Ruthless Aggression Revisited: April 2003

  • By Chris Groves
  • 24 Apr, 2017

Shooting Star Presses, spiked bangs and Spike Dudley - it can only be WWE in the early 2000s! 

For my 23rd birthday this April, I only wanted one thing. As an avid gamer, it’s not too surprising that this particular item I lusted for was a video games console. However, it wasn’t the latest offerings from Microsoft or Sony, or that Nintendo thing that breaks apart and modifies like a knock-off Transformer from a Kinder Surprise. No, I wanted something different.

I asked for a PlayStation 2. Released in 2000, the technology and capabilities of the PS2 are, of course, lightyears behind what we can experience on the latest tech. But, as it was the console I owned when growing up, it has a certain level of charm and nostalgia about it that I’ve been yearning for. In fact, that post-millennium era in general is time that I wish I could experience at my current age. Baggy jeans were so in, nu-metal acts were dominating the charts, and World Wrestling Entertainment was a really, really big deal.


After the heralded Attitude Era and the plethora of talent acquired from the purchase of WCW and ECW, WWE had a monumental platform in the early 2000s to kick on from. A pair of unique rosters, a heightened level of mainstream attention and a general, post-Y2K feeling of cultural prosperity and profligacy allowed WWE to have two similar, yet unmistakably different weekly shows that raked in viewers and ratings numbers.

As a kid, I loved this era of WWE, boasting the balls-to-the-wall approach of the Attitude Era, with a refined level of presentation and a stunning roster of talent. So, with the WWE Network’s archive of content now including all the flagship shows and pay-per-views of that era, I’ve been watching them all back with brand new eyes and a more considered outlook.

 

Ruthless Aggression Revisited: The Premise

Each week for the Hooked on Blog, I’ll take you back in time, reviewing all the WWE action from a month of the Ruthless Aggression era in chronological order. From emerging talents to earth-shattering shocks, seductive soap-operas to silly gimmicks, I’ll break down the headline action, followed by some off-the-cuff analysis, highlights, low points and, like every good report, something a little eye-raising to finish on.

While you can decide for yourself when the Ruthless Aggression era actually started (some time just before some rookie called John had his debut , I’d say), we’ll pick things up on March 31, 2003 – the day after WrestleMania 19, in which Triple H retained the World title against Booker T, Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels stole the show, and the match between The Rock and Steve Austin was only mildly overshadowed by the greatest match preview package of all time . After almost 55,000 people packed into SafeCo Field in Seattle, it was time to go again on Monday Night Raw the very next night…

 

WWE in April 2003: Roundup

…A night where, it could be argued, the concept of ‘#RAWAfterMania’ really began to take off. While The Rock dominated proceedings, it was the arrival of Goldberg at the end of the show (known about by some, booed by a handful) that made this show a big one, the Atlanta native spearing The Great One to set up a decent match at Backlash, which Goldberg wins. The Rock’s opponent the previous night, Steve Austin , saw himself ‘fired’ by RAW General Manager Eric Bischoff on medical grounds, using Austin’s real-life injury problems as the basis of his in-ring departure. Bischoff also looks to fire Jim Ross for his critical comments the following week, but JR quits before he gets the sack.

What about the titles? The extremely over tag team of Kane and Rob Van Dam won the Tag Team Titles, defeating various members of the ‘Bischoff Administration’, including Chief Morley and the Dudley Boyz . Trish Stratus holds the Womens Title, but Jazz is on the rise, managed by Theodore Long, and she eventually takes the title at Backlash. Kevin Nash returns to try and diffuse the hatred between fellow Kliq members Triple H and Shawn Michaels , failing miserably but putting himself at the front of the queue for a World Heavyweight Championship shot. As for the Intercontinental title? Still conspicuous by its absence.

Over on SmackDown, Brock Lesnar’s babyface WWE title run was under-way after a long chase to win the belt back. A number one contender’s tournament was put together and, despite the likes of Undertaker, Big Show and Chris Benoit featuring, it was a young John Cena who would win the tournament and face Lesnar at Backlash. Cena takes Lesnar further than many expected in a decent match, accompanied by chants of “Let’s Go Cena!”, but Lesnar unsurprisingly retains at the PPV.

SmackDown is understandably making a pretty big deal about Torrie Wilson being featured in a certain gentleman’s magazine, but it also marked the return of Sable and the beginning of a rather, erm, memorable feud between these two. Meanwhile, Mr McMahon appears to turn over a new leaf by shaking Hulk Hogan’s hand after their WrestleMania match, before forcing Hogan to leave SmackDown and “rot at home”. To back him up – and to work with rookie Sean O’HaireRowdy Roddy Piper returns, hosting some rather awkward editions of Piper’s Pit.

The miniscule, yet extremely talented Brian Kendrick (A.K.A ‘Spanky’) joins the Cruiserweight division, ruled by the distinctly un-Cruiserweight Matt Hardy . Rey Mysterio seems to be the only legitimate challenger for Hardy’s title, but he’s too busy picking on people three times his size, like Big Show. That leads to a match at Backlash and that stretcher spot .

 

WWE in April 2003: Analysis

-        The Rock’s heel character around this time is, in my opinion, the best persona we’ve seen Dwayne Johnson put to use in WWE. His sense of utter entitlement and disbelief that everyone in attendance doesn’t adore him is superb. The Rock’s original return a few months previous was as a babyface, but the company used the boos he received for ‘selling out’, instead of battling against them. A very smart move.

-        Nathan Jones, recently released from prison and flat-out crazy, debuts as a babyface. Welcome to 2003, everyone.

-        SmackDown’s focus on “the spirit of competition” works – and it only works because of the emphasis placed upon it by the likes of Stephanie McMahon and Michael Cole, who regularly reference it. Tournaments, long matches, bouts between pairs of heels or babyfaces – it was all commonplace on SmackDown at this time. They don’t always make for a great show, but you knew what you were tuning into when SmackDown came on, meaning you bought into it.

-        It may surprise those who have only seen him in his more recent WWE run, but Goldberg was actually a pretty good character during promos. His comedy segment with Goldust , for example, was an unexpected highlight. Test is better than I expected, too, transitioning from a slightly comedic, skirt-chasing guy, to a womanising bully that’s impossible to like.   

-        Possibly rewarding him for his excellent segments with The Rock before WrestleMania, The Hurricane received a serious push during March. Matches against top stars, lots of air-time – Helms was clearly seen as much more than a lightweight, comedy character. Temporarily, at least.

-        Being a heel GM isn’t the most difficult of gigs, but Eric Bischoff is purpose-built for the role, going full mad-with-power mode at this point. It also helps, though, that he had Jim Ross to work against, who did an outstanding job of making you really feel like he hated Bischoff.

-        Kevin Nash’s return got a couple of good pops to start with, but it tailed off pretty quickly. Nash’s work with the microphone was okay and his physical presence added to a few moments, but he was under par in the ring.

-        On his way to winning the number one contender’s tournament, John Cena defeated Eddie Guerrero, Undertaker and Chris Benoit. Yup.

 

Highlights

1) Jeff Hardy vs The Rock is a pretty great match. There are very few performers out there that are better than Jeff at playing the role of valiant underdog.

2) In RAW’s opening credits after Steve Austin’s firing, instead of taking out the short clip of Austin, a bid red ‘X’ is put through it instead. Just like putting Bischoff’s face at the end of the WWE opening video, subtle touches like that are brilliant showings of that all-in approach to the show that made it so entertaining.

3) Sean O’Haire’s teaser promos before his debut. No, seriously. I thought they were really good and outlined an intriguing character – making it all the more confusing that his run in WWE was basically a total flop.

 

Low Points

1) Scott Steiner. Just… ugh.

2) Jerry Lawler’s heel comments on Booker T’s upbringing and criminal record. It’s obviously all in gest and meant to make you hate Lawler, but it goes a little too far at times, for me.

3) The SmackDown team putting a table cloth and some salt and pepper on a backstage table in catering, to try and signify some sort of mafia-esque meeting between the F.B.I. and Undertaker…

 

And Finally…

Gillberg vs Goldberg. We nearly got the dream match! As part of The Rock’s plan to goad Goldberg into the ring, Gillberg is on hand to poke fun at the man he parodies, before coming face to face with him for the first time. Goldberg throws him around briefly before Rocky sneaks up from behind. Such a shame. It was a close one between this and Josh Matthews’ face as he conducts a so-non-PG backstage interview with Sable.

 

Next week on Ruthless Aggression Revisited, we look at May 2003, including Judgement Day, beer-swigging and three-limbed wrestlers. Quite clearly, you don’t want to miss it. Have any memories or opinions on this period in WWE history? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook . Or both, if you feel like it!

 

Chris - @OTPChris

By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
Are you excited for SummerSlam? We sure are. We hope you are planning on joining us at one of our ELEVEN SummerSlam parties around the country on Sunday. It really is the best way to watch outside of being in the Barclays Centre. If you want to join us, head to Ringside World and search 'Hooked On' to see if we are in a city near you. 

Over the last week we have been posting individual match previews for the thirteen matches on the main card and kick off shows. In short, we are expecting one hell of a show. If it comes close to living up to it's potential then it will be the best show of the year quite comfortably.

Do you agree with our picks? Strongly disagree? Either way, why not enter our SummerSlam Prediction Competition. If you can prove yourself to be the wisest wrestling fan in the competition, you can win not only bragging rights over your mates but also VIP tickets to our Royal Rumble parties in January. If you want to play, just click here .

So without further delay, read on to see what we expect to see from each of the individual matches on the card.

All match graphics courtesy of WWE.com .


By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
Seriously, talk about last minute! They didn't even book this on the last Raw. They waited until three days before the PPV to even tease that these guys were going to be on the card. Obviously it smacks at them mopping up the major players they hadn't booked in to a match to make sure they were featured. I would say WrestleMania seems a long time ago for Matt & Jeff but at least they're not still wrestling an owl.....

This match has face win written all over it. Why else would it be put together? Miztourage can of course take the fall, protecting the Intercontinental Champion in the process and it gives the fans a chance to pop for The Hardy's antics both old and new, and gives Jordan a chance to further his arc of blue chipper turned entitled Daddy's boy. 

This should be a fun ten minutes but not too many people are going to remember it once the PPV itself starts.

Predicted Winners: The Hardy Boyz & Jason Jordan

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
Anyone else find it a bit odd that WWE gave us this long brewing match on Raw? Did they just want a different set up? Something fresher than Neville defending again? Maybe they just wanted the fun scene of Titus celebrating in front of a hot Boston crowd. Whatever it was, Neville is going to be a man possessed to get that belt back and you know what? He's probably going to get it.

His whole character is based on being the best. Being The King Of The Cruiserweights. To be that he has to actually have the belt. It's a very old school champion set up in that regard isn't it? Like Ric Flair or HHH of old. He is defined by the belt and him having it makes both him and the championship itself stronger.

For that reason, we expect Neville to walk out of Brooklyn as the two time cruiserweight champ. Long live The King!
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
Bold prediction....This might well end up being the greatest match ever on the history of pre-PPV shows.

That sounds like damning with faint praise but really it isn't. There have been some fabulous pre-show matches in the recent past and most of them have featured guys in this match. The pick of the bunch for me is likely The Usos Vs. Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns in 2013. I genuinely think this is going to top it.

By any measure, it's a crime that these guys have been 'relegated' to the pre-show. These are unquestionably the two best teams on SmackDown and two of the best that have come along in a long time. The Usos have reignited their careers as heels and The New Day keep on doing their thing. By all rights it should have got stale by now but somehow, it hasn't. They keep reinventing themselves just enough to stay fresh and entertaining.

This match will feature four men (Five if you count the spare New Day member) who will be desperate to prove themselves. Desperate to steal the show. Desperate to show that it was a mistake and an insult to bump them from the PPV itself. And you know what? I would bet big on them doing this match. We go in to the match, the third in the trilogy, with a very well built, old school tag team feud. Match one, the heels retained by shenanigans. Match two, the faces took the belt thanks to a career performance from their perceived weak link (Woods). Match three is the cap on the trilogy and these guys will want to put a rather nice bow on this feud.

My money goes on The New Day retaining. For one thing, it's the logical step in the story. Also, the bigger picture seemingly needs face champs. The next challengers feel like they are going to be heels. That could well be the team that have been attacking Breezango. Who could that be? Up in the air. Could be Harper & Rowan, The Bollywood Boyz or even a new team from NXT such as The Authors Of Pain Or Sanity. Whoever it is, expect them to be pushed into the challengers role quite quickly after running through the Fashion Police.

In conclusion, this is my dark horse match of the evening. Do not be surprised if this is the match of the weekend. Who needs PPV anyway?

Predicted Winners: The New Day

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
I'm trying really hard to resist any BIG plays on words for this match....

This is the last match to preview on the main card and for many, it's going to be the most likely to be a dud, quality wise on extremely strong overall show. For fans of bell to bell action, it isn't looking good. Big Show knows his role as a giant and it's tried and true after over 20 years in the business. Cass on the other hand is still trying to put all the physical tools to good use to become a convincing big man. At the moment he feels a long way off where he needs to be. If we are being cruel, he really lacks the mean, rough look and his physique, whilst tall, is still quite gangly. More basketballer than gigantic grappler. This feud is clearly designed for him to work with a master of the craft and hopefully some of Show's experience will be passed on to the younger man. Let's hope that mission is accomplished at least.

For that reason, Cass should and will win this match. There are some wildcards in play of course. Enzo being in the cage could be a factor or it could be just another way to haze the unpopular loudmouth. Also, the interjection by The Club this past week on Raw may also come in to play at some point. But overall, this seems like a sub-ten minute Big Cass banker. 

Predicted Winner: Big Cass

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
We are going to put as much effort in to this match as WWE have booking it. So, it's going to be a pretty good match and Orton will win with the RKO. Done and dusted.






Oh hang on, you want a bit more? OK, fair enough. How's this for a hot take? WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF WHATEVER HIGHER POWER YOU BELIEVE IN, GIVE RUSEV SOMETHING MEANINGFUL AND EXCITING TO DO. PLEASE!!!!

Seriously though, how frustrating to see this guy being constantly wasted. He's such a force in the ring with an incredible personality out of it. With a bit of care and investment of time he could EASILY have been part of the Raw main event with the other working brutes and he would not have seemed remotely out of place. When he came back in late June he could easily have been positioned as a face and got some great support. It was such an easy story. The one time enemy of the US has realised just how much opportunity living in the country has given him and how he now wants to right his previous wrongs and defend it against Jinder Mahal etc. It's so easy. It would be like the Nikolai Volkoff turn all those years ago only with a guy that could actually work a lick. Instead he is spinning his wheels in a tired anti-American heel role. Hell, he's not even the only one doing that gimmick on his show. Jinder Mahal and Kevin Owens (To an extent) are doing the same blooming thing higher up the card. There's two opponents for him straight away. Honestly, I'm getting frustrated even writing this!

Anyway, Orton is going to win by RKO, as above. Let's just hope that I am wrong and this is all a holding pattern for a big Rusev push. He arguably deserves it more than anyone in the company.

Predicted Winner: Randy Orton

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
First of all, how refreshing is it to get title matches for both women's titles on a main PPV that are both (wo)mano a (wo)mano?  It so often feels like multi-person matches are thrown together to get more superstars on the card at the expense of proper story. Well, not this time.

That said, this story hasn't been too compelling so far. That's not a huge problem as it's a fairly fresh match with a belt involved so they don't need to ladle on the soap opera but if I were to nitpick, I would quite like a bit more sizzle with this particular steak.

Naomi as champion is an interesting one. She clearly has cracked it in terms of presentation. The 'Feel The Glow' stuff is truly unique. Sure, the purists will spit out their cookies at the neon flashing title but what the heck, it's not always about us old fogies. I'm sure the generation before us would have been equally upset with entrance music at one stage. No, they've done a great job giving her a real brand but no she needs to step up to the plate in terms of the substance behind the neon. Don't get me wrong, I think she's doing fine, no complaints. But when you look at the strides Alexa Bliss has made in a similar time frame, she's lagging behind a touch. Will she get there? Actually, yes, I think she will. She's got good basics, a huge work ethic and goodwill from the fans. She's on the right path. And working with veterans like Natalya will absolutely help her down that path.

Expect this match to be a nice showcase for Naomi with the champ coming out on top. The obvious wrinkle is Carmella and her Money In The Bank briefcase. We had our fingers burned talking about SummerSlam cash ins earlier this week so we won't be so bold as to predict she cashes it in with any certainty but it does feels like the right stage for it to happen.

Predicted Winner: Naomi

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
Clearly WWE aren't too fussed about subtlety when it comes to Bray bringing out The Demon are they? To their credit, it has been exactly a year since we've seen Finn in the paint and they've got merch to shift so who can blame them?

So far with these previews I've been largely positive and deservedly so. Unfortunately, that ends here for now and the reason is not the man from Bray, it's the man called Bray.

Most fans have long since tired with Wyatt's act. It just doesn't accomplish anything. He comes out, spouts his gobbledy gook, laughs, loses and then carries on like nothing happened. Is that even a gimmick? It's certainly not a character. Frankly, the closest comparison in terms of past superstars to Wyatt's act is The Boogeyman. Both 'monsters', both ridiculous and both use props and elaborate entrances. Neither of them were useful and neither of them engage in useful feuds that entertain or elevate other performers and themselves. The only difference is that Wyatt is a better worker. Not great but much better than The Boogeyman. I'm now of the belief that Bray Wyatt, the character, needs to go. For good. Not only is he not entertaining but he's actively dragging down other characters and performers on the show. Think back over the last few years. How many guys have come in to a feud with Wyatt with decent momentum only to have that completely sucked out of them afterwards. A few months trading wins with Wyatt in average at best matches and they come out the other side far less over than when they went in. Think about it. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, John Cena, Chris Jericho, Luke Harper, The New Day...You could probably name more. All have feuded with Wyatt (Or the Wyatt Family as a whole). How many of them have come out in a better position? None. How many have come out damaged in some way? All of them in my opinion. And unfortunately, Finn Balor is the next in line to hit the Wyatt wall. And this really is the last thing he needs. After coming to Raw last summer and immediately winning the new Universal Championship, his injury hiatus meant he returned this spring having to prove himself all over again. So far he simply has not done that and Wyatt is not helping one bit. Here's hoping whatever he does next (A heel turn, please!) can put him back on track.

The match itself will be standard Wyatt fare. Nothing exciting. It will be a straightforward win for Balor. Let's be honest, this match is all about the entrances and Balor's faceprint.

I promise I will be a bit more positive with my next review!

Predicted Winner: Finn Balor

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 17 Aug, 2017
Has there ever been a feud in wrestling between two such beloved performers that has turned out so....meh? If there is, I can't think of one. On paper, this is a dream feud between two of the very best wrestlers in the world. What's not to love? Well, most of it in execution. In terms of excitement and entertainment it hasn't really got off the launching pad. It would be easy to blame WWE booking for this (And it has been dry in terms of entertainment value) but you would still expect these guys to turn it on when they get in the ring but they just haven't. Every match has been decent but these two should be capable together of significantly better than just decent. Why has it been such a let down? Hard to say. It's not like either has been left mired without a push for a length of time as both are coming off world title reigns and sit towards the top of the card. Maybe it's just a case of two guys just not clicking. If that's the case, that's at least a good reason to be optimistic about this match. Both men are clearly hard working perfectionists and if the matches have been less than stellar, we can rest assured that they will want to do something about it. And what better place to do that than the second biggest show of the year with a McMahon as special guest referee?

Am I expecting something great despite past mediocrity? Actually, I am. I just can't believe that given plenty of time on a big stage with a hot crowd that these two won't leave us with something quite special. Keep the faith, people!

In terms of the outcome, I'm expecting a Styles win. One would suspect that KO will attempt to pull the wool over Shane's eyes only for it to backfire and lead to Money Mac favouring Styles either inadvertently or purposefully and raising Styles hand. Expect the fallout to be the end of the feud and the start of real hostilities between Owens and the Smackdown commissioner. 

Predicted Winner: AJ Styles

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 17 Aug, 2017
Let's talk Alexa Bliss. She's not making too bad of a job of this being a champion lark is she?

She's been on the roster little over a year. Her call up was met with little fanfare. Sure, her work in NXT had been appreciated as the bitchy vixen valet for Blake and Murphy (Blurphy?) but did anyone expect her to be the standout woman in WWE this year? Because she really, really has. Nobody else has come close. She has embraced the opportunity to dial up her catty, entitled character and improve her ringwork significantly. It's phenomenal to see her rise. Not being one of the famed Four Horsewomen meant she wasn't supposed to be the crown jewel of the WWE Women's revolution, but here she is. 

Her opponent has had mixed fortunes in the same timeframe. This writer was lucky enough to be at AT&T Stadium for WrestleMania 32 and undoubtedly, the person who felt like the biggest star in an actual match, after The Undertaker, was Sasha Banks. Her entrance felt like you were in the presence of greatness. Unfortunately, that momentum hasn't really been sustained. Opinions are mixed on her regular trading of the title with Charlotte in 2016 but no doubt she has taken a back seat this year. In fact, she wasn't originally booked for SummerSlam at all until Bayley went down with an injury. That said, the match she had on Raw this week was the best of Nia Jaxx's career and the memory of her NXT match with the aforementioned Bayley in the same arena as she will appear this weekend still lives in the memory. This match feels like a big deal, basically. They have met before on PPV but given the stage and the presentation, this feels different. I think we are going to see a match that's given a relatively long time and will be one of the top four matches of the night in terms of entertainment value.

Who will win? Alexa. And if I had to choose one match to put the mortgage money on this weekend, this would probably be it. For starters, her reign is going rather blooming well and it needs to continue for a good long time yet. Secondly, Sasha is due a heel turn. The likelihood is that that turn would have come at Bayley's expense which isn't happening for a few months now so maybe that will throw a spanner in the works. 

One thing we want to put on record though: Alexa is doing such a good job that it's only a matter of time before she starts to get cheered by the masses. If the marquee women's match at WrestleMania 34 is likely to be WWE's Four Horsewomen against Ronda Rousey's Four Horsewomen, then expect Alexa to be the big babyface vying for one of the Women's championships on the same card.

Predicted Winner: Alexa Bliss

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
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