WWE Ruthless Aggression Era: 2003

WWE Ruthless Aggression

Honestly, this year wasn’t very noteworthy, judging by the fact that I write hardly even wrote notes during this year (that being said I’ll probably blab like normal in this and it’ll end up being just as long as the past ones). It’s all just pretty run-of-the-mill stuff with nothing amazingly good, but not too much that’s horrible, just kinda bland maybe. Both shows are fully set in their ways of being separated, especially with the split pay-per-views now where one show gets a PPV and they alternate and only come together at the big events. I always said I’d try to make it to WM20 to match up with when I started watching back in the day and maybe stop there, but I got here a lot quicker than I thought, so who knows. Things are getting increasingly clear that the product isn’t what it used to be in the true Attitude years or even the ones following, and now it’s just in kind of a boring and un-flashy groove. People complain about the HHH reign of terror, but I like him generally and as such him always on top doesn’t bother me as much. Anyways, I’ve been thinking it’s time to go back and watch all the Attitude era WCW Nitros and stuff since I’ve never seen them. But, before all that, let’s get into this thing…

The first two pay-per-views were pretty void of anything special. Lesnar wins the Rumble, of course, not only because it cements him of having one of the greatest first years in WWE history with winning the King Of The Ring, beating The Rock at SummerSlam for the title, main-eventing with Undertaker and just generally being on top, to the Rumble win now. It has been telegraphed for awhile that he was going to get his big match against Angle, with their whole shared background of amateur wrestling, so it worked good in storyline as well.

Royal Rumble is also where Scott Steiner got finally had his top feud with HHH for the title, and as expected this whole thing was a mess and not really engaging at all. They had dumb little test of strength competitions because of course Hunter is self-conscious about that going against Steiner. Steiner had no chance of winning and after he had this little program, Steiner would wallow in the mid-card doing worthless stuff with Stacy Kiebler and Test, which somehow they stretched for, like, the whole year. Not like he was that great in the first place, but WWE seemed to be placing him for something good coming into the company, and nothing happened, as should really be expected for their track record.

No Way Out was centered around the return of The Rock and his rematch with Hulk Hogan from last year, which was really just a set-up for the Vince/Hogan match at WrestleMania. The Rock comes in with his new Hollywood Rock heel gimmick and it’s a lot of fun since Rocky hasn’t played a heel in a long time, and it actually works well with his real-life persona of being an actor now, the conceit that he’s this major actor only concerned with himself and thinks that he’s better than everyone else now that he’s making movies. He gets some heat, mainly when he directly insults the fans, but mostly he still gets cheers. The most hilarious thing was Hogan getting screwed out of the win by The Rock and Vince and WWE played it up like it was at the level of the Montreal Screwjob, since the PPV was in Montreal. Also, I had no clue Sylvain Grenier had his introduction (before the La Resistance thing) as the French ref that screws over Hogan. I always love seeing in WWE when guys you know from their major gimmick actually have debuted earlier in some two-bit role.

Alright, so the WrestleMania build:

HHH/Booker: This feud just makes no sense and has NO business being a Mania-pseudo main event or world title match. I mean, I love Booker and all, but I still didn’t think he was main event level at this time and for sure not enough to go against HHH at this time. I’m obviously looking at this from the far future, but it just seems so unmatched and random. Like, it would be more than fine for any other PPV, but for Mania it’s so underwhelming. Also, it’s SOOO goddamn racist, like overtly, not even subtle. When HHH saying people like YOU don’t get to be in my spot etc. It’s was so dumb because with all this overtly racist stuff you would assume that they did it all to have Booker get his comeuppance over HHH at the biggest event of the year, but nope, HHH goes over and it all just falls beside the wayside. I heard the original plan was indeed for Booker to go over, but HHH nixed it, and thus it doesn’t make much sense, besides HHH always wanting to win here.

Rock/Austin: Rock is super fun as the Hollywood Rock and his whole heel business. It at least brings some more interest to his character who is just so sporadic in his appearance anyways that it provides another angle and isn’t just boring face Rock popping up. Also, it’s a cool way to play off him being this whole big Hollywood star now and he is always good at gaining heat. Austin is doing really nothing at all, but I guess it’s to be expected as this would be his dipping of his toes back into WWE before he was out again. It’s basically him feuding with Bischoff. Also, the Rock/Hurricane stuff was fun, giving a guy shine like that in the main event. The match was pretty fun in the end, it was short and almost like a greatest hits of their previous Mania matches, not that it was close to any of those, but just both guys giving everybody all their hits for their last match together.

McMahon/Hogan: This was fine enough, at least it had some real world history so there’s weight to it that had been building for all these years, although it just started in storyline very recently. But, for the love of god, keep Hogan off the mic, he was always fumbling his words. The match was surprisingly good and it’s always hilarious to see Vince McMahon, the supposed non-wrestler and boss of the company, with his buff body looking way more muscular and in shape than the flabby supposed greatest wrestler of all time.

Lesnar/Angle: This was obviously the most hyped match and the one with an actual lengthy backstory and heft to it. They’ve been feuding since, like, November of last year, and although it seems like it’s going on forever, there is at least the goal of Mania which you know will be a grand culmination of it all. I can’t wait for it. They did have a match on SD, but Angle won it sneakily, so it wasn’t that much of a takeaway from the Mania match. Benjamin and Haas is a good addition, giving Kurt his collegiate stable or whatever you wanna call it. The match was fantastic as expected and really I think the best thing to main event the show, since they had several options and were supposedly wavering about what to put on last. The Brock shooting star press botch that has him land on his head will never be easy to watch, and I always yell at my TV for Brock to drag Angle closer to the corner so he wouldn’t have had all that pressure to make that huge distance while flipping, but he never listens.

Taker/Jones vs A-Train/Show: Before all this stuff I was wracking my brain to think of Taker’s match for this and thought it was Show, but then I remembered it was A-Train and then this tag match pops up that I never heard of happening before. I’m almost certain it doesn’t happen, though? Because I only recall Taker facing A-Train and never heard of a tag match around it. Off that, I only sparingly have heard of Nathan Jones and thus he must be around for such a short time, but surely I would’ve heard of him being in a  Mania match, or maybe this match is just that unforgettable. I think he gets gone fast somehow. Also, it was so so stupid how they were building him up in the vignettes as being this Australian prison badass ready to rip someone’s face off, and he comes in and turns face right away and becomes Taker’s little delicate padawan who needs wrestling lessons. It was so bizarre and sudden and took everything away from what he was seemingly built to be. I guess they just lost their luster on him. I really should do some actually research into him and why WWE soured on him so quickly, I mean, it’s so obvious that he sucked in and out of the ring. But, it was hilarious how quick they pushed him high up the card, only to yank him back down just as quick.

Jericho/HBK: I was really looking forward to this match, as they’re both fantastic wrestlers. The build was pretty lame with each basically just interrupting each other’s matches and randomly attacking each other.

Goldberg coming into WWE finally happened and one of the last debuts I was waiting for and I was super stoked to see, as I’ve seen none of his short WWE stuff, besides WrestleMania 20 (ugh). The Rock stuff was the perfect feud and one for The Rock to go out on, for now, and put Goldberg over, not that he needed it. I don’t know how much The Rock has left even beyond his part-time player thing, because I know his Mania 20 match is like his last match for a whole long while. Goldberg actually got a bunch of boos, but I think that was mainly because how much people liked The Rock.

The Evolution stable stuff was weird to start the year. They were establishing it right before WrestleMania, but all of a sudden Orton and Batista disappeared, like not wrestling or just hanging out ringside for HHH, only Flair. Is it because of the Nash thing? I knew they came back later in the year as that’s when it really kicked off. But, it’s weird they were establishing/introducing them as this group and then half of them vanished.

I couldn’t believe that John Cena actually won the tournament Smackdown was having to see who would face Brock for the title. I know we look back at Cena now and be like, duh of course he wins, but I didn’t think he’d win here this early before his MAJOR push. I guess watching all this, though, it’s clear that Cena was pushed from the very beginning as soon as he started. And now especially with his hip-hop gimmick. And it was an actual match too, I thought Brock might squash, but Cena actually dominated for most of it until Brock surprised and hit him with one F5 and got the pin. It’s hilarious to see this mini-feud between the two, looking back with 2016 eyes and how much they’d fight and feud over a decade later. It’s crazy to think that in theory, the seeds for their 2014 feud were planted all the way back in 2003.

Also, they have Roddy Piper being Sean O’Haire’s manager type guy to try and get him over, but it’s not even close to working. O’Haire is just so boring and not engaging at all. They tried to reignite the feud with Rikishi where years ago when Piper hit Snuka with the coconut. Boring, and short match.

Judgment Day was pretty lame. I can hardly remember stuff from it. The Battle Royal was fun for the IC title. And I love Christian like this, he’s perfect as the smarmy heel which he’s been playing forever with no need of a face change.

The classic short singles match for the world title with HHH that ends in a DQ just to keep extending the feud and get to the big gimmick match. So pointless.

Lesnar/Big Show in a stretcher match was at least a fun change of pace as this was the first one in forever. They fought a ton outside the ring more than I thought and thus it wasn’t the most high paced match, not that these two would give that, but it was good enough.

Bad Blood was better. The HIAC match was pretty good, but there was no need for Foley to come back to guest referee. Just another dumb gimmick every year for Foley to pop back up.

Michaels/Flair was good. And Goldberg/Jericho was fine enough for a little stop gap feud for Goldberg. But, you can already tell that Goldberg is just always getting the short-shrift and he’ll never do anything of actual note in the company.

Vengeance was fine enough, I guess. I could care less about Zach Gowen and the whole Vince angle. Undertaker/Cena is a pretty great feud and decent match. Guerrero/Benoit single match, enough said. The triple threat title match was decent enough, but I was shocked Angle won, but it becomes clearer later when Vince turned on Angle and aligned himself with a heel-turned Lesnar.

So, without me looking it up, I never really understood the Zach Gowen thing. Vince must’ve just had a huge crush on the idea of a kid with one-leg who always wanted to be in the WWE, just so he could constantly squash him and beat him up. Dude had zero charisma and is just a bore, especially when they focus sooo much on him. But, then they just got sick of him and turned on him, as it always happens in this company, and eventually just used him as someone for Brock to destroy on his mean streak.

The Kane unmasking was so dumb, there was zero build to it, just one week Bischoff saying if Kane loses against HHH he’ll lose his match. They weren’t even feuding, it would seem better to have it at the end of an epic feud or something, but nope just off the Hell In A Cell against Nash. Obviously they probably wanted something of note to do since it’ll be awhile until their next PPV with them alternating with SmackDown now. It definitely adds a new dimension to stuff, but it’s really just oooh Kane is crazy and a monster, but I guess it does give his character some teeth since he’s been pretty neutered and de-monsterized over the years.

I do like that since each brand doesn’t have a PPV each month to build to that they have to spread things out and have semi-big events like this and later SmackDown has the Angle/Lesnar Ironman match to provide some spark in the downtimes between getting to that next pay-per-view. At least WWE back here was able to stretch together some decent stories from week-to-week and it wasn’t completely aimless like nowadays.

Kevin Nash like Goldberg just seems to have fizzled out so quickly after their one big feud that entered them into the company. It’s such a pattern with the company where their one big obvious feud that kicks them off onto the show will be fun, but once it ran its course they just languish behind-the-scenes. Just like Scott Steiner, too. They didn’t even give Goldberg/HHH its due and buildup and quickly turned it into the Chamber match, but I guess their singles feud would resume later in the year.

Elimination Chamber match was alright. I was semi-surprised that Goldberg went over for the title and thought he would destroy everybody until HHH, then HHH would cheat for the title, but I guess they decided this would be the best time to give Goldberg the title, for at least a couple months. Hey, at least he got one up on the likes of Nash and Steiner.

It’s crazy that leading into SummerSlam in August the WWE title has only been contested by Lesnar/Angle and Big Show since like Survivor Series in November. It’s legit just the same dudes contesting for it. I mean, it doesn’t feel that long, but dang it would be nice if they spruced it up and brought in some new guys.

I can hardly keep track but Angle is heel leading into Mania, Brock face. Brock reigns for a bit as face, then Angle comes back after a few months all face and buddy-buddy with Lesnar which lasts for a couple weeks. Then on a SmackDown Lesnar on the side of Vince turns on Angle and is now heel with face Angle and being the Champ heading into SS.

The match itself was pretty great, as expected from what Lesnar and Angle always deliver. I love to that Lesnar tapping was built into the storyline for the coming months, as this huge thing that not only did he lose but he tapped, and the crowd would chant it at him.

John Cena is now fully in his rapper gimmick to the point where he has a full handle on it and you can begin to see him getting over and the popularity of it with the fans that skyrockets him. I’m a sucker for his raps.

I barely remember anything that happened at Unforgiven.

Oh, yeah, and so Evolution gets established with their theme and all. Which I fucking love. It’s weird because at the beginning of the year it was Orton-less with Batista the guy in the mix, and then it was Batista nowhere to be found and Orton is around. They never mention it either, so I dunno what was up. But, Batista would come shortly after.

No Mercy was pretty unforgettable, too, as these Pay-per-views were back then at the end of the year, outside of when Survivor Series was actually relevant. There was probably no match in recent memory that I could’ve cared less about than the Vince vs. Stephanie “I Quit” match and it was just as terrible as expected. It was all just an excuse to get Stephanie out of the GM chair and put Heyman in.

Lesnar/Undertaker in a Biker Chain match was pretty decent. I always have hated the concept of a weapon on a pole match, as they make a big deal about the first person who retrieves the object off the pole, but it’s not like they automatically win once they get it, or the other person can’t use it. It’s just the weapon is now fair game for both, and isn’t really much of an advantage getting it first, because it’s not like they ever win right after getting the weapon down and using it.

I love watching Survivor Series pay-per-views back in this time, because they actually have Survivor Series matches with a built in storyline and a reason to have them, and not just thrown together today. The RAW one considered the ongoing Austin/Bischoff GM feud that would eventually get Austin kicked off and the SmackDown one was the continuation of the Angle/Lesnar feud. The Lesnar team was hilarious because they somehow got Nathan Jones back from the dead and had the slightly less of a bore of Matt Morgan.

Also, I know Chris Benoit wins the Rumble in a couple month here and I was thinking about it around this time how it seemed so random that they hadn’t even been building Benoit up and was in zero story to speak of. But, then they had Benoit make Lesnar tap out, which was a pretty big deal, and so begins his subtle climb into the serious main event picture and eventually to where he explodes and wins the Rumble and the title (except it was HHH’s).

On the same theme I’ve been paying attention to Eddie Guerrero and his treatment as he’s the one to take the belt off Lesnar in a few months, similar to Benoit, but his rise isn’t quite as apparent. Sure, he’s super over with the fans, but not much is happening storyline wise. I knew he was give up his United States title to Big Show, to clear his way for the WWE title, and for Show to give the title up to Cena at Mania to really get Cena cooking.

Also, it was hilarious how they bring Hardcore Holly back and immediately push him into feuding with Lesnar, like he comes back with these vignettes about being mad that Lesnar was the one to injure him, yet I’m pretty sure nobody remembered that or even cared or knew that Hardcore Holly was gone. I guess they just needed a a stop-gap feud for Lesnar for the Rumble.

The Vince/Undertaker Buried Alive match wasn’t anything special, and obviously just a set-up for Undertaker to return in his Deadman gimmick. This was a pretty underwhelming year for Undertaker, and really had no top feud or main-eventing match, beside the one at No Mercy. The Biker gimmick was getting a bit stale, even though I kinda enjoy it more than most, but it was time for the Deadman to come back.

And then Armageddon was all about putting all the belt on Evolution, because of course. I was so stoked, though, because it’s the beginning of the Randy Orton push and when they start establishing his Legend Killer moniker. I never got to see this stuff and I love this Randy, especially the early days when he was my favourite wrestler when I started watching in 04/05, so I can’t wait to see him keep getting pushed and the eventual Evolution fracturing, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Triple H got his title match, with WWE simultaneously satisfying both needs by getting the title off Goldberg and onto HHH, while also giving Kane his shot at the title, which you woulda thought they were going towards earlier with the unmasking, but they kinda just threw it away here. Then to add to the craziness, HHH and HBK would start feuding again after this, with Michaels actually winning the belt over HHH on the last RAW of the year, which I didn’t think they’d actually do, even though it was in his hometown of San Antonio. And so the build to the Rumble and WrestleMania 20 begins.

It is bonkers to me to think that I’ve watched seven years of WWF/E from the beginning of 1997 to the end of 2003 in the real-time frame of a year. I never thought I’d actually watch it this fast, but it’s been a lot of fun (if a bit less so the last few years) to see all this stuff I’ve known bits and pieces of and especially how it all leads into when I started watching. I first started watching right after WrestleMania 20, and while it’ll kinda suck when I eventually get there since I know all the major storylines and where everything goes, I’m looking forward to seeing it with my 2016 eyes and seeing how I remember it.

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