Vintage Vault Pre-Viewing: Backlash 2001

Raven vs. Rhyno (C) – Hardcore Title

In my journey to look at the encompassing facets of the WWF product around these PPV’s, we reach the hardcore division.  I have conflicting thoughts on this division as a whole as well as the match I will be reviewing from this show, Raven vs. Rhyno.  Hardcore stylized matches have never been my favorite due to their hokey and mostly inorganic match structure.  Match brawls are some of my favorite matches in wrestling history due to the feeling of unpredictably and hatred that is conveyed between the two competitors.  Having a match that is guaranteed to and actually invites aimless weapon brawling and having to create a memorable narrative such as fighting in a lake or hotel room are faults at the root of what the first “hardcore” or steel cage matches were trying to accomplish.  A counter-argument could be made to that last point that if a steel cage match is booked, violence is guaranteed.  While this is an almost certainty, there have been exceptions to the rule that have received high praise, most notably Bret vs. Owen from SummerSlam 1994.  The other criticism that could be garnered to the Hardcore Title is the frequency of title reigns.  It is hard to get too invested in Raven wanting to regain his title in this particular match considering at this point he was a former 11 time champion only dating back to December 22, 2000 when he won his first Hardcore Championship.  However, despite these arguments against the division I just laid out, there are some positives to the division overall.

The first positive is that this is match occurs around the point that the hardcore title took a more serious tone and the title reigns were toned down substantially. February 2001 had a stunning 20 title changes in just 28 calendar days.  After February, there was only 16 title changes for the remainder of the year averaging 2-3 a month until September when RVD went on to have a lengthy, for Hardcore Title standards, reign of three months.  The 24/7 rule for the title was a unique concept that allowed for some fun memorable gags, but that felt played by this point.  Toning down the title reigns was a good way at extending the life of the title overall and not making all competitors feel wishy-washy.  2-3 title changes a month still allowed for unpredictability in matches without sacrificing the integrity.  The other main positive I see for the hardcore division is the added variety to the card.  This review is being written the day after a stagnant Survivor Series 2013 PPV.  Minus the divas match and the opening traditional Survivor Series elimination match, the remaining six matches last night felt very passé and mundane structure-wise compared to one another.  A Hardcore Title match in the middle of the card added some much-needed variety to the card and could strengthen the overall PPV performance.

This leads us to the match at hand.  Rhyno made his debut in the TLC match at WrestleMania to a lot of buzz.  Being the last ECW champion in history, he had a presence to him of a breakout star on the horizon.  Even though he never quite reached the acclaimed star and heat status that Paul Heyman constantly pushed for him, Rhyno most certainly felt like a value-add to the WWF product and that if everything fell together, he could be a main eventer someday.  Rhyno beat Kane for the Hardcore Title on April 17, 2001 in an edition of SmackDown.  This on the surface may seem like odd placement to thrust Rhyno into a mid-card program, but Kane was just three months removed from his impressive Rumble performance and had successfully won the strap at Mania and looked to be headed towards a lengthy reign.  Raven was a grizzled veteran of the division and was the individual that Kane won the Hardcore Title from at WrestleMania.  This match lingered around the genesis of the invasion and Rhyno was seen as one of the first of many invading talent coming to the WWF in the following months.  He faces off against the gatekeeper of the division in Raven, in a match that has not only WWF title history ramifications but ECW legacy considerations as well.

Rhyno takes the early advantage and shows his power advantage.  He mauls Raven with a trashcan and gets a quick nearfall on the outside.  He then moves the steps to in front of the announce booth and places Raven on a steel folding chair.  In an impressive spot, Rhyno then does a running leap from the steps right into the chair as Raven was able to move out of the way.  Raven is able to take advantage and does a leaping clothesline off the steps onto Rhyno.  As predicted there is not an extending sequence of one person dominating the other in this match.  Raven retreats to his grocery cart of goodies and throws a literal kitchen sink into the ring but he then gets posted and hit with a barricade sign that says keep out.  Rhyno then lifts the shopping cart and hits Raven right in the face when he stood up in the ring.  Raven comes back with his second drop toe hold of the match this time into the shopping cart in an awkward looking spot given the prop.  Raven wallops Rhyno with a variety of signs and gets a bulldog for a nearfall.  In the best spot from Raven so far, Rhyno again deadlifts the shopping cart but Raven grabs a trashcan and hits Rhyno right in his exposed face causing him to take a bump and the cart to land on top of him.  Raven wedges Rhyno with the cart but Rhyno is able to again make a comeback with a sign shot. Crowd is buzzing as Rhyno goes for the gore and ends up goring the cart.  Raven then beats him with the sink and gets a nearfall that the crowd bit huge on.  Raven lifts up the sink, then gets gored for the quick pinfall at around eight minutes.

This match was effective in putting over Rhyno and he turned in a very good performance.  His bumps were well executed and impactful and his offense was heated and tightly worked.  Almost all of the creative aspects of this match that would differentiate it from a run of the mill hardcore match; I give the lion’s share of the credit to Rhyno.  I have never been a huge Raven fan and his performance here didn’t make me doubt that opinion.  I didn’t get the same sense of hatred or intensity from Raven besides his flying clothesline and the kitchen sink spot.  The rest of his offense seemed to be more along the lines of pick up and use the weapons haphazardly variety.  There was also some slight comedic aspects mixed in that didn’t feel very organic.  The Tupelo Concession Stand Brawls in Memphis have comedic moments like the mustard and ketchup jars getting splattered everywhere, but that felt like a fight that just happened to end up there.  Raven throwing in the kitchen sink in this match seemed to only be there so JR could make his joke.  Perhaps the most structurally unique aspect of this match was how confined it was in the ring.  I see this as an overall positive.  Last month’s PPV hardcore match literally had the competitors riding around on golf carts; it was a welcome change of pace having a match that didn’t advance into the crowd at all.  Overall this match accentuated most of the strengths that I laid out for the hardcore division and was a unique match on this card which the crowd really got into.  This match also resulted in a very good performance from Rhyno and made him look like a contender within the company.

Final Rating: **1/2