The year 2003 will probably not go down in wrestling history as one of the greatest, as far as World Wrestling Entertainment is concerned. However, to say that the year was bad is nowhere near the truth. Although the booking for most of the year was horrible, there was plenty of great in-ring action that made the “save” for WWE.
It was an year that saw one man’s will to compete and the lengths he’d go through to do what he loves put to the ultimate test, as he faced a career-ending injury, and not only came back from it after three months, but made his way to the top yet again. It was also a year that saw another man call the first man a paper champion, which was only a minor part from his long act that the Internet never found an answer to, whether it was in his wife’s breasts or in his crazed father-in-law. And that father-in-law wasn’t an official father-in-law until 2003, either. It was an year that saw a man, who after several years of competition in WWE still doesn’t amount to more than being known as Undertaker’s brother, unmask and engage on a journey that will be forgotten as quickly as his reign as tag team champion with RVD. It was also an year that saw the father of a Playboy cover girl come on national television, and have an affair with a colleague of his daughter’s, and die on national TV while having sex in the process. To say the least, the booking wasn’t the greatest.
However, the worse and more questionable the booking got, the better and better the action inside the ring was, and that’s where we start this little “recap” of 2003…
– The highlight of the month was considered to be the Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit classic technical bout from the Royal Rumble PPV. It was certainly an amazing match that allowed these two athletes to showcase the best of their ability. While it kept Angle strong, Benoit would go on and throughout most of the year found himself with nothing to do. The match ended with loud applause from the audience for both guys.
– WWE signed Scott Steiner and immediately put him into a feud with champ Triple H. The goal was to keep Hunter busy until WrestleMania and they thought that Big Poppa Pump will do the job. While they did their best to hide Steiner’s poor in-ring work by creating a program based on “outside-the-ring” segments and vignettes, it all came crashing down at the PPV, in what was a horrible match. At this point in time, nobody really minded the fact that Triple H still had the belt, having in mind the shape Steiner was in.
– The PPV of the month was the Royal Rumble event. While the Royal Rumble match itself fell short of the performances put up in previous years, it was used to mark the return of The Undertaker, further the feud between Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho, and was a vital part in the set up of the WrestleMania main event between Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle. They had Lesnar win. In a somewhat of a memorable moment, Kane slammed The Big Show over the top rope in a great showing of strength, having lifted up the 500 pound Show by himself.
– We were told on the first RAW for 2003 that it would be “the year of the Bisch.” If he only knew what he had coming…
– Trish Stratus had a tremendous Chicago Street Fight match with Victoria, on a Chicago edition of RAW. The program between the two saw hardcore elements brought into the women’s division, as throughout 2002 and 2003, those two ladies were really going at it. Big kudos to Trish and Victoria for reviving the women’s division and taking it to the next level.
– We were introduced to Nathan Jones… God knows why…
– The highlight of the month, for me, was the arrival of Team Angle on SmackDown. Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin went on to capture the WWE Tag Team titles on several occasions and without a shadow of a doubt proved to be one of the brightest things to happen to WWE in 2003.
– A lot happened in the shortest month of the year.
– Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and Steve Austin all returned to WWE, as Rock battled Hogan at No Way Out in a match that fell short and was nowhere near their original encounter on all levels; Austin battled Bischoff, as the RAW G.M. was trying to save his job and was ordered to fight The Rattlesnake. The only storyline that made sense here was the 30 Day period that McMahon gave Bischoff to change RAW around, but that lost its momentum rather quick, as Bischoff didn’t change anything but rather dealt with signing Austin.
– The Rock was acting as super heel, cutting promos, hating the fans, and making them realize that no matter how many movies he makes, and no matter how much they boo him or cheer him, he will continue to be the most entertaining thing to ever hit wrestling.
– February 24 marked Rock’s first backstage encounter with The Hurricane… The rest is history and if you missed it, it’s worth getting a hold of the tapes for the following month.
– Booker T won a battle royal for the #1 Contendership at WrestleMania. If he knew how the program was to be carried, he would have probably chosen to get eliminated first.
– No Way Out saw Triple H defend against Steiner yet again in a match that absolutely nobody wanted to see. It was at least slightly better than their first match, but at this point the audience had turned on Steiner, and everyone, even the Internet hate club of Triple H, agreed that it’s better to keep the belt on The Game.
– We were introduced to the “Evolution” of professional wrestling, as Triple H’s friends made the save at the PPV.
– All three members of Team Angle faced Brock Lesnar and Chris Benoit at the PPV but nobody cared as there were three other bouts that had more emphasis put on. Also from SmackDown, Matt Hardy captured the cruiserweight title.
– Kurt Angle and Edge injured their necks in the month of February. Angle chose to go on and didn’t reveal his problems shortly before WrestleMania, whereas Edge chose to have surgery that took him out of action for a year.
– WrestleMania took place in March, and WWE did a good job of setting up for the event. Probably their better booking for the whole year. The more memorable matches saw Shawn Michaels defeat Chris Jericho in one of the year’s best matches; Austin and Rock relive their memorable feud and WrestleMania meetings as the Brahma Bull finally defeated the Rattlesnake at a WrestleMania in what would be Austin’s final match for the time being; Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon surprised everyone by definitely having a better match than expected; Triple H gently pinned Booker T in the middle of the ring.
– The main event of WrestleMania was Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle. It was said several times online that this match would get a five star rating if it wasn’t for the botched ending, where Lesnar almost injured himself seriously. Going into the match, there was a lot of tension due to Angle’s neck injury, but the Olympic hero managed to work through the pain and gave us a solid bout, not sure if it’ll be his last one. The PPV ended with Angle passing the torch to Lesnar, in a way, as the two shook hands. Perfect ending to a perfect PPV.
– Roddy Piper returned during the Hogan/McMahon match… I’ll have to say this again — God knows why…
– The month of March saw a lot of criticism towards World Heavyweight Champion Triple H from Internet people. Rumors started spreading at a fast pace that there’s a Triple H Effect going on backstage and that the World Champ controls almost everything on RAW from his opponents to Spike Dudley’s boots design. While these rumors have been around in 2002 and were just as big then, the more and more that got out, the longer Triple H’s title reign got and more questionable his character got.
– While working with Steve Austin, The Rock had been doing segments with The Hurricane for three weeks. Those segments were probably the most entertaining part of 2003 for WWE. It all ended on a March edition of Monday Night RAW when Rock had no trouble jobbing to the young “superhero.” In what proved to be one of the best short programs they’ve put up on RAW, an older, experienced, TOP guy in the company put over a young, upcoming guy who didn’t have much of a role beforehand. In the same night, Triple H buried Maven in a six-minute squash. [More on this night HERE.]
– At WrestleMania, they aired a Goldberg promo saying that “The Man” will be there LIVE at Backlash. It seemed that with WrestleMania doing well and with Goldberg about to debut, things were about to get better for WWE…Or were they?
– Goldberg debuted the night after WrestleMania to set up a match against Rock at Backlash. While the program might not have been all that great and the match was a disappointment, the debut of Goldberg on RAW was certainly one of the defining moments in 2003, and definitely a historic moment as well. After all, the most popular WCW superstar had just debuted on RAW, and it was something we never thought we’d see, even two years after WCW died.
– John Cena’s rap gimmick took off on a more serious level, as Cena started rapping about Lesnar, who had “injured” his knee that month. Cena’s raps included a great piece, which he did with a laptop, which I don’t know why, I decided to include on here:
Brock, I sit here glued to the screen,
Punching these keys,
Watching everything you do,
On live Internet feeds.
I downloaded high-speed
all the files that I need,
To make your hard-drive crash,
And to make your face bleed!
You can’t erase me,
I’mma make you taste me!
I’m a virus,
I’ll kill you the next time you face me.
You jealous, you stole my shot at the brass ring,
Everybody knows I’m the next big thing!
You’re all bark and no bite,
You stole my spotlight;
I’m the great white hope,
you’re the great white hype.
If you’re an animal,
then I’m going on safari
I’m rocking PlayStation 2,
you can’t figure out Atari.
Look in these eyes Brock,
Don’t think that I won’t shoot ya,
I’ll leave you worthless,
Like a nerd with no computer.
Show the world,
That you can’t even walk in my shoe.
Your finisher’s the F5?
Well, mine’s to F U!
– We were seeing the last of The Rock. His program with Goldberg saw an appearance by Gillberg, and The Rock Concert 2. While it provided for some entertainment, it basically killed Goldberg just as he had arrived, since Rock got the better out of it, and Goldberg wasn’t booked the proper way, as the monster he was in WCW.
– Kevin Nash made his return to TV, and he was next in line to feud with Triple H. They explained that Nash had to choose between his friends — he could hang with Shawn Michaels, or he could be Triple H’s newest and favorite bitch. That also made no sense since not once on TV had Triple H and Kevin Nash been portrayed as friends, or anything close to it, whereas at least the former “Diesel” had a legit program with the Heart Break Kid. Nash chose to join the jobbers circle and stayed face, resulting in a Triple H, Ric Flair, Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Nash, Booker T, Shawn Michaels PPV main event from RAW. I believe Triple H got the pin here as well, and it was over Nash, not sure.
– The Big Show almost killed Rey Mysterio with a stretcher at Backlash. Show decided to use Mysterio as a baseball bat on the ring post, and totally stuck it to Nash for that time Big Kev used Mysterio as a dart on an 18-wheeler back in WCW. In your face Big Daddy Cool!
– Over at SmackDown, they went ahead and pushed Cena to the main event spot. His feud with Lesnar was somewhat of a filler since they couldn’t continue the planned Angle/Lesnar storyline due to Angle’s injury. Cena did well for the spot but it became obvious that at this point Brock wasn’t ready yet to carry someone through a match. Unless he was in the ring with an Angle, or a Benoit, or a Rock, it was obvious that he wasn’t all that. Paul Heyman had managed to hide that weakness in 2002 as best as he could.
– The Backlash PPV is considered the worst of the year by many and the disappointing buy-rate it received made Linda McMahon call Goldberg a “disappointment” just several weeks later.
– That was certainly not a good month for WWE. It was headlined by a pretty bad Judgment Day PPV.
– With Kurt Angle out on SmackDown, Big Show was chosen as Brock Lesnar’s next opponent. Lesnar defeated Show at Judgment Day in a Stretcher match, which although had a good feel to it, was not worked out too well, and the wrestling wasn’t good.
– In probably the best match of the PPV, Eddie Guerrero and Tajiri defeated the World’s Greatest Tag Team in a Ladder’s Match and surprisingly won the Tag Team Titles. Tajiri was subbing for injured Chavo.
– Over on RAW, things were even worse. Triple H feuded with Nash, and this culminated into a horrible PPV match, which nobody thought would go bad. Nash and H just didn’t click, and by this point in time, it became a bit questionable how everyone who feuds with The Game was made to look bad. (Higher Powers) At any rate, this wasn’t the end of this feud, and it was obvious that WWE didn’t know what to do with the title on RAW.
– In one of the best matches of the year, Ric Flair took on Triple H following Judgment Day, on Monday Night RAW. It was live from Greenville, Flair Country. The ovation Flair received, and the after-match celebration cemented the fact that the Nature Boy is one of the industry’s best, if not the best. He proved that at age 54 he can still do it, go out, tell a story, and make the person he’s working with worth a thousand bucks. There’s only one Ric Flair, folks.
– In a good move, WWE decided to bring back the Intercontinental Championship. They put the strap on Christian, who won a Battle Royal at Judgment Day by cheating out Booker T, who had originally won. The story here was that the IC belt was the only Booker had never won, and he wanted it badly. That resulted in a lengthy Christian/Booker T fan in the month to come.
– Speaking of Christian, the CLB got in Goldberg’s face in an attempt to build up Big Bill as a monster yet again. A segment on RAW saw Goldberg spear Rosey through a barricade, and Goldberg was also given “his due” by now Co-G.M. of RAW Steve Austin in a Beer Bash. The former WCW Champ also had a cage match with Christian.
– After years, Playboy model Sable returned to WWE PPV, as she was defeated by Torrie Wilson at Judgment Day in a Bikini Contest.
– After an year, the split of brands wasn’t working. Something that should have been done a long time ago finally happened in this month, and that was the splitting of PPV for each brand. RAW got this month’s PPV event, as the annual King of the Ring was gotten rid of and it was replaced with the brand new Bad Blood.
– Steve Austin and Eric Bischoff were in the midst of a Co-G.M. storyline that made it on the PPV and was a pretty good example of what WWE TV on RAW had been like up to this point. In another terrible move, WWE decided to still put Austin over their active wrestlers, which killed some things around.
– Kevin Nash faced Triple H in a Hell In A Cell match, as it was obvious that these two in a regular bout will draw nothing, having in mind the failure of their Judgment Day match. Mick Foley was brought in as a Special Guest Referee, which certainly helped the hype.
– Speaking of hype, WWE did a great job of hyping up the event, no matter what you thought of the PPV itself.
– Bill Goldberg defeated Chris Jericho in a pretty long match that didn’t help his character. The feud with Jericho didn’t do much either, but it allowed The Rock to make an appearance on Jericho’s highlight reel, as this would become the beginning of the face turn of The People’s Champ that we’re still going through today.
– After turning heel again, Ric Flair wrestled Shawn Michaels at Bad Blood, but the program that these put up before the match itself was tremendous, with both men cutting some great promos. The work of two legends. The match itself wasn’t bad at all, either, but the two were given only 14 minutes. HBK went on WWE.com and let everyone know that he wasn‘t happy about that. The interview was taken off the website several hours later. The ending saw Orton cause HBK the match, setting up a program between the two.
– Christian retained his IC belt to further the feud with Booker T, as Book won their match by DQ.
– This also marked the first meeting between Test and Scott Steiner. I think that feud is still going on. This storyline will probably end at WrestleMania 40.
– La Resistance was given the World Tag Team belts not so much because they deserved them or were ready to be champions, but rather to break up RVD and Kane. Yeah, we know how that one worked out…
I’ll have the recap of July – December in the next edition of News & Analysis, which will come your way shortly. Stay tuned to TBL for a lot of reviews for 2003, as well
Thanks for reading. See ya.