While I've posted some columns here before, I'm not entirely sure if I've posted my WrestleWatch reviews. I generally give my thoughts and star ratings on wrestling events, without doing a full play-by-play. My Vault series is pretty self-explanatory- I review old events. I went through the Ruthless Aggression Era, I'm currently going through the Attitude Era, and today's entry falls kind of in-between those eras- the 2002 edition of No Way Out.
WrestleWatch Vault: WWF No Way Out 2002
February 15, 2020
With the New World Order (nWo) going into the WWE Hall of Fame this year, I thought it'd be a good time to review the event where WCW's most notorious faction made its WWE debut. No Way Out- an event that just happens to have the initials "NWO"... how's that for marketing?
The month of February is an interesting time in WWE, historically. As the commentators will remind you ad nauseum, almost as if some billionaire maniac is screaming at them to say it, we are on The Road to Wrestlemania. The dust has settled from the Royal Rumble event, and the pieces are being put into place for the wrestling super-show that occurs in March or early April every year. Sometimes the shows are simply placeholder events, sometimes they deliver classic wrestling in their own right, but just about every time, it has some bearing on feuds and storylines heading into Mania.
For several years, the signature stop for WWE in February was the PPV, No Way Out. The particular event I'm reviewing today is the 2002 edition. 2002 was a time of great change in WWE. For one thing, the name of the company changed from WWF to WWE after the panda-loving bastards (World Wildlife Fund) sued Vince and his company. That means this is the final No Way Out event with the WWF branding, so going forward in this post, all further references to the wrestling company will be the WWF.
Legal issues aside, the pro wrestling landscape changed dramatically throughout 2002. It could be argued that this was the proper "end" of the Attitude Era. 2001 saw WCW and ECW, the other main wrestling companies in the world, bought out by the WWF. They would spend the remainder of the year running an "Invasion" angle, which was viewed poorly for the most part by fans and critics. What the Invasion did do, however, was introduce a variety of new stars to the WWF, with the best alumni from WCW and ECW signed by Vince.
The almighty Vinnie Mac was unable to sign every major star he was after right away, though. WCW had wrestlers contracted through the parent company ran by Ted Turner, Time Warner. So major superstars like Goldberg, Sting, Hollywood Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall were paid big money to basically sit at home for a year following the collapse of WCW. By February 2002, Hogan, Hall and Nash, who helped WCW beat WWF for 83 weeks in the Monday Night War ratings battle, were contractually available. So the big hook for No Way Out 2002 was the arrival of the nWo, brought in by Mr McMahon to "poison" the WWF.
The demise of WCW also meant the death of the WCW Championship. At Vengeance in December 2001, Chris Jericho defeated The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin to become Undisputed Champion. At No Way Out, Austin would get his chance at redemption in the main event title match. That would decide one half of the Wrestlemania 18 main event. To decide the other half, Triple H put the title shot he earned with his Royal Rumble win on the line against an old foe- an Olympic Gold Medalist and the runner-up in the Rumble- Kurt Angle. But, to throw a spanner in the works, the special guest referee would be Triple H's estranged wife, Stephanie McMahon. Oh, the drama!
As a side note- No Way Out 2002 was the first wrestling VHS tape I got as a Christmas gift from my dad, who passed away 9 years ago. So, regardless of how I rate it, this show has a lot of sentimental value to me.
Let's do this.
First of all, I miss when the WWF put effort into their PPV presentation. They still pull out the big guns for Wrestlemania, but between 1998 and 2007, they actually had custom sets for every monthly PPV. The No Way Out 2002 show had screens in the shape of road signs (much like in the DVD cover shown above) and had additional screens projected onto the side of semi-trailers, which looked really cool and unique. Now, we just have these massive LED screens where every show looks basically the same.
My notes about production aside, we waste no time getting down to business. After JR and The King welcome us to the show, the iconic music of the nWo hits. The 2020 WWE Hall of Famers walk out (without X-Pac), and despite Vince portraying the group as "evil poison" in the lead-up to the PPV, the crowd here gives them a loud ovation. For one thing, they were "cool heels", but also, WWF fans had attachment to Hogan, Hall and Nash- who had big time babyface runs years earlier as the Hulkster, Razor Ramon and Diesel. The New World Order soak up the reaction before giving a promo stating that there not there to kill the WWF, they're there to help it. They suck up to the fans and Hulk says "God Bless America". JR's not buying their crap, and neither am I.
Match 1: Tag Team Turmoil- The APA win to become No. 1 Contenders (at 16:38)
Thoughts: I loved the Tag Team Turmoil concept- basically a Gauntlet match, but with tag teams instead of singles wrestlers. Two teams start, and once a team is beaten, another team enters. Simples. We start with Scotty 2 Hotty and Albert, who at the time had a "Hip Hop Hippo" gimmick. It's as hilarious as it sounds. Lance Storm and Christian face them, and Storm prevents a Worm attempt by Scotty, allowing Christian to hit the Unprettier. Kinda funny that three of these four- Storm, Scotty and Albert- now work in backstage roles mentoring young wrestlers.
The next team to enter is the Hardys- they've been off TV for a couple of months since making Matt and Jeff feud REALLY didn't work. They hit their signature offense and finish Storm & Christian (who were not yet the Un-Americans) with the Twist of Fate/Swanton combo. Next is the Dudleyz, accompanied by their manager at the time, Stacy Keibler- possibly the most beautful woman ever employed by WWE. Damn, she looks good in camo short shorts. Ahem. Anyway, the familiar foes battle briefly before Matt rolls up D'Von. Frustrated, the Dudleyz attack the Hardyz after the loss, hitting the 3D on Jeff on the outside, allowing the next team, Billy & Chuck- owners of one of the most underrated entrance themes ever- to pick the bones and easily defeat the high fliers. The smash-mouth APA are the final team, and they take care of things without too much trouble- Faarooq almost spinebusters Billy through the ring, and Bradshaw follows up with the devastating Clothesline from Hell. The nature of the match meant it was fast-paced, constant action, and got a bunch of wrestlers a payday. Good stuff all around. (***)
Match 2: Rob Van Dam def. Goldust (at 11:08)
Thoughts: I thought Rob Van Dam deserved better than this spot on the PPV. I first saw him on the Invasion PPV in July 2001, and I was in awe. Crowds were behind him and the WWF should have ridden that wave, pushing him to the moon. However, this was a fine match to set RVD up for a Intercontinental title shot at Wrestlemania. Goldust had returned to the WWF the month prior at the Royal Rumble, and he was motivated and in great shape. He gets the advantage early on, beating down the popular Van Dam, but the Whole F'N Show rallies with his unorthodox acrobatic offence. A huge Five Star Frog Splash ends up finishing it. Really enjoyable encounter, with surprisingly good chemistry. (***1/4)
Backstage, the nWo run into Stone Cold Steve Austin. "Look, brothers, it's Stone Cold Steve Austin," says Hogan. "The Rattlesnake!" says Hall. "Toughest SOB in the World Wrestling Federation," adds Nash. This all sounds very sarcastic, and when Austin appears to take issue with it, Hall tells him to relax and offers him a six pack of beer- "a gift from the nWo". Austin throws it on the floor and walks off. DTA, don't trust anybody... especially the nWo.
Match 3: WWF Tag Team Championship- Tazz & Spike Dudley def. Booker T & Test (at 7:16)
Thoughts: This was Tazz's final PPV match before retiring from in-ring competition to become a full-time colour commentator. He came in with Spike as the defending champs. Spike Dudley takes a hell of a beating, but his whole act is so much better than Marco Stunt trying to pull off the same thing today in AEW. For one thing, Spike rarely scores big offence, countering and evading more than anything. After managing to hit a big tornado DDT on Test, Spike uses the opening to tag Tazz. He cleans house, but Test tries to pin him with his feet on the ropes. The ref, Jack Doan, catches him. A frustrated Test shoves the ref- who shoves him right back into the Tazzmission! Nice bit of karma there, but overall an average match. Just there, really. (**)
Backstage, Jonathan Coachman interviews The Rock. He asks Rock how his physical condition is after being Tombstoned by the Undertaker on a limo. Rock says that tonight, Taker is what he says he is- a dead man walking. IF YA SMELLLLLLLLLL...
Match 4: WWF Intercontinental Championship- Brass Knuckles On A Pole Match- William Regal def. Edge (at 10:22)
Thoughts: Edge has his Rob Zombie theme on his entrance on the Network. Nice. Second best music he's ever had. As for the match... "object on a pole" matches are possibly my least favourite gimmick in wrestling. Especially since they can use the same concept of retrieving an object from above the ring in a far more exciting fashion in a ladder match! Anyway, Edge and Regal have been feuding for a couple of months, so the action besides the pole grabbing (hey yo) was pretty decent, including a big electric chair drop by Edge after Regal grabs the knux. Shenanigans ensue when Regal KOs the man from Toronto with an extra pair of knux when the "official" ones went flying outside the ring. Not great, not bad... (**1/4)
Backstage interview with Lilian Garcia and Kurt Angle. Angle is asked if he's confident that he can beat Triple H with Steph as the referee. He takes offence to the idea that he needs Steph's help and says he'll take out Triple H, oh it's true.
Video package airs on the Rock/Undertaker feud. Taker feels disrespected because Rock brought up how he was eliminated from the 2002 Rumble- by the first Tough Enough winner, Maven. That was the highlight of Maven's career, by far.
Match 5: The Rock def. Undertaker (at 17:25)
Thoughts: Good intensity between these two, starting hot with Rock SPRINTING to the ring to attack Taker before Howard Finkle can even finish his introduction. Taker gains control and the tempo slows a bit too much until they start brawling at ringside and through the crowd. Eventually, Taker gets frustrated, takes out the ref, and then pulls a lead pipe from the inside of his motorbike. Rock avoids the pipe attack, hits the old "spine on the pine" and locks in the Sharpshooter. From here, a bit of a fun finishing sequence where Vince McMahon and Ric Flair- at the time co-owners of the WWF- both get involved in the match. Rock dumps Vince on his ass, and while the ref is tending to his boss, Flair cracks Taker with the lead pipe, allowing the People's Champ to nail the Rock Bottom for the victory. Not the best encounter Rock and Undertaker have ever had, but I enjoyed how the end got a bit chaotic. And it also set up one of the most underrated feuds and matches in Wrestlemania history between Flair and Taker, so points for that. (***)
Video package airs on the Triple H/Kurt Angle feud. Well, it starts with footage of HHH eliminating Kurt to win the Rumble, but quickly becomes about Hunter and Stephanie divorcing after the Billion Dollar Princess lied about being pregnant. This was a big issue for the Wrestlemania X8 feud with Jericho as well- Triple H's opponent seemed like an afterthought to the HHH/Steph drama.
Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley makes her entrance. Wait, she's correcting the Fink- Stephanie McMahon, dropping the Helmsley. I must say, she looked damn fine in 2002, and on this night, in that referee's outfit... I mostly credit Trish Stratus for getting me through puberty, but Steph definitely lent a helping hand as well. Err, so to speak.
Match 6: No. 1 Contender's Match- Kurt Angle def. Triple H (with Special Referee: Stephanie McMahon) (at 14:39)
Thoughts: This was a bit of a slobberknocker, and I'm not just talking about Steph's puppies here. Triple H and Kurt Angle slugged it out here, with Steph playing the crooked ref role well, trying to fast count her estranged husband. It wouldn't take long for karma to strike, though, as an Angle clothesline meant for The Game took her out. Tim White replaced her and we started having a straight-forward match. Hunter rained punches down, and to his credit, Angle regained control with some beautiful belly to belly suplexes. Huge "Double A" spinebuster by HHH, and Kurt, fearing the worst, deliberately knocks out Tim White. He takes a Pedigree, but there's no ref to count him out. Later, HHH hits another Pedigree, with White coming to to count it... but Steph stops him and stomps him in the nuts. Ouch. Hunter tries to Pedigree his soon-to-be ex-wife, but Angle stops it with a series of chair shots, followed by the Angle Slam. 3 count follows. Really hard-hitting bout- even the refs took a beating. It wasn't Over The Edge 1998 quality, but still entertaining and worthy of the co-main spot. (***1/2)
Side note- Kurt becomes no. 1 contender here, but doesn't end up wrestling in the WMX8 main event. So, the result of this gets reversed or disregarded in the following weeks before the Grandaddy Of Them All.
Backstage, the nWo meet The Rock. Hogan asks Rock if they can get a picture together for his kid. Rock obliges, then Hogan mutters something in a sarcastic tone to Hall and Nash. I can never quite make it out, something about the "People's Champ"? Anyway, this draws the ire of Rocky, who makes fun of them all. "Chico! Razor Ramon" "Big Daddy Cool Diesel! (truck horn noises)." He then tells Hogan where he can stick his camera. Really great segment, with the seeds planted for Icon vs. Icon, Hogan vs. Rock.
Match 7: WWF Undisputed Championship- Chris Jericho def. Stone Cold Steve Austin (at 21:33)
Thoughts: These are two of my all-time favourite wrestlers, so I probably enjoyed this more than the average fan. Heavy brawling style here, obviously that's Austin's go-to but Y2J was right there with it. Between the two of them, it seemed like they were looking to set the record for the amount of chops used in a match (which was broken the other week in New Japan by Hiromu and Lee). Jericho had some issues with credibility that weren't helped early when Stone Cold was so dominant in this match, but after a missed shoulder charge, he finally manages his own offense. Late in the match, he tries to cheat or get himself disqualified with the title belt, and the ref tries to stop him, but Austin crushes them both in the corner. Bad night for referees in the WWF. Jericho hits the Breakdown (Skull Crushing Finale) on the belt for a near fall. Ref gets bumped again, Austin hits the Stunner for a visual 3 count. The nWo hit the ring and savagely beat down Austin, including a sloppy attempt at a Stunner by Scott Hall. Jericho picks the bones as the ref comes to, getting the 3 count and retaining the gold. Quality match, with the slight issue of over-using the ref bump- happened a couple of times here as well as in the previous match. They may have been better off thinking of a different way for Jericho to retain and just doing the nWo stuff post-match. (***1/2) Speaking of...
Post-match, the nWo hit the ring again as Jericho leaves with his belts (they didn't bring in the singular Undisputed Championship belt until later when Triple H won it). They beat down Austin again and Hall hits a slightly better Stunner. Hogan gets cans of spray paint and writes "nWo" on Stone Cold's back. "The poison of the nWo runs through the veins of the Rattlesnake!" yells JR to end the show.
This was a solid show that helped set up Wrestlemania X8 the following month. Nothing was individually amazing, but it was consistently enjoyable, especially with the pure star power in the final 3 matches. And for all the problems with the WWF's take on the group, the debut of the nWo on this show was a really strong one, with segments and angles throughout the night clearly positioning them as top stars moving forward on the Road To Wrestlemania. Although it was immediately clear that Hollywood Hogan was going to have a difficult time remaining heel in the WWF- he received a thunderous ovation from beginning to end!
Overall Score: 7/10
Until next time, take care,