James Dixon: This is a UK-exclusive release, which is a little strange because the “Best of” tapes from 1999 and 2000 were both US exclusive and didn’t come out in the UK at all, but this is the opposite. The reason for that being this is just a direct to video port of a TV special that aired in the US on New Year’s Eve 2001, which also got a Canadian DVD release which is super rare. The nature of the program makes it mainly just a recap of matches we have already covered, but there are a few extra things thrown in as well to keep it fresh. Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler host, supposedly “live” on New Year’s Eve, with Cole looking extra idiotic tonight with his absurd frosted hair and confusingly thin bearded face. The format is a countdown of the top ten bouts of the year, and we start with this:
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Chris Benoit (c) Chris Jericho
Joined in progress, and I actually think this is slightly underrated, because it is a genuine classic to me. The brutality is off the charts, the innovation impressive and some of the bumps memorable. Jericho’s octopus stretch on the ladder is unreal, even if Jerry Lawler does ruin it somewhat by commenting how Jericho can’t win that way. Sadly Benoit’s sickening bump from a tope through the ropes into a chair is not featured because it happened prior to the footage shown. We do see Benoit’s equally crazy headbutt from the top of a ladder though, which must have been a sore one the next day. After bringing a chair into play, Jericho wins this tour de force when Benoit gets stuck outside the ring, and a new champion is crowned. Benoit was untouchable in 2001 until he got injured. With the amount of other guys on the shelf or absent for whatever reason, he may well have been given the push to the top than workrate fans had long clamoured for. As it is, it would be another three years before the company finally pulled the trigger on him. To keep things interesting, I am going to offer my own assessment of the matches featured on this tape that I haven’t already covered in this volume, though please bear in mind that I am basing my rating on the full matches rather than the truncated versions that appear on here.
Final Rating: ****¾
Wait a minute; these are supposed to be the top ten matches. Surely they are in consecutive order rather than ranked, because there is no way there are nine better matches than Benoit-Jericho.
The Undertaker vs. Triple H
And this most certainly isn’t better. It is good though, surprisingly so actually because the Undertaker had been stinking up the ring something chronic (and later in the year KroniK) since he returned as the ‘American Badass’. We join this in progress again, starting from their brawl to a support stanchion in the crowd, where we see the Undertaker’s impressive looking chokeslam off the structure that appears to have sent Hunter into a different underworld realm. But then Taker jumps off with an elbow and we see the nice padded structure that Trips took the bump onto, rather ruining the illusion somewhat. It’s like watching a James Bond movie but with a blow-by-blow account of how the stunts were done appearing in a crawl across the screen. Back to the ring, Undertaker grabs Hunter’s sledgehammer and threatens to maim him, but Hunter kicks him square in the cock. Would he have sold that when he was still a walking corpse? Do zombies even have knackers? A slugfest ensues with the referee still out bumped from ages ago, and thus he can’t count when Taker hits the Tombstone. The fans boo, suspecting that Trips might well win this, especially with this show following No Way Out where Hunter beat Steve Austin to the surprise of everyone. Their suspicions turn to outright concern when Hunter blocks the Last Ride with a sledgehammer to the skull as the ref is reviving, but Taker kicks out. Realistically, this is probably the closest that anyone has ever come to ending The Streak. But obviously that doesn’t happen, and a bloody Undertaker manages to hit the Last Ride and score the popular victory in his hometown. This was a good fight.
Final Rating: ***¼
Ric Flair, current “co-owner” of the WWF, wishes us all a happy New Year and introduces a countdown within a countdown: the top five surprise moments of the year. Is this one ranked? Too many numbers floating around…
5 – Is the merger of WCW and ECW and the announcement of Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley as the new owner of ECW. And that is the sound of the invasion angle doing a big, wet, credibility shattering fart. There was no coming back once the nasal little princess was involved.
4 – Chris Jericho becomes the first ever WWF Undisputed Champion in December 2001, which was a surprise indeed given how the WWF had booked and treated him since his debut two years prior.
3 – Drew Carey appears in the Royal Rumble, taking a grand total of zero bumps, doing a mammoth zero moves and not even putting anyone over as he eliminates himself. And that is how you get in the Hall of Fame before former two-time WWF Champion and all-time wrestling great Randy Savage.
2 – Undertaker turns heel and forces JR to kiss Vince McMahon’s ass. Ah yes, the VKM Kiss My Ass Club, how could we forget that little gem.
1 – Ric Flair returns to the WWF… some six months after he would have been really useful. Flair announced he had bought Shane and Steph’s stock when they sold up to buy WCW/ECW. Flair returning was great, but if anyone should have been the figurehead for the WCW invasion then it was him.
Kurt Angle vs. Shane McMahon
I have always been a fan of this match, even if it does see Shane once again looking to scoop the headlines away from the real workers with his wild bumps. This time he takes it upon himself to get thrown through a pane of glass, which takes some breaking but Angle doesn’t give up. That is where we start things here too, though we don’t see the first couple of attempts where the glass refuses to sell. I disagree with the thinking that those “botches” hurt the match and I actually think they add to it. It shows how tough the glass is and thus how tough Shane is and what a horrible bump it is to take. It adds to the gravitas, and it makes Kurt look like a heartless, focused machine, determined to achieve what he sets out to no matter what. Both guys are bloody and battered after the glass antics, but Shane shows the fire and heart of a main event babyface when he kicks out of Angle’s pin attempt once he has been wheeled back to the ring. Shane has no offence to speak of so goes with a low blow and bin lid shots, then hits the Angle Slam out of desperation, but struggles to make the cover. Angle fires back with a wooden board, which he then uses to create himself a platform on the top rope that he hits an incredible Angle Slam off. The crowd goes nuts for that, and rightly so. That obviously gets the job done for Kurt. Even Shane McMahon couldn’t kick out of that. Furious had issues with the match being even in places (though not in any of the footage shown here I must add) but my argument is that Angle had wrestled twice prior to this already so it makes sense that he wouldn’t be on top of his game. Either way, I think this is a tremendous street fight, and easily Shane’s best match.
Final Rating: ****
Next we see the opening of the WWF’s historic post-9/11 SmackDown! show that took place just two days following the world changing terror attacks. Lillian Garcia does a tremendous job singing the US National Anthem in the face of adversity, and her rousing and emotional rendition sends chills down one’s spine even now. The WWF’s handling of the whole thing was exemplary, other than Stephanie’s inappropriate comments relating to her father’s steroid trial and the company’s subsequent championing of themselves for being the first major production to take place after the attacks, which were a little too self-congratulatory for my liking.
WWF Tag Team Championship
Triple H & Steve Austin (c) vs. Chris Benoit & Chris Jericho
This is a famous match, both because of its immense quality and Triple H’s torn quad. The voiceover man even informs us to look out for the injury at the end! It’s a shame we are joined in progress so deep into the bout, just before Benoit’s hot tag to Jericho. The crowd is absolutely electric for this, hotter than almost any modern era crowd you will see, and this was definitely a “coming out” party of sorts for the Canadian duo. Pretty soon Hunter charges into Jericho from behind and you can see his leg go and him visibly grimace. Showing what a manly mother he is, he goes ahead with the planned spot of going for a Pedigree on the announce table and getting countered into the Walls of Jericho anyway. That won him a lot of plaudits from a lot of people, as well it should have. It takes a real love of the game, pun intended, to carry on with an injury that severe. Back in the ring Austin hits a Stunner on Benoit but Jericho pulls out the ref and goes into a sensation sequence with Austin, which Hunter tries to break up with a sledgehammer. He misses and hits Austin the gut, allowing Jericho to cover for the three and the tag belts. The footage shown here doesn’t quite do this full justice, though it is still amazing. Uncut, the bout is one of the greatest in RAW history, and incredibly Benoit and Austin had a singles bout on SmackDown! the following week that was almost as good.
Final Rating: ****¾
Now the top five kisses, courtesy of Rikishi
5 – William Regal puckering up and becoming the first member of the VKM Kiss My Ass Club as he tries to get his job back following the WWF’s victory over the Alliance at Survivor Series. Regal, lip balm and all, plants a kiss on Vince’s pasty white backside, resulting in some wonderful facials that only Regal could do justice to.
4 – Matt Hardy and Lita’s first kiss in the aisle.
3 – Rock holding Vince for Rikishi to back his ass up into his face, supposedly to end the Kiss My Ass Club. Oh, no, there are seven more years of it yet.
2 – Trish and the Rock sharing a passionate embrace backstage.
1 – Kurt Angle retrieving his gold medals from Chris Benoit’s crotch and then kissing them without thinking. “That’s gotta be tangy, Cole!” says Tazz. Urgh.
“It’s just like being in a movie” says Cole of the WWF as he leads us into the next segment, which is just various themed clips. The first is Singing and features the horrible but funny (Steve Austin and Kurt Angle on the acoustic guitar serenading Vince), the good (The Rock singing ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and Chris Jericho belting out “did you ever know that you’re a jackass” to Steve Austin) to the just horrible (Vince repaying the favour to Austin to welcome back the “old Stone Cold” and a screechingly hideous Steph McMahon led Alliance rendition of “you are the wind beneath my ring”). Romance sees Trish in a bubble bath, Spike Dudley making out with Molly Holly in the WWF’s answer to Romeo & Juliet, Terri pouring beer over her tits, a surprisingly awkward Matt Hardy and Lita backstage embrace, Tajiri getting aroused by bikinis and Trish asking Vince McMahon for a spanking. Betrayal sees Perry Saturn prove his faculties are in order when he picks a mop ahead of Terri, Vince trying to shag Torrie Wilson but opening his eyes to see estranged wife Linda and Matt breaking up with Lita. Revenge sees Linda kick Vince squarely in the McMahons at WrestleMania, Spike standing up for Molly to Steve Austin, Steph mopping Trish with dirty water and Linda asking for a divorce. Toilet Humour sees William Regal take a piss on the Big Show and then Chris Jericho take a piss in Regal’s tea. “Rather tart!” he exclaims while pulling the second best facial of the year (behind Austin hugging Vince in the parking lot, of course). Old fashioned fun sees Kurt Angle, Steve Austin and Vince McMahon dressed in cowboy hats, the Rock picking on a midget version of Booker T and various other briefly shown frolics that get about a second of airtime each. Fun segment this actually.
Next we see highlights from the Tough Enough final won by Maven and Nidia, which you can read all about in the mammoth Tough Enough Season 1 Boxset review elsewhere in this book. Then Jerry Lawler gets all excited and makes jokes about jerking off, which can only mean one thing; Divas.
Stacy Keibler vs. Torrie Wilson
This is a joke right? I’m not even going to justify this with a write-up.
Final Rating: DUD
Winner Takes All
Team WWF (Chris Jericho, Kane, The Big Show, The Rock & The Undertaker) vs. The Alliance (Kurt Angle, Booker T, Rob Van Dam, Steve Austin & Shane McMahon)
So four months after it started, the invasion comes to a miserable end at Survivor Series with this 45-minute elimination epic. A quick glance at the teams sums up the problems with this whole thing. Only two members of the Alliance debuted in the company this year post-WCW purchase, and the rest is just long-time WWF guys. We join this at 2-on-2, with Rock and Jericho against Austin and Angle. So, four WWF guys then. Have I mentioned yet how much I detest the invasion? I think that is around the time I went from being a diehard WWF fan to becoming increasingly jaded with most things they were doing. I directly blame the invasion and the mess they made of it for that. The action between four world class performers is as good as you would think, until Angle gets eliminated via a Rock Sharpshooter and Austin gets rid of Jericho to leave him against The Rock. Jericho turns on Rock after the fact but Rock fights on and hits a Stunner on Austin, only for Nick Patrick to pull Earl Hebner out of the ring and prevent the fall. Austin hits a Rock Bottom but Rock kicks out, so Austin twats Patrick and revives WWF referee Hebner. That doesn’t make much sense. It doesn’t matter though, because he gets bumped again right away anyway. The finish sees Kurt Angle switch allegiance once again and belt Austin with the, erm, WWF Title belt, and Rock hits the Rock Bottom for the WWF win. It’s good, but the turns are kind of silly and for me it is not a patch on the epic tag team elimination matches from Survivor Series ’87 and ’88.
Final Rating: ***¾
Trish Stratus gives us the top five slaps of 2001:
5 – Debra slapping Vince McMahon for him calling her “the exception to the rule” regarding the old adage that behind every good man is a good woman.
4 – Molly slapping Steve Austin for calling her a bimbo.
3 – Debra BELTING the Undertaker for telling her to keep her nose out of his and Austin’s business.
2 – Trish slapping Vince at WrestleMania to officially end their illicit union.
1 – Steph slapping her own mother Linda. What a remarkably absurd family.
WWF Hardcore Championship
Jeff Hardy (c) vs. Rob Van Dam
Joined in progress of course, from Rob hitting his spinning legdrop from the apron to the rail, and the crowd are firmly behind him. He wins more plaudits for taking a vicious sunset powerbomb on the outside, and this match really was the start of the hottest streak in his WWF career. Van Dam was fresh, exciting and different and fans latched onto him right away because of it. His ascent was unmatched, and three months later he was working PPV main events for the WWF Title. Of course his push stalled because of a combination of him frequently hurting guys with his wild kicks and because the WWF hates pushing guys they didn’t create themselves that don’t work their style. Not to worry though, they grinded him down so much that he became just another guy and then when he was a fraction as over as he was, they put the WWE Title on him. For like a week. Anyhow, this is the match that “made” Rob in the WWF and Jeff Hardy was a tremendous choice of opponent for him. Willing and able to take Rob’s unique and violent moves, many of them chair based, Van Dam was able to shine thanks to Jeff’s willingness to bump for him. While it has been written many times that the invasion was a complete shambles, and it was, the positive that came out of the whole ordeal was definitely RVD. As far as showcases go, this is a great one and I am a big fan of the match. In truth it is not a great deal different to what Van Dam was doing in ECW, but in the big arena environment of the WWF it just feels that bit more impressive.
Final Rating: ****
The Rock berates a boom operator and makes him take his WCW shirt off, before making him put it back on because he is so skinny and hairy. To the top five putdowns then
5 – The Rock calls Stephanie a cheap slut.
4 – Edge tells X-Pac that 1998 called and they are sick and tired of him.
3 – Big Show impersonates DDP and has the temerity to say HE has an annoying voice.
2 – Chris Jericho mocks Steph’s boob job, and she is aghast.
1 – The Rock makes Booker T look like a fool with his incredible verbal demolition job of him after returning from movie making. The putdown in question chosen here sees Rock claim T thinks two plus two equals “Thomas Jefferson sucka!” which is funnier than it sounds on paper.
The Rock (c) vs. Steve Austin
This is number three on the list, which is absurd. It is one of the best matches I have ever seen, disappointing heel finish or not. I think it is the perfect WWF Attitude Era main event, and also the last true exclamation point on the era. It has everything, from blood to suspense to near falls to cute references to previous matches between each other and also against others. The drama is off the charts, the setting couldn’t be better and it heads up the greatest WWF pay-per-view of all time. How can it be anything other than the full boat? I think Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer criminally underrated this by giving it ****½, which while a great rating is still an insult to just how fantastic this match is. Obviously it is a completely different beast to many other five star matches, but it is no less entertaining and no worse for that. I absolutely love it.
Final Rating: *****
Debra next with the top five food moments of the year. Oh come on, they are pushing it a bit now.
5 – Jericho gives Stephanie an enduring classic: a custard pie to the face.
4 – Debra belts Steve Austin in the head with a tray because he insulted her cookies. No wonder he belted her.
3 – The WWF’s desperate attempt to recreate the excellent Steve Austin beer bath with Kurt Angle and milk. I thought it was a transparent attempt to breathe life into something that was long gone.
2 – Steve Austin beats the piss out of Booker T in a supermarket.
1 – The Rock offers Lillian Garcia a taste of the People’s strudel, and she is very, very receptive. Rock admonishes her for being unprofessional and patronisingly shushes her, because he is a bastard but an hilarious one
Jerry Lawler flat out calls Michael Cole gay, but he protests otherwise, a little too much if you ask me: “No, no, I like the pie!!!”
WWF Tag Team Championship
The Dudley Boyz (c) vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge & Christian
A rerun it might be, but that doesn’t detract from the immense quality of this, which is the second TLC match, the third ladder match between all three teams and the fourth on PPV that the Hardys/E&C combo have been involved in opposite each other. All of their previous matches were epic and brilliant, and this offering more than lives up to the lofty standards. The fact that the three duos were able to keep things fresh in a series of similar matches, and make each one memorable for entirely different reasons, is a testament to just how good they all really were. Much like the Austin-Rock bout, this is also an exclamation point and the end of an era of sorts, with everyone going off to do other things after this. There were more TLC matches down the years of course, many of them featuring some of the guys involved in this, but as far as these three teams all being in the same ring together goes, this was it. The stunts are numerous and as they climax they raise the bar even higher from what has happened before. The spot of the match though, without question, is the incredible spear from Edge to a dangling Jeff Hardy, which is one of those “moments” that the WWF loves so much. For me it is right up there with the (overrated) Superfly Jimmy Snuka cage splash, the Mick Foley Hell in a Cell bumps and the Hulk Hogan slam on Andre the Giant. Okay, maybe it doesn’t have the long term historical gravitas of those, but it is definitely one of the most spectacular. The closing sequence of the bout in general is superb too, with constant action and so much going on that there is no chance to pause for breath. The involvement of Spike Dudley, Rhyno and Lita is actually very much welcomed, as opposed to most outside interference which is a detriment. Here they all add to the match and are all involved in some fun spots. When it all breaks down, much like last year Edge & Christian are chosen as the victors, though in truth the result doesn’t even matter, it’s about the spectacle. On that front the match delivers in spades, and much like the SummerSlam 2000 TLC bout, this one is five stars as far as I am concerned.
James Dixon Rating: *****
Next, a montage of Steve Austin saying “what?” and others getting pissed off about it, all set to gentle classical music. “You’re being rude!” begs Vince to the audience.
Three Stages of Hell
Triple H vs. Steve Austin
Inevitably I disagree with this being top dog, what with having rated four other matches higher than it. I actually cover this elsewhere in this book, and in truth I went in with low expectations, because I remembered it as overly long and drawn out like the Rock-Hunter Iron Man from Judgment Day 2000. I was wrong on this occasion though, because this is a bona fide classic… for the first two falls. The third has odd logic and far too much cage selling, combined with genuine fatigue. I don’t blame them for being tired, because after those first two magical falls how couldn’t they be, but a deciding fall should be the climax, not the comedown. Even though it was still good, it wasn’t up with the superb work that preceded it and thus I don’t think the match is quite as good as others think. Arn disagrees with me and rates it higher, though I am surprised by that because he is not exactly the biggest fan of WWF Main Event Style. This match is definitely that, and does it well, but the definitive example of how to work that way is Rock-Austin the following month at WrestleMania, not this. The version on display her starts towards the end of the first fall and then shows the rest of the bout in near enough its entirety, which does give an excellent idea of the overall quality, even if the first fall stuff that was important to the overall psychology is lost. So the match is great, unquestionably, but as we have seen there were better in 2001.
Final Rating: ****½
Summary: Almost, but not quite perfect. Why is it not perfect? The clipping of course. Unfortunately despite the immense quality of many of the matches on display here, the fact that everything is joined halfway through is damaging. It’s like watching a movie but missing the first twenty minutes, and thus you can pick up what is going on as things progress, but something key almost certainly happened that was relevant to the story in the part you didn’t catch, and thus the movie viewing experience is lessened. Watching wrestling is the same, and you really cannot fully appreciate a match unless you see it from top to bottom, entrances included. Ironically the only match that gets away unscathed is the atrocious lingerie match, which gets a full airing. Colour me unsurprised by that. For UK fans without a vast tape collection or access to the WWE Network, then this is worth a look for sure, but serious collectors already have everything contained within anyway. Such is the nature of these “best of” releases I guess. Still, for sheer quality and as a standalone piece, this cannot be anything other than highly recommended.