Throwback Thursday: Looking Back at WWE's No Way Out 2001 PPV
On February 25, 2001, The Rock won the WWE Championship from Kurt Ange in the main event of No Way Out to become the first six-time champion in the company's history.
A handful of Superstars have since surpassed that record, but at the time, WWE only had one world title. For many decades, reigns lasted much longer than they do today. We don't see people hold the title for more than 1,000 days anymore, and we likely never will again.
The card for this show included some of the biggest names to ever set foot in a WWE ring. Many have already entered the WWE Hall of Fame, and almost all of the ones who haven't will get there eventually.
For this week's Throwback Thursday, we thought it would be fun to take a look back at No Way Out 2001 and see how the show holds up. We will look at each match and grade it while offering observations about the competitors, storylines and how things have changed in 20 years.
Big Show vs. Raven
The PPV kicked off with some Hardcore Championship action, and champion Raven came out with a shopping cart full of weapons to battle The Big Show.
Raven tried to have a masked accomplice attack Big Show on the stage but the 7-footer saw it coming and managed to take control of the situation by using a stop sign to take out his opponent.
Crash Holly, Hardcore Holly, Steve Blackman and Billy Gunn all got involved, and Gunn was able to steal the pin on Raven to win the title. After Big Show started throwing around opponents, Raven rolled Gunn up to win back the belt back. The giant eventually managed to pin Raven with a Chokeslam on to a trash can to walk out with the belt.
For those who may not be aware, the Hardcore Championship was a title that was defended at all times against all opponents. It was similar to the 24/7 title but usually featured more violence.
This match was a mess but not necessarily in a bad way. In 2001, mayhem ruled WWE. It was the tail end of the Attitude Era, and guys were doing everything they could to stand out while stars like The Rock and Stone Cold ran the show.
Seeing guys like Gunn, the Hollys, Raven, Blackman and Big Show is a reminder of how many memorable performers WWE had on the roster back then.
This was barely a match. It was a stunt show, with guys taking a lot of shots to the head before concussion protocols were followed so closely. It's both entertaining and a grim reminder of what Superstars used to put themselves through for our entertainment. This bout had energy, and that's what WWE wanted when it kicked off the PPV.
Chris Jericho vs. X-Pac vs. Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit (IC Title)
We went from hardcore wrestling to four of the best workers of their era doing battle for the Intercontinental Championship in a Fatal 4-Way. Chris Jericho was the champion and X-Pac, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit were the challengers.
Benoit and Guerrero came into this match as members of The Radicalz and gave an interview beforehand wherein they made it clear they were after X-Pac and Jericho more than each other. After the initial salvo, they worked together to soften up their opponents. X-Pac and Jericho found ways to separate them, but they couldn't work together long enough to take them out of the equation.
Benoit and Guerrero started fighting each other when it became clear one of them would have to betray the other to win. When it was all over, Jericho managed to pin X-Pac to retain the title.
Benoit may have been one of the best technical wrestlers to ever lace up a pair of boots, but it will always be awkward to watch one of his old matches. Every bump he takes makes you wonder how much damage he inflicted to himself.
If we look at the match in a vacuum, it isn't going to make a lot of top-10 lists. It was good but had a little too much going on sometimes, which is a problem this kind of bout will always have.
The precision of four men made almost everything they did look good, but it's not as if they didn't botch any moves. Some critics will look at matches today and judge them as if the stars from 20 years ago could have done it better. If you look at this bout, you will see four great wrestlers making plenty of small mistakes.
One thing that the previous generation definitely did better was lay in its punches. X-Pac was considered small back then, and even his strikes looked like they had more impact than those of some of today's powerhouses.
Stephanie McMahon vs. Trish Stratus
The lone women's match on the card featured Trish Stratus taking on Stephanie McMahon. This came about after Stephanie and Vince McMahon had a falling-out over his relationship with Stratus.
The match saw the two women beat the life out of each other. There weren't many submissions or technical takedowns. It was a lot of clotheslines, punches, choking and hair-pulling.
Stephanie was not a seasoned performer at the time and had to rely on the more experienced Stratus to carry her. Being the pro she was, Stratus was up to the challenge.
There was a moment when Trish's trunks were pulled up and exposed the left side of her rear end. She waited a minute to fix it, and when she did, the crowd booed the idea of not being able to see her butt. Everybody cheered again when Stratus was doused with water as Jerry Lawler screamed "Wet T-shirt!"
After throwing a pitcher of water on Stratus, Stephanie began to rip at her outfit. She exposed her thong and almost ripped off her top before the referee intervened. William Regal came out and tried to help Stratus win but quickly changed his mind when he couldn't figure out what Vince wanted him to do.
An irate Stratus berated and slapped him, so he hit her with a neckbreaker and allowed Stephanie to pin her for the victory.
Grade: D+ but with an A for effort
There is no easy way to say anything about the way WWE booked women in 2001. They were written to look like vapid, promiscuous egomaniacs and used primarily for their sex appeal. You could tell the people in charge saw them more as props than wrestlers, and it's uncomfortable to watch.
This is not meant to take anything away from the women as performers. They were fighting an uphill battle to be taken seriously and given any storyline that didn't involve the men or sexual innuendo. Stratus was a trailblazer and worked hard to become great in the ring. She rose above the content she was given but still had to deal with all of the horrible storylines. To her credit, she always sold what she was doing like a boss.
This was a time when MTV was still packing a rented beach house with bikini models for a fake spring break party, Maxim and FHM dominated the newsstands and women were still relegated to supporting roles in most movies. We have come a long way as a society, albeit with progress still to be made, but we have to remind ourselves that it wasn't too long ago that sexism was actively celebrated by pop culture.
This was not a good match, but Stratus and Stephanie tried to make this a physical fight with a personal grudge behind it. They performed well with a bad storyline at a time when being a woman on WWE television meant enduring a lot of garbage.
Some fans will argue that it's all right to enjoy this kind of match because that was the way things were back then, but it's also OK if we mature and realize that some of the things we used to enjoy were not as great as we remember. You can like this for the ridiculousness and the effort from the performers, but you can also hate it because it's degrading to women. It's up to you to decide how you deal with those feelings.
Triple H vs. Steve Austin (3 Stages of Hell)
One of the big matches from this event was Triple H vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in a Three Stages of Hell match that included a standard bout, a Street Fight and a Steel Cage match to finish it off.
The first fall was supposed to be a standard wrestling match, but when you put these two guys together in the ring, they are going to have a brawl. For every traditional hold or takedown, we saw a dozen strikes thrown. A lot of wrestlers can't pull something like that off, but these two made it work every time. Austin picked up the first point with a pin, and Triple H tied things up in the Street Fight.
The second fall allowed them to bring weapons into the mix. Triple H's signature sledgehammer is never far away in those situations, but The Rattlesnake is no slouch when it comes to using foreign objects. Both men endured a lot of damage on their way to the cage match.
Both men were bleeding from the head as the cage was lowered around the ring. The Game was in better shape, but Stone Cold still had some fight in him. The ending came when Triple H had a sledgehammer and Austin had a piece of wood covered in barbed wire. They hit each other and Triple H happened to fall on top of Austin to get the pin. Stone Cold made sure to hit a Stunner on his way out for good measure.
At any other show, this would have been the main event. Austin and The Game were two of the biggest stars in the industry having three matches in a row. You could sell an entire PPV with this as the only advertised bout, and it would still be a packed house.
These matches almost always go the distance, so the first two falls are almost inconsequential. We know one guy will win the first and the other guy will win the second. It always comes down to the third, so everything that leads up to it is about inflicting as much punishment as possible.
Even with a chaotic pace, Triple H and Austin managed to keep everything moving along in a way that made sense. This is one of the things that separates them from others in their generation as ring generals. They knew how to make a story compelling as it ebbs and flows.
It often feels like both of these guys are overlooked when it comes to their technical ability. They might focus on brawling a lot, but when they stopped to do things like a vertical suplex or a wristlock, they looked immaculate. Both were more traditional in their early days, and small moments throughout this match allowed them to incorporate some of those maneuvers between the chair shots.
Steven Richards (With Ivory) vs. Jerry Lawler (With The Kat)
Steven Richards of Right to Censor took on Jerry "The King" Lawler in a match that also included Ivory and Stacy "The Kat" Carter in their respective corners.
Lawler, already a veteran, still had a lot of energy and kept up with the younger Richards. The match was only a little more than five minutes, but they were able to pack a lot into that time.
The King's punches were as snug as ever, and Richards was bumping for him as if his life depended on it. The effort from both men was there, but they didn't have a lot to work with.
Ivory tried to interfere on Richards' behalf, but The King bodyslammed her and prevented her from using the Women's Championship. The Kat accidentally hit Lawler with the belt when she was aiming for Richards and cost him the win. Right to Censor ran down and carried The Kat away because the stipulation stated she had to join the group if Lawler lost.
This feud was about The Kat wanting to appear nude and Right to Censor trying to stop her. It's hard to put into words how ridiculous this storyline was. It somehow managed to be both feminist and misogynistic at the same time.
The feminist part of this storyline is The Kat wanting to be able to show her body if she chose to. She wanted to express her sexuality on her terms.
However, the story was written by men for an audience that was almost entirely male at the time, so in reality, the feminist approach was a veiled attempt to hide another way for WWE to use a woman for her sex appeal. After all, it was two men fighting over whether we would see The Kat naked, so she wasn't in control of how her body was allowed to be seen.
As far as the action in the ring was concerned, it was fine for what it was. Lawler was still a good hand and Richards was always great at his shtick. It wasn't a technical clinic, but it wasn't a disaster. It was filler that few people will remember 20 years later.
The Brothers of Destruction vs. Dudley Boyz vs. Edge and Christian
Three legendary tag teams collided in the penultimate match when The Dudley Boyz defended the Tag Team Championship against The Brothers of Destruction and Edge and Christian in a tables match.
As you would expect, this match was a series of double-team moves, weapon spots and big bumps. We saw tables and chairs all around the ring being used in a variety of ways.
Edge and Christian took a lot of the big wrestling maneuvers, while the other four competitors suffered more damage from the weapons. Undertaker and Kane took some especially painful-looking chair shots to the head.
Rikishi and Haku interfered and prevented The Brothers of Destruction from winning. This allowed Bubba Ray and D-Von to put Christian through a table with their finisher for the victory.
Edge and Christian aren't small by any means, but compared to the other four men in this match, they looked like cruiserweights.
The Attitude Era was like a series of car crashes every week, and this match was a great example of how mayhem was more important than anything else back then. It was fun, but it's not a style that is sustainable for a company or a wrestler for too long.
This match was enjoyable but also forgettable. It was one of many hardcore-style tag team bouts from that time. After enough of them, they all start to blend together. If it's not one of the early TLC matches, it would be hard for most fans to tell you which event this match was from.
The Undertaker's biker phase is interesting to look back on. It's dated, but had he not changed up his gimmick, he might not have had the same kind of longevity.
Kurt Angle vs. The Rock (WWE Championship)
The WWE Championship was up for grabs in the main event when Kurt Angle defended the title against The Rock. The Olympic gold medalist had won the belt from The Rock a few months prior at No Mercy 2000 and had successful title defenses at Survivor Series against The Undertaker, Rebellion in a Fatal 4-Way, Armageddon in a six-man Hell in a Cell match and the Royal Rumble against Triple H.
The champion had endured challenges from some heavy hitters, but on this night, he found himself outmatched.
Rocky and Angle came out of the gate hot and kept a brisk pace for several minutes before they slowed things down so they could sell the pain they were feeling.
Both men hit all of their big moves and did the things they were known for. Angle focused on The Rock's leg to soften him up for the Ankle Lock, while The Great One tried to wear him down with strikes. Big Show came out and hit both men with Chokeslams while the ref was knocked down, so his involvement did not do much to change the outcome.
The Rock used the title as a weapon while the referee was incapacitated, but Angle kicked out when a new official arrived. After enduring a painful Ankle Lock and several false finishes, The Brahma Bull hit The Rock Bottom to get the pin and win the championship.
This was The Rock's sixth WWE Championship, making him the first Superstar to reach that milestone. He was one of three five-time champions heading into the PPV along with Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart.
This match is like a time capsule for both men. Angle and The Rock hadn't shaved their heads, they were both at the top of their physical game and they were two of the biggest wrestling stars in the world.
When we think about 2001, WrestleMania X-Seven is the event that dominates our memories. It was one of the most memorable PPVs of all time, but it also overshadows a lot of other entertaining matches from that year. This is one of them.
You can't put together two guys like Ange and The Rock and get a subpar match. They were physically incapable of looking bad at the time. This is not their best in any way, but it was a solid main event to cap off a show that was uneven in a lot of ways.
The only issue from this match was a botched count. The ref claimed Angle kicked out of The Rock Bottom when he clearly did not, so Rocky hit a second and got the pinfall. It was clunky and almost turned the crowd against them right at the end. Had it not happened, the pop for Rock's win might have been bigger.
Every era in pro wrestling is a reflection of that time period in society. The early 2000s was a time when pop culture was all about being in your face and creating controversy. There is an old saying in broadcast news, "If it bleeds, it leads." It refers to how people are more attracted to segments involving violence than they are to feel-good stories. That is also true in pro wrestling.
This event showcases how much about WWE and pro wrestling has changed over the past 20 years. Some things have gotten better, others have gotten worse and the overall presentation has evolved in many ways. WWE PPVs used to be more like a rock concert than the Super Bowl.
This PPV had some great action, but it didn't have a ton of variety. Every match was based on a grudge and had a lot of brawling. A few people mixed in some technical offense, but most of what we saw was about carnage and personal vendettas.
It's hard not to notice how a lot of the big stars from this event had more mainstream appeal than most of today's Superstars. WWE had a treasure trove of main event talent at its disposal in 2001, and it's amazing to think about how they were all huge names at the same time. WWE would kill to have that kind of drawing power today.
Almost every person featured on this PPV is a legend in some way. Whether you loved Raven and the Dudleys in ECW, Austin and Rock in their endless rivalry, Stratus and McMahon for their soap opera drama or the wrestling wizardry of Angle and Guerrero, this show had something for you.
Unfortunately, this event is also a painful reminder of how poorly women were treated in this industry for so long. It's still an ongoing battle, but today's performers are making big strides because the previous generation worked through a lot of bad writing and booking to keep the division alive.
If you look at the '90s, WWE's women's division consisted of a handful of wrestlers, and its WCW counterpart was non-existent. The Attitude Era brought a lot of new faces into both companies, but they were rarely given anything substantial to do. Stars like Lita, Stratus and Molly Holly found ways to shine, but there were a lot of talented performers who have been forgotten by time because they were underutilized.
The Rock becoming the first six-time WWE champion was not made into a big deal, but it should have been. In an industry dominated by white men, a pro wrestler with Black and Samoan heritage became one of the biggest celebrities in the world. He was mainstream before his movie career took off, and he has continued to be one of the most magnetic personalities in and out of the ring because he appeals to every demographic. He was breaking records and boundaries at the same time.
No Way Out 2001 had its highs and lows, which makes it a lot like most of today's pro wrestling events. Two decades is a long time, but for fans who watched this show live, it probably feels like yesterday because so many of the people involved remain in the industry or have only recently retired. If you are looking to fill three hours, this show is worth revisiting.