WWE Retro Review: Unforgiven 2002
Welcome to our latest WWE Retro Review.
Hope everyone enjoyed my look back at SummerSlam 2005 last month.
With WWE Night of Champions right around the corner, I thought I'd look back at one September pay-per-view that's part of my vast (and I mean vast) pro wrestling VHS/DVD collection--Unforgiven 2002.
Unforgiven 2002 may seem like just another "B" PPV in WWE's long history, but it's actually pretty significant when you look at the card.
This was the first PPV since Brock Lesnar beat The Rock for the WWE Championship the previous month at SummerSlam.
It was the site of Lesnar's first title defense. It was the first PPV appearance of the new-look Kane--and just a year shy of his eventual unmasking.
It was Umaga's (then known as Jamal) WWE PPV debut.
It was also the first PPV to feature two World Champions in the brand extension era (Lesnar defected to Smackdown and Triple H, well...we'll get to that).
Furthermore, this event was infamous for several head-scratching booking decisions that are still puzzling to this day.
Without further ado, let's look back at the forgotten, yet historic WWE PPV--Unforgiven 2002.
World Wrestling Entertainment: Unforgiven
September 22, 2002
Staples Center, Los Angeles, Calif.
Estimated attendance: 16,000
RAW commentators: WWE Hall of Famers Jim "J.R." Ross and Jerry "The King" Lawler
Smackdown commentators: Michael Cole and Taz(z). (Cole was actually a pretty good announcer at one point. One point.)
For whatever reason, Rey Mysterio vs. Chavo Guerrero aired on the pre-show Sunday Night Heat (broadcast on MTV at the time), instead of the PPV. Mind-boggling. Mysterio won at 8:58 in an exciting cruiserweight affair. Yes, WWE used to have a cruiserweight division. And I sure as hell miss it.
1. RAW brand match: Kane, Booker T, Goldust, and Bubba Ray Dudley def. The Un-Americans (Test, William Regal, and WWE Tag Team Champions Lance Storm/Christian) at 6:16 via pinfall.
This was Kane's return to PPV after disappearing for some reason I don't remember. It was probably injury-related. Anyway, this match isn't a classic by any means, but a very solid opener for the hot LA crowd.
The Un-Americans featured a dream team of underrated wrestlers--Lance Storm, Christian, William Regal, and yes, even the late Andrew "Test" Martin. Bubba Ray Dudley (now known as Bully Ray in TNA Impact Wrestling) was already showing signs that he could be a solid singles star with the right booking. He'd later reunite with Brother Devon in later that year.
Booker T should have been in main events, but he had the WCW stigma aka WWE being stupid and thinking guys they acquired from their competition can't work a match. STUPID STUPID STUPID mentality, especially since WWE OWNED THEIR COMPETITION AND COULD MAKE MONEY OFF OF IT.
Booker T would eventually main event Survivor Series in Nov. in the first ever Elimination Chamber match.Of course, like most angles he was involved in back then, he was treated as an afterthought. I'll say this though--Booker T and Goldust made a lot work with very little.
Yes, Goldust is also underrated and was probably in the best shape of his career in 2002--until he got to TNA in the mid-2000s. Read his book for more info on that.
Christian was still stuck in the midcard, but like BookDust, made the most out of any situation (case and point: his recently wrapped-up feud with Randy Orton). Storm and Regal would starting teaming together shortly after the Un-Americans disbanded. Storm and Christian would lose the WWE Tag Team Titles to Kane and get this--Shane "Hurricane" Helms. That wacky duo was fun while they lasted. Christian would end up teaming with Chris Jericho and winning the tag titles from HurriKane (Get it?). They would lost the belts to BookDust in December at Armageddon.
Kane went on to feud with HHH over killing girlfriends named Katie Vick, necrophilia, and oh, the World Heavyweight and Intercontinental Titles, which would be unified at the October PPV No Mercy. Yes, that was a dumb move and the Intercontinental Title was brought back May 2003 because someone eventually came to their senses.
Cheap plug: Check out my 2009 interview w/ BOOKER T, SUCKAS.
First off, neither of these men should have been wrestling for the Intercontinental Title, although it's always nice to see Y2J get some gold.
This was a transitional year for Y2J. He was overshadowed by Stephanie McMahon vs. HHH during his Undisputed Title reign and was destroyed by HHH thrice. It didn't help that HHH vs. Y2J followed the classic Hulk Hogan vs. Rock dream match at WrestleMania XVIII (X-8). He also dropped matches to some rookie named John Cena (it was Y2J's decision. Kudos to him.) and an aged Nature Boy (Woo!). It would be a long time before Y2J ever got another one-on-one World Title shot (SummerSlam 2005).
Why he floundered in the midcard is anyone's guess. He revealed in his book this year that his midcard status bothered him, but ironically, he would have the best three years of his career from 2007-2010. The wrestling business is a strange one. Flair was getting accustomed to wrestling again and could have been used a hell of a lot better too. Luckily for him, his fortunes would change later in the PPV. Y2J? Not so much.
This match was decent, but kind of there. As mentioned before. the two superstars here could have been doing a lot more on this show.
3. Smackdown match: Eddie Guerrero def. Edge at 11:55 via pinfall.
I sure miss Latino Heat. Guerrero was hot on the comeback trail in 2002, overcoming his demons to become one of WWE's most popular stars. Sadly, there's a difference between clean in real life and clean in the wrestling business, as Guerrero passed away due to heart failure in November 2005. He wasn't a main eventer in 2002, but his rise in popularity would peak in 2004 when he beat Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title.
Edge on the other hand, wasn't quite a main eventer either. Unlike Guerrero in 2002, WWE was grooming Edge for an eventual main event run. It was just that something seemed to be missing in his character. He was likable, had good looks, and his matches almost always delivered. But that "it" factor wasn't there yet and he wouldn't fully arrive until he became the "Rated R Superstar" in 2006--nearly four years after this PPV. A neck injury suffered in 2003 sidelined him for a year and would serve as the catalyst for his retirement in April 2011.
Until 2006, Edge was considered a guy that may never rise above the upper midcard, but like Guerrero, he left behind one hell of a legacy when it was all set and done.
This match was their second time wrestling one-on-one on PPV. Edge defeated Guerrero the previous month at SummerSlam. Personally, I found both matches really enjoyable, but nothing tops their insane No DQ match on Smackdown a few weeks after this. That's not to say this wasn't a very good PPV quality match. It most certainly was and the second-best match on the show--second-best. Guerrero won with a top rope rolling powerbomb. This show may have been heavy in heels' favor, but the crowd had no problem with Latino Heat.
This match sucked. Rosey and Jamal got their tag team name from disposing of talent within three minutes at RAW GM Eric Bischoff's request. Billy and Chuck were the ambiguously gay duo of WWE. No, really. That was their gimmick. WWE even had a wedding segment on Smackdown that got a ton of mainstream publicity--mostly negative. Humorously, both admitted it was a publicity stunt in kayfabe and yes, it was a publicity stunt in real life too. I think.
Rosey would team up with Hurricane Helms years later as the S.H.I.T. (Super Hero in Training. I'm not kidding). Jamal would be released months later, but returned in 2006 as Umaga, a throwback to the savage Samoan gimmick. It was one-dimensional, but Umaga's true talent shined en route to two Intercontinental Titles and a WrestleMania main event against Bobby Lashley. Much like Test, Umaga would die way too young back in 2009.
Rosey and Jamal were an underrated team in a sense because they were huge, yet could pull off cruiserweight-esque moves. Their lack of mic time and mismatched manager Rico didn't do them any favors. Oh, the backstory here is Rico is mad at Billy and Chuck for lying to him and Smackdown GM Stephanie McMahon wants to beat Eric Bischoff's team. The crowd wanted to her boobs.
5. Eric Bischoff-Stephanie McMahon Lesbian Segment.
Ah, TV-14. WWE had the brilliant idea of integrating softcore porn o Monday nights with HLA--Hot Lesbian Action. Each week, Bischoff would find two lipstick lesbians and get them to make out on camera. This would have been a huge ratings draw had Cinemax never existed. There's a reason many older fans like myself (and I'm really not old...I'm 22) laugh their asses off when WWE attempts to present PG programming and pretend segments like HLA NEVER EVER EVER EXISTED.
The stipulation of the 3MW vs. Billy/Chuck match was that if Billy/Chuck lost, Stephanie McMahon would have to make out with another woman. Unfortunately, the crowd wanted to see her boobs and that didn't happen regardless. Can't have everything in life.
So the segment began with Bischoff bitching out McMahon. He brought in a couple of hos that apparently didn't belong to The Godfather or Snoop Dogg. Bischoff teased McMahon making out with them. BUT WAIT. Bischoff said McMahon's not gonna make out with just any lesbian. Cue the huge thing that walks to the ring. That bitch is huge. And looks like a man. She(?) makes out with McMahon! Gross. BUT WAIT. She(?) rips off the makeup she(?) borrowed from Mrs. Doubtfire to reveal that she(?) is a he(~!)--RIKISHI!
Rikis-HE then proceeds to OWN Bischoff and drops him the corner. He gives Bischoff an EPIC STINKFACE. Think of the move Kelly Kelly does only Rikishi actually has an ass and it comes off 1,000,000 times less hot. Rikishi and DJ Steph then proceed to dance for a minute or two, proving that some white people, even billon dollar princesses, need dance lessons.
This segment went too long and inexplicably took place on PPV instead Mysterio vs. Guerrero. LAME.
6. RAW match: Triple H (C) def. Rob Van Dam to retain the World Heavyweight Title via pinfall at 18:17 following Ric Flair's interference.
The year 2002 was HHH at his worst. Coming back from a quad injury, HHH looked...um...bloated and a lot slower. Wait--he was bloated and a lot slower.
It was around this time that many wrestling insiders started reporting HHH's growing influence backstage on booking decisions.
According to Bryan Alvarez's Figure Four Weekly Newsletter, RVD was nearly booked to win the World Title, but HHH cut a scathing backstage promo, pretty much saying what he said on RAW leading up to Unforgiven--RVD wasn't on his level. Say what you want about RVD's stiff-ish style and at times, careless nature. The guy was pretty over and could have freshened the main event scene greatly back then, even with a brief title run.
The go-home week for Unforgiven may have been RVD the character's worst week ever. He lost the Intercontinental Title to Jericho on RAW and was OWNED by HHH. Then on the PPV, instead of the babyface prevailing, he just got OWNED again--only this time when it counted. HHH had buried Flair earlier on the show in a backstage segment featuring RVD, so it was only right that Naitch would interfere--ON HUNTER'S BEHALF! SWERVE ALERT.
This World Title match was OK, but didn't totally click for a few reasons. One, as noted before, WWE almost killed RVD on the go-home show. Two, Flair's heel turn was seen a mile away. And three, HHH didn't win the World Heavyweight Title in the first place. HE WAS AWARDED THE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE. In fact, Jericho even said in an interview that giving HHH the World Heavyweight Title like that was something out of WCW's PLAYBOOK.
HHH killed Kane the next month, while simultaneously shining a spotlight on necrophilia. RVD beat Flair in a match on one remembered and disappeared from the main event scene until the Summer of 2006. He would finally win the WWE Title then, only to prove every critic of his right, when he and Sabu were speeding, pulled over by a cop, and BUSTED FOR MARIJUANA AND OTHER DRUGS. C'MON SON....
7. RAW Divas match: Trish Stratus def. Molly Holly to win the WWE Women's Title via pinfall at 5:46.
Back in 2002, the WWE Women's Title meant something. Shockingly, the women that competed for the title could WRESTLE and RUN THE ROPES (I'm looking at you, Kelly Kelly). These two Divas could go for sure, but had an off-night that made me wish Mysterio vs. Guerrero was on the main card (WAR REY/LOS GUERREROS). Decent climax to a solid Divas feud.
8. Smackdown match: Chris Benoit aka the man that crapped on his legacy with unforgivable (no pun intended) acts def. Kurt Angle via pinfall at 13:55.
I hate Chris Benoit. Never can I watch a match of his again. Yes, he had brain damage. Yes, he should have had his head checked out. Yes, there was something seriously wrong with him when he committed such vile crimes in the Summer of 2007.
But that doesn't change the fact the cowardly son of a bitch almost brought down the ENTIRE WRESTLING BUSINESS with his actions.
I haven't seen this match in years, but before Benoit became synonymous with psychopath, this was considered a great match that was part of a great feud with Kurt Angle that will be buried in hell thanks to a man's demented crimes. Rest in peace, Nancy and Daniel Benoit.
9. Smackdown match: Brock Lesnar w/ Paul Heyman vs. The Undertaker ended in a double DQ. Lesnar retained the WWE Title at 20:27.
I'll say this right now. Looking back, even now.....this finish is stupid.
People can say what they want about Lesnar, but he was over as hell back during his WWE run and made Vince McMahon money. Who better for Lesnar to beat in his first title defense than The Undertaker? Apparently, anyone other than Undertaker. You see, according to Alvarez's Figure Four Weekly newsletter, Lesnar was supposed to go over Undertaker, only for the Deadman himself to nix those plans because he didn't want to do the J-O-B.
I'm not hating on Undertaker for not jobbing. After all, he may have had his reasons, but it mind boggles me how he and Vince McMahon thought ending a very good PPV with a nonfinish was a great idea. Turns out, it wasn't. BIG SURPRISE.
In a match that was supposed to solidify Lesnar as DA MAN, "The Next Big Thing" looked like Undertaker's "Next Big Bitch." Never mind the fact Lesnar was (and still is) a legitimate badass. Never mind the fact Lesnar is a former NCAA Champion who could have gone to the Olympics. Never mind the fact Undertaker was (and still is) getting old in WWE years and hadn't quite had that big career rebirth yet (he would in the mid-to-late 2000s by having great matches with Batista and HBK).
The match up until its conclusion was very, very good. The finish was stupid and pissed off the once-joyful LA crowd. Suddenly, an above average, memorable B PPV was now known as a show that sucked because well, the finish sucked.
Lesnar would beat Undertaker at No Mercy next month in a bloody Hell in a Cell match, but he'd lose his WWE Title to Big Show at Survivor Series via a Paul Heyman double-cross. As great as Lesnar was, through no fault of his own, his first WWE Title run left a lot to be desired. He would make up for it his next two reigns, albeit mostly as a heel.
Where are they now?
Rey Mysterio: Went on to become the most unlikely three-time World Champion in wrestling history and one of WWE's most consistent, yet underrated draws. Currently a knee surgery or two from having a premature retirement.
Chavo Guerrero: Released this year after a decade of solid service in WWE.
Kane: Currently on a hiatus/Selling an injury after an angle with Mark Henry. Would unmask in 2003 after losing to none other than HHH. Went on to become an awesome promo guy, despite having to recite horrendous material for equally horrendous storylines. He finally won another World Title in 2010 and defeated Undertaker THRICE!
Lance Storm: Currently semi-retired. Defeated Chris Jericho in his last official WWE match in 2005. King of most underrated wrestlers ever. Highly respect wrestling trainer and host of World of Hurt, season one. He is on Figure Four Daily with Bryan Alvarez every week on F4WOnline.com.
Christian: Flirted with the WWE main event scene in 2005, only to be shoved down to the midcard. Had a very entertaining and successful TNA run from 2005-2008, where he won two world titles.
Returned to WWE in 2009, where he captured the ECW Title twice, as well as that elusive WWE World Heavyweight Title. Currently a top heel on the Smackdown brand.
William Regal: Also one of the most underrated wrestlers ever. Would suffer from a life-threatening illness following a tour of India in 2003. Miraculously recovered and returned to action in 2004. Went on to win the WWE Intercontinental and Tag Team Titles. Won the 2008 King of The Ring. Currently semi-retired and a commentator for NXT on WWE.com.
Test: Born Andrew Martin, Test passed away far too soon on March 12, 2009, at age 33. Cause of death: accidental overdose of oxycodone, although it was later found that he had a similar brain condition to the deceased Chris Benoit. Prior to his passing, he was in and out of WWE and made a brief stop in TNA. He never realized his full potential.
Goldust: Semi-retired. Was in and out of WWE and TNA for awhile. Lucky to be alive after getting hooked, unhooked, and hooked again on drugs, before finally cleaning his life up. Currently works backstage for WWE as a producer.
Chris Jericho: Currently semi-retired and on tour with his band Fozzy. Appeared on the previous season of Dancing with The Stars. Would be three years after Unforgiven 2002 when he'd receive a WWE Title shot again. He took a two year-plus hiatus, only to return with a bang in Dec. 2007. Went on to create a Javier Bardem-inspired character, straight out of No Country for Old Men. Had a legendary feud with Shawn Michaels and won THREE WORLD TITLES and a record eighth/ninth Intercontinental Title.
He also won the tag team titles and tried to help countless wrestlers get over, including Wade Barrett, Evan Bourne, Heath Slater, John Morrison, and the late Lance Cade. There's only one Y2J.
Ric Flair: Lost an emotionally epic retirement match to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV in 2008. UNRETIRED outside of WWE due to financial issues. Still wrestling today for TNA, albeit semi-regularly, despite obvious health concerns.
Eddie Guerrero: Died of acute heart failure on Nov. 13, 2005. He was 38. Prior to his death, he won the WWE Title in 2004, becoming the first Mexican American World Champion in WWE history. Was booked to win the World Heavyweight Title from Batista on the day of his death.
Edge: Adam "Edge" Copeland was forced to retire in April 2011, due to spinal stenosis, stemming from all the brutal matches he wrestled in throughout his career. Retired with his last official WWE match taking place at WrestleMania XXVII, where he defeated Alberto Del Rio to retain the World Heavyweight Title. He is an 11-time World Champion and the most decorated champion in WWE history.
Rosey: Now on the independent circuit. Released in the mid-2000s, following a solid WWE stint with a tag title reign to his credit.
Jamal/Umaga: Born Eddie Fatu, died Dec. 4, 2009 at age 36. Cause of death was acute toxicity due to combined effects of hydrocodone, carisoprodol, and diazepam. Had the greatest run of his career as Umaga from 2006-2009, which ended in a release because he refused to seek rehab. Sad.
Billy Gunn: Wrestled in TNA as Kip James. Tried to cling on to memories of his WWE past. Idiotically BURIED WWE in a series of shoot interviews, which burned bridges like crazy. A decade of goodwill--GONE.
Chuck Palumbo: Semi-retired. Was rehired by WWE and did a cool biker gimmick, but eventually released again. Popular wrestler backstage, who actually builds motorcycles. He built a bike or two for Undertaker. He's also in a rock band and can hold his own in a mosh pit. Not that his band causes moshing. I think.
Has been blamed by some insiders as the catalyst for WWE's lack of main event depth, as he played favorites with Randy Orton and Batista, while others floundered at his backstage mercy. Whether you love or hate him, he's considered one of the greatest of all-time and rightfully so.
Trish Stratus: Semi-retired. Retired from full-time wrestling in 2006, ironically winning the Women's Title at UNFORGIVEN. Returned in 2011 as a Tough Enough trainer and competed in a six-person tag match at WrestleMania XXVII with SNOOKI.
Rob Van Dam: Left WWE in 2007. Currently wrestling for TNA, being paid handsomely. As noted before, he would finally win the WWE Title in 2006, only to epically mess up. Won the TNA Title in 2010 and proceeded to have the most uneventful long World Title reign in recent memory.
Chris Benoit: Google it.
Kurt Angle: Still wrestling. Left WWE in 2006 after refusing to go to rehab, even though he claimed the contrary for years. Claims he will make the Olympics and fight in MMA. He's had a great TNA run, but every day as a fan, I fear for his long-term health.
Brock Lesnar: Currently the UFC's biggest draw and the highest drawing PPV athlete of the decade. How ironic a guy Vince McMahon made a star in 2002 is now the reason UFC whoops WWE's ass in PPV buy rates. Left WWE in 2004 to PLAY IN THE NFL AND NEARLY MADE THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS MAIN ROSTER AT AGE 30. Wrestled in Japan after that and won a court case against WWE, who tried to say he couldn't do anything wrestling/athletic-ish for like ever. One-sided contracts finally bit WWE in the ass. Fought once for K-1, joined the UFC, and took the entire MMA world by storm.
Same old cliche', but the rest is truly history.
Undertaker: Semi-retired. Recently married to Michelle McCool. Actually had some of the best matches of his career from 2006-2009 with Kurt Angle, Shawn Michaels, Batista, Edge, among others. Defied age for so long, but injuries seem to be finally catching up to him, no matter how many breaks he takes. Still a top draw for WWE in his deadman character he reincarnated back in 2004. It's crazy to think, but Undertaker won the Royal Rumble and THREE WORLD TITLES from 2007-2010. Now that's a career rebirth. It also says something about WWE's incredible lack of depth at the main event level.
He arguably had the two greatest matches of his career at WrestleManias XXV and XXVI against HBK--the last of which was HBK's retirement match. He also put on a worthy match of the year candidate against HBK's best friend HHH at this year's WrestleMania. His WrestleMania streak currently sits at 19-0.
The Brand Extension: It wasn't perfect, but it was definitely enforced and taken seriously.