November 16, 2009
Matt Peddycord, Scott Criscuolo, & Justin Rozzero

The 100 Greatest WWE Matches of the Decade: 2002

What’s a different world the year 2002 was in the WWE. First of all, the original nWo shows up. Hogan gets a bigger reaction than the rest of the guys and breaks away to bring back Hulkamania. Katie Vick. Good wrestling makes a comeback with the Smackdown Six. Raw is god awful. The ELIMINATION CHAMBER~! After Shawn Michaels gets his head smashed through a car door window, he returns to the ring and later wins Raw’s world title for only a short time. Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Randy Orton, and Batista are all WWE rookies. Wild stuff, for sure. So without further ado, here are ten more matches to add to our list.

The Rumble Match – (Royal Rumble 2002)

Matt: Say what you will. This is HHH’s big comeback match after the quad tear of ‘01. Some memorable moments included Austin and Triple H getting at each other’s throats and Maven doing the impossible by eliminating Undertaker. Plus, Mr. Perfect showed up to work after a five year absence in the WWE and earned himself a job for sure, folks. I’m a fan of the man and that just helped me love this Rumble all the more. Most importantly was Triple H’s return and how this would catapult him into the babyface stratosphere for the next decade. Even though now we know his good guy experiment failed, at the time it was pretty cool. Again, maybe that’s just me, but I really enjoyed this Rumble a lot.

Justin: This year’s Rumble was a strong one as the pacing was good and the action was steady throughout. Also helping the Rumble was the stacked roster of combatants and handful of big returns. Goldust was the returning star to enter and he got a good pop for his classic entrance. In a memorable moment, Undertaker was jumped by the returning Hardy Boys after he had eliminated them. That would lead to the fantastic Maven/Taker showdown and Maven would use the Hardy distraction to shockingly eliminate the Deadman. And as great as that moment was, the post elimination beatdown by Taker may have been even better. Taker would drag Maven all around the arena and punish him for costing Taker a shot at the Undisputed Championship. The bookers were wise to have a lot of the midcard stars carry the early part of the match so they could save the big names for a stacked finish. When it was finally time to start bringing out the big guns, Steve Austin was the first. He came out to an enormous pop and cleaned house, sending everyone to the floor. Triple H then made his way out and the showdown was on. The final major return of the match saw Mr. Perfect strut his way to the ring and return to a WWF ring for the first time since late 1996. Kurt Angle was the main heel out there towards the end and he was still generating solid heat as he was embroiled in feuds with both Austin and Hunter. Kane and Big Show had a cool showdown too and it was one that ends with Kane impressively slamming Show over the top and out of the ring. The final four in the ring were Austin, Angle, Perfect and Hunter and they busted it to bring a hot end to the match. Angle shockingly tossed Austin first but that only allowed the heat to be transferred so Hunter would be cheered when he won the match. If they would have had Hunter and Austin at the end, the crowd would have been split and they needed to avoid that. Thus, Hunter tosses Perfect and Angle and picks up his first Rumble win and the title shot at WrestleMania. This was a really fun, and loaded, Rumble and it got 2002 off to a good start.

Scott: This is the longest Rumble on record and was definitely one of the most exciting. There was something going on in every aspect of the match. The non-stop action with no fluff. All thoroughbreds like Austin, Triple H, Angle, and even Mr. Perfect, who deserved to be with the big players as he makes his first PPV appearance in the ring since SummerSlam 93! The end is frantic and unpredictable as any of these guys could win this thing.

The Rock vs. Hollywood Hogan – (WrestleMania x8)

Matt: I can already feel the hate. Regardless, the heat and crowd reactions for this match was off the charts and completely undeniable. At the time it was very important for Hogan to come back and put some people over without him needing a win back or any other kind of political gain (other than to say in the future that he’s already put people over in 2002 and doesn’t need to anymore) and the Rock was at the top of his list. Maybe not the best match of the year wrestling-wise, but everything else about it rocked (no pun intended) and had you on the edge of the seat all the way to the end. A very important match for the era and one that should have gone on last. Not sure what they were thinking because nothing was able to top it throughout the rest of the night. This match was also the stepping stone to the AWESOME heel turn of the Rock in 2003 when he was acting like a jerk because everybody booed him at WrestleMania x8.

Justin: When Hogan and the NWO showed up on the scene in February, you figured they would play an important role at WrestleMania. I don’t think anybody expected a spectacle quite like this. In retrospect, you can see why the fans turned Hogan face. It all makes sense. Hogan had been gone for so long, had always been a big star in Canada and the fans seemed to be tiring of the Rock’s act and, ironically, his Hollywood aspirations. However, at the time, Hogan was coming off a lengthy hated heel run in WCW. Not only was he a big time heel in storylines, he was also hated with a passion by the smart fans. Many knew of his politicking and poor match quality in Atlanta and everyone knew he played a major role in bringing WCW down. So, when you look at it with some perspective, it was a bit jarring to see Hogan turned into the de facto face a few minutes in. As soon as these two icons had their epic staredown at the start, you knew this should have been the main event. This was an epic dream match that really hadn’t been seen since Hogan met the Ultimate Warrior in this very building 12 years earlier. Early on, the crowd was pretty split but they were tending to lean towards Hogan. The Skydome just felt electric and JR and Lawler started to get into a groove as their hyperbole was matched in reality for once. As the crowd started edging more towards Hogan, Rock seemed to be thrown off guard and the two men would stick to their traditional roles despite Hogan gradually out popping Rock. Despite now being cheered as the face, Hogan kept working as a heel but you can feel the roles change big stride as Rock dug deep into his heel bag of tricks and finally embraced the crowd’s wishes. JR would explain the crowd’s reactions by claiming they were feeling nostalgic, which was pretty true. The actual match itself was just a basic brawl with some big spots mixed in. As the match wore on, Rock’s old heel facials and attitude started seeping through. Hogan would actually drill Rock with a Rock Bottom and that got a mega pop from the fans. Hogan would later admit that he broke a couple of ribs during the match and you can clearly see him holding that area during it. He gave a gutsy performance and really earned the fans back on his side, pushing the reactions past just nostalgia. The crowd was insane the whole time, but the arena nearly split apart when Hogan Hulked Up and the two men followed it up with some crazy near falls. That pop would then be dwarfed by the reaction for Hogan’s big boot and legdrop and subsequent near fall. In a perfect world, that probably ends up being the finish to the match and the show. However, Rock was still the young franchise player and he was to win the match. He dropped Hogan with the three Rock Bottoms, dropped the People’s Elbow and got the win. The crowd booed at first before turning around and cheering the epic encounter they just witnessed. I wish he didn’t win with the lame Elbow, but that is a minor complaint. The clincher to this epic match was the post match hug between the two legends. It brought back instant memories of Hogan embracing Warrior and passing the torch in that very same spot in 1990. This was a truly epic showdown and no matter how many times you watch it, it is hard not to get swept up by it all over again.

Scott: If you want to grade it as a stand-alone match, it was ok; nothing great, but not that terrible. However, this is one of those cases where you have to look at the entire package. This match has the complete package of a great WrestleMania showdown with two absolute giants of the wrestling industry.

Kurt Angle vs. Edge – Hair vs. Hair Match (Judgment Day 2002)

Matt: These two were building quite the rivalry on Smackdown in the first half of the year. Angle snuck out a win on Edge at Backlash, but this time their HAIR was on the line. Just think – Edge’s long blonde locks could be gone! After an unbelievable back-and-forth 15 minute battle, Edge won out in the end and Angle gets his head shaved to dawn the look that we’re most familiar with today. Just a fantastic match though.

Justin: This was Edge’s second opportunity to prove his elevated stock was for real. He delivered a month before, but he needed to show that it wasn’t a fluke. His pop was growing and he was starting to look more like a star with each passing week. Both men would up the ante in the one, and that was proven right off the bell as Kurt unleashed a sick belly-to-belly out to the floor. The bout would keep up the usual frenetic Angle pace and the ongoing theme was both men destroying the other with belly-to-belly suplexes. Edge timed his comebacks well and kept the crowd hooked in and believing. The finishing sequence was tremendous stuff and Edge had successfully delivered. The antics that followed the match were pretty funny and Angle would get shaved clean to give us his current look. I loved the pace and hard hitting style here and you could see Edge pulling himself up a level throughout the match. I actually enjoyed the match even more than the Backlash tilt as they built upon that one and polished it off with a big win for Edge.

Scott: These two put on a great match at Backlash, as Edge really impressed by going move for move with one of the technical greats of our time. Now they add the stipulation that someone will be bald after the match. Clearly Angle was going to lose here since part of Edge’s mystique was his long blond hair, and the fact that Angle was pretty much bald at this point anyway.

WWE Intercontinental Champion Eddie Guerrero vs. Rob Van Dam – Ladder Match (Raw, 5/27/02)

Matt: As far as I can remember, this was Eddie’s first ladder match in WWE. Just when we thought we had seen it all and the ladder match gimmick needed a rest, Eddie and RVD bust out some amazing spots – most notably Eddie’s sunset flip powerbomb off the ladder. Like with most every ladder match, lots of chances were taken, but RVD came out on the winning end this time to recapture the IC belt. Easily the best RAW match of the year.

Justin: When Eddie Guerrero made his surprise return to Raw in April, you could tell right from the start that he meant business. He was jacked and lean and ready to rock. What would follow may have been one of the greatest stretch of matches by one wrestler in WWE history. After splitting their first two PPV matches, these two would duel once more on Raw and they delivered a third classic. They pounded the crap out of each other with stiff offense and vicious ladder shots. RVD would win to close out the feud, but it was clear that both men were elevated from it.

Scott: An excellent end to one of 2002’s best feuds. I love this match because Eddie Guerrero went from an indy nomad after being released, to coming back and having an awesome series of matches with probably the most over guy in the company at that moment. This match was a great capper, even if the guy ran from the crowd to disrupt it. Probably makes it an even more memorable match.

Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H – Non-Sanctioned Match (SummerSlam 2002)

Matt: What a perfect example of psychology and brutality. Triple H was just the guy to come by and exploit Shawn’s lower back injury that took four years off his career. With Shawn Michaels overcoming the odds and still proving to the world that he can tell a story in the ring as good as anybody and Triple H’s “make everything mean something” mind for wrestling, these two went out and put on one amazing show. Many call this the greatest match ever held at a SummerSlam event and it’s really hard to disagree.

Justin: Over four years after his last match, Shawn Michaels returns to the ring for a match. This was something many fans gave up on after 1999 when it was reported that Michaels would never wrestle again. He did have one street fight during his time off. The match took place in the TWA, the promotion Michaels ran in conjunction with his training camp. But this match was slightly different as it was on PPV and in front of millions of fans. The storyline coming is was great as Triple H stabbed Michaels in the back to finally turn heel. Michaels wanted revenge, but Bischoff forced it to be in an unsanctioned format to prevent any liability to Raw. Michaels accepted and it was on. The bout had a big match feel, as expected as it just never seemed possible even six or seven months ago. After the build up this also felt like a real blood feud and match. Hunter would methodically destroy the rehabbed back with some nasty offensive moves. Michaels was valiant as he hung in there and the crowd rallied him the whole way. Michaels looked like a warrior as he got his revenge with a brutal beatdown as the match wound down. Michaels pulled out all the stops and they hit a cool table spot going into the finish. Michaels would eventually reverse the Pedigree and roll Hunter up to pick up the feel good win. We still weren’t sure if the feud would continue or if Shawn could wrestle again at this point. Now, this was an epic match with both men busting their asses to put on a classic. However, I do have a few points that I want to hit on. I feel like the match was a bit too long and a bit too much, especially the crazy table spot. The Michaels comeback story was big enough in its own right that they could have toned it down, shortened it and told just as great a story. But, at the time, it was clear that this could be a one-time only deal for Michaels. That point was hammered home on commentary and it looked like Shawn was going all out just in case it was his final bout. So, I can’t really fault them for going balls to wall and include a wild table spot and all the blood. I enjoyed the heck out of this match and when you take it in context, it is that much better. Michaels would take some time off as he healed but he will be back soon. Triple H is back on the heel side of the fence and things take an interesting turn for him in the coming weeks.

Scott: Simply put, one of my 5 favorite matches of all time. Period. Awesome from beginning to end, and Shawn Michaels proved he had exorcised his demons and become a star again.

WWE Undisputed World Champion The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar (w/Paul Heyman) – (SummerSlam 2002)

Matt: This was the main event of main events in 2002 on the best PPV of the year. Brock was built up as this unstoppable monster since his debut in late March. He’s a man who took crazy hard chairshots to the skull and then speared YOU down. To see him go up against the Rock at SummerSlam and see him completely ANNIHILATE the Rock was just unbelievable. Nobody did this to the Rock. He would kip up, give you the Spinebuster, and the Peoples Elbow to end the match. Not anymore thanks to Brock. When the show was over, you knew you just saw a star-making performance. You left talking about how Brock Lesnar was better than the Rock.

Justin: Since his debut in March, Brock Lesnar had destroyed everything in his path en route to winning the King of the Ring and being named number one contender. The hype surrounding this match was tremendous and it had a big time legit fight feel to it. The training videos were awesome and we get to see condensed versions before the match. Rock gets a big pop when he enters, but those cheers would be surprisingly short lived. The crowd was rocking as the match wound down and came unglued when Rock somehow slipped out of an F5 attempt. Brock recovered, caught Rock and planted him with the F5 to pick up the huge clean win and his first championship. The F5 has been booked as an invincible move since Brock’s debut and the legend grows here. This was a massive win and a felt like a true changing of the guard as Rock passed the torch of the Attitude Era to the new torchbearer of the next generation. Rock proved again why he is the man by laying down and putting Brock over clean as a sheet. WWE now had a new Champion and a new face.

Scott: A surprisingly good match from two guys with different styles. Brock Lesnar was ready to explode and the Rock was slowly weeding his way out of the wrestling business. It was a great combination and a hot match that the crowd was really into.

Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle – (Unforgiven 2002)

Matt: In 2002, these two could not stay away from each other. In the past, they had been in a 30 minute submission match and a cage match, but never really had a great straight 1-on-1 wrestling match. This was *that* match and it’s an excellent lead up to their Royal Rumble match in ‘03. Very underrated in my view, but entirely worth it to see Benoit come out on top in the end.

Justin: With nothing but pride on the line, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit would again steal the show and put on the match of the night. They were simply trying to see who the better man was. Both men stayed on the mat early on, trying to wrestle each other but Angle was the first to crack and show some frustration. Things would pick up from there with both men working stiff and snug. The crowd really dug this one as Benoit unleashed a nasty 360 German release suplex on Kurt, who sold it like a champ. And just when you think they couldn’t go at a quicker pace, they picked it up and went into a crazy flurry as the match began to wind down. They would trade finishers at a rapid pace and work in some red hot near falls. Finally, in a call back to WrestleMania X-7, Benoit would roll Kurt up and hook the ropes to steal the win. I wasn’t too crazy with the finish but it made sense and was a cool homage to their first battle. Benoit picks up a win to further his up and down relationship with Angle. These two just had a special chemistry that may never be duplicated.

Scott: Since their awesome match at WrestleMania XVII, these two studs have met numerous times on PPV and they never grow old. This match actually seems to mirror that 2001 match in Houston. Both guys grapple and strike the crap out of each other. They have a superb submission exchange, and the endings even mirror each other.

Edge vs. Eddie Guerrero – No-DQ Match (Smackdown, 9/26/02)

Matt: Another one of my personal favorite matches of the year. 2002 was all about getting Edge over and I don’t think he quite reached that level of overness that they wanted until this match with Eddie. He’s been in a bunch of the crazy ladder matches of the last three years, but never one like this violent IMO. The Eddie/Edge feud just kept getting better and better with matches at SummerSlam and Unforgiven, but here they had the ultimate opportunity to outshine those two other great matches. I remember this being one of the all-time best episodes of Smackdown too. Not only did it have this match, but also the Benoit/Angle/Rey triple-threat match in the main event. But after seeing this match, how can you not love it?

Justin: This is easily one of the best TV matches of the decade as Edge continued to elevate himself up the ranks. After a great feud with RVD, Eddie hopped over to Smackdown and started a program with Edge. They had a pair of really good matches at SummerSlam and Unforgiven, but they hit their peak here as they went all out. If you haven’t seen this one, you need to check it out as it is a bit of a forgotten classic. After the Angle feud, Edge had established himself as a major player, but he really solidified his standing as a top flight star with matches like this. Eddie also got a standing ovation from the fans despite taking the loss.

Scott: A superb match that, just like the Eddie/RVD match on Raw in May, ended a great PPV feud. Edge really works his chops as a solo superstar, and Eddie really was the comeback wrestler of the year.

Chris Benoit & Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio & Edge – WWE Tag Team Titles Tournament Finals (No Mercy 2002)

Matt: If you’re a fan of tag team wrestling, you NEED to see this match. This brought all the elements of a great tag match (convincing last second saves and loads of buildup to an excellent finish) that over the previous ten years except for perhaps a select few matches in WCW, you could only see in Japan and they brought it to the US where it went over like crazy. It was good to finally see some people work hard in a tag match even when they weren’t the legal man. In my book, this is the greatest tag team match of the decade here in North America.

Justin: Stephanie McMahon had claimed that she wanted the best tag team division in the world and she got things off to a hot start with the tournament finals. The big question heading in was whether Angle and Benoit could coexist long enough to take home the gold. To do it, they would have to take out two close friends that had been working as a well oiled machine. All four men were familiar with each other and the match was oozing with chemistry. They had an awesome back and forth pace as both teams traded control of the offense. Rey was especially on fire and just had crazy energy at this point, never stopping or slowing up. I liked the double heat segment by Benoit and Angle as it really got the crowd into things. Angle hit all of his big moves as well which added to the drama. The crowd continued to rock with some tremendous near falls. One of the best spots of the bout was when Rey drilled Benoit with a 619 while he had the crossface on Edge. Edge would get the closest near fall of the match with a quick roll up on Angle, but Kurt and Chris were just a hair better on this night. Angle and Edge would work some nice reversals as Kurt locked on the Anklelock. Eventually, though, Kurt would cinch it in and Edge was forced to tap out. This was just an awesome match and is pretty legendary as one of the last great pure wrestling tag team matches WWE has put on. All four men busted their asses and broke out a classic. Stephanie McMahon was granted her wish as Smackdown now featured the greatest tag division in the wrestling world. If you haven’t seen this one, go find it and check it out.

Scott: When Paul Heyman became the chief writer on Smackdown, he focused on what was known as the “Smackdown Six” that Justin alluded to in our Unforgiven review. Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, Edge, Rey Mysterio, and the Guerreros were unquestionably the six most talented guys in the entire company as they were a slight cut above a few others like RVD, Lesnar and Jericho. So Heyman knew the best thing to do to make Smackdown a show worth watching was to put these guys in almost all the main storylines.

Edge vs. Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle – Elimination Match (Smackdown, 12/5/02)

Matt: And four of the Smackdown Six continue to rule the WWE. Winner gets a WWE title shot against the Big Show, so there’s a lot on the line. Just look at the four men in this match. If you’re giving them 20 minutes on TV, it’s all you need for a MOTYC. Edge and Angle end up as the final two and let’s just say they put together a remarkably dramatic finish. Ladies and gentlemen, check this match out for a good time. It’s on YouTube.

Justin: This was a big time TV match that featured four of the fabled “Smackdown Six” going at it to earn a shot at Big Show’s WWE Championship. These four men had teamed or feuded throughout the past eleven months and they square off here with it all on the line. Edge would get the final word in on Eddie, when he drills him with a spear, allowing Benoit to force him to tap out. Benoit was eliminated next, but the seeds were planted for an upcoming main event run in the following year. As the biggest year of his career to this point wound down, Edge found himself a hair away from earning a WWE title shot. However, his time was not yet here, as Angle steals the win to cap off our 2002 countdown. The win would earn Angle a title shot and he would cash in a couple of weeks later. No matter how many times these four men went at it, it was always interesting, crisp, stiff, athletic and entertaining.

Scott: An oft-remembered match between 4 guys, just like above were part of the “Smackdown 6?. Angle finally established himself as a real main event force who was more than just fodder for the Attitude Era guys. Take 3 of the other SD studs and you have the makings of a forgotten classic.

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