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The Worst Year In Wrestling EVER: A Case For -- And Against -- 2002

Last week, I looked into the hideous year that was 1993. The year featured Hulk Hogan hijacking Wrestlemania and the WWF title, then taking off to Japan for a few months. It also featured the reunion of the Four Horsemen (that included Paul Roma for some reason), mini-movies featuring Cheatum the Midget, Cactus Jack getting lost in Cleveland, and Lex Luger, idiot babyface. All this while WWF was still flying in the face of a sex and drug scandal threatening to bring down the company, while WCW booked themselves into near oblivion, losing a reported $23 million.

Despite making a very compelling case (as Jimmy_MacUK) mentioned in a comment that 1993 was the worst year ever...

... your votes decided narrowly it was not the worst year ever. Let's see what's next.


I originally wasn't going to do this year next, but one Cagesider brought this picture to my attention, even though I've continually try to block it from my mind.

Thanks saintdane05.

Then, with image once again fully imprinted in my brain, I slept on the idea. Oh God, no. Not of necrophilia, you sick...freaks; the idea that this next year is the worst in wrestling ever and holy shit, why didn't I do this sooner? Brace yourselves, boys and girls: we're going back to a year so volatile, even the name of a wrestling company changed. It's 2002: Odyssey Two.



As someone once said, with great power comes great responsibility. When March 2001 ended, the World Wrestling Federation was the only major wrestling company in North America. It became the largest wrestling company in the world by a wide margin, a margin it continues to enjoy to this very day. Basically, they and they alone have been entrusted, like it or not, with the future of the wrestling business. That's a pretty big responsibility.

A responsibility they only took six months to screw up by not just botching, but butchering the Invasion of WCW and ECW; you know, only the most-awaited storyline in the history of ever. Said hack job sent a significant number of fans away ffrom the WWF, and for the first time since the pre-Attitude Era days, business was down.

The Invasion also resulted in the biggest roster ever for the WWE, and with it a whole new set of problems. Wait, what? WWE? But didn't you just call it the WWF not even a minute ago, Eddie Mac?

I did. But in May, a British court decided that a company whose logo was a panda owned the rights to the WWF moniker. The World Wildlife Fund forced the World Wrestling Federation to change its name to World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE. Granted, a clever marketing campaign came out of it ("Get The F Out!"), but in the end, it was a MAJOR net loss for the company. After all, casuals have always identified wrestling with the WWF, and calling it WWE didn't seem right. Still doesn't really, especially since they haven't gotten the E right a whole lot in the last few years. The name change forced the company to do A LOT of editing to its video library, with the old logo being blurred out and WWF references being muted. The cost of all that video fixing ran into the millions, making original home video releases pre-blur worth a lot of money on the Internet. Thankfully, the era of the blur has long ended, as the old WWF and the new WWF settled in 2012. The old WWF could use their old logo again and say WWF. Just not on their new stuff.

Anyway, with the mishandling of the Invasion chasing many fans away, the WWF/E resorted to many, many quick fixes in order to bring the people back.

In February, three of the five men most responsible for bringing down WCW were brought back. Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Hollywood Hulk Hogan, collectively known as the New World Order, made their WWF debut. The group was thought to create a spark on WWF programming by basically doing what they did six years ago. The trio was broken up in a month. The rousing ovation Hogan got at Wrestlemania X-8 forced an on-the-fly face turn, leading to Hogan becoming WWF Champion a month later (Hogan, by the way, was 49 years old at the time). That left Hall and Nash to prop up the group, but just as it was in WCW, when Hogan left the group, no one took it seriously anymore. Not even the additions of X-Pac, Big ShowShawn Michaels, or Booker T could save it.

Speaking of Kevin Nash, in 2002, he officially became a meme. Though he debuted at No Way Out, he didn't wrestle until the night after Wrestlemania X-8. Soon, he went down with a torn biceps injury and would be out until the summer. His return lasted less than ten seconds. In his first match back, he tore his quad. By the time he returned, the nWo had long broken up (in fact, the group would officially be declared dead the next week on RAW).

The Notorious Eddie Mac is all for gender preference equality. Whether you're straight, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, tri-sexual, or pansexual, you should be able to love who you love without fear of repercussion. How I addressed that just now is a much better way than how WWE did it. Throughout the late summer and early fall, WWE got themselves in hot water with the gay and lesbian community...twice. In September, the ambiguously gay duo of Billy and Chuck had a "commitment ceremony" with the encouragement of their manager Rico. Mainstream media jumped on this, praising this is as a positive moment for gays in television history, something that was few and far between at the time. Unfortunately, said commitment ceremony was an elaborate ruse, and the E managed to piss off gays, lesbians, straights, bisexuals, trisexuals, and pansexuals.

And clearly, WWE did not learn their lesson because they managed to squeeze a little more juice out of it with the "HLA stunt" at Unforgiven. HLA for those that weren't watching in 2002, HLA stood for Hot Lesbian Action, something that Eric Bischoff promised on RAW on a weekly basis, but never delivered. The payoff, coming after wedding crashers 3 Minute Warning defeated Billy and Chuck, promised Stephanie McMahon would do some HLA. Turned out the HLA she performed it on was RIkishi in drag. And we were all grossed out by it.

Yeah, speaking of Eric Bischoff, he was brought in finally in another desperate ratings ploy. This came one month after Vince Russo-THE Vince Russo-the man who on his watch in creative cost WCW some $62 million, was briefly hired back. When Vince Russo is an option in 2002, your company's got problems, bruh. That's gross.

But not nearly as grossed out by necrophilia being used in a wrestling storyline.

Yeah, that really happened.

A RAW episode ended with Triple H accusing Kane of killing a woman some ten years earlier. Yes, the Kane who was once burned in a fire and left for dead. Three weeks later, the storyline escalates and Triple H accuses Kane of... for lack of a better term, screwing the corpse. There was "video" of it and everything. This is canon and everything, you guys. In the end, Kane would be screwed out of the recently introduced World Heavyweight Championship. And the angle was quickly dropped.

Wait... what? We have two belts again? We were just getting back to one belt after that whole Invasion thing. The night after Summerslam, Triple H won a #1 contender's match to the Undisputed WWE Championship... which became disputed when Triple H was awarded-AWARDED-the old WCW world title the next week when Brock Lesnar inexplicably was made Smackdown-exclusive. It would seemingly be the icing on the cake where Triple H (who spent the latter part of 2001 on the disabled list) would be overexposed to the point of "go away heat". His backstage influence grew massively in 2002. Oh, you don't believe it? I mean, Triple H was the boyfriend--then fiancee--of the boss' daughter Stephanie (who was once in a world title match on RAW-no I am not making that up).But consider this: Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam, and Kane were all perma-midcarded following their main event programs with Triple H. It would be 2006 before Van Dam got a world title. Jericho had to wait until 2008. Kane didn't get there until 2010.

This happened.

Every tag team of significance in the last few years was broken up. Every. Single. One.

Big Show: WWE champion happened. So did Hulk Hogan, WWF champion.

Think of the worst plane ride you ever had. Chances are, it doesn't compared to the one WWE had from London back to America. Michael Hayes and the future JBL got into a fight. Sean "X-Pac" Waltman cut Hayes' hair while he was sleeping. Ric Flair exposed himself to a female flight attendant. Dustin Rhodes somehow got on the flight's PA system and proceeded to serenade his ex-wife Terri Runnels. Curt Hennig and a drunk Scott Hall sprayed shaving cream all over the plane. Then Hall passed out from all the alcohol. Then Hennig and Lesnar got into it on the plane... and nearly came in contact with a plane door, endangering everyone on board. All this happened while Jim Ross, Arn Anderson, Stephanie McMahon, Paul Heyman, and The Undertaker were all aboard (among others). Nobody could be checked. Lawsuits resulted from this mess, and both Curt Hennig and Scott Hall (who was docile to the point that people were worried that he died) were both given their walking papers. Goldust's contract would not be renewed when his deal came up a year and a half later. Save for a goofy tag team run with Booker T (that worked much better than anyone imagined), Goldust was basically relegated to lower-card status.

And I didn't even get to, until now of course, the WWF...WWE, sorry... losing its two biggest stars. With Hollywood calling thanks to a breakout appearance in The Mummy Returns, The Rock went and filmed and filmed The Scorpion King, his first major starring vehicle. It obviously would lead to many more. It also led to resentment among the WWE faithful, feeling that The Rock left them to look out for his own interests (even though many of that same faithful would have done the same thing) and The Rock being booed out of the building when Summerslam ended. But while The Rock virtually parting ways was mutual, the WWE-Stone Cold Steve Austin divorce was anything but.

In the spring of 2002, Austin found his place in the WWE pecking order lower than it's been in years. In fact, it was right around the time he won King of the Ring six years earlier. Austin, long the face of the WWF and main eventer of three Wrestlemanias in four years, went on fourth in an otherwise meaningless match with Scott Hall. Austin walked out on the WWF following the event, but did return...only to walk out again two months later, this time for good. Soon after, Austin was arrested on domestic violence charges. WWE was quick to bury Austin and basically wipe any memory of him. A hell of a way for WWE's most popular superstar ever to go out.

Over two pages of digital ink and I haven't even talked about TNA.


Born from the ashes of WCW, the X Wrestling Federation, and World Wrestling All-Stars and from the mind of Jerry and Jeff Jarrett came the NWA's newest promotion based out of Nashville, Tennessee, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, or...TNA.

However, if you wanted to see this "hot new promotion", you had to pay $10. A week. Every week. And in order for said "hot new promotion" to make money, a lot of people would have to take them up on the offer. While it's not nearly as ludicrous in 2015 to pay $10 for a few hours of wrestling, in 2002, it was plum crazy. TNA needed (according to their estimates) 50,000 buys a week to break even, but weren't even getting half of that. And it's no wonder why they couldn't.

An incest gimmick known as The Dupps. Two, yes, TWO penis-related tag teams. Gun-toting midgets. A four-hundred pound wrestler named Cheex managed by "The Brown-Eyed Girl" (speaking of Cheex, he nearly broke the ring just minutes before their first PPV telecast in a dark match, a repair they'd manage to fix just as the show went on the air). Disco Inferno's Jive Talkin'. Wrestlers debuting and leaving soon after with little or no explanation (often none). Speaking of little or no explanation, TNA never followed up on at least a dozen angles during their first six months. They nearly committed the federal offense of turning Ricky Steamboat heel. In a sign of things to come, the first three wrestlers to be featured on TNA were Jeff Jarrett, Ken Shamrock, and Scott Hall, all of whom had runs as WWF Intercontinental Champion. And in the most TNA way, Jeff Jarrett ended the year as the NWA world champion. Of course.

But come on, Eddie Mac. 2002 had some good stuff to counter all the bad, right? (By the way, I'm on page four of this Word document. And I'm using the default 11 point font.)



Of course. Plenty.

Let it never be forgotten that Jim Ross is one of the very best minds in professional wrestling history. Under Ross (who doubled as the head of talent relations for WWE until 2006), Danny Davis, Jim Cornette, and a host of trainers including Al Snow, Ohio Valley Wrestling would produce in the same calendar year four men that will all go down in the short list of the greatest WWE superstars they've ever produced: third-generation star Randy Orton, NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion Brock Lesnar, former bouncer Dave Bautista, and ex-bodybuilder John Cena. The four men, dubbed the "OVW Four" or "OVW Class of 2002", have produced a combined 36 world championship runs as of this writing. They've also provided the nucleus of the WWE during its "Ruthless Aggression" and "PG" eras, for better or worse.

2002 might as well be known as the year of the comeback. A LOT of people returned to WWE television. Triple H returned to a MONSTER pop in Madison Square Garden (and won the world title a few months later). The original nWo made their first appearance together in years (with its leader Hulk Hogan winning a world title a few months later). Shawn Michaels came out of retirement (and won a world title a few months later). Eric Bischoff returned to wrestling and promptly hugged it out with Vince McMahon (scaring off many longtime fans), while Stephanie McMahon returned from her not-long-enough exile (scaring off many more longtime fans). Paul Heyman came back too, not only managing the man that would go on to be the youngest WWE champion in history in Brock Lesnar, but he did some booking. In fact, in the minds of many, he did some of the best booking in WWE history.

Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero, and Chavo Guerrero  elevated the in-ring talent not seen in the WWE... well, ever if we're being honest. His emphasis on making TV bouts as important as their PPV events made Smackdown must-see TV on a night that's already must-see TV on other networks. All six of these men were intertwined in singles and tag team encounters even before fate brought them together. They would all touch tag team championship gold at some point by the end of the year. And arguably, the accomplishments of the Smackdown Six can stack up and look in the eye of the OVW Four.

All things considered, the Smackdown Six wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for the decision to split the WWF's roster in half following Wrestlemania X8. With the WWF having its biggest roster ever following the acquisitions of WCW and ECW, dozens of superstars were faced with the possibility of not getting a lot of screen time, if at all. Even by the turn of the century, when it comes to wrestling, out of sight, out of mind. But the Draft would wind up giving new life to many members of the roster.

And with the roster split soon came the return of one of the most recognizable belts in professional wrestling: The Big Gold Belt.

10 wins for the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. Didn't think it was possible. Side nugget: that was in 2002. Undertaker now sits on 21. Nobody else has gotten to 10 wins. Hell, three people have ten LOSSES at Wrestlemania.

Show of hands if you had former fitness model Trish Stratus to be the one leading the resurgence of women's wrestling in the WWE. If you thought so at the beginning of 2002, you're lying. If you thought so at the end of 2002, well... people might still have thought you're crazy, but you'd be right.

Seriously, a shoutout to Summerslam. If you have about three hours to kill, do yourself a favor and watch this show at least once if you haven't seen it.

The Elimination Chamber, the closest we'll probably get to War Games in a WWE ring.

2002 was also the year the professional wrestling monopoly ended in America. In name only, of course. In February, Ring of Honor, based out of Philadelphia, was born. A few months later, Total Nonstop Action, the NWA's new top affiliate, was formed. More wrestlers getting work. What's not to like about that?

One last thing (and I think I put this last on purpose): Hulk Hogan and The Rock bringing '88 back.

2002 began wrestling's new age and set the course for "the new normal". But did the good outweigh the bad? Was it the worst year ever? Discuss.

Next time: the year I was going to do originally this week.

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