Welcome back to Ruthless Aggression Revisited, where we take a look back at a memorable period for WWE in the early 2000s. After April brought us the post-Wrestlemania madness, shock hirings and plenty of firings, one would understandably expect May’s offerings to be something of a hangover. Not so. Not so, one bit. Let's break down all the action from RAW, SmackDown and May's pay-per-view, Judgement Day, along with some analysis, highlights and head-scratchers.
WWE in May 2003: Roundup
Eric Bischoff’s tyrannical reign over RAW begins to go a little too far, threatening to fire half the roster and being rather, let’s say, inappropriate towards the likes of Lita (recovering from injury and commentating on Heat) and Trish Stratus . The board of directors steps in, with Linda McMahon introducing a new Co-General Manager of RAW: Stone Cold Steve Austin . A rather hefty pop ensues .
Stone Cold re-introduces the Intercontinental title, announcing a new battle royal to determine its new holder, with only former champions eligible – and Booker T . Booker appears to win the battle royal, only for a screwy finish to deny him and gift the title to Christian .
He also brings back, for one week only, the Legion of Doom , who lost to Tag Team Champions Kane and Rob Van Dam . French-Canadian tag team La Resistance, consisting of Rene Dupree and Sylvain Grenier , debut on RAW, feuding at first with YOUR American hero, Scott Steiner , who seems to be inadvertently contributing to the break-up of Test and Stacy Keibler .
Playing on the idea that Bill Goldberg wasn’t welcome in WWE (which, it seems, wasn’t entirely fictional), Chris Jericho begins a strong feud with Goldberg by humiliating him with sneak attacks, trash talk, and pouring paint all over his car. Jericho even convinces Lance Storm to try and run Goldberg over, leading to some memorable ‘interrogations’ from Steve Austin.
Backed up by Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash is on the warpath, laying out World Heavyweight Champion Triple H and chasing him around various arbitrary parking lots. It’s all to build towards a title match at Judgement Day between Nash and Trips, which somewhat failed to live up to expectations. The champion uses his trusty sledgehammer to retain his belt via DQ, but Nash has the final word, powerbombing Triple H through the announce table. The highlight of the World Title picture comes the night after the PPV, however, as Ric Flair defies Hunter (temporarily, at least) and doesn’t lie down for the champ in a title match. Hunter retains but can’t shake off Nash, with Austin booking a Hell in a Cell match between the two for Bad Blood.
Over on SmackDown, after Big Show decided to hurl a stretcher-strewn Rey Mysterio into a ring post last month, WWE Champion Brock Lesnar calls on Show to pick on someone 70% his own size, rather than 30%. Show and Lesnar do battle at Judgement Day in a Stretcher match. By far the highlight of the night, the match ends with Brock bringing a forklift truck to the ring, launching into Show off of it, before placing the 500lb giant onto it and over the line, retaining his title.
The WWE Tag Team title picture is hotting up, as Team Angle, Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin , are struggling to handle Eddie and Chavo Guerrero – the latter still being cheered on despite blatantly cheating to win matches. Madness! Los Guerreros also steal the titles, a picture of Kurt Angle and Kurt’s medals on the road to a title match at Judgement Day, but Chavo picks up an injury shortly before the PPV. Tajiri steps in and, in a solid, if not spectacular Ladder match, the unlikely team took the belts from Team Angle.
Stephanie McMahon signs an exciting talent from the indies, named Mr America . Making his debut on an edition of Piper’s Pit, the masked underground upstart actually looks a lot like Hulk Hogan , who Mr McMahon had ordered to stay at home. Mr America’s “no-cut contract” means McMahon is stuck with him, even dodging the infamous lie detector test .
Roddy Piper (flanked by Sean O’Haire ) is unable to put Mr American in his place, losing to him at Judgement Day. Along the way, though, an “America-maniac” by the name of Zach Gowen tries to help his hero by rushing out from the bleachers and coming into the ring – only to have his prosthetic leg ripped off . Uh huh.
WWE in May 2003: Analysis
- If you’re hole-picking at WWE storylines (which can lead to some cavernous gaps, if you’re not careful), why did the board of directors choose to wait so long before stepping in on the Bischoff situation? Why didn’t they just fire him? If you’re looking for stability, why pick Steve Austin? Promoting from within is usually a positive move, but this one is a HR nightmare.
- There’s probably a lot more to it than meets the eye, but the concept of the Legion of Doom coming back for one show, losing, then disappearing again, seems very odd. It did get a good reaction , mind you.
- The Los Guerreros gimmick encourages the lazy and disrespectful stereotype that Mexican people are thieves. But it’s also very entertaining and makes them a great babyface tag team. Go figure.
- During a Womens Title match at Judgement Day, Trish Stratus takes an absolutely vicious-looking bump. Attempting a Stratusfaction on Victoria, Trish is launched out of the ring to the floor, landing flat and face-down. With this in mind, along with various other no-disqualification womens matches, you tend to forget how physical WWE were willing to go with the girls at this stage.
- At this moment in time, there were very few WWE performers better at being a heel than Christian. The booking helped somewhat, with him constantly escaping defeat and causing disqualifications, but you really, really wanted to punch Christian’s smirking face, so mission accomplished.
- There’s ripping things off, then there’s the way that WWE tend to rip off pop culture to make new talent relevant. And then there’s the Matrix -style teaser promos for Gail Kim.
- JOBBER WATCH: It’s always fun to see familiar faces get the tar beat out of them before they went on to bigger and better things. An early incarnation of Kenny Dykstra lost out in Rodney Mack’s ‘5-Minute White Boy Challenge’, while a SmackDown tag match featured Aaron Stevens, who would later go on to become Damien Sandow. Or Damien Mizdow. Or Macho Mandow.
1) The looks on the faces of both Roddy Piper and Sean O’Haire when Piper rips the prosthetic leg off of Zach Gowen. Piper looks bewildered and physically sick, while O Haire basically gives the “I want none of this s**t” look and walks away. Brilliant stuff.
2) In a match between Torrie Wilson and Nidia, referee Mike Sparks gets involved in a classic (for better or worse) women’s match moment, getting rolled on top of by the two women as they tussle on the mat. Afterwards, though, Sparks jumps up to the corner turnbuckle and celebrates, to a huge pop. Literally the funniest thing I saw during this month.
3) Eddie Guerrero vs Matt Hardy. Not on a pay-per-view, for a title, or given pre-match hype; this was just two outstanding performers in their prime, putting on a fast-paced, hard-hitting clinic.
1) I don’t know anyone who wasn’t a fan of Eddie and Chavo Guerrero’s ‘Lie, Cheat, Steal’ gimmick, and May 2003 is when it really begins to flourish. That’s despite some really rather zany and odd vignettes to help develop the shtick. There’s a fine line between likeable mischievousness and general douchebaggery.
2) Goldberg feeling the need to fit the word “ass” into every other statement he makes. “Your ass is on!” “I’m gonna beat your ass!” It’s a bit weird.
3) Every time Charlie Haas was given a microphone. I don’t want to pick on the guy, but Haas really struggled at this point, totally outshone by Shelton Benjamin.
Ric Flair wrestling The Hurricane in a t-shirt and rapidly disintegrating dress pants. And still putting on a show. Vintage Flair.
Next week on Ruthless Aggression Revisited, we look at June 2003, including unmaskings, Hardcore Legends and Olympic Heroes. Have any memories or opinions on this period in WWE history? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.
Chris - @OTPChris