progressing in the King Of The Ring Tournament): X-Pac, who also gets to stay in the nWo I guess.
Verdict: Nothing encounter really, the winner was pretty obvious even if they gave Goldust a good bit of offence.
We cut straight to a video recap of the ladder match from last week, with lots of dramatic orchestral music. After the break, the new IC Champion is with Coach. He admits the ladder match was rough, but he would go through it all again for the IC Title. This is going to be the summer of RVD. Suddenly Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar are here, with Heyman applauding Van Dam. RVD wonders if Heyman has lost weight on the Subway diet, which angers Brock for some reason. Heyman says Van Dam can talk to him like that because they go way back – continuity! – and he made RVD. He wanted him to meet Lesnar now, so he knows he’ll always just be “RVD” and not “the Next Big Thing”. RVD is looking forward to their match later. I think these two end up in the King Of The Ring Final?
Elsewhere, Matt Hardy rolls up to his brother Jeff, who is strumming on a guitar. “What are you doing?” “Just playing guitar”. Great stuff. Jeff wonders if there is anything more to life then just wrestling. He doesn’t think they are “Xtreme” anymore, instead they are hypocrites. Matt doesn’t follow. Jeff says he’ll see where he’s going with it, and heads off. Finally splitting up the Hardy Boyz then?
Elsewhere elsewhere, Flair goes over his match contract with Austin with his lawyer, Little Naitch and a horde of security. He wants more and more stipulations: if he wins, Austin will become his PA, which will include wearing a dress to Raw apparently. Not sure Flair understands what a PA is. Also, if Austin throws one punch he’ll be disqualified. Suddenly Stone Cold arrives. He wants to see the contract. The lawyer recommends he reads it first, but Austin only cares about being “off the bench”, and signs it. Austin looking stupid is a bit strange alright: is this a reaction to the Byte This! interview? Flair signs it too, with a big smile on his face: Austin will find out what that smile means soon enough.
Elsewhere elsewhere elsewhere, Trish Stratus heads to the ring. King is delighted.
Trish Stratus (c) vs Terri (WWE Womens Championship) (Lingerie Match)
In case you were wondering, this is just a normal match but the participants wrestle in their underwear, because 2002 was what it was. Terri with a drop toe-hold, rear takedown, corner smashes, two, Scoop Slam, Terri to the top, hits a crossbody, two. Stratus back with strikes, stomps in the corner, snapmare, suplex, two. Terri with a boot up on a charge, to the top, intercepted, and Trish carries off and eventually gets floored off punches for two, countered into another pin for two. Stratus hits the Stratusfaction for the win in under two-and-a-half.
Winner (and still WWE Womens Champion): Trish Stratus, if you can have a winner from this.
Verdict: Did we all have a good wank?
Molly Holly appears as Trish celebrates to attack from behind with brass knucks, but Stratus blocks it with the belt and floors Holly instead. Trish strips off her bottoms – she’s wearing a thong in case you were wondering if we just saw frontal nudity on TV – and leaves them on Molly. “Put them on Ebay Molly!” suggests King. Ugh. The big tag match is up shortly.
Backstage, Arn Anderson, in a new shirt, wrecks Flair’s office. He tells Benoit that he feels like an animal. Austin stepped over the line, and when Flair beats him tonight he’s going to pay. Flair has a bunch of toilets in his house, and AA will be there when Austin is cleaning them. Benoit says Austin is about to flush his whole career down the toilet. If you only knew Chris, if you only knew.
Brock Lesnar & Eddie Guerrero w/Paul Heyman vs Rob Van Dam and Bubba Ray Dudley
Now this could be bad-ass if they give it enough time. Recap of the Lesnar/Dudley hossfight from last week, then a big reception for our faces, as JR tells us that The Undertaker will be facing Tommy Dreamer later. That’s going to go real well for Dreamer.
Eddie and Van Dam to start, but Guerrero begs off owing to pain in his back, and in comes Big Brock instead. Bubba tags himself in, lock-up, but Eddie takes Dudley’s leg out with the ref distracted. Bubba avoids a double team but then walks into a huge Fireman’s Carry Slam from Lesnar. Eddie legal again some how, beating down on Bubba, but then walks into a huge Sidewalk Slam for two. Lesnar in, into the corner, corner spears, hard whip to opposite corner, and again, nobody does it like Lesnar or sells it like Bubba.
Bubba reverses a whip into a DDT for two, and Van Dam in. Strikes, backslide dodges, superkick, but caught on a crossbody attempt and suffers a backbreaker and then a powerslam for two. Guerrero in, elbows, stiff looking running elbow, suplex, looking for a reverse suplex but Van Dam lands on his feet and his a stepover heel kick. Bubba in, clotheslines, big back body-drop, strikes, in comes Lesnar but he just runs into a German. Crowd popping big for Bubba as he tells himself to get some tables. Table set very obviously up on the apron, and after giving Lesnar a dangerous looking forearm to the back of the head, Bubba takes a drop-kick from Eddie through the table. Heyman gets in a shot before Lesnar throws Bubba back in.
Eddie beating down on Bubba with strikes and a thumb to the eye. Suplex, to the apron and he hits a Blockbuster to a sitting Bubba for two, now that was cool. Brock in, dueling strikes, Lesnar with more corner spears, but then Dudley hits the Bubba Bomb OUTTANOWHERE. Hot tag to RVD, he and Eddie exchanging strikes, Van Dam with a spinning martial arts kick, clothesline, then a pop-up into the corner. Monkey flip, but then a botch in the corner where Van Dam was going for that second rope kick to the head, but Eddie thought it was going to be split-legged moonsault, so he was prone. Van Dam hits the moonsault, but pretty huge break in the finale. Still, crowd is very hot.
Lesnar cleared of the apron, Rolling Thunder but Lesnar in to break up the count. Things break down, Eddie floors Bubba off a drop-kick, but then gets an Electric Chair Drop when he goes up for a reverse rana. Lesnar with a belly-to-belly to Bubba, drives Van Dam into the corner, RVD dodges a charge, Lesnar clotheslines Bubba on the apron, then eats a spinning heel kick from Mr Monday Night, No let-up in this one. Van Dam to the top, but Heyman pushes him off with the ref distracted. Lesnar up to hit the F-5, but then Bubba in to pounce Lesnar away. Eddie up top, Frog Splash to Van Dam, and that’s it in about nine.
Winners: The new Dangerous Alliance, but not really.
Verdict: Man, if WWE had these kinds of tags in the main event spot they wouldn’t have half the problems they currently have. Hell of a match, but for that one botch, with four guys throwing themselves into moves and loads of great spots. Only thing is that I don’t see how this advances any storylines, or at least advances them well.
The heels celebrate up the ramp, as we are assured these feuds are not over.
Backstage, Coach is with William Regal. He asks about what happened to Molly earlier, and Regal says Stratus is a trollop. But what about his coming King Of The Ring match? Regal says there’s no-one more qualified to be a King on the roster than him, what with his name and all, and here comes Booker T, asking why he can’t be royalty. Careful now, it’s not Wrestlemania 19 just yet. “You couldn’t even spell King”, amazing. Booker responds that George Washington couldn’t spell King either, I’d say he could actually, but anyway, it didn’t stop him kicking King George’s ass. Regal complains that this isn’t an accurate representation of history, but T only has one thing to say to that, “SUCKAAA”. Crowd big into Booker here, he’s screaming for an outright face turn.
JR reminds us of the main event tonight. After the break, King is reading the new WWE Cookbook. Well, it does have a lot of pictures. JR throws us to a recap of the Tough Enough 2 finale the previous week, hosted by Coach and Stacey Keibler. Your winners were Linda Miles, obviously, and Jackie Gayda, much less obviously. As I recall the lack of a male winner caused problems over claims this had been promised, but it wasn’t like the two female winners got up to much in their careers.
Booker T vs William Regal (King Of The Ring Qualifying Match #2)
One thing that is a problem here is that the tournament isn’t really being played up at all, it’s just window dressing for these matches. No highlights of previous tournaments, no sniff of a larger prize for the winner than a crown or a trophy, why should we care? No wonder this was the last King Of The Ring PPV.
Circling, lock-up, Regal backed up. Break, another lock-up, Regal with the wrist-lock, T counters, Regal out if it with a drop toe-hold, headlock, Regal with a shoulder charge for multiple twos. Solid start to this one. Booker back with a side kick, hard chops, Regal dodges a kick but then eats a big forearm. To the outside, T sent into the apron, then bounced off the ropes to the floor. Back in, Regal with a hard running knee for two. Crowd dead for good wrestling. Booker beaten down, double knees to the head, T back with strikes then a hard elbow. Kick to the mid-section, Scissors Kick, but Regal out at two, so I guess that isn’t a finisher anymore?
Booker goes for it again, but crotches himself off a dodge. Regal grabs a chair and the Euro Title belt, looks like he’s trying to distract the ref with removing the chair so he can use the belt, now that’s a clever heel move. But Booker, channeling some of the good anti-hero energy, gets in a shot with it first for the 1, 2, 3 in under two-and-a-half.
Winner (and progressing in the King Of The Ring Tournament): Booker T, one King Of The Ring too early.
Verdict: Good work by these two, who I could definitely stand to see in a longer match. Stupid crowd didn’t appreciate it.
Booker on the mike after. He says he came here to give the people what they came to see. Here comes the Spinarooni. You’d think he could at least mention the King Of The Ring.
Backstage, Tommy Dreamer is with Coach. He’s been in bad shape since he found out he’s facing The Undertaker, and has been throwing up all day. Coach ques up highlights of Taker beating up Triple H on Smackdown, which only makes Dreamer throw up a bit more. That match is up next.
The Undertaker vs Tommy Dreamer (non-title)
JR claims that the beating Triple H took from Undertaker last week was the worst of his career. Didn’t Austin drop him from a crane once? Dreamer out with his sick bucket, so you know whats coming. He throws up on the way down the ramp. A very faint “E-C-Dub” chant at ringside as Dreamer leaves the ring, dips his hands into the sick bucket and eats a bit of it. Let me tell you, the “E-C-Dub” chants died quick after that. Taker is disgusted, and Dreamer is able to ambush him. Shots, Taker clotheslined out, but when Dreamer tries a nothing from the apron he gets a swinging power slam. Getting ten seconds of offence was an achievement.
Back in, beatdown, big corner clothesline, chokeslam, elbow drop, another, then a third. Cover, but Taker lifts Dreamer at two. Picks him up, puts in a standing Dragon Sleeper, and Dreamer submits in around three.
Winner: The Undertaker, but no winners here really.
Verdict: As JR says, Dreamer didn’t tap out in six years in ECW, but give him one match on WWE TV and that record was gone.
Dreamer thrown out, Taker of course grabs the sick bucket and then dumps it on Dreamer. Suddenly Jeff Hardy is out! Drop-kick sends Taker into the sick! Hardy retreats up the ramp, as Mean Mark looks stunned. JR suggests Hardy has gone temporarily insane, and the crowd doesn’t even know what to make of this. I do recall that Jeff/Taker had a feud at this time that had a legendary ladder match, but I’ve never seen any of it: looking forward to it though.
After the break, Matt Hardy is on the phone in a locker room when Undertaker barges in looking for Jeff. Matt tells him he’s gone, and Taker asks for Matt to give Jeff a message. Beatdown, Matt sent into a few walls, and left lying. I can’t imagine that Jeff should have expected anything else, and a little cowardly that he left Matt to face to music alone, no?
Kevin Nash heads to the ring for his big announcement. He says sometimes the hype doesn’t end up delivering something big, but that won’t happen tonight. There’s a new member of the nWo! With no more preamble Nash throws to the ramp and out comes…Shawn Michaels! This would be a surprise, if it wasn’t there in the thumbnail. Michaels ended his in-ring career after Wrestlemania XIV and made sporadic appearances, sometimes as the Commissioner, for a while after, but hasn’t been seen in an arena since June 2000 or on television full-stop since December 2000. Since then he had been working mostly in training people in his new wrestling school (and getting clean/building his body back up) but here he is to begin what would be his second, and arguably best, run in the company, though it was initially meant to only be a short one. Aren’t they always?
Michaels gets the full pyro treatment before hitting the ring. Nash and HBK share “Too Sweets” and a hug before the standard Michaels pose. “He looks to be in amazing condition” says JR, and the only part of Michaels’ body we can see are his arms and head. To my surprise HBK gets no mike time, as JR plugs the coming main event instead. What’s up with that? Shawn Michaels comes back for the first time in 18 months and all we get is Kevin Nash talking for three sentences?
Backstage, Austin prepares for his match. Debra looks over the contract as Austin berates himself over signing before reading. She’s laughing at how the contract is worded: it’s whomever loses the match becomes the PA of the winner, not just Austin. This pleases Stone Cold, and he heads to the ring.
Ric Flair vs Stone Cold Steve Austin (“Straight Up Wrestling Match”) (If Austins Wins He Is No Longer “Benched”/Loser Becomes The PA Of The Winner)
JR describes Austin as “a psychopath” on his way to the ring, which seems extreme. Circling, Flair taunting Austin, big “Austin” chants from the Dallas crowd. Lock-up, hammerlock from Flair, countered into one from Austin, drop toe-hold, some nice chains back and forth. Austin floors Flair with a shoulder, almost hits some mounted punches, but relents at the last moment. Austin gives Flair the bird instead, lock-up, Flair knocks Austin down but then walks into a drop toe-hold, with Austin then transitioning into a half-Boston Crab. Flair to the ropes, into the corner, chops, almost a punch, but Austin re-thinks it in time.
Flair with chops of his own, but then Austin reverses a whip to hit a back body-drop for two. Flair with a thumb to the eye, chops, whip reversed again, Austin lands the Lou Thesz, and almost lays in a punch again. Chops in the corner, nearly some elevated punches, but decides to hit a clothesline instead. Suddenly Chris Benoit is walking down the ramp. Little Naitch goes to remonstrate with him, in the ring Austin hits the Stunner, but no ref to count the fall. Suddenly Eddie Guerrero comes through the crowd, into the ring to hit a low blow, to the top, Frog Splash, and now Benoit departs.
Ref back in the ring, we go to break, and when we’re back Austin is getting worked over on the outside. Avoids a smash into the ringpost, back with chops, another thumb to the eye, change the script Ric. Back body-drop when Flair attacks, back in, Austin hits a suplex, Flair begging off, slaps, chops from Austin, but when the ref blocks a punch Flair gets in one of his own unseen. Knee taken out by the Nature Boy, working it over with the help of the rope, Austin rallying back with chops, Flair with some of his own, that’s all this match is.
Austin knocked down, and Flair slowly puts in the Figure 4. Flair using the ropes for leverage, a few two counts, but Austin eventually turns the move over. Flair lets go, double clothesline spot sends them both down. Flair to the top, but thrown off by Austin, stomps in the corner, another thumb to the eye (“Flair’s best offensive manoeuvre” says JR), roll-up, two. Austin gets in a backslide for two, Austin with chops, ANOTHER thumb to the eye, so dull. Austin hits a Stunner OUTTANOWHERE to win in just over 14-and-a-half.
Winner: Stone Cold, who is “off the bench”, with Flair now doomed to be Stone Cold’s assistant, unless something intervenes…
Verdict: Gimmicky rubbish. Flair can’t go, as we see through his pathetically limited offence.
Austin lays in some shots on Flair, hits another Stunner, then grabs some beer. That will be all.
Best Match: The mid-show tag, easily. The undercard is so stacked on both shows.
Best Wrestler: Booker T, who really is knocking on the door of greatness in the Fed if he was booked properly.
Worst Match: The womens match was embarrassing.
Worst Wrestler: Thumb to the eye! Thumb to the eye! Thumb to the eye! Give me a break.
Overall Verdict: It had its moments, but this was let down big by how overbooked the Austin/Flair stuff was, a bunch of inconsequential matches and the lack of hype for the King Of The Ring. Oh, and we won’t be seeing Austin for the better part of nine months. We’ll get to exactly why on the next Raw.
To view more entries in this series, click here to go to the index.