2002—one of the successful years in recent WWE history. Returns, debuts, and history-making matches.
Still feeling the aftermath of Vince McMahon purchasing WCW in 2001, there were many moments that avid wrestling fans would have never imagined. Eric Bischoff in a WWE ring? Better yet, a general manager? Who would have imagined?
Due to the thick roster—as a result of the purchase—McMahon thought it would be a good idea to have both Raw and Smackdown be exclusive shows. Thus, commencing the formation of the "brand split" in March of 2002. This initiated the first ever "WWE Draft" with the Rock as the first pick, defecting to Smackdown.
The "Big Gold Belt" being a main title in the WWE was also a shock. Being such a longstanding prize in the NWA/WCW, it was quite interesting to see it on WWE programming.
OK, let's forget about the dismal return of Scott Steiner, but Shelton Benjamin and Victoria ended up being good investments, right?
Well, here are 10 things stemming from 2002 that unquestionably have left indelible marks in wrestling history.
Although this was a failed attempt to recreate the legendary nWo stable, it was good to see "The Band" back together again—at least initially.
Hulk Hogan was back in his "Hollywood" character, fans got to hear that uber cool theme music again, and the brash cockiness was in full effect.
Similar to the pivotal moment in WCW that cause a downward spiral in the nWo, the WWE made a similar mistake—although not quite at the same caliber—in having too many random people join the group.
On a lighter note, it did lead to some good feuds with Steve Austin and the Rock.
In a shocking turn of events, the nationally-recognized brand of the World Wrestling Federation was forced to change its name to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) due to a legal dispute from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
In this interview, Vince McMahon explains the detailed reason of why the name change was mandated.
In retrospect, it really did not make much of a difference, as McMahon—being the promoting genius that he is—successfully rebounded from this setback and continued to entertain a global audience.
OK—let's forget about his return in the summer of 2002, joining the nWo. However, everything else should be remembered.
Coming back from a four-year hiatus after taking a then-career-ending bump during the casket match against the Undertaker at the 1998 Royal Rumble, Michaels returned and almost immediately involved himself in an intense feud with HHH, eventually leading to a street fight win at SummerSlam.
A few months later at Survivor Series, Michaels made history by winning the first ever Elimination Chamber match, capturing his first and only World Heavyweight Championship. Interestingly, this was the final world championship of his career.
Being one of the most successful masked men in wrestling history, Rey Mysterio was well known before his WWE debut in 2002.
Putting him in a feud with Kurt Angle was a great idea, as their match at SummerSlam proved that he was a great investment of Vince McMahon.
Ten years, three Cruiserweight Championships, four Tag Team Championships, two Intercontinental Championships, two World Heavyweight Championships, one WWE Championship and a Royal Rumble win later, Mysterio has indeed left a lasting mark in the WWE.
In 2001, then-champions HHH and Steve Austin—collectively known as the Two-Man Power Trip—defended their titles against the team of Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. During the match, HHH completely tore his quadriceps, forcing him to be sidelined from in-ring action.
Eight months and a series of vignettes later, he returned on an episode of Monday Night Raw to a resounding ovation, making his return one of the most memorable of all time.
HHH would go on to win the 2002 Royal Rumble, as well as the Undisputed Championship at WrestleMania X8.
Deacon Batista—a symbol of what people have to go through to become successful in the WWE (include Terra Ryzing, the Ringmaster, "Mean" Mark Callous and Flex Cavana on that list).
In spite of that forgettable gimmick, his repackaging and debut on Raw the same year made an incredible impression in the WWE. He would align himself with Ric Flair, be the Kryptonite of Kane, and eventually contribute in forming the stable known as Evolution.
He left the WWE in 2010, but not without accumulating four Tag Team Championships, four World Heavyweight Championships, two WWE Championships, and a Royal Rumble victory along the way.
Coming from a pedigree of wrestling legends, Randy Orton had all the tools to become a star. The look, the physique, and the athleticism propelled him into a recognizable Superstar, even when he debuted.
Although his initial face run and "Randy News Network" (or RNN) heel segments on Raw didn't go over too well, his full turn to a heel and formation of Evolution led him to become the youngest World Champion ever in the WWE.
One Intercontinental and Tag Team Championship, three World Heavyweight Championships, six WWE Championships and a Royal Rumble win later, Orton has become one of the go-to guys in the WWE, and is a shoo-in Hall of Famer.
This guy was destined to be a star.
Being under the tutelage of Paul Heyman, Brock Lesnar had one of the most meteoric rises in WWE history. It only took him a little over five months from his debut to become WWE Champion. His collegiate background and intense training regimen made him a legitimate top guy in the WWE.
What is so fascinating about Lesnar is that his initial WWE run only lasted two years, and he made such an impression during that short stint.
Lesnar would go on to leave the WWE to have an unsuccessful run in the NFL, but a fairly successful run in the UFC, becoming the Heavyweight Champion just a few fights into his career.
Lesnar has returned to the WWE, as it hasn't been the same, but he is still a top draw for the company.
This is undoubtedly to best investment that Vince McMahon has made in the past decade. Love him or hate him, he is arguably the most successful acquisition of the WWE in recent history.
John Cena left an unforgettable mark debuting on Smackdown competing against Kurt Angle. Although he did not win the match, he gained respect from many people, even a then-heel Undertaker backstage after the match.
After turning heel during a tag match with Billy Kidman, his "Thuganomics" gimmick was the start of one of the most controversial characters in the history of the WWE.
Four Tag Team Championships, three United States Championships, two World Heavyweight Championships, 10 WWE Championships, and a Royal Rumble win later, he has become one of the most decorated Superstars in WWE history.
Even with all the scrutiny, you can't ever neglect his achievements.
If this match can be described in one word, it would be epic.
There is no dispute that this was one of the most poignant matches in WrestleMania history. The crowd in Toronto was absolutely insane. Hogan was supposed to be the heel in this match, but that quickly changed in the very beginning of the bout.
This match is a standard-bearer of what it truly means to have a marquee match at WrestleMania. The fans were in the match the entire time, at the edge of their seats anticipating who was going to leave that match the victor.
Although it was the Rock, Hogan was definitely the MVP of that match, successfully reviving his Old School Hulk Hogan persona after the PPV, even capturing his final world title in the WWE at the age of 48.
Tune and call-in to the Pancakes and Powerslams wrestling talk show, as we discuss more about this topic, as well as the week in review of Raw, Smackdown, Impact Wrestling and ROH. The show is Tuesday nights at 11pm ET on Blog Talk Radio. Click here for show link.
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