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
It’s that time of year again for our now traditional end of year awards. We know that every website, blog, podcast etc produces a list like this so hopefully annual awards fatigue isn’t setting in just yet.
One important point to note is that these awards cover WWE/NXT only, Whilst we try to catch wrestling from all over the place, we can only consistently watch WWE so it feels unfair to try to judge outside of these. The awards themselves are decided by the core Hooked On team and based on our opinion only. We hope that you guys will have differing opinions on most of these because after all, variety is the spice of wrestling life!
We also concentrate on the positive awards only. Not for us these ‘worst of’ awards. There has been PLENTY of bad this year (cough cough JINDER MAHAL: WWE CHAMPION cough cough) but we choose not to dwell on it. Let’s remember and discuss the good parts.
With that in mind, here we go...
Male Wrestler Of The Year - AJ Styles
Nobody is going to give us any points for originality on this one are they? For the second year in a row we are giving this award to The Phenomenal One. The only differences this year is that unlike in 2016, it isn’t even close.
For various reasons, it has not been easy to stand out on WWE’s roster in WWE year. The machine itself is less reliable on individuals than ever before and unless your name is Roman Reigns, it is very difficult to have the focus on you that you need to shine. However, Styles is the exception to this and has somehow got even better in his second year with the company. 2017 started with a bang for Styles as he posted a bonafide match of the year contender with John Cena at the Royal Rumble. More on that later. He transitioned that in to a feud with Shane McMahon leading to a WrestleMania showdown in the opening match. Whilst many observers scoffed at this pairing, there’s no doubting that a pairing with the younger McMahon man is seen as a badge of honour and a show of faith. Sure, it may have stopped Styles having the chance to steal the biggest show of the year but it spoke volumes for his position with the company and for that, his fans should have rejoiced. A good match at Mania led to a much clamoured for face turn and a feud with Kevin Owens that seemed like a match made in heaven. It’s impossible to deny that this feud failed to live up to expectations but we were still treated to a few damn good matches.
Then came Manchester. At the SmackDown Live taping in October, Styles became the first man to win the WWE Championship outside of North America by mercifully ending the reign of Jinder Mahal. A warmer ovation it is hard to remember outside of WrestleMania in recent years as fans were delighted to see AJ take the strap again.
The year ended with a pair of PPV matches against Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series (Excellent) and a rematch against Jinder Mahal (Much better than we could have hoped for).
Nobody has had consistently better mathes than AJ Styles this year. His in ring skill is beyond compare in WWE and in real rarified air across the globe. His amazing ability and newfound charisma with the microphone puts Styles on a pedestal far above his peers. In probably the easiest choice in this article, AJ Styles in the Hooked On Wrestling Male WWE Wrestler of the Year.
Honourable Mentions: Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, Kevin Owens, John Cena
Female Wrestler Of The Year - Alexa Bliss
It’s been a strong year for women in WWE with some strong candidates for this award across WWE and NXT. Whilst many would have pegged Asuka for this award, we feel she did most of her best NXT work in 2016. Instead we are giving this award to a woman who understands and embodies her character like very few in wrestling do. Whilst she will never be known as the greatest female worker on the planet, few wrestlers of either sex can lay claim to bringing such energy to every story, match and segment she is in. Well, except Bayley This Is Your Life…
Bliss commands your attention whenever she is on screen not just with her storytelling in the ring, not just her verbal jabs (and she really is a wizard on the mic) but with the merest of looks. Bliss can convey with one raised eyebrow what it takes many wrestlers a whole promo to emote. Has anyone in WWE ever had such a command of body language? It’s hard to think of anyone….
Alexa Bliss is our female wrestler of the year.
Honourable Mentions: Charlotte Flair, Asuka, Kairi Sane
Tag Team Of The Year - The Usos
Sneakily, WWE has seen something of a tag team renaissance in 2017. Both Raw and SmackDown are blessed with a number of fantastic tag teams. It says something for the depth of the divisions when you can break up American Alpha and the division doesn’t miss a step.
There are a number of teams that could lay claim to this award but for us, one tag team stands head and shoulders above the rest. One tag team stands out in a sea of excellence to the point where they could be count themselves in the conversation amongst the greatest of all time. That team is Jimmy and Jey, The Usos.
Following a strong run as babyfaces, The Usos were starting to get seriously stale before a turn that moved them from fun loving island boys to a pair of nasty, arrogant hoods saw them move their already strong act to a completely new level. 2017 started with a strong series of matches with American Alpha. After a few quiet months, the run up to Money In The Bank saw the start of arguably the best WWE tag team feud in 15 years. The series of matches between Jimmy and Jey and The New Day were sublime. Matches at MITB, SummerSlam, Hell In A Cell and SmackDown started excellently and got better, somehow. This feudd came to an end with an Usos face turn and match with Raw Tag Team Champions Sheamus and Cesaro at Survivor Series which was also an incredible spectacle. Their opponents that night, by the way, can count themselves desperately unlucky not to win this award. They would have walked away with it in most years of the last decade.
Let’s see what 2018 has in store for the Usos (A move to Raw? Team up with cousin Roman Reigns? Feud with The Authors Of Pain?). Whatever it is, it is likely to be spectacular.
Honourable Mentions: The Bar, The New Day
Most Improved Wrestler Of The Year - Braun Strowman
It’s not rocket science is it? In fact, it used to be Booking 101. You take a guy, you hide his weaknesses and you showcase his positives. Sounds fairly straightforward doesn’t it? But how many times do we see this actually happen in modern wrestling? It’s rare. Really rare.
So it’s extremely gratifying to see the tactic work so well when WWE employ it. This time last year it was clear Strowman had something. He was being prepared for a top run and was rumoured as a potential Royal Rumble dark horse. However at that time it was clear he was still learning how to fulfil the role the company had earmarked for him. If he didn’t have the ability to portray the nasty giant then the push (That would have been shoved down our throats regardless) would have failed hard. Fortunately for all concerned, Braun Strowman is clearly a guy who understands his craft and is eager to work hard and improve. Clearly he’s never going to be a ‘worker’s worker’ and that doesn’t matter because he really doesn’t have to be. There is more than one way to put on an entertaining match and Strowman is well on his way to mastering his particular niche. This year has seen a plethora of entertaining brawls with Roman Reigns and a trio of Raw main events against The Big Show that were each far, far better than we expected them to be. It’s testament to Strowman’s work ethic and respect he garners that Show was willing to work so hard to give him the rub. Strowman was also clearly the MVP of a titanic SummerSlam main event and has an aura and a presence about him that is unmatched by the vast majority of big men in wrestling. And that’s the key point. Big men and giants have come and gone in WWE and only a few have been able to truly stand out as offering the full package. It’s not about just looking big and mean. It’s about using your natural skills and physical charisma to truly become a giant amongst men, if you readers will pardon the cliche. Strowman is well on track to be in the conversation with the very best giants in the sport. Andre, Big Show, Undertaker, Kane, Vader and a select few others set the standard. Will we be mentioning Strowman in the same breath in years to come? If his 2017 rate of improvement carries on then we most certainly will.
Honourable Mentions: The Usos, Alexa Bliss, Neville, Authors Of Pain, Velveteen Dream
Match Of The Year - AJ Styles Vs. John Cena @ WWE Royal Rumble
By far the closest award to decide in this entire article. To the point where we wrote two different paragraphs with two different winners. In the end we went for John Cena vs AJ Styles in the WWE Championship match at the Royal Rumble by a hair’s breadth over Pete Dunne vs Tyler Bate from NXT TakeOver: Chicago. Both of these matches were superb examples of their craft that absoluetly sucked you in to the moment. Both showcased a simple one on one match between a beloved face and a hated but respected heel. Both had coveted championships at stake and felt like the outcome truly mattered.
I guess the only reason we gave Cena/Styles the edge was because it was on a much bigger stage with tens of thousands of people screaming the place down in San Antonio. It is obviously harder to tell a story in a giant stadium than in front of a relatively smaller crowd so let’s give the nod to the veterans but we will say this….I wouldn’t argue with ANYONE that claimed Dunne/Bate was better. On a different day I might well agree. In closing I’ll say this….Although they didn’t get the nod this year, I’ll be gobsmacked if neither of these guys win this honour in years to come. Both men have massive futures.
Honourable Mentions: Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate @ NXT TakeOver: Chicago, Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe vs. Brock Lesnar @ SummerSlam, The New Day vs. The Usos @ Hell In A Cell
WWE Event Of The Year - SummerSlam
Let’s be honest. 2017 was not a vintage year for Pay Per Views. There is no one stand out show that you can point at as the clear event of the year. Much like WWE as a whole, it was a year of highs and lows with both often being showcased on one card.
With that said, we are going to give the nod to SummerSlam simply by virtue of it playing host to a strong number of good to very good matches. The highlight was the Universal title match between Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe which was a low end match of the year contender. Two tag team matches also served as strong highlights with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose against Sheamus and Cesaro shining on the main card whilst The New Day vs. The Usos took its place as hands down the greatest match ever to take place on a PPV pre-show (Utterly criminal positioning by the way). Solid efforts between Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks and Aj Styles and Kevin Owens rounding out a very good card that still won’t be remembered that strongly in years to come. Imagine how good it could have been if Randy Orton vs. Rusev were given a real match and Shinsuke Nakamura given a real opponent!
Honourable Mentions: WrestleMania 33, Royal Rumble, Survivor Series
Most Memorable Moment - The Festival Of Friendship
From the moment that Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho began teaming, it was obvious that we would see a feud between the two sooner or later. After all, this is wrestling. It was also fairly clear that upon that feud commencing, Jericho would be the one to play the sympathetic babyface. Thirdly, it wasn’t terribly hard to predict that Jericho’s acceptance of Goldberg’s Universal Title challenge would the catalyst for that turn. What was not as obvious was the timing of this break up. Most would have assumed that it would take place after the aforementioned Goldberg vs Kevin Owens match. Therefore, come the February 13th Raw, not too many people were expecting the eventual outcome we got for the pre-announced Festival Of Friendship.
This segment took a lot of cues from the highest rated Raw segment of all time, Mankind’s This Is Your Life tribute to The Rock in the late 1990s. We had cameos from terrible magicians and of all people, Gillberg. We saw paintings and gifts galore bestowed by Jericho on his best friend Owens. It was cheesy, it was over the top and it was quite hilarious. All the time you could see Owens stewing. Little did we know what the impact gift would be. When Jericho opened his brand new list he was delighted. For a moment. The crushed look of disappointment on his face when he realised his name was on the list turned quickly to fear when he realised it wasn’t a new List Of Jericho at all. It was a List of KO. This was followed by a brutal and cold beating from KO to his now former best friend. What made this segment so incredibly special was the masterful way it was played by both men, especially Jericho. This relationship was given months to build and so when it finally came to an end, we the audience had invested big time in to it which made the pay off that much more special. Credit especially to Jericho who’s over the top ridiculousness for the majority of the skit, contrasted wonderfully with the understated sorrow that marked the closing moments. It was truly a masterclass and one of the very best Raw segments of all time. It would be hard to beat this as a segment in any year.
Honourable Mentions: The Hardy Boyz Return, Break up of #DIY, AJ Styles winning the WWE Championship in Manchester
Non-Wrestler Of The Year - Zelina Vega
Truth be told, it was difficult to see anyone that stood out on the main roster this year. Usually it’s very easy to slot Paul Heyman in here but there is a distinct feeling that we’ve seen his schtick one too many times nowadays. Has he really been as prominent, noticeable or interesting in recent years? If we were going with a member of the announcing team then Corey Graves and Nigel McGuinness would be the only two who remotely had a shot.
In the end, our choice was fairly simple. It isn’t often that a manager or valet can add as immensely to their charge’s act that they make a fundamental difference to their position on the roster and perception or response from the fans. Heyman did with Lesnar and more recently, the addition of Maryse was the catalyst for the total rehabilitation and resurrection of The Miz as a credible upper-midcard player.
It’s with that in mind that we are giving this award to Zelina Vega. The addition of her presence has fundamentally changed everything about Andre Cien Almas’ overall package to the point he has gone from mid-card afterthought to NXT Champion in a matter of months. Unlike Jinder Mahal on the main roster, that promotion has been as deserved as it was surprising. Vega’s positioning is as a business associate rather than romantic figure and that is what is key to making the pairing work. She is invested in making sure Almas succeeds and you immediately know her motivations for doing so. Her presence at ringside carries enough gravitas to give him an instant dose of extra credibility. Make no mistake, this pairing is a main roster act in the making and it won’t be too many months before we see just that.
Honourable Mentions: Corey Graves, Nigel McGuiness
The ‘Simon Malin’ Debut Of The Year Award - Samoa Joe
For years we clamoured for Joe to be part of WWE and we thought it would never come. When he finally arrived on NXT in 2015 we rejoiced. To a point. Because we all knew he was there to coach the younger guys and put them over on their way to the main roster. Right? Before long, Joe was the most over guy in NXT and not long after that, the brand’s champion. OK, clearly this guy was sticking around but still, NXT would be his ceiling. We all knew that for a fact, didn’t we? As much as we hoped otherwise, we were all pretty sure that Joe had reached his ceiling. It wasn’t until early 2017 that we felt change in the air and it became a possibility that Joe would be moved up to the main roster. Our thoughts then turned to how he would be introduced. Would he be a face or heel? What brand would he be on? Would he be aligned with anyone? What transpired, in hindsight, shouldn’t have shocked us at all. Joe debuted just prior to WrestleMania as an associate of HHH by attacking the former ally of the NXT head honcho, Seth Rollins. Not a bad spot to be put in eh? It was an exciting, unexpected debut that gave Joe a massive vote of confidence and air of menace from day one and he has parlayed that into a great first year on the roster. He has been featured in FOUR PPV main events (Who would ever have expected that?) including his biggest WWE win to date when he won a Fatal Five Way match for the right to face Brock Lesnar at Great Balls Of Fire. That the subsequent feud between them elicited such a great response can be traced back to WWE giving Joe the proverbial ball immediately and the veteran wrestler (now superstar?) carrying it in his iron grip, just as we all knew he would.
Honourable Mentions: The Hardy Boyz, Adam Cole, Asuka
The ‘Jimi Murphy’ Underrated Talent Of The Year Award - Rusev
Let’s end on one that is going to split opinion shall we? Before we even decide the winner we have got to decide on the definition of underrated. Do we mean someone that doesn’t get the love they deserve from the fans? Do we mean someone who’s skill in letting other stars shine goes unnoticed? Do we mean someone who despite an obvious ability to shine in a bigger spotlight is held back by booking and creative? We are going to go with the latter simply because it’s a little bit more mischievous.
And using that criteria, our award goes hands down to (probably) Bulgaria’s favourite son, Rusev. When he arrived in WWE he was clearly positioned extremely well. With a long undefeated streak, a feared finisher and a manager who was as hated as she was desired, the Bulgarian Brute was positioned as player on Raw from the word go. In fact, it wasn’t long before he snared the US Title and was booked with WWE’s biggest star, John Cena, on their biggest stage, WrestleMania. Surely he was a made man? Well, not quite. The match with Cena ended up as a pinnacle rather than a jumping off point for his career. A ham-fisted romantic storyline with Summer Rae and Dolph Ziggler was a mess and ended with the pointless split with Lana, to the detriment of his act. And really, that’s all they wrote on Rusev’s career to date. He’s been nothing of note since. A recent resurgence, partnership with Aiden English and the whole Rusev Day schtick is getting over like gangbusters to the point of Rusev being a defacto face for the first time in WWE. Maybe 2018 will be the year when Rusev is pushed in line with his real value as a performer. Here’s hoping.
So that’s it for our awards. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.