WWE No Way Out 2003 2/23/2003

February 23, 2003
Bell Centre
Montreal, Quebec
Attendance: 15,100
Buy Rate: .87
Announcers: Jonathan Coachman, Jerry Lawler, Michael Cole, and Tazz

Sunday Night Heat
Rey Mysterio (Oscar Gutierrez) defeats Jamie Noble (James Gibson) in 4:35

Pay Per View

1) Chris Jericho (Chris Irvine) defeats Jeff Hardy with the Walls of Jericho at 12:59

Fun Fact: On the 1/20 Raw, Chris Jericho took on Test. About five minutes into the match, Jericho grabbed a chair and took a swung, but he missed Test and drilled Stacy, knocking her out cold. The next week, Jericho came out and blamed Test for ducking and not taking the chair shot like a man. Shawn Michaels appeared and took offense to Jericho’s comments. They had a short back and forth until Michaels charged the ring and ran Jericho off. The next week, Test and Stacy came back and confronted Jericho. Christian would end up jumping Test, but Test fought both men off. Later that night, Jeff Hardy got involved in a Rob Van Dam/Kane match and got beaten down for his troubles. Michaels made his presence felt again and gave Jeff a Come to Jesus speech, telling him it was time to finally reach his potential. Jeff flipped out and was met with some sweet chin music from Michaels. The next week, Test defeated Christian to open Raw and Hardy got involved to help save Stacy from some impending trouble. Later that night, Jericho defeated Hardy in a sloppy encounter. We also found out that Jericho would be taking on Test at No Way Out. On the final Raw before the PPV, Michaels and Hardy teamed up to beat Jericho and Christian when Hardy pinned Jericho. On a bigger note, Test and Stacy missed the show due to the weather. Vince wasn’t happy with the excuse, so Test was pulled from the PPV and his push was cut short. Jeff was then put in his spot against Jericho. Heading into the match, rumors were swirling that Michaels would be in the house at the PPV to back up his sort of protégé, Hardy, against his arch nemesis, Jericho.

Fun Fact II:
After No Way Out, Jeff Hardy began a storyline with Trish Stratus after he began saving her from Steven Richards and Victoria. Hardy and Stratus had a brief on-screen relationship that saw them talking backstage, kissing, and teaming together in matches and it was implied that they had begun dating. In the midst of the angle, Hardy was abruptly released on April 22. The reasons given for the release were erratic behavior, drug use, a refusal to go to rehab, clearly deteriorating ring performance, and constant tardiness and no-showing events. In his own defense, Hardy also claimed he was burnt out and his need for time off as reasons for leaving. Hardy will be gone for over three years and we will chronicle his adventures upon his return.

Scott:
On paper you would expect this to be a pretty good opener, but the execution was not there. Jeff Hardy was definitely not at a good place in his career right now. Whatever he was doing away from the ring in his personal life definitely affected his in-ring performance. Sure he was doing some high spots, but it seemed like he was just flailing around without any real direction or control. Jericho did his best to keep the match under control, but it still didn’t reach the levels that I think these two could have reached. Now years later when both men become much more mature they can put on stellar matches together. This one was ok, but not great. Jericho’s build with Shawn Michaels continues as Shawn comes out to stop a post-match beatdown. They kept Shawn off camera as much as possible, since this was Montreal’s first PPV since…well you know. This was Shawn’s first appearance in Montreal since…well you know. Grade: 2

Justin: Our opening match is an interesting one that was put together the week of the show. After a solid build for a Jericho/Test match, Test pissed off the brass and gets yanked from the match. Hardy had been playing an ancillary role in the feud and had ties to Shawn Michaels, so he gets inserted into the bout. These two fought two weeks before and had a sloppy match. In my opinion, this match went much better than that one did. Hardy gets a good pop from the Montreal fans as they were fired up for their first show in five and a half years. Jericho grounded Hardy to start and the crowd actually seemed fairly split between the two. Coach and Lawler harped quite a bit on Hardy’s “unpredictability”, basically trying to explain his erratic moveset. The back and forth was good and it transitioned into a nice heat segment, which isn’t surprising since Jericho was controlling the bout. Hardy would get a really good near fall off a Swanton and the crowd really stated to get hot down the stretch. Jericho would fend him off and put him away with the Walls, picking up a nice clean PPV win. Christian would end up coming out, but that drew out Michaels, who actually got a good pop from the Montreal faithful. Jeff was sloppy as usual, but he did work pretty hard and kept pace with Jericho. The match was well worked on Jericho’s end and he laid out a nice pace and storyline that allowed Jeff’s spotty offense to make sense within it. I thought it was a fun match and I was fairly into it. I also liked the clean finish. It got the crowd going and put Jericho over strong. Grade: 3

2) Lance Storm (Lance Evers) & William Regal (Darren Matthews) defeat Rob Van Dam (Rob Szatkowski) & Kane (Glen Jacobs) to retain World Tag Team Titles when Regal pins Van Dam after Kane accidentally chokeslams him at 9:20

Fun Fact: On the 1/20 Raw, the very next night after the Dudleys won the titles at the Royal Rumble, Regal & Storm won them back with help from Chief Sean Morley. Morley called for the match to start after Storm & Regal had already beaten down the Dudleys.

Fun Fact II:
On the 2/6 Raw, after his final match teaming with Booker T, Batista & Randy Orton attacked Goldust. After beating him down, they threw him into an electrical box, causing him to get Tourette Syndrome.

Fun Fact III:
After facing each other in a match on the 2/6 Raw, Kane and RVD teamed up on the 2/13 Raw and defeated Three Minute Warning. The following week this match was announced, and RVD would defeat Storm in a singles bout.

Scott:
I think Regal and Storm get a bum rap. They were a pretty good heel tag team who drew the ire of the fans and both guys are good wrestlers. After all the issues that William Regal had in his career and life, to be still going is a testament to his tenacity and determination. He was fired from the company and in rehab. Now here he’s looking good with a partner who has few peers in the ring. Their opponents are a mismatched combination of guys who counter each other well. Kane needed something to do, as he needed to be rewarded with something good after the Katie Vick debacle. So he teams with one of the hottest guys on the roster. It’s funny that this is actually the “guys who lost to Triple H in the fall” tag team. I bet Triple H would do anything to have matches with either of these guys considering who he’s had to deal with the last two months. I digress. The match is pretty good, but I wasn’t sure at the time where they were going with Kane accidentally chokeslamming RVD to cost them the match. Was RVD going to turn heel? He was pretty steamed after the match, but Kane was apologetic. They would make amends and get another chance, but at the time the ending did puzzle me. It doesn’t take away from a decent match. Grade: 2.5

Justin: After a delayed Dusty finish on Raw, Storm and Regal were back on top of the tag team mountain. They seemed to be out of fresh challengers until Kane and RVD decided to team up and give it a go. Both men had been pushed down the card and needed something different on their plates. They would actually make a formidable and interesting tag team. After a red hot start from RVD, the match was quickly derailed by a Kane bodyslam on Regal. On the way down, Regal bumps his head hard on the mat and he is clearly out on his feet. As soon as they figured out what happened, Storm was able to tag in and the match picked back up a bit. RVD was showing tons of energy here and he actually dominated quite a bit. The match was stiff, as you would expect. Storm also shone a bit as he featured his usual crisp offense. During a brawl, Storm would turn Kane’s mask around and the Big Red Machine would take out RVD by accident, allowing Regal to cover for the win. It was actually a smart little finish and the Storm & Regal team rolls on as Champions. As a whole, the match was solid, but nothing special. Grade: 2

3) Matt Hardy defeats Billy Kidman (Peter Gruner) to win Cruiserweight Championship with a Twist of Fate off the top rope at 9:31

Fun Fact: Matt Hardy spent the weeks leading up to this match training with Shannon Moore to make weight. On the 1/30 Smackdown, Kidman defeated Moore in a match, but Hardy came in and dropped Kidman with a Twist of Fate after the bell. The next week, Matt pinned Kidman in a non title match. After the win, Matt promised to drop ten pounds to make weight and to be eligible to challenge for the belt. Matt accomplished his goal and the match was set for the PPV.

Scott:
I really enjoyed this gimmick for Matt Hardy. He always had that look of a smartass, more than Jeff did. With Jeff clearly out of it, Matt was the focal Hardy and was given the better run, and he’s rewarded for it with a title win here. Kidman really looked good here as well, but unfortunately the Cruiserweight Title really had no teeth as it’s on PPV intermittently to fill cards. Maybe with Matt Hardy as champion and a good gimmick, along with his lackey Shannon Moore they’ll put the title on PPV more often since most of the top technicians are Cruiserweight size. Who we’re not talking about that was shamelessly in the Heat match was Rey Mysterio. Rey will get into the mix soon enough and really get the mid-card cooking. The one good thing WCW did during their time was fire up shows with great Cruiserweight matches, and WWE should have been doing the same. It should be focused as much now since the upper card hasn’t been up to snuff. Regardless, Hardy and Kidman put on a pretty good match here and “Mattitude” has the gold. Grade: 3

Justin: Despite being quite over and killing it with his new gimmick, Matt Hardy’s push has been stalled since the fall. After being pulled from a feud with Edge, he is given a renewed push starting here. Matt reached his goal of meeting weight and was ready to take home singles gold. I have to give props to Tazz here as well, because he did a great job of pushing Matt’s character and was funny in discussing Matt’s weight loss techniques. Tazz was really good at getting gimmicks over, I must say. The highlight early was a nasty back bump on the post by Kidman. Matt would ground him, work his back and play to his strengths. He worked in some neat precision offense as he focused on wearing down the champ. Despite controlling the match, Hardy couldn’t put Kidman away and his frustration started to seep through. Kidman made a fiery comeback and Moore would do his best to run some interference. Kidman would end up missing the SSP but had an awesome kick out after a Twist of Fate. Matt would get desperate and drop Kidman with a Super TOF from the top rope to finally put Kidman away and grab the title. The match was solid, despite the slower pace, and the finish was great as Matt’s desperation built and built until he resorted to a big time crazy maneuver to finish off the game Kidman. Hardy and Moore make a fun team and now they have some gold for their stable. Grade: 2.5

4) Undertaker (Mark Callaway) defeats Big Show (Paul Wight) with the Triangle Choke at 14:08

Fun Fact: On the 1/23 Smackdown, Undertaker emerged and let Big Show know that he wanted revenge for when Show threw him off the stage the week after No Mercy. Paul Heyman then came out and told him could face Show’s running buddy A-Train instead. Taker would win the match with his new triangle choke hold. Over the next couple of weeks Paul Heyman messed with Taker, promising Show each week, but never delivering. The first week, Heyman brought out undercard wrestler Brian Kendrick, who was dressed in a messenger’s outfit. He sang a telegram to Undertaker on behalf of Show, but Taker did not take kindly to that one and took him out. A week later, when Undertaker came out, a large wooden crate lowered to the ring. The crate door opened and Brother Love popped out. He reminds Taker that he was his original manager and talked about love before Taker snapped and chokeslammed him. The next week, Heyman had another box lowered as Taker stood in the ring, awaiting Show. This time, the returning Kanyon popped out dressed like Boy George. He sang “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” on behalf of Show, but Taker quickly dispatched of him as well. Finally, one the week before the show, there were two boxes in the ring when Taker came out. He opened the first one to find a puppy and the second one was empty. As Taker was looking in the empty crate, Show jumped him behind and dropped him with a chokeslam.

Scott:
This begins a very ambiguous year for Undertaker. What I mean by that is for the first time since 1995, he embarks on a year where he is almost forgotten. His feuds are ok, but far on the backburner. This is a prime example of that. He was in the big Cell match at No Mercy where he put over Brock Lesnar, then was taken out the next night by Big Show. Then he returns, and so far it’s been a yawn. These two aren’t prolific in the ring together, although I’m not slamming this match by any stretch. Plus, with all the awesome talent at the top of the card on Smackdown, this feud just seems like space filler. I normally don’t say that about anything Taker is involved in, but just like 1995 when he was facing sloths like King Kong Bundy and Kama, he just seems like a match on the card more than anything else. Big Show is back to his role as “big bully who gets his.” He and Taker always seem to feud from time to time, and their matches are pretty much always the same, two lumbering guys with power strikes. Taker pulls out the triangle choke for the win, but I never understood why he needed a submission move in the first place. He has the Tombstone, chokeslam and Last Ride. Not many guys actually have three finishers, so to add a submission finisher is strange. Now I’ll qualify that statement by saying that Taker can’t put Big Show in any of those other finishers, but do we have to establish a submission move? Anyway, the match isn’t bad but A-Train’s run-in leads to more for Wrestlemania, but again it’s a feud that most probably forgot. Grade: 2

Justin: This match had an interesting little build as Taker was seeking revenge for Show taking him out back in October. Show had successfully eluded Taker leading up to the PPV and finally was able to take him out the week leading in. This would be a basic power battle, as expected, with each man trading off on offense throughout. When he took over, Show would work over Taker’s back to prevent him from doing his trademark maneuvers. It was a methodical beatdown and Show actually ended up busting Taker open with a series of headbutts. I thought Show came off looking strong here as he abused Taker for most of the match. The closing portion of the match was well done too as Taker had to fend off interference from A-Train and distractions from Heyman. Taker finally had enough and busted out a great plancha onto Heyman and Train on the floor. That one really got the crowd rocking big time. Back inside, Taker trapped Show in his new triangle choke and picked up the win. I will admit that these two sucked me in with a fun power match. As I have said before, sometimes a good big man brawl hits the spot. After the match, Train took out Taker to make his mark and to set up the continuation of this feud at Wrestlemania. Grade: 2.5

5) Brock Lesnar & Chris Benoit defeat Team Angle in a handicap match when Benoit forces Charlie Haas to submit with the Crossface at 13:19

Fun Fact: In early February, it was discovered that Edge had a serious neck injury. He was immediately pulled from in ring action and would undergo spinal fusion surgery, courtesy Dr. Youngblood. The prognosis was at least one year on the sidelines. The red hot Edge was suddenly thrust from the spotlight and forced to the DL until 2004.

Fun Fact II:
On the 1/20 Smackdown, the seeds of this match began to be sown. On that night, Benoit defeated Charlie Haas and Edge picked up a win on Shelton Benjamin, angering their mentor, Kurt Angle. Later that night, Angle picked up a win over Rey Mysterio, but Rey, Benoit and Edge would all beat down Angle after the match. The next week, Team Angle defeated Benoit & Edge to become the top contenders for the WWE Tag Team Championships. Benjamin & Haas would cash in a week later when they defeated Los Guerreros to take home the straps. Also that night, Angle defeated Benoit in a good match. Benoit was jumped by Team Angle after the loss, but Brock and Edge made the save, setting up this match. The six men would battle in various combinations over the final two weeks. In the days leading up to this match, Edge’s neck injury was discovered and he was pulled from this match. Earlier in the show, Brock and Benoit would find Edge laid out in the back, presumably at the hands of Team Angle. Edge would be off TV for over twelve months and Benoit and Edge were forced to go two on three in this match.

Scott:
Smackdown’s main eventers continue to roll and put on the best possible matches. On top of the great runs that both Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit had, now Brock Lesnar has entered the mix and after his title run facing Rock and Undertaker, Lesnar started to show his wrestling chops. Then Angle gets two young charges to protect him, and oh by the way they’re both stellar wrestlers in Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin. So really the top of the Smackdown show was full of guys who may not be the most charismatic or effervescent, but they could wrestle with anybody on the planet. This match is a microcosm as to how good all of these guys are. Unfortunately Edge suffered an injury and the updated Smackdown Six was broken up. Regardless the show still has the best wrestlers, and this match exemplifies it. I enjoyed the cat and mouse game between Lesnar and Angle as they do get together for a few moments but for the most part don’t interact. Benoit, who unfortunately will get lost in the shuffle, gets Haas to tap out and the good guys win. This was a great match that paves the way for the road to Seattle. Grade: 4

Justin: The war between Angle and Lesnar wages on another month with this interesting handicap match. Edge was on quite a roll and was getting a nice push so the neck injury really came at an awful time for him. He is taken out and Benoit and Brock are forced to go out there a man short. Benoit gets a great pop from his home country, as you would expect him to. Lesnar and Benoit would dominate Team Angle with some nice mat work to start. Lesnar kept calling for Angle, but Angle kept backing off. Of course, once Brock was worn down by Benjamin and Haas, Angle finally tagged in. He would slow the pace down as he wore down Brock and it would stay that way until Benoit was tagged in. He would clean house on Team Angle but the tables were quickly turned and we got a second heat segment, this time on Benoit. At this point, Team Angle really started cranking out the solid heel team work. They had some nice offense and did a great job teasing and baiting Brock. Once he made the hot tag, Lesnar got in a great flurry and he and Benoit would work in some sweet reversals leading to a hot finish. Brock would drop Angle with an F5 and Benoit would force Haas to tap to pick up the win. There isn’t much more to say about this one, other than it was a well worked tag match with solid heat and a good buildup. The Road to Wrestlemania is now clearly paved and the anticipation for the big Lesnar/Angle showdown was starting to build. Grade: 3

6) Triple H (Paul Levesque) defeats Scott Steiner (Scott Rechsteiner) to retain World Heavyweight Championship with a Pedigree at 13:01

Fun Fact: The night after the debacle at the Royal Rumble, Triple H said Scott Steiner would not get a rematch. Steiner would come out and dispute that, but instead faced Batista that night and won by disqualification. The next week he defeated Chris Jericho in a number one contenders match to get that title shot rematch against Triple H at No Way Out. After winning that match, Ric Flair, Batista, and a returning Randy Orton came out and beat Steiner down, then Triple H finished it with a Pedigree. The following week Triple H announced that this group of talent was the “evolution of professional wrestling.” Thus this new faction of heels was called Evolution and Triple H now had an advantage in his backup heading into the PPV.

Scott:
The sequel. We all saw the match at the Royal Rumble. It was an unmitigated disaster. Steiner was blown up after about five minutes, and this isn’t the Triple H of 2000 who could work and move with anybody for 25 minutes. He’s bigger, still favoring that leg and just couldn’t make this any better than what it was. Now comparing it to the Rumble match, it was a little better. But that means little to me. I’m pretty upset that they couldn’t add a stipulation to this, whether it is a Street Fight, or no DQ or something where things like weapons and outside interference would help what was going to be an absolute mess. But no, the WWE fans that paid money one month earlier to watch this shit, has to pay again and get…the same shit! I was pretty pissed off, because not only do we not get some kind of gimmick, but the comedic factor of the Rumble match is gone and this is just boring and crappy. Steiner sucks, and needed some getting back into the groove before being in such a high profile match, but Triple H needs to start getting back in shape as well and help carry these guys if he wants to be Raw’s standard-bearer for the year. This isn’t 2000-2001 when you’re dealing with studs like Austin and Rock. Steiner’s run is done, as evidenced by his clear omission the following month. Triple H moves on to someone a little more capable of carrying a match, and with the biggest show of the year on the horizon, it’s necessary. I’m so disgusted and insulted, this may be the only time I give a Triple H match this grade. Grade: 0

Justin: After weeks of Triple H dodging and sneak attacking Steiner, you would think Steiner would finally have the fans behind him. Alas, the Montreal crowd was seemingly behind Triple H right out of the gate, as he gets a big face pop during his entrance. Steiner would control early, but was soundly booed by the crowd. Ric Flair, on the other hand, was the recipient of some insane pops for his ringside antics. The match plodded along and dragged on and the crowd soon turned on the whole thing. The whole bout was just repetitive with a whole lot of punching and other basic strikes. Hunter would try to get DQ’d again, but this time referee Earl Hebner would have none of it. Steiner would take over and go right back to his suplex bonanza and he was booed mercilessly by the fans. Flair played a big role in the match once again and would eventually call Orton and Batista out to help the champ. Steiner would fight them off but Hunter would use the distraction to pick up the win in a lame ending. This whole thing was just a mess as for the second PPV in a row, these two stink up the joint. The Rumble match was at least perversely entertaining, whereas this match was just boring. Steiner is officially dead in the water as a main event face. He was so over in December, but his heat is all gone as he chokes in back to back awful matches with the Game. The only positive here is the pushing of the Evolution concept, as we see that all three men would go to great lengths to keep the belt on their boy. Hunter finally moves on from this feud and Steiner would go on to flail in the mid card for a while. Grade: 1.5

7) Steve Austin (Steve Williams) defeats Eric Bischoff with a Stone Cold Stunner at 4:26

Fun Fact: After walking out on WWE in June 2002, Steve Austin went home to let his neck heal and to recuperate his mind and body. It was during this time that Austin had a very public and nasty altercation with his wife Debra, ending in him allegedly physically abusing her. Throughout the year, Austin’s personal life was out in the open, as there were more bizarre altercations with Debra. Despite these distractions, Austin continued to rehab his body and work out like a monster, eyeing one final lucrative run with WWE. As is always the case, sagging ratings and stagnation of the product heals all of Vince’s old wounds, and in January, he came calling to see if Stone Cold wanted to come back. Austin accepted and was in awesome shape. He hoped his neck was healed as he embarked on what looked to be his final run. He makes his return here and against his old boss, Bischoff.

Fun Fact II:
Heading into the Royal Rumble, Vince McMahon showed up on Raw to let Bischoff know that he wasn’t pleased with how Raw was doing. He implored Eric to shake things up and get the show back on track or else Eric would pay with his job. On the 1/20 Raw, Eric promised a giant bombshell and even left a message for Vince letting him know that he had something big planned. Later that night, Eric came out and said he had wondered why Austin wasn’t involved with the recent Raw X special. He then announced that he was giving Austin space in WWE Magazine to talk about his life and give his side of the walkout. He also invited Austin to return to Raw at No Way Out. A week later, Eric came out and announced that Austin wasn’t there and went on to pump the Magazine article and also showed a Steve Austin Desire video package. On the 2/3 Raw, Eric headed to San Antonio to recruit Austin in person. They would air a series of vignettes of the search throughout the night. In the first clip, Bischoff was lost and couldn’t find Steve’s address. Next, he happened upon someone’s house and was directed to a saloon to find Austin. Eric finds the bar and asks for a martini, but he is harassed about not ordering beer and he was run out of the pub. At a second bar, Bischoff is told that Austin hasn’t been around and then gets harassed by a local yokel. Eric dumps a beer on the guy’s head and walks off. At the end of the night, Vince came out and announced that Bischoff now had one week left to impress him or else he was gone. A week later, Eric opened the show and again announced that Austin wasn’t there but that he had tried everything possible to get him to sign. Eric turned his attention to Jim Ross and railed on him for not assisting in bringing Austin back. So, Eric fired JR unless he could deliver Austin. Throughout the night, we would get clips of JR backstage trying to get Austin on the phone. Mid way through the show, Vince made his appearance and called Eric and Chief Morley to the ring. He gave Morley an opportunity to save his job, but he would have to defeat all three Dudleys to do so. Eric tried to offer Vince some HLA to save his gig, but Vince declined and fired Eric on the spot. Morley would be decimated by the Dudleys, now sealing his fate and blowing off that feud. At the end of the show, Vince came out to introduce his new GM choice. Before he could do that, JR and Eric come out. JR officially informed Vince that Bischoff was able to secure Austin for No Way Out. Content with this announcement, Vince rehired both JR and Bischoff. Vince then reminded Bischoff that he said he would do anything to save his job, so Vince invites him to join the Kiss My Ass club. Eric refused the offer, so then made the Austin/Bischoff PPV match instead. Finally, on the last Raw before the PPV, Eric rehired Morley and announced that he would have a karate exhibition with to prepare for his match. And, by the way, the exhibition would be against JR. In the final segment of the show, Eric came out for his exhibition. He broke some boards to get warmed up and then announced that the match would be no holds barred. After JR smacked Eric up a bit, Morley came in and they put JR down. Morley then produced a cinder block and Eric kicks it into JR’s face, breaking the block. The King tried to make the save but Morely took him out too. JR would be left bloodied and beaten as Bischoff celebrated and drank beer. It was announced at the start of this show that JR would not be able to do play by play for the PPV but was cleared to return for Raw. Well, there was no way JR was missing the return of his boy, so he came out before this match to join King and Coach on commentary.

Scott:
So certainly there’s a lot of history here. Just like when he walked onto the Raw stage last July, Bischoff makes history by going into the ring with the man he fired eight years earlier. Bischoff helped make history by firing a guy he thought was plain, ordinary and just not good enough. Well after Steve Austin became the catalyst that ultimately put WCW out of business, he gets into the ring and beats the crap out of Bischoff for over four minutes. No words, just actions. Frustrated and angry over being cut loose when he was just about to be the next big main event superstar in WCW, he took some real shots, but in credit to Austin, he didn’t really hurt him. Austin’s been out of the spotlight since leaving in June. Well the wrestling spotlight, but he’s been in the news spotlight after his wife Debra accused him of abuse, and roid rage. I don’t know if the steroid use was ever proved, but by the time he got in the ring for this one he and Debra were officially divorced. So his mind seemed clearer and now he wants back in the business after walking out. Now I had said that Austin was right for the fact that the promotion was doing some pretty retarded things creatively, but walking out like a child was clearly not the right way to go about it. Maybe he should have sat down with creative, and discussed what the future could have been for him, instead of running off crying. But of course he comes back and everyone cheers like nothing ever happened. Sure he didn’t deserve it, but it’s Austin. It was common knowledge that he was asked to job on free TV to Brock Lesnar in a KOTR qualifier, and any fan knows that’s a complete waste. It would need some build, and make the people pay for it. So as much as his running off crying was a poor business decision, at least knowledgeable wrestling fans understand his frustration. As a match this isn’t much, but it sets up Austin’s swan song. Grade: 1

Justin: The last time we saw Steve Austin on PPV, he picked up a win over the Big Show and Ric Flair. About eight months later, Austin makes his much hyped return to battle the man who fired him eight years earlier. After getting brutalized by Bischoff a week earlier, JR comes out to provide commentary on this one and he was fired up from the start. Austin gets a massive pop for his return and he looked to be in killer shape. Eric would beg off but Steve jumped him and mauled him immediately. The crowd was going crazy as Austin just punished Bischoff, dropping him with Stunners, but refusing to pin him. Austin finally has enough and finishes off the Boss. It was a cool moment, but JR was just way over the top and felt a little bit forced. He was freaking out like Austin had been gone for five years. Either way, Austin is back and it is a big return for WWE as far as star power goes. They needed another major face to help Raw improve and they got one of the biggest in history to return. The big question now was whether he could physically hold up. Grade: 1

8) The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) defeats Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea) with a Rock Bottom after a chair shot at 12:20

Fun Fact: The night after the Royal Rumble, Smackdown GM Stephanie McMahon announced a big surprise: she had signed Hulk Hogan exclusively to her brand. Hogan comes out to a big pop, but out too comes Vince McMahon, who was disappointed that his daughter would bring back this has-been to her show. Hogan wants to face Vince in a match, but Vince balks and Hogan clocks him. The next week Vince announces that he was Hulkamania’s creator, and only he can destroy it. He books this match and the Rock returns live the Smackdown before this show to run the crowd down for turning on him during the Brock Lesnar match at Summerslam.

Fun Fact II:
Rock’s heel turn really got started at the Raw X special the month before when he did a pre-taped piece talking about his time on Raw and the crowd at The World in New York vociferously booed him. It was then realized that many fans now resented the Rock for bailing on the flailing WWE to become a movie star. They jumped on the opportunity and turned Rock into one of the best heels of the decade.

Fun Fact III:
Vince McMahon’s crooked referee in this match is actually developmental wrestler Sylvan Grenier. Sylvan had applied to be part of the first two seasons of Tough Enough, but due to Visa problems, he couldn’t compete. Once those issues were straightened out, he moved to Florida to begin training and also doing some modeling. Around this time, he met Pat Patterson and the two immediately became friends. Patterson got him a tryout with WWE and he was eventually hired and sent to OVW for training. He would make two appearances as Vince’s personal referee, one here and the next at Wrestlemania.

Scott:
Our main event is a Wrestlemania rematch. Now that match in Toronto had a lot of pomp, circumstance and excitement. Two of the greatest of all time meeting on wrestling’s biggest stage. The match itself was pretty pedestrian, but that’s forgotten with all the pageantry and magic that surrounded it with the crowd reactions and the surprise Hogan face turn afterward. This match is about the same, but without all the Wrestlemania pomp and pageantry. In other words, it’s just a plain old match. However I enjoy this new heel attitude, complete with obnoxious ring entrance theme and long Titantron opening. Hogan, full Real American again, does the best he can now with the limited mobility he has. So in essence Rock carries the match a more then he did the previous March since he’s full blown heel rather than a babyface/tweener/something. We have some chicanery as Hogan’s about to win the match. The lights go out, then they come back on and the referee is out. Vince comes down, Hogan and he jaw, which gives this mysterious referee a chance to hand Rock a chair and belt Hogan with it. Rock wins the match, and Vince gets the best of his former meal ticket. The crowd is stunned, wondering who this referee is. Its fellow countryman Sylvan Grenier, who will make his presence felt at next month’s show as well. I actually enjoyed this Hogan/Vince feud. Sure it’s predictable, but the time is right as it is 20 years since his return to WWE in 1983. Even after watching wrestling as long as we all have, things are still special. This is definitely special, because it does spark debate. Who did create Hulkamania? Technically Verne Gagne came up with that term, but he was too dense to do anything with it. After that, who knows? Right now Vince just pulled a “screwjob” on Hogan, in Montreal! So corny. Rock moves on to a great feud and match at Wrestlemania with an old friend, whereas Hogan looks to answer the question: Who did create Hulkamania? Grade: 2

Justin: Finally, the Rock has gone back…to being a heel! Upon his return from Hollywood, Rock was soundly booed and hated on by the jilted WWE fans. The final straw was when Rock no showed the maligned Raw X show, simply sending in a pre-taped message. He arrives here to some tremendous heat and alongside a fantastic new theme remix and epic entrance video. Rock’s opponent, Hulk Hogan, would be showered with a tremendous pop from the Montreal fans. Hogan was always quite beloved by the fans here, as was proven a year ago when they turned him face the night after Wrestlemania. This Wrestlemania rematch was orchestrated by McMahon, who wanted Hogan destroyed once and for all. He brought in his hired Hollywood gun and also provided his own crooked ref as he looked to screw Hulk. Rock stalled to start before they got into a simple back and forth that lasted much of the match. Hogan kicked out of a Rock Bottom and the crowd was really rocking. Despite the long layoff, Rock was as crisp as ever with his offense, bumping and selling. Hogan would make his comeback and drop the leg, but as the ref counted, the lights went off. When they came back on, the ref was out cold and Hulk had been screwed. Rock would take advantage of the situation; use a chair and hit a Rock Bottom and the ref popped right back up and counted Hogan out. Vince was successful in putting the screws to Hogan and his plan came to fruition. Hogan had been embarrassed and Vince mocks him as the show came to a close. While this match wasn’t nearly as epic as Wrestlemania, it was still well worked and fairly entertaining and the crowd was pretty into it. Hogan and Vince were now on an unlikely collision course for Seattle and Rock was set to renew a legendary rivalry. Grade: 2

Final Analysis:

Scott: I know Justin and I keep saying this, but once again this is a strange show to grade. Match by match, the grades aren’t spectacular. Once again on average, Smackdown has the better matches. The Raw matches were fine, nothing off the charts, and I’m still really steamed that the writers on Raw couldn’t spice up the Triple H/Steiner match knowing we’d get another clusterfuck. Again, the match itself was better than the Rumble match, but ultimately that was the problem. The Rumble match was entertaining because it was so bad, and this match was just boring and still awful. Clearly the Smackdown roster is cooking with much better gas as Angle, Lesnar, Benoit and Los Guerreros are on a roll, and with emerging stars like Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas, Paul Heyman’s got a lot of great talent to fill the roster even with Edge’s injury. As for Raw, I can understand they’re getting excited about these dream matches but other than the burgeoning storyline with Shawn Michaels & Chris Jericho the roster is stagnant. Thankfully Steiner’s main event run is over and a more deserving opponent for Triple H is on the horizon. This guy will make him look a lot better as well. 2003 has gotten off to a lukewarm start for the first full year of split brands. Smackdown looks like WCW and WWE in 1993 with young newcomers putting on great matches. Raw looks like WCW in 1999 with bloated out of shape stiffs putting on garbage matches and no real drama. At least Rock, Austin & Hogan are back as we embark on the final stretch before the biggest show of the year. The prelude to that show is average, and I’m grading it as such. Final Grade: C

Justin: Once again we have a PPV that is a bit of an anomaly. The matches were all between solid and blah, but the show was fun to watch. The energy was there and the crowd was hot but the in ring action just wasn’t up to par. The product as a whole was really starting to stagnate and Vince was starting to show a bit of desperation with his moves. Many pundits thought he had his answers right in front of him with his loaded Smackdown roster, but just like ten years earlier, Vince panicked and went calling for Hogan, Rock and Steve Austin. All three men still got the reactions and worked hard, but it really felt like it was time to turn the page and move on to a new crop of athletic stars. Heading into Wrestlemania, we have three top programs set in Hogan/McMahon, Jericho/Michaels and Lesnar/Angle. Triple H was still clinging to his belt and Steiner is pretty much shot as a legit threat. While the year was off to a rocky start, the stars will align properly and the biggest show of the year is being lined up to be an all time classic. This show is about what you would expect based on the build and card layout, a little bit below average. Final Grade: C-

MVP: Montreal Crowd
Runner Up: Brock Lesnar, Chris Benoit & Team Angle
Non-MVP: Triple H & Scott Steiner
Runner Up: Eric Bischoff

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