Vintage Vault Pre-Viewing: Royal Rumble 2002

Vince McMahon vs. Ric Flair – Street Fight

The prodigal son parable tells the story of a son returning home after an extended amount of time. A father immediately embraces his son with open arms and invites him into his home. Atlanta hadn’t had a wrestling PPV since Slamboree 1993. Despite being the “home” of WCW and featuring some special moments during the Attitude era (Goldberg’s title win, Fingerpoke of Doom), Eric Bischoff was intent on making Las Vegas and Washington DC the main destination for the elite PPVs within the company to isolate the southern stink he perceived the company having. Tactics like these built up resentment and forced even the most diehard WCW fans to turn their back on the company in the dying days. And no one better represents the misfortune of WCW in the dying days better than Ric Flair. This was his prodigal son moment. Flair was performing in front of a crowd that understood and respected his legacy. This match represented our chance to do what we wanted to do all along: boo Vince McMahon, and everything he represents, out of the building.

My dad and I have always had a great relationship. I don’t want to pretend or give the false pretense of a damaged childhood because I am thankful and humbled by my upbringing. Having said all of this, I always get a little weary when people announce their parents as their best friend in life. Certain things aren’t said or shared between parents and kids, at least in regards to situations I have witnessed. My dad provided a great template for me to live life, but I had to forge my own way. Going into Royal Rumble 2002, I was 15 years old and just starting to think independently. Between starting to listening to more music, smoking my first cigarette, and fumbling with a bra-strap for the first time, all of the rites of passages of life were starting to form. Naturally, the older I got, the less time I would spend “shadowing” my dad. Still, we both trekked out to Philips Arena on this night to have one last night rekindling a passion we shared during my childhood: pro wrestling.

The match follows a smart template. Vince is jacked beyond belief and looks like a force to be reckoned with even though he certainly is at a wrestling disadvantage facing a consummate professional in Flair. How much gas Flair had left in the tank was a legitimate question at this point. Having not wrestled a big time match in nearly a year, Flair was forced to dig down deep to see if he could still bring the goods. Willpower at times can only take you so far. The crowd believed in Flair, he just had to believe in himself to overcome someone that “gets off on inflicting pain.”

Some of the more memorable spots include Vince strutting at the onset, the beatdown in front of Flair’s family, and the incredible blade jobs both men executed. I’m not a vampire but the blood that was injected into this match gave the match a more personal slant than it would have had otherwise and felt richly beautiful in this context. Even the figure four gets one of its shining moments in the conclusion of this match. It has become passé to laugh at the figure four as a finisher and think of numerous examples were someone was inside of the hold for an inordinate amount of time rendering it useless. Here, it is finally used to inflict damage and defeat the evil enemy. An enriching buzz carried throughout the arena as Flair triumphantly walked to back a champion. Flair has the uncanny ability to illicit some emotional responses in me that few other wrestlers have. Starrcade 1983, “Tear in My Eye”, Arn Anderson “My Spot” promo, his return Nitro, his emotion at the last Nitro. I can go on and on and this was the latest example of Flair being The Man inside the square circle.

The holds and play by play don’t do this match justice for me. I vaguely remember some sequences within this match but not nearly as much as countless others. The main thing I take away from this match was the smile on my dad’s face, him “wooooo’ing” at Flair as he raised his arms in victory, and seeing a bloody wrestler portray real life emotions for me in his homecoming to the wrestling ring.

Final Grade: ***1/2