Time to see if this ladder match is all it’s cracked up to be. It’s the 1st July 2002 and we’re in the Verizon Wireless Arena of Manchester, New Hampshire for episode #475 of WWE Raw! Your main event tonight: The Undertaker defends the Undisputed Championship in a ladder match against Jeff Hardy!
New Attitude splash and into a recap of last weeks “RUTH-LESS AGGRESSION” speech from Vince, which has an orange filter for some reason, followed by the Van Dam/Lesnar stuff. They do a good job at making Lesnar look like a monster admittedly, syncing up his mouth with Vince’s “RUTH-LESS AGGRESSION” (I’ll stop now).
“Across The Nation”, pyro and Ross/King welcome us to Manchester. They plug our title defence main event, with the belt itself already hanging above the ring.
Out comes Brock Lesnar with Paul Heyman, with Lesnar seemingly ready for a match. Only now does JR mention that Chris Benoit is making his in-ring return tonight in a tag match later, you’d think they would make more of that. Heyman on the mike to remind us that it’s meant to be the summer of The Next Big Thing, but everyone instead keeps talking about Rob Van Dam. But he doesn’t have the ruthless aggression to match Lesnar, who is going to win the Undisputed Championship at Summerslam. But Big Brock isn’t just about aggression, he has intelligence and inspiration from people like Kurt Angle. They draw the NCAA comparisons, and say that Lesnar is specifically inspired by Angle’s open challenge from Smackdown (good to start drawing that line early). But his challenge isn’t for a rookie, it’s for any veteran who wants to step into the ring. Heyman says anyone can come down and get sent into retirement. Silence, Heyman goading the entire roster, and he gets his challenger with a “Woooo”.
Out comes Flair. He says he hasn’t forgotten Lesnar’s interference in his match with Vince McMahon (I had). He’s a veteran, and even better a legend, and tonight “big boy”, Lesnar is going to find out why. Lesnar goes eye-to-eye with Flair and tells him he’s in the wrong place in the wrong year with the wrong guy. Here we go.
Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman vs Ric Flair
While I’m glad this wasn’t saved for a PPV borefest, I am surprised they are wasting it on TV. Stone Cold must be at home puking. Heyman screaming “retire him!” at ringside. Circling, big delay before any action, lock-up, and Lesnar floors Flair straight away. Lock-up again, Flair thrown back far. Test of strength briefly, Flair able to put Lesnar into the corner where he delivers a big chop. Flair chooses to skip around instead of maintaining the offence, Lesnar backs him into the corner, again reserved, more chops, whip to the other corner for more of it, but Brock puts things right by delivering a swinging powerslam.
Looking for an elbow drop, that’s new for Lesnar, but nobody home. Flair to the outside, back in when Brock pursues, and then able to hang the Next Big Thing on the rope. Lesnar basically no-selling this, but does sell a thumb to the eye. Snapmare, knee drop, two, with Lesnar flinging Flair away with the kick-out. Big clothesline from Brock, stomps, corner clothesline, Flair flop, hard corner whip and into a double backbreaker. Flair out, Lesnar pursues, shots as Heyman argues with the ref, Flair trying to rally back and able to whip Lesnar into the ringpost. Back in, Lesnar misses a corner charge and ends up in the ringpost, more chops, but then Flair knocked down again.
Bear hug for a bit, elbowing out, yet more chops but the crowd is into it, Lesnar back with a huge spinebuster. Baiting Lesnar in, Flair able to hit a low-blow, then another when Heyman distracts the ref inadvertently. Reverse suplex, two, with another big kick-out. Flair with a leg takedown, strut, looking for the Figure 4, locks it in, Heyman up on the apron for some reason, but Lesnar able to get to the ropes on his own anyway. Flair clears Heyman off, walks into a F-5 and that’s the 1, 2, 3 in around seven.
Winner: Brock Lesnar, the Legend Killer
Verdict: Fine, Flair did his best to keep up but mostly just had to be prepared to be flung around. Not sure this really did a whole lot for Brock, but this is what Vince wants.
Heyman mocks Flair as we go to break. The Rewind Of The Night is Trish body-shaming Molly then pinning her a few minutes later. Backstage Jackie Gayda is doing her make-up when Coach rocks up. He basically starts chatting her up which is not really needed, they blather on about whatever diva crap happened last week, and then she blames Molly for the tag loss. That brings up Holly, who says Gayda should spend more time paying attention to a role model like her instead of walking around in her underwear. Jackie says at least she looks good in her underwear and that starts a brawl.
We quickly end up out at the stage area, Holly has a pipe but Jackie avoids a big shot. Holly whipped into the barricade, Gayda tries a pipe swing but Holly avoids it. Holly with the pipe, what is this a pipe match, and uses it to choke Gayda. Down to ringside, Holly beating Jackie down, and delivers a snap suplex. Into the ring, backbreaker, Holly to the top, missile drop-kick, a slap added and Holly walks off. Some mild boos until Trish Stratus appears to attack, inevitably. Back into the ring, where Stratus pantses Holly, because of course. This is the greatest thing King has ever seen from his reaction. Stratus walks off like the victorious bully she is. I haven’t seen a feud where the alignments are this mis-judged since Flair/Lynch.
Backstage, Terri is with Christopher Nowinski. He’s challenged Bradshaw to a “straight-up wrestling match”, and isn’t interested in the Hardcore Title. He doesn’t want to be dealing with trashcans and two-by-fours, and instead wants a civilised contest. That match is up next. Another nail in the Hardcore belt right here.
Christopher Nowinski vs Bradshaw (non-title)
I mean, the Hardcore Title is always on the line so Nowinski should already be Champ after pinning Bradshaw last week, but I guess it doesn’t matter anymore. King has Nowinski’s Harvard class ring and shows it off for us. JR points out Bradshaw has a college education too, way to undercut the gimmick. Bradshaw with clubbing shots, shoulder tackle, then to the outside to grab a trash can, a Stop sign and a few chairs. Little Naitch trying desperately to explain to Bradshaw that this isn’t a hardcore match, and takes a big rope/cowbell away from him. Big boot to Nowinski, Bradshaw distracted by the ref, and Nowinski gets in a shot with he cowbell, without the ref seeing, for the win in just a minute.
Winner: Nowinski, and isn’t it funny how someone like Cena benefited more from a loss to Angle than Nowinski does with this? I suppose he is a sneaky heel, but still.
Verdict: Nowinski should be Hardcore Champ twice over, and Bradshaw looked like a moron. Nuff said!
Backstage, William Regal is looking on this with approval when Rob Van Dam shows up seeking for Lesnar and Heyman. Regal says Lesnar is cooling off after his match, and RVD would have known that if he showed up on time. Sick burn. Van Dam squares up, Regal says it was rude of Van Dam to barge in here, and Van Dam suggests that he take on Regal instead of Lesnar. Regal agrees, and it’s Champion-vs-Champion, but presumably non-title. They were my match of the night at Wresltemania, so sure, let’s do it again.
Elsewhere, Terri is with Jeff Hardy. He doesn’t consider himself the underdog since he doesn’t have to pin or submit The Undertaker. He starts doing some climbing of set rigging that’s helpfully nearby, before settling on a ladder. He’s been in lots of ladder matches, unlike the Deadman, and that’ why he’s going to win. Live free or die – no pop for the state motto, come on NH – he’s living in the moment and not dying tonight. This was a bit of a mess, have to say. “Crazy” Jeff doesn’t quite work for me.
Elsewhere elsewhere, Booker T meets Goldust, now dressed as Darth Vadar, which T does not recognise. Was Attack Of The Clones out around this time? Goldust says he has a splendid plan to help Booker tonight, but T is more interested in his toy lightsaber. “Obi Butt Kenobi” is going to get his ass whupped by the “five time Jedi Master Champion”. Is Obi Butt Kenobi Big Show?
Elsewhere elsewhere elsewhere, Eddie Guerrero is with the Boss. Vince has made an exception to allow Eddie to tag with Benoit tonight, but Benoit is apparently a Raw guy now. That’s not going to last long. He wants a Spanish translation of “ruthless aggression”, and Guerrero says it’s “Eddie Guerrero”, nice (it’s “agresion despiadada”). In comes Benoit, and McMahon would not want to be his opponent tonight. Let’s see some what I am going to call “RA” from now on.
Rob Van Dam vs William Regal (non-title)
This one brought to you by M&M’s, Honda and Slim Jims, what a combination. Lock-up, whip-chain where Van Dam clearly slips and Regal scores with a shoulder charge. Corner kip-up to escape a charge from RVD gets the crowd going, before a rough AF looking Full Nelson Suplex from Regal, someone give Van Dam a HIA. Brief beatdown on the outside, back-in, big “RVD” chants. Regal with his multiple covers for two, knees to the head, hard whip into a corner, uppercut, snapmare, lots of simple, but vicious offence.
Van Dam gets two off a roll-up, but Regal then with a drop toe-hold into a sort of Captain’s Hook crossface, very nice. Van Dam eventually out of it, Regal with more knees but then walks into a Monkey Flip. Kicks in the corner, corner spears, then a twisting springboard crossbody for two. Spinning heel kick floors Regal, Rolling Thunder where Regal scooted into the right position, two. Regal looking for a double underhook something, Van Dam counters into a back body-drop, to the top, Five Star then a three count in just under four.
Winner: The IC Champion, remember that he is that?
Verdict: A little shorter than I would like, and even with that had more than one sloppy moment. But still, these two can always pull off something decent.
Van Dam on the mike after to call out Brock Lesnar, with Mr Monday Night wanting to settle their differences right now. The crowd is certainly down, and after a moment out comes Lesnar and Heyman. Heyman on the mike to reply, saying that Van Dam’s guts have always impressed him, but he tends to have more of them than brains. For that reason, he’s going to do Rob a favour and advise his client not to go down to the ring and destroy him. Instead, he suggests a grander arena, challenging Van Dam to a match with Lesnar at Vengeance. Van Dam says this is cool with him, and The Next Big Thing should remember that he is Rob. Van. Dam. So, if the plan was to have Lesnar/Van Dam at Vengeance – probably the earliest an undercard match has been set in this series, which is good – why have them fight last week? And will we see the Sumemrslam title shot put on the line?
Commentary plugs Benoit’s return, which is next up, and the Booker & Goldust/nWo tag later.
The Dudley Boyz Mk 2 (Bubba Ray & Spike) vs The Radicalz Reunited (Eddie Guerrero & Chris Benoit)
Recap of the events of last week during the Dudley entrance. This is literally Benoit’s return to in-ring since his neck injury at King Of The Ring 2001, he hasn’t even been on a house show since. Spike and Eddie to start, Guerrero on top early, beating down, reverse suplex but then walks into an Inverted Atomic Drop. Drop-kick, neckbreaker, two. “We Want Tables”, but of course. Bubba Ray in, shots to Latino Heat, but then Eddie back with a pop-up drop-kick, awesome. Dudley back quick with a corner splash, thrown out of the corner, Scoop Slam, elbow drops, two. Bit of a botched back somersault dodge from Eddie ends with him nearly slamming face-first into the mat, “Bit of an unorthodox counter there” says JR, covering.
Benoit in, here we go. Lock-up, Benoit backed up into the corner, chops, Benoit reverses it, shots, hard whip to opposite corner, elbow drop, then a short-arm floors Bubba for two. Now Bubba’s back with a Sidewalk Slam for two. Benoit straight back with a hard German, then Dudley right back with a neckbreaker. Little rhythm to this unfortunately. Spike in, gets two off a roll-up, nails a Bulldog, two, then starts taking those knife-edge chops. Backbreaker and Spike sells with a big scream, two. Replays show Bubba’s head hitting hard on that German, that might need a look.
Spike clears Eddie off the apron, walks into a Crossface but Bubba breaks it up. Ref distracted so the heels can execute a beatdown. Guerrero legal now, hip attack, rope choke, Benoit in. Big reverse suplex, Spike chucked into the ringpost, Eddie in. Shots, another ringpost hit, and Eddie goads Bubba into distracting the ref so Benoit can get in a choke from the corner. Spike dodges a splash, and nails the Dudley Dawg to Eddie. Hot tag to Bubba, he clears house, big powerbomb to Eddie but Benoit breaks up the pin. Dudley gives him a big reverse suplex, shots to Eddie with some Spanish taunting, then a sort of stunner to Benoit on the apron. Scoop Slam to Eddie, set-up and Spike delivers the “Whats Uuuuppppp”. Spike told to get the tables, he sets it up on the outside before getting ambushed by Benoit. In the ring Guerrero nails a sweet hurricanrana out of the corner, Bubba prone, Eddie to the top but nobody home on the Frog Splash. Bubba clears Benoit off the apron, hits Guerrero with the Bubba Bomb and that’s it in just under nine-and-a-half.
Winners: The Dudley Brothers
Verdict: Good fun, a couple of not so great spots but this was a good return for Benoit, while giving Bubba a badly-needed rub. WWE continues its run of mid-show tags bringing the goods.
Benoit in to nail another German on Bubba, Spike in to try the Dudley Dawg but gets chucked through the table on the outside for his trouble, that gets a “Holy Shit” chant. Benoit applies the Crossface to Bubba, Guerrero hits the Frog Splash to Bubba’s legs, and a troop of refs have to come down to get Benoit to release the hold. Bubba selling this like a champ, with Eddie screaming in his face. Damn, they really made Benoit look vicious, which is like saying water is wet I know, but still.
Rey Mysterio is coming. The Network audio cut out for this promo, something they didn’t have the rights to?
Backstage, Goldarth runs into The Big Show. Show is unhappy about Rhodes’ insults last week, and he responds by doing the “I am your father” bit from Star Wars. Shot from the lightsaber, that Show sells for some reason, only for Nash to turn up. “Oh yeah, well I’m your daddy”. Goldust beaten down and chucked into some nearby steel poles. Nash instructs Show to go and take care of the other one, or he is out of the nWo. At some point that threat is going to not mean a whole lot. At least Nash is getting physical.
Commentary plays up our main event and the chance that Hardy might actually pull it off. A video package outlines Jeff’s history with ladders, which is scarily extensive. How was he still wrestling in 2021? Backstage, Taker is with Terri. The Champ wants to talk about Kurt Angle instead of Hardy, and says unlike Hogan, he doesn’t tap. When he finishes off Angle he’s going to move onto The Rock (mild pop). Terri asks if he isn’t concerned about his match tonight, given his lack of ladder experience? An annoyed Undertaker walks off. Good for them to plug Smackdown, and focus on Mean Mark’s potential fear of the ladder stip.
Elsewhere Show arrives in his locker room to find X-Pac laid out. TBS looks pissed, and stalks off with a purpose. His match is next.
Booker T vs The Big Show
Show still has that garbage mash-up of his theme and the nWo one. Show in hot, puts Booker in the corner straight away, lays in some shots then a huge throw across the ring, T dodges a corner charge, some shots of his own, but then a whip countered into a big spinning clothesline. Show with a big delay suplex for two. Bear hug for a bit, arm drops, but T rallies back before three. Out of the hold, ducks a clothesline and nails a heel kick to send the big man down. Show back with a Sidewalk Slam for two where he was falling backwards with little control it looked like. Drawbridge spot sends Show out, so time for some ringside brawling. Booker whipped into the barricade, and TBS grabs some ringsteps. T with a big kick before he can lose them and Show falls back with the stairs landing on his head. Booker goes back in, Show looks knocked out, and Little Naitch counts to ten in just under three-and-a-half.
Winner (by countout): Booker T, give this man a main event push.
Verdict: Little in it really, but I liked T’s method to victory, you don’t see this kind of smart thinking from faces enough.
Booker departs, but thinks better of the ramp where an nWo ambush inevitably awaits, electing for the crowd exit instead. Backstage. Shawn Michaels and Keven Nash stalk the halls unhappy. After the break they are in the ring with a sweaty Big Show. Nash and he staring each other down, some shoving but Shawn gets in-between them. He declares that he has had enough of the tough love crap – way to undercut the gimmick – and wants them to focus on destroying Booker T. They know it was T who took out X-Pac, and next week they will do the same to him. But for now he needs Nash and Show to calm down. He has a big announcement that might help.
He says the nWo is a family, albeit a dysfunctional one, and they can’t operate with one of their family members injured. He doesn’t mean X-Pac, he means someone who is sitting at home right now. This person was at King Of The Ring, and no-one can deny the electricity that was felt when they were all together. Very soon, in this very ring, you will see the nWo standing side-by-side with the newest member of the faction: no-one other than Triple H, and that gets a pop. HBK orders Nash and Show to kiss and make-up. Nash goes in for an embrace but Michaels intercepts Show with Sweet Chin Music! Show left lying as the Bad Dudes with Attitudes leave the ring. So, is Show out of the nWo then? No, Michaels and Nash call him to follow. Weird way of doing things. Not a hope HHH lowers himself to being part of this sinking ship.
Backstage, Vince is with Taker, as the Champ warms up. McMahon says he is proud of Undertaker. He’s been stepping up for over a decade, and confirms the main event at Vengeance will be him vs The Rock. No pop, for whatever reason. Mean Mark takes offence when Vince says this is “whether you are Champion or not”, but McMahon insists he has faith. Taker says he isn’t just going to beat Hardy, he’s going to ensure he can’t leave the ring standing up.
In the arena commentary plays up the ladder match as the “cage lowering” lights and music play. Backstage, Matt checks in with Jeff. He wishes him luck, and someone else wants to do the same: Lita! She’s looking forward to driving home with the Undisputed Championship. Jeff punches some walls on his way out, because he is crazy you see, as Matt and Lita look concerned.
The Undertaker (c) vs Jeff Hardy (WWE Undisputed Championship) (Ladder Match)
Jeff, wearing some distracting neon facepaint, hops on Taker’s bike during his entrance, and that brings Undertaker out of the ring so Hardy can leap in, give a Baseball Slide to an adjacent ladder, that falls on the Deadman’s legs. Great idea, could have had better execution. Jeff follows up with a big chair shot, chucks a ladder, Taker catches it but smashes himself with it on a dodged charge into the apron. No-selling the effects, Hardy floored with a right hand, repeat, into the barricade, clothesline, more shots. Hot start but this has slowed way down now.
Looking for Snake Eyes into the ladder, but Hardy out of it to push Taker into the same. Ladder put on a prone Undertaker so Hardy can deliver a leg-drop from the ringsteps, that looked sore. Into the ring, but Taker able to nail Jeff with the end of the ladder after using the other end to pivot, but without the Joey Mercury outcome. Head shot with the ladder sends Hardy flying into the announce table from the apron. Mean Mark sets up the ladder, starts climbing and Jeff is seemingly out cold on the outside. Taker thinks better of it and decides Hardy needs more punishment. To the outside, and Hardy takes a Scoop Slam into the announce table. JR admonishes the Undertaker and gets the death glare in response.
Taker adds another, a whip into the timekeepers table, a chair edge shot, then back in. Kicks, slammed onto a prone ladder. Hardy rallying back with strikes, backs The Undertaker away for a second, and the crowd pops big. Taker kills the comeback with a stiff right, more kicks, Hardy hanging over the apron, ladder put on top, and Taker delivers a leg-drop. Back in, Hardy set-up in the corner, big clothesline floors him. Mean Mark sets a ladder up in a different corner, and Jeff gets flung into it. Looking for another corner clothesline, but Taker into the ladder off a Hardy dodge. No-selling again to deliver some rights, but Hardy back with a Whisper In The Wind off a corner whip. Taker hasn’t had to deal with that kind of offence in a while.
Jeff has the ladder but gets knocked out with a big boot. Taker looking to continue the beating at ringside, but Hardy gets some space with a low blow, then into the ring to deliver a bit of an awkward somersault springboard rana with a set-up ladder as a kind of diving board, the ladder gave when Hardy jumped so he only just about cleared the ropes. Hardy grabs an even bigger ladder from under the ring, sets it up and starts to climb. He gets about halfway before Undertaker intercepts him, takes him into powerbomb position, but then gets rana’d out! Hardy alone in the ring, starts climbing as JR goes mental on commentary. “Climb your ass off!” Near the top, Taker back in with a chair and delivers a big shot to the back. Crowd believed for a second.
Jeff dragged to the ground, chair shots, the Champ looking for the The Last Ride again, and awesome spot where Hardy battles out, tries a rana and Taker stops him. Hardy is able to grab a chair on the ground and slam Taker with it when Deadman tries again. A huge thunderous chair shot to Taker’s head really gets the crowd going. “Climb the ladder kid, make yourself famous!” Hardy climbs, but intercepted with chair shorts again. He’s not letting go, Taker climbs the other side, both men at the top, and Taker has Hardy by the throat and chucks Hardy off. The Champ grabs the belt in just over 14.
Winner (and still WWE Undisputed Champion): The Undertaker, who departs quick.
Verdict: I wouldn’t say this is quite as amazing as some people say it is. Taker’s offence is super limited at this time, and there were a few spots that didn’t quite come off. Some under-selling didn’t help either. But it had its moments, and the two guys, with JR on commentary, worked hard to sell the idea that Jeff could pull it off. Arguably he should have: now that would have made a singles star in an instant.
Taker gets on his bike, but Hardy is dragging himself up so Undertaker gets back in the ring. He picks Jeff up and delivers The Last Ride. Back on the bike to ride off, but Hardy has found a mike from somewhere. He’s croaking “You haven’t broke me Taker, I’m still standing”. Taker heads back to the ring, looking to deliver a shot, but relents and raises Hardy’s hand instead. Cue Hardy’s music as Jeff collapses. Taker mouths that Jeff is a tough son of a bitch before leaving. Can we call this a face turn? A little sudden, but heel Taker is such a spent force that I’ll take it. That’ll do for this episode.
Best Match: Even if I don’t rate it that high, the main event was a decent spectacle that did loads of Jeff and Taker character wise.
Best Wrestler: Lesnar, for getting something legible out of Flair.
Worst Match: Booker/Show was too short given it was seemingly designed as a bit of a blow-off.
Worst Wrestler: Bradshaw, who really brought little to the table against a rookie like Nowinski.
Overall Verdict: A good episode, a damn sight better than some of the stuff from the previous month. The main event was a highlight, plenty of good matches elsewhere, decent build for the next PPV: it doesn’t have to be a five-star classic show every night, this is enough.
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