WWE PPV Flashbacks: Backlash (4/21/02) – "Hulk Still Rules"

April 21, 2002
Kemper Memorial Arena, Kansas City, MO

Kicking off a new WWF season following WrestleMania X8, the company also embarked upon a new era – the era of the Brand Extension. The night after WrestleMania, CEO Linda McMahon announced that Ric Flair was reappointed as co-owner of the WWF. However due to the inability of Mr McMahon and Flair to function as business partners, the company was split into two separate entities based on its TV shows. Ric Flair would run Raw, whilst McMahon would run Smackdown, with the PPVs being a joint production of both. The next week a draft was held to determine who would appear on which show (although the Undisputed and Women’s Champions would appear on both). I’ll get into who ended up where with the specific matches on this show. The whole idea of the brand split was to create a sense of interbrand competition now that the WWF had no external competition. It was an idea that I loved as with two separate rosters there was more exposure for different performers. Anyway, our main event of the night sees our Undisputed Champion, Triple H, defending his newly won title against Hollywood Hulk Hogan, back to the yellow and red following the crowd reaction at Mania.

Before we dive in, I should mention that I’ve decided to move away from the play by play style that I crossed into at some point with these reviews. With the Network I feel like if you are reading this you’re more interested in the storylines and analysis as if you wanted to know what happened move by move, the matches are all readily accessible these days. As always, please send your feedback to me on Twitter at @Mpmcc91 and spread the word about these reviews. Now then, lets dive into it.

The opening video package is all about the return of Hulkamania and the main event between Hogan and Triple H tonight. After the pyro we are welcomed by our announce team of Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler. Since the brand split, they were only affiliated with Raw storylines, so it didn’t really make sense for them to call the whole show, but that would be fixed with time.

WWF Cruiserweight Championship:
Billy Kidman (c) vs Tajiri w/Torrie Wilson
Our first match of the night comes from the Smackdown brand, as we see the Cruiserweight Championship for the first time in a while on PPV. Now the last time we saw this title it was under the WCW label and held by Tajiri. As I mentioned back in that time, there were plans to unify the title with the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship, but this never happened due to then champion X-Pac being injured. Instead the Light Heavyweight title was quietly retired, whilst the Cruiserweight title became the WWF’s new belt for the division. It had a better lineage and sounded better anyway. Now, when we last saw Tajiri on PPV he was a popular babyface, but he’s since turned heel, mainly by becoming controlling of his girlfriend Torrie, prohibiting her from talking to any other guys and forcing her to cover up in a traditional Japanese robe. To set this match up, Billy Kidman defeated Tajiri a few weeks ago on Smackdown. This was a fun and fast paced match to kick off the show, with the fans getting behind Kidman. Tajiri got a fair share of offence in the early going as he took control of the match, delivering some stiff kicks to the man that defeated him for the Cruiserweight title. Kidman attempted to deliver the Shooting Star Press to a good pop, but he missed and Tajiri instead followed up with a Buzzsaw Kick that the champion shockingly managed to kick out from. Kidman would try to get back into it from there, but moments later Tajiri would spray him with the red mist and scored the subsequent pin at 9:08 to win back the Cruiserweight Championship. A really good match to start the show here. It was a little surprising to see Tajiri win back the gold just weeks after losing it in the first place though. A hot start to the show and it was clear the Cruiserweight division was going to benefit from being on Smackdown. After the match, Jonathan Coachman gets a word with Tajiri in the aisle, and the champion speaks in Japanese.
Grade: ***

Backstage we see Bradshaw and Faarooq reunite. Bradshaw had been drafted to Raw, whilst Faarooq was now on Smackdown. They make it sound like its the first time they’ve seen each other in months despite it just being a few weeks since the split.

Bradshaw w/Faarooq vs Scott Hall w/X-Pac
Our next match comes from the Raw brand, as the entire nWo faction was able to be drafted to the show in one pick. After being a major part of WrestleMania X8 however, the nWo has already become quite watered down. The first thing to talk about here is the return of X-Pac though, who had been out of action since late 2001. He would return on the Smackdown following Mania, assisting Hall & Nash to beat down Rock & Hogan, becoming the newest member of the New World Order in the process. He had also been a member of the original group in WCW. Now this match comes about due to Bradshaw recently coming to the aid of Kane against the nWo after being beat down by them earlier in the show on an episode of Raw. It was probably supposed to be a tag match here, but Kane was sidelined with a bicep injury and subsequently written off by an nWo beat down during which X-Pac stole his mask. Speaking of injuries, Kevin Nash is also sidelined with one (no surprise there!) and his absence was explained by Flair suspending him for the aforementioned attack on Kane. That brings the nWo down to just Hall & X-Pac at this point, and neither would last much longer either. Anyway, Faarooq comes to ringside despite being on Smackdown, to give Bradshaw some back up since X-Pac was at ringside for Hall. I kind of understand doing that, but with Bradshaw in line for a singles push, it probably wasn’t for the best that they had him go back to the APA thing here even if it was just for this show. This was a pretty bad match with neither guy looking all that impressive. Faarooq and X-Pac end up getting into it at ringside which distracts the ref to allow Hall to hit Bradshaw with a low blow for the subsequent roll up at 5:43. Nothing more than a basic slugfest with the nWo being on borrowed time despite Hall getting the win here.
Grade: *1/4

We now go to Ric Flair’s office where he is talking to his assistant, Arn Anderson, when Mr McMahon bursts in. McMahon essentially says that Flair is feeling the pressure as the boss of his own brand now that he can’t always make everyone happy. Flair says he’ll never be like Vince to which Vince responds that he never could be like him.

Before our next match, Molly Holly (no longer Mighty Molly after double crossing the Hurricane, turning heel and dying her hair) comes out and protests that Trish Stratus is receiving a Women’s Championship match instead of her. She accuses Trish of cheating in a number one contenders match against her and lays her out before Jazz makes her entrance.

WWF Women’s Championship:
Jazz (c) vs Trish Stratus
Up next we have the continuation of this rivalry over the Women’s Championship that has basically been going for the entire year. As I mentioned earlier, as Women’s Champion, Jazz was able to appear on both Raw and Smackdown following the draft. Meanwhile, Trish was assigned to the Raw brand, and she would earn this title shot a few weeks later by defeating Molly Holly in a number one contender match as we just saw. Now, with Molly having beaten Trish down before the match, Jazz has the clear advantage here. As a result, most of the match is the dominant champion destroying the woman she beat for the title back in February. Trish does get the crowd behind her as she attempts to fight back though, and its clear she’s getting more capable in the ring since being thrown into the deep end last November. She’s still got a way to go however. Jazz cuts off Trish’s momentum and continues to work over her back before putting the former champion away with an STF for the submission victory at 4:29. Jazz continues her reign as the dominant Women’s Champion, but her days with the gold were numbered. The match was fine for what it was, and like I said, Trish was growing with each performance. Jonathan Coachman attempted to get a ringside interview with Jazz after the match, but she had nothing to say.
Grade: *1/2

We now get a video recap focused on the next big thing – Brock Lesnar and his path of destruction since arriving on the scene. You might have heard of the guy. After that, Paul Heyman gives him a pep talk for his upcoming match in the back.

Jeff Hardy w/Lita vs Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman
Well, here comes the pain! The PPV debut of Brock Lesnar. At the time he was billed as the Next Big Thing and made his first appearance alongside his agent, Paul Heyman, on the Raw after WrestleMania, where he destroyed Al Snow, Maven and Spike Dudley during a Hardcore title match. In the weeks that followed, Lesnar was drafted to Raw and would destroy anyone in the ring when he felt like it. Meanwhile, Paul Heyman would return to his sleaze bag ways as he would go through Lita’s bags, drawing the ire of her boyfriend Matt Hardy. Lesnar was actually set to face Matt here, but on an episode of Raw during which Heyman would goad Matt and Lita out onto the stage by going through her underwear in the ring, Lesnar would strike and F-5 Matt on the stage, putting him out of action. As a result, Jeff was put into the match as a replacement, looking for revenge for his older brother. The match was also Brock’s first actual match on the main roster. Lita comes out with Jeff to ringside here, and she’s holding her neck a lot. This was around the time that she suffered the broken neck whilst filming Dark Angel, and she’d miss over a year of action as a result. Anyway, the story here is all Brock’s dominance as he spends most of the match destroying the younger Hardy brother whilst Heyman encourages him at ringside. Jeff gets his shots in and even delivers the Swanton, but Brock easily kicks out. Jeff eventually grabs a chair seeing nothingis working against the monster, but Brock avoids it and hits an F-5. Rather than pinning his opponent though, he continues his assault, delivering three consecutive powerbombs until the referee stops the match on his own accord and awards the match to the Next Big Thing at 5:32. This was simply a showcase for Brock, and you could tell right away that there were big plans for the guy.
Grade: *1/2

Up next we get a video package for our upcoming match.

Edge vs Kurt Angle
Our next match comes from Smackdown with both guys having been drafted over to the blue brand. These two have faced off a few times in the past, including the prior year’s King of the Ring finals, but this is the first time they’ve really had a feud going in. And what a feud it would be. After both men had kind of been lost in the shuffle at Mania, Kurt Angle issued an open challenge on an episode of Raw before the brand split. Edge would answer that challenge and come out victorious in quite the upset at the time, starting up the feud. After both men were sent to Smackdown, the two men would trade blows in the weeks that followed. To add fuel to the fire, Edge would give Kurt some old photos he found of the two when they were allies, only to have written insults on the back that would be directed at Kurt as he held them up to the camera. This would lead to Kurt accepting Edge’s challenge to face off again at the PPV. The “You Suck” chants are in full force here as Kurt makes his entrance, and they’d be associated with his theme music for the rest of his career. As far as this match goes, its awesome. This feud did wonders for elevating Edge up the card and improving his ring work. Kurt was expected to deliver great matches by this point, but Edge certainly brought his A-game as well for this one. There’s plenty of back and forth here with both guys busting out some impressive moves. Kurt goes suplex crazy as usual, but Edge keeps up and builds momentum throughout. Angle hits the always awesome belly to belly from the turnbuckle, but Edge fights back to stay in it. The end part of the match sees both men attempting to hit their finishers while the other counters it. Edge rolling out of an ankle lock frustrates Kurt to the point that he goes for a chair and tries to hit Edge with it. Edge ducks though so Kurt ends up hitting himself with it as the chair bounces off the ropes in a funny spot. Edge follows up with the Edge-O-Matic, but Kurt still won’t stay down. From there, Edge sets up for the Spear, but Kurt manages to avoid it before putting his opponent away with the Angle Slam for the three count at 13:25. A very impressive victory for Kurt Angle, whilst Edge looked strong in defeat as well. This was a really good match as it was, and would have been even better with another five minutes or so. The feud was just getting started though, with a rematch laying ahead.
Grade: ****

We now cross to WWF New York, where Tazz is standing by. His days as an in-ring competitor are over now after that brief tag title run with Spike and he’s settled into the role of Smackdown’s colour commentator. Tazz says that the fans are split 50/50 over who will win the main event tonight.

Back in the arena, our former Undisputed Champion, Chris Jericho, makes his way to the ring. He was drafted to Smackdown by the way. He no longer has Stephanie with him, as she was pinned by Triple H in a triple threat title match on Raw and was forced to leave WWF TV as a result of the stipulation. Anyway, Jericho rips on the crowd before complaining about not being in a match tonight despite main eventing WrestleMania last month. He insults some of the superstars competing tonight before saying he’s more deserving of a title shot than Hogan. The fans do not agree, so Y2J says he’s leaving the arena. It was a basic heel promo to get Jericho on the show.

We now go back to Flair’s office where he assures Arn Anderson that they are going to have the next number one contender crowned tonight and that he will call that match between Taker and Austin down the middle. Undertaker interrupts and stares Flair down without saying a word.

WWF Intercontinental Championship:
Rob Van Dam (c) vs Eddie Guerrero
We move on to our next championship match, one which sees the return of a familiar face. Rob Van Dam won the title back at Mania and was drafted to Raw, making the Intercontinental Championship exclusive to Monday nights. On the next episode of Raw following the draft, Van Dam defeated Booker T in a match only to be jumped by the returning Eddie Guerrero afterwards. Eddie had been off the WWF radar since being released around a year ago. He would go to rehab and get his life back on track in the time since whilst working the indies. After making his return on the aforementioned Raw, he would challenge RVD for the title at this show, kicking off a memorable feud for the spring. I have to say that Eddie looked better than ever here as well. Getting fired in 2001 made him turn his life around for the better and he’s not missing a beat in this match. RVD also has been riding a wave of momentum since winning the I.C title. The early part of the match sees RVD build some momentum with his innovative offence, including the trademark legdrop on the crowd barrier. The tide turns however, with Eddie working over the champion’s back and staying in control for most of the match from there. Just as Van Dam might look to be rebuilding his momentum, Eddie gets frustrated and grabs the title belt and goes to whack the champion with it. RVD attempts to take it from him, but the ref gets knocked in the ensuing struggle, which allows Eddie to deck RVD with it anyway. He follows that up with a frog splash for the pinfall at 11:43, and Eddie Guerrero is the new WWF Intercontinental Champion. A very good match between two guys who had some strong chemistry together. Like the previous match I think it would have been even better with a little more time, but this feud was also going to continue. Its great to see Eddie back in the thick of things as he added to an already loaded roster.
Grade: ***1/2

From here we go to a video package for the Taker/Austin match, of which Ric Flair will serve as the guest referee.

Number 1 Contender Match:
Steve Austin vs Undertaker
Special Guest Referee: Ric Flair
With a Smackdown superstar challenging for the Undisputed Championship at this PPV, the onus was on Raw owner Ric Flair to determine who would be next in line from his roster to get a crack at the gold. This all started during a ceremony on Raw in which Ric Flair presented Triple H with the new Undisputed title belt, only for the ceremony to be interrupted by the Undertaker, who demanded a title shot. Despite their differences in the past, Taker had actually been Flair’s first draft pick for his show. Later that night however saw the return of Stone Cold Steve Austin, after no showing the previous few weeks and missing the draft as a result. Austin was a free agent due to some contractual clause and could choose his show but ultimately decided to sign with Raw, but not before laying out both Flair and Mr McMahon with stunners. The following week, Austin would confront Taker saying he was the one who should get the title shot, so Flair created a mini number one contender tournament. In that tournament, Taker beat Rob Van Dam whilst Austin beat Scott Hall to bring us to this match. Austin would hit another stunner on Flair after his victory however when the owner ran off an interfering X-Pac during his match. That led to Flair fining Austin and appointing himself as the guest referee at Backlash. It was pretty clear at that point where this was going. Now, these two have had many matches throughout the Attitude era, but this one was far too long despite the crowd being hot for the whole thing. Then again, thats pretty much expected with Austin involved. The match started out really slow with both guys feeling each other out until Taker took control. Austin launched into a comeback with his usual spots before the action spilled to the floor and the match picked up a little with a brawl. Meanwhile Flair played his role well, not getting in the way and calling things down the middle throughout the match. At one point we see Scott Hall & X-Pac come down the aisle. They’ve continued to have issues with Austin since Mania, but they don’t interfere in the match. Flair gets taken out when Austin accidentally whips his opponent into him. This leads to Austin delivering the stunner to Big Evil, but there being no referee to count the fall. Taker recovers and grabs a chair, but Austin kicks out after being nailed with it as Flair recovers. From there the match continues with some back and forth until Austin gets his hands on the chair. He goes to nail Taker with it, but Big Evil kicks it back into the Rattlesnakes face and covers. Austin actually gets his foot on the rope but Flair doesn’t see it, so Taker gets the victory at 27:03. This would lead to the Undertaker receiving a title shot at our next PPV, whilst the issues between Flair and Austin would continue. The match was decent, but I felt like it could have been maybe ten minutes shorter, with that time going to either the Angle/Edge or Eddie/RVD match. The crowd were still into it, but I felt like it dragged at times. It wasn’t a bad match, just fairly average.I do remember being outraged as a kid at the time that Austin had been screwed out of a title shot though, so I guess it worked. After the match, Stone Cold takes out his frustrations with a stunner to Taker.
Grade: **1/2

As Flair returns to the back, Jonathan Coachman catches up with him and asks him about the ending to the match. Flair seems unaware so we see the footage of Austin getting his foot on the rope. Flair’s reaction is a simple “oh shit”.

WWF Tag Team Championship:
Billy & Chuck (c) w/Rico vs Al Snow & Maven
Up next we have a little filler before our main event with the tag titles on the line. After succesfully retaining their titles at WrestleMania, Billy & Chuck would introduce the world to their new personal stylist, Rico, later that week on Smackdown. The group were subsequently drafted to that show, making the tag titles exclusive to the blue brand. Here they take on the team of Tough Enough winner Maven, and the head trainer from that show, Al Snow. Speaking of Maven, he’s no longer the Hardcore Champion, as he was defeated by Raven for that title on Smackdown a week after Mania. The current holder of that title is Bubba Ray Dudley by the way, with the title changing hands multiple times on Raw house shows. As far as the match at hand goes, its fine for what it was. Billy & Chuck were a decent team to carry the division at this time, but nobody really thought Snow & Maven had a chance to win the titles here as they’d just been thrown together since coming to Smackdown. I have always been a Maven fan though and he looks pretty good in there considering he’s still new on the scene. Its a basic tag match with the champs workimg over Snow until Maven gets the hot tag and cleans house. Just as the challengers build some momentum however, Rico interferes by distracting Al. That leaves Maven to be double teamed by the champions, with Billy pinning him following a superkick by Chuck at 5:58. Fine for some filler before the main event with the champions continuing to dominate the division.
Grade: **

We then go to a video package about our Undisputed title match.

Undisputed WWF Championship:
Triple H (c) vs Hollywood Hulk Hogan
So after wrapping up his WrestleMania storyline a few weeks later on Raw by pinning Stephanie McMahon and sending her off TV in the process, the Game faces a new challenger here in a battle of fan favourites. That challenger is the newly turned face, Hollywood Hulk Hogan, who was drafted to Smackdown. Mr McMahon would name Hogan as the number one contender due to a contractual clause stating that Smackdown would have the first title contender and later that night Hogan and the Game had a face to face confrontation in the ring. The following week, Hogan would come to Triple H’s aid during a beat down from Chris Jericho & Kurt Angle. Angle would push Triple H into Hogan though, which resulted in Hogan attacking the Game. The show was on the other foot a week later, as Hogan & Triple H teamed to face Jericho & Angle. During that match, Hogan accidentally nailed Triple H with a chair, so the Game returned the favour shortly after. As a result there was a sense of tension despite the mutual respect between challenger and champion heading into this show. It was also announced by Mr McMahon that if Triple H lost the title to Hogan he would become a member of the Smackdown roster (having been ineligible for drafting due to holding the Undisputed title). Now, despite both men being faces here, Hogan was clearly the fan favourite, with the nostalgia following his return to the red and white colours in full force. Along with the colour change, he enters the ring to his new theme – “Voodoo Child”. It would not be for a few years until “Real American” would return as his usual theme. Now to the match. Despite the slower pace due to the guys involved, it was pretty solid, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It starts off with a stare down and a test of strength between the two big stars. There was definitely a big match feel in the air as it got under way – obviously nothing like Rock/Hogan last month, but it was still a great feeling knowing Hogan was competing for the title once again. The action picked up with the Hulkster going on offence, but after some action on the outside, Triple H takes control by working over Hogan’s knee. The crowd was clearly behind Hogan as the Game locks in the the figure four on the immortal one. Hogan fought out of it though and launched into his comeback, seemingly putting the Game away with the legdrop. Chris Jericho would make his second appearance of the night just as Hogan looked to have the match won though, breaking up the count. The idea was that he wanted Triple H to retain the title so that he could win it back from the man who defeated him back at Mania at a later date. Hogan would fight Jericho off and continue to build momentum only for the Game to turn the tide with a Pedigree. This time the Undertaker appeared and broke up the pin. Taker nailed Triple H with a chair before Hogan got rid of him and hit the Game with another legdrop to win the title at 22:04. I remember being shocked at the time, but it was a cool moment to see the legendary Hulk Hogan holding the title once more. The crowd goes nuts as Hogan celebrates his win and shakes hands with the Game. This was a fun match that is much better than you might think. It is strange that after the big Triple H comeback story heading into Mania that he would lose the title in his first PPV defence, but the Hogan nostalgia was in such a high gear at the time that I am okay with him getting the win here. The interference in the match was fine to set up the storylines for our next PPV so it didn’t hurt things. This was not the greatest match of all time or even close, but it was a lot of fun and a solid way to cap off the show. Hulkamania is running wild.
Grade: ***

This was a mixed bag of a show but overall I think the good outweighed the bad. Smackdown had the match of the night in Angle/Edge, and the blue brand would tend to have the better matches in the early years of the brand extension. Raw was no slouch tonight either though as the Eddie/RVD match was also really good in kicking off a great feud over the Intercontinental title. We had a solid opener and memorable debut in the arrival of Brock Lesnar as well. Of course, there were some negatives including a few throwaway matches on the undercard and an Austin/Taker match that wasn’t terrible, but just way too long for what it needed to achieve. The big story of the night however is the title win by Hollywood Hulk Hogan. After years of being away from the title scene, Hulkamania ran wild once again on this night, providing us a decent match and an amazing moment. As the champion once more a clash with the Undertaker is inevitable, and the interference in the main event here added to that. A fun show to kick off the brand extension era with.

Three Star of the Night:
1. Hollywood Hulk Hogan – not the best match of the night, but by far the greatest moment. Hogan’s run in 2002 is one of my favourite years of his career but for now he’s back on top of the wrestling world.
2. Edge – while he came up short against Angle, we expected Kurt to have a great match. Edge kept up with the Olympic Gold Medallist proving he had a lot in the tank for his singles career.
3. Kurt Angle – awesome match as expected by this point. He’d have many more too.

FINAL GRADE: 7 out of 10

What I do here is add the three stars of the night with each review so as to keep track of who we can say overall is the greatest PPV performer to any given time. First place scores 3 points, second 2 and third 1.

Steve Austin = 111
Bret Hart = 83
Shawn Michaels = 67
The Rock = 64
Triple H = 54
Mick Foley = 38
Kurt Angle = 30
Randy Savage = 28
Chris Jericho = 27
Undertaker = 27
Hulk Hogan = 24
Owen Hart = 21
X-Pac = 18
Chris Benoit = 16
Jeff Hardy = 16
Diesel = 15
Matt Hardy = 14
Edge = 14
Ultimate Warrior = 13
Vader = 13
British Bulldog = 12
Christian = 12
Ted DiBiase = 10
Razor Ramon = 10
Vince McMahon = 10
Ric Flair = 8
Jim Neidhart = 7
Bubba Ray Dudley = 7
D-Von Dudley = 7
Jerry Lawler = 6
Dynamite Kid = 5
Arn Anderson = 5
Roddy Piper = 5
Mr Perfect = 5
Marty Jannetty = 5
Bob Backlund = 5
Shane McMahon = 5
Rob Van Dam = 5
Ricky Steamboat = 4
Ax = 4
Smash = 4
Bobby Heenan = 4
D’Lo Brown = 4
Rikishi = 4
Kane = 4
Greg Valentine = 3
Tully Blanchard = 3
Tanaka = 3
Bam Bam Bigelow = 3
Sato = 3
Jake Roberts = 3
Hakushi = 3
Yokozuna = 3
Savio Vega = 3
Ken Shamrock = 3
Chyna = 3
Brutus Beefcake = 2
Paul Orndorff = 2
Andre the Giant = 2
Rick Rude = 2
Sgt Slaughter = 2
Jeff Jarrett = 2
Jesse Ventura = 1
Texas Tornado = 1
Tito Santana = 1
Virgil = 1
Scott Steiner = 1
Rick Steiner = 1
Lex Luger = 1
The Roadie = 1
Billy Gunn = 1
Bart Gunn = 1
Marc Mero = 1
Flash Funk = 1
Animal = 1
Hawk = 1
Taka Michinoku = 1
Test = 1
Big Show = 1
Dean Malenko = 1
Scotty 2 Hotty = 1
Rhyno = 1

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @Mpmcc91. Thanks for reading!

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