2002: A Dynamic year in WWE - Part 1: January to April
by, 01-12-2012 at 08:35 PM (4284 Views)
February 2001 ; ECW goes belly up.
March 2001: Vince McMahon buys wCw and gains a monopoly on the business.
2001 was the year the wheels began to come off. The loss of Triple H and Chris Benoit, two of their prime workers at that time, a failed heel turn for Stone Cold Steve Austin along with a failure of an angle called the Invasion were just the main things needed to convince fans attained in the Attitude Era to back out and watch something else. The fans for life still watched and enjoyed but it was easy to tell things were getting too much, and way too much was on the line in what seemed every match. 2001 was a ballsy and voluntary departure from what had made WWF into winners.
In January 2002 things had escalated at such a frantic pace that WWF found themselves in a bit of a creative rut. Still by a mile better than what happens today but not up to previous years scratch. WWF were had to admit defeat and turn Stone Cold back into a face, The Rock had been getting bland though still brilliant every time he was called upon, Ric Flair now owned 50% of the company, Undertaker became Big Evil and Chris Jericho was the Undisputed Champion in a too-much-too-soon scenario. The most important thing to happen in January though was Triple H's long awaited return from his Quad injury. The man had stepped up his game so much in the 2 years preceeding his injury that he became the definition of the heel that people love to hate, leaving his return to be as a face a no brainer. Sentimentality ruled the day, Sentimentality ruled the day, Triple H received the loudest ovation probably ever on his return at Madison Square Garden.
He then of course won the Royal Rumble.
The clusterfuckery that developed from the invasion era was still rife. Triple H as a face was good but everybody loved Triple H because he was a heel, and to keep him as a sympathetic face they threw Stephanie McMahon into the mix to feud with Triple H over divorce issues, and this was something that overshadowed the title scene for the early year. While WWF missed the presence of one dependable former heel, a new one emerged to fill the void. Of course, I am talking about Big Evil, The Undertaker. In 2001 Taker as the American Bad Ass became rather bland, his feud with DDP was a big dud and Taker was no more than a mid carder for the rest of the invasion storyline. When he turned heel, a side of Taker that was never seen before came, and it was one everybody was happy to see. He dominated everyone, won the hardcore championship, and became a main event guy again, feuding with The Rock on the third biggest match of the No Way Out PPV, but looking like the main event. No Way Out was dominated by overbooking, much like the product at that time. Rock beat Taker but only after Ric Flair got involved, though this set up a WrestleMania feud for the latter two. Triple H had to put up his number 1 contendership against Kurt Angle for whatever reason but also had to do it with currently pissed off and soon to be ex wife Stephanie McMahon as special ref, which he lost. Stone Cold lost a dull WWF Title match to Chris Jericho thanks to another source of overbooking, but no doubt a major coup for WWF, by introducing The nWo. The Pay Per View's selling point was the debut of the nWo, and the wrestling world was in a big buzz.
Hulk Hogan made his long awaited return to WWF competition after 9 years away, and Diesel and Razor Ramon made their WWF debuts as Kevin Nash and Scott Hall respectively. If I am underselling this, I'm Sorry. HULK HOGAN WAS BACK IN THE WORLD WRESTLING FEDERATION. For any of the kids who grew up watching Hogan and then caught up again during the Attitude Era, to see him return was a nostalgic joy never seen before. WWF was in a buzz because Hogan was back, nWo were around and were expected to deliver much, and Hulk Hogan was announced to face The Rock at WrestleMania X8. In the previous Mania, WWF ventured into a new direction with their stages that were integral to the feel of their PPV's. In WM X8, yet another larger than life stage design gave the PPV a special presence. There were 4 high calibre matches on the card, and lots of filler. We had Stone Cold v Scott Hall, Rock v Hogan, Undertaker v Ric Flair in a No Dq and Chris Jericho v Triple H for the undisputed title. Others included Booker T and Edge, Angle v Kane, Rob Van Dam going for his first Intercontinental Championship reign and a four corners tag match notably. The Undisputed Title match result was a foregone conclusion for some time before the match, Flair and Taker had a bloody brawl where Taker reached an unbelievable milestone of 10-0, whilst Steve Williams was having serious thoughts to his career as Stone Cold before beating Hall in the ring. The event belonged to Hulk Hogan and The Rock. The Rock had won the match, but Hulkamania was officially reborn.
Post WrestleMania, Hulkamania was again running wild. Nostalgia ruled the day and the nWo storyline was really over before it got started. Triple H won a triple threat featuring Chris Jericho and Stephanie McMahon on Raw where the big payoff was Stephanie being forced out of WWF (for a while at least). The Rock left soon after Mania to make some more movies, and Hulk would don the classic Yellow and Red to much hysteria, and soon the WWF Title. Then, something happened that changed WWE Programming forever. The Brand Split.
The Brand Split was introduced on television as a way to end the control struggle between Vince McMahon and storyline co-owner Ric Flair. In reality this was much talked about for some time leading up to it, as since acquiring wCw and the majority of their roster the WWF was overloaded with talent that was going to waste. Raw would be run by Ric Flair and Smackdown would be Vince McMahon's show. A live draft was held, followed by a supplementary draft that shaped the two rosters. WWF was now in a new direction, as the two brands were in kayfabe competition.
Raw was headed by Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, the NwO, Kane and RVD who was acquired along with his Intercontinental Championship. The whole of Raw thus changed, new theme song, new stage, new era.
Smackdown was headed by The Rock (for a very short time), Hulk Hogan and fans favourites such as Edge. With the Intercontinental Title now exclusively on Raw, Smackdown brought back the Cruiserweight Title as their secondary belt.
The split meant that WWF Champ Triple H could appear on both brands, tag teams the Dudley Boyz and Acolytes were now ripped apart, and most importantly gave a lot of overshadowed talent the chance to make their name, none moreso than The Next Big Thing, Brock Lesnar.
At Backlash, several developments happened, Brock Lesnar decimated Jeff Hardy and won his match by knockout, Stone Cold's rivalry with McMahon was attempted to be duplicated as he was screwed out of the number 1 contendership by new boss Ric Flair to the benefit of The Undertaker who was going nowhere but up with his Big Evil character, And Hulkamania and nostalgia officially ruled the world again as he unexpectedly beat Triple H to become WWF Champion for the 6th Time.