Judgment Day was an event that the WWF/E usually held in May, although the first one was in October 1998. This is just speculation on my part, but I think it ended up as a May event due to the horrible situation that took place at Over The Edge 1999, where Owen Hart tragically fell to his death. Seeing as that name would likely remind people of Owen’s passing, the WWF probably thought they would be best served to retire the name and, seeing as No Mercy was now the regular October event, they decided to reuse Judgment Day seeing as that one was currently available.
I’m going to break this one into a couple of parts I think, just because there have been too many Judgment Day events to squeeze them all into one review. So we’ll do five this week and the final six the week after.
Let’s watch some chuffing wrestling.
Judgment Day 1998
Guest Referee: Stone Cold Steve Austin
The Undertaker Vs Kane
Right, buckle in for the back story for this one. Stone Cold was the WWF Champ, but evil owner Vince McMahon finally managed to find a way to get it off him by basically putting him in a glorified handicap match with Taker and Kane at the Breakdown pay per view in September 1998. That match ended with Taker and Kane getting a double choke slam for a double pin. However, after Austin had attacked a crowing Vince on Raw by driving a Zamboni into the building (It was the 90’s) Vince got so annoyed that he made this match as a way to punish Taker and Kane for not protecting him.
Taker and Kane weren’t happy about that and promptly destroyed Vince’s ankle in retribution. Vince decided to mess with Austin by forcing him to be the referee and have to hand over the belt to his successor. Austin of course said he would just whup Taker and Kane in such a situation, so Vince decreed that if Austin didn’t humble himself by counting the winning fall then he would be fired. In reality this was all just a way to string out crowning a new Champion for another month so that they would have a reason to do the well-received Deadly Game (“Oh It’s a Deadly Game!”) tournament the following month at Survivor Series.
The WWF had a noticeable formula during this period where the under cards on big events would tend to be pretty lousy but they’d end the show strong to send everyone home happy. However, both this event and the Breakdown one preceding it are atypical in that regard, as their under cards are generally decent but the show closing bouts are stinkers. It’s not like Undertaker and Kane are incapable of having an entertaining match (I personally don’t mind the match from Mania XIV for instance) but those ones usually have a clear face/heel divide. In this one both men are the dreaded “Shades of Grey”, with the crowd more interested in what babyface ref Stone Cold is going to do.
The result is a slow, plodding match where the crowd doesn’t really have anyone to cheer for, thus meaning it’s pretty dull as a result. Austin has fun messing with both of the competitors by mixing up slow and fast counts, which is the only time the crowd gets invested. Taker and Kane are hardly dogging it, but their styles are always going to produce a certain type of match, which is why you need a strong story for the crowd to connect with in order to make it work, and we don’t have that here. It’s just Taker and Kane doing their usual moves in a back and forth brawl whilst the crowd murmurs along.
Taker eventually targets Kane’s leg and starts working it over, which might work as a way to build sympathy for Kane if the crowd cared about him. As it is, they just chant for Austin whilst take kicks away at the appendage and goes to the leg grapevine he was trying to get over as a secondary finisher at the time. I think they even went as far as having him “injure” Steve Blackman with it to try and get it over, but ultimately it didn’t work. Taker would finally achieve the secondary submission finisher he so craved with The Hell’s Gate though, which is a tribute to perseverance if nothing else.
Kane actually doesn’t sell the leg work that badly, it’s just very boring to see him lie around for minutes on end whilst Taker works through every leg hold he knows how to do. Austin doesn’t bother upholding the rules and lets Taker basically do what he wants, including hanging Kane in the Tree of Woe and then attacking the leg. Without a referee to count, Taker kind of just has to let Kane back down and start stomping the leg again, which looks silly and kind of explains why they have a ref there to do that stuff in the first place.
The fans start going from being bored to becoming restless, which was similar to how they reacted the previous month when Taker and Kane endlessly pummelled Austin in the Triple Threat match. Kane does manage to make a comeback, but there’s zero reaction to it. I can only assume that they felt the crowd would get behind Kane if they had him play the subtle face role, but that hasn’t been the case. Taker and Kane eventually decide to double on Austin, which at least gets the crowd to care again as they boo the 2 on 1 attack. Jim Ross on commentary suggests that they are doing this so that a replacement referee will come down, which is the sort of thinking on your feet stuff that makes him a great commentator.
Kane manages to choke slam Taker following that, but of course Austin is down and now can’t count. Paul Bearer comes down to the ring, ostensibly to help Kane as they’d been aligned for most of the year, but we get the first proper “someone betrays Kane, please feel sorry for him” moment, as Bearer turns on Kane with a chair shot and realigns with Taker. Austin refuses to count however and drops Taker with a Stunner and a chair shot before counting both men down for the non-finish. You know what, they could have had Austin drape Kane over Taker there and it probably would have gotten a pop. That being said, Deadly Game (“Oh it’s a Deadly Game!”) was pretty much perfect for what it was and you wouldn’t have gotten that with WWF Champ Kane (Unless Vince stripped him of the belt the next night or something, which would have only annoyed people)
This was pretty boring and the crowd was turning on it. The actual work itself wasn’t disastrous or anything, but for two guys with this sort of wrestling style you need an invested crowd for it to work and this crowd was anything but invested. Interestingly, you can actually do this finish on WWF No Mercy for the N64 in guest referee mode. You just have to knock both guys down so it says they are “losing it” and then press the count button and the referee will declare it a no contest. It blew my mind the first time that I realised you could do that.
Austin goes looking for Vince following the match, but Vince eventually shows up from a safe distance and fires Austin. Austin doesn’t really seem to care very much though and drinks some beer to close us out. He wasn’t “fired” for long though, and was in the Deadly Game (“Oh it’s a Deadly Game!”) tournament the following month thanks to Shane McMahon.
Judgment Day 2000
Guest Referee: Shawn Michaels
Champ: The Rock Vs Triple H
Rock beat Triple H at Backlash for the belt, but it was to only be a momentary reprieve for the fan base, as they quickly decided to get it back on Triple H. This has always been a result that I’ve questioned, mainly because Rock won it back a month later anyway, so the quick fire change really made no sense and took a bit of lustre off the belt for nothing. Thankfully Rock was such a huge star that losing the belt so quickly didn’t hurt him too much, but he has always been kind of amazingly bullet proof in regards to doing high profile jobs.
The McMahon Family actually joins Triple H for his entrance, but he requests that they leave so that he can do this himself. The crowd is really jazzed for this one, with even the opening lock up getting a pop. There was some concern at the time as to whether these two guys would be capable of going for an hour and keeping it interesting. What they smartly do is split the hour up into different segments with the falls put in to break one section of the match up from the other. As a result they are telling a story for the full hour and hit story beats throughout it, which keeps it interesting.
The opening section is both men working a standard match, with work on the mat and liberal use of holds. This not only helps both men pace themselves but it also allows them to show that they can each hold their own against the other. The work is good, owing to Rock’s penchant for bumping and selling along with Triple H’s solid mechanical skills. This segment comes to an end quite abruptly, as Rock catches Triple H with the Rock Bottom on about the 11 minute mark to go 1-0 up.
The nice thing about that opening fall is that by giving Rock the pin in the length of what a normal match would be, you establish that he’s a deserving Champion. However, because of the stipulations the match must go on, which allows Triple H to smartly roll outside so that he can’t be pinned again. Following a quick fight outside, Rock actually controls things back inside and works over the leg, eventually busting out a Figure Four in the process. I think that was actually Rock’s ground leg finisher in WWF No Mercy for the N64 actually.
Triple H manages to fight back and beats Rock up outside the ring before going for pins back inside the ring. Triple H has been working so hard here that his elbow pads have started slipping down his arms, which is akin to Big Bossman’s shirt becoming gradually more undone the further into a gruelling effort he goes. Rock continues to show off his better than you’d think technical acumen though by applying further leg holds, which makes sense as he’s leading and can afford to bide his time. However, just as he won the first fall out of nowhere, Triple H does similar with the second by getting a Pedigree to even it up at 1-1 with about 26 minutes gone.
I like how that second fall mirrored the first one, as it shows that both men are evenly matched foes with powerful finishing moves that are capable of catching the other at any time. Rock is still groggy after that but, rather than rolling outside to get his bearings like the heel Triple H did, he keeps fighting like a good babyface and it costs him when Triple H catches him with a sloppy small package to make it 1-2. Now that he is leading, Triple H smartly takes the fight outside so that Rock can’t immediately reply with a flash pin of his own. Hey look, an example of Triple H actually being cerebral that doesn’t involve him clocking someone with a weapon (Although I’m sure we’ll get there)
Having the falls really helps the match flow better due to each one almost being the end to a chapter in the overall story, which is something the Ironman match from WrestleMania XII was lacking. Rock does manage to fight back during the brawl outside the ring now that he has his bearings back, only for Triple H to deliver a piledriver back inside to go 1-3 up. This teaches the crowd that moves which aren’t traditional finishers for either man can lead to a fall due to both men being so worn down. Therefore, any big move can conceivably be a fall now, which keeps the crowd on their toes. It’s a smart way to structure a match.
The score now gives Rock a mountain to climb, which works for a babyface. Jim Ross is great on commentary, putting both men over as studs battling it out. Triple H tries a sleeper next, but Rock manages to fight out of it and catches him with a DDT, which becomes the next non-finisher move to get a pin to make in 2-3 to a great pop at the 40 minute mark. Rock drags Triple H outside next, which Lawler attributes to his tiredness leading to him not entirely thinking straight, in a good bit of commentary that helps avoid making the wrestlers look dumb. However, that ends badly for Rock when Triple H brains him with a steel chair back inside to make it 3-3 thanks to a DQ. However, in one of the smarter moments in Triple H’s career, he simply just pins Rock straight after to restore his 3-4. Thus, he’s no worse off but Rock has now suffered a lot of damage. That’s brilliant!
Rock is bleeding following that as we hit the 45 minute mark. Triple H goes back to the sleeper hold again, and this time it works to put him up 3-5. Some of these falls have been fantastic, as they’ve subverted expectations and caught the crowd out more than once. Shawn and Triple H have a bit of a row when he won’t let go of the sleeper, which pops the crowd after a real downer of a fall and gives Rock time to recover. Every time Rock hits a big move of any kind now the crowd goes nuts, as they have been conditioned to expect a fall at any time due to the previous falls.
We head outside again, where Triple H tries to put Rock through the announce table, but Rock fights him off and then Pedigree’s him onto the table to win the fall by count out to make it 4-5. The McMahon’s decide to join us now that Rock is within 1 fall of tying it up, but they are unable to stop him delivering a People’s Elbow, which leaves it at 5-5 with 58 minutes gone. DX join The McMahons at ringside, which leads to Shawn getting bumped and the heels storming in to beat up Rock.
That however is Undertaker’s cue to return with his new “Biker Taker” gimmick. He destroys DX and The McMahons, but Shawn wakes up just in time to see him drop Triple H with a Tombstone Piledriver, which leads to Shawn calling for a DQ to give Triple H the 5-6 win. Personally, I would have had the score at 5-4 at the end, with Taker’s interference causing it to be 5-5. That way you get around Triple H losing whilst also allowing Rock to retain, and then you can do the Triple Threat match between the three at King of the Ring, with Rock being mad at Undertaker that he ruined his chance to defeat Triple H once and for all.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: TRIPLE H
Another classic between these two. Possibly the best 60 Minute Ironman match I’ve ever seen. It’s one of those matches that truly is “must-see”. It has good wrestling, fantastic storytelling, a good crowd and bit surprise return for the closing section. Fantastic stuff!
Judgment Day 2001
No Holds Barred
Champ: Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs The Undertaker
Austin had turned heel at WrestleMania X-Seven and had teamed with Triple H to defeat Taker and Kane at Backlash. The feud with Taker got heated up when Austin faked a phone call saying that Taker’s wife had been in a traffic accident. As a result Taker is very perturbed and looking for some violent revenge. Vince McMahon joins us to do some guest commentary, which leads to Paul Heyman sucking up to him in hilarious fashion.
Taker has no bike for this one for whatever reason. Maybe the arena didn’t allow him to use it? This is a brawl right from the start, and it’s actually quite an entertaining one too. Taker dominates most of it and the crowd is up for it. Both men slip out of the others’ finishing moves back inside and they are going at a quick pace in this one, clearly working hard. Vince is eventually able to distract Taker long enough for Austin to cut him off, which leads to Austin getting some heat back inside the ring.
Austin hams up his heel persona during the heat, and it certainly was an entertaining act when he went full bore with it. Sadly the WWF audiences didn’t want a heel Stone Cold and interest in the product waned. Thankfully, he was a good enough performer that he could get it over in the arena’s when he was working with the right guy, but just because someone gets the reactions they want in the building doesn’t mean it’ll translate to the bottom line (Hulk Hogan in 2000 WCW would be a good example of that).
Taker manages to fight back and choke slams Austin through the commentary table, which gets two back inside the ring. Another Vince distraction allows Austin to clock Taker with one of the monitors from the now destroyed table, which leads to Taker to Taker doing a blade job and opens the door for Austin to work some more heat. Austin has successfully managed to get the crowd to hate him due to his antics and they are invested in seeing him lose. They are actually booing him because they want to, not just because they feel obligated to.
Taker kicks out of a Stunner to a monster pop, before getting a choke slam and then wearing Austin out with a chair like Austin had been doing to babyfaces since his heel turn. This is Triple H’s cue to try and rescue the Champ, but he gets chaired for his troubles as well. Taker makes the cover on the destroyed Austin, but Vince breaks up the pin. Taker fights him off, but that allows Triple H to clock him with a sledgehammer. Kane (complete with fire and entrance music) tries to make the save but he doesn’t make it in time and Austin gets the pin. Probably shouldn’t have patiently waiting for your music to kick in before making the rescue their Glen…
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN
Heck of a Main Event brawl. One of the better Austin Vs Taker matches actually.
Judgment Day 2002
Super Duper Undisputed Title
Champ: Hollywood Hulk Hogan Vs The Undertaker
Hogan defeated Triple H for the belt at Backlash as the WWF was trying to cash in on the amazing Indian Summer he was having. Sadly Hogan’s reign wasn’t going too well, which was probably because even though the fans liked him and enjoyed his nostalgic act, they didn’t see him as the guy who should be the Champ. Taker had defeated Austin at Backlash to get the Title shot and had actually played a part in Hogan defeating Triple H to win the belt in the first place.
Taker debuts his new more generic heel theme here, as I guess they either got sick of paying for “Rollin’” or felt that he needed a more boring entrance theme now that he was a bad guy? He once again doesn’t have his bike, and even Hogan seems to be taking this less seriously than usual as he doesn’t have his feather boa’s with him. This really does feel like a flat Main Event, especially as Edge and Kurt Angle had already brought the house down in a great match on the under card.
Taker jumps Hogan as he enters the ring, but Hogan fights back with punches before sending Taker outside with a clothesline. Hogan was looking a lot like a past his peak Billy Graham at this stage, although he might not have been as bad physically as Graham was when he came in to work with Butch Reed in the Hulkamania Era. Despite being pretty broken down by this stage in his career, Hogan still delivers a superplex for two, which is pretty impressive given the circumstances.
Taker goes after the leg/knee to get himself into the match and then works it over. Hogan was still capable of getting fans behind him during this period so they clap for him and fights his way back into the match before going for the leg drop. Taker catches that and goes to a single leg crab (although it wasn’t very smoothly done) but Hogan manages to make it to the ropes.
Taker delivers a terrible choke slam (Hogan barely went up for it) and that leads to the Hulk Up™ spot. It’s still over, though not as much as usual. Hogan successfully drops the leg this time, but Taker kicks out at two. This leads to Vince McMahon coming down to distract Hogan, which allows Taker to get a chair shot and an improved choke slam for the three count.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: THE UNDERTAKER
This was a lousy match, but the crowd was into bits of it at least. I’ll be honest and say I’m not really sure why Undertaker had to be the guy to beat Hogan, especially as it wasn’t as if he was moving the needle much either. Transitioning it back to Triple H would have probably made more sense, especially as he would get his win back over Hogan not too long after this show anyway. They might as well just have made it for the belt and ended the Hogan experiment that way.
Judgment Day 2003
Champ: Brock Lesnar Vs The Big Show
This one came about because Big Show threw Rey Mysterio into the ring post whilst he was on a stretcher, something that he actually got some real heat for backstage as he did it really recklessly and ended up hurting Rey for real. Brock vowed revenge for his little babyface buddy, and thus this match was on. As is usually the case with Big Show, the story for the match itself was basically “Big Show is really big, so how will the babyface find a way around that to carry out the match’s stipulation?”
They waste no time hitting each other with back boards and the like, and it’s a fun brawl actually. The stretcher match is one of those stipulations that suffers a bit like the Buried Alive one does, as fans know it’s never going to end when both men are going at it in the ring due to the fact that you have to drag someone cross a line or take them to a gravesite in order to win, so it becomes quite clear that anything else in ring is basically killing time.
However, both men are smart in that they spend a lot of time either fighting around ringside or in the aisle, with a stretcher never too far away, so it keeps a potential finish never too far away. In a clever spot, Brock chokes Big Show down with a camera cable but he makes the mistake of leaving the cable around Big Show’s neck, meaning that the stretcher can’t roll over the line. I liked that a lot, it was done well. The brawling in general has been good here, and they’ve given Brock a decent amount of offence so that it hasn’t just been Big Show slowly getting heat on him. It’s been more back and forth than that and it’s helped the match flow.
At one stage Brock knocks Big Show off the apron onto a waiting stretcher, but Big Show bounces off the stretcher and tumbles to the floor. I’m not sure if that was actually what was planned or it was just a happy accident, but it looked good. Brock actually leaves following that, to the confusion of the commentary team, which leads to Rey Mysterio coming out from under the ring to give Big Show some 6-1-9’s. Oh well, at least they gave him a little bit of revenge. Big Show of course clobbers Mysterio, but before he can finish him off, Brock returns in a forklift and dives off it onto Big Show in the ring for a massive pop.
That looked incredible and the crowd loved it. Brock follows up with a vertical suplex and an F-5, before putting a backboard onto the forklift and then rolling Big Show onto it before driving the forklift past the winning line to retain the Title. There was a bit too much time between the F-5 and getting Big Show onto the forklift and it cooled off the crowd pop a bit, but that’s the risk you take with a finish like that.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: BROCK LESNAR
This was not only a lot of fun but they were also smart and didn’t keep them out there for too long. They did 15 minutes and most of that was the two of them having a good brawl before they popped the crowd big with the forklift antics. Seeing Brock do wacky Attitude Era styled antics didn’t really suit him, but as far as finishes go it was still a decent one and it did the job of getting him over with the crowd, so I can’t be too harsh on it.
Mixed bag this time out, with matches from all ends of the spectrum. Interestingly four of these five matches involved Undertaker, which kind of suits his gimmick. Definitely check out the Ironman match, but the matches from 2001 and 2003 are decent too if you fancy giving them a watch as well.