Wrestlemania X8: Icon vs. Icon
March 17, 2002
To some extent, dream matches are unique to wrestling. Mike Tyson never fought Muhammad Ali. Peyton Manning never threw against Joe Montana. And we never saw Nolan Ryan pitch to Babe Ruth.
But in professional wrestling, the possibilities are endless. And in Toronto in 2002, we witnessed a true dream match: Hollywood Hogan returning to the WWF to face The Rock. The top star of the 1980s and 1990s against the man who would carry the WWF’s torch in the new century. Hogan returned in February at No Way Out as the leader of the New World Order, brought in by Vince McMahon to kill the WWF. The Rock challenged Hogan to a Wrestlemania match and they went face to face as the crowd went completely ballistic. And so we were set for an all-time classic match.
Oh, and Triple H came back from injury and was going to face Chris Jericho for the WWF Championship. But there’s no way they’d be stupid enough to put that on last, right?
Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler are our hosts.
The show kicks off with a live performance by Saliva. That’s not exactly Aretha Franklin singing “America The Beautiful” in Detroit at Wrestlemania III.
Intercontinental Championship: William Regal (c) vs. Rob Van Dam
We kick off with Regal in the IC Championship match for the second year in a row. I believe he had just won the title from Edge at No Way Out the previous month. Regal goes for his brass knuckles right away, but RVD manages to kick them away. I actually kind of wish RVD had just won right there. Pop would have been huge. They work a nice match highlighted by a killer Tiger Bomb by Regal. And then a Half Nelson Suplex. I love when guys break out special moves for Wrestlemania. RVD won at about six minutes with the Five Star Frog Splash.
Rating: **. Perfect opening match.
European Championship: Diamond Dallas Page (c) vs. Christian
They were running a storyline where DDP was trying to help Christian get over his negative attitude with a dose of positivity. This was actually DDP’s second Wrestlemania appearance, as he previously drove Rhythm N Blues to the ring at Wrestlemania VI. It’s nice that JR actually mentions that to demonstrate how far he’s come. This was another solid wrestling match. Nothing crazy, just good work. DDP retained in six minutes with the Diamond Cutter and Christian threw a baby fit.
Rating: **. Good stuff. Wish DDP had gotten a better run in the WWF.
Hardcore Championship: Maven vs. Goldust
This lasted a few minutes before interference started. A bunch of different people won the Hardcore Title over the course of the night and none of it meant anything, so I won’t go into detail.
There was a Drowning Pool performance. Musical performances in the middle of wrestling shows never seem to go over well. They really only work if they’re part of a wrestler’s entrance.
Kurt Angle vs. Kane
I don’t remember the build to this match. Angle jumped Kane before the start of the match and blasted him with the ring bell. And then the bell rang to start the match. Not sure how that happened. For some reason, Lawler kept repeating the phrase “head trauma” during this match. It was a little jarring to hear concussions being treated as a joke. This was another perfectly solid match, although Angle probably deserved a more high-profile match after the year he had in 2001. Angle won in ten minutes with his feet on the ropes. And they screwed up the spot, Kane’s shoulders were clearly up during the pin.
Rating: **½. Pretty good stuff.
No Disqualification: Ric Flair vs. Undertaker
Flair at this time was the co-owner of the WWF, having bought out Shane and Stephanie. He had a confrontation backstage with Undertaker and No Way Out and subsequently interfered in Taker’s match against Rock that night. Taker responded by demanding Flair fight him at Wrestlemania, which Flair initially refused. Taker initiated a campaign of terror against Flair, including beating down his friend Arn Anderson and his son David. Finally, Flair agreed to the match.
This is one of those great matches where it just feels like the competitors are going to war. They go to the floor right off the bell, with Flair bringing as much intensity as I’ve ever seen from him. Taker gets control and just lays into Flair. Both guys bled. I think this was the last of Undertaker’s Wrestlemania matches to feature blood. Undertaker hit a gorgeous Superplex that rivaled Randy Orton’s for quality. The highlight of the match was probably when Arn Anderson hit the ring and nailed Undertaker with a beautiful Double A Spinebuster. Was Arn hiding under the ring? Somehow the crowd didn’t notice him coming out.
Taker beats down Anderson, who also blades. Three bladejobs in one match? Perhaps excessive. Flair goes to work on Taker with a chair, but Taker comes back with a Big Boot. Taker can’t get Flair up for the Last Ride, so he goes to the Tombstone instead for the win.
Rating: ****. Great match. Underrated.
Booker T vs. Edge
This is the infamous shampoo commercial match. Unfortunately, the shampoo commercial isn’t on the line here. Edge is over huge in his hometown, making me feel like he should have had a bigger match here. This is short, but what we get is pretty good. Edge wins in six minutes with the Edgecution.
Rating: **. Wish they had gotten more time.
Steve Austin vs. Scott Hall
Word is that Austin was offered the Hogan match but wasn’t interested. The NWO was already floundering at this point as Austin had mostly owned Hall and Nash throughout this feud. Neither Austin nor Hall were in their primes physically, but they were both so damn good it didn’t really matter. Hall has a hole in his pec, which according to my research is because he had an infection and they drained fluid out of his chest. Austin should have the match won after a Stunner, but Kevin Nash pulls the referee out of the ring and levels him.
But because they wouldn’t want the NWO to get any actual heat, Austin ends up hitting Stunners on both Hall and Nash. Nash is escorted to the back by referees. And for some reason he goes along with it. Because the NWO is all about doing what they’re told. Back in the ring, Hall scores with a Stunner on Austin, but Austin kicks out at two. We then get a classic finish where Austin Stuns Hall, and for one glorious moment it looks like Hall is going to no-sell the Stunner. But then Austin follows up with a second Stunner for the win.
Rating: ***. Decent match, but the booking left something to be desired. Hall and Nash looked like total chumps here.
World Tag Team Championship: Billy and Chuck (c) vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. The APA
In the lead up to this I remember trying to figure out how they could top the TLC matches. Thankfully, they decided not to try because people were probably about to start dying if they went any further. I loved Billy and Chuck. They keep the pace fast here, with everyone tagging in and hitting their big moves. The APA go out first after Bradshaw takes a 3D. Jeff force kisses Stacy Kiebler and then slaps her on the ass, knocking her off the apron. Dick. Things slow down as they settle into a classic tag structure with Bubba and D-Von working on Jeff. Meanwhile, Billy and Chuck just hang out in the corner. Jeff makes a not very hot tag to Matt, who quickly gets cut off.
Matt hits his second rope Leg Drop, which always makes me laugh. He makes such a big show of it, acting like it’s a crazy risk to jump from two feet off the ground. Matt hits the Twist of Fate and Jeff follows with the Swanton Bomb to eliminate The Dudleyz. Matt and Jeff hit the Twist of Fate and Swanton Bomb on Chuck, but Billy sneaks in with the FameAsser behind the referee’s back. Jeff kicks out, but then gets waffled with the tag title belt by Billy and is pinned.
Rating: **. Not a bad match, but a little flat.
Hall and Nash commiserate in the back. Hogan comes by and tells them to stay in the back during his match. He wants Rock all to himself.
Hollywood Hogan vs. Rock
Hogan comes out first to a huge pop. “You can love him, or you can hate him. And from the sound of it a lot of people here in Skydome love him.” Damn, I miss Jim Ross. This is Hogan’s first Wrestlemania appearance in nine years, which feels like forever. The crowd is chanting LOUD for Hogan off the bell, and Rock looks surprised. The first half of this match takes place in bizarro world, where Rock plays the face even though 90% of the crowd is booing him. They cheer Hogan’s heat and his cut offs. And boo Rock’s comebacks. The pop huge for the back rake! The back rake!
Things turn at the midpoint when Rock starts working more heelishly. The referee gets bumped and Rock locks Hogan in the Sharpshooter. Hogan taps out, but there’s no one to take the fall. Hogan comes back with a low blow and a Rock Bottom for a near fall. Hogan whips Rock with his weightlifter’s belt. Rock hits a DDT and takes the belt to Hogan. Rock hits the Rock Bottom, but Hogan kicks out at two and Hulks Up! The crowd is absolutely unbelievable here. Big Boot, Leg Drop…Rock kicks out, and a bit too soon to sell it as the finish. Hogan scores with another boot, but misses the Leg Drop. Rock Bottom, People’s Elbow. Rock gets the win.
Rating: ****¼. What a great match. Crowd was fantastic, but it would be a mistake to ignore the way Rock and Hogan worked them. The response to Hogan Hulking Up was one of the loudest I’ve ever heard. Rock was booed through the match, but cheered at the end. They just wanted to see Hogan get his props too.
Rock and Hogan shake hands. Then Hall and Nash hit the ring and jump them both, with Rock and Hogan fighting them off. Hogan officially turns face, which was really just a formality at this point.
They kick it to WWF New York, where Big Show is hanging out with fans. From the main event two years ago to not being booked on the show this year. Don’t worry, it would get better for him.
Women’s Championship: Jazz (c) vs. Lita vs. Trish Stratus
Tough spot for the women here. They do their best to get the crowd back, but it’s not enough. Jazz ends up retaining in six minutes. Probably would have been better to put a musical act in here.
Rating: *½. Not much they could do.
WWF Undisputed Championship: Chris Jericho (c) vs. Triple H
Jericho unified the WWF and WCW Championships by defeating Rock and Austin in the same night back at Vengeance in December. He proceeded to retain in defenses against both Rock and Austin in the two subsequent pay-per-views. Triple H returned from a torn quadricep in January on Raw from Madison Square Garden, getting one of the loudest pops I’ve ever heard. He proceeded to win the Royal Rumble, and now receives his customary title shot.
The wrinkle here is that Triple H’s (kayfabe, not real yet) wife Stephanie McMahon is in Jericho’s corner. HHH and Stephanie had a falling out, and in her vengeance she joined forces first with Kurt Angle and now with Jericho. Unfortunately, the way this feud was put together made Jericho look like a schmuck when it should have elevated him. As a result, he ended up back in the midcard in the aftermath of his only Wrestlemania main event.
Triple H enters with Drowning Pool playing a version of “The Game.” They actually know most of the words. Jericho is out second with Stephanie. Jericho smashed Triple H’s quad with a sledgehammer on Raw and then locked him in the Walls of Jericho on the announce table, so the story of the match is Jericho working on the leg. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this match other than the fact that it went on after Rock and Hogan. And normally I’d say that’s not the fault of the performers, except in this case Stephanie was definitely on the creative team and Triple H probably had a fair amount of influence.
This is another match where the face heroically tries to beat up a woman, which is something I’m glad we don’t see anymore. Jericho’s heat segment on HHH’s leg is really good, and I love that he used the ringpost Figure Four. HHH took a nice bump getting Back Dropped through the announce table. Back in the ring, Jericho locks on the Walls of Jericho, but HHH gets the rope. Triple H ends up hitting a Pedigree on Stephanie, which is gross and gets the loudest pop of the match. Jericho comes off the top rope and gets caught with a Pedigree. Big pop for Triple H’s win.
Rating: ***. Nothing bad, not great. HHH never seemed to do great work as a babyface, and I think that was part of the problem here. The bad leg gave Jericho the ability to work some heat, but it probably would have worked better with Jericho playing more of a weasel heel than a dangerous one.
Triple H celebrates with the two title belts as the show ends.
Overall: This is a good show overall, maybe underrated historically. The Hogan/Rock match is a classic, and there really aren’t any bad matches on the show. If they flipped the order of the matches and put Rock vs. Hogan on last I think it would be remembered better.