WrestleMania 18 was in the middle of a hangover of sorts for the WWE. The Invasion angle was over, having limped to the finished line after a rousing start, and now the roster was somewhat of a mess with people who’d been around for a while, holdovers from the WCW/ECW alliance, and a few additions that came in after. Ric Flair came in as the new President of the WWF in direct onscreen opposition to Vince McMahon, who coopted the Undertaker and brought in the NWO trio of Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash to fight back. Bringing in those three a few months after the angle they should have spearheaded felt like a day late and a dollar short.
That wasn’t the only roster turmoil on the horizon. Within a few months four guys down in development would be moving up to the main roster, four guys that would effect the company in a huge way: John Cena, Randy Orton, Batista, and Brock Lesnar. The Attitude would soon be coming to a close and the Ruthless Aggression Era would soon begin.
But there were a few more beats to hit with the guys who carried the business through the last few years, and most of them would get covered here. Let’s see how it all played out.
Intercontinental Title Match: William Regal (c) vs Rob Van Dam
Very good opener here. RVD is one that was definitely helped by having to tone down his act to fit the WWE style. If you ever watched his ECW stuff it was just way too much sometimes. Regal was one of the best technical wrestlers in the last 25 years and was great at countering people’s stuff. Back to my original point, if you want an argument for WWE style being a better alternative to some of the crazy spot fests you see in other companies or on indie shows, this match is it.
European Title Match: Diamond Dallas Page (c) vs Christian
This was DDP’s lone WrestleMania match in his career, and Christian was getting his solo career going after turning on his partner Edge. Pretty good back and forth here. It’s a shame DDP didn’t have a longer time in WWE to work his character because he was on to something pretty good here. DDP wins with the Diamond Cutter which looks rather pedestrian now compared to Randy Orton’s RKO. Both this match and the opener went about 6 minutes but both could have gone longer without dragging in my opinion.
Hardcore Title Match: Maven (c) vs Goldust
Hardcore matches have not aged well. Goldust had some clever weapons like a gold painted trash can and shovel, but there wasn’t much else to speak of here. About three minutes in Spike Dudley comes to the ring and takes advantage of the 24/7 rule to pin Maven for the title even though he wasn’t in the match to start with. Ugh……… Spike takes off through the crowd and backstage where he gets accosted by a few other guys. That part was kinda fun, I’ll give them that.
Kane vs Kurt Angle
The hook to this match was that Angle blamed Kane for costing him a spot in the main event. To be honest we’d have been better off if Angle had been added to it to make a triple threat match. Putting Kurt here seemed like a waste, especially after he’d spent the back half of 2001 fighting for and winning the World Title. As it was Kurt carried Kane to a good match here so all was not lost.
Undertaker vs Ric Flair
This was Flair’s first big match since returning to the company after the invasion angle. The story here was that Ric and Vince were fighting over control of the company, and Vince opted to employ Taker to handle his affairs on that end. Taker challenged Ric to a match here and Ric refused, causing Taker to start attacking people close to him until he caved.
Edge vs Booker T
These guys got a bad placement on the show, right after an emotionally charged brawl between two crowd favorites like Flair and Taker. This had cool down match written all over it, and that’s pretty much how it went. OK for the six minutes it got but nobody cared.
Steve Austin vs Scott Hall
If only we could have gotten this match eight months earlier during the Invasion angle. Here it just felt kinda anticlimactic. The NWO as Vince’s hired goons just didn’t work the same as if they’d been part of the invading WCW/ECW alliance. I nodded off during the match and woke up for the finish. It was really weird seeing Austin go from headling WrestleMania 17 to a nine minute midcard match a year later. Not sure what they were going for here.
Tag Team Title Match: Billy and Chuck (c) vs The Dudleys vs The APA vs The Hardys
This was a four way elimination match and the only tag team match on the show. It was hard to get up for this one a year after TLC 2, one of the greatest tag team title matches in wrestling history. Billy and Chuck were a lame attempt to be provocative in the face of some of the sentiments that were being used for political gain; I’ll leave it at that. The other three teams were stalwarts of the Attitude Era here for another go round. You knew what you were getting from the Hardys, Dudleys, and APA but they were all good at it so it hadn’t gotten tired yet. The match wasn’t bad but at this point the show was still dragging so it just didn’t register much. A fourth team other than Billy and Chuck, one that people actually cared about, would have brought some more buzz maybe.
The Rock vs Hulk Hogan
The match the should have ended the show. The two icons, past vs present. How do you not have this go on last? Yeah I know, Vince wasn’t looking to do long term business with Hogan and probably wanted to burn this off quickly for a easy cashout. Whatever. Put the ego aside, dude, and make the obvious call.
As for the match itself, if you’re a Dave Meltzer disciple then it wasn’t your bag. But if you were a fan of the whole spectacle then this match was an all timer. The character work, the psychology and the storytelling were right up there with Hogan’s best stuff. And the crowd made it even more magical. Hogan had been working heel for most of the last six years and was doing so here but the crowd im Toronto was not having it. Hulk was their guy, the man they grew up on, and they were not gonna boo him.
That both men were able to manage the crowd and, by the end of it all, get them to cheer both of them is a testament to how good they were as perfromers. Hogan never was a technical wizard in a WWF/WWE ring but he more than knew what he was doing and knew how to work a crowd, skills that have always been more important in American pro wrestling than how many moves you could do. This match was testament to what American pro wrestling is all about. And it should have closed the show.
Women’s Title Match: Jazz (c) vs Lita vs Trish Stratus
This was a short but pretty good match. It started out with Jazz doing most of the work, but Lita and Trish would start to contribute more after the first minute or so. We were at the point where both of them had improved but not enough to work a straight one on one match, so you needed someone like Jazz to carry the load here.
Main Event: World Title Match – Chris Jericho (c) vs HHH
The hype for this match was terrible on two fronts. For one you had Hogan vs Rock on the show, and everyone knew that was the real main event (my houseguests all left after that match so that’s all you need to know). And on top of that there was the absolute neutering of Jericho’s character in the lead up. Here you had the first undisputed champion im WWF history and you have Stephanie McMahon be the focal point of the angle and assume the alpha position in their on screen relationship.
Not that I’m saying the opposite should have happened. But you had Stephanie dumped by HHH and landing with the now disgruntled Jericho, who was once her chief tormentor, and she turns him into her errand boy. This wasn’t a James Ellsworth situation; Jericho was not a loveable loser he was the WWF champion. He and Steph did not need to have a romantic relationship but even a business only partnership should have been more equal given that it was leading to a WrestleMania main event.
As for the match itself, it was actually good. Jericho worked HHH’s leg, he fought back a lot, and Steph interfered a lot on Jericho’s behalf. Had it been earlier on the card and with a better lead up it would be remembered a lot more fondly. The only real quibble is that in 2018 Steph taking a Pedigree from HHH would not go over well. But that’s one of those things that separates the Attitude Era from today.
Much better show than it gets credit for. Once you get past the match placement for the build for the title match you shouldn’t have any issues. I defeinitely recommend it.