SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Gang, King of the Ring 1995, which I covered last week, took a lot out of me. The good news is that in my quest to watch all the PPVs in order, I’ve come up on Royal Rumble 2000, a good show with a great undercard, from what I remember. It should take the bad taste out of my mouth.
To set the stage a bit, the company was still doing world title switches at a too-frequent rate, but after the reign of The Big Show from Survivor Series ’99 to Raw on Jan. 3, something had to be done. Big Show, during his reign, was mired in a feud with a version of The Big Bossman that was so cruel it turned to comic book villainy, and their match at Armageddon ’99 largely played to silence. Triple H won the title on Raw, Big Show started a heel turn, and Big Bossman settled back into the mid-card, as if none of it had ever happened.
We’re in Madison Square Garden in front of a hot crowd on Jan. 23, 2000. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler call the action.
(1) Tazz vs. Kurt Angle
Angle had been around since Survivor Series, and had not yet suffered a loss. He was facing a mystery opponent here, which wasn’t much of a mystery, as the audience cheered “We want Tazz” throughout Angle’s heel promo (which is cheap sports team heat, but delivered well enough). Tazz gets the badass entrance with the towel over his eyes, and immediately flips Angle over the ropes and hammers him on the outside as the match starts. Angle suplexes Tazz onto the (concrete?) rampway and takes control, heading back into the ring. Belly-to-belly and Angle goes up. Tazz takes him down with an overhead suplex for a nearfall and Tazz argues about the count and Angle gets a nearfall on a rollup. Tazz quickly goes back on the offensive, suplexes Angle a few times and locks Angle into a sleeper, which puts Angle down for his first loss. This was the dominant, brutal opening victory that Tazz needed to have, but he would stall out in the lower-midcard before long as the WWE didn’t know how to book a small wrestler who won by domination and not luck.
The Hardy Boyz and Terri are interviewed before their tables match with the Dudley Boyz. Michael Cole asks if they’re prepared. Terri is jacked, but Jeff tries to talk her out of going to the ring with some of the roughest mic work you’ll see on Pay-Per-View. Matt does a tiny bit better as he shows some basic babyface confidence.
(2) The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz – Tag Team Table Match
Bubba Ray was in his stuttering phase at this point, and both he and D-Von go for cheap location heat and talk up the virtues of John Rocker, the Atlanta Braves pitcher who had gone on an anti-everyone rant against New York. Time wasn’t particularly kind to this promo.
Ross tells us that both members of one team have to be put through tables consecutively to lose, but shortly after this amends it to say that both members just have to go through tables.
The action gets going quickly, as Matt and D-Von go in the ring with a table set up, and Bubba and Jeff fight on the outside and Jeff hits an unprotected chairshot before running across the guardrail to attack, only to have a table thrown into his head. Bubba enters the ring to pair off with Matt, but the Hardyz tease a double suplex through a table until D-Von makes the save by yanking away the table. The Hardyz bring in a ladder and take out both Dudz with it. More chairshots to Bubba on the outside. Matt sets up Bubba on a table and then climbs a ladder to drop a leg to put Bubba through a table (Jeff also comes off the guardrail from the opposite side), meaning if D-Von goes through a table, the Dudleyz lose. There’s your first “Holy s–t” chant.
More tables are set up outside, and D-Von is laying on one as Matt flies in. D-Von moves out of the way and ends up on another table; Jeff flies toward this one and D-Von moves again. D-Von sets up two sets of stairs with a table on top inside the ring, and Bubba powerbombs Matt through it, which isn’t any different from how it would be if the stairs weren’t there, but nonetheless looks a lot cooler.
The match spills outside to the ramp, and the Dudleyz set up four tables in a two-by-two stack just inside the Gorilla Position. Matt gets set up on the table and Bubba drags Jeff up through the audience and above the house of tables. Bubba raises his arms before a planned jump on Matt but gets low-blowed by Jeff. Two more chairshots to the head, and Bubba falls back through the stack of tables, where Matt has moved out of the way. Matt sets up one last table below, tosses D-Von onto it, and Jeff hits the Swanton from the top and through for the win. That’s an absolutely perfect garbage match, with no filler, innovative spots and a memorable finish. The Dudleyz struggle to get up and sell it like death.
Kurt Angle is checked out by an EMT backstage. He sells confusion out of what happened in the match and says he didn’t really lose if he was choked out. Nice payoff.
Sgt. Slaughter, Tony Garea, Fabulous Moolah, Johnny Valiant and Classy Freddie Blassie come out to judge the all-important bikini competition. Lawler, of course, is Master of Ceremonies. It’s called the “First Ever” Miss Rumble competition. It was also the last.
We introduce Ivory, Terri, Jacqueline, B.B., Luna Vachon and Lawler’s future ex-wife The Kat, who had won the Women’s Title a month before in a Evening Gown in a Pool match and then pulled off her top in front of everyone for the natural payoff to such an event.
Ivory doesn’t want to do this, but removes her jacket anyway as the judges make notes. Terri is next in a trashy flesh-colored one-piece. Judge Andy Richter makes notes and even covers them up like someone will cheat off his paper, which is the highlight. Jackie shows off a bikini that keeps with the night’s attitude and pretends to ride the bull. B.B. is next and her boob job is large enough to be comical. Luna declines to remove her overcoat (so why did she agree to go to the ring?). Kat is last and takes off her robe to display the bubble wrap bikini you’ll see if you Google Search her.
Mae Young’s music plays and she confidently strides to the ring in a pink robe. God, I loved her in this role, as bizarre as it all was. She says the audience can’t wait to see her puppies. Jerry tries to stop her, but “The Stripper” plays and she takes off the robe and rides it to laughs before draping it over Lawler. She actually removes the top to a shocked reaction (a couple of the girls in the ring looked genuinely surprised) and Mark Henry jumps in to cover her up. Mae wins the competition unanimously and there’s an actual pop for this. This is wrestling!
A young, clean-shaven, non-bald Jonathan Coachman is mobbed by drunk guys at WWF New York, which was actually a cool place (there was even a bathroom attendant, which surprised me when I attended) before it was deemed financially detrimental and closed.
(3) Hardcore Holly vs. Chyna vs. Chris Jericho – Intercontinental Title match
Chyna and Jericho were co-champions before this due to a screwy set of circumstances, and for a month they were forced to defend it together. The audience is firmly behind the biggest heel, Jericho, who was entering a long stretch of great work where he probably would have been a long-term world champion if Triple H hadn’t been a heel as well.
Holly shoves Chyna in the face to sell his chauvinist attitude and Jericho uses the opening against him. Jericho dumps Chyna from the ring and the men trade control in the ring with Holly hitting the dropkick and Jericho hitting a flying elbow. Ross and Lawler talk about Mae Young. Jericho puts Holly in the Walls and Chyna runs in for the save and tosses Holly. Chyna goes for a baseball slide dropkick on Jericho, but he moves and Holly gets hit instead. Jericho jumps from the turnbuckle outside to hit both, but Chyna moves and the action heads back into the ring. Jericho is accidentally dumped out by Chyna and Chyna acts concerned for some reason, opening it up for Holly.
Chairs are introduced on the outside but nobody is disqualified. Holly is rolled back in. Both Jericho and Chyna hit splashes on Holly and make the cover at the same time, but Holly kicks out (I genuinely thought this was the finish at the time, and they were dragging it out). Chyna hits a Pedigree on Holly after a low blow to Jericho for a nearfall. She goes to the top, Holly puts her up in the electric chair and Jericho hits a cross-body on Chyna for two. The men go up to a turnbuckle but Chyna takes over and superplexes Holly. Somehow Holly makes the cover here for two. Holly and Jericho tussle at the ropes and the ref is distracted as Chyna hits the unprotected chairshot to the head on Holly. She follows with a Boston crab, but Jericho sets her up for the Asai moonsault for the three count and sole possession of the Intercontinental title. Pretty good for a relatively short three-way.
We go to the back where Michael Cole tries to interview The Rock, who allows him half a sentence before shoving his hand in his face. “Rock, are you concerned with anyone?” The Rock says Crash Holly and Headbanger Mosh are going to give him trouble, so if he gets by them, he might have a shot. “Shouldn’t you be more concerned with The Big Show?” Rock sends Cole off and says he wipes his a– with what The Big Show thinks. Rock gives a fiery babyface promo, whipping up the crowd as few others ever did and finishes with the usual line. That was more or less by-the-numbers on paper, but Rock made it seem like a big deal.
(4) The New Age Outlaws vs. The Acolytes
The Road Dogg gets on the stick and says the usual without adding something specific for the title defense. The Acolytes rush the ring after “Suck it” and Bradshaw beats around both Outlaws. Faarooq tags in and mocks Road Dogg’s weird leg dance, and gets punched for his troubles. Road Dogg does the shimmy at the ropes but can’t drop the elbow as Bradshaw yanks him down by the hair. The action breaks down, Bradshaw hits the Clothesline from Hell on Dogg and Faarooq makes the cover. Gunn yanks out the referee but The Acolytes beat down Dogg again before X-Pac interferes, allowing Gunn to hit the Fameasser on Faarooq for the finish. I…guess it was decent for an overbooked, three-minute schmoz. Not sure why it wasn’t presented as the buffer match between the WWE Championship match and the Rumble. I also wonder why Dogg did the usual mic schtick. DX were being presented more as heels at this point, so why continue with the chant-along? Just hedging their bets in case the turn flopped?
Video package shows Triple H and Steph firing Mankind, then mocking him until he says Mankind doesn’t want a Street Fight, but Cactus Jack does, and Trips gives a great expression of terror.
(5) Cactus Jack vs. Triple H – Street Fight for the WWF Championship
Ross and Lawler refer to the heel faction as the “McMahon-Helmsley Era,” as I guess nobody had the stones to explain to Vince and Stephanie that an era is a period of time, and not a group of people.
Face-off in the middle of the ring, and Foley has his crazy eyes on. Basic punches and kicks early, with CJ taking control. Ross calls him “Mankind” by habit. CJ beats down Triple H and takes him to the outside. Triple H’s head gets thrown into the steps, then the ring bell, before Triple H grabs the bell and swings it at Jack for control. Trips grabs a chair and baits Jack into the ring. Unprotected chairshot to the head. Besides the obvious concussion issues, if this many people take chairshots to the head in a single night, how is the move supposed to retain any impact?
Jack takes control, sets up a chair on Triple H’s head and comes off the top for a two-count. The action slows down as the two are pacing themselves. They go outside and Jack backdrops Trips into the crowd and then beats him around the audience. Two fans dressed as chefs follow them for a bit; I guess their tag team deal fell through. Jack takes Trips out to the ramp and backdrops him onto some pallets, then does the squeal as Cactus Jack likes to do. Jack beats Triple H’s’s head into the steel door at the entrance as fans chant “Foley.” Triple H surprises Jack with a backdrop onto a trash can, which if anything looks less painful than getting backdropped to the floor with nothing to break the fall.
Jack goes right back on the offensive and hits the knee to Triple H’s head against the steps. Bang bang! Jack introduces the barbed wire-wrapped 2×4 to a huge pop. He walks around the ring and Earl Hebner gets in his way, allowing Triple H’s to kick it away, steal it and use it all over Jack. Triple H’s left calf is bleeding badly. Jack low-blows Triple H’H with the 2×4, and Hebner kicks it out of the ring to boos. Hugo Savinovich hides it. Mankind covers for two. Jack takes Hebner to task and goes down and beats Savinovich before taking the 2×4. He takes it into the ring, the ref gets bumped and Jack drops it onto Triple H’s head, bleeding seriously now (I think he bladed before the move) and Jack gets two. Triple s tries to leave the ring and Jack reaches over with the barbed wire and scrapes it over Triple H’s head. I honestly forgot how brutal this match got. Triple H’s upper body is soaked in red as Jack beats him around the ring sets him up on the English announce table. He goes for a piledriver, but Triple H’s reverses for a backdrop and they both go through the table (kind of – it doesn’t completely break down).
Both combatants are slow to their feet. Triple H tosses Jack back in the ring and hits him with rights and lefts. The camera gives us a close-up of Triple H’s bleeding calf, which is the opposite of the approach taken today. Pedigree is reversed and Jack gets two; a clothesline takes them out of the ring again. Triple H hip-tosses a charging Jack into the stairs. Both fight their way back to the ring again and Triple H chop-blocks Jack to take him down. Triple H grabs the 2×4 and takes it to Jack’s leg a couple of times.
Triple H goes out to Howard Finkel and retrieves a pair of handcuffs that he’d brought to the ring. He handcuffs one of Jack’s hands but Jack rallies to use them as a weapon. He’s knocked down soon enough and Jack is handcuffed behind the back as Trips beats him down with punches and kicks. Triple H gets a set of stairs and brings them into the ring. Jack surprises Triple H with a drop-toehold to the stairs, hits a low blow with his head, then starts biting Triple H. The lack of arms catches up with him, though, and Triple H takes control with a chair to the belly and then the back. Jack retreats down the ramp and Triple H follows for a headshot with the chair. Jack begs for another. Triple H goes back to hit it but The Rock runs in to chairshot Triple H. A police officer takes the handcuffs off of Jack, so, everything is legal in this match, except apparently the handcuffs.
Jack takes Triple H over to the Spanish announce table and this time hits the piledriver (again, the table doesn’t actually break). Jack drags Triple H back to the ring and grabs a sack from underneath the ring; the audience knows it’s the thumbtacks. Jack spills them all over one corner of the ring. Stephanie McMahon causes a distraction at ringside. Jack charges Triple H and is backdropped into the tacks. He rolls over them with his full weight, because he’s crazy. Pedigree gets two to a huge pop. Triple H then hits the Pedigree again, this time on the thumbtacks (huge reaction there) and gets the three to retain.
I wouldn’t want more than one Street Fight every few months at the very most, but this is probably the most entertaining of them all. The booking was a tad strange, as Triple H is beaten down early and withstands a run-in from Rock, making him a potentially sympathetic character, but that’s a small gripe for a near-perfect brawl.
Triple H is taken out on a stretcher, but Jack chases him down and brings him back to the ring to complete a beatdown that would lead to next month’s No Way Out main event, where Jack would either win the title or retire from active competition, in a match that was every bit as good as this.
We go to Coachman at WWF New York again. The drunks are kept at bay, since Coachman is interviewing Linda McMahon. She sells her issues with the family, which would lead to the overwrought “McMahon in every corner” gimmick for the four-way main event of Wrestlemania. Now, can the Rumble match top the greatness of this undercard?! Well, no, but even a bad Rumble is usually fun, so let’s get to it.
Finkel gives the rules of the Royal Rumble as the ring crew frantically sweeps thumbtacks out of the ring. A “Royal Rumble Moment” is shown; it’s Michaels winning in 1995 after Bulldog thought he’d been eliminated.
(6) The Royal Rumble
D-Lo Brown and Grandmaster Sexay are the first two. Lawler says, “What poor schmuck is this?” before his son is introduced. There’s drying blood all over the ring as D-Lo and Sexay get going. It’s basic, decent wrestling, but the crowd treats this like the comedown after the title match. Headbanger Mosh enters at #3 with the huge boob cones. Kai En Tai rushes the ring, upset they weren’t in the Rumble, and they get promptly tossed out. D-Lo gets dropped onto Mosh’s ankle in a moment that could have been a lot worse; in various interviews about the Rumble, most every wrestler says their worst fear in that type of match is another wrestler falling on his legs.
Christian, still very early in his WWE career, is #4. He pairs off with Sexay as Lawler talks up Sexay’s coolness. Nothing special until the entrance of Rikishi at #5. Thrustkick for Mosh before tossing him. Belly-to-belly and elimination for Christian. D’Lo hits a running neckbreaker to slow Rikishi down, but it doesn’t last and Rikishi tosses D’Lo. Sexay reinforces friendship with Rikishi, and #6 is Scotty 2 Hotty in a moment of great convenience. The three of them do their dance routine, which drove me to madness at the time, but the crowd ate it up, so whatever. As the dance winds down, Rikishi takes advantage of the moment and tosses both members of Too Cool. That’s a pretty flawed long-term Rumble move right there.
Steve Blackman is #7 to little reaction, though the crowd dutifully chants “Blackman sucks” after a moment. Rikishi dumps him quickly to continue the Diesel push. Viscera is #8, setting up what should be a mat classic. Viscera no-sells some punches and hits a belly-to-belly and a legdrop. Viscera charges Rikishi in the corner but Rikishi moves, hits four body-blocks and finally pushes Viscera over. That serves him right for wearing his heavy coat into the Royal Rumble.
Big Bossman is #9, and he teases entering the ring a few times, but hangs back out of the ring waiting for the next person. J.R. says “Frankly, there’s no rule” about when you have to enter the ring. So why enter the ring, period, until the end? Test is #10 and he beats up Bossman on the outside before forcing him into the ring. Low blow for everyone; man, they overused those at the time. The British Bulldog is #11 and he goes after the faces. No major spots, again. #12 is Gangrel. He drinks a pint of blood – most likely Triple H’s tonight – before he enters. Kai En Tai rush the ring again and last no more than a few seconds. Taka Michinoku takes a wicked bump to the head against the floor on the way down, which would keep him from entering as many times as intended. Edge is #13 to a big female pop. He pairs off with Bulldog while Test and Gangrel are in another corner, and Rikishi hits the Banzai Drop on Bossman in yet another. Lawler refers as Taka as “that poor Chinese guy” in what became a running joke that Lawler found much funnier than the average person.
Bob Backlund s a surprise legacy entrant at #14. The entire group of guys team up to eliminate Rikishi, which is booed by the fans. Chris Jericho is #15 after some more basic action. Jericho dropkicks Backlund over and out. Backlund exits through the crowd to do some campaigning. Crash Holly is #16. Edge gets him up over the top rope and instead of tossing him, he spanks him a few times. Must be an inside joke. Chyna is #17 and there and, sadly, most of the wrestlers in the ring are gone now. Like in the previous year, she eliminates someone immediately (Chris Jericho this time) and is immediately eliminated thereafter (by The Big Bossman this time).
Faarooq is #18 and the Mean Street Posse jump him, opening him up to elimination at the hands of Bossman. Road Dogg is #19. Like most of the Rumble, guys pair off in the corners and hit punches and kicks. I don’t know if I ever noticed how flat and sterile this Rumble match is. Al Snow, beginning a very short main event heel push, is #20. Road Dogg eliminates Bulldog. We settle back into the norm and the crowd has been quiet for kind of a while here. Val Venis is #21 to an okay pop, followed by Funaki who lasts a few seconds before Bossman chucks him again. Prince Albert is #22 as Bossman tosses Edge. Albert recently turned face against Bossman but there’s no real response when they pair off in the corner. Hardcore Holly is #23. Rock is #24 and finally wakes up the crowd. He immediately punches Bossman over and out. Given the number of guys in the ring, you’d guess he’d immediately take out more a la Steve Austin.
#25 is Billy Gunn. He works Rock over. Rock hits a DDT on Crash and tosses him out. #26 is The Big Show. He takes Test and Gangrel out within a handful of seconds. #27 is Bradshaw. The Mean Street Posse jumps in again. Bradshaw gets the better of them, but the Outlaws double-team Bradshaw and toss him. Sacrificing both Acolytes to further a storyline with the Posse during the Rumble is…interesting. Kane is #28 and he chokeslams Venis over and out. Least but not last at #29, The Godfather enters. Kane eliminates Prince Albert while the audience watches Godfather’s entrance. The camera focuses as much on the ladies as it does the ring. Funaki comes in once more and gets tossed at the feet of the ladies of the night.
X-Pac is #30 and the final field is Gunn, Dogg, Kane, Snow, Holly, Rock, Godfather, X-Pac and Big Show. Snow clotheslines Holly out. Big Show beats down Godfather and tosses him to boos. Rock clotheslines Snow out and I wonder if these guys know that they’ve done three basic clothesline eliminations in a row. Gunn blindsides Road Dogg and tosses him in another illogical spot; Kane tosses Gunn immediately after. That’ll teach him. Kane, X-Pac, Rock and Show remain. The refs are distracted as Kane is on the outside and they miss X-Pac’s elimination, so he sneaks back in. Kane and Show battle while X-Pac and Rock rest. Kane bodyslams Show but X-Pac blindsides his tag partner with a spinning heel kick and eliminates him. Show tosses X-Pac right after. Don’t eliminate your partner, guys. Rock and Big Show finally do some work in the middle of the ring after a Rumble that almost exclusively played out in the corners. Big Show picks up Rock like a sack of potatoes but Rock uses Show’s momentum and flips him over and out for the never-in-doubt Rumble victory. Rock poses on the turnbuckles and grabs the stick. Big Show hits the ring and tosses Rock out before he can finish his signature line, and Rock stares down Show as we close.
The next night on Raw, Big Show would contest Rock’s victory by showing footage of the final elimination, where Rock’s feet touched the floor just before Big Show hit the floor himself. This would lead to Show also entering the main event at Wrestlemania, and eventually Mick Foley would also exit retirement to make it a four-way elimination match. Rock and Triple H are naturally the last two in the match, so if not solely to get the McMahons in the main event, why even add the other two at all?
This Show’s Legacy
In the absence of the injured Steve Austin, just one man could get near the reactions of the Rattlesnake, and there really wasn’t another competitor in the Rumble that was likely to win the match. Given this fact, you’d think that at least we would get a lot of mini-stories and progressions throughout, but that didn’t happen. Rikishi got the Diesel push, but otherwise, this Rumble was just a mishmash of disconnected events with a surprisingly small number of memorable or even interesting spots. Maybe everyone was told to stay in the corners to avoid injury or something. Still, this win set the stage for what we thought would be The Rock’s first win in a WrestleMania main event, but that didn’t come to pass, as Triple H won the four-way to send the fans home shocked that a heel would win the main event at Wrestlemania. The Rock would win the title at Backlash the following month, and would lose it back to Triple H at Judgment Day a month after that in an Ironman Match.
The tag team division was heating up at this point, and the Dudleyz and Hardyz saw their stock rising, partially due to their hard work in this match, while the Outlaws were just about out of gas and The Acolytes would stick around as a believable pair of bullies to occasionally get some title shots. This match would set the stage for the TLC matches with Edge and Christian that would steal two Wrestlemanias in a row.
Chris Jericho’s solo Intercontinental win allowed him to shine as a prick heel, and this would be a title that largely defined his career, as he was only occasionally in the right place at the right time to win world titles. Chyna had seen her best days, and would end up finally moving to the Women’s division, which she didn’t want to do. Hardcore Holly, as always, would hang around in the midcard, almost never winning titles but always getting shots.
The Women’s division was, of course, not taken seriously. The Kat held the title despite not really being a wrestler, and this bikini competition was actually a step up from the Evening Gown in a Pool match the previous month. It would take a lot of years to undo this damage. I know the approach at this time certainly had its backers, but this kind of trashy entertainment won’t fly in every WWE “era” and is therefore not a sustainable approach. Women can still be alluring without shooting for the least common denominator (and for my money, much more so).
Triple H and Cactus Jack had a really great brawl here. While the WWE was running too many matches of this type, it occurs to me that I wish I could see something this brutal on an infrequent basis. If a bloody, violent classic could be run a couple of times a year, it would more than satisfy that itch for a lot of us, but this just won’t fly with advertisers, who won’t care if it’s a rarity. If anything, the sudden shock of such a match would be a huge turnoff for them. Well, maybe someday.
The WWE was in a very good place creatively and with their talent base, and 2000 would see some great Pay-Per-Views. WrestleMania was kind of a weird mess that overly relied on multi-man matches, but oh well. Until the departures of Stone Cold to injuries and The Rock to eventual superstardom came about and put a lot of pressure on others to step up, it was a fantastic time to be a fan.
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