Welcome to a special edition of the Wrath of Tito. Today, we hop in the famous time machine and look back at the year that was 2003 for professional wrestling, namely the WWE. In my opinion, 2003 was a very damaging year for the WWE. They went from promising to total disaster by the end of the year, leading to many opportunities lost and a possible free-agent defection occurring very soon. In 2003, if you didn't have any relationships with the bookers OR if you didn't have past success in the WWE/WWF, forget about anybody caring. Guys like Chris Benoit, Rob Van Dam, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Booker T, the Hurricane, and many other wrestlers were crapped on, while several bad homegrown talent were shoved down our throats (Orton, Batista, and the Bashams). The sad thing is that the WWE was so promising heading into 2003...
I disliked 2003, not only for the wrestling. It just seemed like a black year with all of the deaths occurring. Many big names passed away in 2003 that I grew up admiring, along with a few in my personal life. Just a shitty year all around, but for the WWE, they made their year shitty because they were absent-minded in the booking department. This caused ratings to NEVER go up, merchandise sales to fall, and buyrates to become so embarrassing that the WWE tries to hold the official numbers back from the public, especially the Fall Pay Per Views (namely the Stephanie vs. Vince McMahon PPV show). FINGER OF SHAME to 2003.
There were a few big positives to come out of 2003, but the negatives seriously outweighed them. Let's get on to the History of 2003, and hopefully not forget anything from memory.
Meanwhile, on the RAW roster, we had to witness the horrible feud between Triple H and Scott Steiner that extended through a few Pay Per Views. None of the matches were any good, and the TV segments leading up to the event were pathetic. We had a posedown and an attempted benchpress contest, which by the way, may have been over in the 1980's WWF but welcome to 2003. Triple H was a terrible champion in 2003, and it was a blessing in the sky when he finally lost to Bill Goldberg later in the year. HHH feuded with Booker T for Wrestlemania, for which Triple H destroyed his credibility through the storylines (you're not a champion, you're an entertainer) and beat him in a bad Wrestlemania match. Then, Triple H would move on into a fucking terrible (pardon my French) feud with Kevin Nash, which produced some of the weakest TV around. Many will blame the opponents of Kevin Nash, Scott Steiner, and a burnt out Booker T for Triple H struggling... HOWEVER, this is a guy with booking power, so he could write better storylines to make it more interesting, feud with better people, or step up his own effort in the ring. He did none of the above and decided to crush his opponents just to continue being champion for most of 2003, which in itself, kept RAW from ever going back up in the ratings.
A word on the ratings, if I may. Smackdown was mostly consistent on the ratings throughout the year. They mainly hover around the mid 3.0's on the Network ratings, and that's against heavy Thursday competition and for being on UPN. RAW's ratings were different... They seemed to spike around the major events, but drop to the mid 3.0's on the Cable ratings (which are on a lower scale than Network ratings). Triple H was NOT a drawing champion, and Smackdown couldn't experience growth due to the McMahon handcuffs placed on the roster, mainly during the whole Zach Gowen/Vince McMahon/Stephanie McMahon/Hulk Hogan feud that spanned a good many months and in my opinion, did long term damage to UPN's audience (which are mostly young and didn't grow up watching Hogan)..
Getting back to the Smackdown roster... Paul Heyman was the one in charge of the creative department. By early 2003, he was CLEARLY putting on a superior show than the RAW creative team. Many suggest that Heyman had the talent... well, it takes someone with brains to put the best wrestlers together to make a great product. Looking at the shows now, you don't see that happening (*cough*Bashams as Tag Champs*cough*). While Heyman was putting on great shows, he clashed with the McMahons on ideas. The McMahons, Stephanie and Vince, became mad when Heyman wouldn't get on his knees and become a yes-man on certain pushes. For whatever reason, Vince McMahon had a major hard-on for Albert, whom was later renamed to A-Train on Vince's push. Vince McMahon had grand desires for an Undertaker vs. A-Train feud, which he actually later did in 2003. He felt that A-Train was main event material, whereas Paul Heyman wanted to push smaller and much more talented wrestlers, such as Edge, Matt Hardy, Chris Benoit, and Team Angle. Notice that once Heyman is out of the picture, all 5 guys aren't getting the attention from the booking team as they used to. Edge was actually blamed for sabotaging Albert's initial push, for their match at one event just didn't go well. Instead of ANY blame being placed on Albert, it was all thrown on Edge and he was depushed heavily before injuring his neck to put him out for the rest of 2003. This kind of clashing would lead to Vince McMahon stripping Paul Heyman of his lead writer responsibilities for Smackdown, and the show has suffered on quality ever since. After Heyman was demoted, Smackdown saw heavier doses of Stephanie McMahon on camera and a more extensive Vince McMahon vs. Hulk Hogan feud which was some of the worst television in 2003, and that's with the RAW roster in consideration, too.
Royal Rumble 2003 was a great start for the WWE. The Rumble, itself, went well, but the match of the night and probably the year was Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle for the Undisputed World Title. By far, their best match together and the fans were very much into it. Kurt Angle won via the anklelock, but Benoit's effort was heavily noticed by the crowd. After the match, Benoit received a standing ovation from the crowd, thus proving that the WWE had a huge potential face on their hands in Benoit. For years, the WWE tried to deny that Benoit was ever over with the crowd based on performance alone, but this match alone proved it. HOWEVER, Benoit would see better days in 2003, for he'd be immediately depushed and jobbing to the likes of A-Train and John Cena for the rest of the year. At Survivor Series 2003, he did make Brock Lesnar tap, but after a recent Smackdown main event (which was a good match), Benoit seems to be depushed once again. No respect for one of the best and hardest working wrestlers on the roster.
A major positive of the RAW roster, however, was the Rock. After screwing around on the Smackdown roster with Hulk Hogan for a terrible rendition of their Wrestlemania 18 match at No Way Out 2003, the Rock became a regular on the RAW roster for Wrestlemania and the following event, Backlash. After getting booed at the RAW 10th Anniversary Show (which was an absolute disaster of a show, by the way), the WWE decided to turn the Rock heel and what a wise decision it was. You could clearly see that Hollywood has transformed the Rock, for he was in a league of his own when cutting promos. He began working with various wrestlers, namely midcarders, such as the Hurricane, and gave a sign of life to the RAW roster that was so badly needed with Triple H as a boring champion. The Rock then began to feud with Steve Austin, too, who just wasn't clicking ever since his return after walking out during the summer of 2002. Plus, Austin's neck was bothering him and it was going to put him into early retirement for the rest of 2003 from wrestling (but he would return as Co-GM of RAW). Rock and Austin put on a decent match at Wrestlemania 19, which was mostly a carry job by the Rock for a very sore Austin.
The Rock was a heavy influence on bringing a former WCW superstar into the mix. Bill Goldberg, for almost a year, negotiated with the WWE to come in. However, neither side wanted to budge on their stances, namely money, which Goldberg wants a lot of to wrestle. The Rock personally talked to Bill Goldberg and levied hard with the WWE to bring him in. The WWE eventually gave in, especially with the low No Way Out numbers coming in and signed Bill Goldberg to a 1 year, $1.5 million contract to start the day after Wrestlemania. The night of Wrestlemania was the first ever night anybody knew about Goldberg coming to the WWE with a promo. The night after, on RAW, Goldberg made his debut when the Rock said he had nobody else to beat. That's right, only one night of hype for one of WCW's biggest names, which my friends, caused very early damage for the character. The WWE didn't take Goldberg seriously, at first. Instead of giving him squash matches, they made Goldberg do goofy backstage skits, such as the one he did with Goldust where Goldust put his whig on Goldberg. Secondly, the WWE fans, namely the ones created during the "Attitude" era of 1998-1999 didn't watch WCW. They had no idea who this guy was, and they saw right through his character immediately. The Rock began getting over as a face through their feud. The Rock even knew he was in a now win situation, and was clearly upset wrestling Goldberg in the ring at Backlash... but he put Goldberg over. Goldberg wouldn't be a major force in the WWE until Summerslam 2003, where he really got noticed in the WWE during the Elimination Chamber match.
Wrestlemania's main event was Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar. Overall, it was a decent bout considering Kurt Angle was very crippled for the match. He suffered the same neck injury as Bob Holly, Rhyno, Steve Austin, Edge, Lita, and Chris Benoit. He was going to not wrestle Lesnar at Wrestlemania, and they had a match planned for the Pittsburgh Smackdown 2 weeks before Wrestlemania 19 (which I was at live). However, Angle had a change of heart and wanted to wrestle at Wrestlemania. So he ran a screwjob finish at the Pittsburgh Smackdown and proceeded to wrestle Brock at Wrestlemania. Brock won the Undisputed Title there, but not without almost injuring himself on the Shooting Star Press, a move of which he used a lot in Ohio Valley Wrestling but never in the WWE. Lesnar was OK afterward, but Angle was not. Angle opted for surgery after Wrestlemania, but a quick-fix surgery recommended to him by Scott Hall. Dr. Jho's prodecure, the man who operated on Angle, could keep Angle a few months, whereas the usual neck surgeon, Dr. Youngblood, had a procedure that kept wrestlers out for more than a year. Angle took the Jho surgery, and he would return later, but as a babyface. Brock Lesnar would turn into Vince McMahon's boy after the Mr. America fiasco, making Lesnar the heel this time for their later feud.
Oh, speaking of Mr. America... At Wrestlemania 19, the McMahons put a heavy spotlight on the Hogan vs. Vince McMahon match. Sure, for two old age guys wrestling a hardcore match, it was decent, but hardly anything special. This match would be the one with the most highlights shown afterward on other shows AND it was featured on the Wrestlemania 19 DVD cover. With Paul Heyman now out of the picture as head creative leader, Vince now had nobody to debate with him regarding terrible storylines, such as his continuous feud with Hulk Hogan. Hogan would get sent home by Vince in the storylines, but would later return as Mr. America. Mr. America was a wrestler signed by Stephanie McMahon, but Steph didn't know who he was prior to signing him. Yeah, sign a wrestler without knowing who he is. GREAT idea. Mr. America clearly looked like Hogan, and this initially put Stephanie in hot water with Vince, causing the Stephanie vs. Vince feud, part 2939984884. This whole feud lasted through many months and dominated the Smackdown television time. It would introduce other variables, such as a one-legged fan of Hogan named Zach Gowen and he'd be pushed by the WWE in a way to generate pity from the fans. The funny thing about the Mr. America feud was that backstage, Hogan became increasingly upset with the WWE over money issues. For an Australian tour, Hogan wanted more money to appear at the show since he wasn't contractually obliged to appear there. Secondly, he was upset about his Wrestlemania 19 bonus check. The two issues, among other creative issues, forced Vince McMahon to really send Hogan home and it's very unknown if Hogan will ever return, even for Wrestlemania 20! Smackdown, however, was screwed because they pushed the Vince vs. Hogan feud so far, but it didn't have a good conclusion because Hogan was out of the WWE before it ended. Aside from turning Lesnar heel and Vince McMahon's stooge, Vince and Stephanie still feuded and they had a match at No Mercy 2003 which kicked Stephanie off of television... but for how long? Still, these arrogant moves by the McMahons hurt Smackdown's growth, namely in the direction of wrestlers who were beginning to get over, such as Eddie Guerrero.
Eddie Guerrero became a serious WWE break-out star in 2003. Yeah, he's had success elsewhere, but in the WWE, he was hurt by injuries or drug/alcohol problems. In 2003, he was clean, injury free (or at least able to compete all year) and putting on some great matches. The crowd was really beginning to notice, too, giving him HUGE ovations wherever he went. Chavo hurt himself, so Eddie was now out of the tag team picture. He was so over, he beat out early candidates for the United States Title, such as A-Train, Benoit, or John Cena. Of course, noticing that he was getting over, he was immediately put into a weird relationship with his returning brother, Chavo. Eddie would hold the Tag Titles and US title at one time, but immediately lose them both in addition to several other matches. The Guerreros have since been pussy-footing around in the tag division, but nothing else. Chavo still blames Eddie for inconsistency, but the fact remains is that the WWE had a HUGE main event babyface on their hands, and they blew it. Are you counting? That's two big face opportunities in 2003 that were blown on the Smackdown roster ALONE!
But hey, at least the WWE isn't NWA-TNA, who went from a different alternative to WCW reborn! Seriously. As time goes on, the Jarretts bring in more former WCW stars, such as Sting (who I like), Dusty Rhodes, and EVEN Lex Luger, not to mention the various table scraps of their midcard and the WWE's leftovers. Jeff Jarrett loves to be World Champion, and NWA-TNA tried to bring in Hulk Hogan to relive the FAILED "shoot" angle between Hulk Hogan and Vince Russo from 2000 in WCW. Mind you, WCW ratings dropped after that fiasco, so why not relive it in 2003, 3 years later? Make sense? However, before Hogan and Jarrett could get it on for a special Sunday Pay Per View of NWA-TNA, Hogan's heavily damaged knee (which was rigged into place so he could wrestle in the WWE) gave out and the show had to be called off. NWA-TNA took a step back after gaining a decent PPV following in 2003 by trying to relive other promotions' successes. The trick is to attract NEW fans, not old fans who are retiring from watching wrestling in great numbers here in 2003.
One WWE return that is questionable was Mick Foley. While I was glad to see him back, his role as "consultant" was very odd. Before he did that, he came in as a special referee in the Kevin Nash vs. Triple H Hell in the Cell match at Bad Blood 2003. That helped the buyrate for that show to not be downright embarrassing, but it showed fans that the WWE knew Kevin Nash vs. Triple H would totally suck. After Steve Austin was ousted at Survivor Series 2003, Foley was brought in as a consultant and immediately named himself co-GM. This was like the 29398484th time he was in a commissioner role of sorts, but at least it was a face we haven't seen often, for the entire roster of RAW was becoming stale. Foley's objective would to even out Eric Bischoff's power trip after beating Austin at Survivor Series 2003, but he would also try to send around a petition to bring Steve Austin back to the WWE. Foley then got into a feud with Randy Orton, whom the WWE (or Triple H) has BIG plans for in 2004. It would lead to a Mick Foley vs. Randy Orton match on RAW, where if Foley lost, he'd be out as co-GM. Foley walked out, for whatever reason. I'm hoping for a damn good explanation in 2004.
Allow me to go off on a tangent one more time... two older wrestlers on the RAW roster had a pretty good year. First, we had Shawn Michaels, who is beginning to really return to his old wrestling roots again and is probably RAW's #1 babyface. As the year went on, he became a full-time wrestler again and is now set for a main event push against Triple H, actually wrestling HHH soon on an upcoming RAW. Michaels big 2003 moment came at the Survivor Series 2003 for Team Austin against Team Bischoff. HBK was outnumbered 3 to 1 and put on a superhuman effort against all 3 to make the crowd and myself explode with excitement. He lost in the end, but the effort was noticed and it has catapulted Michaels back up the card. Secondly, we have Ric Flair, whom I actually met at an autograph signing recently (very nice guy). Ric gave Triple H is BEST match on an episode of RAW, the one where a special celebration was held for him afterward. Ric was pretty much a full time wrestler, for he wrestles often on RAW and on houseshows. He's currently a RAW Tag Team champion with Batista! But most of all, Ric Flair's DVD is selling off the shelves and will definitely become the top selling WWE or wrestling DVD of all time. The first print of the DVD sold off the shelves in 3 days, and I'm sure the next few prints are successful as well. It was easily the best tribute the WWE has ever done for a wrestler, and the best example of dipping into past footage that the WWE owns (they now own AWA, WCW, and ECW video tape libraries).
Summerslam 2003 was an interesting show.... Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar fought to a better match than their Wrestlemania 19 match, for obvious reasons. Angle won by making Lesnar tap, but the referee work in this match was horrible (since when did not getting to the ropes mean NOT breaking the hold?). Brock Lesnar would later beat Angle on an edition of Smackdown, wrestling an Ironman match (and a good one) for a whole hour on UPN. The Elimination Chamber match was bad until Bill Goldberg was unleashed. There, he went through the competitors, one by one, and the crowd finally erupted for the former WCW superstar. It was a moment of time where the WWE should have put in booking changes on the fly, for Goldberg should have won the World Title that night. Instead, a badly injured Triple H escaped with a victory. However, Goldberg would get the World Title at the next event, but many suggest the damage was done at Summerslam for yet another potential big babyface lost. Triple H gladly gave up the title to Goldberg at Unforgiven 2003, namely since HHH was going to get married to Stephanie in October and since Triple H found him some roles in various Hollywood movies, but not starring of course, which is HHH's dream. Summerslam was big on setting up two feuds, although both feuds were associated with each other in the end.
The Kane vs. Shane McMahon feud was one of the most poorly handled feuds of all time. Why? Ok, you have Kane, whom you are trying to push as a psycho and unstoppable monster. Then, you have Shane, who looks like your average looking guy. So what happens? Kane SELLS for Shane and takes forever to beat this average human being. Bad things happened here, such as Kane tombstoning Linda, Kane getting set on fire in dumpster, Kane's limo driving into a semi-truck, and Shane getting his balls shocked (I didn't know McMahons had any balls!). The whole feud lasted through 2 Pay Per Views of pure torture and totally hurt Kane's character. Actually, Kane's character was hurt earlier in the year when he was unmasked at Madison Square Garden. He LOST a match against Triple H to unmask, and then he unmasked, he was found to have a head of hair that was half bald and half long. He had no burns (although I did like how they said he had mental scars) and looked bad without the mask. The booking for Kane has more hurt his career than helped, and feuding with Shane for 2 Pay Per Views (but 3 or 4 months) has done serious long term damage to Kane ever main eventing or holding a major singles title.
The other McMahon feud was Undertaker vs. Vince McMahon. This feud was poorly handled, for you couldn't believe it since Vince and Undertaker have turned and joined forces many, many times. Go after Austin's title anyone? Higher power anyone? Turning on Jim Ross anyone? Etc. This time, Undertaker felt he deserved a World Title shot (which he did win his fair share of matches in 2003), and argued he couldn't get a shot with Vince in charge. Paul Heyman was brought in as the GM of Smackdown after Stephanie left during No Mercy, and gave the Undertaker an opportunity to have his own match if he won a certain handicap match (Big Show and Lesnar? Can't remember?). He wanted Vince McMahon, and after first hesitation, Vince wanted the match and began to act really strange. He tried to push his evil side again, one of which we saw when he had problems with Linda McMahon one time. BAD segments out of Smackdown resulted, and their match at Survivor Series (a Buried Alive one) was very, very subpar. But the real highlight of the match was that Kane helped Vince win the match and bury the Undertaker. Vince has had plans to book Undertaker vs. Kane at Wrestlemania 20, and this was, I'll admit, a good way to begin that process (althought he WM 20 match will be terrible!).
On the Smackdown side, it has been in some disarray since they don't have a Pay Per View until Royal Rumble and their own Pay Per View until Febuary with No Way Out 2004. It's basically been anybody vs. Brock Lesnar, especially with Kurt Angle BACK in the hospital for another corrective neck surgery (I believe another similar procedure by Dr. Jho). At Survivor Series 2003, Team Angle beat Team Lesnar when Chris Benoit made Lesnar tap and John Cena FU Dropped the Big Show. Benoit won a title shot by beating John Cena, but was screwed during his match against Lesnar. As I said before, he was depushed. Lesnar seems to be heading to the Royal Rumble against the unproven Hardcore Holly, who is back from Dr. Youngblood's neck surgery of well over a year. Holly blamed Lesnar for the injury, and has been randomly attacking Lesnar ever since. Holly was never a major draw to begin with, but let's be optimistic and give the hardworking Holly a chance. Benoit seems to be depushed, once again, while Eddie Guerrero will never get a chance at the very top spot. Very unfortunate.
The RAW roster ended the year with Armageddon 2003, which many consider the WORST Pay Per View of the year. I'll agree. Evolution won all of the titles (HHH the World, Flair/Batista the Tag Titles, and Orton the IC title), and the show was a bad effort on most parts. Evolution was never a good group to begin with, as Orton and Batista are yet to prove anything special, despite the push they receive. Maybe 2004 will be their year? Batista couldn't even look good against HBK (nor could Orton in the previous months) and Orton has yet to have a big blowaway match. Triple H as champion is scary, as he won the World Title back at Armageddon 2002 and we had many months of bad main event wrestling. 2004 could bring the same unless he feuds, hopefully, with Shawn Michaels all year long. Michaels actually cares about wrestling again and is devoted full time. We'll see on that aspect. We'll also see what becomes of the Mick Foley "walk out" that ended RAW during the match against Randy Orton.
Hopefully, I haven't forgot anything major, for I did this mostly off of memory and just looking at Pay Per View cards. This year was damaging for the WWE. The glass ceiling on the RAW roster is evident, for Triple H calls the shots. On Smackdown, if Vince McMahon would keep himself and his stupid daughter off television, things would be fine for the most part. Shane McMahon can never return to the WWE. He did major amounts of damage to Kane and hurt the credibility of wrestlers by being an average person who can do more than wrestlers can do against Kane. Hulk Hogan's nostalgia should only be used on a short term basis, but nothing on a main event level, such as what Wrestlemania 19 and Smackdown tried to accomplish and what NWA-TNA wanted to do. The WWE cannot afford to miss a window of opportunity on their wrestlers. Guerrero during the summer was RED HOT and Benoit after Royal Rumble 2003 should have been considered for pushes, but since they aren't homegrown Vince McMahon talent, they will not be pushed. 2003 was a good year for guys like John Cena, but time will tell if his in-ring ability will catch up with his talking ability. Brock Lesnar grew as a great wrestler in 2003 and should continue to prove why he was such a great investment made during the Monday Night Wars (WWF and WCW had a bidding war over the NCAA Heavyweight champion). Shawn Michaels is back as a full time wrestler, and as long as he's outperforming everyone, why not make him your top babyface? Then again, he was the top babyface in 1996, a very damaging year for the WWE... Triple H as champion is bad, just on the previous experience of 2003. Why not attempt to prove fans wrong in 2004? Triple H needs to lose weight in attempt to gain back some speed in the ring. He also needs to be more giving in the ring to his opponents and show that every opponent has a winning chance. I won't have a problem with him as champion IF he accomplishes those two things.
Looking back on 2003, it was not a good year for the WWE as a whole. While it had positives, there were times that I just wanted to stop watching. I've become a more casual fan of the WWE than ever as a wrestling columnist. I no longer write full show reviews because I either casually watch the shows OR I catch parts of them. The Ric Flair DVD is the only real merchandise of 2003, other than a few books, that have excited me to spend money on the WWE. I have no motivation to ever see a RAW roster show whenever they are in town (Columbus, Wheeling, or Pittsburgh). I have a total disgust for the McMahons for their overexposure on camera this year for the Kane feud AND for the Hogan/Mr. America feud. I'm upset when I see a guy like Eddie Guerrero having huge chants from the crowd getting depushed down the card when he would be a perfect #1 babyface against Brock Lesnar (especially since UPN has a huge young hispanic audience).
Wrestlemania 20 is really the last big thing I want to see from the WWE. I own every Wrestlemania, still (I sold most of my VHS collection of other events), and I wonder how special the WWE could make this event after the crap witnessed during 2003. It could very well be my last big moment as a wrestling fan, one of which I've been since I can remember. I really wish 2004 will be a big one for the WWE, but I won't get my hopes up.
Thanks for reading my version of the 2003 Year In Review. I'd like to hear your feedback on this column. firstname.lastname@example.org. If possible, please put "History of 2003 Feedback" in your subject heading so that I won't delete it through the piles of spam I receive daily. Thanks!
Willygoat Valley Wrestling (WVW) - The Best Backyard fed around today!
@That's all for today. Thanks a million for reading.