Welcome to the next part of the "Do They Deserve Their Stars" series. This time, we examine the year 2001 and the Invasion angle that fell flat on its face and got kicked while it was down. In addition, we also examine a classic tag team championship match from 2002. And to top it all off, I will address a change that I will be making to a previous match that I reviewed. Goes to show that just because I post one of these doesn't mean that I can't make a change or two.
With that said, let's do this...
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs The Rock (WrestleMania X-Seven)
When Stone Cold Steve Austin won the 2001 Royal Rumble, you pretty much knew who his opponent would be even before the main event of No Way Out 2001 was made.
That man would be The Rock.
These two had a great matchup at WrestleMania XV (and the only good match of that show IIRC), and WWF was determined to take it up to the next level in front of over 60,000 rabid wrestling fans. Was WWF able to accomplish this feat and make lightning strike twice?
The answer? Yes. In fact, they didn't just top their match from WM XV; they topped it and then some.
This fact would immediately become apparent during the buildup video package before the match, which remains one of the best ever produced to this day. Although Limp Bizkit was never known for their musical prowess, their song My Way really fit this match to a T. Austin was willing to do ANYTHING to win the WWF Championship, and The Rock was going to bring all that The Rock could muster.
The match, as you would expect, was nothing short of awesome. A surprise "No DQ" stipulation was added right as the match was about to start, and both men made the most of it by fighting through the crowd, using the ring bell, and the usual mainstay known as the steel chair.
This match wasn't a complete street fight. They did work well inside the ring by trading finishers and submissions, including Austin busting out the Million Dollar Dream for the first time in a long time. There was also a callback to WrestleMania 13 when Rock locked a bloodied Austin into the sharpshooter. The in-ring work alone is worth a 4.5 rating.
Ahh...but I'm not done yet. There is something more to address: The Twist.
For those who have been living under a rock (not The Rock, but an actual rock), Stone Cold and Vince McMahon were embroiled in the most iconic feud of the Attitude Era. They were always at each others' throats, so you KNEW that them working together was beyond impossible, and when Vince strolled down to the ring about 2/3 through the match, you just knew that he was going to screw over Austin in his home state.
Well, imagine your surprise when Vince interrupts a pin attempt from The Rock following a People's Elbow. Sure, it could have been a gesture from Vince that he wanted to finish the job.
But wait....WHY IS AUSTIN TELLING VINCE TO GET A CHAIR....AND OH MY GOD AUSTIN TOOK THE CHAIR AND HIT ROCK WITH IT....WTF?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the impossible was happening. Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vincent Kennedy McMahon were working together. A deal had been made with the devil himself. Austin took the McMahon-endorsed chair and delivered chairshot after chairshot after chairshot to The Rock, who finally succumbed to the assault as Jim Ross absolutely freaked out on commentary
Although Austin's heel run was definitely a bust, the utter shock of the turn was something that WWE had not replicated until Seth Rollins destroyed The Shield last year. It was truly something that we never saw coming, especially in Austin's home state.
And that handshake. That one handshake marked the closing of the Attitude Era.
Meltzer's rating: 4.5; Bacon's rating: 5
Kurt Angle vs Stone Cold Steve Austin (SummerSlam 2001)
Just a few months after WrestleMania X-Seven, the Invasion angle was in full swing. WCW and ECW had invaded WWF, and literally every storyline was rewritten to fit that angle. Almost all WWF turmoil was stopped, and instead focused toward The Alliance and their de facto leader, Stone Cold Steve Austin, who ruled with an iron fist and a Stunner for those who got in his way.
Kurt Angle was tired of the hypocrisy and wanted to take Austin down a few levels...and he also wanted to bring the WWF Championship home to the WWF. After Austin's betrayal of the WWF at Invasion, Angle was out for revenge, and he damn near got it on this night.
From the moment that this match started, there was no scientific wrestling used by either man. They instead just wanted to beat the living hell out of each other, and that is exactly what we got. The match went in and out of the ring, into the crowd, and wherever else it could go (did I mention that this was NOT a "No DQ" match?).
Angle got busted open about halfway into the match, but that just drove him to go harder and concentrate more on snapping the ankle of Austin. Although he ate multiple Stunners and other huge moves and submissions (the Million Dollar Dream was brought out as well), Angle just would not quit.
So after one Stunner too many, Austin completely snapped and started attacking referees left and right. Angle was able to hit an Angle Slam and went for a cover. Alliance referee Nick Patrick came down and started counting, but stopped and called for the DQ instead. Although Patrick was just following the rules, it was clear that Angle got screwed.
Austin kept his title, and his reign of terror with The Alliance continued.
I will never know how this didn't main event the show. The work rate was exceptional and the story told was great (also, ANGLE ACTUALLY HIT A MOONSAULT!!!). The show was effectively stolen, and The Rock vs Booker T main event couldn't even hope to top this match even if it wanted to.
Meltzer's rating: 4.5; Bacon's rating: 4.75
The Rock vs Chris Jericho (No Mercy 2001)
Remember a few lines up where I said that "almost all WWF turmoil was stopped and instead focused toward The Alliance..."? Well, this was one of the few intra-WWF feuds that did occur during the Invasion.
During a tag match where Rock and Jericho were on the same team, Rock was hit by an inadvertent chairshot from Jericho, costing their team the match. When Rock confronted Jericho after the match, Jericho pretty much said that he was doing anything to win no matter the cost.
This statement from Jericho sparked a feud that eventually led to this WCW Championship match at No Mercy. For a little while, the match was actually scientific and somewhat technical...of course until Jericho slapped Rocky across the face, and that's when the scientific wrestling went out the window.
Of course, this was a good match, but it did definitely start to drag along a bit. The storytelling also fell a bit flat for a while until Jericho started to use The Rock's own finishers against him, and then the match finally picked up again, culminating in a Rock Bottom through the table.
The ending was a bit strange. Stephanie McMahon came out for whatever reason and started to distract the referee. This caused The Rock to throw her into the ring and Rock Bottom her. Jericho took advantage and hit Breakdown (a full-nelson facecrusher like the Skull Crushing Finale) for the win. Even after two watches, I fail to understand why Stephanie interfered. It just didn't make any sense.
This was a good match and all, but the storytelling did leave a lot to be desired, and it did start to drag on after a while, which is never a good thing.
Melter's rating: 4.5; Bacon's rating: 4
Team WWF vs Team Alliance (Survivor Series 2001)
After an overlong and annoying few months, the Invasion angle would finally come to an end at Survivor Series 2001 with a classic Survivor Series elimination match. It was simple: the winning team's company lived; the losing team's company died...doesn't take a rocket scientist to explain it (although I'd love to see one explain the entire Invasion angle as 9 year old me didn't understand a lick of it).
In one corner, we had The Rock, Chris Jericho, Kane, Undertaker, and Big Show representing the WWF. In the other corner, we had Shane McMahon, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Booker T, and Rob Van Dam representing The Alliance. On paper, both teams were well-balanced and had a clea.....
Oh hell, who am I kidding? You knew who would win this match months in advance, so all the unpredictability was sucked out of this match from the get-go.
For the match, it was your typical Survivor Series elimination match, but way longer with a run of 45 minutes.
Yes, FORTY-FIVE MINUTES!
As you could guess, the match probably drug on badly at times, and you would be absolutely correct. In fact, after Big Show and Shane McMahon were murderdeathkilled by every finisher in the book, there were only two major highlights to mention until the final two: Kurt Angle actually tapping out to The Rock's sharpshooter and Chris Jericho turning his back on the WWF by hitting The Rock with the Breakdown
Let's talk about the final two. Who were they?
Well, it came down to The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, and at that moment, new life was breathed into this fairly stale match. You already knew that these two have excellent chemistry, and that chemistry was enough to save this match from the bowels of mediocrity and then some. The pace quickened, and both men brought out the big guns to save their respective companies.
When the end came, who did karma favor? Why, the WWF of course. After the referees were taken out, Austin gave The Rock the Stunner and attempted a cover to no avail. At this time, Kurt Angle made his way down to the ring and grabbed the WWF Title. Who did he hit? His Alliance teammate, Austin. 1-2-3, and LOLWWFWINS, but did you expect anything different?
This was a fairly mediocre Survivor Series match that was beyond saved by Austin and Rock facing off toward the end.
Meltzer's rating: 4.5; Bacon's rating: 4
Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle vs Edge and Rey Mysterio (No Mercy 2002)
In 2002, WWE faced such a huge influx of talent due to the acquisition of both WCW and ECW that they were forced to come up with a way to allow all of the talent to perform on television.
The answer to this dilemma was a brand split. Half of the roster became exclusive to Raw, and the other half became exclusive to SmackDown. Since there were two brands, two sets of titles were needed. For example, Raw had the World Heavyweight Championship, and SmackDown had the WWE Championship, so what could be done with the undercard?
SmackDown answered the call by introducing the World Tag Team Championship and utilizing a tournament to crown the inaugural tag champions, and at the end, two teams remained: Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle on side side, and Edge and Rey Mysterio on the other.
To put it simply, Benoit and Angle HATED each other, and wanted to see the other gone for good. Then-GM Stephanie McMahon threatened them with suspension should they have a physical confrontation. Making matters worse was the fact that both Mysterio and Edge owned victories over both men (in fact, Edge was responsible for Angle losing his hair at Judgement Day 2002. In short, revenge was on the mind of both Benoit and Angle.
The match was fairly lengthy, and featured a lot of good storytelling and continuity between all four men involved. For the most part, Edge was the face-in-peril, and he did a great job in that role. When Mysterio got the hot tag, the roof almost came off of whatever arena they were in. Mysterio eventually played the face-in-peril as well and took a great deal of punishment, but he would never give up.
Instead, Edge and Mysterio played off of each other VERY well and used some creative double-team offense that has not been seen since to my knowledge (seriously, Edge catapulting Mysterio onto Angle to deliver a top-rope hurricurrana, Mysterio getting suplexed INTO Angle, and Edge setting Mysterio up for a Asai Moonsault? Phenomenal. The work-rate in this match is top-notch, and very few tag matches have been able to replicate it.
Angle and Benoit eventually got the win, but good lord they deserved that win after the insanity that was this match. It is one of the best tag matches ever, and the last ten minutes make for some of the most intense in all of wrestling.
Meltzer's and Bacon's rating: 4.75
Now to address something that I posted in an earlier "Do They Deserve Their Stars". A little while back while having a slow day, I got an urge to watch a match that I had previously reviewed. It's an urge that no match had given me until the recent Sasha Banks/Becky Lynch masterpiece (that I WILL be reviewing despite Meltzer's rating of it).
That match was Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Bret Hart from Survivor Series 1996.
Now for those who remember, quite a few people were unhappy with the rating that I had given it, but I had moved on from it until recently when I got the urge to re-rewatch it. There was something about that match that attracted me back to it, but I don't know what it was.
When I started the third watch, I dropped the hypercritical methods that I used for this series, and just watched it as a wrestling fan, and nothing more. On that third watch, something dawned on me: this match was an absolute masterpiece, and I had not understood why until now.
That match, while being a masterpiece of technicality, is also a masterful display of storytelling. It displayed Austin's sheer determination to win despite the tactics used, and it also showed Bret's understanding of this methodology from Austin. As a result, Hart had to start playing Austin's game to win, and that is how he was able to win.
As I mentioned when I reviewed it, Austin/Hart I did an amazing job in setting up their iconic submission match at WrestleMania 13 by both men figuring out that they just couldn't pin the other and be done with it. One man had to submit to prove that the other was the better man, and that was the gist of it.
VERY few matches possess the technical and storytelling ability that this match does. I should have understood it then, but I do now, and that is the beauty of this match.
Therefore, I am going to change that match's rating, and it will be as follows:
Meltzer's rating: 4.5; Bacon's rating: 5
That does it for this edition of "Do They Deserve Their Stars." Next time, we focus on Kurt Angle's best year in WWE. In addition, we also start to explore the world of Ring of Honor.