Vengeance is obtained, now we begin the road to Brock vs Rock. It’s the 22nd July 2002 and we’re in Van Andel Arena of Grand Rapids, Michigan for episode #478 of WWE Raw! Your main event tonight: The Rock takes on Eddie Guerrero in a non-title match!
New Attitude splash, “Across The Nation”, pyro and JR/King welcome us to Raw. No recap of Vengeance package? Out comes the Raw GM on his first full day in charge. One big change going forward is that the announce desk position has changed, to one next to the ramp, so that’s the start of that. Bischoff thanks the crowd for their warm reception (it wasn’t) and he’s proud to bring the Undisputed Champion to Raw. But that’s not all. He’s also bringing you the man who is going to make Raw the #1 show in sports entertainment (isn’t it already?), the man he stole from Smackdown, the reign of terror incarnate (my words, admittedly): Triple H!
Out comes HHH to a big reception. He gets his full entrance and I have a feeling I better get used to that on the opening segment of Raw going forward. Bischoff is about to keep talking when Haitch cuts him off. Tonight the Game brings you his best friend, the Showstopper, the Icon, Shawn Michaels! Out comes HBK to confirm the Klique is in charge on Raw. Bischoff proudly brings you the combo of Triple H and Shawn Michaels, and announces that HBK is now Triple H’s manager. Anytime you’ll see HHH in action, Michaels will be in his corner. Bischoff basically repeats this in different ways for a minute, do they have time to kill tonight or something?
Michaels finally puts us out of our misery by taking the mike and telling him that he has a big problem with Bischoff telling him anything. The GM doesn’t back down over that, and re-iterates that HBK will be Haitch’s manager because Bischoff told him so. Michaels doesn’t have the stroke he had a few years ago, and Bischoff is not Vince McMahon. Besides, Michaels doesn’t have an alternative. HBK snaps back that it’s high time Bischoff recognises who he is. He doesn’t need stroke (ha!), he doesn’t react to ultimatums, and when he is given the choice of “your way or the highway”, he takes the highway. Michaels actually leaves, and Bischoff berates him from the ring, saying he won’t let him back. Triple H is unhappy, and Bischoff encourages HHH to talk some sense into his friend. An angered Haitch leaves the ring. Weird, weird segment, HR issues being sorted out in-ring.
Oh, but wait Bischoff isn’t finished. Tonight, they are going to unify the IC and Euro belts, and the “Unified Intercontinental Championship” is already hanging above the ring, because it’s a ladder match! The crowd likes that. I hadn’t realised the Euro belts demise was coming so quickly, but there it is, gone for good. Not really surprising, it’s been worthless for a very long time, and WWE’s booking of it recently has only accentuated this.
We cut suddenly to backstage where Triple H tries to stop Michaels from leaving. HBK claims he has earned the right to do whatever he wants, and even if HHH came to Raw because of him, Shawn did not choose to work under Bischoff. Haitch spits back that he’s turning his back on the fans, and with his back injury would being the Game’s manager be that bad? Michaels doesn’t want to be a lackey, and we get a very bitter shot at Steve Austin as Triple H pleads with his friend not to “take your ball and go home like Stone Cold did”, yikes. Crowd dumps on that. All HHH is asking is for he and Michaels to take the ride together. He has an idea that will make this all work. HBK is interested, and he’s sticking around for the moment. So weird to cut from the title unification announcement to this, but it has me intrigued. Are we finally getting the Triple H heel turn we’ve needed for a while?
After the break, holy crap they’re doing it as the opener!?
Jeff Hardy (c) vs Rob Van Dam (c) (WWE European/Intercontinental Championship Unification) (Ladder Match)
This should be the main event, come on now. I mean, why not build to this for Summerslam? Have Hardy make a big deal about the legacy of the European belt and the people who’ve held it, or something. Talk about burning through the potential of things. Hardy’s second ladder match in a month too, and the second ladder match these two have had, after their classic Invasion match for the Hardcore Title the previous year. And to do this without any preamble?
Lock-up, hold chain, both men equally matched. Running chain and Van Dam nails a drop-kick, goes for cover, whoops. There isn’t even a ref Rob! Shots into the corner, Jeff goes for a corner kip-up off a whip, caught, but then Hardy counters into a rana, nice. He grabs a ladder at ringside, but then eats a Baseball Slide through it. Van Dam adds a moonsault from the apron, the crowd is into this, and now he sets the ladder up in the ring and starts to climb. Hardy intervenes and pulls RVD off. RVD looking for a Monkey Flip off a whip chain, Hardy counters into a kind of leg pull, looked weird. Jeff heading for the belt, but now it’s his turn to get pulled to the mat. Van Dam has the ladder in hand, but Hardy drop-kicks it out of them. Both men out to grab different ladders, back in and and they do some clattering off each other, that’ll sting the hands. Van Dam drops his, then drop-kicks Jeff through his to big “RVD” chants.
Jeff set-up prone on a ladder so Van Dam can hit his handstand standing moonsault. Another ladder set-up, Van Dam climbing, Jeff intercepts him, clambers up himself, and takes Van Dam down with a Russian Leg Sweep, nice. A ladder placed on top of Van Dam, Hardy to the top and hits a Swanton onto it! Damn, that looked painful as hell. Jeff climbing as he we see replays, Van Dam up way too fast to intercept from the other side, trading shots, Hardy’s head bounced off the ladder, and then RVD hits a Sunset Flip Powerbomb! Just missed a ladder too. The crowd is nuclear for “RVD” now.
Hardy put on ladder and Mr Monday Night hits a Rolling Thunder on it. Ladder set-up, Van Dam climbing, Jeff, nails him in the side with another ladder, then Hardy sets his up and climbs. Van Dam with some kicks from his ladder, kicks the ladder underneath Hardy, and poor Jeff crashes and burns. Van Dam adds a Five Star from the top of the ladder, as if it is needed. He climbs, Hardy is motionless, and Van Dam claims the belt in just under seven.
Winner (and still WWE Intercontintal Champion): Rob Van Dam, who as far as I know is not considered the last European Champion, that honour goes to Hardy.
Verdict: Man, this was intense. Some crazy dangerous looking spots throughout, not least that Swanton onto the ladder. The Euro Title went out with a bang at least. This should have been on PPV.
Van Dam helps Hardy up and raises his hand. Face-vs-face done well. After the break out comes Chris Nowinski, dressed for a fight. Sign of the night so far: “Yale Is Better”. Nowinski on the mike to tell us that he wants to thank Mr Bischoff for the time to get something off his chest. “You Suck”. Ever since he made his debut he’s been perplexed as to why “you people” (drink!) seem to hate him. “You people” (glug, glug) should be honoured to be in his presence. “You people” (Oh God, please stop) should be excited about what he can bring to the table, and that’s the end of Harvard Chris’ time on the mike as out comes The Undertaker.
Nowinski tries to talk Taker down, hands him the mike and even accepts a handshake. Psyche! Deadman isn’t letting go and the inevitable beatdown commences. Corner clothesline, kick to the mid-section, The Last Ride, and Mean Mark stands tall. At least this in-ring hazing didn’t last too long. Wonder what they’re going to do with Nowinski now?
Backstage, Eric Bischoff talks to Rhyno! He expects Rhyno to bring the same kind of ruthless aggression as Undertaker just did. He’s all about momentum, and he knows everything about Rhyno. He wants Rhyno on Raw, and Rhyno is amenable, when he’s ready to come back he’ll be in touch. Bischoff turns and runs into the twin pillars of the undercard Shawn Stasiak and D-Lo Brown. They both want an opportunity, and Bischoff is initially uninterested. After they refuse to give up, Bischoff admits he has a three minute hole in the show and they can fill it. But he wants to see a winner and he wants to be entertained, and if they can’t provide they will regret it. Stasiak and Brown left staring each other down. Hey, at least it’s plot for these two. As for Rhyno, he’s still dealing with a herniated disc injury and we won’t be seeing him back in the ring until February of 2003.
Trish Stratus & Bubba Ray Dudley vs Molly Holly & William Regal
Feels like we’re just going through the motions with the only two women in the division, thrown in again with two of the men to fill space. Rapid entrances indicate to me they won’t be getting much time. Lame intergender rules apply. The men to start, lock-up, Regal with strikes, Bubba with a hard whip into the corner, back body-drop and Regal skitters into his corner where he gets a bit too huggy with Molly. Holly in, Trish in too, but Molly is calling for a test of strength with Bubba. Dudley mocks her, does some dancing, gets a slap, rears back but instead of a hard right it’s a slap to the butt, wonderful.
Trish in properly, takedowns, Chick Kick, and Regal takes Stratus down with a sneaky shot from the apron. Northern Lights Suplex from Holly gets two, Regal in and Bubba doesn’t come in straight away, so I guess this is regular intergender rules. He takes Trish down but relents from more serious punishment. A knee to the midsection, Bubba cleared off the apron, Regal holds Stratus so Molly can go for a drop-kick, but she nails Regal instead. Bubba back in, looking for a Bubba Bomb, Regal gets in an unseen low blow to avoid. Holly on the top looking for the Molly-Go-Round, but she’s crotched first. Trish in, handstand rana to Molly, whose sent out, Bubba hits Regal with a Scoop Slam, then a female What’s Uuuuupppp from Trish. Bubba restrains himself from shoving his partner to ask for tables in a better comedy moment than the butt slapping, and goes to get one himself. In the ring Regal sneaks in to hit Trish with a reverse suplex then locks in the Regal Stretch for the tap in just under four.
Winners: William and Molly, a real power couple.
Verdict: Real house show energy to this one, though I appreciate that it actually was properly intergender. Regal made to look pretty ruthless in victory, not a bad thing.
Backstage Bischoff hypes up an unseen duo for their three minutes, before running into Chris Benoit. Benoit isn’t super pleased to see him, even though Bischoff praises him to the heavens. He’s set up a match between him and Booker T tonight, and references their Best-Of-Seven series from WCW. WWE will get to that. And now Bischoff announces that this match now serves as a #1 contender contest for the IC belt, with the winner getting their shot next week. Benoit looks annoyed at Bischoff’s words as the GM walks off. Elsewhere The Rock walks through the arena with his new gold.
After the break out comes the Brahma Bull. Big reception for the new Champion. He milks in the reaction for a while. Finally, etc. He pays tribute to his two opponents last night for making the Vengeance main event electrifying. But that was last night, and this is tonight. He told “Eric Jackoff” that he was going to come to Raw tonight and be Undisputed Champion, and that’s all he can get out before Eddie Guerrero appears.
“La Roca!”. Who does The Rock think he is? Eddie has a problem with The Rock, but the fans chanting “Rocky” sure don’t. Guerrero has two little girls at home that worship him (“I’m sure they’re young” adds JR, OK) but when he said goodnight to them the other day he saw they had a poster of The Rock up on their wall. Latino Heat knows he had to teach his daughters a lesson, so he ripped the poster down and burned it. Eddie actually mimes this interaction out, complete with getting down on his knees to play his daughters, outstanding.
Rock cuts him off and says he isn’t a movie star, Guerrero is: “Which one are you, Cheech or Chong?” Lets hope that doesn’t come up in Dwayne Johnson’s future political campaigns. Crowd laps up the racism though. Eddie retorts that Rock is jealous of him, and that everyone knows Guerrero is the better wrestler, more good-looking, has the hottest hair-cut in America (“they should call this the People’s Mullet”). The Rock replies that Eddie’s hair looks like “Billy Ray Cyrus had sex with a retarded hyena”, we’re just dropping all the slurs now. Is an F-Bomb coming?
Eddie is tired of being disrespected, and wants to teach The Rock a lesson in the ring. If and when Guerrero wins, he wants a shot at the Undisputed Title. The Rock is agreeable, and gets this across by singing “La Bomba”, Jesus Christ. The crowd loves it of course. Rock adds that he knows Guerrero can go, but he’s still going to lay the smackdown, if you smell, etc. We have a main event, and one that I really do want to see, I just hated how we got there. Our babyface Champ is a racist folks!
Before The Rock makes his departure, Brock Lesnar is here with Paul Heyman. He has a match now, and just ghosts past The Rock. Very cool way of beginning this feud I have to say, it sort of works that Brock would refuse to do the usual confrontation where The Rock would verbally destroy him.
Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman vs Tommy Dreamer (Singapore Cane Match)
This a follow-up to what happened the previous week, and I’m not a huge fan of these kinds of dual-running feuds, but hey it gets us more of Dreamer. He tries a shot with a cane from the off, but Lesnar swats it away, so Dreamer instead hits a Side Russian Leg Sweep. To the outside, Dreamer tries a shot from the apron, but he gets caught and belly-to-bellyed for his trouble. Looked rough. Stomps, back in, hard whip floors Dreamer, corner spear, another in the opposite corner, then a few backbreakers.
Real squash feel to this, but then Dreamer avoids a corner charge. Kick to the thigh, DDT, but rest assured Brock is kicking out of that one. Dreamer has the cane again, gets in one shot, but then Lesnar catches the cane on a second. F-5 ends it in just over two-and-a-half.
Winner: Big Brock, who won’t stop until he’s squashed every ECW star going.
Verdict: Needless squash. Dreamer has more uses than this.
Suddenly The Undertaker is in the ring! He gives Lesnar a shot with the Cane, and the #1 contender scarpers in a hurry with Heyman at his side. Retribution for last week, and I suppose they have too much time to fill before Summerslam for them to let Brock focus on The Rock exclusively.
Backstage, The Big Show is with Shawn Michaels. Show says he’s been thinking about HBK and his “tough love” a few weeks earlier. Now Michaels is on his own, and doesn’t look so tough. Michaels says he doesn’t know how tough he is anymore, but how badly does TBS want to find out? “Maybe I will Shawn, maybe I will” says Show evilly, as he walks out. Are they really setting up Show/Michaels?
Back on point, D’Lo Brown and Shawn Stasiak are already in the ring, with Bischoff on the ramp. He re-iterates that they have three minutes, and they better make it good.
D’Lo Brown vs Shawn Stasiak
Stasiak tries a suplex, Brown out of it and hits a Scoop Slam for two. Jumping heel kick, two as we see Bischoff looking at his watch at the top of the rope. Stasiak lands a swinging powerslam for two as the GM notes 30 seconds have passed. Brown with a roll-up for two, Stasiak back with a knee to the head, then into a resthold. Bischoff asks what the hell Stasiak is doing, considering they only have two minutes. Stasiak hits a Scoop Slam for two, Bischoff gets annoyed and counts down a bit quicker than he should. Suddenly there are two huge guys in the ring, and they beat down Stasiak and Brown. No call but that’s it in less than 90 seconds.
Winner: No contest.
Verdict: Nothing worth seeing here.
Stasiak takes a Half-Nelson Slam, Brown takes a splash off the top, the Stasiak takes a second rope Vader Bomb. The two vacate the ring to cheers, and I recognise them now: it’s Matt Anoa’i, aka the future Rosey and Eddie Fatu, aka the future Umaga. Bischoff’s new henchmen it seems?
Backstage, Triple H meets up with Michaels in their locker room and hands him a package. He tells him to put it on, HBK laughs after he inspects the contents. Oh God, what’s this going to be?
Elsewhere Booker T gets ready for his match when Goldust arrives to congratulate him on his “masterful performance” at Vengeance. T is King of the Giant Killers, and Booker is wary of Goldust having some stupid crown for him to wear. Instead it’s some kind of weird-looking wig, that from what follows after I’m guessing is meant to be a take on Don King’s hair. T isn’t mad at his “assertive, sometime perverted”, tag team partner and rhymes King style about taking down Chris Benoit. Can you excavate that, you naive person?
Booker T vs Chris Benoit (#1 Contendership For The WWE Intercontinental Championship)
T out with his waist strapped up, the Harlem Hangover will do that to you I guess. Circling, lock-up, Benoit with an elbow-lock. Booker back with a headlock, then knocks Benoit down with a hard shoulder block, looked stiff as hell. Lock-up, T backed up into the corner, shoulders to the injured mid-section, clubbing shots, Booker ducks a hard chop off a whip and nails a martial arts kick. Chops to Benoit, the Wolverine back with a hard kick to the mid-section, then a backbreaker for two. Hard whip into the corner floors T, snap suplex, two. Crowd quiet, but this is decent so far.
Dueling strikes, T hits another big heel kick, Benoit back with chops, runs into a Sleeper but counters into a reverse suplex. He takes off a turnbuckle pad as the ref sees to Booker, more dueling strikes, T hits a back body-drop, knockdown, running forearm, then that spinning spinebuster. Crowd waking up as Booker heads to the top, but this time it’s a missile drop-kick for two. Calling for the Scissors Kick, Benoit dodges, trying for German, T fights it, but can’t escape and Benoit lands three in succession before T gets away. Benoit ducks a clothesline and lands a bridging German for two. Scoop Slam, T out of it, Benoit ducks a heel kick, awkward counter-chain in the corner gets T two off a roll-up. Now Benoit sends Booker into the exposed turnbuckle, a stunned T is easy prey for a Crossface and T taps out in just under six.
Winner: Chris Benoit, who honestly needed this win after losing the previous night.
Verdict: Good stuff from two guys who are as used to each other as any duo on the roster. Both made to look good. Not sure why the crowd was so apathetic.
After the break Bischoff is on commentary and gives out to the production guys for not having the camera on him. Time for the next match.
The Big Show vs Spike Dudley
Bischoff wants to help Show get his momentum back after Vengeance, and is happy to have signed this mismatch. Spike glaring daggers at the GM on his way down. Dudley attacks ineffectually, TBS beats him down, stepover, knee to the side, then slammed hard into the corner. More clubbing shots as Bischoff waxes lyrically about how Raw is going to blow Smackdown away. Not with matches like this it won’t. Show hits his Showstopper, cocky pin and that’s it in just over a minute.
Winner: The Big Squash
Verdict: What was the point? Poor Spike getting buried like this.
Bischoff gives The Big Show a signal, and Show grabs a table. Set-up in the ring, looking for another Chokeslam, but here comes Bubba Ray for the save! Low blow to Show, but he’s back with a shot to Bubba’s injured leg (apparently it’s injured). Chokeslam to Bubba, through Spike, through the table. “Double your pleasure!” screams Bischoff. This sort of heel authority figure stuff is fine, but there’s no reason given for it. Why is Bischoff out to destroy the Dudleys?
After the break the DX music hits and comes Triple H and Shawn Michaels in their DX shirts. Not as bad as when they pulled this ten years later. The rewrite of history must begin here, with JR acting as if DX were the only thing worth talking about in the Attitude Era. We even get the pyro in the ring for the “Suck It” taunts. Crowd not exactly on fire all the same.
Michaels on the mike first, “Just when you thought it was safe to turn on the ol’ grappling show, look whos back in town”. Triple H’s turn, milks a mild “DX” chant for a sec, “Arree you readyyyy?”. Busting out all the old favourites here. HHH really waiting for some kind of nuclear reaction that isn’t coming. “Let’s get ready to suck iiiiittttt!” and then Haitch attacks Michaels! Pedigree! The Game rips off the shirt and flings it on a prone Shawn! Exeunt. Crowd honestly is more happy about this than unhappy. JR reacting to this like it’s Austin teaming with McMahon, but the Triple H heel turn has been coming for a while now. I did think we’d get a bit of time with DX though. I’ll forgive the suddenness of this because it’s past time HHH went to the dark side again, and he’s a ready-made opponent for a return to in-ring for Michaels.
Backstage, a shirtless HHH gets in his limo and drives away, just as another limo arrives. The inhabitant of this one is…Stephanie McMahon! She tells the attendant to go tell Bischoff that his competition has arrived. Shenanigans!
Eddie Guerrero vs The Rock (non-title)
Lock-up, and Guerrero begs off. Again, and The Rock has a hammerlock. Lock chain, knockdown from Rock, leapfrog chain, takedowns from the Brahma Bull and into a resthold which seems a little early. Big “Rocky” chants. Into a wristlock, Eddie out of it then takes a clothesline. Some more chains, big belly-to-belly throw from Rock but Latino Heat right back with a deep looking reserve suplex, even JR had to call Rock landing on his head. Stomps into the corner from Guerrero, a choke, then The Rock back with strikes only to get cut off with an elbow.
Shots, rope choke, strikes, snapmare and into another resthold. Rocky battling out of it, but then eats a big drop-kick for two. Into a head scissors, Guerrero drags himself to the ropes to get some extra leverage with Hebner’s back turned, repeat and eventually Hebner catches Eddie in the act. More shots, now Rock mounting another comeback and again it is cut off, this time by a stiff clothesline. Into another resthold, come on now, Guerrero is better than this. This one lasts a while as the “Eddie Sucks” chants eclipse the “Rocky” ones. Arm drop spot, Rock keeps his up before three so the crowd can get excited again.
Rock to his feet, dueling strikes, now The Rock takes control, and Guerrero bounces off the ropes into a DDT for two. Guerrero gets another knockdown, Rock kips up straight away, looks for the Rock Bottom but then Eddie lands this utterly amazing looking counter in the middle of the move and it ends up as a pinning predicament for two. Jaw droppingly good. Now he lands a standing rana, then a springboard head drop into the ropes where he has to do it a second time as he slips off the rope the first. I’ll forgive him after that counter. Rock prone, Eddie to the top but nobody home on the Frog Splash. Rock looking for The Rock Bottom again maybe, Guerrero sees it coming, but on a charge gets a spinebuster instead. The People’s Elbow connects and that will be all in just over eight-and-a-half.
Winner: The Rock, naturally.
Verdict: A fairly pedestrian encounter for the most part, with too many restholds, but seek out that Eddie counter to the Rock Bottom. Actually, you know I never do this because I worry I might end up infesting these posts with links, but here it is. Wow. More of that please.
We still have a few minutes left, so of course Brock Lesnar hits the ring. He grabs the title belt and stares down The Rock. You can cut the sexual tension with a knife as the staredown lasts for far longer than it needs to, and Lesnar eventually flings the belt at Rocky’s feet. Rock’s eyes never leave Lesnar, as Big Brock retreats. The Rock does his corner poses. Good start to this feud, and we do have some time to fill before Summerslam.
Outside the arena Bischoff rocks up to Stephanie’s limo with some security in tow. He wants to know if she’s here for a lesson, or if she is planning to slap him again. She says she’s here to kick him in the testicles. I love that the birth of brand warfare is already at this low brow level. Bischoff isn’t intimidated, and he goads McMahon out of her limo. The Raw GM does some mocking martial arts move, when suddenly Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman show up. Bischoff mistakenly thinks they are here to back him up, but then, of course, the two get into the limo. “How does it feel to get kicked in the testicles?” Stephanie tells Bischoff he can see the Next Big Thing on Smackdown on Thursday. They drive off, and we end the show with Bischoff threatening to knock Stephanie unconscious, lovely. Really wish we hadn’t ended what was mostly a decent show on this note.
Best Match: I mean, it has to be the opening ladder match. WWE’s willingness to waste that on TV astounds me. It’s like GM mode on the Smackdown games.
Best Wrestler: Eddie Guerrero might be the only person on the highest level of WWE’s current roster, sharing the spot only with Kurt Angle.
Worst Match: Stasiak/Brown was a bit of a muddle, wasn’t it?
Worst Wrestler: Big Show/Spike made Show look “good” in a way he didn’t need and seems incapable of achieving properly.
Overall Verdict: One red-hot opener, a few decent matches, some not so good ones and a few notable segments. I didn’t like all of it, but this episode progressed a few things and made me more intrigued for the build to Summerslam than I thought I would be at this point, so there’s that.
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