King of the Ring 02
August 12, 2003
Graham Cawthon

Let’s do a little time travelling back to spring 2002. WrestleMania visits Toronto’s SkyDome and nearly 70,000 fans are on hand to see The Rock battle Hulk Hogan. Weeks later, perhaps the boldest move in the history of the company is made when the roster is split – with half of the wrestlers appearing exclusively on Raw and the others on Smackdown. Then, if that were not news enough, the WWF is renamed World Wrestling Entertainment after a failed legal battle with the OTHER WWF (the one that endorses pandas).

As fans and talent alike were getting used to the roster split, it was announced that the next winner of the annual King of the Ring tournament would receive a world heavyweight title shot in August at the second biggest pay-per-view event of the year – Summer Slam. With growing anticipation as to whom would be the last man standing at the 10th annual pay-per-view event, and whether or not the fans would be treated to a Raw vs. Smackdown finale, the participants for the tournament were announced.

The Raw representatives included:
Rob Van Dam – arguably the most popular star on Raw … regained the WWE Intercontinental title from Eddie Guerrero just weeks before the tournament began
Booker T – 5-time holder of the WCW World Title … multi-time singles and tag team champion but had yet to come close to wearing the WWF/E Championship
Bubba Ray Dudley – formerly one-half of the Dudley Boyz along with his half-brother D-Von … the Dudleyz were disbanded due to the roster split and thus Bubba Ray was eager to make a name as a singles star
Brock Lesnar – the unknown and undefeated powerhouse newcomer from Minnesota
William Regal – WWE European Champion … an established talent and ring veteran known for winning at all costs
Eddie Guerrero – returned to the WWE in April and since that time had a stronghold on the IC title until recently dropping it back to Rob Van Dam … one of the top talents in the business
X-Pac – veteran high flyer and the only participant that was a WWF employee when the first KOTR pay-per-view event took place in 1993
Goldust – though mostly relying on comedy to get over with the fans, a vastly underrated and talented 2nd generation star

While the Smackdown superstars consisted of:
Chris Jericho – after dropping the world title to Triple H at WrestleMania, Jericho is hungry to regain what he thinks is rightfully his
Hardcore Holly – one of the toughest men in the business and one of the stars of MTV’s Tough Enough
Tajiri – after losing the Cruiserweight title, the underrated and underutilized Tajiri wants a shot at the big gold
Val Venis – quickly becoming a formidable wrestler on the Smackdown brand, Val wants to show that he is capable of more
Edge – fresh on the heels of shaving Kurt Angle bald, Edge is on the verge of superstardom … winner of the 2001 KOTR
The Hurricane – the Cruiserweight title-holder and the WWE’s only superhero has quickly established a strong cult following and intends to parlay that into a win at the KOTR
Test – the Canadian powerhouse stands head and shoulders above his competition
Christian – one of the most charismatic competitors in the tournament, Christian was denied a victory at the 2001 KOTR and is eager to make up for it

After weeks of qualifying match-ups, the final four wrestlers that earned a spot at the pay-per-view consisted of Rob Van Dam, Test, Chris Jericho, and Brock Lesnar. One of these men would stand triumphant over the other 15 and be rewarded with an automatic title shot at Summer Slam. For the others, their golden ambitions would have to be achieved by other means.

Columbus, OH - Nationwide Arena – Sunday, June 23, 2002

KOTR Semi-Finals:
Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Jericho

A Raw vs. Smackdown match-up, these two were no strangers to one another as they had battled in many thrilling contests dating back to when RVD entered the company in July 2001. As expected, this was the match of the night. Both men had something to prove – for RVD it was to achieve that next step up now that he had regained the IC title, for Jericho it was to gain an opportunity to become a 2-time world champion. In the end, it was Van Dam that emerged victorious after hitting his trademark five star frog splash. However, in a post-match in-ring interview, Jericho attacked RVD from behind – leaving him in less than 100% for whomever should earn the right to face him in the finals.

While the match was a great opener, the post-match attack was predictable and expected.

KOTR Semi-Finals:
Brock Lesnar (w/ Paul Heyman) vs. Test

Lesnar was undefeated since appearing on WWE TV the night after WrestleMania – but would that come to an end against Test, a man of almost equal size and strength? The battle was mostly even with both men using their trademark power arsenal to keep the other offguard. In the end, Paul Heyman’s presence at ringside was enough to give Lesnar the edge and win – following the devastating spinning facebuster known as the F5.

WWE Cruiserweight Championship
The Hurricane vs. Jamie Knoble (w/ Nidia)

Knoble joined the WWE just weeks earlier as a way for Nidia to get back at the Hurricane for dismissing her sexual advances. While both men have history going back to their days in WCW when the Hurricane (then known as Shane Helms) was part of 3 Count and Knoble was a member of the Jung Dragons, this match does not do either man credit in respect to their abilities. It is by no means a horrible bout – just not a memorable one. The champion has his man down but Nidia makes the save … moments later, Knoble picks up the win with a powerbomb to win the title.

Ric Flair vs. Eddie Guerrero

This match came about due to Guerrero and Chris Benoit blaming Flair for letting Steve Austin leave the company and thus denying them their chance at greatness by beating him in the ring. While the 53 year-old Flair may forever be known as the greatest performer in the history of the business his prime came and went years ago – thus this is not the classic it could have been (Flair 1989 vs. Guerrero 1997 would have been amazing to see). When Chris Benoit is busy arguing with the referee on the arena floor, Bubba Ray Dudley sees his chance to cause some waves, runs through the crowd, jumps in the ring, and hits the Bubba Bomb on Guerrero. Once the referee slides back in the ring the match is over and Flair pulls off what I would consider a big upset.

WWE Women’s Championship
Trish Stratus vs. Molly Holly

I’m by no means a big women’s wrestling fan but both of these ladies are talents in the ring and I won’t deny that. Not a fantastic match by any stretch of the imagination and, in the end, it’s Molly that emerges with the title via a handful of tights.

Hulk Hogan vs. Kurt Angle

This was a very interesting match on paper. I expected Guerrero to defeat Flair in the earlier match, with Hogan coming out on top in this encounter. I would be wrong on both ends. An entertaining match from both men, wrestled well by Angle. Hogan survives the 1996 Olympian’s offense and makes the trademark comeback but when it comes time for the finishing legdrop across the chest – Angle slips out of the way and, hungry for the right to say ‘I made Hulk Hogan tap’, applies the dreaded ankle lock on the living legend. Hogan fights for as long as he can but eventually slaps his hand to the mat in submission, making Angle the only man to ever make Hogan submit while portraying a good guy in the ring.

KOTR Finals:
Rob Van Dam vs. Brock Lesnar (w/ Paul Heyman)

Still suffering from the attack by Chris Jericho earlier in the evening, RVD enters the ring as the underdog but the solid fan favorite. The two men put on an entertaining match, Brock relying on his power and strength to slow the pace down while RVD uses his aerial tactics and martial arts kicks to keep the big man unbalanced. The IC title-holder eventually gets his larger opponent on the mat and hits the five star frog splash – only for Heyman to beak the count. Van Dam quickly takes Heyman out of the scenario and once again goes to the top rope. But, due to the stalling, Brock is able to catch RVD in mid-air and execute his second F5 of the night to pick up the most important victory to that point in his short career.

Test and Rob Van Dam couldn’t put Brock Lesnar away … could the world heavyweight champion, whomever that may be come Summer Slam, do it?

WWE World Championship
The Undertaker vs. Triple H

I had been looking forward to this bout for quite some time. At WrestleMania X-7, these men put on an unexpectedly thrilling and hard-hitting contest and, once Triple H regained the title in Toronto, I expected to see a rematch of similar proportions. As it turned out, Triple H’s reign came to a sudden halt just a month later when he lost the title to Hulk Hogan after interference from both Chris Jericho and the Undertaker. Then it was the Undertaker who took the title from Hogan at the following month’s pay-per-view in Nashville.

Triple H, hungry to regain his title, had the opportunity to pay the Undertaker back for his interference against Hogan in which he lost the championship. Would he be able to end the Dead Man’s run or would the Undertaker continue his pay-per-view dominance over Triple H to make it 2-0?

It became obvious early on that this would NOT be a rematch the likes of the Houston bout. The slow methodical pace of the contest was enough to put an insomniac to sleep. The presence of The Rock at ringside only darkened my fears that the Undertaker would walk away with the title only to lose it to the returning People’s Champion later down the line. Those fears were realized when the Undertaker used a pathetic low blow and roll up to pin his legitly injured challenger, moments after interference from the Rock saw both participants get a beating. The champion lays out both men as he leaves the ring triumphantly, holding his championship title high for all to see.

An anti-climatic ending to an anti-climatic pay-per-view. Would I recommend this DVD? No. If you want to see the King of the Ring at its greatest, I recommend seeing the 1993 edition. While there were scattered quality annual installments afterwards, the 93 tournament and pay-per-view was by far the best. The 2002 (and final) edition is a perfect reason why no one cares about what once was a highly anticipated annual event.

Just to put this in perspective, I attended a house show 6 days later at the MCI Center in Washington DC. The show featured RVD vs. Guerrero, Flair vs. Brock, and Hogan vs. the Undertaker and was considerably better than this pay-per-view event.

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