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.

Advertisements

WWE Ruthless Aggression Era: 2002

WWE Ruthless Aggression

Another year down and what a trip it was. It was truly a random and weird year that had so many new and unique elements from the past year, good and bad, and definitely was a worthwhile direction after the disastrous year that 2001 was. From countless new superstar debuts that would could continue to define the company to this day, to the brand split, returns, high-concept matches and Triple H having sex with a corpse. It was quite the year to say the least. Let’s get into it…

The year starts off with the return of Triple H, someone who I thought was still months away from returning, and of course this is all leading to his MIRACULOUS recovery and OVERCOMING THE ODDS to take the belt off Jericho, oh yeah, he’s still somehow the champion. I always keep coming back to how things would’ve been different possibly in with the invasion if people like Triple H, Benoit and Guerrero were healthy and how if any things would be different. Anyways, Triple H is back, and as demonstrated by the constant video packages of him getting stronger and fighting to get back, he was going to be shot to the moon when he got back. As a face, nonetheless, which is often weird to see him play.

It’s nice that they actually made the Royal Rumble match a storyline. This is like the first time since I’ve started watching in 1997 that they’ve actually had super stars really talking about entering and winning it. In the past the lead up to it has been non-existent. It helps to easily give guys storylines. And it’s big important guys, too, like HHH, Taker, Angle, Show, Kane. Really provides some heft to it and makes the Rumble match that much more interesting.

Vince McMahon and Ric Flair have a little feud going on how they’re basically co-owners of the company now, with Flair getting Raw and McMahon Smackdown. It does help to elevate Smackdown as a more equal brand, especially since this is before the eventual brand split, and provides Vince something to do, which would be his last major on-air thing for the year.

Goldust and Val Venis are back, one of many of the random superstars that just disappear and you go “oh, yeah, they were gone.” Bringing back some Attitude Era nostalgia. Billy and Chuck are also a thing now, with Billy Gunn trying his best to stay relevant however he can, and this one works surprisingly well for a bit, and they actually get over for a small while.

Anyways, on to the Rumble that Triple H wins, of course, because he’s just gotta win the title at Mania. Jericho beats Rock to retain the title through about 3346 different ways of cheating. Jericho is just a transitional champ, basically. Feels so unimportant, especially with Rock, Austin, Angle, HHH, Taker, they all seems so much better and main event than Jericho who still kinda feels like he doesn’t belong and too early. It seemed like a big deal when Jericho won to became the first undisputed champ, and he got a rub, but especially being a heel it didn’t really give him the push to the next level of top-tier talents like I’m sure they wanted to. Especially when he was just destined to lose to one of them very soon, ie. Triple H.

Triple H is face, of course for now, he turns on Stephanie after she was lied about having a baby. Sets up a no. 1 contender’s match at No Way Out that Angle wins to get the chance at the tile, but, nah… of course Triple H just wins his opportunity back at the next Raw. Because it’s Triple H, and of course he’s going over.

The Rock and Undertaker have a pretty fine match, which is really just a stop gap for them until their WrestleMania feuds get kicked off. Also, oh yeah, Stone Cold Steve Austin is still a thing, remember that guy? The most popular and over star in the company’s history or something? I can’t remember. Anyways, Austin is pretty much lost at sea in any storyline, due basically to his unhappiness with the company at the time and not really wanting to work. It’s crazy how his in-ring tenure just begins to disappear like this and how he hardly becomes a thought, just a few short years after he was carrying the company on his back.

So, finally a few months into 2002, Vince gets some of the top WCW stars that he so desperately needed during the invasion angle to make them seem relevant in Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall as NWO. It’s unfortunate it turned out as it did, but there’s few things I’ve been looking forward to more than the Rock/Hogan Mania match. Even though this iteration of NWO looks so boring and not harmful when it’s just three old dudes trying to remain relevant and badass.

Undertaker and Flair spar on their way to their Mania feud in so many different ways. This was actually one of my favourite builds of the year as both men seemingly held nothing back and everything descended into very personal attacks, like with Taker targeting David, Ric’s son. Flair cut some amazing promos, too, which really played off how emotional he gets and they felt painfully real.

The WrestleMania X8 card itself seemed pretty lackluster with a ton of filler matches. Matches like RVD vs. Regal, DDP vs. Christian, Angle vs. Kane, Edge Vs. Booker T (well, besides this one, because Edge and Booker were fighting over a Japanese shampoo commercial, yep.) and so on had very little build and were obviously just there to fill out the card and give some people something to do.

Stone Cold vs. Scott Hall seemed like it might have some potential, but it actuality it was short, boring and didn’t really seem to accomplish much with neither man seeming that into things. Triple H vs. Jericho was fine, but so uneventful and really containing nothing memorable of it in and of itself, besides the unofficial begin of Triple H being THE top guy without the likes of better guys like Rock and Stone Cold blocking his way. The build up with comedy bits between Stephanie and Jericho did nothing to lend credence to the feud and neither did the HHH/Stephanie split.

Of course, the biggest match, which somehow didn’t main event, although in nowadays booking totally would, the Rock/Hogan match didn’t disappoint. The crowd was nuclear and you could just feel the electricity radiating out of that ring. It’s almost surreal to think about these two top stars of their own begone generations facing off in one of the biggest contests of all time and thankfully Hogan didn’t go over.

Post-Mania dealings are all about the brand split and subsequent draft, which might be one of my favourite WWE things of all time, as well as the brand split which desperately needed to make something of Smackdown and which eventually exceeds amazingly well.

The draft was hilarious because it varies so much, as WWE often does, in strictness of rules and regulations when it comes to superstars being drafted and later traded or whatever. Like, Flair was somehow allowed to draft NWO, a group of three, with one pic. In the coming months they’d make a big deal of orchestrating a trade between the two brands, but then superstars would just defect to the other brand, with no repercussions, so it’s like it didn’t really matter where you got drafted, there was no actual checks and balance system, just whatever they felt like at the time. Like, later Batista and Randy Orton would go to Raw and the commentators were like “oh, yeah, they’re on Raw now, for no particular reason.” I mean, I know this is fake, scripted wrestling and the WWE rarely has concise continuity, but it’s just hilarious how little any of it really matters.

Also, a little someone who would become the dominant force of the year and would have an impact that few probably thought it would be as big throughout the years, Brock Lesnar debuted, and in the most Brock Lesnar way. He would literally just show up during random matches and just own everybody with F5’s and then leave. When he actually settled down and became a part of the actual roster he feuded with the Hardyz to start off with, which I guess was kind of a nice way to introduce him with a team he could go over and destroy.

So, Backlash happens which is pretty uneventful minus a great no. 1 contender’s match between Undertaker and Stone Cold that Taker cheats to win and the whole main event picture. So, it’s Hulk Hogan vs. Triple H for his newly won title and I really just assumed that Triple H would continue to keep getting the major rubs as the guy on top, go over the old Hogan and continue his ways. But, nope, Hogan won the title off Triple H who didn’t even survive a pay-per-view with it. It makes sense, though, Vince probably wanted that big shock and have Hogan carry around the Undisputed belt for a bit with the whole nostalgia factor until he gave it up shortly after to an actual worthy competitor, as he eventually did.

This also feels like when Undertaker finally got a true hold of who and what his American Bad Ass character really is. Where he just became this ruthless, asshole heel who was someone you didn’t want to mess with, and really encapsulated the bad ass biker look.

Randy Orton debuts and it’s so funny to see him all shaggy haired and wet behind the ears as a rookie compared with how we know him now. He’d pop up in random tag matches and have a mini-feud with Hardcore Holly. Later in the year he was put on Raw where he was subsequently injured, but they kept him relevant with this curious bit where he would pop up as this breaking news video where he heeled it up as a smug, smartass thanking the people for wishing him well during his recovery (which no one was doing) and they obviously had big plans for him if they wanted his face on TV every week or so, even though he was injured.

Batista debuts, too, in more bizarre terms than Randy (later Evolution mates), becoming a disciple of newly gimmicked D-Von’s preacher role as basically his muscle and a new dude for him to tag with. It didn’t last long, Batista would eventually end up on Raw where he would be groomed by Ric Flair, sowing the seeds for Evolution.

They had some really good momentum going into Judgment Day with the Underaker/Hogan feud that would eventually take the belt off Hogan at the PPV, which included Hogan doing literally the worst sell job to the chokeslam ever. The continued Triple H/Jericho feud was becoming a bore to me, but putting the match in Hell in a Cell at least provided some spark, although the match itself was pretty unmemorable, hmmm, sensing a theme in their matches. Most importantly, though, we had the Edge vs. Kurt Angle hair vs. hair match, in the culmination of an awesome feud that was based around comedy that both men do so well. I had never actually known how Angle went from hair to bald, and for some reason never assumed storyline reasons.

It’s funny because I’ll often forget about the brand split and be like “wow, Angle wasn’t even on this episode of Raw… wait, oh right, there’s an entirely different show.” It’s so crazy to think of the depth of talent they have to fully stock two relatively equal shows, in their own ways, of course. They each would have their own strengths, with Raw having some of the more traditional big names, but Smackdown would become the show to watch WRESTLING with the likes of Benoit, Angle, Guerrero, Mysterio and so forth. It’s just kinda crazy to think they were literally running two shows, that would only become more separate and were both very WWE, but created and re-ienforced their own identity.

Continuing with the randomness of the year, Shawn Michaels returns after, like four and a half years to seemingly little fanfare and joins with the NWO with him just doing random poses and stuff. It was a very weird position to bring him back as, but likely things would later get better with him, and he’d actually be wrestling, again.

Chris Benoit returns after his long injury, and of course they bring him back in his hometown of Edmonton and of course Vince being Vince they turn him heel in his hometown, which is sorta fun. Eddie Guerrero returns, too, and everything for the eventual rise of Smackdown in the latter part of the year is starting to fall in place, even though they were still on Raw.

Booker T is so funny, like, he can get to Kurt Angle levels of comedy, he’s so good. His partnership and schtick with Goldust is so perfect and they’re the perfect combination of randomness to put together.

Brock Lesnar continues to own and absolutely demolished the King Of The Ring tournament to take the crown. They do a smart thing this time around, which makes a lot of sense, giving the King Of The Ring winner a championship match.

The Rock, apparently, gets down promoting The Scorpion King or whatever Hollywood thing he was doing and comes back, obviously in prep to face Lesnar at SummerSlam. The past two years really The Rock is basically just a part-time player, doing his Hollywood stuff and only popping up at a few of the big events to have a big match, then he literally disappears again without WWF mentioning a word, and then repeat.

The Raw right after Vengeance Vince literally calls this time period “Ruthless Aggression,” so I don’t think there’s much of a doubt this is very much the first year of that era and nowhere near the Atittude Era. And then just like clockwork, who appears? John Cena, of course. On the following Smackdown Cena debuts with his infamous match against Angle. I’ll never get tired of seeing early Cena with his nerdy looking hair and plain appearance. The company was obviously super high on him at the time, as he featured in a ton of matches on following Smackdowns, including main-eventing some of them, and even had a mini-feud against Chris Jericho that would lead into Vengeance that he’d win.

The Undertaker vs. Jeff Hardy ladder match was just as epic as it was hyped to be. And in the loss totally made a star out of Hardy as a single competitor and one who could believably compete on his own. What a coming out party. I love the storyline that preceded Hardy taking on Taker. Where he was basically just bored living this easy, comfortable life of flying city to city wrestling and repeating. So, he needs a spark in his life something that matters, so he challenges the big dog, and eventually gets beaten down, but gains the respect of Undertaker and Flair and sets the roots of his singles career.

The Hardyz along with Edge & Christian actually managed to split them up from their tag teams and work them pretty successfully as single stars. Jeff was great, and would only get better, as that high-flying, risk-taking star, Matt had the V1 gimmick, which I’m not sure what the general consensus was, but I loved it for some reason, especially how technologically dependent and wringed in dry humour it was. Edge only gets better as a singles star and is a focal point of the Smackdown rise, while Christian enjoys some fun as part of The Un-Americans with Lance Storm and eventually Test, who just get constant rise out of all the Americans. I can’t believe I never heard of this tag-team/stable before, because it was a perfect gimmick for all of them, with guaranteed heat that they were all so good at getting, even when it wasn’t this easy. On the other hand, the Dudleyz split was pretty unsuccessful, Bubba was, uh, just his crazy self still, but hanging around with a girl occasionally, and D’Von’s preacher gimmick fizzled out fast. It’s no surprise they put them back together at Survivor Series, as it’s obviously how they work best.

Eric Bischoff comes in as general manager of Raw and I couldn’t be happier to see him. When I first started watching wrestling, a few years after this, he was GM and I absolutely love his smarmy asshole-ness and he fits perfectly as the authority figure. I’m too young to have experienced WCW, so I literally knew of Bischoff as Raw general manager before I knew anything about him and WCW, so I’m in a weird place. I can’t imagine how weird it must’ve been for people back in 2002 to see Bischoff randomly appear like this on WWE programming and become a focal authority point for it.

Stephanie McMahon is a great choice for Smackdown GM as well, she provides a nice foil to Bischoff, someone who’s like a thorn who constantly gets stuck in his side when she steals superstars to her show. She shifts back-and-forth between face and heel mannerisms, but it’s refreshing to see her out of the constant Triple H storylines, for the time being.

So, yeah, The Rock takes the title at Vengeance because it makes sense putting the belt on him being a grade A talent, his popularity as a movie star, heading into the number 2 show of the year, and the prospect of putting him against a Brock Lesnar character who seems unbeatable.

The only thing that could be bigger than that, though, is the wrestling return of Shawn Michaels. I’ve been waiting for his SummerSlam match with Triple H ever since he left all those years ago (months in my real life time, but still). Man, it’s almost surreal having HBK back, I know I’ve watched all these years in just a few months, but it really does seem like forever. It’s crazy to think that he literally went out right before/as the Attitude Era was commencing and is now coming back after it ends. Like he missed a whole era of wrestling. I can’t even imagine how things would be different with throughout the whole thing.

Triple H as a face, or psuedo-face wasn’t meant to last, of course, so he eventually turns on HBK during Michaels’ recruitment of HHH into NWO, which makes so little sense, especially since they were former DX members, but anyways. I mean, honestly, it doesn’t take much to build this feud with them, with all the shared history, but they do a good job, especially with HHH getting to turn back into his sadistic side.

This SummerSlam PPV gets hyped up a lot as being one of the best the company has put on, it’s really good, but I don’t think it’s anything fully amazing or anything, though. Rey Mysterio joins the Smackdown fold, finally, and puts on a classic with Kurt Angle to kick off SummerSlam. It’s literally not in Angle’s DNA to put on bad matches. Ric Flair faced off against Chris Jericho, another of Flair’s random feuds of the year as a wrestler, and one of Jericho’s, too. Chris Jericho had kind of a down year here, especially coming off his monumental one of last year, and never really got to be in the main event picture, but was just stuck in small, random feuds and the tag-team scene. Undertaker also feuded with Test for some reason, just to give him something to do, I guess, which he easily won.

The Shawn Michaels/Triple H street fight was a lot of fun and lived up to the years of hype surrounding the return of HBK. They went long, and even though I was sure Michaels was going over, it still told a pretty good story and had many spots where it seemed like Triple H would believably go over.

The Brock coronation begins when he defeats The Rock in a relatively one-sided affair and one that was a lot more shorter and succinct than I expected and just like that Brock Lesnar is the Undisputed champion of the company and The Rock disappears without a word.

Oh, my god, l I never really fully understood the “Triple H didn’t want to work Tuesdays things” and so they legit just brought back the Heavyweight title and just gave it to HHH because he didn’t want to work Smackdown and fight for the supposed one Undisputed title. I mean, I guess it makes sense to have two separate titles with the brand split, but it’s listed as the UNDISPUTED title and it hardly had any time to breath, and they just gave it to HHH. Amazing. Like, Bischoff just gave Triple H a world championship, no tournament or anything, and now all of a sudden each brand has a world title, which I like, but it’s hilarious how randomly and low-key they do it.

Unforgiven was a pretty boring placeholder PPV with Triple H easily defending his title against RVD, of all people. At the very least, it was used as a way for Ric Flair to turn and align with Triple H, which at the time is kinda fun, giving Triple H someone to bounce things off, and also gives Flair some direction, which he desperately needed these past few months ever since being ousted as GM. The Lesnar/Undertaker feud is a lot of good work, though, especially when Brock and Heyman use Sara against Taker, makes them even more slimy.

Finally, the HHH/Kane/Katie Vick storyline. This was actually a ton of fun and random and so not what they’ve done recently and was a such an Attitude outlier of a storyline. It was actually so nice to have someone feud with Kane and he actually got to be a part of the meaty story and had a backstory and not just some silent, grunt who beats people up for no reason, except for being a DEMON FROM HELL. HHH prodding him was the best and so slimy and dickish of him. At least it wasn’t your same old title match, where it’s the ol “I’m better than you, no I’m better than YOU.” Their title match at No Mercy was pretty boring and didn’t match the build-up, and obviously HHH won. I don’t fully understand why they used it to get rid of the Intercontinental title, making it title for title was cool, but just completely getting rid of the mid-card title seemed weird.

Smackdown needed their own tag belts, so they had a tournament that concluded at No Mercy with Benoit and Angle winning the title. It was pretty clear they were winning ever since the storyline started with them being begrudgen partners, but they’re fantastic wrestling and in a storyline together, so it works all the way around. Especially, with the calibre of tag teams like Los Guerreros and Edge and Rey Mysterio, my god. The Smackdown 6, what a time to be alive.

If that wasn’t enough, No Mercy was capped with a brutal, epic Hell In A Cell match between Brock Lesnar and Undertaker that completely lives up to its hype. This was another of several matches this year that I couldn’t wait to get to, and it delivered and more. Such an even bigger rub for Lesnar to take out Undertaker in the match that made him famous.

Hey, you remember the Big Show who literally has done nothing of note and has been in no storyline at all in, like, two years? Yeah, well, he literally complains about this basically to Bischoff, Bischoff does nothing, so Show defects to Smackdown and gets a title match with Lesnar at Survivor Series. Huh? It’s hilarious how they do this because Big Show has literally not been a factor in anything in sooo long and they just plug him into this feud with Lesnar from 0-100. I guess they probably wanted someone who looked imposing towards the insane mass of Lesnar and Show definitely fits the bill. So, of course, after all of building Lesnar up from destroying everyone in his path, winning King Of The Ring, taking the title off The Rock at SummerSlam, defeating Undertaker in Hell in a Cell, after all of that, at Survivor Series Lesnar owns Big Show, but Paul Heyman turns on Lesnar and Big Show gets the win and the title thanks to a little steel chair action. It’s kinda dumb, I would’ve liked to have seen Lesnar keep being built up as a monster, but springing him on his own and having him be a sort of babyface to take revenge on Heyman and Big Show works decently enough.

The Raw part of Survivor Series was, oh, just the introduction of a little match called the Elimination Chamber. I completely forgot it debuted this year and was so excited when I found out. It’s crazy to see Bischoff hype it now with us looking back, but it must have seemed crazy and out of this world at the time. The match itself more than lived up to the hype and must have been a relief since it very much have devolved into a cluster with the newness of it and all the people. Rob Van Dam was the star of the show, creating amazing moves and just generally being a rag doll, even though he was the first one out. I couldn’t remember if HBK or HHH won or not, but Michaels going over works, gives him his moment with the title and allows the feud to be stretched on, as it would to the next PPV.

Leading into Vengeance, Angle won the no. 1 contendership for the title against Big Show, as Brock couldn’t get his rematch and was eventually later suspended. This led to a weird thing where instead of just a Lesnar retaliation of Big Show, Angle was injected into this feud, with Lesnar helping Angle win the title of Big Show at the PPV. But, Angle would eventually become an adversary of Lesnar’s when he teamed with Heyman, so now Heyman had Big Show and Heyman. It’s a little convoluted, but I guess they just want to stack the deck as much as possible against Lesnar, so his overcoming of those two and regaining of the title will be that much greater.

The Triple H/HBK feud concludes, I believe, for now in another great match and just another top-tier effort following their other big matches at SummerSlam and Survivor Series. I knew they faced off in this epic Three Stages of Hell match, but I had no clue it was so soon, and didn’t think they’d put it on maybe their weakest PPV generally, the one in December. Anyways, it was an enjoyable match, even if the first street fight stage went on wayyy too long and subsequently the last stage with the ladder match was vastly under-used and was a letdown. It’s actually kind of crazy, too, the amount of bumps HBK took in this match, the SummerSlam match, and the Elimination Chamber match, especially due to the hardcore nature of all of them, given his situation with his back. Like, he went all out and didn’t seem concerned at all about an injury that put him out for over four years, it almost makes me cringe seeing him put all that pressure on his back, but I guess things worked out relatively well in the end.

So, that’s basically it, at least with storylines that are largely contained to this year. All in all I had a ton of fun with this year and it was so needed and the perfect antidote to the staleness and sub-par 2001. There was just sooo much jam packed into this year from returns, debuts, epic stipulation matches, the breadth of the draft and brand split, fun storylines (I didn’t even talk about the whole Dawn Marie, Torrie Wilson, Al Wilson storyline, although, I wouldn’t really classify it as fun), and really just the start of a whole new fresh direction that was divorced from the Attitude Era and bred out of the ashes of the invasion angle of the last year.

Through all this I’m really looking forward to 2003, especially because it’s one of my biggest blind spots of WWE. I’m aware of broad things that happen from the Rumble to WrestleMania 19. But, don’t really know or recall much that happens from then into 2004, so I’m really looking forward to it and hoping it remains fresh to me. I first really got into wrestling right after WrestleMania 20 and subsequently know everything about the next couple years after that, so I’m going to relish in this next year being somewhat in the dark and hope that the fun of 2002 only continues.