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Saturday, June 18, 2022

RIP Vince

Vince McMahon vs. Ric Flair WWF Royal Rumble 1/20/02

ER: With the news of Vince McMahon and the McMahon Family's swift and sudden death, I thought it would be a good time to write about Vince's best match. While I do remember this era, it's mostly stuff I haven't watched since it originally aired, so you'll have to forgive me that I didn't recall Vince - at his absolute MOST juiced - in a street fight feud with Ric Flair over the ownership of WWF. Flair bought Shane and Stephanie's stock? Sure, who wouldn't trust Ric Flair to provide capital in a transfer of stocks. Doesn't seem so bad in retrospect. It also really feels like leaving good money on the table for Flair to return to WWF for the first time in 10 years, his first appearance since the last ever episode of WCW, as a man who now owns HALF of Vince McMahon's company, bought out right from underneath him...and then two months into this they're already at "Street Fight". Flair's first match in WWF in a decade, is in a feud with the oldest man in the company, STARTING that feud with a Street Fight. Imagine the two of them instead in the Rumble Match itself. You have two 50-50 owners of the company, who are ALSO both former Royal Rumble winners. 

Had the 2002 Rumble match featured Vince McMahon and Ric Flair chasing after each other and not focusing on any other soul in the Royal Rumble, Undertaker and Austin eliminating everyone but getting a real kick out of seeing McMahon and Flair Andy Capp their way through the middle of it all, it could have been better than 1992. Just picture the looks Austin would be capable of giving as he considers whether he wants to eliminate McMahon himself, or let Flair hit him with a 10th chop in the corner. Neither of them had to win, you just could have had them chaotically interrupt the middle of it, and then have them drag each other to elimination. There's enough action going on around them that they would get to peak their interactions in between easily hidden rest breaks, when the attention goes back to Austin or Undertaker. We got robbed of several months of odd couple interaction before a big payoff with two genuine weirdos, because we just go right into a Street Fight challenge from Flair. It takes a bit of luster off your No Holds Barred match six months later when you start with a No Holds Barred match. 

But it turns out nothing actually matters because we got something better than all of that. This was a match that managed to play exactly how you would have expected it to play out, while also exceeding every possible expectation. Flair takes the first bump of the match bouncing across the ring as if Vince was Andre the Giant and, well, Vince *is* pumped full of an ungodly amount of horse testosterone and *does* look like a physical freak. More importantly, he hits Flair so hard with a shoulderblock that it looked like he was using Flair to jam his shoulder back into the socket. Some of their strikes look okay, others look way better than they should. Vince throws a kick to the stomach the way you would throw a kick to the balls, but it's actually a good stomach kick. Vince throws a way better chop than you'd think a partially trained man in his mid 50s should be able to throw, and when he sells several stiff Flair chops by crossing his arms across his chest and running in place on his tip toes, he looked like the world's most jacked John Tatum. 2002 Vince was all about making his offense look as real as possible by doing it real as possible. Vince hits a lariat so fucking hard, that it's like he was cosplaying as JBL vs. Guy Who JBL is Pretending Looked at Him in the Shower. 

The weapons stuff isn't as interesting as the actual stiff ring work, but the sign and chair shots are thrown with bad intentions and they make a nice vehicle for getting Flair bloodied. And once Flair is bloodied, that's when we get Vince throwing full Terry Funk right hands as hard as he can at Flair's forehead, AS Flair is leaning against the barricade. Vince McMahon is throwing full force punches maybe two feet away from some fan's head. That's a pro wrestling visual right there and if I was the owner of the company I would have those punches still in the Raw intro 20 years later. After getting his head punched right next to fans, Flair takes a painfully real bump into the ring steps right in front of his children, then gets body slammed in front of them the way Stan Hansen would bodyslam Rusher Kimura. And then, something unexpectedly amazing happens. 

Vince McMahon is a guy who is famous for being so far in the bubble that he is at minimum a decade behind popular trends, while also being forward thinking enough to build the biggest wrestling company in history. Here, Vince shows how ahead of the trends he can be, when - in 2002 - he takes a selfie with a bloodied Flair, stealing Reed's gigantic camera to take the selfie. This was a camera with all the accessories, like he was a ringside photographer, and this man leaned in for a selfie with a hemorrhaging Ric. Next level Vinsanity. 

Back in the ring, Vince has startlingly good form on his ankle locks, drops knees on Flair's ankle, and punches Flair back to the mat any time he sits up. Flair has not wrestled a match in almost a year at this point and he is getting punched in the face multiple times by his new boss. Wrestling is unexplainable to anyone who doesn't have some kind of mental disorder. McMahon takes so much of the match that you wonder if Flair is going to come back at all, or just win by total banana peel, but Flair's late comeback is great. He punches Vince in the balls and takes a ton of chops on the floor, and back to back it's easy to notice one problem with Vince's excellent crybaby John Tatum selling of Flair's chops: It really leaves him nowhere to go creatively when he actually does get hit in the balls. Vince went so big on the chops, but only sells the low blow by rolling to the floor holding his groin. The low blow would have been the time for a Vince bug-eyed gulp, a bit of a Sabado Gigante look right into the camera. Modern WWE matches are nothing but reaction shots, and we needed a big Vince reaction shot here. It's possible his selling was appropriate and he doesn't feel the same kind of pain in his chemically shriveled testicles that you or I would feel. It also turns out we don't need the ball selling, because Flair smacks Vince in the head with a TV monitor and Vince takes one of his greatest all time bumps, flying backward over the announce table ass over crown, legs in the air as he dropped. Flair beats his ass around ringside, gets his daughter to take a picture of the two bloodied old dogs, throws a great mule kick at Vince's crotch, and brains him with the steel pipe that lead to Vince's downfall, and does an applause worthy Flair strut before sinking in the figure 4. This was better than the best possible Flair/Vince match, the perfect clash of old man ego and carny showmanship. It's too bad both men are dead. 

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