Aye its a hill I’m very glad to die on. Babyface RVD beating heel champ Austin should’ve been the main event of Mania X8. And it should have been framed as the beginning of the Van Dam era like Austin’s victory at Mania 14 was the beginning of his.
That was the natural outcome of the invasion storyline, and would’ve meant doing without the sudden Austin face turn the night after Survivor Series ‘01. Which amounted to a retconning of the previous year of storylines, stretched the casual audience’s suspension of disbelief beyond breaking, and is an underacknowledged reason for why so many casual fans switched off in 2001 and never came back. It was the WWE’s Armin Tamzarian moment.
Someone on here (sorry I forget who) said recently that Mania X8 and the Rock/Hogan match in particular was the watershed moment at which WWE's narrative thread stopped looking forward and it became a nostalgia show, concentrating more on playing the hits from its past than building its future (with the nWo, red and yellow Hogan and babyface Austin all central to the shows in the coming months). The natural next step in the story they’d been telling since the start of the Attitude era was RVD as the new face of the company and when they bottled it with him they wrecked their own continuity and they’ve never managed to fix it.