WWE Royal Rumble 2003 1/19/2003

January 19, 2003
Fleet Center
Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 15,338
Buy Rate: .99
Announcers: Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler, Michael Cole, and Tazz

Sunday Night Heat

Spike Dudley (Matt Hyson) defeats Steven Richards (Mike Manna) in 3:36

Pay Per View

1) Brock Lesnar defeats Big Show (Paul Wight) with an F-5 to earn a slot in the Royal Rumble at 6:29

Fun Fact: The night after Armageddon, Kurt Angle dodged Brock’s challenge for a WWE Championship match by saying he had a non title match with Chris Benoit that night. He did offer him a match the following week and Brock accepted. Later that night, Angle came out and introduced Paul Heyman as his advisor, much to the shock of the announcers and fans. A confused Big Show came out, but Heyman talked him into believing his mission and a new power trio was formed. Show would interfere in Angle’s match with Benoit, and Brock would make the save. He would toss Show and Angle with suplexes but before he could get his hands on Heyman, Angle took him out and they left him lying. The next week’s show opened with Stephanie McMahon announcing that Brock injured Angle after last week’s show went off air and that Angle may be out until the PPV. Show came out and demanded the title shot at the Rumble, but Stephanie put him in a number one contenders match with Chris Benoit instead. Later in the show, Stephanie showed the footage of Brock injuring Angle’s knee from the week before. This was to cover for legit injuries that Kurt was battling through, including his knee and balky neck. After that, Angle and Heyman came out to chat. Angle said he would never defend his title against Brock, despite his promises before Armageddon. Show would lose the match to Benoit to close out the show. The following week, Heyman and Show came out and Heyman talked about wanting to ensure Lesnar would not win the Rumble and earn a title match. So, he officially challenged Brock to take on Show at the Rumble, with the winner earning a slot in the Rumble match. Brock would accept the challenge and the match was officially set.

The opener is a basic but effective power match to get Brock Lesnar into the main event Rumble match. Brock’s following really took off after his very surprising loss to Big Show at Survivor Series, but having Paul Heyman as the heat magnet to transfer off of Brock certainly helped in that aspect. Then last month at Armageddon he helps Kurt Angle defeat Big Show for the WWE Title with a big F5. Once Kurt solidified his heel status, Brock definitely became the sympathetic face of the show along with Chris Benoit. Heyman joined Angle, which almost immediately made Lesnar an underdog, even the big monster that he is. I feel bad for Big Show, as he once again gets a one month cup of coffee in the main events, only to be back in the curtain-jerking slot of the show. I guess the weight gain and spots of laziness in the almost four years he’s been in WWE keep him at this point from really reaching his potential. This on top of the fact that Lesnar kicks out of a clean chokeslam is another sign of what WWE’s opinion of Big Show is. One mountainous F5 later and Lesnar is in the Rumble. Grade: 2.5

Justin: Our opening match has a lot on the line, as Brock and Show were battling for a slot in the Rumble and Brock was looking for revenge on the man who stole his title in November. The crowd was pretty amped for Brock and he was aggressive right out of the gate. That was one aspect of Brock’s matches that always made them entertaining: he wrestled a non stop, aggressive pace. Brock would also unleash some awesome suplexes on Show and he did a nice job showing that he was fighting with some urgency due to the stakes. Heyman would make his presence known but any time Brock would get a hand on him, Show was there for the save. Brock would kick out of a chokeslam and land an impressive F5 to a huge pop to pick up the win. This was a solid opener that told a good story. They kept it short and these two were really starting to build some nice chemistry. Show heads off in another direction as Brock sets his sights on taking Angle’s gold. Grade: 2.5

2) The Dudley Boys defeat William Regal (Darren Matthews) & Lance Storm (Lance Evers) to win World Tag Team Titles when D-Von Dudley (Devon Hughes) pins Storm after a brass knuckles shot at 7:24

Fun Fact: Regal & Storm defeated Booker and Goldust to win the World Tag Team titles on the January 6 Raw. Earlier that night, the Dudleys would run afoul of Eric Bischoff on Raw when they saved Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler from a beating at the hands of Three Minute Warning. Regal & Storm would back up the boss and take out the Dudleys. After that segment, Booker made some derogatory comments about Eric, so he granted Regal & Storm the title shot.

Fun Fact II:
On the November 18 Raw, Val Venis came out but announced under his real name of Sean Morley. Eric Bischoff would name him Chief of Staff and he would become Eric’s right hand man on Raw. Morley would assist Regal & Storm in winning the belts from Booker & Goldust.

The match itself isn’t bad, but I was hoping for Regal & Storm would retain the belts here. I like them as a team as they’re super in the ring and bring a great cohesiveness to a tag team match. Nothing against the Dudleys but their gimmick has gotten pretty stale. In their defense you really can’t do anything to them that wouldn’t interfere or disrupt the gimmick that they’ve had for almost eight years. It’s a shame that the Booker & Goldust run only lasted a few weeks, but Booker was about to start a big run here and having him in a tag feud would have stunted that a bit. Either way the match itself is solid as the Regal/Storm team really had great chemistry in the ring and the Dudleys always know how to get the momentum swinging and the crowd going with their various power moves. The crowd really goes nuts when they 3D Regal while he has the knucks on, then D-Von cracks Storm in the face and they win the titles. Now D-Von & Bubba Ray will never be compared to Hawk & Animal, but they have put together a pretty impressive resume of tag championships. Mind you things were different than in the Road Warriors hey-day when title changes were fewer and farther between, but still some credit has to go to these guys for being at the forefront of the tag division for two different promotions. The Boston crowd needs to be given a lot of credit here, as they really kept the energy going for the first two matches going. That was necessary, considering what they were about to have to watch with the next two matches. Grade: 2

Justin: After having an impressive end to 2002, Raw’s hottest tag team aligned themselves with the boss and they were able to nab the tag titles. Eric was clearly starting to utilize certain wrestlers as backup and use them to punish those who dissented. The Dudleys were firmly against Eric, so he sends the new champs to do the dirty work, with a little help from his Chief of Staff. Storm and Bubba break out a nice opening sequence that keeps the crowd hot. Storm & Regal really utilized some nice crisp teamwork and were gelling quite nicely as a dominant heel team. The match was pretty energetic, despite being as basic as it gets. Morley would run some interference, but that would end up backfiring as the Dudleys nabbed Storm’s knucks and blast him in the face to win the belts. Things would get interesting the next night on Raw, but more on that next month. This match was well worked and the crowd is still rolling as the Dudleys pick up a big win. Grade: 2

3) Torrie Wilson defeats Dawn Marie (Dawn Marie Psaltis) with a neckbreaker at 3:36

Fun Fact: Dawn Marie and Al Wilson finally tied the knot on the 1/3 Smackdown. Not much of note happened besides Dawn stripping Al down to his underwear. The following week, a Torrie/Dawn match for the PPV was announced. Throughout the show, we saw clips of Dawn and Al on their honeymoon. Unfortunately for Dawn, she ended up wearing Al out with a lot of sex and eventually Al succumbed to a heart attack and passed away. A week later, we got clips of Al’s funeral. A distraught Dawn let Torrie have it, blaming her for killing Al. A slapping fight broke out and the coffin ended up toppling over. As Torrie mourned some more, Dawn smashed a lamp over her back and left her lying. This whole angle was panned unanimously by the internet with the only highlights being the sarcastic commentary by Cole and Tazz.

Now we get to one of the worst two match stretches in PPV history. This feud had its ups and downs, mostly ups as it involved Torrie and Dawn Marie in skimpy lingerie or nothing at all for most of it. Sure we had to deal with that schmuck Al Wilson, but that soon fades when he dies after having too much honeymoon nookie with a woman half his age. The segment on Smackdown with Al’s wake where Dawn Marie and Torrie had a confrontation that ended with Dawn Marie smashing a vase over Torrie’s head was one of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen. Dawn smacks her with the vase, and then Torrie gives this weird look on her face and after three seconds collapses. It was absolutely hysterical. Then we get to the match, which is hysterical in another way. It’s humorously bad. Mind you these two girls fought hard and gave it their all, and at least Torrie uses a legit finisher like a neckbreaker instead of some lazy roll-up or something. It’s really not that good, and I have to grade it as such but these two are not really paid to be wrestlers per se. The story was funny and entertaining, the match was, well what you’d expect. Grade: .5

Justin: Despite the nonsensical twists and turns and horribly cheesy acting by Al, Dawn and Torrie did work pretty hard throughout this feud. After bringing the hate since the fall, they finally put the angle to rest here. Dawn comes to the ring wearing her mourning veil as she continues to weep for her husband. They wrestle a basic match as the crowd quickly began to fade after staying hot through the first two matches. Torrie gets the quick win to finally end this feud. Al is gone, the feud is finished but I will say I will miss Tazz’s sarcastic commentary as he ripped Al to shreds each week on TV. Grade: .5

4) Scott Steiner (Scott Rechsteiner) defeats Triple H (Paul Levesque) by disqualification at 18:14; Triple H retains World Heavyweight Championship

Fun Fact: The night after Armageddon, GM Eric Bischoff held a “Triple H Appreciation Night” to honor the new World Heavyweight Champion. During Triple H’s speech, out comes free agent Scott Steiner. Steiner officially hadn’t been signed to either show yet, but he wanted a crack at the Big Gold Belt. Bischoff was hesitant, but Steiner said if he doesn’t get his title shot he’s heading to Smackdown. So, Triple H agreed to a title match at the Royal Rumble. Steiner wanted the match right there and after going nose to nose, Triple H walked away. Over the next three weeks Triple H would toy with Big Poppa Pump through silly competitions. On the 12/23 Raw Triple H hosts an arm wrestling contest, which Steiner plays opossum and beats the champ easily. Then the following week on the 1/6 Raw, we have clearly the most homoerotic segment in Raw history, as Triple H and Steiner have a posedown ala Rick Rude vs. Ultimate Warrior ala Royal Rumble 1989. With all the oil and low lighting, it was awful. They then have a push-up competition, which ended with the Triple H appointed posedown judges attacking Steiner. Steiner would fight them off and beat the crap out of them. On the 1/13 Raw both men finally come to blows, which ends with Steiner ripping Triple H’s suit apart and he leaves wearing some strange pair of underwear that looks like a jock strap.

Fun Fact II:
This is Steiner’s first WWE PPV match since the 1994 Royal Rumble.

On paper this is actually a pretty big time match. Big Poppa Pump, who has wrestled here and there since WCW closed almost two years before, is thrust into the top spot against The Game. Now we know that this match is infamous for being absolutely terrible. Well after watching it for the first time since I saw it live recently, it’s easier to break the match down. The first six or seven minutes really aren’t that bad. Two big power guys smacking the hell out of each other, and actually Steiner was really dictating the pace with big time strikes and Triple H sold it big time. Then at about the 8:00 mark, we see the look on Steiner’s face like “Jesus I should have hit the treadmill a couple more times.” He’s wheezing big time and that’s when the overabundance of suplexes started. Eleven total, but after the fourth one you can tell the crowd has noticed that Steiner is completely gassed and that’s all he can do. So now the other aspects of the match take over. Ric Flair is completely overselling and overacting so much, trying so hard not to have the crowd lose interest in the match. Triple H even tries to draw blood to add drama to the match, but by then the crowd has already packed it in. Of course coming off that crappy women’s match before the crowd was hoping for something big from a high-profile, never before seen combo like this. Well with each passing suplex the crowd is slowly starting to crawl into the fetal position wondering if they can get a refund for their tickets. The crowning moment of the match is when Steiner hooks Triple H in the underarm powerbomb, a move he used often in his WCW heyday. In fact you may even catch him doing it during his first WWF run in 1993-94. Here, he lifts Triple H up, gets him over, then completely falls apart and hits the ground along with Triple H. My friend and I were watching the match recently and I actually laughed out loud. Triple H is trying so hard to cheat his way through the match but the crowd is cheering his and Flair’s every move while Steiner’s popularity is sinking with each belly-to-belly suplex, which you can tell is getting more and more taxing for him to do. Finally Triple H puts us out of our misery and gets the sledgehammer to force the DQ. Steiner cleans the ring and puts Triple H in the Steiner Recliner for heat purposes, but by this point the crowd is quickly running for a beer or a bathroom break before the real athletes come out. Now, I found this match humorous for its lack of anything, but then when we get to our next PPV and the expected rematch, I’m not laughing. Grade: 1.5

Justin: Scott Steiner has been red hot since debuting at Survivor Series. That ends here. After a month of rumors and posturing, Steiner inks with Raw and immediately set his sights on the champ. The angle they built around the match was that Hunter was intimidated by Steiner and was actually questioning if he could defeat Big Poppa Pump. To build the match, they tried each other in various feats of strength exhibitions, with Steiner often coming out on top. The intrigue was kind of high heading in as this was somewhat of a cross-promotional dream match. The bout definitely had a big match feel to start and Steiner gets a good pop from the Boston fans. Steiner would dominate early but the crowd slowly began splintering off, with some fans backing Hunter. Steiner kept halting Hunter’s comeback attempts and overpowered him at every turn. Hunter would finally take control with a basic wear down offense and the crowd slowly started to slip away. Things would go from bad to ugly when Steiner started to make a comeback but was too blown up to do much of anything. In a desperate attempt to salvage things, Steiner unleashes a flurry of sloppy suplexes. You can see him staring off, trying to catch his breath and thinking what to do next. It was futile though, because he was totally spent and the crowd could sense it. Whatever fans were left in his corner quickly turned on him and it got ugly fast. The highlight of the match comes when Steiner collapses mid suplex. JR and Lawler try their best to cover for things but you could tell in their voices that they knew this thing was falling apart. They would fight into the aisle and Hunter would do a pathetically desperate bladejob that added no drama to a match that was dying a quick death. As Steiner lumbered around the ring trying not to die, Hunter crawled all over the place, trying to look desperate and intimidated and looking for a way out. After a few attempts, he finally uses the sledge to draw the lame DQ and end this farce. Now, I get what they were trying to accomplish here and the intentions were good, but it was awful execution. They wanted to sell that Hunter was intimidated and couldn’t stop Steiner. They should have Steiner destroy him for five or six minutes, just totally murdering him. Hunter, realizing he can’t win, grabs the sledge and gets DQ’d in less than ten minutes. That would have set the stage for a hot rematch as Steiner would have looked like a killer and Hunter would have been vulnerable. Instead, they meandered on for nearly twenty minutes and things totally collapsed after the hot start. They killed the crowd and Steiner’s heat by doing things this way. The other option was delaying this match and letting Steiner go on a crazy killing streak on Raw week in and week out. This way he could have gotten his legs back and garnered more heat. Anyway, this match only gets the grade it got because of my perverse entertainment in watching things fall apart as Steiner sucks wind and tosses suplexes left and right. Grade: 2

5) Kurt Angle defeats Chris Benoit to retain WWE Championship with the Anklelock at 19:48

Fun Fact: On the 12/19 Smackdown, Kurt Angle came out with his new WWE Title and said he couldn’t have won the match with Big Show at Armageddon without help from Brock Lesnar. Lesnar comes out to a big time pop, and says he now wants his shot. Angle doesn’t grant it as he has a non-title match with Chris Benoit, but he told Brock that he will get his shot soon. Later in the night Angle comes out to announce his new agent: Paul Heyman. Heyman says it was all a ruse, and that really Lesnar was duped into helping Angle win. He’ll never get a shot as long as Heyman’s controlling the title.

Fun Fact II:
Benoit received this title shot by defeating Big Show on the 12/26 Smackdown in a number one contenders match.

Fun Fact III:
To give Angle some backup while WWE Champion, on the 12/26 Smackdown, Paul Heyman gave Kurt a Christmas gift: “Team Angle”, two stellar young stud wrestlers that would dress like Kurt and back him up where needed. First, there is Shelton Benjamin. The All-American wrestler from Orangeburg, South Carolina had a 122-10 record as a wrestler in high school. He was a standout at Minnesota and then was signed to WWE in 2000. While learning in OVW, he was a multi-time tag team champion with two partners, first with fellow Minnesota wrestler Brock Lesnar. Their team was called the Minnesota Stretching Crew, winning the straps twice. When Lesnar was brought up, he teamed with Jazz’s real life husband, Redd Dogg Begnaud and became “The Dogg Pound”. He made his move to the big time in September 2002 and debuted on camera here.

Fun Fact IV:
His partner is Charlie Haas. Haas debuted in the pros in 1996 with his brother Russ, and they won multiple tag titles on the Indy circuit. The brothers joined the WWF in August of 2000 and continued their tag run in the developmental territories in Memphis and Heartland. However tragedy struck on December 15, 2001 when Russ Haas died of a heart attack due to a pre-existing condition. Haas changed his name to “R.C. Haas”, putting his brother’s and his name together as initials, and he wrote “Russ” on his taped forearms for the rest of his career. He continued boning up in developmental, including winning the HWA Heavyweight Title in January 2002.

Now, clearly we have a complete 180 degree turn from one title match to the next. Another pair from the Smackdown Six, and just like all of their other PPV battles Benoit and Angle tear the house down for twenty minutes. This match, however, seems to go down as more special, more unique than the others. Maybe because of the fact that it’s a title match or that Angle has this tag team of backups now to make him even more hated, or the fact that Benoit and his fans have been waiting for that first elusive World Title. So with all the plot points and the history these two have, we are presented with one of the greatest title matches ever put together in a ring. Both guys, awesome mat technicians and clearly in superior physical condition, go all out for twenty minutes with the WWE Title on the line. The crowd is clearly all over this one after just having to watch that last piece of shit. Both guys know how to dictate and sell better than almost anyone, and there’s no wasted motion by either guy. They both want to be the best, and they went out and showed it. No lazy restholds, no stalling, no around the ring nonsense. It’s just two guys in excellent condition showing why they’re respected by fans, critics, and the Internet Wrestling Community. At one point, Benoit’s getting chants from the Boston crowd, sitting on the edge of their seats hoping he would achieve his dream. Rarely does a major title change hands at this PPV as Rock defeating Mankind in 1999 was the last time it happened, but for some reason this match almost made you believe that Benoit would pull it off. The last four minutes are sparkling counter maneuvers by both men as they go back and forth trying to escape each other’s submission moves. The tension gets off the charts until Angle finally grapevines that Anklelock and Benoit can do nothing but tap out. After the match the Boston crowd, appreciative that two guys went balls to the walls after the more hyped title match stunk out the joint, gives Benoit a standing ovation for his effort in losing. Cole and Tazz, who have really settled into a pretty good broadcast team, aren’t just giving lip service when they say that Benoit will get more chances to become a champion. He wrestled like one as well. I will give kudos to Kurt Angle to do his part to make both Benoit look like a million bucks and make himself look like a hated bad ass champion. This unfortunately would be the highlight of Benoit’s year, whereas Angle prepares himself for a big Wrestlemania payday. Grade: 5

Justin: As if Benoit and Angle didn’t have enough pressure on them, they were now tasked with waking up a comatose and jaded crowd as well. Angle emerged and the crowd started to wake up, showering him with his usual heat. His new running buddies, Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin, are quickly tossed from the ring. This would ensure a one on one classic from two of the best. The bout was mat based to start as both men worked a quick, crisp pace and traded control as it wore on. Adding the great action, Cole and Tazz did a wonderful job telling the story of the match. They were really starting to become the premiere broadcast team of WWE with their insight and storytelling. Angle would finally slow things up a bit as he started wear Benoit down. The slow down would be short lived, as the pace got ratcheted back up with a crazy flurry of stiff, impactful offense moves. Angle hit a great super belly to belly for a near fall and after slowly waking back up; the crowd was fully engrossed by this point. As Scott mentioned, the final five minutes or so were just tremendous. It started with a nice battle over the crossface and transitioned into a counter maneuver buffet. It felt like a true heavyweight war as the momentum kept shifting with each move. Angle would finally land the win when he traps Benoit in the Anklelock and Chris was forced to tap. This was just a beautiful, old school clean wrestling match. They proved that they didn’t need weapons, gimmicks or blood to get the crowd invested in their match. It was an instant classic that won over the fans big time. The closing portion was just fantastic and Benoit looked strong even in losing. The MOTY bar has officially been set as Angle and Benoit come out to steal, and save, the show. Grade: 5

6) Brock Lesnar wins the Royal Rumble

Order of Entrants (with person who eliminated them)

1) Shawn Michaels (Michael Hickenbottom): Chris Jericho
2) Chris Jericho (Chris Irvine): Test
3) Christopher Nowinski: Rey Mysterio
4) Rey Mysterio (Oscar Gutierrez): Chris Jericho
5) Edge (Adam Copeland): Chris Jericho
6) Christian (Jay Reso): Chris Jericho
7) Chavo Guerrero: Edge
8) Tajiri (Yoshihiro Tajiri): Chris Jericho
9) Bill DeMott: Edge
10) Tommy Dreamer (Thomas Laughlin): Christian & Jericho
11) B-2 (Barry Buchanan): Edge
12) Rob Van Dam (Rob Szatkowski): Kane
13) Matt Hardy: Brock Lesnar
14) Eddie Guerrero: Booker T
15) Jeff Hardy: Rob Van Dam
16) Rosey (Matthew Anoia): Kane
17) Test (Andrew Martin): Batista
18) John Cena: Undertaker
19) Charlie Haas: Brock Lesnar
20) Rikishi (Solofa Fatu): Batista
21) Jamal (Edward Fatu): Undertaker
22) Kane (Glen Jacobs): Undertaker
23) Shelton Benjamin: Brock Lesnar
24) Booker T (Booker Huffman): Team Angle
25) A-Train (Matt Bloom): Kane & Rob Van Dam
26) Maven (Huffman): Undertaker
27) Goldust (Dustin Runnels): Charlie Haas
28) Batista (Dave Bautista): Undertaker
29) Brock Lesnar: Winner
30) Undertaker (Mark Callaway): Brock Lesnar

Longest Time: Chris Jericho (38:54)
Shortest Time: Bull Buchanan (:24)
Most eliminated: Chris Jericho (6)

Fun Fact: After Matt Hardy jumped to Smackdown and became Version One, he soon enlisted Shannon Moore as his Number One M-F’er. Mattitude follower, that is. Moore was actually a long time friend of Hardy as he was a member of Hardy’s OMEGA promotion in North Carolina. In 1999, Moore was hired by WCW at the request of Kanyon, who was given the authority to hire a small army of cruiserweights to replenish the division. He would be placed in an entertaining boy band gimmick alongside Shane Helms and Evan Karagias. Their most memorable storyline came in late 2000 when UFC star Tank Abbott became engrossed with their music and did his best to protect them while also trying to perform with them. Three Count would splinter and feud throughout the dying days of WCW. They would provide some of the best matches that the dying promotion put on in those final months. Moore would ink a deal with the WWE developmental territory HWA until being brought up to the show in mid 2002. He would hook up with Hardy after toiling in the cruiserweight division for most of the year.

Fun Fact II:
Bill DeMott is the former Hugh Morrus. After spending the early part of 2002 plying his trade on the syndicated program Jakked, DeMott was injured in a motorcycle accident and had to take some time off. While healing DeMott signed on to be a trainer on MTV’s Tough Enough 3. This would be the most exposure DeMott would obtain and he cultivated his hard ass personality and was often vicious, yet understanding, with the trainees. He returned to the ring on the 11/23 Velocity and hit the big time on the 12/5 Smackdown. He now went by his real name and was pushed as a monster heel, squashing lower card wrestlers. The push didn’t last long and he ended up being a Velocity mainstay for most of 2003. This is his final PPV appearance. Despite still being used as a monster heel there, DeMott would decide to hang up the tights in the summer. He would defeat Kanyon in his final match on the 6/14 Velocity. DeMott would take over announce duties on Velocity in late 2003 before reprising his role as a trainer for Tough Enough 4. After Tough Enough ended, DeMott became a full time trainer in developmental until being released from his contract in early 2007.

Fun Fact III:
The last time we saw B-2 on PPV, he was providing backup for John Cena’s freestyle. That partnership would be short lived. On the 1/16 Smackdown, Cena and B-2 lost a match to Los Guerreros. Cena blamed B-2 and smacked him around. B-2 didn’t take kindly and shoved Cena down. Cena’s new running buddy, Redd Dogg then ran through the crowd and took B-2 out. This is B-2’s final TV appearance. He actually lost a match to Redd Dogg on the 1/23 Smackdown, but it was cut for time constraints. On 1/26, Buchanan was officially released. Buchanan’s final PPV record was 6-7. Also, we will talk about Redd Dogg in future reviews.

Fun Fact IV:
In the fall of 2002, Stacy Keibler began managing Test and also took on the role of his marketing agent. She had him reshape his image by cutting his hair, changing his tights and becoming more fan friendly. She even began to refer to his fans as “Testicles”. The term led to some funny double entendres and the pairing actually got him over for a bit. Things would be rosy for now, but would get ugly as the year goes on. Stacy and Test were also dating in real life at this time.

Fun Fact V:
The Undertaker hadn’t been seen since Big Show tossed him off a stage the night after No Mercy. In the weeks leading up to the Rumble, various Undertaker related videos began airing and some featured highlights of the old school Undertaker gimmick. Rumors were swirling that Taker was going to return as the Deadman at this show. When he showed up as the American Badass, many fans that were looking forward to a return to the Darkside were left disappointed.

Fun Fact VI:
On the 1/6 Raw, Chris Jericho came out to talk about his goal of winning the Rumble and returning to the Wrestlemania main event. He was interrupted by Shawn Michaels, who bragged about being the only man to enter number one and win the Rumble. He officially entered himself in the Rumble match and dared Jericho to enter as number one to prove he could match Michaels’ feat in 1995. A week later, Vince came out and announced that Michaels had chosen to enter the Rumble first and he was making an over the top rope challenge match, where the winner could pick any number they wanted. Jericho would win the match and chose number two, so he could out duel Michaels.

Fun Fact VII:
Chris Nowinski was a standout athlete at Harvard, including football, before graduating with a Bachelors degree in Sociology. He competed in the first Tough Enough competition, and finished second to Maven Huffman. Nowinski floated around the Indies briefly before being hired by WWE and sent to developmental with the name “Chris Harvard”. He debuted on the 6/10/02 Raw and became partners with William Regal for a time. Early in his career, he was best known for taking part in one of the worst matches of all time on the 7/8 Raw. Nowinski teamed with fellow Tough Enough competitor Jackie Gayda to take on Trish Stratus and Bradshaw. The match was littered with missed spots and horrifyingly awful action. Nowinski would use his fantastic verbal skills to hone his elitist heel character throughout 2002. His first PPV appearance was at Survivor Series when he threw jabs at the Madison Square Garden crowd with Matt Hardy before getting crushed by Scott Steiner. He would spend the rest of 2002 teaming with D-Lo Brown before striking out on his own at the turn of the year.

Fun Fact VIII:
Jeff Hardy defeated Raven on the 1/13 Raw to earn a slot in the Rumble.

Our Rumble was a strange one because it had many ebbs and flows. The brawl in the beginning with Jericho jumping HBK from behind was cool, and it would begin a great feud. In terms of the talent of the Rumble, it was pretty stacked. There were legitimately six or seven guys who could have won this match. Besides Jericho, you had Michaels, who technically was still feuding with Triple H, Lesnar, Undertaker, Rob Van Dam and Booker T. There was also a huge cache of complete stiffs that had no chance, but you get that with every Rumble match. It was just a bunch of guys who eat up the middle portion of the match and eventually get eliminated. Jericho was the stud here though, as he comes in early, builds the feud with Michaels who he cheap shots and tosses out early. He then spends the rest of the time tossing guys and working through skirmishes as he’s almost tossed a few times. Shawn comes back all taped up with blood on his face and gets Jericho eliminated. Once Jericho was tossed, the predictability of the Rumble was pretty clear. The last four guys were Brock, Taker, Batista, and Kane. Kane had his main event run, so that wasn’t happening. This was 2003 so Batista wasn’t yet an option. So that leaves either Undertaker or Lesnar. Well the tension lasted about ten seconds as a spent Lesnar tosses the unsuspecting Taker over the top rope for the win. Maybe have Taker & Brock battle for a bit and build a little drama before Brock tosses him out. Either way once Jericho was eliminated it was clear Brock had this won. Plus you don’t waste a match like Brock/Show for a Rumble spot, then not have the guy win it. Overall this was a decent Rumble, but nothing memorable. Lesnar now is the underdog babyface heading to Seattle. But is he really an underdog?

Coming off that red hot WWE title match, the crowd was pretty pumped for the Rumble match. Shawn Michaels wrestles in Boston for the first time since Wrestlemania XIV and he is warmly received by Beantown. Jericho would sneak into the ring from behind and use a chair to lay out Michaels and easily eliminate him from the match. That would be the first strike to start an impressive night for Y2J. The action was fast paced early on and the crowd was rocking as a bevy of great workers dominated the field. Speaking of dominating, Jericho controlled the match for the whole first half as he was a one man wrecking machine. Not even a nasty cut from a Tommy Dreamer kendo stick could slow him up. The Rumble was definitely front loaded with great wrestling talent and the big names just kept coming. The crowd really got into the Hardy showdown as Matt and Jeff faced off for the first time since Matt jumped to Smackdown. Matt would also work in some neat spots with Shannon Moore saving him from elimination and even taking bullets for him in the ring. John Cena would also continue to evolve his rap gimmick as he freestyles down to the ring with some edgy lyrics. He would put in a good showing before being tossed late. The ring was really filling up at this point and the action began to slow down. As the heavy workrate guys tapered out, the real big name players began to emerge. Fresh off the end of his tag team run, Booker T. gets a nice pop for his entrance. Michaels would reemerge and cause Jericho to be eliminated, much to the delight of the fans. That would officially kick off a great feud between the two. As the match wound down, the hosses began appearing. Brock Lesnar drew 29 and immediately took over the match and Undertaker would return at number 30 and also looked strong out there. After forming an alliance over the past few weeks, Kane tosses his friend RVD, who would quickly shrug it off. At this point, it seemed fairly obvious that Brock was winning, but Taker’s presence made things a little more intriguing, especially since he just ran over anyone that got in his way. The final four would brawl for a bit before Taker was able to drop Brock with a Tombstone. Batista would get a nice showing and would eventually distract Taker, allowing Brock to toss him and win the match. Brock looked dominant, but so did Taker, who may have looked a bit too strong. It’s almost like they had him look unstoppable to appease him for not winning. That is the vibe I got while watching, anyway. As a whole, the match was actually quite fun, much more so than I ever remembered it being. The roster was pretty loaded with great talent and big names and the action was pretty non stop. Brock is put over big and has his sights set on Kurt Angle and the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania.

Final Analysis:

This is a very hard show to grade. Let’s look at the positives. First you have clearly one of the greatest title matches in WWE, if not wrestling, history between two thoroughbreds in Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit. Benoit’s push to the World Title began here with this awesome performance and the post-match applause afterwards. The first couple of matches aren’t that bad as Brock/Show put on a decent power battle and the tag match was pretty good as well. The Rumble wasn’t too offensive, even though it was pretty predictable. The crowd was jacked when Lesnar won, but I don’t think they were really too surprised either. Now the negatives are unavoidable. The women’s match was a mess, but nothing was as disastrous as that Triple H/Steiner match. Sure we’ve seen crappy title matches before, but this match was an unmitigated clusterfuck. With all the buildup and hype and time taken to set up Steiner’s debut and put him in the title feud with Triple H, who was not having the best of non-Shawn Michaels matches at the time, this was a colossal disaster. Steiner clearly was not physically ready to be a big time talent yet, but with a huge debut on the horizon a lot of things had to be rushed, and clearly this feud was rushed. Now the question is without this match the show is a B+, bordering close to A-. However the disappointment, although comical, of that World Title match can’t be ignored. Overall it’s not a terrible show, and that match is quite funny to watch. However it can’t be ignored as a pretty bad match. Final Grade: B-

Justin: The first PPV of 2003 is an up and down affair that has really high peaks and very low valleys. It started off pretty hot with a pair of solid openers. Brock Lesnar set the tone with his aggressive style in the opener and earned a slot in the Rumble. Things began heading downhill with the Torrie/Dawn match and reached rock bottom with the awful Triple H/Steiner contest. After weeks of big time buildup, Steiner blows up early and the match and feud are derailed. Hunter continues to battle his critics but he did himself no favors here with a horribly booked affair. Benoit and Angle would go on to save the show and prove that Smackdown was clearly the class of WWE at this point. As Raw struggled to find an identity, Smackdown was flourishing with interesting characters, good storytelling and great in ring action. Angle is banged up, but he rolls on as champion and is now on a collision course with Brock Lesnar, who won the Rumble match. We get another big storyline cranking between Michaels and Jericho as they cost each other a shot at winning the match. This really was a fun show and if you take the Hunter/Steiner match with a grain of salt and enjoy the train wreck quality, it makes that portion of the card much more palatable. The rest of the show is well worked and had a hot crowd rocking along with it. 2003 is off to a good start, but only time will tell if the good feelings can be sustained and the peaks of the Attitude era can be reclaimed. Final Grade: B

MVP: Chris Benoit & Kurt Angle
Runner Up: Brock Lesnar
Non MVP: Triple H & Scott Steiner
Runner Up: Dawn Marie & Torrie Wilson

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