KING OF THE RING QUALIFYING MATCHES (2001):
* Hey, I finally remembered to do another set of these! Except I’d done a bunch before realizing that it was KOTR *2000* that was next on my list, and so I’ve had to wait a month or two before posting any of these, but oh well! We were still in the “RAW matches are 2 minutes long” era, but most KOTR matches were like that anyhow, so let’s see what the company was like in the early “InVasion” era.
The tournament itself isn’t that notable, but served its purpose well- “Elevate Another Midcarder”. There’s some high-end names in here (Angle, Kane, Big Show), but it’s mostly midcard guys fighting over everything, with a lot of young acts mayyyyyyyyyyyybe on the precipice of stardom, if they’re handled right: Matt & Jeff Hardy, Edge & Christian, Test & Rhyno, plus the newly-debuted ECW alumnus, Tajiri. JTTS guys include Steve Blackman, Perry Saturn, Crash Holly, Tazz & Raven, some of whom are at least kept a LITTLE strong.
MATT HARDY (w/ Lita) vs. JEFF HARDY (w/ Lita):
(RAW, June 4th)
* Oh, magnificent. Throw both Hardy Boyz against each other in the Qualfying round to draw some interest and drama- apparently Commissioner William Regal has set up the brackets this way. Matt’s in a black shirt & Jeff’s in white, both in the same baggy “Hardy pants”, while Lita’s still in the “thong visible outside the jeans” era. Matt is the European Champion at this point.
They do basics to start, holding headlocks & armlocks, Jeff countering the Twist of Fate to sell “they know each other”. He goes up but slips on a Corkscrew attempt, so they improvise him punching Matt down and does it again, getting two. Matt hits a sleeper as they’re already doing the “RAW Sell” of exhaustion two minutes in- Matt lands square on his ass on the floor (gee, maybe that’s why he walks so funny today?), but dodges Jeff’s Guardrail Run. hahahaha Lita walks to check things out and you see a guy leap out of his seat and aim his camera straight at her ass. Pre-cellphone cameras, too! Matt charges in, but Jeff backdrops him and Matt uses the momentum to bounce off the ropes with a big DDT! That gets two in the ring- Matt bitches at the ref and tries the Yelling Legdrop, landing on his feet when Jeff moves. Jeff hits a jawjacker to reverse and goes up, but is crotched- he tosses Matt off of a superplex attempt and aims for the Swanton– but slams his neck into Matt’s knees! Matt goes for the Twist of Fate, but Jeff backslides him- for the three! Jeff wins at (3:56)!
Hey, pretty good! You know these two probably wrestled each other CONSTANTLY as kids and as indie guys, but they shrank their stuff into the quickie RAW style pretty well. Jeff played a good reversal game, as most of his moves came as a result of slipping out of Matt’s stuff.
Rating: ** (decent TV match- great use of time, albeit with the “Fake Exhaustion” stuff of a 4-minute match)
RHYNO vs. TAZZ:
(RAW, June 4th):
* An ECW battle between the short, squat guys- Rhyno’s getting a push and Tazz ain’t, so this is likely going to the rookie. Especially as Tazz has been on commentary for a while by this point.
They stand face-to-face (revealing Rhyno’s only a couple inches taller than Tazz, at-best) and slug it out, but Rhyno charges into the T-Bone suplex. He tosses him around outside, but Rhyno comes back with a short-clothesline & running shoulder charge in the corner (is that not just the Gore?). They throw slow punches again, then Rhyno jumps off Bret’s rope into a side-waistlock suplex by Tazz… and then he charges into his own Gore! Finisher-swiping! Two-count! Tazz dodges a charge and hits the Tazmission, and Rhyno can’t break- he slams Tazz into the corner twice, but Tazz gets up on his back until Rhyno finally just leaps backwards to break it. That stuns Tazz enough for the Gore to hit, and Rhyno wins at (3:20). Wow, great lasts minute and a half there, trading a bunch of big stuff until one got caught.
This match, while actually pretty good in the end, shows an issue Tazz had in the WWF was their style is “all running; all Irish whips” as every match had to be FAST FAST FAST, and Tazz’s squat ass was never meant for that style. He really needed to do the “milk your spots and do big suplexes” stuff, not have guys pop up after them for a running attack. So instead he’s just puttering around like Barney Rubble driving a car and nobody can sell his stuff as “big”. That said, I dug Rhyno having to use his weight to beat the Tazmission so he could do his own finisher. Tazz put the guy over pretty well, here.
Rating: ** (not nearly as bad as I was expecting for a short match featuring “2001 Tazz”)
Spoiler Alert: This is the Final Match in the tournament! So let’s see how they get there!
EDGE (w/ Christian) vs. TEST:
(SmackDown, June 4th)
* Edge is rapidly approaching the next level as a singles guy, while Test is mired in the midcard at this point. Edge & Christian have an uncomfortable parley in the back, suggesting that meeting in the finals of the tourney would be “like a dream” for both of them, but both get increasingly agitated to the point it’s passive-aggressive, haha. Test is in leather pants and doing the Jim Powers “adjust the wrist tape” thing while chewing gum with an annoyed look on his face, so you know HE’S losing. Edge has green tights this time.
Test attacks to start, and hits the Attitude Era special (punches, kicks & clotheslines), sending Edge to the floor. Edge leads him on a chase outside so Christian can nail him- a single clothesline seems uncharacteristically devastating, as Test can’t recover- Edge drops his knee over the barricade and goes to work on it in the ring. Humorously, at one point he starts working on the LEFT knee instead of the injured one, but switches back. Test shoves him into the barricade out of a corner-figure four attempt, then hits a tilt-a-whirl slam back in the ring. Test, previously selling as if his leg was falling off, is now completely fine, hitting a clothesline & full nelson slam- Christian distracts him so Edge can hit the Spear (running hug) for two. Test whips him to the ropes, misses the Big Boot, but gets his Pumphandle Slam, but Edge is way too close to the ropes and Christian puts his foot on the bottom to stop the pin. This nets Christian an ass-kicking, as he takes the Big Boot, but that fucks up Test’s leg again and bang- there’s Edge with his then-finisher, the Impaler (implant/jumping DDT) for the pin (5:50). Edge steals one unfairly to keep Test a bit strong.
Weird little match- Edge did a decent job working the leg and Test did even better SELLING it… but then it was time for Test’s spots and so suddenly he was fine until he needed to sell the leg again. Like he wasn’t good enough to know how to maintain selling DURING one’s offense. But it kept Test mostly strong, and oddly, Edge looking pretty weak, needing Christian’s help twice.
Rating: *3/4 (okay match for the length, selling issues aside)
PERRY SATURN (w/ Terri Runnels & Dean Malenko) vs. STEVE BLACKMAN (w/ Trish Stratus):
(RAW, June 11th)
* Saturn’s well into his “Goofball” de-push, now with a bleached-blonde mustache (I don’t remember that). He’s in blue trunks, up against ol’ reliable midcarder Blackman, managed by… when did TRISH manage him? Okay, the commentary says this was a deal struck earlier in the night, probably to mess with Terri.
Blackman gets a dropkick early after dodging Saturn, but eats a clothesline and neckbreaker for two. Northern Lights suplex gets two, but Blackman chops him and hits a side-kick & spinebuster. Terri distracts him and is chased off by Trish, so Saturn hits a crucifix for two, but takes a weird mat slam (Saturn’s head is nowhere close to the mat and he doesn’t even get far off the ground) and uppercut- belly-to-belly suplex gets two, and now DEAN distracts him, letting Saturn drop him neck-first on the top rope and hit the Three-Toed Moss-Covered Family Gredunza (swinging perfect plex) for three at (2:03). The crowd is immediately distracted by a Terri/Trish catfight, then Dean brings in the kendo stick, but is disarmed by Blackman, who wipes out Saturn to get his heat back.
Apparently this is Blackman’s last RAW match- the company cut him loose shortly thereafter when he failed to connect with fans despite numerous half-assed pushes and “Well he’s the toughest guy IRL…” talk. He wrestled for an indie for a bit and then mostly retired. The match itself was the typical RAW thing at the time- a handful of scattered moves and then some fuckery happens and a guy is pinned by a finisher.
Rating: * (short back & forth into a finisher- inoffensive but too quick to be good)
CHRISTIAN (w/ Edge) vs. KANE:
(RAW, June 11th)
* Christian, still a tag guy, is WAY out of his league here. Edge & Christian are in their “Super Dorky” phase (“Man, this REEKS!”), and has a see-through shirt and bright green tights. Kane is the current IC Champion and sporting the black costume with the “see-through” flames on his shirt.
Kane immediately boots Christian and goes to work, choke-lifting him. Christian dodges an elbow, but quickly gets beat up again- tilt-a-whirl slam has him hurting, but he catches Kane with an elbow… but only does more Attitude Era punches before getting booted down. Kane hits the Flying Clothesline, but Edge pulls him out at “2”. Christian tags him for an Unprettier attempt, but Kane hoists him onto his shoulders… only for him to kinda slide off in a weird bit. Kane grabs for the Chokeslam but drops it when Edge hits the apron, but the brothers go into each other! Kane hits the Chokeslam as Edge tries to hit the ring, and this is the distraction for ALBERT to run in- BALDO BOMB (sit-out choke-lift powerbomb)! And Christian rolls over and PINS KANE (2:14) to advance! This is crazy. I think that sets up the famously unusually-great Kane/Albert match.
Rating: 1/2* (just basic Attitude Era punching until the ending, entirely dominated by Kane)
THE BIG SHOW vs. RAVEN:
(SmackDown, June 14th)
* Big Show comes out with a look I do NOT recall- tousled short hair and a black singlet for his gear. Raven is well down the roster by this point.
Big Show no-sells everything Raven throws at him and dumps him for his overhand chop, but three-quarter stances into a charge, hitting the ring steps. Raven throws kicks to keep him on the mat, but Show just gets his hand up and it’s The Chokeslam for the win at (1:37) in an absolute squash. This has “Who the fuck hired Raven?” all over it.
Rating: 1/4* (nothing squash match- poor Raven was just DONE at this point)
Tajiri’s “Dark Horse” run of popularity begins here!
TAJIRI (w/ William Regal) vs. CRASH HOLLY:
(SmackDown, June 14th)
* Tajiri, now Regal’s HOUSE BOY, is in that great “Babyface working for a Heel” position, and has been rewarded with a KOTR qualifying match for his efforts in standing up to Steve Austin last RAW. Tajiri was pretty fresh from ECW… to the point this is his TV DEBUT in a WWF ring! Crash had been around for a while and was now securely in the “opening match jobber” position unless teaming with Hardcore Holly (this was during the great Spike/Molly angle), while Tajiri was an unknown in-universe, with Regal having no idea about his man’s skillset.
They start off PERFECTLY, as Tajiri does some quick lucha stuff out of an armbar and then just ANNIHILATES Crash with a martial arts kick to the face, completely wowing the entire crowd and leaving Regal with a great “My heavens, I didn’t think he could do THAT” look. Crash sells that like a borderline knockout, but slugs back and puts Tajiri up top, only for him to slither back down and lock him in the tree of woe, then SCREECH as he delivers a sliding kick to the face. Yeah, he’s over. Crash gets a rollup but is Bruce Lee’d in the face again, but thanks to the WWF pace he’s back up and hitting running moves and a missile dropkick for two. But he tosses Tajiri into the corner and ends up in the WWF debut of the TARANTULA (hanging Boston crab in the ropes), which immediately gets over. Crash flops into the ring, taking a front suplex and then the Buzzsaw Kick kills him at (3:08). Regal is as shocked as anyone, like “Wow, look at THIS!” to the fans, putting him over even more.
Okay, this was an AWESOME debut for Tajiri, who is now right up there in “Over guys doing Awesome Moves” that was becoming bigger in the company at this point, but I can’t say enough about how good Crash was here, as he easily slid into everything Tajiri was doing and sold like nuts for him, perfectly getting him over as this killer with surprisingly murderous offense. The pace means that he has to keep popping up like a good heel to take more stuff, so his “selling” was really only ten seconds at a time, but that was the best you were gonna get in these TV bouts. Tajiri got to do all his cool shit and immediately impress the fans, and that’s the important thing. Then I bet X-Pac beat him prominently on PPV. *checks* YUP, HOLY SHIT, HOW DID I GUESS THAT?
Rating: ** (excellent borderline squash, just flattening Crash with cool moves in rapid succession)
Qualifiers We Miss: Kurt Angle beats Hardcore Holly (6:23).
SECOND ROUND MATCHES:
* These all took place on the same episode of WWF RAW- June 18th, barely a week before the PPV.
THE BIG SHOW vs. CHRISTIAN (w/ Edge):
* Christian’s in powder blue tights with his classic mesh shirt. Edge being in the same tournament while the “brothers” are arguing, plus their buddy Kurt Angle doing commentary, makes the result here probably pretty screwy.
Big Show knocks Christian down and biels him to start, but Edge grabs his leg and so Show hits the “Baba Chop” to knock him off the apron, then drops him across the barricade. Christian gives chase, but just gets press-slammed over the top rope. This kind of showcases a classic “Paul Wight Problem”, to me, as he can hit all these big “Giant Spots”, but his timing is always bad and he NEVER uses a proper flourish with them, so these spots, which should be incredible, always fall flat. The fans don’t even pop for him press-slamming Christian over the top from the floor! Show continues to whup on Christian with ease, but tosses him over by the announce table and piefaces Angle for talking shit. Naturally, Kurt distracts the ref so Edge can run in, chair the Big Show’s leg while he’s trying the Chokeslam, and the boys hit a CONCHAIRTO, and CHRISTIAN PINS THE BIG SHOW at (2:17). Yeah, the Big Show doing jobs to Christian in two minutes- and people wonder why Wight never got over. This is the second huge hoss in a row Christian beat in a fuck finish, too- both potential top guys who floundered up top, ya know.
Pretty much a nothing match, as Big Show has it in the bag the whole time until mass-interference brings him down. This does remind me of just how credible the Conchairto was- while chairshots were tossed about willy-nilly during this era, this was an unfuckwithable move treated like death.
Rating: 1/4* (classic “just some moves and then a screwjob” RAW match)
EDGE (w/ Christian) vs. PERRY SATURN (w/ Terri Runnels):
* Perry’s push was LONG dead by this point, so this one seems like a pretty obvious way to let Edge coast to the PPV. Edge is in the purple tights again, while Saturn’s in gold trunks. He & Terri act like goofball teases during the intro, Saturn going in for a kiss and then picking her up for a raspberry on the exposed stomach- I think this is before he went totally nuts, too. oh nope- they show a clip of Terri accidentally braining him with a serving platter and he goes “YAHTZEE!! You’re welcome”.
Saturn punches away and takes out Christian, but Edge does that “go-behind reverse X-Factor” thing of his and does his own punching. Edge scores a two-count with a clothesline, then another one, interspersed by MORE punching as this match is just filler. Saturn crucifixes him out of another clothesline for two, then kicks him coming off the top- they do the “RAW Sell” (ie. selling like it’s been 20 minutes when it’s been 2), then a clothesline from Saturn gets two. Edge rolls through a cross-body for the same, but Saturn hits him with the Three-Toed Moss-Covered Family Gredunza! Christian pulls Edge out of it before the three- that sets up the finish, as Saturn dodges Edge & Superkicks Christian off the apron, but turns around and eats the Impaler for three (3:49). Damn near the same finish as Edge’s last match!
Rating: 3/4* (Pretty weak example of the “RAW Style Match”- under 4 minutes, mostly punching, and limited offense. It got okay at the end but was altogether kinda random and plodding despite being so short)
The Hardy Boyz, back when they were the most over act in the tag division & midcard. Jeff was the king of the “loses to top names, but always seems dangerous” division.
KURT ANGLE vs. JEFF HARDY:
* Kurt is actually attempting a REPEAT win, which is a pretty boss decision. Angle’s in a red singlet, while Jeff’s in black pants and a green shirt.
Angle catches a charging Jeff with the overhead belly-to-belly, then a release German- Jeff dekes him out running outside and kicks him down, then does the “rail-run” (but only two steps) punch. That gets two in the ring, but Angle hits another German, flipping Jeff onto his front. Jeff reverses the Angle Slam and drops his legs on Angle’s “lower abdomen”, then goes up- Angle rolls away from a potential Swanton Bomb and just clotheslines Jeff, who looks agonized with every step. Moonsault… misses! Jeff hits the Swanton, but Angle’s right by the ropes and saves himself. Jeff goes up again, but Angle pops up and hauls him backwards off the top, scoring the Anklelock for the tap-out win (3:18).
Rating: ** (Very, very, very rapid-fire “Let’s get all our shit in!” match as they tear around at top speed- kind of a lack of proper selling as they just hit everything, but at least it was clean)
RHYNO vs. TAJIRI (w/ William Regal):
* Here’s an odd one, as Tajiri was BRAND-NEW and already up against a fairly pushed guy in Rhyno.
Rhyno tries to take the lead early as the crowd chants “ECW!”, but Tajiri avoids a powerbomb and hits a hurricanrana, baseball slide & Asai Moonsault. Rhyno hits a spinebuster in the ring for two, but tosses Tajiri into his “bounce upside-down off the ropes” elbow. Rhyno lifts him, but Tajiri hits a sunset flip, kick to the gut & octopus stretch, threading into the Tarantula (only the second time in the WWF)! Tajiri sets up the finish, but the Buzzsaw Kick misses and Rhyno hits a huge powerbomb. Rhyno preps the finish, charging in for the Gore, but HOLY FUCK TAJIRI KICKS HIM IN THE FACE! The crowd LOVES that, but Regal distracts his own man, insisting Tajiri climb up the top- this takes forever, and he jumps off right into the Gore for the big win (2:41), as Rhyno takes it. Okay so he has an “out” because it’s Regal’s fault, but this still seems crazy weird, as Tajiri was a totally new guy to be eating pins that early.
Rating: *3/4 (some very awesome stuff for a very short match, but mostly “all big spots”)
The King of the Ring PPV:
-So the big deal here was “Team RECK” (was it actually called that?) taking up all four positions in the Semi-Finals- Rhyno, Edge, Christian & Kurt Angle. But Angle defeated Christian at (8:51) with the Olympic Slam after Shane McMahon interfered on Angle’s behalf. Rhyno dominated Edge, but Rhyno Gored himself into the untied turnbuckle and Edge used the Edgeucation for the win (10:20). Finally, Edge & Angle wrestled, Angle working the ribs injured by Rhyno. Christian distracted the ref to prevent Edge from winning after reversing an Ankle Lock to a pin, but this also kept the ref from seeing Edge tap when Angle reversed it back- Shane then speared Angle and the Edgecution pinned Kurt, winning Edge the crown (10:20).
This led to the famous street fight between Angle & Shane, as an exhausted Kurt (18 minutes in-ring so far) had to basically murder Shane to win the bout, which ran for 25 minutes. While that was ridiculous since Shane was still barely a wrestler (and usually treated like a wimp at this point), at least they’d done some set-up. That match overshadowed everything else that show (even Benoit’s neck injury that put him out for a year), but Edge being crowned was a big deal- he had been well-regarded since his debut, but this was his first serious push. He very quickly turned babyface and became a big star, though it took a bit- the WCW Invasion took place around this time, kind of stalling out the big pushes of every wrestler in the midcard. Edge ended up trading the IC & US Titles around, quickly feuding with Christian (who joined WCW), and in the post-Invasion collapse of the booking he kind of had little to do. But he eventually got there! So this kind of qualifies as a successful King of the Ring reign, as it did what it was supposed to (give a rising star a big boost of credibility). Which is funny since he won every single match unfairly.