Join me for the beginning of an Austinless era. It’s the 10th of June 2002 and we’re in the Philips Arena of Atlanta, Georgia for episode #472 of WWE Raw! Your main event tonight: Vince McMahon vs Ric Flair for the ownership of the WWE! Seems a bit much for a June Raw.
So, in the lead-up to this one, Austin was told he was going to be booked to take on Brock Lesnar in a King Of The Ring match. I presume this would have been framed as a punishment by Flair after the last Raw. Further, Austin was going to be booked to lose to Lesnar. Probably this would have happened off the back of interference from Eddie Guerrero or Chris Benoit, or both, as part of the set-up for Austin/Eddie at King Of The Ring, which seemed pretty nailed on as a match last week.
But Austin, and I am choosing my words very carefully here, refused to play ball. His story was that a match between himself and Lesnar should have been big enough where it was PPV worthy, especially if Lesnar was going over. Detractors will say that Austin objected to doing the job to Lesnar, probably since Big Brock was McMahon’s new favourite toy, with Austin increasingly looking, and probably feeling, like yesterday’s man. Whatever it was, add in Austin’s physical and mental burnout, problems at home (next week, we’ll get into that) and the general pissed-off nature of the Rattlesnake as exemplified in the Byte This! interview, and you have a ready-made disaster.
The day before Raw, Austin had his house show tour flight plans changed and headed home. Jim Ross, when told of this development, called Austin and either begged him to change his mind, or strongly advised him to grow up and come to work, depending on who you believe. Whatever it was, Austin kept to his own schedule, and no-showed on Monday night, the second time he had done so since Wrestlemania 18. So, we will have to excuse it if there are some giant plotholes in this Raw, since they were scrambling to cover for the absence of the brands nominal top guy. Next week the whole situation will really go into overdrive.
New Attitude splash, “Across The Nation”, pyro and JR/King welcome us to Atlanta. Ric Flair heads to the ring, with King continuing to play into the idea that the Nature Boy is now Steve Austin’s PA, so they must be expecting Stone Cold back at some point. Flair on the mike to say last week he lost a match to Steve Austin, he doesn’t like it, but it happened. He runs down the stip, says he’s not happy about it, but he came to Atlanta to take it like a man. The only problem is that Stone Cold didn’t show up, which gets boos.
Suddenly out comes Vince McMahon, to what actually sounds like cheers. He gets in the ring, says he knows he’s not supposed to be out here, but he created this show. He knows Flair is sorry “Austin no-showed” tonight. He knows he’s sorry, just like the fans are sorry “Steve Austin walked out on them”. It’s not quite both barrels yet, but it’s getting there. Vince says Flair is the sorriest owner he’s ever seen. Hes taken Raw, and driven it right into the toilet. “I wouldn’t say quite into the toilet” adds JR, not exactly a ringing endorsement. “Asshole” chants, but Vince continues. Flair may by a 16 time World Champion, “woo”, but as an owner “You Suck!”. “Somewhat harsh” JR says, what, have they turned Flair face while I wasn’t looking?
Flair sarcastically says he’s sorry he hasn’t lived up to McMahon’s expectations, and wants to know what he proposes to do about it. Vince says that “unlike Austin, who didn’t have the balls to show up here and look you in the eyes”, he does. His proposal is thus: unlike the people in the arena, he doesn’t have to work, as he’s a certified billionaire. He doesn’t do what he does for money, he does it for his own ego, and that ego can’t stand one more day of Flair owning one half of what he created. Tonight, McMahon wants to gamble his life, and proposes a match between himself and Flair: no holds barred, for 100% ownership of the WWE. “I don’t have a damn thing to lose”, um, actually…
Flair whips off the jacket, repeats the stakes, catchphrase, strut and agrees. And Vince is going to “bleed”. Staredown. Music. Flair leaves Vince in the ring. So, the response to the falling ratings is to ditch Flair as authority figure then? Don’t know how far advanced the “General Manager” idea was at this point, but perhaps advanced. Long story short, they had had enough of Flair in charge of Raw, it just wasn’t working. This is the solution.
“Earlier today”, Kevin Nash sat in his locker room with X-Pac, Big Show and Booker, who all show up in sequence. They all want to see Shawn Michaels, but HBK is locked away in seclusion. T specifically wants to talk to Shawn about his music, what? He suggests a Booker T version of Michaels’ music, which sounds truly awful, and Nash goes back to reading a newspaper like he is the oldest man in the building. Weird, weird segment. Onto the first match of the night.
Shawn Stasiak, Tommy Dreamer & Spike Dudley vs the nWo (X-Pac, The Big Show & Booker T)
The randomly assembled faces get the “Already in the ring” treatment, while Booker comes out separately to his own music. Commentary points out that at ringside tonight is Chris Nowinski, a runner-up from Tough Enough 1. He’d been touring the indies, but I predict he’ll be back in the ‘E before the night is out. Oh, and Dreamer has his sick bucket, of course. Pac and Spike to start, circling, lock-up, Dudley dropped on a shoulder charge, leapfrog chain but Pac intercepts and hits a powerbomb for two, very nice. Martial arts kicks in the corner, Spike set-up, and X-Pac lands the Broncho Buster. Spike back with strikes, then hits a very loose looking rana.
Tag to Stasiak who walks into a spinning heel kick. Show in, big clothesline, big throw, then big delay suplex. Suddenly we cut backstage, where we see Nash and Michaels watching the match in the locker room, OK. “We want Michaels” chants. Dreamer in, with his “barf bucket”, and T, T flinches from a bucket throw but it only has confetti in it. OK then. Roll-up for two, things break down, and Dudley press slammed out onto Stasiak. Booker hits a big side kick on Dreamer for the 1, 2, 3 in just under three.
Winners: The nWo, in what is probably their first six-man win since their return?
Verdict: Very messy, what with the cut to backstage and the sudden finish.
Booker on the mike after to demand the nWo theme be cut so he can hit the Spinarooni to his own music. Pac and Show don’t seem to mind all that much, but I assume some manner of betrayal is incoming, Vince doesn’t like factions this big.
After the break commentary runs down the main event, and then hypes King Of The Ring. Two more qualifying matches tonight: Rob Van Dam vs Eddie Guerrero, yes please, and Brock Lesnar vs Bubba Ray Dudley, double yes please. Backstage, Booker T basks in his inconsequential victory when Goldust arrives, dressed like…actually I don’t know how he is dressed. T says he can’t get Goldust into the nWo, but Goldust has now decided he wants T out of the group instead. He warns Booker about Shawn Michaels, and says “he isn’t exactly a fan of…our kind.” Booker looks as confused as I am at that statement, as Goldust stomps away.
Elsewhere, Terri interviews Molly Holly. She asks about her issues with Trish Stratus, but Molly wants to talk about Terri instead. She says she can’t take Terri seriously as a journalist (join the club) owing to things like her shoots for the Divas calendar. It’s disgusting, and sets a horrible example for women. Stratus sneaks up behind, and decides she knows what Holly’s problem is: she’s got ” a big ass”. Man, this went low quick. “So, you’re sleazy and crass”, preach Molly. She says Trish doesn’t deserve to be Champion and wants a title match tonight. Stratus agrees to give Holly the chance to earn one, but wants the additional stip that if Holly loses she has to wrestle in a thong like her own, the existence of which is confirmed by her lowering her bottoms. Holly agrees, and marches off, covering her rear end. Man, this was awful. Holly is probably the most normal looking woman on the roster.
Elsewhere elsewhere, Ric Flair paces in his office, when Guerrero and Benoit arrive. They can’t believe he is putting his half of the WWE on the line, but Flair says he’s the only one thinking on his feet, and he’s looking forward to controlling the whole company. He says Guerrero should focus on his match with RVD tonight. Benoit hopes Flair knows what he’s doing. Not sure what the relevance of this was.
William Regal (c) vs Bradshaw (WWE European Championship)
Bradshaw holds the Hardcore Title, but that’s not on the line, which is a sign of the incoming death rattle of that championship. Bradshaw out with a cowbell, and in trunks. So, he’s leaning into the cowboy thing then?
Lock-up, Regal shoved back. Lock-up, headlock from Bradshaw, then floors Regal off a shoulder charge. Regal back with a drop toe-hold, Bradshaw up quick enough to floor Regal again, then again, then a third time, two. Regal avoids a back body-drop with a running knee, two, two and then another, you guessed it, two. Jumping knees, falling knee, kneeamania around here. Now uppercuts in the corner, vicious looking lefts but Bradshaw back with some big rights. Corner clothesline, but Regal with a boot up on a second. Regal Cutter gets two, so that’s definitely not a finisher anymore, shame I think it’s cool looking.
Rest hold, Bradshaw out of it, eats an elbow to a head but then lands a Fallaway Slam. Another big elbow, corner clothesline, a second, clubbing shot to the back, then a DDT for two. Big boot, as King looks forward to Vince being back in charge “so you can kiss his ass again, wouldn’t that be great JR?” Suddenly Chris Nowinski has vaulted the barricade and is on the apron. Security pulls him away, but not before he throws in some knucks. The distraction allows Regal to find the brass knucks, get in a shot and get the pin in just over three-and-a-half.
Winner (and still WWE European Champion): William Regal, who by rights should be Hardcore Champ too.
Verdict: Fine, hard-hitting stuff, but it needed more time.
“I don’t understand this at all”, me too JR. Security suddenly decides to let Nowinski go for some reason – or did they grab him by accident, ala Gronk, in the first place? – and he and Regal celebrate up the ramp. Backstage, Trish Stratus heads to the ring for her title defence.
In some really dingy looking bar, a guy in a “WWF” graphic hits on women in an alarmingly terrible way, until one of them knocks the “F” arms away. “Get The F Out” Still doing this eh?
Trish Stratus vs Molly Holly (non-title) (If Holly Loses She Must Wrestle In A Thong)
Recap of that awful “big ass” segment earlier, because why the hell not. Thankfully the stip is not announced by Lillian Garcia, though King makes sure to let us know. Trish tries a drop-kick to start but Molly dodges. On the beatdown in the ring as King starts mocking Holly’s posterior, Stratus back with a few drop-kicks, then Holly with a takedown via the hair. Two, faceplant, another, then that handspring elbow into the corner. The only woman on the roster who can do that is dealing with her character now being defined by a nonexistent large ass, this is awful. That’s all commentary is for this match, it’s disgusting.
Trish hits a neckbreaker to get some room, strikes, Trish dodges a clothesline and goes for the Stratusfaction but Holly reverses it into a reverse suplex, looked a little confusing and not helped by the fact that commentary just didn’t call it. To the top, awkward Molly-Go-Round, they act like this is extra devastating because you know why, but it’s the win in just under two-and-a-half.
Winner: Molly Holly, who I presume has a title shot now.
Verdict: Who cares, it wasn’t about the match. Stupid that Holly won clean.
Holly reveals she has Trish’s underwear from last week, and before we can fully contemplate Jerry asking for them to be given to him, Molly uses them to choke Stratus. Enough of this.
Backstage, Vince is getting ready for the main event when Arn Anderson rocks up. He wants to know what McMahon is thinking, risking everything in a wrestling match with Flair. Vince says he’s taking a calculated risk, just like AA did walking into his room. A shove, but AA is nonplussed, warning Vince about what’s in store if he loses to Flair. Shall we see some manner of Anderson shenanigans later?
Rob Van Dam vs Eddie Guerrero (King Of The Ring Qualifier #4)
Weird that the latest match in this feud is a come down from the ladder contest a few weeks ago. This one brought to you by Eight Legged Freaks, 48% on RT, that starred former WCW Champion David Arquette as I recall. Sign of the night so far is a simple “Deport Eddie”. He’s from Texas! Circling, lock-up, Van Dam backed up. Break, RVD with two arm drags, Guerrero back with a takedown, Van Dam gets two from a predicament, then Eddie counters into a kneelock. RVD out of it, lock-up, drop toe-hold, then into an STF from Guerrero, but Van Dam to the ropes quick enough. Nice technical start to this one.
Lock-up, wristlock chain, martial arts kick from Van Dam, Eddie back with strikes. Very faint “E-C-Dub” chant, careful or they will have them throwing vomit at each other. Van Dam with a Monkey Flip off a whip chain, but then sent out hard off a drawbridge spot. Brawling on the outside, Eddie whipped into the apron, set-up prone, and Van Dam hits the Five Star Frog Splash off the apron! Surprised they pulled that. Back in, Van Dam with a roll-through suplex for two. Eddie with a shoulder on a corner charge, out with a big clothesline, stomps, strikes, beatdown in the corner. “Eddie Sucks”. Hard elbow off a whip, two. Fujiwara Armbar, with some hair pulling, Van Dam bridges out of it and into the ropes. Crowd kind of died with that spot.
Eddie with stomps, strikes, reverse suplex, two. Van Dam back with a swinging powerslam, to the top, intercepted and crotched. Eddie up after, and just about gets off a superplex, it was a tight circle. Both men down for a bit, back up, Eddie trying a rana but caught and countered into a roll-through and then straight into a moonsault. Huge Monkey Flip out of the corner, then going for the split-legged moonsault, Guerrero dodges but way too early, looked bad, then a drop-kick from Eddie gets two. Guerrero going for a rana into a roll-up, countered into a Van Dam predicament, and the ref counts the three in just over nine-and-a-half.
Winner (and progressing in the King Of The Ring Tournament): Rob Van Dam, just about.
Verdict: Not their best match, far from their worst, but either way hopefully their last: it’s time for both of these guys to move on.
Commentary tries to act like Eddie might have had his shoulders up for the count, but replays are pretty conclusive even if JR pretends otherwise. Guerrero tries to attack after the bell but Van Dam retreats to the ramp.
Backstage, the Undertaker rolls up on his motorcycle. “He’s coming our way!” says JR, like he’s a Great White or something.
Elsewhere, Coach tries to get an interview with Shawn Michaels, but he gets blown off by both HBK and Nash, the latter of which says they’ll have words to say later. Back to being sequestered in their locker room. Does Michaels have throat problems or something?
The Undertaker heads to the ring. New sign of the night: “Undertaker = Undisputed Jerk”. Is that Cole holding that sign? The Deadman on the mike after making a ringhand hold up the Undisputed Title for him. He says some people just don’t get it. He’s the Champ, and he deserves certain treatment. He knows people from Atlanta aren’t known for being very smart, but even they know he deserves respect. “There’s a lot of smart people in Atlanta” says JR. “Where?” asks King. Taker continues that Triple H is meant to be a smart guy, so why didn’t he know Mean Mark would ambush him last week on Smackdown? There’s blood in the water now, and he is the Great White Shark. I swear to God I didn’t know he was going to say that when I wrote the above.
A quick video recap of Taker’s assault on HHH last week. Deadman Inc says Haitch might think he has a shot at King Of The Ring, but the only shot he has is Taker kicking his face off. But the Game isn’t the only one who needs to learn about respect. Brief pop as Taker mentions Jeff Hardy’s name. Recap of what happened between the two of them last week. Taker is actually getting choked up remembering his landing “in a pile of human vomit!”. He knows Jeff is extreme, but is he ready to die? “Little drastic isn’t it?” wonders JR. Taker suggests Jeff come down “get slapped around like the little bitch that you are” and then he can walk away. But if he has to hunt Hardy down, he will inflict more pain ans suffering than he thinks is possible. So, what’s it going to be?
The Hardy Boys’ theme plays, but it’s Matt who comes out, carrying a ladder. He’s on the mike to say this isn’t about Jeff. Last week he disrespected Matt. Taker suggests he come to the ring so he can disrespect him again, and suddenly Jeff is up top after coming through the crowd. Top rope nothing, Taker has him by the throat and hits a bit of an awkward looking chokeslam. Matt into the ring on the attack, floors Taker with a flying clothesline, but Deadman back quick to lay in a beatdown. Big boot, looking for The Last Ride, but Jeff takes the legs out. Matt lays in some punches, Jeff grabs the ladder, and the two slam Taker with it, and again. Ladder set-up as Matt beats down the Champ, Jeff ascends, crowd getting very loud, and Hardy leapfrogs over the ladder off the top to land a big leg-drop. The Hardy’s retreat up the ramp in triumph, leaving the Undertaker lying. This all seems a little thrown together, but it keeps Taker occupied on Raw I suppose, and it’s a chance for Jeff to reach for that top-tier level.
Backstage, William Regal is leaving the arena still in his ring gear, with Chris Nowinski when Terri interrupts to ask about their relationship. Regal says Nowinski is a Harvard graduate, which Nowinski confirms. He lists off his academic accomplishments, when suddenly Jeff Hardy jumps into frame. “Blake remains on field” he says, I think, before leaping into a waiting car and driving away. “Like Harvard in the summer time” says Nowinski, “no class”. I’m very confused by this.
Bubba Ray Dudley vs Brock Lesnar (King Of The Ring Qualifier #5)
Looking forward to this. Lesnar is on cover of WWE Magazine this month if anyone is interested. Brock laying into Bubba from the bell, super hard whip into a corner sends him sprawling. Foot choke, Bubba able to reverse a whip, corner clothesline then a neckbreaker. Dudley calls for a table, but as he goes for one Heyman puts in a shot! Dudley gives him the death stare, Heyman goes “Oh shit!” and dives behind the commentary desk. Brock ambushes Bubba, big belly-to-belly on the outside with a big thud on landing.
Back in, another hard corner whip and then Lesnar puts on that modified bear hug. Bubba out of it, lands a headbutt, but then Lesnar puts the bear hug back in and then transitions into a reverse suplex. Heyman jawing at ringside, Lesnar picks Dudley up and lands another belly-to-belly for two. Looking for a corner spear, Bubba dodges and nails a German. Dueling strikes, Bubba getting the advantage, kick to the head and then a Flapjack. Left hands, right elbow, dodges a clothesline and then another huge German for two. Picking up speed now.
Dudley with the elbow on a corner charge, to the second rope for a senton for two, with Heyman distracting Bubba. Dudley runs after Heyman, Heyman flees, back into the ring where Bubba nails Lesnar with a spear. Bubba setting Heyman up for a Bubba Bomb, Lesnar intervenes, F-5 and that’s it in just under five.
Winner (and progressing in the King Of The Ring Tournement): Brock Lesnar, and even with my foreknowledge hard to imagine anyone else in the thing better suited for the win.
Verdict: Not quite as explosive as their encounter a few weeks ago, but still an entertaining hossfight, big moves, Bubba made to look good and Brock’s push continues.
Recap of the Vince/Flair encounter from earlier, because the audience’s attention span is apparently tiny. JR runs down the main event, which is coming up shortly. Backstage, McMahon is stretching out, when Heyman barges into his room. He knows he is going to win his match tonight, and further wants him to forget about Stone Cold Steve Austin – don’t worry about it Paul – and to instead focus on Brock Lesnar. He has a great idea for the King Of The Ring, and wants Vince to give him a call after he wins tonight. McMahon will think about it. Is the idea that whenever Brock isn’t on camera, everyone should be asking “Where’s Brock?”
Elsewhere, Shawn Michaels and Kevin Nash head to the ring. Finally!
The official theme tune for King Of The Ring is “Ride Of Your Life” by Neurotica, which is as you would expect for a fairly minor PPV. JR throws us to a brief clip of The Rock on WWE Confidential, where the Great One says he will be back on WWE TV real soon. King responds to this huge news by plugging the WWE Cook Book, sigh.
Out comes HBK, in nWo garb but very much to his own theme music. “They love this guy!” says King, but honestly the crowd seems a bit quiet. Michaels on the mike as a moderate “HBK” chant starts. He says it’s a funny business. Back in his day in the WWF, sorry, WWE, they had garbage men and clowns and it was gimmick city. But there was one thing that was very real, and that was Shawn Michaels. He gave the people everything that he had night in and night out. Then came Wrestlemania XIV, and “Vince and the boys” decided to go in “another direction”. Jeez, snapping kayfabe in two. He says he was “Attitude before it existed”, and Stone Cold Steve Austin had no problem stealing his spotlight. He doesn’t just blame Vince though, he blames the fans for dumping him and running to Stone Cold “like a cheap nickel-and-dime prostitute runs to a millionaire”. So, why is he here? He’s not here to wrestle (yeah right) because HBK is dead: the crowd killed him. One man stood by him though, and it’s his pleasure to introduce his best friend Kevin Nash.
Out comes the entire nWo trailing behind Nash. Michaels addresses Nash, and says he’s proud of him. He started in the Fed as his bodyguard, but now he’s one of the biggest names in the industry. He’s the leader of the most dominant, powerful group the business has ever seen. But something has been making him uneasy, because something is standing out. One thing standing out is The Big Show, and who’s going to mess with the nWo with Show watching their back? But the group has a lack of focus, which makes Michaels think of X-Pac. His short-term memory leaves a lot to be desired, but Pac is the most talented performer in the business today (really? This was sad to watch) So Michaels started to think for himself…and suddenly he delivers Sweet Chin Music to Booker T!
Michaels says T is the problem with the nWo, trying to steal their spotlight like Austin stole his and The Rock’s steals Triple H’s (random shot to take). No one is going to steal the nWo’s spotlight again, and Big Show strips T of the colours. Too Sweets thrown up, and Booker T left lying. Could have done without Michaels penchant for exposing the business in the manner that he does, but this was probably the best nWo segment in a long time. They have a new mouthpiece, the hook of Michaels’ return and a ready made feud against Booker T and Goldust, so there are going somewhere at least.
After the break, the main event is up.
Vince McMahon vs Ric Flair (100% Ownership Of WWE) (No Holds Barred)
Nice monologue from JR as Vince comes out outlining all the various crazy matches they have had on Raw down the years, but they’ve never had a match with higher stakes than this. It’s evidence of how quickly they want to do this course correction that they aren’t willing to build this for a PPV, but then again the two did have a street fight at the Royal Rumble a few months before this, which coincidentally was in the same arena. King coos over McMahon’s physique, which is scarily built. Flair rushes down and away we go.
Chops to Vince on the outside, into the barricade, and McMahon gets some room with a thumb to the eye. Big hard right, knee to the mid-section, but Flair back with his own strikes and sent into the crowd. Crowd brawling for a bit, and Flair hits a very soft looking Scoop Slam, looked like Vince was allowed to get his legs down first. Back to ringside, and finally into the ring. More chops, another thumb to the eye from Vince, and now he hits a Scoop Slam. McMahon out to grab the ringbell, and Flair takes a headshot that sends him out. Hebner gets shoved off when he tries to take the bell, distracting us from Flair blading.
To ringside, Flair sent into the ringpost, set prone on the announce desk, strikes, Flair trying to rally back, but then gets choked by a camera cable. Vince would sack Daniel Bryan for the same a decade later. Into the ringpost again, then the ringsteps. Kick to the head, back in, “what” chants from a bored sounding crowd, shots in the corner and we get the Flair Flop. McMahon hitting strikes like a boxer, and gets two off a hard right. “I’m going to put my jacket up an eBay, it’s got Flair’s blood all over it” says King, lovely. Flair hits a few chops but then whipped hard into the corner before Vince adds a rubbish looking clothesline, and then adds an even worse looking second for two.
McMahon kicks Flair in the balls to almost no reaction from the crowd, two, grabs a chair from ringside, but eats a kick to the head when he goes for a shot in the corner. Flair with the chair, shot to the back, kicks to the knee, more chops in the corner, and a hip smash to the knee. Suddenly Arn Anderson is coming down to ringside, so you can start the betrayal countdown. In the ring Flair hits a low blow, a second, looks for the Figure 4 and locks it in. AA in the ring taunting Vince, and now Brock Lesnar is here. Anderson, looking very scared, flees the ring, Lesnar breaks up the Figure 4, hits the F-5 to Flair and Vince gets the win in just over nine.
Winner (and 100% owner of the WWE): No chance, pal.
Verdict: Rubbish stuff from two old men. The lack of betrayal from Anderson did surprise me at least, so kudos to that bait-and-switch.
McMahon celebrates up the ramp as JR declares that “Satan is back in business!” That is all we have time for, as the Flair era comes to an end.
Best Match: Hard to go wrong when Van Dam and Guerrero are in the same ring.
Best Wrestler: Lesnar continues looking like the business, and did good in both of his segments tonight.
Worst Match: For the body shaming bullshit, Stratus and Holly.
Worst Wrestler: Here are the moves Ric Flair pulled off in his match with Vince, in order: chop, strike, Scoop Slam, chair shot, kick, low blow, Figure 4. Get him out of the ring.
Overall Verdict: I mean it was fine. It’s a bit of a reset episode, with the main event stip and the new direction for the nWo. They were scrambling in Austin’s absence, so I have to give them a little bit of sympathy. Next week, Raw goes for the jugular on Stone Cold.
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