My Favorite 'Mania: Wrestlemania X8
While WrestleMania X8 had the difficult task of following up what is widely regarded as the greatest ‘Mania event in history, in many ways the 18th installment doesn’t fall too short. The big storyline heading into this event was Hollywood Hulk Hogan - in his first WrestleMania match in nine years - facing The Rock in a bout dubbed ‘Icon vs. Icon’.
I don’t necessarily think that the 2002 edition of the Showcase of the Immortals is the greatest, but it is definitely my favorite. 9-year old me had just become a full time viewer of the product at the end of the Invasion angle (specifically the episode of Smackdown where Booker T got his ass kicked inside of a supermarket), and I was as hyped up for the Road to WrestleMania as anyone could get. So you can imagine the first WrestleMania I ever watched having a close spot in my heart.
Even with every championship on the line aside from the Cruiserweight title, the event was somewhat of a dud. However, there were some fun moments throughout.
The first three matches were kind of filler, with the opener seeing Rob Van Dam make his WrestleMania debut against William Regal in a match for Regal’s Intercontinental Championship. Although short, the match was good for what it was. RVD won the title following a Five-Star Frog Splash in what could’ve been a really great match if given a few more minutes.
Next up, Diamond Dallas Page successfully defended his European Championship against Christian in another short bout that could’ve possibly been done on Sunday Night Heat prior to the PPV going live.
Following this up was another title defense, this time the Hardcore Championship. This championship was what it was at the time (a joke), but it had some fun moments on this show. In what was the first of five different title changes, champion Maven faced off against Goldust in a short match, that ended with Spike Dudley bringing in a personal referee to defeat the champion. The title would bounce from Dudley to The Hurricane, Mighty Molly, Christian and back to Maven before the night ends.
About an hour into the event, we finally get a match that lasted for over ten minutes (10:45 to be exact). At the time, Kurt Angle was arguably the best in the world but was in a lost spot following his feud with Royal Rumble winner Triple H. In addition, Kane has been a loyal company man for the entirety of his career. These two things considered, it made sense to partner them up here at WrestleMania, as there clearly wasn’t anything else for them to do. The match itself was decent, with a lot of back and forth action. Angle gets the win at the end after pinning Kane, using the ring ropes as leverage.
Ric Flair vs. Undertaker in a No DQ match was up next. Undertaker challenged Flair to a match at WrestleMania after he cost him his match against The Rock at No Way Out. Using his position as WWF co-owner, Flair repeatedly turned down the challenge week after week. Following bloody beatings of Flair’s best friend Arn Anderson and his oldest son David, Flair finally accepted Undertaker’s challenge, with his position as co-owner being temporarily removed by the board of directors. This was a fun brawl, one that was made personal over the last several weeks. A lot of offense from Taker early on, with Flair getting busted open after only about 3 minutes. Flair was able to turn some defense into offense later on, even bloodying Taker in the process. Undertaker eventually hits Flair with a Tombstone to move his WrestleMania record to 10-0.
In what was yet another filler match, Booker T made his WrestleMania debut against Edge. The story leading up to this match was Booker T being jealous over Edge getting a spot in a Japanese shampoo commercial over him. Not much going on here in this match which only lasted about 6 minutes. Edge comes away victorious here with an Edgecution, and a nice WrestleMania moment in his hometown.
For the first of the “triple main event”, we get Stone Cold vs. Scott Hall. The nWo ended up costing Austin his shot at the Undisputed Championship a month earlier, and as you could understand, Austin wasn’t a happy camper about it. The match itself was decent, and got a lot better towards the end as Kevin Nash got involved and the crowd gets into the match. Austin gets the final WrestleMania victory of his career here.
Next up, Billy and Chuck successfully defended the Tag Team titles in a four corners elimination match that also included the APA, Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz. Although not terrible, this match was way too long, and was obviously placed as filler to give the crowd a rest before the match everyone wanted to see.
In what was thought to be a once in a lifetime matchup (they would meet again in 11 months at No Way Out), The Rock went one on one with Hollywood Hulk Hogan. Prior to the match, Hogan advises his fellow nWo members that he’s good on his own. Spoiler alert...they don’t listen. Hogan comes out to the loudest ovation of the night, while the crowd booed and showered Dwayne with “Rocky Sucks!” chants throughout the match. Although not the most technically sound match, the energy these two brought more than made up for it as Rocky comes away with the W. The crowd was effective in forcing Hogan to turn face, and to this day I wonder if they called an audible with Nash and Hall turning on Hogan post-match rather than the next night.
The women’s division in 2002 was definitely not comparable to how it is currently, but the three best women in the Fed at this time were given the task to follow up Rock vs. Hogan. Women’s champion Jazz put her title on the line in a triple threat against Lita and Trish Stratus. A common theme with this PPV, what we get here is another subpar filler match. Kudos to the three ladies for making the most of it. Would have loved for Trish get her WrestleMania moment in Toronto, but Jazz retaining wasn’t a bad decision.
Realistically the show kinda falls off after Rock/Hogan, and I’m sure they regretted not placing that match last. The finale saw Royal Rumble winner Triple H cashing in on his guaranteed Undisputed title shot against Chris Jericho (who was accompanied by H’s ex-wife Stephanie McMahon). Jericho works on Hunter’s surgically repaired quad early on, but the crowd doesn’t seem to come alive until Trips finally gets his revenge and hits Stephanie with a Pedigree, something that was teased several times leading up to the match.
While not the worst WrestleMania event ever, it’s nowhere close to being the best. However, the childhood nostalgia it provides me gives it the unique distinction of being my favorite ever.